Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Art of Discipline & other parental clashes


Since Maya has turned two, we have had to deal with natural behavioral problems like tantrums and pushing limits, which are typical to her "terrible twos" age. At times, it is hard to handle, but it's not really a big deal as it is just how kids grow up. The thing that I have been struggling with is that husband-ji and I are on completely different pages in terms of discipline. And the hard part is that we both think we are right and the other is wrong!

Discipline is one of those few things that I think we should be on the same page about. I feel we need to be consistent, and like a team - because Maya already knows that when I say "no" to something, she can go to her Daddy! Of course, other things like feeding and playing - we can be on different pages about and it doesn't matter. Husband-ji will play with her differently than I do, and that's a good thing. It's an individual thing. 

Previously, another thing we needed to be on the same page about is sleep - what time she should go to bed. That one we really struggled with last year, because husband-ji did not want to let her settle herself, which made the entire house (including my MIL) get no sleep for 2 months during a sleep regression. In that instance, husband-ji had to follow my lead and let her cry it out for a few days until she was able to sleep soundly for 12 hours at night. As a mother, I know my child's cries. I know if she is fake crying or real crying. Husband-ji does not yet know this, although he is getting there...

In that instance, he followed my lead and he trusted my mother's intuition. Yet in terms of discipline, he feels he knows better (and I still KNOW I know better!). Similar to the sleep situation, we are clashing a bit. I think it has a lot to do with differences we have as individuals, as mother/father, and as well as some cultural differences.

I think that it's a good thing to say "no" to your child - you have to set limits and boundaries. They cannot have everything they want. They cannot have every toy that's in a store. They cannot have cakes at all times of the day and especially at night. They cannot go to bed at any time they please. We have to set healthy limits for them - because they don't know their limits. If I don't start our bedtime routine wind-down (stories, bath, massage) then my daughter probably won't decide she's tired for two days - she is just soooo high energy! And we are not staying up with her - hell no!

My daughter has been doing this funny little act where if you tell her "no", she screams and cries. She only does it for a few minutes if you let her be and let her soothe herself. If you try to soothe her - she will take you as a willing audience, and it will go on for hours like some Bollywood movie with no intermission (on LSD!!!)

My technique of handling her is: I will firmly say no and why, she will have her outburst, and I will go on with my day until she settles down, and then we will talk about it. I want her to self-soothe, because I know that in those high-pitched moments - there is nothing I can do. And just like adults - children have emotions that pass through them. It's okay to feel sad or angry, and then the emotion passes and it's fine.

Husband-ji is handling her a completely different way. As soon as she has a shout/cry, he is running to her as if she is a helpless newborn infant and he is getting mad at me for "ignoring her", saying "BUT SHE IS JUST A CHILD!!!" The tantrum will go on for hours as he coddles her. 

I think this difference in our methods happen for two reasons - one is that I don't look at her as a little baby anymore. She is a big girl, who is doing lots of big girl things like speaking sentences and using the toilet. Husband-ji feels she is still a newborn baby. It makes me wonder if he will always look at her like his newborn baby...?

Another reason, I believe is cultural. Both husband-ji and my inlaws immediately rush to her if they think something's wrong. This is because they all used to live in a joint family - there are just so many people to help pitch in. But...it creates an environment where children become very dependent and babied - for life. After a certain age, it can become detrimental. We live abroad now, where I can't rush to her every need - where I have nobody to watch her and no maid. Where we have very few parent friends. It's a different world here - a more independent world - for better or for worse.

It is quite odd though with the discipline, because he is quite strict with her in other ways. For example, he is very strict when she is doing her artwork. He doesn't want her to wreck her crayons. I have to tell husband-ji that "the crayons are like 1 rupee - relax!" I want her to feel free when she draws and when she reads. I don't want to be strict with her in those moments.

So, it is quite interesting to see how things play out as parents in this journey together. Over the past decade, we have gone from being friends, to dating, to engaged, to married, and now we are parents handling toddler tantrums!

I feel that we should be on the same page about discipline (rather, he should be on MY page! LOL) or is it okay to not be? Or should we find a middle ground? The answer: I don't even know! (which is basically the answer to every parenting-related question!)

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Dear readers, have you ever been through a similar situation? How do you deal with differences in discipline? Or differences in parenting?


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Thursday, August 28, 2014

How to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi


For foreigners who are coming into Indian families for the first time, the plethora of festivals and how to celebrate them can be overwhelming. Tomorrow, Ganesh Chaturthi will be celebrated and it kicks off an entire Fall season of festivals, followed by Navaratri, Durga pooja, Diwali, Dussehra, among others (depending on your family). Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated grandly in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Ganesh Chaturthi is my favorite personal festival, because I can celebrate it within the privacy of my home and quietly, peacefully celebrating my own spirituality. Ganesh is also my favorite Hindu God and the one I feel most connected to. Ganesh is the God who removes obstacles and also enhances intelligence - it is a big festival for students of all walks of life. The image of Ganesh is said to absorb all negativity in the household.

Poojas are easy to perform by yourself - you do not need a priest or even a born Hindu to be there along with you. All you need to do is pray in your own way. Remember that faith and devotion is more important than how the rituals are performed. The only thing you need to be mindful of is to take a bath before presenting yourself to the God.

The first thing about celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi at home is that you need a clay Ganesh idol to place in your home, on some kind of raised platform. The Ganesh idol should always face West, with it's back to the East.

First thing in the morning, before sunrise, in the Brahmamuhurta time (start anywhere between 3:30-5:30am) meditate in front of Ganesh and invoke the God with some incense. You can read the stories where Ganesh is featured. You can play Ganesh mantras, or recite the 108 Ganesh salutations, or read the Ganesh Upanishads. If you are reciting mantras, you can start by chanting Prana Pratishta, which breathes life into the idol. After that, you can chant mantras like "Om Gan Ganapathaye".


(Ganesh mantra)

After that, you can offer him some coconut, sweets (modakam), medicinal leaves, grass, and red flowers. You can adorn his forehead with a vertical red line. Then, you can show him the aarti (light from candle or diya) along with a ringing of bells.

After that, you can say some personal prayers by ask him to remove any obstacles and to bring you wisdom and knowledge. If you are studying, you can also offer him your books to bless.

In the days afterwards, you would do the submerging on the 1st or 3rd day (but it should not be done on a Friday or Tuesday). You would submerge the idol into a bowl of water, along with some coins and flowers - the significance of this is to purify and eliminate negative energies. The clay idol would dissolve into the water as it would dissolve any negativity.

!! गणपति बाप्पा मोरया !
!! मंगल मूर्ति मोरया !!

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Dear readers, do you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi? 
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Parental Immigration: the long wait...


The hardest part about being in an intercultural marriage (especially being married to an Indian) is dealing with all the immigration woes. The first struggle of the relationship is getting the couple together - living in one place. Some couples are even separated for years due to immigration. Luckily, we didn't have that problem - but now we are having that problem with my inlaws.

Because my inlaws are elder and they would be dependents on us when they get here, it is not a priority for the Canadian government to process their application quickly. We applied to sponsor them to come and live in Canada way back in 2010 - and just now we have received a notification from the Canadian side that they are ready to process our file. FOUR YEARS LATER!!!

They have given us 90 days to provide all sorts of complicated documents including: police certificates, marriage certificates, birth records, extended family information, etc. For a Westerner, these may not be difficult to obtain - but for Indian citizens it is. For example, my husband's birth certificate has no name on it, and it just says that a woman gave birth to a live baby on a certain day. No full names are mentioned. The only specifics are that they were both Brahmins! Another thing we need is thatha's birth date and death date, as well as thatha's wife's. Well, nobody in the family knows when thatha's actual birth date was, because he was born in a small village in Tamil Nadu. And the same for thatha's wife. In the olden days - there was a lack of official documentation for everything - for example, my inlaws recently got their marriage certificate this year. In India, astrological birth charts are not a problem, but official documentation sure is!

But the real problem is getting a police certificate from Yemen - where my FIL lived for 4 years. He has no contacts there anymore - all of his colleagues left because it got too dangerous. To obtain a police certificate for Yemen, you must apply in person or get someone else to apply as a representative. Which is simply not possible, since we live on the opposite side of the world now and know nobody there. Luckily, we got a last minute contact...now if only they follow through!

So, after we submit all this documentation and the Canadian government approves it, they send it to India. The current processing time for India is 5 years, where it will probably sit on someone's desk and collect dust. There is no way we can speed up the application - we just have to wait. And as our immigration lawyer says, "Just wait...and stay healthy"...

It really is not fair to have two governments (both Canada and India) who are completely disinterested in bringing families together. I look at the other wait times for other countries (for Hong Kong parents it only takes 12 months!) and it just seems too long by comparison. Even war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East have less wait times than India! I guess I should be grateful that this option to bring my inlaws into the country is even available in the first place - but when I see Hong Kong's swift processing, it makes me feel like "What makes them better than us? Or more deserving to be here?" I guess it is not so much about that, but they are clearly more efficient!!!

It was a bit strange going to the immigration lawyer's office - 4 years after we started the application process. So much has happened - we moved three times, we got married, had a baby (who is now a toddler), and husband-ji has become eligible for Canadian citizenship which we have applied for. By the time my inlaws get their approval, my daughter will be 8 years old, which seems like a lifetime away...

So until then, all we can do is wait...and stay healthy...


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The end of an era


There has been a major shift in our household in the last month - Maya has stopped napping. OMG. Fellow parents, this is breaking news!

It happened quite suddenly, yet at the same time it was gradual. Since she turned one, she only wanted to take one nap per day. And gradually, it was going later and later, til the point where for the past 9 months, she'd nap so late that she'd be up until 11pm! And although I loved the time in the afternoon to myself (during her naps), I hated staying up that late with her.

(Yes, I am an old fart...11pm is way past MY bedtime!)

And then, all of a sudden, at 26 months old, she just didn't want to nap anymore. She just decided it herself that she wasn't interested in it. We tried to force her to go down, but it didn't work. Instead, she is going to bed much earlier (at 7:30pm) and sleeping at night for much longer (about 13 hours) - which is really great.

Whenever I tell my fellow mum friends the big news - that Maya stopped napping - they're like "OH GOD!!! That sucks!" Which I would have totally thought too. But actually, it's not that bad. You see, when she stopped napping, something shifted in her personality - she became calmer. Before, she was so high energy that she was bouncing off the walls at every waking moment - it was utterly exhausting. Now, she has moments of the day where she is quieter and more independent. She is actually easier to handle.

Now that she is not taking naps anymore, there is a lot more flexibility. For intance, I used to plan our lives around her naps. Nope! I cannot meet around this time because this is our sacred nap time! Now, we can do whatever we want all day and not have to break up the day by rushing home.

Of course, I certainly miss the time to myself in the afternoon. But in reality, it's not like I was doing anything productive since I had to tiptoe around the house like a mouse! Now it has forced me to wake up early to get my alone time, which in turn gave me time to exercise in the morning, which in turn made me go to bed even earlier - so it was like a full domino effect of positive things. Plus, now that she has her quiet time, I still get my quiet time, except we get to spend it together, which is really nice!

It's definitely another indicator that she's growing up! Next up....finishing potty training, her big girl bed, and then preschool! Full steam ahead!

Parenting is funny that way....just when you get used to a routine, it changes!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Coping with (Indian) homesickness


Let's face it. There is no place like India.

Whether it is growing up in India, or living in India, or even just visiting India for long periods of time - you will inevitably feel the pangs of Jai Hind homesickness. There are so many ways of life that are distinctly Indian and you can't find it anywhere else, with the same extremity. Take that holy cow with blue horns wandering down the road, blocking traffic, for example. What may seem as an initial irritation is what you will probably miss after you are live abroad! Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em...!

Homesickness is worst in the initial few months after living abroad. The first few weeks may feel exciting, but after that you will feel homesick as you begin to miss your own life and the comforts of home. It intensifies as the Indian holidays go by without notice, and when you realize how far away you actually are when you try to phone your relatives and they are just dozing off when you're starting the day. You may also notice it years/decades after settling abroad, and suddenly wake up one day and realize that you miss your culture.

I think one of the biggest shocks to the system after being in India is how quiet it seems everywhere else. After having your senses assaulted by boisterous relatives, honking horns, and loudly sputtering mustard seeds - it may feel as if the world outside India is so deathly quiet. Especially in North America, with all this open space and greenery we have. For a person who is dealing with homesickness, the silence intensifies loneliness. Coming from India to North America is like coming to a coffin - the food is so bland and it is just too damn quiet!

I have dealt with homesickness at various points in my life, having moved thousands of miles away from my home country to go to college, a well as living abroad in Asia. Coming back from India, I feel Jai Hind homesick all the time. I even feel homesick for that crappy squat toilet (no pun intended!). As an intercultural couple, I often have to help my spouse AND inlaws AND Indian family cope with their homesickness. 


Here are some of my expert tips:

Keep your connection to home 
Food, music, movies, and books. Learn to cook your favorite dishes from your region and share it with your new friends. Just the aroma of these dishes will make you feel right at home and bring back childhood memories. Listening to music will help with the constant silence and improve your mood. Watch movies to hear your local language, as well as keeping up to date on pop culture. Read books that are written by Indian authors or that are set in India to make you feel like you are there in person. Getting lost in a book is a wonderful way to transport your mind across continents and time.

Build a community
The hardest part about moving abroad is making friends. In India, it is easy - people are always inviting you to their house at all hours of the night, and are quick to start a conversation with you. Living abroad, it is much harder to make friends. Especially in the more uptight British countries like Canada and the U.K. Sometimes people want to take their time to get to know you and feel you out first. Unfortunately, this means it can take years to develop real friendships with them - the type of close friendship where you can divulge an honest answer to the "How are you?" question without the other person getting freaked out by the answer. Building a community around you means you have to step outside of your comfort zone and make as many friends as possible. A community could be a compilation of friends, neighbors, or even your yoga teacher or a coffee barista. Consider everyone you meet on your daily routine as part of your community. You can't do it alone.

Find other expats
Other expats who are living abroad away from their families will know precisely about the range of emotions of homesickness you are dealing with. Plus, you can trade insider secrets and resources about the best things to find and where (for example: snacks!) Plus, you need to have somebody you can bitch to about the locals when you're fed up with them.

Get outside
The worst thing you can do while dealing with homesickness is to further isolate yourself. Get out of the house - even if it is too hot, or rainy, or snowy - and explore your new environment. Even if you just want to be alone in nature - just get out of the house. You will discover the environment around you and may even get inspired. Plus, the more you go out, the more your new place with feel familiar and more like your new home.

Don't lose touch
Even if it intensifies your homesick, don't lose touch with your old life. Make the effort to keep in touch with family and friends. Get a cheap calling card and set aside some time each week/month to phone them and catch up.

Celebrate both cultures' holidays
It is important to celebrate your new country's holidays as well as holidays from home. This may require extra effort on your part, but any excuse to celebrate more will put you in a good mood. Mark all the holidays on the calendar and enjoy preparing for them as well as looking forward to them. Getting to know your new culture's holidays will help you feel more comfortable in your new place as well as it being a great learning experience. Take it from us intercultural couples - you can and should do both!

Improve yourself
Being abroad is an amazing opportunity that not many people get - why not make the most of it and learn something? Take a cooking class, an exercise class, a language class, a photography class (I recommend taking a class in order to make friends). Or even volunteer and give back to the community. Remember that in every struggle we have, there lies an opportunity for us to improve ourselves.


There is no cure for homesickness, but you can always take steps to reduce it's intensity. And remember, home is where YOU make it!

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Dear readers, have you experienced homesickness? What are the things you do to cope?


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Friday, August 22, 2014

The tapestry of self care

It has become my mission this year to learn how to take care of myself efficiently and to place my self as a top priority. 

I have a lot of responsibilities. I am a full-time parent, wife, and daughter. I also work, but I don't consider that as much work as taking care of the important people in my life. Because I give so much of myself to others, it is essential for me to invest in my self. That way, I can give more to others bountifully and consistently, without feeling depleted or without having constant meltdowns. Since I have a shortage of time, I have to do the majority of these things either early in the morning, or in the evening. As it is with everything, self care is something you have to make time for - and it is so worth it.

It has been a long road to self care, and I'd like to share some of my new healthy living routines that I've been working on - things that bring me inner strength and peace of spirit...

Yoga
My chiropractor suggested that I do yoga to strengthen my spine, and doing regular yoga releases tension in my body as well as my spirit. I only go once a week and it is like a religious experience!


Exercise
Every medical professional will say exercise is the thing that's going to keep you healthy and fight disease. It's not just diet alone - it's also getting your heart rate up and sweating. I like to exercise early in the morning because it gives me energy throughout the day. If I don't exercise, I am exhausted by 2pm. If I do exercise, the endorphins sustain me for the entire day, and I also sleep better. I have set up a routine now where I'm actually excited to work out!

Regular chiropractic care
After becoming a mother, the first thing I started doing for self care was going to the chiropractor and everything has opened up from there. Going to the chiropractor really got me thinking about what other ways I could take care of myself. My chiropractor is family friendly so we all go together. It has really helped me move my body better - the first appointment, I could hardly lift my leg, and now I can lift my leg almost all the way up. There is nothing worse in life than being stiff!



Nutrition
The best thing about eating something healthy is how you feel after. Since it is Summer, I have been eating an abundance of seasonal fruits and loving it! Just eating something healthy at each sitting makes a huge difference...



Meditation
My MIL suggested that I start praying, like a good Indian wife. I didn't take her seriously until I had a tension headache and decided that some last minute meditation might help. I created a little impromptu pooja corner in my office, and I sit there for about 10 minutes in the morning and light incense and play my Ganesh mantra. It is nice to have a place where I can sit, clear my mind and give thanks to a higher power.



Pockets of Solitude
As a mother, solitude is a rarity in my home. While my daughter is sleeping (either morning or evening), I take some time to enjoy the solitude. To be mindful of the silence. My mind is constantly thinking so this has been a hard skill for me to master. Sometimes I will look out of the window or just sit and drink tea. Sometimes I will take a hot bath at the end of the day. My yoga teacher says that 10 minutes of silence per day for clearing your head can help stress levels.

Unplugging
I wrote about this earlier this year and have been taking the time to unplug throughout my day. I will disable notifications and put my mobile on airplane mode at certain periods of the day. I frequently do this in the evening after my daughter goes to bed - phones off, computers off.



Reading novels
One of the things I love to do is read a good fiction novel. By practicing unplugging and my pockets of solitude, I am able to concentrate more on reading. I love to get lost in a good book and get to know the intricate and eccentric characters and see how they develop over the course of the novel. And they say that reading more makes you a better writer. Plus, it makes me really sleepy!




Artwork
One of my favorite activities is doing my artwork alongside my daughter. I am a classically trained artist, yet I haven't done any art since she was born...until now! When I see her drawing, it really inspires me - she is so free. I sit right next to her, and I draw too - just a little sketch. There is something really beautiful about being next to a child who is so confident and instinctual in her expression. Just doing this small act of creativity calms me, makes me focus, and is a creative outlet - however small it is. I've also noticed it has really honed in Maya's concentration skills too. It's kind of like Art Therapy! During our little daily art sessions, I always put on some music - either carnatic classical music or Lana Del Rey (aren't we eclectic!)



Have fun
Whether it is taking my daughter to a park, calling a good friend and sharing a laugh, or watching a movie - it is so important to take some time out of your day to have some fun. Fun - meaning no pressure. So often we get stuck in our daily grinds of to-do lists that we forget to have fun, what ever that may be.

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When I was younger, I thought being healthy meant eating healthy food. Or exercising. It was all separate. 

As I get older, I realize that being healthy means being emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy. That it is a full combination of so many things - a lifestyle - that makes up a tapestry of self care. It is interwoven and interconnected. You cannot build this tapestry with one thread. It is the combination of threads (methods) that really makes it work.


"There is an [Native American] proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person." – Rumer Godden

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Dear readers, what are your favorite methods of self care? What self care do you practice daily?


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Maya's Caricature

Last week, I got a present from one of my MADH fans who is a professional caricature artist - Sugumarje. He did this lovely drawing of Maya for us....


The original picture it was inspired by was from our Venice trip:



Click HERE to visit his website and see his work!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Calling for a reform on the justice system #ShaktiMills

Yesterday, I shared an article on my Madh Mama Facebook page about the aftermath of the Shakti Mills gang rape - a personal eyewitness account from a friend/work colleague of the victim. Reading the article of the events that happened after the rape was extremely reflective of a society that has an inefficient and insensitive way of dealing with victims of sexual assault. I can only hope as more people read this article, it will call for a reform on the police force and the justice system.

The Shakti Mills rape case in Mumbai was the second highly publicized gang rape after the infamous Delhi gang rape, in which the victim, Jyoti Singh Pandey, died from her injuries. But this victim from Mumbai survived. When I initially heard of the news, I was shocked because Mumbai is considered to be one of the safer places for women. Also, I felt a closeness to the case since I studied photojournalism and have photographed by myself - all over the world. I remember being that 22 year old girl, going into abandoned places and documenting it. 

In the aftermath, the media focused on where it happened, and they actually caught the rapists within a few weeks and jailed them. The media was very satisfied that the rapists were "slumdogs". It was quite an impressive catch for the inefficient police force - who decided to remove retail store mannequins displaying lingerie as a means of "preventing rape". However, not many people knew the victim's side of the story and the insensitive way in which she was handled. 

READ the article here: "That Hashtag was my Colleague"


Some major things struck me about the article:

"we watch a posse of policemen walk in. They've clearly been informed about the nature of the assault, but there isn't a single woman officer in the team."

Clearly, these officers have been informed that this is a gang rape case. It is insensitive for a group of aggressive men to approach a woman who has just been gang raped by a group of aggressive men. Why did nobody think of that? Are there no high ranking women officers on the police force - and why were they not called to this case first?

"Behind me and within earshot of everyone, another officer with a kind face engages in intermittent chatter with the nurses. "What happened was awful, but why did they have to go there? And all alone? Do girls think they can go just about anywhere?" "

Victim blaming at it's finest. Why did they have to go there? Why did the rapists have to go there, clearly with an intent to rape, having seen them "trespassing" and then going back and rounding up their friends. This type of victim blaming gives women the message that women are not welcome in public spaces, nor are we safe, because anything could happen. The unprofessionalism of the police officer's comment is absolutely vulgar. Save the gossiping for when you get home, sir.

"Their reporters have turned up at her building and asked questions of her unaware neighbors and the building’s guards."

This is harassment. Not only does the victim have to deal with the severe social stigma of something like this, but she has to deal with reporters with absolutely no conscience, who are blinded by their own "journalistic" ambition.

"The police make Megha wear a burqa to avoid the cameras outside, but inside the room where the suspects will be called in by turn, she is required to take it off. There are separate line-ups of seven men, and the survivor has to pick the accused by touching him on the arm. She then has to go to a corner of the room, and announce loudly what the suspect did to her. And this is what Megha does on September 4, in a room full of men that include her attackers, without any women officers present to aid her. She touches the men on the arm to identify them, and then says, Isne mera balatkaar kiya (He sexually assaulted me). She repeats this four times over."

What is this barbarism? The victim has to stand in the same room with the men who have victimized her and touch their body? She has to say it four times, because once is not enough? She has to stand in front of them, vulnerable and ashamed, with virtually no barrier of protection like a window or bars? What is this?

"she has found out that the police is handing out the document to anyone from the media, without redacting Megha’s identity and personal details."

This clearly goes against Section 228A in The Indian Penal Code which states that a survivor of sexual assault's identity is to be protected - "Whoever prints or publishes the name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under section 376, section 376A, section 376B, section 376C or section 376D is alleged or found to have been committed (hereafter in this section referred to as the victim) shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine". The police are supposed to be the people enforcing these laws, yet they are willingly giving away her information? They are willingly committing a crime against the victim and have faced no consequences for doing so? Why is there no internal investigation on this? 

"When it is our turn, we go in aware that the defense lawyers will lob questions designed to embarrass and throw us, but we are not ready for the lies and mocking assertions: Your colleagues were having an affair and had gone to the mill for privacy. What sort of an editor allows a male and a female intern to go to an abandoned area? You only want to implicate innocent men for the loss of her honor. She was not assaulted. At one point, one of the lawyers badgers Neha about whether she noticed semen stains on Megha’s underclothes, hoping that because she is a woman, talk of semen will embarrass her. He stops when the judge objects, but he laughs with the other lawyers. Two of the accused also laugh."

Unbelievable. I have no words. When is enough enough?

"Their closing statements are: We put it to you that you were not assaulted. The blood on your clothes is because you were menstruating. You’re doing all this to become a famous photojournalist."

What is this logic? What is this blatant disrespect for somebody's life? Where do people draw the line? Where does the judge draw the line? Is this not re-victimization? 


Then, the rapists were found guilty and sentenced. But what about the victim? How can her life go back to normal, how can she trust ANYBODY again? Much less people in positions of authority. In the aftermath of the crime, it is victim blaming from start to finish. Reading this entire process, no wonder people do not report sexual assaults. The police force is inefficient, insensitive, and ungracious. And the courtroom - where are the code of ethics there? Where is the morality of such people? Where does the court draw the line - between questioning and emotional bullying?

The entire process needs to be reformed in a way where it supports the victim psychologically. There needs to be sensitivity. There needs to be a protection of the victim's identity so that she can have some space to heal, mentally, physically and emotionally. The entire process of the aftermath is not an environment that is supportive to the victim. I wonder how many other victims have gone through this process and crumbled under the pressure? It is inhumane

As this story comes to light, and as more women are being continually victimized - it is not only the rapists who are at fault. We are dealing with an entire justice system which is supporting the misogyny of the rapists, and encouraging victim blaming by persons of authority. At every step - the hospital, the journalists, the police, the lawyers - at every single step, this woman had to deal with heartless behavior and was victimized again and again.

So tell me, when is enough enough? Is this the kind of justice system that we want to protect our children? 

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Dear readers, what are your thoughts on the article?

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lucky Ones


My dad had a biopsy a few weeks ago and we were all waiting on the edge of our seats until he got his results back. My dad has been particularly fearful lately - could be the post-traumatic stress from having cancer earlier this year. This feeling of "is it going to come back?" has been haunting him at every moment. Every time he gets an ache or a pain, he thinks, "is this it?"

My dad got his biopsy results back and again he is non-cancerous. He doesn't need to see the doctor for another whole year and he has a clean bill of health.

I can't begin to describe how blessed he is, and how grateful I am that he's got a clean bill of health. Praise The Lord - we get to live!!!! What a blessing that is...

Last night, we had a casual Sunday family dinner where we just ordered Chinese food and watched the Kardashians - even in those moments we are so lucky to be all together. That we are not separated by hospitals or that one of us is bed-ridden. That we can eat together, and laugh together, and watch Maya play. It makes all our fights seem petty and ridiculous.

Health has been on my mind a lot lately, not just because I have been dedicating a lot of my time to self-care, but also because my anniversary for surviving meningitis is coming up. I'm not really sure how I feel about it. As the date nears closer, I remember what it was like to be in the hospital bed on the edge of survival. I got a small headache the other day and it completely freaked me out, even though the doctors said I am now immune to that particular strain of bacterial meningitis. Instantly, in my mind, I went from zero to one hundred - is this it? As much as I come down on my dad for worrying too much, I understand it myself.

In a nutshell, I would say I feel beyond lucky. Every morning I exercise at dawn and it feels damn good to feel the blood pumping through my veins and feel alive. I run faster when I think of my long days in the hospital bed, staring out the window at all the fortunate people who were walking around. When I left the hospital, I said "I never want to be back here again" - and I meant it. Even though I have a sense of dread for this anniversary, I feel lucky that it reminds me what's really important. As my dear MIL says, "health is wealth!"

By God's Grace we are healthy...and that means the world. That means that we get to wake up every day and live to our full potential...


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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jab We Met (Part 4) - "The recovery & the Indian Mother-in-law"



The first time I spoke to my future mother-in-law was to ring her up in the middle of the night and tell her that her beloved only son had been in a terrible accident. This is not how I ever imagined our first conversation to go, but I had no choice considering the situation. Woman to woman - she had to know...

After the accident, we spent a day in the ER and the next day meeting with the city's top plastic surgeon since the burn was so severe. They would need to do a skin graft on his leg and take skin off of his leg and put it on his arm. So he had to have another operation - and it was not just his arm that had to heal, it was his leg too.

We spent the next couple of weeks in and out of the hospital, coming home and then going back again, checking into the hospital again, with me filling out all of the forms, keeping a note of all the appointments, getting medication at the pharmacy, bandages and tape, and cleaning off his arm several times a day and reapplying a thick cream to regenerate the skin, and bandaging it all up again. Our innocent love was uprooted into a choke-hold by a medical crisis. We were no longer gazing at each other under our long romantic walks under the Spanish moss and Oak trees - rather I was gazing at the man I loved, who was vulnerable, in a lot of pain, and homesick as well. We were going through the motions and trying to survive day-to-day.


The day he went into surgery for his skin graft was his 25th birthday. I sat in the waiting room for the entire day. They said they would phone me when the surgery was over, but I just couldn't move. I was too anxious, thinking of him being anesthetized and cut open - again. To make my anxiety worse, Madhavan's phone kept ringing with all of his family from India calling to wish him happy birthday. I answered all the calls, not knowing who was calling because I was eagerly awaiting the notification that he was out of surgery. None of the relatives seemed to understand my accent or why he couldn't come to the phone, but they clearly came to know that a foreign girl was holding his cell phone. I tried to explain that he was having surgery and nobody understood. His mother was too distraught to tell anybody...I think she spent the days after the accident camped-out in the temple.

In the weeks after the accident and the surgeries, Madhavan was delirious with pain and pain medication. I helped him bathe, I changed his bandages, and never left his side. I was on the phone with both of his parents every day, explaining how he was doing and the updates from the doctors. I was so busy taking care of him that my electricity went out in my own apartment because I forgot to pay the bill, and I failed one of my classes. But I couldn't be bothered - he needed me. It was worth it. Besides, he literally had nobody. I didn't want him to suffer alone.

Of course, my future mother-in-law had no idea that I was his girlfriend and that we were deeply in love. She thought I was just some random college friend who was helping him. "Where are all the Indians? Why aren't they helping?" she used to ask. I said they were only concerned with their own courses, which was true. We got a few phone calls of concern after the accident, but really, nobody cared. Not even Madhavan's roommates who we considered to be good friends at the time. In fact, I was spending so much time over there taking care of him that one of his stingy roommates had the audacity to ask me if I was going to contribute to their rent payment. They complained that his bandages stunk and never offered to help. Needless to say, once he got better he moved out, and didn't keep in touch.

His mother was totally floored that a foreigner was taking the time to care for her son while he had an accident in a foreign country. She told me that she was indebted to me. She told me that I was an "angel sent from Heaven". I wondered if she'd still feel the same way about me once he would eventually tell her that we were secretly in love and sleeping together. I wondered if she'd look at me then as a foreign invader, rather than the "angel from Heaven" that she said I was. Only time would tell...

Madhavan never forgot that I took care of him after his accident. Six years later, he reiterated it in our wedding vows, to my surprise. He never forgot. In his vows, he said, "After my accident, you did what my mom would have done. To meet someone new, in a new country, and to have you be so caring to me, when I needed it the most...you were amazing." It brought me to tears. In a weird way, I think it made him love me more. Maybe he became more serious about me, after seeing that I was so serious about him. Subconsciously though, I didn't even know I was so serious about him. I wasn't thinking, I was just doing. I took care of him because I loved him and I wanted him to be okay. I took care of him because it needed to be done. The whole accident scared the crap out of me - I thought I would lose him. I just wanted to be close to him. I loved resting in the bed next to him and cuddling with him. I loved getting his medications and reporting back to the doctor and his mother. I loved taking care of him in the only way I knew how - from the heart...

When terrible, life-altering events happen, sometimes good things come out of it. We were blessed not only to survive in one piece, but to make it out the other side stronger - as a team. For us, in the aftermath of the accident - more love happened. A more serious love that developed quickly into a maturity that would carry us for years to come. And little did we know, it was also the beginning of the love story with my future Mother-in-law....a very complicated one.

We were still in the depths of bandage cleaning when my dad phoned me. He was coming down to Savannah for a week because he was having a work crisis and he needed a vacation. He wanted to meet Madhavan. I had never introduced a guy to my dad before - ever....


TO BE CONTINUED...


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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book review: The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood


After last month's motherhood meltdown, I decided to get a few books from the library to help give me tips and pointers on how to deal with burnouts. The first book I got was "The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping with Stress, Depression and Burnout", By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. The book was really straight-forward in it's approach by explaining why mothers get stressed and how to cope with it. I think this book could also be used for a variety of stress management and burnouts - not just for mothers, but for everybody.


Here are some great points I found in the book:

"Technology, while providing us many advantages, encourages us to race through our days so that we no longer know what we'd do if we were to slow down. Labor-saving devices seem not only to have failed to enhance the quality of our lives and free up more time, but get between us and the immediate, sensory pleasures of life and increase the pressures on us to do more. Many of us feel cut off from life's blessings, from our neighbors, from the wonders of nature, and from our sense of our own significance in the scheme of things. Modern life leaves us spiritually starved"

"When we're stressed, we're simply not as available to meet the needs of others"

"Reducing stress in your life is not "selfish". Rather it is something that can benefit you, your family, and your community"

"When you're a passenger on an airplane, you are told that in the event of a change in cabin pressure, you should put your mask on first and then assist your children. You can't help them if you are unconscious. A similar principle applies with your day to day health. Mothers tend to put others first. While this is admirable in one sense, it is not a good practice in the long run. You cannot strike a balance between your needs and the needs of your family if you are constantly run down. Stop abusing your body."

"Isolation can be a particular problem for mothers at home with small children. Mothers become isolated from each other because we fear judgement. Other mothers can be our harshest critics. And we anticipate that criticism and don't ask each other for help."

"Mothers believe they are being selfish if they take some time to nurture themselves and limit their obligations."

"Burnout can be defined as a loss of enthusiasm, energy, idealism, perspective, and purpose; it has been described as trying to run a marathon at full speed. It's often the mothers who care the most who are the most prone to burnout."

"The belief that mothers should give endlessly is not realistic."

"Our culture sends some amazingly contradictory messages about what an ideal mother is like. Mothers try to live up to these ideals without recognizing the contradictions or the improbability of the task. As mothers, you are often expected to have a fulfilling career, time for personal interests, a rewarding marriage, involvement in your communities, a thorough grasp of current events - and be able to provide baked goods at a moment's notice."

"The sheer number of hours that mothers work during the day depletes the body."

"In most families, care-giving becomes the woman's responsibility. While care-giving can enrich you, it can also deplete you if you don't have support or make time for self care."

"The home is a haven for men, but not for women with children."

"SAHMs also face a second shift. Mothers with young children spend much of their day tending to the needs of the kids; those with children participating in extracurricular activities may find that much of their day is spent in the car. Some days, its an accomplishment just to take a shower and get dressed. When her partner comes home, an at-home mom often uses this time to prepare dinner, do the laundry, go grocery shopping, or clean the house."

"One of the most challenging hours of the day is the hour before dinner - "the witching hour". Partners returning from work at this time may also desperately want some time to decompress. Children are often most needy during this time as well."

"Fatigue is an excellent gauge of well-being because it is a very hard symptom to mask. The only way to get rid of fatigue is to treat the underlying causes. Fatigue has many faces, but they all say the same thing - the mental and physical load are too great."

"Fatigue is epidemic among women in general, and mothers in particular. Mothers talk about sleep the way someone who is starving talks about food. Fatigue can overshadow your life, making everything seem like too much trouble."


Tips on reducing stress:

"Be unavailable at least some time every day. If you want to de-stress, it is important that you have some time everyday, when you are not available."

"When you are faced with too much work, do less of it. Start delegating as much as you can. You are not the only one who can do most types of work."

"Seek a mothering mentor - talking with older women can help you realize how quickly this time goes when looked at from the perspective of a whole life."

"When you are burned out, one of the first things you need to do is reconnect with others. Start with your family. Set aside time to be with your partner and children. See friends. It's important to reconnect with people who can give back to you emotionally."

"Practice being grateful for what you already have. The stressed lifestyle always keeps us looking to what we don't have, what we haven't accomplished, whats wrong with our lives. By standing back and looking at your life, you may start to see the things that are really going well for you."

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Dear readers, which of the quotes speak to you?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Recipe: Onion Sambhar


Onion Sambhar is a staple in every South Indian home. It is very healthy for you and goes nicely along with many curries. It is also really easy to make. The scent from this dish will make any South Indian feel right at home!


Madh Mama's Onion Sambhar

Serves 3 people (and a baby!)


Ingredients:

- 1 cup toor dal
- 6 shallots
- 1 green chilli
- 10-15 curry leaves
- 1 marble size tamarind (pulp)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp Sambhar powder
- 1 tbsp oil (either vegetable, sunflower or peanut oil works well)
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 dry red chillies (torn up)
- 4 dashes asefoetida
- 1 tsp salt




Tools:

- medium saute pan
- small omelette pan (for tempering)
- pressure cooker & two bowls for inside the pressure cooker


Directions:


Chop the top and bottom of the shallots and peel the skin off.


Put the onions in the pressure cooker bowl, along with a marble sized tamarind pulp, and 1/2 cup water.


Wash the dal and then add 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp turmeric.

*Now it is ready for pressure cooking. Pour 1-1.5 cup of water into the pressure cooker. Then stack the bowls on top of each other inside the pressure cooker and close the lid. Cook it on medium/high heat, until it whistles 4 times (4 long whistles).

After the whistles are finished, take the pressure cooker off the heat and let it cool down for at least 20 minutes. Then, open it up and take out the bowls. 


The dal should be perfectly cooked. Take out the tamarind pulp by squeezing the excess juice, and then throw the pulp out.


Scoop some of the cooked dal into the onion dish and stir it. 


Heat the pan up on medium heat and then pour in the dal mixture. Bring it to a boil.


Add the sambhar powder, add 1 cup of water, and stir. Bring it to a boil for an additional 10 minutes.


Now it is time to do the tempering. Cut the green chilli lengthwise first.


In the small omelette pan, heat up the oil and pour in the mustard seeds. 


Add the green chilli soon after, before the mustard seeds start to sputter.


When the mustard seeds start to sputter, add the asefoetida, red chillies, and curry leaves. 


Saute for about a minute, and then pour the mixture into the boiling Sambhar, then stir and add salt. 


Boil for an additional 5 minutes, and then garnish with fresh coriander.


And voila!

This dish can eaten a variety of ways. It can be eaten with rice, as a soup, with roti, or it is a nice accompaniment to idly or dosa. 

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Firangi Insecurity Complex

Everyone has issues. Everyone has certain things that they are insecure about.

Many people know that Indians have some of their own insecurities - about their skin color, language, caste, financial status, region....the list goes on. What a lot of people don't realize is that Firangi's also have their own insecurities, especially when they are in an intercultural relationship.

You see, as a Firangi, you immediately inherit a code of cultural behavior that you are not familiar with and is not properly explained to you. Because in India, there are basically no straight rules! By code of behavior, I mean things like: speaking to elders, religious customs, dress, and even entering a kitchen. It may seem like all the time at times, that you are constantly doing something wrong. I could literally write a book on how many foreign faux-pas I have committed over the years!

For example, here are some common criticisms a Firangi might face: 

"You have pinned the saree in an unflattering way"

"Why aren't you wearing a necklace?"

"You're wearing the dupatta wrong"

"You are not supposed to eat yogurt with that"

"Your bindi is not centered"

"You didn't put enough salt in this dish"

"Why can't you eat with your hands only?"

"You should be waking up at 5 in the morning"

"Do not say _____ to elders" (List of 5, 368, 956, 872 things...)

In general, I have noticed that Asians are more VOCAL about incorrectness. Whereas Westerners are a little more discreet (except about grammatical mistakes). Usually, if you are doing something right, you won't even get acknowledged by Asians. There is no concept of "positive reinforcement". It is only when you are doing something wrong that you will get a full conversation! The ingrained Asian mentality is that "you should always become better" so it kind of normalizes criticism. However, Westerners do not constantly like to be told that what they are doing is wrong - they are more sensitive. Sometimes, it sets up the relationship in which one half of the couple is so obsessed with pleasing, that they are doing all of the cultural compromising. We have all been there...

Case in point: One time I forgot to wear a necklace with my saree while attending my SIL's new baby Punyajanam. I was immediately told by all the female relatives (and some male relatives) that I should be wearing a necklace. I naively thought the saree border was decorative enough!!! Total rookie gori mistake.

Seriously, not even a HELLO! You have flown around the world to see us and we haven't seen you in a few years! They kept pressing me on it, not only making me aware of my seemingly unforgivable mistake, but several times that day - just to remind me again. I left feeling insecure and bewildered, and so many years later I am still traumatized. I will never, ever, ever, ever forget to wear a necklace with my saree again! It literally was a capital offense!

(The one unforgivable incident of not wearing a necklace with my saree!)

The criticism comes from a good place, but the problem is in it's delivery. Indian elders are friggin' scary - let's be real here! Indians typically talk louder, so it feels like they are yelling at you. And everyone in husband-ji's family have huge eyeballs so when they criticize, I literally want to hide because it feels like they are giving you the stare of death! 

(Stare of death)

In an intercultural marriage, learning the spouse's culture can be an overwhelming experience filled with many never-ending trial and errors. It is good to know if you are doing something in an incorrect manner, but I feel there should be equally as much positive reinforcement. In other words: when your spouse does something right - praise them!

And plus, who really makes these "rules"? Maybe I DON'T want to look like a decorated cow with all these necklaces, and maybe I DON'T want sooooo much salt in my food! Maybe....just maybe...I like what I like!

I often get emails from other Firangi's that they are being constantly criticized by both their husbands and inlaws. Well, welcome to one of the less-glamorous occurrences of being a Firangi Bahu! After cricket, criticizing the Choti Bahu is the next most popular national sport! But because many foreigner's have little to none connection to India pre-marriage, it can feel like you're just simply not good enough. It can feel totally personal. It is definitely something that you can bitch to your Indian girlfriends about over coffee together!

Husband-ji is great at not criticizing me too much, except in cooking of course, since he is the chef extraordinaire. He was annoyed at me last week for making Pudina Rice on Thursday and Lemon Rice on Friday ("AIIIYOO! So much of rice dishes!!") To which I replied, "Oh just shut up and eat it!" Besides, MIL told me specifically to not waste food and we needed something to finish off the tomato chutney with! DUH!!!

My MIL - in typical Indian MIL fashion - can criticize me a lot. Even though she swears she does it way less than her own MIL did to her (OMG!). An Indian MIL's full-time job is to give "helpful advices"! Even if they have other jobs, that becomes their main job. They literally prioritize it at the very top. The other day she was telling me that "should become slim" and then telling me to wait longer to have a second child until she immigrates here permanently. Like, yes, my MIL thinks she is in charge of my weight loss and my womb also!!! Husband-ji has told her many times to "please stop talking"....

And thus comes the birth of the Firangi Insecurity Complex. That feeling that you "just can't do anything right"...we've ALL got it.


On the opposite side, husband-ji is convinced that I nag him a lot. What he doesn't realize is that there are so many things which I refrain from saying because I think it will hurt his feelings (Indian men are extremely sensitive, even more so than Gori wives!). For example, for as long as I've known him, he often says, "Move!" when he needs to get by. This is actually quite rude in the Western world but I never had a chance to correct him on it discreetly. A few weeks ago, we were at a restaurant and Maya accidentally tried to reach for a toy and was going to fall. The waitress was taking our order and he had to get up fast, so he pushed her and said, "MOVE!!!" loudly, and she was extremely offended. After he came back to the table, I told him that what he did was rude and the waitress was really upset. He had no idea and was completely shocked. He called the waitress back over and he apologized. I said to him, "I was meaning to tell you that saying that was rude, like 9 years ago, but I didn't want to start a fight"...

Husband-ji replied, "Well at least I was polite enough to tell her to move! In India you would just get pushed without warning!"

------

Dear readers, if you are in an intercultural relationship or living abroad, do you have a foreigner's insecurity complex? If so, what about?

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Kids' weekend in Bellevue

We had a long weekend holiday recently so we decided to make a quick trip to the Seattle/Bellevue area to visit some of our NRI family. This was our third and final vacation of the Summer and we had a such a nice weekend with family!


Maya doesn't have any cousins here and she is becoming increasingly bored with us, so I thought it would be a nice opportunity to play and bond with her cousins in WA that are close in age. 

We did lots of fun things on our trip, including attending a cousin's birthday party on a Blueberry farm, going to the Woodland Park Zoo, doing some shopping, and finding some good restaurants.


Our weekend trip coincidentally coincided with our cousin's 6th birthday party which was on a Blueberry Farm in North Bend, WA. Although it was really hot that day, it was great to have Maya run around in a big open field in nature. 


The next day, we ventured on an outing to Woodland Park Zoo with another cousin (Aditya) who is 18 months older than Maya. They had a fantastic time playing together and were so sweet and helpful to each other - it really melted my heart. I loved seeing her play with him. 


They loved seeing the animals - especially the birds and the monkeys. They had this one part of the zoo where you could feed the birds and the kids loved that. 


The zoo also had tons of play areas at each exhibit, which was so great. For example, in the Meerkat exhibit, they had an underground burrow where the kids could pretend they were Meerkats. Likewise, in the Asian rain forest exhibit, they had a playground made of bamboo. The whole zoo was completely child-oriented and it was great to see so many families out.


Maya's favorite exhibit was definitely the Orangutan monkey. He was pressed right up to the glass, so Maya decided to crouch down and talk to him. Then she put two stickers from her hand on his face and mouth because she loved him so much. It was the cutest thing to see!


She also loved the old-school carousel where she rode a horsey around and around!


It is really nice because husband-ji and his cousin were close in age, and now their kids are close in age and play so well. It's an added bonus that they live relatively close by, across the border. Seeing Maya play so well with him made me want to make extra efforts to nurture their relationship.


After the zoo, we went to this fantastic doughnut shop called Top Pot Doughnuts. It was so delicious and I took some extra home for the drive back!


This time, we had much better food than last time. We also went to Kanishka Indian restaurant and Cactus and they were both really good. Whenever we are traveling, somehow we only end up eating Indian OR Mexican! You can't go wrong with those two!

We will probably return in another 6 months, after our India trip and after the New Year. We had the most wonderful time!



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