Depression Survival Strategy: Go to Pondicherry

June 30, 2008

Unlike the previous depression survival strageties that didn’t work, this one seems to have worked. So far.

Actually, just before we left for Pondy, I was in pretty bad shape. I really had my doubts about how I would manage the trip, what with the long drive and the girls being cooped up, and the court hearing and all. But then, it was not as though I had any option, so on Thursday morning we all piled into the car at 6 a.m. and by 6.15 we were on the road.

As we left the city, I think I left my depression behind too. We had decided to drive ourselves, not take a car and driver, and I drove the last 100 km. This was a big, big thing for me. The last time I drove on the highway, we were in the US. I smashed a Pontiac Grand Prix (flipped it 360 degrees, actually) and we were lukcy to escape unhurt. It’s an accident that I still have nightmares about. In India, 100 km takes 2-3 hours (especially with an extra 20 km detour for a wrong turn) and I was tense the whole time. But we survived.

Pondy was hot and humid and the hotel room was icy cold. Somehow, the girls didn’t catch cold, though Amit did.

Our lawyer was actually mostly human this time round. She even almost smiled once. Plus she answered all our questions, and patiently explained the whole convoluted process about two or three times over so that we now feel thoroughly confused (whereas we earlier only felt completely in the dark).

We spent from about 9.45 till about 11.45 in the courthouse. It was tough keeping the girls entertained and sort-of quiet, but we had a bit of help from all the strangers who were milling around.

Since we had a whole extra day in hand, we decided to drive to Auroville and Auro beach. The beach was a fiasco. Though the girls had enjoyed the swimming pool when we took them several months ago, they hated the beach. The didn’t like the feel of the wet sand on their skin and the roaring of the breakers (tide was coming in) the rushing water, and the way it pulled under their feet as it went out scared them.

But they enjoyed running around and playing at the Visitors’ Centre in Auroville.

I took a long, lovely swim in the hotel pool – it was fantastic. A completely peaceful poolside environment, nobody else in the pool, and the water was so clear I could see every molecule of the tiled bottom. Of course, it was only 4’3″ deep, but that works just fine for me. The only problem was that they had dumped SO MUCH chlorine (or something) in the water that my eyes were burning for well over an hour afterwards. But, in the change room they had this shower that sends shooting jets of water out horizontally – there must be a name for it, but it was the first time I was meeting this contraption and I didn’t have a formal introduction, so I wouldn’t know – it was amazing. Just for that whole swimming and shower experience, I don’t mind going to Pondicherry once again. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it though…

So in general it was a good trip. I drove again on the way back – it was a divided road, which was challenging in its own way. I was still scared, though. But I suppose after ten years it’s high time I laid that old ghost to rest.

And now, it’s back to life as usual, complete with defunct toilet, thermostat-less frig, tax filing date, diet and exercise, and all the other woes of modern life.

Depression: Survival Strategies (That Don’t Work)

June 23, 2008

(Clearly, I’ve not yet made up my mind whether titles should be in sentence case or title case. Does it even matter?)

Yeah, I’m still depressed. It seems to be getting worse, if anything, but it’s not yet reached the point where I stop communicating all together, which must be a good thing.

The weird thing about depression at this stage, is that even while I’m behaving in a unpredictable, emotional, unreasonable, mean and bitchy manner, a small part of me stands back and watches and says, “why are you reacting like this?” – but despite that, I can’t stop or change the way I behave/react.

So anyway, on the weekend I decided I would have to put some of my depression survival strategies to work.

Food, always first on the list, was ruled out because of my diet. If I fail to lose weight, it’s only going to make me more depressed. So I couldn’t indulge in binge eating involving chocolates, ice creams, pizzas and other unhealthy stuff. We had three-and-a-half dinners out (or ordered in) in succession, but if you don’t let yourself go all out and eat like there’s no tomorrow, it doesn’t work.

Shopping – I’m not much of a shopaholic, but it does help sometimes. It’s been ruled out since the advent of the twins, just because getting out of the house is so difficult. And going shopping with two toddlers AND a husband in tow, each with their own idea of what constitutes a good shopping experience, is completely impossible.

Spending money – You don’t have to actually go shopping to spend money. There are certain kinds of shopping which hardly even qualify as shopping, while they quite easily can require satisfactorily large sums of money to be spent. Such as, for example, buying a new refrigerator. Ours is very old and extraordinarily small for a family of four. Unfortunately, Amit is not being adequately supportive of this strategy. Sigh. Husbands…

Getting a haircut – this always works. It is one of the wonderful things about having short hair, that you can always make it shorter. You can change the length, the style, the shape, whatever, and come away looking almost like a different person. (People with long hair never really do benefit from haircuts – they just cut off an inch or two, and with 39 or whatever inches from root to tip, an inch or two is neither here nor there, is it? They never get to enjoy that wonderful feeling of shaking your head and finding that nothing moves about on top of it.)

As a stay-at-home mom, it is quite difficult to find time for a haircut, though, involving, as it does, a protracted stint away from home, preferrably during daytime hours. So when I found a small window of opportunity on Saturday evening, I grabbed it. I had only enough time to head for the nearest local beauty parlour, which I had never ventured into before, far less trusted my hair to. But I figured it wasn’t too much of a risk – how bad can a haircut be, after all?

On entering the beauty parlour, I found four women, sitting around and gossiping, one painting another’s nails. Apparently, none of them was a customer. This was not confidence-inspiring – do all local beauty parlours employ “beauticians” (note the double quotes around that word) to sit around and beautify each other?

Anyway, I took a chair, and had a sheet flung around me and fastened at the neck. They put what must have been the most inept of the four on to me. My hair was distinctly oily, but the hair dresser didn’t offer (far less insist on) a shampoo; in fact, she didn’t even comb it, just pinned it up and started cutting. I could tell by the way she handled the comb and scissors, that she was no expert, and the results soon showed just how inexpert she was.

In short, she butchered my hair. I came out of there looking like a serial axe-murderer. True, I had asked for a ‘boy cut’, but I hadn’t counted on getting a ‘mad-boy cut’ – that is, a haircut that looked like it had been executed by a mad boy. What’s worse, it was too short for any more experienced hairdresser to be able to rectify it.

Amit was most kind about it. He said it made me look younger. Then he drew some similarities between me and survivors of the Union Carbide gas tragedy, and followed that up with comments about how people look when recovering from protracted bouts of severe illnesses. In both cases, he concluded that they generally did not look as bad as I did. He was clearly reluctant to be seen in public with me, for which I could hardly blame him – I’m not sure I wanted to be seen in public with me, looking the way I did.

After I had showered and gotten about a million bits of hair off my neck and shoulders (the wrapping having been at least as ineffective as the haircut itself), Amit relented and took us all out to dinner. We chose a quiet restaurant where I attracted only half-a-dozen funny looks, and came home by 9 p.m., just as the Saturday evening crowds were beginning to build up.

Now, I’m only worried about the upcoming adoption hearing. What if the judge takes one look at me and decides that I must be an escaped convict who is not to be trusted with the health and welfare of two small kids? Maybe, if I wear my most terrible scowl, he will get really scared and decide not to get on my wrong side, and pass the order in double quick time.

The only consolation is that it’s hair – it will grow back eventually and then I can get it fixed. Meanwhile, I only have to stay indoors for the next three months or so. That should be easy enough – misery hates company anyway.

Up to my elbows in pee and poo

June 20, 2008

No wonder people warned me about managing twins. I have to admit – toilet training TWO? NOT easy.

I’ve only been at it for three-and-a-half days. They say it takes weeks? I’m not sure I’m going to live that long, the way it looks currently.

Since the twins have been in diapers since day 0, I don’t have much idea about how often they pee. So, to start with, I realized I would have to take the diapers off, just so I knew when they were doing it. At first, I kept Tara’s diaper on, and only rendered Mrini diaperless, because I had a hunch that she was the less frequent pee-er, but today I thought, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and removed both diapers soon after breakfast.

And from then on, it’s been a steady stream of pee, smothered in dettol-water, swabbed with a disgusting rag, while one of the two girls is wailing to see her waste products landing on the floor and going waste, while the other is trying her level best to get in there and play with them. Toilet? No thank you – rhey’re having nothing to do with the two red and pink pottys that are waiting for them.

If it goes on like this, I’m going to lose my appetite and my marbles pretty comprehensively.

Ups and Downs

June 14, 2008

It’s specially when one of the girls takes off her pants, tears her diaper, and spreads the sodden silica gel all over our 1350 sq ft apartment, and that, after the cleaning girl has departed… It’s specially at those times when I’m spending a good part of the morning cursing under my breath and scrubbing the mosaic flooring where the diaper bits are virtually indistinguishable, that I wonder: What possessed me to leave a relaxed and lucrative job (career) to become a stay-at-home mom? Surely there has to be a less unpleasant and more positive-cash-flow way of parenting?

(And, by the way, if anyone knows an easy and effective way to get a million bits of pee-sodden silica gel off the floor, please let me know. I’ve tried dry mopping, wet mopping, sweeping, vacuuming, praying and cursing – none of these approaches really works.)

But then again…

Today when I picked up Tara from her high chair after lunch, when she was 90% asleep as usual, she put her head on my shoulder as she usually does, then she smiled, curled her left arm around my neck instead of sticking her thumb in her mouth as she usually does, and continued to sleep. Such a simple thing, yet all of a sudden, my heart skipped a beat. Usually she fusses a bit as I wash her face and hands, and continues to wail or whine till I put her down on her bed, but today she seemed actually happy to be held by me! And just like that, it suddenly seemed all worthwhile – even cleaning up bits of burst diaper didn’t seem so bad after all.

Perpetually tired, mildly depressed, and thoroughly irritable

June 11, 2008

I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, but this is the way I’ve been feeling the past couple of weeks or longer. I’d love to blame it on the twins, but I don’t think I fairly can, because they are being their usual selves – sometimes cute, sometimes maddening. Of course, that’s enough to drive me to distraction from time to time, but not to the extent that I’ve been feeling lately, I think.

And it’s not as though there’s anything specially tiring going on here nowadays. The gas crisis got resolved on Monday morning, and we now have two full and functional cylinders again. No further developments on Amit’s knee. I went and played violin duets on Sunday afternoon with Mrs F and that was great – I actually found that I hadn’t forgotten as much as I feared I might have. I even managed to sight-read some simple pieces. I had struggled quite a bit, years ago, to play with other people and not get lost or distracted by what the other parts were doing. Apparently, it’s a skill which, once acquired, doesn’t go away all that easily, and I found I could even listen to what the other violin was doing and enjoy the harmony, without losing my part.

So all in all, things are going well enough. I went for a movie yesterday – my first movie-hall movie in over eight months and my first ever alone. So I should be feeling all rejuvenated and happy this morning – it’s not very often that I get a whole evening off, after all. In fact, the last time I did that was on March 4th – over three months ago. But despite that, I’m just feeling tired and with a nagging sense of depression again already. And it’s not even 10 a.m. yet – there’s the whole day to get through.

I really can’t identify the cause for this lowness. It’s not PMS. It could be the weather, cloudy and cool, but I thought I rather liked this weather. Maybe it’s a sort of delayed post-partum depression? Or maybe it’s because I’m trying to lose weight?

I mean, I’ve been trying to lose weight for years now – along with about 90% of the women I know. Only, my efforts were largely limited to envying all the slim women around and wishing I could look like them. Watching women’s tennis on TV doesn’t help – just think of Sharapova or Ivanovic. That alone could be just cause for severe depression – except that it’s never worried me much before. Nowadays, however, I am taking some more serious steps towards a slimmer me – minimizing eating out, and focusing on healthy eating, combined with an increase in my daily exercise regime.

But if it is the increased exercise and fewer (hopefully) calories that is causing me to feel tired and depressed and irritable, then we’re all just going to have to live with it, because this time I’m determined to lose 4 kilos or die trying. (And the latter is beginning to look like the easier option.) Sigh.

And we’re off to Pondicherry tomorrow for the twins’ adoption hearing.

Impending Surgery, On-going Gas Crisis, and Other Minor Happenings

June 8, 2008

I’m hungry.

There’s no gas, so I can’t cook.

It was like this. Being a Sunday and everything, we decided around 10 a.m. to treat ourselves to an omelette breakfast. Yes, an omelette for breakfast is considered a treat: breakfast is usually bread, sometimes porridge.

Amit whipped up the eggs, while I chopped up the onions and green chillies. Then he put the oil in the pan and lit the gas. A few minutes later, I noticed the pan was still cold. Huh? Oh, ok, gas ran out. No problem, we’ll just switch to the spare cylinder and I’ll order the replacement tomorrow.

I turned on the new cylinder and was alarmed to hear a hiss. I quickly turned it off, fiddled with the regulator and turned it on again. Still hissing. I called in the Marines – that is, Amit. He fiddled with it for a few minutes, then opened the kitchen window. Bad sign. I took the girls and retreated to the farthest corner of the house.

In the due course of time, Amit removed the defective cylinder to the balcony where it was well ventilated and hopefully would not explode with a passing spark. There followed a couple of hours of phone calling and general laziness. When it was apparent that phone calling was not going to have any effect whatsoever, Amit loaded the empty cylinder in the car and drove off to the gas depot, where he could not get a replacement, but brought home a technician instead.

This fellow twiddled with the defective cylinder, and proclaimed it in good health. He tested it by connecting the stove and lighting it. A delightful blue flame erupted, just as it should. “There, see?” he said in a self-satisfied manner. I pointed out that the real test of a defective cylinder lay in ensuring that turning off the cylinder resulted in the flame going out. This he tried, but the flame continued to burn merrily. “Oh, that’s nothing,” he said airily. “You just turn that off by doing this,” and he turned off the flame from the stove!

“Arrrrrrrrrrgh! I KNOW you can turn off the flame by turning off the stove. I wanted to check that turning off the cylinder really does stop the supply of gas to the stove,” I shouted. His answer? Once you’re done with your cooking, turn off the cylinder and remove the regulator. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! Somebody rescue this incompetent fellow before I strangle him.

Amit took him back to the depot, leaving the twins and me at the mercy of the microwave. Luckily, the fridge held enough leftovers to provide for our lunch, and we already have a dinner invitation, so we only have to survive breakfast tomorrow and by then, hopefully, we’ll have a replacement for one of the two cylinders.

That only leaves the surgery to worry about.

It’s not for me… it’s for Amit. His right knee has been hurting for many months now. He’s done the round of doctors, X-rays, MRI, ice packs, ultrasound, physiotherapy and finally wound up getting an Ultrasonography (?) test done. What had been diagnosed as Patellar Tendonitis turned out to be Patellar Tendenopathy instead. His current doctor recommended surgery to fix it. Apparently it will take 4 days in hospital, one month in a knee brace, and three to six months of rehabilitation before he can get back to tennis. Sounds tough, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Friday the Thirteenth is just around the corner. We’ve decided to attempt the excursion on our own, without any additional help. We checked with a local lawyer, who assured us that a timetable would be pinned up in the morning, and that we could be present in court just half an hour or so before our case was called, and that I could even wait outside with the kids and go in only if and when required. That sounds more reasonable than our lawyer, who said we’d have to wait inside the courtroom potentially from 10 a.m. straight through till 6 p.m. – apparently she was only being deliberately unhelpful.

That apart, I’m breaking the ice in a completely different sphere of life. After a month of irregular but determined practice, I’m finally going to meet my violin duet partner to try to play a few small pieces with her. This used to be a regular Sunday occurrence, but it’s been years since I stopped and I am a little apprehensive about it now. Let’s hope I’m not completely useless at it.

Cooking for Sixteen

June 3, 2008

It’s not something I do on a regular basis, cooking for 16. Not even when six of them are at or below 3 years of age. But we decided it was high time that we invited some of our friends for a homemade dinner, so that’s what I did this last weekend – cooked for us and four families, each of them with one child.

Normally, we should have had the dinner on Saturday, but I thought I’d need more time than that to get organised, so we had it on Sunday instead. It was just as well. Years ago, when we had a more debonair lifestyle, I could easily rustle up dinner for 16 (adults, mind you) in one day of frenetic activity. Now, I just can’t. Call it old age, or blame it on the kids, but I seem to have reduced the pace of my activities. Of course, I don’t personally think this is a bad thing – I used to live life way too fast in those days. Back then, I always wanted to squeeze in the maximum number of activities in the minimum possible time. Nowadays, I’ve begun to think that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly, to extract the maximum pleasure with the least possible effort.

So, I started cooking for Sunday’s dinner on Saturday afternoon. First on the agenda (as also on the menu) was Mayonnaise. Foodwise, there are few greater pleasures than homemade mayonnaise, the way my mother used to make it, back in the days when she used to make such things. Who would think that raw egg yolk (yuck!) and raw oil (ugh!) could combine to make such a divine sauce? And, as an aside, whatever happened to the good, old-fashioned, handheld eggbeater? I thoroughly disdain the use of an electric egg-beater and ever since our stick blender went defunct, I have nothing in my kitchen that electrically mixes, beats, thrashes, grinds or in any other way perturbs the raw ingredients that I wish to use in my cooking. So I was stuck with using a spring-type egg whisk, which is a lousy implement to use for something as effort-intensive as Mayonnaise. However, no effort is too great when you’re cooking to impress, so 45 minutes were spent wielding that whisk, at the end of which, voila! Mayonnaise!

I don’t make mayonnaise very often, and it’s quite a temperamental thing to make, so I’m never very confident whether it’s going to oblige or not. So once I had gotten Amit to taste it and declare that it met the mark, it was with a sigh of relief that I shoved the bowl into the fridge.

The next item to attack was the chocolate cake. This was not a problem – it is an item I have practised many, many times over the years. This time, I took a slight risk and let Amit mix it according to my instructions. Thankfully, it turned out fine despite this.

The greater risk with choco cake, even one mixed by Amit, is having it around for a clear 24 hours before the guests arrive. Naturally, there is the extreme temptation to take just a small piece out of it. Just to taste, you know. One little piece wouldn’t hurt.

However. We kept an eagle eye on each other and issued stern admonitions whenever temptation seemed about to get the better of us, and somehow the cake survived intact and un-depleted.

After the cake, I quickly chopped up some veg for a salad/raita. And finally, before going to bed, I managed not to forget to soak the channa.

On Sunday morning, I pressure cooked the channa at 8 a.m., then waited till all 4 of us had breakfasted before starting the real nitty-gritty of cooking. First I chopped a mountain of ginger, garlic, onion, and tomato. Then I assembled the masala for the channa, and the matar-paneer sequentially. Then I deep-fried the paneer and dunked it into the matar-masala.

Next I tackled the chicken, which I marinated in curd spiced with lots of dry masala, and cooked in the marinade without making the slightest additional effort. Surprisingly it turned out quite delicious.

Then I quickly boiled some boring bland dal for the kids.

Now all that was left was the fish, which I was planning to crumb fry, and it was still only lunch time. Since the fish was resting coolly in the fridge, I decided to leave it there and prepare it sometime around 6.30 in the evening, just prior to the frying.

I should have known better.

I had a quiet and relaxed afternoon – something that has never happened to me ever before on the day of a party. I should have known then, that things were bound to unravel later.

It was almost 5, when Amit and I got around to unwrapping the fancy crockery and cutlery. The crockery was fine, but the cutlery… Well, the cutlery was something special. It was gifted to us by my maternal grandmother and my youngest aunt on our wedding. My maternal grandfather had been in what later became the diplomatic services, and had been Ambassador to various countries. I don’t know whether that has anything to do with the cutlery, but it just gives you an idea of the kind of life they led back in those days. Now the cutlery set was sterling silver. It was a made-to-order set, and had the “family crest” (I feel so pretentious just using those words) engraved on every piece. It was a 12-place set, starting with soup spoons and going right through to the tiny coffee spoons. There were even four lovely serving spoons, butter knives, cake forks (I think?), and something that looked like a salad fork. All of these carefully wrapped up in separate pieces of faded green felt (or something) cloth, tied up with ribbons, with the name of the jeweller still legible on the wrapping.

I hardly ever use this cutlery set – our daily use cutlery stands in a cutlery stand close to the dining table. It’s a pretty set, but absolutely mass-manufactured and mundane in comparison to this silver work of art that I was unwrapping and taking out lovingly.

Naturally, despite the faded green felt (or whatever) wrapping, the silver had tarnished. Some pieces were worse than others. Obviously, I couldn’t let it go like that. So, I quickly tracked down the Silvo, found some relatively clean rags, and got to work polishing.

Polishing silver is yet another job that is best done in a slow and leisurely manner. It’s a labour of love and the joy of seeing the tarnish vanish and the silver come to life with a sparkle is more than enough reward for one’s efforts. So, though the fish was still waiting to be floured, egged, and crumbed, I promised myself an hour devoted to the silverware.

I hadn’t got even halfway through, when the phone rang. The first of our guests were calling to say that they were on their way and would be here in half an hour. Half an hour! I yelped as soon as I had put the phone down. The invitation was for 7.30 and now it was only 6. I abandoned the unpolished cutlery post haste and rushed off to get the girls decked up in their party clothes. Then I started on the fish. Getting 35 fish fingers crumbed and ready to fry is not a task that can be completed in 15 minutes even if you wanted to. It was impossible to have it done before the guests arrived, and sure enough, I was still at it when the bell rang.

Of course, these folks are very close friends, so it really didn’t matter that I was still in the kitchen with raw egg and fish on my hands… well, that is, it didn’t matter too much…

The rest of the day went by in a blur. People arrived, kids played, a drink was spilt (but the glass survived), somebody wanted food, somebody wanted ketchup, somebody wanted ghee, somebody wanted warm water with their whisky (Black Label! with warm water! it’s a crime, I’m sure, in some countries), somebody wanted a changing mat, somebody wanted a diaper disposal bag, somebody almost choked on a fish bone, somebody got high and went to sleep under the pretext of putting the baby to bed… it was chaos. Amid the chaos, 35 fish fingers, 24 tiny veg samosas, and lots of french fries were consumed, though admittedly the twins were to blame for a large part of it. Dinner was served at 10, by which time two families had packed up their kids and gone home, carrying doggie bags!

It was 2.30 a.m. before we had recovered from the mess and got the house straightened out. I’m not sure whether I’d rate the party an unqualified success, but it was one heck of an eye-opener. Partying with kids is a whole different ball game. Phew.

Now I just have to finish polishing the silver, then I can pack it all away for another couple of years or so.

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