Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Musings about raising babies in the US and other related things

We are officially back to work now. G is officially included in the "We" because he manages to sit in on conference calls with me and even chimes in sometimes with an, "Ah-goooooo", nodding his head very sagely and thumping our home office desk. Yup, that's working life with a small baby in tow.

The Parents left about a couple of weeks back just as I started work and sure enough, we were crisis mode from the get-go.

S couldn't get vacation. I obviously couldn't get any vacation because ummm, I just got off it. So, until my MIL arrived about 3 weeks later, we were ON OUR OWN. With the baby. For the first time. And both of us were working full-time. Eeeeeks.

G promptly decided to catch a cold, his first, to test his parents' mettle. Okay, I shouldn't blame him really. The crowded, sick waiting room at Central Baptist hospital was the culprit. Seriously, that hospital needs some windows and a make-over. S & I were up 3 nights in a row trying to help G get some sleep. In the process, we didn't get any sleep, of course.

To make things more interesting, I caught G's cold as well. So here we were, mom and son, with congested nose and a cough to boot. Poor S was at wit's end.

The first thing that gets chopped off our "todo" list when things are this bad is: cooking. It is very difficult to run a 24x7 kitchen when you have work + sick baby + no help. A lot of well-meaning folks asked us to cook for an entire week and freeze it. Alas, they don't know that both hubby and I have 4-foot long tongues and absolutely refuse to have the same food more than twice in a row. So, we made do with sandwiches and to-go subs from the ever reliable Subway.

We survived.


There's a new baby store in town: "Buy buy baby". How much more obviously consumeristic can you get with the name, right? Everytime I walk into this store, I am tempted to buy something or the other for the baby. But I've managed to resist most times. There's this teeny-tiny voice in my head that always goes, "Do we really, really, really need this?" The answer is "No" almost all the time.

Do we really need a high-chair? My parents managed to raise two kids without one. If humanity depended on high-chairs, I guess we'd be extinct by now.

Do I really need that cute diaper bag? Umm, not really. I can make do with umpteen bags in the house. They're all unglamorous but will make do.

Do we need cups and spoons for baby? My mom (and others) suggested that we use our fingers first to feed the baby (By the way, its the recommended way too because its warm and familiar to the baby).

The list goes on and on. But in man-power starved US of A, some things have to be done to make our lives easier. So we got the high-chair and other miscellania. I did manage to resist the cute diaper bag though.


I've begun noticing other children/babies around me now that I have one. One thing that really scares me is how accomplished all these desi kids are. There are all these educational toys, videos, books, audio Cds and what-not to help raise a brilliant baby. And most children here are wayyy above average. They sign, sing, dance, go to chess tournaments, take advanced classes and do umpteen other things I never did as a kid.

But I can't make up my mind as to whether all this stimulation is good or not. My childhood was fairly simple and straightforward. I turned out okay, didn't I ? And so did thousands or millions of other children of my generation. I am not exactly dumb either. So, if eventually, we all reach our maximum intelligence potential anyway, what's the point of doing a lot of things in one's childhood? Are we, in some unknowing way, ruining it for our kids?

I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Currently, the most happening thing in our lives is...

... monitoring G's pees and poops. Don't shrink your nose, all you single-types out there. Your time will come too. Every morning, the entire household gathers around G as he does his morning air-kickboxing routine which goes something like this --

Thud, thud, thud. 
Suck fingers.
Watch the people around. 
Why is everyone staring at me?
Frowny face. 
Okay, not sure I really care if everyone is staring or not. 
Stop sucking fingers and give everyone a big smile.
Thud, thud, thud. 
[And repeat above.]

Meanwhile, all of us whisper around the little guy speculating on when said poop might happen. Why are we so depraved, you ask? We were not always like this. But after a couple of episodes of upset stomach (G's that is, not ours), we quickly realized that if G's tummy is not happy, we're all pretty much on emergency duty the rest of the day. And not all the people/games in the world will make him happy. Not even Eeyore, the donkey, whom he likes very much otherwise.

When the happy event happens, a whoop of joy like no other will be heard from our house. S will look all daddy-proud. And I will promptly go eat some high calorie sweetish stuff to celebrate the occasion.

PS: baby and I doing very well. 3-months old and growing so rapidly that it scares me. There's no pace he can set that will be slow enough for me. I am already missing the days when he was such a teeny-tiny thing in my arms!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Travelogues - Verona, Italy

Yup, this is the same Verona as in Shakespeare's "Two gentlemen from Verona". It was a hot, sweltering day in Verona.  The sun was beating down on our heads as we toured through the city. One thing we really missed in Europe were water fountains. Bottled water is forbiddingly expensive - one small 0.5 L bottle costs around 5 euros. The guide warned us that locals might just pump tap water into the bottles and sell them (deja vu India!).  S & I decided to take a risk and drank water right out of a fountain in the middle of a piazza. S went a step farther and dunked his head in the fountain to escape the 105 F heat. Yup, Italy in the summer == Madurai/Trichy during agni natchathiram.

©Subhashini Srinivasan
All rights reserved

Ancient roman ruins excavated beneath the present day Verona. It is amazing how much the ground level has increased over the centuries.

©Subhashini Srinivasan
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Shakespeare's most famous heroine Juliet's hometown is Verona. The house where Juliet's supposed to have lived is in a nondescript, winding alleyway. Pictured right, her statue in the fictional home. You will be lucky in love if you place your hand over her heart and think of your loved one or some such thing. I couldn't bring myself to subscribe to this belief because look what happened to Juliet herself, eh?

©Subhashini Srinivasan
All rights reserved
Everyone's a sucker for love. Wall graffiti at the entrance to Juliet's house. Legend has it that if you write your name along with your lover's on this wall, your love will be successful. We found lots of couples waiting in line to scribble on this wall...

©Subhashini Srinivasan
All rights reserved

Juliet's window (right) from where she romanced Romeo...

©Subhashini Srinivasan
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Arena di Verona, another giant coliseum, originally built in AD 30. 

©Subhashini Srinivasan
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They were gearing up for an Operatic concert when we visited there. The arena was impressive in its size and conception. 

©Subhashini Srinivasan
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I was walking past this statue toward the Coliseum when it suddenly lunged at me. Turns out it is a living guy after all..:) How he managed to be wrapped in this gold dress in the burning hot sun is beyond me...

©Subhashini Srinivasan
All rights reserved
A modern world gladiator taking a smoke break..:)

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Travel Diaries: Lugano, Italy

Some years back, S & I took a vacation to Europe. We visited London, Paris, Switzerland and Italy. It was one of the most wonderful, educative trips we had ever taken. I am not sure why I didn't blog about this back then. But I did maintain copious travel notes and TONS of photographs. Here are a few memories from that trip...

The highlight of the trip was Italy. Both S & I had such an amazing time there. So I'll start from there.

Lugano is a quaint little town on the Swiss-Italian border. It is one of those towns right out of an Enid Blyton book - laid back, sleepy and very comfy like a favorite old armchair. 

©Subhashini Srinivasan. All rights reserved
 We stopped at Lugano for a coffee break en route to Italy. After tasting insipid, watery coffee in the rest of Europe, it came as a delight to my taste buds. In fact, when we got into Italy, S & I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Here, we could get food that satisfied the salt & spice cravings of the vegetarian South Indian. The cappuccino , pictured right, at a non-descript restaurant was one of the most delicious I'd tasted! Yummm.

©Subhashini Srinivasan. All rights reserved

Lake Lugano, pictured right. We took a stroll along the promenade next to the lake. It was a beautiful, summer morning with the crispiness of the previous night's dew. The mountain sides by the lake were full of colorful houses. 

©Subhashini Srinivasan. All rights reserved
We found two old, retired men playing chess on this chessboard right by the lakeside. One of them said that they had been doing this regularly for the past 10 years every single day. What a beautiful, relaxed way to spend one's old age - with a cup of coffee, an old friend and a well played game of chess by the lake!

©Subhashini Srinivasan. All rights reserved
Many of you might be familiar with the legend of William Tell. It was one of the earliest stories my mom told me. I was pleasantly surprised to see his statue in Lugano!

PS: I finally have added copyright info to this blog and the photos. I never thought my writing/photographs were worthy enough of copying. But after an idiot copied my blog posts last year, I've been forced to add copyright information. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Indian Summer

When I am not being a super-genius, all-cool software programmer (that's my day job), I like to pretend I am an interior designer. I have a liking for and appreciate aesthetically designed spaces but that's where my talent ends. Sure, I can put together a decent looking living room that people won't be revolted by. But I don't think I can come anywhere close to designing a chic, super-hot room that people will be awed by (like the ones they show on HGTV). Nonetheless, we all want to be something we can't be. Soooo, in my free time, I don the interior designer avatar and go hunting for home decor stuff.

I looove all the colorful little, cutesy knick-knacks that you can pepper the house with -- keepsake boxes, letter holders, scrapbook caddies etc.. Much to S's bewilderment, my latest fad is cute baskets. Honestly, not sure many girls can resist handwoven baskets with colorful linen covers inside and adorable wordings! So, every time I make a trip to Kroger or Babies R Us, S peers worriedly into the shopping bags wondering what sort of junk I've accumulated this time. And sometimes, he convinces me to return stuff.

Anyhoo, this morning, I was doing some blog hopping and landed up at The Indian Summer. Unlike me, she's a real, real interior designer sort. I was blown away by her blog and the spaces she showcases. So, if you're in the mood to shop or decorate your home, hop away to The Indian Summer and feast your eyes.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Should American Women Learn to Give Birth at Home? - TIME

I am a big believer in natural pregnancy and childbirth. Having gone through one pregnancy here in the US, I think I can safely comment that the birthing process is "overmedicalized" like the article quotes. There are innumerable tests, screenings and procedures to be undergone whether they are necessary or not. To make things interesting, doctors here never offer concrete advice regarding a lot of these screenings/tests. They only have "options" and then they leave it "upto to you", the patient, to decide. Doctors here seem more terrified of insurance companies and libel suits than they are concerned about the patient's health.

With that mistrust firmly in place, I decided to avoid a C-section at all costs. I went the natural route and even took a "natural childbirth" class. Our instructor was excellent but the class turned out to be pretty boring after a while. There's only so much anyone can tell you when you've already read a dozen books on the subject. One of the things that the class often talked about was home births. I had no plans of home birthing initially but midway through the pregnancy, I started having second thoughts. I bounced the idea around among family members just to get some perspective.

I thought the previous generation - my mom, mother-in-law (MIL hereafter) - would be supportive of home births largely because Indian parents are pro-natural. I was in for a surprise. My MIL, who had witnessed a few home births, was vehemently opposed. I explained to her how medicalized the process had become here in the US. But she had witnessed unforeseen complications and even loss of life in the home birthing environment because of lack of medical advancements. She was firmly in the hospital birthing camp. Ditto for my mom who thought that while we hear a lot of positive stories about home birthing, there are women who never live to tell the tale.

I have to admit that my fear of doctors and hospitals here in the US was not fully justified. The care that I received during labor/delivery was excellent. Doctors and nurses were very co-operative and supportive of my unmedicated birth. They did not once mention epidural (even though 95% of women here receive epidural routinely) until I asked for it myself. And all through 31 hours of labor, the nurses were so compassionate and helpful that I feel grateful to them. And my midwife didn't once mention C-section since I was doing well.

Sooo, I have revised my black-and-white impression of epidural, medical interventions and hospital births in the US. I still feel like epidural/pain medications are vastly overused. But there's a place for them (in cases like mine) as well. One of our friends, who was aghast when I said I was going epidural-free, asked me if I wished I'd taken epidural early on in labor. I stand by my decision and I don't regret it. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it the same way. But next time around, I might give home birth more serious thought..:)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Being a stay-at-home-mom

It has been two months plus a few days since I went on maternity leave. The first few days I was on leave - before G was born - I drove S and my mom crazy with my restless energy. I insisted on driving myself and ran a few errands during the day despite protestations from both. A couple of days before G was born, I took a detour to a bookstore unannounced and got an earful from S about being careful, responsible, blah-di-blah. 4 days into my maternity leave, just when S and my mother were despairing about what to do with me, G decided to make an appearance. That put an end to their high BP.

Being a stay-at-home-mom has been interesting. The first month or so, despite being fully occupied with G, I had this need to get out of the house and go somewhere at least once a day. I felt cooped up not being able to step out and do stuff. But I think I've grown into it. I have slowed down. A lot. Which is quite something because I've always been a very restless type. I am enjoying -

- not being tied to a cubicle all day long
- being able to get out and savor the sun, the rain and the wind at will. I am writing this post sitting outside in our patio, basking in the early morning sun. I could get used to this.
- being able to devote time to reading and introspection.
- hot, home-cooked meals for lunch. I can't tell you how much I hate eating out of lunch boxes which is exactly what I've been doing all these years. Ugh. Takes the joy out of life.
- spending time with my parents and my baby.
- watching a LOT of TV. Granted this is not exactly nourishing, it feels good to watch TV whenever without having to worry about work, grocery lists, cooking and cleaning..
- not having to schedule everything around weekends. Maybe this should make the top of the list. I feel liberated being able to go to the park, watch a late-night movie, stay up late reading or call friends during the week without worrying about work the next day. It feels G.R.E.A.T!

I miss the intellectual stimulation of problem-solving at work. But I've found enough household problems to keep me occupied. Such as the ant-infestation which we can't seem to get rid of. Or finding the best cleaner for the bathrooms and the wooden floors. Or figuring out how to make S's undershirts sparkling white like they show in the Rin ads back home. Or managing the grocery inventory.

Right. So far so good. S is predicting I'll be tearing my hair out in the next few months and will be itching to go back to work. We'll see about that. For now, I am going to get back to drinking my filter coffee as I laze around in the beautiful Fall sun until G wakes up. Ciao.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Memories of school days

Fall term for Fayette County schools commences tomorrow. I was at Target yesterday and found the aisles full of clamoring, excited kids picking out their school supplies. Harried-looking parents were trying to hunt for the best deals while also satisfying their children's demands.

"Mom, I want that lunch box", said a pouting little boy.

"You already have two lunch boxes, honey"

"None of them have Spiderman though and Carey has a box with Spiderman on it!"

Back in my school days, my brother and I had the ever-faithful, stainless steel tiffin carriers for lunch as did most of my friends. Tiffin carriers were the best suited to satisfy the Indian propensity for having a full fledged meal at noon - sambhar rice, curd rice and a sabzi. Only a select few who always had sandwiches for lunch got the fancy, plastic tiffin boxes. And most of us didn't feel that competing for fancy tiffin boxes was worth the sacrifice of curd rice..:)

No, my consumerist tendencies were directed toward pencil cases. There was the ordinary, plastic pencil box. Then there were the cool ones with dividers for erasers and sharpeners. After that came the really fancy double deckered ones - a top container for pencils and stuff you wanted everyone to see and a secret bottom compartment to house one's really treasured possessions. The really, really cool ones -- the ones all of us wanted -- were the beautiful Disney themed, double-deckered pencil cases with a padded, cushioned cover and a magnetic lock. I was in fifth grade when someone got this to school for the first time. It had the rest of us salivating and pretty soon, the class filled up with these. 

This model had all sorts of secret compartments springing up out of nowhere. There were compartments that would pop out on the side for erasers etc..And of course, the so-called secret bottom compartment to house the most vaunted possessions. In my class, there was an unspoken rule that while everyone's pencil cases was shared property, you couldn't touch the bottom compartment without asking permission first. Fights broke out when people opened up this area without askance. Most of us kept our lucky fountain pens in there. 

Fountain pens are almost extinct now. But back then, I went through so many pens to find the pen - the One Pen that would flow beautifully, producing exquisite calligraphy in the hands of the right owner and fetch the most marks from teachers. We would scratch the tip of the nib on the floor to make it smooth and produce thicker writing. Of course, we damaged a lot of beautiful pens in this process. Only a few would escape the damage and actually manage to survive. When someone got a Hero pen -- the pinnacle of all pens, all their friends would take turns at writing with it. 

Then came our obsessions with glossy notebook covers. When I had gotten to the 9th or 10th grade, the soft-cover, glossy front & backed notebooks with pictures of celebrities were the rage. Guys mostly stuck with Sachin Tendulkar and other cricketing greats. Girls had a wider variety to pick from -- Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Hum Aap ke Hain Koun themed covers, DDLJ-themed covers, cricket hunks and what not. The first day of school, everyone would compare their notebooks and go "awww.." over the most novel, beautiful notebooks. 

Looking back at those days, it seems whimsical. But it also feels endearingly innocent, a reminder of days when our fancies and thoughts were occupied with silly, simple things. We didn't aspire to anything great like being dropped by a fancy car or having one's own, separate study room -- things I am told kids boast about these days. Give us a cool pencil case and a notebook with Anil Kumble on it and most of us would've been in Ninth Heaven. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pink, blue, flowers & animals..

S and I have been trying to stay away from the stereotypical pink vs. blue thing for our boy. The pink vs. blue mania extends not just to clothes but all the way to crib sheets, blankets, bouncers, sippy cups and what-not. And it is very hard to not get sucked into this stereotype. Last week, we went with my sister-in-law to buy a bouncer for little G. The only bouncer that was comfortable and met all our requirements was a beige-brown color with a couple of pink flowers.

"Are you sure you want to buy this? It has some pink in it", said my SIL.

I shrugged, "This is the only one that looks comfy and it doesn't have any other colors".

"But your kid might curse you later when he sees the photos with the pink flowered bouncer."

S started looking a bit doubtful as he imagined his son cursing him in later life. He looked at an appropriately blue bouncer which wasn't as comfortable as this one. After about 10 minutes of much convincing and wrangling, we settled on the beige one. After we got back home, we ruminated on how easily we could've bought something that was not comfortable just because of the "right" color!


In the US, boy babies have a very limited selection of clothes - striped or plain shirts/onesies with either an animal on it or wordings like "Silly monkey" or  "Wild thing".  The colors are nothing to talk about - dull brown, yellow, blue (of course), green (if particularly lucky). While all the girl infants of this world are carted around in cute, frilly frocks with polka dots & flowers in bright colors, my boy goes around wearing a shirt that says "Cat's meow". I honestly don't know what "Cat's meow" means. I think the makers ran out of cute things to say for boys and made something up. Hopefully, G won't have to wear shirts with "Dog's bark" or "Cow's moo". If boys' stuff doesn't have animals on it, it will have cars. I guess someone decided that the male gender can't have anything to do with the finer things of life like flowers or artsy stuff.

S accurately ( but politically incorrectly) points out that G isn't exactly going to care about all this anyway. According to him, this is just the feminine craving in me to buy cute things. Hmph. I don't know about that but it definitely makes S's life easier as far as shopping goes.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This is the BEST-est post in the world

Observation #1:

Come Father's day or Mother's day, stores are full of "Best mom/dad in the world" paraphernalia. There are variations of the word "Best" like "Awesomest", "Amazing", "Unique" the balloons, cups, jewelry boxes, greeting cards that the stores peddle. I am all for cute stuff and I do hope one day G will present me with one of these. Call me picky but I have started disliking the "Bestest in the world" phrase. How can only one mom be the best in the entire world? Who are we comparing moms with? Every mom is probably the best for her kid but to claim the "bestest, awesomest" status amongst all the moms of the world sounds rather irritating. I feel like the words have lost their meaning.

Rant #2:

There's no dearth of bad news in today's media. There's always someone dead, raped, missing, mutilated, killed, terrorized or brutalized. And when the family of these people talk to the media, they always talk of the "warm, lively, full-of-life, won't-hurt-a-single-fly, helpful, brilliant" victim. I know we're all supposed to talk well of the dead and I do sympathize with all these victims but I wish people would come up with really thoughtful things to say. Either 

a) Everyone in the world is a clone
b) the victim, in reality, was such a sucky person that the family finds refuge in cliches

I guess I should really stop ranting. But hey, I am a sleep deprived new mom and this is what happens when you're awake at all odd hours of the night. I think I've earned the right to rant (for the time being)..:)

Friday, July 16, 2010

the one where I manage to laugh despite serious post-partum pain

RS lent me Dave Barry's "I'll mature when I am dead" a few days before my due date to while away time. Aside from P.G. Wodehouse, he is t.h.e funniest, wittiest author I've ever read.

Let me just make two points:

- An author who can make a woman laugh hysterically just 2 hours after a marathon 31 hour labor/delivery is worth his salt. If anyone had even merely suggested that I loosen up and take a humorous view of things that day, I would have punched them in the face. That is how exhausted and sore I was.
- An author who can make sleep-deprived, exhausted, new parents loosen up @ 3 AM in the morning (after dealing with baby's 2 hour crying jag) is really worth reading.

Hats off to Dave Barry! Not that he needs my endorsement or approval - he is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. S & I have developed a comfy routine where we read Dave Barry late at night or during the wee hours of the morning after putting the little one to sleep.

As an aside, I also read Chetan Bhagat's "Five Point Someone" alongside Dave Barry. And the contrast was glaring. Granted these are two authors writing different genres, Chetan Bhagat still seemed to fall terribly short in language, style and story-telling. "3 Idiots" seemed a better version of "Five point someone". I started on "2 states" but it seemed to drag on slowly. So for now, I've cracked open "Boogers Are My Beat" by Barry. I am laughing already...

Monday, July 05, 2010


After 10 months of joy,worries, excitement,anxiety, discomforts, anticipation, baby G is here at last! He arrived safely in this world after 31 hours of hard labor. It is hard to believe that it has been 7 days already since he made his entry!

S & I are slowly settling down into parenthood in these early days. I am sure it is going to be a fun, adventure-filled journey as baby g grows!  And I am starting to enjoy a few things I missed a l.o.t. during these past 10 months -

- savoring a cup of hot, normal strength coffee. I've been sustaining on extremely low strength coffee (by that, I really mean low, low strength) during the entire pregnancy
- sleeping on my stomach. Yaay for that!
- being able to just bend down and see my feet..:)

Ahh, simple pleasures!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where have I been?

After a long absence, I am attempting to sneak back onto this blog. No, I've not given up on blogging completely. I've just been busy blogging elsewhere. Yup, after a lot of agonizing, I decided an anonymous blog was a good idea. I can say exactly what I want without people going, "Oh, did she mean me in that post?" or "Hmm. Did she write this post because of that conversation we had last week?" Most of the time, I am just blathering on. When people actually attach too much meaning to what I say and start reading between the lines, its too much of a burden to bear! :) 

Anyways, that's not to say I am abandoning this blog. I think I am just going through a zen-like phase. I don't check Gmail every 30 seconds anymore (gasp!). I answer e-mails and Facebook messages with a lag. Where previously I didn't mind sending nonsensical e-mails to friends just to get conversation going, I am now questioning if I should be wasting people's time, server space, electricity and mental concentration before hitting the "send" button. And of all the blasphemous thoughts crossing my mind, I've been deliberating deleting my Orkut account. The mindless banter that goes on in that site is unbearable. Of course, I am not zen enough yet to get rid of Facebook or my cell phone. 

So, what in the world am I doing? I've been playing around with my new Nikon DSLR. I absolutely love it! I am part-time consultant to my husband's DIY projects (of which there are many).  Last weekend, it was Project Earthworms. The poor sodden creatures crawl into our kitchen and die whenever there's a thunderstorm. S installed some new door sweeps and weather proof stuff so these things can't crawl under. Yesterday, I actually advised S on how to remove the kitchen sink faucet gracefully! Ha, women can be handy too. Oh and since we got Vijay TV at last, I've been devoting quite some time watching "Airtel Super Singer Junior", "Koffee with Anu" and "Neeya Naana?". After the mindless drivel of the other channels, I almost cried with happiness when I found some shows I could actually enjoy.  

So there, that's my new Mother Earth avatar. Not sure how long its going to last but enjoying it while it does. So, my dear faithful readers, please don't abandon me. Do continue reading this blog and who knows, my anonymous blog might merge over with this one. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Flavors of English

Last year, in Tirupati, at a hotel, I saw a sign for wash basin written as "Wash Bastion".  Near Bhima's Hotel in lower Tirupati, a detour was announced because of maintenance work. The sign read: "Rob work in progress ahead". Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera handy to capture these choice pieces of literature on display. Now, after Hinglish and Tanglish, China has come up with its own Chinglish. Check it out here.

Lest you think it is only denizens of Asian countries that go about murdering English, there are plenty of examples in the US. Recently, I've been seeing more and more emergency exit doors marked:

"This door is alarmed. Please do not use."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Godfather

After years and years of hearing everyone else talk about it, finally watched it Friday night. I must say I loved it! Brando's dialogue delivery was stunning - very understated and powerful. I totally loved the cast, dialogues, lighting and the sound track.  I am eagerly awaiting "Godfather II" in the mail now!

It was also revealing just how many scenes/concepts from this movie Maniratnam has imitated in his own flicks..:-) Kamalhassan has also copied a lot of Marlon Brando's gestures and body language in "Nayagan".  But that doesn't take away any credit from Maniratnam or Kamalhassan. I still think "Nayagan" is one of the top 5 movies of all time in Indian cinema. It is the only movie that moves me to tears even today.

The Godfather came out in 1972, Nayagan in 1987. Almost 30 years later, Indian cinema hasn't produced a mob-flick that is comparable to either of the above two. Hindi cinema has at least made a few attempts at it ("Sarkar", "Company" etc..) But Tamil cinema is wayyyyy behind. Come on, Kollywood, catch up!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sexism in music!

A couple of years back, I played "Ninnukori Varnam.." from "Agni Nakshatram" to one of my American colleagues. He is really into music and very knowledgeable at that. Midway through the song, he asked:

"Why do the female singers in Indian movies screech in this unnaturally high voice?"

I was a bit startled at this new perspective. I tend to think of Chitra and Janaki as just having "high pitched" voices.

"Really? You feel like they are screeching? Or do you just mean they have really high voices?"

"No, it really feels unnatural - this screeching effect. The men sound okay though."

After that conversation, while I was practicing for one of LTCA's music events, I really had to agree with my colleague. Some Tamil songs are sung at a C or D in terms of western scale. Depending on the female singer, it really does sound grating at times. I know I can't listen to certain S. Janaki numbers because it drives me up the wall! Female carnatic musicians sing at a G or G# utmost which happens to be the "normal" range for most women. 

More recently, I was watching "Hariyudan Naan" on Jaya TV. One of the girls in the auditioned started singing a song in a lower scale. I thought she sounded fine. Harini (judge) asked her to raise it a couple of notches and we were back to the screeching cacophony. The girl struggled to hit her notes and she was deemed "unfit" for the next round.

How important is being able to sing at abnormally high pitches? Why do composers compose at such high scales? Is it to benefit the male voice which perhaps sounds best at that scale? In that case, it reeks of sexism. Is such an ability even the mark of a good singer? Why can't we sing in our "normal" voices?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who watches Sun TV?

We have had Sun TV at home for the past two years. This was the only Tamil channel available overseas. I wanted to hear some Tamil spoken when I got home. So we got it. But, I rarely ever watched it except for some good movies on it. Why? Because it has got the worst program line-up ever in the history of television.

There are serials, mindless game shows, cloying "reality" dance shows, movies, movies and more movies. They debuted "Adaverallam Aada varalaam" recently. The preview shows this guy who injures himself on the dance floor. Prithviraj (aka Babloo) is begging the show's judges to let him be taken to the hospital. Huh?! The injured guy comes up with a really stupid line like, "All warriors want to fall on the battlefield. I'd rather die on stage than go to the hospital." Second huh?!!!!!!! Okay, drama queen, if you want to die on-stage, that's your problem. But we don't want to see it.  Of course, its all coached "reality TV" lines. Still, who comes up with such crap at Sun TV?

Then there are the ubiquitous "game shows". First is "Rani Maharani" hosted by Mamathy Chari. It is an insult to the intelligence of the women of TN. They show a piece of some movie star's face and the contestants are supposed to find out who that is. Really, grow up, people. Is this all our women are capable of?! Can they not come up with any other decent idea? And they reward such mindlessness with cash. Next, is "Deal a No Deal a". This is another over-sensationalized, sentimentalized show. Contestants with mentally ill children, autistic children, relatives who need a life-saving surgery are showcased. They tell their story on-stage and then gamble for "life or death". And recently, they advertised that people who watch "Vettaikaran" will be given some special prize on that show. We all know "Vettaikaran" sucks big time but you don't have to show your desperation in such blatant ways! The host guy is rather annoying as well. This was all the gripe I had about the show until yesterday until S said,

"TN state government is sponsoring illegal gambling on the show.."

"huh? Don't we have gambling laws?"

"Nope. They even eliminated all the lottery ticket stuff sometime back."

"Oh..but this is not gambling."

"Why not? You're not required to answer anything or demonstrate any skill. All you have to do is pick a box. That's gambling."

Okay, that was a revelation to me. Is this really true? I don't know what the gambling laws etc..are in TN. So, if one of you out there, can enlighten me, that'd be great.

We got Jaya TV a month or so back. After that, I rarely tune into Sun TV. Jaya has a much more decent line-up than Sun. Of course, it also has its own propaganda machine. But some of the shows on Jaya are truly watchable.

I'd like to know how Sun gets its TRP and what population watches this in India.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blouse "bit" racket

One time-tested tradition that hasn't changed in Chennai is that  when you go to someone's house, you always walk away with a blouse bit. About 15-20 years ago, this was actually a good thing. I've seen my mom stitch blouses from all the various pieces she got from neighbors, relatives and friends. Sarees were simple back then, didn't have "attached" blouse material, colors were straight forward and blouse pieces were always of the 2x2 variety. Everyone was happy.

Fast forward to 2010 and there's a mind-boggling variety of saris and blouse materials. Most saris have the blouse material attached and women are picky about their blouse materials, colors etc..So, when you get a blouse piece as a gift from someone, most women don't know what to do with it. They've got blouses for all their saris. What do we do?

So, we recycle, re-gift and evolve gifting blouse materials into a fine art form..:) I realized the Great Hierarchy of Gifting Blouse Material during the last India trip. I was asked to go fetch a material to gift a visiting mami. I rummaged through the cupboard and picked whichever one came to hand. Big mistake. That's when I received the lecture of how "it is done". You see, there are hierarchies -- silk cotton for people you like, pure silk for people you don't really like but there's no other way out, regular cotton for people of no importance, 2x2 for someone you like well enough, fancy blouse bits with embroidery and mirror work for youngsters and so on…Oh, and you can't re-gift a material that someone might recognize as having been given at another house etc..

Anyway, I tried refusing blouse pieces at a couple of houses I visited. I said I had no use for them in the US. Who would stitch them for me there? And I didn't have time to get it stitched in India. This argument, most often, is met with glares and annoyance. So, I meekly started gathering a pile of these things and silently handed it over to my mom for safe, hierarchical re-gifting..:)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the one about restrooms

It makes me uncomfortable when people talk across cubicles in restrooms. I don't know if men do this as well. I know some women at my office who are "restroom buddies". They enter the restrooms chatting away about something and continue their conversations from the stalls as they do their business. No matter that they might not even be in adjacent stalls! For someone caught in the crossfire of this talk, it is totally awkward. Can't they wait until after they've left the restrooms to talk?


Indian restaurants in the US continue the glorious Indian tradition of having dirty restrooms. The restaurant will be all posh looking with low lights, soft music and tasteful wall decor. But the restrooms will be stinky, dirty and out of supplies. Why this neglect?!?!?! What in our culture promotes this restroom abuse? I really can't imagine. If anyone has any answers, I'd love to hear them..

Friday, January 15, 2010

Personal space..

Any married woman living in India can tell you there are innumerable little nits to be borne in daily social life. It could be a nosy relative who sidles over to your mother-in-law to point out that you never wear your diamond earrings as befits a married woman. Or it could be annoying neighbors that drop in at all odd hours borrowing anything from a couple of onions to your new hot water bag. Or it could be the gossipy maid servant who snoops on all your shopping and reports them dutifully to the entire flat complex. Or it could be office colleagues who keep offering unsolicited, unwanted advice.

Yes, the concept of "personal space" is literally non-existent in a country like India. I learnt this word only after coming to the US 6 years ago!  It is a place where strangers can ask the most personal, intrusive questions most casually without flinching and they expect you to answer it. But its also the place where people respond unexpectedly to mundane questions like "How are you?". Some questions/responses have startled me in their brutal honesty!

"When are you having your first child? Isn't it late enough?"
"When are you getting married? You're 29 and you've not found a guy yet?!!"
" What's your salary?"
"I had a big fight with my wife today about our daily budget"
"My wife and I have fertility problems."

Here in the US, some of these questions would border on the outrageous/impertinent and no one would dream of talking about their marital life in public with a relative stranger. Hell, even desis here think twice about discussing anything personal even with their close friends. I can't imagine going and telling my co-worker about my personal problems but this happens regularly in India.

But then, sometimes, I feel that despite the general irksomeness of being forced to open up to someone when you least want it, its a good vent. You don't have to schedule an appointment with your best friend to find time to cry on her shoulder. You get a sense of relief when you've unburdened yourself and it takes pressure off other relationships -- spouses, friends etc.. -- to supply one's emotional needs. And in all the unsolicited advice that one gets, there are some nuggets of real wisdom if we're wiling to look deep enough. Sometimes, when we're facing a major life crisis or event, its good to get all the support you can whether it be from a grocery vendor or from the milkman or from a distant relative.

I am not justifying being nosy. After US life for nearly 6 years, I have trouble adjusting to the lack of privacy in India. But I think that we could all do with a bit of opening up here in the US and maybe even a bit more honesty in our relationships.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Flying In The Age Of Obama

I've been flying for over 15 years now. But the way the flying industry has changed, it seems more like a century ago that flights were easy to board, flight personnel were friendly and people looked forward to flying as an enjoyable experience. Our recent trip to San Francisco only served to reinforce how hard it has become to fly domestic within the US.

There are the baggage fees you have to contend with on top of $500 tickets. Delta charges $25 for the first bag and $32 for the second. Lots of people have stopped checking in bags and instead take one carry-on bag which is stuffed to its maximum capacity and looks ready to split at any time. Most airlines allow one personal item such as a handbag or a laptop bag in addition to carry-on. But people are stretching the concept of a "personal item" as well. One young girl in front of us had a very pregnant backpack which seemed to contain rations for one entire town under a siege! And that was her "personal item" in addition to another suitcase.

Now that everyone has bloated carry-ons and personal items, nasty cabin fights break out between passengers looking for cabin storage space. Our flight attendant announced that "passengers please be accomodative of others' needs and store just one item in the overhead cabins". Okay, so I stored my rather heavy winter jacket, gloves and scarf on my lap only for it to slide off when I fell asleep and get trampled upon by the service carts. Awesome.

Flight attendants too have become a lot short-tempered than before.  The ones on our flight slammed down the overhead cabin doors closed with unnecessary force. S asked for orange juice and water. Our flight attendant snapped, "I only have two hands". And its just not us that got this treatment. A couple of years ago on a Lufthansa flight to India, I rang the attendant bell 10 times before I got one sour lady to come to my seat. I asked for water and she waspishly asked me to go get my own water from the service area at the back. On the same flight, another attendant told a young mother to do something about her incessantly crying baby because it was disturbing other passengers' peace!

Since you have to pay for crappy on-board meals, everyone gets their own food. Some, like us, pack stuff from home. And everyone has to get their own earphones because otherwise, its a $5 rental! I wouldn't be surprised if traders start hawking food and other wares on the flight before take-off.

"Chai, chai.." or "Anju pathu rooba, sir..arumaiyana sapota"

If only the US had an efficient train system like our Indian Railways, it will be infinitely more comfortable. Ah, the joys of train travel in India! Will the US govt. act on it?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

V.S.V should stop critiquing Carnatic music...

கடந்த இரண்டு மூன்று வருடங்களாக, ஆனந்த விகடனில் வி.எஸ்.வி 'ஸரி க ம ப த நி டயரி' எழுதி வருகிறார். இவருடைய எழுது மகா அபத்தம். ராகங்கள் பெயர்களை தப்பும் தவறுமாக எழுதுகிறார். கீர்த்தனைகளின் வார்த்தைகளும் தவறு. இந்த வார ஆனந்த விகடனில், பாம்பே ஜெயஸ்ரீயின் கச்சேரியை விமரிசனம் செய்திருக்கிறார். அதில் தீட்சிதரின் "மீனாட்சி மேமுதம்.." பாடல் வரிகளை, "மதுராபுரி நிலவே.." என்று எழுதியிருக்கிறார். உண்மையில் அது "மதுராபுரி நிலையே..". ஒரு எழுத்தை மாற்றி தீட்சிதரை ஏதோ வைரமுத்து ரேஞ்சுக்கு ஆக்கி விட்டார்! ஒரு பெரிய பரிசுரத்துக்கு எழுதும் ஒரு எழுத்தாளர் இம்மாதிரி தவறு செய்யலாமா ?!
சென்ற வருடம் "மியூசிக் அகாடமி" கான்டீனில் என்ன ஸ்பெஷல் என்று ஒரு வாரம் எழுதியிருந்தார். சாப்பிட சென்றாரா, கச்சேரி கேட்க போனாரா? அதே போல் T.M.கிருஷ்ணா, சென்ற வருடம், பைரவி ராகத்தில் அமைந்த 'விரிபோனி.. ' வர்ணத்தை கச்சேரியில் மெயின் piece-ஆக பாடியதால் அவரை கன்னா பின்னா என்று விமரிசனம் செய்திருந்தார். ராகங்கள் பெயரையே செரியாக தெரிந்து கொள்ளாதவர், கீர்த்தனைகளின் வார்த்தைகளை தவறாக எழுதுபவர், இவர்களெல்லாம் வித்வான்களை விமரிசனம் செய்வது மிக அபத்தம்! வி.எஸ்.வி கர்நாடக சங்கீதத்தைப் பற்றி எழுதுவதை நிறுத்தி விடுவது நல்லது.