Goodbye, Ajji

“She passed away, I am on my way there now”.
“How old was she?”.
97.
“She led a full life”.
“Was she your paternal grandmother, or maternal?”.
“Are you taking a trip, to say goodbye?”.
“There were lots of people Akka, everyone came”.
“I wanted to send you a picture of the body, but the elders denied”.
“This relative was wailing, while Amma was sobbing hysterically. No one can contain that kind of grief”.
“She was the oldest, and the wisest”.
“Did xyz make it? Were there that many people, really?”.
“They are probably going to finish the last rites close to home”.
“She donated her eyes, Akka, she still lives”.
“I don’t care what the elders say, we are her blood, and you deserve to see her go. Say goodbye”.
“No selfies with the dead body, please”.
“I feel for your pain, you live so far away”.
” It’s probably the price we pay to stay this far”.

Yes. She passed. While I try to come to grip with something that I like to elude, she’s gone. Actually, truly, no more. Her ashes are probably floating in a river and might have settled down. That is how quickly it happens.

I cannot believe she has gone. I cannot believe that the next time I visit India, I won’t see that toothless grin. A being so full of life, and wisecracks, is no more.

A century of wisdom bites the dust. A powerful woman, who influenced us in many many ways, is gone.

They say what we love so dearly never leaves us. I know she has left a little bit of her behind in all of us. And we will pass it along to our future generations.

The love that we give, and how true we stayed to ourselves are the only things that matter in the end. You are an embodiment of love. I didn’t wait to tell you that. I’m glad I didn’t.

While parents love you unconditionally, grandparents take it up a notch.

She saw her grand kids grow up, she had the energy to play with her great grand kids. Does that fact make it hurt a little less?. No.

I had the good fortune of making wonderful memories with her. I know it’s a little selfish of me to ask for more. Maybe she could’ve waited until my own child got a chance to know and get fascinated by this magical woman.

We humans, are so full of hope. Always thinking of the impossible.

Look at you Ajji, look at your legacy.
Every line on your face says a story. Every smile has a wonderful memory attached to it. Every incident indicates the storyteller you are. Every sign of my weakness was crushed when you reminded me of your powerful urge to fight back. You have touched so many lives, and I for one am so glad to be your grandchild.

It’s funny how it takes a death to bring a family together.

Rest in power. My beautiful Sundari Ajji.

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A Note to Self

The more I want to escape from writing, the more these incoherent thoughts and words keep coming back to me.

Most of us struggle with the way we deal with emotions. We roar, upheaval, hide , deny, and finally seem comfortable wearing a mask. We remove the mask, wanting to bear it all, yet, almost immediately wear another for the fear of being judged.

Invariably, we are back to the drawing board, trying to make sense , trying to cope, trying to put all the pieces together.

What I’ve noticed is leaving–(things, people, memories) as is, is fair, to us and to them.

Take people for example, you always want them to be a better version of themselves for you to be happy. To satisfy your needs. You try so hard to change them into what you envision them to be. I do that too. It’s a lost cause. People will be who they are, and you trying to tamper with their persona, is only going to cause unwanted pain.

Let it be. We weren’t meant to be perfect, or preach perfection. We are all flawed. Beautifully flawed. Else, what would separate us from each other, right?

I am a mother of a toddler. You can only imagine the amount of “reinventing” I have to do keep up. I used to be bitter, I was very hard on myself, and always felt angry, depressed and at wit’s end when I was amidst treating parenting like a doctrine we all needed to follow.

I threw that book. Left the mess. I wasn’t running the rat race for the “best parent” award. I told myself that having a messy house is better than having a messy mind. I stumble, I ache, I am covered in dirt but I am happier than I used to be.

I keep telling myself there is no right way to do this. Neither there is a set routine. Follow what your intuition tells you, and keep all the negativity in that closet. Visit it, yes, but don’t make it your wardrobe.

When things get messy, or unmanageable, leave. Let it be. Take a walk, hum a tune. Free your mind. It’s never easy, but if you don’t leave, how would you know that you want to come back?

If you aren’t already aware, we are a species that are constantly evolving, not just in the genetic sense, but also as a whole. The basic building blocks remain the same , however everything else keeps realigning and changing.

I left home, a decade ago for a different town to complete my studies. Then to a different country for work, and now live in a different country. I left work, to spend time with the little one, and now, I work and I am concious of my time with her, as it is so limited. The point I am trying to make here, is the constant state of leaving, and coming back. After a while, you realize that it is almost consistent, and probably mean the same thing.

Instead of treating this as displacement, try to create a home within you that is strong enough to shelter all the storms that life brings in. Be easy on yourself, smile a lot, do what you love, be with people who make you happy, love unconditionally , and let things be.

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Death

I cannot articulate my feelings about death. Whenever possible, I try to avoid talking about this topic altogether; because I am in denial.

I heard about a friend’s death a few days back. Another colleague passed away this week. A relative passed away this morning. I didn’t prod on to find out how it happened, as it’s hard enough to accept that they now are just mere memories.

I’m caught off guard when people tell me about the death of their loved ones, acquaintances, death of a random stranger. I start putting a story together in my head, of who they might have been, about their life , about the insurmountable grief their loved ones are going through. It leaves me feeling helpless and empty.

Death brings back some very painful memories. It’s taken me a really long time to get here and I’m hoping that writing about it will strengthen me.

I remember the time when my parents lost their second born. My baby brother. I’ve written more about it here.
I was too young to realize what was happening, but I knew death had a lasting effect. It couldn’t be undone, and the grief was sickening.

I vividly remember the time when my paternal grandmother passed away.

The lights were on pretty early one morning. I could hear amma hurrying across the hallway, entering my room to wake me up. “Wake up Shruthi, we have to leave to Bangalore, Ajji isn’t well”. It was my grandmother. It had been a few weeks since she was unwell. While still trying to process the information given to me, I reluctantly moved from my bed to start getting ready.

It was a few months after the Babri Masjid riots. I was in Bangalore then, and had seen my grandmother slowly getting weaker. Since there were a lot of riots around the area, and the schools remain closed I stayed back, as a lot of events started to unfold.

My dad left to work in the gulf during the same time. The gulf war had just ended and my father had a new employer in Kuwait willing to hire him, and he had to make a decision immediately. He left within days, and, my grandmother, suddenly was very very unwell.

While my maternal grandmother watched me, my mom split her time between Bangalore and Mangalore doing all she could to support the family.

The car ride was very long, and as upbeat as I was about making conversation with Ajji for one last time, the memories came flooding. It was as if someone had shook me up from my childhood and asked me to grow up within a matter of a few hours. Nothing ever felt the same.

Once we reached, We were made aware that she isn’t with us anymore. I remember the call made to my father, to break the news to him. He wasn’t able to come say goodbye. We cried together. I can’t remember my dad being that helpless. I remember the endless trips to the train and bus stations to pick relatives up. The constant chatter about what a great soul she was, and how she was blessed with an easy death started getting to me. I remember seeing her body in the freezer and feeling so sick that I couldn’t breathe.

Ajji was the binding force in my dad’s huge family. She was a headmistress, a great teacher (went back to pursue her career after three kids in the 60’s) and remains one of the most influential people in my life even to this day. It’s taken me two decades to comprehend what I was feeling then, and hence writing it out.

Why Ajji? Why did you have to go? Who would listen to my endless chatter? Who would reprimand me for eating too many stuffed potato buns from the neighborhood bakery? Who would give me 50 paise to run to the milk booth just to see how the machine worked? Who would make me sing endlessly and say I was terrible? Who would trick me into learning Maths while playing? Why wasn’t anyone telling me what was going on? Why wasn’t she opening her eyes?

The cremation was done. The family moved away from the house they lived for over four decades, and I haven’t mustered the courage to pass by the house, to this day.

For the last few years, my maternal grandmother has been really sick and I’ve made a few trips to India to see her. Every time I fly back I fear that it might be the last time I will see her. She’s 96 (bless her) and has lived a long and fruitful life. Am I ready to let go yet? I probably never will be.

She has the kindest eyes, and the funniest Kannada vocabulary (I’ve also caught her cursing multiple times, heh). She never ceases to make me laugh whenever I’m with her and has a memory of an elephant. She always has something up her sleeve–Be it a piece of chocolate she had saved, or some advice. She cannot clearly see anymore as the eyes are weak, but recognizes my voice in an Instant, enquires about the entire family, with such precision. She’s a giver and has helped so many individuals all her life. Even though she’s weak she insists on being independent and does all her chores. My daughter was lucky to meet her during my last visit. The gamut of her knowledge and love is beyond words. Every little wrinkle on her face has a story to tell.

She has been really sick the last few weeks and every time the phone rings at odd hours I’m mentally preparing myself to hear the worst, and breathe easy when I hear she’s holding on.

We humans are so strong, yet so fragile. I guess the range of emotions we feel is what separates us from the rest of the species. Not to sound self righteous or anything, but having seen death so closely, makes me appreciate life. Don’t wait until a person is dead to declare what they mean to you and how much they have influenced your life. Do reach out to people you love, whenever possible, to tell them how special they are, and how much they mean to you. Hold people who matter close to your heart and do what you can to make them happy and feel appreciated, while they are still here.

They weren’t lying when they said Life was too short. It is Indeed.

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Turning three was a breeze

Funny thing about parenting is that you always think you’re prepared for what lies ahead of you, but you seldom realize that no amount of preparation would help, as the child never fails to astonish you. They would turn around and do something out of the ordinary, which would leave you enough room to grow to accept them for who they are.

I was given every sort of warning about terrible two’s. (Now, I’ve been warned about horrible three’s, it’s always something).

This year was challenging and beautiful in equal measures.

Little one you now have your own personality. You have started expressing your emotions really well. You make it very clear when you aren’t happy, and also keep testing the waters to have things your way. You’ve always amazed me at how you make it seem so easy to throw a tantrum when you don’t have it your way. I am going to try it soon :).

You’re very receptive to everything around you. You pay so much attention to the sounds around you. The music, the birds, the vehicles, your books and the characters in them. You pick up vibes so well, and smile your sweetest smile when I’m mad at you, or try to hush me up when I’m mad at your dad. You’ve shown me that every situation is only as big as we make it to be. If you can smile easily, everything will fall into place in its own time.

You started school part time this year. Even though we had a lot of initial hiccups you were a trooper and you now love going to school. You love your teachers and you’re trying to socialize. It’s so great to see you attempt at things you have never been exposed to with such ease. You’ve helped me overcome my own fears at attempting new things. It’s been liberating.

You love reading. Every time we are indoors you drag me to your room, take a book out and have me read it to you. We’ve spent hours reading the same books and you’ve never complained, because your imagination keeps getting better and better. It has taught me to look at myself and people around me differently, keep looking for good in everyone and keep giving second chances.

You’ve always taught me to give away all the love, even the love I didn’t get. You love me equally on my good and bad days and have no expectations. This is something I’m still working on, and hope to realize it before you grow up. It might come in handy when you need help with this in the future.

We’re always told to “be prepared”, “be tough”, “don’t be their friends, be their parents”, “use a grown up approach to deal with them” etc. When it comes to raising kids, little do we realize that we need to unlearn, let ourselves go, and many times come down to their level to resonate with them. Thank you child for bringing that out in me and help me grow with you.

I love you (even though I sometimes need to drink four cups of something before 09:00) and look forward to many many years of loving and growing with you. I’m so blessed that I don’t have to travel a lot to see the world, I often see it in your eyes. Happy Birthday.

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Dealing with Parenting Advice

One of my pet peeves with parenting has been the ease at which people give you advice. It sometimes is out of genuine concern, but mostly unsolicited. It’s like being at a party where no one cares whether you’re a teetotaler or not, you ARE NOT getting away without having at least one drink. We’ve all been there and I’m pretty sure that we don’t carry a board saying “Looking for parenting tips”.

I don’t know how these people find you, but they do alright. Being a parent suddenly means you are on the receiving end of advice. Right from the pediatrician, to the nurses, to the parent mafia you run into at the park, everyone suddenly is the expert, on your child.

Also, I do get particularly confused when people without kids give advice how one should raise their child. That surely is a contender for testing every last ounce of patience we have left (haha—like our kids don’t do that enough already).

I have devised my own advice warding-off techniques which has helped me not to punch the said people in the face (it was TOUGH) and I’m sharing them with you:

  • Wear earphones in a public place. Malls, Parks, Libraries, Buses. It’s a real conversation killer. Helps with situations where strangers come up to you and tell you how your child is wearing a wrong shoe or mismatched socks. (You see toddlers HAVE to wear what they like, sometimes five days in a row).
  • If you can’t concur with them confuse them. If they start talking about your child, you can steer the conversation to the new outlet store you visited, or talk about “Breaking Bad”. Gosh, everyone loves that series.
  • Keep staring at your phone every three seconds and act important.
  • Smile and nod at everything they say. They might think that you are either deaf or gone in the head.
  • Wear sunglasses in the park. People usually leave you alone. If not, follow point number three.
  • When friends or strangers who don’t have any kids yet give you advice regarding how you must raise your child, laugh loudly at their face and ask them to call you once they have kids. You can continue to laugh until you cry.
  • When your parents give you the “I told you so” or “You were worse” talk on the phone, just pretend that there is static on the line and hang up.
  • Sing your most favorite work out song in your head. LOUDLY WITH LYRICS.
  • Put the ball in their court. Make it about them.

I know, I know. That sounded a bit harsh. But I’m sure a LOT of people here will agree with these techniques. Of course I was kidding (maybe).

I remember when my daughter was tiny. I remember how inadequate and scared I felt as a mother. Every day was different. Every new routine stuck for a few days, sometimes a few hours. It’s really tough. But during that time, I realized something. You and only YOU are the expert on your child. Not the pediatrician, not the nurse, not your friends. Trust your instincts with them. You will figure it out. It’s almost close to three years now, and I still keep telling myself “Don’t drop the baby, everything else will be fine”. It’s okay to follow your rules to maintain your sanity, and your family’s sanity in the process. It’s OKAY to let them wear the same tutu three days in a row.

Whenever you get advice that helps you out, make it a part of your routine. If it doesn’t apply to you, listen, and let it go. As hard as it is to keep your cool when you feel the whole world is plotting against you, and judging your skills, remember that you’ve come this far. Give yourself a LOT of credit and take it one teeny tiny step at a time. If people still get to your nerves, well, there is always the bullet points above to maintain your sanity.

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Stay At Home Mom– So What?

(This article first appeared on Masalamommas, an Online Magazine for Moms with a South Asian Connection. You can also read it here)



“Stay-at-home mom.” I didn’t know this was even a term until I had my child in the US and quit working full time to take care of my daughter. The term ‘Stay at home mom’ always threw me off a little and made me want to stand up and ask “wait, but everyone comes back home at some point, right?”

Ah, there was no escaping this I sensed as and when it was thrown at me at every instance. It was then clarified by a dear friend that a “Stay-at-home mom” was someone who “stays” at home to take care of her children full time. It’s pretty common where I come from, and looks like its common here too; however the terminology is very different.

Growing up in India, it wasn’t a familiar term. Familiar terms were “housewife” or “homemaker”. My mother was a housewife and a rather successful one at that. I’m sure a lot my fellow South Asian friends would agree.

Growing up in a middle class family in India, mothers were always around. There were very few instances where a mom worked, and when they did, it was a set up that worked with the family schedule. I guess a lot of women stopped work, once they had a child due to the sheer demand of taking care of a newborn and running the household.

I think this holds true even now.
Fast forward to present, I guess it’s up to an individual or their family to decide what works for them when it comes to childcare. I’ve spoken about this in many of my previous posts. Having said that when I get stopped by random parents at the park, store, library, malls who I run into say “Oh, so you’re a stay at home mom?”– I almost want to turn around and say “If that means putting my child before everything else, and being able to afford it– Then yes.”

My family members in India have been pretty supportive of this decision, however every now and then they get curious about when I will actually go back to work.

‘Take everything in your stride’ they say. I, for one think moms’ who stay home with their kids are constantly under the microscope especially if they have recently quit working full time and are now home to nurture their child.
The jabs and the misconceptions never end. Here are some of the most common things people have said to me.

· “Why are you all dressed up? Where do you have to go?”
· “So, what *exactly* are you busy with all day?”
· “What do you mean by you have no time?”
· “Since you’re home all day, could you do this small favor?”
· “Oh poor you, must be terrible staying home without working”.
· “Will you *ever* go back to work again? Looks like you are losing touch”.
· “Looks like you’re really enjoying motherhood and don’t intend to do *real work* anymore”.
· “You’re telling me you make fresh food every day at home? What a waste of time!”
· “I’m so sorry about rescheduling seeing you again since I’ve been busy. But since you’re home, any day should work right?”
· “Why don’t you answer the phone? It’s not like you are busy *all day* are you?”

I think it is unfair that people have this image in their head about how easy being a stay at home mom is. To keep it simple it isn’t all that easy. I don’t have ‘extra’ time to do things what interests me, let alone making time for everyday chores and errands. Many times at social gatherings or parties I’ve actually seen people subtly rolling their eyes when I’ve told them I’m a stay at home mom. A lot of times some of my own friends have hardly talked about how my life has shaped up, and trumped some of my conversations with the “important stuff” like work talk, or gossiping about an ex-coworker.

It is a privilege to be a mother, and more so if you are spending time with your child day in and day out. It is tiring and not glamorous at all. I have learned to tune out the comments (including people as well) and sometimes come up with some hilarious comebacks. That’s probably for another time.

I haven’t decided on an ‘exact date’ yet on when I will go back to work and I am not in a rush either. I, however do intend to go back eventually. I’m not going to lie and say that every minute is beautiful. It is a mixed bag, but I am definitely enjoying this time watching her grow up. We need to grow a heart and treat mothers equally; whether they are working full time and coming back to their kids, or whether they are home with their kids all the time. It’s a ton of hard work and I’m sure all of us here will agree.

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Collection of Poems

I’ve never considered myself a Poet. I don’t even know if these lines below make any sense. I however, put it up on the blog, so I have proof that I once dabbled in Poetry.

These are the result of conversations, with people, with self and my ever evolving ideas of Love, belonging and Journey within.

(1)
“I looked for you,
In the oceans,
The trees and the endless skies,
By the mountains and the rivers that I journeyed by,
The Temples, Churches, Mosques,
And all places of worship,
My feet hurt, my mind went blank, with so much confusion,
And when I finally sat down,
I shed a silent tear,
With the realization, that, you were within me all along”.

(The journey within)

(2)
I ran my hands,
On the vast mounds of sand,
And it felt as though you were
Right next to me,
When I bent down to
Look at the intricate lines
On a leaf, and tried to kiss it,
It felt like you were smiling at me,
When I turned,
the wind brushed my face,
Making me wonder if you had touched me.

(Fleeting)

(3)
When I see you,
we will hold hands,
And let silence consume
All the words stored in our heart,
And relay it through our eyes.

(Without words)

(4)
Emotions rush to become words,
Words rush to turn into poems,
Poems rush to make its way to you,
Hoping to catch a glimpse of you someday.

( Restless, Translation of a Kannada Poem originally written by Shiva Acharya)

(5)
In a city that never sleeps,
With fast cars, bright lights,
Where one never feels whole,
Your thoughts keep me awake,
And wanting more.

(Insomnia)

(6)
When you leave,
Every second feels like a lifetime,
And when you’re here,
Many lifetimes flashes by in a second.

(Time and us)

(7)
Like the rain that was lost within those clouds,
Like the night that didn’t end despite the day,
You faded away with words,
Into a poem.

(Lost, Translation of a Kannada Poem originally written by Shiva Acharya)

(8)
Someday,
I wish we would go
Wild with our enthusiasm,
Lust for more words,
To fill
Our heads
Because as we age,
The wrinkles will increase,
Our voices will not be heard,
what will remain is
Breathing,
And a mind ripe with words
That will
Kill our silences.

(Importance of words)

(9)
“Like the flower that was admired
From a distance,
Never held, touched or felt,
the flower that didn’t complete it’s purpose,
Of Being an ornament at his almighty’s feet,
It withered away
As admiration was not that
It desired”.

(Purpose)

(10)
I wish I were the wall
That day,
When you leaned against it,
I wish I were the reason for you to smile,
I wish I was in the air you breathe,
So I could know,
What your thoughts are like,
Listen to your heart closely,
Marvel at your mind,
And be the sigh you
Let out,
After that smile.

(Looking at a picture)

(11)
“Perhaps life has its own ways,
Of teaching you to
Keep your eyes and heart open,
Look at us strangers then,
Traversing along the same path,
With no knowledge of each others presence,
We walked the same streets,
Lost in our lives,
Yet, our hearts bled, for
The same emotions
That never got reciprocated,
Today, we know each other,
Like the sky does its stars,
So close, yet distant,
Perhaps our foray into
the journey,
In this world
Has just begun”.

(Strangers)

(12)
“Have you observed,
How the raindrops
Find their path,
through the leaves,
The stems,
And eventually become one with the earth?
That is how I want to
Know you”.

(Learning about you)

(13)
“He weaves words,
Intricately,
Delicately,
Like those lines on my palm,
A maze, which I never want
To find my way,
Back to where I started”.

(Lines on my palm)

(14)
“Where I frantically
Looked for love,
There
I found you,
Sitting peacefully
And gracefully,
Making me wonder
About my own histrionics”.

(The Search)

(15)
I Crave for you
As much as the drought hit land,
Craves for water,
Nothing more, Nothing less.

(Thirst)

(16)
I thought of you, while taking a walk today,
I thought of how nice it’d be,
to see the world with your eyes,
During this journey,
I imagined myself running out of of things to say,
and use your words, analogies instead,
Coupling them with my thoughts,
I then imagined
laying down beside you
At night,
Watching the stars,
smelling the earth,
and finding where all my words had gone.

(Losing words, inspired from the Movies Before Sunrise/Before Sunset)

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