Terror in Mumbai

November 27, 2008

The Bombay situation is shocking, horrifying. I normally don’t write about current events on this blog – self-absorbed as I am – but even I cannot let this pass without comment.

It’s unbelievable, completely surreal. You watch it on TV and you feel like it must be a badly-made Hollywood film. One hundred people killed! Taj Bombay burning! Hostages in three separate buildings. One of the TV channels had a conversation with a guest staying at Taj Mumbai in the new wing. They don’t have TV there any more, because the terrorists were using it to monitor the security agencies outside. Can you imagine being in this lovely, classy five-star hotel in – perhaps? – a strange city, hearing terrorists outside from yesterday evening till today afternoon, bomb blasts, firing, hostages… holed up in your comfortable and luxurious room, not able to step outside for fear of being shot or taken hostage? Apparently, they were getting information and instructions from the hotel staff, but can no longer get any response on the internal phone because the lines are busy. Maybe the terrorists shot the telephone operator? No, I haven’t heard anyone say that, but I’m just saying, holed up in your hotel room, with no TV and no contact with any of the other guests or staff, what would you make of it?

Meanwhile, the Taj is on fire, smoke billowing out of the top floor. It’s so sad. Yet how can you mourn for a mere building, however beautiful, when a hundred people are dead?

It seems like, ever since the Bangalore blasts – was it July? August? – there has been an unending, inexorable, ugly spate of terror attacks across India. Our country never used to be like this. We’ve had our problems, but terrorists belonged to only a few pockets here and there, mostly in J&K. Delhi was always a little dangerous, being the capital, but not these other cities. We’ve had communal tensions, but not such brazen, blatant, bloody terror attacks. Why, only a few months ago, we used to talk of “the” Bombay blasts of – was it 96? As though there weren’t any other blasts to speak of. And now there’s a whole series of them and they are only getting worse.

I would have been the first to say that we Indians would not be unduly cowed down by bombs and such like, but I can’t say that any more. If you can have terrorists walking into Victoria Terminus and shooting at random quite early on a weekday evening… then no place is safe, no one is safe. Which city, which shopping mall or hotel, which bus stand or train station, which day of week, month or year will it be next? Who’s next?

The terrorists want to create an atmosphere of terror, suspicion, fear, distrust – and they are well on their way already. It’s tragic, it’s terrible, and it is ruthlessly effective.

School Admissions

November 25, 2008

Next year in June, a little shy of their third birthday, the twins will – hopefully – start school. Big school, that is, which might even see them through till the end of their school days, if we find no reason to change.

We have applied in four schools, but we are really interested in two. One, Headstart, is a Montessori school in Koramangala. It is nearby, but it currently runs up to only the fourth standard, though it has plans to extend. The school building is small and it is located in a largely residential area; a small patch of lawn and its own covered rooftop are the primary play areas.

The other school is Vidya Sagar, which is 15 km (a one-hour drive) away. It has spacious and well-manicured lawns and play area and a large, sprawling building. It is a pre-primary school and feeds into two higher schools after three years. The one we are looking at is Vidya Shilp, which is 20 km away from home (that is, only a little beyond Vidya Sagar). It is practically outside the city and there’s not many residential areas very close by. But the school has huge grounds, with lots of sports fields and a nice swimming pool, an impressive building, and a huge lawn in front. It would certainly be a lovely school to be part of.

If the girls get admission in both places, we’ll have a tough time deciding which one to take. But first, we have to negotiate the admission process.

VS gave out admission forms for just one week and the only Saturday in that window was the last day for both getting and submitting the forms. That made it a bit of a scramble, but we got it done. We got a call for an interview quite soon after. We were expecting that we’d be the ones interviewed, while the kids were perhaps primarily observed, or put to play somewhere. But no. I had to take the kids one at a time into a room where they were seated at a table with a collection of seven or eight different toys/activities like crayons, picture books, play-doh and the like. They were expected to play with (or to demonstrate expertise with?) ALL of these in a period of about 15 minutes, and finally to pour some sand from a scoop into a cup in a miniature sandpit.

The twins could have happily spent 20 minutes at any one of those activities, maybe even more. But switching between ALL of those after like 2 minutes each? And that, after they had spent a good five minutes settling down, looking around at the other tables and kids, looking for each other, fingering the toys…

Mrini didn’t speak much but she grudgingly made her way through most of the activities. Tara, on the other hand… She was already upset when Mrini and I went into the room and she was left to wait outside, wailing. Still, when her turn came, she did quite well, even spoke a bit, until she came to the sandpit. The first thing she did was to scoop sand out and on to her dress! The teacher then hastily decided she had seen enough and bid us adieu. When I tried to get Tara to leave, she threw herself on the floor, kicked up her legs, and let out a loud scream. Great. A tantrum. There was no way they’d give her admission now. Not that I could blame her, I could just feel her frustration at seeing all those lovely toys and not being allowed to play with any of them to her heart’s content. It’s like being shown a whole Death by Chocolate and then being given only two teaspoonfuls to eat.

Anyhow, I didn’t think much of that admission process. They didn’t want to know anything about us except whether I was working or not. And what they could make of any child based on that whole gamut of activities, coming right on top on new environment, strange people, time spent waiting and/or driving and/or away from usual daily routine… I really don’t think this is any way to assess or evaluate whether or not to take a child into a school.

HS on the other hand, has so far seemed to shine as far as the admission process goes. First there was a school exhibition, where their methods of instruction were demonstrated and teachers were on hand to explain. That, itself, was an eye-opener. If they really do teach the way they say they do, it’s wonderful already.

They seem to give out admission forms on one day and one day only, which is scary. But then, there’s a good three-week period to fill in and submit the forms. They also profess not to interview the child, only the parents. After seeing VS’s interview process, I can only say that any school that does not “interview” the child will automatically go way up in my esteem. I already like the admission form – there are a number of sensible and sensitive questions, including a few very pertinent open-ended questions.

So in some ways, we are in a deeper dilemma now than we were before. Before, it looked like VS with its superior facilities was a clear winner, but now I’m so disenchanted with their selection process that it doesn’t seem like the fantastic facilities mean so much any more.

My sister, who is an educationist, said she preferred HS: she said it was a warmer place. I think she’s right about that. And that should count for a lot.

Well, time will tell. Meanwhile, the girls are so enjoying their neighbourhood playschool that last weekend they were demanding to be taken to school even on Saturday morning.


November 24, 2008

This is now officially the twins’ first five-syllable word. Anjalimasi, my sister, has been here for a short visit to meet he nieces. Whether the twins remembered her from previous meetings or not was not clear, but they took to her very quickly and seemed to be completely comfortable with her. Very soon, Anjalimasi was doing a vast bulk of the parenting activities like keeping them non-destructively entertained, handling bathroom trips, and running after runny noses.

Not only that, she provided two stints of baby-sitting on Saturday that were absolutely invaluable and precious beyond words. The first was early on Saturday morning, when we went for tennis together – without lugging the twins along – for the first time in over a year. Considering we used to have that luxury about thrice a week, a year without seems like an eternity. (And though we have been a few times with the twins in tow, it’s not at all the same thing when you have one eye on the ball and the other on two moving targets that should not be on court.) It was not an exceptionally long session of tennis for a Saturday (when I can spend three hours on the courts if all circumstances conspire to permit) but it was soooo good because Amit watched me play for a while and declared that I was playing well. And he’s not one to be very lavish with his praise.

The tennis was followed up with homemade chicken biryani (courtesy the cook, who knows what’s what when it comes to biryani) and plenty of beer.

What was already feeling like an exceptional Saturday (a day usually reserved for chores) became really exciting that evening when Amit and I set off for our second 1:1 date in a month (also the second in over a year, which is what made it exciting). We had seats for the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. It’s not the greatest movie ever made (far from it; where are all the gadgets???) and it certainly wasn’t opening night or the best seats in the house… But at least we caught one movie while people are still talking about it (aren’t they?), instead of 6 months later when it comes on DVD and then we don’t bother because nobody remembers it anymore anyway.

In addition to exploiting her services as a babysitter, we also had a lot of fun with Anjalimasi. We took her along for the kids’ school admission interview (that’s another whole post in itself); we all went out to one of our favourite restaurants nearby, Jukebox, (that we haven’t been to in – you guessed it – over a year) and we discovered that smoking has been banned from all restaurants countrywide(!), so the twins would not suffer from passive smoking at least; and we discovered a gigantic supermarket, Spar, in a mall near home that we had never even known of the existence of. And, best of all, Anjalimasi took us all out for lunch on Sunday to Barbeque Nation, which had all-you-can-eat kebabs and a buffet spread and I left the kids to Amit’s and Anjalimasi’s tender mercies, while I focused on the food and pigged out like I had never seen food before.

In other words, my sister’s visit was a complete blessing, one I could do with every three months or so (I’m not greedy), although the inescapable conclusion also is that if you must manage twins, it’s a lot easier if there are three of you in it… There’s safety in numbers when it comes to managing toddlers.

Spoken Gems

November 21, 2008

So the twins are at a very entertaining stage of life right now. They’re not yet able to really speak – as in, hold a conversation – but they’re beyond babbling. So much of what they say is definitely words put together in some sort of sequence, but many of those sequences are nursery rhymes or phrases that we commonly use, sometimes spliced together in new ways.

They know too many words to try to list them any more, but some of their more fun accomplishments are the poems and the phrases that they use most commonly.

Poems Repertoire

    Ringa ringa roses
    Twinkle twinkle little star
    Johnny Johnny, yes Papa
    Baa baa black sheep
    Two little dicky birds
    Are you sleeping, brother john
    Mary had a little lamb (2 verses!)
    Old Mac Donald (two lines only, but those two to perfection)
    Humpty Dumpty
    Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been
    Ding dong bell, pussy in the well

Fun Phrases

    lap-a lap-a, sometimes lappy-lappy (Mrini’s speciality – I want to sit in your lap)
    no monkey dumpty wall (I don’t know exactly how this one came about; it may have something to do with Humpty Dumpty. It means: don’t you dare help me, I’m going to do it all on my own come what may!)
    Mini aao come (started by Tara to call Mrini, but adopted by Mrini to call anyone)
    Other bathun/bukku/bus/whatever
    Donwant (don’t want)
    Kissie-kissie huggieeee huggie
    Hold your hand
    Help you (help me)
    Papa goodnight (Tara special)
    Big potty (as opposed to sussu, which is also loosely termed potty)
    Doing? (what are you doing?)
    Nana way (ran away)
    Fa wewe (went away, don’t ask me how that came about)
    This one bukku (this is a bukku and I want it)
    My turn (sometimes “bari-turn” to communicate the same thing in two languages, like bosho-sit-down)
    So prettyyyyyy! (most recently used to appreciate the new shower curtains, after the bathroom painting was completed)
    Laga, followed by “kuttiya” (kuchh nahi hua, Mrini’s rendition – when they get mildly hurt and rubbing the general vicinity followed by the magic words makes it ok)

This, in addition to an extensive vocabulary of single words and some two and three word phrases (pick it up, give me please, lie down and so on) that describe most of the nouns and many of the actions in their daily lives.

Many of these are repeated many times a day. But the other day something really, really nice happened, which was a first.

First, you have to realize that the twins have their favourites among Amit and me. Tara is papa’s girl, and always has been; Mrini is equally Mama’s girl, and always has been. We usually don’t do anything to encourage this favouritism, but neither do we try to counter it. If either girl wants her favourite parent, and assuming that said parent is available to pay attention to said girl, then girl gets favourite parent. Specially if we are out of the home – it’s just easier to manage them if they are with their chosen favourites.

So the other day, we had gone out and we were crossing a busy street, so we each picked up one girl. As it happened, I took Tara and Amit took Mrini. Tara didn’t mind, but Mrini wanted me, and started wailing, so we had to swap. As soon as Mrini came to me, she looked at me, smiled, and said, “happy, happy”.

This was specially nice because I didn’t even know she knew this word. It is certainly not something I’ve consciously taught her. But what a nice word for her to have picked up and used. This rates as one of the golden moments of parenting.

Terrible Twos

November 19, 2008

When Mrini neared the two-year-mark, for a while she did become a bit tantrum-ish. From time to time, she would hurl herself on the ground, cry furiously. We ignored her and never gave in to whatever she wanted, and this phase passed. She still throws the occasional tantrum, but it is very very occasional, and not very severe either.

Tara never seemed very inclined to tantrums. So today, when she threw what appeared to be a tantrum at lunchtime, she got me. She got me angry, bewildered, upset and, by the end of it, completely drained. I shouted at her, ignored her, reasoned with her, held and comforted her, and turned away from her, but in the end the only thing that worked was to put her to bed still wailing loudly, and then, in less than 60 seconds, she was silent and presumably asleep.

Which is all very well for her, and she’s most likely to wake up smiling and back to normal, but I’m still worn out by the exhibition. I feel guilty and puzzled – what did I do wrong and what should I not have done. All I did was to tell her to eat with the spoon (she was fishing bits of veggies out of the sambhar with her fingers, and then rubbing her messy hands on her head!).

Sigh. Sometimes this parenting thing is not so much fun.

Bring on the Veggies

November 18, 2008

My kids are weird. At lunch and dinner time, if they see any veggies on their plates, they immediately ignore the healthy and delicious (please ignore the loud guffaws from Amit at this point) dal-rice and start either wolfing or playing with the veg.

Because I think that a balanced meal means carb and protein in addition to veggies, I serve them the dal-rice first and bring out the veggies once they have eaten at least some of that. But in the last few days, they have tumbled to this strategy too. Now they eat one-and-a-half teaspoons of dal-rice and then play games and wreak havoc till they see their veggies.

Today I tried mixing the veg with the dal-rice, a strategy I gave up several months ago. They outsmarted and totally frustrated me by spending the next hour – yes, one whole hour! – picking out every single little piece of veg and ignoring the dal-rice. Tara also grabbed the opportunity when I wasn’t actually pinning her to her chair with my basilisk glare, to hurl several peas over the table and onto the floor. She only stopped when I screamed that she’d better “stop that right now or else…!”

So, in the absence of any more effective strategy, I will have to revert to the usual old strategies – cajole, plead, and coerce them to eat their dal-rice, instead of subsisting solely on veg.

What!? My children want veggies and I’m trying to get them to eat dal-rice? They want their veggies and I’m distracting them? I should be rejoicing. I need to get my head examined!

Glamorous? Not Me!

November 17, 2008

Being a stay-at-home mom must be the least glamorous job in the world; and of all the unglamorous SAHMs, I must be one of the most unglamorous. I don’t have much reason to do myself up nicely when the only people I see most days are neighbours-turned-friends at the park, sundry courier boys, and the husband and kids, of course (who really wouldn’t care much whether I was well-dressed, shabbily dressed, or nude, as long as they got food when they wanted it).

Generally, I alternate between three pairs of jeans, all of which are either too loose or too tight; a threadbare pair of shoes (not that shoes can be threadbare, but if they were made of threads, they would be threadbare) and a pair of sandals that bears evidence of Tara’s motion-sickness from a long ago trip to Pondicherry; a few shirts that have seen better days; and a haircut that was a disaster when it happened and hasn’t improved much since except on the rare occasions when I give it the full treatment and make it look nice for all of two hours.

When we first got the twins, I had planned to take a few hours off once every weekend, to “do my own thing” and to keep (or, as it often turns out, regain) my sanity. Of course, it hasn’t always happened. Too often, doing “my own thing” turned out to be grocery shopping, or buying birthday gifts for upcoming birthday parties. Or giving and picking up laundry. Sigh.

So today, when I had done my obligatory two hour stint of painting the bathroom (work is going well, though I have to admit that the Sistine Chapel is a rather prettier sight), I set off with determination for a trip of some self indulgence: shopping, without a thought for the girls, the husband, or the household. I was going to buy nightclothes, trousers/jeans, shoes, maybe some (costume) jewellery (what unglamorous SAHM wears the other kind?) and any other feminine trinket that caught my eye. I headed for the nearest mall, with my pockets full (I still hadn’t, after all, got myself my puja gift yet, though my father-in-law had sent the cash months ago) and my hands free, stopping along the way for my usual solo outing companion, a chocolate ice cream.

It has been a seriously long time since my last successful shopping expedition, and in the interim I seem to have gone even more out of fashion than I ever was before. I needed jeans, but all the shops have only low-waisted boot-cut styles. I wear my jeans around my waist, and an hour-glass figure I may not have, but I do have a waist that is distinctly a different part of my anatomy from my stomach, and my jeans belong at my waist, not on my hips, don’t these designers know anything???

Shoes? All they have is the strappy, glitzy, high-heeled stuff that 18-year-olds can wear to maximise their fan following. I need sensible flats, closed in front, preferably black, that I can wear to the park and on planes, trains, and automobiles, that are easy to slip on and off, and that I don’t need socks with. I’m not going to too many pubs, discos and parties here, people.

I browsed the nightwear section and found stuff that was seriously sexy (too old for that), or seriously homely (not old enough for that yet). Just as I was despairing of finding anything to justify this entire expedition (other than the chocolate ice cream, which alone is capable of justifying even an expedition to the ends of the earth in my opinion), I found one nightie that would do, and grabbed it, and, in short order, headed home.

Mission accomplished, but I’m still the most unglamorous of people in the most unglamorous of roles and hopelessly out of touch with modern fashions to boot. And shopping expeditions for such creatures are increasingly doomed to failure. What am I supposed to dooooooooooooooooooooo???


November 14, 2008

Now I know what Michelangelo must have gone through, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

About a couple of lifetimes ago, we had some repairwork done on the bathroom upstairs, to stop the water seepage that was ruining our paint. Yeah, the bathroom upstairs, not ours. Yeah, we had it done – we organized it, oversaw it and paid for it. That is, Amit did; I just cursed and cribbed about it.

That, of course, is another story and one that has already been told and in great detail at that. But, even though that was a couple of lifetimes ago, we never did get around to actually repainting the ruined bathroom. It’s the sort of small job that paid contractors love to undertake, get a good advance on, and then abscond from. Or else, they reject the work outright, with utter contempt.

I had been suggesting that we do it ourselves, but we hadn’t made any progress beyond discussing how impractical this was. For starters, we didn’t have any of the equipment. But, after some serious nagging that lasted several months, and in view of the impending – separate – visits of my sister and a friend, Amit finally bought an assortment of scrapers last week. Then, another week passed while I tried to work up the nerve to launch the first attack.

Finally, on Monday afternoon, when the kids were supposed to be sleeping, I got down to it. I emptied the bathroom of every movable item – itself a formidable task – plonked a dining table chair in the centre, and tied one of the kids’ bath towels around my head, which made me look like a cross between a bedouin and a spoof of a hollywood mobster.

Then I got up and stood on the chair and found that I could reach the corner of the ceiling only by standing on my tip toes.

Then I started scraping.

I knew that scraping would bring down the paint – that was the whole point, wasn’t it? – but I didn’t know it would bring it down in such vast quantities. I knew there would be dust, but I didn’t expect a whole desert storm to erupt there in that 5×7 bathroom.

In the first 60 seconds, I was covered in paint flakes that wormed their way under my improvised scarf and even into my poor eyes, scattering a light powder on my glasses along the way.

In one hour of scrubbing and scraping, I managed to clear about a third of the area. This was encouraging, but I had to stop because the kids were up (Mrini having failed to sleep at all!) and creating chaos in the rest of the house. Besides, this was their bathroom and they needed access to it and pronto.

It took me about half an hour just to get the bathroom cleaned up and generally functional again. Then I had to set about getting myself cleaned up.

The next day, I tried again, while the kids were in school. I thought I’d have a good two hours and that should see me through, but as it turned out, what with sundry other chores, and the lengthy preparatory and clean-up processes, I spent only half an hour actually scraping, so now I had to prepare myself for a third session, on Wednesday. That day, I did finish the scraping, which is just as well, because I had by now developed such an aversion to the protracted clean-up process, that if I hadn’t finished I would probably just have left things as they were until I got the chance to finish. And how the girls would have loved that!

But now that that horrible job is done, all I need is for Amit to bring home the paint and associated paraphernalia. Then I can actually open a can of paint and start creating my own masterpiece on the “chapel” ceiling. That is the fun part.

Michelangelo? The Sistine Chapel? Yeah, I know he painted it, and it was a beauty too, but what I would really like to know is, did he chip? Did he flake? Did he scrape? Did he, in short, get up on a chair, stand on the toilet, lean on the water heating thingy, dislodge the electricals, and mercilessly erase all trace of the previous artist’s handiwork? And, worst of all, once he was done with that, did he sweep out the mess with a nariyal jharu and a bucket of water at the end? Did he? Did he??

Painting is all very well, lots of people paint… but did he scrape?

Coffee Break

November 13, 2008

There’s nothing like a cup of filter coffee when the sleep hits you around 3.30 in the afternoon. And it’s even better if there’s someone around to make it for you. Isn’t that what husbands are for? (Oops – that’s a whole different topic, don’t even get me started on that!)

Amit (in the kitchen making coffee): Help!
Me (wondering what can possibly go wrong in the making of a cup of coffee): What?
Amit (plaintively, helplessly): I don’t know what happened to your coffee; I poured the water in and it all went right through. Can’t you do something to fix it?
Me: Like what?
Amit: I don’t know. Pour it back over the grains again, or something.
Me (opening the top of the filter and peering in suspiciously): What grains? There’s nothing in here. You forgot to put the coffee powder.
Amit (opening the bottom of the filter): No, I didn’t, I swear. It just went right through. See?
Me (investigating the murky fluid suspiciously): Well, that does look like coffee… But how…??? Aha! You idiot!
Amit (belligerently): What did I do?
Me: You put instant coffee into the filter!

And I distinctly recall suspecting, as I poured the filter coffee into its jar, that he would one day do something very much like this. When I said as much at that time, he dismissed the idea grandly. “Oh, no chance. They look different, they smell different, I’d never get them mixed up,” said he confidently.

That was a very short never.


November 12, 2008

We have a small, neighbourhood grocery store nearby that we go to for stuff we need urgently, like, for instance, a Pepsi or an ice cream.

This shop is run by two chaps and a tiny TV. As far as I know, the TV doesn’t have any role in running the shop, but Amit says the two guys are forever watching some religious nut giving moralistic lectures on this TV, and that this has addled their brains. Not wanting to slander or otherwise insult anyone, but the guys, in particular one of them, do give every appearance of having had their brains addled. In fact he/they appear distinctly dim-witted. But, I’ve been to this shop many times (urgent requirements for Pepsi and/or ice cream being quite a common occurence around here) and found that both chaps manage to run their business quite alright, even if they do need a calculator to add up 3 and 4.

Anyway, yesterday it was Amit’s turn to do the urgent requirement procurement, and when he came back, this is what he told me.

A young woman with a thin voice approached the shop and said, “Ande hain?” (Do you have eggs?)

The shopkeeper replied: “Sunday nahi hai, ande hain.” (It’s not Sunday, eggs are there.”)

Apparently the damsel was completely dumbstruck at this reply. Can’t say I blame her; if it had been me, I would have taken this to mean that the man was a certifiable lunatic and would have run screaming all the way home. What does the day of week have to do with the availability or not of eggs???

Nothing, actually. Apparently the shopkeeper thought he heard, “Sunday hai?” (Is it Sunday?)

So that’s why the egg ad on TV says (or used to say), “Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande.” (Whether it’s Sunday or Monday, eat eggs every day.)

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