Monday, December 10, 2007

Pratham USA

I had written about Pratham's Read India books a while ago. Pratham has a US presence as well, trying to raise funds to support its universal education efforts in India. In addition to the gala fund raisers and cultural programs, etc., I found this heart-warming nugget in one corner of Pratham's newsletter:
Ankur Bhagat, a New York resident, jumped off Kjerag (sha-rag), a 3000-feet high cliff in the Norwegian fjords with only a parachute strapped to his back to raise funds for Pratham USA and spread awareness about its work. He raised over $3,000 from his family and friends. Ankur described his jump as being both chilling and exhilarating and “worthy of the cause it supported”.

Hats off to his commitment.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Bangalore: From Outsourcing Heaven to Hotbed of Innovation

But Jain's zest eventually fizzled under the repetitive rigors of the Indian back office. So he did what a parade of burned-out functionaries in Bangalore have begun doing: He quit outsourcing to create his own start-up - in his case, designing cellphone software that blocks calls from telemarketers.

Like Jain, some of the best minds in India, trained by leading global companies like Oracle, Yahoo and Microsoft, are slipping out of the back office to build start-ups. And Bangalore, the outsourcing capital, now looks like an incipient Silicon Valley of the East.
Anand Giriharadas in today's IHT.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Credit for Header

This blog's new header has received a few compliments so I thought I should direct credit where credit was due.

We were driving back to our hotel from Amber Palace when we came across this arts and crafts store just outside the Pink City. We stopped and my husband sprinted back a few yards to take a photograph. When I put it up as the header, Aspi generously offered to crop it and make the title all nice and such. Something like 10 tries later, there it was! Poifect!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Immigrant Voices - Reactions to Shoba Narayan's "Return to India" Article

If the number of blogs dedicated to the 'return to India experience' and the google searches that lead to my blog looking for schooling information and hospitals in India are any indication, returning to India is on the minds of a number of Indians (and those moving to India as expats for work reasons). So, when I came across Shoba Narayan's vividly descriptive article about her family's 'return to India' story, I sent it to a few friends who I thought might find it interesting and also posted it here as documentary proof of the kinds of struggles immigration, repatriation and parenting involve.

The anxieties she painstakingly chronicled, particularly about raising children so far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, were familiar to me as a first-generation immigrant myself (as it is to Orchid). When my son was first born, finding no role models in my immediate family or circle of friends, and wanting to hear personal stories, I wrote about it for a local magazine and in doing so, took heart in the successful experiences of other immigrant mothers. Generations of immigrants have been raising children here, and while their issues may not be exactly those of parents raising children in their home countries, by no stretch of the imagination were these problems insurmountable.

We'd already lived with this issue for so long in all its complexity and devised what solutions we could as we went along - Indian friends became uncles and aunts, then their children became surrogate cousins, festivals and pujas and American holidays were all celebrated or commemorated together with them, we tried to go to India as much as we could, my parents and in-laws visited, we seized the completely unexpected opportunity to live in India for a couple of years and eventually we returned to the US - that I could not relate to Narayan's urgency and desperation. I chalked it up to differences in background and experience.

Growing up in India, our family led a rather migratory existence - we moved every two years every time my father got transferred at his job. That meant new homes, new schools (sometimes in the middle of the school year), new friends, new neighbors, new languages, no extended family nearby. My mother was the glue that held us together. We would move in to a new house, the lorry would come in, my dad would go off to take over his new assignment, my brother and I would go off to school and by the time we all came back, the house would be completely set up as if we'd lived there for ages. I'm not kidding. Within a few weeks, my mom would be fully involved in her neighborhood and my dad would acquire a gazillion "walking friends". I never heard my parents complain about having to start over every two years or having to move away from their siblings. Rather, there was an air of excitement. This taught us nothing if not resilience and the idea that when faced with a situation, you put your head down and did what needed to be done and moved on.

As a parent, I could completely understand Narayan's yearning to do what, in her mind, was the right thing for her children, but reading the essay reinforced my inkling that most decisions involving migration (those that are not influenced by compelling political or social reasons or natural disasters) are matters of the heart. Your bones know your decision long before your head backtracks to identify the justifications for it. In the end, her essay made it seem like it was a choice between two equally undesirable options, when in fact it is only a small subset of the populations of the two countries that are lucky enough to be presented with that choice at all - a choice between two of the more desirable destinations to boot.

Over the last couple of days, the article has elicited a few thoughtful and passionate discussions - some laudatory (commenters who said they identified with Narayan's confusion and anxiety and commended her honesty), some critical - from Indians bloggers living in India and abroad. I've lost track of all the issues that have come up in those posts, but they are all very interesting and relevant to those of us who are bringing up our children as second-generation Americans (or Brits or Australians or New Zealanders or South Americans, etc.) and to immigrants in general. So to make it easier on myself, I'm linking to the posts here so I can find them quickly. If you come across any that I've left out, please let me know.

Author Jawahara Saidullah takes umbrage at Narayan's employing the poverty in India as a parenting tool,

while it raised many excellent points about a family deciding to return to India after many years in the U.S., it also pissed me off. The author talks about how earlier she would tell her kid about not wasting food because there were starving children somewhere (how does eating when someone is starving help anyway?), but now (lucky her) she can actually show her child the starving children in person. Wow! Glad their starvation's helping her child-rearing skills.
DotMom found it unpalatable that despite her doubts about living on in the US, Narayan went ahead and did all the things necessary to obtain US citizenship,

You cannot want to be a U.S. citizen simply because having a U.S. passport makes travel hassle-free. Or simply as a fall back incase you decide to live elsewhere (then why acquire citizenship if you have no desire of living here?) There have to be better reasons if you are going to be a citizen. You cannot be a citizen and criticize the American people with a “these people have no ___ [insert suitable anything].” Because you are one of them now. “These people” must turn into “We people.” Because now, you are Americans of Indian origin.
DotMom's point reminded me of this essay by novelist and Booker contender Mohsin Hamid in The Independent earlier this year in which he says exactly what DotMom finds objectionable,

It is clear to me that I have much to gain by becoming a British citizen: the right to travel more easily, the right to be more free of the fear of a change in the public mood followed by sudden deportation, the right to exercise my vote to have some say in how the taxes I am paying will be spent and in how my new country will be governed, the right to be less self-conscious in calling my home, home.
but offers a compromise,

But then I remind myself that I am allowed dual citizenship. My situation is not analogous to that of a husband who is leaving his wife for another woman. No, I tell myself, I am more like a father who is about to have a second child. Of course I am nervous about neglecting my first-born. But surely I can find within me the affection and commitment to be true to both.
One of the threads that the discussion veered off into is the subject of assimilation in your adopted country. How much involvement should immigrants have in the countries they live in? Poppin's Mom (PM) makes the excellent point that no matter where immigrants choose to live, they should not merely hanker after the life they left back in their home countries, but actively try to celebrate and adopt the values of their host countries. She asks,

Let’s take festivals for example. By all means celebrate Deepavali in your local Indian Community Center. And if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine, it’s a religious festival after all. But Thanksgiving? July 4th? Do Indians living abroad celebrate it at all. How many of you know the words to Stars and Stripes or teach it to your children at home.. It is your child’s national anthem, is that not enough reason for you to learn the lyrics?
I wouldn't have thought that this was an issue at all. Where ever you live, wouldn't you want to take a look around and jump in and get involved with all that your community has to offer? All of the Indian friends we have here seem to have figured out a way to do just that and celebrate Indian as well as American traditions - granted with tweaks here and there to allow for food preferences. But it did surprise me that there was some discussion about not celebrating Thanksgiving, presumably because they see it as an "American" holiday.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. As Gawker commented on this Thanksgiving menu post from a couple of years ago, Thanksgiving is the holiday tailor-made for immigrants. If you are a non-vegetarian Thanksgiving doesn't have to be about Turkey at all. In fact, it is not just about Turkey. It is, as I describe to people who haven't heard about it, the American version of Sankranthi - just being thankful for the bounty of whatever happiness and good fortune has come your way during the year.

I couldn't say it any better than Beatriz, the single mother of three who emigrated from Bolivia when her children were very young,
"We did not have that [Thanksgiving] in Bolivia, but here there is a special day. We love that holiday," says Beatriz, obviously delighted at the concept. [...] She initially introduced that holiday to her family so that "when the children went back to school on Monday, they have something to talk about….They have to be a part of their school, our community; they have to belong somewhere."
PM's post also describes the "insular" lives that Indians lead in the US. To an extent, that is true of most immigrant communities (and so we have Chinatowns and Little Italys) and it is human nature to seek out the familiar in strange surroundings. Methinks it only empowers you to deal with the unknown and is not necessarily a negative.

Nikki's mom puts across her thoughts wonderfully about what assimilation means to her and how she might feel a few years down the road about where she might want to live,
I have been here only 3+ years but I think I have assimilated more than those who have lived here for 10 years. We celebrate Halloween & Thanksgiving understanding it's spirit fully. Thanksgiving is exactly similar to Pongal that we celebrate back in India, thanking Gods for the bountiful harvest. Our Thanksgiving feast did not have a Turkey though, we had a store bought chicken on our table. I am planning to throw a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast this year, adapting it to my style of living. [...] As Nikki grows and has American friends, I will start celebrating them too, because it is his country and I do not want him to feel alienated here. He is an American by birth and if he grows up here I will let him be an American, but one with Indian roots. American to the extent that it does not conflict with the ethics and values of our family.
In the comments to these posts, Noon, Kodi's Mom and Tharini expressed the wish that their children would grow up to be global citizens - comfortable in their country of birth or in any country they choose to live with strong roots in their heritage. This is something I fervently wish for my children as well. Children already seem to come with some kind of a finely-tuned barometer built into their systems that tells them how to adjust to a particular situation, particularly if they've been around people from different religions or areas of the country or the world. For the last couple of years, my son would adapt his conversations (accent, content) to suit who he was talking to - he would talk in an Indian accent with his Indian friends and with an American accent among his expat friends in Bangalore. A comment to the post (on our quest for identity) in which I described this filled me with hope that that wish is not far fetched,
the type of identity switching you've described in your son is common even amongst "true blue" Americans in America, not just immigrants.i'm an "ABCD", the first child of Indian immigrants to America, and I grew up in a small, conservative town in Oklahoma. i was a "smart" kid who wasn't content being labeled as the typical nerd. so i experienced first hand what it means to have multiple identities. Indian, American, intelligent, cool, ambitious, sexy. I aspired to be all these things in different contexts. and with each label came a different style of speaking, gesturing, and even thinking. but not all my identities were defined by my ethnicity. as karmic_jay points out, the desire for acceptance is a fundamental human trait. so i think our tendency to wear different masks for different occasions is not simply a cause of a cultural mismatch with our environment. rather, our cultural differences add to the number of masks we feel obliged to wear.but, as you mentioned, we are all different people in different contexts, to some extent. i am a daughter, sister, friend, etc. And my personality adapts to the context, within the bounds of who i am. i don't think that type of adaptation constitutes hiding one's real identity. the question is, are we being true to ourselves? that's what matters most.
No matter what side of these issues we belong to - returning to India, staying on abroad, choosing which holidays to celebrate, having our kids go to tabla classes or ice-skating - we all, as parents, try our damnedest to do the things, make the decisions and adapt the strategies that we think, hope and wish will equip our children with the tools they need to lead the best lives they possibly can. Our reasoning might be screwed up sometimes or we may find out later that perhaps one or the other of our strategies did not work. But we tweak a little bit and we move on.

At the bottom of it all, when you clear the noise of who should do what, why and how, and which way is better, is this simple idea:
There is a place for my kind too in this world, however foolish I sound, as there is a place for all of us. All of us, who carry only one thing in our hearts. The well being of our children. And somewhere along the process of living, this simple intention will get cleansed and purified of all selfish associations and we will together raise the children of the world, the best way we know how.

Update 1

On a highly pertinent note, Ammani and Kowsalya both ponder the meaning of culture (via Kathambamaalai). Kowsalya says,
If as a parent, you don't want to celebrate certain things you can always explain that to your kids and when we do things consistently and confidently, Kids generally don't have any confusion. Even if we try to celebrate Thanksgiving or Haloween, it will not change the external color of your child, so why try so hard to change the internal color.
Ammani asks,
Indian culture. What is it to you? To me, it seems like a convenient and rather hazy area that covers everything from dress code to Bollywood to wedding ceremonies to prime time tv soaps.
Do read the comments to her post. They are illuminating and entertaining!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recipe: Cranberry Pickle

The Thanksgiving holidays are just around the corner, and if you're like us, you'll probably have quite a few Indian dishes on the menu along with some traditional ones (here's a menu from a Thanksgiving past - and the New York style cheesecake was homemade, just so you know).

For a desi twist on that Thanksgiving staple, Cranberry, try pickling it - Indian style. Here's a recipe from my friend Lakshmi (ingredients are in bold):

1. Choose firm cranberries

2. Clean (chop off any dry ends near the stems) and dry them completely. There should be no water because water tends to rot the berries and the pickle will get spoilt.

3. Chop the berries into halves

4. Add salt, red chilli powder (paprika) to taste

5. Add a dash of turmeric powder

6. Add 1 tsp of roasted fenugreek powder (methi powder)

7. Heat sesame seed oil (for 250 gms cranberries, 50 gms oil), add powdered asafoetida and 1 tsp mustard seeds

8. Wait for the oil mixture to cool and add to the cranberry mix

9. Enjoy! Try it with warm pita pockets and humus.

With the exception of the roasted fenugreek powder, you'll find everything ready to use at the Indian store. If you don't find the fenugreek powder, ask for the seeds (buy the smallest pack available), dry roast them until you can smell them (a darker shade of the golden brown they already are) and grind them at home.

Let me know how it turns out!

A Love Letter to Bangalore

Aaman sent me this link via e-mail. I'd read bikerdude before, but not in a while. Anyway, this post is hilarious and I want to go to a donut angadi. Like now.
The shop assistants, imported as always from a different planet, nodded and shook their heads for everything. Several sweet delights later, I waddled back to work and realized my wallet was gone. "Aiyo!" I screamed, and huff-puffed back to the donut shop. "Did you see my wallet?" Nod, shake. "Wallet, purse. Left here. Anybody saw?" Nod shake. "No?" Nod shake. "Yes?" Nod shake. I gave up, wrote my name and number on a paper and told them to call me if it turned up. Nod shake.

Monday, November 12, 2007

22 Things Guys Always Wanted to Know...

... about women. Trust Amrita to have her finger on ... lots of pulses, actually. So she found this set of questions, answered them brilliantly, and wickedly passed on a tag. Here goes nothin'.

1. How do you feel after a one night stand?
It's not cheating unless you get caught?

2. Do you ever get used to wearing a thong?
See 3 below. If you've gotta do it, you do it.

3. Does it hurt?
Only as much as flossing does.

4. Do you know when you are acting crazy?
Yes. Right at the moment people start running the other way.

5. Does size really matter?
As the wise man Bob Dole is rumored to have said, depends.

6. When the bill comes are you still a feminist?
Prospects need to be nurtured. The good ones, that is.

7. Why do you take so long to get ready?
Clearing the brush is a labor-intensive enterprise.

8. Do you watch porn, too?
Watching is so overrated.

9. Will something from Tiffany’s solve everything?
Nope. But groveling along with the blue box in hand help.

10. Are guys as big of a mystery to you as you are to us?
Not the ones in the fringes. The "normal" ones, yes.

11. Why do you sometimes think you look fat?
Because sometimes I am.

12. Why are you always late? (oh yeah, see question six!)
Good things come to those who wait.

13. Does it bother you when we scratch?
Not if one scratch saves nine later.

14. Do you wish you could pee standing up?
Who sez we can't?

15. Why do so many women cut their hair short as soon as they get married?
So you can't tell whose hair is clogging the shower drain.

16. How often do you think about sex?
In my book, detail trumps frequency.

17. What do you think of women who sleep with guys on the first date?

18. Would you?
Too late for that now.

19. Do you realize every guy wants a girl just like his mom?

20. Why does every woman think she can change him?
Because mom obviously didn't do a good job if 19 is true.

21. Does it matter what car I drive?
Nope. It sure matters how.

22. Do you ever fart?
Ever heard of the stealth bomber?

Now for the fun part - I tag Poppin's Mom, Sue and Aditi.

Photoshop Magic Erases Faith Hill's Elbow

Redbook, supposedly the magazine for a "mature" audience, is in some hot soup this week following a behind-the-scenes look at the machinations to "fix" Faith Hill's cover photo. got a hold of the "before" picture and has helpfully created an animation that jumps between the before and after verions of the country music star's image. Here's a blow-by-blow account of the the fixes if you want more details.

It's mesmerizing.

US Schools: Public vs. Private

If you've ever thought about whether to send your children to public schools or to private schools and were looking for a way to assess the pros and cons, then this past weekend's Washington Post Magazine provides the personal insights of two families who've grappled with this issue.

In Learning to Conform, Fredrick Kunkle "reflects on how the drive to test and label students at his daughters' public school has snuffed out freedom and fun," and in Unreal World Pamela Toutant argues that, "for all their privilege, private school children miss out on the richness of being around kids not so like themselves."

As you will see, the choice is not an easy one to make and doubts linger no matter what.

Middle Name Tag

Sue tagged me a while ago to write a post related to the letters of my middle name.

The rules of the tag are:

1. The rules must be mentioned in the beginning of the tag.

2. You must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.

3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I don't have a middle name but I love the name Maya. It also has the advantage of being short! Here goes:

M - I love the flavors of Mediterranean cuisine - the fresh veggies, the olives, the herbs, the grains, the hummus. There's always a tub of hummus in my fridge and makes a great snack (with some bread) in an emergency. I also love my mom's Mysore saaru. A meal of simple tomato saaru and beans palya is always a treat!

A - Astronomy and Art - I wish I knew more about those subjects than I do now, which is not much at all. Some day, hopefully.

Y - I have a terrible yelling voice. When I scream at the top of my lungs (at a game, for instance), I sound like a banshee and people turn to look.

A - I want to say I'm stubborn; will use adamant here. I am that when it comes to the things that are important to me.

I'm going to break rule number 3 and tag Taz, BPSK and Sunshine.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Rising Rupee, the Falling Dollar and Lost Jobs

The story of the strengthening rupee, dubbed by Indian newspapers as the "raging" or "roaring" rupee, has cast a long shadow on the export industry. According to the Federation of Indian Export Organizations, 4 million Indians have lost their jobs this year, and the number is estimated to rise to 8 million by March. The worst-affected exporters are those producing garments, leather goods and handicrafts for U.S. customers, as well as companies providing information technology services to the United States.
Today's Washington Post on the fall out from the strengthening rupee.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Chronicle of One Family's Decision to Return to India

Writer and journalist Shoba Narayan painstakingly chronicles her family's decision to return to India. The words jump off the page as she describes her longing, confusion, determination and excitement.

It was after I had a child that I first entertained the previously heretical possibility that, perhaps, America wasn’t home for me. I was tired, sleep deprived and encumbered, and the “land of the free” no longer seemed so to me. I was saddled with a toddler and missed parents, relatives and other potential babysitters. I missed the respite that came from dropping off a child with a trusted aunt for a few hours.

India’s social fabric seemed more conducive to raising a family. There, I could call a neighbor, any neighbor, at a moment’s notice and ask her to watch my child while I ran out for some milk. I missed the septuagenarian grandfathers who patrolled my neighborhood and reported back all naughtiness and babysitter negligence. I had hated their interfering as a child; now, as a mother, I viewed them as allies. I missed the whole village of people who had raised me, who would help me raise my child.

The whole thing is here (via SAJA).

Updated to add links to previous posts on this topic:

Where is Home?

What Makes a Community?

Parenting from an Immigrant Perspective

Identity - The Quest for Comfort Within our Skins

Bangalore: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Happy Deepavali!

We were very lucky to have celebrated Deepavali the last two years with our families and friends in India. It was childhood all over again - braving the crowds at the firecracker stands, having to make choices between equally enticing flowerpots, rockets, Lakshmi patakis, vishnu chakras and bhuchakras, splurging on the garland of 10,000 crackers, running through the entire flowerpot stash in ten minutes, and then running to the shop to splurge some more, the endless cups of tea and carrom board games, the family jokes, the teasing and the gossip, and the FOOD!

Two years ago, apart from two cousins, the entire set from my mom's side was in attendance and it was great to hang out with them - babies when I left but now all grown up.

Pictures from Deepavalis past are all we have this year and the hope that we can meet up with some friends this weekend and recreate the magic.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bedtime Reading Picks for the Under-6 Crowd

M. Venkatesh's bedtime reading picks for the really young in this past weekend's Mint Lounge.

Blogging and Community

Choxbox and Poppin's Mom both awarded Blogpourri the Community Involvement Award and they both cited my posts on schooling in Bangalore. I've been basking in the warm, gooey feeling ever since. Thanks a bunch guys! I'm just glad those posts are helping someone.

I pass the award on to Saks - her involvement with causes and passion for helping people is tremendous and admirable. Go Saks!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Children's Book Review: The Little Man in the Map by E. Andrew Martonyi, Illustrated by Ed Olson

My hat, my face, my stylish shirt.
Two states that prop my hat.
A whispering state, a pack of books.
Say "Cheese!" A honking pat.
A puppy and a mitten,
With a cozy sleeve below.
My drinking cup's the final state.
You probably have no idea what this verse is all about, but hidden in it are the clues that not only help elementary school children learn the names of all the states in the Midwestern region of the United States, but also exactly where they are positioned in relation to each other on a map. No mean feat for seven lines of verse.

Learning the names and locations of all fifty states is no easy task, even for older students, but is one of the main building blocks of elementary geography education. Most children recognize a few states - perhaps the states they live in and the ones around it and one or two others - but memorizing all fifty of them and where exactly they are on the map is quite something else. The Northeastern states are all a jumble as are the ones to the west of Illinois and south of Virginia.

Enter Andrew Martonyi's The Little Man in the Map, the winner of the silver Moonbeam Children's Book Award in the Non-fiction picture book category. It is a gem of a resource for parents and teachers on a quest to make US geography engrossing and captivating for young children.

With the help of an imaginary "Man Inside the Map" (the shape formed by five states down the middle of the United States - Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana), Martonyi employs mnemonics, simple verse and a healthy dose of creativity to help spark enthusiasm and excitement for an arguably dry subject.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Minnesota is the little man's hat, Louisiana is his boot and Kansas is his backpack. The narrative bestows each state with a function in relation to the ones around it, so if you recognize one, identifying the adjacent ones is a breeze.

To help children assimilate the information in small, bite-size chunks, Martonyi breaks down the US map into discrete regions - Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, Northeast and West.

By the time the story of all the fifty states is told, Ed Olson's graphic illustrations and Martonyi's knack for spotting everyday things in the shapes of the various states have done the trick. The name of each state is recalled with ease. I should know - my seven year-old learnt the entire map in two readings of the book.

Every so often there's a study that bemoans the falling standards of geography literacy. Books like Martonyi's, written for children with an intimate understanding of what captivates and retains their attention, are much-needed agents of change. I wonder if he has plans to tackle world geography next.

Image courtesy: Schoolside Press

Friday, November 02, 2007

Great Resource for Comparing Bangalore Schools

I received a comment on one of my Bangalore Schools posts about a website dedicated to listing, comparing and providing other information about schools in Bangalore. I took a quick look and it seems like a great resource. It's simply called Bangalore Schools and is at Good luck.

Update (Sept. 27, 2009): A wonderful post on alternative schools in general and one in particular, the Krishnamurthi school, at Punarjanman. Lots of good info about myths and advantages and disadvantages of alternative schools.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Father's Dilemma

Herman had chronicled his son's life from the day he was born, writing down details that only parents have the urge to remember for ever and ever.
But it also memorialized anecdotes like the time when he sat with my wife on the front step of our home and watched as a bird crashed headfirst into our front window. Unshaken by the limits of his 2-year-old vocabulary, he turned to my wife, put his hands to his head and quietly offered up his assessment of the bird's plight: "Helmet" was all he said.
Now, eighteen years and 250 pages later, the baby is a grown man and has flown the coop for college. What is the father to do?

Herman has his turn in Newsweek.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sydney Opera House

If you are ever in Sydney (as opposed to Sidney), a visit to the Opera House no doubt occupies pride of place in the list of things to do, but a tour of the Opera House is in order as well. The Opera House offers frequent conducted tours, including visits to the performance halls and theater spaces.

The tour takes a good hour. Strollers, backpacks and coats are required to be checked in at the cloak room prior to the tour. So if you are traveling with children, be prepared to carry the younger ones around, including up and down a few flights of stairs.

The story of how the iconic building came into existence - complete with the designer resigning midway through the project, the final cost going over budget many times over, the project taking 10 years longer than anticipated to complete - is itself the stuff of drama.

From a distance, the layers of its lotus shape seem so delicate as they hang in the air, perpetually waiting to be peeled back, the exterior walls shining in the brilliant sun.

A view of the Opera House as you walk up from the Circular Quay

From Luna Park, across the harbor

But up close, as you marvel at the design that manages to hold up those petals, it becomes obvious why these massive walls of concrete are vital to the structure.

An inside wall of the Opera House

A close up of the tiled exterior walls

The Opera House hosts many performances, homegrown and touring, including plays, concerts, operas and meetings. One of the advertisements we saw was for a performance by Asha Bhosle.

The Utzon Room, dedicated to architect Jorn Utzon who designed the Opera House. The room, dedicated to host children's programming, has an awesome view of the harbor and is built using Utzon's design principles.

The Utzon Room

The main performance hall is massive and imposing. Sound dampers hang from the ceiling and can be lowered and raised according to the needs of a particular production.

The piano in the foreground was wheeled out and the room was being readied for a performance later that evening. The massive pipe organ high up in the back dominated the stage.

Here's a link to the Sydney Opera House Website for tour information and tickets.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What's with the weather?

It's the 23rd of October and the temperature here is set to reach the 80s (F). That's at least 15 degrees above normal.

The leaves are falling, the grass is dying, kids have been back at school for nearly two months, but fall temperatures seem to have gone on holiday. We wake up in the morning and dress the kids warm and by the time Calvin returns from school he's sweaty and mad. At nighttime, when you would expect to feel cold, we dress up in jackets and pants but end up feeling uncomfortably warm as the night wears on.

There's definitely something odd. It's great not to have to crank up the heat and bear the brunt of the astronomically high gas costs, but it feels weird and unhealthy, as a friend said, to feel so warm so late in the year.

Is this global warming? Every time I think that, the weatherman (or woman) on TV says something like, "The last time we had weather like this at this time of the year was in 19__." How can it be global warming if we've already had these weather patterns many years ago?

Updated to add the most important point I wanted to make - there is no end in sight to the infernal nuisance of shaving! Bah!

Karwa Chauth: Lovely essay in Washington Post Magazine

Here's Anu Kumar's well-written essay in this past weekend's Washington Post Magazine about Karwa Chauth from the perspective of a woman torn between her feminist ideals and nostalgia for a time gone by.

Monday, October 22, 2007

ICSE or CBSE? Which is better or more desirable?

I've received quite a few queries wanting to know the answer to that question. I asked Google aunty and one of her answers was this 2004 Deccan Herald article written by Bala Chauhan. It looks informative and useful.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Travel: Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

She sat on the floor in one of the main halls of the Cultural Centre—shoulders hunched, working on a painting; her dark blue frock-style dress fanning out around her. The painting was colourful, with swirling dots morphing into circles, telling Tjukurpa tales. A little further away lay four or five boat-shaped bowls containing grains that were very similar to ragi.

As we approached, she took one look at us and delightedly rubbed her skin with her fingers, and then reached over to touch my son, saying something to a park ranger nearby. The ranger translated, “Barbara says ‘aborigine’.” We nodded, adding that we were from India.

In her own way, Barbara was seconding what archaeologists have long postulated: the parallels between the races of Central India, Sri Lanka and the Anangu, as the aborigines of Australia like to be called. Archaeologists estimate that the Anangu have lived in the southern continent for at least 50,000 years, continuously adapting their way of life to the vagaries of plate tectonics (it is believed that, once upon a time, Australia had a land connection to Asia) and the changing landscape.

The rest appears in this weekend's Mint Lounge.

Clinton or Obama? Black or White? Man or Woman?

The run up to the 2008 presidential elections is proving to be historic. For the first time, we have a woman candidate for president. For the first time, we have a black candidate who has more than a fair chance of winning (Alan Keyes, a Republican, has run in the primaries before, but has always been considered a long shot).

Questions swirl in the air. Should a woman president be automatically considered better for women than a male president? How will a woman president's governance be any different than a man's? Should there be any difference? Should voters be looking for differences at all? Should all women vote for Clinton? Should all blacks vote for Obama? Oprah has endorsed Obama. Should she have endorsed Clinton? Should Oprah = woman power = endorsement for Clinton? Did she endorse Obama because she is black? Should gender and color play any role in one's endorsements or voting choices? Will Oprah's endorsement actually carry any weight at all?

It's easy and appropriate to say voters and endorsers and sponsors should be blind to the candidates' gender or color, but considering that these events have never occurred before, voters are like kids in a candy store. Of course, it's quite another matter that after running around in the candy store, quite a few of them are still dissatisfied and are looking toward the horizon for someone more desirable.

Obviously, I'm not the only one pondering these questions. Consider these women in the beauty parlors of South Carolina "that are among the social hubs for black women."
Black women, Belk [a political scientist at Winthrop University who co-directed a recent study of black voters] said, are divided equally between Obama and Clinton, and significantly, perhaps a third are undecided.

"They stand at the intersection of race, class and gender," he said. "Black men say to them, 'Sister, are you with us?' and at the same time white women say, 'Sister, are you with us?'"
The entire article is an eye-opener when it comes to the quandry voters are facing next fall. But best of all, it threw some light on the thought process of 51 year-old Betty McClain, a bus driver,
[She said] she liked what she heard about Obama. But she likes Clinton, too. "She's already been president before," McClain said approvingly, dismissing Bill Clinton's role in his own administration. "He was just there," McClain said of Mr. Clinton. "He was just the husband, that's all. She really ran the country."
It made my day.


Been extremely busy offline. Hence the tardiness in replying to comments and responding to tags. Will get on them shortly. Cheers!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Mario Capecchi's Journey - From Street Kid to Nobel Winner

He was four years old when his mother was sent off to a German concentration camp for being critical of the Nazis. He roamed the streets of Italy, finally ending up in an orphanage. His mother survived the concentration camp and was released in 1946 when the Americans liberated Dachau. She then set out to find her son and searched for him for a year and a half. She found him and the two of them got on a ship and sailed to America.

"The vision of America at that time...I was literally expecting the roads to be paved with gold. What I found, actually, was just opportunity."

What a story! Just filled me with sheer delight. And what a line - "What I found, actually, was just opportunity"!

Watch this ABC News video in which he recounts the story.

By the way, the 2007 Medicine Nobel was awarded today to Martin Evans of Cardiff University in Wales, Mario Capecchi of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Utah, and Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina for "work now enables researchers worldwide to create "designer mice" that have transformed the study of human disease."

Updated to add these two links to thoughtful essays:

A Nancy Gibbs essay from Time Magazine (Oct 22 issue); and

This post from Under the Banyan Tree (thanks Poppin's Mom!).

Nine Innings from Ground Zero

If you get a chance to see this HBO documentary, please do. It's the story of the Yankees baseball games in the aftermath of 9/11 and how the game riveted a city and diverted their attention, even if only for a few precious hours, from the horror of the carnage a few blocks away.

With interviews of the players, the fans, the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 and of city officials, the footage and the raw emotions spilling over from the stands on to the diamond are just riveting. I found the program by accident this morning and was hooked.

Information, background and broadcast schedules can be found on HBO's website.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October 4, 2007: International Bloggers Day for a Free Burma

Free Burma!

This post is in support of's efforts:

International bloggers/webmasters/bullentin boards are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Netcitizens are planning to refrain from posting to their websites on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words "Free Burma!".
For more information on the campaign to free Burma, go to

Myanmar - Tasting Freedom. Literally.

Here's part of an awesome essay by Myanmar-based journalist, Ma Thanegi, who was imprisoned for volunteering with a democracy movement:

After the first few days of prowling and growling like a cat in a cage, after the first few weeks of believing that I would go berserk if I were held for even another hour, after the first six months of constantly hoping to hear the words "You're free to go", I realized I was wasting my time and began to think about how I could benefit from the experience.

"They've put us in prison to make us miserable," one prisoner told me, "but let's not give them the satisfaction." My fellow inmates might have cried silently in private, but I never saw tears.


Still, sudden incarceration is one hell of a calamity. How did we deal with it?

Most of all, we shared food. I was not allowed family visits but could receive a food parcel every Monday from relatives. A typical parcel might contain cakes, cookies, candies, instant coffee, instant noodles, dried prawn relish, fried Chinese sausages, dried salted fish, fried chicken, or fried beef. It delivered a cholesterol and sodium overload, but the food had to last without refrigeration. After our release, none of us could tolerate such sweet, salty treats for at least the next decade.
Read the whole thing here, in Saveur magazine.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Naples, Italy: Restaurant Choices and Tips

Caprese Salad: Quintessential Naples

Three and a half days in Naples and all I'm about to tell you is where to eat. This is not so much an indictment of Naples as it is a commentary on the other more exotic and thrilling destinations that are within easy reach of Naples - Capri, Sorrento, Ischia, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii.... Also, what can I say? I love food!

Gusto y Gusto, Via Partenope: This restaurant is just a couple of blocks away from the line of pricey hotels overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Naples. Ravenous after a circuitous flight from Nice, France, we dumped our luggage in our room and headed out around 3 pm, afraid that the restaurants might be closing for the afternoon. Only, we forgot for a minute that we were in Italy. Lunch hour was just beginning!

Gusto y Gusto was very inviting. They had outside seating and the weather was perfect. The waiter who waved us in from the pavement had a huge smile on his face. If we sat out, we would have a great view of the Gulf of Naples and a portion of the city as it bent around the gulf.

A view of the Castel Dell'Ovo at night from the restaurant

Naples at night from Via Partenope

We had heard a lot about Italian food before we set out on our travels - some good and some bad. Friends warned us that after years of eating pasta and pizza in the US, we might not like the real deal at all. The pizza is too thin, they said; the pasta sure to be undercooked, they said; you'll get tired of all that pasta and pizza within two days, they said.

With all these dire predictions roiling in our heads, we opened the menu, and sure enough, there was pizza and pasta with all sorts of toppings and all sorts of combinations. But we also found that the menu was much simpler than at a typical Italian restaurant in the US.

We ordered the Caprese salad (I can never say no to mozzarella cheese), bruschetta (which we discovered, to our horror, that we'd been mispronouncing with the "ch" sound as in chair when it has the harsher "ch" sound of choir!), a pizza and a pasta.

The meal started out with warm bread with garlic butter, which we devoured. We were just too hungry that late in the afternoon. Everything from the bread to the pasta and the pizza was delicious. It was the best Italian meal we had had ever, bar none. I'm not exaggerating and I can assure you it was not the hunger talking, either.

Because we went back to Gusto & Gusto two more times in the three days were spent in Naples. We were not disappointed. The ingredients were superbly fresh and succulent. The tomatoes were juicy and sweet. The cheese was to die for. The olives were delicious. The pizza had a thin crust but it enhanced the flavors exponentially. The pasta was cooked al dente (I finally figured out the exact consistency of al dente) and I'll agree that that's not how I would prefer my pasta cooked, but the dish over all tasted good.

And the best part of Gusto & Gusto was not even the food. That place is mighty popular among the natives. At night it's a hopping place to see and to be seen in, if all the goings on were to be believed. The line goes out the door for seating at night. Everyone from socialites out for an evening of fun with their beaux to families out for dinner to young couples to college kids to tourists is at Gusto and the owner is a man much in demand.

The owner with one of the wait staff

Even with all the crowds hanging around there are families with young kids too and we were not made to feel unwelcome as we were expecting.

At our first meal at Gusto, as we sat down and settled the kids in their seats, we realized that our daughter's high chair had no belt and the gap was too large between the seat and the bar in front. When we pointed it out to Nino, our waiter, he promptly went in, fashioned a cushion out of a clean tablecloth and padded the high chair with it, blocking the gap as much as he could. Our Italian and his English were both negligible, but in those few moments, we felt welcomed. The waiters and the kitchen staff had genuine affection for the kids, going out of their way to make them feel comfortable and special.

The warm and welcoming wait staff and chef at Gusto & Gusto

If we had the choice, I would dare say we would have had every meal at Gusto. But there were a couple of other landmark restaurants we wanted to check out (plus Gusto does not serve breakfast).

Caffe Gambrinus, Via Chiaia, Piazza del Plebiscito: Located in the sprawling Piazza del Plebiscito, Caffe Gabrinus is a Naples institution.

Piazza del Plebiscito

Gambrinus is open all day late into the night if you find yourself suddenly hungry for a snack. The rooms inside are stupendously decorated with paintings, statues and other art. You can go in for a casual breakfast outside before you start your day of sightseeing and find a scrumptious array of confectionery, pastries and other baked goods to go with your cappuccino or tea. Or you could dress up and head inside later in the day into the Sala Rotonda or the Sala Michele Sergio for a stately and elegant tea.

We liked Gambrinus for the atmosphere, location and history more than its food. The cappuccino was cold by the time it got to us. The waiters were a harried lot, trying to keep track of the million orders from the throngs of people constantly streaming through the place.

It's a great place to visit once during your stay.

Pizzeria Brandi: If you love Margherita pizza, then Pizzeria Brandi is your Mecca. It's located on a quiet, narrow street just off Via Chiaia on Salita S. Anna di Palazzo, a couple of blocks up from Gambrinus. According to the owners, the Pizzeria has been around since 1780. A hundred years later, the story goes, the pizzeria fashioned a brand new pizza in honor of Queen Margherita. The ingredients are few - mozzarella, tomatoes and basil - but the flavor is dazzling.

The service is not that great and seating is cramped and uncomfortable. But definitely worth visiting at least once.

Naples Travel Tips:

1. Facilities: Italy may be classified as a First World country, but in terms of infrastructure, it could use a lot of development. The airport was chaotic to say the least. Trade unions engage in frequent arm-twisting tactics. Just before we left for Italy there was a rail workers strike. While we were in Naples, the garbage collectors went on strike - the evidence was quite visible as far as the eye could see - and in Rome, the day before we left, the taxi drivers went on strike.

So before you head out to any part of Italy, read the local newspapers, be prepared for what might be coming. Check with the concierge at your hotel the day before you need a taxi to head to the airport to confirm that you will have one the next day. You don't want to find out at the last minute that you might not have one. Consider purchasing travel insurance, particularly if any leg of your trip calls for train travel.

2. Haggle, haggle, haggle: The taxi line at the airport was long. That gave us the opportunity to watch the locals and seasoned Italy visitors negotiate the rate before they got into the taxi. The meter runs, but it is ignored for the most part and you don't want to find out after you get off at your destination. Even though we had agreed on a price, we had to call in for reinforcements once we got into the hotel because we found out that the rate we had agreed on was outrageous.

If you thought our hotel was any better, it was not. The lady at the front desk tried to hurry us into their restaurant as it was getting late in the afternoon and, she warned us, the restaurants outside would be winding down their lunch service. Not, as it turns out. They were just getting warmed up.

As they say, Trust, but verify.

3. Traveling with kids: One of the strange things about Italy is its love of children, but the horrendous lack of infrastructure to make is easy to move around with them. Everyone loves kids. Even people who don't have any. There isn't the feeling that kids should not be in such and such place at such and such time (a vibe we definitely felt in Frankfurt, for example). The cab drivers, the doorman at the hotel, people on the street, the lady at the fruit juice shop, the guards at the Vatican museum - they all went out of their way to talk to us about our kids, to tell us "bellisima" "que bella" at the drop of a hat, or help us cut the lines so we did not have to wait long. At many restaurants, we found kids at every table at all odd hours. There is definitely the feeling that kids are part of life, but that's no reason for life to slow down.

But the infrastructure for people with kids is nonexistent. Metros have no elevators or escalators. You have to carry the kids and strollers and your bags down innumerable steps. Also, menus have no options for kids (this I actually like. The kid choices on menus in the US are generally unhealthy).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Thing I Miss...

from my India life is flipping through the channels on TV and suddenly landing on some old Hindi song or even a new one with one of the Khans gyrating like there was no tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blogger's Choice Awards: DesiGirl's Random Acts of Kindness

DesiGirl has been busy committing random acts of kindness again. She's nominated Blogpourri under not one (Best Blog About Stuff), not two (and Best Parenting Blog), but three (and, ahem, Hottest Mommy Blogger) categories for the Blogger's Choice Awards.

If you have the time and the inclination, scoot on over to the Blogger's Choice Awards site and please vote.

Thanks for the love, DG!

Overheard: Saddam Hussein, bin Laden and the Missing Link

We were watching CBS' Sunday Morning Show (one of our all-time favorite TV shows) and Calvin asked, "Dada, was Saddam Hussein bin Laden's father?"

Dada: "No."

Calvin: "Then how did Saddam Hussein jump into the war?"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The New Ikea Ad - Something's Not Right

I've seen Ikea's new ad campaign a few times now. The first time I saw it I thought I didn't hear it right or perhaps my eyes deceived me, but the next time around there was no mistaking it.

The central idea of the ad is the notion of home. Here's the blurb from Ikea's website:
IKEA believes that homes are not just made of bricks and mortar with four walls. Home is an emotion - a feeling of security, safety, comfort, peace, about being yourself and being together with your loved ones. Home is the place where memories are made, relationships are built, where children and families grow together. IKEA believes that regardless of where you live or who you are, home is the most important place in the world.
It's a wonderful idea, for sure. Evokes warm feelings. Who doesn't like the idea of home?

The problem is with the visuals in its TV ad. The ad contains pictures of various types of homes - apartments, single-family homes, a horse trailer, a house perched on the edge of a spectacular cliff, a boathouse, farmhouse, a tent in a desert. It also has a shot of a structure fashioned out of rags, plastic sheets and paper on the back of an old, abandoned car. Right at that point, the grating, all-knowing voice-over intones,
...because wherever you are, whoever you are, home is the most important place in the world.
I don't know the jargon, but this is one of those feel-good ads that's supposed to evoke favorable feelings in the viewer about the company. It does not directly sell a product. But it's Ikea. You know exactly what they are selling. And the point is, whoever lives in that contraption of rags and metal and paper is homeless. They don't have a place they can call their own in this whole wide world. They probably can't afford even the cheapest of Ikea's formidably low-priced products. Even if they could, they would have no place to put it. No, they are not secure, safe, at peace or comfortable. They are probably on someone else's land, living in fear that at any point they might be thrown out.

The ad was pleasant enough when it started out. Some of the shots are visually stunning. But by the end, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Here's the ad from Ikea's website (you will need RealPlayer).

I tried to find the ad on YouTube. They don't have the version they are playing here in the US, but they do have this:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mundane and Other Worldly

Sometimes when I'm in the middle of doing something around the house or worrying about some mundane problem or when I'm on the road stuck in traffic, my mind's eye suddenly sees images of the sky, the sun, the stars and the clouds.

All my problems seem so small and silly compared to what is going on in the universe.

It boggles my mind that we are all on a ball of mud and water spinning around the sun with a bunch of other balls, breathing and walking and talking, not getting pulverized every minute by the monstrous forces at play here.

How's that for some weekend philosophizing for ya?

Of Lunch Boxes and Filter Coffee

A couple of days ago, someone read this post on South Indian filter coffee I'd written a while back and asked me about making it. That set me rummaging through my cupboards for that package of filter coffee powder that my mom insisted, over my objections, I pack when we left Bangalore three months ago (how do moms know what their children want even before they know themselves?). By the time I set the water to boil and got my filter out and got them ready, I was craving it so bad I could taste it in my mouth already.

I hurriedly got the spoon out and started piling on the coffee powder in the top part of the filter. Then I poured the boiling water in, closed the top and waited for the decoction to collect in the receptacle at the bottom.

I waited and waited.

I opened the lid once or twice and found most of the water still in the top part. Twenty minutes later I couldn't take it anymore. I disengaged the top part from the bottom to see what was holding it up and found that the decoction was dripping - literally - drop ... by ... drop ... by ... drop.

Twenty more minutes later when I figured there was enough for one person at the bottom, I poured whatever decoction had collected into a mug. It was thick, to put it mildly. Then I got the saucepan of milk that had been warming up and proceeded to pour it into my coffee mug. The coffee almost reached the rim of the mug but it remained surprisingly dark.

In my eagerness to taste the coffee I had used too much coffee powder. The layer of powder was so thick in the filter that it was not letting the water through.

This reminded me of my mom packing my lunch to school on college. The quantity of food in my lunch box would be directly proportional to the depth of her hunger in the morning. On the days she was hungry when she packed my lunch in the morning, my lunch box would be super heavy and on the days she was not it would be light. She laughed and laughed when I pointed it out to her.

As they say, don't go grocery shopping when you are hungry.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Little N: The Quirk Chronicles

When Little N was born, I thought to myself that I should, at all costs, avoid comparing her to her older brother. After all, I thought, I am a mature woman; I know people are different and there's no reason that kids born to the same parents should behave the same way or react the same way to their surroundings.

Well, in the past 15 months that resolution has gone clean out the window. Not a week goes by without my husband or I marveling at how different Little N is from her brother. Other than that my water broke at exactly 3:15 in the morning for both the kids and that both of them walked at thirteen months and a week, the two are as different as they could possibly be. Of course, this makes life interesting and entertaining.

Tharini at Winkie's Way wrote a lovely post about how quirky her little one is and tagged me. So here it is, in writing, what I swore to myself I would never do - the Chronicles of Little N's Quirks:

1. Going down steps: Rather than getting on her knees and slowly backing down step by step, as I've seen most kids do, Little N sits on her butt, usually about a mile away from the step she wants to do down, and starts sliding along the floor towards the steps. When she gets to the first one, she slides herself off and lands on the second one and goes down each step on her butt - boom, boom, boom. We cringe every time we see her doing that wondering if her back hurts from the impact. She doesn't seem to care. Perhaps her diaper is enough to cushion her fall.

2. Food: Food is a big quirky thing. As Tharini said about her younger son, Little N eats everything. She's had sambhar rice and puliyogare, avocados, tomatoes, chicken sausage, eggs, cheese, bell peppers, yogurt, all kinds of fruit. Little N eats way spicier food than her brother eats even now. I have a feeling this is because I had a craving for hot rice and pickle when I was pregnant with Little N but had no cravings when I was pregnant with Calvin.

The most quirky thing she does about food is that she wants everything that I'm making and doesn't want me to give anything to Calvin. She watches to see if he's anywhere near the kitchen and watches to see what I do with the plate. If I call him to come to the table she screams her head off. The birth order must have something to do with is - survival, maybe? - but it's fascinating to watch it work unfailingly every time.

3. Seeking attention: She's not shy about it at all. This is usually with her dad and particularly apparent when he's just back from a trip. She starts out by calling him, "dadaa." If he doesn't respond, she repeats it, endlessly, her tone and impatience rising every time she has to call him, until he says, "What, Little N?" Then she launches into her news bulletin. She says a sentence exactly like she's having a conversation with him, only none of us can understand what she's saying. (Aside: And the intonation and sounds are exactly like a Chinese dialect - with the slight upturn at the end of the sentence and odd groupings of consonants (a lot of n sounds in the back of her throat). We've decided she was Chinese in her previous life or something.)

Whether we understand or not, my husband has to say, "hmmmm" (like in a harikatha session, where the audience does the "hmmmm" thing so the story teller keeps going). Then she launches into another sentence. If he doesn't respond, then it's back to "dadaaa" again until he responds (and she will not accept substitutes. No siree. Only the real McCoy for her). It is totally fun for me and Calvin to watch this as my jet lagged husband struggles to keep up. One afternoon, after a particularly long trip, he went upstairs to sleep off his jet lag, but she wouldn't stop calling him from the bottom of the stairs until he came down and had a conversation with her.

4. Music and dance: She has two sets of moves. She goes up and down with her knees bent, bobs her head up and down (like a chicken strut) or shakes her butt side to side for percussive, beat heavy music. If the music is melodious and has long notes that are held down, then she bends her torso sideways from the waist up, her head almost reaching her waist on either side - and she tries to sing along drawing out the notes like in the music. And she has a serious expression on her face while she's dancing almost like something involuntary is making her do it, but she intends to get her moves right, concentrating on how and how far her body moves. It is thrilling and heartwarming to watch her dance when Calvin plays on the piano. I feel cocooned in something way bigger than I can comprehend.

5. Hugs: Little N is a touchy-feely, cuddly ball of slobbery kisses. If I ask for a hug and she runs off, all I have to do is extend my arms, ask for a hug in a whiny, sad voice and she comes running with her arms outstretched and throws herself on me. Again and again, no matter how many times I play this game. She's always been good at imitating sounds, but over the past few weeks, she's learnt to imitate actions as well. So now she does the pleading action for a hug and it makes me want to cry. One look at her small arms stretched out in front of her, palms upturned asking for a hug and I want to bawl. I don't want her ever to plead for a hug from someone. I know it's a game and she has a naughty smile on her face when she does this, but it still breaks my heart.

6. What I can't do is not worth doing: She's learning the actions for the usual nursery rhymes - Baa baa black sheep, Twinkle, Twinkle. When we get to a line for which she can't get her hands to do the action, she jumps up and down and says, "unnn, unnn, unnn" telling me to get a move on and go on to the next line. She doesn't like, "Have you any wool?" because she can't get her fingers to do the questioning action, and she doesn't like, "Three bags full" for the same reason. She loves the "One bag..." part - she's got the wagging the finger motion down pat. (I was wagging my finger at her one day and asking, "Do you understand?" in a stern voice and she did it right back to me with the correct intonation and finger wag. Sigh.)

There are so many little things. I don't know if all of the above are quirks, but it's definitely something that I've noticed only her doing.

Gosh! It was fun to take stock. Thanks, Tharini.

Monday, September 10, 2007

9/11: Six Years Later

For months after the hijacked jet liner ploughed into the west side of the Pentagon six years ago, try as I might, I could not avoid looking at the massive gash that had wounded this America icon. It was morbid but mesmerizing.

Six years later, driving by the Pentagon on Interstate 395 from Virginia into Washington, D.C., I still turn to look, eyes flitting over the facade, remembering. But now the walls are smooth again; the windows shiny. There is not a trace of the pulverized concrete, the shattered glass, the mangled plane, or the soot that stained the walls of America's defense head quarters for weeks after the 9/11 attack. From a distance, five years after it was rebuilt, nothing betrays the horror of that day - not even the newness of the edifice.

If only human beings were as easy to rebuild.

On TV, the woman walks across the swath of land across from this side of the Pentagon that is pock-marked with square slabs of concrete - 184 to be exact. The concrete slabs will eventually be a memorial to the 184 people who lost their lives that day. Cameras and reporters trail her. Some days are good, some days are bad, she says. The loss of her husband seems to have etched itself on her face. A man talks about his wife who died on the second day of her job which also happened to be her birthday.

In my neighborhood, the sapling planted to remember two of my fellow residents who died in the Pentagon that day is now a full-grown tree, standing strong and tall. Every so often, I see people on their daily runs or walks taking a breather under its lush, vibrant foliage.

This year, more than in the previous years, I read and see reports of people tiring of the incessant coverage of the 9/11 anniversary. For sure, there is the predictable news coverage of hunting down survivors and surviving families and checking up on them; ceremonies in which politicians give self-important speeches and read out "moving" poems; reporters tracking the progress of the various planned memorials and recounting the behind-the-scenes bickering about the plans and the funding; and article upon article about the war on terror and the interminable analyses of whether it has actually made America safer.

But the alternative - not talking about it at all - is as impractical as it is unthinkable.

For even someone who did not lose a loved one in the carnage of that day, it is impossible to escape the fact that, in many ways big and small, 9/11 inexorably changed our view of the world. There is something different in the air, as if someone grabbed the molecules and rearranged them.

Just driving into Washington, D.C. after a gap of three years of living in India is enough to bring on the sad realization that the city has changed even more than right after the attack. Where cars drove freely and parked freely, there are now lane closures and barricades every where you look. Unencumbered views of the monuments on the National Mall, all along Constitution Avenue, were the order of the day. No more. Ugly cement blocks and walls rise from the ground to mar the visual real estate. Long lines of people wait patiently to go through the security check to enter museums and federal buildings.

The staccato sounds of helicopters and steady drones of fighter jets, which earlier evoked thoughts of air shows or Presidential arrivals or departures now lead you to wonder what's going on. One day a couple of years after 9/11, as my son and I were coming out of the library in our neighborhood we noticed about four or five helicopters circling the area. It was disconcerting to say the least. I saw a police car parked outside the library and I asked one of the officers what was going on. He smiled broadly and said it was, perhaps, just a military exercise. He ducked into his car and fished out a coupon for ice creams and gave them to my son. Enjoy, he said. May be he saw the concern on my face and felt sorry.

The clear blue September skies and the crisp, slightly chilly air of the beginning of autumn in this part of world are themselves enough to evoke memories of where I was that day and what I was doing. Enough to remind me of the panic of not having either my husband or my son at home; of seeing the second plane ramming into the second tower on live television; of hearing the loud thud of the plane hitting the Pentagon and feeling the house shake and my windows rattle; of seeing my neighbors coming back home from work at the Pentagon, shaken and unable to eat for days; of not knowing what was going on, but knowing, by the time the fourth plane hit the field in Pennsylvania, that whatever this was, it was relentless.

When loved ones get on a plane to fly these days I notice that I unwittingly keep an eye on the news. I think twice about my husband and I leaving the children at home with a babysitter and going out by ourselves even for a couple hours. What if?

I can only imagine what someone who lived through 9/11 and felt its impact more closely than I did must go through every year. After all, memories don't have sell-by dates. What must they feel when personal events or external goings-on trigger flashbacks? What do they remember when Osama Bin Laden comes on the airwaves, well groomed (I wonder if he used plain old boot polish or an American brand of hair dye that promised to last through twenty-four shampoos and provide complete gray coverage) and obviously aware of world events? What must they do when memories come unbidden and demand to be countenanced?

Image Courtesy: The Pentagon Memorial Site


Sepia Munity on 9/11