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Archive for March, 2010

-Bill Vaughn

One Saturday afternoon, with my trembling hands clutching the steering wheel, I sat there perspiring and summoning the Good Lord to perform a miracle and keep the roads deserted in the neighbourhood. It was the dreaded hour of my driving test. The driving examiner, a burly man who almost caused my tiny Laser to topple heavily onto one side, was rubbing his hands gleefully at my rather miserable attempts at composure and egging me to get the action started. Cursing inwardly at myself for all those driving lessons I skimped on but desperately needed, I was hoping he would not be one of those garrulous types who would distract me with his non-stop chatter. Wow, was that the pot calling the kettle black?

Anyway, I started quite confidently, even giving myself a mental pat on my back when I made a smooth transition between lanes. I believed everything was going on fine, despite his frustration at my slow speed of driving, when he asked me to stop and do a parallel parking. I never was good at driving, let alone parking – and after I saw his bewildered expression on completion of my parallel park, I gave up any hopes of passing the test. Later I heard him comment to my driving instructor “I asked her to parallel park and she parked in the middle of the road”, though I believe that was an outright exaggeration, I was merely metres away from the curb, the middle of the road was still a long way off πŸ™‚ After exacting promises (from me) of not inciting road rage given my slow driving, he overlooked my parking indiscretion and gave me my license. I rode home in a daze knowing I was extremely lucky to have landed the licence on the first go, but still that did not stop me from doing an exuberant war dance and gloating over my license before a stunned Anna who was raving at the injustice of letting me loose on the road.

Eight years later, I can perhaps boast of reasonable driving skills but not when it comes to parking. I am the “squatter” of the parking lot who conveniently drives dang in the middle of two parking lots and takes up both places. Once, my Laser received a scar that would make Harry Potter proud because I misjudged the space between the last parking lot in the awfully crowded cinema complex and the wall. But above all, I still have not mastered parallel parking. So you can imagine my acute embarrassment when having found a parking spot right between two cars in front of the school, I was forced to do a parallel parking. Of course this time I did park in the middle of the road and was squirming awkwardly in my seat waiting for my daughter to make an appearance, so I can flee my crime-scene in my wretched shame-mobile before my parking skills became the highlight of the next P&C meeting.

I used to believe it was just me but then I discovered most of my friends are in the same league as me. Most women prefer to park a few blocks away than manoeuvre parking in congested and claustrophobic parking lots and definitely reserve parallel parking as the last option before hailing a perfect stranger to help park the car or ditch the car. In fact a week ago, while I was on the phone wheedling Anna to park for me in return for picking him up for our lunch date, I had my friend laugh at me and go β€œyeah I do the same”.

Ah well, my parking skills serve me as a reminder that I am not from Krypton and I am not expected to excel in everything I do but still the thought offers no solace especially today when my Laser has gone for servicing and I am stuck with Anna’s beast of a car for the school pickups. Duh, it is hunting around the block for today L

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I couldn’t settle in Italy – it was like living in a foreign country.

– Ian Rush

I was watching the Spanish movie “Reinas” last night when I was reminded of the Italian language. The movie, littered with words that I could identify (given the similarities between the Spanish and Italian languages) transported me to my short sojourn in Italy last year. Everyone warns you about the French being Anglophobes but what I discovered was that the Italians do not fare any better. We were duly informed that we would be required to know the language to survive in the city but we had underestimated the gravity of the situation.

Having picked up enough phrases to get me from the airport to the hostel where I was going to stay, I thought I had done a good job. Little did I know my nightmare had hardly begun. I was dismayed to find out that shops had items carrying labels in Italian only. After a miserable experience of having switched conditioner for shampoo and lamenting on the lack of lather despite generous dollops of the stuff ( on that day I surely made a fashion statement for bad hairdos ), I decided to take more serious steps towards learning the language. However five months later when I hailed a taxi back to Milano Centrale Station, I realised I had become proficient only in one sentence having learnt to brandish it over and over “non parlo italiano” aka “I do not speak Italian”.

We were provided Italian language classes where I did not understand the point of having an entrance exam to the classes especially for beginner sessions. Anyway, most of us having spent an hour of playing “Eeny meeny myny moe” in selecting the answers were grateful to be finally admitted to the classes. But very soon, I was getting bogged down with ennui as the classes were mere monologues carried out by our inexperienced teacher when compared to the highly interactive sessions in the neighbouring classroom. To my dismay, I learnt lovely Marcella, er…a true Italian fashionista as well, kept most of my classmates entertained with her Italian canzoni and impromptu play-acting sessions. One final day, I bowed out of my class when I realised I was getting more proficient in French than Italian. Everytime my teacher forced me to speak in Italian, I ended up talking French to her…….so I decided to give the teacher and myself a break. Despite the classes, most of us took to being chaperoned by our Spanish or Italian speaking friends for fear of mutilating the language and tired of being a “non parlo italiano”.

The final test of my language skills arrived when I entered a “parrucchiere” on an impulse to do something drastic to my hair. Of course the hairstylist or any of his staff did not speak a word of English and I was wondering how I was ever going to mime what I wanted, when I noticed this sweet old Italian lady ( such occasions only happen once in a blue moon – in my experience you never can coin, sweet, lady or italian in the same sentence :)) Β who knew “poco, poco” English and was able to translate what I wanted. It still brings a smile on my face when I remember my stricken expression when the lady departed and I found myself the last and the solo customer at the shop. The hairstylist shushed me when I started yet another one of my monologues. Instead I was ambushed by a string of Italian words, fast paced ammo of course that left me dizzy with weariness…..just listening to it, forget about translation…… but I managed to get “bellissimo” and “mi creda” and tried to calm myself. Indeed 20 mins later, after watching in silent agony, the locks of my very slim bounty strewn on the floor, I was greeted to a victorious “pronto” and truly a “bellissimo” hairstyle. I threw him a brilliant smile, voiced “gracie” over and over and walked away with my head held high and content that every cent of the forty euros I paid was worth it.

Despite my awkward experiences with the language, my stay in Italy will always be fondly remembered as one of the most treasurable moments of my life. And who said I cannot speak Italian…….after all, I got away knowing the best italian words of all “gelato” and “saldi” πŸ™‚

In memory of Marcella’s class πŸ™‚

PS: No offense to any of my French or Italian friends πŸ™‚

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Women are the glue that holds our day-to-day world together.
– Anna Quindlen

Today is the International Women’s Day – a global day celebrating the political, social and economic achievements of women in the world. I too congratulate these women but the ones that truly command my respect and celebration today are the ones whom I recognise as toiling away silently in the background without any expectations of any award or recognition, doing what they had undertaken to do in the best way possible – the women in my life.

We might not see eye-to-eye, but not a day has gone by without me appreciating what my mother had forgone to raise me up. She will always be my Joan of Arc, the dauntless and resilient heroine against the challenges that life throws up her alley. Next the family of sisters that I inherited along with Anna. It has taken me 12 long years to re-discover the family that I had at my doorstep all this time, but better late than never. My close circle of girl-friends scattered all over the world but always quick to reach out in times of support and need. My female acquaintances in Brisbane, always with a smile and a helping hand to bolster my flagging spirits when dealing with kids/family troubles.

On this day, I would want to remember the grandmothers, the mothers, the female relatives in the world who have always been there for their kids, for their family in their own little way – be it eating mouldy cheese so kids can get an extra portion or preserving the childhoods of kids at any cost, raising them unaware of wars or family crisis – the women who are the first ones to wake up and the last ones to go to bed, the women who give up on their own dreams so their kids can have a life. It is these women, the never-t0-be-forgotten spirits from our past, present and future that I would like to honour on this day.

Today, I also choose to forgive the meanness of the women I have come across in my life, especially in my year away and the last few months…..after all, without darkness one cannot truly appreciate light. It is the smallness of these women that makes me appreciate the greatness of my own caring female world around me. I also try to remember that these women too are in fact the daughter, the mother, the wife or the fiancee of someone – perhaps this can be used as a mitigating factor towards lessening the animosity between us.

Despite the risk of turning this blog into one of those spam emails, I still would like people reading this blog to show their appreciation to atleast one women in their life today. Be it just a mere thank-you or a phone call or an email, just tell the women in your life that you care and you are fully aware of the sacrifices, the hardships that they had undergone for raising you or making you the person you are.

Thank you !!!

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We women talk too much, but even then we don’t tell half what we know.
– Nancy Astor

In the Greek mythology, Echo was the goddess known for her incessant jabbering. Hera, the wife of Zeus, gets angry at Echo and curtails her power of speech and soon Echo was left repeating only the last words of others. If people of today’s world are capable of cursing others and robbing them of their speeches, I believe I would top the head of the queue in losing my ability to talk πŸ™‚

Since I was a kid, I loved to hear the sound of my own voice and it has never stopped till now. A compulsive conversationalist, I can no longer stand the silences punctuating anybody’s sentences. Within five minutes of meeting a stranger, I am already half-way through exchanging my life stories with them. Though this skill makes me the lifeblood of any social gathering, earns me compliments as the perfect hostess, and projects me as someone with a friendly aura, this affliction of mine has cost me a few friendships as some people get intimidated by my verbal diarrhea. I would have perhaps not stood out back in India with most women having the gift of the gab, but in other cultures I generally have to exercise caution when I talk as I observe some people to be more reserved and guarded. My first foray into the cyber world of chatting with a stranger (er…not a total stranger, we did have a mutual friend) turned out to be a total disaster and put me off cyber talks.

On a lighter vein, if I were to use this gift of mine for gainful employment, where would I fit in?

1) Counsellor: It might work if my conversations are laden with adequate pauses so the clients are able to get a word in between and their money’s worth πŸ™‚ Though given my emotional baggage, I am usually good material for the psychiatrist’s couch than being on the other side of the table.

2) Street preacher: Perhaps I could be a rabble rouser and impress the crowd with “fire and brimstone” sermons, even embellish it with Dante’s descriptions to give it more effect.

3) Salesperson: Perfect as long as I do not have any supervisors breathing down my neck and asking me to meet any sales targets 😦

4) Talk show hostess: I could perhaps groom myself to become the next Oprah seeing that there is going to be an empty slot in the CBC in 2011.

5) Mobile Chat Service: High potential especially in airports and emergency waiting rooms where I can carry monologues with people for a small fee.

6) Trainer/Professor: Providing the worthy service of putting insomniacs and sleep deprived students to sleep.

Any other suggestions folks???

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Those who can, do
Those who can’t bully.
– Anon

I opened the news today, yet another school kid a victim to bullying and violence in a Queensland school. Over a decade ago, when the Columbine High School massacre happened followed by various episodes of violence in US schools, we used to claim that Australia was a safer place to raise kids. However, the incidents that have been happening lately in schools around here are slowly eroding our confidence in the Queensland education system.

It is the lives of young kids that we are talking about, so as a parent I am unable to stay away from expressing my fears and concerns on this topic. If schools are not safe for them, then how can we guarantee their safety in the community, at workplace and in the world? When kids ought to be watching cartoons, playing on the streets and learning to build friendships, you hear of them wielding knives, guns and handing out death sentences. How did we as parents, as school authorities allow our kids to get this far? How are we being blind to this affliction that is permeating our schools?

Statistics all around the world indicate that bullying and violence are escalating in schools and that anti-bullying measures put in place are not effective because the intervention of parents and authorities are too late in most cases. The news is not encouraging especially when you have kids who will stand out to be different given their ethnicity, their religion, their appearances or their disabilities. One can no longer bury their head in the sand pretending it is all happening elsewhere and the problem will go away.

This friday is SAY NO TO BULLYING Day in Queensland. I am hunting for something orange to dress the family in on that day. I urge my Queensland friends reading this blog to voice their support on this day to stop the vicious cycle of bullying and violence that starts in school. Let us not be silent spectators but instead proactively discourage this behaviour and work towards raising kids in safer environments. Remember it is not a one-off incident, what starts out in the making of a bully or a victim has serious consequences in future – it is a well proven fact that these kids will develop lasting effects that will make them misfits in society.

As a parent, I would not want that for any kid, especially mine.

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This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
– Dalai Lama

Yesterday Madhu wanted to know what religion she belonged to. If she had been raised in India, it would have been a moot question. By her age, she would have been indoctrinated into the religion she was born into – the religious festivals, the rituals and customs of life back in India would make her no stranger to religion or faith. However she is here being raised by a mum who is in a perpetual crisis of faith and a dad who is a non-believer.

I used to be teased by friends that as a family we had all major religious bases covered :). My mother, is a devout Hindu and my father is more benevolent towards Muslim faith, given his 16 years in the Middle-east. As for myself, the Virgin Mary has been my security blanket ever since I was a kid.

However, when I hit my late twenties, I had a crisis of faith that I never seemed to have gotten out of yet. I questioned the need for religion seeing the wars it fueled, the animosity it fostered among humanity, the divisions it brought into society. Besides it is hard to keep your faith when you see the pain and suffering around you – I am not merely talking of the wars, the famine, the tragedies, the slow but steady destruction of the universe happening beyond the realms of my immediate world, but of what takes place right around me. Everytime I hear/see relationships falling apart, a child abused, a life cut short, a hope squashed, a betrayal around me, people not caring enough, I question why? Perhaps our strength in handling these situations have been overestimated by Divinity.

I am a mere bystander of religion now. I want something beyond thou-shall-not-break commandments, beyond promises of eternal life, beyond narrow minded bigotry. I want something that works for the collective good of humanity and not against it. But despite my stand on religion, I am unable to give up on God Himself – like most people, I too need a support mechanism to fall back on when things go wrong in and around my life. Perhaps to answer miracles….and perhaps to bring the prodigal daughter home 😦

When I doubt His presence, I see Him reflected in the deep compassion and forgiving spirit of Anna, in the innocence and unconditional love emanating from my children, in the belief and trust of my parents, in the goodness of my friends when they turn their other cheek to me, in random acts of kindness from total strangers, in the collective hope of like minded people around me that the world will turn into a better place. If it is true that He created us in His likeness, then I am here searching for Him not in religion, not in theology, not in the vast expanse of universe above me, but in the people around me.

So right now, it is my version of religion, built on kindness, selfless love, compassion and respect for human life that I am trying to instill in Madhu. Perhaps I might be a hypocrite still, in not practising totally what I preach, but someday I hope to get there.

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