My choice….

My first reaction: WOW! That’s it. Someone out there has said it all. Fantastic. About time we show the men that it’s a woman’s world now!

I was chatting with my friend Mona who happened to mention this video. She said, “What the hell? Who are these women? And what are they saying? This could lead to breakdown of the institution of marriage!”

I wondered what made her say that? So then…

… I watched the video again.

Who were these 99 women? I didn’t see any of our known sportswomen like PT Usha, or the first woman firefighter Harshini, or women astronaut, CEOs, entrepreneurs, pioneers in making it a better world. May be these women from different professions and walks are big names – but none known to me (I apologise for my lack of knowledge here).

It starts off well… until it reaches mentions sex. So it’s okay to have sex before marriage or after. Well, that’s a personal choice that each young woman makes anyway. But then, why do people – men and women – judge young men who go about sowing their wild oats all over the place? They are simply exercising their choice.

So, today’s modern woman can betray and cheat on her husband when she wants. No questions asked. Again – that’s always been a matter of her personal ethics. If he can, she can. Why point out at the infidelity of men? Why the gender bias? If he can, she can. Now I know what Mona had based her thought-provoking comment on.

Her man is her choice. She is her man’s choice as well. It is for him to accept her love – but, he could choose to reject it, too! Whether to love a man or a woman or both… well, sure it’s your choice. You don’t have to wear your sexual preferences on your sleeve. If you want to, sure you can. But you don’t have to. So what are you trying to say here?

And what was that about the snowfall and snowflake (did I miss something?)

I did not want to get too critical.

 So, I watched it another time to see the point of it…

Was this to mark gender equality: If he can, she can, too. If he is an insufferable fool, she can be one too. If he is good for nothing, she can be to? I saw nothing positively indicative here of taking a step forward to strengthen womankind!

To be on an equal foothold, does a woman need to stoop down?

Then I thought of the “My choice” phrase exclusively.

My choice – has it not always personal choice – whether driven by circumstances or a situation? We make our choices all the time. Irrespective of gender. And at times we flaunt them, at times we don’t!

The housewife chooses to be the homebody who wants to positively influence the tomorrow of the world by way of simply being there for her kids.

The career woman chooses to support the family financially and pursue her professional ambitions for as long as she wants; or until another more pressing option comes along.

The cleaning lady chooses to dole out her earnings to her alcoholic husband to keep him out of her way and to save herself from domestic violence. She could choose to beat him up and leave him. Many have done that, too! So yes, their personal choice has been exercised.

At every step, irrespective of gender, we make our choices. Even when we say we don’t have a choice… we have in effect made a choice. Situations, circumstances, external factors, emotions – they all come into play. Whether we feel forced to make out choice or we feel it a necessary step for personal growth, the point is that the choice is made. So what are we really going on about ‘My Choice’ here?

AH! Perhaps… perhaps, it’s to make us realize that life is all about choices.

Circumstantial choices, choices made consciously or otherwise, decisions taken spontaneously or after giving due thought. Irrespective of gender – and circumstances – the choices are ours. And we choose to live by them, or not as the case may be.

I suppose the point is – that the way we choose to live and love, is our personal choice. And that’s something we need to be aware of.

If that was the point, then the critic in me agrees that this is a powerful video. But the critic also says that it could have been created with another script and given different treatment.

That choice was not mine.

My choice was – to not create the video, but to create my blog and derive joy from voicing my thoughts here! More joy from receiving comments and ideas from you!

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Memories… the little things that makes them special

It’s amazing how long back you can remember. One of my first memories is that of my pre-nursery teacher! And, although I do not remember her name or her face, I remember her pastel colored sarees and the fragrance of her perfume! I remember saying my action nursery rhymes and then having strawberry jam sandwiches or aloo parathhas made by my mum and then putting our heads on our little desks for the post-snack nap. And then, after some more colouring and painting – my mother would come in our camel-coloured fiat car to pick me up. It was always a joy to see her. I was three then.

Strangely enough, once again, the only thing I remember about my first grade teacher, were her light colored printed sarees and her huge bindis. And another lady who wore her hair in a high knot, but what was remarkable was her colourful bangles. I was six.

Incidents, birthday parties, what spooked me and my little friends, what we wanted to keep under wraps and not talk about – that odd boy who stared into the girls bathroom, the odd girl who felt up the panties of other tiny girls… all those memories came in post 9. And this time, what I recollect are some names, the incidents of course, and eyes of the people! Yes, the focus moved from outerwear to features…

Amazing how memories and things associated with them change – and sometimes hit you hard, right in the face when you least expect.

I just walked into my kitchen that smelt of freshly baked muffins and coffee. I had gone down to switch off the oven. I was pre-occupied with the chores to do in the next three hours- driving kids to their activities, wrapping up my writing work and paying of the bills, shouting out to my husband who between his official calls was tending the garden.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t here! I wasn’t in my now anymore. Those warm fragrance of the soft, warm sweet smelling chocolate muffins and coffee suddenly took me to my 10th birthday! Mama had baked a chocolate cake. I had a few friends over at my granny’s house where the party was being held. Mmm… coffee was being brewed for the mums. For a second there, I forgot I was now in my mum’s shoes. Doing it all, organising it all, loving each moment of being a mum.

The sheer memory sparked by fragrance brought tears into my eyes. Tears of sorrow, for I missed her terribly. Tears of joy, for I had her in my life, Tears of love, for I loved my kids dearly. Tears of pride, for I saw the reflection of my perfect mum in my own eyes.

Yes, memories – they are unique in their own way. And that’s what makes you unique in your own experiences.

Why a blog on this? I think – why not! 

This is one life – the one now we have where we can create more memories of joy, pleasure, fun… circumstances permitting or now – the memories we create now, mark our forever in the golden years of life. Perhaps, I am naive. Perhaps I am too young to think of what an 80-year-old might recollect and cherish or might not! But hey, the now is here. So why not make it memorable?

I bet when my little one bakes cakes and sips her coffee years away from my today – she will remember the fun times she had with me.. erm… provided the muffins taste as good as they smell 😉

India’s daughter… no more…

No! It’s not always been this way. No! The Indian society wasn’t always a sick one. No! Women were not always, and are not always treated with disrespect and objectified – but, today – things are different…  The Bollywood impact. The lack of education. The taboo on sex education. Personal and professional frustrations. Lack of proper upbringing due to multiple reasons…

Well, I’m sick – to say the least – of telling myself, and those who care to talk about India, her womenfolk and their safety – that this is not India, not MY India. I’m tired of giving explanations and believing that it’s my duty to defend every heinous act of this nature in India.

At first, I believed in what I said. I thought it. But then, I wondered if I had always lived in a ‘make-belief world’ that I was made to believe in by those who loved me and taught me. I was naïve.

When I spoke to my friends and family in India, I often heard, “Oh, it’s been happening for years. It’s only now that the media is highlighting certain cases.”

Media publicity or not, the matter of the fact is that the Indian thread of morals and ethics is weak – the fibre of our society continues to disintegrate. Whether now or from the times wherein the Mahabharata or Ramayana have been portrayed  – I do not know. But yes, the Indian culture and society is being scrutinized, criticized and exposed in a demeaning light.

Every time India is in the news for rape or women abuse  – I, the face of India in the land I now call home – wish I could don a ‘ Burkha’, vanish or dissolve into the earth for a bit to hide from pointed questions. Questions pertaining to India’s mental health, the sex route taken by the people from the land of the Kamasutra, the value attached to the woman when Indians (read Hindus) worship so many Goddesses (some of the people even rattle off names including Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati, Durga and Kali).

With those non-Indians more aware of Indian mythology – I always come to conclude that it’s a stupid paradigm the Indians are stuck in. Men have shown their uncouth and lowly behavior in the Ramayana (asking for Sita’s ‘agni pareeksha’ without having to give one), the Mahabharata (by way of Draupadi’s  disrobing or ‘cheer haran’ – and doing this, after the five showed complete respect towards Kunti, their mother, by being  unable to disobey her statement to ‘share whatever’ they had brought home). But that does not – and should not become inherent to the Indian male… or, does it?

So, once again with Nirabhaya’s case of 2012 in the limelight again, there I went – defending this time, not India and her culture, by my own personal culture. Why, I even saw myself distancing myself from my country I was born in and its population that makes up so many friends and family of mine. Explaining, elaborating, and learning as I went along.

Recently, I, too, like many in the world watched India’s daughter.

What really upset me was not Nirabhaya’s story. She’s gone. She’s dead. She’s an unfortunate part of history – but fortunate to be away from her pain – physical and emotional. May her soul rest in peace if possible.

What really got my blood boiling was the disgusting culprit.

He blamed her for the rape!

What’s worse – there was an actual defense that took up his case. The less said about this atrocious beast the better.

This advocate comes across as an insane brainless twit to say the least (and here, I stop to for otherwise the explicates I might go into may shock the sensibilities of many). Quoting this sick mind briefly: “A girl is just like a flower. It gives a good looking, very softness… performance, pleasant [sic]. On the other hand a man is just like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in a gutter it is spoilt. If you put it in the temple, it is worshipped.” He adds, “India has the best culture. No place for a woman in our culture.”

Wake up! A woman gave you birth. A woman is who you worship and who you work for in the hope that she always stays with you in the form of Lakshmi. A woman is what is made you a lawyer – count the blessings of Saraswati who you revered on each day of your examinations. Fear the wrath of Kali and Durga!

Still, I am a soft-hearted woman. I wish him well.  And with all the kindness and pity I can muster up for this guy –I wish him a slow, shameful, painful long years of assault that remind him of every woman’s pain who was ever raped in  – no – not the world, just in Delhi.

And then, just as I feel I have nothing left to say, and am completely numbed by the countrymen,  I read this: “It’s a very safe city.” This has been stated by the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Delhi Police. And, it just happens to be the rape capital of India, right?

What have you been smoking, man?

Good grief! (2013)

Good grief! by Aradhna Sethi

Posted on November 30, 2013 by When Women Waken5 Comments ↓

Isn’t it strange… most of us never want to feel the sorrow of bereavement, and yet at some stage we have to. For no one we meet, know and love is immortal. Yet the mind – it has this uncanny quality of justifying to the heart that all is well. But this justification comes only after you’ve come to terms with your grief.

It’s hard to forget the hollowness, the empty sadness that I had felt on losing my mother to cancer. I was 29, she just  54. At first, I registered her loss as an event in my life that time will heal. An event that would not stare me in my face once I left my country.

Yes, I was living abroad – and that was one fact that kept me from feeling the intensity of the loss. I thought to myself, once I’m back home, I’ll simply feel being away from mum because she is in another country anyway. And when I want to talk to her, I’ll simply call her on her mobile phone and let it ring and believe she’s out somewhere doing her crazy mediation courses, or merrily chatting away with her friends at some get-together or the other.  Once a year, when I do visit India, I’d think she’s on a world trip elsewhere. Simple – as easy as that – and yes, I thought I would be totally comfortable in my make-belief world. And for a while, it was!

But then, months after the incident, once, just once, a friend of mine tapped me on my shoulder and called me “beti “(daughter) for she mistook me to be her daughter who’s about my height. That one word and a motherly touch flooded my eyes with unabated tears that streamed down my cheeks. I cried – I cried for the first time in 9 months.

I cried like a helpless baby who didn’t know what to do. Questions buzzed in my mind. May be I should’ve been there with my mum instead of enjoying my new status as “Mrs new-bride”. After all, I’d been with her for 27 years and with the husband for only 2. How could I do nothing for my mum – my best friend, my guide, my role model, my crazy brat of a mum!

I was filled with guilt – of not being there; ashamed-  of my ignorance, for when she told me she had been detected with cancer and didn’t want to talk about it since it depressed her, I agreed to not question her; and angry-  with my total aloofness from the real situation – yes, my mother had informed me about the diagnosis and the treatment, but had sworn the rest of the family to secrecy regarding revealing to me the intensity of the illness, since that would worry me… Even in her pain, she was thinking of my helplessness at being far away, and of how her daughter needed this time to adjust into her role as a new wife in a new country, to make a home away from home…  Her selflessness touched me – but angered me more at the time, for then I had no kids of my own to realize what motherhood is all about!

Oh, I love her so much – if there was one think I could change in this world – it would be the eradication of cancer that took my mum away!

As the thoughts created waves of despair and wanting to be with my mother, my husband decided to drive- on and on – till I was at peace, or at least any semblance of sanity after this cathartic stream of tears subsided. And the short drive turned into an 8-hour long one. Thoughts came and went. Feelings and emotions raided my soul with no mercy. No words were spoken for the 8 hours by either of us in the car. And then– there was total silence in my mind that filled with empty sadness. The ‘event’ had been realized, felt and accepted completely.

It felt good. .. really, really good – to grieve and get it all out. I had felt the full import of sadness. Good grief – what a load off my chest. I suddenly felt light – sad but light!

Afraid of showing emotion, I now believe, it’s okay to cry. It’s important to feel the grief. So it’s okay to wallow in self-pity, ask “Why me”. Feel that sadness, be one with it, sense it in its entirety, even embrace it – and then – just like that – let it go! Just let it go!

And guess what – once you’ve felt the true heaviness of the gravity of grief – you don’t even have to let go – the sordid yet essential balancing emotion simply disappears – like grey clouds moving away and leading to clear blue skies and golden sunshine.

————

Aradhna Sethi hails from India but lives in Europe. She is the former editor of a newspaper and a contributing writer and editor for publications within and outside of Europe.

Bikini Talk (2013)

Yes! That’s one for the ladies, and I know I’ve kept some of you waiting and perhaps wondering if I chickened out of this topic… Naah! Actually, I forgot! I got so involved with healing my shoulder post a bad injury that all I did in the last few months (autumn 2012 until summer 2013) was stop all exercise and put on weight. So obviously, pools, beaches, bikini were out of sight and out of mind. But now, I’m back – taking it slow, but back to shedding those kilos courtesy cortisone and no workouts… And since summer is still around, I thought of going to the pool for a dip. And lo! The bikini topic came right back into my head (though a two-piece swimsuit is still a faraway dream…)

It was in Monte Negro that I started to focus on those luxuriously bronzed and browned bodies. Lasses with long legs, taught arses, and firm bountiful bosoms seemed to be strewn all over the beaches of Monte Negro. In my swimsuit – I felt like something dragged out of the dungeons by the cat who went on a search mission! But dragged out I was – right there, on the beach, among the beauties… Where were all the men though? I asked my man to look after the kids while I did my own little snooping.

Interesting facts that I realized were:

1. Women check out women more thoroughly – yes, yes, yes – they all say it, it’s a known fact. But when a straight woman experiences her own insecurities and goes on a snoop trail – the fact punches you straight in the face and leaves you shocked and gasping for air (also partly due to temperatures of 38 degrees… phew!)

So here I was, squinting through the sun’s rays and focusing on how some of these ‘more prominent figures’ walked – did they jiggle enough or were they unnaturally taught? You got it – I was scouting for potential implants, nips, tucks and lifts. Oh – and did I find a few! It seemed so common. No – I was not letting my imagination fly, nor was the green monster taking me over with envy and the big J-word, I was merely scrutinizing some of these ladies. Erm… yes, I was shocked by my thorough investigation – but honestly, I could not take this perfection as natural all the time each time, especially with those sultry eyes with lashes that waved a mile ahead, and that light blush on tanned skin which would remain untouched by waves or sprinkles of water. What made me take on Project Scrutinize was the sheer distance between some women and water, the hours of fiddling with their hair or nails, the self-indulgent air of luxury, and expensive whiff of ‘I-know-you’re-watching, but-I’m-worth-every-glance’.

Clearly, some of these were natural tigresses on the prowl – young, free, single – and waiting for prince charming to fall into their tiny laps and take their breathe away. Others were the slightly enhanced beings – a minor shot of botox to do away with the odd  furrow in the brow, some permanent touch-ups for the naturally beautiful eyes, and how could a few kilos of silicon not help? With youth, slim waistlines were a natural given anyway. And then, there were the perhaps tired tigresses, trying, once again to lure an exciting prey with their still-evident-even-if-majorly-‘perked-up and enhanced’ looks.

Would I want to trade places with any of them? For an hour? May be? But then really no.

2. Men will be men! Ogling oafs tried to impress the beauties. And worse – some lovely lasses did seem impressed by the least impressive. Perhaps as a “gesture of kindness” or an “act of charity” – this lovely woman, about 180 cms tall, with proportions to die for, wearing this skimpy “fall-all-out” or to put it kindly “show-all” bikini, let this ancient doddering, dribbling man rub suntan lotion all over her back. Eew! Nothing against age or shape of the man. But hey, she was old enough to be his grand daughter. And she! I have no idea how she let those lecherous looks and seeking hands touch her!

What about the good looking lads at the beach? Oh, there were a few. I must say – rather handsome hunks who’d make heads turn and women drool unabashedly. If only they had not been soooooooo self involved, and seemingly conceited (the call it being cool these days. Flexing their muscles and flaunting their water sport skills to more of their kind. Not all oooooh-so-hot guys could be gay now, could they? No offence, but these guys were just so into themselves that they couldn’t seem to see the gentler sex at all! Or now was this an ego thingy of sorts that lies far beyond my comprehension…

Everywhere I looked – there seemed to be fantastic beach bodies, just a touch too aware of their looks and brusque attitudes that didn’t add to, but in fact, seemed to take away from their beauty.

Then we hit the beaches of Croatia. Ah! Here I was more at home in my skin.

The women were real – not model like at all. No ‘upgraded assets’. All natural. And that is not to say that they were unattractive. No way!  They were more attractive – not because strutted their bodies in designer bikinis, but because they unknowingly flaunted their qualities. Project Scrutiny was on again! There were the young women, playful in the sea or sunbathing on their bright mats, clad in sexy, stylish bikinis to comfortable and simple swimsuits. Some were sipping a drink, chatting with their girlfriends – their slender legs, taut torsos and beautiful faces glowing with joy. There were the couples in love. There were women with kids – slightly rounder and fuller bellies, bosoms that did not point at the skies, bottoms that did not do an anti-gravity act – but these women felt whole and complete – despite the laugh lines, the wrinkled brow. Some relaxed while their partners pampered them by taking care of the kids, one of the women looked totally exhausted but completely happy in their role as mother of a teen, a toddler, and a baby that was still at her breast. Still others sat alone, lost in though – experienced eyes and bodies that seemed to say : Woohoo! what a ride it’s been!” And others who seemed in search of something that had been eluding them.

Happy, sad, lonely, complete, whole – these women – their emotions went far beyond their bikini styles… And it was the bikinis that told me their stories! 

Change… (2012)

It wasn’t as if I’d been unhappy in my job – I mean – who minds getting ‘moolah’ for a job that pays more for less and gives you all the flexibility you need. But then, there were things annoying me – these included:

. Getting more for less (sigh! the guilty conscience kept placing it’s angelic halo on my head!)

. Being home – but at work. Seeing the kids, but getting the nannies to enjoy them.

. Boredom – just waiting for work to trickle in…

. Lack of job satisfaction – I call it – no pride, no fun.

. Escapism – yes, my job had become my route to escape the daily routine of essential chores I considered mundane – despite the fact that I had to deal with them in my so-called ‘free-time’

And then there was this feeling that I was meant to do more… something else…. this was not my road to retirement… there has to be more! More fun. More joy. More life!

So after due contemplation – I decided to search for a purpose in life.Many things came to mind. Things I feel strongly about. Things that make me furious, that make me tear up with emotion, that make me want to dance with joy… so much! But – options where I can contribute, grow and gain the pleasures of the world at the same time…I have to still look at the viability of it all.

Fear – that was another element that plagued me. What if I quit and never find a purpose in my life or a job that fits my needs? What if my friends and family lose respect for me now that for a while – I might be just a housewife who spends but brings in nothing.

FALSE – I have realized over the years that the misnomer “Just a housewife” is probably the worst misnomer in history! There’s no “just” about being a housewife – gosh! you’ve got to be a wife, friend, mum, caretaker, cook, cleaner, sounding board of the family and so much more… It’s not just in any way to call a housewife ‘just’a housewife. But still – there was the other side to it – not contributing monetarily, not engaging in business talks, not being able to contribute to anything beyond the four walls of the home. Would I be able to live with that?

The clear answer was “no”! So yes, I had to do something. However small, however insignificant in this world of bigger things – I have to do something. Step 1 would be to clear my head, give myself time and space and follow my dream… a dream that I’ve had since I was a teenager. A dream that I did not feel strongly about – simply due to the fear of failure. but a dream all the same…

For now – I have only put in my resignation.

This winter will see a new me – hopefully – a new and improved me 🙂

Wish me luck! 🙂

Stop the madness! (2011)

So I heard, I read, I burned with furious rage. Then a sort of helplessness descended upon me. I was shocked at how ruthless and seemingly just my thoughts around public humiliation, mutilation and torture – could be. I hesitate to put those thoughts here – not for the fear of what the readers may think, but the fear of how intense they are. Yet, the punishment for these sick people is still not fair enough… and these are just thoughts – there was no concrete way to influence the cause which had churned up this whirlwind of extreme emotions.

Shock set in when I heard about the Delhi rape case. Indians – young and old had taken to the streets. The sheer intensity of the sick minds and their torturous deed that led to the death of the rape and violation victim (death being God’s act of mercy here since she had been damaged emotionally and her guts had been forced out of her and spilled on the roads of the rape site by the perpetrators of what was mildly put across as “the rape”) had started this internal turmoil. As if this one case that had grabbed the media’s attention and brought to light was not enough – it now seemed rape and torture was prevalent in big cities, small suburbs and villages as well.

In a country that worships the female avataars of the Supreme Power (MahaLakshmi, Durga Maa, Mata Saraswati, Kaali Ma, Amba maata – to name a few), it was as it is difficult to come to terms with the realities of child marriage, female infanticides, abortions and the evils of dowry and sati – and now this! And what of the morbid news of five year olds being raped. And we aren’t even mentioning those uncles and cousins and fathers and grandfathers thinking incest! Unbelievable, infuriating hypocrisy at its best! A blatant display of the pervert mind and sexual frustrations.

 Why blame the West for beaming in those movies, soaps and reality shows-flaunting a sexy leg, giving a sultry look, showing off the subtle curve of a breast? Indian media is no less at showing skin be it in a more-than-just-the-mid-riff bearing soaking sari, a micro-mini skit combined with a cleavage-dipping ultra-tight top, together in a hot spicy item number with all its heaving and thumping and jhatkas and matkas.

But if the Western women can wear what they do (be it straight from Hollywood or the fashion walks of Paris and Milan or something just thrown together) and not be gang raped, why blame the Indian girls for wanting to wear what they believe brings out their best in terms of femininity (be it Bollywood inspired or from the fashionistas that India proudly boasts of? Victimizing victims is what the social structure of India is brilliant at doing unfortunately.`

It’s time mothers and others from all walks of life inculcate the right values in their sons – respect for women, equal freedom to choice – be it career choices or dressing up, acceptance of the freedom exercised as long as harm comes to none by your act. Take the society, your friends, sisters, mothers around you and put the woman back on the pedestal that’s rightfully hers.

Use religion in a positive way – Hinduism also believes in “Shakti” – why all our deities have their women counterparts (Shiv-Shakti). Have you been seen the sculptures on the oh-so-many temple walls? Do any of the women have their faces covered completely in a ‘ghunkat’? Do they wear loose flowing clothes – or beautifully adorned bustiers and mid-riff exposing saris or dhotis? Do they not have the ‘solah-singhaar’ complete with jewellery, accessories for the hair and waists, a touch of make-up even?

And for all women out there – elegance is the new word for fashion! It’s time to get up and be you! Be a charming, attractive person you can be proud of – and feel safe in your skin – in your clothes and surroundings. And – whatever your age woman – learn to stand up for yourself and pick up some form of self-defense!

Being an NRI, it gives me great pride to talk about the positive aspects (and there are many) of India and the big achievements and successes of Indians around the world. But as a woman – when people in my country of residence read about the India of today, ask me questions on the status of women, the state of education, and humanity – I must admit, I put my head down in shame and say, “That’s not the India I left a decade ago.”

Today (March 11), I was at the hairdressers. the radio was on and the song was interrupted by the news. I call it an interruption since it was a rather nice foot-tapping song – and the news broadcast was rather disturbing. Yes, once again it was that of the Delhi rape case. And – heads turned towards me with very mixed expressions that flashed across those concerned faces…What could I do but hang my head in sheer shame at the time… WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE if you were the only brown-skinned Indian among Europeans – 2 of whom knew you were from India as well… Well…

Sigh! It can’t get worse! A Swiss woman was raped today… Makes life for NRIs in Switzerland a touch difficult – don’t you think?

Driving me Crazy – the “oof!” series (2011)

Driving me cra-a-a-azy! (Part 1)

10 years – 10 long years – that’s how long it took for me to learn driving in Switzerland.

Okay – you caught me there. I am exaggerating. It wasn’t as though I was learning the art for a decade, but yes, it did take me 10 years to finally get a Swiss license.

It all started in 2001. Anil got his license after 8 driving lessons to get to get used to diving on the opposite side, adjusting to the new rules, priorities, traffic, etc. So, it was my turn now.

Truth revealed

I had an Indian driving license. I had taken 20 classes. Learned nothing. Been to the RTO. Almost killed people and punctured footballs as I drove the Maruti crammed with 5 other “aspiring car drivers” and the examiner. And – at the end of the ordeal I was asked: “Madam – national chalega ki international mangta?”Shocked, I blurted international!

But – ahem – Anil knew that. How did he assume I could pass with 10 classes? Okay – we were new to the Alpine land, with very little disposable income. Driving was an expensive proposition. But, 10 classes?

Ho-hum – I gave in. I said I’d give it my best shot. And, I’d learn from Anil’s teacher as he understood the Indian mindset.

Meet the teacher

“Baldev Singh – from Jallandar ji” Married ji – to a Swiss lady. She’s a nurse but is earning to be a driving teacher since she seems to enjoy that more.

So Singh speaks a mix of Punjabi and Swiss German with a smattering of English.

Lessons commence

Seatbelt, engine, lights on. And I whizz – at the speed of a tortoise. “Faster – Gas gebe (accelerate)” he says.  And then he rams on the breaks, looks at my licence. “Fake na. Hmm… 10 class not enough. I guarantee failure. Challo ji!” He says. That’s some encouragement.

Over the next sessions he convinces me I’d fail.

He also tells me that when I break, I should keep in mind that I’d come to a complete halt 5 metres later. Well, “I don’t even know the distance between you and me Singh –ji . How do I know how far 5metres are?” He slaps his forehead and says, “One, two, three, four, five – yeh lo – 5 trees and so 5 metres.”

“Singh ji – there are no trees on highways. How will I know then?”

Next we talk of psycho-motor behavior. Where you look there you drive, where you drive there you look,” he tells me. And just as I am about to hit a 100 speed limit at the twilight hour of 9pm, he says, “Look at the moon – beautiful isn’t it?” I mutter, “Where you look, there you drive. Want me to take you up there? To the moon?”

We both give up.

20 days later, I am taken to the Strassenverkehrsamt for my driving test. I am shaking with fear – fear of letting my teacher and my husband down. Did I say my teacher? Nah – he knew I’d fail. But letting hubby dear down? Failing for the first time ever in my life? Nah! I’ve never failed and I never will.

Singh walks out – talks to the examiner, walks back to me and says, “Best of luck, but bad luck – you have the toughest examiner in the history of the driving authorities. Please at least try talking in German!”

 Needless to say, I failed. I was miserable. I never thought I’d ever fail – but I did! Never say never!!! And to cope with this was not easy. My world had crashed. Me sense of self had crashed.

After this devastating yet humbling experience, there was more in store.

———-

Driving me cra-a-a-zy! (Part 2)

So now you all no I didn’t make it in my first attempt. I was disappointed – but more than that I was angry! And with Anil!!! How could he not realize that I can’t come to terms with failure? How could he not know that I needed waaaaaaaay more than 10 classes? Did he not realize that I’d never driven in snowy, frosty conditions? I mean real thick snow! For that matter – that I’d really never driven?

In retrospect – how could he? We’d been married just 11 months! (Ah! Me and my large forgiving heart ☺ )

What???

And now that I’d been here for a year, and not passed my “convert to Swiss license” test, I had to go through the whole rigmarole of:

1. Theory exam

2. Practical driving lessons – number of classes to be taken – read this – double the number of years you’ve walked the planet! In my case, 56.

3. Red Cross Course of 3 solid weekends

4. Driving psychology course

5. Practical exam

And you pay a large amount for each step. Those days driving practical lessons used to cost CHF80 per hour! Howzzat for saving and being a new arrival in the land of expenses and high living costs!

Realisation dawns

I am B-A-D at convincing my own hubby.

I tried telling him the joys of public transport. And no kidding, most people – even politicians and top shot business people travel by train. Switzerland is well networked – trains, buses, tram systems are all coordinated like clockwork – and talking of clocks – punctuality is the middle name of public transport here – along with cleanliness, pleasantness and more. Yes, I am truly amazed at this level of attention to detail for a bunch of commuters – nameless and unknown to the authorities.

But – no – Anil had a licence and I had to have one! That was that. So I thought, what the hell – I’ve given umpteen number of exams, so here’s one more. And I had the option to do the theory in English.

And off I go!

I passed the theory, enrolled myself for the rest of the procedures and started practical lessons – this time – with Annabella Meier Singh! Yes, the nurse-wife who wanted to teach. I was her third student.

We bargained a bit and decided to go for 20 – not 56 classes (desi mentality comes to the fore). After all, her husband had taught me before, so 10 classed should be considered done and over with! So classes began. She spoke German and “haan-ji” “nai-ji” – punjabi ishtyle. She said I was doing okay as I drove.

She was a lovely person – until we decided to go on the highway. “Aradhna – I have three children! No – you’re not set to hit the highway. We will practice parking,” she shrieked – hyperventilating at the same time.

Parking was a bigger fiasco – we tried it everyday, till my 103-point reverse parking became a 3 point-parking ☺ Nice!

The Red Cross course was interesting and so was driving psychology.

Exam time!

Shaking with nervousness I asked if she thought I could do it. “Yes” – she said – and added “may be, but you should have taken more classes”. Well, at least she hadn’t said “No” !

And – she went on – “you have a lenient examiner.” Yippee! Smiling, I greeted the examiner and we were off!

I went on the highway – a bit too slow. I changed lanes – a bit too fast. I parked – at the wrong spot and with 30 false moves or more. And then – I almost killed a dog! Not really. The lady and her dog had crossed both the streets of the main road – and then the stupid mutt jumped back on. On to the other side. It has to be “Superdog” to be able to run all the way back to my side of the street – so I drove on! And the examiner breaked hard and asked me if I had made a mistake. I said no – and gave him the above reasoning. He said I was arguing. I said I wasn’t. He said I was and I continued with my reasoning…

Well, like her other students, I failed – AGAIN! And poor Annabella reverted back to her old profession of being a nurse as she nursed her own mental wounds!

I was devastated yet again! Anil told me about a friend’s wife who attempted driving in Europe 9 times and passed at the her 10th attempt. I said hats off to her. I’m not the kind to go on after this.

But – I was wrong!

————-

Driving me cra-a-azy…(Part 3)

Anabella Meier Singh gave up, but Aradhna Jyoti Sethi didn’t!

Okay – confession

I was depressed, low, hated the concept of driving, and didn’t see the need to get behind the steering wheel of this potentially lethal weapon called a car.

But, Anil the ever-optimist – at times to sickeningly impractical levels – God bless him, was adamant that I learn driving, you know… just incase something happened! Like what, I asked? Well, he cajoled, say someone was to be taken to the hospital.

NOW – I was sure my husband of almost three years knew me ZILCH! IF there’s anything that can make me loathe something and lose any motivation to do it, it is what psychologists lovingly call “negative reiforcement”. THAT to me is “positive demotivator”!

But that “little Aradhna” in me who never let anyone down reared her innocent head again and decided to go for it this last time. The third and final attempt. For Anil.

So gritting my teeth, I studied for the theory exam again (one theory result was valid for just a year, and I had just about completed that year a month ago). And off I went. Exam cleared. Off for practical lessons – sigh – again. This time again with Annabella, on special request. She was a kind and understanding woman. All done.

Test day arrives

The examiner was a man – three times my size, spoke only German, and was a tough cookie to handle. He looked at me disapprovingly and asked if I spoke Swiss German. Hesitatingly, I replied, “ Ich verstehe und spreche ein wenig Deutsch. Ich habe fuer ein Jahr die gelernt.” (I understand and speak a little German. I’ve studied it for a year).

He was not impressed.

A shiver ran down my spine as we started. After 10 minutes, things seemed to get better. No mistakes yet. A slightly rough break at the traffic light. I apologised, explaining that I was a touch nervous.

I expected him to tell me to head to the highway. I was mentally prepared. “Drive uphill to the next town please, via the country road,” he told me in crisp German. My eyes widen as I was caught off guard! My mouth went dry and I croaked “What!”He repeated his instruction in an irritated tone. Suddenly – I changed lanes without indication and swerved towards the road he wanted me to go on. It was winding and steep. The 50km speed limit was struck off. What now? Annabelle had told me to go to the next speed limit – but 80 on these kind of roads? My thoughts raced on as my foot squeezed forcefully on the accelerator.

Suddenly everything was spinning. I felt sick. At a distance, I heard a faint but extremely angry voice saying, “Are you mad! You are driving too fast and on the wrong side! You’ll get us both killed! Please drive back NOW!”

Dazed and confused, I stopped, turned back and drove… slowly. I knew I’d not passed. But he still had to say it. It still hurt. But I really couldn’t figure out what had happened. I felt sick. I stopped all “car-connected” conversation with Anil or anyone else. He warned friends and family to not broach the subject. I was volcanically volatile!

And then – a month after the miserably failed exam – I found out what I had suffered on that day was sheer nervous tension AND my first bout of morning sickness.

No more driving – at least for the next 9 months I thought – perhaps never again – my heart hoped. But mostly, my heart jumped with excitement at the thought of the little life being created within me through the next 40 weeks!

Yippeee!

Darling little Aakash came along. He was almost 16 months old. We had never spoken about driving again. And then, I was expecting little Aanya! There was no way I was going to learn how to drive at this stage. Never!

But never say never… (watch out Swiss roads!)

——-

Driving me cra-a-azy…(Part 4)

So now we hadn’t spoken about driving for sometime. Aanya was 6 months old and Aakash three years old. He had started with Play School. And sometimes, it seemed to take ages just to get there with the two kids! Aanya would sit or snooze in her pram and Aakash would stand on the kiddy board while I pushed the two – slightly uphill. But he was getting heavier and bigger, so was she – and walking him down to Play School started to get to be a weekly chore which I wasn’t enjoying much.

Moreover, I had no time at all – by the time I’d drop him and get home, I’d have to leave again to get him home with a short 60-minute break. This break I’d use to go grocery shopping (with Aanya and her pram) or for a quick coffee with the neighbour.

Hmm… I wondered…

“Perish the thought! Sitting behind the wheel of a lethal weapon and hit the roads where innocent people risk their lives each day is not what you’re meant for Aradhna,” said a little voice in my head. OK! Not a problem – soon Aakash would be in Kindergarten just a block away ☺

And then began kindergarten and my new job. I would get to work in 48 minutes door-to-door by public transport. But then, I got late one day, missed a train and was still somewhere on the way for two hours now. And then, the next day a kind husband offered to pick me up – and I was home in 23 minutes flat! But no – driving was still not worth it.

We began a house hunt – a piece of heaven on this lovely earth. But hey, we had the public transport going to each nook and corner of the Alps! So we began a hunt – checking out train routes and setting a time limit of 25-30 minutes from home. Okay, for now everything seemed to be either over our budget or just too close to the station and not right to bring up babies… But we had patience – there was no rush.

I started to look for Karate classes for Aakash. Every village and town was self-sufficient. Aha! Found a teacher. But she was bedridden! Had a bad accident and couldn’t teach, but she recommended a school in the next town. I would need an hour by train and bus to get there, wait there for an hour and get back spending another hour on the road – 3 hours for an hour’s lesson. Well, I didn’t want my kids to lose out on the joys of learning just because I couldn’t drive!

That was it! I’d try again! And this time – I would do it – for the kids!

I spoke to Anil and told him this time I’d do it – but I did not want any limits set on the number of lessons I take. I would do it at my pace and give the test when I felt right. He was shocked into acquiescence.

I contacted Frau Fritz.

She came over.

We discovered:

1. She had a manual car and me an automatic

2. It was October and my theory would be valid only until December 8

3. If I had to appear for yet another theory exam – I’d have to do it in German – not a problem as the last time I had dome it in German and scored full marks

4. I would have to first go to the driving psychologist to see if I could actually still attempt driving after failing thrice. Now that was unacceptable!

Solutions

1. Frau Fritz checked with the authorities if she could teach me in my car – the hand brake was good and, after all I had taken practical lessons prior to this. She got the permission. Yippee!

2. Well, I’d take my chances. If I could appear for a test in November, I could still attempt a second time in December

3. German was not a problem

4. Driving psychologist?!? Naaah! But I’d learnt never say never! And for the kids – I’d do it!

Classes began. Petrol prices were high – so were driving lesson prices. Anil was concerned. I could see it – but he didn’t say a thing.

We drove – for hours – an hour a day – between 4 to 6 hours a week. The meter was running on all counts – fuel price, teacher fee, patience, my test deadline. I had got my first attempt date on December 2, my birthday.

November was here. I had my good days and my bad ones.

On one particular day, at the end of the lesson, the teacher asked “What did you do before the lesson today and yesterday?” My throat went dry… what did I do now?

“Well,” I stuttered, “I worked from home – the kids were at daycare. Then at noon, I had my lunch. Then I took the toy cars of my son and practiced parking and lane changing to see the angles and mentally practice. An hour before class I had a coffee and 30 minutes before a chocolate!” “Good,” she said.

Next week, do the exact same thing, she told me as I went home.

Viola! I followed the same pattern – my teacher remarked that on this day I drove very well. As also on the previous dates where I had followed this pattern the week before. She had noted the routine and the dates.

“Before the test, do the same,” she advised.

November 30th – my last lesson before the D-day.

Frau Fritz – she was 65. I would be her last student.

I wanted her to have happy last memories of the profession she’d chosen to pursue for 45 years!

We’d spoken of her daughter-in-law problems, her younger son’s girlfriend’s uncultured mannerisms, laughed together at the stupidity of men, pulled a finger at those driving and not being sticklers to rules as she was… We’d shared close to 25 hours of togetherness – in one car, travelling the same road, in the same direction (a dose of melodramatic Bollywood dialogue here, eh! 😉 )

Would this December 2 be a Happy Birthday or…

Posted by Aradhna Sethi

at 11:34

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The grand finale – driving…

Driving me cra-a-a-azy! Totally!!!

The day of the test

I woke up that morning – December 2. It was my test day – oh yes and my birthday! But right now – it was the test that mattered.

Anil cheerfully tried to wish me – but one cold look from me – and he knew he’d better manage the show of sending the kids to Kindergarten and Daycare himself.

By the time I showered and made my coffee – everyone – including Anil had left.

The test was at 4pm. It was just 8am!

I went to the toy cupboard and practiced all my parking styles and lane changing. I made a mental note of all my mistakes and the correct solutions.

I checked my mail. I’d taken the day off from work. So I logged on to facebook and gmail . I listened to music, cooked up a light lunch.

Frau Fritz would pick me up at 3:30pm.

Hmm… I had an hour and a half. The phone rang. Frau Fritz said, “Drink you coffee in an hour. Don’t forget the chocolate. Bis bald!”

Tick-tock, tick-tock. And the beep of sms-es wishing me a happy birthday. I didn’t want to read them until I knew it was really Happy!

Soon, I was in the car with Frau Fritz – and I drove this one last time before the test. She seemed happy, but nervous.

At the Strassenverkehrsamt, I parked – perfectly. She stepped out and turned. “Eat this quick and keep warm, “she said handing me a stick of Callier cholocate. She went to get the examiner.

A Santa look-alike stepped into the car.

I was shivering and really cold despite my layers of warm clothing and the heating in the car on.

The examiner greeted me with a friendly handshake. Noticing how cold I was, he asked, “Are you nervous?” “Yes,” I half shivered and half stammered. “I see it’s your birthday today. Come on, let’s go when you’re ready!”

I said a silent prayer, bowed my head and started the car.

I drove back in after 65 minutes to see Frau Fritz cramming chocolate into her face and pacing up and down. I was relaxed, but not sure of the result yet. “Santa” had taken me on 30-zones, 120-speedlimit highways, made me park a few times, change lanes, drive through zones where lots of children were playing and walking in the 30-zone street… And right through, he has spoken to me about India, the differences between the people here and there, my life here.

I parked. He smiled at me – scribbled something on a piece of paper and said – “Happy Birthday. It’s my pleasure to give you your license. You really did a good job – not one mistake!”

I could’vé kissed him!

Frau Fritz rushed to me with her chocolate face beaming the minute she saw me smiling with 100% joy! “You worried me sick! The test is usually for 45 minutes, you were gone for 65!”

How do I know what happened? I just knew I’d got my license – thanks to her.

I called Anil and said, “NOW, it’s a happy birthday. I’ll be home in 40 minutes.”

I got home to hubby-and-kids-baked hot chocolate muffins – complete with icing and decorations.

Yes, I’d done it! And with the license came the “taxi mum” tag – and responsibility!

Love me insanely! (2011)

We all dream of that – don’t we? Insane love, love unto death and all the mush that romance novels have fed us over the teen years and even beyond…

How many of us get it? And more important, how many of us acknowledge it – even to ourselves? Isn’t there always “a little more” that you crave? And how many of us accept that yes, we have it – but we crave that little more which will be magical. And then again some more, and then some… Human nature!

A good old friend of mine recently asked me if I had the desired to be loved insanely. Instant response – Of course! Her next question – did you get it?

I couldn’t reply right away… I thought I did. And that’s what I said. And a split second later… I hoped I did. But suddenly I wasn’t sure… did I get what I always wanted? Hmm… I needed my

answer.

I slipped into the past… my teenage and early 20s

Back to my school days. To when I was 14. Those were the days when I found my initials scribbled on the board, ensconced in a heart. It was scary. I was a teacher’s daughter! I thought, if mum find out who this person is, he’d be dead meat! But it made me feel special.

And then there was a time when another youngster carved my name with a blade on his arms! That was super-duper scary. Insane, yes! Insane love – perhaps not … For that moment, at least, it was an insane act out of early teen infatuation or let’s say puppy love.

I remembered all the guys who’d shown any kind of interest in me. From singing love songs at the beach in one of the “Antakshri” sessions to sending anonymous cards and letters ; from mocking at their own emotions to shedding tears that stained their maleness; from marrying someone who sounded like me, to vowing never to marry… I saw them all in my mind’s eye.

What made me not succumb to these strong emotions? I had felt the intensity of feelings. It felt good to be loved – but I’d read that being in love with the feeling of being in love was special. I never sensed that.

Also, mum’s words were drilled in my head: Never do anything that will bring your father a bad name! Remember, till the time you are with us – you will always remain “daughter of”, and whatever you do will not be something Aradhna did, but something that the daughter of Arun and Neelam did. Good – will bring us pride. Bad – will hurt us and our honour .

I often thought that only they mattered to them – my parents ie. But in time, I realized it was I who mattered most.

Oh yes, and the other thing drilled into me – like into all other Indian girls of my time was: this was the time to study and to secure an independent life that I could be proud of. And that’s the life the romantic in me wanted to share with someone I cherished and loved – enough to want to give myself to him completely.

Yes, those were my views. Views that I am proud of. Morals that I created for myself , values that mum had knowingly or unknowingly planted in my head and heart, beliefs that I stood by until the time he came along…

And then – I knew the heady feeling of being in love, being ready to give up and move away from all that ever mattered to me most – and yet the confidence that I would always be ‘me’, despite moving on… I was now insane enough to marry and go off with a man to an unknown land and stat a life all over again. That was insane love! And I have no regrets.

But what about him? The question – does he love me insanely lingered.

Would he give up a life known to him for the unknown – just for me?

At the spur of the moment, I called him. He was at work, but talkable.

“Do you love me insanely”

“Huh? What? Are you feeling okay?

“Do you love me insanely”

“Okay… what do you mean by insanely?”

“More than the kids, your mum and dad, more than everyone and anyone in the world?”

“You can’t compare. I care for my folks immensely, I love the kids more than my own being, and you are the most special person I love differently from all the others.”

Oh, why could he not have just said “Yes, I do?” Now, I wondered even more and hung up…

Within minutes I called back. “Do you love me insanely as in – would you do anything for me unconditionally?”

Silence.

“No! I wouldn’t.”

A shocked silence and a flood of hot tears in my eyes.

“Even if you insisted – I would never leave you and turn gay! So yes, I wouldn’t do everything for you conditionally or unconditionally!”

A burst of laughter on both sides.

That’s what I call – insane love.

It’s for you to define and you to feel – alone, all by yourself – in your head and heart!