Category: Myblog

Profile photo of Anita Ayela How to Treat Girls!!

Happy International Woman’s Day!

On this International Women’s Day, I thought I should post this on this blog. I know, it might be cliche’d but very true that boys and girls should be brought up in the same way possible when they are kids. You should etch it deep into a little boy’s mind that his mother, his sister, his grandma or his little girlfriend, should all be treated with respect! If he doesn’t learn then,then he will never learn it! Be it India , USA or any other country, girls and women should always be treated right.

I remember, when I was living with my grandparents for a while, the maid servant used to live in the outhouse along with her husband and kids. The husband worked in a movie theatre and would come home late in the night totally drunk. And , in the morning, we used to see the maid with bruises on her hands and face, thanks to her drunken husband the night before. This went on for a little while until my grandfater who was a retired judge called the man and threatened him of handing him to the police. He didn’t call the police because the woman didn’t want her kids to see the father sent to jail. The threatens worked and that man became a sober person, and after that there were no such incidents.

When I was working in Pearson in Kent, WA, I used to take the train with a colleague regularly. We became friends and one day she shared her sad story. Her boyfriend abused her sexually every night. She said that her consent and interest were never taken into consideration, it was always his way! She still lived with him since she loved him so much and because he was a gem of a person when not in bed. He loved her, brought gifts for her, had a decent job, but had this impolite side to him too! Eventually, over a period of time, she threw him out of her life for good as she couldn’t take it anymore.

A lot of acid attacks in India and all over the world are gender biased and hence the victims are usually found to be female. I know of a café run by 5 women, ’Acid survivors’ as they call themselves in Agra, India.  “She wore provoking clothes but didn’t agree to my sexual advances”. The cheek of any boy or man to say that!!The attacker uses acid to retaliate against the girl’s refusal of sexual advances. How desperate can a man get?

And then, the very problem of molestation and rape of women from generations till date , on the streets, in the neighborhood, in the family, amongst friends, has been increasing all over the world. Girls feel unsafe to go out all alone in the dark. Girls feel unsafe to stay in friends and relatives’ house for long. When we went for the first time to the University before joining my daughter for her undergrad, the professor addresiing the parents talked about these things prevailing on some University campuses. It scared us, shocked us, and made us hesitate for a while to take a decision of putting her in a dorm. Of course, there are exceptions to all Universities and of course, there are precautions taken by the campus authorities to keep the students safe.

So,in today’s world, it is not the girls who need to be taught how to live life, it is the boys who need to be taught how to live life along with girls.

From ages the society has been teaching girls how to live life. Do this, do that, do this this way, do that that way, and we hear these things a lot of times.

‘Don’t walk alone in the night.’

‘Don’t go all alone; take your little brother with you’.

‘Be careful when you go there, there are a lot of boys in that area’.

I’m sure, every girl must have heard these words from their parents some time or the other. I know how frustrating it is when we hear the same things again and again through generations.

And now, since girls have been hearing these things from generations, we know the rules and don’t need to be told any more. But, it is the turn of the boys to learn some rules and for the parents of boys to set some rules:

    • If you have a son, tell him to respect woman, no matter who they are and where they come from. As boys’ brain develops later than girls, it is important that you teach him all this very early in life
    • Tell your son to not tease girls or call them names. One of the girls could be his sister or girlfriend
    • Be it a girl from the village, or a girl from an affluent family, a girl is a girl, teach him to give her respect
    • Instill in him to help a girl in need without expecting anything in return. Being human has to be learnt at home
    • Make sure he understands that a girl is not his property to be used. Give the respect due to her. His mom is a woman too
    • Tell him that a girl is just like him, educated and knowledgeable. Treat her as equal
    • Every girl stepping out of the house for a job is not ‘available’, make sure your son understands that
    • A girl going to a bar or coming back home late in the night, doesn’t get your son the license to misbehave with her
    • There is no boy job and girl job, encourage him to understand this and work as a team in life
    • Explain it to him that hitting a girl or physically abusing her is a crime; don’t rear a criminal at home
    • When he gets married, ask him to treat her as a human being and not force himself onto her
    • When he befriends a girl, tell him to be a good friend only, not expect any sexual favors from her. His sisters and cousins could have boys as friends too
    • Let him not boss over his sister or control her life just because she is a girl, she should have a life too
    • Educate him about how girls are physically different, show him videos if need be. Let not curiosity make him want to see a girl’s body
    • Supervise your son, his friends and their activities too. ‘Porn’ and ‘Drugs’ both are equally dangerous
    • Just because she is a girl, he doesn’t have a right to ogle at her. His sisters and cousins have similar bodies, and his friends could ogle at them too
    • A girl is not a toy to be touched, just because he likes her; consent is very important, tell him that
    • Dress is a matter of choice; tell him that every girl, including his sister and mother, has the right to wear what she wants. Short dresses or long necklines don’t mean that the girls are easily available
    • At any point of time, forcing himself onto a girl, known or unknown is always called ‘Rape’. Don’t encourage rapists, even if they are your sons!

Bring up a good human being, teach him to respect women and not misbehave with them ever. It is the need of the day to teach our sons to grow up to be the best- best friend, best son, best brother and a best husband! And for that, every parent need to teach them from a very young age the importance of ‘how to treat girls in life’.

Happy Women’s day!

Profile photo of Anita Ayela Boyfriend, Girfriend??!!

Sometimes, when someone says or writes something, the writer in me wakes up with a start from a deep slumber of procrastination of regular blogging! I thought it would be appropriate to raise this topic today or forever remain silent!

I have been in the US, a little less than half my life, but one thing that I still can’t digest is the concept of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’, and that too of teenagers. I always thought whatever be the country, whatever be the culture, parents are all the same around the world, of the same brethren. But I have been proven wrong in this country.

After so many years of staying in this country, it is still a culture shock for me that parents here allow their kids to have girlfriends and boyfriends, who are not friends as the words indicate, but are dating each other. I am curious to know as to why the parents here are not scared to let their little kids get into the harsh real world of love, sex and broken hearts at such a young age.

When I read a mom’s post on Facebook that she was helping her kid pick out valentine gifts for her/his boyfriend/ girlfriend, my mind started thinking in several different ways. Why are parents in the US supportive of teenage dating concept? Why do Indian parents feel scared and protective of their teenage kids unlike parents here? And, I am sure, all teenager across the world face the same problems and challenges. The challenges may be different according to the gender, but challenges are there for sure!

I remember when I was teenager, my parents were ok with my classmates, boys, coming home for exchanging notes or for planning events. But I am sure, if I had given the slightest hint that I had a boyfriend, or I like someone, things would have been very different and bad too! And of course, since we had that fear of parents and the society too, we did not even think of dating or romancing at such a young age. It is not that falling in love is not prevalent in India, it is just that it is well understood that love leads to marriage and so everyone puts it behind them until they are of marriageable age.  Teenage love stories are a rarity, at least the percentage is very low! Of course, there are exceptions to everything everywhere and I am not denying that.

In India, even after all the modernizations and the vast growth in culture and conditions, it is still a taboo to have multiple partners in anyone’s span of life and hence casual sex is not encouraged at all. So, it is but natural that if a boy or girl confess love, it is understood that marriage is coming up. If that doesn’t happen, then it is called betrayal and the society looks down at their family. It might seem weird to people who are not from India, but then, we Indians feel that it is the sanctity of relationships that is carrying our culture forward.

Indians who are part of the US now since decades might have changed their norms and moves to gel with people here. Well, I don’t blame them for that, the English have left us a saying for every situation and here I would say “In Rome, do as the Romans do”.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing; I don’t want to get into that, that’s a personal choice. But for me, it has got nothing to do with culture, religion or country. It has only got to do with the simple fact that it is not necessary for teenagers to go through these unwanted emotions, these relationships of dating at such a young age. Why would I as a parent want my daughter or son to get or make someone pregnant or get diseases? Why would I want my kid to go through heart breaks to get a better person at any stage of their life? Trail and error is good inside the doors of scientific labs, not at hormonal doorways. Surely not if it effects the mind, heart and soul of a teenage girl or boy.

I am not saying that love is not good, but in teenage the dating boyfriends and girlfriends are not really in love… it is just infatuation which leads to physical attraction and then physical intimacy.

Is that right or wrong? Definitely not right if it doesn’t lead to a commitment which is impossible when in high school. So, why can’t we as parents, curb it when the bud is young and not allow our kids to have physical relationships? Well, how do we stop that? Stop the very concept of dating until they have reached the prime age of marriage. I agree that there may be high school sweethearts who wait till they grow up and eventually get married. That’s a different thing altogether, and then, these kinds of people have the patience to endure the wait and hence achieve their love.

My life has a love story too. I met him when I was about to join Masters and he was doing his, an age where you truly know what you want. We courted and then, eventually after five years we got married when we had a job too. Now, that is maturity enough where we had the perseverance to wait and achieve.

But for the teenagers, curiosities must be curbed, and hormones must be tamed! It might sound like old school, but trust me, it will do only good. Nothing can go any wrong than it is right now.

Hope this Valentine’s day, makes a girl or a boy cherish the loving and affectionate feelings of the heart and wait for that special person to become their Soul mate when they grow old enough!!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Profile photo of Anita Ayela Addiction of the Youth!

Recently I heard someone saying that though we have progressed so much, we bow our head even today like slaves-slaves to electronics. And that person was talking about ‘texting’ forever, heads down, eyes staring into the screen as fingers dance in tune!!

All kinds of screens have become the ‘in’ thing now, or as Gen Y kids would say ‘fad’!  All Apple products, all kinds of Tablets, smart phones, Kindle, all have the same effect on kids all over the world. I know that as the generation is growing and the technology is progressing, people from our generation have a need to understand and support the new generation. But easier said than done!

It becomes quite irritating at times, when kids are forever stuck to these screens. Especially when these screens join us at the dining table too, making weird noises of the arrival of SMS! I’m surprised how the fingers of kids have not gone numb by now by the frequency with which they are used to type messages back and forth!

I always wonder what is it that has pulled the kids away from the playgrounds, from the theatres or the books. I wonder when the playgrounds gave way to the laptops, the theatres to the tablets and the books to the Kindles! I believed that getting the reason out of the horse’s mouth would be the best thing and so I talked to some kids of friends and family.

Apeksha, 14 yrs old girl says “We prefer screen time because I think that a lot of the things that we do outside or at a friend’s house, we can now do on iPads, and cell phones, and main source of entertainment is now TV. The TV shows that are on TV now, are so much more real and relatable that, I think, that we kids feel that we don’t need to go outside and experience it we just want to watch it on the screen.”

I’m sure a lot of parents would have encountered this problem in the summer that passed us by-TV! Yes, TV becomes an integral part of vacation, wherever they are, be it home or holidaying in a hotel! They watch and watch and watch; repeats after repeat, making the parents scream in their heads but admonish the teenagers gently! I remember those days when India had just got TVs and the timings of telecast were fixed and so we had time to do other things too. All we had is one channel unlike the numerous ones that are available to our kids now, which obviously allows them to watch more. I don’t actually want to think what we would have done as kids if we had so many channels too. Maybe we too would have…

When I talked to another kid, Ria, 12 years old, she said

I think that kids/teens of today prefer screen time over playing outside because social networking sites such as Facebook, Google+. Twitter, Gmail.. (the list goes on and on.) allows us to talk to friends at any time, on the other hand, if someone was to play outside, your choice of playmates/friends would be limited. Also, social networking makes it easier to communicate and share thoughts and ideas. Websites like these allow kids/teens to say what’s on their mind without over thinking about what others will think of you (it gives them a form of confidence) because you are “talking” to a screen not a person.”

Well, well, kids do surprise me a lot these days. It might seem like a joke but, I have seen kids’ texting to each other in the same house too with just a wall to separate their bedrooms. I, as a parent, fail to understand how communication skills are used these days on these social networking sites and why kids need screens to boost their confidence levels. Human contact and human voices has become a rarity, at least for the majority of kids, or so say a lot of parents.

My daughter said, “Most of our teachers ask us to do our homework online and so we need laptops. No homework done means no grades. We are to type out our assignments and make PowerPoint for projects, how else do we do that if not on the computers? So, laptops and computers are a must for us.”

Now, there goes another teenager at my house, telling me that the laptop screen is a must to get grades. Now, do I have a say in that, if grades are important for us too. My memory of note books for homework, and pens and pencils for writing are slowly slipping out of my system, giving way to my kid’s way of writing and communicating! However much we as parents think of taking away all these ‘screens’ from the kids, it is not possible. It is like sending the kids into the stone-age when it is the requirement of the society to adapt to the changing technology.

We all know from experience how kids want the very thing that we don’t want them to have.Instead of trying to scream at them , snatch their iPhones or pull our own hair with helplessness, it is essential that we learn the importance of these electronics and then explain it to the kids the limitation of their usage.Maybe we need to have an eye on them while they use these electronics usefully, and set a schedule to use these ‘texting’ devices and ‘gaming’ equipment.And last but not the least, tell them the importance of meeting friends in person, taking part in sports or other extra curricular activities outside their bedrooms!!

Well, come to think of it,can we blame the kids enough if we are reading this on a blog or e-magazine, on the laptop or phones, and not in a physical book? What say guys?! 🙂

Profile photo of Anita Ayela Relationships…. Something Fishy!

“My mom is sick and I volunteered to cook dinner.” This sentence set me thinking. Why are relationships so complicated in America? I feel they are artificial and formal most of the time. The love and bonding seem to be missing between parents and kids. Is it not a moral responsibility to be there and help your parents? Why is it volunteering?

Kids move out once they are 18, a very tender age when they are supposed to be still in the care of the parents. And, parents don’t stay with their kids nor ask for their help even if they live next door. I fail to understand the society and culture of USA sometimes, though I have been living here for 16 years now. The relationships in America seem like that of fish and fisherman; not like fish and water as it should be. Or so I feel, whenever I come across some incidents in people’s lives here.

One of my neighbors and a friend in the state I lived in earlier had a tumor in her brain and she was going through a lot. But I didn’t see either of her sons there for her before, during or after her surgery. “They are busy. They couldn’t make it”, the husband vouched for his kids. Seriously? Mom is undergoing surgery and the kids not available… this scenario is new to me! It wouldn’t happen in India, at least not in any middle-class family. Even if the kids don’t get along well at other times, they would surely be there in times of crisis.

I remember the time when my mom was going through her cancer treatment. My grandparents, my uncle’s family, my aunt’s family, all of us lived together to support her and help each other get through the whole process for 3 months. For me, that is love, that is bonding, and that is emotional attachment.

One of my husband’s American friend once told him that the kids don’t burden their parents with responsibility of paying for college and hence the parents don’t burden their kids to take care of them when they are old. For a girl from India, like me, that is so unnatural, so against the Nature of life. Is money the only criteria? No wonder a lot of kids don’t go to college immediately after high school because their parents don’t support them financially and they themselves can’t afford it. They start with small jobs with meagre pays, accumulate some savings and then go back to college. In India, we not only give importance to education, but also think that the responsibility of the parent is not over until the kid finishes their education and gets a job. Until then, they support the kid not only emotionally, but also financially. And mind you, this is done wholeheartedly, not for any kind of show-off.

The parents don’t really stay with their kids in their old age for financial support, they have love for their kids and grandkids and so want to experience the next generation wholly and hence, want to stay with them. Well, this concept has diminished to a larger extent now, in India too. But even then, I would say that the kids do love their parents and do care to meet them often and invite them over for celebrations. The grand kids give respect and love their grandparents, more than their parents sometimes.

I have got to know America more through the serial ‘Parenthood’ which depicts the live of one American family; the story of parents, siblings and kids. Whenever I watch ‘Parenthood’, I think and feel that the relationships are too complicated in America. They take permission of the parents to stay over for the night in their house. They say thank you for every small thing that the mom does for them small or big. The parents keep reminding the kid that he or she is living on them. What is normal for me, like hugging the parents, kissing the kids, seems to be missing. Invitations are sent to grandparents to attend their grandkid’s graduation or orchestra concert. If they don’t get an invitation, they don’t go. Shouldn’t the grand parents feel that it is their right to be there for their grandkids’ events? And, after the event, both the sets of parents leave for their respective homes, saying goodbye as if they are strangers.

 

 

 

 

 

Irrespective of country and culture, I always felt that the emotions are the same in all human beings, I felt that the bonding in families would be the same in all cultures. Looks like I am wrong… or rather, my perspective of ‘The World is One Family’ (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam in Sanskrit) is wrong.

Profile photo of Anita Ayela How Well Do You Know Your Tables?

People say that when you learn something in childhood you don’t forget it ever. How true that is, is debatable. How many of us remember the scientific names of all the flowers or the names of different clouds in the sky? Learning or rather ’mugging’ before the exams is what I remember doing. Isn’t that what all of us who studied in India did way back then?

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When my daughter came home from school one day and recited the names of all the bones in her body, explaining their use or function in the body, I was awed. She was in her 6th grade. After 6  years she still remembers them,”mom, my patella (knee bone) is hurting” or “she hit my scapula(shoulder bone)”, she shouts at the top of her voice when she has a fight with her sis. I fall in a dilemma then, whether to check the dictionary or run to her and physically see where it hurts.

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It is impressive how things are taught to kids here in the US schools, unlike how we have learned in India. Pictorial teaching is very effective especially when it is science. They remember things for a long time. After every lesson, they are asked to present some project to the class on that chapter. It could be a diorama, a chart presentation or powerpoint, anything that is part of the chapter and is interesting to the student as well as the class.

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All the kids here know their Periodic table completely as they are taught systematically. All of them know their multiplications too though they don’t learn the tables by heart. All subjects are taught in a way that they are retained for ages, and hence, kids remember how to solve a probability problem as well as how to write a chemical formula. At least, I can say this confidently about my kids, though there could be exceptions too.

I remember, as a kid, I liked only two subjects, Grammar , and Math, as they came easily to me, and I didn’t have to learn them by rote. All it needed was practice and I was good at that. Dry subjects like Physics or Geography , History or Economics, didn’t interest me as they were taught in a monotonous way, from the textbook.But kids in the US like those subjects too, as they are taught in an easy-to-understand-and-retain-in-your-memory way. They are asked to research on the topics taught, make charts of them, have class quizzes and do a penultimate project. Since all of these are graded too, kids pay attention to what they are doing and hence, remember what they are learning.

My younger daughter, in her third grade, made her year-end book report on France in the form of a diorama. For that, she looked up on the internet, information about France, in addition to the book she was reading. Facts like how the statue of liberty was presented to the USA by France fascinated me, enriching my knowledge too.Crafting the Eiffel tower along with my kid and the color chart paper engaged me for two best days of my life! And now I also know the difference between a baguette and a beret too, know them enough to eat one and wear the other!

Another very surprising thing for me is book reading projects in every grade. The kids read a book in the class, and then,either make a model of one scene from the book or make a chart about the book, including the characters, scenes and some pictures. And in high school, when they have to study Shakespeare’s dramas, they enact each scene once a week, so that that scene is taken care of. The kids in the US do not sit up in the night and study for exams or tests. Their lessons in the class every day makes them remember their chapters and lessons well enough, enabling them to face their tests well.

Learning-by-rote, cramming, mugging, whatever you may call it, sure gets you grades but doesn’t retain knowledge; practical learning does. A lot of young parents, first-timers to the education system in the US, fear that there is not much competition in this way of studies in the US. But, believe me, I have taught students here as well as in India, and competition is there here in the US too. Getting ‘A’ grade is as important for students here as getting 95% and above is for students in India!!

 

Profile photo of Anita Ayela Truely, how hard is it?!

Last month, when I was on a vacation, walking in the corridor of the Hilton, I noticed something that triggered my stream of thoughts. I saw that outside a lot of rooms, there were trays of food half eaten; French fries, bagels, burgers, most of them hardly eaten. What I saw is a common thing that I see everywhere, throughout America. Wastage of food!

 

 

 

It pains me when I see food wasted in any plate anywhere. I feel that you should take only so much that you can eat. I feel that only so much should be ordered as much as is required. But, as food is not so expensive in the fast food joints, people tend to order more than is required and thus, we see a lot of uneaten food in the compost of the restaurant. The serving size is also way more than is required too, which obviously none of the restaurateurs take notice of.

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People who can afford to stay in a hotel like Hilton, or are on a business trip, tend to get room service and don’t feel the need to store away the leftover food and hence, the scene that I saw outside the doors. Instead, couldn’t they just pack the leftover and give it a hungry person at some traffic signal? Or couldn’t they call the staff of the hotel and ask them if they could take the responsibility of donating the food? Most hotels do have a facility to do that, which most of us don’t even care to know. There are food banks which come and pick up food after meetings or events in hotels and restaurants too.

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In India, it is so easy to not waste food. In all houses, we have maids or servants and they are ready to take the leftover food. And then, there are poor people who beg for food, and so any food leftover is given away to them. In most small towns and villages, there are street dogs and stray cats, so leaving leftover food for them outside, fills their stomach too.

I came across this article from India and was so happy about it!

It is not that America doesn’t have poor people or there are no people here begging for food; but here people are afraid of the laws and feel that they would be sued if they give leftover food to any poor person. Some people in America don’t know that according to Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, donors of food are protected “from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient.”

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We Indians do not like to waste money and hence when we are eating out, we know how much we want to spend and hence do not ever order more than we can eat. And if at all, there is any leftover food, we don’t think twice to pack it and bring it home. I have noticed that some Americans (or maybe, they are immigrants too) do pack the leftover food. They either take it home for the next day’s lunch or give it to some homeless person the street or at the traffic signal. Well, I know this because some of my friends and colleagues talk about it. But, I’m sure the percentage of these people is way less than it should be.

This is something that we should start from home: We need to teach the next gen kids to not waste food. They, in turn, will teach their children tomorrow and thus, we would be setting an example to the future generations to come. My parents were always strict about this; we were never allowed to leave anything once it was served on the plate. Come what may, we had to finish it. In my husband’s family too, this rule applied and hence, when we had kids, my husband and I taught this to my kids.

My kids are not allowed to waste food neither in the house nor in restaurants. When we go to a restaurant to a buffet lunch too, they take only so much as they can eat. We rather make more trips to the buffet bar, than load our plates with food and not be able to eat. When we order Ala-carte, we know how much would be sufficient for the four of us and order accordingly. And any leftovers always come back home with us for the next day’s breakfast or lunch.

In my day to day cooking too, I don’t cook more than necessary. Well, exceptions are those days when I call some families for dinner and only a few turn-up, then food obviously is left over for the next day. Otherwise, I cook twice a day and each time, it is just enough for my family of four. And, if at all a small bowl of rice or pasta is left, I refrigerate it and eat it the very next day. I definitely don’t throw it down the drain because ‘there is hardly any left for all of us’.

In studies, it is known that America wastes half of its food on a daily basis and that amounts to around 160 billion dollars a year. Buying food or snacks from a wholesale retailer, is a very common thing in America. We get everything in bulk, and so, people who buy from these stores, buy huge quantities of food, fruits and snack because they are inexpensive. I too buy from the same retail store, but in my house, wastage is almost nil. I buy only what we can eat and I see to it that my kids finish them no matter what, especially snacks and protein bars. Storing extra, and it going waste or date expiring, and we throwing it out, is very very minimal, if not nil, in my house. It beats me why all families in America don’t follow the simple rule of ‘buy only how much you can eat’?!! Is it that hard to try and not waste food?!!

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Profile photo of Anita Ayela A New Girl on the Block!

Originally published here (Huffington Post) !

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After spending almost three cool decades of your life in India, moving gear to a totally new country like the USA is sure a change of a lifetime! In addition, if you are struck in the face with a cultural shock, it is all the more difficult to cope up with the transition.

Believe me; my cultural shock didn’t come in the form of Californians wearing bikini tops and shorts to the supermarket. I knew the culture of America, and thanks to my avid reading habit, I knew what to expect. But, the immigrant Indians trying to copy Americans was a shock to me. The beautiful bhindis (a dot on the forehead) didn’t adorn their faces anymore, the Indian clothes gave way to shorts and their black hair welcomed shocking colors.

A smile escaped my lips when I saw a seemingly newly-wed couple in the Wal-Mart. The girl obviously had never worn anything short, not even her hair. And here she was trying to adjust her short skirt now and then, looking around to make sure that nobody noticed her long legs. The husband was trying to teach her to overcome her fears and “act” normal. Her hair was short to her ears, what I presumed could have touched her waist for all I know, when she was in India.

A lot of people have always asked me then, and still do sometimes even today — what is the little dot that I have on my forehead, which surprisingly looks like a tattoo to them! I simply say, “This is my culture,” they smile, admire it and walk away. Some of them, especially the ‘Iskon temple followers,’ do know about India’s culture so much that they put a lot of us to shame more often. They come forward and say, “Isn’t that dot on your forehead a symbol of you being married? “Or “How did the colorful ‘bindis’ replace the traditional red dot? ” “Why do South Indians have a dot on their forehead whereas the North Indians have it in their hair-parting?” I explain as much as I can, knowing very well that as much as our knowledge of our basic traditions is losing out in India, it is gaining popularity outside the country.

Now, this brings me to say that Indians who come to the U.S., immediately remove their bhindis, their ‘magulsutram’ (the wedlock necklace-a marriage symbol) and their toe-rings in order to become Americans. Knowing very well that our Indianness is written on our face, no matter how we dress up, every lady starts to feel that a bindi would give away her country of origin! Now, I would never understand what is wrong in being an Indian!! Jeans don’t go with bindi, toe rings don’t go with stilettos and ‘mangalsutram’ shows in a tee. Nice excuses, indeed!

Even today, Americans look up to India for its rich culture, and our immense traditional living. Indian girls who look and behave Indian are given more “looks” than girls trying to eat burgers with forks and mouthing “you-know-what-I-mean” for no reason. I know this because, when I wear a sari and walk to my car, all the Americans around my house give me admiring looks. I have gone shopping in my most expensive sarees, as much as I have gone in a tee and jeans, and both the times, I didn’t get any weird “looks.”

The totally unknown culture or a little knowledge of any culture always arouses curiosity in people. Cultural differences will always be there, but culture and traditions shouldn’t change for anyone for the sake of changing. After 14 years of living in this country, I don’t think I have changed much except for a little accent now. My tee shirts have matching color ‘bhindis’, my toe-rings cozily hug my toes, and my “mangalsutram” plays lovingly on my bosom. And I have the most American friends ever possible, partying at my house, eating ‘samosas’ and ‘Naans’; dancing to Bollywood tunes and admiring my Indian clothes!!

This is culture for me. This is how I want to be known as, an “Indian”! You know what I mean, don’t you?!!

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Profile photo of Anita Ayela Thank you, “Thanksgiving’ !

It is overwhelming at times when I think of ‘Thanksgiving’ and why it is celebrated in the US. The origin of Thanksgiving is generally seen as a celebration by the Pilgrims of their survival due to a good harvest mostly because of knowledge provided by the Native Americans who knew the lay of the land. But for me, it has always been something different, it was as if everyone was ‘thanking’ for being alive, or rather, for having a life! And, of course, when we talk about ‘Thanksgiving’, reminiscence is not left behind either!

Every Thanksgiving, everyone has to ‘Thank’ themselves for all the memories they have created down the road. In my opinion, memories are the only wealth that makes our lives rich! When we talk to the elderly people they tell you more about their childhood and youth than their life at present. They might lose their teeth, their eye sight, and might forget what they ate that morning, but their memories of days gone by them ages ago are always intact in their mind. Am I growing old too that I am talking of childhood memories?! Maybe I am! Maybe not! Maybe I’m just nostalgic and so I write…

It is not exaggerating to say that I remember the first time I experienced physical pain as if it was yesterday. Clichéd but true! I don’t remember the pain, but the source and the situation are clear… my foot got into the front wheel of a bicycle as my dad’s man Friday drove me home from school. I was sitting on the ‘baby’ seat on the front of the bicycle and he was riding it pretty fast. I was carried home after we fell and my mom was in tears when she saw me bleeding! I was in kindergarten then! And I can never ‘Thank’ my mom enough for always ‘picking me up’ since then, whenever I fell…

It is funny how I taught my kids to ride a bicycle in a couple of hours while I had taken two weeks to learn it. I was very particular that I learn it myself and my dad encouraged me. Even at an age where I was in the fifth grade, my thoughts were way different than others. I would sit on the carriage seat of the little red bicycle I had and try to balance. It was easier that way as my foot would reach the ground and the chances of my falling down were less. I ultimately learnt to balance, and ‘Thanks’ to my dad, he helped me on to the actual seat and gave me a push! Wee… I rode and rode and rode to school, and back, till my twelfth grade! Need I say that since then, my Dad has always given me that little ‘push’ to achieve anything!

Small things create big memories. What seems important for one would be a trivial thing for another. But, when you are a teenager, every look thrown in your direction makes you blush, everyone who praises you becomes your friend and every pat on the back enthralls you. And when all the three come from the same person, it turns into admiration. It was difficult to think then, whether it was the love for ‘English’ or for the one who taught it, that made me concentrate more in that particular class. Whatever it may have been, ‘Thanks’ to my English teacher in Middle School, I am what I am today, an English teacher!

Living life is one thing and enjoying life is another… ‘Bunking’ classes, ‘giggling’ for nothing, ‘teasing’ boys, ‘naming ‘the lecturers, skipping lunch to have ‘chat’…. I would have deprived myself of these if I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for higher studies. Fun is a small word when the beaches are part of the landscape from your room, the sound of the waves is your alarm clock, and the smiles of your friends first thing in the morning are your meditation. I should ‘thank’ myself for getting to study in that University, where the hostel rooms faced the beach and the changing colors of the sky and sea were my constant companions.

A little flashback before getting into this University would be appropriate when I ‘thank’ my stars. It was for the entrance exam of this course and University that made me travel all by myself in the train. And lo and behold! I met my future there! Looking back, I strongly feel that fate and coincidences are not story-book fantasies, they happen in real life too. My future in-laws along with my future husband were my co-passengers and since then, they have been so. ‘Thanks’ to my husband who took pains to woo me with his incessant sweet banter, and for walking with me since then through thick and thin. A train led to a train of encounters, ‘colliding’ into love and traversing in the direction of wedlock.

When I look at a lot of couples who crave every day and are desperately waiting to get a ‘boon’ from Above to get to be known as parents, I feel so blessed and ‘thank’ God for it. Going to the edge of ‘no return’ and then, bouncing back and that too, with a baby in hand is amazing. Today, I feel all the pain, every critical situation was worth it when I look at my beautifully growing teenage daughters.

Somewhere along the way, everybody has an ‘influence’ of a ‘Hero’, whom you emulate and follow with admiring looks. For me, she was the sole inspiration and the ‘perfect heroine’ to learn from. For her age and generation, my Granny was very forward in thinking. ‘Thanks’ to her, I learnt a lot about life and also, believe it or not, Fashion! Even today, when I think that my being in the US has cost me by not being able to have a last glimpse of her before she walked away into the other world, my heart becomes heavy.

‘Thanking’ people and their role in your life is the true respect we ‘give’ to them. But there would be some moments too, which are to be appreciated in life. I’m sure everyone would have a moment in their life which makes them say, “This is it! “, a moment when you think, if life is taken away from you right then, you are fine! When I stepped onto the deck of the building from the elevator to see the Niagara Falls for the first time, I was awestruck! Staring at the grandeur, all I could think was “Thank God, I’m alive!”

 

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Profile photo of Anita Ayela Hug me, Grandma!

Grandma Hug

Reading one article on Mashable today set me thinking. It was about kids hugging adults, in this case, a great grandma. The author was ok with her kid not hugging the 90-year-old great grandma because “she looks like a witch”. Aren’t all grandmas and great grand moms an epitome of love and affection, and also delicacies-cooking experts?! But, this article left me pondering on relationships in general and future human relationships in particular.

In a world, where everyone is hugging everyone in public, and kissing as a gesture of warmth, it doesn’t make sense to me when I read something like this. When you can hug an acquaintance or a friend, why can’t you hug your relative? It is very wrong on the part of the parents to say that even a kid has to have a say in hugging someone. ‘Someone’ sure! But your kith and kin shouldn’t count into a ‘someone’ list.

Back in India too, until some years back, we didn’t have any hugging or ‘fake kissing’ in the southern part of the country. Touch was not a common thing in our community. Yes, grandparents were always exceptional. Grandkids would sit on their lap and listen to stories or talk to them about their school. But then, now a days, since the awareness of child abuse, that has stopped too, in most houses.

In Northern India, hugging is a very common thing, and everybody hugs everybody as a welcome gesture. It is possible that this culture came from the Muslim rulers in that part of the country. In Islam, hugging is a warm way of showing love. But, for me, a girl from south India, hugging and touching seems very artificial between friends and acquaintances.

But, I have never had a problem if I’m blood-related to that person. In fact, I loved to hug and plant a kiss on my grandma’s cheek even when I was a teenager. I loved her smell, and loved the love and affection I felt when I hugged her. Her soft but wrinkled skin was very dear to me, as I knew that this is what would happen when one ages. I should give the credit to my parents for inculcating this sense of ‘belonging’ that we have in our house. And hence, my brothers and I have always been able to connect to relatives and show our care and concern for them.

This care and concern is seen very rarely here in the US. I sometimes see the grandparents come to their grandkids’ music concerts in school, but it seems like an obligation to me. They come separately, sit together and watch and leave separately. They usually shake hands and rarely hug, and both the gestures seem artificial to me. Maybe, it’s just me, but I feel that there is not much bonding between them. I know it is a culture thing, but then, relationships should be natural not culture bound, right?!

Initially, I was scared when I came into this country, that my kids would lose their ‘Indianness’, but no. My kids mingle well with my parents and my husband’s parents, as I did in my childhood with my grandparents. They have a lot of love and affection toward them and show it physically too. Especially, in my house, when my mom hugs them affectionately and my dad pats them on the back, my kids respond very positively.

When I was a kid, we would go to my Grandparent’s house every summer as we lived in a different state, due to my dad’s job. In the summer, from a cool place, we would go to a hot and humid place, and stay for a month or two, just so we enjoyed the company of my grandparents. We never ever felt the pain as it was so much fun living with them and getting pampered and loved unconditionally.

Now, my kids are going through the same separation pangs as we did. My parents and my husband’s parents live in India, and my kids miss them a lot. Every time we go to India , the kids enjoy their grandparents’ company a lot. Occasionally when the grandparents come over to the USA to visit us for six months, my kids love to show them off to their friends. The love that the grandparents bestow on them is forever priceless.

I think it all boils down to the way the kids are brought up by their parents. Every day, I hug and kiss my kids goodnight, and I feel so nice about it. I feel that if we teach them and show them love, they in turn will do the same in their future. Be aloof or just do a thing for them as a duty, then that is what they would learn too. I would sure love to be hugged and loved by my future grandkids as my kids do to their grandparents and as I did to mine!

 

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Profile photo of Anita Ayela Live Life, Love Life!

My Loving Daughter,

Look at the world around you. It is as beautiful as you are, and that’s why I brought you into this world. But then, life here is beautiful as long as we allow it to be beautiful. Today, I entrust this responsibility on you to make the world more beautiful by just being you.

I will not tell you, “be careful about the boys you choose”, no, that is something personal. You need to go through the ‘relationship roller coaster’ by yourself. I would not be able to get into your brain but will share your fears, applaud your experiences and hear your screams! It is your life, and you need to know what is good for you and who is a good partner for you. I trust you, and if you ever need any support or help, I’m always with you, supporting you. But if you ever come across any friend who needs your moral support, or your heart to share secrets, listen! Support them in any and every way possible.

Preaching about sex, talking about taboos in the society, or telling you about ‘what the society thinks’ is not my cup of tea. You should love your life and live happily in all situations possible. Nothing is ever right or wrong, it is just our perspective. Live life for yourself, definitely  not for the society. But remember one thing, whatever you do, whichever path you choose, if you are able to talk about it with anybody, then you are doing it right. If you feel that it is something you cannot share with anyone, then think again. Is it worth it to live such a secretive life, suffering all alone and not being able to share it with people who love you? Certainly not! Share your feelings with people you love, build camaraderie wherever you go and smile all the way along.

I will not tell you to become ‘this’ or become ‘that’. I will not ask you to take up this major or that. The freedom to choose your future is all yours. It is your capability and interest which you would know better. All I would say is to study hard, and excel in whatever you do. Whatever be the profession you choose, you should love it and enjoy the job you take up. The best colleges are waiting for you, as I always believe that you deserve the best, for you are the best. Having said that, maybe not everyone would be as intelligent as you, and so might need your help.If someone asks for your help with their studies, go out of your way to teach or tutor them. Skip your favorite serial for a difficult math problem, or give up your ice cream treat to buy a book for someone.

It is very cliché to say that dream big and fulfill your dreams. Everyone is born to dream and make them come true, as much as possible. Ambition means different things to different people, but for sure everybody has aims and ambitions and most of us strive to achieve them. I’m sure you will too, as you are capable of achieving anything if your heart is set on it. And whenever possible, try and help others around you realize their dreams too, and lend a helping hand to the needy to achieve their goals.

As I write this letter to you, I would like to share something very important with you today. We pass this way only once, we may not travel this road again, so scatter humanity as you walk. Help people whenever you can, in whatever way you can. Not everybody is as privileged as you are who grew up in a secure and happy environment. Support at least a handful of the underprivileged and show them a new light. Make friends, not enemies wherever you go. Love is not rare, your heart is filled with a lot of love; spread it as you go forward in life. Every time you step forward, you should leave a path for others to follow. Whenever anybody ever thinks of you, they should have a smile on their face. Be that smile to everyone you meet in your journey of life.

I am proud of you, and will always be. Be good, do good and love Life!

With love and only love,

Your mom for life!

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