Sunday, December 26, 2010

Globe trotting!!

Imagine an 18 year old travelling transatlantic alone for the first time. All excited about being with the family and friends for the holidays. He loads up the gifts which he has bought from his first ever earnings. He reaches the airport well in advance  and is the first one at the counter..... only to be told that he cannot travel that day!!!! The oversight is from the travel agent/ tourist site which guaranteed him that he would not need a visa for transiting through that airport. The reality is that there are two different terminals which require him to get out of the airport and go through the city for which he would need a Visa.

All alone at the airport, he does the only thing he can do.. call home in India. So at 2.30 AM the parents are startled out of their sleep to hear him saying that he cannot come. Can anything be more disappointing on Christmas day? The father logs on to the Internet and the mother brews some tea in anticipation of the long night ahead. The travel agent with the 1-800 number responds, but repeats the same thing over and over like one who has her lines down, too pat. "We are sorry, but as his documentation is not complete, he cannot travel today. We will give you a credit of 75% of the money and he can travel when his documentation is complete" . Really? But are you not the same people who  repeated assurances that no Visa was needed for transit in the first place?. Also, who will give credit on the DISAPPOINTMENT we are all experiencing, never mind the credit on the 25% of the money!!

 After more than an hour of being on hold and listening to the parroted statement, it seems like the only option is to cancel the reservation, take the sacred 75% and run to the next available ticket. Which would mean a last minute astronomically expensive ticket with some weird routing ( even via the moon maybe, astronomically being the operative word.. do they need visas for that?) as the holidays are on and the airplanes are full.

Maybe it was the Christmas spirit on the day of well..... Christmas, or it was the beseeching eyes or the disappointed look in the eyes of the 18 year old , but he was put on "Stand by" for another route,on a completely different carrier transiting through another country altogether, where he needed no Visa. Of course, it also meant arriving into a completely different city more than 800 kms away from the destination of choice, but being Indian, relatives and friends abound in every corner. But wait! "Stand by"" means just that! You wait all checked in at the gate, looking like the homeless person  who wants to gatecrash the party of rich celebrities. You wait for everyone to go in and take their seats and IF there is a seat to spare ( like leftovers) you will be accommodated. Any port in a storm and any straw while drowning.... he held on. The wait punctuated by calls back and forth to anxious parents and travel agents.

Good things come to those who stand and wait, especially on Christmas day, seemed like. So he was let into the party along with the celebrities. So what if he was now going through a very different airport, to a destination that was neither close to nor convenient to his intended one. So what if it meant skillful juggling and rearranging some more travel plans and dragging relatives, reluctant or otherwise, to meet him at the unfamiliar place at god forsaken hours like 4.30 in the morning.

 Welcome to  global  travel. You want to go one place and to reach there you traverse more places than you care to name (and are too tired to name or care) The world is shrinking they say. Add the extra hours spent on the plane just gathering more jet lag and it definitely seems to be the opposite. The information age does give you data at your fingertips, but it is not neccesarily the correct/complete information.Welcome to a networked world. But all said and done thanks to some kind, old fashioned human machinations, you land somewhere in the vicinity of what you intended.

Now all that is to be sorted out is the mere 800 kms distance, but for someone whose first trip as an adult began with a firm shove off the intended flight, this must seem a minor detail. Let  the HOLIDAYS begin!!

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

FrIends Forever???

 Watching a rerun of friends the other day, I  realized why the sitcom was so popular. This episode has a friend of Monica and Phoebe letting it out that Phoebe was, at one time, trying to cut Monica out of her friends. When Monica asks her why, Phoebe tell her that she was, "controlling, compulsive and shrill". "But I am still all those things", shrills Monica. "But you are also generous, kind and scrappy" says Phoebe.

To me that conversation epitomises what friendship is all about. You may not like some of what your friend is / does, but you love them for the good qualities that matter more. There are things That matter in the long run and overshadow the smaller irritants that we may notice at first.

The younger you are, the more the superficial matters, but an adult you love your friends for the qualities that will never change, no matter how much their appearance changes.  Very young friendships are mostly about convenience. You play with someone and you are friends. Of course you have your preferred friends, but as you are dependent on adults to take you places and decide what is 'good company' , it does not really count.

 As teenagers, which is probably the earliest you take your own decisions about who is your friend and who is not, it is the first impressions. Maybe looks and confidence and how cool the person is, probably gadgets he/she owns.By the time you get to college, you are more sure about what you like in a person as you have tried and tested many relationships. You have bared your heart and have had confidences broken. You have shared secrets and even let some out . You have discovered your own self.. your style, your esteem, your confidence.

College is all about serious experimentation. You do know somewhat, who you'd like to share all the adventures with. The ones you want to follow or assist in their adventures. You do not tell tales and even if you disagree, you never tell the establishment. These are the friends you get into hairy situations like going for a trek and not having any money at the end to pay for the bus fare. These are the friends who share your dreams of making it big and the ones to who can bring you down to earth with one word that punctures that dream. The ones you share that forbidden drink and then some, wake up with hangovers knowing that  no one will really hold you to all your drunken ramblings.The ones who play cupid and lookout for any 'pyaar ke dushman'.They are fiercely loyal and equally  anti-establishment (meaning the older generation).

These friends are the ones you end up staying in touch with for a very long time. It does seem to fade a bit just as soon as you enter the work place as everyone gets busy with real life issues, like careers, spouses and children. However the chances are they will still support you via the stray conversations over the phone ( and now the Internet) It is from these people you begin to learn discernment. You learn to look beyond the obvious . Remember the friend who let slip that you did not do very well in the chemistry test even before you were ready to tell your parents. Even though you wanted to kick her at that point, you remembered how she had loaned you her best earrings, so you could look good for your latest crush.

You make friends all along the way but you make less as you go along. It may be the pressure at work or the stress of sleepless nights due to a newborn's crying, it could be the long commute to work and shopping for the vegetables that leave you little time to explore new relationships. It becomes even more important to cherish and nurture the relationships that already exist. With maturity comes the realisation that you have flaws that can be irritating if not worse. If there are those who can tolerate them, you too have to tolerate a few yourself.  Friendships become more than just chemistry and partying.

With maturity you learn to examine friends as individuals rather than just a support system. You can admire one for the way for the caring father he has become, another for the way she deals with difficult in-laws, yet another for his patience with his juniors and someone for her expert juggling of career and family responsibilities.

One thing I know for sure is that time is teaching me to look at things in more detail and get a better overall view ( dos that even make sense?). Like Phoebe in friends, I may on occasion be tempted to sit in judgement and dismiss the actions of others, I am  also aware that I should take a second look and think of all that I find positive.

Everyone, even you and I, deserve a second chance and the only one to give it to us, are FRIENDS!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Happiness on hold

Sometimes we do not see things even when they are staring us in the face. Happiness for instance!. We do not recognise it because we are too busy chasing some elusive concept that we have heard about or read about. We savour the anticipation of what will be instead of revelling in the present moment, looking for that perfect something, forgetting that happiness is not about everything being perfect.

I remember a movie from long long seems like eons.. called 'Grihapravesh'. It had Sharmila Tagore and Sanjiv Kumar in the lead along with Sarika. ( I did say it was from long ago !) Sharmila is a housewife whose one aim is to have a house of her own. It is an obsession to the extent that she neglects repairing the rental home and even herself. She is constantly talking of the house she plans to have when she has enough money. The husband, Sanjiv Kumar is so bored with her obsession and the fact that she cannot look beyond it, strays with a colleague, younger and interesting, Sarika. He tells her how his wife neglects herself and him in the process. The girl buys it and responds to his overtures. When he wife comes to know about this,she asks the husband to get the girlfriend over. Puzzled at her strange reaction, he agrees to do so.

 Almost overnight, the wife has her house painted, set right and beautified. She also takes some pains with her appearance. When the girlfriend comes over, she is surprised to see a home and wife at variance with what he has described. The husband too is stunned at the makeover and you can see the rekindling of the interest for his wife.  For the wife who had been chasing a phantom of owning a home, it is homecoming to the concept of living life in the moment, grabbing life with both hands and holding on to all that is precious.

Today I read a news item about a housewife who was murdered at home for no apparent reason. The 36 yer old leaves behind a 14 yr old son and a husband. I was just wondering what the last memories about her ere. Did she smile at her son this morning as he left for school or did she exhort him to study harder? Did she wave at her husband   before he left for work or did she crib about his mother? I hope they all have good memories of her. I hope she did not reserve all her love for some later special occasion that will never come. Women especially, (being one, I should know) often save the good things for special occasions. The best cutlery, the best crockery, the best sari,... partly because we love surprises and being made to feel special. Yet when I read such things, I wish we all could treat each moment as special. We can always enjoy those extra special moments too, as and when they dawn.

For now how about looking the moment in its face and going for that happiness makeover.. a la  Sharmila in 'Grihapravesh'?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gender stereotypes

One of the recent serials on TV shows a woman alone, bringing up her four children, running a business and looking after her family and business with great gumption. She faces the barbs of her neighbours and even drives her tempo to deliver her 'khakras' (a savoury snack). Good going I thought, showing a woman in a slightly different light from the usual 'saas- bahu' fare.

I still think it is not too bad except that though she talks of sending her daughter to medical school, every time there is a household chore, she tells the daughter. While I have no issues with young girls learning about house work and doing it when needed, I think boys too should be adept at household chores. These days it is a good idea for everyone to know a little bit of everything. So if girls can drive their families around and change the light bulb when needed, boys should be able to lay tables, do the laundry and cook some basic things. It would be wonderful if this could be taught when young, but at least by the time they leave college, they should have some skills.

Having said this, my sons are not exactly skilled at these things, but then I see my older one, age 18 dealing with some stuff now. Also attitude wise, they have no mental blocks about such things. I wish our serials would also keep such nuances in mind. It would go a long way in changing our mindset.!

Floor cleaners and spectacles

 A friend's daughter travels the world and brings home all kind of potions, lotions and beauty aids for her. Not the very beauty conscious kind, she had no real preferences. The other day while washing her hair, she picked up one at random and when she opened it, smelled "neem". Thinking of all the herbal products on the market, she applied some on her hair. The lack of lather did not really bother her, and she just put some more which seemed to seep into her scalp. Shrugging at the seemingly large quantities of shampoo needed, she poured a liberal dose on to her head and felt a burning sensation. Puzzled, she decided grabbed her reading glasses and read "Floor cleaner" on the label. She has sworn to keep her glasses with her at all times!

By the way, her head looks clean and shiny!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Does She make me look fat?

My husband is convinced that what has never happened to him in his youth will happen now. Thanks to me. He is convinced that he will get smacked by some indignant woman or her jealous husband...all because of me. When ever we pass a woman who seems like she could be my size, I ask him.. Do I look like her? The first few times, my husband thought I was hoping to find my doppelganger ( lookalike) but after many years of marriage, he has begun to correctly interpret it as  " Am I as fat?"  And even if he is not looking in that direction, he is forced to look at the woman in question! More often than not I do not get a straight answer, so the question seems a futile one. Yet I cannot resist asking that question.

  What about the mirrors in your home, you ask. Well, I can never see myself from all angles in a mirror.. definitely not in the way that I can see others. There is also photographs, you say. But you see, I am told that the camera adds pounds to you in a picture and for a person whom even every gram counts ( not when going into the mouth though :(!, it is hard to reconcile those pounds. Also with pictures, I am often tempted to blame it all on the camera. So to get some perspective, that question I ask is very important.

For all those men who get thrown off with this question, let me tell you, we women ask this question hoping to be told that we are not as fat. We crave that reassurance, which is why you'll never see us asking this question when we see some one like Aishwarya Rai or her ilk. One friend confessed that she makes sure she picks women who leave no room for doubt, as she does not want to confuse her husband. "Even then he takes his own time answering and even replies with a shrug on occasion", she says dejectedly

I am not sure if men can identify with this eternal question, but if you have ever wanted to say the three words that will send your woman into transports of joy and make her your slave for life, just answer the question with an emphatic  "No, you're not!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

What answers do we have?

 She came late for work again and just as I was about to tell her off, I noticed the swollen face. The right side looked like someone had thrown a rock at it. I asked her what happened, only to hear the familiar story. The good for nothing husband had rained blows last night. Just because she told him not to pick a fight with the neighbours.

He came back just a month ago a defeated man. He had gone to Dubai where he hoped to make some money and fulfill the family's material aspirations. Turned out that his Visa  was for him to work as a mason, a skill he did not have. This was the visa for which he had paid Rs.1.25 lakhs, that he had begged and borrowed. He even got the money from his wife's employers and anyone , all of who are queuing outside his home and harassing her!

She was happy to see him go for more than one reason. The money would be welcome as they were subsisting on her earnings. He disdained to work for the last couple of months as he was destined for bigger things in Dubai. She was also relieved because it would mean less fights with the neighbours and beatings for the children. He would let go with anything including the bamboo lathis and the planks lying around.

If this seems like an art film or a movie a la 'Slumdog millionaire' let me assure you that it is the truth and nothing but the truth. I have tried more than once to get her to stand up for herself. She sheds tears, refuses to go to the people who can help in any way and always hopes that it will be better as soon as he apologises.... till he beats her up the next time.

I do know that domestic abuse is a big problem the world over. In this case she has no parents to go back to. Her siblings will not really support her.The neighbours in her basti are too busy or jaded and see it too often to intervene. I live too far to reach her immediately. She does not want to complain as he will be out in a day or two and then things will be worse for her. No one can assume life long responsibility for her. I encourage her to educate her children and  she has just recently learnt to read and write, and even though I keep a steady refrain about her rights and how she should not put up with abuse, it is hard for her to break the shackles of  propriety, shame and society. 

It frustrates me and makes me feel inadequate and I keep urging her to get out before he kills or maims her and her three children. I just hope she does.
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