They Grow Up So Fast!

May 31, 2008

Remember the car I said we bought the twins last weekend? (I mentioned it here.) Well, after completely ignoring it for a couple of days, they suddenly rediscovered the joys of driving, and since then they have explored the potentialities of the vehicle to the fullest extent. Tara attempted a wheelie (I know you can’t do wheelies on four wheels, but try telling her that) and Mrini found that you could stand up on it, and if you could get your mom or sis to push you around while doing so, so much the better. Then I tied a string around the front of it, so they started pulling each other around with that. This morning, while I was in the kitchen getting breakfast ready, I heard Tara saying “come” “go” “come” “go”… On turning around, I saw she was actually pulling and pushing the car, with Mrini sitting on it. What a smartie.

Then, there was the harmonica. This is a colourful model, made for kids, but it works just the same as a typical, traditional one. It was gifted to them by a friend some weeks ago. At first, Mrini was scared of it (typical – after all, it makes a sound!) and Tara was intrigued. After a while, Mrini got over her fear, but still hadn’t taken much of a fancy to it, while Tara was always under the impression that it could be used like a toothbrush to brush her teeth and deposit a healthy load of drool on. Once duly drenched, she would present it to me, grinning, expecting me to get it to make a sound. Ugh!

They watched me, interested, and tried to ape me, but completely without success: They didn’t yet know how to… errr… suck and blow. So, whatever they did, they couldn’t get it to make a sound, except once or twice by mistake.

Finally, yesterday evening, Tara managed, much to her own surprise, to produce a tiny peep from it, and then managed to do it again. And again. And again. Mrini, for once, somehow picked it up from Tara right away. (I say “for once” because other skills that Tara has achieved ahead of Mrini, it has taken Mrini ages and ages to catch up on.) By the end of the evening, both girls were blowing away quite competently. And today they not only learnt that inhaling also produced sound, but also began to make slightly different sounds by sliding the harmonica around a little. By the end of the day, they were actually producing tiny little tunes on it!

So these are their two significant achievements of the week. There are others, of course, but too many and too tedious to narrate. It’s great to watch though – it’s absolutely wonderful to see them growing in skills, expanding their vocabulary, watching their attempts to communicate with each other and with us, and most of all, seeing their ever increasing confidence and out-going-ness. It’s just amazing.

On Losing Someone – 2

May 28, 2008

People, people, everywhere
They smile, you smile… it’s a mask you wear
Underneath there’s loneliness and pain
The thought of someone you might never see again

It’s been so long… months, maybe years
You’ve quite run out of your stock of tears
Besides, how long can you mourn
For someone who’s not dead – just gone

You hope he’s happy… but then, again
You hope he feels that sharp stab of pain
Something that reminds him of you
And everything he’s put you through

Of course you can smile, of course you’re strong
After all, you did no wrong
And who’s to know, since that fateful day
The song in your heart quite went away

But, how can it be? Can it be true?
That he didn’t stop to think of you?
Or maybe, it’s plain to see,
Some things were just not meant to be.

One day, some day, if fate ordains,
You’ll run into him again
And then, perhaps, maybe, you’ll know
What made him want to leave and go

Until then, you wait, you hope,
You know you’ll get along, you’ll cope.
There’s only one thing you could ask:
The strength to keep on wearing that mask

On Losing Someone – 1

May 28, 2008

Do you know what it’s like to lose someone
A friend, a love, a daughter or son
To turn around and find they’ve gone?

Do you know how it feels, on that terrible day,
When you say something so wrong, that you send them away,
Or you can’t find the words to make them stay?

Do you know how it hurts to lose a friend,
To have something you cherished come to an end,
To not be able to make amends?

Do you know what it means to feel so sad
Full of regret for what you might have had
But lost, though you did nothing bad?

And what can you do, once they are gone?
Once whatever happened can’t be undone?
What use are those tears? Life goes on…

Playdate, Baby Shower, and Shopping – How the Twins are Keeping Me Busy

May 26, 2008

The girls’ social life is keeping me on my toes. Well, it’s not all their social life, I suppose. On Thursday, they went for a lunch playdate. I don’t know if it technically qualifies as a playdate, cos it was more like me catching up with a friend, and leaving my kids with her daughter, who is 3, which makes her too old for a playdate with under-twos. All the same, a playdate is what she called it.

It was the first time I ventured to take the girls out on my own. It was not too difficult, though I decided not to walk out looking for an auto, so called a taxi instead, which made the trip expensive but hassle-free. On the whole, it was quite a success. The girls were quiet and well-behaved for the first half hour or so, then they sat themselves at the dining table and fed themselves lunch like little angels. This done, they set about systematically and methodically examining every single one of the other girls toys, and then distributing them evenly throughout the house. The other girl had a LOT of toys, which meant a lot of picking up for me and the other mom to do after an hour or so. Still, at least they only handled the toys – apart from grabbing the TV remote and managing to turn off the TV, they didn’t destroy anything else in the house, which was good enough for me.

Saturday evening we had an invitation to what would be called a baby shower, I suppose, if we had such things here. This was in a party hall at 7.30. I was wondering how we would manage it, because 7.30 is when the kids get their dinner, if they haven’t already had it, and an hour later is their bedtime. But I needn’t have worried. They slept an hour extra in the afternoon, as though they knew what was in store for them that evening. Then, as soon as they entered the hall, they spied the hosts (whom they know well), decided this was a friendly place, and proceeded to make themselves completely at home despite the slowly growing crowd of strangers all around. They went and peered at the baby, romped around the crib without intentionally or unintentionally disturbing the lovely floral decorations, made friends with sundry adults who showed any interest in them and generally behaved like absolute socialites. They even enthusiastically gobbled up their dinner, about 90 minutes later than usual, saying “niiiii” (which means “nice”) as they did so. Then they sat like good girls on two chairs between Amit and me, swinging their legs and grinning like little devils while we hurriedly stuffed our faces and kept a stern eye on them. They remained awake, alert, and most importantly, cheerful right till the end, and were still awake when we finally reached home and put them to bed.

On Sunday, there was yet another activity planned for them – toy shopping. After seeing the entire treasure trove of toys that their Thursday Playdate had, I was really feeling quite guilty about their pitiful collection. Two kids ought to mean double the toys, I thought. Amit tried to assure me that since they had each other, even half the toys were good enough – joys shared being joys doubled and all that – but I wasn’t convinced. So on Sunday, we all four trooped into the nearest toy shop and quickly lightened our pockets by something over a thousand rupees. The largest part of this amount was spent on a big, red car. It’s the type the kids can sit on (not in) and push along with their feet. They loved it – they refused to sleep yesterday afternoon because they were busy pushing each other around on that car, and when they were finally too tired to resist sleep, they took the shortest half-hour nap before getting up and returning promptly to the car again. But, by this morning, the car had lost all interest for them. The bouncing ball and the picture books were – as ever – their favourite toys, while the car remained alone and neglected. Sigh.

Oh, and after the toy shopping, we had lunch at the nearest restaurant we could find. The girls gobbled up my rava idli and sagu, and left me to tackle their veg pullao and dal. And today, despite all the rich and spicy food, their stomachs seem to be in perfect shape. Thankfully.

I suppose I should stop boasting about them now – they’re probably already cooking up some scheme to make me pull my hair out and despair of ever making responsible adults of them.

Tara Topi-wallah

May 21, 2008

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It’s SO not my day today

May 20, 2008

It started with the plumber.

Have you noticed how most bad things start with the plumber?

And the plumber saga started a week ago, when I was in Pondicherry. One toilet started leaking like it thought it was a shower. The other was leaking like a sieve. So, when I got back, the first thing I did, almost before I took off my shoes, was to call the plumber. We have this deal with this handyman service provider where they are supposed to provide plumbers and electricians on call. The next day, the plumber came, took a look, said it couldn’t be done right away because he would have to buy a washer (two washers, actually) and he didn’t have time to go out, do that, and come back and finish the work. So, he would put in his report and the next day another guy would come and put the washer. Why not the same guy? Well, it was his day off, of course.

The next day, nobody came. The shower-impersonating toilet, which was leaking worse than ever, had been turned off, so only the sieve-impersonating toilet was functional, which wasn’t very convenient. The rate of leak on this one too had increased and was fast tending towards shower-like.

On Friday, I called again, fired them for not sending anybody the previous day, and requested a plumber to finish the job ASAP. The same day, a plumber came, “fixed” the sieve-like toilet, said that the shower-like toilet needed to be cut open (don’t even ASK) and a major part replaced, which he didn’t have time to do that day and he would come the next day to do it.

So, Friday afternoon, I called AGAIN, reminding them to send the plumber to finish the work on Saturday. You know what they said? “Saturday? No, madam. We’ll send him today itself. He will be there by 5.30-6.00”

Well, that’s the time I take the kids to the park, but I did need my toilet to stop acting like a shower and become a toilet again, so I agreed. Frustrated would be too mild a word to describe my mood by 6.30. when no plumber showed up.

So Saturday I called YET AGAIN and royally screamed at the customer service rep – I think this company has just one, so it was the same person I was talking to every time. Well, they sent the plumber – same guy as Friday, thankfully – but he spent more than two hours here, and when he left, the problem came right back as bad as ever. And on the other toilet, the original problem was fixed, but a new and related problem had been caused by the plumbers’ tinkering.

So today, the plumber was back. Yet another guy, this time. At least this fellow seemed to know what he was doing. He tackled one toilet, then set about working on the other. Meanwhile, I found the one he had tackled was still not quite ok. He started to fix that, and I found that the other one was not quite ok either. Sigh. It took him well over an hour to get both of them done, but since then they seem to both be ok.

Meanwhile, the girls took advantage of my distraction and the fact that the bathroom door was open, to quickly nip inside and get to work on the roll of toilet paper. Yep, they had the whole dang roll of toilet paper strewn all over the bedroom in about 15 seconds! And it was a fresh roll, so it had just about as much toilet paper on that roll as you could possibly get. ALL OVER the bedroom, like birthday streamers being take down. Only, all white, of course. Oh and, in ribbons too. Shredded. Like spaghetti. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry… so I called Amit, who laughed. It’s easy for him – he’s not the one who has to try to salvage what’s left of it.

So with the household schedule running one hour late and minus a roll of toilet paper, why I decided to clean out the drinking water tank I don’t quite know, except that it was long overdue. We have that Reverse Osmosis system, which wastes three times the volume of potable water it generates. Since we hate to waste water, we have a complicated system for retrieving it and storing it for washing dishes and cleaning the house and so on. This complicated system naturally involves a hose pipe and the hose pipe naturally manages to displace itself from its moorings every once in a way and floods the entire kitchen. And of course, this had to happen today.

Meanwhile the girls have been up to their usual quota of mischief – playing with water in the bathroom, trying to bring down the full-length mirror in the bedroom, getting their hands into the trashcan in the kitchen, throwing around the cushions and pushing around the furniture in the living and dining rooms, and all that sort of stuff. The usual.

There wasn’t enough food for my lunch, so I’m still hungry.

It looks like it’s going to rain again, so the girls and I are going to be stuck indoors this evening as well.

And Amit just called to say he’s going out for dinner!

Powerless (and being really stupid about it)

May 20, 2008

On Sunday, we had a power cut that started in the morning around 11 and lasted till around 5 p.m. The papers spoke of some major fault that had resulted in large areas of the city being without power on Saturday evening, and that repairs would be underway on Sunday, rendering those areas and some others powerless on Sunday.

On Monday, the papers reported how the repair work had been progressing satisfactorily, when some minor disaster had occurred and put paid to all the labours of the day. Repairs would be resumed on Monday, again resulting in prolonged power outages in various areas.

So, on Monday morning, when we lost electricity around 7.30 a.m., I put it down to the electric repairs under way, and thought nothing about it, apart from working out how it would affect my day. It turned out, it wouldn’t make much difference: the weather was pleasant enough to make life bearable without fans even in the daytime; our house is bright enough to render lights in the daytime largely unnecessary; my mobile phone battery was fully charged; the fridge was due for a defrosting anyway. And for once, there would be no loud doorbells interrupting the kids’ afternoon slumber. The only things that posed a minor inconvenience for me were that I couldn’t play the music system (I played some music on the mobile phone, but it’s not at all the same thing); the laundry would have to wait till evening; and I’d have to spend the afternoon hours reading instead of staring at the monitor – which could be considered a good thing.

The day passed off all right, and it was only around 6 p.m. when electricity still hadn’t returned that I began to get irritated. It was getting dark, and the kids and I were stuck indoors due to the rain.

Then, the street lights came on, and I sat up straight and took a long look around. It finally dawned on me that all around me there was light, current, power, electricity, bijli – whatever you choose to call it, it was there in abundance. Only our house was in darkness! Damn! And I’d been putting up with it all day!

By this time, Amit was home, and it was he who went down, did the footwork, found the burnt-out fuse and got it changed. I was too busy sitting at home in the still darkness and feeling foolish and really angry with myself.

I Hate Elections

May 15, 2008

Actually, I hate politicians. All of them. I think they should all be lined up and shot, the entire lot of them. Even the ones who try to appear decent and good are lousy and corrupt, only they’re actually even trying to cover it up.

So naturally, when it comes time to actually pick one of these rascals to run the country, I hate it. You know they’re only going to screw the country and line their already fat pockets.

If I had my way, I’d never vote. Or, if such an option existed, I’d select “abstain”. The last two times we’ve had elections here in Bangalore, Amit has forced (persuaded would be a nicer word, but less accurate) me to cast my vote. His main argument is that, if I don’t, someone else will vote in my name. My answer to that is: let them. They could hardly do any worse. It’s not as though I have any strong conviction about who should – or even for that matter who shouldn’t – come to power. Any which way, it’s going to be a bunch of scoundrels.

I let myself be persuaded only because I learnt in Civics when I was 10 that it is every citizen’s duty and obligation to vote.

Last time, Amit persuaded me to vote BJP and I did, and I deeply regretted it. If I must pick between rogues, at least I should pick those rogues with whose ideology I least disagree.

This time, I was determined to stay away from the polling booth, but Amit, who had just returned from yet another trip abroad, started telling me about this fantastic new party run by a bunch of professionals (doctors, engineers and suchlike) who had radical ideas (hang the rapists and the corrupt; reservations are for trains) and a zany (for want of a better word) manifesto. Though I don’t agree with capital punishment, I figured that voting for such a party was as good a way of expressing my minuscule displeasure as abstaining; and that, moreover, this party hadn’t a hope in hell of coming to power anyway, so they wouldn’t be able to do much harm, but might gain a little motivation from whatever votes they got. So, I decided to go and vote for this party.

Only trouble was, I didn’t know anything about the party apart from its name: Jago

Being too lazy and indifferent to find out, I went to the polling booth expecting to see some list or chart of the various parties. Well, there was a list, but it didn’t list anything called a Jago party. I went into the booth, still hoping this party’s name would figure on the ballot “paper” (it’s a machine now) – but it didn’t.

So, I would up voting for one of the usual thugs. And if those thugs come to power, I know I’m going to hate myself for it. But for now, I have the black mark on the index finger of my left hand that says I did my duty and cast my vote. For whatever that’s worth.

A Young Woman Travels Alone (And Lives to Tell About It)

May 14, 2008

I wouldn’t say that I’m quite the quintessential intrepid woman traveler, exploring the farthest corners of the globe alone, bravely going where no woman has gone before, without a thought for my safety or sanity; but then, I have done some solo trips in India that have been considered quite… adventurous, for want of a better word. I have been led to believe that it is rather brave – if not downright foolhardy – for a woman to go traipsing off into the remotest corners of Madhya Pradesh, Ladakh, and Tamil Nadu alone, as I have done on various memorable occasions. Reactions of friends and family have indicated that this is not quite the normal thing expected of a well-bred, seemingly intelligent and sane Indian woman.

And for what, pray? Not for anything sensible and laudable like work, or even social work – merely for pleasure, for a holiday. What’s that? A young and respectable (married!) Indian woman holidaying alone? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Very few people, apparently… and not just amongst my friends and family. Reactions from members of the general public who have see me travelling, then looked around for a companion and found none, have been varied and diverse, but unanimously incredible.

There is, it seems, a peculiar and unspoken hierarchy for women traveling in India, which I’m not sure exists anywhere else in the world. At the top of the ladder are women travelling with husbands, mothers, sisters, and other members of the family – the more, the merrier. Women carrying babies or young children, whether in all-women groups or with husbands, are at the very highest rung of the ladder, and young men will sometimes even give up their seat in a bus/train for them, while older men and women will offer to hold the kids, or accommodate sundry pieces of luggage that inevitably accompany such travelers.

Women travelling with husbands, but without children or extended family are also generally judged to be respectable, and are usually left alone. They might, however, be subject to some harassment if they are sufficiently young, even remotely good looking, or if there is any suspicion whatsoever that the accompanying male might not be a legally wedded husband. I faced such harassment in rather scary circumstances at the hands of a local traffic cop just outside Delhi, who was not convinced that Amit and I had been married eight years, and demanded to see the kids as proof of our relationship! This was rather difficult to arrange, as we didn’t have any at the time. He then took each of us apart and asked for the maiden name of the other’s mother!

Elderly women traveling alone (not as rare as one might suppose) are strictly left alone. They are immediately recognizable as the Family Matriarch, withered and old, loud-voiced and not averse to obscenity, immune to leers and (being partially deaf) lewd comments, used to having everyone around them come running, snap to attention, and do exactly as they’re told. They will immediately remind you of your mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, and the archetypal Aunt Agatha, all rolled into one. Nobody, but nobody, messes with them.

Younger women traveling in groups are seen as fair game for young men roving in gangs, but the larger the group of women, the rarer the men who will take them on.

A Young Woman Traveling Alone (AYWTA), however, is right down there on the bottom-most rung of the ladder. AYWTA is viewed by some with a leer, and by others with extreme suspicion normally reserved for cobras, scorpion and the like. For example, AYWTA on a bus or sitting in a restaurant (in semi-urban or in rural settings; big cities have their own, completely different set of rules) will be carefully shunned by all the respectable “family” men. Wives, if present, can be safely parked next to her, and perhaps young male (and, of course, female) children, but other male members of the family will conspicuously avoid sitting or standing nearby, or even looking in her direction. The unfortunate bus/train conductors and restaurant proprietors who must deal with her do so quickly, with an air of embarrassment, while carefully avoiding her eyes and all the other eyes focused on them.

I’ve had bus conductors show very visible reluctance in having to place male passengers next to me while I was traveling alone, even when the bus was quite full and the seat next to me was the only vacant one left. I’ve even seen the young men selected for this terrible task blanch and visibly pale at the prospect. But then there was the guy who not only sat willingly next to me (though other seats were vacant), but, much to my disgust, fell asleep (and drooled!) on my shoulder. Only after waking up and taking a careful look at me, did he realize with a start that I was – horrors! – AYWTA, and quickly moved away with a muted apology. (Probably the fact that he was significantly inebriated had something to do with his belated realization.)

If the reactions reserved for AYWTA were to vary only between embarrassment, suspicion, and shock, things would be great for us women travelers. Unfortunately, however, too much of the attention focused on AYWTA is of the unwanted type. Young men, singly or, more worryingly, in gangs, will leer at her unabashedly and perhaps make some lewd or disrespectful comment, blandly assuming that AYWTA must be a foreigner. I have had the dubious pleasure of retorting in the vernacular, and leaving the ruffians somewhat abashed; they didn’t intend to pick on an Indian woman, nor did they want their ribaldry to be understood.

I have also been the subject of a most “decent” indecent proposal, when an elderly Greek (?) gentleman (who must have been at least 80 in the shade, 95 in direct sunlight) communicated to me that he would be delighted if I would care to join him in his room that evening. Well, I declined, but you have to hand it to the old grandpa for trying.

Not all indecent proposals are so polite and lacking in deceit. On a particular occasion in Manali, I found myself hunting for a roost for the night the hard way – on foot, luggage in tow. It was June – peak season in Manali – and decent rooms were impossible to find. After being turned away for the umpteenth time, a young and smooth, smart sort of chap approached me and suggested a hotel just down the way. I normally brush off these touts without even looking at them, but tiredness and the beginnings of despair dulled my usual alertness and I found myself following him into a hotel. “A room for this madam,” he said authoritatively to the chap behind the counter, adding in coarse vernacular, “she’s alone.”

Well, they found a room for me, of course, but by then my stranger-alert antennae had picked up some really seedy signals, so I beat a hasty retreat. I could just see a long line of men queuing up outside my door once darkness descended, with the tout selling tickets for the gallery view no doubt.

The other sort of attention AYWTA attracts is that of the con artist. This could be either man or woman, decently dressed and well spoken, who approaches with an innocuous question, perhaps concerning the time or else asking directions. The person then proceeds to sit at a very respectable distance from AYWTA and slowly (and completely without prompting) brings out the sob story… Robbed, cheated, or somehow hoodwinked out of all their money, credit card, cell phone and vital addresses, they are roaming the streets of a strange city without enough money to get home, do you think you could help, sister…

Oh, sure, I’ve heard that one before, brother. I might be AYWTA, but do you think I was born yesterday?

And so it goes… the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous. I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous for women to travel alone in India, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy either. You have to keep your wits about you, and you have to remember to be suspicious, even if it is tempting to be trusting. And it helps if you are completely immune to staring, leering, and general lewdness. I’m sure a course in self-defence and the company of some reliable weapons of male destruction would help, but so far I’ve traveled with just my wits and my backpack, and I’ve managed alright. One thing’s for sure: if you do travel alone, you might be wary, tense, lonely, scared, or just plain bored – but you’ll never be left alone.

Rolling Stones

May 14, 2008

There’s an upcoming travel website – at least, I hope it’s coming up, soon – that I’m loosely associated with, that had asked me for a “generic” travel article. At first I couldn’t come up with anything, but the trip to Pondicherry let loose a flow of words, which I captured on my mobile phone, of course, and this and the following (that is, previous) entry are what emerged. I thought they were rather good, I hope you think so too.


I’m on the road again. It’s a wonderful, comfortable feeling, like a favourite old blanket, torn and worn and smelly that has settled over me and wrapped itself all around me, warm and cozy.

The milestones roll by in slow motion, counting down the long, leisurely hours on the move, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Vast open vistas unfold, usually layer upon layer of green and yellow fields, crops waving in a gentle breeze. Occasionally, a river flows across the path, with a rickety old bridge spanning it.

People board, and get off. I lose track of them, as they swap seats, stories, and snacks. Time passes in a haze, as I drift in and out of sleep, in and out of conversations, in and out of a book, in and out of a bag of something to munch… The mind enters a peculiar state of disassociation. Nothing seems very important, or even very real, except the set of wheels (car, bus, train, or any other) rolling me along and the slowly passing landscape, the inexorable countdown of the milestones. Something – or, more often, someone – awaits me at the end of the journey, but for now my mind, body, and soul are adrift, gliding freely among the swaying fields and floating away on the noiseless waters of the flowing river.

I have, of course, promises to keep, deadlines to meet, miles to go before I reach… but, as usual, I don’t want this journey to end. Not yet.

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