Happy 3rd Birthday!

Virj turned 3 last month on Nov 20. We had a small birthday celebration for him at home. I wanted to keep it simple this year…well, that’s what I planned for the last two years too but it always ended up being big. This year, the weather forecast wasn’t in favor of an outdoor party, so I was forced to keep the guest list short…can’t imagine keeping more than 10 kids (mostly toddlers) entertained at home. Since, Virj has made some friends in school and day care, I wanted to invite few of them. It felt a little awkward inviting the kids from his daycare whose parents I hardly ever met. I sent out hand written invitations through the daycare provider and called them later to confirm. Luckily, I knew the moms/guardians of the kids from his school and it was much easier inviting them. I was really happy that two of his new friends attended the party along with their families.

As you know, Virj loves anything on wheels but his latest obsession is trains, particularly Thomas the Tank Engine. If you remember, he even sort of wanted to be Thomas for Halloween, which we had then ignored. So, I decided to make up for it by throwing him a Thomas party! I started off by sending Thomas invitation cards to his friends in school and daycare. The rest of our friends received a train themed Evite invitation. I used Thomas the Tank Engine wall appliqués to decorate the main party area along with red and blue balloons. I set up his old wooden train sets on the selves around the wall decoration to create a miniature train town feel. Virj’s birthday gift from us was a train table with a 100-piece train set that was laid out in the living room with a happy birthday banner and balloon in the background. We waited till the night before to assemble it so that Virj had a nice surprise in the morning. We also wanted to make sure he didn’t wreck it before his birthday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an easy IKEA kind of furniture assembly and Soam only managed to set up the the table before the next morning. Needless, the kids had a great time with the loose train pieces and one of the parents even helped us put together some of the structures/bridges during the party itself.

Evite invitation

Each kid got a Thomas train party visor/hat and Thomas whistle when they arrived. I arranged for various indoor activities and crafts to keep the preschoolers occupied. We bought a lot of art supply from IKEA and some last minute ones from Target. Besides, there were lots of toys to play with and of course the train table to keep the boys busy! The kids had a great time and it helped them work up the appetite for their pizza lunch. Even Virj was asking for food and gobbled down a whole slice in minutes! There were cheese and pepperoni pizzas for the kids and mixed vegetarian, meat and a soy cheese pizza as well as salad, for the adults. And, of course a Thomas the Tank Engine cake at the end. The kids were super psyched to see the cake and it was hard to keep Virj from grabbing the Thomas train off the cake before it was laid out. He had a big smile while everyone sang for him and Soam and I helped him blow off the candle and cut the cake. Every child got a goody bag on their way out, some of which had train puzzles, books and candies. For the little ones, I bought toys that were more appropriate for their age. The adults had a good time too and we had a quieter after party for some of our friends without kids!

Virj later enjoyed opening the “pasants” aka presents, another new word to add to his vocabulary. He subsequently had birthday celebrations both at his preschool and daycare and came home with more “pasants”. Here are some fond memories from the event!

Thomas the Tank Engine party

Train table gift from mom & dad

Hmm...nom nom picao (pizza)

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for 3 year old Virj

Cake cutting

Party accessories

31

12 2010

Yoga & Hinduism

I have practiced yoga, on and off, for the last 20 years and grew up hearing about yoga philosophy, astrology and ayurveda. The later happened quite naturally growing up in India in a practicing Hindu household. When I first started taking yoga classes at a local gym in Calcutta, I considered it to be a form of exercise, the best recommended workout by my then yoga certified instructor. Apparently, he trained with the same guru as Bikram Chaudhury of Bikram Yoga fame. Anyway, my point is that I never consciously associated yoga to Hinduism growing up in urban India, but in retrospect, I realize the connection was always there, it just was never made explicit. By itself, yoga is not a religion to me except for the lotus pose my grandmother said was essential for meditation, and unquestioning, we sat that way every evening during prayer time. I did see my dad do pranayama during religious ceremonies. And, of course every move in our life was “supposedly” governed by the location of stars in the Universe, aka astrology. Overall though, our generation was not particularly bothered with ancient Hindu philosophy nor did our elders teach us about our long history. We were too busy following western culture! I loved my all-girl catholic school and I spent more time in church masses than in meditation!

I was reintroduced to yoga after taking a yoga class at San Francisco State University, where the instructor talked about astrology and quoted Hindu philosophers I’d heard of only in passing while growing up. It made me a little uncomfortable…it was like she was lecturing me about my own culture! I have taken a lot of different yoga classes in San Francisco and the Peninsula since then, often being the only Indian in the class and struggling to keep up with her fellow American students 🙂 I kid! Honestly I’m not that bad, thanks to my yoga training earlier on in life 🙂

I admire the dedication of a lot of yogis I met in America and honestly learned so much more about yoga here. I also met some genuinely nice people through yoga who I hold in very high regard. But, I am still baffled by the lack of acknowledgment to the country from where yoga originates and the commercialization of yoga. Have you noticed that the yoga magazines hardly ever feature any Indian faces other than the few old bearded sadhus (Indian priests) with a tower of dreadlocks on their heads? On the other hand, most yoga brands and accessories revolve around Hinduism and Indian culture. For example, pictures of Hindu gods like Ganesha and symbols like Om are abundantly used by yoga brands. I’ve even seen Sanskrit alphabets and henna designs on yoga clothing! But, people can’t make the connection with Hinduism because there is very little knowledge about it. Most still can’t tell the difference between the words “Hindi” and “Hindu”— the former is a language and the latter is the religion! Just the other day, I even overheard a lady ask the receptionist at my local Bikram yoga studio whether yoga originated in India or China?

Ganesha on yoga shirt

Ganesha on yoga pants

Hindu goddess on yoga shirt

Om, the most common symbol used by yoga brands

The 7 chakras with Sanskrit alphabets that forms an integral part of Hinduism

Henna designs on yoga brand

By now, you must be wondering why I started this controversial topic? Well, The NY Times article, Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul, is to blame for it 🙂 It did stir up some sentiments! I absolutely believe what Debbie Desmond, a yoga instructor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn says:

“Nobody owns yoga.”

But, then again, isn’t that the core business model of Bikram Yoga (which I now practice regularly) — owning 26 yoga poses done in a particular style?

A yoga class being held at Saraswathi Hall in Flushing, Queens.
Photo courtesy: The NY Times

On the other hand, being a parent I can also relate to Dr. Aseem Shukla’s (co-founder of Take Back Yoga) sentiments:

“We started this, really, for our kids,” said Dr. Shukla, an urologist and a second-generation Indian-American. “When our kids go to school and say they are Hindu, nobody says, ‘Oh, yeah, Hindus gave the world yoga.’ They say, ‘What caste are you?’ Or ‘Do you pray to a monkey god?’ Because that’s all Americans know about Hinduism.”

There will always be wars on patents and branding, whether it’s yoga or neem oil. It’s for the governments and corporations to fight, and honestly, whoever has more money/power will win. In the meantime, however, us Indians would definitely like a little more recognition in yoga, ayurveda and all the cool Hindu stuff! Please don’t box us into arranged marriages, outsourcing, call centers and Bollywood! We have some fun things to offer too. If you are nice to me, I might even give you the secret recipe for the herbal concoction that makes your skin glow! 🙂

09

12 2010

Halloween Fun

It’s almost a month since Halloween but had to write about Virj’s adventures and his discovery of “kaaki” aka candy! As with most parents with small kids, our Halloween now revolves around Virj. Gone are the days of elaborate costume planning, adult Halloween parties and spending Halloween night in the Mission or the Castro district of San Francisco! Now, it’s kiddie Halloween parties and trick or treating with neighborhood kids. Honestly, I’m thoroughly enjoying this! Last year Virj was a year and half old, so though he enjoyed the parties and distributing candies to the neighborhood kids on Halloween night, I don’t think he really knew what was going on. But, this year he certainly got a better hang of things.

Since, Virj hates wearing a hat, I started looking for costumes without a head piece/cover. We thought he’d make a very cute 70’s rock star given his curly hair and personality. Soam felt he could also be a hippie kid with a flower power ensemble. But, it was really difficult to find the exact costume in his size. On one of our trips to the store, Virj pointed out the Thomas The Tank Engine costume but we decided to ignore that and go with our preference 🙂 After all, this was probably the last year we could dress him up our way. Besides, I don’t think Virj necessarily wanted to be Thomas or understood the concept of a costume but recognized it being a big fan of trains and Thomas by extension.

After a lot of research, we decided to make him Elvis especially because of the white jumpsuit. We knew we would not give him the Elvis hairdo but felt he’d look equally cute with his natural fro 🙂 I ordered the costume and after some alterations at home, it was the perfect fit. I’m happy to report that Virj got a lot of compliments and good use of the costume as he attended several Halloween parties and parades. I even had to wash the outfit twice within a span of 2 weeks…white isn’t the best color for toddler use!

Virj first learned about “poupou” when we took him to a pumpkin patch and later in drawing faces on pumpkins with me. So, he readily recognized his pumpkin bucket when he first carried it. He had a great time at his preschool Halloween ice-cream social but went overboard with excitement when he discovered the joys of treat or treating at Goblin Grotto, a local event at our city recreation center. Thus his introduction to candies! It was a little embarrassing when Virj kept going back for more “kaakies” and this was even before he had tasted any. I guess he found it amusing. And, sure enough he got tons of them…after all, who could resist a cute little Elvis with curly hair and a big smile 🙂 Alas, I had to hide his stash because once he got a taste of a candy, he wanted to open all and lick them (not eat though, hah!).

Subsequently, we took Virj to more Halloween parties, parades and house-to-house trick or treating on Halloween night. The neighborhood we picked was a very popular one in the Peninsula where hordes of people came for trick or treating. It was quite an experience, reminded me of Durga Puja (the main Bengali festival) in Kolkata. It was fun for a while but not ideal for small kids, especially if you need to lug along a stroller.

Here are some snapshots to highlight the moments!

Virj exploring various poupous at a pumpkin patch

Displaying his artwork on the pumpkins

Fun activities at the preschool ice-cream social

More Halloween parties

Treat or Treating

Elvis with his bucket of candies

Halloween decoration

Jack-o-lantern

28

11 2010

Baseball Widow

Does this sound like a cliché? It might, but still I thought of relating my saga from the last few months. I’m pretty sure, if it weren’t baseball, it would have been some other sport like basketball, football, tennis or cricket. So, no offense to baseball! I’m just thankful that it’s not all of them at once!

Anyway, coming back to my story, my husband is a huge Giants fan, ta-da!!! So, you can imagine he has been a tortured soul for years not quite acknowledging his true love for the team. But, this season, he emerged from his shell – early on in the season I might add – and decided to support the team full-heartedly. I’m happy to see the outcome and genuinely excited about Giants winning the World Series! But, it hasn’t been an easy journey for our family, or a quick conversion for me (well…I have to admit I’ve followed the last few games reluctantly). Maybe my experience is reflective of the difficult journey the Giants team members made this year and the transformation they’ve had (?). Torture!

Virj supporting the team.

Soam’s excuse has always been that watching baseball is his best form of relaxation after a crazy workday. I didn’t complain at first when he started spending all his “spare time” watching or following baseball on TV, Internet, radio… etc. Yes, “spare time” was a luxury this year too as he worked round the clock most days! Imagine the plight of his wife and child…. Even when he was ready for some family time, there was baseball blaring from the radio in the background. We had many arguments over him not paying attention while having an important discussion with me….hmmm, tuning out your wife is a not a smart move, LOL!! Having Roku and the access to the Major League Baseball channel didn’t help things a bit. He watched old recordings when a live game wasn’t on. Sometimes, Virj would switch off the TV or hide the remote to get daddy’s attention.

So, you can imagine Soam’s tension last evening during Game 5. He was sitting on the edge of his seat and getting annoyed at Virj for hovering in front of the TV. But, in the end all the tension and frustration paid off, as the Giants emerged victorious! Hah, it does sound like a long, torturous battle, when I say that way. But, I’m glad to have my life back and a happy husband who can now discuss baseball without cringing at his wife’s ignorance. To that I say — GO GIANTS!!!

The San Francisco Giants celebrate after winning the World Series. Photo: David J. Phillip; Courtesy: ABC7 Photos.

03

11 2010

Preschooler

Virj started preschool a month and half ago and is obsessed with it! We knew he would have no problems adjusting given his incredibly friendly demeanor but are surprised by his immense love for school. It has been an ordeal picking him up after hours — he has to be dragged out kicking and screaming every time. We are happy that he enjoys school so much but it’s a little embarrassing when he cries on seeing us. We can assure you that’s not a testament to our bad parenting but to the fact that Virj loves to be around people 🙂 He’s a real party animal…we just hope he slows down before his teens!

Virj has made a lot of progress since he joined school including his interest in art! I’m very excited about it being a creative person myself and having a strong interest in visual art since childhood. In fact, I inherited that from my mother’s side of the family which is full of self-taught closet artists!

Here’s a sneak peek into the life of a preschooler —

Virj posing in front of the school with his artwork in hand

Virj and trains — inseparable!

Virj's artwork I

Virj's artwork II

Making bracelets at the Halloween party

This last photo summarizes Virj’s personality — relentless rock star with the perfect hair to match 🙂

Elvis showing his moves at the school party

26

10 2010

Borderline Celebrity

I’ve been suffering writer’s block for the last month as well as some social media aversion….I guess, the later is inevitable 🙂 So, didn’t know where to start my next post. Luckily, I came across this video on Xtranormal today and thoughts came rolling in:

 

Does the title “Borderline Celebrity” now make sense? I’m not even close but I just like the term. And, don’t we all social media converts aspire to be one in this day and age with our tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts? I digress but this is especially true for actors (traditionally the only people who could reach celebrity hood easily), we are hungry for recognition! Lately, I’ve been going to a lot of auditions and feeling somewhat baffled by the selection process. I’ve had similar experiences to the above video — for one, a lot of my calls come in last minute and I often have to drop everything else to attend the audition. Of course, I can decline too and I’ve had to do that a lot in the past when I had a full-time job with a very unaccommodating boss. Thankfully, I have more flexibility in my current day job to be able to make room for these adjustments. Just like the video, however, I was particularly discouraged by one of my recent experiences.

I got a 9 page script the night before and after a lot emails/phone calls back-n-forth realized that I needed to prepare one page of it for the audition next morning. The client’s undecidedness should have been evident at that point because the script was for a male character, which they wanted a female – me – to read. I was asked to enact the role in two different moods and heard a few oohs and aahs of appreciation in the background when I left. However, I didn’t pay much attention because from prior experience, that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s the first step to a very long, complicated and vague process.

I received a call from my agent few weeks later, when I had practically forgotten about the audition, regarding my availability for the shoot, as I was the client’s “first choice”. However, that proved to be nothing more than an temporary ego high when I didn’t hear back again. A few days before the shoot date, for which I had made myself available, I called to confirm and learned that the client had decided to go an entirely different route, in other words…they had decided to drop my character entirely! The only plus to this ordeal was that I know I didn’t suck at the audition …probably the only few times I’m not likely to wonder why I didn’t get the part in spite of being perfectly suited for it! With that feeling I continue on my adventures as an actor and the quest to become a borderline celebrity!

15

10 2010

Lazy Mom’s Day!

Apparently, today is National Lazy Mom’s Day! And, why not? If there can be days to celebrate every confectionery and relationship in America, why should lazy mothers be deprived? But wait, isn’t the term “lazy mom” itself an oxymoron? Are mommies allowed to be lazy? Motherhood is hard work and there’s no time to slack off. I would have been a lazy person in some other universe but as a mommy living in a highly competitive environment, I’m an epitome of efficiency, LOL! I exaggerate but that’s what’s expected of us! However, I’m sure other moms like me would appreciate the gesture if there was a holiday attached to it, a day off just for mothers and not the rest of the family…wow, that sounds like a dream, isn’t it? Alas, that would never happen and so the day is mostly useful to the retail industry as a marketing gimmick!

However, I was lucky to have the day off and hubby could spare some time too. So, I tried to relax a little — slept in late, went out for lunch and a movie, hit the gym for an hour and now playing with my son….which is of course is getting interrupted by my blogging 🙂 Hence, I’ll be off now to attend to my numerous mommy duties and spend the rest of the evening trying to catch up for the time lost lazing around. Sigh!

04

09 2010

The Big Owie

Last weekend started off well with lots of social activities but all plans went downhill (literally) when Virj tumbled down a slope in our friend’s backyard. Luckily he only had an inch wide scrap in his left knee. I freaked out a little when he fell and am still embarrassed about it. But, Virj sprung back on his feet within minutes and spent the rest of the evening jumping around and playing with the other kids, still wearing the same swim trunks (dry of course) that he had on when he fell. He didn’t seem to even notice his band-aid covered wound.

Virj_piano

Virj trying out the piano at our friend's place after the fall

However, all hell broke loose the next day afternoon when we tried to take him out of his jammies and change the bandage. He had a total meltdown seeing the wound and didn’t want us to touch it. He kept crying even after we changed his bandage and refused to move his leg, stand up or walk. This was a huge surprise because Virj is an extremely active and tough kid, who can’t sit still for a second. He’s also had much worse falls, bruises and cuts in the past but nothing ever dampened his spirits. Seeing him so distressed, we decided to call the after hour pediatric nurse hotline. At that point it was hard to even continue the phone conversation with the nurse while Virj howled and cried in the background. Obviously, we were asked to see a doctor immediately to rule out a fracture or an infection. So, instead of going to a birthday party, we drove up to the pediatric after hours clinic at CPMC in San Francisco to get him checked. We were relieved when the doctor diagnosed it as a minor injury. She however mentioned that Virj was probably going through a psychological trauma, this being his first experience of pain he could remember. He is at an age where fear, anxiety as well long term memory of things have started to develop.

So we’ve been following the same routine for the past 2 days — Virj stays in his jammies for most of the day, playing happily and forgetting about his pain, till it’s time to change and take a bath. Today I sent him to daycare for few hours so that he could play with the other kids and forget about the injury, which has worked well so far. Both at daycare as well as home, we are trying to cheer him up my putting stickers on his band-aid and making it look cool. Hopefully, he’ll get over this soon and we can prepare for his big day next week — first day of preschool!

big owei

Badge of honor

31

08 2010

Natural Childbirth

I love The Onion Magazine‘s fake magazine covers. Thought this one was particularly relevant to us moms in the modern age!

The Onion Magazine cover

I remember being extremely idealistic about the childbirth process and wanted a natural birth. Obviously, living in Northern California, it is easy to get obsessed with that because everyone else is touting natural living. Unfortunately, my plans of having a water birth with the assistance of a Doula were dampened by my baby who decided to stay stubbornly in breech. My doctor tried external aversion therapy to turn him but he went right back. He’s a stubborn kind of fellow in general so, looking back, that should not have been a surprise. I ended up having a planned c-section! I was almost in tears when my doctor told me that was the only option remaining. In retrospect, I find my reaction then to be silly! Childbirth was just the beginning of a long endurance contest that is “child raising.” The mother’s body quickly recovers from the delivery but takes on even more beating during the first 3 years (and counting…???) of child rearing. Sweet god, will the sleepless nights ever end? Oh and not to mention breastfeeding!!! I did that for 15 months and hated every bit of it, primarily because I was pumping most of the time as my son weaned himself off earlier! I no longer want to be morally superior than my fellow mamas!

So what have I learnt from this? “Go with the flow!” I’m a perfectionist, so it’s extremely difficult for me to let go of my ideals but I’m learning to deal with the reality of parenting. The truth is nothing ever works like in the books but at the end what matters is having a healthy and happy family. So, my house is never perfect, my son doesn’t eat his veggies regularly and watches more TV than I would like, but somehow he’s growing like a weed and is always smiling (when not throwing tantrums)! What else can I ask for? 🙂

03

08 2010

Fair And Lovely

Fair and Lovely is the name of the leading brand of fairness cream in India! Even in the face of globalization and changing values within the society, the obsession for a whiter (lighter) skin persists. In fact, the new surge of fairness cream for men into the Indian market indicates that the epidemic is spreading to a wider demographic! Growing up in India, I was used to seeing my friends use fairness creams or fry their faces with bleach. Beauty was always associated with the color of ones skin and hence a lighter skin indicated better marriage prospects for women. However, I’m disappointed to see that Indian men are falling prey to that gimmick too. I wonder if this an indirect consequence of the global economy where our darker skinned brothers have to compete with their lighter skinned counterparts from elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, history shows that the reverse never happens 🙁

To quote Soam’s article Fair’s Unfair, on dishumdishum:

Now there’s no need to sneak into your sister’s Fair & Lovely cream stash. Or rub talcum powder on your face (it doesn’t work unless your goal is to look like Bozo the Clown). Simply walk to your nearest paanwaala’s shop and apply away. Then proceed to walk, no, zoom up the corporate and social ladders.

Unfortunately, the stalwarts of society and the media have done little to offset this trend. To further quote Soam:

Perhaps Bollywood can make a social issue out of all this – brown skin pride and all that? It would seem to be a tailor made subject, no? Sadly, what’s happened instead is quite the opposite: masala dance numbers now prominently feature white chicks grabbed fresh from the Mumbai Airport. Home grown lovelies are no longer bleached enough. Aspirational trophy wallpaper, here we come!

I wonder what happened to the “tall, dark and handsome” hero that Bollywwod once worshipped? The trend that was started with Amitabh Bachchan, the biggest star in the history of Bollywood?

Here’s the CNN story from last September talking about the skin whitener controversy in India:

To add insult to injury, Vaseline has recently introduced a skin-lightening application for Facebook in India, enabling users to make their faces whiter in their profile pictures. Thanks to our friend, Biraj, for sending the link!

Internet match-making

And, yes, Bollywood has jumped in front of the line to promote it.

The download is designed to promote Vaseline’s range of skin-lightening creams for men, a huge and fast-growing market driven by fashion and a cultural preference for fairer skin.

The widget promises to “Transform Your Face On Facebook With Vaseline Men” in a campaign fronted by Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur, who is depicted with his face divided into dark and fair halves.

Perhaps, throwing in some cool acronyms like “dude” and “gotcha” will help its cause further. Fair and Lovely can even change its name to Fair n Luv’ly to cater to the facebooking-twittering-smsing urbanized youth!

14

07 2010