Thursday, August 28, 2008

What kind of person is this?

I am an email person- which means just like anybody else I thrive a lot on email for my daily interaction with colleagues at work and with friends and family too. With the latter two now being spread across the globe, this is the only way, besides phone calls, to keep in touch. It is economically not feasible to talk often to every friend you've had from school or college to keep in regular touch. So, email fulfills that need. While several of my friends who live both in the US and outside too, are prompt with responding to emails, some are not.

Life brings about changes, a new job,a hectic job, marriage, kids etc. and I have to keep reminding myself that there are people outside the US who don't check email for several times every single day. One friend of mine who lives in Chettinad, Karaikudi has internet in her chettinad home, but, with two young kids and a busy routine in a joint family household, her emails are restricted to about 4-5 every year. Initially, it was difficult for me to comprehend her life, but, with the passing years, I got used to it. I guess this is because I knew her from college, still meet her when I visit India and am able to sort of come to terms with her email tendencies.

But, what is hard for me to understand is a family member, like a cousin type, who is in the same age group, in fact younger to me, who has no great family commitments, has email access at home and work and lives in another part of the globe who hardly responds to email. When you send her an email, there will be no response from her at all for a week or more. The first few times this happened, being the persuasive type, I even sent her an email asking her if she got my earlier ones. A response with some excuse will come in her own sweet time. After venting about it to K for several times, I still couldn't get this out of my mind. A month or so passes by and I swear to myself that enough is enough, from now on, I will not be the first one to send her an email and then feel this way about it. Exactly a month and a half later, she sends me an email just to catch-up, am definitely plesantly surprised here and reply right away. It has been a few days and again there has been no response from her.

I don't know her as well as I know my friend, and have no idea as to what to make out of her behavior which according to me is definitely odd. Even a blogger from Chennai, whom I know only through the comments on my blog, responds quickly. She is even less communicative if I happen to see her on chat online and over the phone answers to the point, so you kind of get the feeling that she doesn't want to talk much to you. So, what do I assume about this family member from her delayed responses, lack of initiative to converse over the phone etc. No, she can't be that busy to not respond to an email for a week or longer, what kind of a person is she, hmmm..makes me come to all sorts of conclusions.

One more day to go before the long weekend................

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dealing with Peer Pressure

Peers are those people who are your age and peer pressure is when they try to influence how you act, to get you to do something etc. While peer pressure can sometimes be postive, most often, it becomes a powerful negative influence in our lives. Enough with the Psychology 101, but moving on...

Especially within the Indian community, while growing up, parents inadvertently compare their kids to their classmates, friends or to the children of other kids, as a result of which, the child tends to imbibe the ways of others around them and lose touch with individuality and originality, in some way or the other.

A good example that started the need for this post, for instance, when I was in my 12th grade, engineering was a mass appeal course that almost every science elective student wanted to pursue. Those who didn't get into engineering colleges, were left with options of B.Sc which was not a happy choice for many. Likewise, the commerce stream had their share of majority students attending the CA foundation classes and doing their B.Com etc. on a part-time basis. Welcome to Peer Pressure world...

Next came, the job market, where, no matter what the undergraduate education has been in, working in IT became a matter of pride and fitting in. Yes, there were others who had made other career choices, but, at what cost.

A parallel stream for those who wished to pursue masters education in abroad followed.

After degrees and jobs, came marriage, the pressure that many of your friends are getting married or have gotten married to eligible suitors while you are still single.

Once that stage has passed and your counter parts have settled in their respective lives either in US or in India, have bought homes etc. it is time for the baby syndrome to sink in.

"XYZ, who is a year younger to you and works in a good position, got married in 2003 and had her first baby in 2006 and is now pregnant with her second one", and where are you in this equation of life. Society, the community, family etc. are more vested to hear that you too are at the right phase in your current life. They seem to view you with pitiful eyes or disdain about your present condition, not once pausing to think that first of all, it is not anybody's business if you haven't found a job yet, or are still single or don't have a baby. Secondly, if you like your life the way it is now and are comfortable with your present status quo, does that make you any less smarter or what? People think that just because you are not part of the band wagon, doing the things that your friends and classmates are doing in their current life, you are losing out on the best things of life- such as career, marriage and having kids.

I have white colleagues at work who get married for the first time at 40 years, I am sure that would be frowned upon by several Indians. Their rationale is that they hadn't met someone whom they liked enough to get married sooner, while that can be considered both a pro and a con, would an Indian woman who marries for the first time at 40 be put to rest by gossip mongers? Well, that is not a great example, since the two cultures breed different mind-sets.

Many of my college mates are already mothers for the first time and it is that time when the rest of the group is beginning to venture into the next stage. Three of my close friends, two from school are pregnant at the same time and a third from college is pregnant with her second one. So, yes, there is a time when your peers are stepping into the next stage of their lives. Let that not force or bog you down to make those decisions that you are not ready to make in your lives.

Enjoy that college life or the early years of working in your first job, hanging out with your colleagues and friends without overly stressing about that next career progression move that you need to make, or enjoy the freedom of blissful single days spending your life as you wish or taking your time to start a family.

My friend Priya sent this forward to me, which I wanted to share on an ending note.

Being a Mum

We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family."

"We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"It will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

"I know," she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more "spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all.

I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes.
I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable. I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her! That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.

That an urgent call of "Mum!" will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation. I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she would be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that rest-room. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give herself up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that a Caesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child.

I think she should know that she would fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic. I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving. I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. "You'll never regret it," I finally say. Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter's hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble they're way into this most wonderful of callings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Day in Mexico

Last weekend, K and I made a quick trip to San Diego for a mini vacation. During our stay there, we travelled 30 miles across the Baja California coastline to visit Mexico, a whole different country.

Tijuana, located in the northwest corner of the Mexican Republic, is the first destination that you come across once you cross the US border. Known as one of the the busiest border crossings, no doubt, with the tourist crowd and the local population of Hispanic and Americans, safety is of utmost concern to visitors. Since, we had heard quite some rumors about how unsafe it is to drive into Mexico, we hopped on to a tour bus run by Coach America and decided to sit back and enjoy the experience. Our bus driver was a Mexican who spoke fairly good English and throughout the day we were able to get a taste of how life in Mexico was.

We made a stop at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, 19 miles from Tijuana which has some great beaches and is a nice resort for water sports and horseback riding. Close to that is the Mexican counter part of Universal studios that displayed the ships that were were used during the shooting of Titanic and Pirates of Carribean movies.

Our final destination was Ensenada, located 70 miles from the border. Ensenada is a small seaport city on the shore of the "Todos Santos bay" where we had some authentic Mexican food and margaritas.

Some snap shots taken during our day in Mexico-

Apparently, you can take the trolley to the border in San Diego and walk across this sign to enter Mexico. There is no security check or any kind of surveillance when you enter the country. It is when you come back to the US, that you need a valid visa to enter the country and you will be questioned.

The largest flag of Mexico, 150 meters long proudly displayed.

The Mexican army apparently patrols the streets. We learnt that drinking on the street in Mexico or carrying an open container in Tijuana are considered public intoxication and illegal.

This is how a dentist office looks from the streets of Ensenada. Shopping in Tijuana is a tourist trap- they have authentic leather and great silver jewellery. Did you notice the Mexican STOP sign?

The Baja coastline would have looked better on a less foggy morning.

Do you recognize this ship- it was used in the Pirates of the Carribean movie.

Rosarito, a place for beaches

The Rosarito beach hotel that faces the beach.

Vising Mexico is a different experience altogether. When you think of US on one side of the border that is prosperity at its best, Mexico comes across as a cheaper version. Real estate- luxury resorts and condominums are rapdily coming up, built by US moguls on the highways lining the beaches, tourism and shopping add to the thriving economy here. Of course, if you are someone who loves to know the origin of Tequila shots, enjoy varieties of margaritas and like to spend your vacation lazing around the beach with a cocktail in your hand, Mexico is the place.

Have a great weekend.......

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Favorite Indian Women on Independence Day

With the Indian Independence day approaching, wanted to pen down my thoughts on the changes that women (being the feminist that I am) in India have gone through.

There was a time when women's successes were measured by their being an efficient wife, a loving mother and caretaker to the other members of the household. Besides this role, came the added responsbility of how she was viewed in the eyes of the society- meaning did she have the right kind of attitude towards earning and self-reliance, did she hand over her earnings to the male head of the family without personal savings, did she carry out the honor of the family by following religious beliefs and adhere to cultural traditions etc. An unmarried woman after a certain age, a broken marriage or a woman unable to have a child were all measures of how successful a woman's performance in life was, unlike a male whose life in most of these scenarios remains untainted.

With globalization in the changing times, Indian women have broken the glass ceiling (in corporate environments) and are changing their behaviors and value systems. Today, women are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of their careers and are doing a fairly successful job of balancing both family and career lives. I guess this is also part of a free and independent progessive India that was the vision of several freedom fighters and thinkers.

Here are some women, who, in my eyes, are truly successful in their roles and responsibilities and serve as inspirational role models for the rest of us.

Kalpana Chawla, a NASA astronaut who made a mark in history by rocketing into space. Coming from a traditional family in Karnal, India she pursued her ambition amidst all obstacles and came to US to study aerospace engineering (MS and PhD) and advanced her career by starting out at NASA. She married an American Jean Pierre Harrison and continued to pursue the skies. Unfortunately, her life ended on Space shuttle Columbia in 2003 prior to the landing. A daring Indian woman whose aspirations were sky rocketing is worth remembering at this time.

Sudha Narayanamurthy, known to many as the wife of Infosys founder Narayanamurthy is a blend of the educationalist com social reformer. An avid writer and a full-time social worker contributing to the upliftment of several villages in rural India through the Infosys Foundation. Besides, being the founder trustee for the organization, she has been instrumental in bringing about true change in the lives of children for their education and in providing medical assistance to the poor. An IISC Bangalore graduate who has really made a difference in the current India.

Visaka Hari is a popular harikatha exponent reciting sangeetha upanyasam (musical discourse) of various Indian epics. She is the daughter-in-law of Sri Krishna Premi Anna of Paranur and married his first son Sri Hari Anna. Visaka who is an all Indian rank holder in her Charted Accountancy exams has dedicated her life to pursue her passion of spreading beautiful, melodious harikatha discourses to audiences in India and abroad. Her traditional attire in nine-yards sari, simplicity and the way with which she narrates stories that captivates her audience, be it a small child to an old man, marks her identity as a cultural ambassador for South Indian heritage. She is truly divinity personified at its best.

All these women are exceptional in their own way and have created a niche in today's independent India. I would be happy to hear some of your favorite Indian women, who you feel have made a difference in your lives.

Monday, August 11, 2008

India's First Individual Gold Medal at the Olympics

Pic: Courtesy Getty Images

Abhinav Bindra makes India proud by winning the the first individual gold medal for 10 meters rifle shooting. Bindra at the age of 25 has not only created an Olympian achievement for himself, but has also set the standards for a generation that can now dare to hope for achievement more strongly. While India has scraped 8 gold medals for field hockey, Bindra was the first Indian to win his country an individual gold medal.

At the inaugral ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday, Indian athletes walked in their sharwani clothes acknowledging the cheers from the audience. The announcer was saying how India whose population has exceeded China has won only less than 10 medals during the past years, while China has not only amazed the world by putting up such a spectacular opening of the 2008 Summer Oylmpics, but also proudly competes with the US in almost every sport and rivals its medal tally. As you can see, China has thoroughly trained and prepared well for this event. Their hardwork and the pride with which they are hosting this event shows through.

Sports and athletics in India lack the importance that is given to it unlike in some other countries. This is because from a young age, when children start playing or spend too much time outdoors playing, not all parents encourage or welcome it. Most of them reprimand their kids and ask them to quit playing and focus on studying and getting good grades. As a result, there are fewer number of Leander Pears, Mahesh Bhoopathy, Prakash Padkone, Narain Karthikeyan and Abhinav Bindra's created. So, how can we complain that India sends lesser number of athletes to compete at the Olympic level? Also, sports such as shooting, tennis etc. are all considered affluent people's sports and yes, require spending lots of money to get a professional trainer/coach, getting the required gear, equipment, etc. Also, do we have the Bill Bellicheck, Phil Jackson like pro-coaches and trainers to mould our athletes, even if we have such talent, could we afford to pay them to keep them. With so many cons on our side, we can hardly hope for better performances at the Olympics.

But, with Abhinav Bindra's victory in shooting, there is some hope for the athletically inclined Indian youngsters to dream big and draw inspiration to work towards those lofty goals.

Bindra makes one and every Indian proud and happy with his individual achievement.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sweet Talking your way to success

While there are many forms of communication and different ways to talk to people, I've come to realize that being a sweet-talker can take you a long way both in professional and home life. It is ironical for me to write about this, since I am known for my quick temper and am definitely not sleek with the tongue either. But, I've recognized that in my work life, if I am looking to make a career out of my job, there is surely a lot more needed to grow and succeed, besides just being good at what you do.

It doesn't stop with being nice to your colleagues and boss, nor does it end with networking. In a profession that is all about managing people, one has to learn to become a social,networking bee. As a senior colleague of mine put it, "You have to come out of your shell, go beyond your comfort zone, do something bold and daring to make people take note of you." She was saying that how at one point in her career, it took her 10 months to muster the courage to approach the Director of Sales, (for example, assume she is a Sales Manager who wants to get promoted to the next level) to ask if she would go out for lunch with her. She took a bold step, came out of her comfort zone and after that meeting, which she said went great, her view of the Sales Director changed completely. During that lunch, she talked to the Director about next career moves, got her advise on what she needs to do to get into a higher level etc. Lo and behold,a few months later she got that next promotion which was lined up for a bunch of successful Sales Managers. Amongst, all of them, who were well qualified and interviewed for the position, my senior colleague was offered the position.

In a country where we are still an immigrant, it not only is enough if you work twice as harder as your white colleague, but, it is also vital to do that sweet-talk, which unlike any other form of expression, is the most effective tool in getting what you want. I am not saying that one has to be a sucker-up to their boss or their big boss to get a promotion, but, one must know how to use that charming personality that is hidden deep down within us and market ourselves with that quiet confidence. Yes, everyone is qualified, everyone has years of experience, is hard working etc. but do you have what it takes to go that extra mile by shedding your innate nature and becoming more social.

I am going to try my best to practise that in my professional life, though, this seems like the most daunting thing I've had to do so far. And, it is not easy for me either. While, I am quite the talker at home and with friends, it is the other way around at work, where my talking skills are toned down to a minimal level, in fact, too low to get noticed.

I am sure that writing a post isn't going to make me change my personality at work overnight to become a social gossip, but, atleast, it has got me started thinking about what skills I need to have to get into the next level.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Perils of Old Age

Rukku patti is 80 years old. Her story is similar to some other aging people, but is also different in its own way. Her husband passed away a few years ago. From the time she got married as a young girl, she lived with her husband in some places in North India and eventually came back to Chennai. Her husband didn't earn a steady income due to lack of being in one job for a significant amount of time. As a result, she always had to manage with the meager earnings and did a commendable job running the household on that. Sadly, she and her husband didn't have any children. Over the years, one of her sisters who was wealthy enough to own a posh house in Chennai, allowed her and her husband to live in a small side portion of the house for free. The portion consisted of a small room with a small kitchen and a bathroom outside behind the well of the house. Rukku patti was a strong-willed woman, she was very religious, had her daily routine carved out (visiting the Mupathamma temple and reading Lalitha Sahasranamam were part of that routine) and was a good wife who cared for her husband taking care of him in his old days.

Rukku patti and her sister weren't always on the best of terms. It was always a challenge for the two old women to get along and each of them, though living without their husbands in the same house, but in different portions, lead their lives separately. Rukku patti's sister's son and his wife and daughter lived in their own house within the same compound wall behind their house. The sister's son and daughter-in-law took tremendous care of Rukku patti and also financially supported her. After the death of her husband a few years ago, her health started failing her slowly, but steadily. Several slips in the bathroom, tripping while walking etc. led to her being diagnosed as having acute osteoporosis which cannot be cured given her age. Her mobility was restricted to having a walker around the house. Her most recent fall in the bathroom, led her to the hospital where she has been for the past 20 days. She is unable to walk anymore. Her sister's son and daughter-in-law who are also older people in their 60's with their own health issues attended to her sanitary needs during this condition and literally took care of her like a child. There are adult diapers, each diaper costs Rs. 270 or more which are used, since even the hospital staff prefer to use this rather than having a bedpan and also given the patient's age and inability to hold. But, given all practical situations, she cannot function independently once she returns from the hospital and it has become most difficult for those around her to continue to help her on a daily basis with basic life functions.

As a result, her sister's son under who has become the primary caretaker consulted with her brothers who are also older people and the rest of her family and has decided to admit her in an old age home. The monthly expenses for the home will be paid primarily by the sister's son and the other family members will also pitch in. It is not an easy task finding an old age home in Chennai these days, most homes admit people with several conditions, one of them being, the person must be independently able to walk to the bathroom, dining area etc. It is so hard to get a hired helper to attend 24/7 on one aging adult, when they have a home full of old people in different stages and conditions. Not to mention that the monthly charges and non-refundable fees are also expensive and additional charges must be paid if a helper is needed.

Rukku paati will be going to a home several miles away from Tambaram on Monday. She is my paati's sister and my parents are the one who have been helping her. I talked to her on the phone at the hospital yesterday and she was courageous to tell me no to worry about her going to a home and fully believed that she is grateful for the support and help my parents have been doing for over the past 30 years and realizes that she can't be a burden to them anymore.

But, it is indeed sad for both my parents and me to see her go. She was part of the home I grew up in and often always had a quick hot tiffin for me in the afternoons and was another paati to me, though I call her Rukku chitti, just like my dad. She would never be without giving me some small money gift on special festivals and occasions telling me that this was what she could afford and I should save it up and buy one dress and tell her that i got a dress with the money she gave me. Sitting in a far away country, all I can do is to think about those memories and tell my dad that I too will help pitch in for her old age home costs, just like the rest of the family.

I only wish and pray that Rukku paati has a smooth transition and continues to live the rest of her life with the pride, strong-will and dignity that she always kept.