Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tour de France - Part XII

Carinne peered through her tiny bedroom window. The brown-skinned girl with black glasses and long black braids skipped past again. She waved. The girl waved back, not missing a step as she went out into the street.
Does she speak French, Carinne wondered." I might like to play with her, if she does. It’s getting boring visiting Grand-pere and Grand-mere with no other children to play with. Maybe I’ll even show her my new Barbie camper". (or maybe it isn’t brand-new, coming from Cousine Claudette who left it the last time she visited and never bothered to take it back.)
The afternoon faded into evening, with the last bits of sunlight glinting on the apartment windows across the lane. Carinne came up to her room after an early dinner, spent watching her grandparents make small talk over a dinner of bread and bifteck. Her grandfather was the owner of a little bakery on Rue de LaRochefoucauld, assisted by a young apprentice in the back rooms, while his wife tended to the patrons who stopped by for their morning fresh baguettes and croissants.
When would Maman come back and take her back home? Why did she need to go on these long trips, leaving her with Grandmere and Grandpere? Questions, questions…no answers.
The little brown girl was wheeling her bicycle back down the driveway from the courtyard over the garages. She didn’t look up to see Carinne watching. Doesn’t she have anyone to play with? Is she lonely like me, mused Carinne. Maybe I will try talking to her if I see her out tomorrow.
The next day, no sign of the girl. Nor the next. Carinne began to think someone had placed a curse upon her, like the evil bewitchment that falls upon La Belle aux Bois Dormant (‘Sleeping Beauty’). The little brown girl must have moved away. None of the other kids came out to play, the weather was as gray as ever as she slid open her curtains every morning. No word from Maman, either.
A week later, she looked out in the late afternoon out of sheer habit. And there went the little brown girl again, skipping down the driveway and the lane, red ribbons on braid ends dancing.
She opened her window and called out.
“I’m Carinne. What’s your name?”
The girl stopped in her tracks. “ Sujatha.”, she replied.
“Sud-ja- ta”, enunciated Carinne, uncertainly, trying it on for size and deciding she wasn’t sure if she liked it. “Where do you come from?”
“Would you like to play with me in the courtyard after you get back from the marche? I have a new Barbie camper we could share”
“ And I have a new Barbie, with two extra outfits! My father bought it for me when we were in Andorra last week on a driving tour of France” Suji exclaimed. “I’ll go and get it after I’m done with my errands.”
Sure enough, that is just what she did. They had many good times playing together, till Maman came to take Carinne home a few weeks later, at summer's end.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Attack of the Match Makers

When one reaches a certain vintage in years, you are very likely to be pegged for as knowing of ever so many eligible young 'boys' or 'girls'. As an Indian-American, the pressure on you to fulfil your predestined role of matchmaking Maami or Maama is quite immense, even if you barely passed the far-end of the 'age of eligibility' by about 30 nanoseconds. (Plus you have to get used to being addressed as 'Uncle' or 'Auntie' by miscellaneous persons who are barely 10 years younger than you.)

"Do you know of any suitable boys? Please call us or send an email with details if you know anyone who might match."

"What are your basic criteria?" ( Always a good idea to find out the customer specs and requirements before preparing a list of suitable candidates.)

"Well, he must be Telugu speaking."

"Is that all, I know at least two dozen eligible boys, shall I send you the list?"

"No, no, no. He must be vegetarian too."

"Oh, then the list will have only 4 or 5. What else?"

"He must be a doctor with a green card or a US citizen."

"No, no, no. A plain doctor will not be enough- he has to be a surgeon", interjected the girl's mother, adding another critical attribute. "We can't settle for less, after how we've educated our daughter."

"And he needs to be tall and fair, not older than 35 and with good horoscope and family background."

Even if I could come up with a "boy" who is all of the above, the problem would be that such a paragon might be already married with two kids, and unwilling to take on Wife # 2 because of antibigamy laws. Or even worse, divorced with two kids. Hmmm, maybe I should put in a word for Candidate C. My husband gives me a warning look before I shoot off my mouth mentioning names.

"Of course we will do our best, Uncle", he grinned at our matchseeking friends.

Now you see why I am totally unfit for this business: too much frankness and snark will get you only so far. A diplomat's delicate touch and tenaciousness would come in handy, I suppose.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tour de France - Part XI

Miss L had found out that Suji was an avid reader. She saw the voraciousness through the black rimmed earnest gaze, so different from the other children, who would open their books only on command. Such reading must be encouraged, she decided. She wrote out a note to the librarian,asking that Suji be granted unlimited access to the library, even without a pass during free periods and be allowed to take home four books instead of the regular two.

Suji was delighted, taking every opportunity she found to run down to the library. She loved to kneel between the book cases, riffing systematically through the spines till she found her favorites. Sometimes, Champ, the librarian’s black poodle, would trot up to her, waiting patiently from a possible doggie treat as she petted him for a few minutes. The treat never came though, Suji had no clue that it might be something Champ would enjoy. Then it was on to the next library patron, who might be hiding a small snack in his pocket.

The Book Exchange cupboard under the stairs was another magical place. Musty and dusty, reeking of old books long forgotten, most kids stayed away from it, not caring for the contents largely placed there by avid bibliophiles seeking a gentler retirement for their outgrown favorites.

Suji surreptitiously brought a couple of unwanted books from home and placed them in the cupboard, picking out a couple of much desired books in exchange. Some books on the bottom shelf were even marked “borrow and return any time”, so she delved into those with a special vigor. There were hard bound editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books, that had Suji curled up in her bed, reading as if her life depended on it, even as she ignored Amma’s calls to dinner. Those books would move with her from the old apartment to a newer one, and not return to the Book Exchange cupboard till they left Paris.

Appa would occasionally pick out Enid Blytons for Suji on his frequent business trips to London. Suji carefully ripped up the covers of old Span magazines and learnt to cover even those brightly colored paperbacks to protect them from wear and tear. All through this , the inflow of library books never ceased: Raggedy Ann, Little House books, Pippi Longstocking, Moomintrolls, the chronicles of Narnia (The Horse and His Boy was a particular favorite)…

There were even a couple of French books to vary the charm: a translation of a Mallory School series book of Enid Blyton's called "Le Theatre au Malory Towers" and a nondescript translation of a mystery adventure "Secrets au Clair de Lune". Suji was particularly taken by the description of the secret cabin where the protagonist went with her little notebook to write.

What to do about the lack of a secret cabin? She could remedy that by placing a bedsheet over the old dining table and crawling in there with a torch. That would have to be her 'secret' spot to write in the notepad. Suji started filling the pages one after one, lists of favorite books, doodles and drawings,anything and everything that she thought that she wanted to keep secret, though from whom, she didn't know. There were no really close friends with whom to share these secrets.

Monday, December 8, 2008

TV Ad Favorites

I mean, the ones which are so terrible that they command your attention, and have the whole family running in to view them just for laughs.

Anything by Billy Mays, in his trademarked shouting gravelly voice:
(All words have been mangled in this recreation, beyond the product names)

"Mighty Putty... will make anything stick to anything"

"Oxiclean... pulls out any stain from any fabric"

"Fixit... will cover any scratch on your car"

All these are offered for the measly price of $19.99 or $9.99 + Shipping and Handling (the mysterious terms that should make you quake in your shoes- what if the S&H turned out to be twice the advertised cost of the product?)

I was surprised to find out that the redoubtable Billy Mays has a local link, being a native of McKeesport, a manufacturing town SE of Pittsburgh ( I've driven through it in a quest for a tunnel-free route to work.).

Another terrible TV ad favorite is the one with lyrics about how wonderful Pittsburgh and America are, and soaring music to match, only to descend into bathos advertising "George Moving and Storage", which begs the question: Is that a hint to the wise that Pittsburgh is the kind of town to move out of at the earliest opportunity?

Then we have the inimitable rapid-fire patter of clean-shaven Richard Bazzy for some Ford dealership. I never can make out a word of his sales pitch, but we gawk at the TV for the duration of the ad, where he's probably trying to fit in 30 seconds worth in a 10-second spot.

Who said local ads aren't fun? They're the funniest ones on TV!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tunnel Vision

I started a new job on Monday, and for the past three days, have been trying alternate routes every day to work. The commute goes through two tunnels, of which the first is the most horrendous traffic approach devised by those devilish road designers. Three major roadways and two shared parkways make for a bottleneck without peer in this region. The second tunnel isn't too bad, since I'm driving counter to the main flow of the traffic through it, and it also doesn't have major merge points before it.On a weekend, the same stretch that took me 30 minutes this morning, would have been covered in all of 5 minutes.
Coming back, I hoped for a better against-the-flow timing, but got mired in school traffic, with crossing guards holding up their stop signs as they waved packs of kids across the road.
Tomorrow, determined to stay out of the tunnel-vision crowd, I've used the maps at to plan a route that takes me away on side roads. I will need to time it and see how long it takes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anatomy of a Pop Phenomenon

'Haven't you read the Twilight series yet?', my friend asked, as we chatted over a cup of tea."It's all the rage now. My 11 year old wanted to read it, so I got her the series. She's read all of them, except the fourth one, which I didn't allow her to read, because of a couple of rather more graphic scenes than she can handle at her maturity level."

I had already read 'The Host' by author Stephenie Meyer, and had been favorably impressed. For a popular author, she had a good sense of how to phrase the inner voice and it lent itself well to the sci-fi backdrop of 'The Host', about an alien host injected into a human body, which unfortunately has not completely lost the original soul dwelling in it, written for the adult market.

And now, everywhere one looked, especially in the print media, the internet websites, 'Twilight' was being pushed as the next greatest invention after the Harry Potter phenomenon, and it draws from much the same demographic- primarily girls who came of age as they waited breathlessly for the next JK Rowling installment. All those hormones had to be channeled somewhere after that franchise outlived its usefulness, with the postponing of the new Potter movie release certainly not helping.

So, in rushes the next publisher's darling, a made-for-the-movie tie-in vampire-teen romance in which the heroine embodies (as another critic astutely put it) Jane Eyre lite, while the hero (named Edward) is a conflicted Edwardian-gentleman-morphed-into-eternal teenage vampire, who despite the traditional biting propensities, fights against his attraction/desire for Bella .

Seeing that many teens at the dance class were religiously glued to the various books in the series as they sat waiting for their turn at rehearsal, I tried to reserve a copy online at the library, when it came up with '546 of 546 holds'. At this rate, I might be able to get my hands on it about one year from now, even with the multitudes of copies in the library system. I gave in and picked up a copy at the local Kmart, figuring it was easier to return if I chickened out on reading it due to lack of time.

The movie advertisements seemed to have worked their magic, along with the cult-status of the books propagated through a million MySpace and Facebook pages. The box office verdict has been astounding: almost $70 million raked in for the first week, already well over the modest $46 million or so budgeted to make the movie. A sequel is in the pipeline, after all there are 3 more books waiting to be filmed.

I sat down to read the book, and finished over the course of one afternoon. My verdict: perfectly targeted to its main market, overfilled with hyperventilation and breathless moments but vastly tamer than the average teen crush novel. Zero humor. Again, this is Book 1 of 4, so I didn't get to any 'graphic' scenes. But then, after skimming through the whole book in a few hours, I didn't really feel like doing the same with the rest of the series.

(I'm overdue for a re-reading of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Those had much better writing and inner voices, even if the times are a couple of hundred years before the present era.)

In the interest of honest reporting, I dutifully checked out the movie trailer online, and think that the book is less annoying. The trailer is typically a compedium of most dramatic and action-packed moments, but this one didn't capture my interest despite following the formula faithfully. I will wait for the DVD rather than attempting to view it on the big screen.

I think I prefer any violence on paper(or DVD, thanks to the fast-forward), it's so much easier to gloss over. I remember remarking the ubiquity of fighting scenes in the Lord of the Rings. With books, you can choose not to visualize certain scenes, but in films molded by directors and screenplay writers, you are forced to see their visualizations which may totally clash with yours.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

But not the shopping kind.
The kind induced by terrorists who prey on innocent people, owe no loyalty to anything but the violence that they hold dearer than faith.
The fighting that still goes on, more than 50 hours after the first shot was fired, devolving into a nightmare that continues through the bright daylight and nights that follow.

Why do these things continue to happen?

With the bombings on the trains and in the markets, the horror of the moment was condensed to a few minutes and hours of tragic aftermath of rescue.
With this new urban warfare, the method of terrorizing the public mirrors the horrors of Columbine and Breslan, executed on a grand scale of citywide locations. Who plans and executes these, to what purpose?

We have no clear answers now, but I hope that the authorities will be able to get to the bottom of these, sooner rather than later, unburied by ponderous commissions that take years to come to conclusions, initiating rapid action to create rapid-response units to deal with this new kind of war.

Terror never sleeps, it just naps before its next rampage.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Pestilential Plague

Now, don't run away. You can't catch the cooties through your internet browser, or at least that's what my hubby says. Not that I completely agree. After all, it was a simple search and innocent click on a site that professed to offer some song lyrics that triggered it all. But the infection may have been residing for long in some innocuous email that was in my inbox, waiting for the magic key that opened the Pandora's box to my internet browser.

Weird popups of unmentionable human parts, that I frantically clicked on the little X to get rid of, advertisements advising me that my PC was infected and needed their services pronto to get rid of the infestation, then poltergeisty happenings on my PC such as ghostly openings of the CD tray, excessive hard disk accesses. Yikes, my PC is possessed! Call in the Ghostbusters!

After a fair amount of head-scratching and cautious readings of Wikipedia, runnings and rerunnings of my antiviral and antispyware software, I've come to the conclusion that it's much easier to find a needle in a haystack than to catch a Trojan that hides/changes its name and lurks in your c:/windows/system32 folder.

I only think that the bug has gone away, when it jumps up again, showing up as different weirdly named files on my system. I can watch the shenanigans, but can't delete these completely no matter how hard I try. "Out damned spot" say I, a latter day Lady Macbeth. Alas, the spot will not out.

I'm still hopeful that a fancy new update of my antiviral and antispyware software will come out any day now and deal with the Trojan like a providential St.George slaying the dragon (Please pardon all the overdose on mixed metaphors, that's what happens to one's brain out of sheer boredom when all I've been seeing on screen for the last few days is the never ending hunt for Spybot Search and Destroy's nemesis.)

Failing that, I will have no option but radical surgery, cut off the offending part by reformatting the disk and reinstalling my operating system and other applications. It's 'hard werk' but I'm prepared to do it for the benefit of the country and the world at large.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Not-A-Tag Tag

 Updated 2/17/2015.

From Sujatha @ Blogpourri:
(And I thought that you said you weren't doing or passing on tags. Maybe we should add that to this list as the 151 thing to do;)

150 things to do before you turn 30 or 40 or 50 or...

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink:
Nope, will not happen. Can't hold my alcohol beyond a couple of tablespoons worth, and dislike the fumes, as well.
02. Swam with dolphins:
First, need to learn how to swim.
03. Climbed a mountain:
i.e. if climbing to the top of the smallest hill in my neighborhood counts.
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula: Love spiders, wouldn't mind holding a tarantula, but have only handled miscellaneous household and garden arachnids.
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree

10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise

14. Seen the Northern Lights. Or at least a brief glimpse of them, when they showed up in Pittsburgh.
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg:
There's one building up in my fridge from the chunk of ice clogging the ice dispenser. I'm sure it will reach iceberg status in another month or so.
19. Slept under the stars:
Kinda, sorta: I used to be able to lie on my terrace at home in India and see the Milky way in all its glory- no more now, with the pesky street lights that were supposed to be a civic improvement.

20. Changed a baby’s diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower:
That was a major rip-off. The Perseids were supposed to be more spectacular than that, considering that we braved the freezing cold and long drive to get to the dark skies needed to view them.
23. Gotten drunk on champagne:
Nope, see (01)
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment

27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can

32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse:
Indirectly, with some kind of pinhole viewer, projected on the walls of the room since we didn't have the special viewing goggles.
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and didn’t care who was looking.If the zumbarobics/dappankuthu variations that I do with a group of friends trying to get active in winter count.
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country44. Watched whales
45. Stolen a sign:
Not sure if 'Finder's Keepers' qualifies for this , but I did 'find' a poly bag banner replacement for my missing political yard sign crumpled in some bushes on a morning walk.
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Taken a midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow:
Tried for a couple of yanks on the udder, then gave up. After that, the only 'milking' experience was that of using a breast pump, if that qualifies.

56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke - love the Cameron Diaz scene in "My Best Friend's Wedding"
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain

65. Gone to a drive-in theatre
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River
82. Been on a television news program as an “expert”
83. Gotten flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents.Well, cremated, same idea.
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently

95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
98. Passed out cold
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over.
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking with the windows open

103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone’s heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a TV game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for 30 hours in a 48 hour period
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. States
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper

129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
Had to dissect these for the 10 std. exam. Oh, the expression on Sr. Y's face when mine scampered away before I could pin it. Chaos ensued, and they eventually got me a really dead one.

133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad and The Odyssey
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head

149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Yesterday morning, we woke up to the first substantial snowfall of the season. The ground was covered with about half an inch of snow, blades of dormant grass still scarring the white blanket, leaf imprints left where the random leaf had been blown away from its resting place. M was quite thrilled "Snow, it snowed!" she shrieked joyfully. "Hooray, I get to play in the snow!"
"Not so fast, you've got to get ready for school now."
Having put the damper on her plans, I watched as she trudged off despondently to the bathroom to get ready for school. At the bus stop while we waited for the bus, she engaged in secret confabulations with A, her friend from across the street, ducking behind the large oak trunk as I approached.
There was a little more snowfall during the day, adding another half inch or so to the already thinning accumulation. So, when M got back from school, she dumped her school bag at the door and insisted "I want to go out and play in the snow with A!". I kept an eye out for them, as they were playing in the front yard that opens onto a busy street. A little while later, I could hear M shouting as she rolled a small ball. A had a larger snow ball, screaming as she tried to prevent it from rolling down the slope.
The light was waning and M shivering with cold as she finally stepped inside after the hour. "I'm cold!" she wailed, ripping off her shoes, socks and gloves covered with ice crystals. "Maybe you should try sitting by the warm spot in the family room." I suggested (That would be the first vent for our furnace's duct system, the warmest spot in the house.) "No, I want some hot cocoa."
By the time she was done with the hot cocoa, it had darkened quite a bit, and all I could see of their hard work outside was a faint impression of a snowman. Never mind, it would last all night, assuming some neighboring teen didn't get it in his head to decapitate it.
So, this morning, I went out to take a few pictures of the first snowman of 2008-2009. He looked very cute, with a pine sprig nose and twig mouth and eyes. M told me that they had named him Frostkins, so here are the results (unretouched) from his glamor shoot.(Click on the photos for a slightly larger version.)

Monday, November 17, 2008


I was sitting on the sofa in the waiting room of M's dance class,just pretending to blend in with the myriad cushions and coats thrown randomly behind me. I suppose that must have been good enough camouflage, for who should come rushing in but a 13(or so)-year old girl in dance uniform (salwar kameez with dupatta tied across.), followed by a tall young older teen boy in an outsize salwar kurta.
Boy: "Why are you so late today?"
Girl: "What the fluff do you mean?"
Boy: "What the fluff! I just asked you why you missed the first half of the folk dance practice."
At this point, it seems to have registered upon him that I wasn't part of the furniture, so glancing quickly at me, he enunciated loudly for my benefit again "What the fluff!"
:roll eyes:
Maybe I ought to change the name of the blog, knowing that this apparently new unGoogleable usage of the term 'What the F_" being replaced by "What the Fluff" in teen circles is not far from joining the list of unmentionable terms. ( I even suspect S might be using this in social situations when he hangs out with friends)
Then again, what the Fluff... I cornered the name of my blog before this usage, so I'll let it stand.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Feminist Tag

"Are you one?" asks Kochuthresiamma of Pareltank.

I scratch my head,dunno what it means exactly, precisely, and set off on a search for the meaning of the word in the dictionary and Wikipedia.
First the dictionary :
1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests
In principle, I definitely agree that there should be political, economic and social equality of the sexes. As to organized activity on that count, I'm all in favor of it, though I don't feel any urge to join those ranks explicitly. (Yes, I know, Lazy Me!)

Now for the Wikilink:

Feminism is defined as the belief of the political, social, and economic equality of women. It is a discourse that involves various movements, theories, and philosophies which are concerned with the issue of gender difference, advocate equality for women, and campaign for women's rights and interests.[1][2][3][4][5] According to some, the history of feminism can be divided into three waves.[4][6] The first wave was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second was in the 1960s and 1970s and the third extends from the 1990s to the present.[7] Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements.[8][9] It is manifest in a variety of disciplines such as feminist geography, feminist history and feminist literary criticism.

And so on, and so forth...

My head is spinning, and I don't want to try and tax my brain too much, having already addled it by reading about the underpinnings of the Wall Street crisis not too long before lunch.

The question was simple: "Am I a feminist?" The answer ought to be simple, but it isn't.

As a working mother, many years ago, did I take off early from work for doctor's appointments without a qualm? Was I a strict 9-to-5 employee who wouldn't lift a finger after 5 pm and would race to get to the car and drive to the daycare? Was I a hyper-competent professional despite that? Yes, absolutely. I did it knowing that the price I paid was one that I had already paid in terms of the '70 cents to the dollar' pay for women and the chance for rapid advancement. If feminism means that I can focus on my work with somebody else to do the heavy lifting when it comes to family, that would be nice, but I'm not completely sure that it would solve my anxieties regarding not knowing what is exactly going on with my kids.

Do I believe all household chores should be equally shared? As a household 'manager', I've found it more to my advantage to apportion jobs according to expertise and inclination. I handle the inside tasks (cooking, cleaning), while the outside (mowing, pruning, leaves, mulching) falls to the males. Yes, we do very rarely interchange our areas of work, just to keep a handle on how to do stuff should the need arise (my son and husband do their own laundry, know some basic cooking, how to mend using the sewing machine, etc.). My daughter will learn how to do all of these too, when she's old enough. These are life skills, not necessarily male or female chores, or maybe that's just the luxury of thought and attitude that I have had, living in the United States where it's not a cultural taboo for sons to help with the dishes or daughters to mow the lawn.

So, there you have it. I'm an opportunistic feminist. I defer to the MCPs when it suits me, kick them where it hurts when it doesn't. It's all about having my way with the least resistance and unpleasantness for all parties involved, which strikes me as a reasonable philosophy to live by, whether male or female.

And I pass on this tag to :

"Are you a feminist?"

Ruchira (I'm sure you could address this on A.B.)
Sujatha (Blogpourri)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So Many Sujat(h)as

As I was responding to comments from Sujatha @Blogpourri and she was engaged in a back and forth with Another Sujatha (not me, though) in an old post of hers from 2005, I was reminded of the multiple Sujatha problem that we all face.

In school, I was unique in my class, unlike the Susans and Lakshmis. The confusion started for me after I started work and there was a Sujata in my department. She was my senior in the department by several years, and shared a similar sounding initial. The phone for the room which we shared sat on my desk and answering calls often went like this.
"Can I speak to Sujat(h)a?"
"Which Sujatha?"
"Sujatha mumble, mumble, E"
"Sorry, didn't hear the initial, did you mean E or B?"
"OK, I want to talk to the 'old' Sujatha."
At this point the 'old' Sujata would walk over pronouncing in definite terms "I wish they would stop calling me the old Sujata and you the new Sujatha , it sounds really weird and doesn't make me feel any younger." as she took over the handset.

Now, where I live, there's another Sujatha who came here much before me, but our mutual acquaintances prefer to distinguish us by attaching our husbands' names to ours. While the Indian community in greater Pittsburgh is by no means huge, we still have about 4 or 5 Sujat(h)as, of whom I'm personally acquainted with 2.
Add to this the fact that my professional last name is my maiden name, while I go by my married name for school purposes, and it makes for more confused conversations whenever I'm at a local place like the bank or library. "Oh, your name is Sujatha! Is it a common name among Indians, because I know another Sujatha who is on the PTA."
Err... that would be me, unless she's talking about the other Sujatha who lives in an adjoining school district, but I believe that she might not be as active as me in her kids school PTA., since she is employed full-time.
Or, "Your name is Sujatha! How pretty! I remember seeing it on a car license plate at Giant Eagle."
Err... that would be me again.

Maybe I'm the only Sujatha that gets around all over the place here!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Return of Fluffy

Now that we can stop obsessing over the elections and push polling and electoral vs. popular vote counts, it's time to jump to the next thing all haggard moms planning the Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers need: A generous dose of me-time and an under $1000 shot of Radiesse to perk up those sagging chins.

Seriously, according to this columnist:

You deserve to look and feel fabulous. With so much to do during the holidays, in addition to hard economic times, is there a way to achieve fabulous? Of course.
We are not talking extremes here. During the holidays you don't want to try any type of cosmetic surgery with long recovery times. You want to be able to attend all the holiday functions rejuvenated, not swelling, bandaged and poor. How do you tell your children that Santa can't come this year because mommy has one less chin ? Depending on your budget, there are a lot of options.
For those willing to spend less than $1,000, Radiesse may be the answer. Radiesse is a dermal filler for the cosmetic treatment of facial wrinkles and creases, stimulating the body to produce additional collagen and volume.
Right, the economy is going down the drain, but you can plump up the chin (and the pocketbooks of those dermatologist and/or cosmetic surgeons) by shelling out the greenbacks.

Have no moolah to spare for those pricey injections? Then you can use the following tip:

Before you throw it down the drain, use leftover wine at the bottom of your holiday glasses to make your skin flawless. Spread the wine (can be red or white) over your face, leave on for 10 minutes, then gently wash off with water. Your skin will tingle. The acid in the wine will act as a peel and take off dead layers of skin.
Wow, no money for injections, but money for wine evidently. Will this technique work with dregs from a can of beer for the truly budget minded?

(It does remind me of an old women's magazine I read a long time ago, where the standard 'beauty tip' ran thus- "Take a rotten (tomato, cucumber, papaya, mango....etc.), crush it and mix with yogurt and apply to the face for 10 minutes and wash off."
This was before the advent of important sounding 'alpha-hydroxy lipoic acids derived from natural fruit' as the prime ingredient of all those yummy colored lotions and potions in tasteful pastel bottles.)

If even beer or wine is out of the budget, consider the following alternatives : Fasting, exercising and Kegels while standing in long shopping (or Food Bank) lines, guaranteed to cleanse your body and flatten your stomach. The columnist assures you that you will fit into that slinky ball gown like a banana fits in a banana skin (Sorry, wrong analogy for a person supposed to be fasting.)

And now for the piece de resistance:

Breathe -- yes, breathe. It will calm the body and give you more energy. K_ R_, co-owner of B_Yoga Studio, offers a selection of classes specifically designed to relieve holiday stress. All classes begin with seated meditation, and you can even become liberated through yoga by candlelight.

Talk about fluffy articles- just as we were exhorted to shop to defeat the terrorists, now all we need to do is focus on facelifts to lift up the flailing economy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

And Finally Obama-day!

After 20 months of campaigning, millions of dollars in money spent, and the best ground game in the history of US politics, Obama has won the presidency of the United States of America by over 7 million votes and an electoral vote landslide.

He wasn't my first choice as the Democratic nominee, but by the time the race had narrowed to a choice between Hillary and Obama, I opted for the latter, feeling frustrated at Hillary's shrill and negative tone. Despite questions about his lack of experience I had more confidence in his judgement than Hillary's. After he became the Democratic nominee, it was amazing to watch the slow implosion of the McCain campaign in a manner similar to that of Hillary Clinton's primary campaign. Yes, he did it again (not without an assist from the circumstances and failing economy.)As it turned out, the same induced negative campaigning tactics by McCain vs. Obama's disciplined message of Hope and Change may have carried the day in a larger sense.

The pitfalls ahead for a new administration are so numerous that the road will probably collapse before the destination is reached. Obama will have to rebuild the roads before we can get to where he wants to take America, literally as well as figuratively.

Being in Pennsylvania, a 'battleground' state, I had the privilege over these last few weeks to see the Obama ground game in all its glory and nitpicky detail. I went into a campaign office to collect a yard sign, and walked out having signed up to volunteer instead, in whatever capacity I was willing to offer, data entry in this case.

From then, it was a vicarious glimpse into the daily walks and phone schedules of hundreds of volunteers in this office- Doors knocked, phone calls made, registrations made, painstakingly, day after day."Do you support Sen. Obama for President? Are there any questions about the issues I can help answer?" All graciousness when declined, buoyed up hopes when assent. The numbers kept creeping up slowly and encouragingly in this relatively conservative corner of PA.
To keep the volunteers' spirits up, we had special access tickets and rallies galore, Obama, Michelle, Obama, Michelle, Hillary, Bill, Hillary, Bill- all taking to the stage to trumpet the need to work hard to get out the vote and make sure that Change Happened because We the People had had enough of More of the Same.

Hurrah for the next President, and Hurrah for us!

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Hillary-day!

If it is Monday before the elections in Pennsylvania, it's raining politicians. Today, it was Hillary's turn, and what's more, in a speech on local TV, she promised another dose of Obama in the evening.

I had just finished a parent-teacher conference at M's school, and decided to check in on the campaign office for any data entry needed, though much of that work has been completed. I parked in the usual lot behind the building, noting with apprehension that the car next to mine had been ticketed. I put in two quarters, rather than a single, figuring that gave me half an hour at least and walked up the sidewalk. A black suited gentleman with earphones waved his arms at a police official just ahead. What was going on?

At the entrance, a big crowd of people stood to one side, with a lady I knew in the office smiling at the entrance. I mouthed my question to her 'What's going on?' A young fellow came up to me and explained 'Hillary will be here soon, they want all people to stay on that side.'

I duly complied and rather than taking up a prime spot I burrowed into the far end of the crowd. I stood next to a Chinese-American lady with her two daughters, the younger in a stroller and smiled as the little one tried to grab her older sister's sticker. I had been passed one earlier so I pulled mine off to give it to the little one, and rummaged in my purse for a button that I had handy, but never worn.

We fell into a friendly conversation about our kids as we waited. Half an hour passed, no sign of any 'black SUVs'. The police cordoned off the lane closest to the sidewalk where we stood. The TV camera crews had arrived and were positioned in the prime location near the entrance.

I started getting nervous about my parking spot. I slipped away to the other side of the building in an effort to put in a couple more quarters, but couldn't reach the parking lot: Fence and level difference in the way, I could only peer down at my car's windshield. No yellow ticket on it just yet.
I went back to my original post, and not a moment too soon.
In short order, a pilot cop car with lights flashing, followed by a champagne colored SUV . Hillary had arrived! She alighted not 5 feet from where I stood. The crowd clapped and shouted in appreciation. We proffered our hands and she shook them all. I managed to tell her "Thanks for all you've done," and heard her 'Thank you" in response as she continued shaking hands on her walk to the entrance.
(Sorry for the poor quality of the photos, but this was my cellphone camera, but it will have to do for the impromptu photo-op.)
She was inside the office for the next half hour, talking to field organizers, and other 'higher-ups' in the campaign hierarchy, addressing a bevy of cameras with a short speech before leaving. I did manage to get a second photo as she left, which you see on the side.

As soon as the caravan of vehicles had made their turns back onto the main road, I snuck under the rope and hightailed it to my car in the back parking lot. Mercifully, no tickets. Yay, I got to shake hands with Hillary Clinton and escaped a parking ticket narrowly on the same day. It all comes from being in the right spot at the right time!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

M came shouting into the room just as I was working on the computer. "Amma, come quick, a bird crashed into the glass window and is lying on the deck!"

I rushed to the scene to see a sad sight. A robin on its side, breathing heavily and strenuously, little legs sticking out under it. "What can we do to help it? Can we put her in the box that I made for injured animals?" M offered eagerly.

As I put on my jacket and shoes to go out the deck, I thought the better of it and decided to check what wisdom the internet has to offer on caring for dazed birds and preventing them from crashing into glass windows in the first place.

"Place it in a safe spot, to prevent cats and dogs from getting to it as it recovers." Fair enough, so we grabbed our gloves in addition to the jacket and I opened the sliding door, which squeaked loudly from the lack of grease on its tracks. The robin startled and stood upright, a tiny drop of blood on the deck near where it had lain.

"Good, at least it can stand up on its own. Maybe we should wait now and it will move away."
M was all ready for action, "When can we pick it up and put it in the box?"
"I don't think that would be a good idea now. Tell you what, let's get some water and seeds for it in bowls. Maybe it will help it build up its strength."
So off we went to fetch it some water and birdseed.
This time as I opened the sliding door, it perked up and flew to the deck railing and stayed there, trembling slightly. I grabbed the bag of seed and the water bowl and stepped outside to refill the bird feeder.
The robin stayed at her post, turning her head ever so slightly as she registered my movements to remove the feeder from the hook. She watched cautiously as I refilled it and placed it back, anxiously hopping two steps away as I cleaned out the bird bath and refilled it with clean water from the other bowl.
The robin remained for a few minutes longer, enough for me to snap a photo of M in the foreground with her, and a couple of zoomed in photos, till she finally mustered the strength to fly off into a neighboring oak, vanishing into the brown leaves.
Hope that you feel better soon, little robin!

(We added Christmas clings to the glass window, assorted carolling snowmen, Christmas trees, sleds, etc. Hopefully, this will keep the local avians from mistaking the glass for a fly-through zone.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tour de France - Part X

Halloween was a big thing at the American School of Paris. The halls were decorated with cutouts of witches on broomsticks, pumpkin posters and black cat silhouettes. Suji loved the spooky atmosphere imparted by the rolls of cotton simulating spiderwebs and the cereal box tombstones. She decided that she wanted to be a witch for the pending costume parade through the cafeteria and gym and told Amma firmly “No, I don’t want to dress up in a silk pavadai and blouse and go as an Indian girl. I want a black costume and a witches hat.”

Amma was at a loss initially about what to do for the costume, but she had always been very clever at sewing and crafting. She came up with a cardboard and cloth version of the pointy black hat (stuffed with crumpled paper to keep the point up.) and modified an old black underskirt for a sari as a sack shaped cover, with holes for the arms.

The gym was filled with game stands for traditional Halloween fun, but Suji had little success at the ringtoss and the bowling games. She did manage to snag an apple while bobbing for it, but would have vastly preferred the small toys that were being given out for the other games. Still, an apple’s an apple, she thought, as she munched away.

There were about 20 other witches at the parade, all far more elegantly dressed than Suji in their purchased costumes, but she was definitely the happiest of them all. She loudly sang along as they marched around the school :

Witches, ghosts and goblins
Screaming down the street,
Knock on every doorway,
Trick or treat!

When the door is open,
This is what you’ll meet
Scary creatures shouting,
Trick or treat!

The cold crisp weather meant recess was mostly indoors in the gym. The drama club had started its sessions, with Suji promptly signing up. She enjoyed declaiming poetry and drama scripts as they worked their way through listening to tapes of A Christmas Carol and the witches scene from Macbeth. Which one would they perform? A vote was taken, deciding in favor of the Macbeth scene.

Suji was delighted. She could reuse the witch costume from Halloween without much trouble. But what to do about the ‘beard’ that the Macbeth witches were supposed to have had? Amma came up with a solution again. “Try wrapping your long hair around your chin and tying it to stay up on your ear.”

For the final performance, that’s exactly what Suji did, even though the hair did threaten to slip away from the chin as she declaimed, in as shaky and eerie sounding of an 8 year old voice that she could muster:
Fair is foul and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Time to Rally

I nearly talked myself out of it quite successfully. I hate crowds and queues, I get migraines when I have to be in enclosed spaces for more than a couple of hours, couldn't manage the timing with the kids getting back from school, they were going to cover the event on live television and everyone know that you get a better view on HDTV anyway, so I would be better off watching it at home. And yet, barely four hours later, I was waiting with S in midst of a crowd of about 13, 000 screaming and adoring fans of ...Barack Obama the political rockstar.

The pressure started piling on the day before:

"Sujatha --
I'm coming to Pittsburgh today, Monday, October 27th.
I'll be holding a rally at Mellon Arena and talking to folks about what we can do together to change this country.
See the details below and RSVP for the event:

Hope to see you there,

With this personal email request, how could I be so hard-hearted as to ignore the invitation? I dawdled over the thought for about 5 seconds before my left-brain kicked in and told me "Not on your migrainy head-head-head!"
Next, a couple of hours later, a phone call from J the activist in our township. He was assembling a carpooling, train-riding contingent to attend the rally, planning to leave at 1 pm to get to the opening of gates at 3 pm. I told him, "I'd love to, but can't- I get migraines in crowded situations!" He 'tsked' his disappointment.
The next morning, I plodded away to contribute my once-weekly volunteer hours in local Obama campaign field office. As I pecked away at the computer terminal there, Cindy popped by, sliding me a couple of blue tickets that would guarantee the holders 'VIP seating', whatever that meant. I wasn't going to fall for this. I cast around to see if there was anybody else who might like my tickets, and mused on whether I should hawk them around my neighborhood or pass them on to J.
I got home and showed my tickets to my husband and he promptly took over planning how I was going to leave with S as soon as he got home from school. He didn't fall for my migraine protestations and bamboozled me into a plan that might actually be workable, assuming that the average time to enter the Mellon arena wasn't four hours waiting in line. We left the house as soon as M got home from her school, shoehorning her into the van with a bag of snacks, as we raced to beat the traffic.
45 minutes later, S and I jumped off the van, walked up to the end of the queue which appeared to snake around the building, only to be told that we were in the wrong 'short' queue for blue-ticket volunteers. Ha, I waved my tickets triumphantly and stayed in line. We waltzed through security and were seated in under half an hour(!!??!!) in a prime position to take reasonably good photographs. (I feel faintly guilty admitting how easy it was, considering that some of the audience had been parked in line since 7 am in the morning.)
The atmosphere was joyful and enthusiastic, some bored members of the audience taking it upon themselves to exercise all those stiff backsides parked in the chairs by 'doing the wave'. We tired of it after the third round.
The large gentleman directly in front of me could have easily auditioned for a rap video, and was loudly insistent in exchanging his 'Change we need' sign for one that said 'Veterans for Obama'. "I am a veteran", he shouted over the noise to the volunteers handing out the signs. We got handed tiny little American flags, since we didn't care to haggle for the signs.
With remarkable timeliness, the events of the evening were started off at 5 pm with a fairly inclusive non-denominational prayer by Sr. MaryAnn Something, praying for peace upon the world, the country and the candidate and all and sundry, followed by loud echoes of her Amen, reminding me of the days when I was called upon to sing a suitable shloka at the start of IEEE conferences on electrical engineering papers (Don't ask why an engineering conference needed a starting prayer!). I was tempted to shout 'Ameen' or 'Tathaastu', but missed the moment by a millisecond.
Then, a field organizer in a taupe suit took the stage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, to which I mumbled along- the words aren't second nature to me as a relatively newly minted US citizen (only 4 years), unlike the rest of the audience. A lady in red came up to sing the Star Spangled Banner, and was given a background chorus by the audience as she sang. Very patriotically inspiring, like American flag lapel pins ;)
Next, the crowd howled its approval as the campaign field director, followed by governor Ed Rendell, senator Casey and congressman Dolan took the stage, all making brief speeches patting the campaign on its back as a prelude to the main act. I didn't hear or pay attention to what they were saying, just primed my camera for the right zoom as I remarked with annoyance that Mr.Veteran had decided to stand up, blocking my view of the podium unless I stood too.
A couple of toe-tapping but pounding-the-brains-bass-boosted songs later (did I detect a tiny protest starting in my head, a glimmer of headache to be?), the whole crowd started their shouts of approval as ....Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney strode on stage. 'Not more blathering', I thought as I sank back to the seat, a moment too early, as Sen. Obama ran on stage from another side, waving to the crowd. Holy cannoli! I missed clicking the moment when Rooney handed him a Steeler's jersey with 'Obama 08' in huge letters. Never mind, there will be other photo ops.

Obama started off with some routine thanks to the organisers, other politicos present and then launched into his well-rehearsed stump speech, modified with small adlibs and improvisations to play to the Pittsburgh audience, eliciting approving shouts and extended applause and sign/flag waving every now and then, occasional boos when mentioning McCain/Palin, with Obama's now trademarked "We don't need those boos, we just need you to vote."
The speech flowed on with all the cadences of the accomplished orator, ringing out stentorian, dropping down to conversational levels occasionally. I gave up looking at the larg screen closeup on the closed circuit screen display hanging above us and focused my attention on the demeanor and body language of the senator as he stood at the podium.
Determined as I was not to be impressed, I did feel a prickling at the back of my eyes as tears threatened to flow when he said something about immigrants moving into America trying to make a better future for their kids. I suppose that was the 'highlight' of the speech that connected with me.
Obama's speech was less about content (which is talking points cobbled together from a zillion stump speeches) and more about how he was connecting with the audience- it almost seemed like a preacher's challenge in church with a response from his parishioners at appropriate intervals.
Bingo, it was like a really big tent, with people of all colors and creeds and backgrounds, but an evangelical fervor pervaded the air, just like in a church! At least two skeptics were in the crowd, unwillingly drawn into this manic response, waving our flags rather weakly when prompted by the crowd, but clapping with moderate enthusiasm when a non-talking point statement adlibbed its way into the speech. S was soaking in the atmosphere and impressions- "This is the last chance I may have to see Obama in person as a candidate- he could be the next president, or not!"
So, it was as a tired crushed-to-the-bone contingent that we returned home, surrounded by joking cheerful party acolytes on the train home. Regular commuters handled the extra rush with good humor, squeezing their way to the exits with polite "Make way please!"s. We got a seat halfway back and sank into them gratefully. S declared "Today is a mixed bag, rather than being totally wonderful! I enjoyed the rally, but not the train ride home."
I smiled - the poor kid didn't know what a real crowd meant, having never sat between two fishwives and their largely empty baskets at the end of a busy day, among the other crowd on a KSRTC bus. And he was complaining about a commuter squeeze on a train after a rally that had drawn 15,000 people by the final counts?
It's all for the good. Now, if he could only vote, which he can't for another 4 years at least.
Who knows, maybe S will get a chance to decide if we should re-elect a President Obama or not!

P.S to the 'anonymous' trolls: Ad hominem attacks and Godwin's law invocations will be summarily deleted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Autumn Devi

Every autumn, as I rake leaves under our maples, I angle the rake just so, and in a precise swift movement, sweep back the rustling piles towards the roots. Then, as I repeat the movement, I'm reminded of the stance of the Devi, poised with her trident over the demon Mahishasura, in many depictions that I've seen. And I wonder"What would a Devi of the suburbia look like?" Would she be jabbing a pile of leaves with a rake, with a leaf blower, pruner, edger and shovel in her multitudinous arms? I wish that I had the drawing or Photoshopping skills to come up with a suitable pictorial rendition.

The leaves are dry, faintly acrid and musty, not an unpleasant scent. Maybe I should consider trying to develop an 'Eau d'Automne' with faintly musty highlights on a base of jasmine and patchouli essences. But who would want to purchase something that smells faintly of decay? Definitely not the usual customers. Maybe the ghost-attired contingent could douse themselves in it as they drive off to their Halloween parties.

That's it, I'm done with raking for the morning. 4 bags done, and only about 60 more to go, as all our trees drop their leaves in annual sequence : Side maples first, front red maple second, oak behind third, maple 3 next, front oak last. An insistent trill sounds out, followed by a near precise imitation of the phrase further away. Music lesson time for some young Carolina wren, I presume. I pause for a moment to listen to the guru and disciple as I top up the final bag. I put the rake and gloves back in the garage, and try for the nth time to locate the cute little shovel that I had bought months ago. Soon enough, it will be time to carve and set out the pumpkins that the kids picked up at the farmer's market.

This year's pumpkin carving experiment will be the tricky 'Trick or Treat skull' stencil, one of the few leftovers from the book of stencils bought several years ago. S has promised to try the major part of the carving himself- we'll see how he fares. He nearly gave me a heart attack the other day, claiming that they had paid an enormous amount for the pumpkins at the farm market. $47 for one large and 2 smaller pumpkins! (Luckily, the actual amount was less than $12). Teenagers- don't you love it when they decide to sport with your credulity!

Temperatures will be dropping to the 30's tonight. It's time to bring in all the jasmine and hibiscus pots and the numerous cuttings that have rooted over the summer. The whole sliding window is completely hidden by the screen of green. I can't possibly fit all of them there and need to now identify 'good homes' to whom I shall give away these little rootlings- it has to be someone with a reasonably green thumb, who will not neglect and abandon it over the winter. I'm off now to find out who it shall be.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Do you know where I can get an...Obama yard sign?
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I would be able to singlehandedly bailout the US economy from its trillion dollar shortfall.
I tried donating some money to the campaign, in the hope that I would receive one of the yard signs, but the deadline for getting those by mail is still a few days away. Who knows when they will arrive, given that there is a shortage of wire holders for the signs. In the meantime, the increasing incidences of McCain-Palin signs in our majority Republican community is headache-inducing, to say the least, every time I go for a walk. No shortages of those signs, with some houses having even two or three of them planted in their yards.
But wait, what happened to the McCain-Palin sign prominently displayed at the house at the fork? Wasn't it there just a few days ago, next to the US Congressman's? Did they remove it after seeing the light with the McCain campaign's shameful use of the race card, or was it the random teenage sign-ripper at work?
Last weekend the doorbell rang, with my friend waving an Obama-Biden yard sign, campaign brochure and buttons in triumph.
"I got this for you at the W_ county union office! They were going to give me only one, but I talked them into giving me another one, which I might be able to place in my mom's yard. This one's for you, though."
I gratefully accepted this one, and timidly planted it a precise 14 feet away from the road (as per township regulations, though this rule is violated with impunity by other supporters who move it to within a few feet of the curb).
The other sign she had didn't stay much longer in her car, since another friend stopping by for the Navaratri rounds cajoled her into parting with it.
The next day, as another neighbor of mine walked his dog, he stopped by to admire my new sign and asked where he could get one. I promised him the one that was due to come in the mail, should it arrive in time.
Yesterday, as I walked the neighborhood, I saw another four or five signs that had sprouted up overnight, and passed another lady of Indian origin who was evidently walking in the area for the first time. She stopped by my house to ask, you guessed it, where she could get an Obama-Biden sign like mine. I gave her the brochure which doubled as a window poster on the other side, being the only other thing I had handy, since she sounded desperate to counter the sea of McCain-Palin signs that had sprouted like dandelions around her house.

Maybe I should take my preciousssss sign in at night or insure it against theft. It wouldn't do to lose a potential collectible that could go for a gazillion dollars on Ebay after the election...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Gremlins Got My Money!

Today, M brought home from school a math problem to solve:

The chief clerk at Gremlins National Bank is worried. Each night he counts the money in the Big Red Box. On the first night there was $1500, and on the second night there was $1475. On the third night he found $1425, and on the fourth night he counted $1350. On the fifth night there was only $1250. If the money keeps disappearing in the same way, when will it all be gone?

Seriously, this sounds a lot like our IRAs in the past few days. Maybe those will vanish on the twelfth night, just like the money in the Gremlins National Bank's Big Red Box.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Blast from the Past

Here's an old article that I wrote about 3 years ago on Desijournal. The same still applies today, except that Evites and email invitations have taken the place of phone calls.

Nine Nights' Wonder

Having religiously celebrated Easter (garish bunny cutouts on windows, color changing plastic eggs), Halloween (brilliantly tacky neon pumpkins lit in the lawn, yards of fake spider webs dangling from our trees) and Christmas (fake Xmas tree threatening to fall apart) for five years, I decided it was high time I started setting up a kolu (doll display) during Navaratri. I must add that the garishness and tackiness apply to the decorations that we used, not to the festivals themselves. I have long given up hope of our house and yard ever showing up in a photo feature in Martha Stewart Living or Better Homes & Gardens magazines!

Designed as payback time for all the Maamis who insisted I attend their displays and put out rusty renditions of "Maamava sada janani", it would now be my turn to request musical (or not) offerings (granted, some were really good singers!). I was determined not to nit-pick and was quite sure the Devi would smile graciously upon even halting renditions of "Twinkle twinkle little star" or highly prompted versions of " Saraswati namasthubyam" performed by lisping toddlers. It’s just the principle of the thing!

Decisions, decisions, decisions - three steps or five, or perhaps "boldly venture" where nobody in my circle had gone before and try for a seven step kolu? How on earth was I going to cover seven steps, even if I brought out the entire set of Burger King figurines accumulated over a span of ten years? Perish the thought, especially with the specter in my mind’s eye of Neela’s impeccable, authentic Made-in-India collection inherited from untold generations, lovingly mummified in tissue paper and transported in elephantine hand-luggage. No, I would have to settle for the three-step, with foldaway features for easy out-of-season storage, and perhaps with future expansion capabilities built in. Ha! Now that was an interesting problem for my husband’s inner engineer! A trip to Home Depot for lumber and a few hours wrestling-with-the-saw-and-drill later - tada! Behold a new set of three kolu steps built to my precise specifications. I was thrilled with the results and proudly displayed them to all visitors, prompting a frenzy of similar "new construction" in their homes.

The top-most step presented no problems, since I had assorted statues of deities picked up on trips to India (Martha Stewart wannabes, please take note – only tasteful earth tones such as sandalwood, rosewood, black metal and bronze.) An expedition to the local dollar store netted me assorted witches, fairies, dancers and other miscellany to cover the middle step. I filched a few Disney dolls from my kids’ fast food restaurant "happy meal" collection to add to the groupings. Inspiration struck as I heard my friends discussing their ‘kid’s kolu project’ of gardens and farms. I spied a set of mini plastic pirate dolls and decided that with a bag of sand and shells, "Pirates in search of treasure" would work for my kids’ kolu activity, placed carefully on a small side table.

The big day arrived. I spent more than a couple of hours arranging and rearranging the dolls to my satisfaction. I then proceeded to make turmeric dough for the representative face of the Mother Goddess to be applied on a ‘haired’ coconut. I used sliced garlic cloves for eyes, and marked the pupils with laundry marker instead of kohl. A molded and gold-painted Sculpey crown with rhinestone decorations was my only innovation to the tried and tested look. Rhododendron leaves stood in for mango leaves to provide a collar around the mouth of the kalasam, or pot, on which the head was placed.

As demanding as any screen goddess, the Mother Goddess’s face needed a special moisturizing regimen. I carefully dripped water on the face every few hours with a medicine dropper to prevent any cracking of the smooth turmeric complexion. To my great surprise, the yellow of the face started to turn a rather rusty red in color while the tip of the carefully shaped nose remained yellow, prompting irreverent comments from my husband about "Ambal is turning into Elmo!". I anxiously googled in search of explanations for this phenomenon. Was this something I ought to bring to the notice of the local temple, a miracle perhaps? Alas, it was nothing so wondrous. The Internet assured me that it was just your average "chemical reaction of turmeric with water or lime juice, a long forgotten method of preparing kumkum or sindoor". Hmmm, at least I knew what to do if I ever ran out of sindoor.

Next, the mad race every morning to make the typical food offering every morning of the next ten days. Time for the sundal 101 course with the venerable Meenakshi Ammal’s text book - Cook and See - translated from the Tamil original.

"What is one ollock or viss? Must not forget to check the lentils for stones - are there any stones in the highly processed stuff we get at India Mart anyway? Why pachai karpooram (raw camphor)and why can’t I substitute the regular camphor used for pujas instead?"All these questions ran through my head as I determinedly struggled with the cooking.

Day 1: Overcooked lentils; decided to make a payasam instead of sundal.

Day 2: Undercooked lentils; I couldn’t offer these to the visitors and substituted fruits for the offering.

Day 3: Perfectly cooked lentils; but extremely salty – this sundal was ready for a rendezvous with the trashcan.

Day 4: Gave up soaking lentils and resorted to canned chick peas to prepare the sundal.

Day 10: The feminine curse struck, and with secret relief, I palmed off the puja duties to my husband asking him to set out fruit and milk for the final offering!

Busy lives that we lead here, the negotiations for visits and counter-visits consumed the morning hours.

"I could fit in a visit to your place on Wednesday evening, after karate class. Why don’t you stop by tomorrow evening? Is that so? Ragini has music class that evening. How about the weekend then? Oh, the Lalita Sahasranaamam chanting at Veena’s? No, I didn’t get an invitation to that yet…Okay, Sunday evening will be just fine!"( Fume…why didn’t Veena invite me yet? Am I so out of that loop?)."

Eventually, we managed to work out acceptable schedules for the visits, besting the top negotiators in the country in terms of juggling mutual interests and secret agendas. (Should I put in my job application to the U.S. Department of State yet?Maybe after a couple more Navaratris….)

Every afternoon, the scramble would start for the Ladies of the house to get dressed in formal Indian clothes.The Gentlemen of the house would remain in their usual costumes - boys badly in need of haircuts with un-ironed T-shirts and pants and men in golf- themed polos and shorts. This was the time to pull out all the marvelous saris, the not-quite-as-comfortable blouses of yore, the dazzling embroidered lehengas, cholis and dupattas. " Not pretty enough!" my daughter wailed, as I swore my way through fighting with recalcitrant hooks that fell off at first use, safety pins and salwars too loose in the waist. Three changed sets of dresses and matching jewelry later, the end result was worth the struggle. I have the digital photos to prove it- all to be printed hopefully before she is old enough to leave home for college.

The nine evenings passed, clothed in the glow of the small electric diyas and oil lamps softly lighting up the Devi’s face and shining on the kolu. Rustling silks, shimmering beads, tinkling bangles and anklets, voices raised in songs and hymns in praise of the Devi.I was starting to feel like one of those ads on Sun TV for Navaratri sales at Nalli’s when that illusion of tranquility was rapidly destroyed by discordant howls as my children fought, punctuated by "Aye-aye Captains" from the television.

At the end of the kolu season, this song kept running through my head " Hum honge kaamyaab ek din" ( the Hindi version of "We shall overcome"). The next Navaratri, I was sure, was not going to be such a mixed bag and would truly reflect the spirit of the season. In any case, my kids are already hooked and asking when we will have the next kolu.

Which was exactly my reason for setting it up in the first place!


  • Devi, Ambal: the Mother Goddess
  • Diya: small lamp
  • Kumkum, sindoor: red powder applied on the forehead or hair parting
  • Lalitha Sahasranamam: Litany of the 1008 names of the Mother Goddess
  • Lehengas, cholis,dupattas, salwars – apparel
  • Maamava sadajanani: Carnatic music song title
  • Maamis: Any youngish to elderly matron.
  • Navaratri : literally – "Nine nights" , a festival dedicated to the Mother Goddess celebrated chiefly in western and southern India.
  • Payasam: a sort of sweet pudding.
  • Puja: prayer rituals and offering to the deity
  • Saraswathi namasthubyam:a short Sanskrit prayer
  • Sundal: salty or sweet preparations with cooked lentils
  • Nalli’s: a huge clothing and furnishing store in Chennai ( with branches all over India)

Now, after 3 more Navaratris, I think that I am ready for the US Department of State post. Negotiations for visits have now been simplified by the Mutual Exclusion Doctrine : North Hills and other area visitors on Oct 5, South Hills visitors on weekday evenings. The Mother Goddess' face is of silver, no longer the turmeric skin that needs careful moisturizing, a few more additions and some deletions as the doll display changes over the years. My sundals tend to be properly cooked now, just the right consistency. Our once-brand- new stairs are now on their last legs, and will need to be replaced next year by a new design.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tour de France - Part IX

Laura launched into a detailed description of her genealogy : American mother, Swiss father, an Italian grandmother on one side, a German one on the other... Suji lapped up the details like an eager little puppy. She went home and announced, wide-eyed, to Amma "My new friend Laura has family from a dozen different countries!"
"Is that so?", Amma sounded highly amused, but mercifully kept the sceptical tone out of her voice. Suji would have been really angry had she detected any ounce of amusement in Amma's voice.
Laura was in a different homeroom, but Suji at last had a regular playmate who shared her lunch breaks and recess with whom she could play and share secrets with. Laura had straight short chestnut hair and bangs that kept falling into her sparkly blue eyes, which she kept tossing away every so often, as she laughed her way through the day.
Laura had invited Suji to her birthday party, and she was all excited about picking out a gift and going down to Laura's home. From what Laura had told her, Laura's mother was divorced and had a boyfriend, whatever that meant. Suji didn't quite understand the reference to 'divorce' and had to look it up in the dictionary- something about ending marriages. 'How could a marriage be ended?" puzzled Suji, as she tried to imagine what it would be like.
The much-anticipated day arrived. Appa took Suji down to Laura's home, driving his snazzy new Citroen hatchback. It was an apartment in a nameless block in another Parisian suburb, surrounded by trees and concrete walkways snaking around a few patches of lawn. Appa escorted Suji to the door, promising to get back an hour or so later when the party ended to pick her up.
Balloons, party games, party hats, birthday cake with candles, opening the presents, mini-tour of the house- Suji had a lot of fun by the time Appa came to collect her. That night, back in her cosy bed though, she still mulled over the mystery of the divorced father, who occasionally had Laura over for a visit, and the fact that Laura had shown her mother's bedroom and mentioned casually that the boyfriend shared it with the mother. What could all this mean? Suji fell asleep before she could figure it out.