On 19th Jan 2011.

I do believe in the entire universe conspiring to help you when you really want something (but not always. I hated these lines this August)… I find positive words and gestures very powerful and very comforting. Thank you for visiting the temple and for praying or thinking of a girl and a family you have never met or known. I have to believe that that is what changed how I felt as the day brought in emails, calls, comments, messages, a surprise book, precious posts wishing a girl known only online, and photographs I will cherish forever. Thank you doesn’t even begin to convey how I feel.

I have always believed in some supreme, kindly power watching over the world. I have never understood how this power allows a mother monkey to cling to the body of her dead baby or the human heart to feel so much pain for something it can’t change. It should have been natural to remember a child with a smile. I read a sad blog by a father who lost his son, Sanstav Paul in Dec 2008, he wishes, like I did, for some comfort, “Beta, if you think that we loved you so much then please come at least once (in my dream) to tell me that you are all right.”

I told my son, as we sat talking till late at night, that there should have been a rule that if the children die before the parents, they should appear in their dreams and say loving goodbyes to the parents. Son said, “They should appear in the siblings’ dreams also.

My mother didn’t call. She was the first person to hold Tejaswee 20 years ago. She never missed her birthday ever. My sister called her to find out how I was before calling me (when the melodrama-queen had spoken to me just the night before!) and they cried together. My mother told her she sees my grieving face all the time, everywhere. I asked her if that wasn’t too much. I could never be what I was, but I was fine. Grateful to be more ‘fine’ than I would ever have imagined.

My sister had once said she hated god when she heard my changed ‘hello’ over the phone. I had thought that was exaggeration too. I asked her if she still felt my voice sounded like a mother’s whose child had died. She burst into loud crying. Tejaswee was a lot like my sister. One morning we were rushing to drop her to school, as we got into the building lift, she looked at my face carefully and asked if I would like her to tell me where all I was getting wrinkled on my face. As we got out of the lift, a neighbour asked what I was laughing about and Tejaswee tried to shut my mouth, “Don’t tell!!” But I ‘told of course, and we teased her for her Sagittarius (ascendant) tactlessness.  So I told my sister what she said didn’t hurt because I could ask her to stop when it hurt and I knew she would.

My sister in law and niece chose to contribute to Tejaswee Rao Scholarship on her birthday. If you too would like to contribute please do  email me. Unfortunately it can’t be done online yet, but the cheque directly in the name of her college with ‘Tejaswee Rao Scholarship’ written behind the cheque would go into the fund/deposit the college has created for the scholarship.

And here’s how her cousin and his fiancee celebrated her life on her 20th birthday.

Dear Tejaswee,

It’s your birthday today and I wish you could be here to celebrate with us. Even though we can’t be together on this day, Sanda and I have decided to celebrate anyway, so we are going to have some yummy chocolate cake this evening and will also give some to the many stray dogs that live under our building (will post some pictures here!!). I am sure you would have enjoyed this and we wanted to let you know that you will be in our thoughts today and we hope we will be in yours.

Sending all our love and two big hugs,
Gaurav
Sanda”

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We are moving…

The packers are here. There was no choice but to go through Tejaswee’s stuff.  Although some of it should have made me smile like the letter she wrote to J K Rowling at 11… (will post it later) but maybe we are not  yet ready for it.

Son was angry and tearful and frightened, asking, ‘Why her?’ He said he saw a video on You Tube about the soul escaping by breaking a bullet proof glass. He also read Dr Brian Weiss’s ‘Same Soul, Many Bodies’ and a forwarded message quoting from the Gita… he wants to believe she is there somewhere.

We had kept one room out of bounds for the packers. The dogs, the cat, our cellphones, keys and anyone who needed a break had a place. I entered the room to find my husband alone there, crying – for the first time. Are we doing the right thing by moving?

We are moving to be closer to family and friends. Husband will  have his family close by and also a place to take much needed and therapeutic long walks with the dogs.  Son will have his cousins and friends…  Our daughter lives in our hearts, leaving this house does not mean we are leaving her or her memories behind.

But crying helped him. Once the packers had left  at 9 pm (without finishing  packing) he was able to watch TV. He was able to sleep too.

Tejaswee’s friend shared this to be added to Friends’ Remember on her blog. She also promised to visit us in Gurgaon.

And then, late in the evening  an old, old friend, M called – I knew she was flying from Pune on the 4th, to spend the day with me. And we are moving tomorrow. I had forgotten. She said not to worry, she was going to help us pack and move.

Mothers and daughters.

My mom visited me the other day and the first thing she asked was to watch ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ at 1 pm. I groaned aloud and explained that with Airtel IPTV, she could watch any missed shows later also.

“Great then I also want to watch the last night’s show I missed yesterday!”

So my mom caught two shows I strongly disapprove of, one after another. We ate lunch while watching a group of women circling a peepal tree, praying for their husband’s long life and listening to Savitri’s story.

Savitri snatched her husband back from Yama, the god of death. (Even if we don’t hear of it, I am sure her husband would have done the same for her.) She asked Yama for a hundred sons… (and not one daughter) so he had to return her husband so she could have those hundred sons (no daughters). Now the entire nation seems to follow numerous examples like this, and everybody wants sons.

Gandhari in Mahabharata also asked for a hundred sons. Didn’t they miss having daughters? Sons are fine and good, but isn’t it fun for women to have life-long friends in their daughters?

I saw a friend transform. She had problems at home, and she didn’t seem to care how she looked or lived. She dressed conservatively, wore drab colours and seldom stepped out of her house.

Then her daughter grew up 🙂

During the last few years she took the mother with her to the gym, got her a haircut, both got a music teacher, they go for movies and shopping together,  and the daughter gradually changed her mother’s entire wardrobe. This happens with many women. Grown up daughters become best friends and allies. My friend’s problems are still there but now she has someone who understands and stands by her. She also looks visibly more confident with her new look.

When we were teenagers, my mother used to say she had heard of mothers being close to sons, and wondered why nobody said anything about the amount of fun mothers have with daughters.

My favourite poem by Usha Pisharody says it so well!

For a Daughter I Wish I’d Had!!!

By Usha Pisharody

Audacious smiles

laughter ringing clear-
warm hugs and
little sudden pecks on my cheeks!
A whirlwind of a girl;
now here, gone in a flash!
endearing entreaties-
unquestioning love!
Long long hours of girlish talk-
boys, books, heroes and men!
Life, love, trust and THAT!
Confiding giggles-
while ogling the boys…;)
summing them up, then
walking by in disdain!!
Cheering her up
when sadness strikes-
being there for her…
just in case, she asks!
Holding her hand-
without her knowing..
as only moms can do;
though she, being mine,
would know it too…!!!
Sharing myself with her-
my fears, my joys
my secrets, and my ploys-
Ending the day in warmth
so wonderful
so fierce and filling..
Wishing each mother had
a daughter..
so like mine!!

And a little girl is 19 now.

Can an Indian daughter say, “Mere paas maa hai.”? – II

I asked my mother if she had been watching the news about Neha Chhikara. Her mother’s words on the TV shocked me. She sent her daughter back to be beaten. Shouldn’t we have a law against this?

Didn’t even animals protect their children? My mother agreed and added that even a cow, known for being docile, is known to meet a tiger head-on, if her calf is attacked.

I asked, “… supposing this had happened to your daughter? What would you have done?”

“I would have brought you back!”

Yeah? What would you have told all your sisters in law and relatives and neighbours…?”

That, I would have worried about later. First I would have brought you back.”

And I know she would have. Saas-Bahu serials she might watch, my mom’s still a mother.

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

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On the day of my dad’s funeral, somebody pointed out that it was cold and my mother should have a shawl. I got up to get one. A well meaning relative followed me. I picked a maroon shawl. The well meaning relative muttered, “Red won’t be appropriate, take the beige one.” I assured her maroon would be just fine, knowing I was older than her and my mom was in no state to object.

Later mum mentioned how another acquaintance had pointed out one Mrs S, who was so distraught after her husband died that even a year afterwards; she hardly ate unless someone persuaded her to eat. Perhaps she needed a maid for a while. Join Yoga classes. Get out and meet people, anything to lift her spirits, and help her get on with life. Instead she was used as a subtle example of good widowhood.

A friend who is originally from Nainital lost her dad. She was expected to request some male cousins to perform the funeral rites. She was also expected to watch her relatives take away coloured saris and shawls from her mother’s gorgeous collection. She did neither. Some jaws dropped. She performed all rites and her mother still wears sindoor, and is still complimented for her lovely taste in saris.

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When I visited my mum later, she explained, “If I don’t use lipstick, my lips feel dry…” All her life she drank tea or water before applying lipstick, because (unlike her daughters) she hates leaving lipstick marks on teacups. What made her think she needed to justify her use of lipstick now? I reminded her how as a 68 year old grandmother; she could be a role model for the younger women she interacted with. How proud I was when I told well-meaning relatives, “My 68 year old mother wears sleeveless/lipstick/pretty colours/diamonds… ” etc.  I didn’t even want to mention how dad never cared for such customs.

Old age can be empowering in our culture. Suddenly the same old opinions become respectable.

I love putting sindoor (vermilion) on the forehead and filling the hair parting with it. We even have jokes about how one can intentionally let some of this gorgeous red powder sprinkle on the nose because that indicates a loving husband. But all this is only for parties and occasions. In daily life I don’t even wear a bindi or a nose pin.  Most of my friends don’t either, though some wear mangalsutra inside their shirts. (Inside because they realise that generally these symbols don’t go well with western clothes)

Sometimes a rare well meaning acquaintance would point out ‘bare arms‘ (i.e. no bangles).

Another one once said one should either always wear sindoor or never.

Why?

Because it wasn’t a fashion or a style statement.

No? Then what was it?

Why do women wear sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, bichia, tali etc? To show they are married. Why do they need to ‘show’ or announce they are married?  (Please don’t bring love into it, because evn the most unhappily married women wear these). And then why are they expected to take these symbols off when their spouse dies? Do they stop being married?

Manusmriti has answers?  But of course! [will link or write another post later]

Bollywood has answers too!

Those who follow this traditionally should know what the symbols imply. For those who wear sindoor and mangalsutra like they wear lipstick and a pretty neckpiece these become what they should remain – just some pretty ethnic adornments.

Who gave you your thoughts?

Uma’s post on her early influences, Solilo’s post on religious tolerance and some discussion on this blog made me wonder what makes us think the way we do…

A friend in class IV told me she always murmured the words of the aarti during the assembly, instead of ‘Our father who art in heaven’ in our Christian school. I had gone home and told my mother proudly, that I was going to do the same. She told me it did not matter what words or language we used, so long as we prayed from our heart.

Our Moral Science teacher talked to us about praying before we went to bed. Every night, we had to tell God what we did all day, if we did something we shouldn’t have, it was time to promise to ourselves, we won’t repeat it. This prayer time was a time to make promises to God.

She talked to us about ‘conscience’ or a little voice inside us which always tells us if we are wrong. And those who listen to that voice, she said, will never do any wrong.

She talked about compassion. She talked about how, like a loving parent, God was always there for us, his children. (She called God ‘Him’ always ;))

Were these Christians beliefs? She did not say which God. And under the Amar Chitra Katha influence I used to pray to every God I could remember, for several years, and any new name learnt was promptly added to the list.

We also had a Sanskrit teacher who didn’t approve of us giggling, and said those who laugh too much today were going to cry later. But we loved his stories.  We argued when he said every family must have a son to carry forward the family name.

One of his biggest influences was the story of Dhruva – he said the North Star was named after him. I wanted to know how standing on one leg for months could get someone to meet God. He explained that basically ‘tapasya’ meant Will Power and Discipline, that both could get us anything we wanted. I still believe that. As a kid I followed his advice and practiced building a strong Will Power very seriously by giving up Orange Bar ice cream. 😉

Once a friend told me there was a ghost on a tree near our place. I was terrified until my mother said the way Bhootkaal meant, ‘past tense’, bhoot meant past. She must have sounded like she meant it, till today ghosts don’t scare me.

My mom says her dad taught her to be careful of humans instead of fearing ghosts. When she said she was going to tie a rakhi and make a class mate her brother, he told her class mates could only be friends, only her brother could be her brother.

But all early influences are not permanent. Some make us rebel. My mother strongly believed in marrying within the community. She thought we sisters should dote upon our only brother. Our Sanskrit teacher’s talk about religion often veered towards gender bias. My grandfather thought girls should not care for their looks.

So perhaps we just pick some and leave some? I wonder how much can we be influenced. Are these early influences permanent? I guess some people change more easily than others do…

…but how did she guess?!

My mother in 55 words – I

Notice a hungry dog outside mum’s house.

Consider that she disapproves of feeding strays.

Confirm she’s busy in the kitchen.

Quietly open the fridge.

Verify she’s busy.

Pick Kaju-barfi.

Indifferently stroll out…

Open the gate quietly.

Feed the dog.

Tiptoe inside.

Jump at a dry voice from the kitchen…

“Sweets are bad for dogs”

55 WORDS FICTION

A literary 😉 work will be considered 55 Fiction if it has:

Fifty-five words or less (A non-negotiable rule)

A setting, One or more characters, Some conflict, and A resolution.

(Not limited to moral of the story)

But how did she guess? 🙄

Where was I?

I was…

Listening to my mum insist she let us choose what to study, but now it’s time for her granddaughter to fulfill her grandmother’s dreams, and hence choose Medicine/Civil Services/etc as careers.

And then being humbled almost to tears by the ease with which she accepted that whatever her granddaughter wishes to do is great, so long as she studies in Delhi …close to her.

Photocopying certificates, going through prospectuses, filling forms….

And biting my nails wondering if she is right in giving up Science and if there really is life beyond Medicine and Engineering as careers… Knowing full well there is.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Taking endless photographs. Taking photographs of Daughter’s room. Her new roommate and new friends…

Photographs of her sitting in the car painting her toe nails blue. Realizing that in many ways this is the beginning of the end of the kind of life she has known so far… hoping the excitement of a new life helps combat homesickness.

Reminding myself that I have benefited immensely from being independent, she deserves that chance too.

Watching my mother telling her to be brave and to be careful, trying not to show how scared she is herself. Realising she has been through this before, though we never sensed it.

Being forwarded the first email she sent, to her dad, from her very own USB Modem.

Reading Son congratulate his sister on Facebook!

Not from the next room, but from another city 😦

… and that’s how it’s going to be now.