Seven!

August 26, 2013

Wow! There actually were no more than 24 children at any point of time, but it felt something like 200. The decibel levels would have done credit even to 200. With a mere 24, it was incredible.

The madness started as soon as the first couple of kids arrived, and that was barely after the big hand had inched past 12 and the little hand was still just settling down on 4.

No, of course not. The madness started much earlier. The madness started at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, and if it is possible for any weekend madness to start any earlier that that, I’ve not had the misfortune to find out about it first hand, at least, not yet.

It had rained sufficiently to put paid to tennis on Saturday, so I had an extra 90 minutes or so to start on the cakes. I had six planned – four chocolate, one eggless banana and walnut, and one gluten-free banana and walnut. I got two chocolate cakes done, fixed breakfast for everyone, and we left home at 9 for the blessed PTM at school. After that, we had to pick up last-minute stuff for the party, have lunch (no time to cook, of course), pick up more last-minute stuff for the party,and head home. I baked two more cakes and tried to tidy up the house a bit. Remember that garden of ours? Well, we had the mud, we had the coco peat, we had the compost, and we even had some grass that was growing happily out of the sack it had been delivered in. And, at 4.30 on Saturday evening, we had a couple of men come in and shift the heavy and messy red soil from outside the gate to where the Olympic-pool-sized area where it was supposed to be. We were all set for them to start spreading the coco peat and the compost, when we turned around to see their backs receding into the distance. It was 5.30 already, after all.

So we did it ourselves. We carried the 30-kilo coco peat bags and dumped them in the pit, and the kids and the neighbours’ daughter set about cutting them open and upending them, and then I got the rake and smoothed it all out. We couldn’t manage the compost (mainly because 50-kilo bags are really too heavy for me to carry, even with Amit carrying the other end) but we got all 750 kilos of cocopeat distributed. It looked lovely – rich black and soft and evenly laid out.

After that, we went to get the cycle we’d promised the kids. By the time we got home, it was 7.30. We had dinner and packed the kids off to bed, exhausted by the excitement. Then we arranged all their gifts, as usual (they’ve come to expect it now), took a couple of photos, and we went to bed.

Which was extremely irresponsible of us, considering. I mean, we hadn’t even started on the decorations, not to mention the last two cakes, icing, and dinner.

Dinner?

Yes, dinner.

Amit, you see, has been brushing up his extremely rusty culinary skills. Four weekends on the trot, he has spent Sunday cooking up a storm (with me picking up the debris). The first weekend, it was chicken curry. After that he did mutton, on my instructions, and it turned out unbelievably delicious. Then he did paneer, which was also unexpectedly good. So having got that far, he thought he might as well cook for guests. And our kids’ birthday party is often extended into a drinks and dinner party as well, so it looked like a good opportunity for him to show off his newly acquired expertise.

Typically only three or four families stay for dinner. This time it was only two families, 13 heads including us. And Amit planned to make only the paneer and the chicken that he’d already done once before. After all the cake and snacks (and beer), chicken, paneer, and rice should do for dinner.

First thing on Sunday morning Amit went to the station to fetch his cousins, and we all had a leisurely breakfast and then Amit went out to buy ingredients and by the time he actually got to work on the cooking, it was close to 11. By 1 p.m., the paneer was ready, cakes were done, icing was done, 40 balloons had been blown, and it was time for lunch. We went out, of course, and by the time we got back it was 3 p.m., we were all sluggish and sleepy, decorations still hadn’t got off the ground and somebody had to rush off to get the party food from KC Das.

The cousins busied themselves with decorations and did a fabulous job of it. Amit got the snacks, I did a ton of other stuff (which I don’t even remember now, it all went by in a blur) and by 4 p.m. everything was ship shape and the raw chicken had been shoved firmly into the fridge with no prospect of being cooked in the immediate future.

The party was a blast, of course. A couple of kids erupted in tears, but there was no blood. According to Amit, a couple of the boys were emerged in mortal combat throughout, apparently trying to sort out the compelling matter of which one would emerge as alpha boy, apparently without success, but still there was no blood. After an aborted attempt at cops and robbers indoors, I shooed the lot of them out into the lawn for a spirited session of dog-and-the-bone (or dog-and-the-ball as the case may be). After that everyone trooped indoors for a juice break and then we did musical chairs and paper dance. I had organized a treasure hunt and also planned to do pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but it was already 5.45 and I couldn’t even find my clues for the treasure hunt, let alone hide them strategically without being seen, so I abandoned the idea and we went on to the cake cutting part. Thankfully, I have it down pat now. Candles were at hand, matches were quickly produced, knives, suitably blunt albeit un-beribboned, were in place, and as soon as all 16 candles were lit, I led the chorus and things proceeded fairly smoothly from there. I had even managed to lay out the snacks on both sides of the kitchen counter, so, as soon as the singing and biting of cake was done, I whisked it away, and various moms helped to cut the cake into pieces, make up the plates and hand them out.

Mrini and Tara were amazing. They played dog-and-the-bone and after that they didn’t play any of the games. Instead, they facilitated – passing around papers for the paper dance, helping the smaller kids fold the papers, overseeing the musical chairs, handing out prizes, and, as soon, as they’d finished blowing out the candles and all that stuff, there they were, enthusiastically ferrying plates from the kitchen to where all the kids were sitting in a big circle on the ground in the living room. They sat and ate too, eventually, but first they really did their bit as hosts. It was so nice to see. As soon as they were done eating, they helped in passing out water and showing people to the powder room to wash their hands and so on.

Of course a whole set of three glasses of juice was knocked over and created a sticky mess on the ground which no amount of mopping could completely fix. But that’s par for the course. At least it didn’t happen on the new sofa set.

As soon as the food was done, people started to leave. This is so confusing for me. The way I was brought up, KPK (khao-peo-khisko, which means, eat-drink-leave) is generally supposed to be rude. The unwritten rule for birthday parties (and even adult parties, sometimes) seems to be that once the food is done, it’s time to leave. At this time, I’m usually still busy handing out seconds and thirds and putting away used plates and fetching glasses of water. I’ve not got to the stage where I’m thinking about return gifts. Thank god the girls took that task in hand, too, and made sure the first half dozen people out of the door didn’t leave empty-handed. After that, I was a little more on the ball, but distributing return gifts was primarily done by them. In fact, they were so eager to do it, that they gave most of their friends return gifts a good half an hour before they left. Which is to say that many kids stayed around for a while after the food part was done, which is good.

I could have done the treasure hunt at this point, in fact. But the house was such an awful mess that I just had to do the first of many rounds of cleaning up. The kids went outside and played unorganized running, jumping, and tearing-the-grass-out games in the lawn, working off some of the sugar kick. By 7.30, the last of the birthday party guests had left, the dining room looked a little less like a battlefield, and I had sat down with a mug of beer to chat with the friends who were sticking around for dinner. At 8, I asked Amit what the dinner plan was. He was Catering, after all; I was in charge of Cakes and General Event Management. (Apart from Decorations. And Music. Those were his departments.)

We had a hurried confabulation and came to the conclusion that he would do the rice and I would do the chicken. Not exactly a fair division of labor, but if I left the chicken to him, we might get dinner at 10 p.m. – if we were lucky.

So that’s how it went. Dinner was ready by 9, which is not bad at all given our past record of ordering in and waiting for ages and finally getting completely fed up and frustrated with the delivery guys. The last of our guests left at 10 (kpk, but on a Sunday night what else can you expect?), and we spent until midnight tidying it all up.

Yes, it’s exhausting. It’s crazy. It’s two whole days of solid hard work for a scant three hours of fun. The tidying up is the worst, no doubt. And you could very well argue that if you get 24 kids together for a party, almost anywhere and in any circumstances, they will have a blast.

But you could also argue that they have the most fun at home, and especially in a house like this where they can run upstairs and downstairs and indoors and outdoors and scream their ears off… and I think you would be right – this is the most fun.

As some friends have pointed out to me recently, this phase doesn’t really last that long. Maybe another couple of years? Probably by the time they turn 10 they will outgrow this kind of party. And after all our tiredness will pass in a day or two; the house will become tidy in a week or so; the grass will spring back in a month or less. But the memories will last for decades. So yes, I suppose (sigh) that it is worth it. Very worth it.

Meanwhile, there’s still quite a bit of cake left over, and I’m told it was quite good.


The Grass is Greener

August 22, 2013

On my side of the fence! In fact, the other side of the fence doesn’t have any grass. And the grass on my side of the fence is really very green, lack of competition notwithstanding. We now have four little patches of grass – one in front to the left of the car park; one to the right of the car park; one in the basement garden, nicely hidden from view; and one at the back, which was planted just a couple of weeks ago but has come up quite lush and green already. Of course, I don’t claim any credit for that patch – I didn’t plant it and I haven’t even done much by way of watering it, blessed as we have been with good rain this year. Of the other three patches, the only one I really worked on was the one to the right of the car park and naturally, that’s the one that looks loveliest (at least, to me it does). Remember how I complained that I hadn’t been able to plant it “properly” in sapling format but had thrown it down in sod format and then sat on it for good measure? Well, it doesn’t seem to mind at all – sapling, sod, and being sat on all seems to have turned out well.

Right of car park:
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Left of car park:
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At the back.
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Also at the back. Don’t you love those yellow cannas? We can see them from the kitchen, it’s quite nice.
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And then those trees, the gulmohar and the jacaranda, which were all stripped of leaves by unknown hands, remember? And the java cassia, which was doing ok in my last gardening post, also shed all it’s leaves and began to look pretty much dead. Well, they’ve all recovered and got a lovely new set of leaves, even the Java Cassia. Again, no credit to me, it’s the marvelous persistence of life, and the benevolence of the rain gods. All I did was to spot a couple of hungry caterpillars and promptly throw them out.

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The one tree that turned out to be irretrievably dead, though, was the golden shower. Well, what to do? We went and got a bigger and better one, and put it in the same place and it seems to be doing ok so far. I have some misgivings about this tree, though. I didn’t somehow think its leaves should look like this. I just hope it is going to grow the kind of flowers I want it to have.

The hibiscus has still not thrived, though. After giving a few happy blooms in rapid succession, it grew sulky and started throwing large unopened buds to the ground. I believe this is not uncommon behavior for hibiscus, but the internet is not very helpful in terms of identifying the root cause. From what I’ve read, it could be either too much water, or too little; or too much fertilizer, or too little, or the wrong kind; or too much sun, or – you guessed it – too little; or… I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t like having geranium for company. The geranium doesn’t mind, though. It’s growing like a weed, filling the place with masses of leaves and a few bunches of bright red flowers. I don’t really like it much, but it’s hard not to smile when a bunch of bright red flowers shines out at you as you open the gate.

(That blurring is not because the flowers are out of focus. It’s artistic licence. Seriously!)
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Right now we have 10 trees (all saplings) scattered around the house, and 5 different types of vines/creepers/climbers, with multiple instances of each. Nothing much is flowering right now, but hopefully in another 2-20 years, they should all be in bloom.

Jasmine – growing like a weed. The other vines and creepers are taking it more slowly.
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But when it comes to gardening, it can’t all be good, not even during the monsoon. It should have all been good, though, but there’s always a but. And the but in our case is that large patch of lawn which, if it had existed, would have united all the broken up pieces of lawn. After much discussion, sweat, and soul-searching, we decided to dig up the large patch of lawn that wasn’t doing so well and give it the same treatment we’d given the front patch. Dig it up, throw out the rubble, bring in a couple of tonnes of compost and coco peat, bring in truckloads of fresh red earth, and bring in sacks of fresh Bermuda grass and get it all done in a week or so, so that it would have two or three good months of rain to settle in.

We didn’t intend to do all the hard work of digging and ferrying out and ferrying in and laying out all on our own. We expected to get people to do it for us. And that’s where things started to go haywire. One set of guys came, dug, ferried, and struck dirt. Another set of men came, dug and ferried some more and cleared out the dirt. Then all the men disappeared, leaving a couple of mountains of clean-ish mud piled up in the “lawn”. Then the rain – which had granted us a well-timed temporary hiatus – returned and… well…

At last, on Sunday, a couple of people came and leveled out the mountains. It’s not a garden yet, but at least there’s hope. If it rains, we can call it an Olympic-size swimming pool.

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It Never Rains, But It Pours

August 19, 2013

And I’m not talking about the weather.

This week, a friend of Amit’s is coming from “foreign” (i.e. US) and spending a night with us.

Then, after he leaves, Amit’s cousins are coming to spend a few days.

The kids turn 7 on Sunday, and since it is a Sunday, there will be a party on the very day. All good, except… I hate parties.

Actually, I don’t hate parties, I just hate doing all the work.

Actually, I don’t hate that either. In fact, I quite enjoy it. What I hate is…

Well, there’s this Archaeology module. That’s another story. I’ve decided this shall be the last one I do. For one thing, these things are much too expensive. And they’re a lot of hard work. And besides – I think I’m done. I’ve covered all the areas of maximum interest to me, and I don’t want to keep going just for the sake of the Diploma (tempting though it is).

So I’m done, except for the one that I’m doing now. It’s a very interesting module, no complaints. But for some reason, part way through I suddenly lost interest. Perhaps it was Sandy’s passing that did it. It did happen around that time. Or perhaps it was the sudden realization that I was done with these modules – it did happen around that time too. Whatever the reason, halfway through this module I suddenly ran out of steam, and from there on it’s been a long slog. This thing only works if you’re really driven to do it – otherwise who has the time and energy to spend hours and hours reading and making notes at the end of a long day when it would be so much easier to watch TV or go to bed?

Anyway, now I have to complete the assignment for this last module. It is a 3000-word essay in which practically every sentence must be supported by three references and each one must be correctly cited and painstakingly added to a bibliography. And then checked and re-checked, because if you get a reference wrong… god help you. It’s not exactly something you can dash off in your sleep. And it’s due next Wednesday, which means I must get it done by this weekend. Which is the weekend we are having two installments of house guests, one after the other, and a birthday party to boot.

So, to get organized for all this, I took a five-day weekend. It would have been great, but for the fact that the kids had a four-day weekend, so it’s not like I got a whole lot of time to get my assignment done. Still, we sent them for their very first night out on Independence Day (so apt, right?), so I did manage to get quite a bit done. But there’s still a birthday party to organize and two sets of house guests to get prepared for.

Any guest room in our house tends to turn into a junk yard. Since we don’t have guests too often, we use it for all manner of things – for keeping Tara’s tabla and the harmonium that nobody uses. For keeping the lawn mower. For keeping the cat’s litter box, now that we don’t keep it in the verandah anymore. For keeping sundry spare parts, from a big carton of electricals to mouldy old curtains that we haven’t had the heart to throw out. Things like that. It takes a good dose of commitment, hard work, and time, to get it cleaned up.

And then there’s the birthday party.

Every year, after the part ends, I swear that next year we will just do it at a party venue, like everyone else.

And every year, when it comes around to that time of year again, I let Amit talk me into doing it at home.

Secretly (don’t tell Amit), I like to do it at home. I know that children’s parties are much more fun at home. But, then… there’s so much to DO!

For starters, there’s the guest list. We only have about 25 kids on that list so far. That’s only because Mrini has exercised the utmost restraint and invited only half her class, instead of all of it. Tara has a smaller guest list to begin with, and of course many of her friends are already on the list, by the time Mrini has finished rattling off names.

They both drew something that will pass for an invitation card. Now I only have to stick some appropriate text on the inside and then scan the drawings and get 20-odd color print-outs (some invitees are siblings, of course, so 20 should do).

And I have to organize chairs! Inclusive of parents and hosts, we will need seating for about 40, which is not something we can scrape together at home.

Food is the easy part – it will be the usual junk food, finger food, ordered in from KC Das, which task will be delegated to Amit. But I have to organize paper (or plastic) plates, cups, bowls, spoons, forks, napkins, and giant size garbage bags. And cake, of course. Tons of homemade cake. Since I don’t have an industrial size oven, it will mean baking about half a dozen individual cakes. There goes next Saturday.

We got the essentials done over this four-day weekend – birthday dresses and lots of other little stuff. Thankfully, they still ask for only little stuff – kiddie watches, dark glasses, pretty shoes, books, and the like. Even return gifts are almost done (as long as the guest list doesn’t expand any further!).

But there’s still way too much to do! Next year, I’m really really NOT going to do this party at home. Remind me, ok?

And just as I’m wondering how I’m going to get it all done in time, like a bolt from the blue and with impeccable timing we get notice of the dreaded Parent Teacher Meeting. It’s dreaded only because it eats up so much time. A good half day will be lost. And you know when it’s slated for, right? That’s right – next Saturday.


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