Friday, July 28, 2006

Going home

There is something that all desis really enjoy doing. That is going back home on vacation. One could be living in India in a different city or even outside the country, but home is where one grew up and left behind all the memories (and sometimes family and friends). And like all desis I really look forward to going home on vacation. Except years of living away from home changes you in so many little ways, that it hits you hard the moment you step out of your familiar everyday turf.

The flight:

For example take the flight back home. We decide that we will catch up on sleep to compensate for the last couple of sleepless nights, when we were busy tying loose ends and trying to finish our packing. But just as I begin to make myself comfortable in the cramped space of the airplane seat, the person right next to me (who by the way is always an elderly, somebody's parent kind) decides to investigate a little into my background, which part of India I hail from, who I am visiting and for how long, what kind of job I have, how much I earn, what caste I belong to, whether I am married and for how long (quick check into B and whether it is a good match), if I have kids and the reason for not having them yet, making me wish that I hadn't agreed to taking the middle seat while letting B sit in the aisle. By the time I am through hearing all about the various accomplishments of my co-passenger's son and daughter, and can give the IRS an accurate account of their finances, B is snoring, making any attempts at sleep quite impossible. But I still try. God knows how much I need this rest since the trip back home will be one of whirlwind activity with very little time for rest. And just when I think that there is a God and I am drifting off into a tranquil slumber, someone prods me in the ribs, almost making me jump out of my seat. It's my co-passenger. Well of course it is.

"Beta could you let me out. Bathroom jana hain."

Apparently God has a peculiar sense of humor and He's going to prove it to me through the duration of this flight.

Strangely enough I survive the flight. In fact I even catch an hour of sleep right before the plane lands in Bombay. When I wake up I'm sure there must be some kind of mistake. It appears like I've been transported into a different flight while I was napping. Where did all the passengers go? I mean the ones that boarded the flight with us. I could have sworn atleast half the flight comprised of bright young women dressed in the same way I was. Yet now in the brief span that I was guilty of sleeping, these women had magically transformed their jeans and T-shirts into beautiful ethnic garb of sarees and salwars, complete with jewelry and bindis. It is mindboggling to say the least.

First impressions:

So we get off the flight. The first thing that hits us (literally) is a blast of warm humid air that is stifling and leaves us gasping for some oxygen. It's like you're way up on some mountain where the air is very thin and you cannot breathe unless you make a laborious effort. Or when one steps inside one of those 37 degree rooms that we use for growing cell cultures and not being able to leave. By the time our body acclimatizes to the sudden increase in heat and humidity I become aware of my shirt suddenly sticking to my body. Suddenly everything is icky and sticky and I can smell the person standing next to me. That smell which I had almost forgotten, of stale body odor, sweat and unwashed shirts. Almost forgotten.

We get through customs. And I sort of start getting used to the throngs of people pushing and jostling each other. I almost begin to enjoy myself. I'm home. Back where I belong. I can identify with these people. Minus the body odor. And the pushing. The next thing I know there's three different men trying their best to wrestle my cart away from me. As I try to stop them from robbing me of my possessions I realize all they are trying to do is transfer my luggage into the bus that will take me to the domestic airport. Welcome home. Where people can be paid to do your physical labor. I take a ten rupee note from my purse, only to find the guy shaking his head and saying,

"No, no. No Indian rupees. Only dollars".

I can barely believe what I am hearing. I let B handle the situation. But I don't think he fares any better. We tell ourselves that we are in India now and we have to get used to the haggling and bargaining and the people taking advantage of you bit.

So now we are waiting at the airport for our connecting flight to Calcutta. And I'm dying of thirst. I tell B that we have to careful about drinking water and he is to buy bottled water to keep us from having cholera (which is what I've been told since I was a little girl). We see a guy selling bottled water and we get one. The price: Rs 30 (which I discovered later was supposed to be Rs 10). We drink it and comment on how bad the water tastes. Sort of metallic and salty. And then we see it. There's this place for drinking water. A mammoth sink with a dozen taps where people are drinking water straight out of the tap. And our man is filling a couple of dozen Bisleri bottles with the tap water. And then I knew. I had just paid thrice the amount to buy a bottle of tap water. And just put ourselves in way of coming down with cholera. Needless to say I didn't drink another drop of water, bottled or not, until I reached the safety of our home.

The flight to Calcutta is wonderful. They offer us three choices for breakfast. Three choices! I mean, I am so used to having a miniscule pack of pretzels thrown at me on the domestic flights in the US, that having to choose between continental, South Indian sambhar and idli and North Indian paratha and sabzi has me all confused and worked up. It was just beautiful. We were home and it looked like it would be a beautiful day.

We arrive in Calcutta amidst a whole troop of relatives that had descended upon the Dumdum airport to greet us. Thank God none of them had bouquets of flowers or garlands, unlike some of the others who were there to welcome home their prodigal child. The drive back home was traumatic. Cars zip past us without any regard for oncoming traffic. I couldn't bear to look out the window for fear of shrieking every second. By some miracle we reach home without crashing into another car, man or animal and without having anything crash into us.


Okay so I don't get to go home (as in my home) right away. Well you see I got married before I came to the US and my rightful place in India is my shoshurbari (sasural/ in-laws place). So I bear through the next couple of hours while we shower and eat and unpack the chocolates (before they melt completely) and stash them in the fridge. Then we are allowed to go home. My home. I immediately go on this exploratory tour of the house. Checking out each room to see if things have changed. Everything looks different. Different curtains, new furniture, strange bedspread. And everytime I go, "hey that's new", someone informs me that it has been changed three years back, reminding me that may be the only thing new there was me.

Sights and sounds and the smells:

We both lose our voices within two days of landing in Calcutta. Everyone tells me it is the pollution that chokes your voice. So we have to resort to hoarse whispering and a great deal of nodding and shaking of the head. And even though there really isn't too much of jetlag for some reason I always feel exhausted. May be it is the sheer strain of having to travel through such chaotic traffic, blaring horns, throngs of suicidal people who prefer to walk on the road than on the sidewalk, the heat and humidity and the constant exhaust from cars and buses that cling to the air and choke your insides. I suddenly become aware of a hundred different sounds that are around me at any given time. Sounds that I had started to forget. Almost. Like the cacophony of cars honking, as they honk on every corner before they make a turn just to let you know that they are approaching. Or the guy with the metal bucket who washes our car every morning and makes sure he lets everyone know that he is doing his job. Or the people selling their wares on the street "Didi ekdom joler dorey" (as cheap as water). People are everywhere. Yelling, shouting, making themselves heard. And the smells. Of rotting garbage. Of clogged waste-water drains. Of smoke and motor exhaust. And amidst that, of tempting street food. Of rolls and telebhaja (fritters). Of peanuts being dry roasted. Of deep fried shingara and spicy chowmein.

How the West changes us:

Well we try to claim that things haven't changed much and we're pretty much the same folks who left the country a few years back. But somehow we've changed. In subtle ways. Like now I have an accent. I swear I didn't try to acquire one. It just crept in on me. May be when I was teaching undergrads in the University. May be when I was just trying to fit in. And's just a part of me. And people look at you funny when you open your mouth. Like you don't belong there anymore. And I guess we even get a certain bideshi (foreign) aura about us which make hawkers run after us with handicraft items and try to bargain in broken english,
"Very good item sir/madam. You pay dollar?"
What is this obsession with dollars in India these days? So now we have two currencies doing the rounds? You can pay in rupees or in dollars?

And people stare. Unabashedly. You may be sitting in the privacy of your car and stopped at a traffic light. While the person in the car right next to yours will be looking into your car and just staring at you like you were from a different planet. Staring is not considered rude. And meddling in other people's affairs is normal.

The other thing that bothers me is our expectation of getting a job done on time. Like when I went to the bank to withdraw money from my account and expected it to be a real swift operation. After all it is my money and I have every right to take whatever I want from my account. But that wasn't meant to happen. Because they had to verify my signature which by the way has evolved a great deal since my signing days in India. When that posed problems they needed further identification, things like passport which I had to go home to fetch. And then there was this business of passbook and updating the information in that. And I get shuttled from one counter to another, one where they fill out the form that expresses the desire to withdraw money, to another where they review it and give you a little note that you take to a third counter where they give you the money but make you go back to pick up your passbook from the first counter. And all this while I am missing my ATM back in the US. Missing it bad.

Or the time when I walk into a store that sells kurtas for men. (Kimbadanti for those of you who'd really like to know.) And it's a little weird because you have to tell the shopkeeper exactly what you are looking for and he will "show" you the items that he has stocked which meet your specifications. And I stand there patiently waiting to be "served" and the guy is merrily chatting with another guy who happens to own a shop next door. Now we are spoilt here in the US. We are told things like "the customer comes first" and the "customer is always right" and people who are selling always greet you with a smile, they ask you if you found everything okay and if there's anything they can help you find. There is something called 'customer service' and I love it. But it is sadly missing back home. And while we wait and wait with the expectation of being attended to, the shopkeeper could care less. And that I cannot take. Not anymore. So I walk out. Without having bought anything. And the shopkeeper really doesn't care. How crazy is that!

Getting used to it all:

Two weeks into your vacation your voice comes back miraculously. And you are less conscious about the stares. And you don't complain about the heat anymore. You fan yourself with a magazine while you sit it out in the traffic. You have resigned yourself to being in a constant state of diarrhea. And you are getting the hang of bargaining. In the shops, in taxis, everywhere. Like they say, it's only a matter of time.

And all too soon, it is over.

And before we know it we're on a flight back to the US. And we're on familiar ground. Where it is nice and clean and pretty, and people are smiling and polite and the non-staring kind, and lines move fast and things work with clockwork precision, where the roads are wide and the cars follow rules. And it all looks and smells so familiar. So predictable. And there's no acclimatizing, no getting used to anything. It's like we never left.

I feel a gush of emotion as I see my house. Exactly the way I left it. I go in and check on my plants. I go to every room and touch my things. Exactly where I left them when I went to India. And strangely it feels very comforting.

I whisper to myself, "Welcome home".

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

To err is human

Me, I'm not a very forgiving person. Nor do I forget easy. I trust people blindly. And when they destroy my faith I just shut them off from my life.

Take MC for example. We were best friends through college. I still own a treasure chest of memories from those days. Memories that warm my heart when I revisit them in my mind. Yet MC and I drifted apart. Because she hurt me. In more ways than one. And I realized that she never really was my friend. She had just used me for all those years.

So I dropped her. From my life.

And even though she has tried so many times to make things right, I just can't trust her again.

Sigh! Looks like I'll never attain divine status.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The view from here: ramblings of an "only child"

Before I say anything I'd like to say that I am the only offspring of my parents and everything I say here is my personal opinion and may not agree with a lot of people.

So, why is it important to have more than one child? For one it makes the child a little less selfish. Now before any one of you fly off the handle protesting what a selfless "only child" you were, or start nodding your head in absolute agreement remembering the disgustingly selfish "only child" you knew in school, I'd like to say that I'm talking about something that is relative. I mean everyone is selfish to a slight extent. We do think about ourselves a lot and what we like and don't like. So everyone's entitled to be a little selfish. We owe it to ourselves. But what I'm talking about here is the way the "only child" views things.

Unlike what most people think an "only child" does not think that the sun, the moon and the stars revolve around him/ her and do not always demand for the very best. That I think is a personal trait and I know many kids who have siblings but are known to be more demanding than others. But when you have one child the kid grows up being a little bit more possessive about his/ her things than the other kids around. I'll tell you a little incident about myself and how I learnt to recognize the possessive streak in me. This was the time when I was getting out of school and starting to go to college. My Dad told me about this young girl who had completed her Medical degree and had started working with him to train to be a gynecologist. Both my parents were in praises about how nice this girl was and how she wanted to be friends with me. Now all my life I have had my parents all to myself and for the strangest reasons took an instant dislike to this intruder whom I had never seen nor met, but who seemed to be taking away a part of my parent's affection that was rightfully mine. Her name was US. For the next couple of months all I heard was US did this and US did that and how well she was doing and how great she was. And I hated her more everyday and did my best not to meet her by staying out late if I knew she would coming over. And then oneday we did meet. She had come over to show my Dad some lab reports. And she stopped by my room to talk to me. And we talked. For hours. It was like I met a long-lost friend. The sister I never had. I absolutely loved her. She was bright, she was pretty and she had the most endearing nature. I knew instantly why my parents were so enchanted by her. Over the next few months US and I became really good friends. She would come over every afternoon to chat with me. And we'd talk about life, studies, boys. She knew every little thing that was happening in my life and I knew everything that had ever happened to her. I was so ashamed of myself for having shut her out of my life for all that time while she was trying her hardest to be friends. She saw me through all my frustrations, my truimphs and failures, my difficult college days, my turbulent love-life. And I watched her fall in love and get married. Then she moved overseas. And looking back I remember US with the fondest of memories and strongest of affection. She is the closest thing I ever had to having an older sister. And I don't mind sharing my parents, my things, my life with her. But I had to cross that boundary, that hurdle to get to this point. And I have always blamed my inability to share my parents easily on being an "only child".

I think being an "only child" gives you the impression that certain things belong to you. It makes one a little bit more possessive about things, about people, than anyone else. I try my hardest to be a little less possessive about the people I love. But it is a habit that is difficult to unlearn. I still get mad when people borrow books, CDs, DVDs and then just "forget" to return them. I don't mind lending them as long as people give it back to me and I can put things where they belong. B thinks I'm too possessive about everything (which includes him) and is always teasing me about being a "spoilt child". Well may be that is true. Just a little bit. But don't ever tell him that I said that.

The other thing that bothers me about people having single childs these days is that it takes away some beautiful relations that we were fortunate to have in our lives. I grew up basking in the affection of my kaka, pishi, mashi, mama.....I had one of each. My parents had multiple kakas, pishis, mashis and mamas. Unfortunately my child will not have any mashi, kaka or mama. And may be my grandchild will not even know what it is like to even have these wonderful people in your life to shower love, affection and blessings. And that will be so unfortunate. Because some of my fondest memories are with these people and knowing that I can always turn to them for anything.

And even though I had the most wonderful childhood I always wanted a sibling, like my other friends. Someone I could share my life with. For the longest time I had a strange notion that my parents had another child, a son who was older than me, and whom they used to hide in a secret passage that existed within the walls of our house. I believed in this fantasy for ever so long. I would go tapping on the walls all day just to open up the passage and reveal their secret. I would lie awake at night hoping to catch them bringing him out of the secret passage. But I always fell asleep before they did. And till date have not met my "brother".

Yeah I know I'm a little crazy. But whattodo. I blame it on being an "only child".


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Basking in fame

This mention shot up my visitor log by 4 times .

Hmmm....what a little bit of publicity can do for you!


Monday, July 17, 2006

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage

I've been reading quite a bit about about marriage on the blogosphere lately and it seems to me that a lot of people are thinking, considering and reflecting on marriage and going over the why, when and whom issues (see here, here, here, here and here). That brings me to something that's been on my mind regarding why people want to get married and how other people perceive it.

Like this question I've got from quite a number of people regarding having kids. It seems to me a lot of folks believe that two people should settle down and tie the knot primarily so that they can have kids. What the hell! I mean, isn't that the most ridiculous thing you've heard of? Of all the reasons I would have considered for wanting to get married that would probably be something I'd never have come up with. I mean, yes, it is nice to have a family with kids and all but not my reason for wanting to get married. Okay so I'll have kids at some point. But that will be when I'm ready for it. Not because I have the license to have them. Because it appears to me that for a lot of people that's what marriage is all about. A license to have sex whenever you want to and start a family. Give me a break. Please.

My next door neighbor tells me that her daughter's been married for over two years but she couldn't get pregnant until now, because her husband was still in school and they couldn't afford to have kids until he graduated and got a job. Point noted. She seemed mighty unhappy that her daughter married someone who couldn't afford to raise a child and that they had to be "careful" for two goddamn years even though they were married. Alright so marriage equals procreation. And anything that comes in between is considered strange.

We had rented a cabin up in the mountains for our sixth wedding anniversary and the lady who let us in was shocked at the fact that we didn't have kids. She was like "you've been married for 6 years and you still don't have kids"!!! Like we were some kind of freaks. She looked at me and goes "why?" Like it was her business and I had to tell her about some secret malfunctioning organ that I had which prevented me from getting pregnant or something. I was really shocked at her reaction.

And then yesterday someone else goes "you've been married that long and you still don't have kids?" Will someone please tell me if reproduction is the next natural step to getting married. Fine, society expects married people to produce babies and also people producing babies to be married. Not to say that there aren't exceptions. But that's what they are. Exceptions to the general rules of society. And I'm not saying that having babies is bad or something that I don't want. Like most other girls I always dreamt of having my own family and the "living happily ever after" bit. But only when I am ready for it. Not because I'm married and I can or am expected to. That I find ridiculous. A child is precious and parents have to be ready to welcome the baby into the family, into their lives. You don't have a baby just because you're married and you don't have a clue about contraception.

So why is it that so many people equate getting married with having babies? Can't people just marry because they are in love and want to spend their lives together? What about companionship and spending quality time together? Aren't those enough reasons to want to marry someone? You marry because you love and want to be with a person. More than anything else in the world. More than anyone else. And may be someday have a family too. But not simply because you want to start making babies. Come on, you don't even need to marry to do that these days. In fact you don't even need to have sex for that. Just go adopt a kid if you are so badly in need of having one.

Okay I agree that when people talk about family they envision kids. And I have nothing against that. I adore kids. Except I just don't like looking at me with incredulous eyes and thinking that I am some sort of a freak who is unable to procreate. I don't like people going "why haven't you had kids if you've been married for such a long time". All I'm saying is that we got married early, before any of my friends did, because we were in love and we wanted to be together. And that is good enough reason for me.

And that I would think would be the only reason why someone should get married.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In a land far far away

In light of what happened in Bombay yesterday I have been feeling esp. depressed. And missing home even more. I had started writing this post earlier.
This one is for everything India stands for. And how much it means to me.
Here's to the spirit and the resilience of my people.

I was talking to my friend the other day and he was questioning why most Indians tend to precipitate together at office parties and social gatherings. Oh yes, and I'm talking specifically about the Indians abroad who are away from their home. And it got me thinking. True I have friends who are not Indian, but a large chunk of my social circle comprises of Indians, and coming to think of it mostly Bongs. And I think I know why. It's the common ground that we share, of similar backgrounds, cultural bonding and understanding that can be traced back to our pre-immigrant days.

Every Indian I know here in the US misses home. India is a treasure chest of sepia-tinged memories and nostalgia. And at the slightest mention of old and fond things from back home the memories get rustled up and we gravitate towards strangers to catch up and talk about India. This is especially true if the people come from the same city. All the more fun as many more memories can be exchanged and shared. We can talk about schools and college experiences and the "do you know so-and-so" banter, resturants and places we used to hang out, how much things have changed and when was the last time we were visiting. The list goes on. So why do Indians precipitate? I guess because of the familiarity and easy identification with each other.

My Dad always said that the main reason he did not settle abroad and kind of rushed back to settle down in India before I started going to school was his fear of raising a daughter in a foreign place, in a culture that he was not comfortable with. And as a kid I envied my cousins who were growing up in UK and USA and hassled my parents for not giving me the chance to grow up and live abroad. But now after all these years I realize what a blessing it was to be able to grow up in a place among family and friends, living and learning about our cultural heritage and being able to identify with things that I would never have known otherwise.

There are things that I would laugh about when I was in India. You know the kind which one tries to deny when they are trying their best to emulate the West. Things that I did not realize the value or significance of, while I had them easily available. Things I could care less about back home in India. Yet now, with the whole uprooting and isolation in effect I have started realizing the importance of so many things. And I miss so much. So very much.

The rain. It rains a lot over here in Virginia. But somehow it doesn't have the same feel as a sudden summer norwester in Calcutta. The swiftness with which one takes shelter under the leaking roof of a roadside shop. And watch other people hurrying past with their wet umbrellas. And the water beginning to accumulate in huge puddles. And sloshing through the waterlogged streets in the uncomfortable Sandak sandals from Bata. God how I hated those shoes! But then nothing would convince me to soak my fancy leather sandals in the rain water.

And returning home to find hot tea and fried pakora. And may be khichuri for dinner.

Drinking tea from matir bhar (earthenware). This I especially associate with my college days when we would stop by a roadside stall after night-duty and drink tea from this enormous bhar. It was priced at Rs 5 which was a luxury considering a regular bhar of tea would cost less than a rupee. The tea tastes so different in a bhar. I think it takes on the smell of the earth which adds flavor.

Window shopping at Gariahat. Gushing over the gorgeous sarees that they would have on display at Trader's Assembly and Indian Silk House. And ending up buying earrings from the hawkers who traded on the streets.

Talking of sarees I think it is the most beautiful dress an Indian girl can wear. Almost every Indian female I know looks absolutely ravishing when they wrap a saree around them. I find it elegant as well as sexy. I had decided that once I got married I would only wear sarees and leave aside my usual wardrobe of jeans and skirts. And true to my word when I got married and came to the US my luggage did not contain anything but sarees and I spent the first few months going everywhere dressed in the traditional saree. We were living at that time in a really small town in the Midwest, a place which was primarily white American with a handful of foreigners. Needless to say I would be catching attention everywhere I went. People would wave at me and smile and stop to admire my "dress". It was a little awkward to be honest. Then I started to go to work and that required me to be dressed more appropriately and I had to go to the store to buy clothes more suited for the work environment here. I miss not being able to wear a saree.

Durga Pujo. Lal-paar saree. Sakha, paula, nowa (traditional bracelets of conch, coral and iron). Dhaak. Sandhi Pujo. Thakur baran. Well, can't say enough about Pujo in Calcutta. Therefore I'll leave it at that.

Lakshmi Pujo at home. Uposh (fast) and alpona (decorative motifs on the ground with rice flour). Alta pora ( I don't know what alta is but it is a red liquid which women in Bengal use to decorate the feet) and poribeshon kora (serving food).

Biye bari (weddings). Dressing up and looking out for eligible bachelors. Sticking together with friends and giggling at the slightest pretext. Staying up all night in the bashor, singing, dancing and eyeing the groom's goodlooking friend.

Rabindrasangeet. There was time when I found Rabindrasangeet monotonous and boring. But that was before I even started to realize that it went so much deeper than the melodies. Given the proper context they can drive me to tears these days.

Phuchka, jhaalmuri, alukabli. Egg-chicken roll. Mutton chop and fish fry. Chinese from Tangra. Biriyani from Shiraz. Momo at Elgin road. Kwality ice cream.

Bunking class to catch a matinee show at Nandan. Skipping the movie. Sitting aimlessly near the jheel. Adda.

Cricket at Eden Gardens, boat ride on the river, book-fair at the Maidan, circus at Park Circus, rowing in the Lake, books in college street, infusion at the coffee house, double-decker bus and trams. The sound of the conch-shell at dusk and women lighting diyas.

Inspite of the non-stop blaring of horns, incessant traffic that knows no rules, roads full of potholes, throngs of people that spill over into the streets, badly damaged sidewalks crowded by stalls, decaying rubbish piling high, homeless people in makeshift shelters, poverty and pollution, it is still home. These are still things we identify with, talk about and remember with some affection. We talk about Jyoti-babu and how communism has ruined the potential of Bengal for such a long time. We talk about Lalu and his regime in Bihar. We feel pride at all the technology and global advancement that India has made in the last decade. We seek out each other in lands far away from home. To talk. To bond. To feel at home.

Because our roots are still embedded over there.

That is where home is.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Bathroom woes

I have always been obsessed about bathrooms. Even as a child I had a bath all to myself in India. It was done up in a pretty pink to go with the overall pink decor in my bedroom: pink tiles, pink marble, pink washbasin and toilet, pink shower-mat on the floor, pink shower curtain, even pink toilet paper (don't ask me where my Mom used to get that from). I have no idea why everything was so pink, considering it isn't like my favorite color or anything. May be my Mom decided upon it because it was her favorite color. Or may be I was being stereotyped for being a girl. Anyway, there was a lot of pinkness in there. And I didn't mind at all. Because it was done up so nicely and everything was kept so clean and beautiful. Like I said earlier I obsess about bathrooms. I cannot go to one unless it is clean and dry. And that means no water on the floor, no mess anywhere and it has to smell good. Because you see, my bathroom has always been my haven, a refuge, a place where I can spend time with myself. Since locking my bedroom door was not looked upon favorably at my home, I would often take a story-book with me into the bathroom and read it curled up on the bathroom mat. I just loved the tiny little space the bathroom would create for me and would hide in there for hours until someone came looking for me.

I was terrified of using the toilet anyplace other than home. Public toilets in Calcutta (in clubs and malls) were dirty and stinky and I would never ever visit one unless I was dying. I could go on for hours at a stretch without needing to go to the loo. That also meant I would never go to the bathroom in someone else's house. Most houses I've been to did not have a separate shower and there would always be residual bath water on the floor of the bathroom, something that I detested. So that meant I never did sleepovers at a friend's house. And I could never explain to my friends why I would just have to go back home at the end of the day.

And I absolutely hated it if someone destroyed the sanctity of my bathroom. Like this one time when my parents were having their 25th wedding anniversary and there were a million people invited to our house for the occasion. And all was well except for the fact that hundreds of people were using my bathroom and leaving it wet and dirty. I was waiting for the guests to go home when suddenly I see water trickling from under the bathroom door into my bedroom. Horrified I run to open the door only to see the bathroom flooded. It seems someone had pooped and the toilet got stuck and it overflowed all over the bathroom and into my bedroom. It was just disgusting. And my poor Mom had to clean it up and get the toilet up and running. You see I blamed her for having invited all those people and letting them use my bathroom. After that if we had guests coming over I locked my bathroom door to prevent people from using it.

And then I had a Math tutor when I was in school who had this strange habit of peeing all over the toilet seat. The first time this happened I thought may be he was unaware that men had to lift the toilet seat before going in. So I made sure before he came each day that I left the toliet seat up and I wouldn't have to clean up his mess once he had used the toilet (which he did everytime he came). And the weirdest thing was he actually made sure that he put the seat down and then peed all over it. Now is that disgusting or what! It just beat me as to why someone would do that. And I was too polite to actually tell him that he made me clean up after him everyday and that it "pissed" me to no end that he didn't have the sense to appreciate the fact that I would leave the seat up for him. Boy was I glad when I passed the class and he was gone.

However the absolute worst incident that I can recall is when a friend from my tuition needed to go to the bathroom real bad and since my house was close I took her home so that she could use my bathroom. Now I was under the impression it would be a quick come and go for her. But when the minutes started dragging out I started getting a little uneasy. After about a half hour she emerged from the bathroom, thanked me and left in quite a rush. I went in to check the condition of my bathroom. It was my worst nightmare come true. The toilet was stuck and there was water that had overflowed all over and this girl had used my bath towel to clean up her mess which resulted in shit all over the towel, the wash basin and even the walls. I couldn't believe it! What kind of individual could do something this gross and then leave without saying that she was sorry and offering to clean up? If any one of you have watched the movie Along came Polly you will have a fair idea of the kind of disaster I'm talking about here. It took me and my Mom over an hour to clean up the mess and get the shit-hole (literally) to start looking more like my bathroom. It took like a week to get it to smell like the way it did before this female invaded my territory. And I still have not been able to forgive the girl for what she did. Needless to say she never dared to speak to me again in her life.

So now you know what I mean when I say I obsess about my bathrooms. I have 3 full baths and a powder room in the house that I live in now. They are all tastefully decorated (no pinks thank goodness) and they smell great. They have matching shower curtains and decorative towels. There is recessed lights, candles and the works. My bathrooms are my haven.

And I hate it when people leave their mess all over.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mirror Mirror On the Wall, Who's the Fairest of Them All?

The first thing my mother-in-law said to me when she saw me last weekend was that I had lost weight and turned darker (ki roga aar kalo hoye gechhish). And my Mom totally agrees with her on that. And I realize I will never be able to conform to the age-old notions of beauty in our society.

I live in a place where people live on salads and run two miles everyday just to stay in shape. They lie out in the sun for hours trying to get a tan that gives them a bronzed look. You'd think with my petite 100lbs and complexion I would be what most females here would want to look like. But not where I come from. You see in Bengal the beauty in a female is her fair skin and well rounded proportions, something that is referred to as doodhe-aaltay rong (peaches and cream anyone) and Lokhi-sri (a la Goddess Laksmi). People never reprimand you for having put on weight. Oh no! That is looked upon as something good, a sign of prosperity. And hence the term Lokhi-sri.

And don't even get me started on complexion. A girl-child who is not fair is doomed for life. Or so it would seem. I remember countless occasions when I have seen some overweight, meddling, female relative or neighbor shake her head at me and tell my mother in the saddest voice possible, tomar meyer mukh ta eto shundor kintu tomar moto gaayer rong ta pelo na (your daughter is pretty but she did not get your complexion). Which saddened me because I have always wanted to be as pretty as my Mom. And I would spend hours in front of the mirror to see if I really was kalo (dark complexioned). Thank God I grew up before these petty complexes could get to me and realized that there was more to me than being called ujjol shyambarna (bright dusky complexion).

I knew when I was getting married that there would be some talk about the bride being on the dusky side since everyone on B's side of the family including him was really fair. However B assured me that he was enamored by girls who were darker because he thought they had really big, bright and beautiful eyes. So I wasn't exactly worried. But in the two weeks following my wedding I was victim to various home-made recipes of instant brighteners of the skin that included dahi, haldi, and cucumber among others.

And now living in the US, I hardly ever spare a thought about things like sun-tan and dark complexion. I do hours of gardening in the scorching Virginia sun. I go out and play tennis in the sun and lie out on the beach without worrying about how dark I am getting. Until I meet people from back home. With preconceived notions of beauty. Admiring fair maidens with plump cheeks and well-endowed proportions. And it makes me want to scream. For the sheer frustration of dealing with things like this. For having people disapprove and shake their heads at me. For not being the typical traditional conformist that everyone craves for.

And then I look at myself in the mirror. And I see who I really am.

I am, therefore I am.