February 2, 2011

37. 37. Hmmmm….

Ok, after thinking it over for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that 37 doesn’t feel so bad. After all, it’s still only my age and not my waist size. That’s pretty good, right?

30 came as a bit of a shock. It was quite a wrench leaving the youth and innocence of 20 behind. 30 seemed quite over the hill; almost old. But, strangely enough, it was all about anticipation. When I woke up the day after turning 30, nothing was different. It didn’t seem to be such a momentous thing after all. I was still me, still learning, still shaky, still a teenager in my mind. I hadn’t suddenly, overnight, turned into a stand-on-my-own-two-feet kind of person.

30 was certainly a wake-up call. It looked like a deadline for getting all sorts of things done. Or at least started. So the run up to 30 worried me quite a bit. But it was good, because I began to actually work on the things I really wanted. 30-35 were my “go get it” years. I went on the journey that would become my first book. I had my two kids, against all odds. I started a certificate course in archaeology. I drove a 150 cc motorcycle for almost 10,000 km. I learnt a bit of German. I left work and I went back to work.

So 30 was the time when realized that I had to I yank my life off the track it had been sauntering along for far too long, and pull, push, and heave it on to the track I wanted it to be on.

From that perspective, 37 looks good. I don’t feel life is passing me by. I don’t feel I’m not working on the things I want to be working on. I don’t feel so young and unsure any more (which is good) and I don’t feel old, yet (which is even better). I’ve got most of the things in my life arranged the way I want them and I am now in a place where I can afford to sit back and enjoy the ride for a bit.

What could be better than that?

Birthday Girls

August 26, 2010

Need I say more? No!

But when did that ever stop me?

When I woke the kids up in the morning and told them it was their birthday and there were gifts for them on the dining table, they jumped out of bed so fast I couldn’t believe my eyes! They ripped their gifts open with an abandon you only see in kids their age. Then they fought over which books were whose. Meanwhile, Amit and I fought over who was going to drop them to school, and of course in the end we both went and we were horribly late getting to office, which was all my fault because I didn’t want to rush and hurry on their birthday (and it had nothing whatsoever to do with my better half snuggling up in the sheets until practically 6.45!)

They looked absolutely charming in their new frocks. The great benefit of letting them dress in tattered old jeans and T-shirts all the time is that when they do wear frocks, they are practically unrecognisable. At school, Mrini was uncharacteristically (but expectedly) shy entering class with her bag of cookies. Their teacher very sweetly asked us if we wanted to be present when they sang for the girls, at 10.30. Regretfully, we said no – we couldn’t possibly leave school for office at 8.30 and be back at 10.30! But at 12.30 I was waiting for them at daycare with another bag of cookies each.

I went to pick them up around 4.30 that afternoon and found them gorging on cake! Their daycare had not only organised a cake for them, but had also bought them some gifts! Wow – that was so sweet of them! I waited for them to finish eating, then I waited for them to finish ripping open their gifts, amid much prompting and interest from the other kids. At last I tore them away from daycare and it was close to 5.

Disaster! The cook had told me sternly that I needed to be home by 5.30 if I expected her to make channa, mattar-paneer, and puris for dinner. And home was a good half-hour drive away, interrupted by stops to pick up birthday cake, candles, and return gifts.

Not that we were going to have a party, oh no! The party would be on Saturday. Who’s going to organise a party on a weekday? Not me! And besides, how can we expect people to trudge all the way across town on a weekday evening? So on the day of their birthday we planned only to cut a cake and have a nice dinner. S&S said they would join us, and S&P said they would too. Then I invited Chris as well, and the kids invited Chris’ nephew Tim, and that of course meant that Chris’ niece Linda was invited too. And of course, all these people stay in various far-flung areas of town, but that didn’t stop them from making the long, tiring drive to our place in the middle of the week.

Meanwhile, I managed to scrape together return gifts for all the kids because, even if I thought this was not a party, kids who brought gifts and sang the birthday song and ate cake expected return gifts when they were leaving. It turned out that such kids also expected balloons, but in this they were to be disappointed. Balloons, joker caps, masks, paper plates, streamers, and all that jazz was for Saturday – I certainly didn’t have time to organise all that on a weekday. As it is, I got home a scant ten minutes before the first guests arrived, so the first guests were handed the task of wrapping the return gifts! At least I had managed to procure a few bottles of bubbles, which kept the kids busy while the return gifts were being wrapped. By the time the other guests arrived, Amit was home, the cooking was underway, the kids had been changed into their party clothes, and things were almost under control.

There were the usual hitches and delays in cutting the cake. Everyone spent a good 15 minutes hunting for candles, which both Amit and I had bought. Mine were easily found, of course (me being so organized and all…) but Amit’s had gone missing and a massive search and rescue operation was launched because he was adamant that those candles and no other would be used. At last they were found (I had thrown the bag with paper plates into the store room without inspecting the contents too closely) … and then we had to find a fresh battery for the camera. Two cakes had been lying on the table, the focus of attention of several kids at all times, and had managed to survive all the delays largely unscathed. Mrini managed to lick every part of the knife that was to be used for cutting the cake, without actually damaging her cake in the process.

Finally the candles were found and lit and blown out and lit and blown out again (because the photographer – Amit – wasn’t ready) and the song was sung and the cake was cut and eaten. From there, the evening proceeded on plan as dinner was served, followed by ice cream and more cake. The kids all managed to settle down and play together in the living room, leaving the parents to eat in some kind of peace. No disasters occurred, no grievous bodily harm was done, no lasting enmities were formed, and none of the food and drink was spilt or went short.

By the end of the day, as I cleared up the storm and tried to restore order to the house, I realized something. Regardless of what I might have thought or planned… with just four kids on the guest list and no balloons or streamers… and despite it being a school night… we’d just had a birthday party!

Sleep Deprivation Disasters

February 3, 2010

January was a tough month. What with two jobs, no household help and a change in residence, we were sleeping past 11 each night (usually closer to 12) and getting up between 5.30 and 6 a.m. all days except Sundays, when the kids kindly let us sleep till 6.30 as a special favour. After one full month of this, we both have a serious sleep deficit. I’m not one who thrives on six hours of sleep a night – even had I been getting it; I need between 7 and 8 hours, the more so when life becomes more busy and stressful.

So this week, I’ve been practically falling asleep at my desk – all day long! The struggle to keep my head on my neck and my eyes open starts at 10 a.m. and lasts till… midnight, actually. It’s terrible – I really don’t know what kind of work I’ve been doing and whether it is at all up to the mark or not.

So it was probably not a good idea to add to our stress levels and sleep deficit by going out for dinner on a weekday evening, but Amit was adamant: Birthdays must be celebrated on birthdays, not on any old “convenient” day. Perhaps, too, I should have skipped tennis yesterday and settled for an extra 30 minutes of sleep – but what the heck: on my birthday, at least, I should get to play tennis, shouldn’t I? It was a bad idea, though, because what with the terrible cough I have (remnant from an exhaustion-induced cold I got some ten-odd days ago) and the general tiredness, I just couldn’t get my game going. That was frustrating and disappointing, and the only redeeming thought was, at least I tried.

I’d decided that I wanted the Best Ever Fudge Cake for my birthday. That’s not just a description of the cake, that’s its name. I’ve made it  many times over the 15-odd years since I first discovered it, and I’d have to say that its name lives up to its promise – it is really delicious. But, it’s a lot of work. Since Amit hasn’t ever really gotten into baking, I knew I’d have to do it myself. So I started on Sunday. Night. Right around 10 p.m. after the kids had gone to bed and I’d got their lunch and stuff packed for Monday. It was past midnight before the cakes were done, which gave me all of Monday to do the icings. But first, I had to find icing sugar.

Icing sugar is one of those things that is practically impossible to find when you really need it – just like cocoa powder. When I’m baking, I usually need both and it’s a given that I will, at best, find one – and perhaps not even in sufficient quantity. And that was back in Koramangala, where you can find most things in walking distance. Here, out in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t really expect to find it easily and I was right. I drew a blank on Sunday, so on Monday evening, I drove around the shops near office and eventually got lucky. Then, of course, I picked up one year’s supply of it. (Looking back, I find that I had a similar experience last year – hopefully next year will be better, if this lot doesn’t expire by then.)

Monday evening was a busy evening even by our standards. Some aggressive efforts over the weekend had resulted in one domestic help being engaged and she reported for work on Monday evening. She speaks only Kannada, which I speak very little of, so somewhere in our communications I understood that she would both clean and cook. By 8.15, when she had finished cleaning and washing dishes (and practically emptying our water tank in the process; why do these women always use much, much more water than required to wash dishes? Haven’t they ever faced water shortage in their lives? Don’t they – they of all people, they, who might have to carry water in buckets to their homes, who might have to share a toilet with 20 others, which will obviously run out of water – don’t they realize how precious water is????)

Anyhow, when she had finished wasting our water and giving Amit a heart-attack, she tied up her sari and made to leave. Cooking? It’s too late – some other day, perhaps, she said. Great. If I’d known that, I’d have made her do the cooking first. Who wants a clean house when you can have a hot meal instead? But it was too late now. So after she left and the kids went to bed, I got to work on the cooking and then right around midnight, I finally finished up the cake and it was ready to eat.

Why wait? I plunged the knife in with minimum ceremony and…

It got stuck!

Oh, right – that’s why the recipe calls for baking powder, which, in my sleep-deprived state on Sunday night, I’d forgotten to put. So instead of the light, soft, melting cake I usually get, I got a tough, leathery load of lead. Great. This was clearly not the best ever Best Ever Fudge Cake.

At least the icing was ok, so I gritted my teeth and stolidly worked my way through a slice; Amit, of course, gave up after a few bites. That was probably a smart thing to do – I doubt that kilo of lead in my stomach late at night did anything to improve my tennis six hours later. But what the heck – I had to have birthday cake on my birthday, right? (Sometimes, determination is SO counterproductive.)

So late nights, bad cake, and erratic tennis notwithstanding, we were headed for dinner out on birthday night. We drove to work together, dropping the kids at school, their lunch at daycare, and enduring innumerable traffic jams along the way; and a little after 5.30, we left office together, picking up the kids, enduring further traffic jams and heading for our old home. There, with many disclaimers as to the quality, we dropped off birthday cake and kids with S&P (many thanks, guys) and went for dinner. We went to Via Milano, an Italian restaurant that we’ve been to once before. It was a good evening – good food, good beer, good ambience, good service. (It was, of course, ridiculously expensive… but we only go out thrice a year without the kids, so we didn’t mind too much.) It would have been a fantastic evening if we hadn’t both been falling asleep immediately after dinner. From around 10 p.m. onwards, we both had a battle on our hands – and, in my case, a losing battle at that – to keep our eyes open till we could pick up the kids and drive back home. Luckily, Amit was driving – he does a better job of keeping his eyes open at critical junctures. Also, we did get stopped for a breathalyzer test, which I would probably not have passed.

Leaving home for a late night out with the kids is like going out of town for a week. We had the kids’ school bags, with snack boxes and water bottles; their lunch bag, with a zillion boxes of food and a change of clothes; their night bag with yet another change of clothes and a blanket; their shoes, which they had worn all day, but weren’t wearing now because they were asleep; our laptop cases; my handbag; and a bag of stuff we’d picked up from S&S along the way. At least some of this would have to be sorted out before we could crash out.

Just as I was dumping a bunch of dirty clothes in the laundry bag and the quadzillion lunch and snack boxes in the kitchen sink, I noticed that the rice box from the kids’ lunch bag was missing. Where could it be? The daycare was too organized to have forgotten to send it back. With a sinking heart, I opened the fridge, and… sure enough, there it was, sitting neatly where I’d left it on Monday night.

We had forgotten to send them any rice for lunch! Poor kids!

I was so exhausted that I didn’t have more than 5 microseconds to feel horribly guilty about it before I fell asleep. That’s what sleep deprivation does to you.

So today, the new woman in my life is going to be hit with a load of cooking; she is going to have to wash dishes with a tiny fraction of the water she’d normally use; she is going to manage the laundry; and I am going to bed at 10 p.m. Or sooner.

Let’s hope I can make it that far without slipping up on something critical.

Birthday Cake

February 2, 2009

I’ve never wanted to make my own birthday cake. I mean, the whole idea of a birthday is that everyone else does everything for you and you get to feel like royalty for a day.

But the trouble is, I make the best cakes in town.

I mean, not to be immodest or anything, and there are bound to be other people out there who also make wonderful cakes (like Andy), but I know what I want and I know how to make it (or so I think). The commercial bakeries make very good looking confectioneries, with lots of whipped cream, strawberries, chocolate flakes, fancy-schmanzy piping and all that… but when it comes right down to it, I want my cake to have chocolate, lots of chocolate, rich, dark, sweet, thick, cloying, kill-me-now chocolate, and I don’t know anyone who does that better than me.

Not having had much to do in the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been fantasizing about my birthday whenever I had a moment to spare. Let me add that I’m not usually like this – usually, my birthday arrives practically without my noticing it, lasts for a day or two (as long as the cake lasts) and is forgotten in a day. But this year I’ve been dreaming of my birthday the way a person on a diet dreams of a big, greasy pizza followed by a mound of chocolate cake and ice cream. Which is not much of an analogy because it’s way too close to the truth. (Except for the diet part… not much truth in that! But we’ll ignore that for now.)

So anyway, as the birthday drew nearer, I worked out precisely which cake I wanted to make, which icing I wanted on it, how much of it I wanted to make, when I was going to make it, when I was going to eat it and so on and so forth. I almost became obsessed with my birthday cake.

Which, I suppose, explains a lot – obsessions are never a good thing.

I started mixing the cake on Sunday morning. My birthday was on Monday (that’s today), but I wanted to have the cake done on Sunday, so that on my birthday I didn’t have to mess around with butter and cocoa and other gross things. Besides, I had some vague thought of a midnight cake-cutting followed by a midnight cake and ice cream session. Ok, it wasn’t all that vague. Obsession, remember?

By Sunday lunch time, two cakes had gone into the oven and two plus a mess had come out. One of the cake tins, you see, had a removable bottom. This is supposed to make it easier to get the cake out after it’s baked. It’s not supposed to let the cake out in liquid form, but that’s what it had done. The cake mix had oozed out onto the baking tray below, and there it had baked and burned into a strangely shaped, chocolate coloured mess.

Well, we ate the mess right away, it wasn’t too badly burnt. And the second cake came out ok, because it’s bottom stayed right where it was supposed to be. And, what’s more, the baking tray actually got washed for the first time in years.

Next, for the icing. I had decided on fudge frosting, which is totally yummy. The recipe I have always makes too much. Instead of scaling it down, I make it all, and then consume it in pieces over the next few weeks – it becomes like chocolate when you refrigerate it.

The trouble with icing of any kind is, and always has been, that it requires icing sugar. For some reason, this is an ingredient that is extraordinarily difficult to get hold of anywhere near wherever I happen to be at the time. So when we finally got around to looking for it on Sunday evening (after the Australian Open, poor Roger!), we were naturally heading towards death, desolation and despair. Well, not death maybe, unless I killed the next shopkeeper who said he didn’t have it, but certainly desolation and despair. It was only after five negatives that I finally got a maybe, and that yielded three ancient, dust-covered, tiny packets of icing sugar. I snapped them up – the dust cover notwithstanding.

The frosting was ready by 9.30, by which times the cakes were stone cold sober. Well, stone cold at least was important ( because they had never been intoxicated in the first place). The frosting was still warm-ish, but I decided to take the chance and use it anyway. I took the cake that hadn’t oozed out at the bottom and leveled its top; then I smeared a thick layer of frosting on it and jammed on top of it the cake that had oozed out at the bottom.

With disastrous consequences.

The top layer started disintegrating in front of my eyes, while I desperately tried to glue it together with huge quantities of frosting. A futile effort. The top layer slowly slid apart on the lower layer of frosting, creating dramatic ravines of frosting as it did so. I would have wept, but Amit’s shoulder was way too high to cry on, so I couldn’t.

Eventually, I slid the disintegrating pieces off the cake, dumped them on a separate place, scraped off the messed-up frosting and spread a fresh layer (the benefits of having lots of frosting at hand) and wrote off half the cake. That is, being a die hard chocaholic not easily put off by such minor matters as form factor, I smothered it with ice cream and gobbled it up as homemade Death by Chocolate. (Haven’t heard of it? Here’s a short introduction.)

What, me? Diet? Who ever thought of such a thing?

Wining and Dining Without the Twins

October 22, 2008

Well, we made it. Everything went according to plan, for once.

It started with Amit coming home early from office. I had baked him a cake so we cut that first, with the kids participating enthusiastically. Then I grabbed an hour to go out and actually get him a gift, something I hadn’t been able to accomplish thus far. It can’t be called a ‘surprise’ gift, given that he knew where I was going and why, but it was the closest thing to it that I could manage, and in one hectic hour, at that.

I got back, and we both got all dressed up and got to S&S’s place by 6.45. We gave the girls dinner, which they mostly rejected (as expected) and milk, which they largely spilt (not expected and extremely annoying) and let them play for an hour or so after that. Then we put them to bed. Amit told them that we’d be going out, as the books recommend, which made Mrini look worried but seemed to have no further adverse effects. After waiting ten minutes to ensure they were asleep, we left and were at our table at the hotel a little after 9.

Amit wanted to call S&S right away, but I stopped him. Thereafter, I didn’t worry about the kids too much, and I think he soon forgot to worry too. Of course, the bottle of wine that we went through rather fast contributed to that, no doubt. We had a raw fish salad to start with (this is Vietnamese cuisine) which was absolutely fabulous and I can hardly wait to go back there and have it again. Unfortunately, the place is so ruinously expensive, that it might not happen till next year. The main course was a chicken curry with steamed rice, and by the time we got through it we were both so drunk that we had to take serious steps to sober up before driving home. Amit spent some quality time in the rest room, washing his face and admiring the scenery, while I decided that the wisest thing to do would be to order a dessert. A chocolate and coffee mousse was duly served and consumed, and by then we were verging on sobriety. At some point I gave Amit his gift, which he seemed to be happy with. I think there was some conversation during all of this, but I have to say I don’t remember too much of it. Perhaps ordering the whole bottle of wine was a mistake – a glass each might have been more judicious.

But what the heck – our first outing in over a year as a twosome without the kids, I’d say it was a complete success.

Murphy’s Law in Action

October 20, 2007

Everything that can go wrong will… and then some.

We didn’t think about Murphy’s Law when we discussed plans for Amit’s birthday. His birthday was on Sunday, but he was also flying out to Tokyo on Sunday night, so celebrations, if any, would have to be on Saturday evening. Amit was keen on calling a few friends home and providing home-cooked food for dinner, but eventually this plan (thankfully) fell through.

By Saturday afternoon, I was suffering agonies thanks to a severe headache brought on by Sinusitis. In the thick of a torrential downpour, I drove myself to the doctor, who prescribed, amongst other things, Valium tablets (!?!).

The day was looking rather bleak, and Amit was in the mood to give up entirely on the birthday plans, when I persuaded him that just because we now have two little girls doesn’t mean we should give up on life altogether and stay at home and order in even on special occasions. So, we bravely (foolishly!) decided to go to the usual venue for Amit’s birthday dinner – Taj West End. This five star hotel used to have a wonderful Thai food restaurant called Paradise Island. A couple of years ago, they changed the name to Blue Ginger and the cuisine to Vietnamese – things have never been quite the same since. Still, it was our tradition so we decided to go ahead with it.

Duly, at 9 p.m., the torrential downpour notwithstanding, the four of us were seated at a comfortable table at Blue Ginger. On our left was a couple so thoroughly entwined in each other as to be oblivious to all else. On our right was a foreign (German?) woman eating alone. Behind was the downpour, in front a certain quantity of empty space.

The dinner, in short, was a fiasco. The twins were happily restless for 20 minutes, cranky for another 20. In an hour or so, Tara finally slept, but Mrini remained awake till we were almost home around 11.30! She swung between cheerful, restless, and thirsting for adventure in the form of outings with the restaurant staff; and sleepy, howling, and unable to sleep. We tried all manner of things, but nothing helped. The drinks, appetizer, soup, and main course were served and consumed amidst complete chaos and Amit and I had no opportunity to exchange more than a dozen words between ourselves, what with trying to pacify the kids and fill our own stomachs.

Well, all we can say is, we tried. It is easy to see why baby sitters are a popular option, but one that neither of us is much in favour of.

We returned home tired, frustrated, hungry, and poorer to a substantial extent.

That, however, was not all. My Sinusitis had taken a back seat in the midst of all the action, but Amit had meanwhile developed a seriously red eye which had begun to give a thick, gooey discharge, coupled with a gritty feeling and blurred vision. Conjunctivitis, I diagnosed, and an early morning visit to the local doctor on Sunday proved me right. The doctor apparently thought it was so contagious that he took only a quick look from a safe distance, prescribed some eye drops, and got rid of Amit in extremely short order.


Amit had already had one rather dramatic experience of being severely ill in a foreign country; neither he nor I was keen for a repeat experience of that sort. Besides, with a condition so contagious, was it really ok to go spending more than ten hours aboard two flights, putting all one’s co-passengers at risk? Would Singapore Airlines, Singapore (the country), and Japan even allow him into the plane/country looking the way he did?

Putting the eye drops every couple of hours didn’t make any significant difference to the redness of the infected eye, so by 5 p.m. on Sunday, with great reluctance, he decided he would have to at least postpone his official trip. A couple of hours spent on the phone and he had pushed out his departure by 24 hours.

This was good news, because it meant we could at least have his birthday dinner together. By now, we knew better than planning an outing – a quick phone call and a vast quantity of rich Indian food was delivered home by 9 p.m.

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