Thursday, August 30, 2007

Education Vs Romance

My husband was born hearing but lost some of hearing in both ears at 1-1/2 years old after taking antibiotics due to high fever.

Taking speech therapy helped a lot that he got by throughout his childhood, not having to tell people that he was hard of hearing. However, he still had to lip-read the teachers a little by sitting in the front. He was a hard worker and managed to pass the classes.

He considered his
father as a role model. One day, he asked his father what would happen if he did not do that well in school. His father, a patient man of few words, pondered for a moment and then pointed out the window.

My husband glanced outside. A poor man was hunched, tiredly pulling a cart behind him. His dad replied, "You could work like that."

That comment scared my husband enough to gather all of his energy and focus intensely on his school studies.

When he was 15, he looked much older than most boys in his pre-college classes. (In India, there is no "12th grade". Hence, my husband finished high school at 15.) He worried constantly about the future and if he would be able to obtain a decent job.

He majored in mechanical engineering. (He later switched to working in computer/software field, hence never experienced working in engineering field).

My husband was, and still is, nice looking. There was a pretty girl who took a liking to my husband. Every mornings and every afternoons, she would muster her courage and walk up to him at the college entrance to say "hi", hoping to possibly start a conversation.

But my husband constantly curtly nodded and walked past her, ignoring her greetings. He was adamant and set on establishing a successful future in job. He was not to be 'swayed'.

This went on for months until the girl eventually gave up and stopped greeting him.

Several years later, after my husband obtained a good job abroad in other countries, he started to mature since he did not socialize much earlier. He made friends, went out to eat, etc.

He eventually realized what that girl wanted. He felt so bad he did not treat her well that he decided to apologize to her.

During his hiatus in India, he set out to find her. When he finally found out where her folks lived, he became elated and set out to visit her place.

Unfortunately, he was too late.

That girl had died of cancer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sugar Rush

As early as I can remember, I've always had a "sweet tooth". As a result, from my teenage years to adulthood, my weight has often been like a "yo-yo".

The earliest memory I have of my craving for sweets was when I was about five years old.

We lived in a small flat in Mumbai. In the kitchen, on the floor below the shelves, there was a big tank plugged into the wall outlet. Every morning, my mother filled it with cold water and then switched it on to make it hot for our daily

My mother did not stash any sweets in the house. Sometimes, we would go out for ice cream or she would make Indian sweets for special occasions. That was it.

The only substitute I could eat was sugar. The sugar tin was placed on the top of the shelf, probably strategically placed, out of my reach.

One morning, as usual, my mother filled the tank but forgot to close the top with the lid. She left the kitchen to do something in the bedroom.

A while later, I craved for some sweet. I craned my neck at the sugar tin that seemed so far away. Looking around to ensure my mother wasn't walking in, I steathily took a stool, climbed on it, and tried to reach for the tin.

Elated, my hand almost reached the tin. Suddenly, I lost my balance and my left arm splashed into the tank of water, which was now boiling. My arm looked like a huge smallpox full of big bumps. The doctor put a cast on my arm for several weeks.

My mother said I was a good sport; never cried, not even once. She hoped it was a lesson for me to learn.

To this day, I still have a ring of scar on my left arm.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A cold shower is good for you

Even though we had one or two servants, they did not stay all day doing all the chores. My mother, a housewife, kept herself busy as well as taking care of me.

One afternoon, after lunch, when I was 1-1/2 years old, my exhausted mother, after putting me to sleep, decided to take a brief nap. (My sister was not yet born at that time and my father was at work.)

In no time, my mother was fast asleep, oblivious to everything around her.

About more than hour later, my mother suddenly opened her eyes. At this moment, she sensed something was not right. She realized that the house sounded quiet. In fact, the silence was deafening, pardon the pun. (I was usually noisy, since I was deaf, not understanding the concept of "quiet").

Noticing I was not in my bed, she quickly threw her covers and rushed around the flat, looking for me. Since she could not shout my name, she started to panic, not being able to find me.

She then happened to glance at the bathroom door. Water was seeping out of the door.

Panicking, she opened the bathroom door. Water gushed to the bedroom floor.

There I was, to my mother's dismay, in the corner of the bathroom floor, sitting under running cold water and shivering with my clothes all drenched.

(We did not have a bathtub in that flat and no shower "stall" either, although the bathroom floor had a drain in the center. The Indian custom to bathe was using a mug to dip in a filled bucket of half cold water from the bathroom tap and another half of boiled water from the stove. But, I apparently had turned on the cold water without a bucket, hence flooding the bathroom.)

It took her hours to mop all the water that was gushing everywhere.

Apparently, I had woken up and upon seeing my mother sleeping, got bored, thus getting myself into a mischief.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

White skin cream, please!

As a teenager, I was quite self-conscious of my looks, especially my skin color. I grew up in a town that had more whites than blacks. Except for hearing Asian Indians, there was not much diversity that time. Even some of those Indians were lighter-skinned than me including my father and sister.

I rebelled to the point that I actually refused to go out in the summertimes, not even go swimming. I instead mostly stayed home all day, watching TV and reading books, to my parents' dismay. From time to time, I would attend art class or visit a friend. But that was basically it.

Finally, after two years of this self-deprecating behavior, my Indian friend advised me, "Don't 'punish' yourself. You're still nice looking."

Then one day, my grandmother told me this story.

When I was quite young, at least two or three times a year, my mother and I (and my sister, after she was born) would go visit my maternal grandparents while my father stayed to work.

My grandmother often helped taking care of me, mostly enjoying her grandparent role, and giving my mother a brief break.

One day, my grandmother was giving me a bath. I was about 3-1/2 years old that time. She scrubbed me vigorously from head to toe.

As she was toweling me dry, I glanced at my arm.

Pointing at my arm to my grandmother, I complained, "Wash more! This dirty!", referring to my medium brown skin. She tried explaining to me that it was permanent.

I thought it was interesting that me, only 3-1/2 and D-E-A-F, understood to some degree that people have different skin colors!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A kitchen lesson

My father is the third of four siblings: two older brothers and a younger sister. My grandparents had three children prior to four siblings but they died in infancy, of which the first two were twins. His eldest brother is a bachelor and the middle brother died several years ago, hence my father became a "surrogate" father to his middle brother's two children.

His family were poor. His father was a forest ranger, and mother a house-wife. My grandfather was not that educated and my grandmother only had a second-class education. They never had electricity but lanterns. Because all the siblings had to study a lot, the lanterns caused such strain on their eyes that practically everyone in the family eventually wore glasses.

Due to my grandfather's job, the family moved so much that my father attended at least 10+ different schools throughout his childhood! Nevertheless, wherever they lived, they often had relatives who visited. My father had a favorite aunt who was his father's sister. She used to regale him with stories that had him riveted to his seat.

His aunt came to visit the family one day which happened to be close to my father's birthday. She wanted to celebrate my father's birthday by cooking his favorite dishes. (It was common in India for families to celebrate birthdays by cooking his/her favorite dishes. They did not give presents or go out to eat. Not even have a party. My mother changed this tradition after she had me and my sister).

As I mentioned in my early blog, kitchens in India have their own doors. They usually have portable gas stoves, just like the type you take to camping. And sometimes those stoves are either placed on counter, if you have a modern kitchen, or otherwise on the floor. My grandparents had the stove on the floor.

My father's aunt insisted on surprising everyone with her cooking, thus closing and locking the kitchen door. She asked not to be bothered for few hours.

The whole day passed and no show.

My grandmother knocked on the door.

No answer.

My uncle banged on the door, shouting for her.

No reply.

Finally, a family member went outside and pried the kitchen window open and went inside.

My father's aunt was found sitting beside the stove which was still on, holding a frying handle.

My uncle tried to move her but her body was stiff.

Apparently, she had died from carbon monoxide.

It was a big educational lesson to the family NOT to close the kitchen door/window while cooking.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Food Waster"

In her 17-page letter, my grandmother wrote of few more incidents in her childhood prior to her marriage at age 12. In reference to her other incidences in my previous blogs, click: here and here.

She had a cook, named RamaKrishna, who was a faithful servant for years. He held strong moral values that my grandmother's parents respected him and left him to assist a bit in disciplining the nine children during mealtimes.

Ramakrishna maintained that no one should NEVER waste any food on their plates. He enforced such discipline to the children. If someone carelessly wasted, even a morsel, the cook would put the leftover in a cloth bag and tie it with a string around the person's neck. Anytime durig the night, the food MUST be eaten, before daybreak. It was never ever allowed to be thrown away.

One evening, my grandmother carelessly, without thinking, served a big scoop of food on her plate. She realized, to her regret, was a bit too much for her stomach.

One by one, all her siblings, but her, left the table upon finishing dinner. Nervously, my grandmother sat still at the table, knowing that Ramakrishna would not allow her to get up without finishing the food. She dreaded having the cloth bag tied around her neck, even if all night.

Fidgeting, she did not know what to do. For two hours, she sat at the table with her hands clasped under the table.

Finally, my grandmother's mother pitied her and politely asked the cook to let her go only this time. The cook replied that she was free to get up. My grandmother knew she would be allowed to leave whenever she wanted, but with the bag tied on her unless she finished the food.

After some thought, my grandmother took a deep breath and held it. While she was doing it, she quickly drank some water and gulped the rest of the morsel on her plate.

She narrowly escaped the wrath of having the bag "weighing heavily" on her neck.

In the letter, she wrote that after this episode, she NEVER ever wasted food again in the rest of her entire life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Number Eight

Dear Readers,

According to Stephen's blog, here's the random eight things about me:

1. I love the color purple.

2. I did not start walking till I was about 1-1/2 years old.

3. My sister's and my birthdays are one week apart yet different horoscopic signs.

4. I did not learn to speak full sentence till I was about 5 or 6.

5. My first speech therapy was in Hindi, not English, as it is a "phonetic" language.

6. I became a bookworm at age 10.

7. Almost daily my deaf friend and I, both five years old, gesturally made fun of people, in front of them, at the bus stop, at the discern of my paternal grandfather who dropped me off.

8. I had a Cued Speech interpreter for the first time in eighth grade.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Grades don't count....

In this continuing story of my grandmother's childhood in her 17-page letter, she wrote of some incidents. Here's another one:

She mentioned in the letter that she felt she was not smart enough.

(I beg to differ. Actually, I think the reason of her self-esteem was that in those days she was not 'expected' to work upon finishing her education. Knowing this, she probably felt it was a bit waste of time and energy to do her assignments well. She possibly developed this "good enough" attitude. My mother went through this similar attitude growing up when only marriage and family was expected in the near future).

Near the end of my grandmother's third class, she received a report card stating her grades. To her disappointment, she was failing and would not go on to fourth class.

Nervously, she handed the report to her father for review. Usually, when seeing such report cards, he simply said to all the nine children, "You should try to do better." He did not sit down with any of them to help with their assignments as there were too many of them.

But this time, her father went to the school and talked to the principal.

When my grandmother attended her class in the next few days, she was taken aback from what her teacher said to the whole class.

Her teacher sarcastically stated that my grandmother had failed the class but she still will be going on to fourth class next year. It was simply because her father was RICH and he recently had donated a lot of money to the school.

My grandmother said she never felt so humiliated in her life.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

"Second Mother"

Few years ago, my maternal grandmother, at my cousin's request, wrote a 17-page letter of her life. As soon as I heard about it, I asked him to make a copy for me to keep as a memento. Although her handwriting was a bit hard to read, I managed to decipher it.

When I first read the letter, I was puzzled why she stopped at age twelve. I later understood that it was around this time she got married.

There was one incident that made me chuckle.

Her second class (as it is called in India in lieu of "grade") teacher was my grandmother's favorite. She was quite close to her that she considered her as her "second mother". She called her teacher, "Amma", the same name that she also called her real mother.

One day, she arrived to her class but to find a different teacher. Puzzled, she asked what happened to her teacher. She was told that 'Amma' had passed away.

Upset, my grandmother came home, bawling like a banshee, lamenting, "Amma's dead! Amma's dead!"

One of her older brothers, whom she was close to and played together often, happened to be in the room. Overhearing her, he started wailing, "NOOOO!!!! Amma's dead!!!!"

At this point, their real mother came in from the kitchen, annoyed, demanding to know what the racket was all about.

Seeing the real Amma, her brother stared agaped and turned to look at my grandmother. Thinking he was being tricked, he angrily strode up to her, before she could say anything, and thrashed her real hard.

It was uncommon in those days, in India, in large families that older siblings "help" discipline the younger ones since the parents usually have their hands full.

In the letter, my grandmother said whenever she thought about this incident, she remembers the pain from the 'beatings', although she finds it a bit funny.