I’m not sure this is something I’d want my kids to know about when they’re all grown up

January 27, 2010

I must be desperate or crazy – or both.

One of the nice things about our new home is its balconies. We have four – one at the top of the steps, one attached to the study, one attached to the master bedroom, one attached to the dining room and one attached to the kitchen. Ok, that’s five. Two of them are deep, squar-ish, and covered with a sloping tiled roof. The others are small, and largely or entirely uncovered. The one attached to the kitchen is enclosed by a metal grill, which makes it safe to keep the washing machine there and hang clothes there, though everything is exposed to the elements. The one attached to the study can actually be accessed directly from the ground floor, which makes it a slightly public balcony, though it is hidden from view from the road. The other three balconies are very visible from the road, but they are nice for sitting on with a cup of tea. Not, of course, that we’ve ever done that yet; or ever did in our old home which also had a couple of balconies. As a matter of fact, we don’t even have chairs and tables to put on the balcony, yet.

In addition to the five balconies, we have terrace at three levels. Technically, the terrace is shared with the tenants on the ground floor (and I suppose that, equally theoretically, their garden is shared with us), but I’ve never seen them use it.

And of course, we have a large garage, which should do for two cars but for all the junk lying in it; and a separate side parking area for my car.

So basically, we have a lot of open space in this place – a lot more than we’re used to. Which is great, except when it comes to cleaning it.

We haven’t properly cleaned the whole house more than once or twice since we moved in, so obviously, we haven’t cleaned the outdoors areas even once. I decided to tackle the many areas one-at-a-time over the weekends. By the time I get done with all of them, it’ll be time to go back to the top and start again. It’s as good a way to spend the weekend as any…. Well, almost.

So on Sunday I decided to tackle the balcony attached to the dining room. Since it is larger than the others and covered too, and since it is centrally located and cannot be access from anywhere other than the dining room, it has unfortunately been elected as the best place to hang clothes to dry. Unfortunate, because I’d much rather not have to see our clothes drying every time I pass by – about 200 times a day – but it seemed to be the only practical option. The other balconies are either too far away from the laundry area, or too small, or too public, or too exposed to the elements. So, since we had to hang our clean clothes there to dry, it seemed logical to get that balcony cleaned up as quickly as possible.

Now, if I have to get my hands dirty cleaning up our new place, why should I have to do this alone? Especially when I have another two pairs of hands that are only too eager to get themselves dirty? So I tore a large rag into two small rags and one large rag, handed the smaller bits to the twins, equipped us with a mug of water with some detergent in it, and we all got busy. I cleaned the upper surfaces, while the girls worked on the lower surfaces. We did the glass doors, the ornamental railing, and the floor. By the end of an hour or so, much of the dust that had formerly been in the balcony had been transferred onto parts of the girls. I’m not sure whose idea it was – most likely, not mine – but somebody decided that the muddy water in the mug and the muddy rags in our hands would be ideal for mopping the dusty floor with. Given that large quantities of water had already been spilled on the floor, though, this probably did no more harm than had already been done.

Like I’ve said before, when it comes to my own kids, I have nothing against child labour. But… just that weekend I’d heard of two small kids who’d been hit by something allergenic and had to be taken to the hospital in a hurry and put on a nebulizer. Neither of these kids had any known history of asthma, so probably it was something in the air. And dust is the last thing you want to expose people to if they’ve already got breathing problems. Why, exactly, was I making my kids practically roll around in the stuff?

The good part of all this was that I got some very funny looks from people passing by on the street below. Hopefully, some of them were domestic help, and some of them were people who know or employ domestic help. If they have no pity for me, they might at least take pity on the two little girls scrubbing away so Cinderella-like and come and ease our pain. Till that happens, there are plenty of equally public spaces that I can coax the kids into spend the next several weekends scrubbing.

If It’s Broke… Don’t Fix It

January 20, 2010

That seems to be Hyundai’s motto. I sent my car for servicing and told them that two things were broken: the windshield wiper (somebody flicked the blade while we were in Calcutta! Nasty *%&$%@*#); and the switch of the cabin light (or overhead light or the light that’s supposed to come on when you open the door). Apart from these two minor problems, I just wanted a routine servicing. It was, as a matter of fact, the second free service for this baby, who’s only just six months old. The latter problem (the light switch) should not even have happened in a six-month-old vehicle. (The former problem should never happen, no matter how old. What could anyone want with a windshield wiper blade???)

My car was delivered back in spotlessly clean condition. Everything looked ok, so I paid up and sent the chap away. It was only late at night that I found that absolutely nothing had been done about the light switch; it was still broken. Damn, I thought, I’ll have to call them to get it fixed. I’ll jolly well make them come and pick up the car and drop it back free of cost.

So I called. I was told that the light switch hadn’t been fixed because the part wasn’t in stock. The “assembly” would have to be changed. It would cost me 1500 bucks. So they had done a “temporary” fix.

I was in shock. What temporary fix? And why should I have to pay 1500 bucks for a simple little plastic light switch that had no business breaking when it was less than six months old in the first place?

I asked for the manager’s number, then I decided to call the Head of Servicing. He directed me back to the manager. In fact, he said he’d speak to the manager and ask the manager to call me, but when did Service people ever start actually calling a disgruntled customer? When I called, the manager had been briefed by both the service engineer and the head of servicing. He had all the answers. A Hyundai engineer had seen the problem and declared it to be not a manufacturing defect, so not covered by warranty. I vented some ire on him, politely, and got him on the defensive by asking why I hadn’t even been told any of this to begin with. And, of course, I ended by asking him why I should have to pay big bucks for something which shouldn’t even be broken in six months. I added, for good measure, that I’d never had any such silly problem with my old car even after eight years! Which was absolutely true, apart from the little matter of the axle falling off while I was at the wheel.

Anyhow, he put me on to somebody in Chennai, so I called and fired that guy as well. That fellow said he’d speak to the manager and ask him to call me back. I gave the guy several hours, then called him again. By now, apparently, I’d fired enough people, so they decided I was a nuisance. “We’ll replace the part as soon as we get it, possibly next Monday,” they told me. They probably think I’ll forget all about it by then, but they don’t know me

A Little Bit Of Many Things

January 19, 2010

I can hardly believe we are almost three weeks into the new year. Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, but they forgot to add that time also flies when you’ve got more work than you can handle. We haven’t got any form of domestic help yet, so in addition to working and managing the kids, we’re also doing ALL the household work ourselves. At least we managed to find a dhobi… but it would be more reassuring if we could count on him to pick up and send back the clothes whenever he says he will. Currently he promises the earth and delivers nothing – which is very worrying when all your office-wear is in his sole possession.

At least we managed to get all our cartons of books and assorted STUFF unpacked. We found just about everything we needed, then we threw away some of it, and boxed some of it up again and stuck it in the pooja room which is serving as a store room. Books and knick-knacks were the primary targets – this new place has nothing like the amount of bookshelf and showcase space that it should have. It is so sad to see so many of my dear friends (the books, I mean) boxed up and tucked away – psychology text books, archaeology text books, german text books… Amit bid adieu to Bengali song books and his old computer text books as well… may they all see the light of day sometime soon.

Meanwhile, we spent two very hectic weekends working ceaselessly to put everything else in its place and stash all the empty boxes and rarely-used stuff away into deep, high, or otherwise inaccessible places like lofts and the garage. At last, we can actually see the floor in the study and around the bookshelf in the living room. We even have most of the bathroom fittings up; only the paintings are still on the ground, facing the wall, looking sad.

There have been a couple of casualties of the move. My new (but very cheap) pair of black sandals has disappeared completely. One framed picture has had its glass smashed. And our 3-CD changer has mysteriously gotten stuck in the open position and cannot be closed. This is a big problem – left in its designated place, it is going to attract the kids like a candle to a moth. It also doesn’t look like anything that we are going to succeed in getting fixed anytime soon. And today when I ran the microwave, though it hummed and its light came on and the tray rotated like it should, the food simply didn’t warm up – so I suspect that’s going to be on the casualty list as well.

Last Thursday, before we were quite set up, we had our first attempt at entertaining. There were still cardboard boxes littering the place, but my cousin and his wife happened to be passing through Bangalore for a day so of course we had them come over for lunch. Fortunately, it was a holiday for me. Unfortunately, it was also a holiday for the kids, which hampered my effectiveness quite a bit. Even more unfortunately, it was not a holiday for Amit; but fortunately he could work from home and do his best to help me. I was, of course, sorely tempted to order in lunch, but we haven’t really discovered any very nice places to order in from – only the keep-body-and-soul-together variety – so I decided I had better cook. Tired and uninspired as I was, I managed to churn out an edible meal of pasta and meat sauce, chicken with mushroom, mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies. Naturally, there was ice cream – which I had to dash out and buy while my cousins were already in the car on the way to our place. Luckily, of course, their driver lost the way, so I made it home before they did. Apart from the cartons strewn around and the antique (50-year-old) melamine crockery that we were forced to use, it was an almost acceptable level of entertaining. (Of course my cousin took us all out in the evening, and we went to Ebony, which was just wonderful – it’s been ages since I went there! We reserved a table on the “main” terrace and were warned in no uncertain terms that if we were as much as 5 minutes late, we’d lose it. I’ve never been under that kind of stress for a mere dinner reservation! We were, of course, about 11 minutes late, but we did call them on the dot of 8 to say we were almost there and would they please hold the table for us, pretty please?)

We have been taking the kids to the play area quite regularly. There’s a good collection of swings there, so they enjoy it, but… it’s not the same thing. I do see some of the same people there everyday, but neither the kids nor the attendant parents seem to have formed a gang, like we had back in our old place. There’s a gang of grandmas who stand around in a circle, chant, clap, and eventually descend into prayer; and there are some small gatherings of women walking briskly around outside the park, some with dogs; but in the park, each of the mothers/grandparents/maids focuses their attention on their children/wards and the children focus their attention on the swings, and there doesn’t seem to be much interaction between anyone. I’ve been making eye contact and smiling at all the women, in the hopes of eventually finding my way to a maid (domestic help, I mean), but it doesn’t seem to be working. Amit says they must all think me daft. I don’t mind if they do, so long as they spread the good word. The next step has got to be just going up to some of them and telling them outright: Hey, I’m not smiling at you because I like you, or even because I’m daft: the thing is, I need a maid. Can you lend me yours?

Of course it’s also true that even if I get to know the people and the kids begin to play with the other kids there, it might not be the same. We had a good gang in our old place and it doesn’t automatically follow that we can get an equally good gang in the new place.

So once the dust settles (and that took quite a while), it looks like we fixed something that was kind-of broken (the evening commute) and in doing so, broke several other things that were working so well. Sigh. Why is life always about trade-offs? Why can’t everything go right, just for a little while?

Meanwhile, thoughts on the new year

  • Forget trying to lose weight.
  • Forget trying to get my books published
  • Forget getting back to playing my violin regularly
  • Forget studying archaeology

All I want to do this year is:

  • Keep my head above water at work
  • Avert any major household crises
  • Spend as much time as possible with the kids (without losing my temper)
  • Remember to smile – this is (mostly) the life I wanted


January 4, 2010

It’s strange, the way the mind works. I remember when I first started working in a dotcom company ten years ago, ID badges were disparaged and people who wore them – these “doggie tags” – were mocked. It was a symbol of a perverted kind of bravado (sorry, “cool”) to not wear your doggie tag. Of course the doors were not security-enabled, so you could waltz in and out without a badge hanging from your neck if you wanted to. Everybody knew everybody, there was no question of anyone actually stopping you and asking for your badge. The whole thing was a bit of a joke. In the last company I worked for, things were totally different. You couldn’t get into the main areas of the office building without an ID, and even in the more “public” areas like the cafeteria, you had to have your badge visibly on you, even if it was a temporary badge or a visitor badge. Badgeless workers would be questioned and tailgating was just not acceptable. Between these two extremes my various organisations showed various degrees of seriousness about ID badges. My own attitude was largely indifferent – I wore my badge because I was supposed to and neither liked nor abhorred it… or so I thought. I don’t know when the badge became a symbol of anything to me, but when I joined my current organization, I looked forward to getting my badge and wearing it like a medal of honour, to proclaim that I too, now, was a member of the workforce (the paid workforce, I mean). When I joined my new organization, it took them a couple of working weeks to get my badge. Meanwhile, I had nothing: no temporary badge, no visiting cards, not even a simple parking sticker. Strange as it is, this made me feel… unsettled, I think is the best word. I lacked the sense of belonging. I had my cube, my laptop, my desk phone, but… my attire was incomplete. I still didn’t have the look of a gainfully employed person. For that final, crucial touch, I needed the badge. And now I have it: a gaudy red tape with a badly scanned image of my face – wearing a somewhat sardonic half-smile – at the end of it. It really is not something potent enough to be a symbol of anything, but… somehow it feels good to have my doggie tag back.

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