The three boys in my life…

The dog who thinks he is a lion. The dog whose eyes and touch melt me. The dog who treats me like a manager whose whole existence is to take care of him. The dog whose compassion and wisdom and eerie perception sometimes startles, sometimes soothes and sometimes worries me. The dog whose presence alone can bring me sense of being on the ground, firmly and happily.

Husband of the sexy eyes and good body and dry sense of humour and nagging disposition and infinite love that is of a classic Jane Austen variety and not the postmodern one. I always thought I will wrestle in sack with John Lennon alike when I was a teen. Now I am so glad that didn’t happen ( hehe) and I am spending my life with this guy who has domesticated me enough to ask him in irritation why he didn’t pour laundry freshener on the latest load?

Baby Brother who always had a relatively tough life and someone with whom things tend to be, well, not easy. tough. His bus always breaks down for e.g. And there are far serious things too. But he is the only one person who reminds me of VAN GOGH in Lust for Life. Not that he is that talented or anything, but in general the mood and the destiny part of it I think. I am as fond of him as I was when I would carry him in my cycle bucket, plump arms waving at passerby and me proud to have this fat cute baby ALL MY PROPERTY!!

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Hair Hair

I had forgotten the sheer pleasure of getting hair washed in the parlour.

Being pukka middle-class Indian, I only pay for things which I can’t do at home. It means I am willing to pay a small fortune for wood baked Pizzas but not Pasta- because we like the one I make at home more than anything outside.

In palourlance, this means I pay for my twice a yearly haircut, once in 3 years straightening, an occasional foot massage and monthly body massage. Thats it. I have trained ( read bullied) husband into giving the most fantastic head massage this side of town. I have always thought manicure and pedicure absolute waste of money and time – since I bite nails and my feet never manage to stay clean for more than a day. I don’t do eyebrows and facials. My teenage experience of waxing was so horrific ( I have a gore-torture scene in mind for the Hostel franchise in which they wax a man’s body using hot hot wax and peel the skin off with strips) that I have resorted to shaving. Other fancy treatments that the parlour people bully us into looking at? forget it.

This time I decided to get a hot oil massage from my neighbourhood parlour since a wrist injury prevented husband from rendering the services. It was mind-glowingly good and there is really no comparison no matter how much I love my husband. A phone call summoning me to a Skype meeting in couple of hours disturbed the massage. It meant that I couldn’t keep the oil overnight. In a fit on panic, I decided to get my hair washed in the parlour post massage.

Aaaahh… and what a heavenly experience it is. Like the most simple meals that pleasure us in the most soulful manner. Like the pungent smell of Pears soap in chilly winters. Like the slightly salty smell of husband. Like the soft weight of dog on my lap.

I think it was in Letters to Juliet that Vanessa Redgrave says that there is nothing more satisfying than getting your hair brushed by someone. Well, getting your hair washed by someone trumps it. The feeling of strong fingers stroking the scalp as hot water cascades down in the sink and smell of professional shampoo intoxicates you and the gentle hands that remove the foam and squeeze water from hair and the dryer putting one further to sleep- I was curled in the chair by the end of it in sheer sensuous bliss.

It is a gift of the dog that I have learnt to enjoy even smallest of things. It happened when your day is spent with someone who thinks going out for a walk even for the tenth time is the superestest thing ever. Well, except scratching, and playing and cuddling and sleeping in sun and digging and barking at enemies and sniffing, well you get the idea.

I am pukka going to get this blissful thing at least once a month.

Work – Family Balance

If you are a woman, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You could be a commissioner of police or a CEO of a Billion Dollar corporate a la Indra Nooyi. There is only one question the humanity has for you.

How do you manage your family with high pressure job?

Needless to say, a man in power is never asked the same question, because it is assumed, and correctly so, that there would be a supportive woman who would take care of his family. Sorry, ‘her’ family. Because while the family might carry a man’s name, it is the responsibility of a woman to look after it and take a step back when it comes to her career/ individual growth.

What is surprising is that many people would like to believe that in todays ‘post-feminist’ world, (a.k.a where equality is totally achieved and we don’t need feminism ya all), it is a ‘choice’ that women make.

Right.

It is hardly a choice when opted for by overwhelming majority of one gender. It is hardly a choice when that same gender has been conditioned for centuries to focus on her role as a mother/ wife/ nurturer. And when the same conditioning continues even today in mainstream cultural dialogue.

Choice requires multiple options. Economic, structural, social, cultural, medical.. the list goes on. And in our society, majority of women just don’t have them.

Even women who have some structural advantages, find it difficult to act on them due to cultural pressure to be the primary nurturer and Gajar Ka Halwa maker of the family.

If you state this fairly obvious fact, you would be bombarded with angry responses, even from women. About how ‘it is her choice’ to stay home and look after her kids. Or that they happen to ‘ like’ to be there when their kids grow. Or that they are against the crass materialism and inhuman work-pressure. Or that their husbands just happen to earn more than they do and it makes sense for them to quit the job rather than their husbands. And how dare you challenge their legitimate ‘choice’?

Majority of these responses refuse to take into account the overwhelming cultural conditioning, economic factors and inherent sexism in our notions of parenting.

While feminism is about wide range of choices for women, no individual choice can exist in vacuum.

The decision to stay at home with kids or reject the pressure to be ‘powerful’ would be actually be a true choice when a significant number of men also ‘have’ to take that option, thus rendering it gender-neutral. It would be a true choice when women and men have similar options and similar parenting roles. It would be a true choice when there are no ‘mommy-tracks’ or gender wage gap. It would be a true choice when women choosing not to have kids are not looked down upon as aliens. It would be a true choice when rather than phony lip-service, mothers are actually compensated for the tremendous work they do by birthing the child.

Until then, whether we like to admit it or not, it is hardly a ‘choice’ women make in a ‘blissful post-patriachal vacuum.’

So this comes as a fresh breath when a powerful man decides to make the ‘choice’ to stay home to spend more quality time with his kids and blogs about the unfair expectation of women to worry about ‘family-work’ balance, while men never get asked about the same. Powerful men making this choice and recognising that this choice doesn’t exist in ideological vacuum, gives it legitimacy in our world full of dated notions of masculine identity and power.

It also reemphasises that kids have ‘parents’ and not just ‘mothers’.

It acknowledges that fathers also care about their kids and can sacrifice their careers for their kids.

Millions of women have to take this option every day. We definitely need more dads making this choice and being aware of the gendering of this concept. It would not only ease the pressure on women but also bring a healthier and balanced notions of parenting in our society.

What is in the name?

I have always wondered why women who don’t take their husband’s last name after marriage, end up giving it to their kids?

The woman is not a ‘property’ of her husband anymore ( progress!! 21st century!!) and thus is not bound by law to take his name.

Many would still take their husband’s name. For the sake of convenience as well as social customs.

Several, if not many women don’t choose their husband’s name these days. But 99% of those I know, will give the husband’s name to their child.

I don’t mean to sound judgemental, but I am genuinely intrigued again by this choice.

Now even Supreme Court is considering option of using the mother’s name in official documents.

Women invest far more in their children than men do. Be it the actual physical part: periods, pregnancy, birth, care of babies and adolescents. Or socio-cultural expectations and losses due to motherhood.

But when it comes to naming their kids- they invariably opt for the father’s name.

Why? Is it just a convention? Social pressure? Identity crisis? Proof of ownership? Ease of procedures?

This article sums up all my thoughts nicely.

Singing Songing

My most favourite professor during my MS, when teaching a class on Musical Genre said, that the most romantic cinematic expression EVER is when two people sing to each other.

He would often grill me on the language of Bollywood cinema in connection with the songs. He loved the fact that we, were not ashamed to sing to each other in Indian movies. ( Though many Indians are and they thinking singing it vaaary vaarry backward and something to be ashamed of, especially when talking about Christopher Nolan movies.) He said there is nothing more emotionally pure cinematic ecstasy than a person singing to another or to him/herself. (He also once described a 1950s movie as so beautifully shot, that he wanted to lick the cinema screen. No wonder he was my favourite.)

So back to the songs. I have always imagined my life with a background score of a few dozen violins and songs for every occasion, emotion, feeling. What is life without songs? And songs in which you usually play a role of anguished/lustful/ loveful/ melancholic heroine? It is like a perfectly coordinated playlist. You listen and sing to it and your face is behaving like Madhuri Dixit and you are imagining Hugh Jackman and Stephen Chow and Shahrukh making sensuous songstery love to you at the same time – and the lift opens and you are faced with a group of people staring at you as if you are Uday Chopra.

I have been too embarrassed to sing songs to husband. A. Because he is not the song-dance-muaahh muaah kind of guy. B. It is embarrassing!!

I am 100% sure there are couples who do it, but I will get super self-conscious.

But in the shower I always address my loud singing to him ( along with Jackman- Chow- Khan trio)

Anyway. So I found the ultimate release of my inner Lata when the dog arrived.

In the last 2 years, I have composed several songs to him. They range from hip-hop, to dhinchak Bollywood, to Rehmanesque peppy numbers to Beatlesque LSD classics. There are also specific dance steps accompanying them, mostly inspired by street dance during Ganapati festival.

And he loves to run around happily and bark at me when I start the song-dance routine for him.

The lyrics are usually in the same family, although the placement varies and so does the tempo, repetition and other tricks in the trade. They all’Praise the dog’.

Oh ( insert one of the dozens of pet names he has) you are so cute.
(Sound effects.)
You are the most beautiful puppy.
You are my dog and I am your human.
We will play CATCH, GETIT, SQUASH, STAY and hundreds of other games
(Sound effects and rapid acceleration of dance moves.)
You are the best swimmer in the world oh smart one
You are the most brave of all the creatures in the world
You are the purest and you are the most ( insert nonsensical words meaning superdupertripperbestest)
Cutest, bravest, sweetest, beautifullest, softest, powerfulest doggie, you are my love.
( Drums, trampolines, violins, Nashik Dhol all creating a wild cacophony)

The dog usually gets a toy and shakes his head profusely as he runs round and round proudly agreeing that he is indeed all that and maybe a little more. He jumps on me and walks on hind legs and tries to tear my pants in pure joy.

The routine usually ends with tugging game with the said toy.

Sometimes, after the song I ask him to come for a bath or clean his ears- two of the most loathsome activities for him. He looks very disappointed like a hero breaking up with his lady-love seconds after a chartbuster song. What? You praise me so much and now you want to clean my ears with that stinky solution?

When I am bathing him, the lyrics change. On the lines of:

yes, yes, brave dog, sweetest dog, we are almost done.. ah let’s wash the stinky asshole once more… there, now the chest… ooh.. look at the dirt in your paws… yes the ears…cutest dog will not smell like rotten vegetables any more…. aahh…shampoo in the eyes.. but bravest dog is so brave in bravery… wow… what a great dog… what a greatest of all dogs… almost done now…aaahh.. what a great dog… he is the bestestest…

He looks at me with his soulful eyes, hiding from the water spray and looking like an orphan in war zone who hasn’t eaten for months and has worked 18 hours a day in a coal mine.

Husband baby talks with him all the time and dog looks content. After all, it was the husband who trained him and so is a natural hero in his eyes!! ( Unlike me, who is destined to be his manager- cum- number 1 fan in the world.) Once when husband started singing to him though, the dog looked so alarmed and puzzled and gulpingly bewildered, that I started laughing hysterically. Because husband is the world’s worst singer. Husband humphed and grumped and told the dog that he will never sing to him if this was the response he would get.

I am sure husband sings to him when I am not around.

I for one, am very happy of having found a perfectly appreciative object of my Bollywood songstery.

A dog arrives

There was one night when the husband came and said, I know what we are going to do. We are going to get a dog. And we are going to manage it.

We had always been talking about how we will get a dog, or several, once we retire in an idyllic place . It was a major part of our dream of future. Every day, yes EVERY DAY I would watch those dog videos on YouTube and those ten mins or so were the purest pleasure in my corporate bullshittized life. Husband always wanted a dog but it was not the crazy, bone aching desire like mine. Like everything else with him, it was a calm and more mature wish.

But getting a dog to live in a tiny apartment in suburban Mumbai- we had always hesitated. It was not fair on him/ her. Who will look after the dog when we are in office with love and reliable care? Apartments are not the right environments for dogs. and even though there was plenty of space to walk and run in the gated community we stay in, we had our large childhood homes with plenty of open space to run around as the ideal for dogs.

But as we started talking, within half hour, we had figured out who will look after him during office hours, his daily requirements, how will the exercise work out. Yes, it is not ideal for him/her, husband said. But our love will make up for it. He/she will be world’s most loved dog. And since getting a dog was in top three of my big wish list for life, it is worth it, he said. NOW.

It made sense.

I dreamt of a small puppy snoring between us all that night.

We wrote emails to friends the next day when we woke up happier than we had been in ages. To see if they knew of any puppies that required homes. We had no requirements- gender or breed. As long as it was a puppy.

Within one week, a friend emailed me saying her bitch had had a litter and would we like to see them?

Yes yes.

We went to see them when they were ten days old.

We found out they were born exactly on the day we decided to get the dog.

And I am not making this up, but when we set eyes on the litter, I knew the dog.

I panicked with thought that he might have been already taken. I trembled when she said he was not. She held out two puppies to us, including the dog, who were not taken. Any of these are fine, husband said, looking sentimental. The other puppy licked my fingers but.. but…. I kept on looking at the dog and said ,’ We will take him. Is that ok?’

Of course, she said. Husband smiled at ball of fur in his hands. The dog looked at him seriously with one eye open. His rather large head lolled a bit. My friend tied a green ribbon around his neck as id. Husband put him back gently with his sleeping brothers and sisters. The dog promptly went back to sleep.

I kept on looking at him all the time. I know he is our dog. I said as soon as we got back in the car. Yes, I could see you just locked your eyes with him. Husband said.

It would be exactly one month and twenty days before we got the dog home. We visited him twice interim, and my eyes always went to him whenever I entered the riotous courtyard. He looked more serious than others. He would often start playing on his own and randomly stop to look at the flying pigeons or something in the corner. His head was slightly larger than others. His colour was fuzzier. His eyes had that opaque puppy sheen that dominated my dreams. I had picked a Russian name- name of my all time favourite character. And he looked like a canine avatar of the character with his slightly spiritual face.

The day arrived. We had already puppy proofed the house thoroughly, bought dozens of books, had managed the holiday of our extremely lovely driver who would also be the puppy sitter and now only the arrival of the dog was remaining to complete our family.

We drove there. The dog had got his first bath and was sitting seriously on a table. I felt a bit of twang for the mother, but from experience of 4 litters in my childhood home, I knew she would be soon glad to be rid of the suck monsters. Husband picked the dog up in arms gingerly and we carried him out. Stick to drive dogs away in my hand, just in case. I sat with him in my lap. He would look up every time the car passed under the bridge with his eyes that are still capable of melting a murderer’s heart.

He came home and went to a carpet and hid his face under. We tiptoed around him. He didn’t look scared but we knew he would be nervous for a couple of days in new surroundings and people. We put some milk, some dog food, water next to him. He opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. Then he sat up and looked at one corner with concentration. ( He still does that and it spooks me sometimes). We called him to come inside. He peered as much as he could from his position but seemed afraid to leave that spot. I picked him up and showed him the house. Then we sat him down again and showed him his toys.

It was maybe 20 mins since the dog entered the house. He saw the toys and all the serious Russianish look disappeared and was replaced with the silly joy only puppies are capable of. An hour later when my brother and my nephew arrived to visit him, he was flying in the air with his large ears and his springy legs. He ran everywhere, slipping now and then. Trying to jump on the couch. Trying and getting scared of jumping in the balcony. Scratching my legs with his razor-sharp nails. Trying to kill all his toys. Trying to outrun all of us. Peeing profusely all over to mark this as his home.

It took 20 minutes for him to know that this is his house. That this is his pack.

It has been 2 years and 3 months since that day.

And the dog has not only marked his territory but us, his pack for life.

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s day. Hurrah. Get that electric shaver for your dad pronto if you love him TRULY DEEPLY REALLY.

Father’s day simply doesn’t pack the punch reserved for Mother’s Day. It is to be expected of patriarchal cultures where motherhood is put on pedestal, but very little real powers are vested in mothers. It is not very different from having a WOMAN’s DAY in a male chauvinistic society. After all, patriarchy is defined as ‘system of society or government by fathers or elder males of the community’.

This research report is not a highly insightful, but an interesting read about Asian Fatherhood. Nothing in it will surprise an average, middle class Indian.

Indian middle class fathers in their thirties and late twenties are different from their own fathers. They want to be part of their kids’ lives in more intimate manner. The heavily gendered parenting roles are still firmly in place though, majority of fathers believe that women are naturally more suitable for childcare. The parenting duties might not be as strictly drawn as for earlier generations- but in essence they are the same. Father is an authority figure while mother has a more nurturing and administrative role.

I had read a paper about how having a kid increases and sometimes introduces traditional gender roles in American couple, who might not have had a very gendered relationship before the arrival of child. There was a comparison with the Swedish parenthood and as usual, the Swedes came out with flying, gender-neutral colours. It would be interesting to probe the gender dynamics in modern Indian parenting further. I suspect marriages turn more gendered after the arrival of the child in India.

Notions of middle class fatherhood have changed since Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan simmered at each other with angsty father-son conflict. Or since Simran was whisked off to India by her baritone India loving dad as soon as he learns that she is in love with someone. These days we see fairly diverse popular representations of fathers in media-signalling the change. We do see pally, intimate and gender bending fathers, be it in ads or in movies. Though there is still a huge gap in what is expected from a mother and a father. On screen fathers are more likely to worry about buying an insurance and mothers about their child’s nutrition.

I live in an area hugely popular with young parents- thanks to five top-notch schools and gated communities. In my housing society, I have seen one father who regularly walks the child, feeds her dinner as she pounces around after dogs and cheers her during evening skating sessions. He works from home. Other than him, be it picking up kids from school bus, skating sessions, stroller walks or other public events are managed by young mothers. My friends with kids tell me that it is mothers who are active parents even at upmarket schools. In my extended family, there is no doubt who is the primarily responsible for the child. It is almost always the mother.

Does this mean that fathers love their children less than mothers do?

It would be stupid and erroneous and sexist to say that. Having a child changes the life for a man and the love he feels for his child can not be underestimated just because he lives in and is shaped by a patriarchal society. Gender roles do define parenthood, just like they do virtually every aspect of society. That doesn’t mean that fathers’ love for the child is in any way inferior or less important for the child.

Not that it was in earlier generations. Expressions and social norms aside, a father, almost always loves his child more than anything else in the world.

My father is batty about kids and used to dance and sing as he fed us. Even today he is a master entertainer for small kids with his fantastic stories. Because my mother is an inhumanly efficient workaholic- she almost always has done what traditionally fathers were expected to do. From repairs to finance to driving to taking major decisions in family. My father, a hopelessly inefficient academic took a backseat. My mother always bended stereotype of a small town, middle-class woman. And my father is remarkable that he was never jealous, insecure or worried about his wife. It is not that he has no fault- but whatever gripe we have with him as as a ‘person’, not for his gender. We have always idolised our mother, but as far as love and commitment goes- my father was/is no way less than her.

One doesn’t need a day to celebrate love between kids and parents. It is one of the strongest bonds one would ever have. No electric shaver needed. Love, care, understanding and joy of being with family is all it takes for father to feel loved and honoured.