Saturday, April 30, 2011

Princess? Duchess you mean!

The Royal Wedding, yesterday was exquisite. Thanks to my fascination with all things Royal and Wedding, I was a prime contender to watch the televised proceedings on BBC. Button was asleep (thanks to the time difference) and I watched the ceremony fully, eating a delicious cheesecake to celebrate.

Button woke up just in time to watch the Duke and new Duchess of Cambridge walk up the aisle to the lovely 1902 horse carriage. (And gave me the ultimate compliment)... "Mamma and Appa got married and are coming back home"

(some girl will be proud of being his partner one day!)

Monday, April 25, 2011


Button has begun correlating his storybook characters to real life a lot, of late. Our car is Lightening McQueen. My squint-eyed baby-helper is the 'evil stepmother' (poor thing!) and my morning helper is Noo-noo (from Teletubbies, because she swabs the house). I never really paid heed to him, until I dressed up to go out with my husband yesterday. In my flowing skirt and a lovely embroidered top, I twirled around. Button took one look at me, smiled and said "Mamma, you look like Cinderella, a princess'. Thank you sweetheart!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Israel Chronicles: In memoriam - Yad Va Shem

People react to disasters in different ways. In India, the Independence struggles, the oppressive regimes have all but been forgotten. Because our primary religions (I mean Hinduism, its offshoots and Islam)teach us to be 'fatalist'.
We forget (in time forgive) and move on. Not the Jews. NOT EVER. The holocaust remains a blight on human history and the Jews are never going to forget it, never going to let anyone forget it, and in some respects rightly so. In the 19th century, the Jews had assimilated well into the cultures of various countries and yet managed to retain their individuality especially in terms of religious rituals. Enter Hitler, and the final blow on their individuality and safety was struck. Did they lose their minds? No. The Jews are a strong race. They took their lives into their own hands, created Israel (it is another matter that the Palestinian Arabs got a raw deal out of it, more on this later) and created a magnificent memorial to their loved ones who were unjustly dealt with during the holocaust.

The Yad Va Shem, meaning a memorial to the tribes of Shem (son of Noah from whom the Jews descended) is a tribute to all the Jews who lost their lives in the Shoah(Hebrew for Holocaust).
Its not a museum, more an interactive 'memorial' (for lack of a better word) that lets you FEEL the horror of it all. For example, you walk over a glass display floor and when you look down you can see thousands of pairs shoes underneath. These are shoes found at Dachau (some of them contributed by survivors or their families). You 'feel' the sadness and the enormity hits you like a physical blow almost. Yad Va Shem is systematically constructed in chronological order, with the horror mounting further and further, till at some point you do end up breaking down and wondering what the point of all the senseless targeted execution was. The grey walls and black benches add to the bleak atmosphere. The audio guide that we took with us(depositing our passports at the entrance) helped us get a context. The audio guide is EXCELLENT and I highly recommend it. At Yad Va Shem, there are several TV screens with live depositions and accounts from survivors. Heart-rending. I actually was shocked beyond tears.

We meandered through the events into an Aushwitz death-wagon and then I felt stifled. I walked through the rest of the sections trying to squelch the growing nausea(of the horrors) into a lovely section about the 'Avenue of the Righteous'. This section was built to honor non-Jews who believed in humanity in those tough times and saved many many Jews, the most popular of them being Oskar Shindler. (Nanny Sandra Samuel to Baby Moshe, of 26/11 fame is recognized as a 'Righteous Gentile'). In the gardens outside, several of them are honored with a tree planted for their service.

Finally one walks into a room with a deep well. The well reflects walls and walls of box folders. One folder for each person who perished during the Shoah. More than 2 million folders are yet to be identified and the space for them is blank. The Jews believe in knowing their ancestry and it pains them immensely that several of their ancestors had perished without survivors or records. It is an unbelievably touching memorial reflecting the resilience and defiance of the Jewish race, not to mention their love for their brethren and meticulousness in preserving their memory.

My usually talkative TP had now forgotten all of the 6 languages she speaks. In silence we walked through (the ubiquitous souvenir shop) into the gardens and into a memorial for children. Thats when the tears started rolling (and didn't stop for a long time).
It is a lovely breath-stopping memorial to the little ones who were killed before they could see the world for what it was. Perhaps the world then was bleak, perhaps it was not the best of times for the Jews, but they had their parents' love and the support of their community, and never lived to see it. The memorial is a walk-through memorial - a dark room with thousands of mirrors reflecting one single glowing light. It refers to the lovely children who 'became stars' and are watching over the world. There is a solemn voice recording that intones the names of the children, their age and place of murder giving the place a chilly overtone (we got goosebumps for sure). Strong Jew pride and spirit of 'we shall not forget', isn't it?

If we - Indians, Hindus, young-enough to have never witnessed any holocaust or oppression, living a yuppie-privileged life, moderate in thought - were moved beyond words, imagine how an 18 year old Jewish military recruit feel? After the shock and sadness passes away, am sure it would be replaced by patriotic fervor. The Jews as a race believe in remembering, and passing on the remembrances. Yad Va Shem is the pinnacle of this belief to preserve their memories for posterity.

"And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a "yad vashem")... that shall not be cut off."

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

Dazed, TP and I walked straight into a mall to shop away our sorrow.
And shop we did! We went to a local supermarket(Ramy Levi), bought several edible delights for our kids and went back to the hotel. We returned to a mall for dinner and had a lovely chocolate drink from (I highly recommend) a shop called Max Brenner. Went to bed, thinking about our past, the sacrifices our brave soldiers are making to protect our borders and how little we do to honor them, and feeling excited about our day trip the next day to Palestine (West Bank, Israel).

Moral: It is important to wear sturdy shoes always. It is more important to remember what is important to us.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

World Cup and the lessons

The World Cup Cricket 2011 is one of the momentous occasions that defines our lives. Similar to the magnitude of the Tsunami or Twin Towers bombing, thankfully HAPPY in nature.
We'll always remember and talk about what we were doing then... at a pub, at home, in bed, with the husband, with someone else... whatever. We'll remember the tears of joy when Dhoni hit the last six, the tears in Sachin's eyes, Gary's quiet joy, Virat's lovely comment... Even the smaller details will stay with us for many years to come...Poonam Pandey, the dirt streak on Dhoni's shirt during his batting innings, Sreesanth's hair, 'wicked' Malinga, the man in the audience who had painted his entire body, Rajni and Aamir together (and the couplets about Dhoni, Rajini and Gajini)and the euphoric crowds.

In an era of disillusionment with the Government,with the maid,with the American President,the hairdresser,the boss,
the Saravana Bhavan dosas,the admission process at school, the media, the rat race, the rats..... everything, Dhoni has given us the only thing that seems rarer than flowers in a desert - HOPE and OPTIMISM. The sight of the entire team carrying Sachin has re-instilled faith that 'Indian' values of love and respect for an older person (player) still live. Dhoni shaving off his head the next morning has re-given meaning to 'faith' and prayers. Kirsten choosing to go back home reminds us that 'karma' is king, what follows is not for us to decide. Harbhajan Singh thanking the whole world has reaffirmed that vote of thanks is best short, maybe 15 seconds or so! The Government offering different slabs of money to the team has re-confirmed us that in India you have to be 'seen' working. The flag doing the victory laps around the ground brought back memories of childhood pledges to 'do our best for the nation' (are we?).

Thank you cricket team. Thank you for the cup. Thank you for the lessons. And thank you for proving that Chenin Blanc Chardonnay can be consumed in the afternoon too.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Israel Chronicles: Dead Sea is ALIVE!

On Day 2 of our wonderful trip, TP and I got a little adventurous.
We took a state-run bus from the central bus stop (that got bombed a few days later) to a place called Masada. Masada is the site of a fortress where a group of Jews fought literally to their last breath to fend off their attackers. Several army contingents in Israel go by the motto "Masada shall never fall again". The fortress is a glowing example of how a historical site is brought into today's context and woven into the lives of the Jewish people. Again, several military troops and more 'Jewish' lessons.

I almost wept for the opportunities we have in India (and do not 'use') to preserve our history. The (Masada) fortress is splendid, undoubtedly. Situated on the top of a mountain, it has a superb 360 deg view. It has a bathing chamber, a synagogue, several storerooms and cisterns, but well, after traveling to the Daulatabad fortress and the off-beat Chitradurga Fort, it was difficult for me to be impressed (note, I haven't even mentioned Red Fort or Agra Fort). All our forts also have the same features. What is common to these forts and is remarkable is how well they've withstood the ravages of time and what architectural marvels they are.

Interestingly, all tourist points in Israel exit into a Souvenir shop. Carried away by the multi-media presentations, well laid out paths, excellent tour guides and signs, well maintained restrooms and the overwhelming 'Jew' pride, most tourists spend a bomb in here... we had a lovely time walking around of course.

We took a bus from Masada to the lovely Ein Bokek.... DEAD SEA!!!
It is a beautiful spectacle indeed...blues ranging from aquamarine to lapis lazuli all the way to sapphire and a royal blue, several people were playing around. My TP and I quickly changed in (the thoughtfully provided) shower rooms and rushed to the sea. We couldn't wait to test if we'd really float... and float we did! Dead sea has always made it to the list of places I want to visit before I die, and I am so glad I got to float. After gingerly stepping past the salt crystals on the tiny shore, I waded into the water, and could barely walk! The water just thrusts you upward and you just float! It is almost supernatural and a bit eerie, a bit lovely, a bit scary and a bit exciting.

We had tea at this lovely shop where India was given a positively glowing vote by everyone. Apparently most Israelis visit India(because it is cheap and thanks to Bhole baba ka prasad!) and love the hospitality, culture and Indian food(sadly, no mention of Indian women, but after seeing some of the Israeli mothers, understandably too!)

We headed back to Jerusalem and then out to Mamilla mall for a bit of shopping.
With 2 women what do you expect? My TP went into every shop and I did what I like to do best, take pictures and observe the people walking past. Going past the black coats et al, Israelis (especially the Jews) go everywhere with their kids - Malls, Restaurants, Rest rooms... where not?Missed Button for a few seconds then.

With lighter wallets, smiles on our faces and food in our bellies, we headed back to Addar, ready to crash.

Moral of the story: Never miss an occasion to shop, never miss an occasion to announce you are Indian!

CSAAM April'11 - My son's childhood shall remain INNOCENT, I vow

My naughty 3 year old son who will be going to school soon, here is what I do to ensure that his belief in humanity remains. Some of the precautions are for safety's sake, not just to prevent abuse.

a)Since his first birthday I have been telling him that all 'chaddi' parts are not to be touched by anyone except mamma, papa and his grandparents. Maids are allowed to clean him but only in the presence of above mentioned relatives.

b)If an ayaah or helper cleans his private parts in school, I ask him to recollect whether he was cleaned at playschool or not, and by whom and whether he cried or ran away during the cleaning process. He is not yet 3 and not able to articulate well, but I watch out for these signs. If he says he cried,I check him for a rash, if there are none, I tell the teacher the next day that he was not handled properly.

c)I tell him atleast thrice a week that the driver or cook or watchman or anyone else is NOT allowed to touch his 'chaddi' parts.

d)I may sound paranoid, but I don't let him travel alone by car or even with his maid. One of the grandparents or parents HAS to accompany him.

e)Button is normally not a touchy-feely-cuddly child and I do not encourage him to become one. One day he will be older and he will have a girlfriend with whom he can be touchy-feely-cuddly!

f)Button does not like being completely naked, and I don't encourage him either.

g)When I leave Button alone with the maid, I drop in earlier sometimes, ask my neighbor to walk in at other times. Now at Chennai, my mom-in-law drops in too. ALL surprise visits.

h)My husband and I always reward Button for being open and speaking his mind. My husband also recounts his day and listens to me doing the same in the presence of Button, and we encourage him to do the same

i) Last but definitely important, is mental abuse. Not just physical abuse. I correct my maid's language almost incessantly. All improvements in her vocabulary are duly complimented, even rewarded. Even listening to bad language can change cause mental distress. I do reprimand usage of negative or 'f' words and I try to watch only child-friendly shows in his presence on TV.

As is evident, I feel strongly about the subject. The bottomline is that I cannot drive away ALL the wolves, but I can at least give him the knowledge of how to spot one and the faith that his parents are there to love and support him always. .