Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Four and Twenty Blackbirds...

The heat in Delhi is killing. More so when I have just returned from Bangalore. Physically here (and enduring the heat), but mentally roaming in what is supposed to be my native state: Karnataka. S and I took a trip to Shirali with my parents and brother.

Shirali is a small nondescript coastal town in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. Most people haven't even heard of it. I have a colleague whose last name is Shirali and even she had no idea where it was. Shirali or Srivalli is home to the Sri Chitrapur Math, the spiritual headquarters of the Chitrapur Saraswats. I'm one half Chitrapur Saraswat and when my cousin decided to have his son's thread ceremony at the Math, we decided to go. I could spend time with my parents and brother, show S the Math and meet my cousins, aunts, uncle, nephews and niece. The cherry on the cake was the ride in my brother's brand new Safari Dicor. (Incidentally, we got our cars delivered on the same day. And he drove my parents to the airport in the new car and we picked them up at Delhi in our new car.)

We were traveling, as a family, for the first time in a decade. The last time we went anywhere together was in the 90s. It was fun. I realized that even if I have grown up, am independent and all that, I will remain my parents' little girl. And my brother's baby sister. H, my brother, teased me all the way from the time he saw me in Bangalore till the time he dropped us off at the airport. All of us grow up, but the key is to not grow apart I think. For a while in between, I thought I'd lost my brother... to marriage,to life, to work. Different cities, different lives... and then the lesson, that all you have to do is reach out. I remember asking him as a child, "I'm your favorite sister, no?" and his response never changed, "I don't have a choice." For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be like him... to wear his clothes... to go to his school... to hang out with his friends... and suddenly, a few years later, I wanted to be nothing like him. Life!

This isn't just about my brother, but about my parents too. There was a time when I just didn't get along with them. Everything I did was just so wrong. I couldn't make the right decisions, about friends, about academics, about interests. Then, I left home. Under the pretext of getting my higher education.That was the turning point I guess. From then on, things changed rapidly. I became a lot closer to them. I could talk to them on a level that they didn't even know I could manage. Absence must have made the heart grow fonder. Maybe I grew up a little too. We don't fight as much these days. And I cherish every moment that I get to spend with them. There's so much to learn if I just listen, observe and watch. I have come a long way from my "know-it-all" days and realize that there is so much to learn. They're the cutest set of parents any child could ever have. The ones who saved so we could have a good life. The ones who, despite the huge age difference between us, didn't let a generation gap seep in. They rank among my closest friends and confidantes today.

When I'm home, I always look at them and remember this from the nursery rhyme:

The King was in his counting house, counting all his money
The Queen was in her parlour, eating bread and honey

Appa's always been the finance manager of the household. Many of my fixations about income and income tax, I inherited from him. I also inherited my diverse music tastes and reading habits from him. How did one man, in one lifetime, manage to gather so much knowledge... it is beyond me. My thirst for knowledge and new things comes from him. According to him, I'm the biggest spendthrift in this world and I have taken after my mother (and overtaken her as well).

Amma's lessons on life continue... even today. About how to make dal or how to make the perfect pulao... about men and bosses and mothers in law. About mothers and siblings and how I must be there for my brother come what may... because he is all I will have left in this world when they're gone. About enjoying life today because if you save up for later, you won't be left with the energy to enjoy it. She instilled the love for singing in me. And she's the best cook in the entire world. I have yet to come across someone who makes the yummiest of Saraswat food, the tastiest Iyengar dishes, pizza that is almost world famous, pasta... and cakes, pastries, and the most sinful cheesecake. When I'm going home, I call in advance and place my order... is it Chinese or Moghlai this time?

I miss my parents very much when they aren't with me and am thankful for the unconditional love that only parents can give. How do they manage that? As always, I realize that there will some things that will always remain beyond my understanding.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Quarter Career Crisis

It has been bothering me for months now. And I have no idea what to do about it. I think while most people face a mid-life crisis, I must be facing a quarter career crisis. An average career lasts about 33-35 years and I have been working for 8 now. I learn new things everyday, meet different people everyday, but it is the same routine. The excitement that I earlier felt in my career seems to have gone on a long vacation.

Suddenly, the creative person within me seems to be in a tearing hurry to come out. I want to do different things. I want to start a home furnishing store since I am doing so much needlework in any case. Could that not be a lucrative career?

A couple of weeks ago, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. They turned out delicious. Sometime before that, I baked a batch of absolutely chewy brownies. Why don't I start a home bakery? Why don't I start classes? I have been baking since I was 10. Why did I ignore it in between?

Under the pretext of "preparing for my career", I quit learning music. I sang last night at a restaurant. The Abba song that truly has all it takes to be "my song": Thank you for the music. The high that I got when I got off the stage was like nothing I'd felt in ages. Why did I give it up?

I've been writing for as long as I can remember. It fascinates me. From writing short stories to national level award winning essays, I've enjoyed the journey. Where did I lose touch? Why is it I don't write anymore?

These are the supposed "sacrifices" that I've made to be what I am professionally. I've had this single minded focus to make it big in my chosen profession. I started this journey wanting to be an immunologist. I landed up in management. No, not even in a biotech/pharma company. Ever so often I catch myself thinking of the "what if". My closest friends had chosen to remain in science. I envied them for being able to stick to their chosen lines. Things, today, are no different for them. I, along with my closest friends, am at the crossroads of life yet again.

What choices will we make? What will we be remembered for? What lies in store for us? We have enough to show for the 3 decades of existence on this planet. What about the remaining time? Will we have enough to show? Not to the world, but to ourselves. All I can wish for is that all of us lead fulfilling lives so that when it is time for us to go, we have no regrets.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cross my Heart!

I was always fond of needlework, or so it seems. I remember hunting for small pieces of cloth to make handkerchiefs. Fortunately, my mom (and later I myself) had learnt tailoring from her sister (my aunt, who is no more) and did a lot of tailoring at home. So, I almost always found little bits of cloth. Also, when we were little, everyone in the neighbourhood was willing to teach us little things. I remember practising the running stitch at my neighbour's place and the lady of the house taught me how to hem. She also taught me some beadwork and I found all of it very fascinating.

My mother was usually making cushion covers and table cloths with beautiful designs. She has always been very good with colours and coordinating them. I would see her work her "magic" on matti cloth and would always wonder how she did it. I thought it was the most confusing stitch ever invented and could just never get it straight. My mom decided to get me started. Off we went to Handloom House in Madras to buy some wine red matti cloth. (The idea was to not let the messiness show.) She didn't allow me to practice with a straight line or anything... she put me on to a design directly. At that point, I must admit, I thought she really hated me. Why else would she traumatize me like that? I managed to get a hang of it and completed the entire cushion cover. This was when I was in Class 5. I gifted it to a friend (a much older friend) on her birthday and also went and asked for it back a few months later when we had to submit something for craft or SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) as we know it.

From that point on, I think I did a little bit every year. I took on complicated designs and took great pride in completing each one. From trying out new colour combinations to working my way on normal fabrics, each step was like an adventure into the unknown. You never know what awaits you at the end of the journey.

Whenever I made a mistake, I'd put the entire project away and not look at it for months, sometimes years. Then, cross stitch taught me one of life's important lessons. If you make a mistake, you can't let that bring life to a standstill. You have to go back, undo the wrongs and start over. If you do, what you get at the end of it is beautiful, truly a masterpiece. I took 9 years to complete work on a dress. A part of this is on the left here. The end result was so beautiful that I plan to cut off the embroidered portion and frame it.

I find this very therapeutic. I work at it when I am sad, when I'm angry, when I'm bored and when I am happy. I've gifted a lot of my work to friends and family. This is something that has truly touched my heart and my life and I felt compelled to blog about this. Thanks Amma, for being patient with me and teaching me a craft that will keep me company for all my life. I, too, hope to pass it on to someone in this lifetime.