Gratitude, Hari Katha, Introspection, Learnings, Life, Little Moments, Ram Leela

End of school year

I am lying down on my belly, my legs swinging up in the air and hitting down on the ground  playfully, as I thumb through Ram’s workbook from school. Akhil is lying down on me, his belly on my back, peeking at the book that I am thumbing through and explaining the details on the page every once in a while. It’s a rare moment. One I keep intending to have but never end up having. Finally, I have the time and he has the inclination to go over what he has been upto at school.

I take delight in knowing the nitty gritties – oh he knows to do 2 digit and 1 digit addition, he has been taught to identify coins based on which US President is on the coin, he has been tracking the pumpkin growth from the seed to sapling, and there has been a lot of learning about guppies and pillbug just like Hari did, he has been learning about maps, and he has been introduced to poetry.

“Hari, do you think you can take a moment to reflect on your seventh grade, and write a little something for me? I want to know what you thought of your seventh grade?” Dead silence is what I hear in reply. I can hear the talking going on in his head. Writing is boring and reflecting is even more boring. Who does that anyway? Still, it’s mom, she is asking, what choice do I have? So he obliges and whips up something for me. The crux being, “form my own opinion and not to piggyback on someone else’s” He went into seventh grade thinking that he was going to hate it because of all the things he had heard about the team he was assigned to but came out of seventh grade feeling like much fun was had!  

I have been very hands off with both the children this school year. Fall and early winter went by with renovation work, early spring and rest of the school year was full with upanayanam preparations. I have been feeling very out of touch, very uninvolved and incomplete this school year. As I closed the last of the pile of materials that were sent at the end of the year by Ram’s teacher and read Hari’s year round up write up, I heaved a sigh of satisfaction. I finally felt like a mom who knew what her children have been doing at school, albeit in hindsight. Hopefully more real time next school year. 

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Experiences, Experiments, Family, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Introspection, Kids, Life, Little Moments

Poonal Kalyanam

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I am writing this as a keepsake of a significant milestone that Hari had recently crossed, his Upanayanam. While it is very close to my heart, I do want to warn you that this is a long post that may not resonate with all readers. This post chronicles the preparations related to Hari’s Upanayanam ceremony. For a brief introduction to Upanayanam, check out this link

The seed…

Hari was at that age when we were beginning to receive Bar Mitzvah invitations from his Jewish friends. That got Da and I thinking – would now be a good time to do poonal for Hari? He is young enough to be open to it and possibly practice the sandhyavandanam (or sandhi) and old enough to understand its significance or at least consider it as a rite of passage. We bounced the idea to Hari, and he seemed to warm up to it. Atleast, he did not resist it.

The sprouting…

So what began as a seed of an idea, started sprouting. Then the question was should we do it in the US or in India. We talked to my parents, Da’s sister Aaru, and my twin, Sathya and they were game to it either way. Having it in India would mean we would have more folks from our extended family attend the event, having it here would mean Da and I could be more hands on with the arrangements. We chose the latter and started thinking about how we wanted to shape the event -close friends and family or more extended? At home or in a hall? The familiar iyer sastrigal we liked and were used to or the unfamiliar iyegnar vaadhiyar at the temple? Do we print the traditional invite or do evite?  How do we host the extended family? We wanted to do things that were meaningful to us and decided that we would try our best to stay away from having to do something purely out of obligation.  While I can’t say we were true to it 100%, for the most part that drove the answers to all the big questions.

The nurturing…

Once we defined our values for the event, nurturing it into something more concrete was the next natural step. We chose to call people we felt a connection to while balancing out the number of guests we wanted to have. We decided to go with our family sastrigal since our immediate family did not have any objections to it. The initial list of invitees made it clear that we would have to hold the main function outside the house, and the earlier day rituals at home. For logistics reasons, we chose not to do the invitation and go with the evite route. We blocked a few rooms for friends and family who we are not able to host at home. For bakshanam and clothes for immediate family, we worked with my appa and amma, who did all the groundwork and heavy lifting methodically, one task at a time. We went with good old trusted Grand Sweets for bakshanam. For return gifts, we didn’t have a big budget but Aaru knew a local kondapalli vendor that we leveraged. Despite her own crazy busy life, Aaru worked with him based on our design, inputs and budget without batting an eyelid and making it all seem so effortless. For extended family and really close friends, we designed a personalized poonal set using kondapalli bommai. It took several iterations and honestly was fun to work on. We were very pleased with the end result. For the extended guests, we zeroed in on a kondapalli thoranam. For the evite, Da designed a poonal wearing iyengar payyan using powerpoint geometric shapes (captured as a picture in this post). I thought that was the cutest design ever. Take that comment with a pinch of salt, as I am only utterly biased given who the artist and subject were.

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Growing pains…

Then came the growing pains and the curve balls. We had initially decided that the date of the function would be June 3rd but that went for a toss when Hari’s baseball schedule was out. Between Sunday school and baseball, there were too many conflicts and we had to work the function around those conflicts.  After a quick check for hall and cook availability, we advanced the dates to May 26th-27th, the memorial day weekend, which was great for out of towners but not so much for local folks. Not only because of travel plans but also because of the kumbabishekam at the temple. We can’t have it all so we made peace with it; we will be happy with whoever attends and will understand if people are not able to make it. As we inched closer, and had a second level of discussion with the cook, she was unsure of being able to cook for the 100 guests estimate we talked about. So we scrambled around and thankfully found someone who came highly recommended and with whom we were quite happy with in the end.

Around this time, I was also feeling a little conflicted about the intent of doing this poonal function – why spend so much and inconvenience our family for something that may not mean much few years down the line? For all my talks about considering everyone equal, am I flaunting my caste with this event? The child is going to get too busy to do sandhi and even if he does, it’s not going to mean much other than reciting a few slokams he has managed to cram.

I did find my ground eventually. Showing something that’s unique to our heritage is worth something. Knowing that there is something powerful called Gayathri Mantram that he could possibly derive strength from was worth something. I don’t think of myself as a religious person, but everything in life cannot be explained and there are so many things that are beyond our control. There is something about surrendering ourselves to a higher power and having faith that things will fall in place. I want to provide my kids some of these intangibles in their toolkit so they can pick and choose what resonates when life overwhelms them. While I thought of it as inconvenience for our families, it was actually a pleasure for them and there was excitement in the air.  

The big picture arrangements – the hall, the cook, and the evites were done by the beginning of the April.  The bakshanam choices, the gifts and the hotel arrangements were done by end of April.

The budding…

Come second week of May, all our efforts were coming to fruitation. It was a ton of work from then on and that’s when the enormity of hosting six to seven families at our home and managing an event while keeping up with work, school and volunteering commitments hit me like a ton of bricks. We only had one weekend to get the house ready – the clearing of the basement, the borrowing of the comforters, arranging the curtains, buying groceries,  planning of the menu etc. Oh there were so many details that we had to work through and it was never ending. The only way to do it was to just do it. If a small poonal function could be this detail oriented, I couldn’t imagine how much work my wedding would have entailed..!

Da and I decided that we would not sweat the small stuff, we will stay grounded in the big picture and will go easy with the imperfections. Hari and Ram were taking it in. Ram understood that the function was about Hari and not him. Hari, on the other hand, was in a flux. The child had a burning question, “why do all the poonal kids in the google images look grumpy?” An astute observation that we all laughed about and told with a glee that that’s what we have signed him up for and that he should expect to feel some of that on the big day.

The return gifts arrived in the second week of May, closely followed by the bakshanam. Appa and amma landed in the third week of May,  closely followed by Aaru’s family. Vish, Shraddha (our nephew and niece) were thrilled to be here and Hari and Ram were deliriously happy to have family around.  Amma and Aaru rolled up their sleeves and took over the logistics right from the get go, working like a well oiled machinery. Cooking, bakshanam division, packing the thamboolam, kolam etc. The flowers that we had ordered online from New Jersey arrived as promised on that Friday morning. Of all the things I had to focus on, I was fervently working on the Upanayanam write up for the occasion to educate ourselves and our guests. It was very hard to make time for it but I am glad I prioritised it because without it, I would have been utterly clueless not just prior to the event but even after the event. Sathya and family, and Da’s cousins and athai arrived on Friday night. There was a lot of tension that evening because Amrit, my nephew, had an accident at the airport and had to be taken to the emergency room. We went through the motions waiting for time to pass and checking on them every once in a while.

It is customary to shave part of the head on the day of the poonal function. We took it the easy way, and took Hari to the salon in advance. Around this time, I was also receiving messages from folks who were unexpectedly making it to the event and those that were unexpectedly canceling. There were also so many people who were checking in on us and asking us how they could help.

Details, details, so many details that had to be taken care of. Lists, lists, and so many lists that were put together to keep us on check.

The blossoming…

Come Saturday morning, the house was teeming with life. We had many little kids in the house that were running around, giggling, chasing, and playing. And little Amrit had the biggest of smiles, which brought much cheer to all of us. That morning, Sat. May 26th, was the day of the Udhagashanthi. Aaru being the athai was tasked with doing the nalangu for the boys. I was so pleasantly surprised by how ready Ram was, sitting right next to Hari, who was feeling mixed with all the limelight showered on them.

The house had to be prepped for the afternoon function and the hall had to be prepped for the next day and all items transported. We divided and conquered. Wini, my sister-in-law, Ammu our cousin, my amma, part of the men folk  and I stayed back to host, prepare the house, and to keep an eye on the kids. Da, Aaru, Sathya, cousin A and my dearest friend V and her family were the decoration crew at the main hall for the next day.

It was getting festive. The silver lamps were gleaming. The flowers, the thornam, and the kolam added to the piety of the occasion. Out of town family started trickling in. We were gossiping about the food that was ordered and the comedy of errors from the communication gap. The decoration crew was whatsapping pictures from the venue and were back by noon. We had our lunch, stole a few minutes to rest before getting ready. My very own poonal project was to learn to wear madisar, draping the 9-yards sari, which amma and I worked diligently on a couple of times every day over the past week. I wore amma (my mil’s) blue nine yard sari on my own with some assistance from amma. Hari was nervous but he was also having a blast being the anna to all the kiddie gang along with his cousin Vish. Ram was all dressed up veshti and chattai and even a chain on his neck!

The sastrigal was late, so we used up that time for picture session. He came around 4:00 PM and the function began. This day was meant for invoking the blessings of ancestors, and the deities and kick start the rituals for the next day. Highlight was giving a holy bath, and the ankoorarpanam (soaking grains and allowing them to sprout, symbolic of the potential growth of the vatu or the boy). The function went by so quickly. We tied some loose ends for the next day and hit the sack. Not without applying mehendi on little and not so little palms though!

The harvest:

All of us woke up bright and early on the day of the Upanayanam. The only tasks were to load the perishables, provide breakfast for folks at home, and get dressed up for the occasion. I had a wardrobe malfunction that morning. My kura podavai or the wedding sari tore as I was draping myself  (and this sort of mishap is not uncommon). We quickly had to look for a 6 yards sari that I could wear in 9-yards style, a practice I had scorned at during our practice sessions. Serves my snobbishness well. We got over the obstacle and headed to the hall. The sastrigal joined us.

I took a few moments to soak in the sights. The full length poster that we had designed by the staircase, the reception table with our very own poonal set, and write up, the kids swarming around the plate of sugar at the reception table and consulting with each other “do you think we should lick some sugar everytime we invite someone?” (and I pretended not to hear that), the lovely rangoli on the dias, the paper flowers on the mirror walls, rows of thamboolam bags stacked, and all my favorite people in the room decked up and buzzing around. What more could I ask for, I thought to myself and sent a prayer upward.

After those few moments, everything was a blur. Friends were trickling in, and the ceremonies were proceeding swiftly – the kumarabhjanam, the yagnopaveetham, the brahmopodesam, the biksahai arisi and so on. Da and Hari were focused on the rituals. My eyes were on Hari, assuring him that he was doing good, and ensuring that he understood what was being told to him by the sastrigal. I tried my best to be present (mentally, not just physically) for the rituals, but I found myself drawn to playing the host.

For all the hustle and bustle, the event itself was fleeting. It was all over even before it began. Da and I caught up with friends as we ate and wound up. There weren’t too many mutual friends, so I felt good introducing my friends to each other and telling them how each of them meant much to me.   

Even in the hustle and bustle of things, I took a step back and looked at the event as a passer by – it was so humbling to see the event materialize after days and days of planning and working on the details. So many things had to happen right for this event to take place. It meant much that people who meant a lot to us – family and friends – had prioritized us and were there to be there for us. We had an army of helpers, people of all sorts of skill sets, who pitched in to make this event complete and a memorable occasion for us. In the end, I asked myself – what was the event about – exposing Hari to the Gayathri Mantra? A rite of passage? A parental duty we were ticking off? What was the occasion really about?

I smiled to myself as the answer came to me –  it was about a bunch of little people coming together, bonding with each other, and making memories to last a lifetime while getting a tiny glimpse into our religious practices and culture. And I cannot think of a better reason to celebrate!  

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Experiences, Family, Food, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Uncategorized

Weekend updates

Just like the prior week and the week ahead, the weekend was full. This is how it is expected to be for the next few months. No complaints. Just have to learn to be focused, efficient and budget R&R to avoid the burn out.

  • On Friday, my childhood friend came with homemade pickles and besan ladoo. We decided to have dinner together impromptu. She is the best when it comes to rolling rotis, so that had to be part of the menu. Much fun was had cooking together and gorging on simple home cooked dinner. Beats take outs and eat outs any day. Could not have asked for a better start to the weekend!
  • Most of Saturday and Sunday was spent out of the house. Can’t tell you what a relief it was to be home in the evenings, even if it was filled with chores. When I am doing chores, I am either listening to podcasts or catching up on phone with family or friends, both of which are the sounds of relaxation for me. 
  • Hari and I watched 60 minutes today. There was a segment that interviewed the student activists from the Florida school. Oh God, my heart weighed a ton and my eyes were streaming with tears as I watched them speak. I have no words but deep deep admiration for their convictions. Like one of the moms said, I wish we were not behind, but in front of them. These kids shouldn’t have to do it. We should not be thrusting this burden on their shoulders. But really what choice do they have after their lives have been so profound affected and changed forever?
  • Last week Hari participated in the Walk Out against gun violence. He is aware, has been following the updates, and has been forming strong opinions. 

Time to hit the sack even though there are gazillion thoughts waiting to be written down. Adios amigos. Have a good week.

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Hari Katha, Humor, Kids, Little Moments, Ram Leela

Little entrepreneur

Ram is smitten by the idea of making money. He has been planning one thing after the other. First, he said he would make things out of origami and go around the block to sell them. Then, he was curious to know how much a glass of lemonade costs. Could he make some? Later, he started sorting his toys into different piles so he could have a yard sale.

The problem was all these plans will have to wait for the weather to turn around. “I want to earn money now amma,” the child sounded desperate. Wanting to give him a break, I told him “If you make a book that I enjoy reading, I will consider buying it from you.”  His face lit up and his mental wheels started spinning. What is your favorite fruit? Mango, I said. What vegetable do you not like? “I don’t know what it is called in english, but is noolkol in tamil”

An hour later, the child came to me with a book titled “The Viellen –  Dr. Noolkol robs a bank” with illustrations. Super Mango is the detective and Dr. Noolkol is the robber. There is action and drama, and the story ends with Dr. Noolkol getting arrested by Super Mango and taking him to a place where he rightfully belongs but dreads going to – the grocery store!

The child was deliriously proud of the 10 cents that I paid him. His anna, on the other hand, was standing there glaring at me. Really amma? He spent an hour working on that book and you are not even paying him minimum wages? Shhhhhhhhhhh! I had forgotten to account for the older child’s activism when I priced the book.

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Experiences, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Intentions, Kids

Growing pains

Hari was eating his paruppu sadam with beans with delight as I was about to move out of the dining room. “Amma, can you just sit with me for few minutes,” he asked. “Of course, love” I told him and silently watched him for few seconds as my head was reeling from a tsunami of thoughts.

I needed him as much as he needed me in that moment. Earlier this morning there was a post by a local mom on FaceBook about how she had encountered her child using JUULS. Last week, the school principal had sent a note about Vaping and E-cigarettes. That was my first time hearing about it. Google will give you plenty of information about these addictions. In short, these are the latest in the drug world and is directly marketed to young adults as alternatives to cigarettes. Worse still, they look like USB drives, and smell like cheap perfumes. They wreak the same havoc that drugs do. Apparently, it is more pervasive than we would imagine in middle school and high school. The post was disturbing and made me really sad. Peer pressure is so real. One day you hear about suicide, another day you hear about depression, and yet another day drugs. The list only seems to be growing.

Hari and I were generally chatting and catching up when he mentioned, as if reading my mind, “Mom, today they pulled us out of our classroom to question us about drugs. They do it to all kids. They ask us a few questions. Do you use drugs? Why do you not use drugs?” He then proceeded to explain that “I don’t do drugs because the determinants far outweigh the benefits. I also told them that I have a younger brother who looks up to me and I want to be a good role model to him.”

I tried very hard to suppress the lump in my throat. He told me how they explained that their brains are still developing and the part of the brain that makes decisions is the last to develop. “So we have to make safe choices,” he concluded. Then I asked him what would he do if he saw his friends doing drugs. “First, I will protect myself and then I will stay away from their influence.” I told him how important it is to report to an adult, you are not getting your friend in trouble, you are helping him, ok? On that note, we wrapped up our heavy but reassuring conversation.

As I was clearing the kitchen counter, I sent a prayer upwards. I reminded myself to be more engaged, and more cognizant of what’s going on in my children’s lives. It’s so easy to get lost in the everyday busyness and competing priorities. To sweat the small stuff and lose sight of the big picture. Let me not take them for granted. Let me be fully present. Let me verify even when I trust them.

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Hari Katha, Humor, Learnings, Little Moments, Memories, Writing

With Hari’s permission, I am posting the personal narrative that he has been working on. I love how writing is taught here, right from elementary grade. In this narrative, he is required to check for transition words, sensory language, zooming in, zooming out, grammar and spelling.

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Bad Kitty!

When I encountered a lion, things weren’t pretty. It did not bite me. It did not scratch me. Instead, it peed on me. That’s right, I was a john for a lion, a once in a lifetime experience.

While visiting my uncle’s family in Bentonville, Arkansas, we decided to visit a famous zoo located 25 miles south of where we were staying.  Although the drive only took 30 minutes, it felt like eternity as my eight year old brain processed the fact that I would see animals which were uncommon in New England.

“Bang!” slammed the passenger door, arousing me.  Not missing a beat, I hopped out of the car and headed towards the zoo, thrilled about what experience awaited me. When we entered the zoo, I gasped. I was astonished at the chimpanzee swinging in its cage like a trapeze artist, a bear expertly balancing on a tiny red ball, and an iguana blending with its surroundings. The warm delicious scent of popcorn from a nearby food cart welcomed me with its lovely aroma.

“Come on Hari,” my mom instructed. “You should take a look at these majestic lions. If you need me, I’ll be in the reptile section.”

“Sounds fine mom,” I replied. I trotted towards the lions, and halted when I spotted them, their orange manes flowing in the cool wind. Standing a mere inch away from the smooth, black cage was a kid about my age, staring at the lion. Turning around, he beckoned me to come sit next to him. Immediately, I started sweating. I felt that standing that close to the cage would likely come back to bite me. However, my undying curiosity to see the lion prompted me to crouch next to the kid and face the lion. I looked in awe at the humongous lion which peered back at me as if saying, who are you, and why are you in my territory?

“This lion is awesome!” I whooped, expecting the kid to respond. Instead, the kid, whose gaze was getting more alarmed by the second screamed “Look out!” and quickly dove to the side. I however, did not have quick enough reflexes. A yellow spray of liquid washed over me, sizzling all over my arm. Embarrassed I scampered away, avoiding as many people as I could, only to bump into my mom.

“What happened to you?” My mom cried, her face turning pale as milk seeing me wet.

“Ummmmmmmmm,” I mumbled, feverishly debating in my mind on whether or not to tell my mom.

“Spit it out, what happened?” She insisted, pushing me to the brink of telling the truth.

“Oh fine!” I sputtered, “A lion leaked on me.” Instantly, my mom put a hand to her mouth.

“Come on, we’ll get you cleaned up,” she replied, extracting a bag of tissues from her purse.

As you can see, I have survived that traumatic experience, but am still trying to live down the fact that I was a urinal for a lion. Now, I always stand far away from the cages of animals knowing well not to repeat the same mistake twice. Nevertheless, I still have nightmares, imagining that yellow substance submerging over me. Most of all, I have learned to accept the facts, and laugh along with my family when they make a joke about that incident – I’m Hari, I was a potty for the king of the jungle, and I am proud of it!

 

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Family, Gratitude, Hari Katha, Milestones, Wishes

The newly minted teenager

“Can you believe it amma, I am a teenager!” the child posed a rhetorical question as he chomped his cheese filled crispy dosai on his special morning. We exchanged a knowing glance, as if acknowledging the enormity of it all,  but mostly to check how many dosais were left on the plate. A little voice in my head whispered, “No and Yes”

No, I can’t believe you are a teenager!  I can’t believe it because, it just feels like yesterday that I held your tiny body in my arms for the very first time. I can’t because even when you are strong enough to lift me, you will always be small enough for me to coddle you. I can’t because all I said was skip, hop and jump, and here you are nearly as tall as me. I can’t because I fight my impulse to protect you before I can let you learn from your mistakes. I can’t because I think of you as my darling darling baby in my head and can’t hold myself from smothering you with my loud noisy kisses.

Yes, yes and yes, you are so a teenager! I can believe it because of the way your eyes twinkle and your lips smack as we talk about chocolate pancakes, cheesy ravioli, bean burritos and masala pooris. I can believe it because I have seen you grow inch by inch right under our noses. I can because we are shoe shopping in adult aisles for you. I can because no topic is taboo or off limits for us.  I can because when you make a mistake you are mature enough to come up to us and confess. I can because you take ownership and responsibility to get your tasks done. I can because we have thoughtful conversations around how we can support each other, be it fitness or staying organized.  I can because even when it’s hard to accept, you understand our values and who we are as a family.  I can because when I hug and kiss you, I hold you a second longer knowing that it’s only a question of time before your smooth buttery cheeks give way to tiny buds of facial hair.  I can because I can count on my fingers the number of years that are left before you spread your wings and fly from our cosy little nest.

Happiest of birthdays to the newly minted teenager in our home. You are such a fun, kind, wise, and witty dude. We love you from the depths of our hearts and are profoundly grateful for your presence in our lives. Be kind. Be brave. Work hard. Make a difference. Be YOU. XOXO. 

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