Monday, 14 November 2022

Finding your passion

My firstborn has always been highly economical with words. Monosyllables do the trick most of the time, occasionally complemented by grunts. Small talk -what's that? Jokes elicit a gentle smile (derisive if it’s a PJ!).

But every now and then, a different creature emerges. Someone I don’t often meet. Someone who talks loudly and boisterously, and laughs openly and often.
This creature is only seen in his natural habitat - the cricket field or in the company of his cricket buddies.

A few weeks ago, we saw this avatar, at the annual banquet of the Washington Cricket Academy. The season is over and next season will be the last one he plays for this club. In the last 4 years, he has made enormous strides - in confidence, athleticism, discipline, and focus. Come April, I inwardly groan at the thought of each weekend for the next 6 months being sacrificed to cricket. The commitment in time (12-hour days), energy, and headspace has been draining for us but clearly energizing for him.

There's so much talk nowadays about "following your passion". But few of us even know what our passion is, much less how to follow it. It feels good to know that, however serendipitously, my kid has found his. 

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Family history in Triplicane

Reposted from Medium

Imagine a typical Chennai (Madras) morning. 7 am and the temperatures are already in the early 30s. I don’t have to clarify that the sun is shining (it usually is!). Walking along Beach Road, the feeling of being in an oven is tempered somewhat by the brisk sea breeze. I have asked my dad to give me a family history tour in this part of my hometown. In the last 2 years, he has been taking the extended family on a walk down nostalgia lane with his detailed WhatsApp posts on memories from the 1940s-1960s in Triplicane and Adayar.

My paternal grandfather hailed from a village called Chandrasekarapuram near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. He was born in 1910, a journalist and a staunch Gandhian. A Congress member, I have heard he only wore Khadi until his death in 1975. He was a keen political observer and well-known to the political bigwigs of the day while never holding a formal position in the party. He died some months before I was born but I have always been fascinated with our origin story. Who are we, where did we come from, and what happened in those early years that influenced the course of everyone in our rather large family?

Our first stop on this history tour is “Thilagar Thidal” or Tilak Ghat, an area of Marina Beach which bore witness to many impassioned speeches calling for independence. This spot is right opposite the deep red imposing structures of Presidency College, where my father got his Bachelors's and Master's degrees. We walk through a small part of what is evidently a large campus. The buildings are beautiful but the grounds are so poorly-maintained. This is a 180-year institution with a huge list of notable alumni. TWO Nobel laureates (S Chandrasekaran and CV Raman) and C Rajagopalachari, to name just three. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan used to teach there. The place is a monument to 2 centuries of advancement in political, social, and scientific thought and it lies in a pitiable state with plastic water bottles, polythene carry bags, dead leaves and plants, and general litter visible everywhere.

We step out of the college and start walking down Pycrofts Road, now renamed Bharathi Salai, the arterial road cutting through Triplicane (Thiruvallikeni). When I lived in India, I never gave a second thought to the hazards on the road and the need for all senses to be on high alert while navigating potholes, electricity pylons, cows, autos, buses, motorbikes, and people. How beautifully nimble all of us are — human, beast, and vehicle! I was glad that I could still easily transition to the old ways, being able to keenly observe life on the streets while deftly avoiding the generous helpings of cow dung on the ground!

The Triplicane area is among the oldest settled parts of Chennai. With the 8th century Sri Parthasarathy Swami temple as its locus, the area is a multi-cultural neighbourhood with Vaishnavite Brahmin, Jain and Muslim influences. It is a hub of commerce, religion, and living breathing history and culture.

Our first stop in Triplicane is Raja Hanumantha Lala Street where my father lived for the first few years of his life (maybe till he was 5–6 years old). He hasn’t been able to locate the exact house but we saw the Siva temple which was a few doors away and the corporation school where he and his brother started their education in the adjoining street. In the early 50s, they moved to SMV (Sundaramoorthy Vinayagar) Koil Street to a bigger house with a verandah, large hall, 3–4 rooms, and a terrace. It needed to be that large to accommodate 4 adults and 7 children! Not to mention the relatives who kept coming and going. The house does not exist anymore but has been torn down to make way for a bigger more modern dwelling.

On Big Street (Veeraraghavan Street) off Pycrofts Road is the venerable Hindu High School where my father studied from Std 5-SSLC. He says when he was a student there, the school was already 100 years old, populated mostly by Brahmin boys with tuft and “panchakacham”-wearing male teachers. It was a 10-minute walk from the house. Interesting to imagine those days with few cars on the road, no autos, motorbikes but only hand-pulled and cycle rickshaws. Many more cows!!! People walked or cycled everywhere, or walked to the nearest public transport option (tonga, rickshaw, bus or tram). The women worked hard at cooking, cleaning, and caregiving. I recently read RK Narayan’s autobiography where he speaks of taking long walks along Beach Road. No wonder they were all able to digest those big meals and keep a trim figure!

Our last stop in Triplicane is of course the Parthasarathy temple. Enroute, we stop to click a pic of the home and memorial of the great Tamil poet and activist, Subramania Bharathi. As we walk towards the temple, I realize I am going to visit it for the first time though S was taken here before the “Mapilla Azhappu” during our wedding in 2000. Partha is majestic and handsome and the sanctum sanctorum seemed to be airconditioned! A welcome respite from the heat outside. The area around the temple is full of name boards like Rangarajan (Chartered Accountant) and Srinivasan (Advocate). Not a single obviously Shaivite name in sight and bare-chested Iyengar mamas are much in evidence!

There is more to see but it would require a longer walk. We have seen the “Chinna Kadai”, a shop owned by my grandfather where my dad used to be in charge during his school days but the “Periya Kadai” where my Periappa was in charge, was some distance away. I guess this is what we call an “internship” these days 😊 Hearing my dad talk about his days playing truant from school, walking merrily along these streets unsupervised, and spending entire days bouncing a ball inside the Parthasarathy temple, I certainly feel some regret for what I have never experienced- those tight bonds of community, the culture of sharing material things and responsibilities, the carefree days of childhood undiluted by any safety concerns. My childhood was vastly different from my father’s and my children’s bears no resemblance even to mine.

No one wants to turn back the clock but learning about our families’ histories can certainly help with identifying best practices for living and being. What can we learn from the experiences of our elders? To live in the moment and be more mindful? To make time for nurturing relationships? To give and share freely, as they did? Nostalgia is a pleasurable but useless exercise if it doesn’t help us reflect on our own journeys. And as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, our journeys are not just about us as individuals but of all those who came before.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Toddlers vs teens

Now that I have 2 teenagers in the house and will be sending one half-baked adult out into the world in a year from now, it felt like time to address the rhetorical "Toddlers vs Teenagers - which would you rather have?" question. 

Well, gotta have both, obviously (what's the option?!).

Right. The answer as far as I am concerned is ......DRUM ROLL......

I will take teenagers any day.

With their smelly feet and armpits, acne and dandruff, moods and sullenness, hair and large hands and feet! Shall I go on drawing this generally unappealing picture? :) 

I just have these very sympathetic feelings for the underdogs you know. Toddlers are CUTE. Who doesn't like them? Certainly, even the kid-haters will good-humouredly set off the whining against the cuteness quotient.

But teenagers. Boy, they can be a tough breed to like. Tall, sometimes huge, they look like an adult but have none of the usefulness or know-how of one. They are unpredictable and moody. They eat massive amounts of food. They demand your time and attention and love and yet look the other way when you provide all of it. Arrrggghhh...they are infuriating!

Note: My kids were easy toddlers and are pretty easy teens as well; so not complaining here. These are general observations (my kids will call them sweeping generalizations!) based on all the kids I have encountered :)

Moving on...

These infuriating teens are also so vulnerable. Caught in the no-man's zone between childhood and adulthood, brains and cognition only partly developed (the brain is the last organ to mature; this happens in the early to mid-20s), misunderstood and misjudged even by the people who know them best, bodies growing in all sorts of uncomfortable ways, dealing with high pressure academic and social environments. One cannot but feel sorry for these poor souls. 

Research has established that the level of stress varies very little whether you have toddlers or teenagers. I personally think the difference is in what kind of stress. Parenting toddlers or very young kids creates a huge physical workload while with teenagers the exhaustion is primarily mental. Second-guessing what they are feeling, reading between the lines, worrying about risky behaviour or social media exposure, etc takes a toll on the parent's mental wellness. On the other hand, they are very well able to clean and dress themselves, navigate their social calendars, and under duress make their own meals and get themselves from one place to another without my help!

The old parenting wisdom is that you only have 18 summers with your kids. The thing is, when the kids are toddlers, 18 summers seems like light years away. It cannot come soon enough. Fast forward a few years and they are teenagers and that 18th summer is really really close and you'll do anything to have your sweaty stinky messy teenager lounging around your house for just one more summer.  

I never in a million years thought I'd say this. But I can now empathize with all those wannabe grandparents who are dying for their kids to procreate. It's not just some ego trip and carrying-on-our-family's-amazing-genes stuff. It's just plain old-fashioned "I need to smell that baby smell and feel that delicious baby fat and remember that feeling of wanting to gobble them up" stuff.

Gasp! I am going to be insufferable as a 60-year-old aunty!

Monday, 18 July 2022

Summer 2022 halfway point

The summer vacation is half over! Amma-Appa left for India in early July. Their visit here, against all odds, felt like a gift while they were here and feels even more precious in the light of recent events. My mil fell down and broke her arm and hip and needed hip replacement surgery, all a few weeks before they were due to arrive here. So much drama and disappointments; upended plans and sudden expenses to fly to India. More than anything else, a sneak peek into our middle age and caregiving responsibilities!

In consequence, I have been a single parent for the past few weeks. I haven't had to fly solo for quite some years now and's really quite pleasant...The babies are all grown up and all they require is some light cooking. If I don't feel like cooking, we order's all very simple with none of the earlier complexities and guilt associated with a heavier caregiving load. Ads is busy watching (not playing much this summer) cricket, writing his blog, working on his essays, and working at Old Navy. We try and get some driving practice every now and then. Y is having a blast doing nothing much but that's what summers are for, right? I am making sure Ads and I are on track with the college project plan. I wake up by 5 or 5.30 am and go for a 3-mile walk. Do some yoga or strength training after I get back. Work on the garden, cook, attend some calls. Have an afternoon nap. The days are beautifully serene and restful and I am enjoying the time with my kiddos. Y and I watch a movie (or half of a movie) almost every day! 

I start a new job in a couple of weeks and it feels like this period is the calm before the storm. Once school begins in late August, we will finally be in the college admissions frenzy. I know the fall and winter will fly by as we get the applications done and dusted. 

We are doing "nothing". No exotic vacations, not even weekend road trips. Why, I haven't even managed to go to nearby Shenandoah National Park for a picturesque hike! Sometimes I do wonder whether I should be more "productive" but almost immediately my heart and head both admonish me for my silliness. I am here now. Fully present for my kids and family. That is as "productive" as I need to be!

I often wonder whether this newfound peace and acceptance is a result of the looming half-empty nest...perhaps I am learning to savour what's in front of me now rather than incessantly planning for the future. Or maybe it's just all those years of regular meditation FINALLY showing some results :) Whatever it is, I am grateful. 

Thursday, 26 May 2022

First job!

We spent a lot of time thinking about how Ads should spend his summer. Typically the summer before senior year is important. Kids are expected to either do a pre-college program, volunteer or find a job or internship. S and I felt quite strongly that working in the service industry would be very helpful to Ads in terms of learning some great life skills and also pushing him beyond his comfort zone. 

So I have been helping Ads apply to jobs. He was adamant about not wanting to work in food service so cafes and ice cream shops and restaurants were out of the question. We applied to the big retailers - Target, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Michaels, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Old Navy, etc. He got a call back from Old Navy, attended the interview for a "Brand Associate" and walked out with the job.

As easy as that :)   

His orientation was last evening and he starts work next week, just after getting back from Atlanta where he is playing in a Minor League tournament (U17). We don't know his schedule yet but looks like he'll work 16 hours per week. This summer will be busy with work, cricket, and writing his college essay.

Thursday, 19 May 2022


Another milestone...another opportunity for the progeny to look down on me :)

Armed with lots of theoretical and very little practical knowledge, Ads has evolved into an effective backseat driver/commentator.
"Your hands are supposed to be at 9 and 3, you know that right?"
"Amma, can you stop driving with one hand?!!!"
"Did you check the speed limit?"
"I don't think you indicated for exactly 4 seconds before you switched lanes"....and so on and so forth.
My funny remarks about other drivers on the road are funny only to my own ears, I guess. I am anticipating being canceled by my own kids, very soon!
Ah, what's life without being patronized by our teenagers?
It's ridiculous to allow 16-year-olds to take the wheel, but that's a rant for another day!

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Some thoughts (before Mother's Day 2022)

Where did the years go? Almost 17 years as a parent, and I am still stumbling and fumbling. Amazed at other parents' confidence that they have it all figured out. NO. A hundred times no. This parenting thing is humbling and emaculating. 

The days are long but the years are short. This cliche has never seemed more real than now when the days seem to be rushing by with indecent haste. He is driving. He is shaving. Soon he will start filling out college applications. 

In a little over a year from now, I will not know things that I have known with certainty every day for 17 years. When he woke up. When he left for school. When he had lunch (did he have lunch?!!). When he returned home. What he did in the evenings. What is his weekend schedule.

This one thought terrifies me. Knowing that millions of parents face the same choices some time or the other is irrelevant. I read that sending your kids off to college is "bittersweet" and I think - "How is it sweet? There is nothing but bitterness."

I take solace from these lines from Gibran.

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

NOW they tell me I have to be a stable bow, whatever the hell that means?

I have, however, been an excellent potted plant. Some years ago there was an article in the New York Times citing research showing the psychological benefits for teens of having at least one parent around in close proximity. “Importantly, the studies of parental presence indicate that sheer proximity confers a benefit over and above feelings of closeness or connectedness between parent and child.....Quality parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant."

I have loved that metaphor and unreservedly shared this pearl of wisdom with all and sundry. I can be a potted plant, no problem! Our teens may act like they don’t really need us, and they often ask us to get out of their rooms, but they do need our simple and silent presence. I know it when Ads comes up to my bedroom every night and silently nuzzles me and I know we are communicating even though I'm not exactly sure what's being said :) Probably (I hope!) the things that have no words- I love you. I'm fine. Thank you?

Oh well. Thank goodness for potted plants and stable bows :)