Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My entry for the International Women's Day Blogging Contest on Indusladies

One of my favorite-est bloggers published her entry for the Indusladies International Women's Day blogging contest recently. And I was duly inspired to post an entry of my own. I've chosen to blog about the topic "Financial Freedom" and the below would be my entry.

I am going to title this entry "A promise fulfilled"


"If there is anything that I regret in my life, it's the fact that I did not have a job when I needed it the most", said Ratna rather woefully.
Both her daughters, aged 15 and 13 were listening with rapt attention to their mother who had somehow chosen them to be her sounding board that day.

Ratna's husband, whom she'd married years ago, much to her parents' opposition was indeed a loving person. A doting father to his children, he was a man who worked hard and always strived to provide the best for his family. Three bright children and an affectionate wife, his family was a picture of perfection.

But steadily, the perfection had begun to wane.

Holding a good position in a reputed software firm, he did earn a respectable paycheck at the end of every month. But then, when it came to matters of the money, he was as gullible as one could get.
There is never a dearth of con artists who are waiting to make a quick buck by luring such naive people into their grand schemes. This man, sadly, was one such victim who fell prey to not one, but several of such schemes and would invariably end up losing a big chunk of his hard earned money every now and then. One wrong decision led to another, manifesting into a vicious cycle.

When you are the lone breadwinner of a family of five that included three grown children, it's never easy. You may have a stable source of income in the form of your job, but then there are societal pressures that dictate your actions so strongly sometimes that you end up making decisions on an impulse. It doesn't help things either when you are a naive person by nature. Add a bunch of swindlers out there with fake "multiply your money manifold quickly" schemes to the mix and you readily have a recipe for a surefire fiasco.
And when one venture backfires, you want to make up for the loss in a hurry and that makes you quickly jump into another "quick fix" one. I guess this is what happened with him too, before he found himself with his 'next to nothing' savings and a dejected wife.The money that Ratna was earnestly saving up in the hopes of buying a home some day was fast depleting in front of her eyes. As his wife, Ratna couldn't help but feel betrayed. Her advice to stay away from these swindlers had only fallen on deaf ears, as he continued to burn his fingers relentlessly. Naturally, that angered her and it began to take its toll on their relationship. They would sometimes have bitter quarrels and of course, there would never be a winner.

But as a mother, she had far bigger concerns. She had two young daughters whose education had yet to be completed. And of course, the biggest worry that haunts every parent of daughters - their marriage.

Now, Ratna was a post graduate in Sociology who had always been among the foremost of her peers. Getting oneself a job with those kind of credentials was never difficult. But, post marriage, the idea of being a home maker appealed more to her. And then, they had three children who needed her attention more than ever. Being a stay at home mother was a decision Ratna made mostly out of choice, but a part of it was also compulsion.

"I would never have to live in the fear of our savings getting squandered if I had a job today. All I wanted was to live in a home of our own some day and have enough to secure your future, but I hate it that I am so powerless right now to make that happen", Ratna continued, choking up.

But she was quick to regain composure. After all, she wasn't just looking for a shoulder to cry on, it was a much bigger agenda. To impart the biggest life lesson she had ever cared about, to her daughters.
"I do not know if I would live long enough to see how you girls will finally turn out , but remember your mother always wants you to be financially independent at any point in your lives", she said looking in their eyes.
"You will never be at the mercy of a man for every single necessity of your life, the best ever man though you might marry."

"You will never ever end up being the helpless, distraught woman that your mother is right now", she said still looking straight into their eyes.

As both her daughters nodded silently, they knew they had promised their mother and themselves that one day, no matter what, they would do her proud.

One of them was me.

Amma did not live long enough to see me or my younger sister get past college and land pretty decent jobs soon after.

I still remember the day I was paid my first salary. A mere 20,000 rupees in all , but that still made me feel invincible in a foolish way. All I wanted to do was run to Amma with that money and exclaim "Look Amma, that's my money!" . And revel in the pride that would show in her eyes. When we both would know that the first step towards fulfilling the promise of financial freedom I made her that day, had been taken.

Through the years, financial freedom to me has meant much more than having enough dough to splurge on clothes and shoes. Or buying fancy presents for loved ones. Sure these things are absolute bliss too. But the essence of having "my own" money is to know that I am in control and free to take decisions fearlessly and on my own terms.
So, when I bought my first apartment at the age of 23, there was a feeling of exhilaration and achievement of fulfilling my mother's dream of owning a home, but most importantly it was about a sense of empowerment. That which came from being financially independent or as the cliche goes, "standing on my own two feet".

Staying on the topic of financial freedom, we women are somehow still not very adept at managing our finances well several times. We tend to leave the most important decisions to our husbands and don't really take charge of our money for seemingly valid reasons but what are really excuses. Lack of time, lack of aptitude in understanding financial matters, preoccupied with family/kids are probably the most commonly quoted ones.

But ladies, here's one scary piece of statistic which says 7 out of 10 women live in poverty at some point in their lives. If that doesn't sound like a wake up call to you, what does?

Yes it's true, my eyes glaze over and English suddenly starts sounding like Greek when I am reading the red herring prospectus of a company of which I intend to buy some stocks. But as Suze Orman, the most recognized face in the arena of personal finance points out, the key is to educate ourselves in small, easy to manage steps. In other words, if you are like me, do yourself a favor , just walk into a book store and pick up that copy of "Personal finance for dummies" . Yeah yeah, Nobody's watching.
In the end, you'd be amazed how just managing your money wisely will do wonders to your self esteem.

So this women's day, let's all celebrate the freedom that keeps the worry of the what-ifs of life at bay. The freedom that gives us the courage to stretch our limits, express our power and fulfill our potential. The freedom of the financial kind.


I know it's pretty late in the game, but I will go ahead and tag Deeps, Lavs and Sweta. Girls, I know you all have it in you to rock this contest. The rest of you , please feel free to blog away if this interests you too.

Go for it and kick some butt (even if it's mine) :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Turning over a new leaf - Concluded

I used to think my software job was exhausting. And then, motherhood happened.

So we come home from the hospital to a rousing reception,balloons, aartis et al. Not to mention the "oohs" and the "aahs" over how adorable the baby is,from aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, neices, neighbors, basically everyone I ever knew and random neighborhood grannies that I never even knew existed. And a husband who is stalking me around with a video camera so intently that you'd start suspecting this guy has a secret night job of a paparazzo.
It's only when he does a playback of the video, later that night, that I realize, that I only had a cameo in his "movie" and the star of course was the little debutante bundled up in my arms all the while. Sure enough, I was relegated to playing the "hero's mother" now. Sigh.

And later that night, as I crawled into bed hoping to turn in for the day , he began his thing. No no, not the husband, you perverts. The baby, of course. You know, the thing. like all the babies of the world.
-Begin crying and mommy would guess you're hungry and feed you until you fall asleep again. -Half an hour later, just when mommy has laid you down on your bed and is beginning to just about feel her eyelids draw shut, start crying again.
-Don't stop until she holds you and if she makes that mistake of thinking you've calmed down and tries to put you down again, kick it up a notch and let out a wail so loud that even a mommy notorious for sleeping through earthquakes would be kicked wide awake.
-If things get too monotonous, demand to be walked around the house. Well yes, 3 o'clock is the perfect time for a morning walk, its 3 in the morning, remember?
-A few nappy changes and feeds later, just when mommy looks like she is seriously contemplating tossing you out of the window, decide it's enough fun and games for the day and finally go to sleep. Only for a couple of hours before its time for another meal and we start the loop again.

Addy(oh yeah -that's what we will know him as, on this blog) pretty much spent the first month perfecting this routine and in the process, driving mommy nuts. What was triple chocolate cake of pregnancy was now sleep, the one thing I truly craved for. All I dreamt of when I rarely got to sleep was , that's right, sleep. And of course, there's the the significant change in lifestyle(read house arrest) right after a baby, specially when you've had a pretty active social and professional life. You hardly have the time to notice that there is actually a world beyond the cradle. Life as you'd known it, gets kinda lost in a pile of poopy diapers.

So one such harried sleepless night,after I laboriously nursed Addy to what seemed like an 'All you can eat' meal he was working on (I later read about 'cluster feeding'), I was ready to put him down to sleep. But apparently, he had something else planned for mommy. One huge smile that had "You make me so happy" written all over it. I had never seen him smile the way he did, ever before. Babies have a weird sense of timing alright, but come on, who wouldn't melt to this?

I think I smiled back at him foolishly. I was kinda fuzzy from the lack of sleep, but I am pretty sure that it was myself who told me that night that this one visual makes all the bother well worth it.

And the journey that is motherhood continued to be scripted. Speaking of which, I have been tracking Addy's milestones quite eagerly . I must have texted every single person on the address book of my cellphone the day Addy rolled over for the first time. And screamed in delight on the phone to G the day he sat up and tried to crawl. And told every single person, even strangers I ran into, the day he actually took his first step.

But, all glorious tales of motherhood said and done, it is also a fact that I can be such a cranky baby at times. Throw a fit for random reasons and blame it all on the "stress" of raising a child.But it's such a blessing to have this guy for a husband who knows that sometimes, all you need is to be babied. God knows where he gets his endless patience from and I'd better be grateful for it. The focus of his handy cam "movie" might be on Addy, but he's never let his shift from me even for a moment. Whether it was making sure I ate right during the nursing phase or regaling me with tales of office gossip that I was missing all the while, he's been the perfect partner in this entire parenthood gig. Fumbling and learning along the way together, we've had some of the most amazingly endearing moments of our lives with this child. And it's only getting better.

And I'd be nothing short of a wretch if I don't mention Hampi here. Hampi is my mom's sister, my favourite aunt since my childhood.Or wait, I was her favorite child of all time. The one that almost adopted me when I was 5 ,since she had no children of her own at the time. She went on to have a son later on, yet continued to love me way more than him. And when Addy was born, there was absolutely no question in her mind as to whose care I'd be under for the first few months. She welcomed me and her grandchild into her home with open arms and did such a fantastic job of supporting us through the first few months, my Amma would be a proud proud sister.

Now when motherhood becomes your full time job, the one you used to have before kinda takes a backseat. Mine has too. Now I am not sure if things would have been different if Addy had a grandma, but the paranoid mom inside me tells me I would have probably taken the sabbatical that I did anyway. I still tell all my friends who ask me why I never went back to work after 3 or 6 or whatever months that I somehow never could bring myself to deal with even the thought of leaving Addy with a nanny. He always seemed "too young" for it and dying of guilt everyday is not exactly my idea of fun. Nevertheless, I cannot picture myself staying home forever to be with Addy and I plan to get back to my job this year. I know it's not going to be easy even then, but if I don't, I would be so unfair to that part of the woman in me who has always wanted to have a flourishing professional life as well. It's not going to be easy and I will have to learn the ropes of being a working mom even then. On the other hand, it's also likely that a break this long would put me behind my peers in the office ranks,but I'd know that the year and a half I spent with my son was way too invaluable in comparison.

I sound like I would go to the ends of the world for my family don't I? Well you know, I actually did.
In June last year, G heard that he'd have to travel to the client site to fill a certain position as quickly as he could. And that meant, we would have to get on a plane and fly to the other end of the world. To America. So we landed here in Minneapolis, a nine month old Addy in tow.
A whole new place for Addy, but landing here was a feeling of deja vu for G and I who had lived here for a couple of years in the past.
Almost eight months here now and well, time just flies.Faster than ever I guess, specially when you have a toddler who is a handful and more. Addy has had his share of fun in summer prancing around outdoors. Even got to make his maiden trip to Disneyland, where he spent most of his time wondering why mommy and daddy were acting like a bunch of excited kiddos themselves.And now in winter, he's finding new ways everyday to have fun despite the freezing weather and snow (Maybe I should do a separate post on that someday?)

I conclude, with pictures of my little imp through his first year..

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: One year of Addy!

..The year through which he laughed and cried, fumbled yet recovered, learnt something new from every experience. And in the bargain, did a whole lot of growing up.

So did I.