The song of a single mom: The Colour Pink

Ik likes the colour pink. Now I know that in today’s gender sensitive world, where real men also sometimes wear pink and not just the metrosexuals and men who like other men, it is not necessarily a bad thing. But having grown up in the seventies, when real men prided themselves in smoking Charminar cigarettes without filters and could not be seen within a million miles of the colour pink, vestiges of clearly drawn gender lines still remain in my politically correct sanitized mind.  In all honesty, his declaration threw me off a little. What would that mean, knowing what we know today about homosexuality not being a choice? Does it mean he is predisposed to liking his gender?

Or did I have too much junk information in my brain which I was using to over analyse the situation? Junk research fills up the cyberspace now.  Men apparently are more attracted to the length of a woman’s arms rather than her face or cleavage. In a world where poverty reigns supreme, this is where we choose to allocate our resources!!!

My gay friends assured me I was probably thinking too much. Pink is a pretty colour and a child was attracted to it and would I please stop loading my brain with useless information? I desisted from analysing the situation further, but cracked opened my mind’s door to allow for the possibility that one day I might have to be open the door wider.

Ik me and my father were watching television on day when along came an advertisement for Barbie dolls. All pink and pretty. With two little pretty girls also pink and pretty. Ik was clearly attracted. His excitement shining through, he told me, Mamma, dolly. I told him, “do you want to play with dollies?”. He seemed non-committal, trying to gauge whether I approved. All my years of gender training notwithstanding, I heard myself saying, “but girlies play with dollies!!” Ik immediately changed his tune. “No I don’t want to play with dollies”.

Thankfully conscious self-training  took over before Ik stopped nodding his head. Of course its ok to play with dollies. Grown men play with action figures all the time. Why would Ik stop himself from just because these ones were pink and blond? Perpetuating stereotypes needed to stop and what better place to start than with one’s own child?

“Do you like playing with dollies, Ik?” Sensing approval, the child’s face lit up. He looked at me with puppy dog eyes, yearning approval. My heart melted into his smile. “Of course you can play with dollies Ik. And there is a slight probability you might be gay, but I am ok with that!!”

I was talking aloud to myself, really. But my 5-year-old had his own take away from that. Jumping up and down, he told my father, “grandpa, I am going to play with dollies and I will be gay and my mom said its ok”.  My father visibly reeled. 70 years of political incorrectness behind him, he was unable to bring in an element of jest in his voice when he told my son, “Don’t say that. The police will come and take you away”.

Until recently, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in India as per laws laid down in the nineteenth century. It has existed in all forms in our society since times immemorial, but we chose to turn a blind eye to the obvious and castigated people for being different.  Section 377, which penalized sexual activity “against the order of nature”,  was finally repealed in  2009, much to the joy of gender activists and  the chagrin of the moral police.

My father never cared too much for political correctness, but he cared for correctness. Factual, that is. I gently corrected him. Section 377 has been repealed. He understood and stepped back to allow Ik to dance into the blurred gender lines.

Posted in dating, Delhi, family, gay, love, moral brigade, pink, section 377, society, starting over in Delhi, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Me, Mine.

Ik   was, meanwhile growing up without a father. I don’t know if it is my imagination, but he has matured way beyond his years in the past few months. He has never asked for his dad, except one day when I had scolded him and he was crying uncontrollably saying he wanted to go to his dad. The new maid was unaware of the dynamics of the situation and as I hugged Ik tightly, my heart broke into a million little pieces.

Did I do the right thing in taking the child away from his father? Should I have borne everything out with a smile for the sake of my child? Are we becoming too intolerant as a generation? On last count by the law Ministry, there are apparently 55000 divorce cases pending across 200 family courts across the country. The Madras High Court has even come up with a weekend court to try cases for working couples. While one must salute the legal minds of the country for being so innovative, it is actually rather poignant that so many of us decide to give up so easily. Did our parents not face the similar problems? They did not even have counsellors to go to. Why is it that we have everything in the world we need and yet feel compelled to give up so easily?

Could it be that because our most of our parents were midnight’s children who grew up wanting so much that they valued each and every thing that they had? In striving to provide for us what their parents could not provide for them, dollops of comfort, could our parents have turned us into ingrates? Who are so used to having their way, the moment we encounter anything that is not utterly butterly Amul smooth, we give up instead of working through it?

Or is it only a question of choices? Are we so spoilt for the plethora of choices in front of us that we give up the minute we encounter a road block? Did our parents stick it out because they had no choice?

But were they genuinely happy? Or did it have to do mostly with appearances that had to be maintained for the sake of society?

Ultimately, however, in the deeply patriarchal society of pre and post liberalization India, it was mostly women who suffered silently in the name of maintaining status quo. A ford Foundation project that I had worked on in the mid nineties, about the reproductive rights of Muslim women in Mumbai gave me a first hand account of the torment that women endured. The mother of a friend quietly gave up on life when her doting husband started giving the glad eye to his student who he later married even before the embers on her funeral pyre died down. The glamour girl of the Indian film industry, Zeenat Aman, suffered in silence as her out of work actor husband permanently disfigured he face, standing by him till his last days.

But then again, perhaps, the winds of liberalization that came in the nineties in India, opened up the economy and minds at one go. Suddenly people realized suffering in silence was not such a cool thing to do.  Divorce suddenly stopped being a taboo word. While divorce rates are still at a low as compared to the United States, for instance,  it is rising and rising fast, mostly among the urban professionals.

We are all children of change, seeing our values, our beliefs, our culture being turned on their heads. Nothing that we had come to rely on, growing up as children, seem to be the same any more.  And it is these winds of change that take us down a tortuous road, where our emotional pendulum oscillates wildly between the old and the new, our past and our future, tradition and modernity.

We are so self poised, yet we have never been so unsure of ourselves. Are we doing the right thing? Or is this going to be the worst mistake of our lives? Would it be better to stick with what we knew or should be step into the uncertain future?

I rode a similar emotional rollercoaster when I decided to move out. While I was sure I would be much better off, I was petrified about the implication of the separation on Ik. I scoured the internet and self-help books for months before I moved out, but realized on the day of the move that no amount of self-help books would help me. I had to play it by the ear. Taking each day as it comes.

I wanted Ik to never feel disconnected from his father. And it is from those sentiments I called Professor X  to tell him that he could be in Ik’s life as much as he wanted. He was Ik’s father and nothing would change that. I wanted Ik to have an extremely healthy and close relationship with his dad. Just because he was with his mother and his parents did not get along, should not change the fact that Ik needed his father and his father would hopefully need him too.

Ik never ever mentioned his father, except once.Was he being mature? Did he understand things had changed? Did the little computer in his brain figure out that mommy would not be happy if he mentioned his dad too much? While I certainly did not want to give him that impression, as much as I would hate to admit it, most of us are, after all a little proprietary in our love. Did my five-year old son look through my soul  and uncover my deep dark secret?

Professor X, being a little challenged in the caring department, did not show up for a month. He was in Delhi, but ostensibly, could not find a six-hour time window to meet Ik. Which was all very good for me, because I got to be the sole object of Ik’s affection. Having been taught the virtues of sharing from almost the first day of my life, this was one thing I was glad was mine and only mine.

Posted in bringing up a child as a single mom, Delhi, family, love, new beginnings, single mom, starting over in Delhi | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Song of a Single Mom: A Date with Dating

“Handsome 27 year old, senior IT professional, IIT, IIM,  father senior government   officer, seeks beautiful slim English medium preferably working girl. Upamanyu  gotra.” I got this textbook case of an anachronistic text (also known in these parts of the world as a sms) one Sunday afternoon.

Now I receive texts a dime a dozen, mostly extolling the virtues of different real estate developments in and around Delhi. All of them, apparently are Spanish style villas surrounding by sylvan greens at throw away prices.  And all of them are only a two minutes walk from the artery of Delhi, Delhi’s joy and pride, the metro line.  How that is possible only God and the super competent town planners at the Town and Country Planners Organization would know, but that is what all real estate developers claim!!

I usually delete these messages even without a second look, having understood clearly that every place other than the one I live in is a Utopia with the best locations, miles of verdant greens, the best shopping experience ever with all ‘conveniences’ close by.

There are also texts telling me how to send bulk sms es and reach out to my ‘target audience’. Now right now I have several target audiences in my life. The HR Head who will give me a job, the guy I am hoping I will meet who will turn my monochromatic life into a Technicolor one and lately the magazine editors who I am hoping will publish some of my work, only because my friend A insists they are definitely read worthy by the general public.

Now I am not sure that the any one of these ‘targets’ would be happy to get a bulk text from me, so I let the delete button get those too. But the text about the handsome 27-year-old made me stop in my tracks a bit. I re read the entire text again.

As flattered as I felt to get a text from a 27-year-old, unfortunately the demographics were all wrong.  I mean I agree with the new age marketing gurus about mobile marketing being the next big thing in marketing, but really, isn’t  sending a text to advertise a boy of marriageable age  taking things a bit too far? The target audience was all screwed up for starters!!

So this is how young India is now choosing its partners? By sending random texts? Except, for the most cases,  young India still isn’t choosing its partners. It is still the family who chooses. North India has been rocked by a spate of honour killings in the past couple of months. Parents, uncles and grandparents even have killed girls and boys mercilessly just because they dared to marry outside of their caste or within the same ‘gotra’. Whether it is within, or without, the overriding  expectation that works in India is to conform.

The mention of the Gotra (which is a lineage assigned to a Hindu at birth), which is now a hot topic in India, took my thoughts  immediately to the khaps. The Khaps originally started as a  system of social administration and organization in what are now the states of  Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh eons ago.  Unfortunately, Khaps still exist today, even in metropolitan cities like Delhi, their sole purpose of existence being to hold ugly prejudices against others. Most of the honour killings in Northern India, which on last count were more than a killing a month are almost always associated with the khaps.

With political patronage, the power of the khaps continue unabated. Obviously, the power extended over the sender of the text as well, since the gotra was carefully mentioned. God forbid we end up marrying within our gotra, which originally referred to a family group who owned a particular pen of cows, the word gotra, literally meaning “cow –pen”. It is incredulous that in this day and age, when we have the recession to worry about, global warming to ponder on, price rises to shout angry slogans at, terrorist attacks to save our children’s lives from, we still worry about the gotras that we may marry into? What is the worst that could happen?  That we might just become the superpower everybody is scared of?

But I couldn’t let a misdirected anachronistic text take me away from my search of the Technicolor dream coat. I was single for most of married life. While we lived under the same roof, Professor X and I could not have a more different life. For the most part, we never did anything together, never had a hobby we shared, never went out for obscure foreign films that we both loved, never even had a conversation without trying to kill each other. I felt I was ready to mingle after so many years of being single.

But how? How would I meet people? I had no job now. I had no money to go out. I barely met my friends, choosing instead to spend most of my time at home. I asked my friends around who all shrugged  conveniently and told me they knew no one they could set me up with. But I could try, my friend A told me brightly. He knew someone who had found someone from Now while dating websites thrive in the West, we in India apparently do not believe in dating. We go straight to marriage. Hence the existence of names like,, and even a regional sounding

I almost couldn’t close my mouth for one whole second. He wanted me to go to find someone for myself? I never even looked at the matrimonial columns the first time around. And in my case, wouldn’t I have to look in, considering this was to be my second marriage. And moreover, I wasn’t ready for another marriage now, maybe dating, but definitely not marriage right now. As always, my verbose friend A had a ready answer. Well then you try And you can always date people you meet there.

I cackled for two whole minutes during which time I am sure A held the phone away from his ears. Someone actually thought of that? There actually exists a India must be the only place on earth where technology and traditions blend in so well together!

I decided to test the waters, enthused by the friend of a friend of A who found someone from Setting up my profile, being as honest as I possibly could, I decided to wait for responses.

Responses started trickling in. From the 45-year-old Bengali guy living with his parents looking for his soul mate who would also take care of his parents, from the 24-year-old professional earning INR 10,000 a month who double checked if I was indeed in HR, from the 34-year-old owner of a BPO who was looking for a partner in life and business.

Responding to no one, I decided to wait and watch. Maybe the right guy would be right around the corner. Maybe the next one to respond would be my perfect match. I could not give up hope. There had to be the perfect man waiting for me. The next response would take me over the moon.

It did. Take me over the moon. Definitely not to a place on earth I would have liked to be in. Because the next responder was a 65-year-old man. Who wanted immediate marriage. And someone to nurse him to health because he was also mildly arthritic and diabetic. While I applauded him for his honesty, this was the polar opposite of what I was looking for. The man was just a few years younger than my dad for heaven’s sake. I decided I had enough and deleted my profile.

The emails extolling the virtues of 50 plus dating thankfully go straight to my junk mail box without me having to do much. Now I know that 50 is the new 30, thanks to slightly over the hill icons like Madonna who hang on desperately to their youth and men young enough to be their children. I also know that I will get there someday, sooner rather than later, because once you cross your 30s, time seems to accelerate at the speed of light. But till I get there, the junk mail box is the right place for it.

Ultimately, between the strange “I want to friendship you” requests one gets on social networking sites and the immediate marriage proposal from a geriatric, I definitely choose the former. Maybe someday I will get a friend request with correct grammar. But till then, I need to stay a million cyber miles away from geriatric marriage proposals.

Posted in bringing up a child as a single mom, dating, Delhi, family, honour, honour killing, job, love, matrimonial sites, new beginnings, patriarchal society, second marriage, single mom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

The Song of a Single Mom: Thy hand, Great Patriarch!

My father came to live with me for some time. I am an only child and with my mother having passed away eight years ago, it is just my father and me who remain from my original family.

My grandfather, having contributed suitably to making India the world’s second most populated nation by presenting her with ten children, soon receded into the background and imposed upon the still narrow shoulders of a seventeen year old the extremely enviable task of providing for a family of twelve. Whether this early experience of taking on too much responsibility was the reason for my father turning out the way he is, or whether it was something else, I don’t know. But if there was someone who ‘knew it all’, it was my father. And no one else.

Not the politicians who ran the country. Not the doctors who treated him when he was ill on some rare occasion. Not the vegetable seller in the market who wanted to make a quick buck off of him. Not the Godman discoursing on the Geeta. Not the cricket commentators who said Sunny Gavaskar’s star was on the wane. And definitely not me.

Now, I know that there is probably a perfectly good socio-economic explanation to his being the ultimate ‘know-it-all’.  Add to that a background of a five thousand years of patriarchy and a dash of international politics …..that of displacement from the land of his forefathers, the erstwhile East Bengal.

But all of those explanations, I know, would fall short in understanding the man that my father is. He is caring, extremely responsible, a ruthless patriarch but mostly, a ‘Know-it-all’. It is his opinion which matters at the end of the day. Any one who possessed a different opinion, even after he bulldozed his opinion on them, would be immediately castigated as the person with “nothing between his ears” or a “hare brained” person.

I remember in the eighties, when as a teenager who could barely rebel under my father’s heavy handedness, I found an icon in John McEnroe. The eternal rebel. My father found out about it. I am guessing from the very subtle hints I left around my room by plastering it in John McEnroe posters. He came back home from office one day, tore off all my posters, (“This is not a paan shop”) and spent the rest of the evening and any free time I had that week why John McEnroe was a ‘subversive’  influence on young minds and why Ivan Lendl, the robotic tennis player who won all grand slam titles on a regular basis, was the one to follow, because he was a showcase of discipline and dedication which was essential for a young mind to grow into a “model citizen of India”. I once asked him if that meant I could try out some modelling (I was thin enough then and pretty enough), but he gave me such an angry “have you got nothing between your ears” look, I shamed myself into shutting up. I never did become an Ivan Lendl fan though, choosing to fill out a scrap-book on John McEnroe which I kept suitably hidden, taking it out to pray to St. John when I needed mental support to rebel against my father!!!

He was surprisingly accepting of Prof X, when I first expressed my desire to marry him. The soothing influence of my mother may have had something to do with that, but my father was calm and accepting. Now the adjective calm, for my father is sort of an oxymoron for those who know him, but I was glad, to for once see that side of my father.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would have never expected him to behave like the parents of young couples killed on a regular basis all over North India in the name of ‘honour killings’. I was shocked to read that the mother of a young woman, who dared to marry a boy outside of her caste, helped her husband in electrocuting her own daughter!! The hapless couples having brought shame to their families ‘honour’ are being murdered, in this day and age, the name of ‘honour killing’.

No, my father would never do that. He has already branded them as people who ‘know nothing’ of honour, family, or religion. And for once, just this once, I find myself agreeing whole heartedly with him.

Now, however, with my marriage breaking down, he is back to where he belongs. The patriarch with an unshakeable faith in his opinion. What he knew, what he understood, HAD to be the gospel truth. And nothing else mattered.

I know this was a huge shock to him. The marriage of his only child breaking down has been the bulldozer that has trampled his soul and spirit. But his reaction to this has been extreme. My “life altering mistake” has given him the fodder to say that I basically understood zilch about human beings and relationships and now I should completely adhere to what he says. And pray what may that be? I said with a tinge of sarcasm which escaped him.

Very seriously he told me, how now I must reconcile myself to living a life alone as a “single woman” “with my head held high in society”. How my only aim in life, going forward would be to raise my son. Not that I disagreed with the last part, but me the eternal hopeful can’t but help thinking that I will find love again and share my life with someone who would care for me. I tried mentioning it to him. What if I get married again?

He gave me a look which I can only describe as a lethal mixture of anger derision and irritation. This must have been the look Napoleon gave the Duke of Wellington when they finally came face to face at the battle of Waterloo. It is the look the losing side gives when they know their arsenal bag is all but empty while they are standing at the precipice of disaster.

“How can you even consider that?” he barked at me. After you proved to yourself and the world that you know nothing and understand nothing of human relationships”?   The only thing left for me to do is to raise my kid and look for a job. “But what if someone likes me? And I am still young, why do I have to go through life alone?” He snorted when I said I was still young, meaning that he considered me nothing but over the hill.

“You have to do it, because this is what society expects of you. To be a model citizen. To be a model mother” I had immediate flashbacks to when I was 18 and he would give me the model citizen sermon, but unlike then, I did not cheekily ask him if he meant I could model. He remembered the conversations too and warned me against raising that topic again. Firstly, wasn’t I old enough to not say such stupid things and secondly, and more importantly, I was too fat to be a model. He knows that! He is with the times!  He watched a fashion show at Siri Fort once, for God’s sake!!

I had visions of myself in the white attire of the Hindu widow raising my child and singing hymns in the praise of the Lord. And I did not like it. What would I do about my bollywood dancing classes that I enjoyed?  What would I do about the movie weekends I enjoyed with friends? And more importantly, what would I do without my margaritas, my mojitos and my martinis? I invoked St. John McEnroe and told my dad I would definitely not do any such thing. I was going to keep an open mind and if love visits me, I will not turn it down. My situation may be bad, but it is not disastrous. And my life will be rebuilt again!!

My dad immediately started off on his take on second marriages and how anything that doesn’t work the first time would never work the second time either. And what would society say? Would they not say, if I married a second time, that this is why my first marriage broke down? Would they not cast aspersions on my “honour”? How could I, let that happen? And even if I did, he as my father, and the “know it all” par excellence would never let that happen.

I am pretty positive he had been practising this speech for a long time. It just could not be that impromptu. He was waiting for the right conversation to weave this piece of sermon into.

I knew he would resist any attempt by me to live a life of anything other than what society has ordained. But I couldn’t care less for what society thought. Public opinion mattered nil to me, especially the kind of public opinion that tells you how to live your life. It is this public opinion that forces a girl child to be aborted at birth. Allows men to kill their sisters and daughters to protect their “family’s honour”. To  rape  a beautiful land and its people divesting it of its history, culture and humanity. Almost all of the world’s wars, its killing, it’s maiming and its raping is done on the name of public opinion. There was absolutely no way I would stand for it.

I told my dad that if this is the kind of life he wanted for me, I would shave off my head, take my son and join a religious order. To be absolutely honest, I had practised saying this quite a number of times in front of the mirror. I must have been convincing enough because my father backed off. I have been non religious most of my life and pretty much in love with the luxuries life has to offer, so the idea of me in a shaved head singing hymns to the praise of the Lord, in a (gasp!) non air-conditioned room was a bit too extreme for him to take even, I am guessing.

Acting would be a good alternate profession for me. I had no intention of joining any religious order. I needed my air-conditioned comfort. And my margaritas. I could turn to religion, but only in a temperature controlled environment. And with a bar close at hand.

And yes. If I met someone who cared for me and wanted to share my life with me, I would definitely not don the widow’s white, in the name of public opinion. Instead, I would put on my amazing Technicolor dream coat. I am too much in love with life to live it in monochromatic  shades.

Posted in bringing up a child as a single mom, family, great indian black market, honour, job, job search, love, new beginnings, patriarchal society, single mom, society, starting over in Delhi | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Song of a Single Mom: Being Taken Care of……

The tiny man at the gas agency who dashed my hopes of getting a gas connection but had his fill of looking at my breasts was wrong. The doomsday picture he had painted of India going through a major gas crisis was not true. Not while the black market thrived, in any case. My encounter with the black market, which came sooner than I had thought it would, proved tiny guy otherwise.

We had a “double gas cylinder” connection earlier. When I moved out, I brought with me a gas cylinder, leaving the other one for Professor X to use. I had hopes of getting a connection in my name soon enough, but since that did not work, I asked Professor X if it would be possible for me to take the second cylinder and get the connection in my name. He responded exactly how I thought he would respond. He would think about it. There could be legal ramifications of a name change, he didn’t want anything to trouble him while he worked, he might get a cook and finally, he would need more time to think about it.

I would get worked up earlier when he would say things like this, his procrastination and his inability to take a decision on anything driving me up the wall throughout our marriage. But this time I didn’t. My friend B had told me once, “we are all being taken of” and that’s what I liked to believe. No, not that the cylinder of gas would last forever, but that something would work out even if it did get over at an inconvenient time.

I was coming back from a job interview with the nosy lady who was more interested in understanding the date and place of my separation rather than my knowledge of HR, when I got frantic calls from my dad. I had asked my dad to come live with us for some time, to help Ik in the process of separation from his father. To be a stable male influence in Ik’s life.  In the midst of hyperventilating, which all parents do as a matter of principle, aiming to be as irritating as possible, he told me that while the cooking was half way through, the gas cylinder finally gave up. While listening to his tirade on how irresponsible I had been in not being able to procure a gas connection, I mildly suggested that we might order in and I would do something after I got back. While my dad doesn’t like eating outside, he occasionally does eat out. But this I guess would not be one of those occasions. Especially since there was no cooking gas, we HAD to eat at home and nowhere else.

I took all of this in my stride and called K informing her about the crisis at home. She very graciously agreed to let us finish the rest of the cooking at her place. I reached home while my maid had finished the cooking at K’s place.

I knew that black market was full of cylinders for the taking, I just needed to find out the where and the how.  Now, as a professional, I am very meticulous with my work, and I decided I would be nothing less in my search for the black market gas cylinder. I started asking at the first shop on the street if they knew anything about gas cylinders in the black market. No one seemed to know or wanted to tell me anything, but most didn’t seem to mind. The only person who took affront was the electrical shop owner… upright citizen of mother India, I am guessing.

I almost felt like an undercover agent when the grocery store next to the electrical shop then told me to talk to the newspaper vendor under the big Peepul tree. He then directed me to the man sitting next to the big cooler. I had never done such cloak and dagger moves before and I could almost place myself in the shoes of the undercover cop Leo Di Caprio played in one of my all time favourite movies, The Departed.

My stride was miraculously incorporated with the swagger and bravado that I imagined all undercover cops having. But my tone belied the bravado of my stride. I am pretty positive noundercover cop would plead with a reed thin guy sitting in his striped underwear, to “please pretty please” tell me “how to find out where to get the black market gas cylinder from”, even while being a million miles deep undercover.

But even thin striped underwear guy wasn’t able to say much, except that we should try out the gas godown down the road. Imagining it to be some kind of gas cylinder heaven, my dad and me decided we would go there in the evening to try our luck. Hopefully we would find something. If not, let me see how the one taking care of us handled this one. I mean would it be even possible for God to take on the black market in India? I think that is one ground even He would fear to tread on.

My Dad and me brought the 7 kg empty cylinder down the stairs in the hope of catching a rickshaw to the cylinder heaven. While my dad waited with the empty cylinder, I went to get us a rickshaw. But before I could reach the rickshaw stand, I saw the equivalent of the Promised Land. Only, for me, it was a small van full of gas cylinders. This was the black market for the gas cylinders. This is the person who would literally save me and my family from certain death. I know I am being overly dramatic, but still, not having a gas cylinder would shut down my kitchen and with a 5-year-old child and a 70-year-old father, that was an extremely uncomfortable situation to be in.

The uniformed gas delivery man, who held the key to my future in his greasy palms, immediately told me that there wasn’t a cylinder to spare. The black market thrives on the desperation of the millions who are denied basic services. But a discourse onsocio-economic reasons behind the survival of the Indian black market was farthest from my mind then. All I cared about was getting one cylinder for my family. And I would go to any lengths to get it.

The Delivery man seemed like a hard nut to crack. He kept insisting that there weren’t enough cylinders to spare. Or maybe he was checking to see if I was really an undercover reporter doing an expose on the Indian black market. I think I caught him furtively looking around for the hidden TV camera used in such stings. I guess I didn’t seem sincere enough for him. But I did seem to impress the man in his  twenties standing next to him. My harried expression must have touched a chord, since he told the delivery man “oh you can do it. Just give a cylinder to aunty. Don’t you see how troubled she looks?”

I was too stunned to react. The A word was being used!! By a man in his twenties!!!  It is the word that is most dreaded by women in Delhi. No one wants to be an Aunty. It signifies you are old, dowdy and definitely past your prime. How the Delhi male categorizes women is extremely interesting. You start of by being a ‘baby’ in cute pigtails, grow up to be a respectful ‘didi’ or sister when you are college going and then between a ‘madam’ or a ‘aunty’ depending on how you present yourself to the world, finally resting on a ‘mataji’ when you no longer care to dye your white hair black.

Now I had been called an aunty before. It’s not like I haven’t. But mostly by boys in their teens. Never by someone in their twenties. I was planning for a sharp repartee as I usually do whenever someone calls me an aunty, but I stopped myself when I heard the delivery man nodding his head and telling me disdainfully, ‘but it will cost you Rs. 200 more’. I guess I must have dressed very shabbily. Because not only was I an aunty, I was an extremely poor one too, unable to give the man the confidence that I could shell out an extra Rs. 200 for the cylinder. I didn’t waste time. I showed him the Rs 500 note I had in my hand and had the delivery man deliver the gas cylinder to my home.

B was right. We are indeed being taken care of. God just helped me navigate the great Indian Black market. He did make the man call me Aunty, but I wouldn’t mind being called an aunty a thousand times over if it meant having food on the table for my family.

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The Song of a Single Mom: The Road not Taken

I had, meanwhile,  started to work on a project, thanks to my ex boss from almost 12 years ago, whom I stayed in touch off and on and who was almost like an elder sister to me. It was a project on assessing the Training Needs of one of the departments of a newly formed state in India known for its natural beauty.  My friend was a part of a consultancy group which had no HR expertise. I agreed to be on board for the lack of anything better to do and because the project seemed interesting enough.

The project officially started off by my going to a beautiful hill station to sign the MoU. I was told to take the night train and I would be met at the Nizamuddin railway station by officials from the Consultancy, including Mr. J, the CEO. The journey to the beautiful hill station was uneventful, except for the time I stared outside into the black night, being unable to sleep while snorers hit the high notes.

The next day was a long day of presentations. And it was a day when I got reintroduced to the white-towelled chair. I remember seeing these chairs in the early days of my career and in the later days of my schooling, when I would have to meet bureaucrats for various projects. The white-towelled chair of the babu –in-charge chair greeted me wherever I went. And 12 years down the line, it was still there. The IAS officer we were meeting had his chair covered in a white towel. I stared at it and it stared back at cockily.  I was wondering why they never get out of their towel covered time wrap since the late nineties? Can someone tell them how ugly those chairs look? How, in the sweep of a towel, they immediately bring the overall aesthetics of the room to sub-zero levels?

Anyways, the towelled chairs were not the highlight of the trip. The highlight of the trip happened on the way back from the little slice of heaven and in the next couple of days after that. The CEO, Mr. J seemed very interested in understanding the various nuances of HR from me. Now I should have guessed then, that Mr. J’s interest in me extended beyond his curiosity for HR. But in spite of growing up in Calcutta, where girls are regularly pinched on the bottom by men in buses trains and all other public spaces, I should have known better. After some amount of small talk and medium talk and large talk on the night train, we part ways, with me promising to give my best for the project and for the consulting group. We had also discussed the state of my marriage, with Mr. J already having heard from the grapevine that I was going through “a rough patch”. I had meanwhile taken up the morally superior position of not lying when asked about my “patch”. I am not a good liar, and as much as I tried, could not lie well enough to turn the dry, rocky and totally parched patch into a lush green one. The ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy’ was modified a bit by me to become the ‘if asked, don’t not tell’. So, when Mr. J asked about my husband, I told him we were about to be separated soon, even though we had the rather strange living arrangement of living under the same roof. Mr J told me I was very brave and the matter ended there.

But it didn’t really. In his mind, I was an available woman and could be propositioned to. Perceptions don’t change much, even though we are well into the 21st century. A woman without the protection of a husband is seen as fair game. I get a text next day about how unforgettable I was…. my flawless skin, my rosy lips the unruly lock of my hair. I don’t reply to the text. It was followed up, after a couple of days with a job offer. To head the office in Delhi. I was stunned. And between a rock and a hard place. I needed the job. I desperately needed it. He was even willing to match my salary. I was in such a dilemma. Here was a job offer that was staring me in the face, but I could not take it up.

What would I be expected to do? Would I be expected to sleep with him? Would I be expected to be a walk over, agreeing to every decision he took? What would it entail? Would I be able to look at my colleagues in the eye and pretend I was offered the job only because Mr. J was super impressed with me?

My dad was incredulous and wasn’t satisfied with my answer of I just can’t. My friend A was extremely amused. “What an ass. By giving you such clear signals that he liked you, he made sure that you couldn’t take up the job.”

Maybe realists would call my actions equally asinine, but I just couldn’t take up the job. I had decided to take the road less travelled by. I had decided to blaze my own trail and not back down in the face of any kind of pressure. I would be damned if I were to fall into a ditch and not reach the end of the road I had chosen.

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The Song of a Single Mom: On the Road to El Dorado

I have never met stranger people in my life as much as I have met in the last one year. The road to El Dorado, I guess, is fraught with strange situations and even stranger men and women.

My friend R told me about a recruitment consultant who had helped a friend of hers find a job who was in a similar situation as mine. She passed on my contact to this person who promptly called me. He started off by saying two things. Was I extremely young, because that is what my voice sounded like.  A young girl’s. And I could trust him with anything. If I was a little freaked out by these strange declarations, I said nothing. The limits to how much I can take in search of that elusive job gets tested every day.

The consultant called me up one Saturday and told me he wanted to meet me. It was on the other side of town and temperatures were easily touching 50 degrees celsius. But I threw common sense to the wind before I took an auto to the Barista coffee shop at Priya cinema complex. Now, I used to love the Priya complex when I went to college in Delhi. Young hip people hung out there in cool clothes sipping coffee from fancy tea and coffee shops. The Priya movie hall was a student’s dream where you could watch movies for Rs. 5 only in full air-conditioned comfort. This was one of the few feel good places in Delhi which sold happiness at cheap discounted prices. I thought visiting the complex some 14 years later brought back happy memories. And a job lead to go with it.

The consultant turned out to be an overweight, middle-aged Sardarji with a dull turban. He could almost be Saint Nick if you dressed him in a red robe, but just almost. There was a meanness in his eyes that immediately struck me. I was expecting him to ask me questions about my varied work experience. It after all, spanned over more than a decade over a variety of verticals. But Mr. Consultant seemed more interested in the lurid details of my break up, with the constant “you can trust me” line. And he told me that he needed me to be able to be absolutely honest with him before he could help me. Before I started driving myself crazy trying to understand what exactly that meant in professional terms, he told me that I needed to tell where exactly I was in terms of my divorce. Before I started answering that, he moved on to “was there alcohol involved”? On my incredulous No, he said then there “must have been another woman.”  I opened my mouth to say something but closed it soon enough because  by then he went on to describe in lurid detail how one of the women he helped getting a job had a paedophile for a husband who did bad things to their daughters. He also told me about parties he had been to in my home town of Calcutta where cricketers and film stars held orgies and swapped partners.

I wish I had a mirror where I could see the expression on my face. What did I get myself into? This person clearly got off on describing sexual deviation with strangers, while constantly branding himself completely trustworthy. Why did I not excuse myself and walk out?

Later, as I looked back over the morning, I wondered, what was it that forced me sit down and listen to a clearly demented man? Surely, I could not be that desperate? But I guess, I came across as one. I thought of myself as being desperate for a job and projected that onto the next person.  Why else would they next story touch the nadir of the morning deviant sex discussion session?

Mr. Almost  St. Nick started describing massage sessions at massage parlours in Thailand. He went on to describe in great detail how Indian men and white men had sex sessions with the masseurs in Bangkok. But he was always extremely respectful of the masseurs.  Always. I almost opened my mouth to tell him that most of the masseurs in Bangkok are she-males, but his eyes shone with such glee while describing one such act he had witnessed, that I decided to shut up and zone him out.

I was upset at myself and my desperation for a job that made me sit through two hours of pure drivel. But even though I did not have the guts to walk out of the coffee shop, that day, I made a vow to myself.   I became extremely clear of one thing. Going forward, I would never show the world my desperation. For the world, I am just fine. The job would come when it did. And if it didn’t, I would try to knock on other doors.

The proverbial rainbow will never lie beyond the next lurid tale. Nothing in the world was worth this. And I would never again give any crackpot who got off on being trustworthy to “pretty girls who are alone in the big bad city of Delhi” that pleasure.

After two hours he told me he did not have any jobs for me, but would I please take the email addresses  of four other consultants? By then I was too irritated to even care. I smiled calmly at him and took the addresses down, not even wanting to use any of them.

His paunch jiggled as he squeezed himself into the car. He thanked me for coming and meeting him. I thanked him for the iced tea with as much disdain that I could manage, barely mustering a smile.  The pleasure was all mine, he said. I didn’t want to argue on that and walked back into sanity.

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The Song of a Single Mom: The Job Search

I woke up one morning hyperventilating about my job. In the midst of all the stress of the shifting and the tension of the settling down, I had forgotten that I was without a job for so many months. No, that is incorrectly put. I didn’t actually forget, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind. Where it should not have been. It should have been at the forefront, since the borrowed money would barely hold me in good stead for only for a month. And the saved money was almost over.  I was gradually reaching the place, where people in these parts of the world refer to as “meri toh lag gayee”.  Or, the s*it has hit the fan. Yes, I was gradually reaching that unenviable position. The worries that made me spend sleepless nights even a month ago, were coming back.

There just were no leads. There were no calls from consultants. Even where there were leads, which turned into interviews, which turned into jobs, things suddenly went into suspended animation also known as “on hold”. Take the case of the  worlds leading telecom company, where I aced the interviews every time there was one (I am not being a cocky bitch. I am in HR and I know how to interpret interviews). I was super confident that the company would send me the appointment letter the next day, especially since someone called me from Poland and told me with great urgency that I had to fly to Mumbai for my final interview. According to one of its  directors (whom I knew from my previous company), my “engagement was confirmed” here and I need not worry. I fitted the bill perfectly.  Not quite, as it turned out.  Thanks to the great recession of 2008, which continues to grow from strength to strength, the position was put on hold and would only be up in the first quarter of 2010. This information came after much prodding and not from the HR department. I am amazed at the lack of responsibility and sensitivity that HR departments  sometimes show. I mean, aren’t you supposed to inform the candidate, who paid 10 grand from her own pocket to get interviewed (that is another story, they just refused to pay up later), that the position has been put on hold. And this too, to one of their own. I can only imagine how much other candidates must suffer. A HR department must have reached the bottom of its ethics barrel to behave in this manner.  Almost a million sarcastic emails were exchanged, but nothing much came out of it. I remained in my state of joblessness.

The job that my school friend A and her husband had given me the lead for and for which I was almost hired went on hold too. “Going on hold” is probably the phrase that’s most dreaded by job seekers. It means that after endless rounds of interviewing and the endless times you tell them “something about your family” things did not work out after all.

A leading advertising agency interviewed me for one of their positions and almost hired me, as per the recruitment consultant,  to then put that job “on hold” as well.

On hold means that it is not a yes, yet, but it is definitely Not a no!!!  So you keep hoping the job will come back up, even though in your heart of hearts, you probably know it never will. As Woody Allen said somewhere recently, “Everyone needs their own little fictions to cope with the harshness of life”. And that the job will soon be off its on-hold status, was mine.

A peeve that I have with  job interviews in India is the question all interviews start with: tell me something about yourself. I immediately start going on a professional journey, but they stop me to tell me that they want to know something personal as well. Having done my training in Human Resources from the United States, where asking any personal questions could be an invitation to a law suit, I am almost always thrown off by this one. What do I say? Do I say I have a husband? Do I say I am separated? How will that be taken?

Rather badly, in fact, as I found out some time later. I had gone to yet another job interview where I had told the interviewer, an older lady, that I was separated.  Then on, all she was interested was, was my separation. When was I separated? Was that before or after my last job? Or was I separated while living in America? How old was my child? How many years after marriage was he born? This went on and on for about an hour. I could not take a moment more of this, but all I could do was to grin and bear, because I knew I needed the job too badly. I could barely survive another month without a job and now was not the time to give the interviewer a course on the politically correct interviewing techniques. I ultimately did not get that job. Whether it was for my personal information, or lack of professional knowledge, I will never know.

It has been extremely hard for me to keep my spirits up through a period when all jobs went into a state of suspended animation. It has now been ten months since I have last worked. There have been days when I did not want to get out of bed feeling like worthless, feeling like the biggest loser ever. My worries about funds have taken me into the depths of despair. But I have never allowed that feeling to engulf me. I have never let myself show the world my desperation. I have put on a happy face for the world and it has helped me in springing back up. I believe happiness is a choice. And that happiness begets happiness. My experiences could have turned me into a bitter person, but I chose to be happy.

I chose to tell my son fairy tales at bed time. I chose to bake lemon cakes with lemon butter icing. I chose to buy yeast to bake my first French baguette. I chose to sit on the red recliner, sipping apple juice in wine glasses which is such an integral part of the PVR Gold class experience with my friend H, laughing our heads off over the silliness of bollywood movies. Window shopping with my friend D, telling her that she can definitely get all those designer dresses made by the friendly neighbourhood tailor for a fraction of the prices, giggling ourselves silly…. I chose to do that.

Precious, the overweight black teen mother, suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse from her father and mother, from the Hollywood movie of the same name, saw a thin white female with blond hair every time she saw herself in the mirror. I see a confident, hopeful, happy person, certain of a better tomorrow.

I am not religious. I am not even very spiritual. But there is only one thing that I believed in. Steadfastly. That, “this too shall pass”. And that, while things fall apart, they also fall back into place. This, and a strong belief  in myself has been the wind beneath my wings!! This is not to say I do not have days when I do not have moments of self-doubt.  But I choose to overcome them.  And I hope, someday, I will be able to “ Fly, fly, fly high against the sky, so high I almost touch the sky…….”

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The Song of a Single Mom: Memories….

There are some things you want to remember forever. Consciously. Or sub consciously. Like when a child gazes up at his mother and imprints her face into his little brain. Experiencing  unadulterated, unconditional  love perhaps for the only time in his entire existence.

Or the moment you realize you love the person you’ve known for a while with a heart aching love, but that he or she can never be yours. And you want to remember forever, that face, the way the hair falls on the face, the way they look at you at that very moment when you want to reach out and touch them. But you can’t. You want to remember that moment for ever.

There may be many such moments you may want to etch in your brain. Or just a few. But every one has that moment in life when they feel, this is the moment I will remember forever.

I was about twelve. I was going out to play with my friends in  the evening. And I saw my mother. Sitting in the garden. In a white organza saree. With small flowers printed on it. With a string of pearls around her neck. One of the few pieces of jewellery she owned. Reading a favourite book. She looked so ethereal. So at peace. So happy.  I stood there.  Just looking at her. Till she looked up and smiled.  And thought to my self. I will remember this moment for ever. I went ahead and kissed her cheek and went on my way.

And almost twenty five  years from that day, I remember it like it happened a second ago. I remember the garden. The whiterajani gandha and juin flowers and the multi coloured hibiscus flowers she was so fond of planting in the garden. I remember the orange white and black plastic ribbon woven chair that was so much in vogue in middle class Bengali households in the eighties. I remember her saree, The  Bibhuti Rachanabali she was reading then. And how she looked up at me and smiled. And how I thought, I will remember this moment for ever.

Its been seven years now that I lost my mother. I had  planted aBakul tree in the garden. In the exact spot where she was sitting.  A tree I love. A tree that represents a longing for a lost love.

We have sold our house since. Moved in to a more convenient apartment near the airport. But the Bakul tree remains in our garden. I am not sure if it has started flowering yet. But sometimes, when I pine for my mother, I sometimes feel the sweet scent of Bakul wafting in.

And whenever  I cross a Bakul tree, and thankfully Delhi’s north campus area had many, I am transported back to when I was twelve years old, when there were only beginnings and no ends and to the moment that I remember forever.

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The Song of a Single Mom: Balancing Out

The next few days were spent mostly into getting into the rhythm of things here. These were the first  couple of days I got where I finally managed to look around the place. This stretch of road, which starts at the church   looks exactly like the urban village that it is. Small suburban shops, houses that grow off of one another, stuck in the crevice that exists between the villages that Delhi had engulfed to claim as its own and Delhi itself. It seemed a world away from the Americanized shops at the community center, yet it existed proudly, wearing its small town shops like a pin on its lapel. The parks, the wide roads and the open spaces of SV were its own for claiming which made it an immensely likable place with a smorgasbord of conveniences, parks, small town mentality and nouveau   rich overweight men and women showing off their newly acquired wealth.

Boxes were still being unpacked and I was loving the idea of doing up the new house. Little knick knacks that I had collected over the years but never unpacked ever since we had moved back from the United States were now unpacked and put in place.  I realized I needed some cupboards and at least a bookshelf. The earlier place being a government accommodation and a rather shabby one at that, I never did want to do anything nice to the place. Besides, I was too busy fighting every day battles to think about doing anything else. But this was my home as much as my home in Calcutta was. I wanted to put pretty red and yellow flowers in the vases. I wanted a white book-case. I wanted my Ikea mirrors on the wall. I wanted the Madhubani  painting that I had brought from my Calcutta home to be well lighted. This was a home that I was going to build with my son. And I wanted to make my son proud to be in this home that I would be creating with him.

K told me that there was a hand me down furniture market near Jamia Millia Islamia. Sometimes you get really good bargains there. I had no way of buying new furniture. Not even second-hand furniture. May be third hand or fourth hand.  While I wanted my home to look nice, I just wanted something functional for now, the price of newer furniture being a deterrent.

I asked H if he would accompany me to the market. I wasn’t comfortable with going to that area by my self. No, I wasn’t bigoted. I did not think that being Muslim populated area would necessarily make it unsafe. I had gone to Chandni Chowk alone earlier. But somehow, now, I felt, my responsibility to my son increased a million times ever since it became the two of us. What if something happened while I was there? I didn’t know the area. I would not know the way out. I wanted someone I could depend on who I knew would guide me should something happen. I hated myself for being so jittery. I hated myself for stereotyping a community, something that I was vociferous in fighting against. But somehow, when it came to my son, no precaution was enough.  I would risk being branded a bigot if it meant keeping my son and me safe. Ideals which had held on to so dearly for so long didn’t take a second to fly out of the window where my son and I were concerned.

H and me took a leisurely rickshaw ride through the winding lanes of Jamia Nagar. We went past the Okhla Reservoir, in which, like the much abused Yamuna river, there was everything else but water. The Yamuna, which runs through the east of Delhi, could do for Delhi what the Seine had done for Paris or the Hudson for New York. But Delhi chooses to not use its water bodies at all. Cities that build their waterfront intricately into their urban fabric also exist in India, Mumbai being the best example, but Delhi chooses to have its Yamuna silted up and the Okhla reservoir  overgrown with weeds.

I was expecting a market. There wasn’t any. Much like the Dariyaganj old book market, there were certain shops on the footpath of a residential area. These were mostly doors, windows, cabinets and cupboards taken from old houses that were being torn down.  I was extremely disappointed. I remembered my trips to Ikea and Laura Ashley while in San Diego or the even the Godrej interio store while we were setting up our house in Delhi.  I was not a retail snob at all. I happily flaunted  my  fake Louis Vuitton  purse bought from New York’s China Town, where the fat Chinese lady told me I was getting the bargain of a lifetime.  But this was not something I thought I would resort to. Ever.  H looked at me hesitating. He was perceptive. Very kindly he told me, a new cupboard would cost me at least Rs 20,000. Did we want to go to a new store? The amount brought me back to reality. It would take care of a month’s expenses!! With an extra bounce in my steps I went to the man in the flowing beard. Brought out my best haggler’s smile and asked him the price of the two identical looking cherry polished cupboards that needed a lot of work, but would definitely serve the purpose. The white bookshelf that I had dreamt about was there too.  I hadn’t expected my luck to favour me so much. I love cherry polish and the white book-case was a perfect fit. And all three of them came for Rs 4000 only. A tenth of the price of new ones. It was like I had won the hand me down furniture lottery!!!

H helped me with carrying the all of them back home. He arranged for the carpenter to come the next day, got me plywood and paint and the cupboards were as good as new!!

Later that night went out with K, her husband and son the next night. We went to have burgers in NFC. I was glad K suggested the outing. I needed a break. I needed to stop thinking of money and interviews and jobs and needed to just have fun.  We ate cheap Indianized burgers at Fast Trax. They were so much more tastier than McDonald’s and a lot easier on the pocket too.  K’s husband C took the kids to the terrace where there was a play area for kids. K and me waited downstairs to get our food while C had taken the kids food with him. We go upstairs a little later to see C feeding both Ik and A, his son, with both children on either side of him. I choked back some tears while emotions tugged at my heartstrings. C treated my son like his own and I realized it took an extremely kind and sensitive individual to do what C did so naturally.

The kindness of people, who were hitherto strangers and who, in a short period of time, turned into friends for life is something that has kept me going. People to whom I have nothing to give. I was without a job now, I could not get them one. Heck, I couldn’t take them out for a drink even!!  Nature has a strange way of balancing things in your life. When you think you have lost everything that you had worked so hard for, your job, your marriage, the home you called your own, something will come into your life to fill the void. It’s almost like being on a beach, where the waves take away the beautiful shells you were collecting, but bring back even prettier ones to you.

Life is never a vacuum. Yes, I don’t have a job, I don’t have money, but I have friends who love me and stand by my son and me. They pick up the pieces for me when I am about to break into a million little ones.  They lend me money and tell me I can return it whenever I can. They act as surrogate parents to a five-year old missing his father. They tell me to chase the butterfly of my dreams. They tell me I will see the rainbow one day.

I told K to thank C for me. I don’t know if she did. I don’t even know if C reads these posts. But this one is dedicated for all my friends and especially friends like C and H, whom I have known for a very short time, but who have made me want to believe that the sun will shine brighter tomorrow.  My son and me may not have a traditional family structure any more, but we have a newer one, a better one. A one that would never let us be alone….

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