Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Grandmother

My maternal grandmother was the fifth of nine children in her family: five girls and four boys. Actually, her parents had first two children prior to nine but they both died in infancy. Out of five girls, my grandmother was the only one who was educated. In those days, girls were only educated up to the point where they were ready to get married and eventually start a family, while boys were expected to reach higher education in order to support their future families.

Even though her father was wealthy and respected in his community, he was quite strict in disciplining his nine children. Instead of riding in carriages to school, they were told to walk. In spite of servants around the house, they were taught to make their own beds in the mornings as soon as they arose (they were required to get up on certain times regardless of holidays), and put away their belongings in the proper places. The rest of the chores, the servants did them which included washing the dishes, sweeping and dusting the house, washing clothes and putting them on clothesline to dry, etc.

Their house was quite huge and beautiful. I was told that the columns were made of ivory while the floor were of real marble. There were two small cottages next to it, for servants. My
great-grandparents had three German Shepherds who lived in dog houses in the big yard.

My mother has good childhood memories of visiting there during summer times/holidays and interacting with her 35+ first cousins! (Unfortunately, upon my great-grandfather's death in 1968, in his will the house was given to his eldest son but he did not want it and neither did other siblings as it was too large, thus it was burned down. I don't know why it wasn't sold instead.)

Years later, when I asked my mother why my grandmother was the only educated among her sisters, she told me this story.

My grandmother married (arranged) at age twelve, as it was common in those days, especially among high and middle classes. (Nowadays, it is still prevalent but this time in low-class families) However, she did not go live with my grandfather until she was much older. (He was about five or six years older than her).

To pass her time as a married girl, she, while finishing up her high school education, mostly learned to sew, knit, cook, and visit her in-laws from time to time. In the meantime, upon finishing his education, my
grandfather decided to pursue further education in England. This was in the late 1930's.

But something happened. Few months after my grandfather temporarily moved to England, he suddenly fell critically ill. Several doctors examined and tested him but could not find anything specifically wrong. Apparently, he had some virus of a kind.

He was practically on death-bed that his brother-in-laws came and brought him back to India, to die in his native country.

Due to the fact that my grandmother would be a widow, my great-grandfather, after some thought, told her to pursue degree in medicine, in case of my grandfather's imminent death, she would be able to support herself. (According to their Hindu religion, re-marriage was not considered as an alternative, mostly for women).

At that time, colleges were only for men. However, since my great-grandfather was a benefactor of this college, my grandmother was allowed to attend. Because she would be the only woman in crowds of men, her father did not feel comfortable, thus asking his eldest son's wife, who then did not yet have kids, to accompany her.

After four years of core education, as my grandmother was about to enroll in medical school in the upcoming few months, my grandfather suddenly completely recovered, without any plausible explanation. (For the rest of his life, he did not as much get sick, i.e. flu, fever, etc, ever again until his death in 1997.)

Hence, she dropped her further education and started her married life with him, having three children in the process. My mother is the middle child.

During my teenager years, my grandmother lived with us. I remember the times she used to help me with my school projects, crafts, etc. She was very creative person and quite liberal compared to other Indian grandmothers of her time.

As of now, she is 85 years old, the only living grandparent, residing in India, with my aunt and uncle.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Nah, I must be dreamin....

At seventeen, I won a free trip contest to England sponsored by then Gallaudet College. It was a 3-1/2 week trip during summer time prior to my senior year of high school.

Excitedly, I packed at least one month before my departure. My mother took me shopping and bought me new clothes as a "present" for winning the contest.

On the day of my flight, I got up early, without anyone waking me up (I did not have an alarm clock for the deaf that time). I flew to Washington, D.C. where I, along with other 14 contestants, 10 deaf and 5 hearing, stayed at a lodge behind Gallaudet College for the first two days.

During the first two days, we got acquainted with each other, as well as with the three chaperones which one of them was an alternate interpreter. I made fast friends with some of them. The chaperones lectured on the policies, itinerary, rules, passport information, etc. We also had 'ice-breaking' activities that helped us to get to know each other.

On the third day, we all flew to London. Upon landing, we were shuttled to a YMCA where we stayed for the most of the two weeks. The food was so terrible that we eventually all paid for our food at restaurants, cafes, etc. with our own money which was later reimbursed by the chaperones with the money sponsored from Gallaudet.

During those weeks, we visited museums, the Parliament, school for the deaf, deaf clubs, some deaf/hoh individuals' homes for tea/snacks, and old churches/parks.

Finally, the next 5 days, after two weeks, our group of 15 were divided into two groups. The two groups went to different cities in England. One group went to Devon to stay at a lodge where each of them stayed with a host family for a day or two. The other group, which I was in, went to York to stay at a hostel. We were supposed to stay with host families but due to summer time, most of them were away on vacations. Instead, we each visited our host family only for few hours and then returned to the hostel.

At the hostel, I shared a room with another girl, Julie. Next to us, Doug and Josh shared a room, and so on. There was a pub (as bar is called in England) downstairs.

Most teenagers are curious about life, experimenting with things. Some of us in the group, including me, was no exception. (Doug was the only one who was 20) Some nights, Doug, Josh, me, Kate, Scott, and a Welsh girl named Kim who was visiting us, snuck into the pub to have few beers without chaperones' knowledge.

One night, around 11:30 PM, as usual, we quickly got away from the chaperones' eyes, and entered the pub. It was my first time tasting alcohol. I initially did not like the taste of beer, but then eventually adjusted to it.

Only three of us stayed longer at the pub, after some of the others left. Doug, Kate, and I chatted amicably over our drinks until about 2 am. I then decided to hit the sack, leaving Doug and Kate who were not finished with their drinks.

In the room, I slept on the bunk bed while Julie slept in the bottom one. Exhausted, I immediately discarded my clothes and quickly changed into my PJ's and then crashed.

In the morning, I felt a light flashing on my eyes. I peeked and saw one of the chaperones, Richard, at the door, talking to someone at the bottom bed. I assumed it was Julie who was talking to him and went back to sleep.

Five minutes later, I felt a little bump and opened my eyes. To my astonishment, I saw Doug getting up from the bottom bed, with nothing on but his underwear.

I quickly looked under my covers and to my relief, I had my clothes on. Racking my brain, I tried to recall if Julie was asleep last night when I came in. Actually, she was. Then I checked the room, to ensure I was in the RIGHT room. I was.

"Good Morning, Nita", Doug cheerfully greeted my stunned face, and walked out the door.

My curiousity became greater than my need for more sleep. To solve the puzzle I could not figure out, I quickly arose and went down the hall to find out what had happened.

It turned out that apparently after their drinks, probably around 3:30 am, Doug and Kate went to their respective rooms. Somehow, in the early morning, Doug who was a bit drunk, after returning from the bathroom, accidently went to my room. Seeing Julie sleeping, he mistakenly thought Julie was using his bed. Annoyed, he woke up Julie, practically dragged her out of bed, threw her out of the room, and then went to sleep.

The chaperones found Julie sleeping in the hallway.

I wasn't dreaming after all.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Good 'Samaritan'

During my first five years, my parents and I lived in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). We lived in a high-rise flat, on 2nd floor. Next to the building was a very busy street. All day, people were seen milling and walking on the sidewalk, by our building.

One day, an incident happened when I was about 1-1/2 years old.

Our residence front door was ajar. Apparently one of my parents had just walked in. They eventually became immersed in their important discussion about something, forgetting to close the door.

Oblivious to them, I sauntered to the door and managed to slip out, climbing down the stairs like a crab.

A man was walking down the street when he happened to glance at something that appeared out of ordinary: a toddler standing precariously at the edge of the curb, innocently watching cars whizzing by. Immediately concerned, he looked around and did not see any parent(s) nearby.

Upon quickly grabbing me, he asked the first floor resident whose baby I was. The resident peered at me and motioned with his finger upwards. The man carried me and climbed to 2nd floor.

Seeing the door ajar, he cautiously peeked in. He saw my parents talking.

You could imagine the astonishment on their faces when the man asked, "Is this your baby?"

Monday, July 23, 2007

You don't scare me one bit, Grandpa

My maternal grandfather was about seven when his father died of heart attack. He was the youngest of three children whom the two older ones were sisters. Due to traditional culture of males, regardless of age, my grandfather was put in the spotlight as an "elder" of the family.

He had a strong personality and as a result, he became quite dominant over the years. Practically everyone was intimidated of him and never dared to cross him, including his older sisters.

He also had this soft side that hardly showed but when necessary. He used to live in England, in early 1940's, to further his higher education before my mother and her siblings were born. Hence, he had some knowledge of the western culture. Since I was going to move to U.S., he taught me the dining room etiquette as well as good manners.

Anyhow, there was only one person who was hardly scared of him: ME!

One day, a servant came in the house and put fresh washed, starched white shirts on the sofa and left. My grandfather had happened to be mad at me for something I apparently did which I quite do not recall.

Standing in front of him, who seemed tall to an eight-year old, and crossing my arms on my chest, I refused to listen to him.

To his shock, I threw one of his clean shirts to the floor.

"PICK IT UP!", he immediately ordered.

With a defiant look on my face, I shook my head.

At this point, my grandfather started quavering, not believing the situation was happening right in front of him. In his whole life no one had ever defied him and now he was suddenly at loss what to do.

As an adult, my understanding of the main reason I may not have been scared of him was that I was deaf. He was intimidating to everyone mostly due to his tone of voice.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Grandma, you belong in a cell

Prior to moving to U.S. from India, my parents sold their flat and my father then flew alone to U.S. to look for jobs. Meanwhile, my mother, my sister, and I went to live with her father in another state in India. I was eight then and my sister, four. Her father's sister and his mother also lived in the same house. It was a full house.

We stayed there for about six months till my father sent my mother a telegram that he had found a job and sent us plane tickets.

Due to the small town my grandfather lived in, the schools there did not teach English but only their state's language. Hence, my mother home-tutored me and my sister.

Daily, I was expected to memorize the multiplication and division tables and recite them out loud to her by the end of the day. I also was required to write a journal to improve my English grammatical skills. Writing letters to my dad helped as well.

My grandmother which is my mother's father's sister (my parents are first-cousins, so I have grandparents who are related to each other), was an orthodox religious woman and she often did rituals with my great-grandmother. Not well-educated they both hardly knew English so whatever communication they had with me was mostly gestures and few broken English words.

In order to prepare for our life in U.S., my mother took up typing class, painting class, and few other courses. I attended speech class, twice a week, I believe. My sister was only four so the only thing required of her was to learn reading and additions/substractions.

It was summer time when I lived with my grandparents. We had two or three neighbors who had children close in age to me and my sister. They mostly played outside as school was out but my mother made my sister and I stay home and gave us "homework". Only in the late afternoons, if my mother was satisfied with our lessons, were we allowed to join our friends.

One day, my grandfather and my mother was out for the day. I think my sister went with them too. I was alone at home with my grandmother and great-grandmother.

In India, most home kitchens and living rooms have their own doors as if it is a separate room. And doors have locks on the outside as well as inside. That was to keep servants out in case of thefts.

After finishing my "homework", I got bored. At this point, my memory is a bit vague as to what specifically transpired. As usual, my grandmother and her mother was in the kitchen doing some rituals as well as preparing meals for the day. Somehow, they did something or said few words that made me mad. Before they did anything further, I quickly slammed the kitchen door and locked it.

Poor them tried screaming and banging but to no avail as no one was home and I was deaf. This went on for about three hours.

Finally, my mother arrived home. When I saw her out the window, I immediately ran upstairs and hid under the bed.

Within 5 minutes, I could see my mother's feet walking around, apparently looking for me.

Of course, as expected, I was scolded and ordered to apologize to them as they were "elders" and should be respected, no matter what. My mother also threatened to tell my father if I did not improve my behavior. She used this tactic often because she knew I wanted to make my father proud of me. While apologizing, I remember seeing my grandmother shaking her head with displeasure written on her face, as if to say my mother could have done better in disciplining me.

To this day, whenever my parents talk about the times I was mischievious, they would often bring up this incident.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Twin" sisters

My mother was a natural tailor, knitter, decorator, chef, etc. In other words, she was a "well-rounded" housewife and mother.

When my sister and I were little, my mother, to save money, often sewed our dresses. Originally, she made us identical outfits. However, a while later, due to my dad's dislike of the outfits looking like "uniforms", my mother started making the attire in different designs, but from the same materials.

My sister and I often acted like rivals. With petty jealousy, we frequently complained to mother on each other's dress, pointing out that this looked better than the other.

Taking advantage of my deafness, my mother whispered to my sister, complimenting her on certain designs on her outfit, and then she mouthed to me, without using her voice, complimenting me on my outfit.

Her strategy worked. My sister and I walked away proudly with our "unique" designed attire.

But, it eventually backfired. I asked my mother the reason.

She replied, "Your sister learned to lipread me."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sorry to disappoint you but it's only a bug bite

During the summer of my first year at a community college, which I transferred from my one year at a State University, I arrived home from my classes when I felt something on my neck.

Putting my hand on my neck, I pulled some bits which appeared to be some kind of bug bite. The area on my neck started bleeding a bit. I quickly washed with water and put on a band-aid.

In the evening, my father came home from work. Coming downstairs from my bedroom to the kitchen where my father was sorting out the day's mail, I cheerfully greeted, "Hello Dad."

My dad looked up and greeted me back. He then did a double-take at the band-aid on my neck.

Suspiciously, he asked, "Did you have a hickey?"

Monday, July 9, 2007

My "fake" hearing flop

I finally got my driver's license at seventeen, after a year of badgering my father. The only glitch was that I had to run errands for them, including my younger sister, without complaints.

My sister, then thirteen, attended a weekly Asian Indian dance class. The class was usually held, in turns, at each student's parents' homes. The Indian community in my town was quite small at that time. Almost all of the students' parents were considered as "family friends" of my parents. Practically everyone knew each other.

One Saturday late afternoon, as usual, per my parents' orders, I drove my sister to her class. To save gas, I had to stay there till they were finished and then take her home. Usually it took about 2 hours, or 3 at the most if the teacher felt satisfied that the students accomplished their steps.

Bored, I sat stiffly on the sofa, with my legs crossed and my arms on my chest. Suddenly, one of the student's older brother came up and beckoned me to follow him.

Relieved, I eagerly followed him to his room for a distraction. Sanjay was only about 1-2 years younger than me but was quite an intellectual and an expert with computers during an era that was emerging during the mid-80's.

Sanjay politely offered a seat in front of his computer. Standing next to me, he started explaining how to use the computer and play some games. He looked straight at the computer and talked fast, pointing at some things on the screen.

I quickly realized that he had NO idea I was deaf. In spite of about 5 years of living in the area, my parents apparently did not bother to "announce" that I was deaf; only when certain situations came up.

Sanjay continued to talk quickly, with him facing the computer instead of to me. I panicked, not sure what I should do. My mind started thinking fast. Should I tell him? That may scare him though. Or should I just pretend, just to be polite?

I was still unsure as he continued to talk. I sat tensely while staring at the computer, and pretended to nod as if I understood every word he said.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity of looking at the computer with a blank look on my face and robotically nodding my head at Sanjay, I was relieved when he finally finished his monologue of explanations.

Satisfied, Sanjay pleasantingly asked me if I had any questions.

Not feeling comfortable with this pretense, I nervously after a second of hesistation, decided to confess. I would look like a fool if I did not as I obviously had NO idea how to use the computer. I then told him slowly that I was deaf.

Stunned, Sanjay stared at me for a moment then replied stiffly, apparently not comprehending the fact that I did not HEAR his explanation, that I was welcome to use his computer and left in a huff, leaving me in an awkward situation.

Glancing at the computer with not a faintest idea where to start, I felt uncomfortable staying in his room so I went back to the living room where the students were practicing the dance.

Since then, Sanjay never spoke to me, not even a simple "hi", ever again.

It is always best to inform the person at the beginning, to save any embarrassment or awkward moments.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A New Moon

During two week Christmas vacation of my last semester at Gallaudet, my close friend, Cindy, and I flew to Minneapolis where we stayed at my aunt's house. We got together with five deaf friends from Gallaudet who were also visiting Minneapolis.

The New Year's Eve gathering was the most fun. We all spent the day and night at one of our friends', Aaron's, father's place. We played games, ordered pizza, watched movies. On the other days, Aaron joined Cindy and I to go shopping and "bar-hopping" at the Mall of America. Since Aaron was from Minneapolis, he took us on a tour as well.

On the last day, Aaron decided to fly back on the same plane to Gallaudet with Cindy and me. I sat by the window with Aaron next to me.

It was late at night when I looked out the window. The sky was clear and the stars were twinkling. Admiring the peaceful looking sky, I noticed a round bright moon that seemed so far away.

Beckoning to Aaron to look at the window, I said, "Isn't that a nice moon?"

Suddenly, I peered against the window. Puzzled, I asked Aaron, "How come that moon looks so small?"

Aaron then gently slapped the back of my head and replied, "That's NOT the moon, silly! It's a plane wing light!"

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Because of often being left out as well as alone while growing up deaf, I developed a habit of thinking too much. Sometimes my face expressions would indicate that I am thinking.

After our honeymoon, my husband was getting to know me better and vice versa. Like many newlyweds, we started to notice each other's habits.

One afternoon, riding in my husband's car in India, my husband noticed I was thinking about something judging from my expressions.

"Thinking out loud, as usual, aren't you?", he teased me.

"Becoming deafer, aren't you, from my loud thinking?", I encountered.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Garden of "Mac"

Nowadays, I have been seeing increased popularity in MAC laptops, not to mention iPods.

Several months ago, at a gathering at a friend's place, we were chatting when we came on the subject of computer/laptop. One guy had a Apple laptop with him. I asked him if it was "any good".

Showing a thumbs-up sign, he nodded.

I said I still preferred PCs. He pointed to the Apple symbol on the front of the laptop to indicate his choice.

Undauntingly over my choice of PC, I then replied, "Isn't Apple "forbidden" as in the Bible?"