Tag Archives: ramblings

A Room Of One’s Own

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I work from home – have an office on the terrace, which really, I should give the husband the credit for. He’s been advocating turning the dump room into, what he first envisioned, a “treaty room” for years now – the backstory is that he’d read about how President Obama withdrew into his treaty room every night, a room where Michelle only “popped in” sometimes. Every since he’d been dreaming of creating such a utopian space for himself – a room of his own, one to which his wife had limited access.

Except, that’s not quite it turned out. Quite ironically, the person who had opposed it the most (aka, yours truly) is the one who is now using it as an office. Why did I oppose it? I’ll tell you why. It was a dump-what-you-don’t-want-to-deal-with room, where I put all that that I didn’t want to deal with out of sight – stuff that requires time to sift through and some nerve to dispose (nostalgia can be extremely clutter-inducing). Having said that, the room was not all dump. It was, as I often said, a space of organized chaos, since I knew where things were, largely. It also served a functional purpose. I had four steel almirahs (ok, Godrejes) stuffed with woollens, which I took out once a year in the hope that I’d wear them. I wore some, while others I ferried up and down in a pointless exercise of clearing cupboards, only to clear them again, two months later. Global warming is really at our doorstep (Trump should come to India to believe that climate change is real).  Still, it was something that needed to be done, because winter did make it’s late, if feeble, entry. So, each year I assiduously retrieve the family’s woollens with great alacrity in the hope that the winter would have a spine and give us a few months of relief from the inclement summer (we like winter in this part of the world. If you are wondering why, spend one summer here.  If Shelly lived in India, then the famed ‘Ode to the West Wing’ lines would’ve been written in quite the reverse – “If summer comes can winter be far behind?”).

Anyway, I digress. Point is we cleaned out the room, which was the husband’s idea, and sure it was a great one. However, there’s a good reason I resisted doing so all these years – because the execution was carried out by yours truly. Great ideas must be backed by equally great efforts! Also, the room, for all its chaos, had its benefits – it was out of my sight, and I could dump what I didn’t want to deal with – which was a lot. In redoing it, I had to think about making room for all the stuff I did not wish to clear – aka the winter clothes (which now lie in another room, which too had to be redone to accommodate the almirahs. I now have to perform twists and turns to open them in that room (much smaller) to get out the woollens, especially when the husband is going on a trek and casually askes for his jacket and thermal socks). And now for the best part – the room was stuffed with not only our just-in-case-you-need-it- clutter, but also the mother-in-law’s equally worthless possessions from the years gone by. So, while the husband, in a moment of extreme, if foolish, insouciance, gave me carte blanche to “throw or give it all away”, I wasn’t sure he had quite thought it through. He hadn’t, as it turned out. There was much gnashing of teeth at the discovery of memories having been “cleared away heartlessly” .

Anyhow, the room is now an office-cum-library, which I use as an office. I have often thought of installing booby traps at the door, because the assortment of people I want to get away from can still reach me there, though it’s better than being smack in the middle of the action.

Working from home can be challenging and requires discipline – not only your own, but that of people around you, which is harder than you think (the mamajis drop in at the exact time when you are on a call with a client, as your mother-in-law comes running to you for lunch arrangements). When you are physically available, as opposed to a phone-call away, things are very different. If you are working from home – no matter how separate your workplace is – you are forever vulnerable to the vagaries of all sorts of people – including to that of your children (they won’t call dad in the office but come scampering into your home office to resolve urgent matters, like the ownership of a pen or who hit whom first).

So, while the best place for me to work is my office, it ain’t quite the treaty room I had secretly hoped it would become, in a strange twist of fate. The moment my work gets some traction (meaning funds) I plan on moving into an office. Maybe then the room can go back to the person it was originally meant for!

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The Guilt of a Woman

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Ever since I’ve started full-time work, I’ve been grappling with a nagging guilt. Not that this came as a surprise to me. I’ve always said (here and on many other occasions) that there’s a weird connection between guilt and women. It never leaves us actually, this guilt – we carry it like an eternal and cursed burden, like the rock of Sisyphus. It’s ever-present, at the back (sometimes in the front) of our minds, and, unlike Sisyphus, who lets the rock roll down the hill, we never let go of our guilt. Not for a moment. We nurse it, we feed it and we often we let it tear us apart.

As I write this, I can think of a million things that I could tear myself apart for. I know this sounds extreme, but it is true. I grapple with guilt on multiple fronts, everyday (as do a lot of women I know) – for not calling my mother, for not going for lunch with my sister, for leaving work early, for leaving work late, for not being home with the kids, for not supervising their homework, for yelling at them, for not accompanying my older daughter to her piano class, for not having met one of my closest friends who was visiting from out of town, for declining another friend’s invitation to tea, for not having run this morning, for not having visited the local electricity office for a over-charging, faulty meter, for having forgotten a friend’s birthday..the list is endless. Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s a phase, but I do wish I could do more with my time, do more for the
people I love and somehow, magically, at the same time, do what gives me a sense of accomplishment as well (the two are often on parallel paths)

The reason I am feeling more guilt than ever is because now that I am working, I get less time for anything else (don’t get me wrong, I had guilt when I was not working too). I enjoy going to work, but I do feel that the house is suffering because of it. The other day my daughter got some math sums wrong – she knew them but was doing her homework distractedly. Earlier I would be around to make sure she sat at her desk and focused on work. Now she runs around the house and finishes her homework in spurts. And while I know she has to learn to work on her own, the fact that she got her sums wrong upset me. Not so much because she made mistakes, more because I took that as yet another sign that my leaving the house had been detrimental for the kids. yes, I know I am overthinking this. And it’s complicated. Because it’s not like my not leaving the house was ideal for the kids either – that too was detrimental, though in a different way – unhappy mommy, unhappy kids kinds of thing.

So I am not sure what the solution is. And I am not sure I am even looking for a solution. I am just pouring my thoughts out in order, I guess, to get some clarity in my own head. And also, maybe, to feel a little less guilt in the process. Writing about an issue helps me deal with it better.

I know that getting out of the house was the best thing I did for me and for the family. It comes at a cost, but everything does. So if my working means that there are winter clothes sitting on my chair waiting for me to find place for them in my cupboard, or the fact that my kids sometimes get their homework wrong, or that the winter plants are not planted yet, or that I miss going for the kids’ lessons, well that may not be so bad when I weigh it with the fact that I am much happier now and have this sense of purpose that I was lacking before and thus when I am with the kids I am much happier, if a bit tired.

There’s no ideal state, I am old enough to realize that. But there is always guilt, no matter what the state. A friend came over the other day and I asked her if she felt the same. She did, but she said that she had learnt to let go of her guilt, because otherwise it could overpower you. I am not sure if I can reach that state – because it’s not easy to do.  And I am not sure I have it in me to say – ah well, I’ll just not let the fact that I could not call back my mum when she needed me bother me. It bothers me big time.And I still hope for that Utopian state when I will have ticked off all the things from my feeling-guilty list. Not going to happen anytime soon..

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A journey then and a journey now..

One of the most vivid, most abiding memories of my childhood is of my father and his (not ours) car. So much was centered around it. He loved and looked after it like his fourth (sometimes first) baby.  We could not eat or litter it. When my brother expressed his desire to learn to drive it, my father marched him off to the mechanic’s garage in his summer vacations with one simple logic : if you can’t fix it, you can’t drive it.  My brother protested, of course, but in vain. So, while his friends fled the inclement summer to the cool hills with their families,  my brother spent a greased-out month in the heat of June lying prostrate under cars learning their inner workings.  He hated it, but not more than his desire to drive  the forbidden car.

Anyway, I got reminded of my father’s car the other day when I was going on a journey to the town where my parents live – it’s about a six hour drive.  Some random thread of thought-process (thought about the rain, which reminded me of the smell of wet earth, which reminded me of my childhood house, which reminded me of my father’s obsession of cleaning the car after it’d poured, which reminded me of his love for his car..) led me to that little memory tucked away in some tiny crevice inside my head and I started thinking about how much had changed since we took car journeys with my parents as children.

I remember only too well how my father used to ready the car for the trip. There was such flurry of activity around it. The car had to go for servicing two days before the journey, everything had to be checked and re-checked, yet it still broke down on the highway. There was no air conditioning, of course, and somehow we didn’t seem to mind (unimaginable now – makes me somewhat embarrassed at how much we’ve changed and gotten used to the good things in life). My mother would cook and pack the food and feed it to us when we’d done some respectable distance (unlike my kids who pop into the car and want the goodies, not the home cooked ones at that).  When the car broke down (the word fan-belt was introduced very early into my vocabulary –  I can still hear the sound of it breaking – whirring uncontrollably at first and then settling into a slow flap as the car shuddered to a halt) we’d get out and run into the wilderness, as my father furiously tried to flag down other cars and trucks to get a lift to the next little cluster on the highway where he would be able to get a spare fan belt. I remember suggesting to my father once that just like we carried a spare tyre, perhaps we could carry an extra fan belt – he didn’t see the humor in it, and actually neither did I – I was serious.  Not that he paid much attention to my innovative suggestions.

After we got tired of running around we’d sit in the shade of the biggest tree we could find and pretend that it was the Faraway Tree and that Moonface would burst out of the trunk and ask us for a toffee.

Compare those journeys to the ones I take today with my kids. The car never goes for a “check-up” before the trip – apart from the fuel and the air in the tyre. Gone is that whole opening the bonnet and twist-opening the cap to check the coolant or pulling out that long metal stick to check the oil level, or studying the battery and its contents. I don’t know how I remember all this, but I do.  I can shut my eyes and picture my dad, young, handsome and energetic (not the frail old man of eighty that he is today who squints his eyes to force out memories of these journeys from his brain or who now has trouble remembering the name of my favorite fruit that he used to buy in buckets) bent over his beloved car, that always betrayed him but that he loved nevertheless, peering into its inners and fixing its workings. He always had the last laugh though,  as he managed to get it going again, sometimes long after we’d slept under our imaginary faraway trees.

Today we get into our air-conditioned luxury car that cruises swiftly on the same highway (not the same road though, they’ve been rebuilt from the terrifying one-lane highway to a six-lane one) tearing through the sweltering heat without so much as a peep (touch-wood, touch-wood). My kids would not know what to do if it did ever break down – much as my older one loves the Faraway Tree, I don’t think she’d think much about wandering in the heat and waiting for Moonface to show up. And that’s a shame.

For my kids journeys are about comfort – both physical and psychological. They don’t know life any other way, and it’s not their fault I know.
Which brings me to this question: Have we changed or has the world around us ? I mean should I try and create a different environment for my kids, different from the one that we are fortunate enough to afford, or am I ruining my kids by providing them such level of comfort? (my parents clearly think the latter).  Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.  After all we cannot now suddenly go back to the cars that my parents used to drive just to inject reality into the lives of our children.  We can probably do that in other ways (like not handing them iPads to keep them mentally occupied in journeys)

With progression and affluence comes a loss of the little things in life, a loss that I lament on but somehow cannot seem to do much about. Then I remind myself that my kids are living their childhood and not re-living mine, so I must allow them to make their own memories, no matter how comfort-laden, and not try and thrust mine on them.

What I am mindful of, is to keep it somewhat real – to remind them from time to time that they may have all the comforts in the world right now, but if they have to keep it up, they have to work at it.  I am not sure how much of that actually sinks in as they sit in the comfort of their cool rooms and most of the world around them slums it out.

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The Big 4.

I am now 40. Yes, it’s happened. It’s not a big deal, I know, except, that it sort of is.

What I mean is, that even though I don’t think it changes much, but, just by the fact that you enter another decade (and that everyone around you does not let you forget that one minor point!!), you are forced to retrospect. Which, of course, I love to do. Give me half a chance to reflect upon my life and my mind kicks into over drive. So, turning forty was hardly going to pass by without a bit of what-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of thoughts flooding my brain.

I told myself, though, that I was not going to be hard on myself. I will think about the future with a degree of objectiveness, as much as possible. I liked what I thought. I have a lot of angst about not working right now, since I had kids late in life (older one was born when I was 34 and twins when I was 38), but, if you ask me, I would not have done it any other way. This is not to say that I do not see the merits of having kids young, there is a HUGE advantage to that. Some of my friends’ kids are teenagers and they are relatively free to carry on with their own lives, while mine are starting school! But, the big but, is that if I had to turn back the clock I would probably do exactly what I did. I lived up my twenties (which is why at forty I see little excitement in having a drink-till-dawn-dance-to-chamak-chalo party) While I was doing, what I think callow twenties are meant for – living it up, completely- some of my friends were changing diapers. Thirties were domestic, as I stepped on the accelerator big time and got married, had kids and all that.

Forties, now, will be different. While my kids are not going to grow up overnight, it will get better. I already find that I have more time. Also, I feel that I am forced to stay young – if you have three little kids you better stay in shape, both medically and mentally. So I spend my days trying to do a bit of work (have started my own web content consulting, a tiny tiny step) and alternating between playing jingle bells and Lady Antebellum on youtube for the kids (sometimes I manage to get “my song” in and play Lay Down Sally and we all jive to it). It’s a glorious time. And I wish I could silence that voice in my head and enjoy it fully. I can’t, no matter how hard I try. I have this nagging voice that says do-something-now, life’s slipping by and all that scary stuff.

So, I’ve embraced fortydom as I always thought I would – positive realism mixed with some trepidation. I like my life, and this may not be apparent to people around me (that angst tends to soar its ugly head). But I am, and maybe I keep saying it because I want to freeze these moments in a way, to enjoy the childhood of my kids and not worry too much about the future – it will get sorted out, in time. I hope.

And then there are resolutions:

I will:

Spend more quality time with the love of my life, my husband, my best friend.
Get Back to work
Listen to more music
Kiss my kids more
Not yell
Be patient with my parents
Visit them more often
Get my hair straightened
Dress better
Organize my papers
De-clutter my drawers
Learn to bake
Bake
Lose weight (how can that not be on the list?)
Do regular health check-ups
Read more
Write that book.

Here’s to the next decade. 40s, I embrace you.

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