Monday, September 29, 2008

Through the eyes of a visitor

Last weekend, we had a second cousin of my husband's come visit us. C is related to my husband distantly, and since my understanding of the family tree and relations is very limited, settled upon calling her the second cousin, seems simpler. C who is a few years younger to me is from India and is here in the US on a B-1 business visa to work on a project for her company's client for a few weeks. She arrived last weekend and is put up close to her client's site in San Ramon valley. My husband has met her only twice or so in his lifetime during weddings etc. in India and I've never seen her. C arrived in SFO last Saturday and called us several times during the week to ask if she could come over and meet us. Since she stays about 3 hours away from where we live, we told her to use public transportation to come to the station closest to our place from where we could pick her up.

C arrived on Saturday morning after taking a cab, changing 2 trains at a station 30 minutes away from our place and my husband picked her up. After they got home, we took off to attend a company picnic lunch hosted by my husband's company. C filled us in on her background and her routine since landing in US about a week ago. Apparently, her client office here has only 5 folks who all work from home. She is the only one coming from India to work on this project and hence works from her hotel room. She visited another distant family member's place during her first weekend and since then has not seen anybody else. She had spent the last week 24 hours a day locked up in her hotel room and was longing to interact with people.

Anyways, I spent the weekend taking her out for shopping, took her to the Indian grocery store and we went out to eat etc. C couldn't take her eyes off the Sun TV channel while at home and chatted away to us all the time. It was interesting to hear about some of her remarks and observations about the lifestyle in US.

1. During the one night she was in our place she couldn't go to sleep at all. She told us that it was too quiet here, no sounds of traffic from the roads, no noises etc. and it felt scary for her to fall asleep. So, she pretty much spent Saturday night watching TV till morning and fell asleep on the couch at dawn.

2. She loved the highways and the orderly lane traffic that whizzed past by, but still said that she preferred to ride her Scooty on Mount Road anyday, chuckle);-

3. Someone from her client office took her out to lunch on her first and only day in the office to a Greek restaurant and she had panini which she hated and said would never eat for the rest of her life. So, on the day she came over to our place and before we headed out to K's office picnic, she ate thayir satham and vadu mangai.

4. So, we took her out to dinner at a South Indian restaurant and after one bite of the sambar vada, she remarked that the vada tasted bad and we shouldn't eat it. K and I have been eating at this place for years, now.

5. We were watching CNN on and off, since she wanted to see mostly Sun TV and after a while, I was watching The Cosby Show on one of the family channels (a comedy show based on an African American family) and her expression was a dead giveaway that she would rather watch the crassy Vadivelu on Sun TV than enjoy the humor on this show.

Those were some of the distinct observations from the eyes of a visitor to this place. The views that parents have when they come here is quite different from that of a younger generation that comes from India. Made me go back to my initial days of coming to the US years ago as a student, was I this opinionated (I still am in many ways), but, most of everything about US fascinated me and I didn't know if the lack of noise, people crowding, huge family gatherings etc. bothered me as much as it did to her. In fact, the silence, the loneliness of this place in some ways all charmed me- that will be another post sometime.

On another note, today is the first day of the Navarathri festival, waiting to go home this evening and keep the golu.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Quirks of Relationships

Parvathi is a now a 35 year old woman. She hails from a small town in South India and has a diploma and a certificate in bedside nursing. Her parents are moderately incomed people who got her married to Kumar about ten years ago. Kumar came from a middle class family and was a chronic diabetic from his teens. Parvathi's parents thought that given their economic status and the difficulties they faced in finding a suitable match for their daughter, that this was something they and their daughter could accept and live with. Parvathi moved to Chennai to start her married life with Kumar. Kumar lived and worked in a government job in Chennai. His family comprised of 3 sisters who were all married and settled in various places, a widowed mother and his younger brother Raja. Parvathi settled into a routine in her new life. She even started to work in a doctor's clinic and time passed. Kumar and Parvathi had their first baby boy Shakthi 3 years later after their third anniversary.

Soon after, Kumar's brother Raja got married to a girl named Vani who was also a working woman. Kumar and Raja's mother was quite happy that she had settled off all her children and spent time staying with her daughters and sons. The two brothers and their wives lived together in the same household. After a couple of years, Kumar's health started acting up. His diabetes medicines were not helping much and he slowly developed kidney disorders. Parvathi quit her job in the doctor's clinic and spent her time accompanying her husband to his doctor and hospital visits. Eventually, Kumar underwent a kidney transplant and started post-operative treatment. Meanwhile, Vani was pregnant and she and Raja had their first baby. Soon after her maternity leave, Vani had to go back to work and Parvathi and her mother-in-law ended up taking care of the kids and Kumar. Kumar was on a extended leave of absence from his job. After his surgery, he seemed to respond to the treatment for a while and then there was a setback. Due to his diabetes condition, he was not responding positively to the transplants and was surviving with one kidney. His ailments continued for about a year, while Parvathi struggled to care for her husband and Raja spent all his earnings in getting the best treatment possible for his elder brother. The doctor's had given up hope of Kumar's survival by then and his days were numbered.

Knowing that his end was nearing, Kumar gave his wife lots of advice on keeping up her mental strength and spent time with his son who was now enrolled in kinder garden. He transferred all his savings to his wife's name and also spoke to the higher ups in his office to get her his job after his demise. Kumar passed away at the beginning of his ninth year of marriage when his son was 5 years old.

Parvathi and the rest of his family were heart broken and with time slowly recovered. Meanwhile, Kumar's mother who was living with one of her daughters in US was shuttling back and forth in her old age to hold the family together. Vani and Raja had their second baby in the following year and moved to a house in the next street where Vani's parents came and stayed to help out with the kids. By then, Parvathi had started working in her husband's office and another couple of years rolled by. She also got some money from the insurance from her husband's death and was able to manage for herself and her son. Raja and Vani often looked upon Parvathi and her son, since they lived in the next street and life went on, until the next lightning struck this family.

Vani was diagnosed of breast cancer a year later and she was deteriorating rapidly. Her parents were getting old to fend for themselves and tried their best to help out. Raja was now doing his best to try all kinds of survival treatments to save his wife. Parvathi pitched in to help take care of the kids after school etc. Within six months of her diagnosis, Vani passed away too.

Raja's mother was grief stricken at the second blow of fate to her family and stayed back in India to help her son with the kids. Time passed, very slowly and Raja developed leucoderma, a condition that leaves white patches on the skin. Another year passed and Raja's mother had to return to her daughter in US to keep her green card status.

Parvathi was now doing all the cooking for Raja and his children and continued to care for them as she and her son lived in the next street.

This is a true story from a family in our neighbourhood back in India. Recently, I heard that Parvathi and Raja had got married, per the wishes of Raja's mother. I was truly shocked for an instant hearing this, but soon came to terms with this. There has been a lot of gossip about this- The brother-in-law marrying his older brother's wife who in Hindu culture is reffered to as "Manni" and is considered to be like a second mother. But, apparently Raja's mother made the decision from a practical modern perspective, given the nature of the calamities that has happened and that her 3 grand children are pretty much raised together and that it would be extremely hard for an outsider to come into this and marry either of them without having an ulterior motive of either cheating Parvathi out of her money or Raja by being a cruel mother to his children. It must have taken the old lady a lot of courage to come up with this solution and even harder to convince the two people Parvathi and Raja to agree to this, since both of them had strongly refused to abide by their mother's thought. After a long struggle, looks like she made this happen.

Even so, my heart goes out to Parvathi who even in her second marriage is destined to marry someone with a skin disease. Hope that the society they live in lets them and their children have a smooth life.

* The names of these people from true life have been changed for this post."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Care for a Trendy hairdo?

As I was walking out of the gym last evening, I noticed a chic looking girl walk past me through the doors. Being sort of a regular at my workout place I am familiar with most faces and was wondering if another new desi member has signed up. As I was staring at her while thinking this to myself, she turned around and said hi. It was not a new member, but someone whom I knew who had gotten a new hairdo.

Having a new hairdo is like having a complete make-over, it is remarkable how someone'e looks change so drastically just with a pair of scissors. Especially, if you've had shoulder length hair that has now been reduced to a sleek close layered cut, the difference is startling. I have come to admire the courageous streak in most women who are bold enough to experiment with their hair.

I come from a traditional family where it was normal to want to have long, braided hair. Seeing my mom who had hair long enough to go past her waist, it was natural for me to want to have long hair. And, over the school and college years, it was painstankingly maintained by using the right oils, herbal and henna treatments, the same shampoo etc. After coming to US, like many others, the change in the water etc. gradually resulted in hair loss, but still, there is enough left over for a braid. A habit that started in the teens, I can hardly let my hair loose or even do a pony tail, it has to be a braid. On my last India trip, a cousin of my husband's remarked that it is nice that being in the US for a few years now, I continue to have reasonably lengthy hair and still braid it, unlike in India where its hard to see folks having long hair these days. She said most people want to go to the parlor or a stylist and then experiment with their tresses- Curling naturally straight hair, using highlights and coloring the hair, gelling them etc. have become the norm of the day. Even my mom, whom I least expected to say, wants me to do away with the tresses and go in for a shorter hairdo. It is the in-thing these days and helps you fit right in at work in a western workplace.

But, I am not ready yet. Seeing how others around me are so bold and free to experiment with their looks, I am so skeptical about this whole concept of getting a shorter haircut. What if I don't like what I see and want all my hair back? What about those efforts and the time it has taken me over the years to maintain the length, is all that a waste if I decide to do away with shorter hair. So, many doubts and fears of having a new hairdo. I indeed applaud the wannabes who have embraced the new styles and made the transition. Maybe, someday, some other time I will be able to take a leap into the shortcut, but until then, the tresses are here to keep and grow.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Musical Personality?

Recently, I read an article about how people's musical preferences bring out their personalities. Apparently, a study has been conducted by a professor of Herion-Watt University in Scotland to correlate the link between a person and his or her choice of music. There is also an ongoing survey that people can take anonymously on their website to know more about how their music interests determine their personality. Some of the questions in this survey are pretty interesting to respond to.

So far, the results based on the responses from people all over the world indicate the following-

Jazz and blues listeners are people with high self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease.

Classical music listeners (includes Indian classical too) are people who also have high self-esteem, creative, but are more shy in nature, not outgoing.

Country and western music listeners are considered hard-working and outgoing.

Reggae listeners are creative but not hardworking, while rap lovers are outgoing.

The research also pointed out an astonishing similarity between classical music listeners and heavy metal fans that they are both creative, but not the outgoing types. Also, the professor has found through his research that those who drive sports cars and have blaring music through their radios, are the ones who are mostly high income folks while the folks who listen to softer, relaxing music are lower down on the income scale.

Now, that the research results are out, it would be good to pause for a moment and think about what type of music each and every one of us listen to and try to understand more about our natures. I think that for most youngsters who get exposed to western music in their teens, a lot of it comes with the crowd that they hang out with. If your friends are talking about a cool band group that does rap or hip-hop, then there is the tendency to get hooked onto that. At college and later years as one matures, one learns to listen to more genres and appreciate the various types of music.

As for as Indian classical carnatic music goes, a great deal of it comes from growing up in a traditional family where music is very much a part of the household. It is only natural for folks who were raised in that environment by hearing their grandmothers and mothers sing become more attuned to that. Also, children growing up in those kinds of households are sent to learn the basics of the swaras etc. from a music teacher at a young age. There are sections of those youngsters who become interested in pursuing the interest as they navigate through school and college, while there are others who drop out after a while.

Whatever be the music you listen to, it is always good to know more about why that particular genre interests you and also help understand yourself better. After all, at the end of a tiring long day, listening to good music is one of the few things that can be soothing and relaxing.

Have a great weekend...

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Weight Loss Paradigm

As women, our lives tend to get occupied with work, home life etc. leaving us little or sometimes no time to focus on ourselves. What with the fast-paced lifestyle we lead and having to deal with all the daily stresses that come our way, our well being takes the last priority on a to-do list. By well-being, I am referring to one's physical health. This has been a topic on my mind for a while now.

While some Indian women are born lucky with the "slim gene" embedded in their system, most aren't. So, working out to stay in shape or to shed the accumulated pounds becomes a priority. The weight loss battle seems like a long drawn battle with results that don't show up for a long time. Unlike, doing something that fetches immediate gratification, this is one experiment or process where the outcome does not manifest itself right away. Hence, the motivation to continue on a regimen of exercise and diet is short-lived.

Has any one heard of the term yo-yo dieting?
It is when one starts on a quick weight loss diet and then doesn’t exercise, which results in a lowered metabolic rate (your body now burns less calories each day than it did before). You quit your diet. Now, you return to eating as much food (or more—because of a sense of deprivation) as you did before your diet. As a result, you gain weight gain beyond what you previously weighed and the cycle continues....

No, I am not a diet plan, since I enjoy good food and have a weakness for sweets and pastries. So, it is doubly harder for me to fight this battle of trying to lose weight. As my fitness center instructor says, "You didn't gain this weight over night, so you won't lose it over night too."

I am not this huge weight loss advertisement woman trying to come down from a size 20to a size 10, but, I do want to lose the inches. I had a workout routine, but, consistency is what I lack. I thrive on it for some months, then come a cold or a flu and a couple of days to the gym are lost. Slowly, the couple of days becomes a week and I end up feeling like I have lost out on whatever little progress I had made earlier.

Today is Monday, a new week, hoping to get back to the routine again.......

Monday, September 08, 2008

Women=Chores, Men=?

It has been 10 days since my last post, the lack of a post can simply be attributed to just being caught up in the mundane routine of life. Someone once told me that "Work expands to fill available time" and that is just what has been happening to me. There is the usual routine of waking up every day, the commute to work, getting caught up with the emails and projects in the office, plouging through lunch and then back home in the evening. Plans for cooking dinner, grocery shopping, a quick workout (if time permits), catching up on the latest on CNN news from the gustav and hanna hurricanes to the Sarah Palin controversies etc. there seems to be enough things to make the day fly by.

A weekend arrives and with it comes all the other household chores of laundy, ironing, trying out a new recipe, a car wash, more cleaning around the house etc. It just seems that there is always something to do around the house. A friend of mine who has a 1 year old kid was telling me the other day that these days she hardly has time to wash and comb her hair. She is a stay-home mom whose routine is 10 times worse than mine.

The life of a woman seems to be a 24x7 fill of chores and activities. Here in US, it becomes one routine, thankless job of doing everything by yourself. Yes, while we have the husbands and fathers who are more willing to help around the house these days than sitting in front of a TV with a remote forgetting the external world. It seems like many times, we women prefer to do all chores by ourseleves. This is because we strongly feel that a certain job has to be done in a certain way and since we are the ones who can do it perfectly, we prefer to tackle most of the chores by ourselves, but then, end up complaining that "there is no help from the other person."

I guess if most women realized that if they let go of some of their perfectionist way of doing things or didn't end up strightening the things that their spouses or children did, most chores around the house will get done and who knows, we may even have time for a pedicure, a bubble bath and to catch up on reading some novels.

Happy Monday to all............