I am a…

Growing up I was told we were Hindus. My father born in a Brahmin (priestly) family staked claim of how superior we were. My mother kept it neutral, her father was a Namboothiri (priestly) and mother a Nair (not priestly). None of this deterred them from sending me to Bishop Cottons a Christian School. Here I recited the “Our Father in heaven”, every working day for ten years of my life. Teachers read from the Bible, we learnt the hymns and it was all Christian. Irrespective of the faith your family followed, every student followed the same Christian rules.

My family’s Hindu-ness was limited to the corner of the kitchen adorned with photos of Hindu Gods, a lamp was lit everyday and the yearly trip to Guruvayoor (a Hindu temple). There was absolutely no other show of religion in any manner. So I grew up amidst the Hindu believers at home and Christian believers at school which I think just neutralized the whole concept of religion in my mind. Was I divided? I don’t think so, it didn’t matter much. I prayed before an exam, before I got my marks, or to win a competition. That summed up religion for me.

Muslims were a different category altogether. My father has been blessed (pun intended) with the skills to identify a Hindu from a Christian from a Muslim and immediately tag them with certain behavior. I am glad that my mother kept me grounded and taught me to respect the person first before their religion. So wading between these beliefs and catching up on Ramayana, Mahabharatha, Bible on the television shows aired on Doordarshan, I grew up.

Fast forward a few years and I ended up marrying a Christian. Nothing was new to me because I had said the Lord’s prayer for ten years of my life. I was baptized in order to get married in a church. At that point love was blind and bigger than religion so I said, why not? So I crossed the bridge and tried to adapt to new ways and all of those religious accessories that come with the conversion. A few years along I wake up from the dream, the love is there but not blind like the dating days and I tell my husband that I am going to cross the bridge back. To my good luck his belief in religion was also on an as needed basis. So he let me choose what I wished to follow all along. Although some of the extended family had strong beliefs, we sailed past those with some manouvering.

Now I am the mother of two teenage boys and the last thing I want to teach them is religion. They know in theory what these religions and their beliefs are, but then, what’s the point? This world is heading to a place where religion has taken precedence over humanity, so I ask myself, shouldn’t I be teaching them humanity? Based on how independently teenagers think, I don’t think ten years down the line, religion will be upheld the way it is today. Everywhere you hear news about sexual abuse in the churches, which I see the”informed” generation rejecting. There is a ton of gold and money donated to Hindu temples and I wonder why? Shouldn’t that be used instead to feed hungry children, give them an education? Why does this world need any more temples or churches or mosques or other centers of worship when one cannot uplift and uphold the human within?

I am not against religion, but dead against the belief of religion that divides people. By the law of nature there are only two categories of humans, the XX chromosome and XY chromosome combination. Every other divide whether it’s based on religion, color, race are created by some person. I am tending towards believing that the only religion that should exist is humanity. Abolish every other religion, practice and belief. Every XX respects XY and vice versa, that’s all that needs to exist to make this a better place. I know this is wishful thinking and the world and it’s people are so segregated that all they can think of is either themselves or their small community.

Is it too late to look at the larger picture?

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The fellow..

I have written about various people in my life but I don’t think I have ever written about my sibling, my brother younger to me by five years but looks and thinks otherwise. The story of his birth is one of my favorites. When I joined Nursery at Bishop Cotton’s I am supposed to have come home and complained to my parents that every one has a brother or sister except me. And so the stork carried this light skinned baby boy to our house who was the apple of everyone’s eye.

Fast forward few years and like almost every first born I felt my parents were partial to him. The feeling of why I don’t have a brother changed to why do I have a brother, pretty quickly. So amidst favoritism we grew up fighting for the remote, grabbing things, hitting each other, annoying each other, the usual sibling stories. Like most families it was I who took the blame. He was the younger one and I being the older one was supposed to adjust. Our mother had no two rules about who got the beating irrespective of who started the quarrel. She gave it to us equally, like she was watching a tennis match, one here, one there, repeat, with a red plastic spatula.

He didn’t want to compete with anyone in his class at academics, all he wanted was to beat my grades, which he did most times. He developed a passion for basketball just to grow taller than the rest of us at home, we are a short family otherwise.

Although we fought quite a bit my feelings for him took a complete u-turn when my son was born (my older son looks like him by the way). He felt more like a son than my brother. It’s a strange feeling and I mix up their names even. One of my personal achievements that I feel fortunate about is that I was able to support him at various stages to better opportunities. And to me that checks off a major portion of my responsibility of the relationship. At the end of the day your sibling is your pillar of support whose foundation runs deep. There could be a few cracks but those heal magically, your parents already put in pixie dust in the cement.

He is going to rofl reading this, shower me with choicest words, making mincemeat of my emotions, like he always does, I know this. My father too is probably going to read this say brother-sister too much love, wonder when you’ll start fighting.. But the bottom line is that I love him and it’s an amazing blessing from the angels above that we now live a mile apart. The last time we lived under one roof was twenty years ago. Blessed, blessed, blessed!!

The light of candles

My earliest memory of a birthday goes back to maybe age 10, I am not quite sure. Even today I am as excited as I was as a kid. I honestly don’t know why. 

The “traditions” we followed, too heavy a word, I know, started few weeks before “the” day. My parents took my brother and I to Chellaram’s to buy a birthday dress. Chellaram’s was okay. It was the same kind of frocks, not a glamorous place. Nevertheless, the new dress was excitement enough. 

Then magic happened. 

I distinctly remember the opening of KidsKemp. When we passed by KidsKemp, there was always a Santa with white beard and red attire waving at the passersby. It was so colorful. For one of my birthdays, after much pestering (my poor parents), took us to KidsKemp. It was like the mall of today. Beautiful frocks. My jaws dropped at the sight of the colors or let’s call it glamour and glitter of the place. It is my most luxurious shopping experience memory from childhood. 

KidsKemp was a one time affair. The prices were so inflated that we had to go back to Chellaram’s the following year. 

I still manage to get or save a new dress for my birthday, every year 😊.

Each year on Jan 1st I would circle the date on the Deccan Herald and/or Malayala Manorama and/or Prajavani calendar. Big red mark, so that nobody forgot, just in case. Well, I don’t mark any calendars today, Google does that. But I kind of start reminding my family to remember to wish me. I told you at the beginning, that I was kind of.. well.. obsessed. 

Then we bought chocolates the day before to distribute at school. Oh what a privilege that was. The first period, class teacher walks in, spots you in a pretty dress, not the bottle green uniform, tells the class, “so, we have a birthday girl today.. come on class, let’s all sing for her.” As a child that was an i-am-on-top-of-the-world moment.

That morning, my mother woke me up with a very happy smile on her face saying “happy birthday Indu”.. those words echo in my mind. She did this consistently for every year I was with her on October 1st. The smile, the affection, or the love, never faded once. I long for that love today. 

Then came evening. My neighbor’s kids and us bought some crepe paper and balloons, decorated the living room and waited for my father to come. He brought the cake and candles, every year. The number of candles matched my age. The light of those candles reflected the brightness on my face or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t know. I see the same brightness in my son’s face when the candles are lit and I love seeing that delight on his face. 

I get them even now, a cake, candles and the light of the candles.

I don’t get a wish from my mother. The first ten minutes after I wake up are empty and quiet. But in some form I get her blessing and wish. I may be construing this completely in my mind, but the coincidences are too much to ignore. So I did receive special blessings today. 

As I went to college, the family traditions of cake, decorations faded. It was a treat for friends at Nilgiris Bakery, Basavanagudi for starters, ending up with MotiMahal at Mangalore during engineering days. At work too, it was a treat for friends, I still got a new dress and cake. Gifts for birthday were never a major thing. Sometimes I got, sometimes I didn’t. What I valued were the people I got to celebrate my birthday with. All of them special people, very dear to the heart.

After marriage, my husband pampered me with gifts. May not be every year, but the year’s he buys me something, they are out of this world. The best, always. These are gifts I never imagined I would get in my lifetime. 

Today was special. Friends spent an entire day preparing for the evening party. It was a double celebration, my son and I got a “happy birthday mommy and me” cake 😊.. pampered again with gifts, happiness and laughter. 

The best part was the cards my kids gave me, thanking me for the wonderful mother I am and wishing me happiness with other personal notes. The thoughts that were put in those cards, made my many many everydays’ perfect. My older one just wrote on an index card while my younger one picked out a pink flowers card, with lot of mushy words.

Grateful! This is the only feeling at the end of the day.. for family.. for friends.. for all the love.. affection.. care.. it’s a lot to be blessed with. From the childhood days of buying clothes at Chellaram’s to the extreme luxury of driving a BMW at Bentonville, life has changed seasons many times; one thing that remains unchanged are the loving people I am surrounded by year after year.. truly blessed !!

School

My parents took a bold step of paying Rs 50 in the year 1982 to Bishop Cottons for admitting me to Nursery. Then on, their next 14 years of life was spent on raising money to keep me there.

I was this short, stout mallu kid who never had anything fancy. While my friends brought magnet pencil boxes, I brought an ordinary close the lid box. While they brought pen pencils, where the lead from the front went into the back when it ran out, I had nataraj pencils. They brought erasers that smelled of perfume and mine was an ordinary nataraj eraser. Sharpeners were of every kind on display in class and bore no resemblance to the ordinary sharper, the cheapest in the Shetty stores opposite my house in Sampangiram Nagar.

Their bags were fancy which were often pink or some flashy color, while mine was a brick brown bag without clasps, and only had a buckle. When we switched to pens, mine was a local ink pen. My black shoes wore out completely before I got a new pair. My hair was oiled almost always and plaited with black bands. My lunch was always rice. As I moved to 8th std, I got a pair of big spectacles that made me look even more dumb.

Many girls in my class had everything I didn’t have for school supplies. They came in a car with a driver or with their dad on bikes. I went with the automan or walked back home with my parents. Somewhere in senior school my mother bought a luna. Boy.. It was a wonderful feeling sitting behind the luna and going home. She was probably scared to death to ride with my brother, me, our school bags and lunch baskets on the tiny pillion.
In Junior school at the Christmas party Santa Claus never chose me to handover a chocolate. I waited every year to get that diary milk or 5 star. Each time I was disappointed and I convinced myself thinking that only Christian girls got gifts from Santa.

Girls in my class took to sports, since this was not important at home, I just watched. In the 8th std, I wanted to become a prefect. I thought I had it in me to lead, not sure how. But I was not made one. The girl who was made a prefect from my class was an athlete. So I thought maybe that’s why.

As the years went by and I migrated from one class to the other I grew a sense of inferiority within me. I was not invited to other girls house and I didn’t invite anyone to my bare establishment of 300 sq ft of space that I called home. I felt ashamed. I somehow felt I was out of place. I only had 1 best friend all my years at Cottons.

In the 9th I was made class captain ! Phew so I was noticed and I was someone. I loved the title. 10th again, I was made class captain. Double jackpot ! I was an average student all the while, didn’t fail in any subject, was not scolded by the teachers, did my homework on time, no comments during PTA meetings. But this inferiority feeling stayed with me.
My true moment of pride was when the music teacher and English teacher called me over and asked me if I could speak on behalf of the outgoing students during the graduation ceremony. This was what I had been waiting for, for many years, the moment of recognition. Maybe my participation in the debate competition gave me this opportunity. I don’t know. I prepared the speech and read it out in front of the entire 10th and 12th outgoing students. It was the best moment of my life, until then. I remember borrowing a sari from a neighbour to keep up with the dress code – plain sari, any colour.

I didn’t know that the best had been saved for the last. My 10th results. I was the 6th rank in school, missing the 5th by a mark. That was the highest I had scored in my entire years at school!! I had left behind the prefects chosen, the athletes, the captains.. It sounds really silly now, but what I felt on that day was like I had received a present from Santa on Christmas.

My batch is planning for a reunion after 22 years and these memories came rushing back. I have 14 years of work experience behind me now, an Account Manager at an IT firm, published a book, a wife, mother of two kids… I managed without all the fancy stuff I missed to own during those years. But the things I learnt, living in the meagre 300 sq foot house, the years at school, the scarcity of things are some of the best lessons I learnt in life. It took me a few years to realize, I am a little dumb that way.. so here goes.. “Thank you” teachers and girls for the best years of my life !!