Seven

It’s a little over seven years ago that we got married. It was a traditional Hindu ceremony. It was so traditional that we began at around 11am and finished with a ceremonial lunch only around 5:30 pm. And tradition meant that the priests hurried through the mantras, not bothering to explain what they were supposed to say (it’s another matter that had they bothered to stop and explain, we would’ve been getting married for another two days).

It was later that I got to know that some of those mantras were rather insightful, though archaic and backward if you go by modern sensibilities. Like this one Mantra the search for which led me to a website titled “6 noble virtues of an ideal wife“. As the website explains, it is from “Neeti Saara”, written by a Telugu poet Baddena in 13th century (yes, some of the wedding rituals are only 800 years old).

I won’t go into explaining these “noble virtues” here, but as I look back at our seven years of marriage, I realise that Pinky has been a brilliant wife. And she has done so while either studying or keeping a (mostly demanding) full time job for most of the duration of our marriage.

I’m reminded of the time when we lived in Rajajinagar, when I was working as an independent management consultant. I would work from home, and having disposed of our cook a few months earlier, I had the task of making my own lunch.

Pinky would have none of it. She would wake up at 5:30 and painstakingly make tall stacks of chapatis (I was going through one of those “I don’t want to eat rice” phases at that time) before she ran to catch her factory bus, so that I could have a good meal. And the dutiful husband I was, I’d finish the full day’s quota in the afternoon itself which meant she would be forced to cook again once she was back after a tiring day and 40-kilometre commute.

I’m also reminded of the time earlier this year when we’d moved to London and I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to do here. Pinky not only supported our family financially, but also ferry Berry all the way into town each day so that I could figure out life, possibly find a job and finish my book. And on most days it would be Pinky who would cook dinner after another long commute (usually with a screaming baby).

During my consulting life, every time I had to strike a deal or go through a tough negotiation, I would turn to Pinky. Each time she would unfailingly help me sort out my demons and give me sage advice. On several occasions she saved me from pricing too low. When she would see that I was getting into a bad deal, she would firmly pull me back.

She was insanely supportive when in late 2011 I decided to quit my job and lead a portfolio life. She would find her own cute ways of supporting me in every endeavour, like buying me a new fancy notebook when I was going to meet my first prospective big client, or trying to find me a fancy water bottle prior to my bike trip across Rajasthan.

When I would wake up at 4am to catch the first flight out to see outstation clients, she would wake up along with me, make coffee for me and polish my shoes. On two such occasions she wasn’t around. I almost missed my flight on one of those occasions, and missed my flight on the other!

From time to time she plans fun activities for us to do together, like the time she took me to the A-Paul-ogy art gallery, or when she took me for a Japanese meal to Matsuri and totally bossed the menu (before I knew it she’d ordered a host of dishes which made for a wonderful and complete meal!).

In some senses, I feel I haven’t held up my side of the bargain at times. One thing she absolutely enjoys is for us to watch movies together, but we almost never do that since I don’t generally have the patience to watch movies. She would love to spend a Friday evening cuddling on the couch watching something together, but I prefer to be on my computer instead. She loves being surprised, but my ineptitude means that on most occasions I’ve tried it’s been a shock rather than a surprise.

And then I have my occasional bouts of extreme anger, and she’s borne the brunt of it on several occasions. Usually it involves shouting (I’m an absolute shouter and love to went out my frustrations; she’s the quiet types) and I have to try hard to not get violent at times (on some occasions I don’t succeed in restraining myself). On some occasions it starts with something seemingly silly. On others, I fuck up like crazy. Either ways, it occasionally gets ugly – something I’m definitely not proud about.

I know I have driven her insane. I know that my negativity and NED has rubbed off on her. It is normal for a married couple to influence and change each other, and I know I’ve changed her in ways she absolutely hates.

Yet she’s always been the forgiving sorts. She’s stood by me thick and thin through the seven years of our marriage. Thanks to her adventures during her MBA, I’ve managed to increase my country count (and also got to move to a new country!).

And she’s been a wonderful mother to Berry. One old friend who met Pinky for the first time last year later told me, “man, she is so sorted!”. She remains cool, and seemingly without taking much stress, has managed to turn Berry into a bright and naughty toddler – I’ve mostly been a freerider! Oh, and do you know that she writes an absolutely delightful letter to Berry each month?

It’s mostly been a wonderful seven years with Pinky so far! I know we’ve had the odd low moment, and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to her for that. But in my mind, these have been far far outweighed by all the wonderful times we’ve been through, and all the fun we’ve had together! I hope to get another seventy such wonderful years with this wonderful woman!

And for after that, there’s this:

PS: The more perceptive of the readers here will know that this blog (its predecessor, rather) played a not insignificant part in us meeting. One of the posts that drew her attention, and which got us talking was this.

1/13: Leaving home

Tomorrow, Pinky turns 30. I set out wanting to write 30 blogposts about her on the occasion. As it has happened, I managed 13 before I ran out of ideas and time. Anyway, I hope she likes them! 

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what some people are going through. When they put up a brave face and tell you that everything is okay, and they don’t crib, you simply assume that all is right with them. You don’t once try to understand that there might be some struggles going on within, and that the brave face is a result of being able to somehow deal with all of that.

Pinky hasn’t had the last three years easy. In August 2014, she moved to Barcelona to live by herself for the first time ever (she used to live with her parents until she moved in with me in 2010). The small matters of living alone for the first time, and in a new country, were compounded by lack of funds. We’d purchased an apartment in Bangalore earlier that year, and had exhausted a lot of our savings for that.

Unsure of how much she had to spend, Pinky economised. She would write a long email to me every day (and I’d wake up every morning looking forward to that mail), and while she seemed to be having a good time meeting new people and partying late into the night (on many days I’d be awake in Bangalore by the time she got home in Barcelona), she was also careful about conserving money.

There were times when she’d go out with new-found friends and not eat anything because the restaurant was too expensive. She’d ask for tap water, or the cheapest drinks, on nights out so that she didn’t blow away the savings. For breakfast she had buns and croissants bought in bulk at supermarkets – that came at a big discount.

She told me she looked forward to my visits to Barcelona in the hope that she could “spend normally”. In her last term when I lived with her in Barcelona, our monthly spending was three times what she normally spent when living alone!

And Barcelona was hardly the toughest part of her MBA. Her focus on e-commerce and operations had taken her for an internship to Jakarta, where she landed right in the middle of Ramzan. With her office being in an out-of-the-way warehouse, there were no lunch options available nearby, and she spent nearly the entire month without lunch, going all day hungry. Also a delay in her pay and reimbursement had led to a working capital crunch, which nearly left her homeless (it ultimately didn’t get THAT bad).

It was similar later that year when she was in U. Michigan as an exchange student. She survived an entire term without a lamp in her room (it was an unfurnished house), and slept on the floor on a mattress another student had donated to her. Food was also a struggle, as being the only woman among a bunch of Indians left her as the “resident cook” of her apartment. And the US sprawl meant she couldn’t get nutritious ingredients, which were only available at far-off supermarkets.

Yet, whenever we spoke, she was mostly positive and seldom cried. Irrespective of the difficulties she went through, she was focussed on her academics and career. It was only much later, after she had graduated that she had told me how she’d gone through really tough times.

And even amidst the toughness, she remained resourceful. She found that her US Visa allowed her to work on campus, and managed to make some money as a teaching assistant. Back “home” in Barcelona, she wrote cases and made more money. And despite some setbacks, she kept her job-hunt going, graduating with a much sought-after job with Amazon.

I’m proud to be married to her! And you might wonder why I’m suddenly writing all this – she turns 30 tomorrow, and this is as good a time as ever to express my gratitude to her!

Metric

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This picture was taken at a restaurant called metric, where we went for dinner tonight. It’s located on the diagonal, an arterial road in Barcelona.

So we were walking, trying to find a place to have dinner. Pinky had a few options in her head but wouldn’t tell me. We passed a number of restaurants, all of which looked decent but not particularly spectacular, and I would wonder if she would take me into one of those. She didn’t.

And then we passed in front of metric. Even before she had indicated that this was part of her shortlist, i was walking inside. I couldn’t do much more though, since I don’t speak the language here

Some restaurants beckon to you just by the way they look. This one was brightly lit, done up in quirky furniture (we sat at an ordinary table but there were others where you has swings instead of chairs!!), with a great looking bar and the place was full. I didn’t care what kind of food they served, all the Tyler Cowen-esque economic reasoning I’ve been invoking before every single meal on this trip went out of the window, and I just walked in.

When traveling abroad, especially when in a country where they don’t normally speak English, it really helps to have someone around who speaks the local language and who can help you get around. Most times when I’ve been out by myself, apart from the time when I’ve been around touristy areas , I’ve been rather lost. I have no clue of Spanish, except for the odd word, and I’ve struggled.

I once had to go to the post office and get my mobile sim registered ( someone told me that was the procedure). I get there, approach the counter gingerly and before I know the lady assumes I’m there to receive a package from lycamobile!! After a few more minutes of futile attempt at conversation I moved on, defeated.

Given how awful I am at getting languages – I’m usually not bad with words but can never get grammar (and even today get confused between Telugu and Tamil because I learnt to understand the two languages simultaneously) – it’s a marvel how Pinky has picked up enough Spanish to get around, and even get complimented (by the waitress at metric) as to how good her Spanish is. She negotiated with the waitress about the menu, got the drinks menu “orally delivered” and translated it to enable me to make my choice (the passion fruit mojito was wonderful, btw) and even carried out some gossip with the waitress, as I looked on clueless, wondering how one can even learn a new language (I haven’t learnt one fluently ever since I was three).

Coming back to the restaurant, there’s something about places that have a very limited menu. It is generally an indicator that there are a few things they are good at, and that they like to stick to their area of core competency rather than experimenting around. A limited menu also means easier inventory management and the restaurant is likely to have fresh ingredients. While a large menu night be useful in terms of offering variety it more often than not comes at the cost is quality and reliability.

What you see in the front of the picture above us my burger. That’s how it arrived, and delicious though it was, I had no clue as to how to eat it. The lack of a covering bun meant I couldn’t pick it up and bite it. The side of bread at the bottom meant I couldn’t cut it with my knife! After a few minutes of fumbling (which included dropping a part of the patty on my jeans), I gave up and just separated the patty from the bread, eating the former with knife and fork and latter with my hands! It’s anyway not like I’m the types who cares what people think about me!!

Though I can’t rule out a stray thought in Pinky’s head on how she’s getting herself an international MBA and learning Spanish and becoming pseud and I’m still the same guy living in Bangalore!!

Tail piece: these Europeans take the metric system when beyond where Indians use. Nutritional information on food packages is in kilo joules, for example!!

SPinky

My cousin has coined the word “spinky” – a portmanteau of Spain (where the wife now lives) and Pinky (the wife’s primary nickname). Actually I’m not sure if it’s my cousin or her three year old son who coined the word but it sounds cool.

And considering that spinky anagramizes to skimpy when written in Kannada I think it’s rather cool. I don’t know why but I’m suddenly reminded of our engagement cake where we’d got “skimpy weds pinky” or some such thing inscribed. I have no clue why I got that written (I admit it was my choice) but I had to take uncomfortable questions from relatives as to why I’m named skimpy (pinky was coined by her parents and can be considered to be a natural diminutive of Priyanka so that’s more explainable).

One side effect of that inscription on the engagement cake is that all my friends know the wife as “pinky”. So this conversation actually happened last month.

Me: so Priyanka was saying ..
He: who’s Priyanka?
Me: my wife
He: oh you mean pinky?

And considering that pinky doesnt particularly like to go by “pinky” (she prefers the other diminutive Pri, which was coined by some friends) she’s going to great lengths to get her friends in Spain to call her Pri.

But spinky sounds so cool it’ll be a travesty if it doesn’t catch on. So if you’re in barcelona now and are part of Pinkys regular play group please make sure you call her pinky and don’t let her get away with being called Pri. For pinky is so much cooler you know. And spinky is even cooler!

Spain + Pinky = SPinky, wife of SKimpy.

Shared passions

It is said that couples who share a number of passions are closer. The corollary is that one way of getting closer as a couple is to develop shared passions. However, things aren’t so easy.

Sometimes it can so happen that one partner is a “leader” when it comes to the hobby while the other is a “follower”, and that can ruin some dynamics. Let me explain. Among other things, I’m passionate about spaghetti westerns and Liverpool FC. Pinky is passionate about chick flicks, theatre,  “Full House” and “How I met your mother”. We’ve both independently tried getting the other interested in our respective passions. I’ve watched a number of chick flicks, liked a few of them, but not so much to develop a passion for the genre. Pinky has watched some Liverpool games, but her fundamental dislike for sport-watching makes it hard for her to develop it as a passion.

We’ve tried hard, both to convince the spouse to take up our respective passions, and to get ourselves to get interested in the spouse’s passion. Sadly, things haven’t worked out as well as we’d thought. It’s been hard on both of us. Like today I fidgeted through an hour of a 90s Kannada comedy before declaring (rather rudely) that I was getting bored. Watching me fidget, I’m sure, would have made Pinky uncomfortable, and feel a sense of responsibility.

Such asymmetric passions can cause grief for both the “leader” and the “follower”. The follower tries hard to “fit in”, while the leader tries hard to make sure the follower is fitting in. The dynamics thus created can ruin whatever positive energy a shared passion can create.

All is not lost, though. I only talked about asymmetric passions here. The key is in finding activities which both parties are independently passionate about. My all-time favourite movie is this Kannada movie called Ganeshana Maduve, which I’ve watched at least 20 times. At least 15 of these were before 2009, when I first met Pinky. By then, she too had watched the movie at least 15 times. Both of us are independently passionate about it and we never seem to tire of it. We use dialogues from the movie in everyday conversation, and watch it every time it comes on TV (the other day, it was playing on ETV Kannada early in the morning. As soon as my mother-in-law saw that it was playing she rang me up. I DVRd it, so now we can watch it every day if we want).

Pinky and I are both passionate about Ganeshana Madhuve. We are passionate about long intellectual conversations (which is what made us talk as much as it did back when we were just “blog friends”). We love experimenting with food, both in terms of cooking and eating. Unfortunately the list isn’t as long as we might have liked it, so sometimes we need to invent shared passions. So far we’ve tried imposing our respective individual passions on one another, and that hasn’t worked out too well. Is there a way out?

I can think of one way out. Jointly trying to develop interests in activities neither of us knows much of currently. The odds there are lower that we will both end up liking it, but then again, we are both at the same level. There is no leader and follower, and the disruptive dynamics that ruin passions we try to foist upon one another could be avoided. What do you think we should do?

The Bangalore Advantage

Last night, Pinky and I had this long conversation discussing aunts and uncles and why certain aunts and uncles were “cooler” or “more modern” compared to other aunts or uncles. I put forward my theory that in every family there is one particular generation with a large generation gap, and while in families like mine or Pinky’s this large gap occurred at our generation, these “cooler” aunts’ and uncles’ families had the large gap one generation earlier. Of course, this didn’t go far in explaining why the gap was so large in that generation in the first place.

Then Pinky came up with this hypothesis backed by data that was hard to refute, and the rest of the conversation simply went in both of us trying to confirm the hypotheses. Most of these “cool” aunts and uncles, Pinky pointed out, had spent most of their growing up years in Bangalore, and this set them apart from the more traditional relatives, who spent at least a part of their teens outside the city. The correlation was impeccable, and in an effort to avoid the oldest mistake in statistics, we sought to identify reasons that might explain this difference.

While some of the more “traditional” relatives had grown up in villages, we discovered that a large number of them had actually gone to high school/college in rather large but second-tier towns of Karnataka (this includes Mysore). So the rural-urban angle was out. Of course Bangalore was so much larger than these other towns so size alone might have been enough to account for the difference, but the rather large gap in worldviews between those that grew up in Bangalore, and those that grew up in Mysore (which, then, wasn’t so much smaller), and the rather small gap between the Mysoreans and those that grew up in small towns (like Shimoga or Bhadravati) meant that this big-city hypothesis was unfounded.

We then started talking about the kind of advantages that Bangalore (specifically) offered over other towns of Karnataka, and the real reason was soon staring us in the face. Compared to any other town in Karnataka (then, and now), Bangalore was significantly more cosmopolitan. I’ve spoken on this blog before about Bangalore having been two cities (I’ve put the LJ link rather than the NED link so that you can enjoy the comments) but the important thing was that after independence and the Britishers’ flight, the two cities got combined into one big heterogeneous city.

Relatives growing up in Mysore or Shimoga typically went to college with people from large similar backgrounds. Everyone there spoke Kannada, and the dominance of Brahmins in those towns was so overwhelming that these relatives could get through their college lives hanging out solely with other people from largely similar family backgrounds. This meant there was no new “cultural education” that college offered, and the same world views that had been prevalent in these peoples’ homes while they were growing up persisted.

It was rather different for people who grew up in Bangalore. Firstly, people from East Bangalore didn’t speak Kannada (at least, not particularly fluently), which meant English was the lingua franca. More importantly, there was greater religious, casteist and cultural diversity in the classroom, which made it so much more likely for people to interact and make friends with classmates from backgrounds rather different from one’s own. Back in those days of extreme cultural conservatism, this simple exposure to other cultures was invaluable in changing one’s world view and making one more liberal.

It is in the teens that one’s cultural norms are shaped, and exposure to different cultures at that age is critical to formation of one’s world-view. In our generation, this difference has probably played out in the kind of schools one goes to. However, the distinction in conservatism (based on school/college/ area) isn’t so stark as to come up with a unified theory like the one we’ve come up here. Sticking on to the previous generation, what other reasons can you think of that makes certain aunts and uncles “cooler” than others?