The importance of respect

Raising your children in a different culture is a challenge in so many ways. As Indian immigrants living in the US, many of us struggle to teach our kids to speak our language, learn about religious practices and cultural values. For me, this challenge is amplified because my kids were not only born in the US, but they are also biologically half-American. As my husband is American (of European descent), Indian culture is only half their heritage. In some ways, it makes it easier for my kids because my husband and I understand that their identity is half-Indian, half-American. First-generation Indian Americans probably have a tougher time convincing their fully Indian parents that the American culture is also their heritage because they were born here.

Of all the things that we teach our kids in India, the one that is close to my heart is Respect. Growing up in India, I was taught to respect so many things around me. Firstly, to respect our parents for all that they do for us. Hinduism equates parents with God itself. Then to respect those elder to us, because wisdom comes with age. Yes, even those only a year or two older in India are addressed with respect. Everyone calls older people anna or akka (elder brother or sister) or auntie or uncle. No one older to you is ever addressed by their first name. We are also taught that special respect is due to teachers who go beyond their call of duty to teach us everything. Gurus or teachers are placed even higher than parents. Besides these, we were also taught to respect inanimate things like food, books, gadgets, the environment and pretty much everything around us for its contribution to our life. We are not allowed to waste food, touch our books with our feet, and once a year we worship during Auydha pooja – we worship all the inanimate objects (from cars to computers) that help us in our every day life.

The differences stemming from the collectivist philosophies of the East and the more individualistic ones of the West means that the emphasis for respect in the US is the individual. Here, children are taught to respect individuals no matter how big or small. Although completely commendable, this practice seems to have diluted to mean respecting just oneself. In the quest to teach children to respect everyone equally, the special respects due to a person because of their age, education, or experience is lost.  Of course, inanimate things are never considered deserving of respect in this culture.

When I was a graduate student here, I had to work with a physiotherapist to help ease my heel pain. The young man grabbed a couple of tall books (maybe they were phone books like the yellow pages) and asked me to stand on top of it. I was appalled! To me books, paper etc = knowledge = God. You do not touch them with your feet, let alone step on it! When I hesitated, the physiotherapist was confused. He had no idea what my problem was and I had to launch into a long explanation about it.

Today, I struggle to teach these concepts of respect to my American children. Living in India for a few years made a big difference because I had societal support in India. Everywhere they went in India, they were expected to address elders with respect. Everyone told them not to waste food and to respect their books and other things.  But, now that we are back here, I am alone in my efforts again and I worry that my children will forget those ways.

The hardest of these to teach American children is to not waste food. America is filled with an excess of food. Processed food is cheap and plentiful.  Kids in America do not think twice about wasting food. A few months ago, I saw a family get out of their car and throw half-eaten fast food into the trash nearby. There was a little boy, about 10 years old, who opened a bottle of “Simply Orange” orange juice, took a sip, replaced the cap and then threw it in the trash. One sip was all he took of the nearly 20 oz bottle! No matter how much I teach them otherwise, my children are constantly exposed to this culture of waste. Most American kids cannot wrap their heads around the fact that there are people in developing countries who do not get three square meals a day. Wasting food really upsets me because I myself have experienced what it feels like to not be able to afford food.

In the end, all I can do is to keep telling my kids about these things and hope that it will seep into their minds over time. My husband tells me that things were not so bad when he was young and that these values were also a part of the American culture some time ago. I believe that is true because of the compliments that I get from other American parents on the respectful behavior of my kids. Every time I go to a parent-teacher conference, the teachers never forget to tell me that both my kids are extremely respectful. It gives me hope and makes me proud. I guess we (my husband and I) must be doing something right after all.

“Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of yours.” – Dave Willis

-AB

 

 

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How my Kindle saved my mind

I promised myself six moths ago that once I had settled down in the US, I would try to wean myself off my sleeping pill… again. Six years ago, I was prescribed a popular sleeping pill when I was suffering from acute carpel tunnel syndrome. Soon after I fell asleep, my hands would cramp, hurt like hell, and invariably disrupt my sleep. After several medical interventions the carpel tunnel was solved by surgery. I had carpel tunnel release surgery in both hands and it was the only thing that finally fixed it. The pain stopped on the day of the surgery six years ago and never returned. Unfortunately, the sleeping pill stuck with me. Having been an insomniac all my life, prescribing a notoriously addictive sleeping pill to me was like writing a prescription for alcohol and handing it to an alcoholic. Since then I have tried to wean myself off the medicine twice. The first time, I almost succeeded and then got pulled back, probably because I wanted just “one” more night of good sleep. The second attempt was so half-hearted that it is not even worth mentioning. So, I was hoping the third time will be a charm. When I set myself this goal half a year ago, I only wanted to do it because I was ashamed to be addicted to sleeping pills. This is such vague motivation that I doubt I would have gone very far with it . Now I have developed some real motivation to stop taking it. I started having some real troubling side-effects from it.

I realized that I have trouble remembering events that happen after I take the sleeping pill for the night. Initially it was off and on, but now it occurs all the time. The first indication that something was off was when I would sit down to watch an episode of a show on TV and the DVR would tell me that I had already watched it. I would watch it again and still not recall having watched it previously. I brushed it aside thinking maybe my husband watched it and that’s why it was marked “watched”.

Then my husband started telling me I was repeating myself – that I had already told him something the night before. But to me it was the first time I was saying it. I had such a hard time believing this because I have a really good memory. So much so, that I always thought of my good memory as more of a curse than as a gift. I always remember all the times I was hurt, what people said to hurt me, word by word. Its hard to forgive when you genuinely cannot forget! To top it off, it is a generally accepted fact in my family that my memory is better than my husband’s and it was simply ridiculous to me that he remembered things that I had forgotten (ah! pride does goeth before a fall!).

Even with these signs, I never really believed it. It is amazing how our mind conspires to fool us when we we don’t want to believe something. What finally convinced me was my Kindle. I always read before bed and lately I have been doing it less and less.  I knew I was reading less but I never questioned why. Last month, I got Stephen King’s “Bazaar of Bad Dreams” on my Kindle. A King book, and that too a short story collection! I would have had it finished in days. And yet, I still have about 40% to go. The reason finally dawned on me. It was because I was reading the same story over and over again! I would read before bed and stop halfway into the story. The next day, I would pick it up and have no memory of reading it. So I would go back and start reading it again. I would finish it and remember if I read it during the day. But if it was at bedtime, the same thing happened again and again. If this had been a real book, I would have never realized it as I almost never use a bookmark. I usually memorize the page number and come back to it. But this was my Kindle, and it opened to where I left off. Still, I initially dismissed it thinking my son had been fooling around with the Kindle and had turned the pages! But too much evidence was piling up and I finally had to face the fact that this was really happening.

I must have been subconsciously aware of it, because when I scrutinize some of my behaviors I realize that I stopped doing some things after dinner (like watching some shows or reading or anything that required me to remember it the next day) . When I finally faced up to it, it scared the bejesus out of me. There is a reason why  Alzheimer’s is my worst nightmare! Now, I have some real motivation to get off that drug! Over the past couple of weeks I reduced my dosage from 10 mg to 8 mg. Its been a hard couple of weeks and I know its only going to get worse before it gets better. But I do know one thing for sure. This time, I will get successfully get of it because now I have something that scares me worse than a bad night’s sleep.

On a side note, I think it is interesting that both the first thing that alerted me and the final thing that convinced me of my problem were both modern technological inventions (the DVR and the Kindle). So, there is something to be said for modern technology after all.

-AB

 

Keep calm and live life

Nearly a year ago, I downloaded a meditation app on my phone called “Calm”. I used the free version off and on for most of last year. It had nature sounds, scenes, and a series of guided meditation sessions called “7 days of calm”. The sessions introduced different practices of mindfulness meditation; from body scans to progressive relaxation for sleep. Around that time, I also downloaded several other meditation and relaxation apps mainly with the goal of controlling stress and helping me sleep better. But I eventually deleted all of them except Calm. A big plus point with Calm is the voice of the narrator who guides the meditation. The woman has an incredibly calm voice that is instantly relaxing and has done a great job narrating the guided sessions at a slow and even pace. I have deleted some of the other apps just because I couldn’t stand the voice that was used! The narration is also very intuitive and provides just enough instruction so you know what to do.

In January of this year, I decided that meditating regularly was going to be my resolution for this year. One afternoon on a whim I paid the subscription for the full app for the whole year ($40). It is more than I would have liked to spend but because it is a subscription, new content is added every month.

Now a month later, I feel that the $40 per year investment for my mental health was totally worth it. The daily sessions last between 10-12 minutes and that’s all it takes to significantly lower my stress levels. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure that it was helping me. Then I noted an increase in stress, irritation, and anger on the days I didn’t meditate. It became worse if I missed sessions for a couple of days in a row. I believe that a person can change only when they decide that they are going to change. For change to occur you need a trigger. If I didn’t benefit by the meditation, I wouldn’t have started to consciously make time for it. Initially, I would remember to meditate only after the kids get home from school (my guess is that’s when I need that extra patience and calm). But I found it so much harder to meditate for even 10 minutes when the kids are at home. Even if I told them that I was going to meditate and would like not to be disturbed for 10 minutes, they would decide that something was too urgent to wait 8 more minutes and would always interrupt me. So it took me a few days to realize that I needed to move my meditation time to earlier in the day – before the kids came home.

Nowadays, meditation is the first thing I do after the kids leave for school. Today, I celebrate 10 continuous days of meditation! So far, its biggest impact on me has been from the sessions that focus on “non-reactivity”. Increasingly, I find myself capable of realizing it when something upsets me and stepping away from it. I am learning to not react to such situations and instead, take the time to think about it and realize its not such a big deal after all. I am willing to wager that my cortisol levels are lower than they used to be. I can just feel calmness flood over me whenever I am able to do that.

There has been a wonderful side affect to this app. Back when I was meditating at the end of the day, I would sit and do it with my kids lying nearby reading. Soon, they became drawn to it and started meditating with me. I noticed that sometimes my son would be listening to it and fall asleep much faster than usual. My daughter says that it helps her to shut down at the end of the day and fall asleep. So, now I share my app with her. She takes it to bed with her (there are special sessions that guide you to sleep) and falls asleep listening to it.

If you are interested in really getting into meditation, I highly recommend “Calm”. Their website features also some freebies that are worth checking out. So, keep calm and live life.

-AB

 

Born again Love

 

My Dearest,

I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with you. But, in love I fell and now there is no turning back – forever. I fell in love with you only a few years ago, although, I have known you for most of my life. I heard about you even as a child, interesting tales about the things that you did, but they never affected me the way they affect me now. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I even disliked you! I felt you weren’t as perfect as everyone claimed. I could not understand your actions. I felt you were partial, unfair, and dare I say it? Yes, I thought you were unethical! I compared you with other men and found you wanting. You did not seem deserving of my love or devotion. I saw your mischievous smile as the arrogant smirk of a know-it-all.

In my twenties and most of my thirties, I was indifferent to you. I never really thought about you much. It was like my life had nothing to do with you. I thought that we completely lost touch. Now, I know that wasn’t true. I had pulled away from you, but you never gave up on me. You always had your eyes on me. You didn’t push, you didn’t force, but you stayed there, waiting, knowing, completely confident, that I will eventually realize that I can’t live without you. You waited all the while, smiling your know-it-all smirk. Only now I realize that if you had abandoned me, I would have never survived.

Then a few years ago, you decided that it was time. You reached out to me in an almost passive way. I don’t know how you did it, but you slowly wormed your way into my heart. You made me see you clearly for the first time and you lit a spark in me. A hunger to know you and find out everything about you. I turned to every resource I had, I spoke to people who knew you and I sought out those interesting tales from your childhood. Finally, I was able to see your actions in a whole new light. What I had seen as partial, unfair, and unethical finally made sense to me. Viewing it with older and wiser eyes, I understood the reasons behind your behavior; that they were driven by a pure sense of ethics, unmeasurable love, and amazing grace. That spark that you lit in me is now a raging bonfire that can never be put out. It keeps me warm on the coldest nights and makes my whole world brighter every day.

These days, I find myself day dreaming about you. My heart sings whenever I recall your mischievous smile. It no longer seems like an arrogant smirk to me. For now, I understand the language that you speak with your eyes and that smile. I imagine running my fingers through your dark curly hair, gazing into your kind eyes, and resting my head on your broad majestic shoulders.  But most of all, I come running to you when my heart is heavy; I lie on your lap, pour out my grievances and tears, and wait for you to tell me what to do. How many times have I fallen asleep like that? And you have just sat there, while I slept on your lap, watching over me, even though you had a million other things to do. You stroked my hair and my troubles dispersed away with every stroke.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without you and all that matters is that I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. I have a picture of you in almost every room of my house. Wherever I spend significant time, I want my eyes to fall on you. I have a photo of you on my bedside as well, so that your face is the last thing I see before I fall asleep and the first thing I see upon waking. Even right here, next to me, on my desk I have a picture of you. One from your childhood, of that time you were dancing, on top of Kaliya, imprinting your lotus feet on his head and subduing him to save the people you love.

I am never alone, now that you live in my heart. Thank you for saving me. I love you.

-AB

This post was written for the “Write a Love Letter” campaign for The Chennai Bloggers Club

 

 

 

The to-do list: a small piece of paper that weighs a ton

It has been a long break since my last post. I have fallen victim to the fast-paced American lifestyle. Of the three countries that I have lived in during my lifetime (India, Australia, and USA), America has the fastest pace. It is one of the things I don’t like about living here. When I am here, twenty-four hours is never enough in a day. There is always something to be done. The laundry, the dishes, cleaning, outside errands to the grocery store, the post office, doctor’s/dentist/vet appointments, homework, cooking and it goes on and on. My life is a never ending list of things to do. Honestly, I don’t know how mothers that work outside the home do it. I can barely hold it all together while working from home.

I am always multitasking, even though I know that multitasking doesn’t really get help in getting anything accomplished faster. A couple of days ago, when I sat down to help the kids with their homework, I quickly looked around to see what else I can do while helping them. It made me realize what a chronic multitasker I have become. I never watch TV just to watch TV. If I am not folding laundry or chopping vegetables while I am watching TV, I feel like I am wasting time. Sometimes I combine watching TV with my meditative coloring, as if that will help me wind down more in half the time! Lately I have been pulling out some kind of work to do while waiting at places (doctor’s offices and such) instead of my kindle to just read. In fact, I haven’t read a book since the start of the year and that made me realize that I really need to do something to slow down the hectic pace of my life.

It has been six months since I moved to the US and things have finally settled down enough for me to bring some order into my life with a proper routine. So I sat down yesterday to break down my day-to-day work into easier chunks. After assigning the first half of the day to writing work and the second half to household chores, I found that the hardest thing for me to schedule was “me” time. I need 90 minutes of me time everyday for my physical and mental health: 40 minutes for exercise, 20 minutes for meditation and 30 minutes for winding down. I wish I could set aside another 30 minutes everyday to read but unfortunately, I have to alternate reading, watching TV, and art during my winding down time.

Even as I write this, I feel the weight of the dozen other things that I have to do today. But, I have decided to challenge myself by trying to write 500 words everyday and I shall start that today, here.

Sample to-do list:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Writing
  4. Cooking
  5. Studying & reading with the kids
  6. Household chores
  7. Outside errands
  8. Winding down

This is the bare-bones list. It gets heavier but never really lighter unless I don’t have outside errands. But at the end of the day there is no greater feeling of accomplishment than a fully crossed out to-do list!

-AB

 

 

 

A post for Carl Jung

Just before I woke up this morning, I had a vivid dream. I was on a beach with my mom and I was asking her help with a problem that was bothering me. She gave me the perfect advice that solved the problem and I woke up. My head was turned to the side where she would have been sitting and my hand was reaching out to her. I was surprised that she wasn’t actually there, (she is still in India) and I realized that I had a solution for a problem that I hadn’t even be consciously analyzing. So it got me thinking about how my dreams help with my mental housekeeping all the time.

This isn’t the first time that I have found solutions to my real-life problems in my dreams. Many a times I have woken up with solutions to problems that I have been actively working on and to those that I wasn’t really thinking about. The ones that always fascinate me is when I wake up KNOWING the exact place where a lost item that I had been searching for was hiding. I recall a dream from a year or so ago.In this dream, I was wondering where something was and thinking about the possible places it might be. I considered each possibility and eliminated them one by one until only one remained. I woke up and went and looked at that place and found it was exactly there as I had dreamed. The item was something I had been searching for days. It was eerie and though it had an air of the paranormal, I knew it was just my mind harnessing bits of information from different parts of my memory and putting two and two together to come up with the logical solution.

My husband always complains that he doesn’t have enough dreams or that he doesn’t remember them on waking. I dream every night and remember most of them upon waking. It is such a routine occurrence that most days I don’t give it a second thought. However, a majority of my dreams are borderline nightmares. Pleasant dreams are very rare. I am not talking about intense nightmares that cause night terrors, but more like ones that mainly deal with my fear of something and many a times I am just glad to wake up. My husband often tells me to “take charge” in these dreams and realize that I am dreaming and “direct” my dreams the way I want. I have tried to do that and I have gotten as far as realizing that I am dreaming but I have never been able to direct the course of the dream. Sometimes the fear goes away on the realization, other times I just feel like I have to wait it out.

I have patterns/themes to these dreams that manifest in recurring nightmares. When I was an adolescent, I frequently had nightmares of standing atop something high and being on the verge of falling. Another common nightmare is one in which my chemistry teacher from high school derides me (teachers really need to consider that they can  traumatize adolescents with their words, the effects are very far-reaching). Many of my nightmares have an educational theme to them; I attribute it to my academic struggles in high school. Although I was a straight-A student in college, I was pretty much at the bottom of the class in high school. I often have a nightmare in which I am told that I have to go back to high school to redo my last two years in order for my Master’s degrees to be valid!  Another educational-themed nightmare which really scares me (during the dream) is having to take an exam for a class I never attended. Almost always this dream involves a language class in Tamil. Recently I had this version of  dream with a math class (I blame common core math). Obviously, I have a huge fear of failure in the academic realm.

A few months before I left India, I had a recurring nightmare in which I had come to the US and had lost touch with all my friends in India. In this dream, I had friends in India who think I don’t care for them anymore, that I have forgotten them. Interestingly, after coming here I don’t get that dream anymore. My husband, when he remembers his dreams, talks about crashing his car. I might have had that kind of dream once or twice but it is not a predominant pattern.

My real nightmares, the ones that leave me feeling upset for hours after waking are the so-called pleasant dreams. In those dreams, I am living the perfect life, the one in which I never faced the turning points in life that took me in a direction I hadn’t planned. In these dreams, I am loving my life and I wake up and feel incredibly disappointed that it was just a dream and it wasn’t real. Then I feel upset about the disappointment, because it means that somewhere deep in my mind I  have regrets. Yet another type of dream is one that leaves me frustrated. These are ones in which I have brilliant insights that I don’t recall in the morning. Sometimes I think of amazing story plots that disappear like early morning fog. I have tried to remedy these in two ways. I have tried keeping a notepad next to my bed and writing down stuff either in the middle of the night or immediately upon waking. This has never helped for I cannot make any sense of my notes when I look at them at in the morning. Sometimes, I realize that I am dreaming and I instruct myself to hold on to that brilliant idea. This has a better rate of success. I sometimes remember bits and pieces. I do wonder if the reason I don’t remember these dreams is because I am not supposed to.

I think I will finish up this post with the best dream I have ever had. It was roughly two years ago. In this dream I was lying down listening to music from Lord Krishna’s flute. Someone came up to me and told me to wake up. I replied that I would not wake up, not until Lord Krishna himself came and told me to do so. Next thing I know, HE was next to me addressing me by my name and whispering in my ear to wake up. I woke up and my eyes fell on the picture that hangs in my bedroom in India depicting Lord Krishna playing his flute. I believe that there was something truly supernatural about this dream. Even now I draw strength from it.

What do you dream of?

-AB

The pissing evil

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance. Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes.

The word “diabetes” has always struck terror in my heart. When I was growing up, my mother would always talk about how her grandfather died of it. To her, it was always a big demon. When I was 20, my mother was diagnosed with it. She was 42. Although, she always thought of it as a horrible disease, she didn’t really foresee that she would get it. Both her parents didn’t have it. For her it was a total shock, it just came out of the blue and knocked her off her feet. It took her more than a year to come to terms with the diagnosis. Witnessing her struggle with the diagnosis, it became this huge enemy in my mind. Since then I started to read and learn everything about the disease- knowledge is power after all.

Even with good control, my mother became insulin-dependent after several years. Ten years ago, at the age of 60, my dad became a diabetic. He took his diagnosis in stride, with his never die attitude. Still, as years marched on, the disease wore down his body as well as his optimism and sometimes overpowered him. He is not insulin-dependent, although he had to take insulin for a couple of months when some medication had the side effect of high blood sugar. Currently, both my parents have their blood sugars under control and continue to battle this demon.

When I was pregnant with my first child, the doctors worried that I would get gestational diabetes because I was already insulin resistant. I followed a very strict diet and checked my sugars seven times a day. I managed to deliver my daughter without succumbing to gestational diabetes.  When I became pregnant with my son, I went on a similar diet. In the last trimester, even with the strict diet, I saw the sugars climb up. It got to a point where I just couldn’t eat any differently to get it under control. I had to take insulin injections during the last three weeks of my pregnancy. Research shows that those who get gestational diabetes almost always develop type II diabetes within five years of the pregnancy. I was determined that I would not become part of that statistic. I lasted six and a half years.

The trouble with such research statistics is that numbers are black and white, while biology isn’t. Those numbers are not hard facts; they are just estimates. Like the estimate that if both your parents are diabetic, you have a one in two chance of becoming one yourself. But when they say a one in two chance, it isn’t like a flip of a coin. It is not mean that if my parents had eight kids, four of them will become diabetic. In reality all eight kids probably get various amounts of susceptibility, some more than others. With the decks stacked against me genetically, I could only exercise control over my lifestyle to delay the inevitable onset.

Every other Indian is diabetic these days. Chennai is the diabetic capital of the world. With all this background, there must have been some part of me that KNEW that I too will be a diabetic some day. I just hoped it will be after 60 like my dad. It is incredibly upsetting to me that even with monitoring my health for so many years, the demon caught up to be even before he caught my mother. I never expected to be diagnosed at 39. My mother’s parents were both diagnosed last year. My grandmother is 78 and my grandfather was 84. I am the youngest in my family to be diagnosed with this disease.

Coming to terms with a diagnosis that changes your lifestyle completely is very much like grief. I grieve for the life I lived before when I didn’t have to worry overly about what I ate and when. That life is now gone. The five stages of grief are denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. My mother went through a lot of denial because she was had no inkling of her health status. I thought that I didn’t waste much time in denial, but it must have been there because I did not want to admit to anyone that I was now diabetic. I was overwhelmed with isolation and depression. It didn’t help that I already felt isolated because of my move to the US. But mostly I felt guilty. So much guilt that I had let this happen. So much shame and anger, mostly directed inward. Then I wallowed in self-pity. One night, I was overwhelmed with fear; fear of eating. I felt panicky that no matter what I ate, I would not be able to control this. I wanted to release my emotions by writing a post about it, but I was not ready then. I did not want anyone to know my failure to prevent this. At this stage, I started reading more about emotional responses to the diagnosis. Website after website told me to let go of the guilt and the fear. I prayed for help to do just that.

Yesterday, I forgot to put my protein bar in my purse on my way out. When I started feeling hypoglycemic and searched for the bar, it wasn’t there. I know the dangers of hypoglycemia. Besides, the danger, it leaves me tired, makes me binge eat and sometimes leaves behind a headache. Thankfully, I had emergency glucose tablets. I have never had those before but they did an incredible job of rescuing me. I then bought a box of peanuts and couldn’t stop myself from eating three servings instead of one. Later, when I was waiting to pick up my kids at the bus stop, I admitted to a new friend that I am a diabetic. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened. I guess I was starting to come to terms with it.

Today, something happened that pushed me over the line into acceptance. I found out that my daughter’s new best friend, a fellow fifth-grader, is a type I diabetic. It shocked me when the child chose a single slice of brown bread as an after-school snack because “it was the only thing in the house that was below 5 carbs.” Now I feel ashamed again, but this time for all the drama, the self-pity and the depression. How incredibly blessed I am that I got to live till 39 years without this disease! That child is only ten.

I know that this epiphany does not mean that the struggle is over or that I will always be fine with it. I have seen how my parents still have days when they just want to surrender to it all. I know I will have my down days. But for now, I have made my peace with it. And I write this to remind me on those black days to count my blessings and be grateful.

By the way if you are wondering about the title of this post, it refers to the etymology of the word “diabetes”. It is an old common name for diabetes, derived from the symptom of excessive urination.

-AB

Life = Change

I haven’t blogged in about six weeks. In those six weeks, I relocated from India to northwest USA.

I unboxed more than a dozen boxes and nine suitcases of items and put them away. During this process I tidied up and re-tidied up every room in my apartment at least 3 times, maybe more. I built up an entire kitchen from a couple of pans and plates to a fully stocked one with a toaster, a rice cooker, a mixer, an electric kettle, several pots and pans, cutlery, Tupperware, a cutting board, and knives. I bought a dozen jars and filled them with dhals, rice, nuts, and spices and turned it into a workable Indian kitchen. Also, I bought several pieces of furniture on craigslist and at Ikea and furnished our apartment.

I made appointments with doctors and got my children up-to-date on their vaccinations. I had them enrolled in school. I shopped for all their school supplies. I searched and found the perfect owl backpack that my daughter wanted and convinced my son to go with a dinosaur backpack instead of a puppy one that wasn’t available. I bought them warmer clothes, socks and shoes. I went through aisles of clothing to find a jacket for my daughter that wasn’t pink. Along with my husband, we got the children on a schedule of chores and laid down rules about screen-free Mondays and Wednesdays. We took the kids to the playground, the pool, and the library. As promised, we bought a hand-tamed parakeet for my daughter and a puppy for my son.

About two weeks after my move, I organized and conducted a Seemantham (religious ceremony akin to a baby shower) for my sister-in-law and my brother. It was a pain to shop for, even though my mother had bought most of the items and packed them for me. I cooked about six dishes for it and still have leftovers from it! I once again experienced the pain of separation as my brother and his wife left for the east coast.

I had my immigration physical and spent an hour with my doctor discussing my health. He mentioned that I seemed to have a lot on my plate. No kidding! I had five vials of blood drawn for various tests. I had a chest x-ray taken to prove that I don’t have tuberculosis.

I reacquainted myself with driving on the right side of the road. I got into the habit of checking the weather forecast before choosing what to wear for the day. I started wearing socks all the time while at home. I am re-training myself to shop for a whole week of groceries without forgetting something, to go to the correct side of the car, and to walk on the right side of corridors and pavements. It will take me more time to guess the time of the evening without a watch (the sun sets around 6 pm in India and only at 9 pm here).

I did all this under a cloud of jet lag, insomnia, and depression. The jet lag was gone within a week. The depression just got worse. Sometimes I miss India so much that it feels like a physical ache in my heart. I hate shopping and the overdose of shopping has not helped with my mood. I am now slowly working my way out of that depression back to my normal self by telling myself that I will accept life as Lord Krishna gives it to me.

My home office is finally set up. I have a large, sturdy desk in front of a window, with a nice view of the street outside and a comfortable chair. Now, I can get back to writing.

-AB

Keep Calm and Relocate

I am relocating to another residence for the 19th time in my life. Apparently, this is way higher than average  (the average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime). Of these 19 times, this is my fifth international move. I moved to Australia when I was 20. In my first year there I moved five times before I found my home away from home in an international dorm. It was a good thing that I was literally living out of my suitcase at that time. It made the actual moves easier. A year into my Master’s degree in Australia, I suffered from a bout of major depression. It was the most crippling time in my life and it mad me “grow up” in a matter of months.

One day at 4 am (it was also the start of my sleeping problems), my self-preservation instincts kicked in and I made up my mind to reach out for help. At 8 am, I went to the student medical center at the university and sought professional help. I was referred to young female counselor, probably in her late 20s or early 30s. For the sake of this post, I will call her Anna.

Anna changed my life. She pulled me out from a deep pit of depression and taught me coping skills and strategies that I still use today. I remember a counseling session with Anna: me sitting on a comfortable rocking recliner, hugging a sofa cushion to my chest, and struggling not to breakdown into tears. I was filled with self-loathing and told her how much I hated myself for not being mentally strong enough to cope with life. She looked shocked and told me that I was being too hard on myself. She pointed out that I had moved five times in the past year and how that alone was enough stress to break most people down. Add to that I was only 20 and in a foreign country where I did not know anyone. She pulled out a fancy psychology textbook and showed me that the stress of moving is really high up in the list of stressful life events. Some studies say that the only life stressors that are worse are death of a loved one or a divorce. She gave me the book and asked me to read it and use the self-evaluation tool at the end of the book to calculate for myself how much stress I might be under. I remain eternally indebted to Anna, for if not for her I would not have finished my degree in Australia. With her help, I learned to recognize how I am when I am stressed and to give myself a break.

The stress of the forthcoming move has somewhat paralyzed me over the last month. It’s the reason for the big gap in my blog entries. With this move, I also worry about making the transition smooth and easy for my children. I spend a little time every other day talking to them about understanding their anxiety, preparing them for an inevitable culture shock, reiterating that I am there for them to talk, and to help them to cope with it. It helped that we watched “Inside Out” and my daughter told me that she read somewhere that “moving makes you grow up fast”. I was astonished but happy that she realized that a lot earlier in life than I did.

I leave for the US in two weeks time and most of the things on my to do list are crossed off. I find myself racking my brain for anything that I might have missed. I realized that at moments of stress like this, I withdraw into myself and become very non-sociable. So if you feel like I have disappeared off the face of this earth, know that it is just me bracing myself for this next big change in my life.

-AB

Lord of the World

Lord Jagannathan

Lord of the World: Lord Jagannatha

I spent the last week in Puri, Odisha. My main objective: visiting Lord Puri Jagannathan (Lord of the World). I am not much of a traveler but I really enjoyed this trip… even with my busted knee.

These are the top five things I loved about Puri: i.e. places you should check out if you go there.

1. Lord Jagannathan Temple: Beautiful architecture and the cutest deity. Lord Jagannathan, unlike most Hindu deities, is not made of stone. He is made of wood. He is modeled after a tribal idol with beautiful big eyes, a smiling mouth and a small disproportionate body. In Puri, He is accompanied by his brother Balaraman and sister Subhadra. The temple architecture is very different from the Chola architecture seen in South India. The best part is, you can get really up close to the deity. They don’t stop you a mile away like they do in Tirupathi. If you plan to visit, please read up about the history of the temple and Lord Jagannatha. It is a beautiful story. The temple also has one of the largest kitchens in the world and feeds thousands of people with its prasad.

2. Sakchi Gopal Temple: Although we visited various other bigger temples, this little one captured my heart. The simple reason: Its a Krishna temple. Lord Krishna in all his glorious dark skin and beautiful smile playing his flute! The little story behind the temple of how Lord Krishna came to bear witness to a poor but righteous man so that he may marry the woman he loved is also very sweet. There is also a little sannidhi for Lord Ram just outside the temple. When I came out of the temple and walked a hundred yards or so, I came upon this cute little park. The centerpiece of the park was a diaroma of Krishna’s Rasa-Leela:  life size figures featuring Lord Krishna with Radha (playing the flute of course) surrounded by His Gopis. Unfortunately, the park was closed but I was able to get some photos from the outside.

3. Dolphin sighting at Chillika lake: We were not in the right time of the year to observe the migratory birds at the lake. But we did see about 4-5 dolphins swimming and frolicking. It was an exciting sight and I barely had any time to get any good pictures. However, it was well worth the two hour boat ride during with my kids drove me crazy with their fighting.

4.The Konark Sun temple: A world heritage site and rightly so. Its beautiful and breathtaking to imagine how it was built in a span of 12 years in the 13th century. Such intricate stone sculpting. Shopping in the little shops outside the temple was a lot of fun.

5. The sea breeze and the people: Puri is set on the coast like Chennai and that made me feel very much at home. The Bay of Bengal is the same, but the temps were lower than Chennai and so was the humidity. I loved walking along the beach road and shopping. The people were kind and friendly and found us pretty exotic. They are more familiar with Telugu people and Tamil was quite alien to them. The only frame of reference our boat driver had to us was the IPL! He was excited to meet people who came from Chennai, the land of the Super Kings!

I have lived in 3 different countries, but I am not much of a traveler. I prefer to do my traveling through a book while curled up on a comfortable couch. However, this trip gave me hope that I might be able motivate myself to see a few other places. One place I definitely want to visit in India is Mathura: the land of Lord Krishna. One factor that limited my traveling within India was language. I was always intimidated by places where I might need to speak Hindi. To my surprise, my diminutive Hindi skills were more than enough in Puri, especially after I got over my initial fear of trying to speak the language. I do realize my grammar must have been terrible, but oh well, you do what you need to survive.

Here are the top five things I didn’t like in Puri: aka things you should watch out for

1. Temple “guides” and others who are waiting to rip you off: I have never visited temples where they expect you to “donate” money at every single stage of the seva process. Charlatans hover around the temple in hoards and expect you to pay them for no reason. It was very annoying and also a little sad. The worst offenders were at the Sakchi Gopal temple.

2. Dearth of vegetarian food: Apparently the people of Odisha love their meat and sea food. Even with a huge Hindu temple in its midst, it was quite hard to find good pure vegetarian food. Tip: Check out ISKON for veggie food.

3. Chappathis: Ok, this is just me. Rotis/chappathis are my least favorite food, but was the only thing that was commonly available. Within four days I was craving idlis and dosas!

4. Language difficulties: They want you to talk in Hindi or at least Telugu. The hardest part is when they quote prices in Hindi or Oriya.

5. My bad knee: My knee injury has not healed fully and I had to use a walking stick everywhere. Now that I am back home, I am following a rigorous rehab program to break the inflammation cycle and get it back to normal. But it sure made things difficult while I was there. Note to self: Ensure you are physically fit before travel.

All in all, the good outweighed the bad and that’s all you can ever ask for.

Jai Jaganatha!

-AB