Monday, April 25, 2016

Papa and Siblings

I'm writing this out at the start of a work day. It could be because of a story on this American life I heard about an imminent death in some other family. It could be because, though I've been in the same country as my parents, I haven't had a chance to stay with them for more than a total of five days. The feeling of being with family is dearer to me than all parties and thrills of flirtation put together. With Amma, Papa and Noshi there is a sense of predictability that comes from familiarity. I know how much to say and when to be quiet. I know the jokes that Papa will appreciate and ones Noshi will. Listening to Amma gives me a sense of purpose in itself. It doesn't look like anyone else ever does. The predictability was the monotony I wanted to run away from when college began. I seek it now. Though we talk on the phone everyday, it's less than satisfying.
I think of how Papa and his siblings hangout when we get together at weddings. Papa is the middle child. An elder sister and brother followed by a younger brother and sister. The youngest sister, my aunt Baby Bua, passed away decade ago. Each of these people have influenced all of their lives. For instance, Daadi, my grandmother was called Baai Sahab or Amma until Baby Bua came along. She came along a full decade after Badi Bua, Papa's eldest sister.  Until she could speak, Daadi's reference was never contested. It was accepted the way they were taught. In comes Baby Bua calling Daadi, Mummy. After how many ever years, specially for Badi Bua, Daadi became Mummy. While people may say there's little to a name, at a certain emotional proximity, a name means almost as much as the person themself. My aunts and uncles were clearly close enough to accept that change of their own mother's reference by this this tiny child who I imagine was the centre of their lives and the household. I see how close they were when they talk about each other.
The most recent example was my cousin's wedding last year. Papa, the uncles and aunts would sit together over tea. Them being the elders, us kids, even if over forty take on an audience's role in reverence. The tone is set by Badi Bua, the matriarch. Tauji, Papa's elder brother chimes in very artful and charming oratory and imagery with some substance, maybe. Chacha, Papa's younger brother tries to outcompete all of them with more street, less artful conversation, but never satisfied that he won. Everyone knows they and only they, are right. Papa sits there absorbing the scene, occasionally throwing in a brilliant but silly joke. An undertone of detached futility and pointlessness of existence and the universe bases it all. Broken into smaller groups, Papa is happiest listening to Tauji. Papa has seen more of the world, geographically than Tauji. Tauji has had the less sheltered, self employed life, Papa hasn't. Tauji resents a lot in life. All of that is forgotten when they're together, perfectly happy to sit together and shoot the breeze.
I can see how Papa's thought process and outlook on life are pretty much Badi Bua's. Papa lived a single life away from home. I feel that he has fit his observations and experiences into her thought process. Unlike Papa, whose approach is somewhat "Que Sera Sera" to life from events as small as grocery shopping to as big as getting a Fellowship after retirement, Badi Bua plans out every detail in life. Maybe her early marriage and zest to provide and care for everyone she knows has something to do with it. I guess the stakes are high when you need to make sure the lives of patients, your children and family back home depend on you.
Chacha, in my mind, has survived and lived up all his life. Finances never held him back, whether they were there or not. I think he likes being with the siblings, but has forever resented not being taken seriously enough, as the younger of many siblings are wont to. Frankly, Badi Bua, Tauji and Papa always struck respectable figures to Noshi and I. We are perpetually bewildered at how Papa loves Chacha so much. He tells us something that I'm beginning to appreciate: "No matter what happens, he is my brother."
Whatever the history behind the dynamics between them, their dynamic as a group with others is distinct. When faced with having to interact with others, even distant family members and not necessarily strangers, they tend to clump together and move to the periphery of the gathering. I think of this is terms of solutes and solvents. We know how salts dissolve in the medium of water and are termed hydrophilic. We know how fats don't dissolve in the medium of water and are termed hydrophobic. Different fats that don't mix will clump together in water though. In a similar manner, this bunch of siblings I think, is sociophobic. Preferred mingling if you think of it that way. Among themselves they're tight and tighter still when around others.
Surely, this post is an introspective monologue and could be more structured, nuanced and entertaining. But it had to come out in some form, even if this is it. Maybe I'll write a book some day :D

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

That imprudent, hidden, Xenophobe in me

It was Republic Day yesterday. My heart swells with pride and my eyes well with tears when I hear a crowd singing "Jana Gana Mana". Whistling Vande Mataram gives me the same peace as prayer. I've expressed often how much I like being in my country, with my people, my languages, my music and food. My stay abroad reminded me how much I need them in my life. There'd be talk in the ether, never in my immediate surroundings, how foreigners shouldn't come to our great nation, in the US. We all, my colleagues and friends of any background, thought of people as ignorant and closed minded. And yet, I didn't know I had a bit of Xenophobia in me.
The other day, about a month go, in IIT Kanpur, some friends and I were lounging over coffee. There was a caucasian gentleman at a table nearby. I was telling some story about accents... or the tightness of families... or something else, I can't remember. I described someone of English descent as Firangi. A friend of mine said I shouldn't use that word because we had one in our vicinity. I, with a touch of irritation, blurted "Ye mera Desh hai!!". People laughed and we moved on. But the incident stuck in my mind.
I am revulsed by people telling immigrants to stay out of the west. I hung my head in shame when Nigerians were assaulted by a mob in the echoes of "Bharat Mata ki Jai!!" in New Delhi not too long ago. Shiv Sainiks, who won't let fellow Indians exercise their constitutional right to free movement within the country have earned tremendous disdain by many. I judge people who talk like that as 'them'. They don't represent me and I do not stand for such ideology.
And yet... I said it. In the context of being disrespectful to a fellow human, I said  "Ye Mera Desh Hai!" as if I have the right to disrespect a human being from some other country. The tragedy is that this sentiment appeals to from a vast majority of locals in most places in the world. In the moment, I felt in my motherland, I have the right to do what I want. It is the greatness of this nation that I can freely tote that thought. But then again, it's thoughts of contempt for humans that ruin even the greatest of nations. I do not want to be part of the dregs of human kind that don not respect all people equally.
Let's hope this thought gets assimilated in me for good. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Saying No

In this day and age where finding a spouse is tough, (or has is always been so?) bowing to the needs of the family complicates matters. I hold the need to keep my parents close to me throughout my life, very close to my heart. And yet, I don't see how they can possibly judge for me who would best be my companion for life. And so, we've agreed on their suggesting girls that they approve of and me speaking to them for some length time to know whether we click.
Through this process, I met someone who is, what I thought was all I can ask for in a girl. I mentioned to close cousins that all I ask is a workable roommate. Talking to people has corrected that notion. The girl I was speaking of, picked the profession she wanted to pursue early on, studied in lofty institutions, is independent and knows what she wants from life. Dream spouse, if you had asked me many months ago.
When we met, no sparks flew on either side. To expect them to have, would have been adolescent. Thanks to my parents criteria, we have similar backgrounds and were on the same page on just about everything. I cannot reiterate enough how precious this is. I've met people from vastly different backgrounds. From that dataset, I know, the odds of this concurrence are miniscule. She is really smart and driven. I love that in a human being. Knowing what you want tells you what is worth fretting over and what isn't. Such a person probably is at peace with their surroundings. Such a person is admirable.
Conversations with her were very well informed and exciting. They were on a variety of subjects: from international events, politics, art and literature. She writes poetry. That is very appealing. Her short poems were beautiful and moving. She shed light on perspectives hidden from my view. In the moment, I didn't appreciate being overruled in curt runs of speech. But later, I acknowledged I came away richer for having that conversation.
Being as busy as we both are, it was hard to find the time to meet. I'd drop a line asking how things are. I always got a reply: very curt and logical. Occasionally, when I'd asked of her aspirations, the reply was more than a sentence long. Over the past 5 months we may have met  about seven times. I would have liked to meet more and perhaps talk more. It would have been nice to take a walk or watch a movie, share inconsequential non-events that turn life from a rush to the finish line to pleasurable journey. Even an occasional Hi from time to time would've been nice. Some semblance of companionship is definitely desireable. I tried, to no effect.
And yet, when I suggested recently, that we should meet other people, I came away much sadder than I thought I would.
I can't help but feel I made her unhappy. I hate being in that position. That position sucks. Maybe this is the best thing to happen in the long run. But at this moment in time, possibly only by virtue of having known someone that long, in that context, having to turn someone down, hurts. But thankfully, there is the other less burdensome possibility, that it didn't matter much to her.