Leave Me Alone!

May 27, 2013

The simple truth is, from time to time I need to be alone. Especially when I’m stressed out.

I was feeling stretched to the end of my limit the whole of last week. Partly it had to do with my next Archaeology module arriving when my existing book was not quite writing itself. I had hoped to finish the book before the module started. Partly it had to do with the new arrival to the family. Adjustments must be made, even for a cat. Mainly it had to do with Amit being much too busy with work and me having to pick up his share of household duties in addition to my own. He worked all through the previous weekend, which means I did not get a moment of time to put my feet up and relish a cup of coffee.

So I dragged myself through the next week, snapping at the kids, yelling at Amit (on What’s App, when all else failed), and trying to keep at even keel at work. And I dragged myself through Saturday, ferrying the kids around and working my way through the household task list for the weekend at a frenetic pace. And then Sunday came, and I dropped everything and fled.

Sometimes, if I’m very lucky, my hard won time with myself will take the shape of a full-fledged holiday. But most often, it will just be a short excursion to a nearby mall, which is a lot quicker but not necessarily that much cheaper. (Nah… just kidding. I don’t spend that much on shopping.)

So this Sunday, after a very tiring start (of which, more later) I took myself off to the mall all on my own. Unfortunately, in addition to not having acquired the skill of spending a ton of money on shopping, I also haven’t quite mastered the skill of spending a ton of time on shopping. In fact, I was tired by the time I got there, a little after 12 noon. I went into Westside, tried on about 15 garments, settled on four, selected a pair of formal black shoes, and was done in about an hour. Uh-oh. What now?

Everyone knows there’s no point sticking around in the shops once you’ve finished shopping. All that will happen is that you’ll find loads of things that you’d love to buy if you hadn’t run through 3.5k already. Still, I had come out determined to spend at least 6 hours away from home and it was barely 1.30 and I wasn’t even hungry yet, so what to do? I resorted to window shopping and was fortunate enough to find only a couple of things I’d have liked to buy if I hadn’t already spent so much; and I also happened to find a shop selling only headphones, which was also fortunate, because I happened to need a pair and it didn’t cost a bomb. And then I went to the food court, where all I can really eat is ice cream, but I’m not complaining. So I spent my Sunday lunch all alone with a big glass of ice cream, eyeing all the other families and having a running commentary in my head about all of them, and it was sheer bliss.

But it still wasn’t 6 hours.

So next I went to a coffee shop and had a coffee and took out my archaeology text book and studied for a good two hours.

And then, it still wasn’t 6 hours, but I’d finally run out of things to do, so I went home.

Now, you’d think that things couldn’t get any better after that, but they did. Because a friend had dropped in and one thing led to another and the next thing you know, three of us were working our way through 2 litres of coke and a big bottle of dark rum in a very serious fashion. The kids got no dinner but we all gorged on chips and I’m not sure who put the kids to bed but I’m proud to say that I managed to get to bed all on my own steam and I think I fed the cat and I think I even managed to get a handle on the ironing before that. (And I’m aware that a public confession of such debauchery could get me into serious trouble in some countries, but hopefully not in this one.)

Well, nothing beats retail therapy followed by booze. I slept like the dead and woke up at 5.30 this morning, feeling relaxed and refreshed and maybe even a bit rejuvenated. I’m still feeling good about it now. That’s really the kind of Sunday that I need once in three months or so.

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The Death and Rebirth of a Neem Tree

May 17, 2013

Neem is not a tree that I’m particularly fond of. As I’ve doubtless mentioned before, I like me some bright, colourful flowering trees. All these fruit trees and these beneficial herbal, pesticide type trees are for these crazy environmentalist fellows like Amit.

The trouble is, when we went to the nursery to get some trees, they didn’t have any of the jacaranda, laburnum, or gulmohar that I wanted. All they had was neem, which Amit wanted. So we got neem. And of course, Amit not being one to do things in halves (or even in ones) we got two.

We planted these saplings in the front of our lawn, where they could roast in bright sunlight for most of the day. The plan was to shift them to the pavement outside the gate when they grew up a little (and then my laburnum would get pride of place in the garden). As so often happens, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

While they were building our house, the workmen had used the front part of what is now our lawn to mix cement. They were supposed to clean the site thoroughly when they laid the lawn and planted the grass. But, several months on, we saw that grass did not flourish in the front part of the lawn and whenever we scraped the surface with a view to planting something – even when we planted our neem saplings – we uncovered not rich brown or black earth, but hard, dry, white cement in either a powder, or in solid blocks and slabs.

There was only one thing to do. We told the contractor – in great anger, I might mention – to rip up the front part of the lawn, grass and all, and to excavate down to below the layer of cement, and then to lay fresh soil and plant the grass afresh.

You really must be careful what you ask for. One sunny Saturday morning, when Amit had taken Tara out for her table class and I was trying to get a handle on the mountains of housework (as usual), they attacked the lawn with an army of able bodied men and women and an armory of spades and pick-axes. By the time I realized what was going on, grass, both lush and dried, had been uprooted along with… the two neem saplings!

I did a stupid thing – I frantically called Amit and waited for him to come rushing home and take over. Well, actually, I did tell them to cease and desist before that, and it had the effect of slowing them down for a moment and leaving my two bougs unharmed, but… I didn’t have the heart to go down and hunt for my two neem trees. I should have, but I didn’t. I thought they would have just cut them off at the base, and I really didn’t want to see that.

The thing is, I’m not terribly fond of neem, and I have no compunction about swatting and killing repugnant creatures like cockroaches with my chappals, but I really hate to see a plant being wantonly destroyed. And after all, this was my plant. It wasn’t a creature I had wanted, but having agreed to have it in my home, I was the one who had planted it, not very tenderly but all the same. I had dug the pits myself, had laid the saplings in them, covered them up, and after that, for weeks on end, I was the one who was responsible for watering them, or ensuring that they were watered. I was the one who inspected them – sometimes twice a day – for signs of health. I had, oddly enough, been thrilled at the way one of them had just sprung up, doubling in height and in the footprint of its leaves under my rather surprised eyes. The other sapling, though it grew and stayed green, remained puny by comparison. I watered it as well, a little more if anything, but it was clearly the runt of the litter.

Anyway, Amit came home and glowered at the army and shouted at them till they stopped, looking mutinous. Then we got an interpreter and started to communicate with them. They seemed quite bemused with our concern over the neem trees. You told us to rip it all up, so what’s the problem?

Well, we found the neem saplings chucked somewhere at the back of the lawn. The runt of the litter still had its root ball intact, so I left it till later. The bigger one, though… its roots were completely exposed! I quickly threw some earth into a plastic pot and thrust the plant into it, but I wasn’t optimistic. I don’t know much about plants or gardening – a few months ago, I didn’t know anything, and I haven’t really progressed much since then – but I do know that the main root of a plant should not be exposed to air. It’s supposed to be in the ground, at all times.

Well, one of the army that had butchered our lawn, was commandeered to dig a hole for the permanent resting place of the neem. He was a grizzled old man and he seemed, at this point, to have a bit of genuine concern for the doomed tree – though he clearly also thought that our level of concern was way over the top. I don’t blame him – from his perspective, he’s right. It is only a tree, and a pretty small little thing, too. It cost only 30 bucks, we could always get another one. I could see all that, but still. It was our baby after all, even if it was just a tree.

Anyway, we put the tree into its final resting place, me, Amit and the grizzly old man sweating it out in the sun. It looked pretty clear to me that the tree was not going to survive. It was already beginning to droop. Amit and I kept checking on it the rest of the day and the rest of the army kept laughing at us, but what do they know? By the evening, the contractor had actually sent someone over who rigged up a tripod-style barrier around it. When we left for our trip to Delhi several days later, the tree looked all but dead.

The runt of the litter, meanwhile, had been planted in the back garden. That, by all means, cannot be its final resting place – a neem grows to be too big to be kept in that cluttered space – but we kept it there just for the time being. It perked up by the end of the day and soon it was growing faster than it had in its former bed of cement, looking happy enough in its new home.

As far as the big brother neem tree goes, we came back expecting to find nothing more than a dried up twig, and that’s pretty much what we did find. But for one thing. On the dried up twig that was the main trunk, a few dried-up-twig-like branches still had droopy green leaves. And there was one particular dried-up-twig-like branch with a few dried up brown leaves hanging from it that had, most unexpectedly, an almost-invisible cluster of tiny green leaves emerging from the tip of it.

It lives! How can it be!

It’s a far cry from its former picture of health and glory, but it’s not fully dead yet. And that’s just amazing. I like that – that’s persistence for you. I still don’t really like neem trees, mind you. But I’ll look at them with a bit more respect from now on.

The little neem – this one wasn’t doing so well on a foundation of cement, but now that its surrounded by compost, rubbish, and iron rods, it’s flourishing. Still, its big brother, in its prime, looked even larger, healthier, and more vigorous.
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And this is what the poor fellow looks like now. No health, no vigour, and it’s in a cage that’s too small for it, but it’s not dead yet.
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Remember Me?

May 9, 2013

“You remember these guys, don’t you?”

I hate that question.

Facing me are three cool, handsome, smiling, stud guys, who must be all of 18 years old. They are wearing shorts and t-shirts displaying hairy legs and rounded biceps. One of them is wearing a cap and, joy of all joys, he’s wearing it the right way round!

I’m at the tennis court, it’s 7 a.m., I’m pretty disgruntled with my game, I’m sweating, my hair is plastered to my skull, and tennis sir is waiting for me to go all, oh-yeah-how-could-I-forget-these-handsome-hunks. I struggle to get the appropriate expression on my face while my brain hunts for the words. In the end, I look bewildered and mutter something like, huh-who-what-where? Yeah, sure.

“Well, at least you remember me,” challenges the handsomest of the three. He’s the one wearing the cap. And he, apparently, remembers me!

Grateful to be able to focus on just one handsome face at a time, I turn my full attention to him and guess what – under the charming smile, the right-way-round cap and the rather appealing one-day stubble is a guy I vaguely remember. I used to play with him. He used to be quite good in fact. And of course, he used to be about 12.

Sigh. I’m not sure whether this makes me feel young or old or lucky or not, but it sure makes me feel lost. How come he grew up and became the cool dude, the stud boy, and I’m still fuddy-duddy old me, getting fuddier and duddier by the minute?


The JBFV Syndrome*

May 7, 2013

Man, I really need a break.

You know why, don’t you? Yes, you’re right, we just got back from holiday. And everyone knows there’s nothing more tiring than getting back from holiday.
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*The JBFV Syndrome = Just Back From Vacation (and now I need a holiday) Syndrome
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The holiday itself wasn’t tiring. All we did was:

  • Get up by 6.30 a.m. every day (except yesterday, when we indulged ourselves and slept till 7)
  • Play tennis – four hour-long sessions, one by floodlight
  • Go swimming – eight hour-long sessions, much of the time spent in trying to teach the kids not to drown
  • Read – only two books, but that’s more than I normally get through even when I’m on holiday
  • Eat – 14 meals out, the rest at home, but rich enough and varied enough to be counted as eating out
  • Drink – On ten different occasions! Mostly beer, with little bits of wine and vodka from time to time
  • And make merry – We met his father, my parents, his brother, sister-in-law, and niece, my sister and brother-in-law, his uncle and aunt, and my aunt

Aside from that, we spent about 40+ hours in plane and train, and a good bit in automobile.

We spent two nights away from the kids, to allow them to spend two whole days of unfettered, unsupervised time with Amit’s dad. It’s the first time we’ve done such a thing. The kids haven’t even done a sleepover at a friend’s house till now.

And we also got around to visiting two of the houses where I’d grown up, one in Chandigarh, one in Delhi. Both these houses are special to me. The one in Delhi is where I got married from – in a simple civil ceremony in the front garden with all of thirty people attending. The one in Chandigarh is the one I associate with the halcyon days of my childhood, where I lived from the age of six or so, till about ten. (You’ve probably read this post already, maybe even several times over, since I keep referring to it. Well, this is the house that post refers to.) We were extremely fortunate to find this house currently unoccupied, so we went in and walked around the front and back garden. It’s all a little different – many of the fruit trees I remember are gone – but it wasn’t different enough to be disappointing, as these trips down memory lane sometimes can be.

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All in all it was a highly satisfactory and relaxing (!!) holiday, ten days well spent. We came back several kilos heavier than we left – and that’s only the luggage I’m talking about! 😉

So why am I complaining?

Well, we got home at 2 p.m. on Monday. Then all we had to do the rest of the day was to:

  • Clean the whole damn house – including wiping all horizontal surfaces with a damp cloth.
  • Get groceries. Thankfully, I didn’t have to cook, since our cook did turn up, so that was one thing less to worry about.
  • Unpack – because otherwise we wouldn’t have anything from shoes to toothbrushes in the places where we need them to be. We had two big bags and two small bags full of stuff.
  • Figure out how to turn on the gas (which had been turned off). There are three separate knobs that control this and we weren’t sure how many or which of them had been turned off, so this was a nontrivial exercise, especially since we couldn’t even have a cup of coffee till we got this done.
  • Drag out half a dozen palm fronds that had fallen off our neighbours’ coconut trees and then pick up at least twenty rotten mangoes that littered the lawn. The palm fronds are pretty heavy, not to mention unwieldy, and the rotten mangoes are squishy and yucky and I have a thing about worms crawling out of them like you see in horror movies (usually coming out of people’s eyes or mouth, dead or alive) so it wasn’t all that much fun.
  • Water the lawn. The flowers died (three small pots of verbena – the others were dead already), of course, but the grass, and almost all the other plants survived. The boug thrived. The grass didn’t look as bad as I’d expected.
  • Get our living room furniture and set it in place and then sit around and admire it and then expend a large volume of energy exhorting the kids not to stand, jump, or bounce on it and preferably not to even sit on it or touch it. Phew!
  • Turn on the broadband, to find it’s not working. Turn on the backup broadband, to have the modem’s power supply blow up in our faces. File a complaint for the former and go out and procure a new power supply for the latter.
  • Get and consume a small bottle of white wine in celebration of the above (and accomplish this without staining the shiny-new upholstery).
  • Get the kids fed and watered (well, bathed) and to bed.
  • Get ourselves to bed.

As long as we were on holiday, I was so well rested that even if I got to bed at 11.30, I still wanted to read for half an hour before falling asleep. You know the holiday’s over when you get into bed at 10.15 and can’t stay awake long enough to turn off the light.

Our Living Room – Before…
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…And After

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