Central Locking, Power Windows, and All That Jazz

July 30, 2009

I never realised quite how important central locking and power windows are in a car, until I started driving the kids to and from school. Here’s how things go on a typical day.

First, there’s fresh poo on the roadside, bang next to where I park. There’s no point looking for another place to park – there’s fresh (human) poo all along the road. I guess it serves as a toilet for some nearby community.

Right next to the toilet strip is the drain. It is supposed to be a rain-water drain. As there hasn’t been any monsoon to speak of in Bangalore this year, it is usually clean and dry. I wish the folks who use the road as their toilet could drop their droppings in the drain, but, if they do in fact try to do this, they don’t seem to have very good aim.

So if you park next to the poo which is next to the drain, that side of the car is ruled out for exiting the kids from. If they don’t fall in one, they will likely fall in the other – and I’m not sure which would be worse.

On the other side, there’s traffic to deal with. Obviously, it is the lesser of all the evils. So, having parked, I get out, avoid the poo and the drain, and tackle (that means put shoes on, comb hair of, and un-strap) the girl on the driver’s side of the car. Then I close the door (which has child lock enabled, thank goodness), go around to the other side, and tackle the other girl. There’s traffic whizzing past inches from my bu… err… backside, but I figure the worst it could do would be to shave some inches off (and that might not be such a bad thing), so of course I ignore it.

Meanwhile, the first girl has unrolled the non-power windows and unlocked the door, even though she can’t actually open it. I go around to the other side to roll up the window, while both girls, now unstrapped, work on the window and door on the other side. Since they are two and I am only one, and since they are inside and I am outside dodging poo, drain, and traffic, the only way I can win this game is by shouting at them and threatening physical violence. Depending on their mood, this is of limited efficacy, but usually buys me enough time to roll up the window on the poo-and-drain side of the car and run around to the traffic-ward side and drag both the girls out before they can roll down either window again.

Now I get their bags out of the front passenger seat and get them (the bags) onto them (the girls). This, while ensuring that only my backside is in danger of getting shaved by traffic – the girls don’t have as much to spare. Then I close the door. Now comes the tricky part. The front passenger door cannot be used to central-lock all four doors. So if the driver’s side is on the poo-and-drain side of the road, I have to nip across to lock it, while either letting go of the girls and leaving them to the mercy of the traffic, or dragging them with me to step in their choice of either poo or drain. It’s a lose-lose situation.

If, however, the driver’s side is on the traffic-ward side, then, once I have the windows all rolled up and the kids out of the car on the traffic-ward side, I have to lean in and pull the bags out from the front passenger seat, without losing sight or control of the girls. Not easy.

So, what I need is a car whose windows can be rolled up and locked, and which can be centrally locked from either side, preferably without needing to use a key. I was assured that such is impossible. Power windows, of course, do exist. And front doors can be locked without a key if you lock them from the inside, then get out and hold the handle up while closing the door. But passenger side doors don’t do central locking, I was told.

Well, ha! I went and bought myself a bright red Hyundai i10 anyway and guess what? It does allow me to lock the front passenger door from the inside, then get out and close the door, without holding the handle up or anything, and it not only locks, it central-locks all the doors. Plus it has power windows, fantastic steering, a music system (how on earth did I survive in a car without that for so long) and it’s the perfect shade of bright red.

So, problems solved.

Of course, once I got the car, I also found a parking place at school which is almost always available, which doesn’t have either the drain or the poo. That makes life SO much easier.


A Match Made in…

July 28, 2009

Heaven?

Not quite, though, in my book, the tennis court comes close.

Let me explain.

I started playing tennis almost four years ago. It was something I’d wanted to do since I was about 13 – right around the time I saw Boris Becker win his first Wimbledon. He’s fat and old now, but he was young, handsome, and charismatic back then, specially to a 13-year-old girl. My parents went so far as to get tennis rackets for me and my sister. I still remember those rackets – wooden, with a small head and bits of blue paint. But that attempt to get my name into the annals of tennis history fizzled out in a few months.

After we got married, I slept comfortably till 7 or 8 every morning, while Amit roused himself at some ungodly hour and went off to the tennis court. Of course, as far as inspiration goes, this didn’t compare to Boris Becker winning Wimbledon… but it kept alive my desire to play tennis. I don’t quite know why, but it took many years for Amit to finally introduce me to the coach at his court… but once it happened, there was no stopping me.

I’m not – despite appearances to the contrary – a fast learner. I’m the sort who improves very, very slowly, but what I learn, I learn well. In the matter of tennis, I didn’t expect to see results overnight; so I was elated when both Amit and Coach concurred that I had picked up very well and that I had a good stroke and great consistency. This, of course, was only for my forehand. My backhand was a disaster and continued to be a disaster until very recently, when it suddenly showed signs of being ready for improvement.

Of course, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. At times, my game has completely disintegrated. One time, a couple of years ago, I had to roll back all the way to the basics to get my stroke back and weed out all the bad habits that had crept in. It was difficult, disheartening, and frustrating… but I gritted my teeth and did it. It didn’t help that for quite a long time, I suffered by having two masters. There was Coach, who was a really good coach and understood many things about how people learn, specially about the role that a person’s psychology plays in learning; and there was Amit, who was a really good player, and understood many things about the game, the stroke, the style… but was always trying to push me to be better than I could possibly be at that point.

Over the last couple of years, Amit hasn’t had much opportunity to participate in my game – when I’m at the court, he’s home with the kids, so we rarely get to be on the court together. Serving only one master has made a world of difference to my game and to how I feel about it.

All the same, there are ups and downs. A while ago, returning to the court after a bit of a break (due to illness etc), I found that my game had disintegrated again. This is not surprising, but it’s also not nice. It takes weeks of hard work to bring it back up to “normal” – and with the monsoon impending, I didn’t expect to get the weeks of hard work done until October or so.

What’s more, when your game deserts you, the only way to get it back is to either have drills, or play with someone who is very very steady, consistent, and has a good style – someone who can retrieve your crazy shots, and can send the ball back in a controlled manner. Also, if that someone is quite a powerful player, s/he must be able to rein in the power. It is difficult to find such a someone, specially as playing with you at that stage is not very rewarding for the other person. Ideally it would be Coach or a Marker who plays with you till you settle down. But Coach and the Markers are not always available to play, so you often end up against another player who has none of the qualities you need; or has them in only limited quantities.

My usual partner is a woman, quite a bit older than me and a little less fit. She’s a left-handed player. This is not very convenient, because both of us have somewhat shaky backhand strokes. So, to keep the game going, we both have to hit forehand down-the-line, to send the ball to the other person’s forehand. My forehand always prefers to go cross-court, so concentrating on always sending it down-the-line is tiring – and not always effective.

My other partner is a young, terribly fit chap, whose strokes are way to powerful for me. I can return some of his shots, but, with unfailing regularity, he sends a bullet speeding past me to the extreme forehand corner of my court, and I can only watch it fly past several feet away.

There are others I play with, but they are either too powerful, or too erratic and unpredictable. So, my game continued to flounder, until…

This one person came along. She must be about my age, but is very slim and runs like the wind. She has also been playing about four years, but in a different batch, and I think her game is about where mine is. Her forehand is powerful and stylish, her backhand is sometimes good, sometimes not. Most of the time, her balls come fast and low over the net, bounce, and stay low. It’s excellent for returning in the same way – fast and low. Unlike me, she’s good at volleying, but like me, she hates to serve. Altogether, she’s a good partner for me. In just a few sessions of playing with her, my game improved in leaps and bounds. According to her, so did hers.

Last time, after watching us play for a while, Coach came up to us and told us that we both were playing really well together. “From now on, you both have to stick together. If one person changes her batch, the other should also change. It is just working so well for both of you together.”

So yeah – if it’s not quite a match made in heaven, it’s close.


Dressing Down

July 23, 2009

I like to think that in my childhood days, I was a bit of a tom-boy. Actually, I like to think that I still am, at least a bit. At any rate, I’m very much a jeans-n-t-shirt sort of person, who avoids make-up and high heels.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t by any means think there’s anything wrong with nice clothes and make-up and making an effort to look good – but it’s never been a priority for me and I’ve never had (or made) the time for it.

Now we have two little girls; and, left to themselves, they’d never wear anything but their shorts and t-shirts. That too, they only ever want one of two or three favourite t-shirts. Since they seem to have very constant and long-term favourites, these favourites are obviously now somewhat the worse for wear. Park Moms Inc, of which Supriya is the founder member, and, in this regard the most outspoken member, is of the opinion, not entirely baseless, that I dress them in rags – even that I go out of my way to dress them in rags. Or at least, that I don’t go out of my way to get rid of their rags and replace them with decent stuff. (Luckily, she saw them returning from school one day and admitted that at least they went to school looking halfway respectable – something my verbal assurances to the effect had not been successful in convincing her of.)

The truth is, I’m not very sure that I want my daughters to look very girlie and pretty-pretty. I’m actually quite happy with their tomboyish-ness. I like to see them romping in the park and I prefer not to have to worry about them spoiling their pretty clothes. I don’t want to spend a lot on buying pretty but expensive clothes that are only going to get ruined in three days. If they’re happy to rotate three t-shirts per head for three months, that suits my stingy, minimalistic nature just fine. Left to myself, I’d do the same. (In fact, I do – except that instead of three t-shirts, I have about a dozen.)

I also like them to be able to have a say in at least this most harmless decision in their life. There’s so little else that they do have control over. I’m all for encouraging independence of thought and if that means that Mrini wants to wear “my favourite pussycat t-shirt” seven days a week, well, why not? (Apart from the occasional break for washing it.) It might look atrocious, but they’re happy and who cares what others think, anyway?

I do believe that they should be decently and practically dressed for school, the way I myself make an effort to be presentably turned out for work, but if they want to be ragamuffin-ish tomboys at home, I don’t think I mind. At all.

Besides, even if I did mind, what could I do? I have been accused by my better half of setting a bad example. But my casual approach to dressing is too deeply ingrained in my nature. Even if I had a stock of pretty clothes, wearing them at home on a regular basis would be unthinkable for me. That’s just not who I am, and I’m not going to even try to change just so my daughters can learn to be pretty. As they grow up, they can learn those things from other role models than me. At some point, their Anjali-masi can give them a crash-course in grace and poise and elegance.

Meanwhile, I hope to be able to teach them other things which are more important to me, like a love of reading, music, playing violin, traveling, baking… All the fun stuff where mothers can lead by example – and in the bargain, if I run the risk of raising two little ruffians, I can live with that.


Watch What You Say

July 20, 2009

The twins are almost entirely toilet trained and have been for months. When they started school, Tara had about three toileting accidents a week for the first three weeks or so; Mrini had none. I asked the teacher why, and her answer was that Tara just seemed to be too engrossed in whatever she was doing. But soon after that, things must have settled down, because recently neither of them has had to utilize the change of clothes that I always send with them.

They still use diapers at night, and they clearly still need them, but during their afternoon naps I stopped putting diapers on them months ago. Occasionally, if she’s had a lot of water just before lunch, or if she naps for exceptionally long, Tara has an accident. Mrini seems to have figured out how to wake herself up when her bladder is full. Tara’s accidents are quite infrequent, so I haven’t done anything about them, I’m just hoping they’ll eventually stop on their own.

I was talking to my mother recently, and, after discussing many mundane and meaningless things, the conversation somehow turned to changing bedsheets; the frequency of changing bedsheets, to be specific.

Mother: I change them about once a month, I think. How often do you do yours?
Me: I change them whenever the kids pee on them.
Mother: Gosh, I hope that’s not too often.
Me: You’d better hope it’s often enough.
Mother (in a rather satisfied tone): Gosh, I’ve brought you up abominably.
———-
Then, the other day, I was playing my violin. The twins were playing together nearby. As I reached the end of a piece, Tara came to me and said, authoritatively: “Put your violin down.”

I did – I didn’t have a choice under her unflinching gaze. “But why?” I asked.

“Come,” she said.

“Where?” I asked.

“I want to do sussu (pee).”

“Then go to the bathroom,” I said. At home, they’ve been able to manage without help for ages.

“You come and turn on light,” she said.

I went with her and saw the light was already on, and told her so.

“Ok, you go,” says she, regally. “You go play.”
———–
On another occasion, Mrini wanted to talk.

Mrini: Mama, let’s talk.
Me: Ok. How are you?
Mrini (outraged): No! That comes later! First, what’s your name?

Right. Got to remember etiquette: exchange names first.
————
Since Amit’s Honda Civic, which we bought last year, is the Newcar-Newcar, my battered (literally) old Wagon-R is now known as the Oldcar. (But this is about to change.)

While driving them to school today, the car went over a rather bad patch of road. Mrini didn’t like it.

Mrini: Mama, what Oldcar doing?
Me: Oldcar is driving.
Mrini: No! Oldcar not driving. Mama is driving. What Oldcar doing?
Me: Oh, sorry, you’re right. I’m driving. Oldcar is being driven.

Just what I was trying to avoid – passive voice. They’re not even three! Looks like I have to brush up on my language skills, or my daughters will be giving me grammar lessons before long!
———–
Amit (scolding Mrini): Don’t do that! You’re a bad girl!
Mrini (promptly): No, I not a bad girl!

Talking back? To Father?! Of course, I did a lot of that as a child (I’ve improved a bit now, or so I think), but I’m sure I didn’t start this early!


Conveniences

July 17, 2009

Before the kids came, or more specifically, before the kids began to be toilet trained, I hardly ever used public restrooms.

As an aside, why on earth are they called rest rooms? The thought of actually resting there is hardly appealing. Relief rooms I could understand – if you find one when you urgently need one, it is certainly with a sense of overwhelming relief – but why rest rooms?

And, for that matter, the public ones are not even “bathrooms” – not unless you happen to be in, say, an international airport lounge or some such place.

As for “conveniences”… certainly finding a toilet when you need it is a lot more “convenient” than not finding one… but… can the toilet itself be considered “convenient”? I don’t think so!

Like I said, public toilets weren’t on my beat much in the “good” old days. If I absolutely had to use one, I preferred an Indian style one, where physical contact with any surface was restricted to shoes on the ground. (For the uninitiated, Indian style toilets, or squatty pots, consist of a hole in the ground, with a porcelain bowl sunk in it, and a sort of platform for placing the feet. They do usually have some kind of flush rigged up, but it’s anybody’s guess whether or not it will work. In this respect, though, they are no worse than any other toilet in a similar location.)

On those rare occasions when I had to use a western style toilet in a public place, I of course practised my patented technique of hovering six vertical inches above the toilet seat, so effectively actual physical contact remained limited to shoes on the ground.

In Indian style toilets, the ground is usually wet, and you never can tell what proportion of it is water and what is pee. So you assume the best, fear the worst, tell yourself it’s only the shoes, and only the soles at that, and get on with the job.

In western style toilets, the floor might be less wet and disgusting, but the toilet seat has all the potential to more than make up for it. Even the six-vertical-inch-hover tactic often doesn’t seem like enough.

Either way, limiting physical contact doesn’t do much to contain the stink.

Nor do I think that public toilets are better anywhere else around the globe. You might find halfway bearable occurrences in the more high-class establishments like star hotels; or, for instance, at a shopping mall you might get lucky and reach the restroom just after it’s been cleaned; but in general, the best option is to simply avoid toilets outside home whenever you can.

All that changed when I started toilet-training the kids. Suddenly, after all the luxurious safety of diapers, I needed to be able to rush one – or, more likely, two – kids with critical bladder situations to the bathroom – like, RIGHT NOW! In those days there was no time to look at the bathroom and consider its level of cleanliness or hygiene.

Things are better now – in a manner of speaking. I still have to take the kids to the toilet in public places way too often. But now their every toilet request is not a crisis in the making. They can wait a few minutes while we get to the toilet, wait for it to get freed up, wait for me to do some kind of sanitising of the toilet seat…

In all of which I get to see up close and OFTEN exactly how gross public toilets really are.

And then, they started school.

Their school has squatty pots in miniature, more convenient for kids than the adult-size ones. The bathrooms are common for small boys and girls. Cubicle doors can’t be locked and don’t extend right down to the floor. Not all kids have learnt to close the cubicle doors behind them when they go, so the anatomy lesson is thrown in gratis.

A few days after the kids started school, I had taken them to the toilet before leaving, something I still insist upon before every drive or outing.

Tara went in and squatted, and… She slipped. Eeeks! Her right foot landed in the bowl!

It could have been worse… (do you need me to draw a picture?)

Then Mrini went, and neglected to hold up her skirt properly.

One day, Mrini, influenced by seeing how little boys pee, decided to try doing it standing up. Naturally, it ran down her legs. Ugh! And I had to load her into the car and take her home. Ugh ugh ugh!

But worse was in store for me.

The flushes in these cubicles don’t always work. I think the flush tanks just run out of water, with so many small kids going so often. There are taps in each cubicle and small buckets. So often the floor is wet either due to water running from over-flowing buckets, or from the water being used by the helpers to wash the floor.

Why wash the floor?

I saw one of the older girls – maybe 4 or 5 years old – walk into the stall and pee on the ground. Not near the toilet, not even in the correct orientation to the toilet, just right there on the floor near the door.

And the next kid who comes in wouldn’t know! They might not even think about it.

Shudders!

So what can you do? Close your eyes; close your mind; get your kids home and give them a bath; ignore the worst and assume the best, and hope they get through it all somehow, without catching any horrible diseases…


Film Review: Wednesday

July 15, 2009

Amit had been very keen to watch this film, so we got the DVD and watched it last night. With Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah, no women (to speak of), no romance, no songs, it looked like being an interesting change from your usual Bollywood offering.

I must add for the sake of clarity and honesty, that I’m not much of a Bollywood aficionado. I’ve probably seen ten Bollywood films in the last ten years, but not necessarily one a year. Those I can recall are, in no particular order, Black, Lagaan, The Blue Umbrella, Rang De Basanti, Chak De, Slumdog Millionaire, Taare Zameen Par… And that’s not even ten.

Still, I’d heard a bit about Wednesday, it was supposed to be a good, tight, fast-paced action film. I suppose my mistake was, on hearing that, expecting something Hollywood.

I was disappointed on several accounts. First, by Hollywood standards, there wasn’t much action or suspense in this movie. It kept trying to slowly lead up to something, but when the climax came, it wasn’t an action-thriller climax at all. It was a social message. And obviously, since it was Bollywood, the message was verbose, in your face, emotional, overdone, out of character, and completely overboard. It only stopped short of being melodramatic (if it did, I’m not even sure of that) because it was delivered by Naseeruddin Shah.

In any case, I don’t like films that set out to tell a good story, rush ahead full steam until half-way through and then stop short and say: hang on; this isn’t about the story at all: it’s about this social message, and here it comes! Rang De Basanti did exactly the same thing and I hated the second part of that film, especially because it followed the good-fun type of first half. This is so disappointing, when the social message could have been kept to about two lines (instead of 200 or so), or, better still, could have been made part of the story itself. A prime example of this – from Hollywood, because I haven’t seen enough of Bollywood – is Blood Diamond. There is a social message, but it is delivered through the story – which remains a good action drama – instead of suddenly hijacking the story and completely subjugating it to the delivery of the message.

There were other things I didn’t like about this film as well. I think the characters – as in so much of Bollywood – are stereotypes, in fact almost caricatures, of themselves. Like the hacker-techie chap, for instance. And the CM. A politician who manages to become the CM of Maharashtra is nobody’s fool, the way this fellow seems to have become.

Anupam Kher and the great Naseeruddin Shah did their parts well, as would be expected. But I found too many flaws in Naseeruddin Shah’s character. If he is such a “common man,” how come he speaks such super-upper-class English? I’d sooner accept this in a well-educated, well-bred, upper-class terrorist, than in a “common man” gone mad. And how does this extremely humble “common man” know so much geeky cellphone technology (quite apart from bomb-making technology)?

I also don’t really understand this: Even if you accept that the common man has had it with terrorism; and that the common man has had it with terrorists getting a decent trial and jail sentence; and that the common man would rather see terrorists dead than back out in the real world; even if you accept all that, would you really go so far as to have sympathy with a person who is willing to bomb and kill another round of innocent people in an effort to nail a few terrorists? Isn’t one sort of violence just as bad as the other? Can you really elevate vigilant-ism over out-and-out terrorism on moral grounds? Ok, so finally the fake-terrorist-common-man character hadn’t in fact placed six bombs all over Mumbai. But when the techie-hacker and that other fellow start suddenly developing sympathy and goodwill for him, they don’t know that. Besides, nobody said that the bomb kept in the police station, which was found and defused, wasn’t capable of killing people. How about that? Or is this the famous argument about the ends justifying the means? In which case, mustn’t you measure terrorism also by the same token? Terrorists also (claim to) have an ideology… we may not agree with it, but to them it is as valid as any other ideal that anyone else aspires to. Isn’t it the “means” (violence, murder, innocent victims, communal bias etc) that make it so wrong?

And how about the Commissioner of Police going and shaking hands with the common-man-terrorist who almost bombed his police station? And how about the police cold-bloodedly murdering the one remaining terrorist who wasn’t killed in the bomb? Do we condone that as well? Do we say, “Well, it happens all the time…”? Do we say, “Well, he deserved it…”? Do we say, “He was scum, anyway, so who cares?”

So, the more I think about it, the less I like it. I want my action-drama to be an action-drama, and if I must watch a preachy film, I want the ethics clearly thought out and well presented. I don’t want a sentimental mish-mash of the two, not even with Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah. Am I the only one to think like this?


Dosa, Boys, Chicken, and I’m Not Asking You

July 13, 2009

It seemed like we were on track to leave for school at the usual hour this morning. Then came a minor disaster. The bread turned out to be completely mouldy. Really, this cannot be my fault. It was a pretty fresh packet, we only opened it last evening. Anyhow, there were, of course, no fresh chappatis in the house (Monday morning, remember; no domestic help over the weekend). And my options for the kids’ tiffin consist pretty much of either bread-and-jam or roti-and-jam. At least there was jam. There was even readymade atta in the fridge. But I am SO not the sort of mom who sets about making chappatis for my kids early in the morning.

So what could I do?

I could do dosa.

Yeah, I can’t do chappatis, but I can do dosa. Specially when “doing” dosa starts with opening a packet of batter…

So I did dosa.

You try squeezing making dosas into the time set aside for slapping jam on two slices of bread. It’s no dice. The dosas took way more time, and of course we were running late. I handed the kids their clothes and Mrini put everything on back to front. Tara, only the shirt. Got that straightened out and somehow got out of the house only five minutes late. If the traffic was kind, we’d still make it on time.

But traffic was not kind – not at all. It was about twice as bad as usual. Do ALL the worms have to come crawling out of the woodwork on Monday morning?

As the kids were getting into the car, Mrini managed to squash her finger between the car door and the car next door. (I didn’t have anything to do with that either.) Tears ensued and had to be wiped away, hurriedly. At last we were on our way.

After a few minutes of silence, Tara asked Mrini solicitously: Mrini, now you ok?

Sniffles from Mrini.

Tara: Mrini you hurt your finger, now you ok?

After a bit, Mrini said she was ok. But she wasn’t in talk mode. Tara, surprisingly enough, was; usually she’s the silent-er one in the car.

Tara: Mrini, did you see the Mall?
Mrini is silent.
Me: I saw the Mall.
Tara (curtly): I not asking you. I’m asking Mrini. Mrini, did you see the Mall?
Mrini still silent.
Tara: Mama, Mrini not talking.
Me: Mrini, Tara is asking you, did you see the Mall?
Mrini remains silent. Long pause. Then: I not talking. I seeing the cars.

—————

Yesterday we had taken the girls out for lunch and were at the restaurant waiting to be served. After we had waited for quite a long time, Mrini almost embarrassed me by saying loudly: Mama, I want my CHICKEN. Where’s my CHICKEN?

“Almost” embarrassed me, because she’s still young enough for this to be cute (or so I think, anyway). But honestly! Anyone would think we don’t feed them at home. (Just for the record, we do.)

————–
Well, it could be worse. This other brick was dropped when there was no-one but us around to hear. We drove past a playground where a lot of boys were playing cricket (or something like it). Tara immediately goes: Oooh! Booooooys!

I know they start younger these days, but hang on, these girls aren’t even three yet!


%d bloggers like this: