That’s My Girl!

May 27, 2010

I’d promised the girls that when they got up on stage and sang and danced, I’d clap long and loud and shout “that’s my girl!”

And I did! Loud enough to have a hoarse voice afterwards.

I think I was about as excited about the show as the kids were – or maybe a little more – when I went to their daycare to pick them up. Their daycare aunties were, of course, doing careful job of getting them dressed, busy with needle and thread as they tucked in bits of the rented costume. The costume was white sleeveless Chinese collar shirts with silvery spangles on them, and a dark blue plastic skirt. Why plastic? I have no idea. At least the clothes were not intolerably uncomfortable. Mrini did complain that her Chinese collar was itching her, but a few bars of her favourite Double Double Fun Fun soon distracted her.

We were supposed to reach the venue, Chowdaiah, at 4 p.m. We reached at 4.10, which was pretty good going. As we reached the registration tables set up near the entrance, the girls grabbed my hands tightly and wouldn’t let go. Their summer camp aunties were waiting to escort them backstage, but they behaved like they were being kidnapped by aliens. The rule was that no parents were allowed backstage, so I tried to persuade them to let go, but they were quite resistant to the idea. Luckily, their summer camp aunties didn’t insist and a few minutes later, as other kids from their batch turned up, they grew brave enough to go along with them, albeit with many an anxious look cast in my direction.

From about 4.20 till about 5.30, I hung around outdoors, watching other parents arriving with sleepy, grumpy kids. Then I realized that there were enough parents still with their kids that it should be ok for me to go and take a look at the girls. So I entered the building from one of the side doors and went towards the green room. I expected at every step to be stopped and turned away, but strangely enough, I wasn’t. I’m normally a very rule-abiding person who is very hesitant to go into areas that are declared to be out of bounds, so it was quite out of character for me to just walk all the way around backstage without blinking.

I looked into the two green rooms, but, though both were filled with kids, my girls were nowhere to be seen. I exited the backstage area from the door at the other end, and then I found them, sitting on the steps just outside the stage door. With them was summer camp Aunty1, a huge quivering mass of indignation and irritation. I’d never met her, as the summer camp took place in the middle of the morning and was seamlessly integrated into their daycare schedule. But I took to her at once.

All around us was chaos. Children from various centres thronged children from other centres. Parents hung around hunting desperately for children, aunties, or the holy grail. Aunty1 tried to keep her brood of 15-odd kids confined to a few designated steps, but had to keep darting off one side or another to grab someone who wanted to escape. There was one young chap and one young woman assigned to Aunty1 when I reached the scene. Within minutes, the young chap was sent off to take one of the boys to the bathroom. By the looks of the young chap’s expression at this task, it was not something he was used to doing. I’m guessing it’s not a particularly fun task to have to take somebody else’s young boy to the bathroom, particularly when it’s somebody you’ve never met before and the more so if it’s not something you’ve ever done before. He was gone a long, long time. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him again after that.

The young girl was called away elsewhere, so it was just me and Aunty1. I was holding Tara, who was fretful and threatened to be tearful, while observing with interest the volume of steam emanating from Aunty1’s ears. It didn’t require much prodding for her to tell me all. The older kids, Eldies, had been given a ridiculously easy number to do, and the tiny kids, Tinies, had been given a complex number. This allocation was done by the Choreographer. Aunty1 had decided long ago to swap the numbers. The choreographer, for reasons unknown to me, had not swapped the sequence of the music. So, instead of the Tinies going on first, as had been planned, now the Eldies would go on first, then there would be several other numbers from kids from other centres, and only after that would our Tinies be allowed on stage. As if that weren’t bad enough, Aunty1 was infuriated that the Tinies had been made to come at 4 p.m. a whole two-and-a-half hours before showtime. The Eldies had been asked to report a whole hour later, at 5. Where’s the sense in that!?

It took only the slightest encouragement from me for Aunty1 to go dashing off to confront the choreographer. Which left me in charge of an unspecified number of kids, some of whom were beginning to wail. I did my best to restore order by scolding some rowdy boys, separating a girl who was having her hair pulled from another who was doing the pulling, letting Tara sit in my lap, and hugging another girl who was crying. I glimpsed Aunty1 rushing past a few times at something close to the speed of light like and infuriated and unidentified flying object. At last she returned, momentarily, still intent on having words with the Choreographer. She did a quick headcount, realized that only one head was missing (apart from the boy who’d gone to the toilet and still not returned; and the other boy who’d been sent back to his parents in a flood of tears), realized which particular head it was, and departed in frantic search of that head. While she was gone, the missing head was escorted back to our group by some unidentified assistants who were entirely unsure about which group the boy belonged to. A three-year-old in these chaotic circumstances can answer a few questions, but, “Which centre do you belong to?” is not one of them. I asked Mrini and Tara if this boy was their friend, but they said no. I tried out the name I’d heard Aunty1 mutter on the boy and he tearfully nodded, so I let him sit down on our steps, while I waited for Aunty1 to come whizzing around again. She did, and almost collapsed with relief. “I saw his parents and he was not with them,” she said. “How can I ask them if them know where he is? What will they think? I just turned around and ran from there,” she said.

Having ensured that the rest of her charges were present and correct, she left me to it and disappeared again. At last she returned with news of success: Ours would be the very first act. “Don’t we need to get these kids ready then?” I asked, waving at several kids who were not in costume yet. We shepherded the Tinies into the backstage area. Separated from the Eldies (who were left in charge of someone else; but they were more interested in fighting with each other and less interested in wailing for their parents) there were only about 7 kids. One was sobbing inconsolably and had to be sent of with his parents. Another was sobbing inconsolably, but was ok as long as his father was around. The other 5 were ok. We spent a few minutes tying bits and pieces of stuff onto their costumes, then I got them to work with Ringa Ringa Roses. That kept them busy for a precious 5 minutes and it was a sight that was heartwarming beyond words – these six little things, all anxious and strung up, all dressed up in ridiculous stuff, sweetly going around in a circle, falling down, giggling, then getting up and going around again.

Sometime around this stage, one of the organizers, for the first and last time, tried to evict me from backstage. It was the only time someone even realized I was a “parent” and not an “organizer”. In fact, so many people had assumed I was part of the organizers and had asked me so many arbitrary things, that I was even beginning to feel a bit like one of the organizers. At least I knew three of the kids in my charge, which was more than you could say of many organizers. So when this woman tried to shoo me off, I refused to be shooed off. “There are no teachers,” I said. She pointed to various other organizers who were rushing around. “But none of them know these kids,” I said. Then she asked where their teacher was and I had the answer to that too. “She’s gone to the registration desk to check if any of the other kids have turned up yet.” Then I hurried off to disentangle Tara from the boom machinery that she was exploring much too closely.

And so they let me stay.

As the minutes dragged by and the kids got fidgety again, I decided to give them some down time. I gathered the six of them around me and started to tell a story. I had, of course, absolutely no idea what story to tell, nor what language to tell it in. But who cares. I sat them down, and Mrini and Tara, always eager for one of my stories, were instrumental in getting the others to fall in line. And as softly and slowly as possible, I launched on what might well have turned into the story of Peter and the Wolf… but long before the wolf appeared on the scene, they were called into the wings. So I exited backstage left and entered the audience. I found my way to where Amit and S&S were, and five minutes later, after a couple of really short speeches and one solo number by some dancer guy, our girls were on!

The music, unfortunately, was BLASTING! It was loud enough to put a pub to shame. I think somebody forgot to tell some technician fellow that this was a show by little kids, none older than about 6. Naturally, when the kids got on stage, they were a little startled by the whole experience. But they were playing their song – Itsy Bitsy Spider – and their summer camp aunties were there below the stage with their backs to the audience, doing the steps. Three of the kids, including Mrini, followed along beautifully. They were so, so sweet – innocently doing their thing. Then there was Tara – she got on stage, covered both her ears with her hands, and stood there looking worried. The boy next to her looked at her, wondered whether he should be worried too, decided he should, and covered his ears with his hands too. After a moment, he realized that the other kids were dancing, so he took his hands down and began dancing. And Tara stood there, stock still, hands over her ears. It was the cutest thing ever! Towards the very end of their act, she became a little brave and tried to follow along – but before she could really get into it, it was all over.

I rushed backstage to take charge of the kids. They were photographed and then they were allowed to change into their own clothes and return the costumes to Aunty1. Once that was done, we all headed back to the audience to watch the rest of the show. Around 7.30, after the Eldies had done their act (without a hitch) we started to leave. The girls were hungry and thirsty and once I’d given them bananas and water, they wanted to use the toilet, so what with everything it was close to 8 by the time we left and just after 9 by the time we got home. We ordered in Chinese, gave the girls their milk which they demanded vociferously and downed without pausing to pull up their chairs and tables, and then put them to bed without pausing for a bath. It was with great difficulty that we got them to brush their teeth. They were in bed by 9.15, only half an hour or 45 minutes later than usual, but they were really tired. This morning they refused to get out of bed until an hour later than usual.

All in all, it was one hell of an evening. Almost all fun, but thank goodness that I went backstage when I did, or our kids would have wound up wailing like so many others – and maybe some of the other kids would have, too.

On our drive home, I remembered that 30-odd years ago, when my mother used to teach Tinies in a school in Chandigarh, we used to accompany her to Tagore theatre for their Annual Day. I must have been 7-8 years old. I don’t remember the details, and I think their acts were more complicated with scenery and stuff, but I do remember being there. I think there used to be a similar level of chaos. Maybe that explains how I knew where to go, what to expect and what to do. I certainly did have a completely unexpected comfort-level in the situation – one might even say that I quite enjoyed it. Apparently, so did the kids. Today when I went to daycare to pick up Mrini and Tara in the evening, the girl whom I hugged while she was crying yesterday gave me a shy smile. That was really nice.

We did manage, with some difficulty, to track down the fellow who took orders for the delivery of photographs. By the time we did this, just before we left, the fellow had packed up his bag and seated himself in the audience. It was only because the organizers had seen me around all evening that they did everything they could to help us track him down. So hopefully we will be getting a CD of photos and videos of the show some day. Until then, you’ll just have to make do with two-and-a-half thousand words.

So that’s one adventure out of the way. Tomorrow we leave for Devbagh. Overnight bus. Boat. Island. Sea. Houseboat. Plenty more adventures coming up!

Stage Show

May 26, 2010

It’s a big day for us today: the twins are going to be on stage, for the first time ever.

This show is organized by their daycare/summer camp organizers. It looks like being a big but well-planned event. We’ve received several notices so far telling us what to do. It’s going to be at one of the biggest halls in town. Of course, it is at the other end of town, but what cannot be cured must be endured.

Luckily, it is not the sort of thing that requires me – the hapless mother – to do much. We had to take the kids for an extra “practice” session for an hour on Saturday. Yesterday they were provided their costumes, which I was supposed to take home, try on them, and alter. Fat chance of that! They have to arrive at the venue at 4 p.m. already dressed in their costumes, so that means I have to leave office at 3 (or ideally a little earlier) and pick them up from daycare. I wish daycare had provided transport, but this they haven’t done. So when I pick them up, they should be already dressed in their costumes. Great, because that means that their daycare aunties get to get them dressed and “dolled up” – the notice mentioned something about makeup! I don’t do makeup myself, what will I do for my under-four girls? I hardly just about can manage to tie two almost-symmetrical pony tails on one little head.

What I can do is to take photos, so I’ve got the camera along, the proper, big camera, no mobile phone photos for this event, thank you. Hopefully I’ll get a couple of good shots before they get whisked off by the organizers. Apparently, parents are not required backstage at all. There are going to be 15 daycare centres participating in this show, and each centre might have about 20-odd kids, so that’s 300 kids between 2 and 6 years of age under one roof! And they don’t want parents backstage!?!?! I’m not sure whether that’s a smart call, or plain crazy.

So anyway, I drop them off in charge of their summer camp aunty and then I’m persona non grata until the show starts at 6. I’d love to sit in the audience and watch the “technical” rehearsal. I’d love to see the chaos that 300 kids can cause. I’d love to know how the organizers are going to keep 300 kids in fancy dress in presentable shape for two hours till the show starts and another two hours till it ends. But I’ll probably just get to sit outside and stare at the wall.

The kids are, of course, very ‘interested’ in the whole proceeding. They brought pom-poms home from summer camp one day and provided us one solid hour of fantastic entertainment by dancing and singing and waving them around. If their stage dance is going to be anything like that, it’s going to be a riot.

A Few Good Things

May 24, 2010

It was such a fun weekend.

We didn’t do anything special, but lots of little things were nice about it.

Like, I went shopping for trousers – thanks to my ever-expanding waistline, nothing in my cupboard fits me any more – and I actually found two very nice pairs that fit perfectly. Of course, the first ten pairs I tried on were all wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when are all these big, hotshot designers going to realize that a woman with a 32-inch waist is not going to have drainpipe lets to slip into those straw-sized trousers and jeans? And when are those same designers also going to realize that not all women who go shopping for trousers or jeans are anorexic 16-year-olds with body measurements as small as their IQs? (Actually I don’t mean to cast aspersion on the IQ or any other value of anorexic 16-year-olds, they just happened to get in the way of my ire against designers.)

And just why have pleats gone out of fashion? Why? Why? WHYYYYYYY!? Pleats, you see, are fully functional. They serve the purpose of fitting a narrower waist that expands into a fuller tummy. Without pleats, you either have trousers that are bursting across the tummy region, or hanging a good two inches loose at the waist. And belting up two whole inches of waistband is just no fun.

So when I found trousers that had pleats, belt tabs, pockets, and a nice fabric and colour too, I naturally bought two of them.

So you want to know where I found these perfect-fit, pleated trousers? Obviously, they were in the men’s section. Men, after all, are allowed to have bulging bellies and tree-trunk legs, only women are expected to look like chopsticks with a head. Why I didn’t look in the men’s section in the first place is a mystery to me. But having found them, paid for them, and got them stitched up at the right length, my only disappointment was that I couldn’t have bought a third one, in a light brown, tan, or cream shade. Apparently, those shades are also out of fashion.

But at least I now have enough trousers that fit so that I don’t have to fall back to the last resort of wearing saris to office.

I accomplished another important task on the same expedition. I’d received a couple of messages telling me to go register for some Income Tax thing online. Strangely enough, in a moment of foolish idleness, I did this. As part of the registration process, you have to get the physical verification of self and PAN card done by some authorized people in various agencies. So anything that requires me to go somewhere and that too within working hours has a high likelihood of not happening in the foreseeable future. But by a combination of determination and a happy set of circumstances, I managed to get this particular task done.

I had another couple of tasks to do as well. My boss is coming to town this week and she wanted to know if I could pick up a kilo of Ooty chocolates for her. Considering that we lived so close to Ooty chocolates for so many years and considering that I’m one of the world’s leading chocaholics, it’s very strange that I have never actually been into an Ooty chocolates outlet. But now, of course, I had to go. So on Sunday morning, I drove all the way to Ooty chocolates and what a load of happiness that was! Not only did I pick up what my boss had asked for, but I also bought a half kilo of extra dark chocolate all for myself. 70% cocoa! Now I don’t have to wait for Amit to go abroad any more!

This week looks like being a super-busy week. On Monday, a new colleague is joining office and Tuesday to Friday my boss will be here. That means, meetings, trainings, conversations and so on, in addition to the usual work. On Wednesday evening, the kids will participate in a show organized by their daycare/summer camp. Apparently, they are going to sing and dance the Itsy Bitsy Spider song. They have to wear some fancy costume and all, which, thankfully, is all being handled by the organizers; we only have to pay the money. But it does mean that they have to be at the venue at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. So that means, I have to leave office at 3.

As if that weren’t enough, a colleague has a house-warming party on Wednesday. Lunch. That means a good couple of hours – or more – away from work. And it also means buying a housewarming gift. At least that got done easily enough over the weekend – I got a crystal Ganesha that is so pretty I’m seriously tempted to keep it for myself. But how am I going to get any work done on Wednesday, what with a housewarming for lunch and the kids’ first ever stage show from 3 p.m. onwards?

My boss, gift from heaven that she is, happily said, oh, don’t bother, just go have fun. With a boss like that, what more could one ask for?

And on Sunday, our cook came and cooked us a wonderful chicken biryani which we all carried with us for lunch today.

I actually managed to get to office at 8.30 this morning.

And the best part: On Friday evening, we catch an overnight sleeper bus that will take us to Devbagh! (Four nice pictures, click here.) Our last proper holiday with the kids was… I think it was Binsar, more than a year ago! After that, we’ve been to Calcutta, Pondicherry of course, and once to Cauvery Fishing Camp last October, but nothing significant really. So a holiday is more than overdue. And last time I went to Devbagh, this is what happened. This time… who knows?

Identical? Not Really

May 21, 2010

A few of the many, many fun conversations with the twins.

Tara: Shall I tell you something?
Me: Yes, tell me something.
(Whispering): Ice cream is very cold!

Mrini and Amit watching Rafa play a match on TV. At the end of a point, Mrini turns to Amit and asks: Did Rafa win the point?

Mrini: I can’t sing One Prayer, I can only sing Twins Are In and Twins Are Marching and Deuces Are Wild and that other new song. (She meant Double Double Fun Fun; these are all songs from a new CD titled Twin Spin, very sweetly gifted to the twins by Double the Fun girls, Mel and Jess.)
Tara: I can’t sing aaaaaaanything.
Me: Tara, why can’t you sing anything?
Tara: I don’t want to sing.

The evening after the magic show.

Mrini: When the sun was shining when we were driving in the car, I was very hot, I was all sweaty-sweaty.
Me: Oh, were you hot?
Mrini: Yes, I was all sweaty-sweaty. (Pause) Shall I tell you another secret?
Me (all agog; I hadn’t even known the first one was a secret): Yes, tell me another secret.
Mrini: When the scary part came, then I was scared.

The next day in the morning.

Me: Girls, did you have fun at the magic show?
Tara: Yes.
Mrini: No.
Tara: I want to go for magic show again.
Mrini: No. I got scared when the woman’s head came out. That was the scary part.

We figured out that it was the trick where the woman is put into a cupboard and then her arms and legs are pulled way far away and she’s “carved up” into separate pieces that she was referring to.

But what was more interesting for me was that, perhaps for the first time ever, she was verbalizing her fears. That’s a big thing, somehow.

These snippets of conversation are so illuminating. They speak volumes about the girls. It’s typical, for instance, that Mrini is the one who’s trying. She’s trying to sing, trying to make “adult” conversation (about tennis) and trying to communicate things that mean a lot to her. She’s more likely to be the one to ask serious questions about life, death, and other matters philosophical or worldly.

Tara is much more of a closed book. She always has been. On the surface, she’s very independent and carefree. She’s the clown, she’s frivolous. She rarely applies herself seriously to anything, though clandestinely she learns from whatever Mrini happens to be saying or doing. She does whatever comes easily and quickly loses patience with what doesn’t. She pretends as if she doesn’t need anybody, she’s happy to be doing her own thing. She won’t let you in easily, but then, sometimes, she just lets her guard down and becomes the small, anxious little girl she really is, and sometimes it really surprises us.

Mrini is all on the surface for everyone to see – she used to be all clingy and scared, but now she’s overcome that. When we go to new places, especially if there are toys or swings or small kids around, she’s the first to leave our sides and wander away. I see her in the playground amongst much bigger kids whom she doesn’t know and in circumstances where they’re not bounded by the rules of a school or a teacher. She’s unfazed. She wades into the fray and does her own thing without blinking. And it is in that sense unsurprising that, even though she was the more scared in the magic show, she opted to sit on her own and didn’t even want an arm around her.

Tara needs to warm up. In new situations, she watches from the sidelines, and if I’m there, she sits cuddled up with me and watches. She might go in eventually, and she is also apparently unfazed by other, bigger kids, but she just takes a while to get going.

Mrini has perseverance with a capital P and if she’s into something, she doesn’t want to be disturbed by anyone. She’ll work at something with dedication until she gets it. I remember watching her teach herself to stand and walk – she practiced for 45 minutes at a stretch and then she got it.

Tara only occasionally gets immersed in a task. She’s the one who can’t sit still and work on anything for two minutes at a stretch. She starts to clown around, disrupt Mrini’s work, or get frustrated and ruin her own work. But even though she can hardly sit still for a couple of minutes at a time, she is very capable of prolonged cuddling and sitting in the lap doing nothing, when she can get it. Mrini hardly needs that anymore, except when she wants to oust Tara (or, of course, if she’s hurt, sick, or upset).

Nowadays, Tara is spontaneously affectionate quite often, while Mrini seems to have outgrown that as well. Tara is a tease, and Mrini, naturally, is the teased, much to her dismay. Tara shares with a large heart, while Mrini shares tiny little bits and gets very worried if it looks like she’s going to lose a larger piece of food, or a prolonged period of time with a toy.

It’s too early to say what they will be like when they grow up; they’re not even four yet. But it’s always fun predicting – so that you look stupid when they turn out completely different from what you expect. So here goes: Tara will be irresponsible, brilliant, temperamental (does she have a temper already!) and will break many hearts; Mrini will be conscientious, hard working, loyal, sensible, and steady. Hopefully, both of them will rub off on each other a bit.


May 19, 2010

A friend mentioned that he had taken his kids to a magic show and they had loved it. It sounded like a fun thing to do, so Amit went online and booked the tickets. For a magic show you want to sit right up front, especially if you’re all of four years old (the twins, I mean) so we bought the most expensive tickets. There were no half-price tickets for kids under 5 or anything like that (I wonder why) so tickets for the four of us came to… guess how much? 3000 bucks!

Like, wow.

Anyway, we’d get good seats and without good seats it wasn’t worth it, or so we told ourselves. Actually, I should have known right then that we were setting ourselves up nicely.

The only memory I have of magic shows as a child are vague and unimpressive. At first, I couldn’t remember ever having been to one. Then I remembered one at the club we used to go to frequently (the club, not the magic show). The magic show was on a stage outdoors in the evening. In daylight. Because it was the club, most of the kids were unattended by parents, who were off doing more exciting things like playing cards or drinking. So the audience was largely kids, with only a few adults. I don’t remember too much about the show, so perhaps I was past the impressionable age; I must have been seven or eight years old. I think there was the usual pulling of things out of hats and so on. I remember that there was a lot of chatter and interaction with the audience, and some calls for volunteers to go and inspect various containers to check that they were really empty. I think a sword was swallowed, and perhaps there was some breathing of fire as well. Towards the end, maybe there was someone being cut in half. I think I generally had fun, but not too much fun. I don’t think I was scared.

Amit, on the other hand, had a lot of enthusiasm for magic shows. Part of it had to do with the magician: P C Sorcar. It’s a bit of a household name in Bengal, like Tagore. All kids are brought up to PC Sorcar – or so I gather. The PC Sorcar who does the shows now is only about 30 years old – apparently too young for a serious magician. Amit, as a child, went and saw his father, who was quite a respectable age by then (though I don’t know how it could be, if you do the math, but that’s what Amit says). The magician tradition grabbed the limelight with the current PC Sorcar’s grandfather, the original PC Sorcar. Or perhaps there were even older PC Sorcars, but my limited knowledge stops at this.

The show was at Town Hall. I’ve never actually been to Town Hall before. I knew it was somewhere near Corporation Circle, but never knew exactly where. I also didn’t know that a magic show is held indoors in a theatre with a stage and with lights, scenery, and curtains just like a play. But, you live and learn.

We arrived kind-of last minute at 3.50 or so for a 4 p.m. show. Amit had neglected to mention until around 3 p.m. that the doors close at 4 and after that they won’t let you in after that. This is quite unusual in India, and when they actually did this and started the show punctually at 4.05 p.m. I was shocked. We were seated in the front row, way over on one side, so we had a clear but rather oblique view of the stage.

We had been greeted at the door of the theatre by a Mickey Mouse character. You know – people dressed in head to foot costume who hang around and offer to shake hands with kids? Both the girls decided they were scared of the Mickey Mouse character. Even as the show started, Mrini knelt on her seat facing backwards, to keep an eye out for him, in case he decided to come looking for her. Tara sat in my lap, put both my arms firmly around her stomach, and refused to let them go for any reason.

The music was rather too loud, especially up in front of the stage, so both girls covered their ears with their hands. Tara later decided it was more effective to put my hands on her ears, so she did that for a while. Eventually they decided that the music was bearable and relaxed a bit.

The show started with the usual pulling of flowers, streamers, and birds out of a – not a hat, exactly, but something round and transparently empty. I felt bad for the birds – the assistants held them by the feet, so that they flapped their wings desperately. Then they held them by pressing the wings firmly against the body. I watched one of the assistants. She looked as if she disliked and was a little scared of the bird. They were snow white birds, either doves or something painted white. They didn’t look very scary.

There was an interlude to show a water container that was always full of water, even when you had just emptied it. I noticed once that when it was emptied, the sound of water falling came a split-second before the water actually started pouring out. Recorded sound, of course.

And then, just five minutes into the show, it progressed to the gory. Someone got into a box and had swords stuck in him. Someone else got into a box and had a massive needle pulled through him starting at the spine and coming out the stomach. And when I say needle, I really mean, more like a sword, with a long thread attached to the hilt. Then PC Sorcar got into the box and they put a woman on a horizontal slab and passed the whole apparatus though. This was already a bit gross.

Then they put a woman in another box, made her stick her hands and feet through holes in the box, and proceeded to “stretch” her till her hand and feet were an impossible distance from her head (and from each other). Then they “carved off” her arms and legs and pushed her disjointed but still moving hands and feet away from her head. Then they put everything back together and let her out of the box smiling and unscathed.

Mrini was watching with sheer terror on her face. She looked as if she might cry, but she didn’t. Tara, sitting in my lap with my arms firmly wrapped around her, was ok.

Then, they brought a giant fan onstage. You know – the kind they show in gruesome third-rate Hollywood flicks. At this point, I put my foot down, Mrini put her shoes on, and we made the long walk to the back of the theatre, blocking the view of the cheaper seats as we crossed the row to the centre aisle, and then made it to the exit at last!

Once we were out, Tara said she was ok to go back in, but Mrini was quite clear that she wanted none of it. I suggested that Amit take Tara back in while Mrini and I stayed out, but Amit said no, it should be a family affair, so we all packed up and went home. As we left, the crowds came out for the interval. So, if we’d only sat through that one act, we could have at least exited inconspicuously.

I wonder whether the twins are just too young for this kind of magic show. I also wonder why the magic show has to go on and on on the same theme of cutting people into pieces. I wonder whether it’s unusual for kids to get scared and want to leave. To be honest, I had to remind myself that it was all a trick and there were little hidden spaces that the performers squeezed themselves into so that other people or things like swords could pass through. If you forgot that, or if you didn’t know that, or if you hadn’t quite grasped the concept that things are not always what they seem, the “magic” would be really scary I should think. Since the twins don’t watch much TV (and no cartoons at all) they probably haven’t understood the concept of acting yet (in the sense of acting on TV or in a movie), far less illusion. And then there was the whole aspect of being in a dark hall with artificial light and sound to add to the experience. Things look so much less scary in an open setting in daylight.

Anyway, it was a disappointing end to an exciting attempt. Amit was probably a little upset that the girls couldn’t enjoy the show the way he remembered doing. I was disappointed that magic shows had come to mean only one gory and gruesome trick after another. The kids were generally of the opinion that this was not what they had expected. And at the end of the day, we’d spent 3K for half an hour of uneasy entertainment and a long drive.

What the …!!!

May 17, 2010

Bangalore has an electricity crisis. So does the rest of India. There are people who only get electricity for a few hours a day. I know this. So I have no reason to complain, but…

In our old home, we had the great good luck to be one of two or three small towers that were affected by a faulty power transformer. Let me put this in perspective. We were a select 1% of our neighbourhood to be affected by this particular faulty power transformer. Yes, ONE percent. And we had to be in that elite one percent.

What this meant was, we had power cuts just like everybody else. We had the load-shedding like everybody else, we had the unscheduled power cuts like everybody else, we had the shutdown for maintenance power cuts like everybody else, we had the disruption of power supply due to an enormous storm like everybody else, and we had the tripping of the whole frigging grid due to some major calamity at some power plant somewhere, like everybody else.

What we ALSO had, was the faulty transformer, which broke down from time to time. Because we were only a paltry one percent of the neighbourhood who had to suffer due to this particular problem, we were never high on the priority list. I can understand that – when you’re struggling to fix all those other major problems, you don’t have too much sympathy for a lousy one percent sitting and sweltering somewhere. I can understand that… but I don’t have to like it.

The damn power transformer used to break down every few days, which resulted in frequent and very long power cuts to very few households. The guys would come and fix the problem, but it didn’t last; a few days later, it would be broken again. The building manager told us there was a small part that was faulty and needed to be changed. The KEB (Karnataka Electricity Board) people were aware of it, they just weren’t able to actually change it. “How small?” I wanted to know. “Can I, like, walk to an electrical shop and buy it?”

But with a power transformer, you have no idea what “small” means. It could be a matter of a couple of tons and run into six figures.

So, while everyone around us had electricity, we sweltered.

And of course, this coincided with the period when I was a SAHM, so I had the whole entire day at home to sweat it out. It also coincided with the period when I was trying to work from home for a period of several months. Obviously, I fretted and fumed while the work piled up, deadlines loomed, kids slept sweetly, the laptop ran out of battery, and the UPS for the modem bleeped and died.

So finally when we moved to our new home, I thought, “ok, at least we are away from that blasted transformer now.”

Summer rolled around. We revived our plans for solar power yet again. The plans have been in the making for three years now, and we’re no closer to actually getting some sunshine in our dark lives. We were obviously already in the thick of summer load-shedding (which began early this year, albeit with a welcome break during the BBMP elections) when Amit got to work on the solar power project. A chap came and talked to him, he sent a couple of quotes, and there the matter rests. Meanwhile, the power cuts proceed apace. Now that none of us is home all day during the week, we don’t feel it so much. Office, thankfully, comes with air-conditioning and is impervious to power cuts (however ruinous that may be for the environment).

Which makes weekends harder to bear.

On Saturday, we had power cuts from 9-10 a.m., 1-2 p.m., and then from 3 onwards. We thought the power would be back by 4, but decided to take the kids swimming just a little before 4. When we got home at 6, there was still no electricity. Strangely, though, one room still had electricity! Amit investigated and found the cause – workmen had been doing some work outside the house during the day. They’d messed around with the trip switches (MCBs, I think they’re called) in the main fuse box. By the time we’d found and fixed the problem, it was past 7. But well – this was a very local problem and we can’t blame anyone other than the workmen for it.

Then came Sunday. All morning, I was practically holding my breath wondering when it would go, but it didn’t. Great. At 3, we woke up the kids from their afternoon nap to take them to a magic show (that’s another story) and it still hadn’t gone. Not so great… it clearly meant there was disaster in store.

And there was, but not in the way I’d have expected.

As we drove back from the magic show, the rain that should have happened in reasonable quantities a couple of weeks ago, unleashed its pent up fury. It came pouring down in sheets of grey, with the wind driving it into our windscreen with vengeance. Naturally, the first thing that happened was that the trees started to bend and break. We had a small twig fly into our faces, followed seconds later by a sizeable branch. Luckily the branch landed on the intersection of the bonnet and the windshield – if it had landed in the middle of the windshield we would have been in trouble. As we continued on our way home, we were forced to take several detours, major and minor to get around fallen branches and broken trees.

At last, we reached home… to find… a power cut, of course. We’d seen at least one tree that had pulled down a power line, so the cause here was not hard to guess. What was hard to guess was when we could expect power to come back. It was not impossible that we’d be “powerless” all night.

In the end, we almost were. Electricity returned briefly at 9.30 but the voltage was too low to run fans, let alone TV or fridge. I was really worried about the fridge. K had come and cooked for our lunch, dinner, and Monday’s lunch on Sunday morning. If electricity didn’t come back, all the food would spoil and then what would I give the kids for lunch tomorrow??? By 10, it went off again, and we gave up and went to bed in the dark. At least it was cool enough, after the storm.

Sometime late at night, I woke up and heard the fridge running, and after that I slept happily.

Now, like I said at the beginning, I know the power situation is bad and there are people a lot worse off than us. And I know that after a storm like that, there’s bound to be power outages and really, the KEB folks do the best they can in those circumstances. The papers said a huge number of trees fell and electric poles were damaged. So you just have to accept that sometimes these things happen. But despite all the mitigating circumstances, the constant, unpredictable power cuts for hours on end made it a thoroughly frustrating weekend. Amit has been resisting getting an inverter on the basis that what we really need is a solar power system, but I’m fast reaching the end of my tether.

The Four Seasons*

May 7, 2010

*The ‘prequel’ to this post can be found here.

The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi, has been one of my favourite pieces of music for as long as I can remember. It’s right up there, along with Beethoven’s Fifth and Handel’s Messiah, as one of the pieces of music that come close to paradise on earth.

The trouble is, I don’t know what recording of The Four Seasons I grew up with. It was, as far as I know, a battered old LP, which we somehow converted into a battered old cassette as LPs went out of fashion. In those days, the “sophisticated” way of converting from LP to tape was by means of a cable connecting the two. It wasn’t an easy cable to find, so the alternative was the place the cassette deck slap bang in front of the record player, turn the volume but, and tell the kids and dogs to keep quiet. As you can guess, this didn’t work so well – so where Vivaldi factored in a barking dog in the Four Seasons, some music that had nothing to do with barking dogs, we got used to hear the dogs barking. That’s what artistic license is all about, isn’t it?

Sometimes we resorted to what I now realize must have been illegal means of getting music. I don’t mean buying pirated cassettes (though we did that too – back in the ’80s that was practically all you had), I mean, recording the music straight off the radio. For this we had the integrated radio and cassette player box, so at least you didn’t get the barking dogs. What you got instead was static and machine hum. It was like an additional string instrument in the orchestra, one with only one string and a persistent rattle.

So it was some such salvaged recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that I grew up to, and loved. I lost track of this tape years ago and for years I have not had The Four Seasons around to listen to. (I made up for it by OD’ing on flute and recorder concertos, which are also very nice, but not quite in the same league.)

Then late last year I decided I just needed to hear The Four Seasons, so I walked out to the nearest mall and bought it. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that the recording I bought might differ substantially from the one I’d had. After all, there’s a written score, how different can it be?

Very different. Disappointingly different. Different enough so that I never listened to the whole thing even once. In parts, it was painfully different. If I could have, I would have gone out and looked for the exact same version I’d been used to… but the sad part was that I had no idea what version that was.

Meanwhile, the kids were now completely familiar with Peter and the Wolf. They’d even begun to accept, sadly, that there was no fox in the story. Their questions around the plot became fewer and answers became more “right” and less innovative. Besides, I’d had enough of Peter and his bird, cat, duck, and wolf too – especially when I realized one day that the poor duck that got eaten by the wolf was actually alive and continued to quack in the wolf’s stomach! Whaaaaaaa…?! Gross!

So I dug out the disappointing version of The Four Seasons and subjected the twins to it. They made me do a lot of talking – converting the sounds into visual images for their benefit. I know there are sonnets that go along with The Four Seasons, and I’ve read them a long time ago. I don’t remember them exactly, but I know them well enough to know the general themes. So I invented, innovated and extrapolated. I explained the seasons to them, and described how birds were singing, the stream was flowing in the forest, and kids like them had gone for a picnic.

Not that I did all the work on my own. They helped fill in the details, and Tara introduced a crocodile into the plot.

And then, of course, on the next drive, we went back to Peter and the Wolf.

But I was delighted and more than a little proud when a day or two later, first Tara and then both of them asked for Spring. The one with the rain and the picnic, they said. Wow! So it had made a bit of an impression!

Beethoven’s Fifth is probably still premature, but maybe Handel’s Messaiah can be next?

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