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

Sunday, September 09, 2007

When did you start loving your baby?

Bird's Eye View has a lovely post about falling in love with her baby.

After my son was born, since I was woozy and passed out from the sedation, everyone else in the immediate family saw him before I did. And even when I saw him I didn’t feel what I expected – a gush of love so strong and powerful that nothing else would compare. My husband seemed to have bonded much faster than I did. Through the first couple of months of endless feeding and cleaning I guess my son and I took our first tentative steps (obviously metaphoric in his case) towards understanding each other and maybe liking.

My son is six months old now. And today as I watch him, I am touched by myriad emotions. At times his air of fragility and vulnerability annoy me, make me angry. Nobody should be so weak, so defenceless. How will I protect him, not just from the rest of the world but even from me and my moods?

Do read the entire piece.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Name Change - This is for real now

Big N will henceforth be referred to as Calvin on this blog. Remember this from a long time ago?

Until Little N grows up enough to start making demands as to her monicker, she will still be Little N.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Entertainer: Composer, Scott Joplin; Pianist, Big N

Big N's piano teacher introduced him to Scott Joplin's The Entertainer a few days ago. Big N's been studying it and loves it. It's a lovely piece of music. Without much ado, here's Big N:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Little N and her Big Brother's Friend

Big N had one of his favorite friends, S, over for a sleepover this past weekend. The two of them ran around the house, played games with cars and airplanes, watched a movie, discussed horse power and the merits of F-16s vs. F-17s and which car or fighter jet leaves which one in the dust, etc., etc. You know, boy stuff (although, I must say, each one feeds off of the other and they've both turned into super geeks by the time they are ready to say goodbye to each other).

It was great to see the two kids having fun, but even better to watch Little N.

She chased the boys around as much as her little legs would let her, squealing when she found them and purposefully heading off in their direction when they moved yet again. Finally, when they settled down to watch the movie, she seized the opportunity to stare, uninterrupted, at ... her big brother's friend!

Oh, the adoration on her face! She looked and looked. She ignored me when I called her, preferring to lean on the sofa Big N's friend was sitting on, neck and face upturned. I said, "Do you want to give him a hug?" (She's into hugs, big time). She ignored me. Of course. But kept on looking waiting for him to look at her. He, unfortunately, was engrossed in Star Wars playing on TV.

Then it struck me - this is just the beginning of a future full of Big N's friends traipsing in and out of the house for little N to gawk at. Sigh!