Friday, March 25, 2011

Letters to a little girl - ten

Dear Ragini,

It's been so hot these last few days. They say the mercury never hit it this high in March these last fifty-five years. And yet, your brother has fever and both of you have runny noses. You are trying to stand up on your own two feet and will probably walk soon. At least it looks like it. No pressure.

You are the original gunda number one and are often seen staring at things with a frown on your face and smoke billowing from your nostrils. The bull baby to beat all bull babies. I turn my eyes from you to your brother and shake my head in terror and amazement. How do you babies go from such these tiny little things to those school-going, song-singing, birthday-awaiting, Holi-playing, mess-creating individuals......how? I feel as if each day in the last four years has been interminably long and yet, I have no clue how the years just buzzed past. Panic, panic, the kids are growing too fast, must blog more often, must record everything, must hold time still, must not let anything slip away. Must schedule for a nap next year sometime.

There was something about the supermoon yesterday. I missed it, being too busy.

Advice!
  • Understand that there is always a kinder explanation for things.
  • There is no such thing as a decor rule. Do up your house the way you see best. There's only so much 'keep the basics in earth colours and bring a splash of colours through accents' nonsense that one can take. B.O.R.I.N.G. It is more fun to have an interesting house than just a pretty one and anything interesting demands flaws.
  • Please don't try to be superwoman. Even if it's fashionable.
  • Know the history and politics of your country. You need to have a view. Read about Gandhi and our freedom struggle and the partition and the Kashmir issue and don't be afraid to ask questions on the issues that interest you. Please don't ever be the apathetic person that says she finds politics boring. 
  • Don't be insular. It's very limiting and will make you narrow-minded. Don't decide where you belong to till you have seen a bit of the world. It could be a small house that is at the end of a winding staircase in Jaisalmer. It could be a villa up from Lake Como. It could be an apartment in Mumbai. Choices come from getting out and about.
  • You are really as gorgeous as we think you are and we WILL beat the shit out of any man who tells you otherwise.
  • The question to ask yourself is - did you try? did you try hard enough? and then just let it go.
  • The best thing about fears is that you need to stand up to them only once to tame them.
  • Oil your hair before washing it. They might say it's a myth that it will make it long and shiny but what is the downside?
  • Know your debit and credit balance at all points in time. Know exactly how much money lies in your wallet, in your bank accounts and in your investments.
  • Always keep the money in your wallet well-organized. Only if you respect money, will money respect you.
  • Count every penny but give in good freely.
  • Splurge (whatever that means to you) once in a while, make it count, enjoy every moment of it, know when you can afford to do it and know when you are doing it.
  • Don't save the good china, eat in it. Precisely why I have never held back even the most expensive toy from you.
  • Do not, do not, do not treat books badly. It's the one thing that is not allowed even for newborns in this house and never will be.
  • If someone doesn't keep a secret once, don't let them have another one of yours. Ever.
  • Yes, Pink Floyd was really something. If you disagree, please come up with some real and convincing arguments.
  • When you sit down to write and don't know where to begin, start with describing the present. Much like this letter.
  • Please resist the temptation to correct people for their diction and/or grammar to their face, however strong the urge.
I love you, my pride and joy, my little bull.

Ma

P.S. Some time has passed between writing this letter and posting it. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

By comparison, Kalpana rocked

Old-time readers will remember (hopefully only with a little frustration) my travails with Kalpana the cook. Kalpana had very limited culinary skills but what she lacked in the kitchen, she made up in the parlour, so to speak. A social butterfly, she flitted from flat to flat collecting gossip like pollen and propagating it far and wide. Our tryst with Kalpana came to a somewhat untimely end over an unfortunate disagreement over some rotten paneer. She thought we should eat the paneer, we disagreed. Better that than to come to an untimely end ourselves, we decided as we bade her a loud goodbye (slamming doors do tend to be rather loud).

At that time of course I had thought Kalpana to be a complete *insert choice of invective here* but life is funny and since then it has thrown at me so many colourful characters that I have begun to think of her in the fashion of an old, partly senile but still affectionate relative, with something resembling fondness.

The fault no doubt lies with me, as it always does. I had mentioned in one of my letters to Raagu that people leave jobs because of bad bosses and a kind commentor had pointed out that it could well be the reason that my helps keeps showing me the slammed door. I think there is a grain of truth there. I am extremely moody and function in the style of a benevolent dictator, expecting my word to be treated as law and in return I am willing to shower all the largess of the world on their well-oiled heads. Well, one knows what happens to dictators, specially these days (Muammer, old chap, not partying too hard these days, are we?). Even long-standing, experienced hands are finding it difficult to dictate in peace. People just keep rising and uprising and throwing about coups carelessly. How is an honest dictator to earn his (or her) bread, I ask. People have no consideration these days.

Anyway, one needs to change with the changing times and all that nonsense and I have taken to the show-and-tell mode of pedagogy these days. Look at this dirt here, I say politely to my help, perhaps you ought to clean it like this and I jump at it grabbing my mop or broom or duster as I go along. This, as anybody in my immediate family will tell you, is very unlike me. What comes naturally to me is to fly into a massive rage followed by much spluttering in indignation and showering of spittle on the offending party. But we live and learn, kind reader, we live and learn.

Recently, I asked my cook what she thought of the new regime of cleanliness that I had personally displayed to her. I had cleaned corners that she did not know existed. I had scrubbed dishes such that their colour had changed like treacherous chameleons. I had uncovered a new layer of the marble tile in front of her amazed eyes.

So hey, I asked her, you go to another house to cook too, don't you. Don't they ask you to maintain this level of hygiene?

She looked at me and smiled conspiratorially. Arrey didi, she spoke, wahan toh itna ganda rehta hai ki main toh unke ghar mein paani bhi nahin peeti. Main toh sab kuchh aapke yahan hi khaati-peeti hoon. (It is so dirty that I don't even drink water in their house. I eat and drink only in your house.)

Glad she approves of my style of working. Sigh, changing world order.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In light-hearted defence of what I write

Long before I got published, a certain section of books was being slotted as chick-lit. I cringed when I first heard the term being loosely tossed about and I still do. Chick lit can mean many things to many people but by and large, any book that is written by a female writer, has female protagonists and does not fall under heavy or serious literature is termed chick-lit. There is a certain amount of condescension in-built in the term. By the virtue of the values that have come to be associated with it, the term broadly suggests that women writers offer and women readers lap up non-serious writing.

I am often amazed when writers themselves have no issues seeing their work slotted as chick-lit. Of course I will be accused of paying too much attention to semantics but maybe the term itself has something to do with this - chick ( often a condescending slag to describe a girl) and lit (not quite literature, you see).

Let us just take the broad parameters that are used to toss books in this pile - woman protagonist, an urban setting, themes such as work, relationships and friends, the use of humour as a literary tool. Now, just change all the woman parts to man parts (oh, wait) and what do you have - oh dear, just literature, wouldn't you say? Some of you will jump and produce from the hat at this time the lad-lit. To this, I have but only this to say - why do we have this need for over-categorization? In my opinion, there are only two kinds of literature - good and bad. Everything else is irrelevant and often detrimental. Let's face it - when it comes to women writers, there is an urge within the community to slot it differently and that's why we not have the broad chick-lit, but also mommy lit (apparently my first book contributed to this), historical chick-lit, hen-lit, working girl lit and so on and so forth. Whatever be the genre, this practice aims at making woman writers and readers intensely aware of their gender. Fluffy or trashy writing is just that, whether it's written (or read) by a man or a woman. Ditto for genuinely engaging, funny, fine story-telling. Let's please not use genres to put the little woman in her place.

I have worked in marketing communication long enough to know that this is probably a case of targeted marketing. Maybe that is also the reason why these books always have similar covers.

After reading many reviews of By The Water Cooler, I have concluded that I am being slotted as a chick-lit writer myself. Well, I refuse to tow the line. I am a writer. I am a humour writer, just so you don't confuse me with a mystery writer and go looking for whodunnits in my books but I am not and never will be slotted a chick-lit writer. And when it comes to my readers, I am willing to be read by dogs and cats and giant pandas, not just chicks.

I hope some filmmaker somewhere is echoing my thoughts when it comes to the chick-flick.

Also, just an aside but Jane Austen dealt with women protagonists and her themes reflected the concerns of women in that day and age (marriage to a suitable boy, the lack of options when it came to financial stability, obligations to the family and so on). Ms Austen was also unarguably one of the wittiest writers we have seen. Would we then call her writing the original chick-lit? Lord, I hope not.

Of course I will be told to take a light-hearted view of things. Fortunately, the thing about being a humour writer is - I already am.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The obligatory birthday post

Adi and Raagu's old lady turned 34 yesterday. Everyone told me to have fun. I tried and got very tired. In order to make time for the morning coffee date and the bookshop raid and the nice and expensive and romantic Italian lunch that M had planned for us, we had to work twice as hard and about four thousand time as fast as on any other day. We had to pick Adi from school and there were no autos to be had. We had to walk back home. The heat was awful. I was wearing new slippers that threatened to scrape the skin off my small toes. Adi was fortified with Frooti. Even so, he wanted to be carried after a while. Not easy.

The Thai massage place that we had booked into assigned me to a thug. He meant well no doubt but probably underestimated his own strength by about ninety percent. I just wanted him to leave me be. He looked very hurt when I started to offer feedback so I clammed up. But I am never going back.

I heard from old friends and new and also from those who wished me only because Facebook reminded them to. Sometimes I think of Mark Zuckerberg as a giant puppeteer, running our little lives for us, every twelfth person on this planet under his massive thumb.

There were cakes. Adi blew the candles and cut them for me.

M asked me what I wanted and I thought and thought about that. I want so much and so many things. Bags and shoes and iPad and more books and more book-deals and money and to be loved and loud laughter and the cure to my kids' never-ending cold. Also school admissions and travel and a dog. I am not done wishing yet and clearly sanyaas seems very far away.

And yet, something is changing as I get older and go hurtling down the thirties. Or maybe it's just having the kids. I find myself ill-equipped when it comes to discussing the dark side of the world with my boy. I didn't know how to talk to him about what happened in Japan. The earth shook. And a giant wave came in from the ocean. What happened to the people? Is India also going to shake? I don't want to lie but it's just so much easier to protect him from the truth, when the truth is so vast and so cruel that I myself do not understand it. It's just Nature. It is not always fair. It only understands its own laws. And some of it, maybe a lot of it has got to do with us, the way we are, the way we misbehaved. It is so important for him to see me happy that I find myself making an effort at it even if being manically depressed seems so much easier. Perhaps that is why we have kids, to give ourselves a fighting chance at happiness.

Birthday year begins and I have resolved to write more. More stories, more posts, more novels. Women writers have to write in the face of so many difficulties. I have Mahesh, who does everything that is humanly possible to make the time for me to write but still, small children are like water and they flow in from all the unseen crevices, their needs filling up the time and shutting out the words. I need to balance the two. How, we will see. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Children, hear it from Boo

Antu has been reading my book.


And since is all about plugging myself, do check me out in Outlook's special supplement this month. I was being intelligent on the topic of women on the web. I think.

I would have written more but Ragini just bit me on the fleshy part of my palm (bye, bye, mound of Venus) and so I think I ought to retire to a corner and whimper in pain as I nurse that particular wound. Also, I suspect Adi is smelling something fishy in the task that I had given him - sorting out the hundreds of blocks in his room by colour. Oh well, it was good while it lasted and I did manage to get this post out.

***



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things I have been meaning to write

  • The cook bunked again. Yeah, yeah, I know, Happy Women's Day to her. I had to cook in the morning and cut my finger while chopping the veggies. A little later, I wanted to give Ragini her brekker and sterilized my hands with alcohol. Let's just say that my screams could be heard all the way across the sea-link in Worli. Mahesh asked me if it was a character-building exercise that I was undertaking on purpose. I did not kill him, being the kind of perfect woman that Star Plus wants us to be. Woot.
  • I recently had the good fortune to catch Band Baaja Bride on NDTV Good Times. The big, fat Indian wedding brought to you by an anchor who has perfected the art and science of yawning with her mouth closed. Must add to favourites and watch religiously.
  • Ragini has proven yet again that all the toys that a baby needs for super-duper holistic development is a tissue-box and my iPhone
  • Blackberry and iPhone should understand that the most relevant positioning platform for them is that they help feed babies, both as aids and as food itself.
  • Gerber and Heinz should advertise their baby food claiming that it tastes exactly like the week-old crumbs that hide in the carpet collecting dust and dirt and grime from all over. 
  • I have found the perfect way to end all left-over food related guilt and hassles. Now I just eat whatever the kids don't and have officially kissed all dreams of fitness goodbye. Sometimes I feel the inexplicable urge to hang a sign saying Use Me around my neck.
  • Note to self: resist temptation to watch movies such as Audrey Rose at bedtime if you want to sleep for the two hours per night that the kids concede you. A better option is Mard Number One starring Manoj Tiwari, the posters of which are currently plastered all over town.
And what have you been up to, my precious? Leave a comment and tell, do. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Delhi junta, take note

My sister is moving to Hong Kong soon. It's good for her because HK, I am told is a fantastic city. It's good for me because it gives me a new place to travel to. And it's good for you because she is selling all her fabulous stuff before she moves and you could pick up her awesome music system at a great price. Please take a look, kind readers and do spread the word to your mob. (What, I can do cool slang too.) 

e-mail me at parulsharma1503(at)gmail(dot)com for expected price and such like.  It was bought and put together in 2006. All original receipts are with her and will be handed over with alacrity.

Stuff! 

Denon integrated amplifier PMA 665R

Denon 5CD changer DCM-280

Jamo Speakers D570 

Yamaha tuner.