Maybe… I’m done

July 19, 2011

I haven’t been blogging much of late, have you noticed? I don’t know why that is. I write when I feel like, and sometimes (not often) when I don’t. But in recent times, I haven’t felt like and I haven’t. So I suddenly had this thought today: Maybe, I’m done.

I’ve had writer’s block in the past, more than once, and it has gone away on its own. This time, it’s different. This doesn’t feel like writer’s block. This feels like I’m done. Of course, I could be wrong. Time will tell.

I didn’t have any specific aims in mind when I started blogging – here, or at Yahoo 360 before this. I didn’t aim for x number of years, y number of posts, or z number of views. As it turns out, I’ve currently garnered 72,000 views (that includes ~20,000 on the Yahoo blog) over a little less than 6 years. And in that time, I’ve churned out about 600 posts! That’s probably a lot more, on all three counts, than what I would have aimed for had I aimed for anything at all six years ago.

What I did intend, when I discovered blogging, was to get a lot of practice in writing. I suppose I’ve done that. What I was practicing for, I’m still not quite sure. Maybe there’s a different kind of writing that I will turn to now. Or maybe, I’m just done with recreational writing (as opposed to writing as a job). Time will tell.

I was really pleased with the responses I got to my first book through my blog, so definitely if/when my second book comes out, I will announce it here. So don’t take me off your reader/subscription/whatever yet.

Besides, you never know, I might change my mind and decide I’m not quite done, yet. You wouldn’t want to miss it if that happens, would you?

A Tough Call

July 14, 2011

The first time that I was sexually molested – that I can recall, that is – I was maybe 8 years old. Our girls are now 5. Sadly, 5 is not too young to be worrying about this.

Amit thinks I’m paranoid about men. Maybe, to some extent, I am. But it’s only because the varied unpleasant experiences of my early years have made me this way. The impact of that very first incident, when I didn’t even know what exactly was going on, only that it made me feel dirty – that incident had an impact that lasted years.

Decades, actually.

It’s still working away at me, making me doubt every unknown man who comes within a foot of my children. For instance, at their daycare there used to be a security guard. I saw him everyday and I had no reason to think ill of him. All the same, during the summer holidays when we reached daycare early, I wouldn’t leave them at daycare until one of the women staff arrived. It’s not that I don’t trust the security chap; it’s just that he’s male.

One of the reasons I never really considered getting a driver to drive the kids around is because you don’t get any women drivers. And the only reason I’m not too worried about sending them in the school van is because they are never the last kids in the van. I did worry a bit about how much other five-year-olds could be relied upon to help, but then decided they would at least have a deterrent effect on anybody with those ideas. Hopefully.

School and daycare are full of women, so apart from the van, there weren’t any other opportunities for strange men to get their hands on my daughters. I don’t worry about the tennis court at all, not only because there are always plenty of people around of all ages, but also because the tennis coach is a friend and above suspicion.

Then they started gymnastics.

The gymnastics class is at a gym that I have no prior association with. We’ve met the head honcho, and there are at least three competent young women around who seem to know what’s what. I’ve sat through four classes. There is, of course, a lot of physical contact between the instructor and the kids. The instructor is male. There is a female assistant whom I’ve seen at every class. But, the male instructor still does handle all the girls in the class. His hands are on their legs and butts. If there were anything inappropriate? “That assistant wouldn’t say anything,” said Amit. “She wants to keep her job.”

Ok, so I will sit in on every class, I thought. I’ll know if there’s anything shady going on. It’s fine – it’s only an hour twice a week. Besides, it’s hugely entertaining to watch all their antics.

But at the last class, I was told, firmly and absolutely, by one of the women who runs things over there, that parents are not allowed to sit in on classes beyond the first one or two. Why? Because the children then always think of their parents first and aren’t completely “in” the class. They need to focus on the instructor.

It’s a fair comment. It’s true – even when I sit around at the tennis court during their tennis sessions, I’ve seen it. Their eyes always go to us. It makes the instructor’s job more difficult – pulling the kid’s attention away from the parents. It’s true that the kids need to be in their environment without thinking of their parents watching them from the sidelines. And yet…

I discussed it with Amit and we decided to leave them to it. I think I quite like their gymnastics instructor – he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to class. I’ve not seen anything in the way he interacts with the kids there that makes me at all uncomfortable. And if the only option is to pull them out of gymnastics class… I can’t lock my girls up in an ivory tower. I can’t deny them all sorts of fun just because of my fears, which may or may not be warranted.

And so – I’ve decided to rely upon my initial, instinctive liking of this particular man. They can stay in the class. I will not sit in. Everything will be ok.

And yet – what if I am wrong?

A fun, food, and friends weekend

July 11, 2011

We normally restrict our socializing to one per weekend. This weekend we broke our own rule and met two sets of friends.

Saturday was geared around getting the kids to bed for their afternoon nap early. Despite playing tennis till 9.30, having breakfast till 10.30, we managed to get bathed, dressed, and organized for lunch at 12.30. Obviously, nobody was hungry. Which was just as well, because the preparations for lunch were rudimentary, to say the least. There was some very leathery brown rice (because I and the Hawkins pressure cooker don’t get along too well together) and a dry mixed-veg preparation. I had redeemed the meal slightly by making some rice kheer, which turned out well, but the kids weren’t impressed. They ate a nominal quantity and went to bed by 1. I took a book to bed, and even managed to snooze for 30 minutes, before being woken up by Amit’s wretched phone. I rarely nap in the afternoon, but I’d played two solid hours of tennis, so the nap was quite alluring for a change.

At 3.30, they were up and raring to go. We still took an hour to get out, but I did manage to perform a French Plait on Tara, much to our delight. Their hair is perfectly suited for French Plaits.

Two Saturdays ago, we were supposed to go to S&P’s for dinner and every possible thing went wrong. It rained heavily in the afternoon. The kids slept till 5. Amit was ready only by 5.30. The French Plaits didn’t even happen. And when we finally left home shortly after 5.30, we got stuck in all manner of floods. Three different routes led to similar impasses. The situation was so bad that before we could even reach the flooded stretch of road, we were turned back by traffic waving us back. A railway track separates our part of the city from the area we were headed towards. To cross the railway track, you can either go under a bridge or over one. Wherever the road dips, the water collects. On the third attempt, we encountered no flood, only an interminable traffic jam. By this time we’d already spent an hour in the car, and had been driving in circles within a 5km radius. We gave it up as a lost cause and went home.

This time, things went more smoothly. We left home at 4.30, and, after making various mandatory halts along the way (for groceries and petrol) we reached S&P’s place at 5.30 and were comfortably ensconced there till 9. We got home by 10 and all went straight to bed.

The next morning, Amit took Tara for tennis. Mrini and I stayed home. Last weekend Mrini had declared that she didn’t want to play tennis, but a few minutes later, without much persuasion, had changed her mind. Then, at some point, for some trivial thing, the tennis coach lost his temper and shouted at her. Mrini is the teacher’s-pet kind of student. She looks at her teacher adoringly, sits/stands as close to her teacher as she can, and uses every trick in the book to gain the teacher’s approval. (It is a slightly amplified and grown-up version of how she was with me, when the twins first came home.) This kind of student does not want to be reprimanded – least of all, if they feel it is undeserved. (By contrast, Tara would typically just shrug it off with an infuriating smile.)

So I didn’t want to force or even persuade Mrini to go for tennis this time. She has to make her own peace with the tennis class and she should want to go. I did tell her, though, that I would be busy in the kitchen so she shouldn’t trouble me. She didn’t; she spent such a long time being so silent and industrious in her room with her drawing book that I actually thought she must have fallen asleep.

I, meanwhile, cooked up a storm – albeit a vegetarian storm. Channa, cauliflower, arbi (colocasia? Or something like that), raita (finely chopped veggies drowned in curd), and, of course, cake – chocolate cake, for a change. It’s been an extremely long time since I cooked for guests – in recent times, either the cook cooks, or we order in. Perhaps because it’s been so long, and because Mrini didn’t trouble me, and because I didn’t have to do the dishes afterwards, the cooking was actually relaxing and fun.

Our friends arrived a little before 1 and stayed till 5. The kids went ballistic. Even though they’ve not met this family too often, they hit the ground running and didn’t stop until well after our guests had left. We got to connect with and catch up with friends we really haven’t met often enough.

A lot of things didn’t get done. We didn’t do the weekly grocery shopping and I didn’t do any ironing. I didn’t do my taxes and I didn’t buy the pair of jeans I’ve been desperately trying to buy for a couple of months now. But we talked a lot, we laughed a lot, and we ate a lot. It should have been hectic and tiring, but instead it was fun and relaxing. Everything a weekend should be.

Gluten Intolerance – Six Months Later…

July 8, 2011

It’s a little over six months now that I’ve been living gluten free. I’ve kind-of got used to it. I’ve managed to make a few cakes without tasting the tiniest morsel (though once, while mixing, I automatically stuck my finger in my mouth while it had some cake mix on it). By cautious trial and therefore very few errors, I’ve found various things I can have. Mercifully, I can have beer and some chocolates and some ice creams. So my life is not entirely a bleak desert landscape. I even tried gulab jamun recently (if you don’t know what it is, a wordy description by me certainly can’t do it justice, so I’m not even going to try) and suffered no ill effects. Actually, jamun shouldn’t have flour in it anyway, it should be made entirely of khoa – but I was just being cautious, because flour is so much cheaper and you just never know what weird recipes these commercial cookeries can come up with in an effort to cut costs.

Last Saturday, we went to Sue’s Kitchen for lunch. It is a wonderful little place that we’ve been too much too infrequently. That’s going to change. We usually like to go to “Conti” places (places that serve “western” or “continental” food – anything from sandwiches and burgers and pizzas to steaks and sizzlers) for dinner, but it’s become impossible for me to eat anything at these places. At first they claim that everything is gluten free. Then you question them closely and they disappear into the kitchen and return to confess that, yes, that sauce does use flour to thicken it and yes, that cutlet does have a bit of bread crumb mixed in, and yes, they do coat the chicken with a bit of flour before frying/grilling it and so on. Most frustrating.

So Sue’s Kitchen was something of a paradise for me. Sue, who runs the place herself, knows exactly what’s in each dish. When I told her I’m gluten-intolerant, she even seemed to know what that means. She told me the salads were all safe – no flour used as a thickener, thank god; in fact, she was aghast at the very thought of it. I’m not a great fan of salads, of course – I mean, I’m the farthest thing from a health freak when it comes to food – but the salads in Sue’s kitchen are far from health food anyway. Which is to say – they are heavily coated in mayonnaise-type salad dressings and they are absolutely delicious. Apart from salad, there’s a main course of rice, veg, two non-veg curries, channa, and rajma.

And then, there’s dessert. Of course I can’t have the cakes, but the mousses – ah! While I actually prefer my chocolate mousse with a lot more chocolate in it (overpoweringly chocolate-y is fine with me), Sue does a good job despite going easy on the chocolate and the sugar.

Chinese food is still difficult – you just never know when they use flour instead of cornflour for coating things and thickening sauces. And noodles are ruled out anyway, except for one concoction of rice noodles that I quite like.

Most Indian food is ok, so I’m not exactly starving here. I’m eating dosa in unbelievable numbers, which does reduce its appeal quite a bit, but at least it’s an item that affords a lot of variety if eaten away from home, while still being a quick and easy thing to make at home too.

There are still a lot of things I miss, though. For instance:

Cake – Sigh. What is life without cake? I sometimes dream about chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing. And I will make that some day – I am going to get hold of some gluten-free flour, and soon. All the same, the one single item I’d love to be able to eat once in a way, is my favourite Corner House Death by Chocolate. You’d think I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime, but when it comes to DBC, there’s no such thing as “enough”.

Maggi – I still find it really hard to make Maggi for the kids and not take even a single bite.

Rolls – Lazeez Kati Rolls – need I say more?

Roti – I was never very fond of roti, but I wouldn’t have elected to give it up for life. There are some times, and some dishes, when nothing works better than fresh, hot rotis.

Bread – It used to be something I took for granted – more of a convenience than something to really indulge in. But as with roti, it’s something I unexpectedly miss.

Pizza – Not that we used to have this very often, but even once in three months or so, it was something to look forward to.

Chaat – I can’t have phhuchka (pani puri) or any of the other chaats. These used to be fairly regular snack-outings for us. Now I can only have bhel puri and then too, I have to tell them not to put the papdi in it. Sob.

Apart from these, one withdrawal that I really battling nowadays is caffeine withdrawal. I’ve always had a morning cuppa, ever since I was in my teens. The quantity of milk in my coffee has varied from 100% down to zero. For a long time, I used CoffeeMate instead of milk to whiten my coffee. But in recent months I haven’t been able to get my hands on CoffeeMate, and I’ve been reacting badly to hot milk. I tried using Pediasure as a substitute, but the coffee tastes foul, primarily because I like my coffee without sugar and Pediasure is nothing if not sweet. So now I’m forced to reduce my coffee intake to zero – and it’s really hard!

Strangely enough, despite all the goodies I can’t eat any more, I don’t seem to be losing any weight. I was expecting (or at any rate hoping) the weight would just fall off me, but that hasn’t happened. I suppose I’m doing a good job of making up for all the things I can’t eat with some of the things I can. And since I the list of things I can eat now includes ice cream, chocolate, and beer, I really don’t have all that much to complain about. Until birthdays roll around.

A Cheap Screw?

July 4, 2011

I suppose 620 bucks is not particularly steep for a screw.

Especially if it’s gold.

Now if you’re wondering how “gold” connects with “screw”, think earrings (what were you thinking?).

Remember a year or so ago I mentioned that one of the girls had lost her earring in school? At that moment in time, I was mainly worried about the hole in the ear closing up in the absence of an earring. The earring was subsequently found in school and returned to us – minus the screw. As it happened, I had another pair of earrings for each kid, so I put the other earrings on them and forgot about the whole event.

Some months ago, Mrini said she wanted to wear the screw earrings. No problem – I dug out one pair and put it on her.

A few days ago, Tara said she wanted to wear the screw earrings too. Uh-oh. Big problem.

I dug out the other pair and stuffed it in my handbag. I put an item on my to-do list reminding me to go to Tanishq and get a replacement screw. I even dug out the Certificate of Authenticity for both pairs of earrings and put them in my bag too. Last week, I got as far as calling the nearest showroom and finding out if I could get a replacement screw, and whether they were open on Sundays. They were.

So on Sunday, armed with the screwless earring, both Certificates, and a truckload of determination, I set out for Tanishq.

To put things in context, I must explain that I have never before been into a jewellery shop. I did buy my wedding ring, and Amit’s – but that was thirteen years ago. Also, it must have been at a small jeweller’s, because nothing I saw that time prepared me for what awaited me on Sunday. I walked into Tanishq –at  4.15 on a Sunday afternoon – expecting it to be quiet and sleepy. To my astonishment, it was packed to capacity. What was even more amazing was that everyone was seated decorously at the showcases, being attended to by designated salesmen. It looked more like a bank or an elitist office of some kind than like a shop of any kind.

When you walk into a jewellery shop where ordinary transactions run into five digits and anything of note is in six digits, anyone can tell at a glance where in the scheme of things you stand. In my case, I stood in the middle of the shop, looking like a sore thumb. It was immediately clear to anyone that I was as much at home here as a fish in a palm tree. After standing around for five minutes and getting only vaguely distracted looks from a couple of salesmen who were busy with more serious customers, someone suggested that I head upstairs, to the workshop.

Good idea. I was much more comfortable at the workshop. There were a handful of employees, a couple of customers, and a very harassed “karigar” (workman). He was apparently expected to handle a dozen different requests simultaneously and immediately and he was not in the least bit pleased about it. He was even less amused to see that a customer had been sent directly upstairs without due process – apparently, I lacked a form of some kind. He did find the screw I needed, but he was unable to find something to write about it and the appropriate form to write it on. In the end, he weighed the earring, weighed the screw, guesstimated something and scribbled it on a scrap of paper. A lady sales rep, who happened to be there on some other task, took charge of me (the screw was on the earring and the earring was in my possession, so somebody had to take charge of me now) and took me back down to the “floor” and handed me over to the floor manager. This gentleman was extremely irate that somebody (I could not point out exactly who it was) had sent me directly upstairs in breach of shop etiquette. He fretted, fumed, and fulminated. Then he took my earrings, my Certificates of Authenticity, and the scribbled note, and disappeared upstairs with it. I imagine the poor karigar got a piece of his mind. Anyway, he came back ten minutes later and spoke to an even bigger manager who was parading around the shop with a proprietorial air. Then he brought my earrings and the scrap of paper over and handed them over to the cashier.

That’s when the fun began. The cashier, apparently, needed a product code for the screw in order to be able to bill it. The karigar had scribbled the weight of gold (0.238 grams!) on the scrap of paper, but that in itself was not sufficient. I pointed out that the product code for the earrings was mentioned in the Certificate of Authenticity, but that was entirely insufficient. What was needed was the product code of the screw. What’s more, nobody could tell which Certificate of Authenticity belonged to the earring in question. Since the two pairs of earrings were slightly different in weight, nobody wanted to hazard a guess. Mr Karigar, who had been so stressed when I was upstairs, was summoned by phone, but refused to put in an appearance. Apparently, what he had been scrabbling around for and unable to find while I was upstairs, was the product code for the screw – so, he had put some arbitrary code and some estimated weight of gold and he was in no hurry to come down from his sanctum sanctorum and own up. So I continued to wait at the cashier’s counter, watching all the other transactions going on and wondering, nervously what I would be charged for my solitary screw.

It was only when the cashier, in frustration, threatened to send the big boss up to fetch him, that the karigar finally appeared on the ground floor – with alacrity. It took him only a couple of minutes at the computer to track down the correct product code for the screw and another couple of minutes to complete the billing. At last, a price was put on the screw – 620 bucks. At last, I could breathe easy. I had been imagining all kinds of scenarios, including some that involved me stalking out of the door, with or without the precious screw in my possession.

But 620 bucks I could manage – and I paid up quickly before they could change their minds or the blasted product code. That must have been one of the cheapest transactions ever to be conducted in those hallowed premises – and possibly one of the quickest, at a little under an hour.

But still – 620 bucks for a screw might not be expensive, but it’s not exactly cheap either.

On the other hand, the thrill I got out of walking into Tanishq and telling the sales rep, with a straight face, “Oh, I don’t want to buy anything, I just want a screw,” was priceless. (And for everything else, there’s MasterCard.)

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