Aim higher but not very high.

When I was reading this story behind the latest Vicks ad about the transgender mother and her daughter, something felt very familiar. Two adopted daughters by transgender women : one wanted to become a doctor but didn’t, and the other one’s mother wants her to become a doctor. Even at Mentor Me India, the municipal school where we volunteer, there are about 30 students in a class, all of them from financially weaker sections of society. Whenever the young girls and boys of 12 to 14 years were asked what do they want to become when they grow up, 90% invariably said ‘Doctor’. A very few kids say a teacher or perhaps a policeman. But thats it. And historically if you see less than 1 % of kids from economically weaker backgrounds go on to become doctors. That education is very expensive and simply unavailable. But those kids (or adults) rarely come in contact with people from other professions. They don’t require a CA to file tax returns, they have no idea about an automobile designer, what is an astronaut, or an anthroplogist or even a chef?! In fact, last time when I took my mentee Gauri to a local mall she was very surprised to find out there are so many people working in the mall or that there is a person specially to clean up tables after people leave the food court. Its another thing that the 12 year old girl went to a mall for the first time, was shivering with fear when standing on the escalator, was amazed seeing the tall mannequins in each shop and absolutely refused to take the elevator because it frightened her.

When we started the mentoring relationship, I had a hard time explaining her what I do for a living. I told her I am a Chartered Accountant running our own company selling capital equipment made in Switzerland. I broke it down into easily understandable parts, but when I met her family, she hadn’t been able to explain what her mentor does. Finally for lack of any other terms, I settled on telling her that I work in a bank. And now every-time I go to her house, different family members come to me with their banking problems which generally involve not remembering the bank account number or unable to find a passbook. When this is the level of problems we are dealing with, aspiring to become a doctor becomes unachievable right from the beginning.

Gauri’s elder sister Manisha had her 10th board exams a few weeks back. Whenever I called her or went to their place, the girl would be doing housework or tending to her younger cousins. Sitting and studying for the board exams was not a priority, in fact it wasn’t even on her to-do list. The silver lining is that her family had promised to make a gold chain for her and distribute sweets in the gully if she passed the exam. So atleast they know the importance of clearing the exam. But when I asked her how how well did she answer the papers, I was met with silence. Either she skipped a paper or two, or the exam went really bad.

Sometimes I worry at my pragmatism. I want Gauri to dream and strive for something bigger, but something which is still within her reach. If she says she wants to work as a clerk, or as an accountant, or work in a factory that makes say cars, I know what to tell her to get there. But these 7th graders who barely know the English alphabets, how are they to study for highly complicated exams and professional degrees ? But hey, you always got to aim higher in case you fall short, right?  May be yes, or may be no.

My year long mentoring relationship is soon coming to an end. Just two more months which are mostly holidays and the kids disappear to their native places. I don’t know how much it has been of value to her, but it has immensely enriched my life. It is almost as if I have a new set of eyes, a new vision. Looking at the intricate levels at which kids function has made me a better parent. All my decisions are now more carefully evaluated with a wider view of the world. As for my mentee Gauri, she is an artist, loves painting and decorating. Evey time I ask her about studies, she manages to steer the conversation to her latest art project. May be I can convince her to become a baker, she can whip up gorgeous and delicious cakes. In MMI annual day a few weeks back, we decorated 100 cupcakes. Each mentee had a hands on experience in frosting a cupcake and decorating it with sprinkles. Gauri was thrilled. I should enrol her in a baking workshop. Or show her the basics of designing. Or elementary, intermediate art exams? She should do something that she enjoys, but is still within her reach.
Becoming a doctor can be for another lifetime. Standing firmly on her own feet and being financially independent is what we will strive for in this janam.

MMI encourages people to continue the mentoring relationship beyond the one year period. But our work is getting very hectic, my toddler is very demanding, and there will be a lot of business travel this year. So it looks difficult to continue mentoring like last year, meeting her every alternate week, but I will definitely keep in touch with her. Atleast once every 2 months. Till the end of time.

MMI baking cupcakes

Taking a cupcake decoration workshop at MMI day

Rutvika

P.s : MMI is hiring for the next cohort. You can contact them here.

Saat Samundar Paar, here we go!

Arjun eating momma

When a boy wants to eat momma, he will do it 😀

My boy is 10 months old now. Which means officially he is outside me for longer than he was inside me. Which means his four little bunny rabbit teeth have long replaced that toothless gummy smile. It also means that as he relies more and more on solid food than mother’s milk for his nutrition, he will be less dependent on me. As a corollary I get more freedom. But I cannot continue to flatter myself with the thought that he can’t live without me. He can. For hours at a stretch.

Soon that day is not far when baby boy might want to independently do stuff with his dad. Just the boys. “Purush-purush” as my brother used to say, which means ‘men only’ in Marathi. There was a period from age 3 to age 13 when my brother was so attached to our dad that he wouldn’t care if he woke up and mom wasn’t around for an entire day. They would go for drives, lunch and movie dates, shopping – all on their own. Purush-purush. Of course the next 10 years till he left home to study MBA were filled with ‘I-hate-dad phase’ to the extent that he would do everything possible to piss him off. Sometimes even just for the sake of it. And my poor mom had to constantly play referee. Without taking sides.

So I am prepared that my baby and husband will team up against me and my feminine shenanigans.

But for now he is my baby kangaroo. And I am going to take this little chipmunk across the seven oceans , all the way to California, all by myself.

When we made the travel plan and booked tickets to go visit family in San Jose for thanksgiving, it was for the three of us. But Akshay, my husband, can’t make it due to unavoidable work commitment. Now I have (or had) two choices. Cancel the trip and keep thinking forever that we could have done it, just the two of us. Or simply pack up our shit and go. I chose the latter.

So here we are, this mom and son duo, all set to take the 24 hour international flight to the other side of the world, in less than three weeks.

It would be an understatement to say that I am not scared of the flight, of the jet lag, of baby not feeling well or of a thousand other things going wrong. What if I don’t get the bassinet seat in the flight? What if he decides to not sit still even for a minute? Will he eat whatever I carry for him? Will he nurse during take off and landing to avoid his ears getting clogged? Will Arjun miss his dad and grandparents? He will meet a dozen new people in a week, will he be okay with that? Will they like him? Oh, it’s a wreck in my head.

But I guess the only way to find out is by doing it. Exactly 2 years back when I was preparing to go to Paris for Le Cordon Bleu, I was similarly quite nervous. But it turned out fine. Danielle my hostess tremendously helped me throughout my 5 weeks there and plus I knew if something goes wrong, Akshay will be there in the minimum amount of time it takes to travel. And it is the case even now. So I guess we will be fine.

I have always been a big-family sort of a person. I love and cherish all of my cousins, uncles, aunts, and now my teenage sister and brothers-in-law, and in-law set of uncles and aunts. And a whole load of grandparents. I have fond memories of going to different relative’s houses with my dad and mom and I want baby Arjun to have these too. The added benefit is the Californian family has a dog and a cat. Arjun is going to be thrilled.

So all I need to do now is stop worrying and start planning.

Have any of you travelled with a baby? Or noted anything particular about long travel? Any tips, pointers dos and dont’s will be highly appreciated.

xoxo,

Mama bear

Rutvika

Wonder what a book release feels like?

Sonali mami

To be very honest with you, I have always wanted to write. Ever since I was a little girl who had sent a silly eight-line poem to the Barbie magazine, I wanted to write. But I had no idea what I could write about. Someone once suggested that I write for the Chartered Accountant magazine, but I found that really boring. So for a long time I did nothing, except write in my diary occasionally and write a few letters and notes.

Then about two years back I started blogging about food. And little tidbits of life with it. As life went on, I searched my memory for fragments of story and wrote about it. Sometimes coherently, at times random little stuff stitched together with words. I am not sure what the reader gets of it, but I find great joy in writing.

Then about three-four months back came a period when nothing I wrote made sense to me. I read a lot of blogs online, columns in newspapers and literary journals. After reading those, my words felt insufficient. My ideas naive. I started thinking that everyone writes so much better than me; perhaps I should stop this part of the blog and only continue to write about baking.

Back when I was a teenager I nurtured the dreams of becoming a journalist. For a while. But at that time I could never write anything more than the school essays. My best friend Ketki used to write short stories and poems and I thought if I can’t write even that much, may be I should think of another career line. And eventually, I let it go and became a CA instead.

Then two months back, my husband’s aunt – Sonali mami had come to India from US with her two teenage kids. She is a published author and her second book is on the way. One evening while I was feeding Arjun, she asked me – “So you want to write a book?”.

I fumbled, and started thinking when had I told that to her? At the back of my head I have perhaps thought that I want to publish a book, sometime way in the future. I have no idea what it would be about. How did she find out?

Sonali mami realised that I am feeling embarrassed about it and she told me to relax. She said that I should not think that I am thinking of writing a book because she has. In fact if there has to be any connection, it should be a positive one. I should benefit from her experience in writing, editing and publishing.

She told me a story of how she wanted to be a journalist when she was studying, but the girl her elder brother dated was also a journalist. Afraid that everyone might say that she wanted to become a journalist just because of her brother’s girlfriend, she dropped the idea and went for architecture instead. But writing did not leave her mind and her heart. She did technical writing for a software company and simultaneously worked on her first book –  The Bollywood Affair, which got excellent reviews everywhere. Even from the industry bigwigs like Kristina Higgins, Nalini Singh and even my favourite Nora Roberts. It also got nominated for the RITA and the RT Reviews choice which are the two highest awards in the genre. 

Now her second book The Bollywood Bride was released last week and it is so beautiful. The entire weekend I lived with Ria and Vikram, their story, feeling their love and pain, their guilt and euphoria, and itched to finish the book so that I find out how it ends. But I wanted to linger, savour the lovely Indian-America wedding setting. The book reaches out to you, so much so that this Monday morning I am wearing a turquoise kurta like Ria wore in the book. 🙂

Sometimes it is difficult to imagine that a very close family member is really a published author, at an international level. Sonali mami’s best friend is the producer of the movie Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. (Remember that one? My friend and I watched it together when we were 18 or so and oh how we loved it!) and her sister-in-law is the fabulous Irawati Harsh- another stellar actress. Sonali mami has access to a lot of Bollywood gossip and I lurk around her to hear some of it. So it wont be surprising if these gorgeous books get made into movies. The story already has enough masala for a movie. 

And if that isn’t enough, she has beautifully raised two kids while having a full time job till now. When we were thinking of planning  a child my husband would often (reassuringly?) tell me that I will be as good a mother as Sonali mami is.

I don’t know about that, but several years later, if I ever write a book, she will be on my list of dedications. Sonali Dev is a living example of achieving your dreams while managing a job, two kids, a husband who is travelling 10 days a month and a cute little dog Simba.

sonali books

For now, let me snap out of the dream world I lived in for the last 2-3 days and get back to work 🙂

Cheers,

Rutvika

*******       *******       *******

Cupcakes or muffins are my favourite quick bakes whenever someone shows up suddenly. They are easy to whip up and still look festive.

I have made these chocolate chip muffin several times, sometimes using white chocolate chips, sometimes dark chocolate sometimes a mix of both. This one bowl recipe here is a winner and I have dolled it up with some slightly coloured buttercream.

White choco chip cupcakes

White Chocolate Chip cupcakes

What you will need :

  • 110 gram butter at room temperature (I use slightly salted Amul butter)
  • 75 grams caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 175 grams all purpose flour (maida)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 110 ml milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Buttercream recipe is from here. Add some milk and a few drops of red colour or strawberry syrup in place of mango juice.

What to do :

  1. Beat butter and both sugars together till light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating fully before adding the next.
  2. Add vanilla essence and whisk.
  3. Sift flour and baking powder together and keep it aside.
  4. Now add the flour and milk alternately to the butter and sugar mixture in 2 steps. Mix well with a rubber spatula.
  5. Always end with the dry ingredients.
  6. Now add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
  7. Prepare a 12 case muffin pan and line it with paper cases.
  8. Spoon the mixture into the pan and preheat oven to 170C.
  9. Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes clean.
  10. Let it cool int he pan for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

White chcolate crumb cake

Notes :

  1. White chocolate chips caramelise beautifully to give soft crunch. Dark chocolate chips turn gooey and delicious.
  2. Is using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to balance the flavours.
  3. Use all ingredients at room temperature to avoid over-whisking which leads to cracked tops.

Cupcakes with white chocolate

Sometimes all a girl needs to do is cry.

A writer I love once said “write about things that make you cry.”
But what if those are really mundane things? Nothing-to-write-home-about kind of things? How do I write about that? And if not, how do I get rid of that pressure I feel in my throat every few minutes, my heart wanting to get rid of those tears swelling up in my eyes?

The trigger could be anything, but the underlying events build up over a few days. The best solution I have found for times like these is to just cry. And let it out of the system. It might look silly, someone might ask you “what are you crying about?” And you may have no real reason to tell, but ignore them. And cry it out. It feels good.

Yesterday was such a day for me.

A professional colleague , apparently healthy but quite old, dies of a heart attack. I think of all the times I did not answer his call. Or the times I told him I was busy and cut short his call. How would I have known that there won’t be any more calls soon? It makes me think of my grandparents, I need to call and visit them, I note. But yesterday the thought just made me cry. Every-time I looked at my phone or the numerous technical books he has written which are lying in the office book-shelf, I had a lump in my throat.

My little baby. Last night while nursing before sleeping, he accidentally turned off the light switch with his leg. And the beautiful full moon shone in through the window. His face lit up, from the light and the new discovery. He pointed at the moon and wanted me to see it. We gazed at the moon and sang a little song. He giggled and clapped. I cried. The simplicity of his love and his complete trust in me made me choke up.

Husband said something which he did not mean, but I understood something that he did not say. How did we complicate stuff so much that we are saying words we ourselves don’t understand? Giving each other the silence treatment when all we want to do is snuggle up and sleep. Instead he stays up late – working and I cry my way to sleep.

There must have been a bucketful of tears yesterday. My eyes get swollen, red and my cheeks look flushed. But my head clears. I can finally take a deep breath and feel at peace.

I have been doing this as long as I remember. Earlier I would go to mom and tell her that I want to cry. Simple. I would put my head on her lap and let it flow. Being a teenager, I couldn’t or rather did not want to tell my mom the reason behind my tears. She did not ask. But as you grow up it ceases to be that easy. Grown ups have to bottle up and be an adult. Or so I thought.

At times, PMS gives a good excuse to be cranky and cry. But I don’t want to attribute the complexities of life to simple PMS. I want to be perceived as a deep thinker and not a silly girl who cries every month. So that is not happening.

In marathi we have a saying “sukh dukhtay”. Loosely translated it means feeling sad when everything is just fine. Sometimes that is exactly the case. And in those times hide and cry. Or watch a movie and cry. Or go to momma and cry.

Or snuggle up with your husband like I did at 3 am at night and sleep the best sleep ever. After crying, of course 🙂

I survived : Loss of young love – from heartache to wisdom

I have been wanting to write this story and get  it out of my system for a long while. It was one of the defining moments in life, a heartache so deep that it makes itself heard even eight years later. In retrospect it feels that I was such a stupid girl and so naive to obsess over something so silly, but back then it was so real, that nothing seemed more important than that.

I was 21 and doing internship for my CA course in a Mumbai firm. We used to be on outstation audits for long durations and I travelled often with my 40 year old lady boss. One evening when we were in Delhi, her nephew, working with the merchant navy, was helping her log into Orkut, the social networking site very popular back then. He was providing online tech support to his aunt and I chipped in and offered to help from this end. It got us chatting and every evening, every morning we would have long typed conversations.

This went on for over a month when I was in Delhi. He was stationed somewhere in the other side of the world, with limited connectivity. And I had truckloads of work during the day. But each day I found myself going back to the conversation from the previous night and it made me smile. Oh, how it made me smile. Each word, each thought, each anecdote of his. His voice felt like a pure miracle in my ears.

Then about 2-3 months later, he was scheduled to come to Mumbai. I danced with joy at the prospect of meeting him. Each day was a countdown to the day when I would finally meet him. He offered to take me out on a date, to his local chaiwala. Because that is where he hung out with his friends when in Mumbai. But I insisted on going to a coffee shop. There was this air of melancholy to him, which I found so endearing that my stomach still contracts at the thought of him.

His mom had run away from home and married his dad when she was 21, had two kids and was then back at her father’s house because they did not get along well. And this guy had not spoken to his father since the last 10 years. I found that hard to believe. Sometimes you so badly want to set things right in somebody’s life that you totally forget that it is not possible. It is out of your purview. But when in love, nothing seems impossible.

So we met. My heart skipped a beat. He was more handsome than the photos. We were in the coffee shop for 4 hours. Those were the shortest 4 hours in my life till then.

Later that day his mom went ballistic on him. She was afraid that we might make the same mistake that she did. He called me the next day explaining that we could not continue this further. It was over even before it started. I wanted to meet him just once, to try to get some kind of a closure.  A week later, we met again. My heart wont give me a closure, but it was over nonetheless. I spent the next one month crying at the drop of a hat. I did not want to do anything with life. Just sit at home and mope. My mom knew something was wrong, but I did not want to come out of the cave of isolation and tears.

I had the biggest exam of my life around the corner – the CA final exam and hence went on study leave for 4 months. Even in those 4 months, I hardly spoke to anybody except mom, dad and my brother. My best friend and a very close colleague knew about him, but nobody else in this world had any clue what had happened to the otherwise effervescent me. I felt shitty inside. I missed him so much, it did not feel real. I studied and then studied some more.

Then the day my exams were about to begin, he called me out of the blue. To wish me best of luck. I felt kicked in the gut. But somehow I managed to give the exam, and then we decided to meet the day my exam was over. He suggested that we should get back together. It was difficult to not to. I was anxious and hurt. But may be it could still happen.

Hope again started blossoming in the corner of my heart. How silly, silly of me. He disappeared again a few days later, off on some ship and I had no clue how to pick up the pieces of my life again. It was over, once and for all.

Was it time that healed the scar of a young heart just learning to fall in love or was it the second blow that set right the dent made by the first one? I am not sure what, but it made me stronger than I ever was. But nothing before or after that hurt as much as it did. Only unfulfilled love is romantic, they say. This was it.

In comparison to losing a parent or child, or losing a job, or getting disabled, the loss of love seems like a small thing. But at 21, at the time that it is happening, where you know no other deeper sorrow that this, it feels like the end of the world. And it was the end of the me that existed before him. I am cautious ever since to love someone so much that they can hurt you so badly.

Four years back, I met and married my husband, and he is everything that I wished for. And now after the birth of my son, it is not possible to love them half-heartedly. So I feel myself coming back. But the old heartache still persists. Somewhere in the corner, it still does.

This post first appeared here in Womens web : http://www.womensweb.in/2015/07/loss-young-love-heartache-wisdom/