Thursday, July 29, 2010

The window

Once upon a time, I used to watch a programme called Satyajit Ray Presents on Doordarshan. At least, I think I watched it. I was the sort of child who tried to stay awake for the nine (or was it ten) pm screening of Karamchand, that gajar-gnawing detective with the gender-community stereotyped secy Kitty and regularly fell asleep at about eight instead. I was a model child, I say. Wonder why my children did not turn out so perfect. Also wonder why their Nani gives me that look of disbelief when I say that.

Satyajit Ray Presents is buried down in my memory right where I store stories from Target magazine (let's revive that, please, I'd love to write for it), strange, chewy, colourful candy that was wrapped around a pole and the candy wallah would pull out strings of the sweet stuff and wrap them around a stick before handing them to children, something that I wanted very badly but was expressly forbidden to ever try. It's incredible how pure goodness for some spell cholera and jaundice for others. Also in the same stock of nostalgia are the leafy bylanes of Dehradun, some of them hedged on both sides and so narrow that only one person could walk through at a time and a school that had a penchant for changing it's name, at that time it was Doon Cultural Center, only the kids studying there would know what it is called these days. It had an Australian headmaster, a large, florid man who was good friends with my father. Someone told me he died a few years ago.

That's the thing with writing about memories. You can never stick to the topic. What I really wanted to talk about was Satyajit Ray Presents and a haunting story therein about light in a window. If you have seen it, you are nodding along right now. It's the sort of thing that stays with you forever after one watch. I forget the name of the story but I do remember that Amol Palekar played the lead. After he shifts into a new house (the previous tenant has died under mysterious circumstances), he finds himself getting disturbed every night by the light in the apartment opposite his. Finally he decides to have a talk with this insensitive neighbour about this light business. Turns out that the man is an artist who kindly invites Palekar to have a look at his work. Chillingly, all the portraits are of people who have died under mysterious circumstances. The last shot, a mind-numbingly scary one shows a claw (I think) and then Palekar telling the artist that he is ready to have his portrait made. Can I just say that it was scary enough to make a lasting impression?

Lasting is right. Our building has neighbours on one side in a regular sort of building, with water problems and rude inmates who shout at the guards every morning. On the other side though is an infinitely more interesting, dilapidated old house. Every morning when I sit in the dining area of my own apartment, I am faced by the shut windows of the house. The house is old and shabby enough to inspire the belief that no one lives there. The windows are dirty, the grills on them nearly falling off due to rust. Only darkness on the other side, making me ask what secrets lurk there, in that unlived-in house.

And yet, every evening, the windows are lit and I can see some activity transpiring behind the cloudy-with-dirt windowpanes. It could well be just people who are away at work all day long, switching on their light only upon their return.

Or it could be a portrait maker.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Notes from a small country

The trip to Singapore almost didn’t happen thanks to Adi’s ear. The ear that developed an ache a few hours before the flight to be precise. Frantic calls to the doctor, Pramod rushing to buy analgesic ear-drops, Mahesh rushing back home, Adi crying at the top of his lungs – I didn’t think that it would all settle down in time for the flight but it did. We were running a little late thanks to all this commotion but finally the suitcases were loaded in the car, the essential LPG-water connections checked, the doors locked and we were set to go.

So naturally, Ragini decided to attend to nature’s call. Gah, a soiled diaper. Back home. Change, change, change. Rush, rush, rush. Oh dear, she’s done it again. And again. Are we finally done? I think so. So late, so terribly late. Let’s get the hell out of here. Yes, I agree.

On our way to the airport, Adi was most excited about the trip and rambled on about runways and hangars and concords. This was when the second obstacle struck. Mumbai traffic lived upto its reputation and we spent about an hour stuck on the highway, moving an inch every minute. The kids slept off. I started wording the explanation that I would have to give to Adi who had talked of nothing else for the past week if this trip got cancelled.

They were calling out our names when we reached. However, in true Sharma-Ramanathan style, it was a photo-finish, complete with screeching shoes stopping at the counter just as the gates are closing. Last people on the plane, as usual. Mahesh took Adi to the economy seats while Mom and I settled into our business class seats and ordered drinks and watched movies and slept and generally had a great time.

Hah! You think?

I spent the five hours feeding and entertaining and fussing over Ragini and worrying about Adi when she slept. Drugged by the pain-killers, apparently Adi slept on Mahesh through the duration of the flight. The good man said he could not feel his spine after the first hour. Ragini though seemed to not mind the new adventure at all and gurgled and cooed her way through.

We arrived in Singapore. Adi was tired and hungry and very irritable and ready to kill people. With a four-pronged attack of saam-daam-dand-bhed, he was somehow bundled in a taxi and taken home where he cheered up considerably at the sight of Thatha-Paati and the cousins. My older nephew had made him an adorable welcome card that I am going to frame.

Mahesh took off for his conference. Never one for wasting time, I was taken to a spanking new luxury mall called Ion Orchard that in the tradition of luxury malls everywhere houses a number of luxury brands. I picked up a bag for myself. Much thrilled about that. Takashimaya is right next door so in true sacrificing Bhartiya Ma fashion, I bought things for my babies. Post the return to the house, we all fainted in our respective beds.

Ominous predictions of rain hung heavy in the air. Hmm, I like the way that came out. It was decided that we would take the kids to an indoor playground called Fidgets. The boys seemed to like it a lot. Adi ran berserk, going up and down slides, driving the toy cars and thrashing out violently if things did not go his way. I wish we had something like it for rainy days here in Bandra. The closest thing that comes close to this is the play area in InOrbit, Malad and that of course is in a galaxy far, far away as far as I am concerned.

The next day was dedicated to the Singapore Zoo. I saw the tiger and he was burning bright and no amazing hand or eye could frame its fearful symmetry and now I can die happy. Saw the polar bear too, flat on his belly and trying to cool off. I mean, air-conditioning and all is good but how do you recreate the Arctic in Singapore? Zoos are strange places for me. I feel happy that the animals are safe and not being poached and yet, there is the niggling feeling that this caging is cruel and the animals not happy. While I contemplated this paradox, my own monkey finally got tired sitting in the pull-along car and dozed off. We called it a day and took him back home.

Jurong Bird Park came next. The two nephews came along for this one. Adi ran amok all over the place, chasing his cousin, scraping his knee, taking hours over one small apple and looking longingly at the scooters for hire. I am quite certain that if he had a scooter, he would not need anything else. There were hundreds of varieties of parrots and macaws and parakeets and all sorts of other birds but the kids got most excited by the train and couldn’t wait to take a ride on it. Oh well.

Saturday night came with a wonderful Thai dinner at Sabai in Takashimaya. I love the food there, all spicy soups and salads and dimsums.

Sunday saw me at Takashimaya again where I was possessed by a retail demon. I went into something of a trance, buying things left, right and center. Mahesh left me alone and unsupervised for a few minutes and in that short while I bought about a zillion things from the kitchen section alone, many of which I am certain are available right door at Croma. Suffice it to say that when he came back, his face paled. How are we going to cart all this home, he croaked. Aha, but that is why Super Packer Moms are there (mine, not Adi’s). Much bubble packing was used and I am happy to report that the sundry vegetable steamers and water dispensers and bladeless fans (cool!) have all made it to my humble abode which now can pass off as the Bandra branch of Takashimaya.

We started back on Sunday evening. Adi, who had spent the previous five days terrorizing and endlessly chasing his cousins realized that the party was over and burst into tears. We are back now and quite happy about it. It was exhausting, largely because of Adi’s insistence on brazen behaviour.

I wish some Mary Poppins type character would turn up and teach my child to behave. I don’t know if I am worrying too much or unnecessarily but he seems to be the only three year old around who considers biting and hitting to be the answer to all of life’s frustrations, hunger, thirst, tiredness, fear, everything. He does not understand the f of fair play, disregards us completely and just.does.not.listen. I have exhausted Spock and websites and pediatricians and time-outs and taking away privileges and even smacking. His school-teacher insists that he is a model student so clearly she is more of an authority figure in his mind than we are. How did he become so violent in this ahimsa preaching household? When he is sweet, he is the most affectionate little boy in the whole world but then come along the moments of rage and I am left floundering. I am all for advice if you have any.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conversations with the Adi-man

Adi: Mama, I have a question for you.
Me (not used to such politeness): Yes, yes, baby, what is it?
Adi: The crib belongs in my room. Put it in my room. (Technically this is not a question but to point that out would be a strategic mistake of mammoth proportions. I mean, have you seen his tantrums?)
Me (not knowing where this is going): So then the baby will sleep in your room?
Adi: Yes.


Adi (detailing it out): The baby will sleep in the crib in my room. I will sleep in my bed in my room. 

Adi (putting finishing touches): So don't disturb us.
Me: Err, yes, sure.

I think my fallen face was mirrored in M's. Our children don't want to co-sleep no more. Waaah.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The family resumes travel

We are all off to Singapore tonight for the week. One tyrannical three-year old, one in-training-to-be-tyrannical baby, one over-protective, don-t-say-a-word-against-my-grandchildren-or-I-will-blacken-that-eye-for-free Nani and one set of hyperventilating parents, it's bound to be a gentle. joyous, peaceful affair. We have many plans involving Universal Studios (which we may end up not doing due to freaky stories about rides stopping mid-way etc doing the rounds), the zoo, the bird-park and so on. During the trip last year, I was too busy cultivating a relationship with the toilet bowl to be fun company and Adi spent most of his time traumatizing his cousins. This year we hope to take the traumatizing outdoors where outsiders can also witness it. So yes, readers in Singapore, if you see an ungainly Indian woman being pulled along by an energetic bull-baby on the streets of Singapore even as she holds on to a babe in arms, that would be me. The heat and rain only promise to add to the fun.

Mahesh is quite thrilled that we may not go to Universal Studios because I have been known to not recognize him when I am in the vicinity of a rollercoaster. I normally need to go on every ride thrice or till I get bored, if that happens earlier. On our honeymoon, we spent a day in Euro Disney, Paris and I still count that as one of the best days of my life. I am all about artificial castles and cotton candy and rides, the more stomach-churning, the better. Even as a child, I loved going on the Ferris Wheel at the local mela. I am beaten at this fascination only by the mother. So yes, M would be right in assuming that he would be left holding both the babies while I got my not-so-cheap (I mean, look at the exchange rate) thrills.

Adi has been pressed into good behaviour all of last week with threats of NO-SINGAPORE-FOR-YOU looming large over his head. He has packed his little suitcase with all sorts of things and has declared that he needs to show them to T-P (Thatha Paati) on arrival. T-P, in the tradition of grandparents the world over are sure to be excited at the presentation of broken toys, half-used crayons and messy drawings.

This is also a test trip to see if we can handle two kids and travel without shooting ourselves in the head. If this goes well, that travel novel may not be too far away.

In other news, while I may not come across as a Chicken Soup kind of person, primarily because I am a vegetarian, one of my stories has been published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Woman's Soul. So yes, please do take a look on your next trip to the bookstore. Feedback, as always is welcome.

Right, so posting shall resume on return. Jeez, but that makes me sound important.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The days are packed

Being a parent of a three-year is exhausting. We swing between wanting to fast-forward to the time that Ragini is three and wanting to shoot ourselves in the head because her brother is. He can be exasperating and exhilarating. Three is the age when little boys realize that his parents are not just the lumps who provide him with food and shelter but real, live people who he rather likes and so we have an Aditya on our hands who is full of kisses and hugs and I-love-yous, making me melt into one huge puddle of mush. The next moment he is back to being a little bull who will dig his heels in, smoke billowing from the nostrils and say the firmest NO! that was ever spoken on this earth and come what may, once that No has left his mouth, it's like trying to move Angad's foot.

We are often asked how he is with the baby. He's actually pretty good. For one, he thinks that Ragini will grow up into a little boy who will play cricket with him. He has no idea how small and delicate she is and regularly wants to pick her up and run, making the heart of the mater reach the oral cavity. She only reacts with gummy, toothless smiles at all this display of energy. Thank God for small mercies. Of course parents of older kids don't miss the opportunity to tell us that we should wait till he is of their kids' age because by God, that is when the evil fun really starts but then, that's the rule of the parenting game. Like Dave Barry said - I've noticed that one thing about parents is that no matter what stage your child is in, the parents who have older children always tell you the next stage is worse.

His personality is becoming clearer and stronger. He doesn't like loud, noisy parties, doesn't like dancing but take him to the bowling alley or video games in a mall and he becomes a mini-version of his supergeek dad (and mom? well, yes, maybe a little bit).

I thought we'd lost the last bastion of his babyness when he started saying Penguin instead of the infinitely more adorable Penga-yan. But recently, the past tense of feed is fode (I fode Nani my M&M), of eat is oaten (Aunty has oaten her lunch) and of take is token (I have token this toy) and naturally, this leads to much mirth. Almost makes up for all the meals that he refuses and the eminently bad behaviour displayed whenever he is taken out. Last time we took him to Zara, he picked up a hat that he insisted we buy for him because get this, Woody has a hat too. Naturally it was refused. Incidentally, at Zara, both my mom and the esteemed M could not recognize Kajol and Ajay Devgan (Devgn? Devng? Tgdty? How does he spell it these days?) What would happen to this family if not for my celeb spotting skills?

Adi is also full of facts and makes us feel inadequately informed quite regularly. The Concorde is the fastest plane, he tells me (amongst commercial planes, I suppose it is), Raikkonen Uncle drives the Ferrari (well, not anymore but he is only three after all). Pakistan is India's neighbour (no debate on that). Whatever he does in that school of his, he sure comes home bearing facts.

We finally watched Amadeus, the brilliant and highly fictionalized story of Mozart, twenty six years after its release. Everyone has movies that they have heard a lot about, would like to watch at the earliest possible and yet, cannot get around to doing. Amadeus was one such with me. The music is pretty much the best part, I thought though the film did get eight Oscars in other categories, including Best Picture. Also watched the brilliant Invictus, just before the World Cup final, which got me in the right frame of mind (Invictus involves the Rugby World Cup). I am all about inspiration as you know and I am regularly drawing it from the poem by William Ernest Henley featured in the film.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Makes you want to stand up and fight the monsters, eh? One is at school and the other one is sleeping, though.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scoping interesting work

I am a little bored of working on the novel right now. So if you'd like me to write something for you (and pay me for that something, heh), please mail me at

I am dead good with deadlines.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hum aapke hain kaun?

Now that I am firmly entrenched in my twilight years, which is to say that I am in my early thirties, much (but not too smug) married and mother to two, I am often faced with a unique and refreshing dilemma, that of how to address people who are older than me but not old enough to be bracketed in that ever-generous bracket of Aunty/Uncle.

Many people seem to fall under this difficult category. Take the other homeowners in our building. We are the youngest folks by far in this apartment block. In fact the others are all only a little younger than our parents but still they are more peers than elders, specially since one is regularly involved in discussions with them re: supremely critical things such as leakage in the common area or parking problems or the tea consumption pattern of the obese koodewaali. So how does one address them? Let's consider the case of Mr Mehta.

Mr Mehta? Sounds most pompous for some reason. And unfamiliar. Not to say that we are familiar with Mr Mehta (or that he even exists, we have no Mehtas in the building) but still, who calls anyone Mister so and so on their face (other than hotel staff)? I don't. I can't.

Bhai Sahab? What is this, a advertisement for Rin? A film from the 1940s? My mom called my father's colleagues Bhai Sahab. It's a charming, old-fashioned term left in the past.

Chacha ji? I think that went out with the joint families. We called all our mother's friends Mausi and while ours kids are expected to do that with some of our close friends, this too is a relic of the past. Almost archaic, if you please.

Sir? Not unless he was knighted while I was looking away.

There are people who call everyone Dude. It is a very convenient term, specially when one cannot remember the dude's name. Ditto Man. One hey man, wassup later, all's well with the world. However, I cannot for the life of me imagine bumping into the respectable Mr Mehta and dropping a Dude, how is it hanging? I don't think he will ever recover. Most people in Bombay, yours truly guiltily included, refer to autowallahs and cabbies with the patronizing Boss. Mehta ji may not appreciate that too much either.

And so, stuck in this quandary regarding etiquette, I approached the ever-wise M.

Oh, simple. Don't call him anything.

Uh? How can you not call someone anything.

You most certainly can. I have spoken to Mr Mehta plenty of times and I have never called him a thing. You under-estimate the power of not calling people names.

But what do you do when you need to take his name?

I don't. If I feel the need to insert a personal address during the conversation, I laugh wildly instead.

I see.

Yeah, give it a try.

I don't think M means well.

I guess I better give it a shot though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of responsible daughters and funny dads

Recently, we were told about a nanny. We called her home to meet and interview her. When she came over, her teenage daughter accompanied her. She wanted to see what the household was like, explained her mother, she did that with the last family I worked with too. The girl looked shy at this description. She looked around keenly, possibly trying to arrive at a conclusion about us by looking at the furniture and the plants. What do you do, I asked her. She looked young enough to be in school. Ji, I just passed out of class twelve and I now work in a call-center, she said. To me, there was something unbearably heroic about a child, all of seventeen perhaps, looking out for her widowed mother thus. We are good people, said Mahesh to the girl with a disarming smile. Clearly, she agreed because she allowed her mother to come and work with us.

Growing up in small, mofussil towns in Uttar Pradesh, one thing that children are never short of is boredom. But I parent in a different setting than I myself grew up in. In this metropolis, there is just so much to do. People in the same building may not talk to each other, may not know their neighbour's name but they are always going somewhere. There are after-school classes. Oh my goodness, are there classes. For every conceivable skill there is. Music and martial arts and sports and music and swimming and dance and art and craft and speech and drama and gardening and come-let-me-show-you-how-to-inhale-and-exhale. In the little time that's left, there are clubs and parks and theme parties and playdates. And I am left wondering, do kids get bored anymore? Do they ever have time to just sit still and not do something, anything? Do they ever have the opportunity to go whining to their parents during summer break that they are in fact getting bored out of their skulls and could they please for the love of God have something to do to prevent certain impending brain-death? The new cornerstone of parenting guilt seems to be resting on not being able to provide your child with a jam-packed day,  every second accounted for. Bears some thinking, what?


Aditya Chopra could not have known that the most famous line he ever filmed would be used fifteen years later by an urban dad, trying to coax his two-month into gracing him with a bowel movement.

Jaa Simran, jee le apni zindagi.


Wikipedia tells me that I am referring to The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride. A case for generosity if I ever heard one. My favourite though is Ek Bandar Hotel Ke Andar.  

Dunstan checks in.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Letters to a little girl - two

Dear Ragini,

Where did the last month go? Your father and I have been at it round the clock since you arrived. Between you and your brother, It's an unending cycle of feeding and it's-time-for-school and and bathing and don't-do-that and changing and no-no-no-put-that-back and cleaning and do-you-want-to-go-to-the-loo and then rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. In between this madness we try to squeeze in the books and the world cup matches and the coffee breaks and the shopping trips and the social meet-ups (oh and Facebook too).

In the midst of this mayhem, your Nani arrived and immediately launched into a crazy whirlpool of activity like only she can do. We must have a havan to celebrate Ragini's birth, she said and proceeded to press the help into service and organized the whole...well, event. She was up at the crack of dawn and prepared a delicious spread. When we emerged from our room, bleary-eyed after a night spent partying with you, she was all set. We got the two of you ready and tried to elicit cooperative behaviour from your brother in order to prevent starvation. The pundit arrived and proceeded to do what pundits do, with the flowers and the prasad and the incense and the fire. Normally I try to be involved in the havan, have a chat with God, tell Him how I am doing and that sort of thing but today the brain was scrambled into a million different parts, looking after Adi who refused to sit still for a single second and one ear tuned to the crib where you slept. Sure enough, you got up bang in the middle of some ultra-important mantra and I had to offer my apologies and exit from the proceedings. Post the havan and the lunch and nap-times and milk-times, Adi was taken for Toy Story III because come what may, I will not allow his movie-led education to be interrupted by minor events such as siblings arriving into the world.

Finally, late at night, Nani took you away to her room and your dad went to tuck Adi into bed and I found myself asking what I needed to do next. Nothing, came the answer, you are free, do what you like. What? Free? What should I do? Grab the copy of Neti, Neti lying abandoned for days on end? Switch on the telly and catch some of that inane Bollywood programming that I so adore? Get a meal and not gulp it down? What, what, what? Finally I opened my computer, went to iTunes, put on a song and let the music wash itself over my weary soul and started counting. I got to thirty before the first call came asking for my attention. I want to say goodnight to mama, I could hear Adi shouting in his room. You were starting to turn up the crank too. I switched off the music, went out of my room and realized that for now, the Mumbai minute is shorter and more packed than the New York one.

Yes, the days are packed but we have still found the time to share some more nuggets with you. Read on, child and remember typos are borne of sleep deprivation.
  • Beauty, however much you have of it, is not enough. It fades away and the gaps left behind had better be filled with personality.
  • Marry the person you can be child-like with. That is the only time you are completely free of pretense.*
  • Having children is the only truly life-changing event. You had better be sure you have the willingness to see it through because kids don't come with a return policy.*
  • Always have something to look forward to. The extra spring that that gives you will make your present more productive.*
  • You don't always have to be the lead player to steal the show.
  • Be a revelation. Hide some surprises and spring them on people when they least expect it. It keeps things interesting and them on their toes. 
  • This one comes from a movie that could have been entirely forgettable if not for the presence of a certain Mr Brosnan. People who refer to themselves as Mister so-and-so are invariably insufferable fools. Avoid. 
  • If you'd like to have children, make sure it's with a man who's still funny at 4 am when you have been up for 7000 hours straight.
*These come from your father. That's the other thing, kiddo, give credit where it's due.

Right, so this is all I have for this time.

It's my privilege to be your mother.



Friday, July 2, 2010

Fatherhood has ironies too

Nothing exciting happens in all the time you stay glued to the telly watching a World Cup match and the moment you take your infant to the next room to change her diaper, a totally fantastic goal is scored, causing a major tournament upset.

It's heartening to know that parenting ironies are gender-indifferent. 

P.S. - This is my contribution to the tag started by Rohini.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Who said homework needs to be dull?

Adi gets homework from school. He knows what home is and while I cannot say this with any certainty, perhaps he has an inkling about what work means too. I am quite, quite sure though that being all of three he does not get the sum total of the two. This means that the task of colouring and cutting and pasting and so on while trying to keep the boy interested in the proceedings befalls us, the parents. Homework normally entails tasks such as illustrating the colours of the rainbow. Every Friday, when the homework hits the house, we can be found cowering in our respective corners, whimpering in abject misery. This however, people tell me is what entails education for the kids and we must persevere. Therefore, M and I put our heads together on these occasions and furiously google images of sundry, colourful objects and then print them, cut them out and then stick them on paper, offering our silent gratitude for the fact that we have both been management trainees at some point and therefore have plenty of experience in doing this sort of thing.

Last Sunday though the cartridge in the printer breathed its last. Run, run, run to Croma, I shouted at M. M, taking his role is provider and bread-winner and chief sourcer of printer cartridges paid heed at once and sprinted to the nearby Croma. Did you get it, I asked the man as he made an appearance about twenty minutes later. I should have known what the answer would be, dejected and forlorn as he looked. They said that since we got the printer from Singapore, the cartridges need to be sourced from there too, they don't stock the type here, he informed me and continued to do the dejection. No printer means no colourful printouts means no homework submission on time means severe parenting guilt means need to think of alternative. I gave the crisis some thought and decided that the pictures would now be pulled out from my stack of fashion magazines. Ah, here is a Cosmopolitan, see? Full of colourful pictures. There's all the colours of the rainbow and then some. Let's cut away to glory. Our problem is solved.

And so this was the reason why Adi's homework was sent to school with pictures of a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, a Gucci bag, Elizabeth Arden lipstick, assorted shampoos+conditioners, Burberry perfume and so on. I don't know if he knows his colours but he sure should know his fashion.

I am awaiting the remarks. Watch this space for developments.