Friday, February 26, 2010

Can never start early enough with some things

This post is for all the new moms on the block in general and one in particular. I have tried to include as many facts and links as possible without letting my smart remarks run away with me, operative word being tried. At some point I came home to my pet theory that comprehensive is boring and so you may find vital details missing. In case you have jigyaasu baalak type questions, leave me a comment and I will put on my best librarian glasses and strive to answer. Else, yenjoy!

One of the things that we are rather keen to pass on to the kid/s is the bookworm genes. The first baby books that we needed to buy were for ourselves, not being particularly gifted in remembering nursery rhymes and baby songs. But hey, we made up more songs than we read so it's not necessary, not by a long shot. If you still like to go pro on these things, then
A Treasury For One Year Olds comes recommended by us. Some of those delightful nursery rhymes have earlier featured in this post.

Once Adi was a little older, a few months perhaps, we got some other books in. My mom came to see her first grandchild armed with Duckling and Friends and Around The House - both sound board books that make different sounds when the requisite buttons are pressed. Liable to drive you and other listeners out of your minds after the five thousandth time the sheep baas or the telephone rings or the kettle whistles but babies seem to thrive on repetition. I think Fuzzy Bee and Friends also made an appearance in these parts around that time. It's a fabric book that invites the baby to feel different textures. Much fun. For them. In the same genre, we also have Snappy Sounds Pop-Up Moo! an enthusiastic title that encourages early intellectual gianthood. Basically again a lot of farm sounds.

I think sometime after Adi turned one, he started to like picture books. That was the time he started to speak too so maybe it was good practice. Dreamland Publications seem to present a lot of such books. We have their First 1000 Words which is torn and tattered due to overuse and overzealous baby hands but the number of meals it has helped shovel down the boy's throat, my goodness. We also have Disney's My first 1000 words - that is Disney's way of early market capture of course but rather colourful and nice if you don't mind the baby being introduced to Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas etc. at that tender age. They should know early in life that there is no escaping giant capitalist corporations.

After a few months, he started liking Dr Seuss too. Dr Seuss Super Senses, Dr Seuss Special Shapes, Dr Seuss Dizzy Days and Dr Seuss Crazy Colours all began to make me see Blue Fish! Red Fox! Yellow Socks! in my dreams. I think he still likes them though not as much.

This was also about the time that the (annoyingly) happy little puppy Spot came to stay with us. Spot's First Walk, Spot's Big Book Of Words and Spot's First Christmas have all been devoured many time over (go, Eric Hill!). Like most parents, we gave in to the Baby Einstein phenomenon too with Baby Einstein My First Book Of Letters and Baby Einstein Language Nursery. Einstein or not, they are quite well-produced though expensive. Later we got some of the DVDs too and Adi was obsessed with them for quite some time. I think more than getting inspired by Vincent Van Goat (hehe) and Mozart, he liked watching the telly so that was put to an end.

Picture books and numbers books including a really pretty 123 given by Aneela continue to be liked, giving us much hope that ladka kuchh na kuchh toh kar hi lega. Lift-the-flap books and pop-up books are a little hard to control at that age, given that the baby is more interested in pulling out the parts that flap and pop. Personally though I rather like Scholastic's Boohbah The Wobbly Bobbly Balls. I think it's fun to say all those words but this is not about me, humph.

Then my sister found a shop that was selling second-hand children's books from around the world and went berserk buying them. Thanks to that, we have a rather eclectic collection of books from all over. Australia, Canada, the works. To put it descriptively, good stuff.

Then sometime between 1.5 and 2 years, he discovered Bubbles and Bruno. Our friend Mala had given him a bunch of Bubbles and then Sue gave him Bruno and boy, did he read them raw. Bubbles and Bruno are actually clones of each other so if you get one, don't bother getting the other.

The real explosion happened after he turned two. Charlie and Lola books were bought and these days we are bargaining on naps and meals and good behaviour in exchange for these stories. The immensely talented Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar is around too. I bought it because it had Hindi translation alongside the English text but later I realized that the translation was done really badly and I'd rather just translate it myself.

Our bow to product extensions comes in the form of Thomas and Friends of which we have many. Other titles that we are obsessing about include Zaza's Baby Brother (bought before the baby was anywhere in the picture but hoping it will be of some use).

Like with most enthusiastic book buyers, we have bought many books before the right time. He still doesn't appreciate Noddy, Kalia, Akbar and Birbal, Greek Mythology (ahem), Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio, Puss in boots, and Rapunzel yet. All in good time, eh?

He also has a book called The story of a panther by Mickey Patel in which the panther dies. Horrible. I can't read that to him.

P.S. Pictures courtesy the good man and husband as usual. Books photograph so much better than people, no?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book review: Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese

Way back in 2004, when Sidin Vadukut first wrote his Travails I was not a blog reader or writer. Still, this post did the rounds as an e-mail forward and was cause for many giggles, guffaws and sniggers across cubicles. In the tradition of self-effacing humour, it clearly pulled out all stops. A few years later when I started writing a blog of my own, I discovered the phenomenon called Domain Maximus, a blog that never fails to tickle the funny bone and often draws the complaint that it is not updated frequently enough. Readers are not willing to accept that Sidin Vadukut may be busy in his day job as the managing editor of, his nearly-obsessive but consistently funny Twitter updates or writing his next book.

The first of the Dork trilogy arrived at my doorstep via Flipkart. The first and eminently pleasant surprise was the price of the book. At INR 149 (Rs 50 off, don't you just love Flipkart?), it doesn't hurt to pick up the book, even if one is just mildly curious about it. I read it in two days and that can only happen if the book engages at a personal level, at least when one is in the lifestage that I am in (child/ren running riot in the background), it is. Most bloggers turned authors will tell you that it is reasonably difficult to maintain one's voice as one makes the transition from hitting publish to will you publish me. It is almost as if the moment one decides that the time has come to pen the masterpiece that has been sitting in the old noggin, the creative juices all decide to dry up in a single, impressive flash. Sidin evades that admirably, managing to retain his trademark humour as he reveals the diaries of one Robin 'Einstein' Verghese - the dork, the hero.

If you have had the opportunity to meet a low on social skills - high on naivete MBA student, Einstein (an ironical dorm name bestowed on him by seniors) will come across as familiar. Ranked 41st in his batch at a WIMWI, Einstein manages to delude himself that Goldman Sachs and McKinsey and Co. all want him on Day Zero of placement day and the much-coveted foreign posting with a fat bonus waits just around the corner. Instead he finds himself at Dufresne, a mediocre, mid-level consulting firm where he bumbles along in his own inimitable style. Perhaps the MBA jokes are too contextual and the consulting satire too specific but the book still manages to hold one's attention and more importantly create some laugh-aloud moments. It would be interesting to know the reactions of readers who do not have any experience with products of the Engineering Graduate - MBA from premier institute - Consulting/Banking/PE Job cycle.

Back to Einstein - the desire to find love and sex (possibly in reverse order of importance) is also raging strong and he regards all the female characters in the book with the same lustful eye, without getting too much action. Basis some well-timed confusion and deception, he manages to go steady with the girl of his campus dreams, only to hanker after someone else.

All in all, a very good first effort and it would be interesting to see what else Sidin has in store for the readers in the remaining parts. We can never have enough funny writers, I say.

This post was originally written for Kiran's book blog. They are reading and reviewing books at a mad pace. Check it out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just trim it

We got Adi his first professional haircut at a salon called Watermelon on Hill Road, on the top floor of the Ruf N Tuf showroom opposite Elco's. So far I had been his stylist and while people may not have appreciated the part-Mohawks, part-Crew Cuts, part Nothing Reallys that I have been giving him for the last two and a half years, they have no idea just how tough it is to get a baby to HOLD STILL FOR JUST A SECOND, WILL YA in his bath as I snipped away.

Yes, baby styling is a very tough game and my best to the people who pursue it. My respects also to Tasleem, the barber (is that still a dirty word or should I be calling him The Man Whose Business It Is To Cut Hair?) at Watermelon who managed to give the boy an even hair-trim all over his head. Of course, Adi was sitting in a toy car all this while. Anyone who knows him will tell you that the only way to get him to do anything is by getting racing cars, normal cars, excavators, diggers and such like into the picture. (I personally like construction equipment a fair bit myself and when Adi grows up, we will take over Komatsu and drive all their fancy-looking earth moving machinery, maybe even have races).

Anyway, so since the seat was modelled on a toy car and came with a colourful TV screen, it was easier than it could have been. Of course our fastidious little man first refused to wear the apron and then threw a blue fit when he saw that the cut hair was falling all over his sweet self, but 'it could have been worse' has to be one's guiding philosophy when rearing a pre-schooler. M then gave the man a generous tip and then we paid 150 bucks at the counter downstairs. Very, very well spent, if you ask me. Tasleem is our man from now on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Skoda or not

The car-hunt is on in right earnest. Our options had narrowed themselves down to the Honda Accord and we were quite set to go ahead with it. Then the Skoda Superb 1.8 entered the picture. The car is just fantastic, there is no doubt about that. Car on car, it is probably (heck, is) a better bet than the Accord.

However, one look at the online forum of Skoda owners and one is not so sure anymore. Everyone has only terrible things to say about the after-sales service. The Skoda dealers have got themselves some serious negative publicity with some car-owners claiming that original parts are replaced by spurious ones every time the car is sent for servicing. Uh oh comes to mind? Yes, it does.

So that is where you come in. Please let me know if you or your family or friends own a Skoda and what their experience has been like, specially with after-sales. I remain eternally grateful for your time. Mail me if you'd rather not comment -

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Our home goes blog-hopping

The lovely design blog Once Upon A Tea-Time is featuring Chez Sharma-Ramanathan today in their house tours.

Do take a look.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Of fairy tales and nursery rhymes

M and I went to Crossword today and as usual, we took turns browsing while the other ensured that the son and heir did not fall on his head down the stairs. We had different piles of shopping which was unwrapped when we got home.I had picked up some art and crafts activity books for Adi in the vague and unfounded hope that engaging him creatively would leave him less time and energy for tantrums and misbehaviour. M had picked up Hansel and Gretel for the boy.

'Hansel and Gretel?' I asked M.

'Sure, a house made of candy, so cool.'

'But she is fattening them up to eat them! It's not even vaguely suitable for a kid.'

'Were you scared of this story as a kid?'

That's the thing with marriage, you have no shameful secrets to call your own.

And that's the thing with fairy tales. There are not enough fairies in them. The bad guys outnumber them by half.

Look at Cinderella. The mother dies. The father has no judgment and marries a complete bitch who comes with two other mini-bitches who make our girl slog for her measly bread and broth. She is not even allowed to go out for parties and that as we know is pretty much the worst fate that can befall a young girl, worse than even acne, some would say. The overall meanness quotient just boggles the mind. I have watched the Disney film and the two stepsisters actually tear up the gown when our heroine ventures to make an appearance for the ball. I had to clench my teeth and not scream 'An eye for an eye, a gown for a gown, you %&%' in order to teach Adi not to take injustice lying down.

Right, and then there is Rapunzel. The parents are forced to give their newborn to a witch? Because the father stole some lettuce from the latter's kitchen garden? I am sorry for being faint-hearted but I don't I have the liver to read this story to my kids. And let us not even get into how lettuce is so completely not worth giving up your firstborn for. Aloo tikki chaat, maybe, but please, not lettuce. Having to give up firstborns is a fairly common theme actually. Rumpelstitskin is another one who spins gold out of straw in lieu of the promise to get the miller's daughter's first child. Pretty heavy-duty storytelling, what?

At least Snowwhite was fortunate enough to meet only seven dwarves in the forest. Things for Little Red Riding Hood on the other hand got a little rough when she ran into a cliche and a big, bad wolf. One moment you are traipsing through the woods trying to deliver food to your sick grandmother, suspension of belief be damned and the next you are being contemplated for dinner by an animal with big teeth, who has already swallowed your grandmother whole and has pretty much the same fate planned for you. Blair Witch Project, take a backseat.

I think the bad guys are all channeled on murderous psychopaths.

Puss in Boots also meets an ogre but here the latter is at the receiving end when he transforms himself into a mouse and gets gobbled up by the cat. A tragic, violent and untimely end specially since his castle was taken over by the good cat basis pure deception. But my theory about unsuitable-for-tender-ears violence holds still.

Then there is the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Nightmare on Hamelin Street is more like it, as the children are hypnotized by some rocking flute music and led away by the good man. Heavy price to pay for not honouring an IOU, wouldn't you say?

Nudity? We have the Emperor's New Clothes for you.

Nursery rhymes are not much better. Little Tommy Tucker has to sing for his supper, of course but that is still better than Old Mother Hubbard whose cupboard is so bare that she cannot feed her poor dog. And there was the old woman who lived in the shoe and gave her many children some broth without any bread and scolded them soundly and put them to bed. Songs of deprivation, if I ever heard any.

I think this may not be the time to tell kids that their Ring A Ring O Rosies is alluding to the Bubonic Plague. There is only so much reality that a child can take. Specially since Jack of Jack and Jill fame has to go to bed with vinegar and brown paper in the name of advanced neurology. Humpty Dumpty we all know could not be put together again, despite everyone attempting a Fevicol ka jod.

Agatha Christie would get me. She made a right career of seeing the sinister side of these nursery rhymes and how wonderfully they lent themselves to murder and intrigue. We all know the one about Ten Little Niggers and Sing A Song Of Sixpence and Three Blind Mice ("They all ran after the farmer's wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife"? Yikes!)

Heard of Cry Baby Buntin? Here is a harrowing alternative to the same -

Bye, baby bumpkin
Where's Tony Lumpkin
My lady's on her death-bed
For eating half a pumpkin

Again, pumpkin? I mean, I like my kaddu ki subzi alright but wouldn't die for it, no. But like I keep reminding myself, not everything in life is about the food. A lot is, but not everything. Look at Georgie Porgie for instance. Not everything was pudding and pie in his life. Kissing the girls and making them cry is a sexual offense for chrissake. Not to mention a lawsuit.

In Goosey Goosey Gander, a poor old man is taken by his left leg and thrown down the stairs for not saying his prayers. A pretty strong theme of intolerance, I would call it.

You could of course throw Jack and the Beanstalk and Alice in Wonderland and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear and other seemingly innocent stuff at me. You have picked out the ones above only to suit your point of view, you would tell me.

You would of course be absolutely right in doing so.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The one about cars and men etc

Every now and then a city gets to you. You might love it but like roommates who have spent too much time with each other, it tends to get on your nerves and wear them thin. Mumbai is doing that to me right now. The walls are closing in and it won't be long before they meet each other. The streets seem more crowded than ever before, the traffic more unmanageable, the weather more unbearable, the parks too crowded and too few, the lack of space more pronounced - I could go on but who has ever heard me whine?

Of course it could be just the regular bouts of homesickness that I get, probably heightened due to the raging hormones. Who can tell? Probably an endocrinologist but she would charge me for it.

Mahesh was in stupid Frankfurt over the last weekend where he froze parts of his anatomy off (-2 degrees, he insisted on providing us with regular weather updates, bahut thand hai, bahut baarish ho rahi hai...brrr etc). That also meant that I did not make any plans for the weekend, choosing to stay indoors and sulk instead.

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is currently on and there are plenty of events that I should go for but the inertia, so tough to break. I hope to go for My Name Is Khan over the weekend, provided peoples and parties decide to let us decide for ourselves.

Some link love. You must check out this brilliant first birthday party that my overachieving friend purple homes threw for her daughter and this hilarious account of an artist's journey through her early years.

I have decided to hold on to my demands for Kindle for now. For one, I am using the Kindle for iPhone app quite successfully and don't really know if buying another device for the same purpose makes sense. Second, there is the iPad. Third, all this is moh maaya and does not do anything towards fulfilling our higher, spiritual selves.

Which means, I only have two days in which to modify my request to the man and master. The pressure, yikes. We need more sales and marketing oriented festivals in the year.

We need to replace our trusty Baleno. It has served us well for the last five years but now thode anjar-panjar dheele ho rahein hain. I declared that instead of pumping money into an old car, it made better sense to just invest in a new one. The men-folk, namely M and Pramod are both very upset about this because everyone knows that a car is real live creature, with emotions and feelings and could and would get upset if she knew that we were thinking of replacing her. Pramod tells me with glistening eyes about the first-class average that she has been giving all these years and how he was only a chit of a boy when he first lay hands on her and how despite the fact that he is now 15 kilos heavier, she still loves him. My first car, my first car, says M, maybe we can just preserve her in the spare parking. They outnumber me, so I wisely keep my counsel to myself.

Recommendations in terms of a sedan are most welcome. Incidentally I know what I want. A Beetle! But given that I have stopped driving more or less completely after moving to Mumbai, perhaps it makes no sense. Plus there is always the moh-maaya arguement.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


It's our national shame more than our national animal. This website gives some information about why tigers have been poached to the point of extinction and what we can do to make a difference. It may already be too late though.

I plan to follow through with every single one of the steps recommended below. This post would be me spreading the word. I suggest you do too.

Spread the Word
Let everyone know that our tigers are on the brink of extinction and that they need us. Now. You can start by joining the Save Our Tigers movement on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and spreading the word wherever you go – online or offline.
A short message can go a long way to help save our tigers. Let all your friends know about the movement through SMS – just type in your message and ask them to visit to join the roar.
Write to Editors
Write a letter or an email to editors of popular newspapers and magazines, asking them to support the cause and highlight the urgency to save our tigers. The more people we can reach and inform, the louder our roar will be.
Organizations such as WWF and The Corbett Foundation work for tiger conservation and need our active support. If possible, you can chip in with funds, volunteer for work or donate clothes, etc. for the forest guards by tying up with such organizations.
Volunteer for Our Tigers
Your time is the most important contribution for our tigers. If you think you have the skills or the commitment to help the tigers on-site, do contact an NGO working for tiger conservation to volunteer for our tigers.
Preserve our Natural Resources
Loss of habitat is one of our tigers’ biggest problems. We can reduce pressure on forests by avoiding unnecessary use of forest-derived products, such as paper and timber.
Be a Responsible Tourist
Visit tiger sanctuaries and national parks and discover our country’s natural heritage. But please remember that the wilderness is to be experienced, not to be polluted by packets of chips, etc.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Conversations with the bai # 1

My kaamwaali bai enters my room, the tools of her trade namely, jhaadoo, ponchha and dustpan in hand.

'There is going to be plenty of lafda now,' she tells me. I look up from my laptop. She often talks to me about things, about issues that bother her. I usually encourage her, having taken a liking for her forthright views. Today, though the characters in my story are all playing truant, leading to problems that I have no resolution for.

'Why is that?' I ask.

'Because Rahul Gandhi is coming to Mumbai,' she says, beginning to sweep the floor, 'Shiv Sena has said there will be plenty of lafda.'

'I suppose so,' I reply, knowing that she is not done yet. She stops her work and looks at me.

'They want to chase the bhaiya-log away,' she says, 'why would they want to do that? They are like us, only, no?'

Theories about migration and parochialism, analytical articles discussing regionalism and communalism swirl about my mind.

I settle for, 'You could say that.'

'Then? We should chase out the terrorists, not the bhaiya-log,' she says suddenly, 'I have many bhaiya-log in my chawl. We don't want them to go anywhere.'

She dwells on the residents of her chawl for sometime and then says.

'You are from UP, no, bhabhi?'

I sigh. I don't really know anymore, I say. (This is why.)

'And sahab, he is a south Indian, no?' I nod my head in the way Indians do, it could mean yes or no. Questions pertaining to identity before my eleven am coffee break can be a little daunting. Also, my story is stuck now.

She thinks for sometime and then laughs.

'But anyone could tell that Adi is from Mumbai, ha ha, he speaks to me in Marathi.'

I smile. Yes, I agree, he also speaks in Hindi and English and Tamil. She smiles absently, as people often do when discussing the antics of children.

'I have a friend whose husband died. From a village near Bangalore,' she starts again, 'she had no place to go so I took her into my house and found her a job.'

I know the lady she is talking about. She had brought her to my house too but I did not need more help at the time.

'I found her a job in this building, on the sixth floor,' she continues, 'this woman and her husband and kids, they had all come to Mumbai because there was nothing to do in their own village. Where would she go now? She sent her kids back to the village. Now she works here. There are plenty of jobs for hard-working people.'

She quietens down and starts to sweep the floor again.

I am unable to concentrate on my story for a long, long time after she has left.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The one about Oscar Wao and other things

I finished Junot Diaz's The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. No surprise it got the Pulitzer for fiction. The prose is the sort that can be variously described as fiery, fierce and blistering. That basically means that you might want to keep a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case. Preparing to run shouting 'aag, aag' is the other option.

I am glad I learnt some Spanish. Oscar Wao is written in Spanglish and I could get most of the Spanish words, let's say, three out of every five, which would be proportionate to the classes that I paid attention in. The Spanish classes will also pay for themselves when I declare my undying love for Pedro Almodovar in his native tongue. That particular flame was rekindled after a screening of Talk to Her and Broken Embraces, two of the few movies by him that I hadn't watched so far.

My pregnancy nausea took a long time to settle this time around. It threatened to make a comeback when Aishwarya Rai made faces at us from Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara. My sur is not meeting hers, that much is certain. I need to be more careful about what I watch on TV. As for her marriage to that strange, strange, strange man Abhishek Bachchan, I only have this to say - there are now four happy people in the world, these two and the two that they could have married. Jahan chaar ghar bigadne waale the, wahan do hi bigdenge. It sounds better in Hindi.

I watched The White Ribbon last night and could not get to sleep for a long, long time afterwards. It is such a disturbing, brilliant film. I need to be more careful about what I watch. More Woody Allen for me, I am thinking. Or films like Ishqiya, which was also quite funny. My favourite dialogue? Quite naturally - tumhara ishq, ishq and humaara ishq, sex. I like my humour on either one of the two extremes of the dehaati-high-brow scale, as you may have noticed.

I have set myself the deadline of March end to finish my third script, essentially before the baby comes. This is going to be very tough and I pretty much need to write and edit all day long, including weekends if I am going to make it happen. And that is not counting the hours that I waste telling myself and M that it is no good, that I am a complete fraud who only pretends to write, that the real writers do writerly things like go to Jaipur Lit Fest (aha, we have not gotten over that yet, clearly). He is reading the novel as I write it, and seems quite engrossed (his other option is divorce) and tells me that I need to complete it so that at least he knows what happens next. Chalo, if nothing else, at least I have one captive reader.

'tis the month for Valentines. I do not renounce it, because I feel it's stupid to let go of an opportunity to
a. get gifts
b. make the man feel bad if he doesn't get gifts

This is specially true because I think I'd like a Kindle. I read huge amounts when Adi was a newborn, there seemed to be nothing else to do while he fed and slept and I basically spent my life holding him. If the second time is similar, I'd like to upgrade the experience a little bit, make it high-tech, nerdy-glamorous even. And I say, almost two years of not a single Margarita - start making up to me already, world.

What a nonsensical, neither here and definitely not there kind of post. I think I will stop and go eat something now. Not as hungry as Afridi but still a girl's gotta eat.