Monday, November 21, 2016

A silent prayer...

Sarla had only ever worn hand-me-downs – ill-fitted, faded and even ones with rips that had been carefully stitched up by her mother. Her mother had an old sewing machine, their source of livelihood.  She would sew all night by the oil lantern – petticoats, blouses, little dresses. Sarla often begged to try the new dresses on. “I will be careful, I promise. They will never know I tried them on.”
“They won’t, but we will”, her mother would always say. “They trust me with their beautiful fabrics. It’s not ours to try on.”

But the thought of wearing a new dress kept haunting her. She would stand outside shop windows and gaze at the beautiful dresses for hours. The one with the polka dots was her favourite. The other one, with lace round the neck, was pretty too (and looked very expensive). She skipped lunch most days, trying to save money for a new dress. But given they never had any breakfast, she would be too hungry by midday and give in to buying a puffed rice mixture from the roadside vendor.

After school, she would run small errands for a lady in the neighborhood - give her a head massage, paint her nails or run to the grocer’s to buy her essentials. In return, the kind lady would give her a biscuit with tea…and sometimes even let her paint her own nails with expensive nail polish. If there was anything she loved as much as the thought of a new dress, it was painting her nails.
One afternoon, when she got to the lady’s house, she found her swooning over a set of new curtains that had just been delivered. “Quick Sarla, put these up. I can’t wait to see how they look!”, said the lady. The new curtains were a bright red fabric, possibly some sort of faux silk. They filtered the afternoon sun and cast a beautiful red glow in the room. And while the lady beamed with pride and run her fingers over the smooth fabric, Sarla had her eyes fixed on the old set of curtains she had just taken off. The afternoon sun had faded their colour, but the polka dots on them was unmistakable.
“Sarla, my dear, would you please fold the old curtains and keep them away in that corner cupboard? I’ll put them up every time the new ones go for dry cleaning.” So Sarla did as she was told. Except, she didn’t keep all of them away. She brought one home.

She told her mother that the lady let her have one of her old curtains as a reward for mounting the new ones.  Sarla had learnt to lie. She stayed up all night watching her mother sew a dress out of the curtain fabric. And when her mother found a small piece of lace that was left over from a previous job, Sarla knew straight away that she wanted it round the neck, just like the one in the shop window.

Sarla now had her dream dress. But she could never step outside wearing it. So every day, after her bath, she would wear it at home, admire herself in the mirror and then carefully fold the dress away. And every time she did this, she let out a silent prayer – for the new curtains to never get dirty.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Of first pets...

My first pets were four lovebirds. I named them Tuni, Muni, Mou and Tushi. Not sure what I was thinking, as two of these - Tuni and Mou, were male. I was later told that names don't mean a thing to they wouldn't have problems with their gender identity. What a relief!

Baba and I got them from the Shyambazar markets, early one morning. I was probably 8 or 9 years old then. When they got home, we discovered that Tushi wasn't moving at all. She was alive and awake, but simply wouldn't move. I broke into tears, thinking I had somehow hurt her foot in transit. Determined to make it right (as mothers usually are), Ma took her out of the cage and rubbed Amrutanjan on her leg (I'm not kidding). Within minutes, Tushi became the most active bird in the cage (whether that was her personality or the effect of Amrutanjan, we could never tell).
She was also the first to lay eggs, which never really hatched because her clueless lover Mou, thought they were little toys and kicked them around like a lunatic.

I have several such memories of my loony lovebirds, who have now become part of our favourite family stories.
Today, we brought home Shanaya's first pet, Rojo (meaning "red" in Spanish). Here's hoping he gives her stories and memories that will always bring a smile to her face.

Edited to add: Roho died on the 18th of July 2017. We buried him in front of our house, and said a little prayer.. S keeps asking me if fish turn into fairies when they die. I do not know. But I know that Roho will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Our wanderlust wall

Our wanderlust wall. Red bindis to mark the places we've been to together. Here's hoping that we always find a way to add more dots...

Come, let's tidy up

My scribbling on The Indian Express on Aug 14, 2016:

Come, let's tidy up...

Conversations with My Little Girl

Oct 16, 2016

"Mummy, put on the 'bubble base' song", says my 3-yr old.
"I don't know which song you mean", I say.

I try looking up nursery rhymes, nevertheless...hoping I'll find the one she means.
Turns out she wanted "I'm all about the bass".

Quite relieved she thinks that the lyrics say "bubble base".

Sept 21, 2016

Shanaya: Mummy you're hurting my ear.
Me: But am not even touching you, Shanaya.
Shanaya: But you're hurting my ear by talking.

Sep 2, 2016
Shanaya: Me hot. Mummy, you not hot.
Me: What? Where did you learn that from?
(aghast at her honesty and her ability to judge female hotness at 3yrs of age!)
Until I realised that she was feverish. And I was not.

Aug 24, 2016.

Me: Shanaya, I can’t sit here for an hour at dinner time, poking your cheeks to remind you that you have stored food in one corner of your mouth. You need to chew, swallow and take the next spoonful.
Shanaya: Mummy, no need. I can poke my cheeks…see?
And with that, she pokes the little mound on her cheek and chews for a whole one second. The swallowing and taking of the next spoonful did not follow. But she is convinced that she can single-handedly manage the poking of her cheeks.

On "growing up"

As kids, we were often awestruck by certain things that grown-ups did and thought in our heads "When I am able to do that, I'll be a grown-up".

I remember two such things -- drinking tea from dainty (and very fragile) tea cups (our drinks were usually served in plastic those Corelle cups always held my fancy).
The other thing was folding sarees neatly within seconds. I often watched Ma do it....and tried it myself several times later. But never without burying myself in a pile....clueless about which side to hold up and fold.

That day, I folded all my Puja sarees away while talking to Ma on the phone. Later, I realised I didn't even need to pay attention to the task. I just did it effortlessly.
It was a strange feeling. I could see myself as the awestruck little girl...only, this time, I was looking at the grown-up me.

While I have been a grown-up for years now (too many years!), this totally mundane task was like an epiphany. Not only was I folding my Puja sarees like a pro, I wasn't feeling the usual pangs of sadness that always marked the end of Puja for me as a child.

I had grown up indeed.

Waiting for fairies in our garden

This post is part of the Letters to My Little Girl series.

Dear Shanaya,

You will probably forget all about this weekend. So years from now, when you are reading this, I hope it makes you happy. As happy as you were helping Mummy and Daddy with setting up our backyard garden.

This weekend was about several trips to the local nurseries, getting our hands dirty in cow manure and potting mix, playing with water guns in the backyard, chasing bees in the morning and waiting patiently for nightfall when the garden fairies would visit.
You were such a big help, pottering about the backyard, singing songs that you made yourself.

Our garden is complete, well in time to enjoy the colours of Spring. I really hope the fairies you're waiting for, come visiting soon.

Lots  of love,

Monday, July 18, 2016

5 ways using Google can harm you…

Writing this makes me feel a bit hypocritical. A part of me lives on Google land. I am one of those who would have Google on speed dial, if I could. And that is why it has become blatantly obvious to me that this “having-information-at-my-fingertips” is harming me in more ways than one.

I can no longer lose myself in anything – No matter what I am doing, watching, eating, drinking, hearing, saying….I am forever taking mental notes like “must find out more about this later”. Occasionally, I can’t even wait for “later”. So I’d google a historical era while watching a period drama (and end up missing a few scenes). Or I’d keep my book aside and look up the origin of an unfamiliar word. And of course, when a TED Talk or TV interview fascinates me, instead of watching it till the end, I put it on pause and instantly google the speaker’s spouse.  Always the “spouse” first, in order to see who these charming people find charming (and subconsciously check out how “available” they are). Curiosity may not have killed the cat, but it has surely killed my ability to “be immersed”.

I am a scaredy-cat – My Google-dependence grew worse during my pregnancy. My search history looked something like this:
Should a pregnant woman eat prawns?
Should a pregnant woman sit on the floor?
Should a pregnant woman eat prawns while sitting on the floor?
OK, maybe not the last one. But you get the drift. I was neurotic, and let Google feed me morsels of fear and caution every minute (so, very little space in my tummy for prawns anyway). The point is, stories of deaths, diseases, accidents, lawsuits, heartbreaks, medical malpractices, recklessness, fear and hopelessness will find their way to you more easily than the positive stories. Medical websites (and “online” doctors) thrive on our curiosity, and the more we read, the more convinced we are that the harmless-looking rash on our skin is actually the first sign of leukaemia.

I don’t talk to people as much as I used to/would like to – What’s the point of having a real conversation when most of my questions are answered in the virtual world? You mean to say…you still call your mum to ask for recipes? And on moving to a new neighbourhood, do you ask your neighbour about the best local markets? Good for you. I want to be more like you. Seriously.  I hardly tap into the pool of knowledge and experience of people I know. I end up (and it sounds so stupid, even as I type this) getting information from face-less strangers in the virtual world than from people who love me, wish me well and would be more than happy to help.

I am lazy, boring and shallow – There was a time, when I used to write down reading notes. Excerpts, quotations, names of places and things that struck a chord. In the process, these things got etched in my memory…and I could often recite a verse or think of quotes and trivia, appropriate for the occasion. But then came Google. And I stopped making an effort, because I could “always look it up when I need to”.  I have stopped using the part of my brain that could store information and produce it on demand. This has also made me a sceptic. Every time I see someone post a picture on social media and caption it with a beautiful quote, my mind goes “Come on, you just looked it up because it would make you sound deep. It’s not like you actually read Oscar Wilde ever.”

I have lost my spontaneity and sense of wonder – Gone are the days when we just packed our bags and set off for a long drive to the country-side. With no planned destinations or stop-overs.  We’d discover little cafes, revel at the wild flowers that greeted us, walk into desolate memorial grounds and spend hours reading epitaphs. Now, I make sure I know when the wildflower season is….which cafes are the most popular…and which famous people were buried in those graves. I know this, and more, months before we actually go on that drive. Not surprising that I am not surprised at anything anymore. There is very little sense of wonder…in fact, there is this annoying feeling of déjà vu, which isn’t even déjà vu. It all seems familiar… not in any beautiful, mysterious way…but only because I have seen pictures of it on Google, when I was “looking up” things to see and do.

Dear Google, you have been a friend…but you have made me pay. And although I can’t think of any better place to say the classic “it’s not you…it’s me” phrase, I’ll just say that we’re both to blame. You have placed the world at my fingertips…and I did not resist the temptation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Our song

(Part of the Letters to My Little Girl series)

Dear Shanaya,

You and I may not be the best singers (or music composers) on the planet, but we sure do have an “original” song under our belt. It’s a song that we sing in chorus, when we are happy. It’s the song I sing to you, when my heart bursts with love…and I just want to cuddle you tighter. It’s the song you sing to me, perched on “your” bar stool in the kitchen, as I wash dishes or cook us a meal.
The lyrics may not be very “inspired”, but you and I couldn’t love it more. The song has only three words, by the way, which are sung in a few different tunes J.

My version – My Chiku, My Chiku, My Chiku, Re
Your version - My Mummy, My Mummy, My Mummy, Re

In the darkest of times…
Or when we’ve had a fight…
I hope this song plays in our heads, and takes us back to those lazy afternoons....those early morning cuddles....or those cold evenings under our blankets....just you and I.


P.S. You have just learnt to sing Do Re Mi, and want to sing it in loop all day. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Turning Thirty Five

It’s been five years since I wrote this post.
Have I done well in the “grace” and “maturity” fronts? Who cares!
All that matters is that I had an eventful five years (yes, am considering I was born at 30, because I can’t remember what I was up to before then).

I have continued to earn a living
Spent a lot more time with Ma (and loved it!)
Travelled inter-state and to four new countries
Acquired a new passport (but definitely feel more “Indian” than ever)
Got drunk and made a fool of myself at a friend’s party (about time)
Renovated my old house and built a new (and survived!)
Made new friends (and lost touch with a few old ones)
Started my owl collection (not real owls)
De-cluttered to my heart’s content (house and mind)
Bought the Taj Mahal (only a miniature)
Downgraded from a massive DSLR to a point-n-shoot (when everyone else is upgrading)
Sold my treadmill and bought a proper clothes drying rack (about time)
Walked 3kms on a whim one day (and on bed rest for the next three days)
Designed my front garden (and very proud of it)
Written a speech in my honour on my retirement day, in the voice of a friend/colleague (assignment in a Leadership Training I attended)
Carried back gifts for 80 people on my last visit to India (I love that I know/love so many people)
Signed up for organ donation
Learnt to make “mishit doi”
Watched a World Cup cricket match at WACA
Got myself a new name – “mummy”!

So yes, there is another one of me roaming the earth now. On some days, she makes me feel like I am “three” (that’s how old she is now)….but often, I feel like I need a knee surgery just to keep up with her (which, by the way, I do need… to fix the torn menisci in my right knee).
P.S. I spent my birthday planting trees with a group of workmates, as part of a community drive from work (in collaboration with Greening Australia). And although physically it felt like a boot  camp (walking miles, shovel in hand, and squatting and standing to plant over 100 trees, especially with the injured knee) it made me very content and happy. I will go back to the site in a few years to see how the seedlings have grown :).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Doing a Dylan

How many hairs have I lost this year?
How many plates have I washed?
How many times did I poop and puke?
How wise have I been with water?

The answer my friend,
Is flowing in the drain...
The answer is flowing in the drain.

(No offence to Dylan, but seems like the key things in life can be traced back to our drainage systems.)

And now for the real song, just so that you don't leave this post promising never to come back again...

You better be working very hard...

(Part of the Letters to My Little Girl series)

Dear Shanaya,

Last week, much to my shock (and Daddy’s), you announced:
 “I only like shopping and partying”.
At 2.5yrs, we were expecting things like “playing”, “dancing”, “drawing” or even “watching cartoons” to be your favourites. But no…not yours.
We can already tell that you’ll keep us on the edge of our seats, as we watch you grow up. And boy, how we are looking forward to that!
But just one thing…
Both shopping and partying require money. So we hope you can follow your dreams, work very hard, and make some money to fund your leisure activities. 
Daddy and I will be saving for your college and maybe some travel…but shopping and partying will have to be self-funded, my dear.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Your Nickname

(Part of the Letters to My Little Girl series)

Dear Shanaya,
Your nickname isn’t a typo. We did mean it to be Chiku, the Indian name of the sapodilla, which is a tropical fruit known for its sweetness. It has nothing to do with “cheeky”, which is an adjective we’d rather not have associated with you.
P.S. Written after one of the lovely educators at your day care told us that you have taken a little boy under your wings, call him your “baby” and feed him crayons.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Facebook 101

“I have often considered deactivating my Facebook account. It’s so depressing to see other people posting pictures of their perfect lives…their accomplishments, pets, kids, vacations, food, parties, relationship milestones etc., when I feel like nothing much is happening in my life!”

That’s what a friend of mine told me today, as we were venting to each other about the monotony of our respective lives. Now, as a veteran cynic, here were my few pearls of wisdom to her, on how to avoid Facebook-induced depression:

  • Remember what they say about “judging a book by the cover”? If there was FB when that idiom was coined, it would have said “Don’t judge a person’s life by their FB posts”. Obviously, we are all sharing only the “best” moments of our lives on social media (with exceptions, like this dude). But to think that someone’s life is unadulterated happiness, would be to believe that reality TV is un-edited.  
    • The so called “most romantic” couples on FB are probably fighting like cats and dogs behind closed doors…
    • That drool-worthy Vietnamese street food posted straight from “The perfect vacation in Vietnam” probably gave the poster food poisoning soon after….
    • That fun party you wish you were invited to probably had really good posers who could make even a funeral look like fun…
    • The new job announcement from your high-school rival was probably true…but what you didn’t know was that he was unemployed for 6 months before this (and struggling)…
  • If you are one of those people who constantly check FB after you have posted something, and get depressed when you don’t get enough “likes” and “comments”, baby, you need to listen to this song. Alisha Chinai is of course singing about a mutual exchange of hearts/love, but the same principle works for FB too. “Like ke badle mein like de…”.  Every time you “like” or “comment” on someone’s post, you’re making an investment. And you will get the returns. Those same people will return the favour when you post, to keep the vicious cycle going. Barter system is not dead.
  • A person who has 1029 friends on FB probably has no real friends. And by “real” I mean “not in the virtual world”.  Such a sorry state of the world when even YouTube views and likes can be bought

Sadly, FB is often a great example of that saying about “empty vessels making the most noise”. The happiest or most accomplished people are probably the least active on FB or don’t even have FB profiles. They are busy living their lives…climbing mountains, gazing at stars, telling bedtime stories or baking in their little kitchens that smell like heaven.
So while FB can be very appetising, it’s best consumed with a pinch of salt.
P.S. I have a few pretty aggressive investors on my friends list. They hit "like" two seconds after I post something, even lengthy reads like this one. So unless they are really fast readers like this girl, they are the kind of people who make FB hilarious.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Achilles' Heel

It wasn’t the first day of the year. Nor was it my birthday. But yesterday was a day of resolutions. Why? Well, when your almost 3-yr old tells you “Mummy, your tummy is like Daddy Pig’s”, you know it wasn’t really a compliment (for the uninitiated, Daddy Pig is Peppa Pig’s dad, whose tummy walks at least 500m ahead of the rest of his body).

So I decide to make my tummy history. I call up many local fitness clubs and gyms, and finally book a class in one. Brimming with excitement, I get into my workout gear and wait for “A” to get back from work and drive me to the centre. My little girl throws a tantrum saying she wanted to “exerzist” too. But I tell her that any more “exerzist” will make her vanish, and that will make me very sad.
“A”, of course, is very happy that I have finally taken the plunge. He is at his super-supportive avatar, not complaining at all about having to give the little missy her shower and dinner all on his own (a task that would make even Iron Man poop his pants).

Two seconds in the centre, and I have a panic attack of sorts. Not only was there no overweight person like me, there was nobody my age or fitness level. A room full of young girls who looked like they run triathlons for a living…and a friendly instructor who ran a boot-camp style routine. They had determination written on their faces, eyebrows squished and lips tightened to focus on their fiftieth squat. I was clearly in the wrong class.

Anyhow, I join the routine after a feeble attempt at cracking a joke about my fitness. I thought I would die after two squats, but I didn’t. In fact, it started to feel like fun. Why? Well, looking at the mirrored walls of the studio, I couldn’t help but think “mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the fittest of them all”. So I gulped my laughter and stretched my legs, up down, up down….squat, now stand…now jump…now lie down and touch your knee with your nose, and all this while, remember to breathe. Are you kidding me? It felt like running on a treadmill blindfolded, with a plastic bag over my face! I couldn’t stop…and I definitely couldn’t breathe.

While the Iron Ladies went on like they were having a stroll in the park, Daddy Pig panted and puffed. And then, snap snap snap. What was that? It was Daddy Pig’s knee. Something had snapped and I found myself sitting on the floor. Embarrassed, but trying to appear calm, I assure them that it was nothing major. But they wouldn’t believe me, especially after one of them swore she heard my bones snap! So I had them all fuss over me, help me sit on a chair with pillows under my feet, until “A” arrived to take me back home.

The look on his face…I cannot even describe it. If I had been running on a treadmill blindfolded, he looked like he was made to run on one after someone had pulled out his eyeballs. And to think that a 3-yr old is capable of such torture techniques over her bath and dinner is nothing less than bone-chilling! Anyway, given I couldn’t walk very well on my own, he helped me into the car and let me narrate my story. After a minute of silence (like they do in memory of someone who has passed away), he says “You know what, you are just fine the way you are”. Meaning “Please don’t ever do this again…to yourself or me”.

That night, the pain wasn’t too bad, so I went to bed early. In the morning, my leg was a tree trunk. My knee was swollen and it felt like I had metal chains tied to my right leg. I managed to get an afternoon appointment with our doctor, so I went to work limping.  I regretted it straight away. No, not because the pain got worse…but because everyone wanted to know what had happened. And although a “sports injury” is often quite cool, it’s actually quite awkward when it’s difficult to explain whether I had the injury due to sports or the lack of it (my shape definitely supports the latter).

At the doctor’s clinic, he asked me to sit and then stand up, stretch my leg and then fold my knee. Oh, the irony! He almost sounded like the fitness instructor. And when he inspected my knee closely and said he suspected ligament tear, all I could think of was…”thank god, my legs are shaved”.

P.S. I need to get a CT Scan – Arthogram done to find the extent of my physical injury. As for the mental trauma and embarrassment….there’s nothing that a bottle of wine doesn’t fix.

Moral of the story: “Perfection cannot be improved”. So don’t hurt yourself trying too hard!
And one for the ladies: Always have your legs shaved/waxed (whatever your weapon of choice) even if it’s winter and you know they’ll never be exposed. Life will find a way to catch you unguarded.

Edited to add: Turns out (after a CT scan) that I have two torn menisci and may need surgery and/or physio to recover. Damn.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Some other time...

While living in a new residential estate can often feel like living on a construction site (the sand, the workmen and the noise from their equipment, the road closures and lack of infrastructure in the beginning), one of the main advantages, we were told, was the sense of community that it fosters. You end up knowing everyone on the street, as you bump into them either overseeing the construction of your house, or while moving in with your furniture or as you spend time caring for your new front garden (for non-gardeners like us, the “caring” lasts until it’s time for the first lawn mowing). And of course, if the estate is developed by reputed/big developers, they organise events like movie nights, group fitness classes, BBQ in the new park, Easter egg hunt, kid’s boot camps etc. to help you “meet your neighbours”.

Now, those you know (have seen) me, know that the idea of a “fitness class”, that too with my “new neighbours”, would be as riveting for me as a worm cupcake (the type that witches are known to make). As for movie nights and BBQs, those I like…but unfortunately couldn’t make it to any, because we were either overseas on holiday, or at another one of those million birthday parties we attend (thanks to our little social butterfly). Easter morning egg hunt…erm, we missed that too, because by the time we woke up, we didn’t think there would be a single egg left.

So yesterday, on a relatively relaxed Sunday, we decided to walk to the park….and hoped to “see” some of our neighbours. The social butterfly chose to ride her trike, while her parents cleared the streets of dogs, people, birds and even plants (if we could), to keep her from running them over. It was a beautiful day…the sun, the clear blue sky, the hyperactive toddlers fighting over their turn at the swing. We exchanged polite greetings with the other parents, only to find out that they didn’t actually “live” in our estate. They had come over from the neighbouring suburbs because they had heard great things about our park.

So after half an hour at the park, we decided to head home, disappointed for not having spotted a single neighbour. Oh well, we did have a good time, nevertheless….and there were no accidents, major tantrums, or trying to hug/kiss unsuspecting young boys by our drama queen.
As luck would have it, the neighbours from the first house on our street were out on their freshly laid front lawn and driveway. We greeted, smiled, complimented their house and their child and shared a few of our “building house nightmares”. All was going very well. They even invited us in for a cup of tea, and we promised “some other time”. Just as we were saying bye, our little girl peed her pants. While I turned red (and “A”, a shade of purple), she proudly declared that she was watering their lovely lawn….and actually did a little run and turn, to…erm…equally spread her offering on the grass. Afraid to look our neighbour in the eye, I did catch a glimpse of them smiling politely and saying “it was OK”. By that time, I had nervously picked up the mobile water sprinkler in my arms, and let her finish the job on my skirt. I could hear “A” apologise profusely, and explain to them that we were trying to toilet train her and encouraging her to be without nappies when we went out short distances from home. It was hit and miss – some days she was really good at telling us, and other days, it was too late. But apparently, this is how they learn.

I don’t know how they took the uninvited discourse on toilet training (especially after what happened). But in my embarrassment, rush and nervousness, I started running with her. While I ran, I told the neighbour “I will get our hose and clean up the lawn.” How I planned to do that, don’t ask. We would need a really long hose…and, it would probably just be easier to borrow theirs. Most importantly, can water-based substances really be “cleaned” from grass?  So, I ran in my wet skirt, with an overjoyed toddler trying to pull her pants down because they were wet.

Just then, the neighbours from across the street came out into their driveway, and started walking towards me, smiling. I never wanted an invisible cloak so badly before. I kept running….and even before they could say anything, I cried out “some other time”! I didn’t look back to see the expression on their faces. But I won’t be surprised if they list their house for sale tomorrow. After all, who wants to live next to a complete lunatic who runs in a wet skirt, clumsily carrying their half-naked child….throwing gibberish in air!

The evening was gloomy. We decided to wear dark glasses and avoid eye contact with anybody in our street in the near future.