Thursday, December 22, 2005

O brother

Okay so I'm going to be mostly gone for the next week or so. That does not mean I will not surface from time to time.....but for the most part it will be kind of irregular. So my kind reader, please bear with me.

After a good many years this is one Christmas that will be spent with a lot of family. My sis-in-law will be here with her family which is always nice. And then my cousin P will be here the whole week between Christmas and New Year. And my other cousin B who I mentioned in a previous post will be here for the New year's weekend with his family. People all dear to me. And it promises to be a fun week ahead.

Last time I wrote about my cousins I promised to write a sequel with snippets about the ones I left out in that post. And I never did. However with P coming over this weekend and me being totally excited about seeing him after all this time, just couldn't help but stir up my treasure chest of nostalgia. So do forgive me if I sound all soppy again.

P is my Kaku's son, six years younger to me and as close as it gets to being my own brother. I still remember the day when he was born in our nursing home in South Calcutta. I was really excited about having a kid brother and couldn't wait for him to get out of Kaki's tummy. I remember the first time I laid eyes on him. He was in the nursery with a bunch of other newborns, wrapped up in many, many layers, sleeping peacefully. Minu-di-pishi who was the nurse on duty took him out of the crib, ever so gently, and brought him over to the window so that I could get a better look at the tiny little thing. And I looked at him in total awe, wondering how on earth this tiny little specimen of humanity would ever be able to play with me. And then the next week Kaki brought him home and to me he did not look any bigger or stronger than what I remembered from my first visit. I distinctly remember everyone fussing over him. He was the first boy in the house in our generation and we had a constant stream of relatives and well-wishers pouring in to see the little one. I was allowed to hold him, play with his little fingers and shower my affection on him. To me he was like a living doll that I could play with. And I was so interested in all the new things that sprung up since P gripe water (which I thought was a very nice thing to drink) and jars of baby food ( I so wanted to taste the Cerelac) and all the Johnson's baby products...the powder and soap and shampoo.

And slowly P started growing up. He learnt to roll over and smile....he learnt to sit up on his own....mouth garbled words that sounded like ba-ba-ba....he took his first steps.....he started to walk and run and play. And all of a sudden he appeared to be more interesting than I had given him credit when I had first laid eyes on him. He called me Didia. And he followed me everywhere and wanted to do everything that I ever did. He adored me. And I loved him like crazy. Here was one person who actually looked up to me and I could boss around if I felt like taking advantage of my six years of seniority.

I think one of the biggest scares P gave us was when he was barely two and had to undergo a hernia operation. I remember how tiny and frail he looked on the huge hospital bed. Kaki stayed with him the whole time. Daddy was in the O.T. during the surgery while the rest of us waited outside with bated breath. I still remember the gush of relief that swept over us when Daddy came out along with the surgeon who was smiling and reassured us that everything had gone well. P had a second hernia operation a couple of years later and then another one to remove his adenoids. To me who had never spent a day in the hospital it seemed like P was a very weak and sick kid who I had to protect. And I was ever so protective of him. I would defend him, spoil him silly and love him with all my heart. I gave up eating icecreams because P had a tonsil problem and was not allowed to have anything cold. I would accompany him to school, listen to all his tales about his friends, spend hours playing carrom, chess, badminton and tag, come up with new ideas to build things, do stuff, have fun.

And with the years we just grew closer. I still remember the last year that I spent at home right before I got married, P would spend every waking hour at home with me. I guess he had realized that I would be leaving soon and had started missing me in a way. He was busy at that time with school and tuitions and friends......yet, the moment he came back home, he would run up the stairs and come into my room, sit on my bed and give me a detailed account of his entire day's activities. He would tell me about all his troubles at school, keep me up to date on his numerous girlfriends and listen to any advise that I handed out regarding life. The last Christmas I spent at home, feeling sad and lonely because B was in the US and my parents were out, P bought me a Christmas tree so that I could cheer up and decorate it and not feel so blue.

And although it has been several years since then, to me P will still be my little kid brother and I love him exactly the same way I did back then. I asked him last night if he wanted to eat anything special when he would be here with us and he said in a sheepish voice, "luchi". So if you find me missing this following week, you'll know where I am....making luchi, alur dom and fish-fry for my kid brother. So you'll excuse me, won't you?

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Gentlemen prefer.......

Beauty is only skin deep. Right? Apparently not. Okay let me elaborate a little on what a funny realization I had over the past week.

I had a haircut last weekend. Okay........ what's the big deal, you ask me. Well you see this was my first proper "haircut" in say, ten years. I know you are wondering which end of the planet I just sprung from. Well you see I wear my hair kind of long. I mean it is really, really long. And all I've ever done to it in this last decade is just trimmed off the end to avoid getting split ends (I know I'm losing you guys....but the girls will know what I'm talking about). And since it reaches to beyond my waist I felt that leaving it open would not only be messy but would pose to be a dangerous thing with the potential of getting my tresses tangled in barbed wires and the like. Hence....for the last eight years or so I've been piling up my hair into a bun that sits a little above the nape of my neck. It was convenient, hassle free, low maintenence and best of all, nobody noticed the split ends!

Okay the downside to this whole hair-bun thingy was that B hated it and I wasn't particularly fond of the "look" myself. Yes, I would let my hair down occasionally, you know for a family photo or something, but I could never wear it down when I went out. And everytime B would mention doing something different with my hair I would start off a sob story about how ugly my hair-ends looked and how very inconvenient it was to leave it hanging down my back. Now, my patient reader (if you've lasted this long) you may ask, if I was having so much trouble with long hair, why did I not cut it off ? Well you see......that is where my false sense of vanity pops in. The fact is I love my hair. It is straight and sleek and very black. And it took me a long time to get it to grow this long. And the thought of chopping it off just made me shudder. And then, B just adores long hair. I think it is a guy thing. Most men I know seem to have a penchant for long hair. And he would probably just leave me if I did actually cut off my hair. So you see, the bun thingy persisted in tormenting our lives, everyday for the last few years.

Then last weekend I decided I had enough of this and wanted to get my hair in shape so that I could do something more pleasing with it. And so I went into a salon and told them that I wanted to cut my hair shorter but not too short (you see, B and I had already decided what the critical length was for him to be able to still live with me). And I let my hair down. You should have seen the look on this lady's face when she saw how long it was. She was almost sorry to have to cut it off. Anyway, we went through the whole routine....shampoo the hair, chop it off, decide if the length was acceptable, dry it, spray something to get rid of fly-aways and polish it off with a serum to give it gloss. And at the end of it she gave me this beautiful mane that boasted of layers, some framing my face, some a little longer, but the overall length reaching halfway down my back. Which was a beautiful length. Long, but not that long and definitely not short. I was pleased. In fact, very very pleased and couldn't stop preening in front of the mirror for the next hour or so (which if you know me is highly uncharacteristic of my normal no-nonsense self). And B was very pleased too.

After that I simply stopped tying up my hair. No more braiding the hair at night because it makes the hair look awfully wavy in the morning when you unbraid it....and no more piling it into a bun because that made the ends turn scraggly. So this whole week I have been going to work with my hair hanging down my back and getting used to these wisps hanging on either side of my face. What I am also getting used to is all the attention that I am getting all of a sudden. Which brings me to what this post was all about in the first place. I just realized that inspite of all these claims about appearances not being important and men actually look for substance in a female...... it is all a myth. When a man looks at you, he does just that....look and that's it. He doesn't care whether you are nice or beautiful inside....I mean, not right away. He just cares if what he is looking at is visually pleasing or not. With my puritan hairstyle out of the way, and with these shiny tresses crying out for attention I am suddenly swamped with people trying to be more friendly, making conversation on the train, getting stared at, being told that this hair looks good on me and even had someone wanting to touch it and feel how soft it is! How ridiculous is that? I mean, it's still plain old me under here and the fact that I get a sexy haircut makes me desirable and attention-worthy all of a sudden? And that is what I just do prefer goodlooking women. Not because they believe they are going to get her but simply because they like something visually stimulating. And yes, appearances do get you places.

Overnight I've been transformed from a quiet, unassuming, nice girl to this desirable, hot female with the gorgeous hair. That is a little unsettling.

What say you?

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Life and Death and what lies in between

Amidst all the controversy and widespread media coverage Stanley "Tookie" Williams was administered lethal injection at 12:01 am at San Quentin State prison and declared dead 34 minutes later. It never fails to shock me that we as civilized human beings still believe that we can set one wrong by perpetrating another wrong. We still have the death penalty and we believe that the judicial system is unfallible and can be trusted to mete out decisions of life and death. I am not here to judge whether Tookey Williams was innocent or guilty. It does not matter. Especially now. But the Williams who died tonight was not the man he was 24 years back when he was convicted. People may argue that remorse and apparent change of heart may not erase the wrongs that he did years back. I agree. However doesn't the judicial system determine punishment depending on whether the person is a threat to society as of now? Tookey had shown remorse while in prison by writing children's books about the dangers of gang violence. He felt the need to educate young impressionable youths about the things he believed had led him astray. And yet when it came to showing him the dignity of human life we failed.

I am not here to argue whether Tookie Williams should have been punished for the crimes he was convicted for (although he maintained his innocence right till the end). What outrages me is our desire to play God in deciding whether a man is deemed fit to live or die. If Williams is convicted and punished because of his action in taking away life, then what does it make the people who are taking the very same decision in deciding whether he should be allowed to live? Giving something a cloak of justice does not actually ensure that justice is met. Capital punishment is not the answer to seeking revenge in punishing a crime and I am proud of the fact that the death penalty is illegal in the European Union. The fact that the present Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger who hails from Austria was the person responsible for refusing clemency to Williams, has hit the Europeans hard and there has been widespread outrage and criticism of his human values.

And whether the judicial system is unfallible or not please watch the movie, The Life of David Gale, a brilliantly made hard-hitting masterpiece.

I am shocked. And I am disappointed.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

'Tis the season to be merry.......

So it's December again. The snow is here, winter has set in, the stores are decked out in their holiday display, people are ice skating, houses are adorned in twinkling lights and lawns are a display of lighted reindeers and Santas, children are happy writing letters to Santa, parents are scratching their heads figuring out what to buy, the post office is overflowing with holiday mail, grocery stores are resplendant in red poinsettias, charities are collecting "Toys for Tots", and everyone has plans for spending time with the family or friends. Yes, it feels like December. The culmination of yet another year and the anticipation of starting out afresh in the new one. With hundreds of resolutions and countless aspirations and abundant hope.

Back in India December had always been special. Final exams would be over and schools would close for the year. That meant no studying, no holiday homework, and nothing to do but having a good time. December meant Christmas and although it had very little religious connotation in my life, I always looked forward to Christmas. I would sit down and laboriously make my own greeting cards which invariably had a theme of snow and Santa and Christmas trees. I would make one for my family, one for my maternal grandparents and one for Sister J, who was the principal of my school. And on Christmas morning I would go visit Sister J in school (the convent was adjacent to the school building) who would be thrilled to see us and would give us some cake that she had baked the night before. This was a tradition I maintained until I started going to college and heard Sister J had been transferred to some other school in South India.

Other memories of Christmas include going to a mid-morning wine and cheese party at the Woodlands Nursing home with my parents where I would stuff myself with brownies, except I did not know that they were called brownies and used to refer to them as tiny chocolate cakes. Then we would go for a sumptous lunch at the Calcutta club followed by the Christmas party at the Calcutta Rowing Club. There would always be a Santa who would arrive by boat to distribute toys and other goodies to the children who would be frantically waving and screaming from the lake shore. And of course there would be things like "Sit and Draw" and "Fancy Dress" and children's races which had a tremendous amount of participation. It always was a day spent with the family. And it always was fun.

Now years later, far removed from the Christmas scene in Calcutta I still cannot help feeling all happy and mushy just thinking about Christmas. I see the smile on people's face and it makes my day. I hear Christmas carols and it fills my heart with joy. I stand and admire the beautiful Christmas decorations and imbibe the happiness that seems all pervasive. For the first time this year I put up a Christmas tree in my living room and decked it all out with lights and sparkling balls. People have pointed out that I am overdoing it and the US is turning me into a Christian. And I tell them there is nothing religious about having a Christmas tree in your house. It is more cultural than religious. And yes, I grew up learning not to differentiate or discriminate between religion. I have been to temples and churches and mosques and gurdwaras.....I have a Gita, a Bible and a Quoran at home, I have a "Thakurer ashon" and do Lakhsmi Pujo on Thursdays, I have slept with a Bible under my pillow for years and I have partaken of the feast laid out after Id. So what does that make me? A human being, I hope.

And yes the US has changed me. I am careful to wish people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", I buy greeting cards that veer away from statements about Christmas but instead say things like "Best wishes for the New Year" and never ask people what they are doing for Christmas, but instead "what are your plans for the holidays". But to me it is still is still time for the family and presents from Santa and huge dinners and fruit cake and eggnog. Here's wishing everyone a happy holiday and the very best for the year that is to come.

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