thewilltoholdon

As I breathe and think and dream


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Second Chances in the Land of Arranged Marriages

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These days a good friend of ours is going through a tough phase. On the surface, one would think that the guy has everything to be elated about – he is newly married with a pretty wife and they are very much in love. However all is not well. The guy is gutted as his marriage has created a rift between him and his family. When he had introduced his girlfriends to his parents, his family took exception to the fact that the girl was a divorcee. They told him in no uncertain terms that such a girl would never be accepted into the family. Despite that, he decided to honor the promises he had made to his girlfriend and married her in a simple civil ceremony. Ever since, his family has cut off all ties with him. All his overtures have received nothing but cold silence from the other end. Needless to say, he is pretty cut up about this. He is trying his best to lead a normal happy life with his wife in Melbourne but he cannot help but worry over the situation with his parents back in India.

You see love marriages are still a rarity in India. In a recent wedding survey conducted by the Taj Group of Hotels, it was found that 75% of people in India still prefer arranged marriages. There is no doubting that such marriages are convenient – especially in a culture were marriages involve whole families rather than individuals. Arranged marriages are fixed by the family who choose the best bride/groom based on caste, class, financial and family background. It is somewhat like a recruiting the best candidate for a vacant job position. The channels used are also similar – there are the matrimonial agencies just like recruitment agencies that have hundreds of CVs of prospective brides and grooms with them, then there are print media advertisements and matrimonial websites and last but not the least, there are the special referrals brought in by helpful extended family members, neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances.

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In the arranged marriage market, there are a number of things that determine the worth of an individual. Youth, good looks and a milk-white complexion make a girl very desirable. For a guy, looks do not matter much. It is more about the number of zeroes on his pay check and whether he owns a house and a car. So what happens if the bride is dusky or if is she is pushing thirty? Well, her chances of a ‘good alliance’ go down drastically. An investment banker can expect to get the prettiest maiden to have walked this earth in marriage while a ne’er-do-well is most probably destined to remain a bachelor. And yes, all matchmaking is usually done within the boundaries of one’s own community. For example, an alliance for the North Indian Punjabi groom will be sought within the North Indian Punjabi community. Likewise the Marwari community of businessmen will only marry their children within their own caste.

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So what of the matters of the heart? Well, these days you do have lots of love marriages too. When I say lots, I mean in comparison to, say, the 70’s or 80’s, when alliances based on the bride and groom’s own choice were exceeding rare. In fact at that time when one far-removed third cousin married his lady love, the whole clan would talk about nothing else for years and that too in very scandalized tones. Nowadays a number of parents give in to the demands of their offspring when they want to wed the person of their choice. There are of course greater numbers of parents who forbid their children from marrying their beloved because they do not approve of them. Then in the rare minority (thankfully!) are those horrifically psychotic parents who have even been known to get their children and/or their partners killed for having married outside their own communities.

So I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that in such a societal setup, alliances with a person who has been divorced or widowed are an absolute no-no. The society does not forgive or forget. The best a divorcee can hope for is a balding widow with two grown children and heaps of debt. Seconds chances are seldom given. So now you can understand why our poor friend is so torn.  

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Two years ago we had been in an almost identical situation. I was the divorcee with a past and my then boyfriend was the guy who had to break the news of our relationship to his ultra conservative Indian family. My boyfriend belonged to a family who lend a new meaning to the term ‘Boston Brahmins’. In fact they were the real deal: South-Indian Brahmins who had impeccable pedigree and wealth. Had I not had a past, even then I guess there were very slim chances of my being accepted as a daughter-in-law into such a family – I spoke the wrong language, came from the wrong region, belonged to the wrong caste. It did not help that my boyfriend was a good looking young man who was doing pretty well for himself in Australia. How could such a good family allow their beloved youngest son to marry a lowly divorcee? Surely he deserved much better! Though both of us were adults living far away from home, we were Indian enough to seek our family’s approval. Our genes dictated that my boyfriend would not be happy without his family’s support – nor would I be happy having been instrumental in taking him away from his family.

What happened thereafter seems unreal to me even to this day. His family accepted our relationship without any fuss. Of course there were lots of questions from different family members. But no-one was as horrified as I had imagined they would be and certainly no-one tried to dissuade my boyfriend from continuing with our relationship. We got married within months and all of his family was there at the wedding. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and so far removed from the cold forbidding individuals I had imagined in my head that I almost felt ashamed!

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So it seems that the ties of blood and love can actually transcend all the rules imposed by society. I suppose globalization, increased media exposure and education have all a large parts to play in this change that is gradually becoming apparent. Many times if you scan the the classified matrimonial advertisements in the Sunday newspapers these days, you will find advertisements that state  ‘Caste no barrier’ and there are a fair amount of second marriage alliances being sought in these newspapers. There is even a website for second marriages called http://www.secondshaadi.com (Shaadi is Hindi for marriage). These are small things no doubt but they are indicative of how India is changing – slowly but surely.  So when our friend talks of his sadness and feeling of helplessness, I tell him repeatedly that he need not worry. His parents should be coming around soon. 


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Birthday Wishes For An Ex

It has been 3 years.  Since I last saw you.  Since your number flashed across my cell phone  screen.  Since we walked apart, each in a different direction and ended up in opposite parts of the world. You have removed me from your friends’ list on Facebook. I did not realise this for quite some time – until a mutual friend posted a picture of the two of you and while I was notified about her post, FB was silent about your presence. Curiosity piqued, I checked my friends’ list. You did not feature there. I visited  LinkedIn. Nothing there as well. You have been thorough. Now there is nothing tying us together in cyber space just as there are no ties remaining in this flesh-and-bone world. Yet just three days ago, a popular ecard site sent me a reminder that your birthday was around the corner and that I should send you a card. Is this an omen? Does it mean that invisible threads still remain when all seems sundered? Or is it just canny marketing by an online company?

Time and distance have blurred the bitterness and negativity I had once felt about you and our relationship. I find that I have forgotten most of the bad stuff now or maybe I have become so far removed from the reality of those, that it no longer pinches me where it hurts. The good stuff does not bother me as well. Truth be told, I had been more worried about the happy memories than the bad ones. But now those memories seem as though they belong to a sepia-tinged vacation taken decades ago.

There are times, of course, when three years disappear in the blink of an eye. After all, three years is not much when you think of a lifetime – it is just a little over a thousand days.   I spy someone crossing the road from the other side and suddenly I think it is you. Even though my rational mind knows that there is perhaps a one in a million chance of us meeting accidentally, my heart clenches in a kind of terror.  I feel unprepared to face you again. Then I see that it is not you at all and my heart slowly resumes its steady beat.

Despite a few such occurrences, I have moved on. You have been replaced by others–as the nominee on my insurance policies and as the protagonist in my dreams. You are no longer the person I think of calling up the moment something out of the ordinary happens to me. I do not think obsessively about the past anymore. I remember for the first year apart, the fact that I found most disquieting was that when in a discussion with friends or colleagues, I would, out of force of habit, bring you up in conversations as though you were my present and not my past. All my thoughts and opinions appeared tinted by you-coloured glasses. I guess ten years of knowing someone can do that to you. Now I can voice my own opinions and it is only on a few rare occasions that I find what I have spoken are actually echoes of your voice from the past.

You have moved on as well. The mutual friend I had mentioned before posted some pictures last year’s festive season. A number of those photos featured you and your new wife. Well, perhaps not very new. I have no way of knowing. I looked at the girl. She was laughing and seemed happy. You looked happy as well. So I have been replaced too. It all felt a bit weird for the first couple of minutes when I gazed at the picture. But then I felt gladness that you have found happiness again. I want you to know that I am really happy for you.

In my mind, I imagine myself doing that which I will never do in real life any more. I give in to the urgings of the ecard website and send you a birthday greeting. I guess there is no  relationship specific card for an ex. So a generic one has to suffice. It has perhaps a bland picture of a cake, candles and flowers. The message is simple but heart-felt. “Wish you a very Happy Birthday. Enjoy this day and the rest of your life – A well-wisher. ” 


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God, Religion, Babies and Head Tonsures

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We are planning on visiting our native places in India around the midyear mark to visit friends and relatives. This will be a very special visit as it is the first time we are going with our baby daughter. Needless to say, there is a lot of excitement on both sides and already loads of plans are being made about places to visit whilst in India, the shopping to be done in preparation for the trip, all the things we need to carry for our infant, etc. I was really looking forward to it – till my mother-in-law dropped the bombshell. In one recent phone conversations, she mentioned that she would like to take her granddaughter to Tirupati for a head tonsuring ceremony.

For my non-Indian friends, Tirupati is a major pilgrimage place for Hindus as it houses the temple of Lord Venkateshwara. This temple is the most visited place of worship in the world and on an average, around 30 to 40 million devotees visit the temple each year. One of the most significant features of the temple is that thousands of devotees get their heads tonsured here and offer their hair to the deity. Over a ton of hair is collected each day and this hair is later auctioned to international buyers to be used as hair extensions or in hair products.

I had always considered this act of head tonsuring to be weird, not to mention faintly barbaric. I could never understand what God would do with all that hair – surely he has loads of his own!!! So when told that my poor baby daughter is to be tonsured soon, I was appalled and I admit I have secretly been worrying over this ever since.

I did not mention anything to my mother-in-law at that time. I know she means well. However subjecting a ten month old baby to this seems like extreme cruelty to me. I fail to see how sacrificing my infant’s hair is going to provide her good karma for all her life. Besides doesn’t the word sacrifice mean giving something up of one’s own free will? How is that relevant for a baby who cannot make any decisions for herself?

I admit I have some shallow reasons too for balking at the hair tonsuring. My daughter would be having her first birthday shortly after the India trip. Do I want her to be sporting the bald look at one of the greatest milestones in her young life – her first birthday party? Not really. Besides my baby was born with very little hair and I had worried a bit about it when I noticed other young babies with full heads of hair. Now she is getting lovely silky hair of her own and I am so proud of that. To think that would all be gone again makes me shudder.

More than the cosmetic reasons, what irks me most about this whole thing is that I do not even believe in these rituals. I have visited the Tirupati temple in the past. There is no doubting that the place is place has a grandeur of its own and it is amazing to find people from all walks of life there. However it was so crowded that it took us ages to reach the sanctum sanctorum and when we did, in the place of prayers the thought of a possible stampede kept preying on my mind! 

I confess that I am not an overly religious person. Sure, I believe in God – but I like to believe that I have a personal relationship with my God and that does not require much outward trappings in the way of rites, rituals and ceremonies. My parents are Hindus and they brought me up as one, acquainting me with all of Hinduism’s myriad gods and goddess and its zillions of festivals. However they never imposed the stricter rules of the religion on me – there was no pressure on me to fast on certain days or be vegetarian on others or visit the temple every so often. Instead they drummed into me the fact that the basic tenet of any religion and all religions is that one should be good and kind to one’s fellowmen and that is the surest way of pleasing God.

When I got married, it was into a family of devout Brahmins. I had no problems getting along with my in-laws as such. They are really nice people – caring and affectionate. Everyone went out of their way to welcome me into the family. We spent a happy ten days with my extended family of in-laws after the marriage. It was mostly great fun except for one thing. Everyone in my new family was very religious. My mother-in-law visited the temple twice a day and also spent hours in veneration at home. Everyone else too followed elaborate daily rituals and special ones on the auspicious days. I felt like a fish in the Sahara. I had no idea what I was supposed to do and I was scared of offending my new relatives. When my ignorance became glaringly obvious, the females in the family took it upon themselves to impart as much knowledge about the household rituals as possible within the limited time I had with them. They took me to numerous temples, explained what offerings I needed to make to particular gods on certain days, also taught me the use of different veneration items like the vermilion, the rice grains,the camphor and the lamps. To be fair, I guess they abbreviated the rituals quite a bit for someone who knew nothing and would be living far away from India. However it still felt like an information overload to me as I was an absolute novice in these matters. And of course there was that tiny voice at the back of my mind all the time – Do I really believe in these trappings of religion?

Once I reached Australia, it was not that bad. My mother-in-law would ask me over the phone to follow certain rites at particular times of the year. I would try to follow her advice as best as I could (with some modifications of my own!) but of course things were not difficult as there was no one around to really judge me. My husband knows my limitations and he generally has no outward demands in this – though at times when I slip up in something he considers really basic, I feel he does get a bit disappointed. 

Now this head tonsuring issue is hanging over my head like the proverbial sword of Damocles. I cannot decide on what to do. Should I stand up for my convictions and tell my in-laws that I do not believe in ritualistic worship and thereby hurt their feelings? Or should I keep the peace and go ahead with the whole thing , choosing instead to shed a few private tears with my baby after she is tonsured?

This whole thing is also making me wonder about a bigger issue. What sort of religious teachings am I going to impart to my daughter? Shall I teach her the notion of a flexible religion as my parents taught me and have her lead a life that has less piety and rigidity? Or should I try to push her into the excessively religious ways of my in-laws in the hope that she gains loads of good karma for this life and the next one? There are no easy way out. Me and my husband have divided opinions on this and I am sure you can figure out what our respective stands are! Maybe we should just leave the choice for our daughter to make once she is old enough. 


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Embroiled in a Childcare Crisis

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Families with both parents working are not uncommon these days and where there are two working parents, early childhood care is something of a necessity. One would think that getting child care that meets your requirements should be fairly easy – especially given the fact that working parents are often prepared to pay an arm and a leg for it. However it is anything but simple. Selecting and enrolling into a childcare center for your young one is a minefield out here in Australia. I have only just started out in this game and I get this sneaky feeling that I am getting it all wrong.

Firstly I am told that I have been very late in applying. I put my daughter’s name down at the nearby daycare centres when she was around 2 months old. That is apparently way too late. Some people get their future babies enrolled when they are at the planning stage. Majority do it during the pregnancy period. The remaining few do it as soon as their babies are born. (No, they do not wait to rest and recover from the delivery or bond with their babies. They drop everything and rush to their nearest daycares ) Seems I am a lazy person and an irresponsible parent. My pregnancy itself was unplanned – so planning for day care at that stage was out. During the pregnancy and just after delivery, I found myself struggling with my changing body, a full time job and then the new baby. So I put thoughts of future childcare out of my head. “It can’t be that hard to get into a childcare centre! There are so many around!” I told myself. Wrong on all counts!!!

During my daughter’s 4th week visit to the Maternal and Childcare Centre, the nurse said to me “I see you are planning to go back to work after five more months. Have you got a place at a daycare for your baby?” When I looked quite blank, she tut-tutted and pulled out a sheet with loads of daycare center names, addresses and numbers. She warned me that the centers often have long waiting lists and it was best not to delay any longer. I took the sheet. But I still had no idea about the gravity of the situation and so it was another month before I got around to dialing some of the numbers.

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The first one I tried was an early learning center close to our home and it was part of a large well-maintained private school that I had admired many a times from the outside. The lady who answered was quite brusque “Sorry, we have no vacancies for the whole of 2013”. What? It was barely October 2012!

The next few places I called up were slightly more promising. They asked me to visit their center and then have my daughter’s name on the waiting list if I was happy after inspection. So what followed were a few weeks of running around the different centers close to our neighborhood  Helpful friends chipped in with their bits of advice about the inspections –‘It is very important to choose the right childcare or else it can have a bad effect on your baby’, ‘Look for a center where the children seem happy instead of crying!’, ‘Try and drop in unannounced. That way you can get a good feel of what the staff is really like.’

Despite all that advice, frankly I had no idea what I was looking for. Each center seemed reasonably well staffed; slightly untidy with toys and apparatus strewn all over; the food being offered was mostly uniform; each claimed to be sun smart; the fees were all on the steep side as expected and the kids everywhere were … basically kids! There was a fair mix of laughing babies and crying ones at almost all centers  Nowhere did I catch center staff spanking naughty babies. There were no visibly sick babies being kept in the center (not that I could tell). By the end of 3-4 such visits, I was hopelessly confused. So I put my daughter’s name down at each place I visited with a start date of April/May 2013. Each one told me that they would give me call when a vacancy comes up.

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Months passed by and I heard nothing. I joined back at work in January. My parents looked after the baby when I was at work. All was well except that my parents were scheduled to return to India in April. So I would definitely need care from April onward.  Then finally there came a call at the end of January. My daughter had got a seat at a day care center close by but it came with a condition. She would have to join immediately instead of waiting till April. Yes, more than two months in advance as a vacancy had come up and the center would not hold a place for her till April. I had to let them know my acceptance right away. The lady on the phone seemed to imply that two months was nothing. But two months, I felt, is quite a long time when one is not even six months old. Besides, my parents had come all the way from India to spend this time with their grandchild. So I said a ‘No’. I asked the lady to put me back on the list for April but I understood from her tone they would not be calling me anytime soon.

None of the other centers have said much yet. I have called a number of times to follow up with them. I get all sorts of responses. One particular center had lost the application form I had sent in. Another one that had earlier asked me to call up in the New Year, told me when I did call up on time ‘Why are you calling us now? Call us closer to the time when you need enrollment ’ One center said that they have kept my daughter on the waiting list but she would get priority only if I enroll her for their private school as well with a non-refundable $400 deposit right now.

Well I always known that daycare would not be smooth sailing. But frankly I had envisaged problems from other quarters. I had thought about having to deal with pangs of ‘mommy–guilt’ after leaving my darling there. I could imagine the baby screaming and crying when we dropped her off at the center and it being heart-wrenching for us to leave amidst her sobs. Then there were all the nasty germs waiting for my poor baby there and those might translate into urgent calls from the centre, doctor visits, absence from work, etc. I could also foresee how picking up the baby from the centre on time might be a struggle on some days as both I and my husband have heavy workloads.

However I had never imagined the childcare system would be so challenging even without having started. For heaven’s sake, it is not an Ivy League college we are aiming for …or a school… or even kindergarten!  If admission into childcare is so tough, I wonder what those  are like! I don’t think I want to know. 


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To Die(t) For – The 5:2 Way

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This is the first time I am embarking on a fad diet.  I have never had a relationship with Messrs Atkins or Dukan nor have I ever binged on cabbage soup or African mangoes. I guess you can pretty much call me a fad diet virgin. I was fortunate enough not to have any significant weight woes before. I used to be a regular at the gym and I usually watched what I ate. However my recent pregnancy has left behind an additional baggage of eight kilos that somehow do not seem to budge, no matter what I do. Well, to be entirely truthful, I haven’t been doing much. I have my excuses lined up! Juggling the needs of a seven month old baby and a full time job is pretty challenging. I have had no chance to hit the gym. Breastfeeding ruled out any thoughts of dietary restrictions. But now it is a whole new year (not so new anymore but still pretty young!) and the baby has been weaned.  So shoo away the excuses. It seems like a good time to embark on a new diet. When I started scouring around for a diet that I can adhere to in the longish run, my faithful friend, the Google search engine, threw up a number of interesting, scary, bizarre options. However the word on the street is 2013 belongs to the miraculous 5:2 diet.

‘Well, it doesn’t seem too tough!’ I thought when I first read about it. One needs to restrict calories intake to 500cals (for guys it is 600cals – you  lucky buggers!) for any two non-consecutive days in the week. For the remaining five, it is business as usual. You can eat whatever you eat. For a person with a sweet tooth and not to mention a fondness for eating out, the ‘whatever you like’ part seemed very nice indeed. And wait, there is more! This diet apparently has highly beneficial effects other than weight loss– it prevents diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and helps you live longer. Apparently there is no data to prove those as the studies conducted so far have been done only on rats. But aren’t we all rats in a rat race anyways? So weight loss , brain boosting and longevity plus the ability to eat chocolate on feast days, what’s not to love here?  

Day 1

7:30 am – Woke up and remembered today is the D day. Spend some time on preparing and packing salad for lunch. Store brought stuff has way to much dressing. 

9:00 am – Decide to postpone breakfast. Well, I have to stretch out 500cals as much as I can. So my logic is that the sooner I eat, the sooner the food will be digested and the sooner I will feel hungry again. So by pushing things out a bit, I am making life easier for me.

10:00 am – Breakfast at last. Have a single slice of wholegrain bread and a hard-boiled egg.  Well the sample diet meals had allowed for two eggs. But I squirrel one away for the long day ahead.  

11:00 am – Feeling quite good. This diet is not too bad!

12:00pm – Munch on my leafy salad (no dressing) while gazing longingly at the lovely aromatic Yaki Udon being devoured by a colleague at lunch time. Maybe the next time, it might be a good idea to pretend to be super busy and having a working lunch at the desk, instead of being masochistic enough to come into the cafeteria   

2:00 pm – Head out for a brisk walk with a colleague. Surely some light exercise will only help my cause.

3:00 pm – Not sure exercise on a fasting day is a good idea anymore. The salad I ate for lunch has long been digested and I am feeling light headed. So I gnaw on a small apple trying to relish each bite. “Concentrate on the juice, the sweetness, the texture!” I tell myself. It got finished all too soon.

4:00 pm – Hunger creeping in again. Uh – oh. Turn to chewing gum for distraction.

6:30 pm – Reach home. Begin preparing grilled chicken for dinner. Need some energy for the act of making dinner. So munch on half a Lebanese cucumber ( I read somewhere cucumber is a negative calorie food.)

7:15 pm – Chicken being grilled. Feeling seriously hungry now. Not enough energy left in me to play with baby daughter . Poor thing, she is a bit crestfallen.

8:00 pm – Dinner. Mmmmmm…. Grilled chicken and vegetables never tasted as good. Hurray, fasting day comes to an end.

Day 2

7:30 am – Wake up wondering why it is fast day so soon. Surely day 1 was just yesterday. In truth though, it has been two days past by.

8:30 am – Postponing breakfast was probably not a good idea the last time. Eat half a sachet(8gms) of porridge with skim milk.

11:00 am – Working from home today. I thought removing the stress of commuting might help, but I forgot to factor in the part that being at home means so much closer to all the tempting stuff in the pantry. Get the thoughts of that slab of chocolate in the cupboard out of your head!  

1:30 am – Vegetable salad with a small serving of lentil soup. Just salad for lunch last time had made me terribly hungry by mid afternoon.

5:00 pm – Snack on a handful of unbuttered popcorn.

6:00 pm – Today has been a much better day compared to the previous one I feel. Sure, I am hungry but not ravenously so, unlike Day 1. Is it because I have gotten used to the idea of fasting? Guess, it is more to do with the fact that I have become a little wily in spreading the calories through the day.

8:00 pm – Two small rotis (Indian homemade flatbread) with vegetables.

Verdict at the end of Week 1 –The scales say that I have lost a kilo! Yippee! Maybe fad diets really work. I know I have a long way to go still and that managing to not regain the lost weight is going to be tricky. But for now, I am going to celebrate with some ice cream! After all one should make hay while the sun shines. The next fast day is just round the corner.