Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nature vs nurture vs the random factor

My girls are preparing to audition for one of the local annual musicals. While looking for a video to teach (steal, basically) some easy routine, we came across the Cimorelli. They are a family of 6 sisters and 5 brothers. The sisters have their own You tube-assisted presence in the tween world and have gone on to be signed up with some label (or something; music world terminology/jargon eludes me). I am quite taken up with their story--they are home-schooled, and taught classical piano and voice lessons including barbershop quartet by their mother who was a music major in college. And I can't even get past wondering how the heck does she manage to feed a family of 13? What does she drive to get the family from point A to point B? A mini-bus?

But future celebrity-watching apart, I am fascinated with the thought that here is a natural, real-world experiment to add to the discussion about nature vs nurture fractions to outcomes big and small. Here, the Cimorelli sisters all have the same nature (genetics), same nurture (learning environment and opportunities). But then each child also has something unique that separates one sibling from another. The random factor. The X factor. I personally see a/an (admittedly) subjective hierarchy of talent, attractiveness, stage presence, and oomph, if I may, among them. My money is on one child. And then another.

And finally, I want to admit that another level of my fascination lies with the mother. What patience, what dedication, what strategy! What ambition! And I don't mean that last one in a negative way. I have spent enough of my life and energy hoping to earn something special (apart from a pay check), to make something of myself, in return for all the time I invested in working for others, with others. As the first woman to have gone to college and to have earned a university degree in my family, this is as far as I have gotten to understand and express my ambitions for my own life. But I never felt the desire to invest in my own family, teach them, train them, and to trust with all my heart that success in some form would be possible all on my own (with a little help from this new world with new technology). And even when I watch home schooling parents around us, for example, all I conclude is that it would be impossible for me to give my all just to my family. I need my distance from them; my children need their distance from me. I realize that I am prone to thinking, believing that my children need to take their chances learning from others--the others that are presumably more knowledgeable, more powerful, more different than me. But this Cimorelli mother seems to have discarded all such notions, all conditioning of such mindsets. And, devoid of self-doubts (if any), she has managed to come out the other end somewhat triumphantly. Hats off, Ma Cimorelli.

Watch the Cimorelli cover "Price Tag" by Jessie J and B.O.B here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Vadapalani, the neighborhood I hated to love

'Dispatches', the CBC radio show, brings the world to my Winnipeg kitchen every Sunday evening, while I try to cook and get somewhat ready for the coming week. Two weeks ago, they brought nothing less than my old neighbourhood, Vadapalani, to me. The last time I saw this west Chennai neighborhood and its inhabitants so clearly and vividly, even across the miles, was in Kiev, while watching a Kamalahaasan movie (dubbed in Russian). Several extras in the movie were faces I recognized from my neighbourhood streets -- some I had known slightly better than others; some would have known me right back as 'the engineer's daughter' or as 'the girl with the white dogs.' It was surreal -- then in Kiev, and that Sunday here in Winnipeg, to realize how every cell in your body is attuned to every sound, every background detail, every bit of news about the multi-layered neighbourhood you once walked about fearlessly, despite, and because of, your privileged position.

While it was my father who made the aggravating decision to live in Vadapalani, away from the "upwardly-mobile" middle-class folks, it was my mother, despite her displeasure and unhappiness at having to make it her home, who made friends effortlessly, without judgement, with people the Madras middle-class wouldn't even look straight in the eye. I can't honestly say that we knew any sex workers for sure but the early polyandrous women and polyamorists I knew were neither economically-independent, socially-liberated, highly-educated white (black or brown) women in Europe or North America nor the Draupadis of Hindu Mythology. They were cheerful characters like Omana, the partner of the dance-teacher/choreographer Paulose, and the Malayalee Catholic woman whom I simply knew as Annama's mother and who always had a smile for my mother and me, even as she was arguing with her second-and-kinder husband, a stunt man.

The last time I was in my parents' home in Vadapalani, I couldn't tell if all these people, interesting enough to populate a Vikram Chandra novel, had moved out of the neighbourhood or had moved into the new middle-class apartments that have sprouted all around. But I hope they haven't been forced out to make way for those who assume they are too good to live among the people who made Vadapalani/Kodambakkam their home in the '70s and '80s.

From Dispatches:

"Help for Kids of India's Sex Workers"

Audio can be found here:

The lure of stardom has been the downfall of more than a few actors drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood. For every one star that emerges, dozens fall. Some, right to the bottom. You don't hear their story very often. India's huge film industry has a similar allure, and similar casualties, with a cultural twist. And we can tell you their story. And how some are trying to catch them when they fall. This one begins with the CBC's Priya Sankaran in one of India's key film production centres."

Photo from Arcot Road Times.