Friday, September 28, 2018

Sssssh!

I have always been a wuss around creepy crawlies. Insects of all manner and snakes. Big problem for me. In fact, as a teenager in Mumbai, I often walked past snake charmers and their kind - mostly on Railway bridges and near temples. I took a wide detour every time I spotted a scaly head bobbing outside that wicker basket. To overcome my fear, I befriended a few of the snake charmers and much to my dismay, one of them invited me to touch her snake. I didn’t want to seem stupid. One shaky finger on the reptile and I promptly regretted everything. From then on, I have been a vocal opponent of all things slithering and I have often been accused of being rather a bore on the subject.

The other night, I had finished watching a rather gory episode of the Walking Dead. Gut and brains everywhere and much bashing of zombie heads. Usually I sleep like a fat baby after my nightly zombie dose, but that night I had this intense nightmare. (You know how dreams are trippy? One minute you’re flirting with Ranveer Singh and in the next scene , you’re sitting down for coffee with your weird aunt you haven’t met in years. Dreams are funny like that.) But not this one.

I dream I am living in my grandpa’s house and there was this particularly slimy snake intent on getting inside. Black and vicious, it snaps its stupid jaws, generally making me pee my pants. I was about to shut the door when who walks in- but my husband. He spots the snake and somehow decides it would make a charming pet. He picks it up, and I can see the slime rolling off its skin as it wriggles and undulates. I beg him to reconsider, offering many valid points why it would be a terrible idea to get that snake inside. He ignores me, seemingly in a trance with this idiotic grin on his face. I shriek like a banshee and run away from him, but soon more family members arrive. All of them seem possessed by whatever malevolent force is lurking inside the snake.

Somehow I muster the courage and try to kill the creature, but every elaborate scheme I come up with is thwarted. I weep hot tears and the snake just bares its fangs at me while my husband absently strokes its scales. At a loss for ideas, I fall to the floor melodramatically (shut up, it's my dream so I get to play the star). The snake takes this chance to come slithering towards me.
Moving this way and that, it hisses at me, every single scale rising and falling in a liquid way. That’s when I whip out the hammer hidden behind my back and bludgeon the damn thing to death. Covered in snake blood, I offer its mangled body to my husband, who’s out of his trance and looks at me with growing concern. 

The dream ends there and I’m guessing this is where I start to wake up. My hands touch something squishy, and I smile for a moment, imagining this to be my daughter, Sunshine’s leg (we co-sleep in the same bed). I squeeze it a couple of times, but the texture feels off. It's too soft, with no hint of bone underneath, so that’s when I finally open my eyes. And look into the eyes of a snake. Black and glittering in the soft glow of the nightlight, they stare at me, while I pinwheel my arms like a deranged windmill. Terrified, I push the blanket away and grab Sunshine. She wakes up and starts howling because she wants her soft toy. And that’s when it hits me. 


Somehow toy manufacturers here in the US, thought it would be an amazing idea to make and sell weighted 5 feet long toy “worms”. If that doesn’t sound gross enough, they gave the toy an ugly green color with shiny black eyes and A DAMN RED FANG! Essentially an unholy union of a worm and a snake. Some asinine relative considered this a wonderful birthday present and Sunshine was besotted with it, much to my dismay.
Heart still beating too fast, I come back to the bed. Sunshine whoops with joy and cuddles with the snake which in turn grins at me insipidly, mocking my sweaty palms. I make a face and use my phone to prod its tail away. 


You know how kids lose toys all the time? So that actually happened. Honest! Hand over my heart, the very next day, the snake somehow went missing. I search everywhere [nowhere]. Sunshine is inconsolable for a whole of 30 minutes. I feel bad [guilty], until she remembers she has four different Peppa Pig soft toys to play with. I give my husband the cold shoulder for a few hours until I realize he has no control over how he acts in my dreams.


All is well now. Kids happy, husband slightly confused but pleased that I wasn’t snapping at him anymore. Sipping some hot chocolate, I contemplate the moonlit world outside my kitchen window. If you squint really hard, if you are sufficiently suspicious, you might have spotted a green tail peeking out of the trash can.
Shaking my head, I smile and think, “The kids really need to be more careful with their toys,”.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

It's a beautiful day!

“God gives special children to special parents,”
Or “you were given an autistic son for a reason. I could never do what you do,”.
I’ve heard versions of these over the years. And it grates every time. 
The assumptions are that
1: Special needs children are a burden/impossibly difficult to raise.
And 2: Somehow God looked at me, my anxiety and impressive lack of patience and said, “heck yeah, lets give her an autistic child”.
Kids are kids are kids. Whether they have special needs or are typically developing, it is a lot of work to raise a child. Feeding, potty training, teaching them everything from wiping their noses to mastering basic arithmetic. There’s a million ways you can and will screw up. Even if you’re raising perfect, little robots with pristine behavior, there’ll still be days you’ll forget to plug them in overnight for charging. 
And the extra work and time involved in raising a child on the spectrum? It ain’t easy. I mess up gloriously with him every single day. From picking the wrong battle to fight to giving in when I need to stay firm - oh, I’m the poster child for imperfect parenting. 
BUT. But, I’m not special because my child has special needs.If anything, I’m just as average as you are. I have the same worries and wrinkles, plus a few extra ones. I cry as often as you do, and I binge eat the same unhealthy crap we both should be avoiding. 
If there’s anyone who is special, it is our kids. Battling with his own anxieties, trying to make sense of a chaotic classroom - sure, my son has some added challenges.  He wages wars every day, while your kids - your beautiful, pure kids stand by his side, ready with a healing smile. They know when to step in with a hug, and when to give him that extra minute. They are not blind to his issues, rather they’re more mindful and accepting of it. And if mere children are so evolved, why do us mature adults, have a hard time looking past their differences? Why do we whisper in hushed tones, or offer looks of pity when we see differently abled children?
Tell me honestly, if you had a “special” child, would you have just rolled over and given up? If your answer is “hell no”, then how am I any more extraordinary? We‘re all in this together, stumbling and pretending like we know what we’re doing. We’re all embellishing our timelines with cool pictures, while our offspring scream and tantrum in real life. 
But we don’t abandon our kids and we don’t consider them a burden. We’re stronger than that, and we’re better than that. Day in and day out, we wake up with our heads held high and our capes flying higher. 
The pride I feel when he’s successful, and the tears I hide when he struggles - those are essential parts of my parenting experience. I need to go through that - it’s what moms do. I don’t need a medal because I talked him down from an anxiety attack.I don’t deserve praise for a skill he has acquired - with his sweat and tears. Because then, it reinforces this idiotic notion that I’m the hero of this whole story. This journey has never been about you and me. Honestly, we’re all just extras, glad to work with these perfect, mercurial, method actors we call our kids.
If you ever come across a child you consider special, treat them with the same respect you’d want for your kids. Don’t talk down to them, don’t assume incompetence. They may be different, but they’re no less capable. Do yourself a favor and extend a hand of friendship.
I’ve met some incredible women online and in real life. They don’t offer me pity. They know not to put me up on a pedestal. They laugh at my wildly different kids, the same way I make fun of theirs. They respect the label my son has, but scoff at the perceptions that come along with it. They see my highly exasperating, severely opinionated little child and they know she’s considered the “normal” one. This post is for them and for so many more of you. 
But I also dedicate this post to all of you who have kids that are just a little "different". 
It’s a beautiful day to be a mom! 






































































Friday, September 14, 2018

Crystal balls and feathered quills.

Imagine looking into a crystal ball. Your life laid out for you between the murky clouds of white smoke. What do you think you will see?  In 5 years? 10? Will you be happier? Sadder? Well adjusted to your own set of challenges? Flourishing as a career woman or thriving as a mother? Maybe even both?
As a preteen, I was often drawn to books about palmistry. Convinced myself that if I read them, I would be proficient enough to predict and even control my future. I could expect problems before they happen, fix bumps in the road before I careened left. In fact, I was so enthralled by the allure of prophecy; it surprised me that more people weren’t doing it. After devouring one rather convincing palmistry tome, I declared myself ready. I grabbed every hand I could find, confident in my skill and ability to change futures. I told my uncle he was likely to have 2 wives; I reassured the maid she would have more children and I even tearfully informed my grandpa he had an alarmingly short amount of time left with us mortals. Amazed by this ‘power’ I held in my hands, I even spent melodramatic hours wondering if this was a gift or curse.

Well, most of what I predicted didn’t happen. My aunt sniffed at my uncle disapprovingly for a few months, the maid left us because she wanted to have her tubes tied and my mother spent many a stern evening, lecturing me to stop meddling. And of course, my grandpa lived to the ripe old age of 98, passing away a mere 22 years after I predicted he would. When I got a few prophecies right, my mom got madder. One day, after she caught me eying my 4-year-old sister’s palm with interest, the decree was passed. I was forbidden from ever reading another hand. I didn’t understand why then. But I obeyed. 

Over the years, I also pondered about tarot cards, astrology, tea leaves. Some days I’d give anything to see my future. Would that boy like me, would I do well on my tests, would India win the Titan Cup? 
But then came the days where I’d enjoy not knowing. The sweet pain of unfulfilled love, the gnawing tingles of exam results, the sheer exhilaration of a cricket match that could go either way. I realized, how many exquisite moments I would miss if I didn’t make those journeys in their entirety. 

Now as an adult, as a mother, as a parent of a Son with autism, I still have those moments where I’d sacrifice an arm and a leg to know what lays ahead for him. Will he grow up to be an independent young man? Advocate for himself? Fall in love? Maybe even hold down a job? Would he miss me when I’m gone? Some days, my fears are so delicately painful, I think about picking up the phone and calling the local tarot card lady. But I don’t. If I cower under the shadow of an unpredictable future, I stop living in the present don’t I? If I worry about my son’s graduation; I miss out on watching him get his first school award. If I obsess about whether he will ever live by himself, I forget to notice his bony arms hugging me hard.  

You experience so much of life because you chose to live each minute. Morning’s mishaps and afternoon’s milestones, the slow curve of your husband’s smile, the way your daughter giggles from her belly. That’s what you are ignoring, when you ask for the full picture. 

No crystal ball can tell us if we will win the lottery in 5 years or get that promotion we deserve. Because my story.... and yours, isn’t set in stone. In fact, our lives and the choices we make are so fluid, that anything is possible. We’re still creating today’s chapter, so how can we hope to read what comes a million pages later. That part, my sister, hasn’t even been conceived
 So grab your pen and get back to writing. Craft your own story. Fail, cry, fight, love. Mess up spectacularly. Reach upwards and break those glass ceilings. Deal with the thorniest shit life has to offer and live to be a fabulous 98 like my grandpa. 

I carry a hundred sorrows today. That’s my present.
But I plan to leave with no regrets. 











Mustache

If you asked my college classmates to describe me, they might throw around phrases like - “above average” or “reasonably smart”. The honest ones might even draw your attention to my obsessive need to impress my lecturers. I was a studious first bencher, with my Reynolds pen and an open notebook, ready to transcribe every breath out of the professor’s mouth. Once, in the middle of a rather fascinating anatomy lecture, I remember I got a chit passed down from a friendly soul, ten benches behind. My idiotic heart thought it was a love note. Breathless, I opened it and read “Aur mundi hilaayegi, toh ek din gir jaayega (If you nod anymore, your head will fall off)”.
So in a nutshell, teachers’ pet and people- pleaser extraordinaire. That was Pavi, first year MBBS student.
When I got to my second year, we had new subjects. And one of them was Microbiology. You know the feeling you get when you’re enjoying a hot plate of biryani and you bite into a hard elaichi piece? That’s how I felt about Microbiology. I hated the subject. Passionately. And it hurt that we had a really awful professor teaching us. The man had a thick mustache and a thicker accent (possibly due to the mustache). His pronunciation of even simple words was pure comedy to our youthful ears. And the fact that he was mean spirited and enjoyed yelling at us, made it easier to mock him. Soon, during Microbiology period, I migrated to the back of the classroom - a lawless land where boys became men and NO One was safe from ridicule. Especially not professors with walrus mustaches.
So we sat in the back benches, stifling giggles when he said “kustchan” for question. Now, as a mature adult, I realize we were probably mean in our own way. But that didn't stop our 19-year-old selves from thumping our knees and laughing silently, when the professor spent an entire lecture on “Teburciloses”. I reveled in the attention of my new friends, and soon I joined them in passing chits to those snooty first benchers.
A couple of months later, we had our first set of exams. A theory test, followed by the oral Viva exam. Like I mentioned, I hated that one subject. I studied hard; I burnt the requisite liters of midnight oil. I managed to do a half decent job at the Microbiology theory paper. But my real challenge would be the Viva exam.
My mood was rather gloomy, much like the day outside. Almost 4 pm when it was my turn. The student before me, came out looking like one of the cadavers we’d spent the previous year dissecting. She gave me a big thumbs down.
Oh, this was going to be bad!
I trudged in and took my seat. My limbs hung heavy and my head a few sizes too large. I looked up to see not one or two, but 5 separate examiners sitting before me!!
This was unprecedented. I wasn't a star student who would dazzle them with my knowledge. Confused by the generous and captive audience (crap the Head of Dept. too) I peered around stupidly. Then I saw a familiar mustache in the middle of the crowd. If my life was a movie, this was where the camera would zoom dizzily around our heads, reversing our roles. Me, the fumbling target while a cohort of people watched me, waiting for me to slip up and fail.
And I did not disappoint. Every time I answered wrongly or stammered, the mustache fluffed up and down, barely hiding a gleeful grin. Soon the grins turned into guffaws and by the time I’d stumbled by way to the last set of questions, there was open laughter. The HOD slapped the assistant HOD on the back, the two female professors wiped tears of mirth from their eyes and the mustache grew bigger and bigger, feeding off my failure. My feverish brain started playing tricks on my mind. My vision was narrowed to a pinpoint beam, illuminating only the mustache which by now was filling the entire room.
Finally, we were at the last 2 questions. I don’t know how, but I answered those correctly. Perfectly even. Smiles were wiped off faces, and the mustache deflated with a sudden pop zooming down to its rightful spot on the professor’s face.
Silence.
I didn‘t know if I was allowed to leave. Then a voice asked, in a thick accent “Vant to pass?”
I looked up and nodded mutely.
“Aur haso back bench mein.”
“Sorry Sir.”
“You passed. By 1 mark. On last kustchan. But revise chapter about StreptoCOCKus. You are wik,”.
A crazy giggle rose in my stomach. I swallowed and bit my tongue until the madness passed.
“Thank you, Sir,”.
I got up and fled.
In Microbiology class, I never sat on the last bench again. And I was too chicken to consider the first row. Instead, I sat somewhere in the vague middle zone, usually hidden behind some of my more amply proportioned classmates. And I didn't make a peep.
A few years ago, I ran into the same Professor when I was visiting friends at a Pune hospital. My friends wanted to stop and say hello, much to my dismay. The mustache was grayer and bigger now (probably having fed off of multiple souls). It looked at me appraisingly. “You? You are my old studint?”
“Yes, sir,”.
“What's your name?”
And before I realized it, my brain came up with a rather plausible lie.
“Vaishali Patil sir.”
“Patil. Patil? Hmm many Patils. Accha. 2000 betch?”
“Yes, sir.” My mouth lied.
“Good good. That was good betch. You were good studint.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Good good. Keep it up,”.
As we walked away, I thanked God that ‘Vaishali Patil’, didn't have a mustache of her own. Because it would have given away that I was 2 seconds from hysterical laughter. What can I say? Some habits die hard.
Disclaimer : The below picture belongs to an actor. I attach it here to share with you the sheer grandeur of the walrus mustache we had to endure everyday.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Before and After


The morning breeze wafted through the sun-dappled kitchen. A few dust motes twirled giddily before coming to rest on the worn floor. The room was large, a few feet shy of enormous. Every corner of the room- every nook and every cranny was utilized. This was a space where memories had been made, where laughter had been served, with a side of mischief.

Right there by the ancient fridge, Mohana's granddaughter, Mini had taken her first steps. Behind the ugly-brown sideboard, Mini had spoken her first sentence and then 19 years later rehearsed her graduation speech. Grandma and girl had played many a game of chase around the rickety dining table and then later on had sat at those same mismatched chairs and talked about science and history and boys. 

The kitchen waiting patiently like an old friend, listening carefully for the sounds of Mohana's anklets. The assortment of ladles and pans looked around, confused by their sudden loss of purpose. The spice rack peered down at them from a high shelf, shrugging with growing concern. The air hung empty and noiseless, heavy with the absence of Mohana's prayer chants. A small beetle crawled along the floor, chirping loudly before meeting the stony glare of the food mixer. It continued the rest of its journey in absolute silence. The ancient fridge wept tears, wheezing and spitting, little droplets of condensation from the freezer drawers.

As afternoon approached, the kitchen worried more. The gas stove made a fair point - Mohana had never been this late, not even when she'd had pneumonia 3 winters ago. The microwave (the only shining appliance in a room full of relics) suggested that maybe she'd gone on vacation? This ludicrous statement was met with a loud snort from the Fridge as it leaked more water on the ground. The little coffee maker skittered excitedly. It was almost time for Mohana's evening cup. Surely, she would come now? 

As another slow hour crept by, the kitchen seemed to shrink. The old walls looked forlorn and the dining table sagged even more. A sense of despair had settled on the entire space. Every single object, from the mighty fridge to the tiniest teaspoon felt the first twinges of grief. Mohana wasn't coming back anymore. That was certain. The magic, the meals, the messes and the marvelousness of the past 60 years. All gone into the mists of the past. The sink made a hollow, groaning sound, and that deep sorrow reverberated throughout the now dusty kitchen. That night, even the moonlight didn't venture in through the open windows, respectful of their need to mourn in private.

The next morning, dawned the same. Newer identical dust motes swam lazily through the still air. The kitchen looked older, and somehow smaller. Even the fridge sat silent. The entire space looked dull and abandoned. Being objects of a material world, they knew the house would be sold or foreclosed by the bank.
At a quarter past twelve, the front doors jiggled and opened. A rather striking young woman, hands heavy with bags, came in and shut them behind her. She made a wide turn around the living room and marched straight to the dining table where she unloaded. For the next few minutes, she looked around, touching this and that, smiling to herself as she heard voices from a million reminiscences. Everything looked the same, but somehow emptier. She sat down and cried for a long time.

By late afternoon, she felt braver. So she walked into the kitchen and fixed herself some coffee. Two cups later and she felt up to talking. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, she spoke in a clear voice.
 “Grandma died two days ago. A long, happy life ended rather prematurely by a heart attack when she was sleeping. She lived every second, knowing love surrounded her in many forms- her family, her friends. And her kitchen. See, she often told me, growing up, that she would talk to you. I thought she was being silly. But now, I'm not so sure. I believe she lives on, here in her kitchen. Her words, her laughter, her prayers, her music - they are all still right here. Etched on every wall and snuggled in every crevice.”

She paused for a second and continued, “I am not my grandma. I don't sing as well and I am nowhere as accomplished as she was, culinary wise. But I believe in magic and I believe in laughter. I believe in the power of words and how they can transform an ordinary cook space into a cozy, happy kitchen like this one. Where everyone gets a meal, with a song and a smile. So if you will have me, we can make some of our own memories for the next fifty years.”

A long silence followed this. Then the fridge sputtered and started up again. The kitchen creaked- a soft and comforting sound. The spoons twinkled, bright and shiny, next to the sink. The coffee machine gurgled happily, spitting out another few drops. Mini blinked and laughed. She took a cleansing, deep breath and went back to the table. To the property title and transfer papers. And humming an old tune she'd just remembered, Mini (short for Mohana) signed her name and accepted the house her grandma always wanted her to have.