Soliciting your help – Brief survey on Children’s Library in Mumbai

Dear Friend,

Are you, or someone you know, parent to a young child living in Mumbai? If yes, I need your help!

I am evaluating the idea of starting an online book library for children in Mumbai and have created a brief market research survey for this purpose. Would you please answer it for me? It should not take too long.

To fill it out, visit this link.

It would be great if you would also share this with your friends/family/colleagues in Mumbai having young children and encourage them to participate in this survey.

You could email them or simply share the link on your Facebook, twitter or blog page. Let’s spread the word folks!

Once again, thank you! I really appreciate it! 🙂



A difficult choice – 2

Yeah, sounded too good to be true, didn’t it? Okay, now hear the other side of the story.

I try not to indulge in mommy guilt, but the nagging feeling that I am missing out on a beautiful part of Baby M’s childhood is always there. I hate it when he discovers the fun of splashing around in the bath tub for the first time and it’s my mom who sees it and calls out to me to come watch. Sure, it is a privilege to be able to rush in and watch, but I’d like to be the one to see that first look of delight on his face. Watching him enjoy the bath tub so much, I realize it’s time to take him swimming, but the pool is crowded on weekends and I have no time on weekdays. Little things like that. I took him to the beach (which is a 10 minute drive from our place) for the first time in six months last Monday (when I had a New Year’s day holiday) and he loved it! If I wasn’t working, we could do these fun things every other day, not just on weekends.

Then there’s so much stuff I’d like to do for myself.  My mom’s learning Madhubani painting this month, I’d love to join her. I want to take up gardening seriously. I’d like to learn the basics of home interiors, so I can do up our home myself next year. A neighborhood aunty’s teaching Bollywood dance – it’s no secret that I have two left legs, but I love to dance and I’d like to learn a couple of dance moves at least, so I can stop making a fool of myself dancing in public. And so on and on.

So what? Many women manage home, work, kids and still find time for themselves, I hear you say. But the point is, I don’t want to be one of them. I hate to rush through life. More importantly, I think we are in a good enough place money-wise that I can afford to take it easy for a while. Also, working from home offers me flexibility, but I miss the interaction one enjoys at the workplace.

And to be honest, I was never cut out to be an engineer or a career person. I never was geeky, nor am I terribly ambitious about my career. I just happen to have reasonably good brains and once I take up something, I take pride in doing it well. So I am a software analyst by default you could say. Sure, I mostly enjoy what I do, but my work has never defined me – it’s just something interesting that keeps me busy and stimulated, and the fact that I earn good money for it is like icing on the cake. In contrast, the husband is pretty ambitious and serious about his career. So call it a gender stereotype or whatever, but those are the kind of people we are.

Having said all that, giving up work is still a difficult decision to make. What if the husband takes time to find something good post-MBA? What if staying at home bores me out of my wits? And the biggest of all – what if no one offers me a job ever again?

Tell me, what do you think?

P.S. These thoughts have been churning around at the back of my mind for a while now, but the trigger for this post was my boss offering to try and renegotiate my benefits so I can continue to work from India. The Indian benefits are unlikely to be as good as the US ones, hence this need to re-evaluate my priorities.

A difficult choice – 1

When we were planning a baby, I was a 100% sure I wanted to stay at home with our bundle of joy.  In fact, I was all set to stop working mid-way during my pregnancy. But a combination of a low-stress job, an understanding boss,  an easy pregnancy and most importantly, a supportive husband ensured I worked right till the day before Baby M was born.

Then during my 4-month long maternity leave, each day I’d look upon my return-to-work date with apprehension. ‘Should I call up my boss and tell him I won’t be returning?’, I’d ask myself everyday. ‘Why not give work a try and see how it goes?’, my sensible half always suggested. Then the husband got his cherished B-school admit in India and I thought the decision was out of my hands.

When out of the blue, the boss made me an offer I found hard to refuse. Would I like to continue working from home in India? Would I? We had already decided Baby M and I would be living with my parents in Mumbai while the husband slogged it out in b-school. My mom was eager to help with Baby M. My boss was offering me the chance to work from home and choose my hours. What more could I ask for?

So for the past six months, I have been enjoying the best of both worlds – having my cake and eating it too, you could say. I start my day snuggling up to Baby M and putting him back to sleep early in the morning, run out for my morning walk, return home, shower and leisurely read the morning papers. My commute is the few steps I walk to my desk. I start work in pajamas, a mug of coffee in hand. I can take a break whenever Baby M needs me or whenever I feel like cuddling him or just because. I can take an impromptu nap in the afternoon and cover up by working till late in the evening.

Most importantly, I never have to stay back at my desk and pretend I am working. Plus the work is interesting enough (for the most part) and is a good way to structure my day. And finally, the money comes in handy as well, especially now that the husband is on a year-long break.

So what exactly is my problem?


Christmas Fun!

I don’t remember when I had so much fun in office last. Christmas is almost upon us and this year our department went completely crazy decorating for the holiday decoration contest! We came up with this theme of creating an entire village all dressed up for the holidays.

Welcome to the village!

And each person’s cubicle was some sort of shop or office. Courtesy the baby bump, I got to be the village pediatrician!

Pediatrician's Office

Our pediatrician is very kid-friendly as you can see. She has a children’s play corner, lots of colorful posters, a toy stethoscope and even lollipops for the kids!

So much for the Pediatrician. Littleton Falls also has a general store, a kids’ clothing store, a  candy store, a Christmas tree store, a toy store, a sheriff, a tax collector and even a mayor!

Like it? So this is how our corridor’s been looking for the past week… Makes you enter office with a smile even on a Monday morning!

Honestly, were it not for Christmas, I don’t think I would have survived winter in the Northeast!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Say it with flowers!

Nothing brightens up a room better than a bunch of colorful flowers, I have always believed. And no gift gladdens my heart more than a surprise bouquet thrust into my hands!

So the husband, after almost four years of marriage, is finally learning. Here’s the welcome home gift he got for me a couple of days after we were back in New York.


The husband simply warmed my heart!

Then last week, our office participated in the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days campaign. And I, as usual, forgot to order our daffodils. As I had forgotten last year. When a kind elderly colleague saw my crestfallen face and insisted I keep his daffodil plant.

This year, anticipating my forgetfulness perhaps, he had ordered two. And left one by my desk with a lovely little note explaining the gift.

‘Please don’t!’, I protested, ‘You got me one last time too!’

‘Let’s make it a tradition then, shall we? I’ll get you one next year as well!’


So that, my friends, is my dear little daffodil plant!

And finally there is this dear old lady in our office who’s off on a long leave,  recuperating after multiple knee and hip operations. In the midst of all that excitement and pain, she took time out to send daffodils to all of us who’d sent over a get-well-soon basket to her home last month.


It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, the secret to making others happy?


Now if only we’d remember to do it everyday!

A Thanksgiving Tale

There is this sweet old lady in our office who’s one of the most talkative and friendly Americans I know. She must be over sixty years old, but she’s the one greeting us all first thing in the morning with a smile and a chirpy ‘Good morning’, she asks after our weekends and remembers all our birthdays. A warm grandmotherly sort of person is how I always think of her.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I got chatting with her about our holiday plans. She was planning to go over to her daughter’s place. ‘No more cooking for me, I’ve done it for so many years, let the daughter do it now!’, she declared. And then she wanted to know our plans. ‘We are going to Vegas’, I told her.

She seemed slightly shocked. ‘Do you have family in Vegas? Thanksgiving is supposed to be family time!’, she told me, a somewhat disapproving look on her face. It would have been rude to tell her I didn’t know what Thanksgiving was until I came to America two years ago and that it wasn’t exactly the most important festival on my social calendar.

So I did the next best thing and told her our family was in India and we had no family here, so we thought we might as well take advantage of the long weekend and have some fun instead. She seemed to get it, I think, for the frown gave way to her usual smile once again as she piped up, ‘Oh yes, enjoy while you can dearie!’

Long after our conversation was over, her words and her reaction stayed with me. And made me re-think my views on Thanksgiving. Why were we so disassociated from the festivities? I couldn’t think of a good reason except that we had never really given a thought to it!

Thanksgiving isn’t a religious festival at all. So there’s no reason we cannot celebrate it. And we don’t believe in any such religious restrictions anyhow. Even for Christmas, which is a religious festival, I learnt Christmas carols for the office luncheon and we brought home a tree and decorated it in our amateurish desi way and had great fun in the process.

The problem was in our perception, I realized. Here was an American treating us as fellow Americans while we thought of ourselves as Indians after all. In our minds, we were still living in India.

Was it time to assimilate a little more? At least for the time we are here? We could have vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners, couldn’t we? Call over friends, if not family. Maybe we wouldn’t want to it every year, but trying it once in a while wouldn’t be a bad idea either, would it?

I am still thinking about this. Perhaps it will never make much of a difference to us either way, but if we decide to bring up our kids in this country, we’ll need to be much more participative in this whole Thanksgiving/Christmas scene, I feel. Do you folks agree?

A totally unique post!

10 AM. Office. I had already spent more than an hour alternately staring at the empty desk in my cubicle and the beautiful scenery outside. Then I tried calling up my friends who were naturally too busy to take my call this early on a weekday morning. So I was bent upon dragging my daily call with Aai as much as possible, asking after all the aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors I could think of!

“What’s the matter? Why are you so eager to talk today?”, my dear Aai was both pleasantly surprised and very suspicious.

“Umm… the technical services guys took away my laptop, it had some kind of virus. Now I have nothing to do!”, I reluctantly confessed.

“Oh! Why don’t you go for a walk then?” That was my ever-practical mom’s suggestion.

“They took away my laptop, Aai! Do you realize what that means? I have so much data in there that I haven’t yet backed up, its weeks of work!”, I moaned.

“Okay. Then why don’t you write a blog post? That should relax you a bit.”

“Mom, don’t you listen to me at all? I don’t have my laptop, how can I blog?”, I asked, exasperated.

“Why, doesn’t your office have simple pen and paper?”, Aai was quick with her response.

She had a point! How shocking that the thought never occurred to me! Slightly annoyed, I decided to take up Aai’s challenge. (Now you understand the title, don’t you? How many posts have you written by hand, tell me?)

I wrote a few lines and stopped. One of the sentences didn’t sound quite right, I searched for the backspace button for a while before scratching the line, furious with myself. And those ants and insects crawling across the paper couldn’t be my once oh-so beautiful handwriting, could they? And why was my hand so unsteady, why did it start to ache after just two paragraphs? I tried to think of the last time I had written this much. That was probably during my last engineering exam, four years ago. No wonder then!

I stared at the scribbled pages, wondering if I would be able to make sense out of this mayhem when I finally got hold of a computer. Or perhaps I could just scan the pages and let you guys test your code-deciphering skills instead? Now that was a great idea! But I had to admit, I had forgotten how to write after all. My English teacher would have been so disappointed!

Edited to add: This was written yesterday. I spent the whole of Thursday and half of Friday chatting around with friends, dozing at my desk and generally being a nuisance around the office with absolutely no work accomplished. It was an amazing feeling, I tell you! I felt like one of those sarkari babus in Office Office.

Thankfully, I did get my system back with all my data intact this afternoon, and some fast and furious work from then on ensured I was able to meet my deadline for this week. Phew! At least I can now enjoy my weekend in peace. Psst… an Important Event is coming up this weekend, stay tuned for more!

Cultural diversity in the office lunch group

A Pakistani guy joined our programming team last week and it’s been an interesting experience getting to know him at lunch this past week. My lunch group in office is a motley desi crowd with a Cambodian and Sri Lankan joining in to provide the required variety. Now I am not sure if this is a good sign, but I know forming a desi lunch group wasn’t a deliberate decision on our part, it was something that just happened. I used to have lunch with some American colleagues earlier and that was a fun experience too, but our timings never matched and so on, and somehow I came to be a part of my current lunch group instead.

So anyhow, coming back to my main story, we are about eight desis (till last week, all of us desis were Indians), a Sri Lankan and a Cambodian in our group. The language of discussion is naturally English for the most part, but put together a large desi junta in an informal setting and it’s hard for us to keep away from Hindi after a while. So yes, there are some Hindi quips exchanged from time to time, and our Cambodian friend, in particular, is an expert at picking up new stuff and frequently has us in splits with his attempts to repeat what he’s just heard.

He knows some phrases very well by now and hearing him say ‘Chalo khana khaate hain, bahut bhook lagi hain’ every noon followed by a ‘Chalo chalo, jaldi chalo’ and a nonchalant ‘Theek hain’ when we plead for two more minutes, a stranger could be forgiven for thinking he is actually an Indian in perfect Chinese disguise! (Roughly translated the three phrases mean ‘Come on, let’s eat, I am very hungry’, ‘Come fast’, and ‘That’s okay’!) Incidentally, this guy has some prior background of Hindi, he has seen Indian movies (with the dialogues dubbed in Cambodian but the Hindi songs thankfully left well alone) on Cambodian television as a child, but sadly all he remembers from them is ‘lots of people singing and dancing everywhere’!

We have very entertaining and sometimes explosive discussions during lunch every day, talking about American movies and sitcoms, Cambodian food and culture, Indian movies and politics – any topic under the sun as long as it’s not about work actually. The Sri Lankan friend is usually keen to discuss the latest LTTE exploit in Sri Lanka while the Cambodian friend is always curious to know more about India. And an Indian friend C’s favorite topic is Kashmir and terrorism in South Asia. Somehow, whatever be the starting point of the discussion, he manages to steer it towards his pet peeve – South Asian politics, with special regard to Kashmir.

So one can imagine the kind of volatile situation our new Pakistani friend stepped into last Monday! The first few days went by peacefully enough, but it’s rather hard to kick an old habit suddenly, so as expected, the much-loved topic came up for discussion again yesterday. Our new friend handled the situation pretty well though, admitting there were some problems on both sides of the border and leaving it at that. Thankfully C seemed to have got the hint by then and did not persist with his usual enthusiasm to debate the issue in microscopic detail. Some major fireworks were averted that day, I think!

(I am eagerly waiting for the next India-Pakistan cricket match though. Where Kashmir did not do the trick, an Indo-Pak match surely will. My father was good friends with many Pakistani colleagues during his long stint abroad and the Indian and Pakistani families made it a point to watch Indo-Pak matches together whenever possible. Ah, the pleasure of sitting in a friend’s home, enjoying his hospitality, watching a cricket match on his television set and cheering like crazy when his country’s star batsmen is out clean-bowled!)

The new guy is a pretty sporting and friendly person, I must say. With his pronounced (and to our ears, slightly funny) Punjabi accent and flamboyant personality (he’s been a theatre actor during his youth), he adds a welcome playful element to our group. He is also very patient in answering all our curious questions on Pakistan and Pakistani society. I now know that Gujrat is a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan, I know several hardcore Urdu words like mukhtalif and zaika and that the colloquial Urdu spoken in Karachi sounds very similar to Bombaiya Hindi spoken in Bombay. Our Cambodian friend, however, might soon get lost in the subtle distinction between swaad and zaika, I fear! (Both refer to a subtle variation of the English words ‘taste’ and ‘flavor’ in Hindi and Urdu respectively.)

Disclaimer: Needless to say, some of the Pakistani references in this post are not meant to be taken seriously. Both my father and I have the greatest affection and respect for our Pakistani colleagues and consider them very good friends. I also understand that Kashmir is a serious political and humanitarian problem, and I have no intention of poking fun at it in any way. I have no fanatical views on Kashmir myself, and would only like it to return to peace and normalcy as early as humanely possible. I am extemely fanatical about Indo-Pak cricket matches, however!

Christmas time!

Growing up in India, Christmas was not a big occasion for celebration during my childhood. All it meant to me was some very yummy home-made cake brought by a Christian friend in school. And I vaguely remember my parents leaving some surprise presents by my bedside on Christmas morning for a couple of years, but I must have been very young then since I don’t remember any more details.

But this year is another story altogether. This is my first Christmas experience in the US. For the past two years, it so happened that I was here for the rest of the year but somehow managed to be in India just around December. But this time I’m here and having a lot of fun making up for the past two holiday seasons.

We bought a Christmas tree last weekend. A fake one, since we had heard the real ones are too messy and I don’t feel too good about cutting down trees anyhow. Our tree is a six and a half feet high Colorado pine and very pretty. It came predecorated with tiny shimmering lights but surely I can’t be expected to be happy with just lights however nice they might be! So I had a grand time picking the rest of the decorations. There’s a red and gold streamer, some red, blue, gold and green balls, little silver stars, a Santa Claus, a Snowman, an Angel and a beautiful red bow right on top of the tree.

Doesn’t it sound just lovely? And it feels so nice and warm and cozy when we switch on the lights in the evening! We aren’t done with the decorations yet though. There’s a lovely Christmas wreath with a smiling Santa and cherry ‘Welcome’ sign that needs to go on the door and some colorful lights that we’ll be putting up on our balcony railing. The problem is, we can’t find an electric connection anywhere in the balcony. I’m sure there must be one since all our neighbors seem to have found it, but we haven’t been successful yet. Anyone living in apartments in the US have any pointers on that?

I have also been reading up on a lot of the Christmas-related stuff on the net this week. When we bought the tree, I was naturally curious. Why are we buying one? What is it’s significance? Why the star and red bow on top? And many more such questions kept popping up in my mind. So I googled it up and found a lot of interesting stuff in the process. Did you know, for example, that the legend of Santa Claus originated from a generous Bishop called Saint Nicholas from Turkey? And I always thought Turkey was an Islamic country! Or that the tradition of a Christmas tree was believed to be of pagan origin and was therefore opposed by early Christians? Interesting, isn’t it? I am not sure how much of this is true though, does anyone know?

Then there’s a holiday luncheon in our office next Monday and a group of people are planning to sing Christmas carols during the luncheon. The leader of the group is in my team, and he had heard from someone that I’ve learned Indian classical music, so he asked me if I’d like to join in. Sounds like a great idea, I said, except that I don’t know any Christmas carols! No problem, we’ll teach you, he assured me. So our group had it’s first practice session this morning. I found the style of singing very different (The girls are expected to sing in a very soft and high-pitched ‘soprano’ voice.), so it took me some time to pick it up and blend in, but after that it was great fun all the way!

Everybody was amazed to see me volunteer. An Indian girl who has never heard a Christmas carol before volunteering to sing one! I felt like an exotic specimen for the first few minutes the way everyone kept staring at me but luckily there were no major goof ups. I had listened to all the carols several times last night, so I was able to pick up the livelier tunes like ‘Deck the Hall’ and ‘Let it Snow’ but some of the slower ones like ‘Silent Night’ completely escaped me. I was given this feedback after the session – You blended in beautifully, so either you sing very well or you didn’t sing at all! And when I told them I was finding it hard to pick some of the slower tunes, I was told to lip-sync whenever in doubt!

Some folks also wanted to know if I didn’t have a problem singing some of the religious carols since I am not a Christian. They seemed to find it surprising that I didn’t have any issues with that. Now that I think about it, it’s probably because Hinduism, at least the way most of us practice it, is such a loosely-defined and suit-yourself kind of religion – we worship so many Gods and Goddesses – that it’s not hard for us to bow to Jesus or Mother Mary as well. I have a habit of folding my hands in a namaskar whenever I pass any place of worship, be it a temple, a church or a mosque. But I wasn’t sure how kindly my Christian colleagues (who probably believe strongly in monotheism) would look upon this philosophy of mine, so I simply said I’ve no problems and left it at that.

What I did have a problem with and refused to participate in is a ‘Secret Santa Exchange’ being planned, again, in our office. The idea is each person who signs up for the exchange sends in a wish list of Christmas gifts for himself/herself, then a single person swaps the lists and assigns each list to somebody else who signed up for the exchange. So finally everyone gets his/her wishlist fulfilled but also ends up spending a lot of money on coming up with somebody else’s wishlist gifts.

Now I don’t get the point of that at all. I have nothing against gifting friends and family, but I believe in surprises and spontaneous and heartfelt gifts and am not a big fan of advertising my wishlists! Then again, I’m extra careful buying stuff in this country – I’ve improved a lot since my first few dollar-counting and rupee-converting months here, but there’s a long way to go yet! So if I am going to spend money here, I prefer to pick and choose carefully myself.

I had brought some lovely Rajasthani wall-hangings for my team from my India trip last month and needless to say they loved it. (Some have taken them home, but most have put them up as banners in their cubicles. Our team’s area looks like all bright and colorful these days – a stranger might be forgiven for assuming it’s an Indian company we work in!) Americans love Indian textiles and handicrafts but more importantly I’m sure they appreciated the thought behind the gift – that I had thought of them when I was back home and cared enough to get something special for them. Now that’s the kind of gift I believe in!

There was another different kind of Secret Santa program in office last week wherein we contributed money to buy Christmas presents for children in a local shelter that our office sponsors and I contributed wholeheartedly for that. Again, that’s another kind of gift that I truly believe in.

All in all, I’m having a busy and fun time this month. Winter is such a dreary time in New England (Imagine going home from office at 5 PM in pitch-darkness!) that I’m not surprised folks take so much effort and pleasure in filling up the holiday season with as many fun activities as possible. There’s also a Christmas party at a Sri Lankan Christian friend’s home this weekend, a Holiday Dessert baking contest in the office next week (Any pointers for that?) and a Florida vacation coming up during the actual Holiday weekend! I think I know what I’ve been missing for the past two years now!