The Beauty of Pregnancy

My not – yet – pregnant – friend beams

At my 36 week old baby bump

And from what she has heard, she says

It’s the most beautiful of all things known.

She mentions the glowing skin,

And the lustrous fuller denser mane,

And of course –

the wonder and magic of life within life.

I asked her what in the world she was talking about

I would’ve glowed if there was time and energy to

If the black patches on my skin would let it through.

My eyes now have permanent dark circles,

My face brings the puffer fish to shame.

Spider veins scurry under my blotchy skin,

Stretch marks, scars and dark lines creep in.

Hormones rage and darned emotions play –

I cry without reason and spend nights in depression.

Darned Fatigue and those blasted Hicks

makes me contemplate on death and beyond.

And the ‘bundle of joy’ –

the bundle of joy pokes and jabs at my ribs.

Makes my bladder his teddy and pillow,

when he is bored, he loves to play –

‘Karate Kicks’ and ‘Poke until it hurts’.

Lounging in his  premium sauna and spa

He then cranks up momma’s central heater

And orders a cocktail to sip on and relax.

He sleeps through the morning – silent and calm

stays up through the night and squirms around.

And I lie on my bed, in pitch black darkness

staring at the ceiling that I  obviously can’t see.

I tell her that the beauty’s not in the glow or the bump-

but in the pink line that  draws itself on the strip,

In the first flutter and the first ultrasound

In those little jabs, pokes, squirms and  hiccups,

There’s beauty in anticipation as well –

Anticipation of holding him, feeding him, and seeing him grow

But of all, the true beauty is in that moment

When I see him for the first time – a little creature

that has been born of my flesh and my blood!

When the teacher was taught a lesson by her students

Everyone has an experience in their life which makes them reconsider their career choice, or decide that this is what they want to do. And for me, it happened during the first few months of my first job.

When I stepped into the classroom of second graders, on the first day, as their class in charge, I was wondering ‘What the hell I was doing teaching a bunch of hyperactive second graders who obviously were going to get on my nerves’. And within the first month, I understood and agreed to the general and popular opinion among the teachers, that among the three classes I taught, two of them – a grade 2 class and a grade 4 class were notorious and unruly, while the third class was the most well disciplined of all, perhaps of all school and I agree without further arguments. The kids of this class were quiet, attentive and scored well in all their tests and assessments. But it was in those two infamous classes, the classes that teachers despised and considered bothersome that I had found a bunch of kids who changed my life around and made me realize the true meaning, joy and glory of being a teacher.

Little Pip was in grade 2 and most of the teachers told me that he had some sort of behavioural problem. So, I too entered the class with this prejudiced view that made me judge him through the preprogrammed eye. He never completed his work, wrote nothing on his book and whatever he wrote was rubbish, shabby and illegible. He just would not sit still and bothered everyone around him. His grades dangled at C and D and it wasn’t as if he cared.  Everyday, I walked into the staffroom and was greeted with complaints about him. I barged into the class with these on mind and with the slightest provocation screamed at him. Little Pip was comfortable being shouted at and he soon would go back to his old ways as if nothing had happened.

And then came the first open house. On that day I met the parents of Little Pip, and Tom who was in grade 4. Tom’s mother couldn’t speak English and she asked me whether there was anything I could do to help him out. I knew Tom as a child who always disturbed the class and went on talking. His grades were not that good either. There was another boy Tintin who always failed his tests and his spellings were horrible. The teachers and students told me that he had some problem although I still have no idea what it was. His parents met me as well and they seemed desperate for a solution. And as I went over their concerns at home, I wondered whether I was doing enough for these students . I reevaluated myself as a teacher, and my prejudice against these kids and decided that it was worth a try to go back into those classes with a clean slate. The next day, I walked into each class, determined about what I was going to do. And I knew what I was going to do.

I was going to scrap the lesson plan and the injected views about these kids.

I rearranged the classes and made an arrangement in a such a way that all the slow learners and students with other difficulties were around me. The brighter ones copied down the notes while I sat with those who needed help, helping them to write, often erasing out the mistakes I noticed and making them work again. Those who finished with the notes, went around helping others with their work. I handed out compliments every time someone got something right, even if that meant a curve of a letter they couldn’t properly form earlier. It was tedious but I wasn’t going to back out anyway. 

I did exactly the same with the my fourth grade Tintins and Toms. Those who could do the workbook on their own did it and those who needed help sat around me and worked. Every time they got stuck, I would help them, sometimes even going through a concept quickly. As the assessment week came nearer, I prepared revision sheets for students. I corrected them in class and for those who could not make it, I recycled the questions until they got the hang of it. Yes, it was not easy and needed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. 

When the kids saw that the teacher was there for them, it was as if they were more eager to work than ever before. Tintin was happy every time he nailed a question. I sent a note to his parents asking them make him practise at home, especially the spellings, and promised them that I would take care of the rest. It was not a one man show. There were kids in my classes like Mary, Sam and Harold who offered help to these kids during lunch hours or class hours and updated me on the status.

When the assessment results came, Little Pip and Tintin had aced while Tom made it to a B. That day I walked into the classes, and asked them to guess the grades. The kids guessed D and C, and was finally at awe when I told them the real grades. Let me tell you that, I had in no way adjusted or made the marking liberal for them. Those kids had worked for it and their classmates and parents had supported.

The moment I stood there watching those kids beam with joy, I knew I was proud of what they had achieved. That moment felt more fulfilling than anything in my life. That was the moment I realized that a teacher’s true achievements are the achievements of her students.

Sometime during that month, despite some protests, I gave the student of the week title to little Pip. In the days that followed, Little Pip changed. He enjoyed the attention that I gave him . His behavior and handwriting improved so much that it surprised me. One day, as I was writing something on my pad, he brought his book to me and showed his work. It was very neat and I gave him the pencil I had with me at that time. The complaints about him soon ceased and the teachers started to notice the change in him as well. There was even a teacher who taught the same class of mine who claimed to be the reason for his change. I didn’t mind. His mother told me during the next open house that he had improved a lot, and that he talks about me a lot. I received a note from Tom’s parents thanking me for the effort I had taken. Tintin, even after I left the school runs to me and meets me, wishes me and says thank you every time he sees me.

Soon after the end of that academic year, I left the school for another job. Let me tell you that there were many people in that school who really loved me, that soon after I left, criticisms about my teaching and disciplinary methods started flooding in from those who have not even seen a single class of mine. I have not tried to set the record straight. And none of these stories or experiences are there on my PD file. They are just personal memories that I’ve taken with me.

Those were the kids who taught me that lesson plans and blue books aren’t everything. It’s all about the strong feeling that you give them, the feeling that your teacher would be there for you when you need her, that she would not label them or let a label define them,that she would be able to see past those labels, and that she would not forsake them.  And for me the greatest achievements are and will be those students who come to me even after several years telling me that they remember me and would remember me as one of the  teachers who made a mark in some manner, and their achievements of which they consider me a part of.

On a road trip with apple maps

Joy-of-Tech-Apple-Mapgate

So I dropped Khalid off at his school and on my way back, lost my way and ended up at what looked like ‘the middle of nowhere’. After some failed trials and an hour later, I decided to use whatever data that was left on my mobile to guide me home. That was when I realized that I had not downloaded google maps after my recent phone switch and that I’m left with apple’s maps. I had heard a lot about apple maps, but internet always exaggerates, it couldn’t be that bad, right?

So I decided to use the apple maps and here is our conversation.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

apple: I can’t find your location.

Me: *Turns location services on*

apple: okay, where are you….hmmm…. yeah… guess you are here :| . Where do you want to go?

Me: M – U – S

apple: Musaffah police station / musaffah?

Me:

200

Musaffah!

apple: Sorry, Can’t find the place

Me:

200-8

then why did you ask?

apple:

200-3

Me: Fine, Musaffah police station

apple: Okay, here you go… this is the route

Me: Ok, start routing

apple: can’t do. There is no road nearby

Me* What!! I’m on a road. I’m on a fricking road apple. I’m on one of those grey ash things that you call a road. THIS IS A ROAD. Show me the way you stupid app

Apple:

200-11

Me: *tries google app download, but it doesnt download. So I go on web and use the search. It gives the route but unfortunately it is not hands free.

Me: Apple, please show me the way

Apple: from your location, right?

Me – Uh – huh *sob*

Apple: to where?

Me: Musaffah police station

Apple : dont know – where is that place?

Me:

200-10200-12

200-7

And since my 3G was still stubborn on not downloading google maps, I pulled over and asked a man who was nice enough to lead me to the Musaffah exit. Sometimes the old fashioned way is much much better!

And you apple, it should be illegal for you to make maps!

The Sneerwell Chronicles – The facebook, child care and piercing edition.

Scan 3Have you heard of Lady Sneerwell? Met her and her sly sidekick Snake?

If you have read Sheridan’s ‘School of Scandal’, chances are that you already know them both. It doesn’t matter even if you haven’t. In my stories, Lady Sneerwell is that woman who can be anyone from my mother to that nameless woman whom I met at the coffeeshop, who thinks it is her duty and responsibility to poke her hooked, straight or flat nose into someone else’s business, and if possible provide a manual on how to look and live -‘The Sneer manual of appropriate living, appearance and existence’.  Snake solves the question of gender equality by being the male version of this very respectable (according to Sneerwell standards) woman.

So in the years that I have existed in this beautiful world (if you slough off the cankerous human kind, it really is  beautiful – the people and the world), I’ve met and continue to meet a lot of Sneerwells and Snakes that it is impossible to talk about all of them in a single post. (Please do not be misled by my doodle. Sneerwells come in all sizes and shapes) However, I will inaugurate the Sneerwell chronicles with this story of an April night (or was it July?)

Well, Mrs. Sneerwell paid us a visit at our family home that night with her daughter and grand daughter. She looked radiant as always and greeted me with “Have you gained weight again?” I smiled politely and told her that there might be a problem with her vision considering the fact that I had lost almost 10 kilos at that time. That’s when she noticed the subtle glint of a little diamond on my right nostril. Sneer well gasped and pointed at it.

“No one pierces their right nostril”

I glanced left and right, and tried to recollect all the faces I’ve seen that has had a little pin stuck on to their many shaped noses. I couldn’t recollect any. I calmed myself and said “Depends, North Indians pierce the right side, South Indians get the left pierced and other countries don’t even care which side. In my case, I happen to have a right nostril that is a bit more defined than the left. Meri marzi (My wish)”

The woman pointed her chin up and tried snubbing “Well, I have never heard of – ”

I didn’t hear the rest of it as i made sure whatever she was telling me now was well received by my ass.

Since we Indians believe in the much unwanted “Athithidevo Bhava” which apparently put us under Colonial rule for a long time (but we never learn, do we?); someone brought the usual sorts of munchies and chais and soon she settled down comfortably at the front porch with her little grand daughter who was eight months old at that time. As she bounced her up and down on her knees, she turned to my three year old son who was saying something and unleashed her wisdom

“Your child can’t talk properly yet. It is not clear.Show him to a doctor.” Not a bad advice, considering his speech was not that clear at that time as he was a late talker. She continued “Had you spent half the time you spent on facebook with him, he would have talked fluently by now”

And that. was. it.

I straightened up, smiled and told her this:

“Well, you know what. Your grand child is eight months and you are still bouncing her on your knees, telling me that your poor daughter needs help to look after a child and that’s why you moved in with them. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but before you judge me, you should know that I was back in that flat of mine in UAE with a three month old, without any help, and clueless as to how to look after him. I cooked, cleaned, looked after my child – bathed him, fed him and played with him. Days on stretch, he would not go to sleep and I’ve stayed awake with him. There were nights he would bawl continuously when he was sick or just cannot sleep. Those days, I stayed with him throughout the night, all the while exhausted and tired. I couldn’t call my mother over to bounce him on her knees so that I could take a nap. She was too far away. I’ve had days when my house was a mess and I would sleep with my baby, unconcerned about the thrown around clothes and uncooked food. There were days and nights when I have cried, finding all of it over whelming. And yes, I am proud of it – I’m proud of the fact that my child and I had learnt together our new roles in life. I’m proud that I did it all alone when most new mothers sought the help of their mothers. And yes, whenever I get time, I face book. I don’t watch television at all. When others spend their time before the screen, I catch up with my friends, relatives and connect to a world outside the four walls and find my ‘Me time’  on internet. When my baby wakes up, we play, we sing and we talk.”

“And if you have not known, kids develop differently. We have already taken him to a doctor. He says the child is fine. He will pick up eventually. People around me in UAE tell me that children there start talking late and if the doctor says it’s fine; it’s fine. ”

Thanks to those good souls, the burns from the the fire Mrs. Sneerwell had set upon on  my mind was soothed. Some of them shared their experiences and told me that their kids too were late talkers. The second one picks up early since they have an elder sibling. It’s because they don’t see many people and don’t have the opportunity to interact with others of their own age. And no matter what we do as adults, sit and talk or show them videos, they pick up language easier when they are with their own kind. My son started talking fluently and singing rhymes when he was two and a half, thanks to my neighbour girls who always took him around to play with.

If your child has not started talking by the age of two, consult a doctor. If he says it’s ok, put him in a play group. And ignore Mrs. Sneerwell and her theories of her own making.

When he was four, one of my colleagues told me that it’s fascinating that he talks beautiful Malayalam. Last year, when I was doing my CELTA course, my trainer came in, a native English speaker and after talking to my boy who was seven at that time told us that he might be a good test subject for us to practice on as his English is quite good. I don’t know why but Mrs. Sneerwell flashed through my mind’s eye on both instances and all I could do was smile.

Something about a woman and a fort. 

She walked into the middle of the forest

Measured a piece of land as her own 

With a spell erected forts of solitude

And closed the iron gates of her fort. 

Swift return to the centre of the plot,

With thoughts  that made a twisted knot,

She sat cross legged and mumbled on. 

The wax figures around her melted on

The colours combined to a dirty brown

And the muddy murkiness curdled on

And into oblivion her mind walked on. 

She sat there

And the world melted on

Leaving her and her forts of solitude. 

The fort tomorrow may come down

Until then the world around her curdles on!

A letter to my boys about being a man, and not a chauvinist.

susie01-del

Dear boys,

All my life, I grew up listening to the elders around me say how difficult and anxiety ridden it is to bring up a daughter. I’ve heard every parent with a daughter say “Don’t squander! you have a daughter to marry off” or “I am so worried when she is out alone” or “you can’t go for that trip”  or “Why can’t you put the duppatta properly?”  or my mother (just like any other Indian mother) concluding the long drawn arguments with the overused punchline “you will only understand when you become a mother to a girl child”

So yes, I was conditioned to believe that having a boy is a good thing. See my dears, I don’t have to worry as I don’t have to marry you off with huge dowries; in fact you are expected to bring it in by marrying a wealthy girl. And your only chance to do that is  if you are an engineer or a doctor; not a rock star. That’s another story and I will tell you about it another time. With you, I don’t have to worry about misplaced duppattas or you wearing jeans and t – shirts. Obviously you are allowed to wear whatever you want to. You can even walk around in your Jockeys, but if you were a girl, I will have to send you swimming in burqas and salwar kameezes. I don’t have to worry about you being ambitious or spontaneous. I don’t have to worry when you stay out late or go to nightclubs or bars or down two drinks. I don’t have to worry when you decide to back pack and hike your way up the lonely hills of Himachal Pradesh or trek the unknown tracts of Brazilian rainforests. I don’t have to worry when you push your limits. Because that’s okay! That’s okay when you are a boy.

Today when I write this, you – my elder darling is seven and my younger sweet heart – you are still in the womb. I think I am too young to be writing this, and you two – well, ridiculously young to understand it.But, on the day when you do understand, I hope this will mean something to you. Around me are stories of innumerous rapes with sometimes shocking accounts of fathers and brothers violating their daughters and sisters. When the news came to me that I am going to have another boy, it struck me that raising a son perhaps is much more tougher than raising a girl.The more I thought of it, the more I think girls are pushed further and further inside the ridiculously small boundaries because of your kind. Every time I see those rapists, those woman- blaming hypocrites, the men who take women to be sex dolls – I am scared. It scares me to think that you would grow up to be one of them. I don’t want you to, and I honestly don’t know how I would teach you both to be better men when you grow up.

The first advice to me as I hit puberty came as  a story. The story of the leaf and the thorn! My mother told me that every woman was like a leaf and every man a thorn. It did not matter whether the thorn fell on the leaf, or the leaf fell on the thorn; it was the leaf who always had to suffer the consequences. In simpler words, consensual or rape – the blame – darling is always on the woman! After all, there has never been a virginity test for men, Was there? Every woman grew up hearing this story. But I don’t remember any anecdote that was passed on as puberty advice to men. It’s sad that we still pass it on to the daughters. I want you to know that there is no way the leaf has to take the blame if the thorn tore it into pieces. No leaf goes around looking for the thorn. If I had a girl, I would ask her to look out for herself, be aware of the dangers that are around her, But I will never ask her to take the blame for a man’s violations.

You might already know that a pair of jeans with a casual tee is the most comfortable way to go around. I love it too. I will sleep in it if I had to! When I am at the Abu Dhabi airport, I often forget what I’m wearing. I feel myself at ease. But when I reach the Trivandrum International airport,  I feel stark naked even if I pull a jacket over. It feels as if my breasts and butt just appeared out of nowhere. If reading this makes you cringe, imagine how uncomfortable it makes a woman to go through it. You’re a man and being attracted to women is natural.But there is a difference darling, between ‘stripping someone off their clothes with your eyes’ and checking out. There is a point where it becomes lecherous. I hope you would grow up to understand that if a woman’s dress slips, it’s not something for you take advantage of. I hope you know when to avert your gaze and respect her privacy.

If you like someone, do ask her out for a coffee but please don’t act as if she is just a body that you find attractive. Just because she accepted your request doesn’t mean she is there to make out either. It just means she likes you and probably wants to know you better. And being an English teacher myself, let me tell you that there are adjectives that you can use to let her know that you like her, and ‘hot’,  ‘sexy’, and ‘something about her ass’ are definitely not among them. ‘Beautiful’, my sons, will always be a good compliment.

When I wear a dress, all I think of is how good it makes me look. I make sure that the dress flatters my skin tone, my body size and shape. Well, I bet that’s what you think of too when choosing something to wear. I want people to look at me and see that I’m pretty. When I wear a red lipstick, that is because I love red, and I think it looks nice on me, not because I am a slut. I might get my hair coloured, my body tattooed or pierced, because I like it. When I wear a knee length skirt or a sleeveless blouse, it is because I like it. May be she likes wine. May be she loves hanging out with male friends or going to night clubs. It means she likes having fun. None of these my darling, is in anyway an invitation to sex.  Your mind is your own – I hope you are it’s master and you would understand that nothing she wears or does says she wants sex unless she herself says it. If something she does, doesn’t appeal to you, Move on! You guys don’t click, that’s all. It doesn’t mean her way of life is wrong.It’s not your job to judge or dictate someone’s life. I’m not saying that there are no women who lounge in the depressing ditch, there are. Just the way there are men who lounge in the same ditch of degradation. Do not judge an entire sex by the few.

The first time I heard of those bastards in the bus was when I was in college. One of my friends came crying and told us that she was groped as she was getting on to the bus. She yelled at him, but no one responded and the man just walked on through the busiest bus station in the city – unconcerned, unquestioned. We were in a bus another day when a man kept on bothering a woman who finally responded. But she soon became the victim as everyone around her (including the shameless me) did nothing, but watch her being insulted by the man who called her a liar. Then came another time, when I jumped off a bus teary eyed, too scared to respond. Three or four college boys got off the bus with me. All they said was “If you had said something- anything, We would have put the bastard in place” I was in college back then, but I guess that was the last time I responded with tears. I knew it was better to open my mouth and say something. After all, as people would rather believe, it is not our fault. I want you to be one of those men who respond. If you see a woman being harassed, I don’t want you to turn your head away. I want you to react. I want you to step up-to him in any way you can and not leave it alone.

From a very early age, the society that I grew up in asked to keep my dreams small and contained. Although, I’ve broken off the constraints in my growing years, I can’t say that I am completely free of them. When you my dear, once commented that, it was the mother’s job to cook and stay at home, and that women didn’t do much, I felt myself die a little. I wondered whether I’ve in some way given you the wrong idea of what women can do. But then, your father had corrected you saying that there was nothing of that sort and women can do anything they want. When I left my job during my pregnancy, you said that you loved your mother – the working mother. Every time, you asked me where I was going to work next, I felt as if you had bigger dreams about your mother’s career plans, than me myself.

I want you to know that we have a mind of our own and in that mind we have dreams of our own. I want you to remember that a girl has her own perspectives, opinions, aspirations, ideologies and life style. If someone says that these things do not count in our culture, then tell them that their culture of gender inequality is not yours. If someone says that something cannot be done by a woman, don’t listen to them. A woman can do anything as long as she believes in herself. The problem is that the society teaches her to not believe in herself from the moment she is born. It tells her that she is weaker, helpless and incapable of pushing the limits. I want you to know that there are women who will beat you at soccer and pull you out of sticky situations which you cannot handle, and debate with you on politics and culture. There will be times when she will be the stronger one of you two, even helping you stand straight up in times you cannot. I want you to learn to see them as your equals and not some’thing‘ inferior to you.

“Don’t talk to a man like that. You are a woman” Another classic! If you can talk like that, so can she. If you disrespect her, so can she. Respect is mutual, darlings. If you don’t give it, don’t expect any. Respect her opinion. Respect her privacy. Respect her. When you have a girl friend, or if you fall in love or if you get married – remember that she is still a person. She has her own likes and dislikes. Don’t expect her to give it all up – who she was, her memories, her beliefs, her habits, her likes, her dislikes, her priorities, her dreams and aspirations. If you can’t, probably she can’t too!

I hope when you are reading this, you are living in a different world from mine. I hope the streets are safer for women and they are not discriminated. But if it still hasn’t changed, I want you to remember that being a man doesn’t give you the right to be a dictator. It is you who can make it a better place for the women. If that means you have to stand alone from the rest of the masses, so be it! I hope you two would grow up to be men, whom a woman would not be scared of being with alone, even if it is in a dark, deserted alley. I hope you would be a man whom a woman would love to spend her life with, for the one reason, that you let her be!

Love

A consolation

Last year, this month, I was happy that I was going to be a mother. I was expecting. Three months and counting. But one cruel morning stripped me of my happiness and I was rushed to the hospital. Two days and as the third day waned into the night, I was twisting in pain, tears rolling down my eyes as my body ripped off the final thread and made my body and soul empty and devoid of the life it harnessed.

I did not go for work. I was at home. I was depressed. I didn’t want to talk. My spirit had vanished and nothing remained. I was angry. After some days, I went back to work. I was working at another school then, teaching fourth and second grade students. I couldn’t drive the dark clouds away. I didn’t talk much. I broke out into sobs now and then. Sometimes, seeing those second grade children, I broke down. I had to try hard not to cry and push down the lump in my throat.

At that time, there was this seven year old boy who was autistic. I used to handle his special education needs. He would never look at anyone. He was always lost in his world. He will not talk to us as well. It took so much effort to make him speak. He muttered to himself but never replied to our questions. He hated anyone touching him and would shrink away as we tried to touch him.

The day, I went back to work, we had some practice in the school courtyard and the students were standing in a line. I was standing behind the boy. He suddenly turned and tugged me. As I stooped down, he touched my cheeks and silently looked into my eyes and smiled. After a few seconds, he turned and went back into his own world. I felt my eyes burn. That was the most beautiful “It is ok. Smile” I had received. Unspoken, unheard, yet felt. I will never forget him