More Women of Substance

August 31, 2010

I wrote once before (a long time ago) about various women I admired. For a while now, I’ve been thinking of two very different women who – loosely – also fall into the category of Women of Substance. Unlike the women I wrote about earlier, I don’t know these two women very well. I know their story from the outside, but I don’t know what they’ve gone through to get where they are. What I do know – or believe – is that each of them is living out a modest success story.

First, there’s R, the kids’ daycare co-ordinator. What’s most impressive about R is that she’s slim, young, single, and apparently enjoys being with kids. And this is impressive because it’s not the sort of personality you’d associate with a businesswoman. Not that being slim in itself is any ground for not being a businesswoman – it’s just the whole package that looks so unlikely. You’d think of R as being a very junior apprentice teacher in a school – not as someone who has successfully managed to set up a school and is running it with apparently no great effort.

To run her school, R has rented the ground floor of a house in a quiet residential area with very few residences nearby. She has installed basic infrastructure like chair, tables, boards, small slides, cycles, games etc to play on/with. There’s an outdoor sandpit, which she has recently had covered to keep the rain off. There’s a long strip of artificial grass. There’s a good-sized outdoor playscape. She has brightened up the place by decorating the walls of each room with kid-friendly themes. There are three functional bathrooms and a fully-equipped kitchen. She has got good staff, and plenty of them. I never see either R or her staff flustered or rushed. When you’re dealing with kids, this is very important. The premises serves as a preschool in the morning, and some of the kids stay on in the afternoon for the daycare. Mrini-Tara and a few others join in the afternoon for post-school daycare. There are about 15 kids in the daycare session, though there must be more in the preschool session. There are vans – with the preschool name and logo painted on them – to drop and pick-up the preschool kids. Not only does R run the whole show, she keeps a good supply of fresh fruit and not-too-unhealthy snacks, which she replenishes fairly often. And then, of course, she got birthday cake and birthday gifts for Mrini and Tara! Behind the scenes, she must be handling all the logistics as well – paying bills and managing whatever else goes into keeping a business of this sort running. And she still finds the time and energy to spend with the kids, so that she usually knows who’s been doing what to a frankly amazing degree.

When you consider all this, the fact that she’s single, stays away from her parents (and quite far from her place of work), looks to be about 25, and is thin as a wisp and quite pretty to boot is relevant just because it is so incredible. It seems quite evident that she’s made a business of what she loves doing and what she loves doing is working with small kids. To have followed her dream and made it work, to have found her place in the sun, as slim, young, and charming as she appears – is both admirable and inspirational. I wish I’d had that clarity of thought and strength of conviction at that age.

On the other hand, is another amazing woman whom I’m a little terrified of. She’s a fisherwoman, who runs a large and successful fish business on a very busy main road. She is about as opposite to R as it is possible for any woman to be. Where R is wispy and soft-spoken, the fisherwoman is big, tall, dark, and loud. She’s ruthlessly efficient and is quite capable – big and tall as she is – of staring down (or shouting down) any man fool enough to stand up to her. One day I reached her shop at the same time as a large consignment of fresh fish. In front of me, she directed several men to weigh out the fish and aggressively negotiated terms with them. In the end, some boxes of fish were returned to the vehicle because either the quality or the price did not meet with madam’s approval. Meanwhile, three or four of her minions moved the rest of the fish out of the way, while others weighed, cleaned and cut fish for a couple of customers like me.

Running a roadside shop on a busy main road in Bangalore is clearly a man’s job. I can’t even imagine the kinds of tasks involved, but it’s surely not as simple as paying rent and electricity bills, and shopping for artificial grass online. It can’t be easy for a woman to make her way in that world. Yet, like the prototypical fisherwoman, she stands there and bellows and things get done. I wish I could learn something about authority and assertiveness from her, about standing my ground, and making the world move the way I want it to.

The Saturday Party

August 30, 2010

So if you read my previous post, you know that the party I never intended to have, made itself happen on Wednesday, the day of the kids’ birthday. I suppose it’s only appropriate that the party that was supposed to happen on Saturday fizzled out.

Actually, I think we all ran out of steam ourselves by the time Saturday dawned. The kids were pleased in a puzzled way that they should be having another party, when their birthday was clearly already over. Amit and I were feeling kind of lazy about getting the party infrastructure going, so it was 12.45 before Amit left home, ostensibly to shop for party essentials, but in reality, to run various errands such as going to the bank, the post-office, and doing the weekly grocery shopping. Meanwhile I got the cakes done without much effort, and the kids helped me to beat up a delicious mayonnaise for sandwiches.

I gave the kids lunch and packed them off for their afternoon nap, waiting for Amit to return so that we could have lunch together. He returned around 3.30, by which time, hunger pangs had got the better of me. But, as he sat down for lunch, I had to dash out. He had refused point blank to pick up return gifts and he had also most unhelpfully forgotten to bring potatoes for the potato cutlets we were supposed to be serving.

By this time, one family had taken a rain check (though it hadn’t rained yet); another emailed to say he was out of town today, but his family would come, wasn’t the party tomorrow; and a third had already informed me a couple of days earlier that they would be unable to make it due to having visitors over that very day. So while we rushed around boiling potatoes and assembling sandwiches, our guest list disintegrated from five families with seven kids, down to two families with only two kids.

In the way that these things usually turn out, this was good. We had S&S and V&V over, and we fried up a ton of french fries. The potato cutlets were disastrous and the sandwiches were roundly ignored. Cake was cut and eaten only after one round of vodka and orange juice had been downed. We sang the birthday song, but nobody took photographs, far less a video. The kids ran amok, which was as it should be too. Around 9.30, we ordered in biryani and even Mrini managed to stay up till almost 11 as ten of us crowded around our small 4-seater dining table and dug in with gusto.

In other words, it wasn’t a birthday party, but it was a real fun party. Even the kids slept until 8.30 the next morning!

And now they are four.

Read it? Love it? Pass it on!

August 27, 2010

I’ve written before about how pleased I am about my vital stats. No, not those vital stats – my blog statistics, obviously. Unlike the other vital stats, which really should be going down, I like to see these numbers going up and up and up. My blog archives show that I’m approaching my fifth anniversary in blogland. My dashboard shows that I’m ten-odd posts away from 500 posts. If I add the viewership from my old domain to the viewership here, I’ve garnered about 55,000 page views. The past three months, I’ve been getting around 300 views per week and I’m happy with that. If it goes up to 3000 per week, I’ll be even happier. Writing is meant to be read and the more, the merrier. This is totally a performing art.

From time to time, people ask me (somewhat tentatively) if it’s ok to pass my blog along to someone they know who might enjoy reading it. So I just want to set the record straight. It’s not just alright, it’s what you should be doing already! I mean – a writer has an ego, right? This one has an ego the size of… I don’t know… Jupiter, maybe. If you read the largely frivolous, occasionally entertaining, enormously irrelevant and mind-numbingly mundane stuff I churn out two or three time a week and actually enjoy it, please pass it on. If you can send my vital stats spiraling out of control, I might even take you out for lunch. J

Actually, I can understand the hesitation. Reading this blog is a little bit (ok, a lot) like reading my personal diary. Maybe it seems a little intrusive – voyeuristic, even – to be reading it if I haven’t actually sent it to you. But hey – it’s a blog. It’s not a diary. And however much it might look like I reveal way too many intimate details of my life and personality here, you’ll never know all the things I don’t put out here for you to read. Ok, there’s not that much that I don’t put out here… but believe me, I never forget that this thing is public and I never say more than I’m comfortable having people (even complete strangers) know. So go ahead and read and pass it on to others to read. I expect people to read. I want people to read. Even if you know me. Even if you don’t know me. Even if I know you and don’t like you and don’t want you to be reading this –it’s still perfectly ok for you to be reading it. And passing it on to whoever you think might enjoy it. (Only, don’t pass it along to a real-world stalker, ok, pretty please?)

And by the way, if you’re new here and you happen to forget the URL, don’t worry: you can always find your way back by googling Mrini Tara. (See how helpful I am?)

Oh and of course I love it when my readers leave me a comment, even if I don’t know you at all. But if you don’t, that’s ok too. Lurking is always fun.

Birthday Girls

August 26, 2010

Need I say more? No!

But when did that ever stop me?

When I woke the kids up in the morning and told them it was their birthday and there were gifts for them on the dining table, they jumped out of bed so fast I couldn’t believe my eyes! They ripped their gifts open with an abandon you only see in kids their age. Then they fought over which books were whose. Meanwhile, Amit and I fought over who was going to drop them to school, and of course in the end we both went and we were horribly late getting to office, which was all my fault because I didn’t want to rush and hurry on their birthday (and it had nothing whatsoever to do with my better half snuggling up in the sheets until practically 6.45!)

They looked absolutely charming in their new frocks. The great benefit of letting them dress in tattered old jeans and T-shirts all the time is that when they do wear frocks, they are practically unrecognisable. At school, Mrini was uncharacteristically (but expectedly) shy entering class with her bag of cookies. Their teacher very sweetly asked us if we wanted to be present when they sang for the girls, at 10.30. Regretfully, we said no – we couldn’t possibly leave school for office at 8.30 and be back at 10.30! But at 12.30 I was waiting for them at daycare with another bag of cookies each.

I went to pick them up around 4.30 that afternoon and found them gorging on cake! Their daycare had not only organised a cake for them, but had also bought them some gifts! Wow – that was so sweet of them! I waited for them to finish eating, then I waited for them to finish ripping open their gifts, amid much prompting and interest from the other kids. At last I tore them away from daycare and it was close to 5.

Disaster! The cook had told me sternly that I needed to be home by 5.30 if I expected her to make channa, mattar-paneer, and puris for dinner. And home was a good half-hour drive away, interrupted by stops to pick up birthday cake, candles, and return gifts.

Not that we were going to have a party, oh no! The party would be on Saturday. Who’s going to organise a party on a weekday? Not me! And besides, how can we expect people to trudge all the way across town on a weekday evening? So on the day of their birthday we planned only to cut a cake and have a nice dinner. S&S said they would join us, and S&P said they would too. Then I invited Chris as well, and the kids invited Chris’ nephew Tim, and that of course meant that Chris’ niece Linda was invited too. And of course, all these people stay in various far-flung areas of town, but that didn’t stop them from making the long, tiring drive to our place in the middle of the week.

Meanwhile, I managed to scrape together return gifts for all the kids because, even if I thought this was not a party, kids who brought gifts and sang the birthday song and ate cake expected return gifts when they were leaving. It turned out that such kids also expected balloons, but in this they were to be disappointed. Balloons, joker caps, masks, paper plates, streamers, and all that jazz was for Saturday – I certainly didn’t have time to organise all that on a weekday. As it is, I got home a scant ten minutes before the first guests arrived, so the first guests were handed the task of wrapping the return gifts! At least I had managed to procure a few bottles of bubbles, which kept the kids busy while the return gifts were being wrapped. By the time the other guests arrived, Amit was home, the cooking was underway, the kids had been changed into their party clothes, and things were almost under control.

There were the usual hitches and delays in cutting the cake. Everyone spent a good 15 minutes hunting for candles, which both Amit and I had bought. Mine were easily found, of course (me being so organized and all…) but Amit’s had gone missing and a massive search and rescue operation was launched because he was adamant that those candles and no other would be used. At last they were found (I had thrown the bag with paper plates into the store room without inspecting the contents too closely) … and then we had to find a fresh battery for the camera. Two cakes had been lying on the table, the focus of attention of several kids at all times, and had managed to survive all the delays largely unscathed. Mrini managed to lick every part of the knife that was to be used for cutting the cake, without actually damaging her cake in the process.

Finally the candles were found and lit and blown out and lit and blown out again (because the photographer – Amit – wasn’t ready) and the song was sung and the cake was cut and eaten. From there, the evening proceeded on plan as dinner was served, followed by ice cream and more cake. The kids all managed to settle down and play together in the living room, leaving the parents to eat in some kind of peace. No disasters occurred, no grievous bodily harm was done, no lasting enmities were formed, and none of the food and drink was spilt or went short.

By the end of the day, as I cleared up the storm and tried to restore order to the house, I realized something. Regardless of what I might have thought or planned… with just four kids on the guest list and no balloons or streamers… and despite it being a school night… we’d just had a birthday party!

From Darkness to Light…

August 20, 2010

…and back to darkness again.

There’s no point complaining about the number of hours that we have or don’t have electricity each day. Everyone’s complaining, especially the newspapers. So on Saturday – the worst day for us so far, because weekdays we are out of home and on Sunday the electricity gods try to be a little kind – last Saturday it went like this:

• Wake up at 5.30, it’s dark outside and dark inside.
• Get back from tennis at 8, as I come in the door, power goes out.
• Get back from the hospital in time for lunch at 1 p.m., electricity takes a lunch break too.
• Get up from a nap at 4 p.m., electricity goes to take an afternoon siesta.
• Get back from a birthday party at 7 p.m., electricity goes for a cocktail break.
• At 9.40 p.m., kids in bed and asleep, we’re just thinking of settling down with beer and dinner, sanguine that we’ve paid our electric debt to society and should have a fairly “empowered” evening at least, when… electricity bids us goodnight and goes out yet again!

It’s never been this bad. Saturday was so extreme that Amit burnt up the phone lines trying to get an inverter installed on Sunday. Obviously, nobody really wanted to work on Sunday, which was also a national holiday, so various promises were made and broken, while we held our breaths waiting for the next power cut. Luckily, on Sunday, we had only about three hours of power cuts, so we were relaxed and happy by the time we went to bed on Sunday night. (Just imagine!)

On Monday evening, after burning up the phone lines a bit more, three men and an inverter arrived at our front door. Finding no response on ringing the bell, they went around to the back door! This, because we changed our infernally noisy bell on Sunday evening, and, after working nicely the first couple of times, the new bell went on strike and doesn’t work at all. Anyhow, having got us to answer the door, they came in and proceeded to set up the inverter in our living room. It took them a couple of hours and it was close to 10 p.m. by the time they were done, but we were lucky: there were no power cuts while they worked! For the first time in days, the cook, the cleaning woman, and the kids could do their work in a well-lit environment, instead of by candlelight.

Great – so now we have several hours worth of backup lighting.

It has not escaped my attention that by installing an inverter, we are stealing power from the grid when power is supplied (at peak hours) to use it when power is not supplied (also at peak hours). So we are not contributing anything to the power-saving efforts at all. We are just storing up power to use at our convenience. It’s almost like hoarding power. It’s so not green. But when you have two lousy hours at home with your kids each weekday evening, and you are otherwise doomed to spending those hours trying to keep your kids engaged by candlelight, with the attendant risks of something catching fire, to say nothing of wax drops all over the floor and furniture… well, beyond a point you tend to take a rather selfish view of things. At least I do – I’m no saint.

On Tuesday morning, I went for tennis, leaving Amit to handle two power cuts. After the second, when electricity returned and he turned off the inverter, boom! Darkness!

He checked the various electric points not connected to the inverter. They worked. Electricity was back alright. Only, the inverter hadn’t realized it. So none of the points connected to the inverter worked unless the inverter was switched on to give backup power.

Great. So now, after we had used up the few hours worth of backup lighting, we were going to be powerless again. Meanwhile, the fridge was not getting any power and by the time we came home that evening everything would be a mess. Sigh! I rushed around creating an alternative power solution for the fridge and getting horribly late for work.

On Tuesday afternoon Amit called up the inverter guys and explained the situation. Tuesday evening, a very young chap who looked like he shouldn’t be eligible for a driver’s licence yet drove up to our home on a two-wheeler loaded with two inverters. He fiddled with the inverter and informed me that the batteries had not been connected with terminals, but with wires instead. That was bad, but what was worse was that when he switched off the inverter, boom! The lights stayed on. Damn that Murphy’s Law!

It took me a good ten minutes of embarrassment and fumbling explanations (I hadn’t been home when the problem occurred, remember) to be able to reproduce the problem. In the end, in fact, he figured it out himself, and once he had reproduced it a few times, he was forced to conclude that it wasn’t simply a figment of an overactive female imagination or just plain female ineptitude (I could tell that’s what he thought by the way he rolled his eyes when everything worked perfectly), but was an actual problem. One he didn’t have an answer to. He tried to blame it on the missing terminals, but I wasn’t exactly buying that – it looked like a flaw in the machine to me.

Amit, on the phone from office, forced the boy to take away the defective inverter and told him to come back the next day with a fully-functional piece. The poor kid lugged the inverter down and out to where his bike was parked, but a few minutes later he knocked (banged, rather) on the door to tell me there was just no way he could take three inverters on his bike. I had pity on him and allowed him to leave it on our doorstep, though he had already signed something saying he was taking it with him.

The next day, Amit got on the phone with the inverter shop again and very politely (so he says) gave them what for. I stopped payment on the cheque. Combined, the two strategies were alarmingly effective. They sent two of the original three chaps over with a new inverter and battery (but no terminals). Another couple of hours of installing and testing ensued. At the end of it, they convinced Amit that the inverter’s current – apparently whimsical – functionality was as per its design and specifications. They must have been right, because Amit is a tough nut to persuade, and in fact he made a call to the biggest boss of the shop before he would accept the explanation. Don’t ask me – I was busy giving the kids dinner and putting them to bed and having my own dinner.

And all through all of this, the only power cuts we had was when they turned off the lights to test the inverter. In fact, since the inverter got up and running on Wednesday night, we still haven’t had a single power cut. It figures: Murphy’s Law. But I have news for you Mr Murphy. The power cuts will be back. You won’t outsmart the electric gods. This is one game you can’t win.

Observation 2

August 18, 2010

We were invited by the kids’ school to go for an observation this week. This is an aspect of their school that I can’t praise enough. I’m sure all parents are itching to know what stuff their kids do in school. Kids are, typically, less than forthcoming. The Montessori system does not require notebooks or textbooks in the first two years, so we know even less than we might in the kindergarten system. An observation is our opportunity to find out what our kids are doing in the three-plus hours that they spend in school. We had been for it last year as well, and came away enlightened and delighted in equal measures.

Mriini-Tara were quite thrilled when we told them we’d be going to sit in their class with them. They led us into class somewhat shyly and spread their mats out in a corner next to each other. Their teacher told us they don’t normally sit next to each other and Mrini had already told us in the car, “Nandu and Nirupama and Vaishnavi are Tara’s friends. Navneet is my friend. Only Navneet.” She was very firm about it. (Yes, Navneet is the same boy she kissed a couple of weeks ago – at least she’s constant. And yes, the teacher confirmed that the kiss did, indeed, happen!)

Amit and I sat down on the floor next to the two of them. To start with, Mrini went through several very easy jigsaw puzzles, while Tara worked with great focus on some number-related activity. Eventually, with some effort by the teacher, Mrini was also persuaded to work on number-related activities. There were several different activities. The one I’d heard most about was number rods – a set of rods with length from one to ten units. The idea was to arrange the rods in sequence and then count the striped units on the rods and the correct number symbol with each rod. There was another counting activity that involved putting the right number of sticks into various slots; and another activity involving putting some kind of counters in front of the number symbols. What impressed me most was a set of beads. There were ten beads, nine strings of ten beads each, nine square mats made up of ten strings of ten beads each, and finally, a cube, made by stacking ten mats on top of each other. So you had units, tens, hundred, and a thousand, visually reinforcing the numerical, geometrical and decimal relationship between all of them. It was so simple it was beautiful – I wish I’d seen it this way when I was four. This basic concept – especially the concept of square and cube, and of zero (dot) one (string) two (square) and three (cube) dimensions – was never actually tied to the real, physical world when I was a student. They were abstract concepts which I didn’t get my head around until much later. Not that Mrini and Tara have any concept of square and cube right now, or of the decimal system or of dimensions of any kind or number; but when they do begin to understand those concepts, they have something real and physical to understand them by. That is just so nice.

The other activity that their teacher made sure they showed us was sandpaper letters. Both my girls can associate vowel sounds with vowel letters and many/most of the consonant sounds with consonant letters. Mrini can do a few more than Tara and other kids in their class can do more than both, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is, my girls almost know their letters! Wow! Of course I was swept away by dreams of buying them a truckload of books each – I can hardly wait for them to discover the joy of reading! – but when I asked their teacher, she said it would take another year or so before they learnt to read. Can it possibly take that long to get there once you already know the letters???

Their teacher told us they were now much better at putting away stuff they had worked on – something we still have to get after them to do at home – and that they both were very independent in class. She also said it was possible now to have real discussions with them, which was nice. She pointed out some of their art work, mentioning that it was quite neat now, and they were probably ready to start writing. I told her they’d been practicing zig-zags, 5 and 2 at home.

We sat with them for about an hour. Towards the end, I was getting itchy. I think Amit would have sat there the whole morning, he’s that kind of a doting dad, but I thought the teacher had better give some attention to the other kids in her group as well. With a maximum of 30 kids, 3 teachers and an akka, they weren’t too stretched at any point, but you can’t hog the teacher’s time for too long all the same. Other kids came up to her to ask for work or to show her what they’d done. Several kids showed her words they’d written, and one boy brought his notebook and asked for sums. Yes, he asked for sums! He even knew what numbers he wanted to add – and the teacher let him dictate the questions! And when he didn’t like the colour of the pen she was using, she let him bring her another one.

Meanwhile, the girls were getting itchy too! In the middle, Mrini wandered off to join her friends and find out what Navneet was up to. She came back soon, but not for too long. We kept telling them we’d be leaving in “five minutes” – standard procedure for brining any fun activity to a graceful end – but when we still hadn’t left at the end of fifteen, Mrini gave me a disgusted look and said “bye, mummy,” much too firmly. We took the cue and left!

I was talking to their daycare teacher about it later that day. Their daycare runs a primary kindergarten school, where things are done rather differently. I mentioned to her how much freedom the kids had in the Montessori environment. She surprised me by saying, “It is one of the most disciplined methodologies.” I started to tell her how little discipline there really was, but she was two steps ahead of me. “It allows kids a lot of freedom, so they learn to do their own work, at their own pace, and to enjoy the freedom of being able to walk around without disturbing other kids. That’s what discipline really is. Not being made to sit in one place and be quiet, but knowing that you have to do your own work without disturbing others.” That was a good point.

Overall it was a very nice experience. It is nice to know that one’s kids are actually learning something in school, even if they refuse to show off or even talk about it at home. It’s nice to see the manner in which they are learning, and how much fun it can be. It’s great to watch the independence, freedom, and responsibility that this environment allows them. Best of all was the atmosphere in class. When I sat in class with the girls in June last year, when they had just joined school, it looked like complete chaos. But now it’s August and the class has settled down. A couple of the new kids are still shy, and one boy howled for five minutes when his mother handed him over to the teacher, but apart from that, the kids were all comfortable, happy, and mostly engrossed in their work. The teachers were comfortable, cheerful, firm and un-hassled. Kids were completely comfortable with the teachers, they didn’t even hesitate to sit in the teacher’s lap. Yet… this was school – not somebody’s home, not a playschool, not daycare – this was school.

I don’t have a very clear recollection of what my school was like at this age, but I’m sure that it was nothing like this! I’m so happy our girls are in this warm, bright, and happy place for three whole years.


August 17, 2010

We took the kids for their annual health checkup on Saturday. Actually, there wasn’t much need to take them for a check-up, they seem to be so very ok. But we do have to provide this letter to the Family Court each year, testifying to their mental, physical, social, emotional and academic fitness… so we had to go anyway.

One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry is booming. The hospital was so crowded that we couldn’t get parking, even though they have a huge open parking lot which I never thought could possibly be filled up unless there were some kind of city-wide calamity. I went in, while Amit sat in the parking queue, but he eventually handed over the car to a valet to park. It was a smart move: A couple of minutes later, even people asking for valet parking were being turned away!

Inside, the chaos was equally evident. The pediatric department was full and overflowing, and the two attendants at the desk were harassed and busy. I asked how long we’d have to wait and was told it would take an hour. I immediately regretted having paid up the consultation fee already, but then it turned out that that was the waiting time for those who didn’t have appointments. With an appointment, we wouldn’t have to wait long.

Their weight and height was checked. They weighed in at 14 kg each, and Mrini was measured at 100.5 cm, while Tara was 101! When we found our place in front of the doctor a few minutes later, she told us their height was good and weight was only a little (1.5kg) below normal.

I had worried a lot about their weight and height in the early days. What do you do, when your one-year-old adopted babies are in the bottom 5th percentile for weight and height, and you can’t seem to get the word malnutrition out of your head? But that was a long, long time ago. It was gratifying to see them shoot up in the first six months with us, gaining inches at a time when for most kids growth slows down to a crawl. And it’s been a long, long time now since I worried about whether they were on-track weight-height-wise. I see them with kids in their class and I can see that their height is about on par. As for weight – they are obviously thin and probably always will be, until emotional issues begin to influence their food habits; but they are not unhealthy any more, and that’s the important thing.

It was good to hear from a doctor that their weight and height was no longer a cause for concern, but it was not a surprise, nor a cause for celebration – just an affirmation of something we had come to realize and accept over the months already.

What the doctor said next, though, was a surprise and more delightful than I’d have expected. She said that the girls have started to resemble us in their “dentition” and features. I don’t know exactly what features she was referring to, and to what extent this is true and to what extent it is fanciful I can’t be sure; and I don’t really see much resemblance between them and is in dentition or anything else myself; but it was strangely elevating to hear and to think that our girls might actually look like us a bit. I realized, suddenly, how much I’d missed hearing anything like that. Personally, I still don’t see it – I don’t think they look anything like us; but it was nice to think that to somebody, they look a little more like us than they did before.

It made the whole effort of driving, parking, paying, waiting, waiting some more, and finally driving back – it made all of that seem well worth while. We left the hospital with quite a smile on our faces – yes, even Amit.

Isn’t Divorce Simpler?

August 16, 2010

A couple of days ago, we read on the front page of this young school teacher who’d been murdered in Bangalore. It was a vicious killing – she was strangled, her hands were tied, her throat was slit and then there were multiple stab wounds.

Her husband said he’d gone for his morning walk and badminton outing when it happened. He had a story. It sounded so improbable that I thought it must be true. Nobody who had to cook up a story would cook up something so completely cockeyed. I mean, if your wife calls you about some strange men a the door at 6 a.m. and you get home a little later to find the door locked and no response from your wife, would you then waste an hour and a half going to your office to get a key? No! Of course not! You’d panic and break the door down.

I thought to myself – I hope this guy is the bereaved spouse; I hope he’s not the killer. In most of the murders I have read about in the papers, it’s the spouse/lover who does it, either directly or indirectly. If it’s not the spouse, it is some family or business rivalry, or some scorned domestic help. It is almost never a random stranger.

The papers said they’d had a happy marriage, so I was optimistic that for once we’d have a real tragic hero here, not a cold-blooded murderer.

But no – the story turned out as expected. According to the current news reports, the husband did it. He set up the whole thing, planned it for three months! Never mind that it was a half-baked scheme in the first place, he carried it out as per his plan and then tried to cover it up with the badminton outing followed by the whole drive-to-office-to-get-a-key routine. According to the papers, he said he did it because his wife was “irritating”. And because she made him move away from his parents!

What I really just don’t get is – so what? ALL wives are irritating at some point or other, in some way or other. That’s the whole point of a wife. (Husbands are irritating too – but we don’t want to go there right now.) Pretty much anybody you spend that much time with every day, under the same roof and all, is going to be irritating at some point. Even your mom. If you don’t like your wife, you can always just walk out, can’t you? You can even get a divorce. It’s not that difficult. And in any case, you can always just pack your bags and leave. Go back to momma. It might not be the nicest thing to do, but it’s a lot better than just killing your wife. I don’t think this couple had kids, but even if they did, you’re not doing them any favour by murdering their mother (or father) as opposed to just splitting with them.

And then, of course, you do such a stupid murder that you have to go and get caught. Anybody who’s watched a bit of TV knows that if your wife is found dead at 8 a.m., the docs can obviously narrow down time to death pretty accurately, so hoping they will buy your story that she was alive and making you a fake phone call at 6 a.m. when she was actually dead two hours earlier is plain stupid. Anybody who’s watched a bit of TV or read a murder-mystery or two will also know that the husband (or wife) is the prime suspect. And that most murderers get caught in the end. Especially the really stupid and obvious murderers.

You’ve got to have a twisted kind of mind to imagine that that kind of solution, with all its blood and gore (he had blood on the shoes he was wearing when he went out to play badminton!), its cruelty, its permanence, and its extremely high risk factor, is the best solution for the fairly trivial problem of marital discontent.

And this guy was an HR chap in an IT company. Wonder what kind of solutions he had in mind for employees having trouble with their colleagues or bosses!

In the end, what did this HR genius achieve? He wasted two lives, which could quite easily have been spent quite fruitfully, if they’d only agreed to part.

And I’m really puzzled by it. I just don’t see in what kind of a mind, in what kind of manner, it can appear to be the sensible, logical, or right thing to do to murder someone who “irritates” you, when you could so much more easily just leave. Can somebody explain this to me?

Amit says you can’t believe everything you read in the papers and that the papers don’t give the whole picture and so on. True – there may be stuff here I’m not aware of. Maybe “irritating” is not the real reason. Maybe the guy is actually, clinically, insane. Maybe the confession is fake. Maybe…. Whatever. But going by what’s emerged so far, all I can say is: What’s wrong with this man????

A Narrow Escape

August 11, 2010

Almost exactly a week after Amit got on a flight out of Leh, the region was hit by a cloudburst and flash floods. Roads were wrecked, bridges swept away, buildings destroyed, and over 150 people died, with hundreds more injured. Eighty-nine tourists were airlifted from Skiu, the village that Amit stayed at the first night of his trek and where I have stayed three times since our first visit to Ladakh in 2005.

Immediately after the flash floods, Leh was cut off by road on both sides (Manali-Leh as well as Srinagar-Leh); by air, as the runway was covered in mud; and by phone, as the BSNL building was destroyed. Tourists in Leh found themselves helping in rescue operations. Although the army, air force, and ITBP were mobilized for relief and rescue operations, the scale of operations boggles the mind.

All the usual disaster management activities, like getting the injured to hospital, and setting up temporary shelters, sanitation, food and potable water for survivors, are complicated by the terrain. It must also be difficult to know where to focus and how to prioritize – whether to fix the roads first, as they are the lifelines of the region, not to mention their strategic significance; or to fix the city first; or to evacuate tourists stranded in remote villages, high-altitude campsites or along the roads first. I wonder what it would be like if you were a car or a bus on the beautiful, tortuous, endless road from Manali to Leh. I have been on that road several times. Since the rain occurred at night, nobody would have been actually driving on the road at that time, so vehicles and passengers would have been “safely” (?) tucked up at the overnight stops. But to then have to spend day after day and night after night on the road as you come up against one gigantic landslide after another… running out of food, running out of water, running out of patience as you wait to tell your loved ones that you’re alive and safe…

When we went to Ladakh for the first time in 2005, we had wonderful weather. But when I went down to Himachal a few weeks later that same year, there were three or four days of incessant rain. The Beas was in spate and elsewhere in Himachal (Kullu, Kinnaur) there were serious floods in the Sutlej river (as well as the Kosi river in Nepal). There were landslides on the Manali-Leh road and the road was closed for a few days. I went back on that road as soon as it opened, and I saw the remains of the damage firsthand. Huge boulders were scattered around at random and in a few places the streams (one aptly called Pagal Nala) still charted a course across the road surface. Corpses of cows still lay where they had fallen. We got stuck a few times where smaller, more recent landslides were still being cleared. In one instance, even as repairs progressed, a tiny rattle of stones threatened from above as everyone looked upwards anxiously and hurried out of the way.

When we went back to Ladakh in 2006, we had miserable weather. It rained every day for more than a week, and that time too, there were floods. That time too, the army was called out and people were rescued and evacuated. We saw for ourselves where the river had overflowed onto the road and bridges had been swept away. On our route, we turned and walked back without meeting any crises; but on other routes, trekking parties were stranded for days.

In 2007, we went back on the route I had been on alone in 2005. That route had seen a lot of rain the previous year, and some of the topography had changed beyond recognition. The old trekking path in places had been obliterated by landslides. I still remember walking merrily on the left of the river, heading up to where I could see a trail clearly snaking along the mountainside high above the river. Behind me, someone whistled to me and directed me to cross the river and walk on the other side. Why? I asked. They pointed further along the trail I had been heading for – the path simply disappeared under a pile of rubble! The terrain is such that there was no chance of getting across the landslide, or getting over or under it. There was now a new and much less conspicuous trail on the other side of the valley and that was the only way forward.

This was just one of many noticeable changes in the landscape. In places, the course of the river itself had changed, wiping out a path on one side and forcing you to either climb a hill or cross the water to find a path.

I’ve seen some of the TV coverage of the flood and I’ve read many of the newspaper and website reports. I can only imagine the kind of destruction it has wrought on this beautiful, barren, stark landscape. Even back in 2005 I’d heard the people of Leh complain that trees were the cause of their woes. The plants that do so much good for other parts of the planet are not good for this environment. This terrain, made of mud and dust, is not made for rain. Trees, they said, need rain as much as they cause rain. Planting trees here is wrong.

It looks wrong. The brilliant green of plant life stands out like a sore thumb in the dusty beauty of Ladakh. But whether it really is the cause of the sudden seasonal flooding of Ladakh is not for me to say.

Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, drought – there are always natural disasters of one kind or another going on somewhere in this world. Those that are closes to home hit you hardest. I’ve been to Leh more times than most other places I’ve visited as a tourist. I’ve been there sick and I’ve been there alone. I know the people, I know the shops, the streets, the mountain peaks. I know the bus-stand that’s been flattened, I know the village that people were airlifted from. In fact, I know all the places mentioned in the news report – Choglamsar, Nimmo, Pang, Bazgo, Skiu… My thoughts are with the family who runs the guesthouse we always stay in, and the women who run the trekking agency we always go to first, and the horsemen (and horses) who have come with us on our many adventures there and taken good care of us. I hope they are all ok and I hope they can rebuild their homes, their businesses, and their lives as soon as they possibly can…

And I’m thankful, so thankful, that Amit came back when he did and I didn’t have to spend a single moment worrying about him (any more than I already did).

A few pictures of Ladakh – not Leh itself, but the remote valleys outside. From our 2007 trek.

What is life coming to?

August 10, 2010

It’s 9.30 at night and me and the better half are sitting across the table from each other. What do you expect – heaped plates of steaming food in front of us? Dream on! Here’s what we really do have on the dining table.

Two laptops, open, email connected, work in progress.
A pile of folded laundry consisting of 4 sets of twins’ underwear, one set of twins’ nightclothes, and four pairs of twins’ socks in various hues of blue, pink, magenta, purple, and yellow.
One unsharpened pencil.
The twins’ bath towels spread out to dry (because if I hang them out to dry it’s sure to rain: Murphy’s Law).
Three mobile phones (one of which is receiving mildly romantic messages from an unidentifiable sender!).
A cheque book.
A bank statement.
A paper notebook (as opposed to an electronic one) and a pen.
Two small boxes of kids’ games, topped by two takeaway cartons, washed and filled with marbles belonging to the said games.
And oh yes – a token representative of the original function of dining tables: an empty bowl and spoon used a few minutes ago for eating some curd.

And finally… a studious silence – broken only by the sporadic beeping of the mobile phone as further romantic messages arrive.

%d bloggers like this: