Thursday, December 23, 2010

Momentary lapse of reason perhaps

The end of December is when the family, complete with the strollers and diapers and baby food jars goes gallivanting all over ye olde countryside. Let it not be called a vacation because vacations are periods when one sips alcoholic drinks with little umbrellas in them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and naps in between the three occasions mentioned. These trips on the other hand are times when the world at large is shown the produce from the Sharma-Ramanathan farm in all its glory with the principle 'Why should we suffer alone?' being firmly in place.

This year however the lord and master is trying to squeeze in about ten years' worth of hard work in one month viz. December. We knew of this well in advance and therefore after cursing him soundly for such impeccable timing, no travel plans were made, no tickets were bought, no excitement was built up.

Except you know how people think that a December greeting without a quizzical 'So, what are you doing for new year' thrown your way is incomplete? Well, save for the travel I never have any plans for ringing in the new year. Never. Everyone seems to be all abuzz with excitement, getting invited for parties and events and so on. There was a time of course when I was part of the happy mess, these days though the party circuits look a little lost when the Sharma name is mentioned in passing....hmmm, rings a bell but cannot quite place her. The absence from Page 3 has been prolonged to put it mildly. Don't get me wrong, I have friends who'd like to see my mug at their parties. They really would. But they are not scattered all over the world, always and forever a flight away. I am a grade one people-driver-away. You want to move cities? Countries? Continents? Fancy moving away from Milky bleddy Way? You just need to start rubbing those shoulders with me. Anyway, so what I am getting at it is that without the travel, new year is bound to be tres dull.

But well, two babies and all that, I should just put a lid on it and plan to rent a good DVD and make some diet-busting food to go with it. And frankly that is what the plan broadly was. Then along came Aneela and her jet-setting life. We have an apartment in Bangkok and you can come over, she offered kindly. Cut a long story short (though I am looking up at all those words up there and it may already be too late for that), I am off to Bangkok with my two kids in tow to spend the last week of the year with Aneela and Arhaan and G-Man. Yes sir, no M and the two brats and me and my backpack (gotta keep those hands free, gotta keep those hands free). Aneela tells me that I am a Fun Fearless Female to attempt it. I have other words that describe such impetuous decisions.

I don't know if I am going to have a holiday. My money is on adventure.

Please keep me in your prayers (I have the eyes of the offspring glint these last few days....I think they know) and I will see you next year.

Merry Christmas and a very happy new year, gorgeouses! What plans for new year, eh?

Friday, December 17, 2010

All hail the party pooper

Every now and then, the boy comes back home armed with a birthday party invite. One of his classmates is turning a year older and everyone's invited, yay! Except, not so much.

Soon after this invite makes an appearance, the mother of the birthday babe makes her follow-up calls. The phone rings. Aye, this be  Parul, I announce grandly. Yeah, whatever, are you Aditya's mother is the important question. Well, yes, I have that honour too. So fine, turn up at such and such time at so and so place, she replies, the be there or be square hanging ominously in the air. There are no names given. There is no polite how do you do in the offing. She does not offer a stray comment on the weather. Her task is to extend a party invite and by jove, that is all she is going to do. Yes, so be there, lady, she says and slams the phone down. I nod my head meekly into the deafening ringtone.
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As the designated time draws closer, I am torn between going and not going. The cells in my body are equally divided into the pro-party and anti-party factions. You must go, says the pro, it is good for the child to socialise, to have fun. Yes, but what about you, you will hate it, counters the anti-party.

Finally though I end up going. Blame it on the river of mamta that runs through my heart, will you?

These parties are the kiddy version of page three do's. They are elaborate. Let me too (ha, so clever, just so clever). There is a theme, normally inspired by the trends that are doing the rounds in the pre-schooler circles. beyblades, ben10 and other such freakish things. Now, themes are clearly taken seriously. From the invite to the games to the cakes, everything centers around the sacred theme. There are party planners in charge of the whole shebang and a crew, yes, you heard it right, a crew in their party uniform is present in full force to make sure the revellers have a grand time. It's like going to a carnival except that someone else is paying.

The hostess deigns to grace us with her presence only half to one hour after the event is kicked off. Sure, we look like idiots, armed with children and gifts and looking around for someone, anyone to welcome us but um, what is your point again? She looks great though when she finally arrives and perhaps we should forgive her for the minor impunctuality. I mean, do you have any idea how long it takes to put together that ensemble, to go to the salon to get one's hair and makeup done? She looks here and there, meets and greets some friends and proceeds to ignore you for the rest of the party. There are some ex-Bollywood starlets-turned-mothers floating around ("ayah, dekho babe ne French Fries khaya ya nahin"). They all compliment each other on their weight-loss and lament the complete inability to follow suit. Then they look hungrily at the French Fries that baba has not eaten.

By now it is very clear to you that you have been invited solely to boost the numbers and you think ruefully of the good book that you could have been reading or the cake you could have been baking or the bullet you could have been putting through your head instead of being here, in this gathering of evil forces.

The kids are having a great time though, shrieking and running wild. A professional games host is playing games, distributing prizes hand over fist, a tattoo artist is busy drawing cars and cartoons on their hands, here a balloon shaper is making flowers and guns (yea, I know, symbolic) out of balloons and the bachha log are lapping it up. Most of them are thrice a week party goers and know the drill by heart. You think of the books you carefully selected for the birthday baby and get a familiar sinking feeling in your gut that they are probably never going to be opened.

As usual you decide to seek comfort in food and wander over to the buffet where you are sternly told that dinner will not be served till the (themed) cake is cut. But it's well past the kids' dinner time, you query querulously. Eat the French Fries, you are told in a tone that brooks no argument. At this point you want to sit in a corner and weep for the parties of yore where, WHOA, the hostess knew each kid's name.

Khoi bag is burst, much grappling happens and now hellelujah, it is time to go home. Not before we collect our themed return present though. Never again, you vow to yourself and wearily trudge home. The kid looks happy. Did you have a good time, you ask in a tone of indulgence. Yes, he says. Is xyz your friend? Who, he asks. Err, the child whose birthday party we just went to? He gives you a blank look and starts fiddling with his new toys.

Oh dear.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A quick post to feel sane again

I smell of vomit.

Yeah, I do. It's faint but it's there. I guess I should take a bath. It's the boy. It's his fever. It's been raging like a bull these last three days. He came sobbing into my room at five in the morning, talking about monsters. How did he even discover what monsters are? Like my father, I refuse to entertain any talk of bhoots and prets and churails and dayans and yes, even monsters in my house and out of the mouths of my babes. Bhoot-voot kuchh nahin hota is the standard answer. But how did the question arise in the first place? I guess the telly is ahead of me and sneaked in a monster or two when I wasn't looking. And they came to haunt him when he was in the clutches of the fever.

I have to stop writing in Gmail drafts. It's not real writing if it's written in drafts. You need MS Word to write. Or real paper, except that I suspect type faster than I can write these days. Or maybe one never forgets. Who is to say?

I feel trapped these days. Or rather, the story feels trapped in me. How am I to make the time? How am I put aside these fledglings, one of them in the clutches of the fever and write instead? So I figured that I'd read instead. Reading is an important to good writing as the writing itself, so says Stephen King, author of thirty or three million worldwide bestsellers, enjoyer of the kind of success I cannot even dream of. Plus reading can be done even while there's a baby sleeping on one arm. Every now and then a list of the top ten or twenty or hundred novels comes along and I feel ashamed at just how few I have read. I guess I wasted three years in college struggling with Micro and Macro Economics when I did not give a shit about either. Yes, reading about demand and supply curves when I could have been so much happier reading Lord Jim or whatever. Well, no one is stopping me from reading Lord Jim (or whatever) now, are they? So I have decided. I am going to read each and every Great Novel to ever emerge in any list. Yes, that's what I am going to do. I read Grapes Of Wrath these few days. It's....very good. Not light-hearted reading, you see, not the kind of book you'd like to read over a meal at the dining-table, no, but still...very good. I need to read well to write well. Oh and I read Grapes on my Iphone. It has a Kindle application. I feel bad. Not using the real Kindle and using the (free, for God's sake) iPhone app instead. I need to use the Kindle. But it doesn't come with a backlight and I seem to be doing all my reading in the dark while Ragini sleeps and slobbers on one arm. She slobbered over my new red, vegetable dyed kurta recently and in one nap managed to spoil her lime-green cotton dress, white onesie and gave me a nice red patch on my arm. I walked around an entire day with that patch before I had the time to wash it off. Yes, that's how occupied I am. Not busy, no, just occupied. There's a difference but I am too tired to explain it now.

I guess I am about to sound like a bad advertisement for my phone but recently I dropped it into the pot and almost started crying. I fished it out without even the shade of a grimace and it flickered a few times, as if to say goodbye and then died on me. With it, mail and games and Grapes of Wrath (yeah, well, sometimes I also talk on it)...all down the drain, literally, figuratively, meta-fricking-phorically. I sent Pramod to the official repair shop, authorised to repair the darn thing except that they called me on the landline and cheerfully informed that they were willing to replace the phone at stock price.  But what about fixing it, I bleated. Oh haha, but you dropped it in the john, didn't you, so cough up the dough for a new one. We be Apple, we don't repair no iPhones. I have never made any secret about loving Apple. I am an enthusiast even. So I decided that the Lord (not Jim) had spoken, it was perhaps time to get a new iPhone. A 4G, yo! Toodled over to the Apple store and the boy there looked at me pityingly. It's going to be out in another month. At this point in my life, a month is a very.long.time. I can't wait that long. He shrugged. I walked out. Then I sent out word into the nameless but very helpful world of the wise internetz. They told me names of nameless men who sit in hole-in-the-wall shops and repair phones. INR 1200 later, my phone had come back to life. It was a miracle! The only thing is, said the repair-man, don't update this phone. Ever. So this phone will not be seeing any software updates again but mail and games and Grapes of Wrath are all back. 4G can wait. And boo sucks to you, authorized Apple repair people.

My strange maid left, only to be replaced by another stranger maid. Yes, yawn, what's next. Nothing. Go to sleep.

I should write like this more often. For me, when I don't give a hoot about the Reader. Except that I always give a hoot about the Reader. Yes, even now. I guess the ability to write a personal journal is now lost to me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

By The Water Cooler Review: Vini

Vini was another one of our winners with her superbly funny post. She received the book and has reviewed it on her blog. She starts by saying -

This review is coming later than it should have considering I received a copy from Parul early last week and that I finished it two days back. But Friday night is as good a time as any so here it is. First off I want to say that I have never written a formal review so I don't quite know how to go about writing this and I am going to try to not digress too much.

To read the rest, this a-way you go, toodle.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Clearly, practice what you preach is completely lost on some of us around here

This appeared in this morning's Mint. Since M is travelling, I sent him a link. This is the mail exchange that followed.

M: Grumble, grumble, I think she has missed the point completely. It is a great book.
Me: Yes, dear, it is a good book.
M: How can they say these things?
Me: Well, the amazing thing is, I don't care.
M: I know! It's great! That's the way to be. You should not care. You should be stoic. You should take it in your stride. You should just move on.
Me: Yes, dear.
M: I, on the other hand, want to kill them.


Letters to a little girl - seven

Dear Ragini,

I was way behind schedule on the last one and because December is a month where everyone seems to collectively gasp at it's arrival,  where did the year go! and how time flies, by jove!, it is actually a surprise that I am almost on time on this one. Your father's been more absent than present in recent times and has not making himself useful around the house, tucking you kids in and feeding you both dinner and doing the thousand other things that go into the black hole of rearing children. Some could debate the fairness of this statement and claim that it is this work of his that is keeping all of us in warm clothes and me at my writing desk but these discussions are quite futile.

Somewhere about the third chapter of my novel, I started suffering from serious pangs of self-doubt and have since decided to give myself something of a break and write in a few days' time. In the meanwhile, I am re-reading On Writing and falling more in love with Stephen King than I ever was.

You have been hauling yourself up and crawling away to distant corners of the house as and when the fancy strikes you, which is all the time if you want to know the truth. I tried baby-proofing part of my bedroom, draping thick blankets over the sharp corners of the furniture and so on (given that the older bro don't do no corner-protectors, no sistah) but you scoffed at me saying, what, me, confined to one part of the house, surely you jest, mater and crawled away to where the real action was as soon as your hands and knees would take you. All is well in the infant universe.

You are now at the stage where only your brother's things and toys and room are deemed interesting and play-worthy. Take this silly rattle and this awful teething ring away and bring forth that nice remote-controlled Ferrari (Scaled 1:20) car. That is when we will consider play-time worthwhile. He doesn't really complain and is quite content with letting you get away with all this, perhaps largely due to the fact that he has no choice.

And now we come to the interesting part. The advice! Is that you shaking your head in exasperation now? Well, what can I say? When it comes to you, I am not letting any wisdom go unimparted. This one is a bit long, be warned.

In the last three and a half years that I have been a mother, I have seen all kinds of mothers. Mothers who stayed at home because that is what they had been doing all along, mothers who had great jobs and quit it all to stay at home and be full-time moms, mothers who had fantastic/awful jobs and carried on doing them while leaving their kids behind. Some of them (like me) worked from home.

Many of these mothers switched track midway, hopping over to the other side that appeared greener, happier, more peaceful.

Not one of them was completely happy with the choice she made.

The ones who stayed at home felt responsible to her parents and all their efforts to give her a chance to do something with her life, something other than just tending to home and hearth and when she found herself doing exactly that. she felt disappointed not only in herself but at some level felt that she had let down the whole women's lib movement. She justified this to herself saying that this, the rearing of the children was perhaps the most important contribution that she could make but come on, all her degrees and she was playing with blocks? Implicit in justification is the need to prove that the opposing party is inferior in some way. And so she did, pointing fingers even as she stewed in her own misery.

The woman who went to work suffered tremendous guilt too, albeit of a different kind, feeling that she was not being fair to the kids. That perhaps she was letting her ambition get in the way of her more primal duties. She worked so hard, juggling work and colleagues and work-trips and kids and family, expressing in bathrooms so that the babies would not have to consume formula, crying to herself because she had missed yet another milestone, setting up a furious pace and feeling herself burning out at both ends. Even whilst she did all of this, she questioned it all. And with a prickly conscience baiting her on, she resorted to pointing fingers too. How could you stand staying at home all day, she questioned her sister, what about your degrees and all that?

Some women like your own mother had the brilliant idea that they would have it all. We would have careers, not just jobs. We did something that was beyond just corporate achievements of promotions and pay-hikes. We would follow the heart. Well, the flip side of win-win is always lose-lose. The first hint that one gets about it is when people refuse to take you and your work seriously. Writing is not a real job, people seem to say when you tell them you are a writer though they keep quiet. Mostly. 

The woman who used to come to mop and clean asked me what is it that I did with my computer all day long. I write, I said, here, see these are the books that I have written. Ah, she was umimpressed. That's good, she said, that's like all those women who sell kanda-poha at the railway station, it's good to do something with your time and not just sit idle. I fumbled for words and she had already moved out of my room by the time I realized that I was in some way trying to prove that I was better than the woman who sells kanda-poha at the station when I probably had bigger demons to fight.

Some women have baled out completely of this whole conundrum, quitting while they are ahead, they believe and while I would be the last person to advocate having kids because they are adorable, milk-and-honey balls of fluff, I now know from experience that parenting is like bungee-jumping. You will never know the rush it gives you until you have tried it. The problem is, you have to try it to try it. And once you have tried it, there is no way back.

I had more or less given up trying to rationalize this choice. Analysis, analysis till paralysis and all that, I used to say to myself and bury myself in my stories. Except that now I have you and tomorrow, you could (don't have to be, but could) be in the same situation and I figure that since this is the world we will be handing to you, we owe you some answers and explanations about this whole mothering versus working dilemma.

The first thing that we all need to remember is that our children understand much more than we give them credit for. They know, in the core that makes us human that their mothers love them. They know that the choices that the mothers make are in no way a reflection of the quantum of love that they send their way. It's infinite, in each and every case.

We owe our kids the same. The choices we make need to be made in light of the above knowledge. Which means, tough as it sounds, that we cannot turn on our babies and burden them with accusations. Here, I did all this because of you, gave up so much because of you, made so many sacrifices to give you a good, better, best life. Nobody asked you to. So just shut up already, yes?

Kindness is underrated. This whole 'you suck because you don't do as I do' is just another form of mommy world bullying and in my opinion is as degrading as the bunch of kids teasing a little girl because she likes Star Wars (yes, I know, it's been on my mind quite a bit....the future of geeky girls looks bleak). You have to respect other people's choices, their lives and their uniqueness and their own drivers of happiness. If you are feeling very smug and superior, please remember that what you are really hiding is serious inferiority and dissonance with your own choices and you probably need to sort that out first. Come to me and I promise to pay for the therapy.

Sometimes of course you will not have the luxury of this choice. Sheer economics will determine the course of your decisions. Money sometimes does simplify matters, eh? When there is no option, there is no problem, like your father (and some of his friends) are fond of saying.

We, your father and I, want to give you the freedom of choice. We will educate you to the best of our ability, we will give you the best exposure that we can afford, we will make sure you see the world and all that it holds, the good and the bad and we promise to let you be when it is time for you to make your decision. Whatever you decide to do, you have our unwavering pride and love behind you. It's not just the parenting or careering choice, it's pretty much all else. Except tattoos, which are not cool. Hah, I jest.

Your father wants to let you know that they, the fathers suffer equally. It's only societal conditioning that gives them less of a choice. I think we have written enough for one letter. More advice next time.

Go forth and conquer.

Love,

Ma

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A real post coming right up, if this works.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By The Water Cooler Review: momofrs

momofrs was one of our winners at the wonderful (blush) By The Water Cooler contest. She has reviewed the book here and starts off by saying:
Do you ever have that uncanny feeling that you’re being watched? You swiftly turn to look, but everyone seems to be about their work innocently. Yet, yet you can’t help but feel that there’s someone around you. Or that there’s someone watching you! You try to shake away the feeling and carry on…..only to encounter it some days later!
Please head this way to read the rest and be convinced to buy the book, all.