Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Reboot in 2014

Feeling refreshed 

Being away for 4 weeks was REALLY refreshing.

I  made it a point to not check email or do anything work related ( probably one of the first vacations when I have done this)

Its not that India was necessarily relaxing ( traveling with R rarely is + we spend almost 8 days in transit). But simply occupying your mind a 100% with something else is refreshing.

When I am in my regular  life, i forget that work is a part of my life- not my whole life. On the plane back, I look at R lolling on his seat and I swear that I am going to try and remember this simple cliche that I have lost sight of.

Getting back into the routine

DH and I discussed how much of a routine our regular life is in when we are in Seattle. It takes us a long time to get over jet lag ( almost 10 days) but the routine is a relief.

Plus its nice to have our village again. Without his therapists, we are the only friends for R and it is quite exhausting ( especially in a time where we want to go around, shop and meet all our friends)

Relearning old lessons

I find myself finally able to get into all my old habits and routnes-

  1. My flylady routine of cleaning the kitchen in 15 minutes 
  2. Listening to mystery stories on my phone while I do household chores ( I am re-listening to the Hamish McBeth series - a series about an unambitious police officer and its so different than the people I am around all day that its a lovely bit of escapism
  3. Looking for little pleasures in the day  and connecting with DH and myself. DH and I are back to our date lunches on Saturday and taking walks on the weekend when his therapist is around 
  4. Have a day of no-work every week - we try to finish laundry on Friday and cooking on Saturday - so Sunday can be devoted to family time 
  5. Getting on a low carb diet and starting to walk( just 2 miles everyday but its a start) 

Still sick 

Had a depressing call with R’s doctors – basically his  labs were quite bad. He has inflammation still

If we are lucky – he may have simply picked up an infection while traveling and if we are not lucky – this means that the Remicade( magical medicine) has stopped working quite effectively.

I dont hold out much hope.I know what the answer will be even without the tests.

Each time in the past that DH and I have looked at  two possibilities its always the more worse one that R has - ( is he deaf or does he have autism, is it motivational or is it apraxia,  is it a bug or is it crohns? So many doctors offices we have sat in and DH and I hear over and over, that its  always the harder road for this most precious innocent child!)

I know his tests will be a pain to do and when the results are back - there will be no easy fix of antibiotics
( Indeed this turns out to be true -and the following days show that he has no parasites and that  his body is starting to develop antibodies to the magic medicine- which happens in 1 out of 10 cases)

This makes me want to cry - why does our sweet child have so much difficulty in life?

I think you all know i work for Microsoft in Advertising

For the Superbowl - Microsoft made an ad about how folks with ALS are using technology to communicate.

On the day that Superbowl airs, the facebook page of Microsoft is simply taken over by the ALS folks asking about the technology that Steve Gleason used in the ad. ( BTW Microsoft has responded to each facebook comment)

I read their stories with my office door shut, tears rolling down my cheeks.

People describing how "ALS is taking something from me every day" , or this request " can you send me this software .. I got diagnosed with ALS recently and when the time comes that I can no longer speak, I want to use this eye tracking software to communicate"

Truly there is no end to the difficulties that life can bring.

But we must "rise to life's challenges" like the Duchess said in Downton abbey today.

One of my uncles is a very religious and erudite person - meditates and prays everyday. I asked him what explanation does religion have for the suffering of our children.

He assures me that there is no explanation - that after all his study he has found that the answer is simple - make the most of whatever  you have

As I try to reconcile with the new challenges in my life, his simple words uttered from a sunny Dehradun terrace come to me often.

That is my resolve for this year - to make the most of life.

That, and to be brave.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

10 things about Small Town India

My Western friends often ask me what India is like.

The bits of India that the west gets to see are not quite all the bits ( I suppose you could say this of the States as well- for when I describe the small towns where DH and I have lived - its just impossibly different than the New York, LA etc that the east sees in "Friends")

India is impossible to describe as its a land of contradictions - so let me just give you a flavor.

My parents have retired and live in the small town that my mother was born in.

My mother grew up in a 100 year old house where 2 brothers lived. One brother had 11 children ( one of whom is my mother) and the other brother had 1.
This house had walls so thick ( a feet at least ). 

Each summer vacation for 2 months , we would make a trek to Purulia and my mother would be a girl again – while my father mostly would stay in station ( he is a doctor and was in the Army ) 

I was a studious child who loved school and long summer vacations were a huge burden on me.

Besides my parents’ generation was not obsessed about not letting the kids be bored. I think of all the things we come armed for with R ( his iPADS, books, internet , Wii ) and its so different from when I was a child.

My mother says her parents were even less concerned about the kids not getting bored ( with 11 you can imagine ). 

Their toys were usually discarded household objects  - a particularly memorable one was a discarded tire – that my uncle ( now a retired anaesthologist) would chase with a stick.

As usual, I digress.

This is all to say that I have a long relationship with Purulia

Progress has made its inexorable marks too and there are cars on the roads along with the traditional cycles. 

Every house has a mobile phone.

But there is still the very small town feeling because the people are still small town

1. Bad Spelling and Creative Marketing

Any of you who have seen the “English Whirled Wide” will be familiar with the spelling liberties that the rest of the world takes with the English language. 

Words are spelled phonetically – that too according to the way it sounds in Indian and it leads to some very creative marketing.
 It is the product of a simple and creative mind and many shops assert simply “you like” See "You like tailor shop" below

Actors endorsements are used whether or not they agree :-). You see Hrithik Roshan ( famous Bollywood star endorsing the salon below). Its probably 1000% sure that he has never heard of this parlour 


2. The evil eye

 There is great belief in the evil eye – ie someone can cause you ill simply by looking at you with bad thoughts or simply with envy. There are many practices to take off the evil eye ( called Nazar Utaarna ) and man recipes based on the part of the India you are from.

Cause and effect relationships are frequently inferred. 

Suppose you visit someone’s house and they say something nice to you – and you fall ill soon after – it will be  assumed that put the envious eye on you. Even in highly educated families people these beliefs are prevalent

3. The trains

Trains may have become obsolete in much of the West but in India they are still the way in which most of the people travel.

R loves the overnight train travels. He gets on the "Second Floor" and instantly transfixed.

The railway stations are  teeming centers of activity- 

Here is R and my aunt trying to attract this goat

The journey in trains is an adventure in itself - there is always amazing food that people bring in these carts.

None of the vendors wear gloves. The food is delicious and you never get sick from it. 

Lemon tea is an addiction for me and my dad and we drink several cups in our small journeys between Kolkata and Purulia .
Also you make friends -with co-passengers. Its perfectly okay and expected that you will chat and ask each other personal questions

Most of my Western friends have "horror stories" of a person they sat next to in a plan who would not stop talking. I see their point - oh  the people I have found on Indian trains!

Such  missed opportunities  from this approach of protecting your time instead of exploring what is around us.

 For instance this guy I meet
1. Has 4 smartphones - he compartmentalizes his life this way. 
2. Has 10 year old twins who are taking part in the "Dance Dance competition" 
3. His twins don't even look like sisters let alone twins as they are as far apart as chalk and cheese
4 He is hiding the fact that he has lost his iPhone from his wife as he will never hear the end of it.


OMG I cannot tell you what a huge part of life this is.

Usually the maids are the source of "what is happening". Sadly my mum's daily is a discreet and reserved lady.

While this makes her a bit boring - my mum does appreciate that gossip from our house does not get carried everywhere 

But my mom will frequently be interrupted in cooking to come outside to chat. - here she is called out by her neighbor


In addition to the charity organizations, small town people look out for the poor in their own way.

The beggar community of Purulia comes on each day to a neighborhood.

On that day, they stop at each house and people donate things like rice, lentils, vegetables and clothes

My parents are great animal lovers and animals come daily to be fed as well.

R waits eagerly to watch the cows


Like small town America, small town India too centers around religion. But while Hinduism is benign and accepting- the dieties can be fierce.

The other day I went to the Ma Kali Temple -I wore the red border sari of traditional Bengali women with a red Bindi.

 I love this goddess - she is a warrior deity - created to fight demons - wears a necklace of severed heads of demons. Her other incarnation - Durga - rides a tiger

They both have 8 arms

I looked at her and I felt strength and courage flow into me.

I have felt so buffeted by life this past year - I want strength and resilience more than anything

I pray for a long time for strength - for Crohns to release its grip on this most precious child
Well I suppose they do this in the West too - when someone leaves the house - we always says things like "be careful" or "drive safely".

But in the East the warnings are far more dramatic
A typical thing my mom would say is "be careful ... your scarf is flowing .. it will get trapped in the wheels of the rickshaw.. you will fall down and a speeding car will come and crush you".
It is very charming and I look forward to these imaginative vignettes each time I leave the house.
Although I am 39 years old, at my parents house I am still a baby and my parents often say things like "you wont be able to do this"(this can be anything from turning off the switch to going by myself a short distance- "you might get kidnapped.. because there is an alcohol store on the way) .
I also become childish - annoyed when my mom does not make my favorite things to eat and sulk.
This one - I think you guys do know - you bargain bargain bargain for everything.
 Here is my mom bargaining with a rickshaw- puller. This is a serious sport and no matter what items I buy at what price - when I return home and show my great deals -
 my mom and MIL make a point of telling me that I was "robbed blind"
Wintertime Sunbathing
Ahhh this is one of the true pleasures of winters in India - most houses have flat roves ( since there is no snow you do not need sloping roves) .

On these flat terraces - beds and mats will be laid out - so that you can have an afternoon siesta in the sun.

R LOVED these
A story everywhere
In these small towns - everyone knows everyone and there is a story everywhere.

This cobbler used to sit for years under a large Banyan tree which was cut down to make way for a motorbike showroom.
The cobbler undeterred sits there still - no doubt the showroom owners want him to move but he will not.
All the locals silently support him and he makes his living under the hot sun - proud and strong.
Oftentimes, I see his wife come and sit and give him company in the afternoons- true love in those without youth or money.
My dear friends - I have been so lax in blogging - this half written post has been sitting in my draft for ages, and so lax in reading blogs.
I am finishing this post from rainy Seattle - finally finding the time as DH has taken R off to social skills class and I am all alone.
R has had  relapse of Crohns, finally under control now and getting back to work has been hectic as well
Promise to come see u soon

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