Day 69: The great Indian madness

The great Indian madness called the roads. Driving home to visit the parents in Coimbatore, and the 6-hour drive has been fun. It’s almost symbolic of our manic lives – a random pedestrian walks across your path, carefree and wanton; a cow parks itself squat in the middle of the highway, oblivious to the high speed travel; an annoying family honks their way past you from behind, unaware that multiple lanes exist for a reason. And through it all, you’re stuck in your little metal bubble, behind the steering wheel, with the false illusion that your control is the reason you’re still alive.

Fish fry… Strange incense… Hot poodle poop… Man not showered in three days… Biriyani, Oooh where was that biriyani. Turn around, S” Scotch

Day 56: Growing old with parents

I was 16 when I sat behind the wheels of a car for the first time. Our phoenix red Maruti Omni seemed like the perfect testing ground and I was super excited. We hit the under-construction inner-ring road post-midnight and after a few debacles with the clutch-accelerator pedals, we were go. And in a few, I was cruising down that road; it was a time when Bangalore did not have the manic traffic problems of today. I had heard from friends about the gears and shifting, and I was switching over seamlessly when my dad let out a strong yell and I hit the brakes immediately. 4th gear? I was just a newbie and I had switched to the top-most gear? We’ll wait for some hours of driving before we get there, OK?

 

Driving has always been portrayed as an overly-technical feat that requires extensive hand-eye-leg-brain coordination. Add to that the general societal stereotype about women driving and it is made to seem like a humongous achievement. When dad got his first car, the phoenix red Omni, mom got behind the wheel as well. To this day, her driving down the roads of Bangalore and Coimbatore are shared as humorous anecdotes in family gatherings. This comes mostly from relatives who have been driven around by their husbands all their life. When I came back to India and started driving again, I felt the need to ‘practice’ before I got on the road because of the huge task that driving on Indian roads was made out to be.

 

Add the importance attached to driving to the Indian mindset of gaining one’s parents’ approval to be considered successful, and I was always conscious about my driving around my parents. When the folks visited me in the US, there was always an extra attempt to be the responsible driver. A smooth lane transition, a successful overtaking maneuver or a last-minute save-our-lives braking and the ears were always perked to hear that nod of appreciation. Most drives were spent in utter silence, and I could feel my parents holding their breaths, not letting conversation distract their attention from the road. Somehow, the thousands of miles driven and the 8-hour non-stop drive back from Niagara falls were all validated only by the approval from the boss.

 

This week when the parents visited though, things seemed very different. The pressure was strangely gone. And they did not mind me driving them around as well. I did not have to do the usual fight when dad is around, to get into the driver seat. Very few have won that fight with him and I did not even have to make an effort this time. There was very little pillion-driving as well, and except for an occasional remark, they continued on their conversation, almost unaffected by the driving.

 

As I thought some more about this, I realized that we had all grown up a lot since that night from 2000. My parents had grown to accept me as an adult, specifically in the last few years. I had grown to accept them as human beings, with their fears and insecurities. We had grown confident in each other’s strengths, and weaknesses, and turned to each other for advice when needed. We knew when to hold off on those uncalled for suggestions. And i think that maybe my need to prove my worth to them was all in my mind after all. Maybe they knew from the beginning that was good at it; I was their child after all.

You will always have my nod of approval, S. Who else lets me sit up front while in the car!” Scotch 

Day 45: Growing up right

I have still not recovered from the drama yesterday. SrA walked into class expecting everything to be normal. Nope, it will never be. When I leave the class, she tells A that she sat till 8PM the previous day (the BIG day), and two of her friends from the B. Ed class did the screenshots for her. “DID” it for her. And that’s exactly what we didn’t do, remember? Because we only ‘told’ her how to do it. She was seen in GD’s cabin till very late last evening, crying her heart out. I can only imagine the flow of conversation there.

Apparently the reason she broke down was because I told her to press “fn + PrtSc” to print her screen, where as in her laptop, she just had to press “Print Screen”. Yes, I am supposed to know every model of laptops out there and their key pads. If she had spent 3 minutes of the time she spent bawling like an imbecile, she would have realized what the right method was. 1 minute to figure out Fn + PrtSc dint work, 1 minute to figure out Win + PrtSc dint work, and 1 more to just hit the Print Screen button. OR, 3 minutes to google how to take a print screen for her laptop. Nope, a more productive way to use every body’s time was to cry like a three year old that did not get candy at the fair.

I am reminded of my dad’s response to my crying when I was in my tens. I invariably burst into tears at the slightest rebuke. Discussion, argument, point of view, were all unknown to me back then. And the minute he saw those tears roll by, he’d say, “I don’t see a reason why you are crying right now. Maybe we should give you a valid reason to cry”. This was, invariably, followed by a quick, tight slap. And I stopped crying. Us girls have abused the tears for too many years to get our way around, and as a feminist, it worries me. I’ve seen a number of women at work tear up because their code did not execute, and have had a team-full of men sit with them through the night to fix their buggy, poorly written code. I’ve been in heated arguments with ex-boy friends that completely became one-sided (to my benefit, of course) when the tears rolled down. I was, in fact, asked to fake-cry recently, when my Uber had an accident with a speeding auto and other women in the auto were up to take all my money.

“I Love You” and “I am Sorry” are the most abused 3-words. I’ve added the “I am crying” to that list as of today.

“I am going to cry now if you don’t fill my dinner bowl already. What do you mean I already ate dinner 1 hour back? I’m still hungry, yo!” Scotch

My bowl is empty! Again!

Day 42: Sunday! 

Every Saturday, I tell myself to be productive for the entire Sunday, and not just the last 3 hours. Yet another weekend has come by where I’ve broken that resolve. I’m glad that I taught Scotch to do her businesses in the bathroom. So, she woke up twice to pee and poop, I woke up once to have lunch.

Aside from those disturbances, we did not call it a Sunday, until 3pm eventually rolled in and the Monday blues set in.

If you and I had our way, we’d never leave the bed now, would we? 

I’m still deciding where to spend the next hour – sleeping in your bed or mine.” Scotch 

Day 35: BFFs

While it started off looking like a typical eat, sleep, clean kind of day, the Sunday was made interesting by a visit from an age old friend. As we sat at a quiet tea room, sipping on our kadak chais and catching up on the years gone by, I recall the way we met and became the thickest of friends.

He was in my class for three long years, two or three roll numbers behind me, and I barely spoke more than 10 times to him. Well, neither did he. He was getting awfully close to my ex-BFF in college, and as she and I started growing apart, he seemed to be at the center of it all; the attention hogger that took my BFF from me. Flash-forward to after graduation, and we go to the same abandoned town for our training, exchange a few pleasantries and before I know it, we’re hanging out most of the time. It surprised me how much we had in common and how littler we spoke about it during college days. This was 2005. We’ve come a long way since then. Stayed across continents and in the same continent, across cities and in the same city, and he’s even gotten married, and yet we continue to stay in touch, sharing each other’s lives when time permits.

As I drove back home, after a quick catch-up with Switch, I realized that we’ve grown out of our teenager phase of the friendship, and into the adult version of it. We spoke about investments, and savings and property to buy. We did not talk about the latest movies or the newest book read. We spoke about in-laws and families, ours and theirs. We did not talk about the latest photography gear to oogle at. We spoke about pain in the joints, and the latest gym sessions. We did not talk about the next travel adventure to be planned, the rock concert to attend or the newest gadget in town. Somehow, over the course of growing up, life’s struggles had come out the winner and we had lost our interests, it seems. There were promises of a new location, bringing in newer changes to life. But how effective are these changes, only time will tell.

If it was these interests that got us together in the first place, and if these interests no longer exist, then what binds us together now?

“Thanks to this old pal of yours, I got to ride in the car after a whole week and…what now!? Was that a cat?” Scotch


Day 33: Mis(re) presentations, Adoptions and Brahmins 

Long rant alert

Mis(re)presentations

Attended a national conference on Service Learning today and got a chance to present a paper on my project experience as well. These sessions are always wonderful to attend as they bring in a varied perspective to your purview, something that the four walls of a classroom cannot. I ended the day with lot of learnings, content-based and otherwise, and had some wonderful conversations.

I added a few pointers to my personal set of life lessons. Let’s see:

  • When you’re presenting to a group, it’s extremely important to know your audience. When experts in rocket science sit for your presentation, please skip the part where you define a rocket and then go on to define science. I think they get it!
  • Pay attention when someone else presents. If you’re the third on stage, and you’ve seen the first two presenters define rocket and define science already, move on. I think the audience gets it too!
  • Fake accents do not win you extra brownie points. If the degree of your fake accent increases as the size of your audience increases, then you have a problem. The audience might appreciate if you stick to the fake accent from one region. But when you switch between American, British and Australian in one sentence, we see through your Chennai convent education.
  • Respect every individual. You are a teacher, not the almighty. The day started with a professor pulling out a girl from the crowd, for some transgression, and yelling at her in front of a packed auditorium. He snatched her ID card, almost manhandled her out of her seat, and asked her to get out auditorium. The regressive, repressionistic form of discipline he used is from generations past and clearly points to the authoritative role that teachers held in the decades gone by, where their position as a teacher automatically let them rule over young minds. It is the kind of discipline we are moving away from in schools these days and here is a ‘progressive’ university practicing  such a ridiculous practice. No mistake on the child’s part, no offense by a person, warrants public humiliation. She deserves her dignity and definitely needs her voice to explain her position. If not, why don’t we all raise our hands up and “Hail Hitler!” as the guillotine is lowered?
    • I was shocked by my own non-intervention in the scene. I am sure if this were an event in a public setting I would have jumped in immediately. Then what stopped me today? Does the environment of an educational institution automatically dull our principles and values? Are we conditioned to not question teachers to such an extent that we no longer speak up against the wrong-doers?
  • There is value in the minor details. Service and service learning are not the same. While I’m not undermining volunteerism or any form of service, I am particular about the difference between those and service learning. It hurts me when professors slide critical attributes like reflection and community need-based solutioning  under the carpet and charade their internship and volunteer ventures as service learning. It hurts me more when experts designated to correct the course of these professors ignore these details, with the sole aim of not offending the hosts.

Adoptions

As insightful as the conference was, the return drive was the highlight. Sid and I spoke about a number of topics that mastered to both of us, ranging from the aristocracy of teachers to the flawed institution of marriage and the growing superficial nature of modern life. But what struck a strange chord was our conversation about adoption.

India does not have a dirth of orphaned children looking to find homes. And yet, a majority of the society still looks at adoption with a disapproving mindset. It’s either considered the last option for couples that are biologically challenged to procreate, or a fancy of the rich and famous in the country. I am reminded of the conversation with a prospective dude, who told me his reasons against adoption. He believed that lineage and genetics were very important and he’d want his family genes to be passed along. Anyway, it’s not like he was ‘incapable’ Huh! Each reason to raise the population of the country, and not adopt, is more absurd than the next.

There is definitely a serious case of lack of awareness. But there is the other aspect of ease of access as well. The more I read about adoption and its proceedings, I realize how complicated the process is deemed to be. Singles are automatically bumped low in the list of prospective adopters. Single men are worse of, placed right at the bottom, next to maybe a golden retriever that wants to adopt a baby. A number of orphanages and adoption agencies are run by Christian missionaries and they bring in their religious pre-dispositions into the whole process. And at the end of the day, the legal system is so complicated that the entire process can last anyway between 3 to 5 years. We move paper work through desks while a child rots away without a family to its own.

Some taboos are so deep rooted that it may take more than a few generations to change.

Brahmins

Speaking of generations and lineage, I finally exited my extended family’s group on Whatsapp. While the group has a consistent flood of annoying posts, ranging from immature Good Morning images to an overload of cat memes, what tipped me off the breaking point today was their plea to sign a petition to ‘Stop the hatred against brahmins’. While dalit women are raped in public and tribal children are forced to take arms instead of books, here’s a progressive community worried about not getting their share of attention.

The country, why even the entire world, is  fueled by this race frenzy right now. Supremacists reign high and low and everybody wants the outsider to stay outside. Why not be the progressive caste that can see past these trivial, man-made differences? Oh! But there’s reservation for the Muslims and the Christians and the tribes and other castes, but not us? Valid point. But aren’t you the ‘superior race’? Haven’t you been endowed with enough prowess to earn your IIT-IIM degrees, to migrate to the US and to vacation in a new country every year? Let’s be the one race that is not petty now, shall we? While you sit on your holy ass, and earn top-dollars for the American company that funds your next vacation, there are people fighting for their basic rights, their right to life, against a racist society. There are girls fighting against patriarchy to attend school and women fighting against ancient customs to end abusive marriage. So, please!

Oh S! You seemed to have gotten too riled up now. Why not go the labby way? Find a comfortable spot in the sofa, and curl up?” Scotch