Monday, February 28, 2011

Letters to a little girl - nine

Dear Ragini,

Well, what can I say? Any later and we can combine the ninth and tenth letter and make it a combo-pack and give some plastic toy free with it.

Right then, first the milestones, except that I don't know where to begin. Any hopes that I may harboured in my secret heart of you being a docile, calm and collected child have been dashed, aided by that big brother of yours. Anything that he does, you need to copy with immediate effect. And he has a lot to offer, here, put your palm to your open mouth and make ba-ba-ba sounds. You rush to obey him. Both of you look very pleased with yourselves. It doesn't matter that the house resembles a pen full of sheep and we feel like we may have wandered into a farm. Actually, that would not be a bad idea. A relaxing day at the farm sounds good right about now.

You have been hauling yourself up and holding on to the guardrails that I have so thoughtfully put in the playroom and you have been cruising along and looking most superior. The battle of the formula has started. We are at loggerheads here. I would like to wean you. You don't agree. So naturally, you continue to nurse multiple times a day. And night. Sometime early this week, you decided that waking up at four every morning was the best way to wish your parents Suprabatham. Wide awake, you would strain your ears to listen to the strains of the morning raagas that must surely be playing somewhere in this household and not finding anything except the gentle snores of the pater, you burst into loud wails. Much consternation followed. Hopefully, that phase is in the past.

My twitter update this morning read, Saturday is like any other day, when you have a baybay, oh yay, yay, yay. Not going to tip Yeats in the poetry department anytime soon, eh, but the sentiment, my dear, the sentiment is what you need to pay attention to. All my days are spent writing stories in my head, whole novels even and none of them are being put to paper because the minutes become hours and the hours give way to days and the task of raising you and your brother fill all of them up. Well, soon, soon, soon, as the ticker in my brain tells me. Cannot forget that it's a privilege to have you here with us and to look after you. I come close, oh yes, many, many times each day but not too close and when I do come too close, then your father takes the day off and lets me off to collect my thoughts and just be for sometime.

Good old Taatha Paati are in the house and you have taken to them surprising quickly given that your normal social self points fingers at all strange faces and bawls her lungs out. But perhaps they are not strange faces and somewhere you understand that they are willing slaves to your princess act and it's alright to give them a chance to serve your babyness.

As usual, we have a revolving door policy when it comes to maids. One leaves, mayhem reigns supreme and then another one comes and so on and so forth till both of you are grown up and off to college. You know, I write these letters to you and give advice borne of my so-called and supposed wisdom but when it comes to maids and help, I have really learnt a lesson from the two of you. I used to get so emotionally invested in their life-stories, most of which would turn out to be complete cock and bull tales later on, they would ask for money and I would part with it and then they would leave and I would be most hurt and upset, my noble intentions of supporting their kids education and so on nipped in the bud by their early departure. You and Adi on the other hand are not at all affected by this come in and go out of maids. If someone is around, very nice, come to our room and play with us. Oh, you need to leave? No problem, safe journey. Stoic as they come. Perhaps you are already better judges of character than I can ever hope to be. Either that, or early cynics.


  • Learn to say it with flowers. Easy, mostly inexpensive and hasn't gone out of style in hundreds of years so there's got to be something to it.When in doubt, go for tuberoses. Perfectly fragrant and so beautiful.
  • Backpack through Europe before you turn 26. Your budget will depend on your college grades.
  • People don't leave jobs because of too much work or too tight deadlines. They leave because of bad bosses.
  • All parents like to hear how wonderful their kids are. Praise a new baby when you see it, you will make a new, tired mum or dad happy.
  • Chocolate, not vanilla. 
  • Figure out your signature perfume early in life.
  • Uncool as it may be, the truth is that we all become our parents. You will start seeing it for the first time in your thirties and from then on, it only gets more pronounced. Tough but true.
  • Cricket is important if you are an Indian. You will need to work with that. 
  • A perfectly brewed cup of tea requires good quality Assam or Darjeeling tea, boiling hot water, sugar and warm milk and patience, patience, patience. It is an underrated drink.
  • Interesting over beautiful. Funny over handsome. Brainy over brawny. For the long run.
  • See it happen in the eye of your mind to make it happen. Everything wonderful that sounded impossible came true for me because I dreamed hard enough and believed and behaved as if it was already in the bag. People call it various things - the secret, the power of positive thinking and so on. It's nothing but wanting something badly enough to work towards making it come true.
  • Learn how to change a spare tire. You are not really a driver till you can do that.
That's it for this time. Keep calm (me) and carry on (you).



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Now for some horror stories

Now that I have told you about the lovely time we had in Dubai, let me also introduce to you some scum of the earth that crept out from whichever dark, dank corner they had been festering in.

At Dubai airport, as we made our way to the check-in counter, one of the staff directed us to the queue meant for business class despite the fact that we were in fact travelling cattle class, thanks to M's Platinum status. There was a person already checking in and we waited for our turn, a feverish Ragini in my arms, M carrying the two strollers and keeping a watch on Adi. As the counter got vacated, the man behind us happily marched to the counter and slapped his passport and ticket down. What the hell's going on, we spluttered, how can you just cut ahead of us like that. You should have come in first, said the fat man, smugness dripping from every fat-filled pore. Clearly the concept of a queue was lost on him. He is business class, said the lady at the counter when the official who had asked us to join that queue in the first place tried to take up for us. We made a hue and cry and I as usual completely lost my temper and wanted to beat the shit out of the asshole (ugly pun there). But as it turns out, there's precious little one can do when the airline officials are completely spineless and grade one morons to boot.

What kind of a man would cut a queue to get ahead of a family with two small children?

A very, very small man. That's who. I hope he dies a slow, painful death.

I am still so angry. If that man ever meets me in a dark alley, he better watch out.

In the meanwhile, I better sign up for Karate classes. Or whatever's the quickest way to knock the living daylights out of fat slobs.

The trip had started off on a bitter note, as you can tell. And the rule is, if a trip starts off like this (with the lady of the house exploding in the choicest cuss-words picked from only the best gulleys in UP), it cannot go too well. Ragini was uncomfortable during the flight, M struggled to make her sleep and just as she was about to drift off, the stewardess took it upon herself to come and cootchie-coo to her. Most unhelpful. Yes, I am putting it mildly. What we actually felt is not suitable for a PG rated blog.

I am still so furious.

And then we landed. Collected our strollers at the gate. Wondered if Ragini's diaper-change could wait. Made our way to the belt. Our luggage was priority so it should have been there by then. It wasn't. But.


A suitcase very similar to ours was doing the rounds and doing the rounds and doing the rounds know where the story is going.

Someone had walked away with our suitcase!

(Old time readers will remember that this is not the first time this has happened to us.)

Airline officials were called. They were most helpful. Apparently this happens all the time, the world being full of idiots. The by now dizzy suitcase was pulled off the conveyer belt and the name tag read. Aditya Kishor, for all who are interested.

Well, let's look for this Aditya Kishor on the system, said the airline official. The mobile number that was retrieved belonged to a travel agent. Although he understood the situation, he needed the PNR number of the passenger to check if there was a number he could share with us. The kids were hungry and impatient by now. M told me to take the kids and go home while he sorted things out. I was about to comply when a porter (the people who help pull heavy luggage off the belt?) ran up and informed us that Aditya Kishor had been found. Bless the porter.

Now this guy had already cleared customs and left the airport so someone from the airline now needed to go and explain the whole thing to the customs officials before he could be allowed in. Why didn't you just take his suitcase out, you ask, you clever, clever thing. Because God only knows what was inside the suitcase, right?

So Aditya Kishor saunters in with the airline chappie after a few minutes. He's a young man, possibly in his twenties and a self-satisfied air about him. There is no apology, no explanation, just 'someone from my group took your suitcase by mistake'. I am telling you, human decency is at an all-time low these days. We sent a few angry words his way but it looked like water off a duck's back.

We got out of the airport and saw this fellow take off with his group, the collective IQ of which could not have crossed into double figures, all tight t-shirts and silver chains and cigarettes, taking off in SUVs.

So basically what I am saying is that travel is not without travails.

I didn't want to paint an unnecessarily rosy picture.

I must be growing up.

I also need to buy a bright yellow suitcase. And then paint it with a red DANGER sign.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Notes from the city of blinding lights

Ek bhi bulb fused nahin hai, yaar
My first thought as the plane began to descend over Dubai was that their electric bill must be a bit of a whopper. There were lights everywhere. The whole city was lit up and it looked like strings of fairy lights had been strewn all across the desert. It was not a very long flight, just over three hours and the kids had slept part of the way, making me feel like Angelina Jolie, just picking up my stuff and sauntering off to new lands and they had kept awake some of the time which was broadly when I had wanted to tear my hair out, throw a last salaam at the in-flight gathering and jump off the plane sans the parachute. Pins and needles were poking me in places that I did not know existed, thanks to the baby who had slept in my arms at awkward angles, but it did allow me to catch The Social Network (with subtitles this time yo). We stepped off the plane and marched to immigration where the sheer length of the queues that greeted us was enough to break me into a sweat. Mahesh suggested that I break out my 'look at me, poor abla nari, travelling with small kids' card there and then and so I did. A kind Arab official directed us to a shorter queue and we were done in no time.

Notes to self:  I need to get over my fear of taking the stroller on elevators. Freezing in terror at the thought of taking a stroller on a moving staircase is most unlike Angelina Jolie, I say.

I don't know about you but I am living my life in the fast lane
We took a cab to the hotel and realized that the cab drivers in Dubai do not believe in slowing down on turns. Every time there was a sharp turn, we would be thrown to one side of the cab and there we would remain thrown till the cabbie finished turning. Most unnerving. At first I thought it was just that one cabbie but soon realized that it was a Dubai thing, much like Bangalore auto-wallahs who don't want to go anywhere and Delhi auto-wallahs who think the meter is strictly for decorative purposes only.

The hotel was really nice and despite some angry reviews on TripAdvisor, it turned out to be quite eager to please. It did have a revolving door at the reception though. Yes, another one of my many fears. It was decided that exploration would begin in right earnest on the morrow. I always wanted to use that phrase.

Ooh, lookie, malls! Day one.
The locals were touched base with just when they were giving up on us. Mona drew up an itinerary for us, pointing out the malls and the souks and the Burjs and the food. The food, the food! Allow me to go into raptures and a cliche for a few moments. I had no idea that Dubai had such superlative food. You bite into a manakeesh (that Nat had kindly suggested I try) and cheese and newfound love zatar explode in your mouth. Walk into any random cafe, order a salad and the lettuce will have the kind of crunch that will have you begging the waiter to direct you to all-organic kitchen garden that must be growing in the backyard. The olives were better than the ones in Italy (haw, did I just say that?), warm and oily and speaking of sand-dunes and vineyards. Food does bring out the poet in Ms Sharma, eh?

The Mall of The Emirates. What a grand sounding name when it's just a mall, like any other in the world. Shiny floors, lots of shops, deceptive SALE-UPTO-75%-OFF signs (if you want odd sizes or the ghastly remains of a perfectly good collection, you gullible cretin). We roamed the corridors with the children in the strollers, feeling oddly at home in a foreign city and dissatisfied about that. I dashed into this shop and that, hoping to find something unique and brilliant to take back home with me and failing. We made a stop a Carrafour and bought some groceries to feed the kids at odd hours of the day and night. Orange juice and bread and cheese singles, things that room service would not provide to needy parents.

Adi insisted on watching cartoons and we gave in, inviting Disney and his posse into the room. Here watch, we told the boy. He complied and looked up with his large, wise eyes a little later. Why can't I understand anything, he queried. Try harder, I told him helpfully. Except that the cartoons were in Arabic. By the end of the trip, he had learned to say miska, muska, mickkkkey mouse in Arabic. Something to be said for well-travelled kids.

The room had two twin beds and we collapsed into one each, taking a child each in our arms as sleep came, fast and unfailing.

My mall is bigger than yours. Day Two

Bastakiya is the old part of Dubai. It has wind-towers and one can see absolutely gorgeous traditional Arabic architecture. Mona rightly suggested that we troop to see this famous Dubai site if we wanted a taste of how things had been.

We took a cab from the hotel and things did not seem to going too well when the cabbie looked really puzzled at the mention of the word Bastakiya.

Bass-takhiya? Bastaakheeya? Buzz-takiya? He rolled it around his mouth a few times like mouthwash. Hang on, we will get you directions, we said and furiously texted and called Monsie who rose to the occasion admirably and sent a detailed roadmap. Well, long story short, we found ourselves outside a faux traditional souk, a collection of old-style shops by the waterfront with tables where one could eat al fresco. Really pretty.

Except that it is completely deserted.

In the desert.

It is terribly hot.

We have two kids in strollers.

There are not a soul to be seen anywhere.


We finally located two desi guys and asked them how we could get to the other side of, well, the ocean. We were directed to an amazing subway that goes right under the water and emerges outside a gold souk, the old one. We walked the distance. Four ramps down. Unfortunately also four ramps up.

Have you seen The Twelve Commandments?
There's a scene there where Moses is banished to the desert. 
I feel like that.
Hehehe, how do we end up in places like these?
Adventure, baby, file the notes for your book.

We emerged on the other side. There were gold shops everywhere. Gold chains, shiny necklaces, rings, pendants.

What do you want?
A chilled Coke.

If I had dismissed the malls in Dubai as just like the ones in India, I was in for a shocker in Dubai Mall. It's a mirage in the desert. You think you see an oasis at the end of the reach there and tadah, more shops! I don't think I saw even a speck of the whole thing. Wherever I looked, delicious looking shopping beckoned. Pottery Barn! Pottery Barn Kids! I got fatigued just checking out the temptation. There was an entire section which was modelled on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. I have been there and it was recreated down to the last detail. Etro and Ralph Lauren and Burberry and such like stood forlorn with their beautiful shop windows, not a customer in sight.

The best of Dubai was yet to come. Because next to the giant aquarium stood Mona and MayG with their children! Excitement ran high as we finally met the supermums that we had known only through their blogs. I don't use the word supermums lightly. We were loaded with gifts. MayG gave us things from her super-fun, uber-cool Teezers collection. Mona had baked us a dishalicious (copyright with the young lady Ms Hana S.) lemon cake. Adi insisted on wearing his Big Bro tee right there and then. We exhorted him not to go topless in the middle of a crowded mall and he finally settled for wearing it on top of the one he had on.

 After much confusion in the lifts where a certain Mr Ramanathan and his daughter may or may not have been directed to the parking lot instead of the food court, we made our way to the top floors. MayG's princess and our boy decided to do some paisa vasool in the play area while the mums jabbered about everything under the sun. It's become quite the cliche of such meetings but once again, it felt like we had known each other forever. Noobie and Soonie and Mehroo kept us company while M watched over the two monkeys out to terrorize the good folk. I had a theory that the Dubai kids were tipping the good looks balance heavily in their favour and boy, was I right. They are all rosy cheeks and twinkly eyes. Dishalicious!

That night, Ragini developed a fever. Much beating of the heart and perspiring of the brow later, her pediatrician was called. Oho, some Ibugesic and make sure she has a good time, said the good doctor. We complied. She looked a little better but all plans for a wild, partying lifestyle in Dubai had to be shelved.

Ai ai aa, karoon main kya, souk-oo, souk-oo
Souk Jumeirah Madinat is what an old Arabic market must have looked like, minus all that white skin floating around. I dismissed all the Kashmiri carpets and phirans and kaftans and made my way to an oudh-seller. Fifty percent discount later, I was the proud owner of some lovely fragrance. Arabian nights in this household will never be the same again. There was also an art gallery and I have picked up an interesting looking print that I should frame soon. I am aiming for a complete mishmash of style, what with the Italian masks alongside the Kathakali ones and the Thai panels jostling with Arabian art. Crooked cottage.

Things that we did not see in Dubai
This list can be considerably longer than the one that details that sights that we have left our indelible imprints on. No, Burj al Arab has to wait till the next trip. As does the beach. And the numerous other malls. And Bastakiya too, obviously. The good part is that because I have missed so much, I get to go back.

And now we are back. The maid quit yesterday. Yes, again. It's one of the mysteries of the world and I have stopped trying to figure it out. The cook has expanded her portfolio and is helping out with the other work. However, I am left holding both the kids yet again, which means that writing and blogging and wasting time on the internet will all have to take a break.

I'd like to write a funny travel book. Soon, soon.