Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is a working mother to do?

No easy answer to that question. In India, we seem to be stuck in a strange situation. We no longer have vast joint families where the whole village raises the child and the multitudes of Chachis and Tais and elders are always around to keep one alert eye on the children. We don't have reliable creches and daycare services either. Get hold of any random working woman on the street and she will be able to share about seventeen stories that cement the belief that live-in maids/nannies are not an easy option either.

To make my situation a little more complicated, I don't go out of the house to work. Of course I'd like to go out to the coffee-shop once in a while to write or to the club but mostly it's out of my study that I work, which means that I need help that can keep an eye on the kids for a few hours at a time while I do that. Since Padma left (old readers might remember her) without as much as a by your leave, causing much heartbreak and despair and confusion, we have been stuck. A parade of clowns has been in and out of the house. Some are woefully lacking in the most basic of skills forcing us to ask them to look for alternative employment. Some arrive and mysteriously develop ailing relatives overnight. Others need to attend to urgent family matters that are apparently endless because they never seem to come back. Yet others fall prey to that unique Mumbai malady kantala and leave.

Bombay wasn't like that, lament people, women have always worked here and good help was always easy to find. It seems to be true. There is a trend at play here and I am not an expert at these things but I'd still like to wager good money that some sort of a sociological change seems to be taking place in this particular dynamic. I think perhaps people who traditionally worked as household help have other, better options now and that's a good thing. That being the case, market forces should have worked in two ways:
a) the wages that we need to pay to get good household help should have spiked (but at those raised rates, people should have been willing to work)
b) alternatives in the form of good creches/day cares/ baby sitters should have emerged

Frankly, I see neither happening. I am willing to pay the market rate, possibly even exceed it for getting a good (translates into clean, hygienic, likes and can handle kids and so on) live-in nanny but I see no candidates that fit the bill. The trained, educated lot that work as nannies seem to service only the expatriate crowd and have salary expectations that can be matched only by people who get dollar salaries themselves. Daycares etc are not something that I am willing to look at, given my unique situation that I work from home but even so, many friends have shared their tales of woe on this earlier. Baby sitting for a few hours by college kids who need to earn pocket money is not a part of our culture (yet).

Maid agencies and I think I will make a blanket statement here seem to be thriving on fraud. Go to any parenting forum on the internet and it will be full of sad tales of brokers and agents making off with client money and not doing good by their promise. My own experience with agents is that they will send good help the first time around. Thrilled to bits about this piece of outstanding fortune, you will part with hard cash that is their finding fee. Soon though your help will need to go, to the village where a close relative lies on his/her deathbed or a similar calamity is in the offing. The alternative you will be provided with will be, well, inadequate seems to a unreasonably gentle way to describe them.

I am not asking for the feudal spirit, just help/assistance. Surely that's not too much? And so, I remain stuck. I need to work on a script, polish it up before it becomes old in my own mind but where is that elusive nanny who will help out with the kids while I do so? If you have any ideas, please do share. If you have someone in mind, please share even faster. In the meanwhile, if you do have good help that helps you with your kids, hang on to them with all you've got. You are very, very lucky.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books and book-readers

Belatedly, I read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. There's not much I can say about this unputdownable (one and a half days to finish with two kids demanding constant attention, it doesn't get more unputdownable than this) read that hasn't been said already. But then, I don't really write reviews, just a few lines about how the book made me feel. The White Tiger is unrelenting in its pace, plot and narrative. It digs its claws into your throat and does not let your consciousness leave the world of Balram Halwai while you are reading and in fact, even much after. As an escapist who'd much rather not think about this dual world of haves and have-nots that we live in, I am reasonably shaken after Mr Adiga is done with me and I have an uncomfortable feeling that it's going to last a while. The book is humorous though never, ever funny at the most unexpected of places but even so, it did not really draw a smile (I don't think it meant to). Man Booker 2008, much deserved.


Alright, Kindle review. Apologies for the delay, Your Ardent Fan and Rads. The thing is that notwithstanding gems like The White Tiger I am not doing too much reading - with or without fancy toys. The game is tres different with the second baby because when she sleeps, well, the first one is awake. But anyway, let's focus on the task at hand before we run out of time.

So I have only ordered a couple of books so far and as far as readability is concerned, once you get over the initial oddness of having to press a button to turn a page, it works out just fine. The font size is good, the screen size is fine, it looks just like a book page. You can read quite comfortably. And yet, there is something missing. Each and every book has a feel all it's own and when you have spent more time cultivating relationships with books than with people, you tend to be a little insistent on these things. In Kindle, all books will look the same. But we got over hand-written letters and the pleasure of seeing a friend's unique handwriting and moved to e-mail, right? So we can do this. Think of all the trees.

The battery dies very quickly, in my opinion so keep the charger handy. It doesn't come with a backlight and that's a major downer (though I think it's not supposed to be great for your eyes in any case). However, you have spent hours rocking the baby to sleep, she has finally slept, the room is dark, you have one hand free. Without the backlight, there is no game. Maybe a new-moms special edition is in order, Amazon?

-wise, it's fantastic. It looks really nice and once you have spent an equal amount of money on one of those hand-stained covers, it can look even better. I kid. But you will need something to protect that screen so a cover may be a good idea. I haven't bought one so far and the layer of dust that accumulates on it depresses me on several levels.

Value for money means different things for different people so I will not comment on it. Also, in my case, Amma+Appa (M's parents) bought it for me so yeehaw. The books are steep. In my usual cheap fashion, I ferreted out all the free books that were available at the store and hoarded them. Needless to say, I haven't read any of them so far.

Alright, so this is my version of the yeh bhi ho sakta hai, woh bhi ho sakta hai Kindle review. Some of my market research presentation days came back with this one.

M is planning to get the Ipad soon so we can run comparisons once he does. I think we are trying to fill the voids in our life brought about by lack of sleep with gadgets.

Last night was pretty bad, can you tell?

Edited to add: Chevalier suggests looking at reading-lights. Check out the link she gives in the comments.

I knew I had forgotten to mention something important and that is the fabulous author pictures that come up as screen-savers. My favourite is the Virginia Woolf one. Thanks, Chevalier!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Three years of orangeicecandy-ing

Blogging is not cool anymore. We all know that. If the mass exodus of bloggers to twitter was not evidence enough, we have news reports like this one hammering the last nail deep into Blogger's coffin. And yet, people like me continue to type away.

It's exactly three years today since I wrote my first post and although I have lost the last of the social life I had in this time, it is true that the last three years have been really important for all that happened in them. I learnt how to be a parent. I threw my hat over the fence and finally wrote and published a book. I tempered my love for travelling with a child and that gave new meanings to the word patience. I watched Metallica and U2 in action. I took my first holiday without my firstborn in tow and lived to tell the tale. I got myself a little girl to call my own. I lost some old friends and gained some new. I read authors that I hadn't heard of before and discovered just how inadequate I could feel (Oscar Wao, anyone?) . I learnt a new language and removed the trishul that had been resting on the grave of the super-maggu in me, setting the undead free once again. I ran the Dream Run and while it was not a big deal, my thumping heart believed otherwise. I got the fattest ever and fittest ever than I'd ever been (back to fattest ever again though). I finally bought and decorated a house and believe me, the feeling is underrated.

And through it all, I wrote here. Now, I am careful about what and how much I reveal in this space. It is not meant to be an online journal that records all that takes place in my life. More than anything else, it is supposed to serve as writing practice. And yet, I look back at my old posts and realize that unwittingly I have created a well, a mechanism for want of a better word that allows me to relive the important things. That's a fine thing, I think.

Along the way, I stopped treating this as a parenting blog, then learnt that it is more or less impossible for me to write about my life but not even mention the kids (how many tributes to Pierce Brosnan are too many?), I dithered over the whole pictures issue and still haven't made up my mind about what I feel about it. I wrote about some stores and service providers and that gave rise to situations calling for guns at dawn. I met, sometimes virtually and sometimes for real, people through this space and realized that it is after all possible to make new friends in one's thirties.

You, my constant reader, have been with me through it all. I don't know most of you and never will as the two Delurk Divuses have shown but still, if you have read or laughed while reading me, we already have a good thing going. Why, just last year at this time BUV was about to hit the shelves and I probably would have been a nervous wreck if not for the support that you guys showed. And so, while blogging may not be considered cool anymore, I am not planning to quit.

Happy third, blog.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The tie that binds

For Father's Day, Adi made a card at school that had a paper tie stuck on it. M was very appreciative of it and the card got the pride of place on our soft-board where all these works of art go.

Today, the boy decided to follow it up by asking to put M's tie for him. Everyone knows that our M no wear no tie never. If he is wearing a tie, he is going to a job interview. At the end of the interview, when the possibly-future-employer asks him if he has any questions, the first one M asks is 'May I take off my tie?'
So M was made to wear a tie on his tee. After some time, M tried to take it off only to be met with a very upset looking little bull. Daddy, don't take off the tie, he admonished with the quiet disapproval of the very young and therefore very powerful. This happened every time the good man tried to go tie-free. 

And that is how it came to pass that a non-inebriated and normally very conservatively dressed man opened the door to his very perplexed driver wearing a tie on his t-shirt. The hai, yeh bhaiyya ko kya ho gaya remained unsaid.

The things we do and wear for love. Happy Father's Day, M. Your first as a father of two. And definitely the first spent wearing a tie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I bet Che had more support going in

I think I'd like a motorcycle, I told M this morning.

, he replied and continued to dress for work.

Why no
t, I queried, it's not just a whim and I don't want to do it to be cool. I guess I'm too old for that. No, see, my father had one and I have been thinking about it lately. It was a black, Yezdi motorcycle and had 8172 as the registration number. It was sold to some stranger. I hope he enjoyed it as much as my dad did.

I'm sure he did but I'd rather you not get one. I lost someone to a motorcycle accident once. It's not safe.

Well, I nearly died in a car accident once, you know that. All vehicles are safe and all are dangerous. Plus I will get a helmet.

I would still worry so much.

You shouldn't. I would be careful. I think it's a great way to honour my dad's memory. He would look down at me and smile. Hell, I would look down at myself and smile.

He looked at me, torn between indulging me like he almost always does and worrying about my safety. I looked back, torn between giving in to him like I almost always do and doing something that will help me relive me some of those precious childhood memories.

What do we do when we don't have the same associations with things, when the contexts are set so far apart?

I am still making up my mind.

A motorcycle would be just so much fun though.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The other thing that has changed.... that I make many more typos than I used to. If I was the sort of person who used emoticons while blogging, I would insert a sad one right here.

What is it like to be a mother of two?

Since Ragini's birth, that's one of the staple questions that I am asked.

Well, it's a little bit like watching a rerun of your favourite movie. You know the good parts and you watch out for them and familiar as they are, your pleasure in them remains undiminished, perhaps even enhanced a little because you feel a sense of participation rather than just wonderment. The first time around, the joke is on you, punter. The second time around, you are an insider. And like in a much-loved movie, irrespective of the number of times you've been through it, you always discover something new every time you watch it.

That's a macro-level answer. Things have of course changed since Ragini came along.

I don't get to spend as much time with Adi as I used to. In fact, sometimes my whole days are consumed in caring for Ragini. He spends a lot of time with his grandparents, much more than he has ever done so far. I have gone from doing all of his work to doing almost nothing on some freakishly busy days. He is only three but he seems to understand that I do this because I have to and that once his sister doesn't need me around all the time, I will spend time with both of them.

Working is suddenly very difficult. My editor sent along some questions recently regarding my book and it took me forever to read the whole script through and figure out the changes. Most of it was done with Ragini on my lap, my knee rocking her almost unconsciously. Earlier I was able to write when Adi napped or went out to school or to play. Now free time seems to be a thing of the past. I am hoping that will change once Raagu is on some kind of a schedule, punctuate with hysterical laughter.

When I see the two of them together, strangely, the thought that is foremost on my mind is - There, I have given you each other. (The 'when I am gone' remains unsaid but it's there all the same! Melodrama runs high in our veins, what?)

I keep seeing him as an infant in the eye of my mind when I hold her. I had forgotten how tiny he once was, that he once needed me for everything. It's a nice reminder of just how quickly time flies (yes, yes, the days are long but the years are short) and how before we know it, they get so tiresomely independent. I plan to enjoy the helpless infant phase much more this time, not focussing so much on the sleepless nights and the fatigue that invades the bones as on taking pleasure in the smiles and coos and the chubby arms and legs. That's the other thing - they get too scrawny too soon.

I have learnt that there is no substitute for experience. When Adi was about six weeks old, M had to travel for a couple of days and I had....well, not to get into details (again that is, it should be there in some old post I think) but it had been really tough. Fast forward three years and M is away these days and look at me, both kids tucked into bed and I'm blogging about it. Ok, I exaggerate (for both times) but that is what makes these things interesting.

Err, so maybe I typed that too soon because I am coming back to write this after about twelve hours. Never mind.

Where was I? Yes, so all in all, it's a great trip. Enough said.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Zara zyaada ho gaya

My much beloved Zara has arrived in Mumbai. We will finally get to see what was cooking behind that huge scaffolding in Palladium these last couple of months. When I say we, I actually mean you because obviously I am not going to be seen anywhere farther than Bandra for the next few months, serving as I am in Her Majesty's Not So Secret Service at all times. Not that it would have made any difference even if I could go though, am sure even the XL sizes would refuse to climb beyond knee-level, given current levels of fitness. 

Isha, my sister was over the other day. She was at the Zara store on its opening day in Delhi. Apparently, complete madness ensued. Women were grabbing clothes like they were heh, going out of style. In fact, given the way people were behaving, my mother who was accompanying Isha had to ask if things were being given away for free at the shop. Entire families had turned out to shop and were using a combination of strategies to gain maximum advantage. While one member held fort at the changing room, the other went hunting for the right sizes and yet another went to guard a spot in the queue at the billing counter. Bills were running upwards of 40K. The store staff looked ready to weep.

While this mania was unfolding, the valiant sibling managed to pick up a couple of clothes and took her place in the queue for payment. There she encountered a gorgeous creature, dressed to the nines in designer wear and really lovely, also waiting to pay for her lode (on a spree today, aren't I?). Isha got talking to the lady. After chatting about this and that, the girl finally declared herself worn out after all that shopping and said, "My toh feets only are killing me."

Bring Zara to India and we will take the Spain out of it, eh?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Angsty old post from pregnant days

Having a baby is a community event. Everyone has a point of view, the maids, the beautician at the parlour where you have somehow dragged yourself with the bump that looks and weighs as much as a fair-sized watermelon, neighbours, random strangers, everyone. After sharing their views on the gender of the baby and the exact date on which s/he will pop out, the discussion invariably meanders over to how a normal delivery/vaginal birth is infinitely superior to a c-sec. Look, there is no debate, I want to tell these well-wishers, I agree with you completely but I may not have a say in this. I mean, I'd rather let the guy who swotted through an average of ten years of medical school and about twenty years of medical practice and not my maids (jhadoo-poncha experience notwithstanding) tell me the best way of have a baby. A radical point of view, no doubt, but it works for me. Still, I need to suffer the discussion. Some examples of these grand voices of doom? Sure, here you go.

"Normal hi ho jaye toh achha hai"
"Faaltu mein operation kyon karvaana?"
"Baad mein badi dikkat aati hai"

I cheerfully nod along to all of this and display my vehement agreement. That's the good thing about having babies the second time over. You are familiar with the script and know when to keep your mouth shut. If I were to try to tell the other party that it's not an elective surgery, that I am not chickening out, that there is in fact a medical rationale to this, they stare at me disbelievingly and disapprovingly and often lapse into the merits of their own perfect birthing systems.

"Humein toh nahin karvana pada."
"Apne aap hi ho gaya."
"Zyaada dard bhi nahin hua."/ "Bahut takleef hui par humne sehen kiya."

At which point of course I throw a wild cheer to their inimitable uteruses and prostrate myself at their feet, these goddesses of childbirth. In fact, I think I have figured out the perfect end to this conversation.

"Aap theek keh rahi hain, agli baar normal karenge."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We will be singing a different song when SV Road floods

Traffic. Dust. Pollution. Smog. Endless construction. More dust. With cement mixed in it. It hurts the eyes, the throat, the lungs.

Busy people. Busier roads. On and on it goes.

This city is not worth living in. It's cruel. To both rich and poor alike. Hateful hellhole. Let's move. Where? Anywhere but here.

Horrible place to grow up in. No place to play. No place to run. No parks. No space. Nowhere to just be children. Just enough place to be
those Bombay kids. The ones that don't want to hear a word against this dreadful city when they grow up. Parochial fools.

And just when the heat and dust has been unbearable for long enough, just when tempers have been frayed a little bit too long, it rains in Bombay.

It doesn't matter who you are. The bai washing the dishes in an upscale Bandra apartment. The rich, diamond-dripping Sindhi housewife. The woman who works in a bank. The father of two who is putting his baby to bed. The writer who is struggling with difficult words. The old couple who have tipped the balance of years in favour of togetherness. The three year old who stops play just long enough to stop and gape at the windows.

When the first rains come to Bombay, everyone stops and smiles.

Letters to a little girl - one

My baby Ragini,

A month since you came into our lives and it is an important day. But unlike in the case of your brother, I am not making this about your monthly achievements and milestones. I am sort of hoping that you will follow the same track as he did and I promise I will not fuss if you do things earlier or later. I am the second-time, chilled-out mommy after all and you should reap some of those benefits.

But I am not letting you off easy either, child. These letters will be about life lessons, sort of like the distilled wisdom of my life. I like to believe there's lots. Some of them are a little heavy-duty, others in a lighter vein but they all have a core of seriousness to them. You are free to accept or discard as you please. I will of course cut you off the will if you don't listen.


(Only half.)
  • Stand up and sing along when the national anthem plays, irrespective of who else is doing it. Avoid the people who are too superior to join you.
  • When someone asks you what you would like as a gift, books are always a safe bet. Ask for vouchers to your favourite book-store if possible.
  • Save some of your salary, however small or large it is. I learnt this one the hardest way possible. (You are free to disregard it if you turn out to be a hot-shot investor on Wall/Dalal Street. Then you can take my money and invest that too.)
  • Remember you are in serious trouble if you find it difficult to laugh at yourself.
  • Respect the people who serve you - the waiters, the hairdressers, the shopkeepers. Be kind and polite. Say please and thank you.
  • Travel, even if it is at the cost of other things. Don't be a tourist, be a traveller. See as much of the world as possible. Keep your eyes and ears and most importantly, your mind open when you do.
  • Invest in the expensive things that last and are timelessly elegant first. Then top them up with the trendy stuff. 
  • Don't leave food on your plate. It is disrespectful to the cook and to The Big Guy/Girl Up There. Serve yourself less to begin with. 
  • You can never do anything bad enough that you cannot chuck everything and take the flight (or train, or cab, or your own two pretty feet) back home. Call ahead, your father and I will be waiting.
  • Cultivate an interest. Keep it cultivated. Don't let go however busy you get. You of course have it made if that interest is also your day job. 
Enough for the first time. More next month.

I love you,


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Of old and new songs

Raagu may grow up to be a very confused person, thanks to the nightly music sessions that she is being subjected to. While I sing 'Tere Liye' from the biggest blockbuster/wholesome family entertainment/classy, arty cinema of our times - Prince It's Showtime!, Mahesh sings nothing newer than Mose Chhal Kiye Jaaye (Guide, circa 1965) to her. In fact, more often than not, he starts with this and then the songs get progressively older till they finally reach the silent era and cannot possibly age any more. It's not for nothing that I call him Hangoo, short for, you know....

And all this while I keep trying to get my own 'Jannatein sajaayi maine tere liye, chhor de khudai maine tere liye' because everyone knows that no child should go without a proper education. Poor Raagu, Bhoole Bisre Geet meet Aaj Ke Superhit seamlessly every night.

Anyway, this is only my way of celebrating Prince, which is after all the directorial debut of Kookie V Gulati. With a name like that, how could s/he (the beauty of a name like Kookie V Gulati is that it works equally well for both genders) direct anything other than an absolute winner, I ask you. While I am pondering on the sheer brilliance that must have exploded in this piece of celluloid art, Mahesh keeps coming up with quiz questions. Which song starts not from the mukhda but the antara, he asks. Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, I answer, annoyed at being interrupted in my deliberations. How did you know that, he wants to know. Because you have asked me the same question at least eighty seven times in the past five years, I tell him. Humph, he says and starts humming Mohe Panghat Par Nandlal Chhed Gayo Re.


I finished Karan Mahajan's Family Planning. The book is a very impressive debut. Mahajan is only 24 and already has such a mature voice. I mean, at 24, I was having trouble spelling.

While on the topic of books, have you been following the story of how Henning Mankell was aboard the boat carrying aid to Gaza when it was stormed by Israel? Most disturbing.


Ginny (Ragini) turns four weeks today. This means that soon it will be time to consider a fitness plan. I am due for my first post-delivery check up soon and I just know in my bones that the doctor will ask about my plans to get back into shape. In fact, at the time of the discharge from the hospital, they gave me a pamphlet detailing some post-natal exercises. What cheek, I wanted to say but instead I sweetly put it in my bag where it has been resting since that day. I plan to lie through my teeth if quizzed about the same. Of course I have been diligently doing my stretches, doctor saab, I normally schedule them for 3 am, right after the fourth feed of the night when I look blearily at M and think, huh, who is this man? Hmmm, maybe I should prepare in theory, mug up all the exercises. We should all play to our own strengths.