The house 2

He is known in my family for his ‘business mind’. His dream was to go to US and he did so by marrying a nurse, even though he only studied till the 12th. He couldn’t speak a word of English when he went to US, but retired with pension !

He raised his sons exactly how he was raised and when it came to their marriage, he insisted the bride should be from Kerala and his sons listened to their father’s advice. ( American born mallu penkuttikal kku bhayankara hungaaa ūüôā was the selling point)

His second dream¬† retire and live in Kerala. He sold the house in US and went back to Kerala, built his dream mansion ( in an onam kera moola, close to where the rest of his relatives live). The tiles were imported from Italy and when the workmen didn’t install the tiles in a straight line, he got them to remove it and reinstall ( apparently he also didn’t pay them wages for the extra work, for it was their fault, if they had done it properly in the first time, then it didn’t need to be redone). Everything in the house was perfect.

And then he waited and waited and waited.

Waited for what you must ask? Well, you see, when he went back to India, he wanted his sons to go with him. After all, their wives are from Kerala and they will want to go back home even if their husbands really don’t want to go back, plus which mallu girl will not want to live a palace?. He, who didn’t take care of his own parents expect that his sons will ( actually must, not will) take care of him.

He was sure he was holding the proverbial carrot in his hand, while he and his wife live alone in a massive castle in an onam kera moola, hoping their sons will come back, their daughter’s in law have managed to get the sponsorship for their parents and sibling ands¬†they are all living happily in US.

The house

I was invited for a meal at ‘the house’ that is owned by a cousin of mine. The first thing I noticed as I parked the car in the driveway¬†was the huge Chandelier that¬†is strategically placed, so it can be seen from outside through the glass window on the second floor. Main door had beautiful wood carving. As you enter the house, on the right side you find the formal lounge with leather couches and a¬† solid wood coffee table. There was also a solid wood display cabinet with beautifully arranged Swarovski animal collections. On the left side was the study with¬†a collection of encyclopaedias adorning the shelves. There were few awards from the mallu associations framed and hung on the walls, along with¬†a photo of Jesus¬†and Parumala Thirnumeni. After the formal lounge is the formal dining room with massive 8 seater solid wood dining table and chairs. There was a giant buffet & hutch by the side of the of the dining table that held a 5 pieces set of Royal Albert Old country roses, A 5 piece set of Noritake ( Unknown pattern)¬†and a 5 piece set of Aynsley ( cottage garden), all of which are displayed exactly how it is displayed at¬†Macys . The second shelf held a collection of lead crystal glasses of all shapes and sizes. As it was Christmas time, there were many pieces of Lennox Christmas decorations scattered all around the house.

I was lead to the kitchen to get my drink. There was a giant punch bowl¬†with cups¬† on the kitchen island. I was¬†handed¬†a disposable plastic cup, the original cups that came along with the punch bowl is for display only.. It looks like this is a standard practice in most Mallu houses eastern part of US. Every house that I visited, be it rich or poor had a collection of expensive china (¬†Royal Albert’s Old country roses is the most fashionable)¬†and crystal glasses in the buffet¬† & hutch, but disposable cups and plates are the only thing they all use. Apparently, some¬†great soul¬†has worked out that it is cheaper to use disposable plates and cups than spend money for water/dish soap and gas to heat the water. (Dishwasher is also only for display and often functions as a repository for plastic shopping bags¬†and other useful items.)¬†No one really cares about the environmental impact.¬†Dirty paper plates¬†can’t be recycled, I read somewhere that almost of¬†half of¬†the solid waste discarded each week in US¬†is paper products and most if it can’t be recycled because of grease contamination, yet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mallu households only use paper plates and cups. ( paisa labhikkande??)

Oh, we were talking about ‘the house’. It was the dream of the owner of ‘the house’ to own a large house. She works 80 hours/week. ( apparently, she has maxed out on the overtime, I don’t know how the over time works in US or that how anyone can work 80 hours a week legally). She leaves home at 5.30 in the morning and comes back at 8 pm. She also suffers from severe arthritis and most of the days she is in severe pain, but they owe a huge sum of money to the bank, so she has no choice but to work. She is terrified that one of these days, she will be medically unfit to work and the house will be foreclosed.

It brings me to the question, is it worth to sacrifice your health and mental wellbeing , so you could live in a mansion, own expensive furniture, dinner sets, crystal glasses etc that is never used and work your ass off, so you could pay for all these.. is that what the American dream is all about?

Ms.Bully

Our heroine today is Ammachi. She¬†got US greencard¬†in 1980. I remember her first¬†trip to US¬†very well. She took dalda tins full of sharkkara peratti ( sugar coated banana chips), avalose unda and even the stuff you only find in Kottayam. ( I am growing old and my memory is failing me, I can’t remember the name, it comes in a triangle shape, with very sweet, thin¬†pastry covering made from rice flour¬†and filled with Avalose, apparently very few people know how to make the pastry covering and those from Kottayam, if you know what I am talking about, please do leave a comment). All of us went to the airport to see them( appachan and ammachi) off, hoping to be in their good books, so they will remember to bring us something from US. Both wore the traditional outfits, which was supposed to be pristine white, but turned out to be a lighter shade of purple with excessive use of Ujjala.. My mother was none too pleased with Appachan for wearing a mundu with a tiny kara ( I think the cost of the mundu is propotional to the thickness of the kara, bear with me for I have never bought a mundu in my life)

Anyway, they went and came back, all of us got a bar of soap, no ordinary soap, it was¬†American soap !! I remember how my sisters and I waited for them to come back,¬†we really wanted to know only one thing¬† amerikkakkar chanthi kazhukuvo? Appachan¬†became an expert in American culture after staying there for three months and since then every conversation always ¬†started with Amerikkayil………

A lot of things changed in their family since their oldest daughter in law went to US, their house was transformed from ola kkudil to a house with oodu. It even had an attached toilet !

Appachan passed away about 20 years ago and Ammachi moved to US to stay with her children. I know I digressed a bit to get to the title of today’s post and here is why Ammachi is Ms.Bully.

Ammachi is very attached to her youngest son and he thinks the world revolves around her. So even though Ammachi could travel from Kerala to US on her own, when she stays with her youngest son, he insists Ammachi shouldn’t be left alone. Someone must always be home with Ammachi.

Ammachi only eats typical Malayalee food ( Yet she carries oats and cornflakes to take home every time she visits Kerala)and the wife when she returns from her night duty has to make proper indian breakfast and lunch and then only she was allowed to sleep. Ammachi also didn’t know how to use a microwave ( In Kerala, she owned one ūüôā¬† ) and reheat the lunch, so when the kids are at school, her daughter in law had to set alarm to get up at lunch time to heat the food for Ammachi.

Her daughter in law ( my aunt), changed her working hours when I was visiting, so we could spend time together. She cooked a proper Malayalee lunch ( meen curry, moru, thoran etc), got one of her daughter’s to baby sit Ammachi and we went for shopping. We got a call from home halfway through. Ammachi kku innu choru venda, Kanji mathi.. ( Ammachi didn’t want to eat rice, but wanted porridge)…if we didn’t go home and make Kanji, Ammachi would pout and complain to her darling son and my aunt will be homeless!, so we did.

Night duty

Sometimes, there are stories I feel compelled to write and initially I was planning¬†to write a short story collection titled American Malayalees, however lack of time is the limiting factor here, ¬†there is no way I can handle a book project along with my work and my studies. If I don’t tell these stories, I¬†will never be able to¬†live with my conscience.

This is her story.

She was the oldest of 5 siblings from a very happy family. They were neither rich nor poor and she often talks¬†about how wonderful and¬†idyllic ¬†her childhood was. She wanted to do medicine, but didn’t think she was smart enough, so opted to do Nursing. Her parents wanted the best for their oldest daughter and got her married to someone who was waiting for the family sponsored green card. Surely with her going to America, there is hope for her siblings to get the visa as well. pinney naalu perodu parayamallo, molu amerikkayil poyi…pennu nurse ayathu kondu avaru sthreedhanvum othiri chodichilla

He is well dressed, well mannered, active in the church and the community. Everyone who knows him sings praises of what a  wonderful person he is. But in him hides the monster that is  reserved for his wife and children. His brothers and sisters means much more for him than his wife and children. She told me how once after the caesarean birth of their oldest child, when his sister came to see the baby at their home on the first day she was discharged from hospital, he asked her to get up and make tea for his sister.

He has belittled his children¬†from the time they were babies telling them how¬†useless they are (¬†like their mother) and now they are struggling¬†in¬†college. ( He chose what they should study,¬†didn’t even consult them¬†or ask them¬†what they wanted to study)

Her 85 year old mother stays with them,¬† after the death of her father. To the outside world, he is the best son in law, who takes such a good care of his mother in law. ( swantham ammaye pola avan ammayi amme nokkunne, evide kittum inginey oru ambotty payyaney)¬† Inside the house, he curses and swears at her, blaming¬†the old woman¬†for the way she raised her precious oldest child. He asks her often, why she doesn’t die? ( ningalkku onnu chathoodey, manusyane shalya peduthathe?). Often he tells her that her husband died early because God felt sorry for him having to live with her. Then to make it all better, he hits his wife in front her mother.

One would think that a woman living in US would know she has a lot more rights than a woman in India and would do something to protect herself from emotional and physical abuse. But she is still an Indian woman, trained from birth to bear¬† all the ills and suffer silently¬† in the name of family, culture and society. She will not ever leave her husband, she thinks this life with¬†the monster¬†is her destiny. Though she didn’t come under my classification of a strong woman, I am writing about her, because even in despair she found a way to cope. She works nights at the hospital and for the past 20 years she only sees her husband¬†when she gets back home from the hospital in the morning and he is just about to leave for his work, giving him the opportunity to abuse her only two days ( when she is off duty) a week.

Better person.

Sometimes you learn so much more from your children.

It all started with a scarf. A beautiful olive green¬†Cashmere scarf that Yaya and I found in Nordstorm rack. It was going for 40$. ( Normal price for the same scarf is well over 100$) Yaya picked up the scarf and told me, “Oh, mom, this is E’s ( her best friend) favourite colour and it will be an awesome gift for her, May I please buy it for her, ’cause I want to buy all my friends something from here”

( I was really annoyed with Yaya, I don’t own a money printing machine and if she is buying something pricey¬†for one friend, she will want to buy something pricey¬†for all her friends and that is 14 friends we are talking here, plus the fact that she thought of her friend than me..my favourite colour is green and I love Cashmere scarf !)

“But your friends too travel overseas and they don’t bring anything for you !”

She looked at me and asked in the most annoying tone “So? Since when did¬†what other’s do for me matter? Weren’t you the one who taught me at the end all that matters is how I lived my life and what I did for others?”

In a split second, I realized, how much like my mother I am turning out to be. Everything in her life was a balance scale. If my neighbour gave us a plate of¬†Biriyani for eid, then we gave them a plate of biriyani for Christmas. If we gave them Biriyani for Christmas and they didn’t give any to us for eid, we stopped giving them Biriyani.¬†Amma never did anything because she wanted to be nice. She never gave anything to anyone without some ulterior motive. ( She once gave a parker pen to the lab technician at my sister’s college. It was early 80’s and parker pens were a real luxury and she gave him the pen, so she could demand later that my sister be given an easy experiment for her practicals, for he is obligated to her for giving him such an expensive gift!)

I let Yaya buy the scarf for her friend and I learned from my 15 year old that not everything in life ought to be balanced in a scale of equality.

Control

I was told that I really ought to reconsider wanting to send my children to an American university because I will lose control of them. ( control povum). This fact was further reiterated  by letting me know that American Universities do not even send report card of the child to the parents.

Two things bothered me with the above assumption. One is the Indian parents’ need to be in control and the other is their inability to accept that children grow in to adults and therefor do not¬†need the parents to be involved in their day to day life when they are¬†at the University. ( And the University understands that, the reason why they don’t send the report card home)

My (second) cousins who were born and raised in US were not allowed to go for the high school prom because their parents decided that Prom isn’t culturally acceptable. The parents control every bit of their child’s life with a Mallu yardstick. I find that attitude extremely unfair. It was the parents who chose to live in US and if they wanted to raise their children like how they were raised in Kerala, then they should have stayed back in Kerala. ( Isn’t it odd that girls in Kerala wear saree for social ( I did in my 10th) and wear¬†kerala saree¬†on Nov 1 and attend¬†the street march or whatever you call ( Jaatha) and that is culturally¬†acceptable?)

As for control, what exactly does one expect to gain from controlling every move their child make? As I said before, my mother tried that and if she knew all the things I have done while she was under the impression that she was in full control of my life, she will have a heart attack.

My job as a parent is to guide and guard my children. I have taught them what is right and what is wrong. I really don’t want to see their report card when they are in Universities for they should know by then that they are the captains of their ship, if they work hard, they get good grades, they don’t,¬†it is their grades that¬†suffer, the outcome only affects them, not me. I have done my job by then.

 

Universities

One of the reason I made the trip to US was to visit the top Universities. Yaya will be in Grade 11 this year and I felt she needed an opportunity to see the University campus and talk to students and staff. We visited all the Uni’s in her list. Stanford, UCLA, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia. My son only wanted to visit MIT and we visited¬†MIT as well.

Before I made the trip, I contacted my cousin to ask him about arranging campus visits. He has been living in US for the past 25 years and was under the impression that Ivy League colleges are very expensive. It isn’t true. If your child is an all rounder and got a pretty good SAT score and managed to be in ¬†the top 5% of the applicants, the chances are pretty good that he or she will get the admission and you will only pay the fees according to your annual income.

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/ivy-league-schools-are-surprisingly-cheap-net-tuition-2013-8.

Of all the Universities we visited, I loved Princeton the best. I felt a tinge of jealousy when we did the campus tour at Princeton. I wished¬†¬†I was given a chance to study there.. ( if only wishes were horses….).

Yaya loved Harvard and Princeton the most.

Yaya also loved the fact that she doesn’t have to choose her subjects in the first year as she has no idea¬†( yet) to what she wants to study¬†and is allowed to change her subjects any time in the first two years.

My son met with the admissions officer at MIT. He was told that he is on the right track by virtue of him doing the maths acceleration program, his interests in robotics and his community involvement. They also highly value the IB diploma. Last year 18,000 students applied to MIT and 1500 got the admission. As we were leaving after the interview,my son told the admissions officer that he is not interested in applying to any other colleges and that he will see her in 4 years time.

The million dollar question is, will my children get the admission in one of the top Uni’s? and the honest answer is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if you are determined, there is nothing that stops you from achieving your dreams.

Home

I left a snow storm in Chicago and arrived home to 43 degrees of heat. The look on the face of ground crew at the BNE airport, when they saw us in our winter gear was priceless..

We left home with 4 backpacks and one suitcase, came home with 4 backpacks and 9 suitcases. Except for few pots and pans, I didn’t¬†buy anything for myself and I am convinced that¬†Yaya can open an A√©ropostale outlet here. She bought t-shirts from every A√©ropostale¬† outlet in every town we visited.

When I planned my trip to US, I had this notion that since all three of my children are planning to study and live in US, I might as well relocate, at least I will be in the same country as them.  And things are so much more cheaper in US than Australia.

Look at the price comparison for Ikea dragon flatware here in Australia

http://www.ikea.com/au/en/catalog/products/70177665/

and in US

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70091761/

Of course, they have changed the product a bit by making it 4 pieces of 6 in Australia and 5 pieces of 4 in US. but charging me 49.99$ for it in Australia and 12.99$ in US is a bit too much, don’t you think?

Anyway, I was talking about relocating to US and I¬†know I sound like the proverbial¬†fox in the Aesop’s fables, but I like my ridiculously expensive life here. Why? I don’t really know. I guess I hated the fast pace lifestyle and the crowd. I waited two hours to¬†be seated for¬†NY eve dinner at Cheesecake factory and no, they didn’t take reservation.¬†There were too many people everywhere¬† and everyone is in a perpetual rush.

I am so happy to be back home. It is hot and I am crabby, but the wine is very cheap.

Wishing you all a very happy new year.