Time Flies When You’re…

February 26, 2009

…having fun, or so conventional wisdom has it. But I have news for you (and it’s not really breaking news, either). Time flies even more when you’re doing work, especially when you have tight deadlines to meet. This, regardless of the fun factor.

Since I got back from vacation, time has been flying like Harry Potter in a game of Quidditch. Or maybe like the snitch. I hardly catch a glimpse as it flashes by right in front of my eyes. So much so, that I even found myself at work at 2 a.m. one day, despite that I’m definitely a daytime owl, and I had tennis the next morning, which means a 5.30 a.m. wake-up call.

So today I decided was the day for some “me” time. I hurriedly attended to some work, then walked away from the computer. I spent the rest of the morning avoiding it as I “did” my arms and legs, “did” my hair, had a long and leisurely bath (which I’ve almost forgotten how to do) and then tried on several outfits for the evening. After all, I want to look my beautiful best this evening.

Why? Well, it is our eleventh marriage anniversary, and that’s a day that only comes once in a lifetime. Or so I hope. I mean, I can’t really conceive of being married to two different people (or worse still, to the same person twice!) for this long. No; if you’re going to have multiple marriages, you’d better learn from Hollywood and keep them short. After all, you’ll want to squeeze in as many as possible, before you get too old for it. (And you can interpret “it” any way you please.)

But I don’t think I want multiple marriages. One is bad enough, and really, Amit’s quite sweet as husbands go. I can imagine many fates worse than being married to him… unless, of course, you bring Pierce Brosnan into the picture, in which case, it’s no contest.

Though on second thoughts… I just watched this movie Notting Hill on TV. It stars Julia Roberts and it has no redeeming feature except for Hugh Grant. He’s cute as ever, though a bit wimpish. But the point is, he’s Mr Ordinary (in the movie, I mean) and she’s a hot-shot movie star (who has Alec Baldwin for a boy friend, isn’t she lucky?) and – do I really need to tell you this? – after various ups and downs it all ends in a “happily-ever-after” wedding. Except, I couldn’t help thinking, can a Mr Ordinary really adjust to being Mrs Hot-Shot-Celebrity-Actress’s significant other? I don’t think I could.

So, exit Pierce Brosnan, and back to handsome husband number one, and I figured that I might as well make the time to take a little bit of care over my appearance. After all, we don’t want to give him any cause to start dreaming about Julia Roberts now, do we? Though that’s a somewhat remote possibility, considering he has always been of the opinion that she looks like a horse. But then again, you never can tell – he does have a genuine fondness for horses.

Whatever. So having beautified myself and tried on my sexiest outfit for the evening and persuaded myself that it just about fits (not having lost any of the 5 kilos that I thought I would have lost by now) I’m now utilising my time to the best effect by blogging about it.

Vinod, I hope you’re not reading this.

Or, if you are, can you just wish me happy anniversary and let it go at that?

Views, Reviews

February 24, 2009

There are many good things about vacations, specially vacations involving long train journeys, but one of the nicest is that I actually get a chance to read.

On the train to Delhi en route to Binsar, I read Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone.

I don’t actually read a lot of Indian authors in English, and now I know why. This book was shockingly bad. The language was trying to be young and hip without being very successful in the attempt; there was a feeble excuse for a plot; and the characters were at best two-dimensional. It was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time.

From Delhi to Binsar and back to Delhi, I read a book that was highly recommended by my mother: Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood. This was a really good book. Although it is about a murder, I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery. It is about a historical crime (not entirely fictional, I mean) which took place in the mid-1800s. The story is told from the perspective of the accused, Grace, which is, in itself, unusual. I liked the way the whole plot unfolds and resolves itself, and the way characters are drawn from the perspective mainly of this one person. And I enjoyed all the little details of everyday life which are not relevant to the plot, but which, in this book, add a lot of richness.

In Delhi, at my father-in-law’s house, a book called Every Night Josephine caught my eye. Well, with a title like that, it could hardly miss. However, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s about a TV star couple who have a love affair with a dog -a French Poodle called Josephine. It was probably written 50 years ago, and has several references to people I’ve never heard of, but it’s very entertaining and light reading. The author is someone called Jacqueline Susann, is famously the author of a book called Valley of the Dolls, which I’d never heard of before.

I also got to watch two movies on this holiday. One was, of course Slumdog Millionaire. My reaction to it is similar to my reaction to Five Point Someone. An excuse for a plot, two dimensional characters, ham acting. I don’t watch a lot of Hindi movies, so I don’ have much to compare it with, but if I think of Black, or Taare Zameen Par, both of which have their share of ham acting, but much more convincingly done, I can only scratch my head in wonder that this should be the movie everyone’s making such a fuss about.

The other movie I saw, on the other hand was just fantastic. Mamma Mia. What a fun flick! It has a lot of Abba songs and it has Pierce Brosnan! I would never have imagined such a combination in a Hollywood film, but now that I’ve seen it, really, what could be better?

Powerless. Again.

February 23, 2009

The fact that on a daily basis we can’t depend on a regular supply of water and electricity is really, really frustrating for me.

When I was growing up in the early ’80s in Delhi, we used to get water for two hours in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon or evening. We had regular loadshedding in the afternoons, which made it too hot to sleep. If you ran out of gas, and weren’t among the lucky few to have a two-cylinder (or double-barreled) connection, you cooked on a kerosene stove. That was even more long ago, but I’m old enough to remember it, so it wasn’t that long ago. (Either that, or I’m really old; but my age is no secret.) As for telephones, you were lucky to have a landline, there were no cellphones, long-distance calls had to be booked, were connected by an operator who could then follow the rest of your conversation and interrupt peridically to ask whether you needed an extension. Of course,there was no internet, and practically no Tv.

My point being, in those days, it was a tough life and you had to work with that. But that was 30-odd years ago. You’d think things would’ve changed by now.

In fact, it does appear that things have changed. We have TV and broadband, we have telephones by the dozen, we have double-barreled gas connections, we have electricity and water almost around the clock.

Or do we? Well, there’s load-shedding in the summer and pre-monsoon months, of course. And with all the squabbling over Cauvery water, we get borewell water, whenever the borewell has some. And provided there’s electricity to pump it. And provided that when you run it in the kitchen in your home, there’s electricity to run the water purifier with. None of which is a given.

Take the last 24 hours. We had guests for dinner last night, and by the time they left (which wasn’t actually very late, just a little after ten), there was no water in the kitchen, so we had only a limited stock of purified water for drinking and cooking with. As for water for washing up with, I had to fill that up in the bathroom and ferry it to the kitchen. Because they won’t run the pump at that hour. Because the fellow with the keys and the technological knowhow would have gone home and gone to sleep.

Then, this morning at 8.30, before I could replenish our stock of drinking water, electricity went. Luckily, we still had running water – they run the pump early in the morning. But no electricity. And at the time of going to press, at 1.30 p.m., we still had no electricity.

Which meant, apart from other things, that my laptop and two UPSs were out of battery, so I couldn’t do any work. All I could do was blog about it, thanks to GPRS.

So 30 years on, have things really improved, as much as we’d like to think? We have new technology, but where’s the infrastructure?

And how am I supposed to get any work done??

Going Solo

February 20, 2009

When I agreed to travel back from Delhi alone with the kids, I didn’t feel any serious qualms or misgivings. I’ve taken them around on my own enough now that I felt quite confident that I could manage them alone even for several hours at the airport and on the plane. I’ve even taken both of them into public toilets enough to know that I’d manage them in the plane’s tiny toilet, though I must admit it was quite a challenge.

What I hadn’t thought about was how I would manage my own trips to the toilet. And that turned out to be the most worrying part of the experience. In the end I managed to sneak away while they both slept on the plane. And apart from that, everything went as smooth as silk.

We were dropped at the airport in style by my sister and both my parents. I had two small carry-on bags (well, I’d paid for three whole seats, remember) and two pieces to check in. I dumped everything in the trolley and was just beginning to wonder how I was going to push it with both hands and also hang on to both the girls, when they solved both problems for me by lining up behind the trolley and pushing it along just as if it was baby p’s stroller they were pushing back from the park!

Then, of course, Tara came up with the idea of climbing up on the bar behind the cart and riding along on it. At which Mrini, not to be outdone, sat in front of the cart. And then they swapped places and giggled.

And so we got checked in quite quickly and got our three seats in a row.

I skipped to the head of the sec-chk queue and in no time at all, we were in front of the boarding gate. The kids sat down and ate every bit of food that Anjalimasi had cooked for them, and just as they were stuffing the last of three large bananas down their throats, our flight was called. I got them up in a leisurely manner and strolled to the head of the queue like royalty. There’s another perk of having kids.

They fussed a little when I strapped them into their seats, but they settled down after takeoff and once I took their seatbelts off they sprawled out and went to sleep. I had to strap them up for landing, but they slept right through it and I had to wake them up as we taxied to our parking place.

After that we got our luggage off the carousel, got out of the airport and got into a waiting cab, and were on the very last leg of our long journey, with a minimum of fuss. The girls were in high spirits during the drive, specially Mrini, and as we didn’t run into any major traffic jams, we were home after an easy hourlong drive.

The whole thing couldn’t have been any easier! Even I was surprised!

Of Omelettes and Delhi

February 14, 2009

Life always looks better after a good two egg omelette has gone down the hatch. Amazingly better, specially if it’s made by someone else and you don’t get to see how much oil has actually gone into the making of it.

Apparently, the kids don’t share this view, which is how I got to eat two such omelettes – how can I possibly lose weight if I’m always eating the kids’ rejects? (Convenient way to blame yet another personal failing on the kids.)

The two egg omelettes are what we got soon after reaching Amit’s father’s home in Delhi.

The train journey was as comfortable, relaxing and unremarkable as I’ve come to expect. A/C First Class is a mode of transport that takes very little getting used to. It beats air travel any day. Amit warned me that when the kids turn five and we have to pay full-fare for them on trains, we’ll have to revert to flying. I don’t know how we’ll handle that degradation and deprivation, but it’s too far away to worry about from now.

We reached Delhi at 6 a.m., and the stark contrast with Bangalore hit me like a slap in the face. H. Nizamuddin used to be this quiet, sleepy station like Bangalore Cantt. Or that’s what I remember. Today it was crowded, noisy and hellish in a way that I thought was reserved for Pahar Ganj.

I used to be a Delhi-ite 11 years ago. It’s not that long, but it might as well have been another lifetime or another planet. Or both. Delhi assails the senses like nothing else I’ve ever met, and that’s me, a former Delhi-ite – in fact, a former proud-to-be-a-Delhi-ite Delhi-ite. What must it be like for those poor Westerners who’ve never been to such a place in this lifetime or before?

Amit went off to look for a pre-paid taxi counter, only to find that there wasn’t one. He then went into the throng of taxi-drivers to haggle for a cab, a skill which he has almost entirely lost. We wound up paying Rs. 220 for a drive of less than 12 km measured by GPS, which the driver claimed blithely was a full 19 km. And me a former Delhi-ite.

To make matters worse, the taxi we ultimately got sounded and felt more like a motor boat – and not a particularly sea-worthy motorboat, at that – than like a car.

No wonder it takes a couple of omelettes and a strong cup of coffee to recover – and by recover, I mean only get sufficiently fortified for the next excursion out of the house, when you get another blast of Delhi right in the face again.

I Never Complete Anythi

February 6, 2009

I saw this on a T-shirt recently, and it set me thinking.

I used to be the sort who always completes everything, but the twins cured me of that. Now, I almost never finish conversations or tasks, usually don’t finish blog posts, often don’t finish sentences, and sometimes don’t even finish thoughts. Sometimes, in fact, I wonder if I even have whole thoughts any more or whether thoughts only come in fractions. But that’s another matter altogeth

Complete Chaos

February 5, 2009

We’re leaving for Binsar today and it’s complete chaos in my neck of the woods.

I started working on Monday – and what better day to start work than on your birthday? Well, actually, I started working a few days before that, but I took Monday as the formal start date for myself. Which was really nice of me, because my contract actually dates from 12 Feb. Which is strange, because I’m out of town till Feb 19. But well, these things even themselves out, so why bother.

So I’ve now been working full time for three whole days, and it’s killing me. Well, it’s fun… in a way. Amit says he hasn’t heard me laugh this way in a long time. But then, it’s that half hysterical laugh which says: I’m way stressed out but I can’t cry right now, so let me giggle like a lunatic for a bit and see if that makes it any better.

Anyway, in the midst of a flurry of emails (200? 300?) and F2F meetings requiring a 20-minute drive each way, AND a late night telecon with the US, I haven’t got anything in the way of packing done. And we’re going to be spending three nights on a train, and going from warm, hot Bangalore, through cool, cool Delhi, to what is supposed to be a pretty cold Binsar, which, moreover, has no electricity.

So I’m sitting in the study surrounded by mountains of clothes that need to be packed into numerous backpacks that are evidently too few and too small for the mountains that are supposed to go in them. The girls, for some obscure reason, have a holiday at playschool today and are shouting for my attention.

And what, exactly, am I doing here ignoring them steadfastly? Packing? Working? Meeting important people?

No, I’m blogging! No wonder it’s complete chaos over here.

35. Old?

February 5, 2009

Turning 35 didn’t worry me half as much as turning 30 did. Maybe that’s because 35 is only half a decade, only half a turning point. Maybe it’s because there are fewer things left undone now – now that we have kids, I mean.

Whatever it might be, turning 35 has been a relatively painless experience.

Not entirely painless, however. I took my bike out for some small errand nearby, and on the way I dropped it. It was completely stupid and unwarranted and I felt quite angry with myself about it. But I scraped my elbow and my knee and bruised my hip and my ego and as I moaned to Amit about all the pain, I thought: Maybe I am getting too old for this.

Nonsense, of course, but some things do hurt.

Birthday Cake

February 2, 2009

I’ve never wanted to make my own birthday cake. I mean, the whole idea of a birthday is that everyone else does everything for you and you get to feel like royalty for a day.

But the trouble is, I make the best cakes in town.

I mean, not to be immodest or anything, and there are bound to be other people out there who also make wonderful cakes (like Andy), but I know what I want and I know how to make it (or so I think). The commercial bakeries make very good looking confectioneries, with lots of whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate flakes, fancy-schmanzy piping and all that… but when it comes right down to it, I want my cake to have chocolate, lots of chocolate, rich, dark, sweet, thick, cloying, kill-me-now chocolate, and I don’t know anyone who does that better than me.

Not having had much to do in the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been fantasizing about my birthday whenever I had a moment to spare. Let me add that I’m not usually like this – usually, my birthday arrives practically without my noticing it, lasts for a day or two (as long as the cake lasts) and is forgotten in a day. But this year I’ve been dreaming of my birthday the way a person on a diet dreams of a big, greasy pizza followed by a mound of chocolate cake and ice cream. Which is not much of an analogy because it’s way too close to the truth. (Except for the diet part… not much truth in that! But we’ll ignore that for now.)

So anyway, as the birthday drew nearer, I worked out precisely which cake I wanted to make, which icing I wanted on it, how much of it I wanted to make, when I was going to make it, when I was going to eat it and so on and so forth. I almost became obsessed with my birthday cake.

Which, I suppose, explains a lot – obsessions are never a good thing.

I started mixing the cake on Sunday morning. My birthday was on Monday (that’s today), but I wanted to have the cake done on Sunday, so that on my birthday I didn’t have to mess around with butter and cocoa and other gross things. Besides, I had some vague thought of a midnight cake-cutting followed by a midnight cake and ice cream session. Ok, it wasn’t all that vague. Obsession, remember?

By Sunday lunch time, two cakes had gone into the oven and two plus a mess had come out. One of the cake tins, you see, had a removable bottom. This is supposed to make it easier to get the cake out after it’s baked. It’s not supposed to let the cake out in liquid form, but that’s what it had done. The cake mix had oozed out onto the baking tray below, and there it had baked and burned into a strangely shaped, chocolate coloured mess.

Well, we ate the mess right away, it wasn’t too badly burnt. And the second cake came out ok, because it’s bottom stayed right where it was supposed to be. And, what’s more, the baking tray actually got washed for the first time in years.

Next, for the icing. I had decided on fudge frosting, which is totally yummy. The recipe I have always makes too much. Instead of scaling it down, I make it all, and then consume it in pieces over the next few weeks – it becomes like chocolate when you refrigerate it.

The trouble with icing of any kind is, and always has been, that it requires icing sugar. For some reason, this is an ingredient that is extraordinarily difficult to get hold of anywhere near wherever I happen to be at the time. So when we finally got around to looking for it on Sunday evening (after the Australian Open, poor Roger!), we were naturally heading towards death, desolation and despair. Well, not death maybe, unless I killed the next shopkeeper who said he didn’t have it, but certainly desolation and despair. It was only after five negatives that I finally got a maybe, and that yielded three ancient, dust-covered, tiny packets of icing sugar. I snapped them up – the dust cover notwithstanding.

The frosting was ready by 9.30, by which times the cakes were stone cold sober. Well, stone cold at least was important ( because they had never been intoxicated in the first place). The frosting was still warm-ish, but I decided to take the chance and use it anyway. I took the cake that hadn’t oozed out at the bottom and leveled its top; then I smeared a thick layer of frosting on it and jammed on top of it the cake that had oozed out at the bottom.

With disastrous consequences.

The top layer started disintegrating in front of my eyes, while I desperately tried to glue it together with huge quantities of frosting. A futile effort. The top layer slowly slid apart on the lower layer of frosting, creating dramatic ravines of frosting as it did so. I would have wept, but Amit’s shoulder was way too high to cry on, so I couldn’t.

Eventually, I slid the disintegrating pieces off the cake, dumped them on a separate place, scraped off the messed-up frosting and spread a fresh layer (the benefits of having lots of frosting at hand) and wrote off half the cake. That is, being a die hard chocaholic not easily put off by such minor matters as form factor, I smothered it with ice cream and gobbled it up as homemade Death by Chocolate. (Haven’t heard of it? Here’s a short introduction.)

What, me? Diet? Who ever thought of such a thing?

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