Passport Update: Four Months Later…

May 31, 2011

It’s unbelievable that we let four whole months pass by since our initial attempt to get the kids’ passports. And out of four whole months, two whole months were summer holidays, when we could have picked any day to go to the passport office without having to yank the kids out of school. Yet we waited till the very last day of the summer holidays.

We knew it would be drudgery taking the kids to the passport office. Amit left home at 6.15 a.m. to get into the queue early. There were only 30-40 people ahead of him. The token counter would open at 9.30 and would issue up to 250 tokens or until 10.30 a.m., whichever came first, so there was a bit of urgency to reach early. I intended to reach with the kids only around 9.30, but traffic was surprisingly light, so I left home at 8.15 and reached at 8.50. Much too early. Only after I reached, did Amit leave his place in the queue long enough to find out that he was in the wrong queue. He took a place in another queue – now there were 100+ people ahead of him.

The downpour last night made the long wait bearable. The kids and I found some deep shade to sit in, and I took out their colouring books, so they were happy for a bit. I’d also carried lots of snacks and some water, preparing for a longish siege, which was just as well. We got our tokens just after 10 – 105 and 106. Now we could go indoors. There was a huge hall with lots of chairs and a few fans. Luckily, it still wasn’t very hot. There was drinking water and toilets which were – at that early hour – quite clean. There were seven counters, but only two were manned (by women, actually, so can one say “womanned”?). They were on token 9 and 10 when we got in. By 11.30, they were at token 40 and 41. At this rate, we’d be here at least until 3 – and that’s without counting on a lunch break. The kids were behaving well, but that couldn’t last very long.

Amit went up to the counter and asked them if they would expedite our case. They agreed, and five minutes later, they were done with us. Not that we were done, of course. Something was scribbled on our forms and we were directed to the Policy section on the second floor.

Here there were only a handful of people. Our turn came in less than five minutes. The woman at the counter barely heard us out and told Amit to go around to the room behind; the kids needn’t go. In a few minutes Amit was back. It wasn’t all bad. According to the passport office requirements, adopted children should have their photo on the court order. In our case, there was no photo. The Policy folks said that if we could get a letter from the adoption agency with the photo pasted, that would do. If we could come back tomorrow, the same token number would hold. If not, we’d have to get a token again, but we wouldn’t have to go to the ground floor section, where we’d spent an hour and a half waiting. And we needn’t bring the kids.

So right now, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic. We should be able to get the letter soon enough – at any rate, a whole lot sooner than getting the judge to stick a photo on the order. The only hitch is that they want to do the police verification for the kids. Normally, it seems, they don’t bother for minors. In our case, they will do the police verification in both Bangalore and Pondicherry. That could take some time. Apparently, we’d better not plan on taking a foreign vacation any time this year.

Kept Promises

May 26, 2011

Last weekend was a weekend of kept promises. It started – as a good weekend should – on Friday afternoon. I left office at 3 p.m. and went to daycare to pick up the kids. Then, I brought them back to my office. It has been a long-pending request of theirs to see my office and just before we left for our Himalayan trek, I’d promised them I’d get it done before the summer vacations ended. With the end in sight now, just a week or so away, it was high time I kept my promise.

I told the kids they’d have to be very quiet in my office – no shouting and no running around. They were all excited as we entered the office and Mrini saw a laptop case at somebody’s cube that looked like mine and she went scooting off in that direction. When I’d retrieved her, we found our way to my desk, where they were happy to note their photos on my pin board. My colleagues had very sweetly gone out and bought a few things for the kids, which they were thrilled with. After five minutes hanging around near my cube, I took them to the cafeteria. Five minutes later, Amit walked in. Security had seen him hanging around the lift lobby, seen the kids come in with me and head to the cafeteria, and had very kindly let Amit in and directed him to the cafeteria. These are the joys of a small office; such a thing would never have happened in the larger and more formal organizations I have worked at in the past.

Amit took the kids off to give them the grand tour of his office, while I went down to the car to fetch our stuff. This, after all, was no ordinary weekend. This was the weekend of kept promises and that meant, we were finally going to Mysore. We had initially promised to take the kids to Mysore a whole year ago. For one reason and another, it just hadn’t materialized, even as most of our friends wound up taking their kids there and (mostly) reporting that it was a great experience. On the spur of the moment, we had planned a trip together with S&P and their kids, and before anyone could raise too many objections, we had booked the train tickets and eventually even filled out an exhaustive online booking form for the hotel. On Friday morning, we left home with a few extra bags. Apart from the usual set – laptops for Amit and me; lunch bags for Amit and the kids; snack boxes for me and the kids; and a handbag for me – there were school bags for the kids, in which they’d very enthusiastically packed just as many clothes as they would need for the short trip; a large laptop case full of clothes for Amit and me; and a camera bag.

We parked our laptops and the car in the office and set out with just the clothes bags and the camera bag. Amit being Amit, we were getting to the train station by bus. We left office at 4 sharp, and despite dire predictions to the contrary from well-meaning colleagues, reached the train station at 5.30 – so early, in fact, that we stopped for dosa at Platform No. 1. Consequently, by the time we got to our platform, walked all the way up the train looking for our coach, didn’t find it, and walked all the way in the other direction, it was getting rather close to ETD. In the end, though, we didn’t need to hop into a moving train – we got into our coach and were well settled before the train got rolling.

The trip to Mysore zoo went pretty much as expected. I felt less upset than I’d expected at the plight of animals in cages and small enclosures. Thankfully, many of the large animals were in open enclosures surrounded by deep ditches, so it didn’t feel as much like a cage as a cage does. That the animals were bored is beyond doubt, but there was still some excitement in it for us. The tiger paced up and down and snarled. The giraffes stretched their long necks for gulmohar leaves that were just out of reach and waited patiently for the breeze to bend the bough. The rhino made a tour of his periphery, passing a couple of feet in front of us on the way. The elephants stood together at the front of their enclosure and returned our gazes. The crocs lay as still as rocks, mouths gaping in the sun. The gorilla sauntered through his front lawn, picking fruit of some kind off the ground and eating it. The chimpanzee sat hunched over looking exactly like a grey old man. The lions and the cheetah panted in the scant shade of a tree. There were high wire fences around their enclosures. Right at the end, we saw emus and an ostrich. The beginning was full of birds.

The whole tour was a 3-km circuit. We left the hotel – a half km away – at 10 a.m. and returned shortly after 2 p.m. It wasn’t as hot as we’d expected, thanks to the lovely canopy of trees all along, but we’d stopped for various cooling drinks throughout the morning and we ended the outing with a tall glass of sugarcane juice each. After lunch at the hotel, we all retired to bed and it was 6.30 before the kids were awake again.

In the evening, we walked past the palace. We didn’t go in, but admired it from outside, beautifully lit up with golden fairy lights. There was a mela in what must have been the palace grounds. P and little p went on some of the rides, which it doesn’t seem either of them liked; while I explained to Mrini and Tara why it would be no fun for them whatsoever. But there was one more promise that I had to keep this weekend – cotton candy. I have probably had cotton candy only once or twice in my entire life. If you ask me, once or twice is enough. Cotton candy is a good experience for a kid – you have to know what it is, after all – but it’s not fun enough to repeat too often. For some time now, the kids had been asking me for cotton candy and I’d been telling them I’d get it for them on a “fun day”. I didn’t really mean anything by it – only, cotton candy is not your normal everyday kind of experience, especially not the first time. Well, this trip the Mysore zoo certainly counted as a fun day – considering they’d started with Chocos, continued with biscuits, and go on to ice cream (to say nothing of sugarcane juice), it had all the trimmings of a fun day – so cotton candy was in order. Moreover, it was available. I got them one whole stick each and I’m happy to report that they didn’t finish it – though Tara made good progress on hers. It’s going to be a long time before they get cotton candy again. Luckily, I’m not sure they really liked it. With all the thinking and reading that we do around health and dietary matters these days, for kids to be taking in this quantity of sugar in one day… shudder! It’s not good for my health to even think about it.

We ended the day with dinner at Das Prakash (Paradise), which was good.

The next morning, we got up at 5.30 and headed out to Ranganthittu. We’d booked an auto to get us there, and by 6.30-ish we were there. It was too early, of course, and we were told that the boat rides would not get going until 8.30 or so. We knew that, anyway – but sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find someone to take you out on a boat even in the early morning hours and it was certainly worth the chance. As it turned out, we were told that one boat had left at 6.15 and wouldn’t be back anytime soon. All the same, we spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the edge of the water and then went back to the hotel for breakfast.

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The rest of the morning was spent at the hotel and was marred by an accident. The kids – Mrini, Tara, and little p – were playing with one of those luggage trolleys that you normally find at airports. After pushing each other around in it for a bit, Tara had discovered that you could climb into the top part and sit there like a monkey. Soon, Mrini wanted to climb up too. Little p, who is smarter than these two, kept her distance. It was most unfair that when the trolley toppled, it was little p who got hurt. The entire nail of the first finger of her left hand popped out. She had to be rushed to a nearby hospital for a dressing. It put a damper on the rest of the day and was a sad end to an otherwise happy outing.

We got back to Bangalore by 4.15 and it took us another two hours to find our way back home from the station. And then it was Sunday evening, the next week was around the corner and we were nowhere near prepared for it.

Three kept promises in one weekend is… fun but tiring. We’re still recovering from the ill effects of not having done grocery shopping last weekend. And next weekend is just around the corner. It’s the last weekend before school re-opens, which means it’s time to assess the wardrobe situation, check that existing stuff works, throw out some stuff, buy new stuff, and generally try to get organised. All the kids’ pants are stopping at their knees now, so I know it’s time to get them a whole new set of pants. And shoes. And some t-shirts as well. There’s obviously a lot of shopping to do. But… I’m not making any promises!

Hot, Dirty, and Full of Men

May 24, 2011

Driving is rapidly becoming an elitist activity. With petrol cost going above Rs 70 per litre, even at a modest 500-odd km per month, commuting to work is costing a fortune. And it’s stupid to keep driving when there is an alternative: bus.

I love travelling by bus when we go on one of our frenetic weekend trips – which are admittedly rare now, but once upon a time they used to be frequent, especially in the winter months. There’s a certain indescribable, undeniable charm in rattling along on a rickety, roadways bus, on bumpy, rural roads heading towards some obscure destination that rarely finds its way onto a tourist map.

But commuting by bus in the city is a different story. I have a stubborn and very deep-seated reluctance to have anything to do with buses in the city. I did a bit of bussing as a teenager in Delhi. In those days, going by bus alone brought the thrill of independence and growing-up-ness, so there was something to like about it. There was, however, much to dislike, and eventually the dislike stayed. If I work very hard at it, I can boil it down to one simple statement: In the city, buses are hot, dirty, and full of men. All three are thoroughly dislikeable and, unfortunately, all-pervasive.

Heat is, in some ways, the least complex of the three dislikes. Especially in the extremes of Delhi’s climate, heat means sweat. Lots of sweat. Being packed into a bus like sardines doesn’t do anything to reduce one’s propensity to sweat. And who wants to be in contact with somebody else’s sweaty, smelly body? The blast of hot air from the windows doesn’t do anything to make matters less unpleasant.

Dirt is a much more subjective matter. I come from a family where my mother and her mother both turned up their snooty noses at people of lower social classes. “Poor people are dirty. Poor people travel by public bus. We, the wealthy aristocrats, have nothing to do with such matters. Most of the time, we pretend like such things don’t exist.” My grandmother was so extremely snobbish in her attitude to people and so driven by the need to keep herself clean that she eventually made an obsession out of it. When she was well into her nineties, she would spend hours picking “dirt” from her hands and face. My mother is much less concerned about dirt, but some of the old attitude has passed on to her and a little of it has trickled down to me. I do my best to fight it, but when I’m dressed in my smart office clothes, carrying my office laptop and nice leather handbag, trying to keep my hair neat, and my shoes shiny, I’m a different person from the backpack toting, cargo-pants wearing, rarely bathing, happy-go-lucky traveler who hops onto a roadways bus and cheerfully shares a seat with a bag full of chickens. As a traveler, I’m fascinated by the long, dirty and unruly nails that a person uses to pick their nose with; as a working woman, I’m revolted by the thought of what they might have done with those pickings while sitting in the seat I’m on now.

And then, there are men. When you’re female, and 16-ish, and you’re on a bus, and you’re in Delhi, there is not a good word to be said about men. Men are perverts – all of them. And there may be some sixteen-year-olds who are capable to handling perverts, but I was not one of them. I was not the one who would turn around and scream, spit, stamp on, jab, hit or in any way make a scene or protest. I’d just stand there, grit my teeth, and wish them dead – and by ‘them’, I mean all men. It took me a long time, and it took Amit a lot of hard work, to begin to believe that not all men are bad. By the time I finally changed my mind, I was no longer 16, and I was no longer commuting by bus.

Amit has been putting in quite a bit of (subtle) hard work in getting me to believe that buses are not all bad either. I’ve allowed myself to be persuaded to take a bus on a few occasions in recent weeks, but rarely have I gone on my own. The last time we took a bus together, the driver was eminently certifiable. Initially, he was quite sane and sober. Then, another Volvo of the same route number turned up next to us and all hell broke loose. The two monolithic monsters began to race each other on a road that had only two narrow lanes. At one point, there was only a couple of inches separating the vehicles as they hurtled down the road. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the swaying giants, but Amit held Tara tightly and looked away. In front of our bus was a humble Santro, bumbling along at 35 kmph, holding up our progress and allowing the other bus to snarl ahead. Our driver mowed down that Santro with a furious blast from his horn. If the car hadn’t been blasted out of his way with the sheer power of sound waves (and the driver’s insane fury), he might have been blasted out of the way in quite another fashion. Luckily, our stop came soon, and I staggered off the bus with a silent prayer of thanks. Amit often claims that being in the bus is safer than being outside it. He may be right, but (as long as you’re not the unfortunate insect holding up the bus) it can certainly be a lot more scary inside.

All of which notwithstanding, Amit persuaded me to do the morning commute to office by bus this morning. We left home quite late and when we got to the bus stop, there were several buses coming, but none of them was an air-conditioned Volvo. I would not be persuaded. I still have my three pet dislikes. I can’t do much about the men and my aversion to “dirt” might be largely neurotic, but at least I don’t have to tolerate the heat and sweat any more. There are air-conditioned buses, so there’s no reason I should reach office in a less than well-preserved condition.

The Volvo came and we got on. It was crowded, but only about 140%, not 200% or 250% like the buses of my memory. The front part of the bus was largely the preserve of women. I parked the twins next to two strange women (strangers, I mean; not that there was anything particularly strange about them) and did not worry about them being molested. (The twins are not yet five, but five is not too young for some men. But I have not heard of too many women molesting small girls. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but there’s only so much I can worry about, so I’ll just worry about the men for now.) I didn’t have to worry about myself anymore – not because I would be any more able to deal with being molested, but because at 37+, I probably don’t attract the wrong kind of attention any more. Besides, at least I had my personal bodyguard, Amit, on the bus.

The Volvo buses, unlike the non-air-conditioned buses, cater to a white collar audience. And all my backpacking on rickety public transport to places of dubious repute has done me a bit of good after all – given the kinds of places I’ve slept in, it’s futile to be worrying about dirt in a Volvo bus. So on all counts, I must admit that bussing it today was not as bad as it used to be all those years ago.

And yet…

Amit was at the back of the bus, squashed in among the men. I was standing in front, with the women, keeping a hawk’s eye on the kids. The kids were on separate seats, looking out of their windows. They couldn’t talk to me or to each other, and I couldn’t talk to them or to Amit. We were being blasted by a stream of nonsense from the radio. Thankfully, the spoken bits were in Kannada, so I could easily tune it out, but it was more difficult to tune out the raucous music. Most of the time, I had my little shield of personal space around me, whole and unbreached. But every so often somebody would want to get past me and even in these Volvo buses, the aisle is not designed for two people to pass with personal spaces intact. And by the time I had dropped the kids at daycare, reached office, crossed the hot and dusty road and actually got up to my desk, I was hot, sweaty, dusty, and generally frazzled.

Call me what you like, but I still don’t like commuting by bus. I want my car, my little bubble of sanity in a crowded, crazy world. I want to be able to talk to Amit and the kids, whoever is with me. If I’m on my own, I want my own physical and mental space. I don’t want strangers squeezing past me every couple of minutes. And most importantly , I want to choose the music I listen to, and to be able to drive in silence if I wish to.

Unless, of course, I’m wearing my cargo pants and my trusty backpack and heading for a remote destination on a bumpy country road.

What Was That!?

May 20, 2011

The kids have certainly inherited my genes in one respect (metaphorically speaking, of course): They like to dress sloppy. Some would of course turn that around and say it’s nothing of the sort, that I like to dress them sloppy. That may be partly true, but the fact remains that even when I get them pretty stuff, or try to get them to wear it, they aren’t really interested. Getting them to look like pretty little girls is quite an uphill task. Naturally, I don’t try often. At home and at daycare, they wear a tiny subset of very stained T-shirts and very short jeans or pants (and not in a fashionable way, either). The stains on the T-shirts are due in equal measure to spilling food and sprawling on the floor. The length (or deficit thereof) of the pants is due to the kids growing up faster than their wardrobe is replaced.

Although the kids are now convinced that they have lovely hair (because we audibly admire it so often) and although they now know that this lovely hair must be combed and tied up regularly, they still are happiest with it flying all over the face, theoretically (but not factually) restricted only by a hapless hairband. They occasionally go so far as to admire each other’s silken tresses. But apart from that, as far as their personal appearance goes, they couldn’t care less. They still do sometimes ask me if a particular shirt and pant is a “good combination” – but they are usually unaffected by my answer. Even when Tara regularly combines a pea green shirt with a light blue trouser (to very visually disturbing effect) she is unmoved by our desperate appeals to her to improve her sense of colour and fashion. The only thing that excites them about their appearance is when they get new clothes – and even then, the items they find most exciting are “Dora panties”, shoes, and socks, in increasing order. I kid you not!

Then, it must be said that I’m not the preening sort of person either. Amit does a lot more preening than me. (He may violently disagree in the comments section, but it’s true – he does.) I’m the throw-on-some-clothes-and-make-sure-nothing-is-too-badly-stained-or-torn-and-let’s-go sort of person. On week days, I get ready in 10 minutes flat. On weekends, 12 minutes. For weddings and other rare occasions requiring a sari, it takes a good half an hour or more, but that’s mostly logistics and very little preening.

So it was completely inexplicable and a total shock when Tara asked in the car today, “Mummy, how do I look? Am I looking nice?”

What? WHAT!? When did Tara – Tara! Of all people – acquire a sense of social propriety or self consciousness or even a hint of vanity? My girls are growing up! Can this be true?

Domestic Help – The Saga Continues…

May 19, 2011

All these years since I’ve run my own household, I’ve managed to avoid one serious form of chronic trauma – the early morning maid.

Before you go jumping to conclusions, this has nothing whatever to do with my previous blog, which also mentioned a maid. Hopefully, my better half does not have anything in common with the former chief of the IMF in that respect. It can’t be that difficult – say I naively – if someone comes into the room accidentally when you’ve just come out of the bath, to hurriedly go back in and close the door.

But we’re done with that post. Back to the early morning maid. In one hundred and thirty five odd years of marriage, I’ve never allowed our domestic help to routinely ring the bell or hammer on the door at anything earlier than 9 a.m. And the 9 a.m. thing too was only a temporary aberration, while the kids were very young and I was a stay-at-home-mom and it was beneficial to have someone come in and help at 9 a.m. The rest of my life, domestic help comes in the evening or on weekends. That’s the way I like it.

But that was in the halcyon DINKY (double-income-no-kids-yet) days. Now that we are all very settled and domesticated, it’s a different story. Before I stumble down the steps at 7 a.m. the garbage collector has come rattling by and taken our garbage bag off the top of the gate post and gone; the milkman has come and deposited two packets of milk and gone leaving the gate unlatched; the car-cleaner has come and given the car a bath and gone, leaving the gate ajar; and the newspaper man has come and delivered the news at our doorstep without even touching the gate. With this vast parade of people coming to visit at that early hour of day, it was only a matter of time before a maid of some kind was added to the queue.

And a couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet and invited my maid to come at 6 a.m. sharp and shatter our morning slumber by ringing the doorbell.

I’m completely against the idea of putting all your eggs in one basket when it comes to domestic help. All that happens is that the basket goes off on a long vacation, taking all your eggs along, and you spend your days cooking, cleaning, washing, laundering, ironing, sweeping and swabbing. Either that, or the basket becomes uppity and starts demanding double the salary and perks – with the same effect. So I always like to have at least two women to manage my household, and that way, if either one takes off for any reason, the other can pick up some of the slack and you don’t spend your entire evening running around like a headless chicken, snapping at the kids and getting exhausted in the bargain.

But here I am, with a basket called V, who comes to our doorstep at 6 a.m.

V has such an air of energy, purpose, and self-assurance that you get the feeling that she thinks she’s made for better things in life (as well she may be). As soon as Amit saw her, he said, she won’t stay long. He may yet be right, but at least nobody can accuse V of being a shirker. She’s thin, young, strong (her arms are like a man’s) and hard working. Best of all, she keeps her eyes open and when she sees something needs doing, she doesn’t wait to be told – she just does it. To the extent that while I was at the tennis court this morning, she apparently whisked the organic garbage can into the bathroom, scrubbed it out with soap, and put it outside to dry! Now that’s what I call enthusiasm and initiative.

(In case you’re wondering – the garbage can is not organic; it’s ordinary plastic. The garbage that goes into it is organic; which means it is the most disgusting, smelly, leaky, insect-prone garbage can of the three that adorn our kitchen.)

Another thing I like about V is that she doesn’t talk too much. She’s not exactly the strong and silent type; but I’m not exactly a chirpy-in-the-morning type and you really don’t want to talk to me before I’ve been awake for about two hours. V doesn’t even attempt it – she whizzes around silently, trying not to awaken sleeping children (or men), finishes sweeping and swabbing (and washing the organic garbage can), then retires to the study to do a pile of ironing.

The only trouble with V is that her culinary expertise leaves much to be desired. She manages to make food that is edible, but none of it is fantastic and some of it is right on the narrow line between edible and organic garbage. Luckily, she’s good enough with chicken, so at least we have an escape route whenever the going gets tough. And one day she made momos for us which were simply delicious. (I couldn’t eat them, of course.) She was thrilled to bits about making the momos – her eyes lit up, a sudden energy passed through her, she almost grabbed some money from me and disapparated to the shop down the road to get the necessary provisions. Along with the momos, she made vegetable soup which was easily the most tantalizingly delicious vegetable soup I have ever tasted (not that I’ve tasted many; but for vegetable soup to be described as tantalizingly delicious takes some doing, believe me) and a small quantity of tomato sauce which was just unbelievable.

So when it comes to her kind of cooking, she’s good. But when it comes to your everyday dal-sabzi-chawal-roti, she’s… well, at least she’s trying.

Prior to engaging V to cook for us, I was doing the cooking myself for a month or so and it was really an uphill task to get it all done each evening. Now, I’m back to spending evenings with the kids, playing, talking, and reading books. That’s a blessing.

But prior to engaging V to cook for us, V used to do the sweeping and swabbing in the evening. And that meant that on non-tennis days, three times a week, I could sleep almost until 7 a.m. On tennis days, if I chose not to go for tennis, or if it had been raining, I could sleep straight upto 7.30 a.m. But now every morning is a V morning. She will ring the bell at 6 a.m. sharp, which means I have to be up at 5.45 a.m. every single day of the week. As Mrini and Tara have lately started saying, “That’s not fair.”

But, as I callously tell them each time they say that, “Oh, said the engine driver, I don’t care.”

(The nursery rhyme goes like this:
Piggy on a railway track, picking up stones
Down came the engine and pushed piggy home
“Ouch,” said the piggy, “that’s not fair!”
“Oh,” said the engine driver, “I don’t care!”)

How Stupid Can You Get?

May 16, 2011

It’s like the domestic help. Hailing from a small village, poor, underfed, illiterate, they claw their way up some kind of ladder till they can afford to feed, clothe and send to school three children. Then, with a good employer and a stable job, having been a paragon of virtue and hard work for many years, in a moment of weakness (or madness) they do something stupid like slipping some little object or a few small-denomination notes into a pocket and wham! A lifetime of hard work, good karma, reputation for honesty and a stable job goes out the window. For a mere nothing.

This IMF big boss and would-be French Presidential candidate is doing the same thing on a bigger scale. And it’s that much stupider. I mean, you have everything. Presumably – I don’t know the man in person, but presumably – you have position, power, prestige, and lots of money. Your career is going well and you’re going to take a big, huge step. I suppose even for the IMF chief, standing for Presidential election is a big step. So you have everything going for you – how can you throw it all away for sex? After all, sex, like everything else, is available for sale – just throw on some clothes and go shop for it. Why do you want to assault a hapless chamber maid? How attractive can a woman be, or how blindly lustful can a man be, to throw away years of hard work in a few moments of utter stupidity?

Of course, I’m assuming he has thrown it away. Maybe in a few months nobody will care and his career will progress unhindered. That would be a pity. I can have some sympathy for the poor hard-working domestic help who slips up and makes a mistake once, but I’m not wasting any pity on a rich, educated so-and-so who thinks rape is ok.

Oh, Wow!

May 12, 2011

First, my publisher tells me that my book has sold over a thousand copies.

Then, I get more appreciation from someone I don’t know at all.

And then, there’s this review.

Granted that this review was written by Chris, one of my closest and dearest friends; but to insinuate that that has anything whatsoever to do with the review would be laughable to anyone who knows Chris.

Right now, it doesn’t look like things could get any better. 🙂

A Panda Called Pranav

May 10, 2011

A very, very long time ago, Amit went to Finland and brought back a panda for the kids. Naturally, it was a stuffed toy panda. It was an FAO Schwarz panda – hideously expensive.

At first the kids were not very enthusiastic about the panda. They were a little bit scared of him. He wasn’t very big and he was quite soft and fluffy, but they didn’t really take to him.

Then, after a few days, Mrini slowly started to get fond of him. Meanwhile, Tara had befriended a horrendous orange teddy bear of the common or pavement variety and in short order they had torn an ear off the said teddy bear. What’s more, they proceeded to open various seams in the teddy bear which, since Tara had become quite attached to it, and since she also showed a strong inclination to stone-heartedly and systematically disembowel it, I had to sew up on various occasions. Why you would want to disembowel a teddy bear that you professedly love I don’t understand, but kids are like that.

For a while, the panda and the teddy bear became siblings for our twins. They even went so far as to feed them and sing them to sleep and were only just about dissuaded from actually giving them a bath. I thought, at the time, that it was like having another baby (or two) but I had no idea what lay in store.

Tara’s teddy bear made the transition to our new home last year, but some time after that, when I found them ignoring him for weeks at a stretch, I asked Tara if we could give him away to a tiny girl who lived in the under-construction house next door. Her parents were labourers, so her toys tended to be gravel, cement, and bits of string. Tara, thankfully, agreed.

The panda never really went out of use, but it was only when one of their favourite friends had a baby brother who was eventually named Pranav, that the panda was christened Pranav-the-Panda. I think the girls decided that since they weren’t going to get a younger sibling they might as well adopt Pranav-the-Panda and initiate him into the role. It didn’t take long for Pranav-the-Panda to transition from “baby brother” to “baby”. We can even now hear them saying, “Now I’m the Papa, you’re the Mama,” and running off to fetch the baby.

Apart from spending many happy hours “taking Pranav to school” and “going to office” and “picking Pranav up from school” and “going to the market with Pranav” and “putting Pranav to sleep” (the current favourite) they also started taking Pranav downstairs with them when leaving for school or daycare in the morning. They would seat him (or sometimes throw him – so heartless are they with their baby) on the steps so that they could be reunited with him the moment they got back home.

Then Mrini asked whether she could take Pranav in the car with us when we went out. Well… why not? So Pranav began to occupy the middle of the back seat on our drives and often Amit and I would be summarily instructed to “Stop talking! Pranav is sleeping!” On other occasions, we’d hear them saying, “Pranav is crying for you,” and passing the baby from Papa to Mama in the back seat.

In all of this, it was impossible not to become quite fond of Pranav. Not that I had anything against him to start with – it’s just that he was, after all, a stuffed toy. Moreover, he was a stuffed toy who’d been thoroughly slathered with Vaseline on one memorable occasion when I happened to be busy elsewhere and consequently he had managed to pick up a good measure of dirt and was beginning to look less like a toy and more like a wild animal in need of a bath. So I’d kept my distance from him, at least emotionally. But gradually, unsuspectingly, I too grew fond of the creature.

And then we went on the trek. It was the longest that Mrini and Tara have ever been away from home. They’ve never shown any signs of anxiety at being away from home in the past. But this time, Mrini was at times concerned, worried, and outright sad. Pranav was alone at home. She was missing him. More importantly, he was missing her. I told her he was happy watching TV and playing with her toys, but she wasn’t buying it. I said, when we get back to Delhi, you can talk to him on the phone. “Pranav can’t talk,” she told me scornfully. “He has a lock on his mouth.” (He has a sprig of greenery in his mouth; the “lock on his mouth” bit comes from Mozart’s Magic Flute, where some poor fellow does have a lock on his mouth.)

When I got back home, alone on Monday evening, the first thing I did was to check on Pranav. He was lying alone in the living room, in front of TV (which was switched off). He did look a bit forlorn. I took him back to the kids’ room and kept him with the rest of the toys. I told Amit to tell Mrini that I was home and that Pranav was fine. I don’t know if she felt any happier that the poor fellow wasn’t all alone any more, but I certainly did. How can I be completely indifferent to him? After all, he is my first grandchild.

A New Companion

May 9, 2011

I bought a new phone on Saturday. So far, I’ve not received a single call on it. Which speaks volumes about what a phone is used for nowadays. I’ve checked personal and official email on it multiple times, done myriad Google searches, edited a spreadsheet, downloaded photos, played with the ringtones and other settings… I’ve even made a couple of phone calls on it and received some messages. But I still don’t know how to receive a call.

My previous mobile was a Nokia touchphone. I’ve had a Nokia phone for several years now – ever since my lovely red Sony Ericsson flip phone drowned in an epic flood in October 2005. I’m not the sort of person who changes phone every season. I had an E 61 which I loved even though it was quite frustrating to use and when the latter began to greatly outweigh the former, I passed it on to my father in law (who has infinite patience) and bought a 5800 Xpress Music a little over two years ago. Some of the frustrations remained; others were replaced by a new set; and the love quickly wore off. Still, the gadget was functional – I could do email (Gmail with some difficulty, but office email was seamless), browse the web, edit spreadsheets, and write notes. And the phone and messaging parts also worked ok. Blogging on it was a pain due to the superimposition of various bugs, but since I had a computer at my disposal most of the time, I chose to ignore this inconvenience.

Some things were really nice about a touch phone. So when the gravitometer (sorry, the accelerometer – but gravitometer sounds so much more likely, doesn’t it) went from being occasionally whimsical to being completely unpredictable and it became clear that a new phone was an inevitability in the near future, I decided to stay with touch. An iPhone looked like it might be the best – or at least, it was sure to be perceived as such – but iPhone 3 seems to be out of the market already, even though iPhone 4 is not yet in. So that ruled it out. Besides, I wasn’t really looking to spend that kind of money. I really wanted something in the sub-10-k range. Much to my surprise, it was possible to get touch phones with Microsoft Exchange in that range. After discarding Apple and glancing briefly at Nokia (but who wants a phone that is going to be end-of-lifed in a year?), I looked at Samsung – they had something for every range. But I didn’t like the form factor and the aesthetics of Galaxy Fit – it reminded me too much of Nokia and a cheap, shoddy replica at that (say I, at the risk of offending many Samsung fans).

I looked at Google Nexus, but it was too expensive. So in the end I found myself paying up for Dell XCD35 – a beautiful form factor, albeit in black (why, why, why? I want red! Or blue! Or purple – anything other than stupid, boring formal black!).

It’s less than 48 hours old now (or it was, when I started writing this post this morning) and the phone has not yet hung, crashed, or done anything dramatic. It seems that it does not allow one to synch one’s office Calendar (Outlook) unless you either shell out 900 bucks or do something fancy with the Gmail calendar, but this is not a serious drawback for me. And it has a sweet interface for WordPress (though I’m still typing this post on my computer from force of habit).

I’m still trying to figure out all the tricks, treats, and kinks of my new gadget. If I don’t take your call, it might be because I didn’t realize it was my phone that was ringing. Or maybe, I still haven’t figured out how to receive a call.

PS: To read Amit’s version of the story, click here.

Har ki Dun Unabridged – The End

May 8, 2011

The next day was only a little more tedious and a little longer. I’ve noticed before that he last day of a trek is always difficult. All the excitement and energy is gone and all that is left is to trudge along morosely, leaving the best of the views behind and heading towards the hot and dusty plains and all the hassles that come along with them. The kids were irritable and the walk, despite being mostly downhill, was interminable. My knees were shouting out loud at each downhill stretch. Puffed rice had never seemed less appetizing. We had left Seema a little before 8 and when we finally reached Taluka, it was exactly 1.30. Our car was waiting for us, so we spent just five minutes bidding adieu to Deshraj, the horse man, and the horses, and then we were on our way.

The horse that fought a cheetah (and lived)

By 5 p.m., after a fairly uneventful drive, we were in Purola. The clouds had gathered in earnest by now and there was no electricity and no cellphone coverage. It rained for a while. We went out for dinner – Ballu had closed the kitchen and either finished or given away the last of the provisions. Late in the evening, electricity came and I had the luxury of a hot bath and a shampoo just before going to bed – six whole days since my last bath. The kids were asleep by then, so they had to wait one more day.

It had been a good trek – an unbelievable, amazing trek in many ways. Neither of us had expected the kids to be able to walk the whole way, so we were both blown away by the fact that they not only did it, but had energy to spare. Even the locals were impressed by that – and that’s saying a lot. It was also good to see (yet again) how easy-going they were. They put up with early mornings, cold evenings, cramped rooms, and a whole new set of circumstances and experiences with very few complaints and very rare tears. At Osla, we encountered two mountain dogs. Mountain dogs are huge. These two looked like a cross between a German Shepherd dog and a St Bernard – huge, square, with a head like a lion and a shaggy coat like a bear. They came and crowded around me while I was eating lunch. You’d think the kids would be scared. Tara was – she’s got some sense, after all; Mrini wasn’t. When she saw that the dogs were non-aggressive, she came and sat next to me and patted them! And these are strange dogs whose heads are bigger than hers, who are about chest high compared to her, and who, if they wanted to, could easily knock her flat with a casual swat of one paw! That girl has no sense but a ton of courage! And then, of course, she also happily got on to a horse and was led around for a few minutes. Afterward she patted him, too.

The End

The next day Ballu woke us up at 5 a.m. as usual. The kids had a slice each of bread and jam thrust down their throats at 6, and by 7 we were in the car on the way to Dehradun. Ballu had a bus to catch and he was determined to catch it. In Dehradun, we checked into a nice hotel with a fantastic bathroom. I didn’t even have to say anything, Mrini and Tara were the ones to say, “what a lovely bathroom, see how clean it is!” That proves it: trekking is good for the soul. It helps you appreciate things that you might otherwise have taken for granted.

We all spent the weekend in Delhi. For me, the two quick days I spent were perfect – just the right combination of socializing, good food, and late sleeping hours to be relaxing, not exhausting. Then I left the better half and the kids in Delhi to enjoy the family scene for a couple of extra days while I headed back to Bangalore to get back to work. It was lovely to get back to Bangalore – I realized afresh just how much I love this city, even with its maniacal traffic.

Oh and the long-lost walking sticks? I got them back at Bangalore airport, after hanging around and waiting for half an hour. It’s a pity that we didn’t get around to using them on this trek. But there’s bound to be a next time.

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