To be or not to be…?

November 9, 2018

When I got up this morning and looked at the little critter, I thought she was dead. She had shrunk visibly the past couple of days. When Diwali firecrackers were exploding all around us, she didn’t even flinch. But when I sat down next to her this morning and stroked her tiny body, one of her back legs twitched. She wasn’t dead yet.

But she would be, soon. And I couldn’t have her lying at my doorstep. I’ve picked up one dead kitten in the recent past. I know how not nice it is. So I got a scrap of olive green cloth, remnants of a tablecloth that had had way too much food over the years. I laid her gently on the green cloth. When the time came, it would be easier to pick her up.

As I worked my way through making and serving breakfast, I told myself I would toss her on the pile of leaves outside. She would die and decompose there, without stinking too badly. It’s not as if she was the only little kitten around, after all. We currently had three queens. Bread, with a litter of four, one of whom had been killed by dogs, so down to three, but those three now quite viable. (And cute – that goes without saying.) The Lil Girl, who had three, of which this one knocking on heaven’s door was one. The other two looked strong and healthy. They were now exactly two months old, and smaller than Bread’s kittens, but catching up fast. And then there was the Sleepy Eyes. She had delivered her second litter recently. There were three, but now there are two. I don’t know what happened to the third, but considering it was still blind and couldn’t move, she must have taken it and deposited it somewhere, presumably dead or dying.

So yes, births and deaths aplenty. And Piglet, the sole survivor of the Sleepy Eyes’s first litter, was still around, playing big bossy brother to all the other kittens and alternating between adopted son and suitor to the Lil Girl.

Black Head and Blue Eyes, Squint’s siblings. And Piglet curled up with the Lil Girl and all three kittens.


By the end of breakfast, I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get involved. Let’s face it: Squint had always been the runt of the litter and she had something wrong with her eyes – at least one, maybe both. I’d thought it would fix itself, but maybe not. If nature didn’t think she was a survivor, and if her own mother wasn’t unduly concerned, and if we already had more foster kittens than one could shake a tree at…

But of course, I didn’t really have it in me to just sit back and watch a soul die. What if she had just a glimmer of a hope of survival?

How does one feed a dying kitten? She couldn’t even hold her head upright, much less actually eat something. Cotton wool dipped in milk is all very well when you read about it, but it’s damn tedious. I wasn’t sure we had cotton wool in the house. And it was a working day after all. I took one of my eye drop bottles and prised the dropper off it. I rinsed it and dribbled some warm milk into it. The bottle only held 10 ml, but it turns out that’s a lot for a kitten, under the circumstances. And so it started.

At first, Squint was too weak to swallow. I held her head up with two fingers and squirted the milk into her mouth. Some went down, some went out. When I went back a couple of hours later, she could swallow. She opened her mouth, rooting for her mother’s teat. The eye dropper wouldn’t do as a substitute, but the cow’s milk was acceptable. By lunch time, she could move her head, but by then she didn’t like the milk anymore. I don’t really approve of force feeding anyone, but honestly, there wasn’t much force involved.

By mid afternoon, she was ready to stumble around a few steps at a time. And by evening, she had stumbled in stages from the front porch to the back garden. She was also able to make it clear by then that she didn’t like milk being squirted down her throat, thank you very much. Not that that got her very far. The milk was clearly helping.

Her litter mates were quite outraged with all the attention that she was getting. If there was any milk going, they could dispose of it quite well, didn’t I think? And without so much mess. They went and licked every molecule of milk off Squint’s fur. It would have been sweet, if it weren’t so despicable. Luckily, Squint’s mother was a little more concerned. She wandered over to give Squint a good licking, and not just for stray molecules of milk, I believe. But cats are prosaic creatures (or do I mean stoic?). The Lil Girl wasn’t too worried that one of her babies was fading fast. She just got on with scavenging for food, getting her me time, and tolerating her other two kittens. Apart from checking in with me if there were any unexpected goodies coming her way, it was business as usual for her.

Only Piglet, surprisingly enough, stuck close to Squint. He’d curled up next to her as she declined over the past two days, and when she finally stumbled into the back lawn late in the day, it was Piglet that she curled up next to. He didn’t care for milk molecules on her fur either – Piglet had his good food sources all sorted.

At last, when the Lil Girl reappeared after her afternoon snooze, Squint mewed quietly and stumbled up to mommy and asked for milk. The Lil Girl seemed inclined to wander off, but that was too much for me. I told her to lie down and do her duty for once, for heaven’s sake. And she did, for a while.

Squint still refused any milk or water or scraps of boiled chicken that I offered (of course, there were plenty of other takers for those, apart from the water), but the fact that she had sought out her mother was encouraging. And yet, she didn’t look well on the way to recovery yet. She didn’t look as if she would die any moment, as she had in the morning, and clearly she could move about a bit, which was a big improvement over not being able to raise her head, but still… Her eyes keep getting encrusted and I’m not sure she can see at all. If she can’t see, or even if she can see with only one eye, she’s not long for this world, that’s for sure.

There are some battles you can’t win. But there are some battles which, even if you know you can’t win, you can’t help fighting.

Cat and Mouse Games

September 13, 2018

SleepyEyesSleepy Eyes climbed over the fence carrying a huge rat by the scruff of its neck. The rat wasn’t dead yet, but it would be soon, thought Sleepy Eyes happily. Such a big one – it would be food enough for her and her kittens. There they were: Piglet and Duffer. Stupid names, given by the humans; couldn’t they see he was a kitten, not a piglet? So he had a bit of a snub nose. That didn’t make him a piglet! After all, if he was a piglet, what did that make her? Stupid humans! Sleepy Eyes snorted as indignantly as she could without letting go of the rat. It wasn’t easy. Duffer was a slightly more accurate moniker, she had to admit. The small brown fellow was as cute as anything, but nobody could accuse him of being smart. Just the other day he’d been sitting outside the gate, a mere three feet away from a big brown dog. Of course the humans had seen that. One of them hurriedly picked him up and threw him inside the gate. Then they had also seen him the next day, scrambling for dear life as another big brown dog chased him across the street. He’d only just saved his hide by crawling under the gate. It was a close shave. Of course, all cats had such close shaves at some point – that was how you separated the wheat from the chaff, thought Sleepy Eyes with just a hint of smugness. Only, when Duffer got into those scrapes, you tended to pray for him; it was so apparent that he didn’t have a lot going on in his head. He was going to end up being chaff someday soon.

They’d seen her now. Duffer just watched lazily, but Piglet was off at a run, bounding over the grass toward her. In a trice, he had wrestled the rat from her jaws. Sleepy Eyes gave in reluctantly. He was her son, after all, her first born in fact. Having got hold of the rat, Piglet ran off to the middle of the lawn. Idiot. A sensible cat took his prey to a secret hiding place. And he was holding it all wrong, from the butt instead of the neck. Holding it from the neck, there was some chance of puncturing a vein and letting it bleed to death. But Piglet didn’t know that yet. The rat was almost as big as he was, and much older and much, much smarter. Piglet laid it down on the grass and didn’t know what to do next.

Ah, there was Mister Black. A big, strong, handsome tom, with glossy black fur, a long, thick tail, and menacing green eyes. The humans didn’t like him, but Sleepy Eyes didn’t mind him. True, he had killed at least one of her half-sister-from-another-litter’s kittens and had made a good attempt to kill the other four as well. But that was just him doing his best to pass on his genes like a good tom should. Kill the other toms’ kittens and mate with the mother as soon as she’s ready. That made sense. Sleepy Eyes, very sensibly, had mated with him and with all the other toms in the neighborhood. She only had two kittens but nobody knew whose they were, so everybody left them alone. That was the way to do it. Mister Black didn’t trouble her kittens at all.

The humans always chased Mister Black away. And there was a human watching them now. This one, the woman, wasn’t so inimical towards Mister Black, but Mister Black knew better than to trust any member of this race. He threw Piglet a disdainful look and strolled off majestically, ignoring the woman.

Piglet let go of the rat’s butt and the rat promptly limped away, heading, for some reason, towards Duffer, who had trotted along to see what all the excitement was about. Noticing this belligerent beast almost as big as him heading in his direction, Duffer promptly jumped a few feet back and looked around for protection. Piglet, rather nonplussed at this turn of events, followed carefully behind the rat. Sleepy Eyes sighed. It was going to be a long, hard battle now.

The rat found a nice leafy spot to hide in. Sleepy Eyes goaded him with a quick, careful paw. He jumped. They both waited a few minutes and then she tried again. He jumped again. He was big, he was evil, he wasn’t significantly wounded, and he sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight. He had a tiny mouth full of sharp teeth and tiny beady black eyes that tracked her every move. He jumped, he growled, he did the rat version of snapping. Sleepy Eyes was not a big cat. Piglet was useless, Duffer was worse than useless and everyone, even the rat, knew that cats didn’t hunt in packs.

The action progressed sporadically from one bush to another. Once, for a few minutes, the rat maneuvered himself out of cover into a sandy patch and Sleepy Eyes thought she had him. But no. He jumped, snarled, and scurried around until he found a thick patch of Pentas to hide under. Try as she might, Sleepy Eyes could hardly get a paw through to whack him.

Then The Lil Girl turned up. She was Sleepy Eyes’ twin, but neither of them cared to remember that anymore. They tolerated each other, more or less (Sleepy Eyes more, The Lil Girl less), but The Lil Girl was a good hunter. She’d been known to catch squirrels, even pigeons on a lucky day. And plenty of rats, of course. The Lil Girl eyed the action in a desultory fashion. She didn’t seem to fancy the odds, so she sat down next to the Pentas and started to wash her face. The cheek of it, thought Sleepy Eyes. At least she could have shown some interest. After all, The Lil Girl had a brood to feed as well. Of course, they were still walnut sized, eyes still closed, nowhere near eating solids yet, but all the same. A lactating mother needs her protein.

Sleepy Eyes sighed as the rat, sensing her distraction, made a run for it. For a large, overweight rodent, he was surprisingly nimble and in a flash he had scrambled over the wall, up the fence, shimmied up a drain pipe and leapt into the first floor balcony of the next building. Sleepy Eyes gave chase, but her heart wasn’t in it. She couldn’t shimmy up the drain pipe, she knew that much for sure. And such a large and aggressive beast, was he even worth it? She’d already wasted a good 45 minutes playing cat and mouse games with him in the garden. She stared up at the balcony wistfully. There goes dinner, she thought sadly, as Piglet came bounding up to her and Duffer watched from below, trying to find a route that worked for him. Dinner would have to be cow’s milk from the stupid humans again. Cow’s milk! As if any self-respecting cat ever ate cow’s milk. And they had chicken tonight, she had smelled it. Humans were funny – the brought their catch home smelling nice and fresh, raw, bloody, just begging to be eaten. Then they made it cold. Then they mixed it with a lot of foul and toxic things like onions (sheer poison! Humans really didn’t know anything!) and garlic (seriously!? Garlic!?!) and then they made it really hot and then they ate it. Such a waste!

Oh, well, thought Sleepy Eyes sadly as she climbed down and ambled over to lie in the shade with Duffer and Piglet. There will be more rats to hunt. Tomorrow is another day.

Foodie Christmas

December 25, 2014

We usually end up going out for either lunch or dinner on Christmas. But this time, with Amit away, I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. After spending the morning wondering whether a trip to the mall would be worth it or not, I decided at 12 o’clock to go to Nature’s Basket instead and see what could be found. In the end, for the princely sum of 680 rupees, I came back with a feast. At 1 p.m., lunch was served. How? Well, it doesn’t take much time when all you have to do is to throw everything into a big non-stick pan and call it a mixed grill platter. We had bacon bits (which of course lent their fat and flavour to everything else in the pan), a roast chicken breast, chicken with onion and cheese sausages, and – in another pan – spicy chicken wings. I took out some of yesterday’s sauted veggies to lend a bit of greenery to the meal, but we didn’t waste much time with them. The kids got a slice of bread each to mop up the bacon fat.

I’d bought a plum cake from the local shop, which is an off-shoot of All Saints and the kids had been ploughing their way through it for the last several days. When they have eaten well, they are often too full for dessert – something that is quite absolutely amazing to me. I’m never too full for dessert, no matter how well I’ve eaten. Dessert gets a separate compartment all to itself in my stomach.

Anyhow, they managed tiny bits of plum cake.

Tis the season to be jolly, as the song says, and where’s there any hope of that for gluten intolerant folks like me? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Amit suggested that I make a fruit cake. I’ve done this once before, with memorable results. When we went out to shop for dry fruit, he almost gave up the idea after seeing the price tags. But I went ahead and bought everything anyway and made my gluten-free eggless rum-drunk fruit cake. Now, I know that properly speaking the fruit should soak for several months. In fact, my understanding was that the cake should be made several months ahead and should be fed on a steady diet of alcohol thereafter. All I had was a couple of weeks, but I made good use of them. My fruit soaked for a few days, and the cakes have been drinking up their rum for two weeks now. So, it being Christmas day and all, I cut myself a piece. I can honestly declare that it didn’t make me tipsy, but that was only because of all that meat that was already sitting in my stomach, lining it like lead.

You’d think after a lunch like that, I’d be kind of done for the day. But no. After Nature’s Basket, I’d gone to another shop where I’d picked up half a kilo of mutton mince. So it was to be to be either meatloaf of shepherd’s pie for dinner. All that potato didn’t seem to be required, though, so I made a meatloaf. It’s the first time I’ve made it eggless and gluten free. Apart from onion and garlic and salt and pepper, I usually add stale wet bread as a binder and one or two eggs, I’m not sure why. This time, I just added a bit of brown rice flour and that was it. Tasted just as good as ever, if I do say so myself.

Unlike me, the kids had spent an hour playing football in the nearby playground, so they were hungry already. I pulled out some frozen french fries from the freezer, and, since the oven was already in use, stuck them in there. That didn’t work out so well – fried fries are definitely nicer than baked fries. But fries are fries, so we ate them anyway. I added some greens, again, and again we largely ignored those.

Another small slice of drunk fruit cake and now I’m really done for the day.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you had as much fun as I did.018 022

Finally! The Perfect Gluten-free Eggless Chocolate Cake

October 11, 2014

I’ve been struggling with this one. It was one thing when I needed a gluten free cake with egg. That was pretty do-able. But when I discovered, a year or so ago, that I was intolerant to egg white as well, cake became even more difficult than it already was. I’ve been experimenting off and on since then. Almost every gluten-free cake I’ve tried has been chocolate – that’s because I love chocolate, but also because cocoa powder provides one of the “flour” elements to the cake that’s gluten free. I’ve used other flour substitutes ranging from white rice flour to brown rice flour to potato flour to god knows what. The potato flour didn’t work out so well (also besan, or chickpea flour – don’t ever try that in a cake), but in the other attempts, the flour has not been the problem. The problem is, without egg, there’s nothing to moisten the mix. I’ve been using curd or milk, but they tend to make the cake soggy and damp and though the taste doesn’t suffer, the texture has been not very good. I’ve also looked at recipes on the net, but many of them call for ingredients that I don’t have easy access to, like cocoa butter, or guar gum or whatnot. I want to make a cake with stuff that I generally have in my kitchen.

Now I’ve been yearning for cake for a week or so. Last weekend – a four day weekend – was much too hectic, what with going to the puja pandal on one day and trying to get the house back in running order the rest of the days; we were just back from a short vacation in Kerala, and the amount of work that getting back from a short vacation involves is just unbelievable.

So today I was determined – one might even say desperate – to make a cake that I could eat. And it turned out just right.

Now, the recipe might not be of interest to anyone out there. Unless you are gluten intolerant and vegan (or intolerant to egg) like I am, you really don’t need to be doing this. But on the off chance that you are… here goes.

200 gm butter (salted, unsalted, doesn’t matter)
3/4 cups sugar
3 large ripe bananas, mashed (by hand will do, if you don’t mind a few lumps)
3 dessert spoons of curd (yogurt) – this is an important one. If you put too much, it makes the cake soggy and heavy
1 1/2 cups of flour ingredients, mixed together, consisting of:
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (buckwheat isn’t wheat and it works for me)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

I generally don’t bother to be very precise about the butter or flour. Today, the butter had been eaten into by the kids and the flour ingredients added up to more than one-and-a-half cups. So my cake was a little less rich than this recipe. But that much variation is not really noticeable.

I just mixed everything together in the sequence listed here and put it into the preheated oven as usual and half an hour later I had a delicious, rich, dark chocolate cake. Yes, it tasted of banana, but that was a surprisingly good combination.

Now, I just hope that when I try this next time, it turns out equally good. Maybe I shouldn’t wait too long. This one’s almost over, already.

Mother’s Day?

May 11, 2014

What’s the big deal about Mother’s Day? I don’t need a “day” to remind me about all it means to be a mother. My kids do that every day.


Sometimes I think I should give up my job and stay at home and look after my family and maybe, if my Muse comes to me, write books.


But then, I have these conversations at office that make me realize how vital it is to keep meeting and interacting with different people. (Of course, there’s more to office than that, but that’s another matter altogether.)


So some of the young people in office, just out of college, early twenties, have been quite vocal about what a pain it is to have kids and how they never want to have kids and how much fun they have in life without these unnecessary encumbrances.


When I hear them, I don’t say anything, and I hope I don’t smile, but inwardly I’m smiling – because it’s like hearing myself talk, 15-odd years ago.


Thinking back, I don’t think I was ever very vocal about it – having kids or not having kids. But inside, I felt that way. Screaming, squalling, runny-nosed brats, who needs them?


And, to be sure, of all the young people who voice these thoughts and those who think them without saying them, it’s not true that all of them will come around to the other way of thinking. It’s not inevitable that all women (to leave the other half out for the moment) will necessarily feel maternal urges later on in life. Some of them might choose to never have kids and they might be quite happy with that choice. I have no problem with that. Let each woman make her own choice, let everyone live their own lives and make their own decisions. I am not crusading in favour of parenthood.


But it amuses me to think that I used to think like that, and then I changed, and now I live with those screaming, squalling, runny-nosed brats, two of them, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for anything.


It counts for something, that I had many years of freedom and adventure before the kids came into my life. I traveled, I worked, I partied, I was gay and free and irresponsible. I made the most of it, those happy childless years. But then I chose to be a parent and I worked towards it with single-minded determination. I made it happen (against quite formidable odds). I made the choice and I gave up all that I needed to give up – the travel, the work, the partying, the gay, free, irresponsible lifestyle. It’s not that I don’t miss it. It’s just that what I have now, with my kids… it’s different. It’s tiring, it’s frustrating, it’s maddening at times, but it’s satisfying at a different level. When the kids are screaming and hollering and running around and fighting and driving me crazy (which, let’s face it, is every single day), it’s easy to lose sight of it. But when I step back a moment, it’s still there. I won’t say parenting makes me happy on a moment-to-moment basis, but there’s a much deeper satisfaction to it that mere joy or happiness can’t compete with.


So I was chatting with a much older colleague at work. I don’t even really know this person, we’ve interacted a couple of times, and remotely at that. I mentioned my kids and he said his daughters were grown up now, 19 and 25. I said I was waiting for my girls to get there. He said, “you won’t need to wait. It will happen so fast, and then you will miss tripping over their toys and sneakers.”


So says a father whose two little girls have grown up and left home.


I know he’s right. I have heard it, occasionally, from other parents too. The days crawl by but the years fly. And while we are immersed in the crawling days, we don’t notice the years till they’ve gone.


Once in a way, you need someone to remind you of what the view will be like 15-odd years from now. You need to hear the things that you know you are going to say 15-odd years in the future. Hear them and heed them. You need to remember to hold on to what you have right now. Don’t just fret about the days that crawl, take a step back to cherish the years… before they fly away.


Happy Mother’s Day!

Old Dog, New Tricks

May 6, 2014

There are certainly some privileges to being female. One is that nobody ever really expects you to be able to change a flat tyre. If you’re lucky, you have your father, brother, husband, son, or male friend with you when you discover the flat, and they grumblingly take responsibility for getting the flat tyre off and replacing it with a healthier spare. If you’re unlucky and you happen to be alone… well, with a bit of distressed hand-wringing, help can usually be found. If merely the allure of helping a damsel in distress is not enough, help can sometimes be obtained with the promise of a cash reward. Sometimes, even just a smile will do.


I must confess, I haven’t often been in the unlucky situation. In ages gone by, when flats were common enough, when cars were ancient enough and tyres were often completely bald before anyone even thought of getting a new set, it was my father who changed the tyre. In those days, we always had an extra 15 minutes in hand when driving to the railway station (and it was always the railway station, never the airport, for who could afford flights back then?). And 15 minutes was all it took. If we were lucky enough to be in a taxi, then seven minutes were sufficient.


I never did much to help my father change the tyre. Usually, we women stood around and passed unhelpful and perhaps infuriating comments. Well, nothing helpful can be expected from the mouths of those who’ve no practical experience in a task.


Once we got married, it was, of course, Amit’s job to handle such eventualities. I don’t think we had flats quite as often by then. For one thing, once we were done with the family heirloom Fiat, we got a new car with new tyres. And in those days, I didn’t drive the car that much, especially not alone – if I was going somewhere on my own, I took my two-wheeler. And then tubeless tyres came along. So now you could actually drive with a punctured tyre; as long as you didn’t stop, it would be ok. My first experience with tubeless tyres was on my last bike (by which I mean, my motorcycle) and it was a relief, because motorcycles don’t even come with a spare. Which was especially great, because it also meant that you didn’t have to bother about keeping the spare tyre inflated.


So I haven’t had too many opportunities with flat tyres in recent years. And those I have had, I’ve happily passed up. I mean, like I said, nobody really expects you to be able to do it, anyway. It’s quite ok to wave one’s hands, look hapless, and summon up help.


But then again – why shouldn’t I be able to do it?


All along, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that it would be really tough to change a flat. I didn’t think I could. But Amit has been telling me for a while that I jolly well should be able to change a flat on my own.


So here’s how things went on Friday. I was at the tennis court when I noticed that one tyre was really low on air. I started to drive back home, wondering about it. It was 7 a.m. so the chances of getting it fixed right away were nonexistent. I did manage to get it pumped up, on the way home. But I was pretty sure it was a flat. I had had my tyres checked just recently, so there was no reason for the air to be low unless it was a flat.


I resolved to change the tyre when I got home. Myself, I thought. This time, I’ll do it myself.


In fact, it was the perfect opportunity. Amit was home to help me (I mean, advise me). I was not getting late for anything more critical than work. I was already sweaty and ready for a shower. And I even had a serviceable spare.


Or did I? Actually, come to think of it, when was the last time I got that tyre inflated? And why didn’t I think of doing it when I stopped to pump up the punctured tyre just now? Well, it would just have to do.

I got home, got Amit, got a cup of coffee, and set to work. Managed to take the jack and spare tyre out of the boot. Managed, after fiddling around for a bit, to find the proper place to fix the jack. Managed to figure out, after quite a bit of head scratching, how to operate the jack. Was advised by Amit to loosen the nuts before jacking up the car, which little trick I would have never figured out on my own. And then I even actually managed to loosen the nuts on my own. Of course I used the time-honored technique of standing on the spanner. There are some advantages to being overweight, who’d have thought? Next, I struggled to place the spare on the rim, manouevred it into position, and put the nuts in. Jacked the car back down.


And found that the spare was much, much lower on air than the punctured tyre had been.




It’s not that the process thus far had been as physically strenuous as I’d feared. But I certainly didn’t fancy doing it all over again, to remove this spare. And once I did that, what then? Either walk or drive one or both of the tyres to the petrol bunk to get it (or them) inflated. Or replace the punctured tyre and drive on it.


Maybe we can pump it up with the cycle pump, I suggested.


Amit dismissed the idea out of hand, but both the alternatives were so unappealing that we tried it anyway and guess what? It worked! When I finally drove to the petrol bunk and got the tyre inflated, it was at 27 psi, compared to the ideal of 33 psi. Not bad at all, eh?


So, lessons learned: Loosen the screws before you jack up the car. Check the picture on the jack to figure out where exactly it should be placed. Make sure your spare tyre is inflated (and if not, keep a cycle pump handy). And at any rate, it’s not as tough as it looks.


Oh, and one more thing. It’s never too late to learn. Or, in other words, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The Incident of the Stuck Fishbone

April 15, 2014

Sunday lunch. My father in law is in town and lunch was at his house. He has unearthed this fabulous cook who has cooked up a fabulous fish curry. While we are all doing homage to this dish (by wolfing it down, I mean), Amit chokes on a fishbone. Well, there are five of us, and thus far maybe 20 pieces of fish have been consumed, so one person choking is par for the course. He did the usual things – first coughed, then, because there was no rice, gulped chunks of bread and potato hoping it would engulf the errant fishbone and carry it down the gullet.


To be sure, choking on a fishbone is not a matter to be taken lightly. It can be fatal. Amit, however, did not seem to have the fishbone in his windpipe. He could talk through all this and he was still breathing and not turning blue. He even ate another piece of fish, though the bone was still lodged.


Over the next three hours, he tried gulping various other items to no avail – rice flakes, boiled eggs, banana, and, when all those failed, he even made rice and waited for it to cool and then gulped that. In the end, he went to the doctor across the road, who is a neighbor, friend, and pediatrician. That too was to no avail. He couldn’t see the bone by peering down Amit’s throat with a flashlight and sent him off with a recommendation to go to a hospital.


So we sighed and girded up our loins and dropped the kids off with Amit’s dad and went to Manipal Hospital. It was Sunday evening, of course, so all the departments were closed and we were sent to Emergency, where they took one look at us and did nothing for a very long time. It was close to 90 minutes before we got the X-ray they thought we required and then the on-duty doctor declared himself unable to see the fishbone in the throat (though he could see it on the X-ray) and called for the ENT on-duty doctor. A pretty young female came and took us up to the ENT department and proceeded to peer down Amit’s throat, again to no avail. Then she called for her Consultant (senior doctor) and that was also when she called the anaesthesiologist and started talking about OT and GA and suchlike things.


Wait, what?


She explained to us why we needed an OT and what was to be done and then we asked the million dollar question: What would it cost? She hemmed and hawed and came with up a number: 30k.


Luckily we had a good 45 minute wait on our hands till the consultant extricated herself from her Sunday evening activities and came to the hospital. In that interval, we decided we really didn’t need to be pressurized into a 30k surgery for a measly little fishbone that wasn’t stopping Amit from breathing, eating, or talking.


Well, it was 8 p.m. when the consultant arrived and I have to say, she did a good job – at least, the bedside table manner part of her job. She was patient and deft and appeared to be very in-charge and expert. All cool and zen. All good.


For one full hour, she poked and peered and tried to see the fishbone, but kept saying she wasn’t sure she could see it. In the middle, Amit had an extremely violent coughing fit and we all hoped that had done the job. Except the doc kept telling him not to cough so violently and I wondered what harm it could do.


In the end, Amit said the bone was still there and the doc said there was nothing she could do outside an OT and without GA. But why, we asked. She gave us a vague reply that it would be too dangerous. The anaesthesiologist had already been called, she said. The OT would be busy in the morning, she said. You shouldn’t wait, she said. She seemed all very earnest and concerned, all “doing my best as a doctor”-ish. Don’t leave here without your surgery, she said. If you do, I’ll have to make you sign a big long statement saying that you left against my advice.


Woooo, scary! Go under GA unnecessarily versus sign a big long statement. Which would you rather do?


Since we’d had our discussion beforehand and decided that to us ignorant laymen Amit’s situation did not appear to be life threatening, we were not easily swayed. I don’t say that we weren’t swayed, mind you. Amit told me later he was 50:50 about it. But to his credit, he wasn’t entirely swayed.


For me, there were two things that were suspicious. First, why did this doctor want to do this procedure in such a hurry? Why was she not able to clearly explain to us why she could not do a simple outpatient procedure? Why did her assistant hand us a form for admission before the consultant had even arrived and assessed the situation? It looked as if they had already decided what was to be done and the rest was a charade for our benefit.


The second: As soon as we started to give the “hmm, maybe not” signals to the doc, she promptly asked whether it was the cost that was putting us off and then asked if we had insurance. We’d prepared for that one. Nope, no insurance, we said, making a sad face. (He’s an entrepreneur, I’m a home maker – that was our back story, but we didn’t need it.) And then do you know what she did? “Oh, no worries, we’ll reduce the price, we’ll just bill it as something else. Let’s see, how about this? Then it will come to 12-15 k.”


Amit gave me a look. Was 15 k justifiable? I shook my head. We asked for a few minutes, discussed briefly again, and decided it was just pressure tactics.


Finally, when we told the doc that we would not be opting for the OT tonight, her reaction was strange. There was a certain something. Suddenly, it was not so much as if she was genuinely concerned for the patient but more as though a candy that had been promised her had suddenly and inexplicably been taken away.


What was worse was, when we went back to the Emergency Room to finish the paperwork, the medical staff there gave me an earful – and they didn’t even know what the issue was for chrissakes. There had been a change of shift at 8 p.m. And these on-duty doctors are not specialists – that’s why they sent us off to the department and called in the consultant. If we’d had our discussion with the consultant and been given the “scary, dangerous” talk and walked away from it anyway, why was it even any of their business? For the patient’s good, you say? I would like to say so too. But really? No, it was just too pushy. It was like, “Hey, don’t leave here without your surgery, my salary depends on it.”


It wasn’t easy, though. We did leave, our pockets lighter by only Rs 1130, but it wasn’t easy. It’s a tough call to put a price on your health and call out 30k as too high, call out 15 k as a bluff. Amit said it was the first time we’d gone against medical advice. He even went so far as to tell me that if things turned out badly, I should remember that it was a joint decision. Melodramatic, huh? I wasn’t that worried. He was walking, talking, breathing. He wasn’t in that much pain, it was just an irritation. If he did manage to dislodge the bone overnight, it would hopefully just go down and out the usual way. Otherwise we’d come back in a day. Or two. This wasn’t deep vein thrombosis, after all. That time I was worried. This just didn’t look that serious.


We got home around 10 p.m. The kids had slept with Amit’s dad, so we consoled ourselves with some ice cream (which didn’t dislodge the bone) and some dinner. There wasn’t much, so I fished out the leftover fish curry, which we’d brought home from dad in law’s house. Tempting fate, eh? Considering I’m not as skilled in the art of eating fish as he is.


The next day, I went to work as usual, while Amit asked around among friends for a good ENT specialist who would not be overly trigger happy. He found one and rushed off to Richmond Road by 11 a.m. By 1.30, it was all done. The doc peered down his throat the with stroboscope – the same thing they’d used at the hospital – and saw the bone. He could have fished it out right away, but apparently just because of Amit’s extraordinary height, even his neck is too long for ordinary-sized implements, so he wasn’t able to reach it. He took him to the OT, after all, but got the little bugger out in about 30 seconds with just a local anaesthetic spray. Damages: 4500, only because of Amit’s extraordinary height. Ordinarily it would have been 2500. Total time spent: less than three hours. Outcome: success. At Manipal Hospital we spent almost 4 hours, and to no avail.


It’s extremely sad. I’ve always been very happy with Manipal Hospital. I’ve heard that they’re trigger happy, but our experiences have always been good. Or, well, at least not bad. Or, actually, there have been some bad experiences, but not this bad. This time, the way it ultimately got done so easily, I just feel cheated. There’s now no doubt in my mind that the doc and her assistant put on an elaborate charade when they had no intention of solving the problem outside of the OT. In a way, I’d rather they just took one look and said, “I can take this out in 30 seconds but it will cost you 15 k,” rather than trying to put this spin on it – it’s dangerous, it’s risky, you have to go under GA.


Paying you a king’s ransom is one thing; but if you lie to me, make me panic, play on my fears, and then subject me to unnecessary medical/surgical procedures… that is completely unethical.


When Tara cut her finger, we had to have it operated on. We checked with other doctors, we checked on the net. Surgery was required. It was expensive. That time, we played the system. We made sure that we stayed in the hospital long enough to be covered by insurance. But it’s a lousy thing to do. It’s unethical. The hospitals pump up the bill, knowing that insurance will cover it. Insurance covers it and they raise the premiums so that we all get to pay more for medical insurance. Everybody wins. Nobody wins. Only fools object. Perhaps, if the procedure itself is genuinely required, there is very little harm done. It’s only notional. Everybody else is doing it, right? It’s not even against the law. The doctors are only too happy to sign on the dotted line saying the hospitalization was required.


But forcing patients, scaring and blackmailing them, into procedures that aren’t even remotely required… how can that possibly be part of a doctor’s job description? What’s wrong with the world, when all that matters is how much money you can make? And these are not poor people. These are people with big houses and bigger cars! And these are people who are supposed to make us fitter and healthier.

The Incident of the Cat Litter

April 14, 2014

Once in a way, you come across a weekend that just knocks the stuffing out of you. This past weekend was one such. The events that unfolded this weekend could actually be told in four parts, but I’m going to leave out the least eventful two and treat you, dear readers, to only two parts. Get yourself a cup of coffee (or green tea or whatever) and settle down, because I am going to tell you all about it.

The Incident of the Cat Litter

The problem with keeping cats, instead of dogs, is that you need to do something about their litter. And I’m not talking about the sweet little babies they give birth to, but to the disgusting brown yuck that they eliminate into. You know – pee and poop.

So you do get some commercial cat litter, but I don’t know what it’s made of, and I’m pretty sure it’s expensive. And I doubt it’s biodegradable. And seeing that I’m married to this environmental nutcase, who collects every scrap of paper and plastic to sell it to the kabadiwalla (recycling guy), not to mention assiduously composting our kitchen waste… well, I obviously can’t think about using non-biodegradable kitty litter.

So we have been buying vast quantities of coco peat to use as litter. It’s actually a very good kitty litter – it’s lightweight and very absorbent, a good natural fertilizer, not too bad at absorbing odors, and extremely cheap at Rs 4 per kilo. I use about 2 kilos per day for our two boys. The only problem with this solution is that nobody bloody keeps coco peat. Gardening stores keep only some kind of highly condensed blocks that you are supposed to dissolve in water and use in the garden – not suitable for litter, obviously. Coco peat is made from the husk of coconuts, and in India, especially in south India, coconuts are big business. So we have the Coir Board of India and they keep infinite supplies of coco peat. Only hitch is, you have to go to Kasturba Road to get it. So that’s what I spent Saturday afternoon doing.

Now, to really appreciate what follows, you have to know me. I’m the sort of person who manages to not get lost only if I’ve been to a place at least 20 times. And even then, it’s chancy. I can get lost in a shopping mall, and not even a new one, and it doesn’t even have to be very big. I have a long and terrible history of getting lost. I got lost more than once in Italy, I managed to get lost and lead our whole party astray in the Himalayas, and I even outdid myself by getting lost in Chandigarh, the city I grew up in, and in a part of it I ought to have been extremely familiar with; a part I was, in fact, extremely familiar with – but that doesn’t mean I can’t get lost.

It was only the third time I was going the Coir Board. I know Kasturba Road alright, but I haven’t really had too many opportunities to drive there. Still, get on to MG Road and keep going straight, it doesn’t get easier than that. And even I can find my way to MG Road after 16 years in Bangalore.

The first time I went to the Coir Board, Amit drove, I got off across the road and he went all the way to Kanteerva Stadium to do the U-turn to get on to the other side. By that time, I had crossed the road (no easy task, since there’s a six-foot high barrier running all the way down Kasturba Road, to prevent people from crossing), gone to the Coir Board office, placed my order, got the sacks, paid the money, got the bill, and was waiting on the pavement outside to load the sacks. Perfect. No problem at all.

The second time I went, I had dropped the kids off for Saturday afternoon tennis. I dashed across to Kasturba Road, did the whole U-turn thing and parked on the roadside (a strict no-parking zone) and got the sacks and paid up and everything and got back to the tennis court only 5 minutes after their tennis class ended. Not bad at all. (It helped that I had taken precise directions regarding the u-turn business from Amit just before I started. And in my defense, it’s not actually just a u-turn. It’s kind of like you have to do this huge left-turn, right-turn circuit around Kanteerva stadium.

Still, I had done it all by myself, so the third time, I thought, would be a breeze. It was after the kids’ Saturday tennis and I had Amit in the car with me and the kids as well. No stress. I dropped Amit off across the road from the Coir Board and breezed off to Kanteerva Stadium to do the U-turn.

Now, you really need to know the city to make sense of what follows. If you don’t, here’s a map that explains how I wound up in the places I did, but it doesn’t really convey the flavor.

To cut a very long drive short, the first time I got lost I wound up in Cubbon park, then found myself driving past the Vidhana Soudha and almost wound up in Shivajinagar (!!!) before managing to find my way back to where Jewels de Paragon used to be – that is, the intersection of Kasturba Road with MG Road. All good – only 20-25 minutes wasted. Of course I had called Amit by then and told him that I was at the Vidhana Soudha – and I would have given anything to see his expression of bewilderment right then.

So anyway, 25 minutes later I was breezing past Coir Board again, still on the other side of the road, with the same u-turn looming up again. The first time I’d gone wrong by ignoring the kids’ directions and doing what I thought Amit had instructed me to do last time (which was more than a month ago). This time, I promised myself I would trust the kids – they clearly have better navigation skills than I ever will.

So I followed Tara’s directions to the letter and soon enough found myself on NR Road.

I don’t know about you other Bangaloreans out there, but for me, Nrupathunga Road, Silver Jubilee Park Road, and all those other roads over there are the stuff nightmares are made of. I’ve almost never been there (perhaps once) and all I know of that area is that it leads to some mystical place called City Market which is like a Bangalorean black hole – if you stray near, you get sucked in and are never heard of again.

What’s worse is, not only is that area always crowded, it’s also full of *expletive-deleted* one ways. Here I was, waiting at a traffic light on a road that was clearly taking me in a direction diametrically opposite to where I wanted to be, and my only option – my *only* option – was to go straight. What’s the point of a traffic light where you can only go straight??? Haven’t these people ever heard of left turns, right turns, and most important of all, u-turns?

So I stopped on the roadside and asked some random guy the way to Kasturba Road. “That way,” he said, point back the way I’d come.
“Yes, fine, but how do I get there?” I asked in exasperation.
“Just go straight, you’ll come to City Market, you can do a u-turn there,” he said, moving off to catch a bus.

Great. I went straight and a lovely-looking flyover emerged, beckoning me warmly. It was broad. It was empty. It was oh-so-inviting. I can just imagine how Odysseus felt when the sirens called out to him. It was all I could do to exercise my self restraint to the utmost and drift to the left of the alluring flyover. Later on Amit told me that it would have taken me most of the way towards Mysore, leaving him high and dry on the pavement with only 10 sacks coco peat for company. (At this point, I should also tell you that I had been low on petrol when we started from home two hours ago and by now my situation was perilous. I had money; all I needed was a petrol bunk. On that alluring flyover to Mysore, I would likely have run out of petrol long before I found a way off it and to a petrol bunk.)

Ultimately, of course, I did find a u-turn and then I found my way to Corporation circle, and another red light (somewhat to my relief). At just that moment, Amit called. “Where are you?” he asked tersely.
“I don’t know!” I wailed. “Um… there’s an LIC building on my left.”
“Ok, good. Go straight. Don’t take the next left, or you’ll wind up at the railway station and another whole bunch of one-ways-“
The light changed. There were plenty of cops around. I cut the call abruptly and started driving, trying to remember what he had been telling me about the next left. (I blank out directions when I’m in a panic.) It didn’t help that the kids in the back seat were continuously throwing helpful hints and unhelpful questions at me in rapid succession. “Oh, I know that building. DIdn’t you come this way already? You have to go left here. No, go straight, go straight. Isn’t that where Vidit lives? What are we having for dinner?…”


When I finally pulled up at Coir Board, I had been driving around in circles for an hour! I had taken the kids on a city tour that included a drive-by of Cubbon Park, High Court, Vidhana Soudha, SJP Road, City Market, and just narrowly avoided City Railway Station and Mysore. And I still had a tiny bit of petrol in my tank.

The Coir Board guy who had been waiting patiently to load the sacks of coco peat smirked at me and muttered under his breath, “Waste. Waste!” (You have to be a Bangalorean to understand that one, too.) Amit, much to his credit, didn’t laugh, didn’t explode, and in fact, reacted only with profound relief tinged with resignation. Which is just as well, because after that he drove us to Chitra Kala Parishat and managed to get lost on the way. Not as spectacularly as me, of course, but I am a hard act to follow.

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.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

July 26, 2013

Sandy was the first proper pet Amit and I had. When I say “proper”, I mean, aside from various stray dogs who inveigled their way into our hearts (but not our homes) over the years. And when I say “was” – I mean, she is no more.

It was heart-breaking.

She was the sweetest little thing that ever came into our lives, a ray of eternal sunlight, a perpetual joy. But she wouldn’t sit still for long, at least not at night. A couple of cold, wet, miserable nights we let her into our room with every intention of letting her stay. But she dug her claws into my legs, purred noisily, chewed my hair and generally kept me awake until I was forced to throw her out. I still had not come around to giving her a third chance. I thought I would, eventually, some day, especially when it was cold and wet, or if she were sick, but that day never came. One morning, when Amit was out of town, when I opened the balcony door and called to her, she didn’t come. It was a first, and I was a little worried, but I put it down to an adventurer’s spirit and left some food out for her and went to office.

But she never came back.

Our neighbours told us. She was lying on the road, a few houses away, dead. The street dogs got to her.

As the days crawled by and time waged a silent war on our guilt and sorrow, we decided we would get another pet. Maybe a dog, this time. Dogs are easier to restrain, to keep indoors and to allow into the garden without allowing them to escape into the big bad world out there beyond the gate.

Soon enough, there was a posting on the CUPA page on FB – 25 day old pup for adoption. I called the number. The pup was a street dog, either abandoned or orphaned by its family. Black, male.

It was Wednesday. I told the lady that we’d decide by Friday and if we were going to take him, we’d be there on Saturday. Meanwhile, don’t hold him for us.

On Wednesday evening, I was about to drive the kids to tennis when Tara said, “Mummy, in that house over there, I saw a kitten, just like Sandy.”

My heart skipped a beat. Of course, it can’t be Sandy, I thought. Two neighbours had said they’d seen her dead and both of them knew her well enough to have recognized her. Besides, even Tara didn’t think it was Sandy, it was just a kitten that looked like Sandy.

All the same, I drove very slowly past the house on the corner… but we saw nothing.

As soon as I reached the tennis court, I messaged Amit. “Did Tara tell you that she saw a kitten like Sandy in the house at the corner of our street?”

In five minutes, I got a reply. “I heard.”

Hm. Ok. We were both being very nonchalant. It took another 25 minutes for Amit to say, “We can get the kitten.”

And so we did.

He went to the house on the corner and looked around for a cat, which appeared soon enough and came and rubbed against his legs as if she’d known him all her life. This cat is a lot like Sandy, but a lot bigger. We still don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl, though Mrini has examined its nether regions carefully and pronounced it to be a girl because “it doesn’t have the sticking out thing.”

For the moment, she’s been christened Polly – Tara’s choice, since she was the one who saw her. She looks pretty happy and purrs all the time, even when she’s alone and asleep, apparently. She’s quite different from Sandy in personality, of course, being far less playful and much more mature and cat-like. She hasn’t played any scratchy or bite-y games with us yet and I suspect she may not. She looks completely self-assured and at ease, considering she is in a new environment and surrounded by a whole lot of new people. She wandered all over the house without showing the slightest sign of nervousness.

We haven’t let her out at all so far. For one thing – once bitten, twice shy. Our facing neighbour has informed us that they have lost three cats to the street dogs outside, so we obviously don’t want Polly to be the fifth. For another thing, Polly, having grown up quite a bit already, presumably has an area that she considers home and if we let her out she might make a beeline for it, leaving us high and dry. I fancy Polly is a little puzzled by this development. She slept blissfully curled up among the pillows in the guest bedroom last night, so I don’t think she’s complaining, exactly. All the same, she sits by the door or window and looks outside as though she would very much like to be out there. One part of my heart says she should be out there – cats belong out there; why should we take away her freedom and imprison her in a gilded cage? She never asked us to, and we haven’t exactly got her permission or consent. But then, I think of Sandy. I wanted that kitten to have her freedom and she wound up dead. Keeping Polly locked up indoors might be a mistake, but at least it’s a different mistake. I can’t make the same mistake twice.

The kids took Sandy’s tragic fate in their stride, quite unperturbed by it aside from wondering what would happen to all the cat food. But for Amit and me, it left a huge hole in our home and hearts. Polly doesn’t exactly fill that hole; Polly doesn’t bring Sandy back to life; but, sitting in my lap and purring contentedly, she makes it a little easier to bear.

%d bloggers like this: