Jumpin’ Jiminy!

March 25, 2008

Tara has learnt to jump. She jumps three clear inches off the ground several times before falling down splat. Mrini still can’t jump. She thinks this is something she’d rather not broadcast too widely, so when Tara is showing off her jumping skills, Mrini attempts one or two jumps, then changes the subject by starting something she can do, such as round-and-round, which, as the name implies, involves spinning around like a top till she topples over.

Another recently-acquired skill is walking on tippy-toes, which both can now do at will. Both also like to stand butt-side up with their heads touching the ground, but it was Tara who managed – accidentally, I believe – to turn a somersault the other day.

Meanwhile, her kissing spree proceeds apace; she kisses me about 45 times a day, Amit 15 times, Mrini 18 times, her books 25 times, her doggies and other stuffed toys a total of 35 times, and any other passing animate or inanimate object about 10047 times (all figures are approximate).

Both girls are showing bookworm tendencies, slightly more pronounced in Tara. Around 9.30 a.m. she grabs me by the arm shouting “bukku-bukku-bukku” and heads off determinedly towards the cupboard. In the cupboard, well out of reach, are stored the delicate paper books (as opposed to the more rugged board books, good for chewing) which I take down and “read” to them from time to time. One particular book of nursery rhymes, huge and fat and full of colourful illustrations, is the current favourite. As soon as I take this book out, both of them hop excitedly around me, waiting for me to take my customary position at the edge of the bed (mattress-on-the-floor). Then Mrini heads over to the other end of the bed, picks up the pillow, hoists it on to her head, carries it over and places it carefully behind my back. This accomplished, they both sit down next to me and start very earnestly leafing through the book, which keeps them occupied for the next 30-40 minutes! They don’t wait for me to read out any of the rhymes, but just keep flipping through looking at all their favourite pictures. Due to this daily textbook session, Mrini has now acquired the following vocabulary on cue:

  • doggie? bowbowbowbowbow
  • pussycat? meow-meow
  • cow? momomomo
  • piggy? oiy-oiy

Soon I’ll have a walking-talking menagerie on my hands.

Another of their latest antics is even more entertaining. First, they empty all the toys out of the laundry basket which is their home (the toys’ home, that is), by the simple expedient of upturning the basket above their heads. Then, Tara will take my hand and drag me to the laundry basket. The reason? She needs a helping hand in order to climb over the edge and get into the basket.

Once in, she promptly sits down and looks at Mrini expectantly. Mrini then struggles to overcome the forces of inertia and friction, but once she gets that basket moving there’s no stopping her. She drives it all over the house, steering a course around (most) obstacles and even managing to execute a complete U-turn. When Mrini is tired, Tara works her way out of the basket, usually toppling it in the process, but escaping unhurt and happy.

Today, when Tara thought it was time to climb out of the basket, Mrini contradicted her, holding her firmly with both hands around her waist and telling her “bai-tho” (sit) until Tara complied. Later, when Tara finally managed to get out of the basket, Mrini got in and Tara tried pushing her, but it didn’t work. Tara, apparently, didn’t get the hang of pushing, and Mrini found the passenger’s seat scary.

It’s nice that the kids have taken to their daily schedule. They know that after breakfast is “bukku” time, after lunch is “dagi” (dahi = curd) time, after their afternoon milk is “paka” (park) time and an hour after dinner is bed time. And, most importantly, they know that afternoons are “don’t bug mama” time. Of course, the methods they choose for this last-mentioned time are arguably not the best: opening forbidden cabinets and playing with forbidden objects. Of late they’ve taken to throwing every last one of their toys over the childproof gate and into the study where I sit. Luckily they can’t quite manage to bean me with one of these flying objects yet, but I’m sure they will soon. Sigh – the things one has to put up with…

Taare Zameen Par

March 24, 2008

This movie came highly recommended, so Amit and I finally sat down and watched it last night.

It is the story of a boy who fares miserably in school and also is a bit of a misfit amongst his peers. He is happiest alone, observing things, painting or involved in creative activities, playing with pets. Unable to tolerate his poor academic performance, his parents send him off to boarding school, with the idea that the strict disciplining of that environment will sort out his “behavioural” problems. Naturally, it does nothing of the sort. Viewing it as punishment – as it was intended to be – the boy feels rejected by his family, retreats into himself, gives up painting, loses interest in everything else, and seems to be in depression. Enter Aamir Khan, who cleverly diagnoses dyslexia, and fast forward to a happy ending.

The only thing I can say is that it is inconceivable that – in this day and age, and in the social context of this boy’s family – the boy’s condition should have gone undiagnosed for so long. His condition is so severe that even I could diagnose it in minutes. How could his entire set of friends, family, teachers, all have failed to either diagnose it, or even to refer the boy to a doctor or psychologist?

Having said that, the movie, I must add, is excellently made. I do not recall when any other movie moved me so much, that for much of the time I felt close to tears. The boy’s victimisation, isolation, depression, are very well portrayed. You can’t help putting yourself in his shoes, even when you can also identify with, say, his mother, who is loving but frustrated. His father is portrayed in a very two-dimensional way which I felt was unrealistic – callous and almost cruel; but perhaps not as unrealistic as I would like to believe.

His elder brother’s tragedy is hinted at and then by-passed: a model son, who comes first in every subject (other than Hindi) and also excels at tennis, but who lacks the truant brother’s artistic skill and carefree (bindaas) attitude, like so many first-borns he is a victim of his parents’ ambitions.

There is a message, of course, and Aamir Khan does his bit of preaching to ensure that the message reaches the audience loud and clear. Thankfully, though it is a bit overdone, it does not become unpalatably moralistic and self-righteous.

On the whole, a movie very well made and delivered. Hats off to Aamir Khan, again.

Hair Today, Shorn Tomorrow?

March 24, 2008

For the past several months, it has been a topic of discussion between Amit and me and whoever we happen to meet: should we, or should we not, shave the twins’ heads?

Most (about two-thirds) of those we’ve spoken to say that we should, because their hair will grow out thicker, straighter, and blacker after shaving. The remaining one-third argue vehemently against it, saying that it makes no difference, or that it makes it worse, brittle and wiry instead of soft and silky as it is now.

Looking on the internet didn’t provide many answers – surprisingly. Most of the comments were from people who’d never heard of this custom before and therefore were predisposed to be shocked or horrified by the idea and virulently opposed to it. Some went so far as to consider it cruel and inhuman and advocate that parents considering this be locked up. There were a few comments from people belonging to other societies where babies’ heads are customarily shaved, who were, like me, wondering about the pros and cons of this custom.

What I discovered were the religious/ritualistic reasons for shaving babies’ heads. What I didn’t find was a single rational and scientific voice either for or against it. Some people (apparently lay people, not experts in the field) argued that hair characteristics are genetic and cannot be changed by shaving. While that sounds logical, I’m not sure that it’s true – there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that hair characteristics do get altered by shaving, and not just on heads (or on babies) but also facial and body hair on men and women. It is also popularly believed here, that the quality of water used for drinking and washing, use or absence of hair oil, type of shampoo and many other such external factors (how about chemotherapy?) do affect hair growth and characteristics. (And that’s without considering perms, bleaches, dyes, gels, curlers and so on.) If so, then why not shaving?

So anyway, after discussing the matter for months, and vacillating and prevaricating as much as possible, Amit and I decided to go ahead and get the girls shaved. The addition of holi colour to their hair made us think, “If we’re going to do this, it might as well be tomorrow.”

So on Sunday morning, I picked up Tara and went off to the nearest children’s salon, determined to get her silken locks knocked off. I returned home a mere 20 minutes later, with a much neater Tara in my arms, her hair sweetly trimmed at the sides and back making her look a lot more boyish (and cute).

What happened? asked Amit, surveying with some surprise the hair still amply covering her skull.

A slight breeze riffled her hair, as we left home, I explained, and it looked so soft and silky and lovely that I just didn’t have the heart to get it all taken off, I confessed, abashed. I had been the one arguing most ardently in favour of getting them shaved, but all along I had had this little voice at the back of my head telling me I didn’t really want to be doing this. Now that I had come face-to-face with the act of getting their heads shaved, and had at last given in to that little voice, I felt so relieved. If my daughters didn’t have absolutely thick and flowing hair when they grew up, they could decide to shave it themselves. Perhaps, as a doting mother, I should have done this for them; but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Anyway, I took Mrini to the hair-dresser next, and had the same trim done on her. While Tara had been only slightly discomfited by the process, Mrini wailed and screamed as though we were pulling her hair out strand by strand or doing some other terrible torture to her. If that’s what the merest trim does to her, what would she do if we had her head shaved, I wonder? Thankfully, it’s a question I’m not going to be getting an answer to anytime soon.


March 23, 2008

I hate holi. Ever since I was a child, I have never enjoyed this festival. I just don’t have the required degree of extroversion, nor the required minimum level of comfort with the dirt, the disorder, the shocking physical liberties, and the sheer exuberance to enjoy the festival.

For those who don’t know, holi is the festival of colours and is celebrated by throwing or smearing people with coloured powders. That’s the formal version – the more rugged versions range from water or wet colours to raw eggs, paint, grease, oil, or anything else that you can get your hands on that can be smeared or smudged onto your near and dear ones. Or, if it comes to that, onto any passing stranger too. Why you would want to coat known and unknown people in such filth beats me; and how you could enjoy either meting out or being on the receiving end of such treatment has me equally perplexed; and how you can presume to lay hands on not just the face and hair, but also the arms, legs, backs, and chests of the old and young, male and female has me completely stumped; but all that notwithstanding, holi is an immensely popular festival with those who celebrate it.

Holi is typically played in neighbourhoods and the action usually lasts all morning and winds up in time for a late lunch, after a long clean-up session. In my childhood, I had made a fine art of hiding from enthusiastic revellers on holi-day.Since we gave up being neighbourly about ten years ago, I haven’t had to worry about dodging the holi spirit for a very long time. This time, I didn’t have an opportunity to bring out and put to use my evasive skills – holi entered my sedate life from a backdoor that I wasn’t even aware existed (so to speak).

It was Amit’s boss who invited us to join them in celebrating holi. It was difficult (impossible?) to decline the invitation, the more so since he had been wanting for some time to meet the twins.

So, despite my wails of protest, yet another weekend saw us rushing around trying to make it out of the door in time for an 11 a.m. invitation. Naturally, it was past 10.30 by the time we left, and as Amit’s boss stays at the other end of the world as far as Bangalore is concerned, this was not good. Moreover, Amit decided to use technology to get us to the venue and was using GPS navigation on his cellphone to find his way. So it’s not surprising that we got lost multiple times, and had to resort to increasingly desperate measures such as trying a paper map, asking bystanders on the roadside, and finally being forced to call the host for navigational aid.

We reached at 12.30 to find the party in full swing. A nightmarish crowd of colours came rushing towards us and smothered us in a haze of powder, though we knew nobody there (no, they didn’t spare the kids). I had optimistically expected a decorus type of holi in which everyone pats a little colour on your cheek and then everybody sits down and sips glasses of juice amidst small talk, so I and the kids had gone well dressed. The kids were wearing brand new tops bought by my sister in Thailand (on a trip, that is, she doesn’t stay there) and sent express delivery by Blue Dart courier. Both were pastel shades, cream and pale pink. I was in a rather dressy and quite new salwar-kameez, cafe au lait and bright blue. Our lovely outfits were doomed within seconds.

The kids and I found a quiet corner from where we could observe the action without being bombarded too often. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, the kids gradually began to unwind and take some interest in their strange new environment, but it wasn’t until about 2 p.m. when the fun was all over, that they really got involved. Someone introduced them to a small box of leftover organic colour (organic! I didn’t know such things existed) and after a little hands-on encouragement, they got the idea. For the next 15-20 minutes, they sat sweetly in middle of the just-swept floor and got their hands dirty. Well, not just their hands, of course. The rubbed the colour over their own and each other’s hair and faces, and dropped it liberally on their skirts and on the almost-clean floor. For just a short time they were absolutely the focus of attention and blissfully and completely unaware of it.

At last, we interrupted their act to get them cleaned up and give them lunch. It was a little after 3 when we left, and mercifully we ditched the satellite and just used homing instinct to navigate back, taking just an hour to get home. Now we only had to bathe wash hair and change the twins (I couldn’t face the prospect of a second bath for them, so I just dusted them off and left it at that) and then I could have the indisputable pleasure of trying to get the colour out of the clothes. After rinsing them several times and then stuffing them in the washing machine, they still look like rags. The colours have all run into one another to give a uniform look somewhere between dull grey and mud brown. The lace on the kids’ pretty shirts, which started out white, is now best described as mottled. I could almost weep.

This is not my idea of a relaxing way to spend a holiday.

It doesn’t seem as though I’m going to be able to forget this trauma any time soon, either. I only have to take a bath and the horrid slime-green stain on my chest where some considerate soul had thrust colour down inside my decently buttoned-up kurta rudely reminds me of it. Oh, I hate holi.

Chicken? Delicious!

March 17, 2008

Since the advent of the twins, I have done plenty of cooking, if you can count boiling (or sometimes burning) dal-rice and eggs and making cottage cheese/paneer. But I have done very little by way of cooking as in cooking up a storm. I managed to bake a couple of cakes on separate occasions, but that apart, nothing really exciting has emerged from the kitchen for several months. True, last weekend I made mutton curry, but by my standards it was merely mediocre and was consumed rapidly more due to the fact of it being mutton, than due to any excellence in the preparation.

Then, on Friday evening I went grocery shopping, and some interesting vegetables caught my eye. Since Amit had been complaining about the absence of my “Chinese” food, I decided to make it on Saturday, and shopped accordingly. On Saturday morning, my cook did me the great favour of chopping up all the veggies. All that was left, was to run out and buy certain vital ingredients such as:

  • noodles
  • chicken
  • szechuan sauce (comes in a packet, courtesy Knorr)

I managed to obtain these and got only mildly wet before the rain turned into a downpour. I also bought some Coke; since we already had rum at home, we now had all the ingredients for a good evening.

From 7 to 9, I prepared dinner (I don’t cook at a frenetic pace, but rather, in quite a leisurely manner) with innumerable interruptions from the girls and little support from Amit. At the end of it, we had noodles, mixed veggies, and szechaun sauce along with a chicken dish that stole the show. I had never done this particular preparation before, but as I walked out to buy the stuff, I had sort of dreamed up this dish and so I went ahead and tried it out.

I had half a kilo of leg-and-thigh pieces (without skin), which I dusted in flour (it should have been cornflour, but I found I didn’t have any so I improvised). Then I dumped them in a pan coated with pan spray and very little oil and fried them on a low flame till they were golden brown. It already looked delicious… and then I added garlic, which, after salt, is the single most important condiment in my kitchen, without which food is not worth sniffing at. When the chicken was just about done, I added a fair sprinkling of soy sauce, a little bit of water, and a little of the flour I had used for dusting the chicken, creating a thick and dark sauce. Yummmm… I don’t know what the Chinese restaurants call this dish (far less what the actual Chinese call it), or even if it is really a dish or not, but I call it Chicken Garlic Delicious.

As is usually the case with good food, there wasn’t much left over.

Party Animals? Not Yet!

March 16, 2008

Today was another first for us with the twins: their first birthday party. Not their birthday, of course, that’s in August, but the first birthday party they were invited to.

When I was a child, birthdays were simple and fun. Parties were usually held sometime in the afternoon or early evening, in the birthday boy’s house. Much or all of the food was home made and games were the stock arrangement of musical chairs, pass the parcel and blind man’s bluff.

Things have changed since then. The party we were invited to was at a food court and gaming arcade in a nearby mall. What’s worse is that we were expected to be there at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Who goes anywhere at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning? I couldn’t possibly get me and the kids (not to mention Amit)fed, bathed, decently dressed, and ready to leave the house by that hour! I suggested that we politely decline, but Amit wanted to go. After all, this was a college friend we’d met a total of three times in the last ten years and whose son we’d be meeting for the first time ever at his third birthday – clearly it was too important an event to miss.

Despite my best efforts, it was 11 by the time we left home, but I think we reached in good time. The gaming area was being blasted by mind-numbingly loud and tuneless music and the twins were far too young for any of the games. After we had found and greeted the hosts and the three-year-old boy for whom we had not even got a gift, I took the girls into a big fancy playpen sort of thing, where an attendant put them on a long and steep slide that scared them half to death. Once they had recovered from that unhappy experience, they wandered around the play pen in a bewildered fashion, trying to avoid an older child who was intent on knocking them down with a monstrous rubber ball.

After 20 minutes of this, we emerged and explored the area a bit. The hosts had procured a card that gave the kids access to all the games, but only Amit used it once to play something that looked like a cross between carrom and football.

At 12 noon, we were all shepherded towards the food court section, where balloons cordoned off an area set aside for this party. Cake, in the shape of a red-and-white car (it was chocolate underneath the icing), was cut and distributed and “lunch” was gradually brought on. It consisted of noodles, pizza, sandwich, and fries, accompanied by fizzy drinks. The twins had never eaten any of these before, and since they don’t digest wheat well, I wasn’t very happy with the menu, but they enjoyed the fries and the icing off the cake. The cake was delicious, but we’ve avoided giving them chocolate since I read that the liver isn’t equipped to handle it in the first two years.

At lunch, we saw the other guests, maybe around 7-8 families other than us and the hosts. We were all seated at two long tables arranged at right angles to each other. We knew one other family well, so we sat with them. None of the other guests were introduced to us nor, I gathered, to each other.

By 12.45, we said our goodbyes and were further embarassed to receive return gifts, considering we hadn’t even given a gift in the first place.

Perhaps the whole outing would have been more fun if the kids were older and could have enjoyed the games; but I still think that a children’s birthday party should be more about children running around and playing with each other, or with toys, rather than sitting in front of machines and playing with computer simulations. I guess I’m pretty old fashioned.

Two Brothers

March 14, 2008

If you want to see tigers, watch this movie. It is about two tigers and how they get separated at a young age (by cruel humans, of course) and what becomes of them. It is a treat for just the tigers, specially when they are tiny babies. There is a story, but it doesn’t matter too much – it’s the tigers that make you go “awwwwwwwwwww…cho chweet!”

Quitting Unemployment

March 8, 2008

It’s not so much about whether to be or not to be: it’s about what to be, how to be, when to be, and for how long.

In the past, whenever I’ve changed jobs, I’ve always hated the new job. I hate the new, unfamiliar workplace, the new work, the new colleagues, the new learning – basically, I just hate the newness. I don’t think I’ve ever joined a single job without wanting to quit in the first couple of weeks. Most places, I’ve wanted to quit even after three months on the job. I’ve never done it though – I always told myself to wait for at least six months. Almost always (with one or two exceptions), between the three-month and the six-month milestone, something changes, and the desire to quit quietly goes away. Usually, by the time six months are up, I’m into the new role heart and soul and enjoying every moment of it.

The change to unemployment has been different. Now that that six-month milestone is coming up, I can honestly say that I haven’t had many moments of regret or of wanting to “quit” unemployment.

Just recently, though, I did suddenly have a yearning for the good ol’ days of office gossip, meetings, deadlines, lousy coffees and noisy cafeterias. When I think back to those “good ol'”days, I don’t think of the last organization I worked (or rather, vegetated) at, but rather, of the one before that, KF, where I could have complained of many things, but never of boredom. KF was too stressful, too tiring, too hectic, had too many people, too much politics and was generally just a bit too much to handle; but the work was always interesting, challenging, fun, and the people I met there were simply amazing. Just briefly, the other day, I missed that madness and camaraderie of KF.

The park, which is nowadays the centre of my social circle of idle moms, was partly responsible for this sudden spark of reminiscence. Two or three of the half-dozen or so moms that I generally chat with, are looking for jobs or planning when and how they can go back to work. What about me, they ask?

I don’t really know, honestly. I have been very comfortable being home, doing my own thing, looking after the girls. I spend two or three hours on the computer every day, which is all I need to recharge my batteries after taking care of the household chores and the twins in the morning. Occasionally, I do feel that I’ve become too house-bound, somewhat isolated, overly family-centric; but I’m not sure if this is something I want to be worried about yet.

If I think of returning to work, first I feel lazy and reluctant – life will be so much more hectic and I’ll get so little time with the girls if I do that. I also feel a little guilty – like being a “good” mother means giving up work forever, which I know is a stupid way to think, but I don’t seem to be able to change it. I feel a little selfish – if I go away to work, who will look after the girls? Then, I feel a little ambivalent – what work do I want to do next, anyway? And finally, I feel surprised to feel a little excited – I want to be part of that dynamic, decisive, rushing corporate workspace again.

Then, of course, there’s a work-from-home or freelance option. That would answer the question of looking after – or at least supervising someone else who’s looking after – the kids. But, it doesn’t provide many of the features that working from an office does – office gossip, lousy coffee, noisy cafeteria… Chances are, too, that it doesn’t provide such a good opportunity for career advancement, equal pay, or equally challenging or exciting work. It might be convenient, but is it what I want to do?

I’m happy with status quo for the moment… but in another few months or a year, I will have to have some or all of the answers. Sigh…

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