Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some Morning Thoughts

Just read
1. http://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/dheeyaan-dee-maa-rani-bhudhaapey-bharey-paani/
2. http://doctorofphilosphy.blogspot.com/2010/01/indian-women.html

Now I'm going to be depressed the whole day!

What makes it worse is that this attitude pervades and permeates the pores of our country. It is like talking and breathing, it is everywhere, is is normal. It is all right to think like this. Its perfectly legitimate to want sons. People don't even stop to consider that this is something that could possibly ever be questioned.

This happened to me yesterday night. I was talking to Mom, and she was, as usual, bemoaning the fact that I don't have kids (read son). The latest in a series of ideas about how to have children is to keep a mannat. That is basically saying to God that I would do such-and-such if you give me so-and-so.

Like a true negotiator, she gave me a real world example (real people I know)
"There was this woman in our colony, who had three daughters. She kept this mannat that she would go to the temple every day for 40 days, and do jhadu-poccha there. For 40 days non-stop... ab to uska beta jawaan ho gaya hai"

Do you want me to list everything that is wrong in the above statement? It might take another 2-3 hours. I felt immensely sorry for this poor woman, who must have been hounded to death by our society for producing 3 daughters. And the only way she could get respect and any worth whatsoever was to beget a son.
But my Mom only saw her as a winner- a winner who worked hard to get that most coveted of prizes, a son.
Anyway, the point is that when narrating this story, my Mom did not even think that this was offensive, wrong or anything. For her, this only demonstrated that God can fulfill all wishes, and give you a son.

My Dad (who's the most enlightened person in the whole world) actually gave me a real world reason to have a son. When I was arguing with my parents, why son?, he said something prosaic, practical and a Parthian shot:

"Sasuraal mein reputation ban jaati hai"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cultural Stereotyping: Tale of 2 States

I just finished 2 States, Chetan Bhagat's latest. He tells the 'love' story of a Punjabi guy and a Tamil girl, who want to get married but have to bridge the North-South divide. Though I am a cultural snob and think that his writing is pedestrian at best, I still could not put the book down. No matter how cliched everything is, it still touches you. And makes you laugh. I was laughing out loud ALL THE TIME- and you know why? Because he gets it. He takes all the possible cultural stereotypes, which you already know, and hate (or like) and still makes it sound interesting. He makes fun of everything, be it the Punjus or the Tambis.

Secondly, I could truly relate to the story. I married a 'Madrasi' too- a Telugu guy, not exactly Madrasi, but you know, they're all the same ;)
But yes, there were distinct correlations between my story and the book. It's never easy to bridge the North-South divide. It took time and patience- and I have to admit, my husband did everything. He took the time and patience, I just stood around screaming and making things worse.

I loved all the stereotypes in the book. He puts it all so well and in such a funny way. From eating, talking, dancing, living... oh everything! Its actually almost incomprehensible that these vastly different cultures belong to one country. One line of his captured the complete essential difference in the cultures:

"Marble floors are to Punjabis what U.S. degrees are to Tamilians".
(as in, both can induce mini-orgasms in the respective cultural psyche).

One of the most insightful cultural differences is about how to cut vegetables. I have had huge and often vituperous debates with my friends about this. This is so basic, so innate and so banal, yet so true. Punjabis cut vegetables using their thumb as a base. That's how I cut vegetables, and that's how everybody in my world has always done it. When my world expanded (came to the US, met people from different cultures) I got to know that this was not the only way to do it. Of course, I still do it as I am very used to this and so very very fast using this way- its more efficient and works for me. So this has been an issue with me- after all, I almost alienated a friend by telling him that my way was right!

So when Bhagat actually talks about this, I was beyond impressed. I mean, he knew this small cutural artefact and that this is different in different cultures. It is such perfect attention to detail. And he's a guy- men would never even notice that such a thing exists (I mean, they barely notice the food, different methods of chopping vegetables?). This fact in the book just hit me. And made me love the stereotypes even more.

I am not saying the stereotyping was good. Or bad. That is exactly how we are. We are the stereotypes that Chetan Bhagat captures so well. Yet, he says in an interview that this North-South divide does need to be lessened. As he puts it, its good for national integration. Well, I am glad I have done my bit for furthering that goal :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to give the Perfect Party

My mother is a stickler when it comes to giving parties. She is very very particular about this: not only should the food taste perfect, it should look perfect. The way it was presented was just as important, if not more, than the way it tasted. To this day, I follow all her norms when I give a party or invite people over for dinner. It makes me more than anal, but what the heck, the results are beautiful. My dinner table looks good! Here are some tenets that I gleaned and use all the time:

1. All the subzis/dishes should be of different colors: this was one of the most essential rules. This added variety and beauty of its own. Her favorite combination was Chane (dark-brown), baked cauliflower (yellow) and paneer curry (orange) or bhindi (green). She was so insistent on this rule that its deeply ingrained in my head. I always always always follow this. My favorite color combo is rajmah (dark-red), capsicum (green), mushroom-paneer(light-orange).

2. The paper napkins were arranged in a twisting ascending spiral between the plates. The napkins were placed such that one corner peeked out, then the next plate was put on top with its napkin corner starting where the one below ended. It looked beautiful!

3. The spoons were arranged in a pattern: either inverted V or some other design. They were never just kept there.

4. The chutneys had to be 2/3 colors: these were kept in matching bowls in the center. She generally put achaar (orange), ketchup (red) and walnut-garlic chutney (green) (this was my Mom's uber specialty, the tastiest chutney in the world) in the center.

5. Use the teaspoons for dessert- and never mix the tea- and table-spoons. I remember being scolded if I ever did mix them up.

6. The glasses were to be kept upside-down (I don't know why).

7. The table linen had to be perfect too. She has a gorgeous collection of hand-embroidered table mats that we used for such occasions. And the table cloth was either net or hand emboidered applique or some such.

8. The accompaniments had to be even and just so. For example, if we had chopped onion to go with the chane, they had to be finely and evenly chopped. The carrots had to be cleanly grated. The dhaniya was to be cut in even pieces (I can't even imagine what effort that took).

9. The appetizer drink glasses were the small ones, the water glasses were the big ones etc. So make sure everything goes into the right glasses.

You know what, I have not even started talking about the food yet. Even an extra pinch of haldi was not tolerated- after all, that could drastically change the color. Giving a dinner party in my house meant planning down to the perfect last detail. Even the hand-towels in the guest bathroom were matched!

No wonder, my husband goes crazy everytime I have a party at home. Though no matter how hard I try, I can never match the perfection of my mother's parties. Can never cook that well. Or make the chutneys, or chop the onions finely.
But I do get the glasses right. And the linen. And the cutlery and crockery. And the appetizers. And the matching hand-towels!

(Image source: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/sumner-dining-table/?pkey=csquare-rectangular-tables)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Toe Rings

Do you like toe-rings?

I love wearing them. I think they are really fashionable and stylish.
I got three pairs of really pretty sparkling silver ones with colored gems a few months ago. One has a shimmering opal in the center with small colored gems around it, the second one is a checkerboard of different colored sparkling gemstones and the third is an S-shaped purple something.

It took me a while to get used to wearing them. I still have to remove them when I wear sports shoes or narrow shoes, since they keep cutting my toes. And they are always too loose or too tight! But despite all the inconveniences, I still like to wear them... after all, they look so pretty :)
Of course, toe-rings- as with every Indian ornament- have a deeper meaning. Wearing toe-rings signifies that the woman is married (it is the Indian equivalent of the wedding ring). And is mandatory in some regions of the country. Yes, that's how I started wearing them too. But then, I started liking them for their own beauty, not for their significance. They area a pretty peice of jewellery.
Shouldn't we be wearing jewellery because it makes us happy, rather than because it signifies such-and-such, or because its mandatory?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Spark of Difference

What makes a genius? Or even an above-intelligent person?
How does one recognize the SPARK? The Spark that differentiates lowly mortals from the true geniuses?
No, this discussion is not sparked (pun intended) from 3 idiots. Though of course, parallels can be drawn. But I still think that a lot of people who get into the IIT do not necessarily have the spark (having been in one, I know!)
I was actually thinking about this for the last few days, and was wondering what makes a genius. I have seen a lot of people do really well in school, but that is mostly a ton of hard work and diligence. They don't have the spark.

So what is it? How do we define it? How do we find it?

Are we born with it? Or can we grow into it?
Is it a mindset? An Attitude? A brain?

Since I had no answers, I decided to do an observational study. Divide all the people I know into two categories "Spark" and "No Spark". But this turned out to be a reflection of my thoughts, and an extremely subjective process. It was simply, and ONLY, my own perception. Which, I am the first to admit, can be and IS extremely biased.
I still don't know. Grades don't cut it for me- you can be bad in school, and still have the spark. The closest that I can get to is what Rancho says in 3 idiots- that grades ke peechhe mat bhaago, knowledge ke peechhe bhago.

Is that the answer?