हम किस गली जा रहे हैं?

हम किस गली जा रहे हैं?

ख़ामोशी। ये बहुत संगीन और दुर्लभ अभिव्यक्ति है। अक्सर वार्तालाप में ख़ामोशी हार के भी जीत जाती है। कितने मुद्दे है जिसपे मैंने अब शांत रहना सीख लिया है, इसलिए नहीं कि मेरे अल्फ़ाज़ कम पड़ गए परंतु इसलिए क्योकि मैंने ख़ामोशी का रुतबा समझ लिया है।

पर फिर कभी जिंदगी में कुछ ऐसे लम्हें आते है कि वो आपको अपनी सोच बयाँ करने पर विवश कर देते है। ये ऐसा ही एक वाक्या है जो लगेगा सामान्य सा परन्तु है बहुत गंभीर।

कुछ अरसे पहले, मैं और मेरी एक जाननेवाली अपने बचपने की बात कर रहे थे। बात शुरू हुई थी दूरदर्शन से जो की चित्रहार से होते हुए, मोगली को छूते हुए, बकरा किस्तो तक गयी।

“बकरा किस्तों एकदम जुदा है, कितनी बचपन को यादें छिपी है इसमें।” मैं ये कह के अपने बाल्यावस्था के दिनों में गोता लगाने को तैयार ही हुई थी की मेरे ख़याली स्विमिंग पूल से पानी खींच लिया गया।
“हाँ था बड़ा मज़ेदार, लेकिन यें लोगो की भाषा मुझे घर नहीं ले जानी। मुसीबत है।”
पल भर लगा सामने वाले की सोच समझने में। अफ़सोस ये कि जिसने ये कहा उसे इस बात की गहरायी ही नहीं पता चली। वो तो हस के चली गयी, पर ये और इसके जैसे अनेक सवालों का फाटक खोल गयी मेरे ज़हन में।

यह पहली बार नहीं था कि मैंने किसी को इस तरह कि बात बोलते सुना हो। और हाँ ये आखिरी बार भी नहीं होगा कि मैं किसी की सोच पे आश्चर्य ज़ाहिर करूँ। मुझे तो लगता था कि मुझे जितनी ज़्यादा भाषाओं का ज्ञान हो, उतना बेहतर। अक्सर सोचती हूँ कि सिर्फ हिंदी,अंग्रेजी और उर्दू का ही क्यों ज्ञान है मुझे? काश बहुतेरी और भाषाओं का लुत्फ़ उठा सकती ।
दूसरा और गहन सवाल कि लोग रंग, भाषा और खाने में भी असमानता कैसे खोज लेते है?

एक दो बार आवाज़ भी उठायी मैंने इस आक्रामक सोच पे। लोगो ने समझा नहीं अलबत्ता आँखों ही आँखों में तंज़ कसे। भली भाति वाकिफ़ हूँ उस नज़रिये से, आखिरकार मैं दो धारी तलवार पे जो चल रही हूँ।

शुरूआती दिनों में लगता था की “लोग मेरे बारे में ऐसा सोचते है”? झूठ नहीं बोलूंगी, दुखता था, क्योकि इंसान हूँ और जज़्बात रखती हूँ। शायद इस बात से फर्क पड़ता था कि लोग मेरे बारे में ऐसा क्यों सोचते हैं। अब लगता है “लोग ऐसा क्यों सोचते है”? अब भी बुरा लगता है पर अपने लिए नहीं, उनके लिए। दिल ही दिल बुदबुदा लेती हूँ, “ईश्वर तुम्हे सद्बुद्धि दे।”

बहुत कम लोग ये बात समझ पाते है कि भाषा का प्रान्त से भले ही जुड़ाव है, विशिष्टता नहीं। बहुत कम लोग ये बात समझ पाते है कि आपका वजूद और आपकी आवाज़, आपकी है, आपके मज़हब की नहीं। वक़्त लगा परन्तु ये समझ आ गया कि जब वो नहीं समझते, तो आप समझ जाते है कि लोगो से समझदारी की उम्मीद करना बेवकूफी है।

आसान नहीं है अपने आप पे संयम पाना। लोगो के शब्दों का प्रभाव, मानसिकता और सोच आपको बेकाबू कर देती है। अक्सर खून खौलता है और बात मुँह तक आ के रुक जाती है। लेकिन किसी के अपमानजनक वाक्य के बाद के वो दो क्षण आपके लिए बहुत ही अहम् होते है। अगर उस वक़्त आप चुप्पी साध गए तो जीत आपकी, आपके वक़्त की, आपकी जुबां की।

मुझे गलत मत समझिये। मैं कतई ये नहीं कहती कि दब जाओ, किसी के सामने घुटने टेक दो। किसी के सामने अपने स्वच्छंद विचार रखना, सभय्ता से, आपका प्राथमिक हक़ है। पर उम्र आपको बहुत कुछ महसूस करवा देती है और उन्ही बड़ी सीख में से एक ये है की दीवारों से सर नहीं फोड़ते । समझाओ उसे जहां सुधार की कोई गुंजाईश हो वरना व्यर्थ में अपना दिमाग़ ज़ाया क्यों करना और अपने सब्र का इम्तेहान क्यों लेना?
मैं खासतौर से अपनी युवा पीढ़ी से मायूस रहती हूँ। अक्सर देखती हूँ इन्हे सोशल मीडिया और न्यूज़ चैनल पे वार्तालाप और बहस करते हुए। सोचती हूँ हम गलत कहाँ जा रहे है? इतना अतिवादी नजरिया कैसे हो सकता है इन लोगो का? इतनी नफरत पनपती कैसे है?

मेरा मानना है कि नफरत, किसी भी जाती विशेष या समुदाय के लिए, घर से आती है। परवरिश इन्सान के व्यक्तित्व में बहुत बड़ा योगदान देती है। बच्चे अपने परिजनों की सोच से पहचान रखते हुए कब उसे ग्रहण कर लेते है उन्हें पता ही नहीं चलता। नफरत कभी एक रात में नहीं पनपती, सालो तक इसे दिल में सींचा जाता है, इसकी जड़ें गहराती है और फिर उस इंसान की बोली और हरकत में नकारात्मकता झलकने लगती है। अफ़सोस ये है की हमारे समाज का पढ़ा लिखा वर्ग भी इस धारणा से अछूता नहीं है। वर्षों से मैंने सबसे खराब सांप्रदायिक टिप्पणियों को इस तथाकथित शिक्षित भीड़ से आते देखा है। दुःख है परंतु हैरानी नहीं क्योकि सिर्फ शिक्षा आपको शिक्षित नहीं करती। आपकी समझदारी, नियत और सकारात्मकता आपको आप बनाती है.

ताज़ा हालातों को देखते हुए, मैं अपनी आने वाली पीढ़ियों के लिए आशान्वित नहीं हूं। जो ज़हर ज़बान पे कम पड़ गया तो लोगो ने अब सोशल मीडिया के द्वारा तेज़ाब की छींटे मारनी शुरू कर दी हैं। सोचती हूँ की अपने बच्चों को इस प्रतिकूल मौहाल से कैसे बचाऊंगी?

खैर, मुद्दे अभी और भी है पर आज के लिए इतना ही काफ़ी है। वक़्त बड़ा ताकतवर है, क्या पता आने वाली पीढ़ी अपनी सोच से कुछ अलग, कुछ बेहतर नजरिया और लोगो में आपसी मोहब्बत ले आये। लेकिन उसकी मुहीम हम ही को करनी पड़ेगी, हैं ना?

समझदारी, इंसानियत और प्यार सब मौजूद है इस दुनिया में, काश ये सबको मयस्सर भी हो।

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A Tale of Three Countries

A Tale of Three Countries

Growing up, my favourite subject was Geography. It mentally took me from pole to pole, while physically being present at one spot. Pluto intrigued me to the hilt while learning about the solar system.  Zaire, Greenland and Antarctica engrossed my mind with their extreme climatic conditions and the traveller in me wanted to unravel the mysteries of the world.

The year was 2009 when I came to know about the tiny town in Russia—Yakutsk, the coldest inhabited place on earth. I was completely mesmerised by its charisma and aura. It’s my dream to travel there one day but my better half is not in sync. I can’t blame him though.

The average temperature there is minus 50C and at minus 45C, wearing glasses gets tricky. At that temperature, the metal sticks to your cheeks and will tear off chunks of flesh when you decide to remove them.

As both of us wear glasses and contacts, it will be a challenge (out of many others, of course). To quote him, “Tumhe apne haath se apni aankh noch leni hai contacts ke saath, toh tum karo. Main tumhare saath reh ke roz hi apne baal nochta hoon. That’s enough for me” 😉

I don’t know if I will ever make it to Yakutsk or Antarctica, but we did make nine homes, in four countries, in the last nine years. Every country had something to offer, abundant enriching experiences to share, so many learnings to provide, and a living I call life today.

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The US: I married Shahzeel in December 2009. Soon after, we moved to the United States. It was the first place abroad and I felt new to things around me. It was a never ending flight. Due to volcanic events in Iceland in May 2010, the flight took an unusual route.  Hyderabad – Mumbai – Dubai –Washington – Chicago – Portland. And I do have an unusual development, I can’t sleep on flights. By the time I reached our hotel in Portland, I was a walking zombie who then underwent 12 hours of hibernation. By the time I woke up, I had no idea which time zone I was in. Till then jet-lag was only a word I knew, that day I experienced it for the very first time. And yes it is tough. I was up at 1AM PST and then we spent the whole night (day time in India) talking. It took time for us to acclimatize.

My very first memory of meeting technology was in O’Hare International airport, Chicago. We were seated at the food court, waiting for our next connection when I excused myself to use the restroom. The cleanliness abroad strikes you but to get a first-hand experience is another thing; especially when it comes to public bathrooms. No sooner had I got up flushing the toilet, than a “shroom” voice caught my attention. Behold a toilet seat with a protective-plastic-film glory. The automatic seat cover system’s rotation was new and innovative for me. Hygiene had a whole new meaning then.

It was the first time when everything got expensive. In 2010, a USD in comparison to INR was ~45 and the mental currency converter was always at work. Speciality food, like Indian food, was comparatively expensive but then consumer brands and gadgets got cheaper.

Driving was another venture. We bought a Nissan Sentra pretty early in our stay. He took driving lessons and passed the test is one go. Impressive!  And then in one of our early drives to WinCo Foods (supermarket chain in the US) he forgot which land he was in. The car kept sailing at left side of the road till we saw another one coming towards us with beaming lights in broad daylight.

“Who is this moron? Why is he blinking lights? Why is he driving on the wrong side?” we murmured in our heads.

You don’t need to tell me who was the moron then. Thankfully, just in time, we morons realised our mistake; his reflexes made him take a steep left turn on the side trail, and we gasped in horror.

The next action was a round-about turn, accompanied by tight lips throughout the drive. We were attentive, played by the rules, read and drove; basically the reverse of everything back in India. This was followed by a huge fight at home. We fought about whose fault it was, but we knew we were mad because we got scared. But then we learnt the hard way, and we were lucky to learn without a scratch. That was some day!

One thing I recognized about the US is that they skewed everything compared with the rest of the world and screwed the people coming from abroad badly. Everything needs conversion and everything needs time to settle. Gallons vs Litres, Pounds vs Kilograms, Miles vs Kilometres, Fahrenheit vs Celsius, everything needs to change. And so does your attitude; your attitude towards the passing-by strangers. The first time someone said “Hi! How are you doing?” to me on my evening walk, I felt weird.
Why are they acting so friendly?”

As an Indian the rule embedded in our head is, “Don’t talk to strangers.”
And then we understood their way of life. Foreigners like me may find it unusual, but for them it can’t be any other way.

In the short duration of 1.5 years spent in the US, we stayed on both coasts, and befriended diversity on the both ends. While Portland was quieter, green (it rains all the time), a laid-back-city, Chicago was fast, windy and hugely populated.

The US was definitely an enriching experience. It helped me take business in my own hands. I learnt to help myself as for the first time I was living in a land of ‘no help’. Thousands of Indians romanticise with the idea of living in the USA and it has done wonders for many but then to each its own. We wanted to be back to India as we felt very far away from home and were badly homesick, after a certain point.

I have fond memories of that place. While Disneyland, Niagara, Seattle and Oregon have a place in my heart what I remember the US mostly for is as the birthplace of my Macbook and iPhone. Like I said, it’s a land of gadgets and to each its own. 🙂

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London has its own magic. I remember how Charles Dickens made a place in my heart while growing up. It was his verses that made me fall in love with London. Of course, it was all very dark in his books. Well, he had no choice; he had to mould characters like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. But yes, I had to meet the city, and so I did in January 2012.

The cold ran through me as soon as I stepped at Heathrow airport. It was -10 at that hour and I did not need to check how it “felt like” as I did feel Siberian. Sub-zero temperature freezing cold.

London is iconic and a simple stroll in that city will make you realize why. I always feel the sense of fondness of anything comes with the memory linked with the place. Reading about London Bridge was one thing and then visually meeting it made me gasp with content. I had heard about the Royal family and then I saw them. And I saw them while sitting on my husband’s shoulders amongst thousands, at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This vampire city (less sunlight) had more gloomy days but offered the sunny inclination of losing myself in intriguing times of history. You get used to the greys and blacks and watching sun go down at 3:50PM in winters.

Now if 1:45 was a scary conversion rate in the US, try passing 1:100 as a conversion. Yup! 1GBP costed almost INR 100 then but the mental conversion was quite an ease.

Rather than opting for an apartment, we stayed in a Victorian home, made in the early 19th century. It was a lavish house divided into four parts. We were residing in one tiny unit with a conventional setting. How conventional, you ask? We had a coin-operated-electric meter installed in one of the cabinets in the kitchen. We had to keep checking the meter so the pointer never aimed at the empty slot. Once reached, you had to insert those heavy pound coins, reset the meter to enjoy electricity. You can say it was a jukebox for electricity.

Accent hit me hard in the UK. Unlike the US, I was not married to H1 in the UK and had the permit to work. I was lucky enough to score contractual work there and may I say I loved it. Playing with British accent wasn’t difficult. I understood them irrespective of them missing out ‘r’ in their words. I wanted to tell them that ‘r’ is there for a ‘r’eason, but then who am I to tell? The point is that I understood them and thankfully and more importantly, they understood me.  But by the end of my stay I started working with a Scottish fellow and then there was no understanding what-so-ever. Oh! he was a wonderful person, only that I was made to work with a fellow whose accent I was not able to fathom.

You see, people of Ireland and Scotland have the toughest accents to crack.

Andrew, my reporting head, easily transmitted work via phone. I, on the other hand insisted on travelling to work every day. He was being kind, and did not want me to travel in freezing temperatures in December but I had to see him on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong. I needed to read his lips, for me to understand the nature of the work given and his oh-so-hard-to-interpret accent.

Overall, both the US and the UK have English as their primary language but it is severely different. A colleague of mine in London once said, “People in the States speak American. It’s not English.” Well, it is different in vocabulary, spelling, collective nouns, and of course the accent.  So I guess the old saying goes true, that America and Britain are “two nations divided by a common language.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in London. The city also offers a great connection to every other European country. It’s because of it that we could travel to seven countries in one year – Scotland, France, Amsterdam, Belgium, Spain, Turkey and of course the UK.

We soaked a lot of Europe in less than a year we stayed there. Even after coming back to India the line murmured in my ears, “Mind the gap”. Even the tubes in London have a personality. Oyster cards (public transport card) become part of your wallet as much as your debit/credit card.

I did have a preconceived notion of London being a snooty lady but it was quite in reverse. The city accepted me with open arms and its charm still mesmerises me.

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In October of last year we moved to Australia.

This is my third stay abroad and things are a little different this time around. Firstly, I am with a mini version of myself now. A baby changes everything. The first thing I wanted to know about Australia was its immunization schedule and education system. Everything else was secondary. Secondly, nothing seems new and currency conversion doesn’t bother me much. I guess I have made my peace with the outer world operations.

So far what I have learnt about Aussies is that they shorten almost every word (a cup of tea is cuppa and MacDonald’s is Macca; Biscuit is biccy and chocolate is choccy and this list is long) and shorts are their national dress. Unlike the US and the UK, this country does not have a rich history but this is a land of the future.

This is not a place for online shopping as the economy is highly reliable on imports and cost of living here is exorbitant.  Weather here is more aligned with India, except it gets extremely hot in summers. You need to wear a sun block, every single day, without fail.

One word that was same through all my stays abroad is homesickness. Normal days yet crawl away but festivals (Diwali and Eid) tear you apart. No matter how much we cook and how much we do, we are never home. Kyuki ghar toh gharwalo se hota hai!

The positive is that I stay in Melbourne and it’s close to Antarctica. I know it’s a far-fetched dream but then when have I stopped dreaming?

I still remember once a 18-year boy told a 17-year girl, “Tomorrow, if we are together, we will move to Australia one day. I love that country.”

17 years later, it happened. We are here and I believe, I will achieve my polar dream one day. Cheers to daydreaming and never ceasing. I don’t know if the world is at my feet or the world is my oyster but I do know if you believe, you achieve.

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Because we share roots.

Because we share roots.

October 2018

It was the annual function of his school. The six-year-old had been practising for almost a month. He wanted his whole family to watch him perform so he could flaunt his reciting skills.

Aaraaf’s entire family dressed up to be a part of the occasion. I, his badi Mummy, wore a bright printed kurta. Mysha, my four year old, got into her newly gifted navy-blue frock. Aaraaf’s grand-father left his shop early that day to be at school. His parents were busy arranging passes as a family of six went to be a part of it. Funny kaise ek bacha apna poora ghar samet leta hai!

As we stepped on the school grounds, memories embraced us with dust ridden arms and the smell of grass. It doesn’t matter how old you get, schools have the same story to tell. As a child, you were crafted from the same soil, now your offspring is sprouted from the same earth. Well, School ki mitti ki baat hi kuch aur hai.

After the introductory yet invasive discussion of finding the right chairs, we managed to find one set of chairs which were agreed upon in accordance with stage sighting and cross ventilation.

You wait for that perfect timing to capture a moment against the sunset, but the moment your child steps to a podium, everything waits. It doesn’t matter if your sweat is dripping or you have an urgent bathroom situation, when he/she comes, everything comes to a halt. Time freezes.

It was one such moment when Aaraaf came with the other little ones. We jumped from our seats to greet him with “Aa gaya! Aa gaya!! Wo raha, sabse peeche wala.”

Jaise hum paagal, vaise har bachhe ke ghar wale paagal. All parents were on foot at that hour, some even prepared to climb up the chairs to locate their wards. We had to be tamed. So came the announcement, “We request all parents to take their seats. Please. Children need to perform.”

It’s facetious how parents act more irrational than their children, at times. Well, most of the times.

Seeing those tiny people stand on a platform gives you the thrill only you know, or any insane person like you, we call Maa-Baap! Even when these munchkins stand, doing nothing, you feel surreal. Your child will keep finding you in that crowd of floating heads while you keep murmuring in your head “Beta left dekho”, even when you know they can’t listen to you. And when his drifty eyes will meet yours, you will give him a look saying “Hum yehi hai. Now go! Own that stage.”

Then the concert started. Focus lights came into action with drum rolls and music. They danced, like little penguins at work. Black and white had so many colours once armoured on children.

The dance was soon followed by a one-act play. Aaraaf, playing the role of a shepherd, had a single line to deliver which he had rehearsed persistently. The play unrolled and it was time when our boy had to make an entry. Mysha raised her head in apprehension and stopped blinking her eyes. Her Affu Bhai was next in line.

Chachi, Kab aayega Affu Bhai?”, she couldn’t resist asking.

Ab aayega Beta”, said Sadaf, Aaraaf’s mother.

And sure enough he then came on stage, standing tall, making his family members taller. As he made himself comfortable on his designated place, locating the mike, about to deliver, we were all ears. And then it happened! As the poor fellow was about to deliver, the technical glitch in the mike did not support his voice.

We gave each-other the perplexed look stating “Kya hua?”

The little man tried again but the mike did not budge. His feeble voice could not cover the distance between the stage and the audience and he stood, lost. We saw his face drop but like they say ‘the show must go on’ and so it did.

With a sullen face he left the stage while a senior came to the mike and made it functional again. The ship has sailed and we heard it drown. We sat there clapping for others to finish. The show was spectacular but not as envisioned.

Finally the announcement we were waiting for was made, “We ask all parents to collect their children from their classes. You will find them as follows.”

We knew where to find him but somehow we did not know what dialect to deliver. Every family member picked up one line which was practiced with conviction.

“Excellent. Bahut acha kiya.”
“Wah Affu. Kitna acha bola tumne.”
“Chalo ab ice-cream khatey hai sab. Party!!”

Sadaf, Mysha and I went to collect Aaraaf from his class while others waited by the school entrance door.

We struggled to make our way in the corridors filled with little performers along with teachers and parents.

Seated quietly on a bench in his class, he saw us from a distance. He lowered his eyes and we braced ourselves. His Mummy and Badi Mummy were all ready to cheer him up.  We waited for him to come to us. Mysha left my hand and ran to the classroom at the sight of her older brother. She could not handle the wait any longer.

The elder brother got up and they met half way. He extended his hand and she held it with all her might.

And before he could say a word, she confided in him with pure honesty and dedication, “Affu Bhai, mujhe sunayi diya. Very good. Bahut acha kiya tumne.”

His eyes lit. He believed her. The boy had doubts about his performance but then faith came in the form of his sister.

And then, they hugged. And even though other parents and children kept swamping around them finding each-other, they had found themselves. That day I kept looking for an opportunity to have a perfect picture of these two but this was the best mental image I got home. Something I will keep for years.

We met everyone at the school gate. No sooner did he come, everyone greeted him with glee and praises. He did not respond. He was quiet, still.

Half an hour later, standing at an ice-cream parlour with a dripping chocolate cone in his hand, he broke the ice.

“Mysha ko sunayi diya.” He smiled.
Mysha nodded with full dedication.

My husband and I locked eyes with a hard-to-articulate, harder-to-implement look. We were at peace, we were home. Ice-cream was never that sweet before.

______________________________________________________________________________

Aaraaf and Mysha are not raised by the same parents but share the same parenting goals. They are not raised in the same city, in fact an ocean stands in their way, but their hearts know to swim.  We, the parents, ensured our children know what is important in life – family is a priority.

My mother-in-law once rightly said, “rishtey faislo ke mohtaaj nahi hotey. Bachhe agar ek dusre se na bhi miley, unhe ek dusre ki tasveer dikhani chahiye. Unhe rishto ke mayne samjhane chahiye.”

We practise our preaching and the result is the bond these two share.  When Mysha stood for Aaraaf, he did not care for others. This in itself was such a win for the sibling bond. They may not even understand what it means, but for us, the guardians, it means the world.

You are so beautiful to me.

You are so beautiful to me.

We don’t need to travel far to find a woman we perceive beautiful. Mine was staying with me at my very home – my grandmother. She was the woman of ancient India, but had the soul of the woman of tomorrow. Beauty in it’s true form, not seen, only felt.

All women are heros. Some women get the limelight doing the unusual, but majority lead their usual life in unusually heroic manner.

When I was probably nine or ten, my Dadi (GrandMa) and I were waiting for someone in our Ambassador car parked outside Allahabad station. It was a humid day and our face dripped sweat, while Greatest Hits by Lata Mangeskar played in a creaky audio player. Unaffected by heat, she had a calm face as Lata’s mellifluous voice poured into her ears. At that point, she said something I never forgot, “Lata is such a legend..Kash main bhi kuch hoti!” That was the first time I realized that she was highly ambitious for a woman of that era! For our generation and even preceding one, it’s not uncommon to idealize somebody or desire to have more qualities than what we’re endowed with, but it’s bizarre for our grandmothers’ generation. I thought females back then were content with domestic chores but she broke all traditional knots and took interest in music, reading literature, biographies and human psychology.

Often while doing her hair, I used to make two plats and say giggling, “Tum Lata didi ki tarah ga nahi sakti, but do plats toh bana hi sakti ho na Dadi.” Her name justified her physique, standing at 5”7’ and having broad shoulders, she was so a ‘Shail’ (meaning: Mountain). Not only was she tall, but so were her hands—long and skinny—which mostly were at work with a yarn of wool and knitting needles. Since childhood, I have mostly worn sweaters knitted by her; I’m a proud owner of her work (woollens), in a variety of patterns and colors, which beat any designer woollen any day. Aunties from my neighbourhood used to get hold of me to see her exquisitely convoluted work, as I walked in my colony, in pride, flaunting my grandmother’s talent. Not only she did her masters in knitting, but had great enthusiasm for books, movies, sitcoms, cooking and making pickles.

She had a habit of taking a nap only after reading a part of Hindi literature and was extremely meticulous about the writers she followed; only books of artistic merit could be a part of her private library. Munshi Prem Chandra, Jai Shankar Prasad, Shivani and Vimal Mitra to list a few! We all have a book, which we have read multiple times and yet it intoxicates us with a bracing tonic every time we lay our hands on it, that was ‘Begam Meri Vishwas’ for her. After finding her engrossed in that book at several times in many years, I asked “So title ka matlab hai – My wife is my faith? She laughed and said “Hat pagli, ye ek aise ladki ki kahani hai jo waqt chaltey teen dharmo mein dhalti hia, and uske saath uske naam badltey hia – Begam (Muslim), Meri (read Mary; Christian) aur Vishwas (Hindu).” Made me feel either I’m too dumb or the writer too smart.

Not only did her traits mesmerize me but so did her dressing sense. For me, she was a Bengalan beauty – had long black hair, wore vivid sindoor and the biggest ‘shilpa’ bindi. She mostly wore sleeveless blouse, which made her my fashion idol. Unlike most grandparents, mine are very adaptable when it comes to apparels. No matter what I wore (slim fit jeans, skirts, short tops) I wasn’t judged and was always appreciated. She called my younger sister and me her own Karishma-Kareena (my husband still rolls with laughter at this). In her eyes, her granddaughters were the prettiest girls in any gathering(s). “Arey hato Uma(my mother), Saumya ki shaadi ke liye bahut khoobsurut ladka dhundhge.”, was her patented line.

As one can guess, I was very close to her and enamoured with her charm. She was my guardian angel when it came to television. As both of us were addicted to the idiot box, I used her as my alibi. “Papa main thodi na dekh rahi thi serial, wo toh Dadi dekh rahi thi, toh main bhi bathie gayi.” She had a timetable of serials, and was never tired of sitting in one pose watching them. It was fun to see her cursing and reviling people of artificial land, “Itni makkaar aurat hai ye Kamolika(vamp), chudail!

Not only did she name me Saumya, but treated me like that too. I was always aware of her biased love towards me; no matter what I did, she did not stop channeling her relentless love towards me.

When you have strong women to look up to, you don’t have a choice but to be raised strong. Babies come as a blank paper from heaven, and the guardians scribble on them with their sexist ink. She set an example for me. She never made me befriend cooking over studies. She never went by the conventional theory of “khana nahi banana seekhogi toh sasuraal jaake kya karogi?”
I remember her lines, “Tomorrow you may you receive life as you perceived it to be. You may fail and fall, and then your education will give her that hold you need to stand in this world again. Make it your biggest asset.” She knew me, before I discovered myself.

Five years back, she left us, but in a strange way I feel more close to her than ever! Earlier she had a defined place, now she’s everywhere. I feel her, sense her, smell her, and see her. Contrary to the belief, death does not take someone away from you, but, in a very unique way, brings a person much closer to you. You’ll think about the person in a way you never thought before, you’ll talk about him/her at every chance you get to do so.

She was a woman of substance, who lived her life ordinarily. But like I said at the start, for some women usual is unusually heroic. Its high time we define beauty correctly.

I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.

Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.

Presenting Naturals TRUE BEAUTY… http://bit.ly/naturalsOF 

I am Fire, He is Water.

I am Fire, He is Water.

Marriage is a complicated infrastructure. There is no specific recipe to it, you craft your own and add salt and sugar, when required, swaad-anusaar. It’s a literature which is read by many but interpreted differently. I too, am learning on job and although I am no expert on the matter, here’s my excerpt of our matrimony. 

When Shahzeel and I did “all in” and signed off in the court, we were clueless of our venture. We had apprehensions and to be honest, I did not expect this wedlock to last for even a year. So you can say when I moved into my marriage, I was mentally prepared for it to fall apart.

Well, all reasons conspired against us. We belong to predominantly different faiths and are paramount diverse in nature, upbringing, philosophy and outlook. What have glued us over the years are love and mutual respect. Love should not be read as romance. The charisma of romance is bound to fade in the initial years but the content of having each-other’s company made us come so far. Shahzeel and I never forgot what we went through to become one and the days we live together now were a distant dream at some point. Gratitude never left our corner. We survived those excruciating moments then, to make them memories today.

They say marriage is about compromise, I say marriage is about acceptance – a ‘happy’ acceptance. Have we made compromises for one another? Of course!

The difference is we never felt compromised when we made one. We knew this is how it is. We did not question, we knew what we were offered. You make a thousand compromises for your parents and children and you don’t utter a word. Why? Because it’s your own blood! Then why does it change with the spouse? The word unconditional is not exclusive for blood relations. You make one when you want to and for whom you want to. It’s about how much you “WANT” the other person and are considerate about his/her feelings.

The idea of marriage scares the sanest of minds. It is a gamble! Well in our case, we did not get a chance to get cold feet. We were on the run in a court with those very feet. We ran into marriage, before the realization of being married, ran by us. We had been friends for eight years and signing legal papers did not change us – the core remained intact. We sustained our friendship, with much more visibility (staying together 24*7) and responsibility, towards us – Saumya and Shahzeel – and families involved. And yes it’s true, you don’t marry the person, you marry into a family. And definitely I have my own set of differences with the in-laws. Having a perfect family is a myth, but accepting them is a reality and provides solace. You abide some, and you stand for some. Kuch apne liye, kuch apno ke liye.

Oh how much we have evolved with time! When you meet someone as young as 17, you don’t have much understanding of the relationship, forget marriage. At that age your hormones run a joke on you. It took almost a decade of matrimony and a decade and a half of companionship to discern and foster the change we made in ourselves – as humans, as life partners and most importantly, as parents. But again, we did not demand the change in each-other. We accepted and acclimated with change that time brought to us. Changes are acceptable when not demanded. It should come from within you, not from yours.  I learnt this very early in my marriage.

I was a complete virgin when it came to cooking. I had a natural dislike for it and it did not change over the years.  Somehow we sustained the initial four months of our marriage with a cook. With the commencement of fifth, we left for the United States. Now everything rested on our shoulders. H1 gave him the liberty to work, while H4 made me restricted to homely chores. Somehow we knew we had to operate as a team, H irrespective. I am a cleanliness freak, and OCD doesn’t make it easier on me. I quickly mastered at cleaning, dish washing, and chopping, but cooking made me shudder.  I expected the day to arrive when he would ask me to learn to cook. To my surprise, he happily undertook cooking under his wing. I was a happy bride and then the partner in me woke up. He didn’t need to ask me, he made me learn through his persistent sealed lips. Most people learn to cook from their parents; I learnt it from my husband. The thing to remember is – he taught me when I asked him. He never forced me, as he knew he married a defiant-pampered-girl. That’s partnership – the idea is to build a strong team, the one which runs a home and scores a home run.

No, I still dislike cooking, but yes, I don’t hate it anymore. Progress much? 

Another realization which dawned early upon us was ‘inclusion’.  In December 2009, post the wedlock; I left my work at Delhi to join him in Hyderabad, which was his base location. Leaving financial independence was not easy, especially when I knew our alliance could have taken any turn. Uncertainty crawled inside me but I kept my faith. And then on December 31, 2009 certainty overwhelmed qualm. As the world turned to another year, he turned to me and said, “Hey! OUR salary arrived.”

That line touched me and I kept looking at him, while he kept his eyes glued at his cell phone and scrolled further down for the bank statement. That’s him – conveying one liner making big impacts. I had nothing to do with his salary but he counted me in it. It was his way of letting me know everything we will build from now on, will be “ours”. Since then I have been a homemaker and a corporate employee, earned in INR and in GBP, brought home more or less, but whatever was there was ours. It did not matter if he got ‘x’ and I got ‘y’, at the end we got home ‘x+y’. That’s how our home finances work and that’s how we make each other a part of ‘us’. He still uses, “Hamara”, “Ours”, “Apna” in words and more so, in actions. I don’t need assurance, but it’s always great to be included.

When you make an intelligent investment and years later it ripes for you at the most needed hour, you have nothing else but to be grateful. He is that investment for me and as I am getting older I can’t help but send a “hi-five” to that 17 year-old naïve Saumya to have made the right choice. He was only and completely my select then and I banked on him when no one banked their faith in us. We felt hurt and alone when people in our closed quarters did not stand by us when we made the biggest decision of our lives. They had their reasons, we had ours. We have come a long way garnering acceptance from people who really matter to us.

In our marriage we were the only two pillars who supported the roof of our house. We struggled with basics till we fashioned us bigger and better. We believed in us and so now whatever little or big we have is our own faith that has compounded. When you get married at your own will, your will becomes your biggest asset. It’s your dedication and determination that can make a relationship work.

Shahzeel likes to keep things low key; I am always high on emotions. I am fire, won’t think twice before speaking my mind. He is water, calmer; more respectful towards others’ feelings. We are two metals who when merged will stand apart with their distinctive feature, but will make a stronger, tougher alloy. Nothing about us comes on the same page; except that we wanted to be with each other. In the world today seeking perfection, we fit together, wonderfully imperfect.

Shahzeel performs namaz five times a day and started observing rozas at the age of ten. I witness his persistence at  fasting 30 days a year. I have seen him under weather, with work load delivering a project and a muqammal roza. I, on the other hand, believe in karma. I am spiritual but definitely not religious. We are two distinctive personalities who have learnt from each-other, not become like the other.

Of all the things that I adore about him, the best is the way he treats elders, including my parents. I remember the day we got married he made me promise, “I don’t expect much from you. Just think of my parents like your own. Won’t be easy, but will only be harder if you don’t try. I promise to do the same.”

I remember how edgy I acted right after child birth. My mother came to us to help me and I usually ended up having an argument with her.

“Your mother is doing a favour on us by taking care of our child. She did her bit by raising her children. What she is doing now is a favour, not her duty.” he tried to explain.
“But, I did not say anything wrong?” I reasoned.
Lehza. Lehze pe dhyaan diya karo. It changes everything. Ma-baap galat bhi ho sun lo, unhone tumhari bahut suni hogi.”
The generation today believes in reasoning with their guardians which is fine, but he is traditional. Even when he shares his difference of opinion, he will never be disrespectful.

His priorities in life are quite sorted. I have evolved with time, while he is still a deep-rooted ‘desi’ at heart.

He teaches me persistence. He teaches me faith. He taught me how a strong child comes out of a broken marriage. He teaches me he doesn’t need to be a woman to nurture his family, specifically younger brothers. May be it is his faith, but I know he is drafting into a better human with each passing day. He teaches me maturity. He teaches me manners. Finally, he teaches me humanity, something which is hard to find today.

I am happy that I married a person I can look up to, someone to take utmost pride in. 

As you may have guessed, I have invested considerably in my relationship.  And even when the path posed a threat, I decided to invest further in my investment. But somehow, I feel HE believed in us, so even when the odds were low, we made it.

Back then, I took a year to say “I love you” to him and I thought I staggered. In retrospect, I said it in a jiffy. I took so much time to live those words.   

We are not a star couple but in my own milky way, we shine brighter than all. Our daughter is a hybrid of two extremes and she demonstrates it time and again.

Shahzeel, being who he is, may choose never to speak to our daughter about us. I, on the other hand, will wait for the day she will understand the depth of marriage via us, her creators. I would like her to fall in love, get hurt and carry on, till she finds the best for her. Falling in love is a gamble, a pain, but till date it’s the best feeling I have experienced. And finally when you do meet them, keep them and never let them go. It won’t be sunny all the time. There will be hailstorm but if your “bond” prevails you will sail through. You are blessed with a family, but you choose the “öne”- the right one – and start your own family. Thanks to Shahzeel, I gave birth to one but became a mother to three beautiful babies.

That’s what marriage did to us. It made us one extended family. Love, perseverance and most importantly, open mind rewards you with better surroundings, vibrations and blessings.  Diwali was always mine, but Eid became mine too. Sabudana khichdi was always mine, but biryani became mine too. Open mind was always mine, open hearts became mine too.

The focal point of our marriage was never about how aesthetic the language was.  It was about the sentences we made. It was about the paragraphs we created, it was about the story we unfolded. I hope a day will come when our offspring will draft a story with her pen, her ink, her voice and her perspective – to a better future!

 

 

 

 

 

Health Tales | 800 grams of threat

Uncertainty. It’s around you, surrounds you, you sense it and eventually learn to cope up with it. Life is no Mary Poppins and change is the only constant in the world; everything else is up in the air. Being uncertain makes us feel lost at times, but the idea is to breathe, plan, pray and keep progressing. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel and if it is still dark, you learn how to shine in the dark.

In April this year, our family train took a trip of the tunnel and it travelled more than a month to find that light.

On April 05, Papa thought of getting his usual blood work done. He went for the same and to the surprise, the doctor suggested him something he was not prepared for.

“Can you please get your chest X-ray done?”

My father perplexed and reluctant, abided. Need I say, how lucky we are that the doctor suggested so. Sometimes HE himself comes in the disguise of a human to make us aware of the situation.

My father went to get the x-ray done and it was not until hearing the questions of the radiologist that he was alarmed.

“Do you have difficulty in breathing?”, popped one.

“No.” the calm sea in which my father was residing was disturbed.

“Do you feel any pain near the chest area?”, came another.

“No.” By now he was anxious.

Once the radiologist surfaced from questioning, my father wanted to dive into some.

“What is it?”, he asked getting a grip on his racing heartbeat.

“A tumour. Right next to your heart. Please get it tested urgently for more details.”

Without any further delay, Papa got hospitalized. Soon a sample was withdrawn from the tumour and was sent for a detailed biopsy. Those ten days, when we waited for the results, were horrendous. The waiting game takes a toll on the players involved.

Meanwhile, the family and the extended family were informed. Everyone was startled and prayers started flowing from every part of the world. There are times when a human feels so weak and helpless that he realizes how small he is in the big scheme of life. We all are spiritual on some level but somehow spirituality in its true form rises in times of need.

We need to realize it’s only time which is running and in the time of crisis, we need to slow down, kneel down before HIM and seek HIS blessings. When you beg and cry in front of him, you feel his presence around you, inside you. That’s the power of connectivity. Now imagine a whole family kneeling and praying – that’s the power of collectivity.

Ten exceedingly long days crawled and the tumour was identified as benign thymoma(non-cancerous). I, in Hyderabad, was on a video call with my younger sister in San Francisco when the medical reports came over email. I remember how she closed her eyes in gratitude before spelling out, “Benign hai”. We exchanged the look siblings do when they are sailing in the same boat. Miles apart, we speak the same language; after all, it was our father in question.

Every human being has its own way of handling stress, especially in matters relating to health. I am a person who is practical in life. I keep every possibility open. So when I came to know about the tumour, I promptly analyzed every possible outcome that we might have had to encounter and also the course of actions in those scenarios. On the contrary, my sister is a complete believer. I won’t call her in a state of denial so much as being positive, who feels “sab achha hoga.”

It’s difficult when two individuals who are poles apart in rationality and spirituality talk. Our outlook differed but our end desires completely met. I kept quiet on this subject and hardly spoke with anyone as in times of distress the less you talk the more it benefits. Everyone has unsolicited advice, suggestions, and questions and when you are feeling low, all you want is not being poked on that subject.

Even though the tumour was not malignant, it had to be disconnected from my father’s chest as soon as possible. He was carrying a huge threat, 800 grams of threat. In a short span of 15 days, all was done at a lightning speed. Dates were fixed and on April 27, this year, my father underwent a major surgery at Max Saket, Delhi. He was hospitalized for a good ten days. The removal of 800 grams of tumour took six hours of operation, an expert panel of doctors and surgeons, a lot of blood and courage and much more prayers from all parts of the globe. Papa was lucky to survive the tumour. The memoir left are 35 stitches that are strategically placed from his left armpit to his nipple. One of his ribs a phrenic nerve were compromised owing to the location of the tumour in his body. It will take time for him to recover fully, but as of now, he is healthy and healing.

I will repeat – Papa is blessed to survive, knock on wood. Life is so uncertain that you can’t do much when it lays its rules. You just have to play by those. You don’t have a choice. Do you?

Luck and blessings not only hold true for survival but also for a united family. We are lucky that we have a strong connected family who rises in the times of need. There were family members who did not blink an eye to stand next to Papa in the time of crisis. Family members who travelled to Delhi to be there for an extended period, family members who abandoned sleep laying on the hospital room floor and the waiting room, family members who donated blood to meet the hospital requirements, family members who went out of their way to organize appointments in a short span with one of the best surgeons in the country, family members who opened their homes and heart for him, today and always. Above all, my father has my mother. Papa is a rationale person; Mummy is an emotional human being. But in times like this, she becomes the rock who pulls us out of any hopeless situation, time and again.

As for us, the sisters, we act as the support system, the reassuring factors, the abstract cure, which asked our maker, our father, to have faith. Because in the end, that is what a family does. Our parents taught us well and now we practice our upbringing.

Right after delivering my daughter in 2014, I had troubles walking. Due to the improper stitching done post normal delivery, I felt a gravitational force acting on the lower half of my body. I visited several gynecologists in Kolkata (where my folks resided then) who told me there was nothing to worry about and it will recover with time.

There was one who even suggested “Don’t worry. The err will be rectified after another delivery.”

I knew I did not intend the second time, so when even after three months of delivery I could not walk properly, I got massively depressed. New mothers are much more prone to such emotions. One fine day, when I came home after another doctors’ meet, I found my father seated in the hall. After a quick chat, I confessed in him, “I don’t think I will ever walk the way I used to. This uncomfortable feeling is here to stay.”

Hardly had I known that not my problem but his words were there to stay.

He looked straight at me and said, “You had a whole human being come out of you. A human body can endure any sort of pain. Childbirth is a natural phenomenon. Just give it some time.”

In a month the kegel exercises kicked in and got me out of dire straight but what pumped me to believe in my health recovery were those golden lines. That’s the power of parents!

Parents make you believe in you like no one else. When things start to fall apart, they will catch you while falling. “Haan Beta, ho jayega. Phir se koshish karo.” A child may not succeed but the parents want him/her to try – for them, for their belief in their akin.

Maa-Baap kahi nahi jaatey. They are in you, by you, with you, for you. Unka bass nahi chalta ki apne bachhon ko kya de dein. Two weeks back my Macbook died and I decided to buy a new one. The moment I mentioned that to my parents, my father spoke from the other end, “Mera le lo Saumya. It has a great processor, good storage. It’s Dell Inspiron 2016 model. What will I do with such an expensive laptop? I just read news on that, I can buy another cheaper model for that purpose.”

I was left in tears by the time I disconnected the call. Turning to my husband I said, “Parents don’t even think twice na? When it comes to their children, they can donate very drop of their blood.”

It’s not about a laptop, it’s about providing for their children, even when those children have their children. They will be parents till their last breath as usse zyada achha unhe kuch aata hi nahi, aur ye bachhon ke liye unka dil hai jo samajh pata nahi.

When I heard the news about my father’s health, I was taken aback but not shattered. I believed in good because of all the valuable life rules my parents taught me, one is belief. Believing in me. Believing in the good around me. As for the rest, we have prayers – connective and collective.

My wishes and prayers for everyone out there who are fighting the evil that has made them or their loved ones a hostage. Even when there is uncertainty, believe in yourself – either you will conquer it or you will learn to live with it.

Uncertainty is here to stay. The idea is to learn how to deal with life’s curveballs. You may feel low, lost, and depressed but that’s okay; it simply means you are living.

 

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Life finds a way.

So last week I took my bachas to experience The Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The excitement that overtook me over the weekend, when I got the tickets booked, was similar to what I had experienced when my school had taken me for Jurassic Park in 1994 (the first out of the five installments). I remember how colossal it was back then. After all, this franchise still remains one of the finest sci-fiction movies, which made us believe in the unbelievable. The movie took us to the world of dinosaurs, giving us the perfect message of not messing with the nature.

Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life in the most terrifying, primitive, and awe-inspiring way. It called out to the child in me, and all over the world. I and many others in my class then got the bag packs, the water bottles (it was just the starting era of collectables) with all kind of dinosaurs on them. It was a sensation, absolutely amazing. That movie stayed with me, in me, and stands the test of time.

And I swear, every time they say, “Welcome to Jurassic Park/World”, I feel the welcome in its utmost glory. I become a part of the expedited world, the unimaginable, the undiscoverable. As that electric car entered the park gates, I parked my bottoms on the edge of my seat. I was right there, all set to explore, what the makers had in store for us. That enthusiasm is a little hard to put in words and my children are marked by the same fervor.

So when the fifth installment arrived this year, I knew it was time for my six and four year olds to absorb those magnificent creatures the way they are meant to be – on the big screen. My little ones roared louder than the T. rex, every time it came on screen. They kept asking me, which were the good dinosaurs (herbivorous) and which were the bad ones (carnivores). There were two bathroom trips at the most crucial stages of the film. Well it’s a dinosaur film, every second was crucial, if you ask me. I had to run to two different washrooms for the Gents and the Ladies, and sprint with them like a crazy lady.

Even when I stood outside the Gents toilet waiting for my boy, I could hear the signature theme of Jurassic Park. No, it was not playing at that instance in the movie hall. While waiting, I had laid my eyes on the movie placard placed next to the washroom and the orchestra took over my ears. That’s what classics do – they take you and make you reflect on them, even at the most unexpected times. Well, the music score – how powerful, how soulful. Hitting at the right spot, it escalates and then drops. A piece of sheer brilliance – the national anthem of the dinosaurs.

By now you must have realized I am all about movies. I relish them (not all of them, only the ones I connect with) and like I said, I become a part of their world. I guess that is the mere way to savor a great movie or a good book. You need to be in character, because once you become that, you derive that feel. I, as a writer, need the feelings to jump and take control over my fingers, which make way to press the black buttons to give the shape in black letters, which you are reading right now. Writing, reading, movies need a soul, much like the horror movies.

I always feel that children are the best way to relive your childhood. You love telling them stories from your bachpan and they love to listen, more than you think. I did. I thoroughly enjoyed my grandfather’s “ek anna” and Indian railway stories, my grandmother’s love for cinema and Lata Mangeshkar. I still remember the time my father made my sister (Sonam) and myself watch Do Aakhen Barah Haath. It’s a 1957 movie by the renowned Marathi filmmaker V. Shantaram. It’s a classic on humanistic psychology in its true color – black and white, so was the movie. Sonam and I cried inconsolably as the movie ended. Well, she always cried, even when the villain died. She demanded a happy ending, where the villain learns from his mistakes and redeems himself/herself. Aah, the perfect world!

What I am today is partially because of what I have witnessed and absorbed as a child. Your genes help you, be you. Your interests often sprout from your folks, your gene pool. There is a reason I love movies the way I do. It was always a part of my childhood. Then there is an aspect, which you develop by yourself. As an adult I started researching on movies before I watched them and then I read about them in detail once I have watched them – the history of the actors, their characters, writing, development of plot, filming, I wanted to know every tiny detail. The inquisitive researcher in me always came to play.

Now that I have mini versions of myself, I find it fascinating how they get equally excited for a movie that interests them. But then they have their take away too. I learnt that the other day while heading towards the end of Jurassic World.

As the movie was about to end, there is one particular scene where the Indoraptor traps the male lead. That’s when Bryce Dallas (the female lead) rises with her laser gun pointed at the dinosaur. The fire in her eyes unblemished even as rain poured hard on them. She was no damsel in distress. Instead she was a total kickass. At that moment my almost four year daughter said with an impulse reaction, “Mummy Devsena aa gayi. Jai Mahishmati!” Her voice was on fire and everyone (including the strangers next to us) laughed out hard.

There is a big takeaway from this incident. Every time Mysha comes across fierce woman who are self made, strong and independent she knows there is Devsena within them. My daughter has seen Bahubali ‘n’ times, and every time it is for Devsena – someone she aspires to be.

Also, like I said before, there is something you pass on to your children and there is so much you gain from them. Universal pictures may have created larger than life Jurassic Park/World but Rajmouli created a crowd-pleasing movie on an epic scale. It’s our very own and there is so much to learn from every character. Both my husband and I come from UP, but my daughter has the Telangana spirit (her birth place), and she makes sure to be a “Devsena” forever!

Cheers to more movies, memories and nostalgia. There is so much to look forward to and the mother in me is all aboard.

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