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/

I am an Auditor at heart

Perks of audit

Perks of outstation audit : Enjoying a backwater ride in Kerala on a Sunday

I was 22 when I cleared my CA final examination and I still had to complete another 9 months of articleship (internship) before getting a job. Everyone advised me to look for jobs on the marketing, sales side, the “business generating side” in banks, consulting companies, insurance sector etc. not the audit or taxation side, because that’s not where the real money is. But I enjoyed auditing from the core. I did a lot of internal audit in my articleship and what pure joy I found in doing new audits every 2-3 months.

For those uninitiated, let me tell you : broadly in audit there is internal audit and statutory audit. Statutory auditors are those who sign off the balance sheets primarily by looking at the books of accounts. Meanwhile internal audit looks at the processes and regulations and compare it with the actual functioning of the department and point out loopholes, suggest better ways to do certain things. It is a very hands-on, real-time way of auditing and I gradually had developed a knack of getting at the core in a short time. But for the world, auditors seem to be a hassle, someone who needs to be pampered with good lunches to get a favourable audit report. But that’s not true at all. Which is not to say that we did not enjoy the client paid lunches, but we kicked some ass on the work side and helped them improve their procedures. I am still friends with a lot of my earlier auditees and I think that says a lot about our working efficiencies.

So then at ICAI campus placement when I heard that Kotak Mahindra bank was recruiting in internal audit, I was elated. I knew I had to get that job. And the recruiting team from Kotak was surprised too. Here they had someone who had cleared the group discussion round and had audit department as the first choice! They did not let me go out of their sight for the rest of the day till the appointment letter was in my hands. So while a few others had landed up in Kotak audit department because there were no other suitable jobs available, there I was, with my dream job. I worked there for 2 and a half years before quitting and joining our family business, but what a great learning experience that was. Mostly thanks to my boss and the head of the audit team. Both of them played a pivotal role in where I am professionally and personally.

So sometimes people may try to nudge you towards what they think is best for you, but you know in your heart what you want to do. Listen to it and do it. I can’t imagine not having that auditing experience and developing that framework of mind. Later in our family business, I found it much easier to lay down systems and establish fool-proof checks in all departments because of that auditor brain. Looking at verbal and non-verbal cues while working has been coded in my brain now, making work intuitive.

Yesterday I was talking to my dad’s friend and he proudly told me that his son is now in the Risk Analysis department of a consulting firm and how he was so above the typical, run-of-the-mill stuff like auditing. And I thought to myself, Really? How different is risk analysis from auditing? Just a fancier name.

Perhaps the pay and incentives would have been better on the business development side. But there is no monetary tag on doing the things you love and the 15 different states of India I travelled to while on audit for five years of my life. A few years down the line when my baby is a bit older, I would love to get back to part-time auditing along with our family business. But that is for another time.

Rutvika

The melodrama of everyday news.

News

Last week on the final day of our company meeting, we had an inter-departmental quiz contest based on current affairs and other general knowledge. To our horror we realised that from our accounts team of 8 women, nobody reads newspapers. Myself included.

Its not that we do not glance at the news and have an outline knowledge of what is happening in the world, but ask us the chemical name of Meow-meow (Mephodrone), or the exact number of seats won by AAP in the current assembly elections (67), and we were dumbfounded. I have always found reading the newspaper very depressing and hence I skim through it. But on seeing all the others in my team sailing in the same boat, I was shocked.

It is true, that even now in almost all households, the men can sit with their cup of tea and breakfast in the morning and read through the newspapers while women make breakfast, get the kids ready, plan meals for the day etc etc before leaving for work or starting other chores of the day. In my office team, all of these women have kids aged between 2 to 15 years and I am sure they must be juggling a lot of roles before they come to office by 9.30. I have seen my mom do that forever (although dad does make coffee for her and she gets those 5 minutes of peace drinking coffee) , and my mom-in-law makes fresh breakfast every morning even before we have gathered our senses together, newspaper kept aside till then. My baby is now 6 months old and my mornings are way busier than ever before, but that is no excuse for me. Even before the baby, I found very less time and inclination towards news.

When we were kids, my dad would everyday sit with me and The Times of India, and we had to read the headlines and atleast one entire article of my choice from the first few pages. I always found myself going over to the centre of the newspaper to read editorials, I loved them and still do, but the main pages were dreadful. And dad being the disciplinarian that he is, that ritual of the day could not be bypassed. 20 years later and there has been no change in my attitude. On the other hand, my husband voraciously reads all the news albeit on his tablet /phone. All real time. No stale news for my man in the next morning’s newspaper.

Long time back during a period when I was anxious and upset, worried about life, I had read some motivational book that said “Don’t read depressing news in the morning”. I do not remember any other details in the book, but this line became my alibi. I absolutely hate to read everything that is wrong with the world every morning. For instance todays news : “Greece debt crisis – markets set for a crash”, “BEST bus mows down 2 women” and so on and so forth. The Black Monday would then follow me through my Tuesday.

Of course, this as I said earlier is not an excuse. In global times like these, we have to be aware of what is happening in Mulund, a tiny suburb of Mumbai as well as the new metro opening in Chennai or the gay couple marriages legalised in USA. Although the later has been made hard to miss by all those Facebook rainbow filters used by folks in India, even when the desi section 377 bans LGBT rights.

But technically, if it can still be called a newspaper, I love the Bombay Times. Such happy and gay times, who got linked up with whom, who is starring in the next movie with my favourite actors, which destinations in India are a must visit before turning 30, 5 tips to get that acne free face and those hilarious sexual advice columns, all are my preferred items of “news”.

Nevertheless, let me go pick up my phone and go to the Newsreader app and see if there is any sign of the service tax to be reduced back, or if any import/export concessions will be allowed for our high-tech machinery under acchhe-din. Because I am a Chartered Accountant after all, and for Jignesh – business is business.

Rutvika