A Little Drop Of Water

January 13, 2014

His name was Ramesh.  I was about 9-10 years old, and he, maybe, 3-4 years older.  He was working as a domestic help at my home.  My aunt was in charge of keeping home then and she treated him well.  Till date, the only person I have known to treat domestic help with respect, consideration and kindness is she, my aunt.  Now you would think this is a happy story.  Sadly not.

This Ramesh had to deal with a spoilt brat of a girl who would pinch him at the slightest disobedience.  This girl would take pleasure in teaching him a lesson.  This girl thought this was how he deserved to be treated.  That girl was me.

One day, after my usual abuse of him, he cries out in pain and asks me, “How would you feel if you were pinched?”  There was no threat in his voice, just pain.  I remember freezing.  I remember walking off in a daze.  I remember starting to think then.

He was bigger, older, yet I dared to do this to him; whereas, I would not dare to beat or pinch my older brother who was smaller and younger than Ramesh.  One, because my brother would hit me back.  Two, because the whole household would hold me back and protect my brother, not even taking a moment to check if my brother provoked me in the first place.

For Ramesh, there was nobody to protect him or defend him.  Even my aunt would not pay much attention to my picking a fight with him, thinking it is just a fight between children.  Between a child who lived a life that was protected, privileged and provided for and another child who lived a life of labor, responsibility of providing for the family and no rights to childhood or to even stand up for himself.

After that I was a new person.  After that, though Ramesh didn’t have to suffer my treatment, his life was no better.  He was still a child; what he had to do was still child labor.  He left for his native place a year or two later.  I do not know what happened of him.

I realized my fault immediately and corrected myself, but it took me more years of growing up and experiences to realize that lack of physical abuse alone is not fair treatment.  There is more to it.  Taking advantage of somebody’s weak moment, denying somebody something simply because you are in a position to do so, using force or power in any form to get your own way, trying to own somebody’s life because you provide for them, all these and much more amount to unfair treatment.

Many people subject themselves to such unfair treatment.  Because they either don’t know their rights or they are denied their rights.

If Ramesh had not spoken up that day, I might not be the person I am today.  If I had not been the thinking person I am, his situation might have become worse.  Either ways, only my life changed, his in essence did not.

This happened more than two decades back.  Not much has changed for the better.  I am still witness to incidents like this in varying degrees that have continued to happen since.  I continue to request people to open their eyes.  I continue to request people to stand up for themselves.  I continue to stand up for the right.

Here is reaching out to all the thinking people out there – there is more you can do than just talk about Devayani and US politics vs Indian politics.

For as long as I can remember, throwing a party at home had never been a low key affair.  Food was the most important, needless to say.  The food might be simple, but the number of courses would be many.  Or the food might be grand and the number of courses would be many more!  The flurry of activity did not begin and end at the kitchen.  No, it started with my dad making the announcement to us about the imminent arrival of guests.  Then would come the instructions for arranging the food.  Either my aunt or my mother or both would make the main dishes at home, and the drinks and desserts would usually be bought from a store.  The town where we lived boasted of no restaurant where one could eat and hope to be scotfree of a gastronomic rebellion.  So it was always home made food.  My dad would, ofcourse, be the commander of the menu.  He would cajole the women folk into agreeing but inwardly, they would be seething for having to cook so much for so little that would come in way of appreciation.

Next would come our part — my brother’s and mine.  We would get all the special cutlery and platters out and rinse to rid them of the smell of paint from the shelves on which they were stored.   Here, ofcourse, dad made the decision of serving what in what.  Small bowls for this, somewhat bigger bowls for that, paired with propotionately sized spoons.  Then, the choosing of the napkins — Did we have matching napkins of this kind for all the guests we were expecting?  Or should we mix and match to ensure that there is some pattern and uniformity?  Then, set out the plates on the dining table and the bowls in the serving area ready to dish out the desserts soon after the main course.  In case, we were just serving snacks in the living area, then dad would oversee us serve the snacks in their appropriate dishes, lay them on the right trays, place the napkins stacked on top of the other,  or place one each by the side of every plate, ready to be handed to the guests.

After this would be the tidying up of the place — this was the most difficult for me.  Because, according to my dad, to look tidy was as good as being tidy.  So into the cupboards would go everything that lay outside with no thought to organization — put, thrown, stuffed and basically hidden out of sight.

This followed by getting ourselves ready.  Then came standing outside on the porch, waiting so we could run to welcome and receive our guests right at the gate.  Dad would lead the procession of guests into the living room with my brother and I making the humble tail.  Hardly would the guests have taken the seats than, with the slightest nod from dad, we rushed to fetch the drinks — non-alcoholic, ofcourse.  Dad would be the sole tenderer of alcoholic drinks, thankfully.

The introductions came either while they were being seated or as the drinks were being served as we would have brought our mother and our aunt from the kitchen as well.  This much I remember vividly.  Then my dad would take over completely – conversation, food, everything is a blur.  My memory gets stronger here — the nearing of the last course – dessert!  I had such a sweet tooth that any dessert that did not make to a plate would go straight into my mouth.  It did not matter how much was left over.  Nothing would be, after my helping.

Seeing the guests off and tidying up after them, I remember pitching in.  But in the entire process, the one thing that any of us, excluding my dad, rarely took part in, apart from a repetition of hellos and goodbyes, is : conversation.  It is only now that I am beginning to correct my shortcomings in the area of  small talk.  But for teaching me how well to treat a guest and ensure that they are comfortable, I definitely have to thank my dad.

But how to entertain a guest well?  I wish I could learn this without stumbling so much.

My Best Friend

January 16, 2012

My old friend is back.  This has been somebody I had been neglecting for almost 20 years now.  In moments of great stress and distress, this has been one person who has always come through for me.  This person needless to say has always had my best interests at heart and both kept me from harm’s way and saved me from doing harm to others.  Yet I failed to pay heed to this person’s advice though it made the utmost sense.  The motto that my friend holds strong are pure and simple – live and let live, without bothering who, why, what and how you have to live with, or without.  Logic, reason, and goodwill are my friend’s characteristics.  Open mind, broad vision and solid philosophy are this friend’s strengths.  Despite my negligence, my friend has not abandoned my side.

Today, I am beginning to see my true self reassert itself.  The only person I am answerable to is my friend – my conscience.  And I know my friend shall also be exacting in my amendment.

I have something to say

January 12, 2012

I am a fool.  I talk my heart out, lay my thoughts out bare.  Sometimes, I hear dismissal.  Sometimes, I hear no response or acknowledgement.  So I reckon, my thoughts may not have much worth or meaning to whom ever I shared it with.  But when I hear the exact same comment of mine, even with the same peculiar way I put it, as if it were their own original thought, I feel cheated.  If they had responded their agreement when they heard me speak then I would have felt proud and flattered to hear them repeating my observation as their own.

Some even have even quoted the exact phrases I have written on my blog right back to me like I was not the original author of it.  I am not talking about things that wise men think alike.  I am talking about just my wisdom that I gained by experience.  The sad part is they don’t even realize it or don’t care to.

It is hard to get some credit around here.

Same with the things I do.  Things I do, I do so well that they seem easy.  In fact, they seem negligible.  I know a lot of people who do small things and make it seem like a grand effort.  I do not want to be like that.  But I sure do envy them.

Why do I even argue a hopeless case?  Why do I hope that one day the balance will tilt in my favor?  What does it take – guile or patience?  The latter has failed.  The former, I despise.  Yet, it works. I know because I have suffered it.

Some people talk all the talk and get away with not doing anything to back up that talk.  But I talk, talk, talk.  Then I do, do, do.  And what do I get?  Back talk.

April 22, 2012: UPDATE: How silly I sound!  Facts some may be, but how distorted by emotion they are!  How foolish to think I am a fool and that anybody but me could be blamed for it!  If I were to edit this post this is how I would leave it:

I talk my heart out, lay my thoughts out bare.  I like to express what I have learnt by what I have experienced.  I wish I did not get so upset when people judge me harshly.

Sometimes, I am unable to convey the effort that goes into things I do.  I hide the complexity and make some tasks seem easy and simple, while they are not.  I wish I could explain this better so I could be understood better.  Sometimes, I envy people who can.

Sometimes, I argue too much.  I wish to be more patient and tolerant though I do appreciate that I am guileless.

I am an action person.  I like to follow up what I say with doing what I said – if I can, I try to do even better.

Feliz Navidad

December 12, 2009

I love this time of the year – in the US. The holiday season. Never in India have I experienced any particular festival or occasion that has elicited and sustained happy spirits since months before the event and lingered for days after. I am not talking about weddings. I am talking about holidays that apply to all people in general and not just in one family.

Another thing that I used to look forward to, during this time, is having Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks. I know it is available throughout the year though it does not appear on the menu. But only during the holiday season is it served in red, festive looking cups.

More than all that, for the last two months, I have been looking forward to the 10 day closure, spanning Christmas and the New Year, at work. But then, we find out we have to work during the holidays this year as there is a deadline looming right after the New Year.

Not that I care much, now. I would rather work during the week and just have long weekends. Lets face it, when there is exciting work to do, you do not care if it is a regular work day or if you are working on a day that is off for everybody else – because you are having fun anyway.

I cared about not having a break only until two days back. Because I was overwhelmed with fatigue and nausea the last two months, that I never thought there could be a life where I could see light, even at the end of the tunnel. I could work. I could function. But the fatigue and the weakness, I cannot describe.

But, two days back…. I was out of it. Just like that! Now I do not just get to watch the celebration around, but I get to take part too.

And the first order of business is to get back in touch with the few, but most valuable, friends I have. I miss them terribly.

As for the rest, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Home Buying

October 21, 2009

House Hunting

Decide on what you want in your home. Put down everything – you will eventually find out if they are critical or not.

Things to consider

Home

1. Minimum square footage / lot size.
2. Minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms. (Always keep the square footage in mind – you might get your preferred number of rooms, yet not meet the preferred square footage – meaning the rooms might be too small.)
3. Minimum/preferred size of kitchen, master, living, etc – most used rooms.
4. Preferences in kitchen – island, pantry, storage, bar counter, breakfast nook, etc.
5. Number of floors – preference of having a bedroom/washroom/laundry etc on the ground floor, etc.
6. Room to entertain – parties, stay over, etc.
7. Layout of the rooms – plan has to make sense for your lifestyle and fit your tastes.
8. Outdoor living and entertaining.
9. Storage space/options – outdoor and indoor.
10. Garage space.
11. Future needs for future additions – for children, dogs.
12. Maintenance (Decide if you will have the time to do all the cleaning up and maintenance work yourself or can you afford to employ help. If you are doing it yourself, you do not want to spend all your weekend on housework. So plan and pace yourself.)
13. Gardening.
14. Preference of a media room, game room, bar, basement, loft, etc.
15. Neighborhood, safety, community, gated access, etc.

Work

16. Distance to and from work.
17. Number of possible routes.
18. Usual traffic in these routes.
19. Hours spent away from home daily.
20. Home office space for working from home.

Others

21. Proximity to airport, etc if you travel a lot.
22. Proximity to gas station, shops – especially for day-to-day stuff like milk (or ciggies!).
23. Proximity to shopping malls, stores, cinemas, other entertainment options, etc.
24. Proximity to parks, downtown (if you prefer), etc.
25. Public schools, private schools, day-care facilities – and their standards.
26. Sunrise and sunset – believe it or not, it is very important to check the direction some rooms face. If your master bedroom is east facing, it is a good thing as the sun will wake you up and the light will make you alert and ready for your day ahead. On the other hand, if the room you intend to relax in after a long day’s work is west facing, the heat will sap you of what little energy you might have.

Compromises

Do not set your mind on what you might be willing to compromise on or what you absolutely must have. What you think you must have may not be as important as you originally thought.

When you come across a property, go through the list and decide what options you have for each, and decide on how you can compensate for each of those that the property does not satisfy. For instance, say the property does not have a home office space, then consider if there is any other room where you might be able to create a small office space – in the master bedroom, if you prefer. If you decide to use part of your guest room, then consider if you will be able to use that space even when you have guests staying over – or if you would mind your office being accessible to guests when they are staying over.

If you end up compromising on something, it should be because you have an alternative or because you realize you may not need it, even if you may want it badly.

Look at what options the market offers. Look at everything – look at condos as well even if you looking for a single family home and vice versa. Knowing what is available helps you decide what is practical, what is standard, what is necessary and what is reasonable to expect.

Long Term Plans

Consider how long you might live in your new home. Is it possible you might want to move to a bigger home later, or move to another place? Depending on your plans, consider your options – resale, renting, etc. This should form part of your decision making your criteria. This will also help you decide if you want to spend on points to bring down your interest rate.

Appliances

If your home comes with appliances, it is a load of work off your shoulder. But having that included is not always the best idea. One, the appliances may not be of a brand or standard that you might want to have. Two, the price (probably inflated) of this is hidden in the home price. In which case, technically, you end up paying property taxes on your appliances as well. It might work out cheaper if you get your own appliances.
Upgrades

You might want some upgrades/renovations on your home. In most cases, the builder gives you a choice of upgrades. Sometimes doing it yourself after you move-in, after a few years, might work out cheaper, but you might want to move into a home that already has all that you want in place. Decide what would work for you. The structure, layout and plan of your home are more important than the upgrades or the look. The rest you can always get for much less cost than what the builder might charge, and to your taste. The lack of choice of upgrades could give you an edge to negotiate as well.

When you choose your upgrades, make sure the quality is good. You should be able to judge the quality of the installation as well. The model homes might not always be how the finished homes will look. The builder might do substandard work but take special care to do a good job on the model homes. So insist on looking at a move-in ready home and compare how it differs from the model home.

Builder

Make sure you research the builders – read customer reviews and experiences on the net.

Warranty

Remember to check with the seller about the warranty, if any, they are offering. The warranty options might vary depending on the items they cover. For example, the structure might have a 10 year warranty, the appliances may have only the manufacturer’s warranty, where as, the plumbing may have as little as a month’s warranty.

Home Inspection

Even for a new construction, it might be important do a home inspection. The inspector should also be reliable and should do as thorough a job as possible.

Real Estate Agent

1. You can buy a home without an agent.
2. There may or may not be advantages to having an agent.
3. There is absolutely no loss in employing a realtor.
4. The realtor will be paid by the seller – this commission is not part of the sale price.
5. You do not have an obligation to buy just because you have an agent.
6. The agent might, in their own interests, encourage you to buy immediately, which you should be aware of and not let this cloud your judgment.
7. The agent might tend to paint rosy pictures of a property which may not be all true.
8. Do your homework and do not take the agent’s word at face value.
9. The agent might have to register with the builder the first visit you make to a new construction for them to be able to represent you as your agent.
10. Make sure you get time alone to assess the property and make your decisions without the agent’s constant commentary/sales pitch.

Finance

Budget

1. Calculate debt ratio to arrive at your affordable budget.
2. Keep within your comfort zone. (You might be able to afford a certain budget if you make some changes to your lifestyle – like eating out less often, giving up taking a vacation, etc. But decide beforehand if that would be worth it.)
3. In addition to the mortgage, there is Home Owner’s Insurance, Property Taxes, Home Owners Association fee (if any), Mello Roos (if any), Private Mortgage Insurance (for less than 20% down payment), County Taxes, etc.
4. Consider the fact that the utility bills might go up – electricity, water, etc.
5. You might want to have enough on hand to set up your home – furniture, appliances, etc.
6. If you are planning on buying a car or making a major purchase on credit, consider how it will affect your credit history.
7. If you need to break your current lease, check the terms and conditions and what it will cost you.
8. Moving to your new place might cost some money whether you get professional movers or do it yourself, depending on how much stuff you have and how much you want to take with you – planning ahead and making appropriate arrangements is very important and will also save you a lot of time and effort.
9. It might be a good idea to put aside 10K for closing costs to be on the safe side.
10. The best scenario is to put down 20% or more as down payment. Less than that might incur other charges like PMI, a slightly higher interest rate due to default risk, etc.
11. If you want to buy down interest rate, decide on how much points can you afford and find out how much will it bring down your interest rate. One point costs one percent of your loan amount. But the interest rate it will get you varies from bank to bank, day to day; it might even change over the day.
12. It makes sense to buy points only if you live in your home longer than the time you will break-even on the money you spend on the points.

Closing Costs

Look out for unnecessary items and hidden charges listed in your closing costs.

Mortgage Agent

1. One thing that a mortgage agent can do, that you may not be able to, is get information on how much the bank is willing to go down on the interest rate in order to gain your business.
2. Apart from that there is not much the agent can tell you that you cannot find out yourself on the internet or by working directly with the bank’s agent.
3. If you approach a bank directly, an agent will be assigned to you by the bank. They will be able to apprise you of the daily fluctuations in the interest rate and tell you what your best options are.
4. You should be able to monitor the interest rates online.
5. You might also be able to monitor the interest rates offered by the bank on their website. But the bank agent might get you an interest rate lower than the one reflected on their website.
6. Apply to a select number of banks, get their good faith estimates and compare their offers.
7. Some banks might offer you a competitive rate but hike up their fees and other closing costs.
8. Remember to research your bank’s customer service as well.
9. Remember that your loan will be ultimately sold to Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae. But before that the loan might change hands from bank to bank, you do not want to deal with an intermediate holder that has poor customer service. For example, say I get my loan from Bank A, a small, reliable bank, which has a very good reputation and I am happy dealing with it. Say Bank A sells to Bank B which is known for charging you incorrectly for payments that were never late, etc. Say Bank B is also known to have poor and rude customer service, then life gets difficult. Usually big banks directly sell to Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae, hence I would recommend a bigger bank as opposed to private lenders, smaller banks.
10. As long as your credit history is sound, make a 20% down payment and do your homework and you keep yourself well informed, you can see through con attempts and even be able to call the shots.

Good luck on your house hunt!

My father would type pages and pages, and then hit a random button only to lose his entire email. Until yahoo mail started automatically saving drafts periodically, it used to be a lesson my dad learnt and forgot every single time.

I did the same thing the last time I blogged. It was because I relied on the automatic save which does not work on the Blackberry browser. Anyways, when I begin to blog I do not usually set out with a subject or topic in mind. Only when I stop and read do I myself realize what I wanted to say. This time, when the post disappeared so did my train of thought. I cannot for the life of me remember what the last draft was about! That is how random and momentary some topics I pick are.

It has been a long time since my last post. I plan to write a serious post on “Home Buying”. Before that I must touch on the topic of cooking again.

I was reading “Reef” by Romesh Gunasekara the other day and not even a cookbook or a book on housekeeping could motivate you like this fiction does. It has had an immediate, and lasting, effect on me. Both cooking and cleaning have graduated to a whole new higher level for me now. Some of the things he describes, it gives you the feeling you are living it and that you yourself are the character.

I also read his collection of short stories, “Monkfish Moon”. There is a long story behind how I came across this book, which I will write about sometime.

It is Agatha Christie’s “Murder In Retrospect” next. Yes, I am re-reading it; but let me see if I remember it as vividly as some of her other ones.