Sunday, October 30, 2005

Happy Diwali!!

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Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!

Here are some links on Diwali and the background.

Top Diwali Books for children

Description of Diwali- Traditions, Customs and History

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Diwali at Home - Laddoos and Cookies

Growing up, Diwali did not make much sense. It was inconsistent, no one else celebrated it and it could not compare with Halloween and Christmas. Mom would make a special dinner, turn on lights around the house and have special pujas/ceremonies. Everyone would call to wish Sal Mubarak for the new year. All the jewelery would be taken from the bank and blessed - thanking Lakshmi and showing appreciation for the wealth we have. It was definitely acknowledged in our house, but not given enough encouragement I believe.

For my husband, who grew up in India, this is Christmas. Lots of traditions from special foods to lighting fire crackers to family and friends getting together. Plus per the Hindu calendar, he was born on the first day of Diwali. So, everyone always remembers his Indian birthday. (My daughter is born on Valentines' Day. The only memorable event I have for mine, June 30, is that it's the last day of the fiscal year).

Anyway, for my daughter is a different world than it was for me. Sesame Street talks about Diwali. Elementary schools have Diwali displays. Employees are taking off on Diwali as a "religious holiday". There's more awareness and pride in this holiday.

With my daughter, we're going to light candles around the house. We went to a party on Saturday and friends had sparklers and firecrackers which we lit in the yard. It was fun - and was my first time seeing firecrackers without a simultaneous radio or TV broadcast. Annika was a bit scared at first, but quickly got over her fears.

I found a book about Diwali at the library and Annika and her daddy read it together. It was great later during the firecrackers and I asked (to no one in particular) what was going on when they were trying to light a firecracker.

She said "Mom, this is just like the book. That's what they're doing," rolling her eyes and her voice in exasperation. Sorry. I missed the reading.

A few friends and I decided to join forces and prepare some homemade treats at each other's houses - chuklis, besan laddoo, karanji. To get my daughter involved, we baked toll-house chocolate chip cookies - why not?. She helped me with the tray of goodies to bring to our friends' house - laddoos, pistachio sweets with silver foil and chocolate chip cookies.

While it's important to maintain one's heritage, it's exciting to begin new traditions. That's what being American is all about, isn't it?

On the Job Training: Motherhood - 7
Halloween and Costumes

Where to begin? First of all, Annika has wanted to be a princess for the last 2 years. At 2, I put on a lavender salwaar-kameez and wrapped the dupatta around her head with a tiara as Princess Jasmine. At 3, she wore a white lace dress with a tiara as Cinderella.

(At any given time, A has 2 years worth of poofy and fancy dresses courtesy of my mother and aunt as the only granddaughter in the family. Therefore I figured, wear it for Halloween while it fits.)

This year I decided to forego the nice dresses and just buy a costume. Unlike the rest of us plebeians, Princesses do have occasions to dress up - Princess Birthday Parties, Costume Day at school, average Saturday afternoon. I've been getting too paranoid about spills and tears on these poofy numbers.

Went to see the dress she wanted - Princess Annika from Barbie & Pegasus

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and it was not on sale, though Belle from Beauty and the Beast was $8 less. She was not going to bend obviously though she does like Belle a lot. I deliberated over this for a week (is it worth it? what is halloween but a marketing ploy at parents' wallets?). I had a flashback to my own childhood (see "My Costume History" below) and went back to Party City.. The Belle dress was $2 higher, but her Princess Annika dress was down $5. So, I grabbed it.

My Princess asked "Ok, let's get the Cinderella Ballerina dress now." You can only wear one costume.

"Oh. Can we go trick or treating now?" No, 2 more weeks.

I'll give her credit that she was patient and didn't ask for the dress or anything until I pulled it out for her Halloween Parade on Friday. I think it was a bit long and when I said I'd take it up, she said, "No, I can walk holding it up" and she took delicate steps, daintly holding the layers of the dress.

I bought double stick fabric tape and hemmed it anyway.
The Parade:
Last year I missed her parade. She was 3 and I didn't think it would matter. However, she commented. So, this year I made sure I would be there at 3:30.

The kids had to bring their costumes and the teachers got them ready. Can I tell you how cute it was! I was snapping pics of all the babies -- it was like an Anne Geddes parade! There was a pink and purple witch toddling all over the place.. twins who dressed in monkey suits.. little Minnie and Mickey being pushed in a carriage.

You could see the older kids expressing themselves more. For girls, it was split between variety of Princess/Fairy costumes, and then more unique ones. A's close friend was dressed as a ghost in white costume and face mask.. there was a pink Power Ranger by one of the girls who I felt was very bubbly and outgoing. I was quite surprised to see the world did not revolve around princesses and fairies for everyone.

Boys were great - firemen, sponge bob, Eagles player. I was impressed with one boy who had a homemade costume as an Arab sheik - towel and blankets made up his costume.

My heart extended to the one Indian boy - probably 3 - who had on a kurta-pyjama with a dupatta. I admitted above my daughter wore an Indian outfit with a tiara, but she was still in character. I don't know about this boy - was he supposed to be Abishek Bachchan?

My Costume History
Growing up with Indian immigrant parents, it's different for us. We grew up among cliches - balancing the Indian and American influence, get the best of both worlds, east meets west, etc.

So, Halloween was a great idea for kids, but spending hard-earned money on costumes wasn't going to happen.

So, I've had to trick-or-treat with my Indian dresses, chanya-cholis, while I thought the plastic cinderella mask was "beautiful" (was looking for a link or picture, but can't find it).

On the other hand, we learned to rummage through our closets (own, siblings, parents, linen) to get accessories to make our own costumes. We used the same chanyo as a gypsy skirt, threw on a shawl and lots of bangles.. used salwaars as flowy clown pants.. became hobos in dad's jackets (interesting, now we call them homeless people).

Anyway, I was chatting with some parents at ballet yesterday, and they both pointed out that they grew up making their costumes and now 98% of the costumes were store-bought. The one father, Eric, mentioned being a hobo. Now his son is wearing Darth Vader. Interesting - maybe Eric wanted to be Star Wars back in 1970's and couldn't?

So, maybe it's not about the Indian vs American thing.. but a result of the credit card, marketing to yuppies culture?

Have a Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bubbles (My Poems):
A Glass Of Wine, Please

And, what kind of wine do you have, she asked.

Swirl the robust Bordeaux. In its embrace, fly to the warm hills of France
Sniff the Shiraz and evoke a borrowed memory
of a didjeridoo echoing through an Australian sunset.

Remember when the Chianti had challenged
the Burgundy to duel and
the jugs had burst? Very good year though.

And, have you seen the Cabernet and Beaujolais?
He tipped his hat to you, while she
lifted her ruby skirts to curtsy.

She smiled. She knew them well.
She had been taught
to bridle and honor the passion of the Reds.
With a sip of a Merlot, she could hear
the strumming gypsy music
outside that restaurant in Piazza Navona.
And a second sip brought her to an intimate table for two
at a boisterous Bennigan’s.
Another glass would be that night best left forgotten.

Tonight she was alone.
Not a soul to share her carafe.

She longed for the green freshness
of whiteness
of lightness
and the dewiness
of her youth,
being held captive in an opaque fruit.

A sip would kindle a spark
smothered by time, and stir the flames
to ignite memories
to meet the new woman she has become.
Would they recognize each other?
She thought they would.

She watched the Pinot Grigio turn a pirouette and
release the essence of spring and fruits,
while the Reisling stood sweetly as a sunflower.
The Sauvignon Blanc whirled the scent of
summer morning grass to her.

She felt a tap on her shoulder.

The Chardonnay had sauntered to her
with a quiet step.
Be not betrayed by my coolness.
Under a golden cloak, I hold an edge,
a snap to inspire your senses.
Smokey evenings, vanilla afternoons.
You know me well and I know what
makes you glow.

And, he kissed her,
incensing her with his spirit forever.

After writing this poem, I realized I really love white wine and have been drinking red for so long because other folks are drinking red. So, all summer, you could find me with a glass (or two) of chardonnay or pinot grigio.

I needed to see my poem again because I had 2 glasses of red the other night (cabernet sauvignon, I believe). It was a rainy day, I was feeling slightly under the weather and a warm red seemed so appealing.

And, I zonked out. That's what I forgot! Red wine makes me sleepy!

Need to stick with what really works for me.

Monday, October 24, 2005

On the Job Training: Motherhood -6
How to practice being a mother

1. Find someone who is can sit 3 feet away from you
2. Talk to her. Have her ignore you.
3. Raise your voice. Have her ignore you.
4. Clap your hands, bang on pots. Have her ignore you.
5. Now, pick up the phone and talk to someone. Mutter something softly regarding her.
6. Have her ask "Why did you say that? Tell me? Who did that?"

Repeat daily.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

On the Job Training: Motherhood - 5
Finding Neverland

I've discovered the secret to eternal youth - Peter Pan. (Yes, we all know he's the boy who doesn't grow up.)

Frankly, I never cared for Peter Pan. Didn't understand all these rough Lost Boys, Peter Pan was a bit edgy and Wendy was just too maternal and boring for me. Tinkerbell was too insignificant. Why is the dog a nanny?

How many times have I seen Peter Pan from an elementary school production to the Disney version in the theater (with a double billing with Herbie the Wonder Bug) to seeing Julia Roberts filling out Tinkerbell's skirt? Really tried. Could not get into it.

Fast forward to bedtime with my daughter. I'm not exactly how she even got bit by the Barrie Bug. We've watched the movies (part 1 and 2!), read the stories and she loves it.

When she enjoys Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, I recognize her excitement. Yet, when she loves Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, I'm pleasantly surprised. (Note: I never cared for Alice as a child, did not like talking animals. I discovered Carroll after college when I began to admire his work as a poetic masterpiece)

So, when I have to read Alice or Peter Pan to her, it is like being given an opportunity to relive my childhood. I'm trying to see what she sees in all these stories. Maybe she finds comfort in Wendy's maternal role and sees Tinkerbell as a strong ally to Peter Pan -- if one does not believe in fairies, how could one fly? She enjoys the Lost Boys' costumes as animals, revealing a personality beneath.

With Alice, the growing and shrinking and eating and drinking is so much fun. Controlling one's size is a valuable skill, especially to someone is three feet tall.

So, I am finding Neverland now.
On the Job Training: Motherhood - 4
Disney Wars: Revenge of the Princesses

Saturday morning we rose bright and early on a rainy day. We had tickets for the 11 a.m. Princesses on Ice show at the Wachovia Center (precorporate sponsorship days aka The Spectrum). My friend and I got our two 4-year-olds together and drove down to South Philly in her minivan. Her daughter had on a sweatsuit that announced "Princess" on the front. Mine chose a sparkly velvet dress she's never worn (she refused to wear anything else).

In the parking lot, we saw pint-sized Cinderellas and Snow Whites. On the escalators, we saw girls from infants to preteens wearing pink, purple and blue symbols of Princesshood - either a full blown costume or sweatshirts or tiaras.

I looked around the packed arena and thought "All of you people are here today, dishing out mucho dinero for tickets and service fees for an ice show because you ALL have a princess in your house.. you're going through the same Princess worship..and succumbing to the pleas of your own Princess."

I felt a sense of comradery with the parents there. I was not alone.

And talk about the Magic of Disney! It's the marketing of Disney!! Toys and souvenirs were insanely priced. A bucket of popcorn, which could feed a whole bevy of Princesses, was priced at $8 because you got a Princess bucket (the next one was $6 and you got a box. Yeah, figure out which is going to sell more). They had snow-cones for $10 because you got a cute Mickey or Cinderella mug.

This whole Disney Princess marketing industry is absolutely brilliant. Parents like me fall for it. (Who did not want to be a princess when they were 4 years old? I'm giving into this just because in 6 years, she may want to wear black, ripped jeans and ride skateboards. Who knows.)

But, Disney is smart enough to always put a trio. Yes, you can have an Ariel mug and target Mermaidphiles. You can have an Aurora nightgown and attract the sleeping beauties. Or, you can have Jasmine whatever and attract "ethnic" market. However, put them altogether on a mug, nightgown and whatever - BAM! you just sold all three to all three markets. How awesome is that?

And, for parents it's cool because if she's in an "Ariel" or "Jasmine" mood it still works. You're not limiting yourself to one princess.

I was livid when I saw Princess bandaids were higher priced with less units in the box than the Clifford one. We're buying Clifford and my daughter was none the wiser - quite happy with Emily Elizabeth over her boo-boos.

Anyway, Disney must keep an eye over their shoulders because their close competitor is Mattel and Barbie "as Princess Blah Blah." Yes they stepped in quietly with a movie with sharp computer animation with "Barbie in the Nutcracker" and "Barbie in Swan Lake". Then they realized the marketing potential and shot out "Princess and the Pauper" and now "Barbie & Pegasus". You get your dolls, accessories, videos, books, costumes, etc. So, even if you don't have your own princess, you create one!

I had my doubts about the Barbie movies.. It's a doll. It's not a story with a doll. But, now I see it's different. Barbie is alive and well, and acting in roles - that's ingenius as well. The movies aren't so bad - I do like the bit of feminist angle with the female protaganists who are quite alert in finding their own way around the world and through their troubles. Even my daughter had complained that Sleeping Beauty and Snow White "just sleep." There are more positive heroines out there.

Confession: I have a Beauty & the Beast keychain that I bought back in early 90's.. I was 23 and totally identified with Belle. I was bookish and didn't fall so easily for outward appearances (a la Gaston).

Anyway, I am still using this keychain and my daughter is thrilled to look at it - even thought the plastic has chipped a bit. So, maybe a princess part of you does not outgrow?

By the way, I really felt the Princess on Ice show was worth it when I looked at my daughter. Aladdin was rubbing the giant lamp. Sparks flew out of the lamp just as the genie emerged. She jumped back in suprise, putting her hands on her cheek! I looked over at another point and she had her ears covered because she knew the witch was going to come out. This is real to them in their minds. We're just making it more real.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Morsels of Poetry:
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Garba
The nine sacred nights of Navaratri

we dance the Garba. Light glances off
the smooth wood floor of the gym
festooned with mango leaves
flown in from Florida. The drummers
have begun, and the old women
singing of Krishna and the milkmaids,
Their high keening is an electric net
pulling us in, girls who have never seen

the old land. This October night
we have shed our jeans
for long red skirts, pulled back
permed hair in plaits, stripped of
nailpolish and mascara, and pressed
henna onto hands, kohl
under the eyes. Our hips
move like water to the drums.
Thin as hibiscus petals, our skirts
swirl up as we swing and turn.
We ignore the men,

creaseless in bone-white kurtas.
In the bleachers, they smile behind their hands.
Whisper. Our anklets
shine in the black light from their eyes.
Soon they will join is in the Dandia dance.
The curve and incline, the slow arc of the
painted sticks meeting red on black
above our upraised arms. But for now the
women dance alone
a string of red anemones
flung forward and back
by an unseen tide. The old ones sing
of the ten-armed goddess.
The drums pound faster
in our belly. Our feet glide
on smooth wood, our arms are darts of
light, Hair, silver-braided,
lashes the air like lightning.
The swirling is a red wind
around our thighs. Dance-sweat
burns sweet on our lips.
We clap hot palms like thunder. And
the mango branches grow into trees.

Under our flashing feet, the floor is packed black soil.
Damp faces gleam and flicker in torchlight.
The smell of harvest hay
is thick and narcotic in our throat. We spin and spin
back to the villages of our mothers’ mothers.
We leave behind

the men, a white blur
like moonlight on empty bajra fields
seen from a speeding train.


I heard Chitra read this at the Asian American Writers Workshop in 1996 or 1997. This is from her book "Black Candle" and it moved me so much. I love Navratri and as an Indian-American, I felt Chitra had captured the holiday and what it means to us. We may dance on the hard gym floors and not on the Indian earth, but our dance connects us to a long line of women. I always felt sorry for my American classmates and friends who did not have Navratri.

For us, we would pull out the suitcases that stored our chanya-cholis for the year. On some special occasions - after a trip to India - we would have new spin-worthy ghagras and we finally wear the new Indian jewelry. My sister, mother and I would trade bangles and bindis trying to get the perfect match. Oh, and I remember the year I wore rings. My hands were so swollen after a night of garba they would not come off! I had to soak them in cool water to pry them.

It's not about just a dance, but keeping connections and traditions alive.