Day 5: Diary sheets and fat kids

I sent back a number of the student diaries today with incomplete information sheets. Being associated with a progressive and a liberal school like mine, I had anticipated to see most parents leave the ‘Caste’ row empty, and I wasn’t disappointed. I felt a little hypocritical, asking students to insist that their parents filled that in, when internally I wanted to high-five the parents and tell the kids to grow past these trivial differentiators. I realized that this was just the first in a long list of ideological mismatches between the education boards and me that I would have to live with for some time

Attendance: A physical attendance register would probably be the next big mismatch that I would take time for me to accept. As I spent diligent time rewriting the names from ‘rough’ pencil to ‘fair’ pen, I imagined me in an alternative universe, managing all of this digitally. I imagined digital signatures, and collaborative editing, and real-time updates. I imagined parents being automatically notified when a child was marked absent. I pictured us staring into tablets and laptops instead of ancient attendance registers. I came back to reality with a thud when my colleague pointed out that I should be marking absentees with a red A and not a black A. Sigh!

Weight trouble: Right after the empty caste columns, most diaries had blank height and weight informations. I wondered if the parents really knew that little about their children or if they had the same confusion as in my head about the true purpose of the school collecting this information. I might still be able to play the devil’s advocate and justify collecting height details. But the weight?

I almost forgot about the trauma of putting that trivial bit of information in writing until dear lil Ms Nambiar sneaked up to me, wondering if she could leave the weight column blank. I was immediately sent back to my own school days and how I found it extremely embarrassing to speak about it. I remembered stepping on the weighing scale in PT class and hearing a collective gasp behind me when my classmates found out about the reading on the machine. If my memory serves me right, I was exactly as old as lil Ms Nambiar. The troubles of a ten year old, and she was going through the same thing decades later.

I spoke to her through the day, at different times when we got a chance, and I tried to get her out of her discomfort. We spoke about one’s weight being just a number and how a part of owning your body was to accept yourself for who you are. I told her about how I’d wasted a lot of my growing years worrying that I didn’t fit in with the rest. A couple of her classmates pitched in, complaining about their height or bony build, and we spoke about how every body was different and everybody invariably had something to complain about themselves. While she listened to it all silently, I still didn’t sense a change in mind. I still saw the fear in her eyes, hidden behind her pink colored frames.

She walked close by during the afternoon class in the auditorium, and sat huddled by me, elbows resting on my legs. Mid session, she whispered in my ears “Aunty, is it OK if I fill my weight only in the pages I give you and not the one left in the diary?” Well, why not? And here was our breakthrough.!

Aunty, why does your tattoo say “Daddy’s gundacchi?”

Because my dad used to call me that.

But you’re not fat, no? Then why he called you that?

Ha! I don’t know.

When you do your mummy tattoo, can you please say “Mummy’s ollicchi?”

Geography is the study of boats, and aliens, and fossils.

Some things are better when done alone. But then life would be so boring if you did everything alone. That’s why we have team work.

Aunty, it’s magic. How do you know all our names already?

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Day 122: Journeys

Driving with the OldMan

The short vacation ended sooner than I anticipated and it was time to be back in the TrafficCity. Even before the blues of having to go back set in, the OldMan proposed his plan of coming along to attend some of colleague’s grand event. So, I had a driver.

I thought of a strange conversation I had many many years back, where I told Dodo that he was only my third favorite driver, after my dad, and Michael Schumacher. Driving back, I didn’t feel all that confident anymore? He drove at 140 and was of course completely in control. He braked on time and overtook like a pro. And yet, I wasn’t confident. After a while, I fake slept so that I wouldn’t have to imagine my death at every turn.

Was I relating his drinking habit to his waning driving skills? He himself did mention a reduction in reflexes. Was his age really catching up? Were my biases catching up with me?

As I sat opposite the OldMan at Nagarjuna, quietly observing him lost in thought while eating, I felt an eerie feeling of pity take over me. For the last few years, I have been slowing inching away from him, for reasons I’ve ranted out before. As my principles and ideologies solidified, I realized how opposite they were to his; that automatically made us on opposite camps. But sitting there at lunch, I felt a deep connect to his troubles.

I felt like the weakling in the family, always trying to compete and prove my worth. I felt like the failure son that could never be enough for a stickler father, and now the conservative brothers . I felt like the outcast that fell in love and wanted to marry before an older brother had. I felt the pain of the sole bread winner, lugging three women around, and fending for their every need. I felt the pressure of an underpaid job that kept me on the road for 20 days a month, and still did not give enough. I felt the pinch of the rising prices and the growing needs of the daughters. It hurt me when the teenage daughter rebelled and talked back. It stung when the adolescent called me the worst dad yet. I remembered how my inability to give them a more comfortable life caught on and was discussed much later. It pained me to think that my wife was more comfortable speaking about my troubles to someone else in the family, than to me. It hurt me to think that all three could lead a life on their own now, and didn’t really need me.

I felt the pain. Something inside me stirred a little too deep.

SilverGhoster’s birthday and beyond

SilverGhoster turned a year older and a dinner was due. It felt like a Boondock kinda evening, reveling in the classics of an era gone by. As I look back at the night, and the conversations from the dinner, there is an odd familiarity about it all. It felt like we had been this way for years, and this was just another dinner. We talked about cars, mothers, shitty curriculum, dowry system, growing up, growing old, friends, foes, food and whatnot. I realized that with Switch, H, and Dodo all gone, I missed this the most – the random musings under the sun. In fact, I lost Dodo on that front a long time back. I feel the conversations touch on some mundane topics these days, topics that don’t resonate beyond a basic courtesy level. This night, it felt right.

A little part of me wondered if this could lead to something more than just conversations. A major part of me smacked itself in the head, reminiscent of the heart breaks of the past, and the societal anguishes and the battles that lay ahead. Between us, we had the paradoxes, too alike and yet absolutely different from each other. He was the conformist while I had a rebel blood oozing out of every vein. He was the calculated, capitalist businessman, while I was the dreamer who wanted to move to an island and learn to swim. He wanted the machines and the money, and I’d give it all up for the peace of mind. We were poles apart.

Yet, the other Gemini twin smirked and reminded me of the poles that intertwined within me. If the opposites can co-exist within, why could they not thrive in two bodies outside? The rebel wanted to reach out and see if the connect existed, but the loner drew the shutters down and mourned.

Had my heart aged beyond repair so much that it did not want any more battles? Wouldn’t that leave me alone for the rest of my life; any relationship comes with its heart breaks? Was I ready to be my own support system when all was dark and bleak? Was I just imagining the demons in the shadows when at the end of the day the universe had it all sorted out? It always does sort things out on its own. Was the cosmos smiling animatedly as I shook his hand briefly, got out of the car and ran home, lest I do something stupid?

You don’t really have to be alone, S. What is life without a warm shoulder to lean on during the cold and dull nights? 

Fine, that’s your leg, I know. But you get the point, right?” Scotch 

Day 92: Am I getting all religious now? 

I knew it the minute I got ready for my drive to college that it was going to be a different day. The mind said so. And the difference became evident when I started the car, connected it to YouTube, and started playing Kanda Sashti Kavacham. I mumbled the words, sometimes matching up with Soolamangalam’s pitch, and drove along. I had only one manic outburst, and I don’t even remember who it was right now.

But the rest of the way, there was a certain calmness in my driving today when compared to the usual manic rage. I’ve told a number of people how drivers typically went through the 5 stages of grief when it came to Bangalore traffic and that I was stuck in Anger for almost two years now. I felt that stage wane and I realized that I had directly moved to acceptance. As the black Honda behind me honked his way between lanes and zigzagged around, I knew he wasn’t going far. As I pulled up, calmly, by him at the traffic signal, I gave him the look a mature adult would give a vagrant teenager. Grow up child!

Acceptance

There was a similar acceptance in class towards GDs pettiness as well. As A told me more about her antics, of how she created an attendance sheet just to mark me Absent and how she warned A to grow up or ‘everybody’ would bulldoze her, I smiled internally and reminded myself that I was an adult. And that such pettiness did not affect me.

It had affected me yesterday. Deeply. But today was a brand new Tuesday and I choose to be the adult. Was I becoming religious now? :=)

Richmond

The song reminded me of Sundays in Richmond, VA. I’d visit the shopping mall of a temple, to get some quiet and peace. Well, not really; because the country itself was quiet when compared to India. Maybe I went every week to feel a little hit of home around me. They had printed books with the entire lyrics and they played the exact version of Kanda Sashti Kavacham that I was used to. Strangers, in different corners of the temple, would follow along with the song, and I would join in. I would sit for the 20 odd minutes it ran, and get up almost immediately when it was done and leave. There were very few days when I’d wait for the Aarti afterward.

A weird routine. A regular routine. For two long years. Had I been religious all along?

Religious? You? C’mon, S! I’ve seen you wave at the puja room and run out the door. Amma is religious, what with her flowers and incense and all. You? Ha! 

Anyway, how about some of that omelet for me now? Maybe if I rest my nose on your leg, the force will be strong. ” Scotch 

Day 70: Growing up

I went to my ancestral home this weekend. My paternal grandfather built it as his generation progressed, moving the large family out of their rented home and into this single floor house, and eventually adding another floor too. I spent two years, kindergarten and grade 1, here and it has been a constant for all summers.

I drove into the lane that the house lies on and I was shocked at how everything else seemed to have grown up, while the house stayed the same. I remember climbing up the tall gates as a child and being scared of hitting down hard if I fell. Now, if I put my hands up, I hit the ceiling to the entrance. I remember the little water tank in the back of the house and how we’d use it as our personal bath tub. I could wet a hand completely now before it begins to overflow. Even the terrace and it’s little benches all seemed to have shrunk.

Life was much better before, us tiny selves and everything around us too big to grasp.

You used to slide down this railing as a child? I’m scared to go down these stairs, and you used to slide down? Crazy, 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