On Blowing a Gasket

June 30, 2010

For at least a year and a half, I’ve been wandering from shop to shop in search of a pressure cooker gasket. The problem with pressure cooker gaskets is that they need to be of the exact size required by a specific pressure cooker. My pressure cooker joined our family soon after my marriage, more than twelve years ago. Since then, like me, it’s acquired a few loose screws, a few unseemly curves, and many battle scars. But, like me, it still works. True it’s been becoming increasingly dysfunctional, but it gets the job done.

So I probably should have left it alone until it became completely dysfunctional, but I suffer from this delusional belief that I should attempt to pre-empt crises when I see them developing. Since searching for the correct size gasket hadn’t worked so far – and I’d asked in close to ten shops all over this city – I decided more serious measures were called for.

What do you do about a leaky pressure cooker that you can’t replace the gasket of? You buy a brand new pressure cooker, of course! Never mind that a brand new pressure cooker costs upwards of a thousand rupees. Once the gasket completely gives out and the pressure cooker doesn’t build up any pressure at all, you’ll be reduced to eating your dal raw. Likewise your potatoes, channa, and chicken. Not a good idea.

So I hurriedly picked up a brand new Prestige pressure cooker at Spar last weekend. Amit, naturally, didn’t want me to do this. Why buy a pressure cooker from a company that stops supplying gaskets for the old one before you’re ready to throw it out? More irritatingly, he didn’t really believe that the gasket wasn’t available. He didn’t think I’d tried hard enough. (Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! Men!)

When I got home and opened up the new pressure cooker, I found, much to my dismay, that… it took exactly the same size of gasket as my existing pressure cooker. Effectively, I’d shelled out a grand for the benefit of just one new gasket! What’s worse, I still didn’t know where I could get gaskets of this exact size, so once this new gasket wore out, I’d be right back to square one.


I packed the brand new pressure cooker, along with the brand new gasket back into the box in the hope that I could return it to Spar. Meanwhile, Amit went out on Sunday evening to a Prestige Kitchen Boutique, where, with disgusting ease, he bought not one, not two, but FOUR gaskets of the right size. Now why, WHY, couldn’t he have shown this initiative and enterprise BEFORE I was reduced to buying a whole new pressure cooker? Answer: Because, according to him, he didn’t know I needed it, until I was desperate enough to shell out one grand for it. (Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! Men!)

So on Sunday evening, I poured the rajma into the old pressure cooker, closed the lid with the new gasket, and was pleased to note the smooth, tight fit of the handle on the body.

The kids came into the kitchen with their chairs and tables for their dinner. I gave them their milk, and as they promptly started playing games with it, I separated them. (“Games” range from pouring milk from one glass into another, to spitting into the milk, to inadvertently – or otherwise – spilling milk all over the table, clothes, and floor.)

A few seconds later, there was a loud blast and steam poured out from several parts of the pressure cooker!

I grabbed Mrini, who was closest to the steam, and scarpered out of the kitchen, throwing an arm around Tara on the way.

In the safety of the dining room, the kids started crying, wondering what they’d done wrong. I was shaking from shock, but I held them and tried to explain the matter to them. They were ok soon enough, but I was shaky for almost an hour after that.

Anyway, I returned to the kitchen, where steam was no longer pouring out with such terrifying force, and turned off the blasted pressure cooker. A little while later, I opened it. There was nothing apparently wrong with it – the safety valve hadn’t blown and the cooker hadn’t exploded. Amit came home and I told him what had happened. I told him to leave it alone now, but, against my better judgment, he put the lid back on the pressure cooker and turned on the gas. A minute or two later, when he tried to open it (I don’t know exactly why) it went “boom!” (Arrrrrrrrrrgh! Men!!)

I shouted at him from the safety of the dining room, but he was ok. Thankfully, he decided not to try any more experiments with the pressure cooker after that! He called the kitchen boutique. They said that maybe the normal vents for steam to escape were blocked and with the old gasket it didn’t matter because it was leaky anyway.

“But you took the lid to the kitchen boutique for them to fit the gasket,” I said. “Didn’t they check it?”

Apparently not. They just put the new gasket on and sent him on his way.

“Fine. So let’s put the old, leaky gasket back on. At least that works,” I said.

“Oh, I left that in the shop. I didn’t know we’d need it,” he said.

Right. So we had soggy rajma and an explosive pressure cooker. Good combination, I don’t think.

On Monday, Amit went back to the boutique place to show them the lid. They should have cleaned the vents; instead they looked at where the gasket had blown, pointed out a huge dent in the lid, probably caused by one of the two explosions, said they “might” be able to fix it, and told him to go back and bring the rest of the pressure cooker to them.

Now a whole week has gone by without my getting around to returning the new pressure cooker. Another week is likely to pass before we get the old one fixed – if it can be fixed. And the cook – thank goodness – is finally cured of her conjunctivitis and is back at work! Naturally, she demands a functional pressure cooker. Actually, she’s ready to take her chances with a dysfunctional pressure cooker, but I’m not. I don’t want the blasted thing exploding all over her! Maybe that new pressure cooker has arrived in our lives at just the right time, after all!

Of This, That, and the Other

June 28, 2010


Chocolate cake. Rice, aloo, baigan bharta, salad, and keema curry. All done by 1.30, no later. You’d think I was cooking for a party, but believe me, I would never serve baigan bharta for a party.

Our cook managed to get conjunctivitis about ten days ago. It should have gotten better by now, but it hasn’t. Naturally, I haven’t even let her in the front door since then. I don’t want to be stuck with doing all the cooking every day for a week and more, but it’s definitely better than having me, the kids, and Amit get conjunctivitis one by one – with all the time away from work and caring for sick people that it would involve.

So I’ve been doing the cooking the past whole week. Since I have not the least desire to be doing cooking after all the other activities that a normal working day involves, I’ve done as little as possible to get by. The kids got their lunches, but we’ve had to scrape and scrounge for our meals. Thankfully, Amit is not the kind to complain in these circumstances, not even when he stays up till 2 a.m. watching sports on TV.

On Saturday, after we had completely messed up a lunch invitation with S&P, we had lunch out at the kids’ favourite place – Shanthi Sagar. It was a total waste of money and time, but it got me off the hook as far as cooking was concerned. On Saturday evening, though, I put together a hurried chicken stew, which we ate with some left over red rice. There was the desire for some dessert, but it wasn’t strong enough to outweigh my natural laziness, so we went without.

On Sunday, we had a lunch invitation that fell through at 10 a.m. I looked in the vegetable basket, in the freezer, and in the fridge for leftovers and ingredients suitable for a Sunday lunch. In the end, it was quite a presentable ensemble, though without much harmony. Chocolate cake is a glue that sticks any meal together nicely enough. (Yes, Prakash, I thought of you… but sochne se kya hota hai?)

Now I live in suspense – is the blessed conjunctivitis going to get better anytime in the foreseeable future or not? Cooking in the evening on weekdays means I don’t get any time at all to sit with the kids. I have to finish the cooking before 8, so that the cleaning lady can wash after me. If I cook after putting the kids to bed, I’m stuck with doing the washing up myself, which is definitely not what I want to be doing at 9 p.m. on a weekday evening.

Meanwhile, the kids have turned into absolute bookworms of late. Not that they’ve actually learnt to read yet, but they spend large parts of the day reading to each other and getting us to read to them. They’ve taken to selecting books to take to bed at night. Sunday is the one day of the week when I go to their room at 6.30 a.m. and snuggle up with them for an hour or so. This time, Mrini reached for the books strewn behind her head, took one, lay on her back, legs bent at the knees and crossed, balanced the book against her legs and happily read for a whole hour! Eventually Tara woke up too, and they both lay with their heads on one pillow, a book balanced against one set of knees, reading together.

They’ve learnt to skip, they’re learning to scribble purposefully (as opposed to scribbling at random), and they talk and ask questions absolutely incessantly. I know that we should encourage this and give sane and sensible replies, but sometimes it is really, really difficult! It’s bad enough fielding a barrage of questions when you’re driving and forced to concentrate on the traffic; or when you’re listening to the most divine music; but when you’re trying to get their teeth brushed at 7.15 a.m., with only 15 minutes to go before you leave the house (and the pony tails still to be done) and you can’t get the toothbrush into Mrini’s mouth because she won’t stop talking…!!!

In other news, the CD of their stage show finally arrived. I watched it once and it was so much fun! This one I’m going to cherish for years, and years, and years. Now I want to show it to them, but I haven’t had time yet. I’d love to post it online, of course, but it is in some fancy format that I haven’t even figured out how to copy yet, much less chopping out all the irrelevant bits and reducing it from 2 hours or so to 2 minutes or so. Maybe, some day. Meanwhile, there are photos.

And the Other

There have been a couple of promising developments last week, in my quest to become a published author. The publisher for my travel book got back to me. They’ve finished editing my manuscript and marked out a few changes. Their feedback was extremely encouraging and most of the changes were few, far between, and generally for the better. There is one part of the manuscript that they’ve suggested I work on, but their comments there are justified, I feel, so it’s good advice.

On the adoption book, I got an early indication of interest from one publisher. It’s too soon, in this game, to know whether this is going to go anywhere or not, but at least it’s some positive development, and that’s better than nothing.

This journey – the attempt, rather – to write a book that is actually published by someone and out there in the bookshops for people to buy and read is so very long and tedious, and calls for such inordinate quantities of patience, persistence, and an unshakeable conviction in oneself… it’ll be a miracle if I ever see this dream turn into reality.

Crises Galore

June 21, 2010

This is so not the way weekends are meant to be.

First there was the gas crisis to cope with. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly a crisis yet – it was a crisis in the making. We finished a cylinder several weeks ago and were well on our way through the second cylinder. It’s not very easy to get a cylinder replaced when you are away from home every working day and most Saturdays as well. It also doesn’t help when the gas guys say, “sure, right away, before 11.30 madam,” and you wait until 6 p.m. to no avail. After this had happened a couple of times, including one day when I stayed home on a working day explicitly so the gas could be delivered, I was in no mood to spend the whole of Saturday waiting at home for gas. So I called the gas company, and they said “right away madam, before 11.30 for sure,” as usual. At 12.45, we left home. I called them again before we left, and they said, “we’re on the way, madam, by 2.30 we’ll be there.”

Despite past experiences, I was getting a little stressed about the gas by the time we got home at 4. Of course, we hadn’t got the call to say, “we’re at your residence, madam, the door is locked,” so I should have known that I had nothing to worry about. In the end, just as I was wondering how I could possibly justify another day of working from home for the same reason, around 6.30 on Saturday evening, they finally delivered the damn gas. Ok – so potential crisis averted. Now we only have to repeat this drama a couple of weeks later when the current cylinder runs out. Sigh.

Meanwhile, the painters needed paint.

What painters, you ask? Don’t you know? We’re getting our apartment painted – the one we aren’t staying in any more. It was a bit of a wreck as far as paint staying on the walls was concerned, and we’re hoping to rent it out as soon as we can find a tenant, so painting it became a high priority. There were some minor repairs to be done first, and Amit got the workmen started with those. But by Wednesday evening, that was done and they needed paint. Who has time to buy paint mid-week? I mean, it’s not like buying a small box of paint for the kids – they estimated that we’d need 40 litres. Plus primer. Plus brushes and whatnot.

We’re not too particular about the colour, but we do want to keep a check on the cost, so it meant we’d have to buy the paints etc ourselves and ship it across the town to the apartment. And we’d have to synch up with the workmen, because, naturally, they had the keys to the place.

Saturday passed in a leisurely morning at home, a leisurely lunch away from home, and a not-so-leisurely afternoon waiting for gas. That left Sunday. If we didn’t get the paints on Sunday, we’d lose a whole week, and possibly the workmen would lose interest. We’d lose a tenant that we haven’t found yet, and rent for the month of July. That’s a steep price to pay for a quiet Sunday.

So we dragged all of us out of the house at 10.30 on Sunday morning (what a crime!) and off we went to buy 40 litres of paint. My poor car was sagging under the weight as we drove all the way to Koramangala. I got off at Oasis mall to go shopping. I wanted to buy a pair of jeans, and I wanted very much to buy a pair of Nike track pants that Amit had promised me when Roger won Wimbledon last year (offer expires with Wimbledon Finals this year, unless Roger can pull it off again), but… buying groceries, unfortunately, was a MUST. So I went to Spar and spent 90 frustrating minutes pushing through hordes of people and standing in queue. By the end of it, I had more stuff than I could possibly carry and had to rely on the goodness of strangers to lug it all into the lift and get it out of the shop on to the pavement. Then I had to walk 25 metres from the pavement where my stuff was deposited to the road where Amit was parked – and I almost collapsed under the weight. Seriously – can four people go through all of this in a week?

Amit, meanwhile, had gone to deliver the paints to the painters. It took him a whole lot more than the 30 minutes it should have, because, of course, the one painter who had the key was nowhere in the vicinity. At least the kids got to play with little p for a while – I didn’t even get to meet them. At last the man with the key turned up and the paints were delivered.

Lunch, obviously, was out. Our cook managed to contract conjunctivitis on Friday and was under strict instruction not to show up until she was completely better. Having to do all the cooking is bad, but getting conjunctivitis and then passing it on to the kids is much, much worse. So we spent the weekend scrounging for food, which was fine for the weekend, but not so good for Sunday evening. Now I had to cook so that at least the kids had a decent lunch for Monday. Chicken, veggies, fruit, and chappatis were resentfully churned out, finishing at 10.30 p.m.

Great – now there was only one crisis left to handle – drinking water.

Life has not been easy since we moved to this new place. Some problems were endemic to all Bangalore, even to all Karnataka; some were specific to our area, even to our specific household: There was a water outage that went on for weeks. There was an electricity crisis that persisted for months. There was the garbage situation that is just as ugly today as it ever was. There was the gas near-crisis, narrowly averted. And now there was this drinking water severe crisis. (Mind you, this is not a comprehensive list – I haven’t even mentioned the problems we had finding domestic help, not to mention a dhobi…)

In Koramangala, we got horrible water – borewell water, full of dirt and muck. So we installed an RO system (reverse osmosis water purification system). As long as we had electricity and water (rare combination though it was), we could be assured of good drinking water.

In our new place, we initially got a sufficient supply of Cauvery water. It looked clean… but was it clean enough to drink? Maybe not. However, our kitchen was so configured that it was absolutely impossible to find a space for a water-purification system that required both water and electricity to function. So we got one of those 20-litre cans of water, which you turn upside down over a smaller can with a tap in it. Now our drinking water supply didn’t depend on either electricity or running water – whenever we ran low on drinking water, we went out and bought it.

But nothing is ever that simple. Only a few stores in our neighborhood stock Bisleri water and those shops ran out of the Bisleri water cans ten days ago. For ten days, I’ve been driving past our usual grocery store, ignoring conditions on the road as I peer carefully at the pile of 20-litre cans outside the shop and try to make out if they are empty or full. It’s quite difficult to tell, from across a crowded road, with broken glimpses through moving traffic, whether an upright, transparent, but quite scarred set of plastic cans has water, or is empty. I might have bumped into a few people/cars/cows while trying to ascertain the precise state of the shop’s water stock. Unfortunately, for ten straight days, the cans have been empty. The result being, both cans of water at home were empty and the bottom container, with the tap in it, was down to its last one inch of water – maybe a litre or so.

So off I went, late on Sunday evening, to drive around the neighbourhood with a full tank of petrol and an empty can of water and a promise that I would not return until one was filled or the other emptied. Luckily, the former happened before the latter and I had the opportunity to try my hand – for the very first time – at carrying 20 litres of water from my parking space around the corner to the front door and into the house. After the groceries I’d lugged around on Saturday, it was… bloody heavy!

After all of that, it was a relief that I could get back to work today. At least at work, you know you can expect crises – and, they don’t involve lugging 20-kilo loads around. I never thought I’d say this, but… Thank god it’s Monday!

Twinnings 7

June 17, 2010

The girls have started playing rough and tumble games. It is absolutely adorable to watch, especially because they are both girls. They’ve got their ponytails, their earrings, their frocks (sometimes), and they’re small and thin, so it’s about as ridiculous as it can get. They lock their fingers together and push against each other with all their might, reeling around the kitchen like miniature drunken soldiers, sometimes giggling to boot.

Another favourite is for one of them – usually Tara – to crawl on the ground on all fours, while Mrini climbs on top and rides her like a horse!

Other times, one girl will somehow be flat on her tummy on the bed, and the other girl sits astride her back, while the giggling, wriggling girl underneath does her best to throw off or escape from under the one on top. It sounds vulgar, I know, but it’s just hilarious!

The other day, Tara was squatting on the floor in the froggy position. You’d best use your imagination, because words might only confuse the picture, but let me try to describe it all the same. She balanced on her hands and the balls of her feet, with her arms straight and her knees bent. Got it? No? Maybe you should try it.

Anyway, having done this, she was doing froggy hops – kicking her legs up and settling down again, exactly the way frogs do. It wasn’t anything new – she must have picked it up as part of a nursery rhyme or something at school, months ago. Quite unremarkable. Except, with one quite unremarkable jump, her heels reached the vertical, hesitated for a fraction of a second, and then descended on the other side of her head! It was a sort of a combination between a handspring and a somersault. She sat up looking dazed, not sure whether to laugh or cry, while Amit and me roared with laughter and clapped enthusiastically. Unfortunately, she could not be persuaded to repeat the stunt, not even for the benefit of the camera.

Meanwhile, their conversations are no less entertaining..

Mrini and Tara went to their room, took colouring books and a few sketch pens out of their cupboard, and sat down at their tables. They coloured away very sweetly for 15-20 minutes, running up to us every few minutes to show us what they’d done. Tara, for the first time ever, copied the colours of the model onto the blank outline that she was supposed to colour. (Garbled sentence, but you do know what I mean, right?)

Anyway, Mrini was colouring a crab blue (the original was muddy brown and yellow).

Mrini: This crab is happy.
Tara: Why?
Mrini: Because that crab is this crab’s friend.


Tara: I got hurrrrrrrrt. Say Uffffffff.
Me: Ufffffffff…
Tara: No! Say Uffffffffffffff
Me: Fuuuuuuu…
Tara: Yes. Now it’s ok.

Tara’s hasn’t got the concept of “nobody”. She prefers “anybody”.

Me: Who wants to tell me a story?
Tara: Anybody is not going to tell you a story.

Me: Who’s going to tidy up this place?
Tara: Not annnnnybody!


Mrini has fallen in love with two concepts:

Mrini: Tara, come here! Come here Tara! I have an idea!
Tara comes and listens while Mrini explains her idea.
Mrini: Is it a good idea, Tara?

Mrini: I’ll tell you a secret?
Proceeds to whisper something unintelligible in my ear.
Mrini: That is a big secret, ok? Don’t tell anybody.
Proceeds to whisper in Amit’s and/or Tara’s ear.
Me: Can I tell Amit and/or Tara?
Mrini: No! That is a big secret!


Yesterday, Tara discovered the joy of love. She hugged me, squeezed me, and said quickly two or three times, “I love my mummy.”

After that it was Amit’s turn. Typically, his turn lasted all evening and ran into at least 20 repetitions. (No fair!)

It wasn’t the first time either of the kids told us they love us. The script that is part of our goodnight routine is, “I love you verrrrrrrrrry much,” – naturally accompanied by a set number and sequence of kisses and hugs. But Tara’s demo yesterday was different because it was not part of any routine, the line was scripted by her (not one we’d used or taught her), and it was completely spontaneous.

What a wonderful feeling – we must be doing something right.

Landmark Ponytails

June 11, 2010

Landmarks come in all shapes and sizes.

So do ponytails.

So, if it comes to that, do husbands. And daughters.

So, if you can get your husband to make two ponytails on your under-4 daughter, even if the two ponytails turn out to be different shapes and sizes (with nothing resembling a parting getting in the way), it’s still a sort of landmark, right?

Actually, it’s more than that – it’s an award-winning accomplishment. Trust me.

I mean, Amit is a pretty useful dad. He’s done every one of the nasty tasks associated with raising kids, right from disciplining them to cleaning up all sorts of things, and even bathing them. There’s really nothing he hasn’t tried so far.

Except ponytails.

He was ok with clips as long as it was just the clips. Still no parting anywhere in sight, but he managed to put the clips in so that they stayed, at least for a while. But a month or so ago, the girls became amenable to ponytails and that’s when the fun started.

I don’t really know why I’m even growing the girls’ hair (hairs?), considering I’ve never had a clue how to deal with long hair. When my hair gets long, it becomes a complete mess. And it’s a mess I hate handling – oiling, washing, conditionering, combing, arranging and rearranging… what a headache! So ideally I should have just kept the girls’ hair really short and, chances are, if they decided to emulate their lovely mother (me, I mean) they’d want to keep it short.

But on the other hand, I do envy people who have lovely, thick, long hair and I think that to get there, you have to start really young. And if you have lovely thick long hair, you can always cut it off later if you want (criminal though it might be); but if you don’t, you can’t grow it overnight.

So we’re growing the girls’ hair(s) – which means, we have to deal with “arranging” it on a daily basis. Sigh.

I’m not too good at doing their hair myself. The partings I make are far from being straight and narrow and are not always in the center of the head either. I can manage to put their clips in two or three basic orientations, but I can’t do really ornate things there, the way their daycare attendants do. And I really haven’t learnt the art of making wriggly-squirmy kids sit still while I do their hair, so however simple my attempt, it usually turns out a lot less ordered than intended.

When I tried ponytails on them the first few times, I wasn’t too sure how to go about it. About a quarter of a century ago (at least) I’d seen a very good friend of mine doing her small cousin sister’s hair. The said cousin sister had extremely long, silky hair, and she sat patiently while my friend neatly combed and plaited it. That, dear reader, was the only live demo I’d ever had. So you know what you can expect.

By now, having done ponytails at the rate of four per day for a month or so, I’m fairly adept at it. That is, I can get the hair into two roughly equal and more-or-less symmetrical bunches on the head even when the head has a mind of its own quite at odds with my ambitions. But I have to admit, it’s not easy.

It’s not half as difficult, however, as trying to persuade Amit to do ponytails. After many attempts, I finally got him to lose his ponytail virginity by doing Tara’s hair. The result could well have been displayed in the museum of modern art for its brilliant creativity, stupendous asymmnetricality, and sheer artistic exuberance. I don’t know how many admiring looks it would have won poor Tara in school. Yes; callous mom that I am, I sent her off to school like that! (Though I should add that she was quite insistent about not having me “fix” her hair.)

Hopefully this is the start of a new era: The era of the ponytailing dad!


June 10, 2010

A few years ago, when it had rained like hell in the afternoon, I left office early to beat the traffic and flooding and ended up in a most memorable but not very pleasant situation.

Yesterdat was a sort of sequel to that day.

When I saw the rain pelting down at 4.15 p.m., I again decided to leave early. As I drove through the downpour to the chidren’s daycare, I began to wonder whether it had been a wise decision. Then I saw the traffic backed up ahead of an underpass. Great – if this was what it looked like now, what would it look like when all the office traffic came pouring out?

It took me 15 minutes to crawl along till I came up against the root cause: the underpass was flooded. In fact, it was not an underpass so much as a river. On the other side of the road, a couple of vehicles roared past, raising a huge tidal wave of muddy rain water. At the entry to the underpass, various small cars had stopped and drivers stood around shaking their heads skeptically. I could see a Maruti Omni and a Canter lorry floating in the middle. In front of me was a large truck. He waited several minutes before wading in and roaring through.

Now what should I do? Trucks are high enough, they can get through. And if they get stuck, they can go to Plan B. But what would I do if I got stuck? My beautiful trousers, new socks, and formal black shoes would be wrecked as I stood around and pleaded with hangers-on to push my car through. And then I’d be stranded. Amit was busy in an office meeting and would be of no help whatsoever. How on earth would I get home and what would I do with the car?

But there was nothing to be gained by just standing there. Every minute, more vehicles were getting added to the never-ending queue of vehicles stretching behind us. And the water was not going to abate any time soon; there might even be more rain yet.

And the girls would get impatient. They’d need access to food and toilets.

I crawled to the edge of the water and got into first gear. There was a technique to driving through water, which my parents had taught me years – decades – ago. You had to keep one foot lightly on the brake to close the brake shoe and prevent water from getting into the brakes. This also had the effect of increasing the revs, preventing water from entering via the exhaust.

I took a deep breath,floored the accelerator and released the clutch. We raced through the initial stretch of water. Then, the depth of water increased and my car slowed down. Damn. I shifted my left foot to the brake and we almost stopped. Damn – that wasn’t what I wanted. I floored the accelerator again, and put my left foot back on the clutch. That increased the revs and hopefully prevented water from entering the exhaust. In any case, in another few seconds we made it through and then I had to brake sharply to avoid ramming the car in front of me, who had stalled after getting out of the river.

I was shaking with relief – as if I’d just driven through a ring of fire. The kids were firing questions about my sudden change in driving technique, which I tried my best to answer while still thinking of what would have happened if I hadn’t made it. In the rear view, I saw another car, a Maruti Omni, stall in the middle.

Having emerged from the flooded underpass, I saw the backup of vehicles on the other side of the road stretching for hundreds of metres. It was not even 5.30! It was going to be a very long evening for a very large number of people.

Beyond the underpass, there was no traffic on my side of the road at all. But at one busstop I saw a vast number of people waiting hopelessly. It was sad… the buses, which might actually have got through the water without any trouble, were completely stuck in the jam with no hope of getting through.

As for me, I made it home in record time after that… but there are no guarantees.


June 9, 2010

It’s six months now since I got back to work. It seems like forever… in a nice way. (Which is not to say that I can’t clearly recall my SAHM days.)

Work is such an extremely important facet of life. It’s important when you have it and important when you don’t; when you have too much or too little; when it’s too easy or too difficult; and when it’s interesting, boring, or completely mind-numbing.

Too much work and too much stress can turn life upside down as you struggle to find time for other vital things – sleep, food, exercise, friends… been there, done that. But too little work can be more soul-destroying than it sounds… been there and done that too!

Overall I’ve been fairly lucky with work in my life so far. I’ve usually been happy with my work, usually been able to manage it or do well at it, usually had a little too much, but not much too much, or a little too little, but not much too little. It’s been a happy and comfortable thing for me.

Not always, of course. In KF days, I had much too much work and much too much stress. I had a boss who I still maintain was great at her work, but was such an expert manipulator of people that it became impossible for me to work with her (because I didn’t like being manipulated). After we had clashed once too often, and when she wouldn’t let me change to another team in the same company, I quit.

After that experience, in my next organization I had a fantastic boss, until she left and then I had a stodgy, inert, indecisive boss who was biding his time till retirement. His aim in life was to close down our little team and he tried to do this by not giving me any work at all. After I had sat out being jobless for several months, he finally had his way and I quit.

And that, I think, has been the hallmark of my success – when things become unbearable, I quit. I doubt it’s a good strategy, or even a sane one – in fact, it sounds pretty irresponsible – but it’s worked for me. I leave an organization when things are bad enough that there’s no chance of retrieval, but before they become so terrible that you end up full of hate and bitterness. There’ve been times when I’ve quit without knowing where I was going to go next, but luckily, I’ve always had the luxury to do that. Perhaps I’d do it even if I didn’t have that luxury… but we’ll never really know for sure.

Even more luckily, when I’ve needed a job, something has always turned up after a bit of looking. And it’s usually been something that is right for that place, time, and state of mind.

This job, for instance. It’s perfect. The work is challenging and stimulating, but only very occasionally requires me to put in long hours. The office is not too far from home. The timings are reasonable and flexible, the commute is tolerable. And best of all, I have (once again) got a wonderful boss.

In my younger days, this would not have been enough. I would have wanted to be part of a larger team. I would have wanted a more fast-paced work environment. I would have looked for opportunities to grow and advance and without seeing those, I would have been restless and disappointed.

Now, things are different. I still want to grow and advance, but not with the same urgency. I can see that I’m in a great place and I’m in no hurry to grow out of it. My work gives me real satisfaction, even when there is stress, even when there are deadlines that I might miss due to circumstances completely beyond my control (because of course I’d never miss a deadline due to circumstances within my control).

Having been unemployed for two years – a very vital, but very long two years – right now, I value my work so much more than I ever did before.

This could change… the time is bound to come when things begin to go sour for some reason or other… but right now I’m in a warm and happy place, which is so difficult to find. I can only hope it lasts.

Back to School

June 7, 2010

We’ve been reminding the kids for a week or so that school would be re-opening soon. We took them out clothes shopping and school-bag shopping. All weekend, we talked about going back to school on Monday. And at last today we did it. Tara gulped down her breakfast, while Mrini dawdled over it, but as soon as I’d brushed their teeth, they rushed to put on their new clothes. Mrini is into Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts and Tara is into Mickey Mouse. Mrini chose a pair of blue denim shorts and a white t-shirt, while Tara went for yellow pants rolled up at the bottom and a bright red t-shirt. They grabbed their new school bags and stuffed in their snack boxes and water bottles. They both agreed to two ponytails in their hair, and enthusiastically posed for photos.

Despite all of which, we got out of the house a good half hour earlier than we had been doing during the summer holidays, encountered as little traffic as could be hoped for, and they were (as usual) the first kids in their class to reach school. They are in a new classroom this year, but have the same teachers and most of the same classmates, apart from a handful of new admissions who haven’t actually joined yet. Predictably, both of them were shy when we actually reached their new classroom, but it took only a couple of minutes for them to relax enough to enter the room. After that, they kissed us and pushed us firmly away, waving happily. It makes me so proud when they do that – I’m so glad that they’re confident and secure enough to send us away smiling, even after a 10-week break and with a new classroom to boot. It must be so difficult for parents whose kids cry and fuss and don’t want to go to school.

Their teacher told us that school had already been open a week for older kids, and the bus/van services were fully operational. I’d planned to go and check that the girls get on the van today, but after speaking to their teacher in person and the van driver over the phone, I’m going to take a chance on it. I will go to daycare at lunchtime, to ensure that they reach as expected (and to drop off their lunch). And if that part of the day goes according to plan, then it’s official. The kids are back at school, and they’re not “babies” any more – they’re “second-years” now. They really are growing up!

Devbagh – The Unedited, Unabridged Version

June 4, 2010

We’ve been to Devbagh a few times already, so we knew exactly what to expect on this trip… or so we thought. You know it’s never that simple, right?

We reached the bus stop with about 5 minutes to spare. By our standards, that’s about 20 minutes late. It was past the kids’ bedtime and the commute to the bus stop had involved auto-hopping interspersed with short(ish) walks, so the kids were end-tethered by the time we reached. (By the way, I hadn’t realized that autos in Bangalore had become so completely unusable. It’s not like they go where you want them to; it’s more like a bus – if it’s going in roughly the direction you want, you hop on; then you reach the farthest common point and get off and look for another fellow willing to go in roughly the direction you want. And as for charging by the meter – forget it! Arrrrrrrrgh! Thank god I very rarely have to use a $&%(*#@$ auto nowadays.)

The bus was supposed to start at 9 p.m., so obviously it got rolling only around 10. Meanwhile I took two grumpy girls to the toilet (in the bus operator’s office, thankfully; the option was, of course, by the side of the road) and tried my best to get them to sleep. It’s been an extremely long time since either of us (adults) went by sleeper bus and we’d seriously overestimated the size of the berths. Each berth is so narrow that only a reasonable sized person can fit and then only if they lie ramrod straight without bending limb or hair. And two adults would have to lie so close together on adjacent berths that being side-by-side with anyone other than your normal sleeping partner would be unthinkable! I’d thought that since we had two berths side-by-side, all four of us would squeeze in somehow, but I was wrong. Amit could have occupied a double berth on his own and still all his appendages would have been squashed into strange shapes and places; and the kids and I would have been approximately comfortable with a double berth to ourselves. In other words, we had to make do with exactly half the minimum space we really needed. We made do – I and the girls put our heads on the plastic “pillows,”, while Amit turned himself upside down and put his head where my feet were. This way, he had to contend with my smelly feet in his face, while I had to struggle to snake my legs through a tangle of kids’ limbs and straps from the camera bag that lay at the foot of my allocated space, and then try to avoid kicking him in the face. The girls’ feet were also ideally poised to kick him… where it hurts the most… but that’s the price of being a father anyway.

Kids, mercifully, can sleep through anything, so at least they got a good night’s sleep. Amit stuck his endless legs out of the berth and rested them on something that covered either the engine (rear-mounted; we were right at the back of the bus) or the air-con unit of the bus – it was hot like an oven! Mrini sweated with her head next to this box, while Tara and I curled up under the sheet with the air-con blasting on top of us.

In short, it was “interesting”.

It became more interesting as the drive progressed. At some point at night, we started on the ghats section of the drive. As the driver threw his vehicle around every curve, we fishtailed around in the back like flies on the tail of some really angry whale. By 6 a.m. we were all awake. The ghats were lush and green outside the window, but inside, Tara was the first to feel the effects of the drive. Empty-stomach as we were, the effects were limited, but she was a sorry sight all the same. Thankfully, we stopped for breakfast soon after. None of us ate, but we used the toilet “facilities” (5 bucks a go and nothing to show for it!). Soon after we got back in the bus, despite my efforts at distracting them with a story, Tara was back to feeling sick. Much to my surprise, I ended up retching as well! This never happens to me! Mrini was fine until the last ten minutes of the drive – then we were greeted with the spectacle of both girls retching simultaneously into the same plastic bag! Not the prettiest of sights…

And in all this, Amit, the one who can be counted on to be sick in any sort of long drive, was completely unaffected!

Once we got off the bus, things were better. We all had a hearty breakfast (though at first the sight of food still made Tara sick, but she recovered soon enough) at the usual place. I was a little worried about the impact the impending boat ride would have on our nicely-fed bellies, but the good thing about boats of this type is that you can be sick over the side and nobody has to clean up! (And what is a little puke compared to the vast quantities of oil (and waste) that we humans regularly pump into the sea?)

Amit went to locate the JLR office – it was in a slightly different location than it had been on our last few times. He found out that the houseboat would only arrive at 11.30. I had, as usual, been quite irresponsible while doing the booking and had completely ignored the need for vital information, happy with my own assumptions about what the houseboat would be like. We went back to the office after breakfast and found out a little more about the houseboat. It would collect us at 11.30 and take us 25 km out to sea. The next day it would bring us back. Not quite what I’d expected – I’d expected something moored a stone’s throw offshore, so that we could come and go as we pleased. I’d thought we’d linger on the beach during the day, have our meals in the Gol Ghar (in this instance, it refers to their dining room) and retire to the houseboat for the night. Being stuck on it for 24 hours 25 km out at sea with 2 little kids and nothing to do suddenly didn’t look like such a good idea. When they offered to swap our houseboat reservation for a cottage on the island, we jumped at it. What – give the kids an opportunity to drown themselves in the sea or cover themselves in sand? Sand, obviously. As long as they can get themselves dirty, kids are happy! And on the beach, at least we don’t have to worry about them falling into the sea!

And so, around 10.30, after an uneventful 20-minute crossing by a small motorboat, we were on the island, walking through the pine trees to the cottages.

Wait – pine trees? Here? I’ve always wondered about this – the trees do look like conifers, they come complete with thousands of needles, peeling bark, and tiny, really minuscule pine cones. So they must be pine trees, even though I always thought pine trees were to be found only in high latitudes or altitudes. They lend a very soft and romantic atmosphere to the island, providing plenty of shade, with sunlight filtering through, the ground covered in a thick layer of dry, brown needles, yet never the dense suffocation of thick, dark, heavy trees and a lot of undergrowth.

One-and-a-half days passed pleasantly enough. The kids, on Mrini’s suggestion, had brought their sand toys. (She heard “beach” and I asked Amit what toys we should carry for them, and she had the answer. How she even knew, considering the last time she saw a beach was Lakshadweep a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t know, but she had absolutely the right idea.) They spent ages cooking up stuff with sand, pine needles, and sand toy utensils, and getting themselves – and, by extension, us – covered in sand in the process. Then they upturned some moulded plastic beach beds and used them as slides. We downed a bottle of beer. Everyone retired to the air-conditioned comfort of the cottage for the afternoon, and in the evening, we went out on to the beach again, to entice the kids into the water. Mrini was game for a bit of experimenting, though she ran away whenever the water touched her feet; Tara (typically?) watched from a safe distance, with a skeptical expression, and reverted to playing in the sand. Amit and I took turns in the water for about 15 minutes each. By this time it was almost 7, so I decided to walk back to the cottage with the kids and get the three of us cleaned up, leaving Amit to enjoy the water for a few minutes longer.

Excellent plan, but for the dog.

Last time we were at Devbagh, there were no dogs. But then, there were no houseboats either. Given that houseboats have been on offer for three years, or so we were told, it must have been more than three years since our last visit. Time enough for the dogs to arrive.

I’d walked a fair distance towards the cottage when I heard Amit shouting. I turned around just in time to see a dog grab his clothes from the beach towel and make off at top speed. I dropped everything and gave chase – but running across a sandy beach clad in a wet swimsuit is not really my thing. Actually, let me be honest – running is not my thing; the rest of it is very ok. Anyway, the dog, encouraged by his pack of friends and allies, made straight for the woods and was gone long before I got within anything more than shouting distance.

It was Amit’s turn. Like a cross between Venus rising from the sea and a dripping wet Tarzan the Ape Man, he followed the dog into the trees at an impressive sprint. He had kept a very precious mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts; losing it was not an option.

Luckily, the dog had only made off with his T-shirt. True, it was a Nike T-shirt, but it was one Roger (Federer, must I add?) had sported a couple of years ago, so it was definitely time for an upgrade to the current season’s look. And at any rate, the mobile phone was safe.

The next day passed in an equally relaxed way, though we had to vacate our comfy cottage in exchange for a tattered tent with no attached toilet. We’d reserved the cottage for one night, and the second half day package included lunch, a tent, and a common toilet. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The beach was just as good. We went for a long walk in the morning before breakfast. The tide was out, so there was an immense flat area that had been underwater but now was only slightly wet. We went out onto the large, flat area and watched fishermen extract fish from their nets before casting the nets in the water and pulling them out again. Mrini and Tara were brave enough to pick up a couple of fishes by the tail – which was more than I could do!

By the time we started to walk back, the water had crept in behind us, and we had to wade in upto mid-thigh level to reach the beach. It was mid-stomach level for the kids. Tara was a little worried by it, but Mrini walked through it happily, holding Amit’s hand and asking for more!

After breakfast, Amit went for a full-body massage, while I kept an eye on the kids. After another bottle of beer was finished, I washed the kids’ hair under an open, outdoor shower. They had their swimsuits on, so it was quite decent and well worth a video. It was the first time ever that they actually enjoyed a shower.

Around 5 p.m., we took the boat back to mainland and then shared an auto for the short ride down the highway to Karwar town. This was when things started to get really interesting.

First, it turned out that our bus back to Bangalore started back not at 8 pm. as I’d been led to expect by the information on the website, but at 10 p.m. So now being 6 p.m., we had a whole four hours to kill, with two little kids in tow. Somewhat to Amit’s disappointment, I insisted that we find a room. Keeping the girls up that much past their bedtime just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So we found a crummy room with a fan that gave no air, a grainy TV, grimy walls, and clean but torn bedsheets, where we camped for the rest of the evening. The kids jumped on the beds, we browsed TV, we all went out for an early dinner, and then the kids fell asleep, we read, and outside the half-open window, a deluge started.

It was still raining when we left the room at 9.40. Amit waited to get some refund from reception, while I went on ahead (with some vague idea of holding the bus, should it show any inclination to make a timely start). We got wet, the sleeping kids got wet, and, in the pitch darkness, we kind of lost our way. Luckily, though, Amit caught up with me, because I was beginning to feel jittery out there in the dark on my own – Karwar is the kind of town that is shut up tight by 9 p.m.

It was 10.00 p.m. Amit called the bus shop – the bus would leave in 5 minutes. “Yes, ok, hold on, we’re on our way,” said Amit, being desperately polite, “by the way, just where exactly did you say the bus would be?”

A couple of minutes later, we saw it. With a mixture of rain and sweat pouring down us, we climbed on board to find…

…that our seats were…


Very firmly occupied, by a fat old couple who claimed to be senior citizens incapable of sleeping on the upper bunk.

It took half an hour and a good deal of screaming on my part to get the situation sorted out. The fat old couple remained as firmly seated as though they’d grown roots, so an unfortunate young couple were unceremoniously evicted from their berths and moved to an upper berth, so that we could get a lower berth. At last, frustrated, steaming, sweating, swearing, and trying to soothe two sleepy children we crammed ourselves into our double berth and the bus started rolling.

The bus was supposed to reach Bangalore by 8 a.m. – but the two hour delay in its starting time, the half hour hiatus as we fought for our seats, and the inevitable puncture stop along with the tyre-repair stop combined to ensure that at 8 a.m. we were not anywhere close to Bangalore. For the next three hours, we sat and counted the minutes and fretted and sweated as we crawled into the city and then crawled through the traffic around Yeshwanthpur and all the way to Windsor Manor.

We were both worried because it was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and we had lots and lots of WORK to do! And now that we were so extremely late, we still had the onerous tasks of getting the kids ready for daycare, getting some lunch organized for them, getting ourselves cleaned up, and somehow getting to office, before lunch if possible. In the end, I managed it all and even managed to send out the documents in time for the end-of-day release… but I would have been happier with those three hours in hand.

And the kids? Were wonderful! They sat five long hours in the sleeper bus after they woke up. They talked, they sang, they got bored, sucked their thumbs and threatened to fall asleep, demanded food and demanded water, but… they didn’t fuss at all. No whining no fighting no driving us up the window (there wasn’t a wall). When they got home, they straightaway got to “work” with their toys, and, apart from occasionally fingering my laptop, didn’t cause any trouble at all. I dropped them at daycare at 1 p.m. and their teacher there said they ate and slept without any fuss and she’d never have guessed there had been anything different (tiring!) about their day.

I know I’m a disgustingly proud mama, but honestly, tell me: aren’t they just the bestest?


June 2, 2010

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, there are a few new photos up.

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