Mrini and the Vaseline Jar*

October 11, 2011

There are a few rules in our home. One of them is, kids don’t touch stuff on the chest of drawers (COD) in our room. The COD is a repository of all sorts of critical and irrelevant things such as – today for instance – a bunch of Vicks cough drops; torn, used bus tickets; a few shop bills; some stones; a watch; a bank statement; a motley assortment of combs; a book, a magazine, and a collection of photographs.

Given the mission critical nature of some of the things that call the COD their home (the book and magazine, for instance), the do-not-touch rule is a very, very old rule. The kids know it and accept it well enough to pass it on to visiting kids. No issues there.

The thing is, certain items that routinely rest on the COD, also routinely get moved around. Prime candidates for this kind of volatility are my cellphone, my book/magazine of the day, and the small jar of Vaseline. This last named usually ends up on the floor next to our bed (mattress, I mean; we sleep on a mattress on the floor), because I often apply it to my feet last thing at night. Sometimes, it gets put back on the COD in the morning, sometimes it doesn’t. Last Sunday, apparently, was one of the days it didn’t. I thought the kids knew well enough not to touch residents of the COD estate even when those residents were temporarily residing elsewhere, but apparently I was mistaken.

Normally, we are generally aware of what the kids are up to and where they are. Last Sunday afternoon was no different. We’d been out shopping and having lunch. We got back and sent the kids off to separate rooms in the hope that they would sleep. Since Tara was in the kids’ room and Mrini was in our room, we took ourselves off to the study to put some distance between them and us and to get some rest. It was at least an hour or so before we roused ourselves. By then, Mrini had vacated our room and gone to their room. Tara was asleep, Mrini was playing quietly with some toys. Since she often doesn’t sleep in the afternoon despite our best efforts, this was not very unusual. I looked in on her and she gave me a “See, I’m being such a good girl, quietly doing my work” look. At that point, I should have guessed, but I just smiled at her and let her be.

It wasn’t until I was in bed at night, reaching for the Vaseline jar that I noticed anything amiss. For one thing, the Vaseline jar wasn’t visible – either on the COD or next to the bed. I picked up the bedsheet and found the jar under it. By this time, I’d already noted a peculiar stain on the bedsheet that looked rather oily. It wasn’t wet, so obviously Mrini hadn’t accidentally wet the bed – she hasn’t done that for years. Besides, then she would have been wet too. Without worrying too much about it, I got into bed, picked up the top sheet, located the Vaseline jar underneath it, picked it up and almost dropped it right away. It was disgustingly oily and slippery. And – there were only microscopic quantities of Vaseline left in the jar – which had been 80% full the night before! Aha! So that was what that look was for. That was why my bedsheet had an oily stain on it. Amit added that that was also why the bathroom tap had had a thick layer of grease on it when he used it earlier in the day.

Vaseline and five-year-olds – made for each other – not.

* I wrote this one some time ago and it was lying in my Drafts – apparently I forgot to post it. It still doesn’t mean that I’m “back” to blogging.

Tara and the Whistling Class

September 26, 2011

I have known how to whistle ever since I was a child. I don’t remember when or how I learnt, but I have the vague impression that I worked at it. Both my parents whistle and even my sister knows how. There was a point when whistling a particular way was “the” way to call one of the dogs. The other two didn’t take to it so well.

I still whistle quite a bit. Despite my best efforts to teach him, Amit never got it. He says his father can, and – what’s even more surprising – that his father tried to teach him when he was small, but he never got it.

Mrini has been trying to teach herself to whistle, off and on. Mrini’s ability to teach herself things, and to work persistently at something till she gets it is quite remarkable, so I expected her to pick it up sooner or later. But the way things turn out it, Tara was the one to get it. She just got it one day, by chance, and having got it, she kept doing it until it was clear that she could whistle at will. Obviously, she was immensely proud of this new accomplishment. Strangely enough, she learnt to whistle in instead of whistling out. Whistling in is not, in my experience, so effective at producing a melody as whistling out is. I showed her how to whistle out but she still hasn’t got it. Mrini, significantly, has stopped trying.

Tara is a sweet, considerate girl. She often does things just to tease Mrini, but, having teased Mrini sufficiently to draw the first indication of tears, she almost always relents and gives in – which usually involves handing over whatever prized possession she has managed to get hold of. So, pleased though she was to be whistling, she didn’t try to flaunt it in Mrini’s face too much. However, she was soon trying to whistle along with songs that we listen to in the car on our drive home. Mrini hasn’t said anything much, yet. And Tara? You know what she has to say about it?

“Mama, now I know how to whistle, can you put me in a whistling class?”

I even did a Google search, but it is as I feared. It broke my heart to tell her – we don’t actually seem to have whistling classes in Bangalore. But I like the way she thinks.

Not Too Much?

September 21, 2011

As most of you know, we are building a house. Amit is in charge of the project, and I mainly exercise veto power – which I use sparingly (in my opinion). That explains why we’ve ended up with a mud brick construction and just narrowly avoided composting toilets that flush using sawdust instead of water.

The deal is that he’s in charge of the plan and execution, I’m in charge of interiors. Of course, with pale pink mud brick making up in every square inch of every wall in every room, there’s not a lot one can do with the interiors, but I have plans (and I’m not saying a purple sofa won’t feature – anything to liven up the place).

The one thing we’re both fighting over, however, is neither the building itself, nor the interiors – it’s the garden space. When I say “garden” I really mean the little strips of open space at the front, back and sides. We don’t have a farmhouse, after all, or even a mansion – just a small plot hemmed in on all sides by other small plots with big houses. So there’s not a lot left over for the “garden” – so inevitably, what there is, we’re fighting over. Amit, obviously, wants his precious vegetable garden. I’ve promised him the four-foot strip on the west side of the plot. In return, I get the front, the ten-foot driveway on the east, and the 6-foot back yard. Fair and square, don’t you think?

Mud brick is a deadly boring thing, all earthy pale pink and drab as could be. One can’t paint over it, so what I plan to do is to add colour by way of creepers, where possible, and trees. I’m not much into flowers – silly, pretty little things. I like my plants to be big and grand and stately. Amit is pleading for a mango tree, but I also need some colour – apart from green. So here’s what I’ve planned.

Aren’t they gorgeous? It’s going to be Cassia Fistula (yellow), Delonix Regis (orange/red), and Laburnum Mimosaefolia (purple) in front, and at the back, a gigantic Cassia Javanicus (pretty pink).

The laburnum, jacaranda, and gulmohar were no-brainers. The trees are breathtakingly lovely when they flower and they all flower around the same time. They’re all common in Bangalore, so I know they’ll grow well and I know roughly the size and shape they grow to. And I can just see them crowding up the front, right corner of our little plot – a bright burst of colour on the second-floor level and a lovely mosaic of colour on the ground.

The Cassia Javanica is a tree I didn’t know anything about – other than the fact that it grows in Cubbon Park and if you happen to be driving down Cubbon Road at the right time of year and stop at the Minsk Square intersection, it’s quite possible to wish that the light wouldn’t change for a few weeks, just so you can drink in the sight in peace. It’s an absolutely glorious specimen, and the fact that it towers above and delicately frames the statue of King Edward the whatevereth (who I always thought was King George the somethingeth, but was disabused of the notion by this article) doesn’t detract from its charm at all.

Now if you consider the footprint of each tree and then consider the canopy of each tree, I’m not sure that our little plot actually has the space to accommodate all four trees. Remember there is supposed to be a house there as well. But by the time Amit is done with his mud brick construction, I will need a splash of colour to make the place worth living. Orange, yellow, purple, pink, that’s all. That’s really not too much to ask, is it?
Photos from the following websites:

Sometimes… Good Things Happen to Good People*

September 13, 2011

The other day, I got an IT refund cheque. This was a complete surprise. It was for Assessment Year 2008-09. In that year, I had a tax consultant who helped me with my taxes. The fellow was a moron and the following year, when he made my acknowledgement out in the wrong name, I got rid of him. But in FY 2007-08, he did my taxes and he did them wrong. I didn’t even know he’d done them wrong. I still don’t have a good idea about the exact nature of the error(s) he made. But last Saturday, when Amit went to our old home to pick up the mail, he called me to say there was a cheque for me from the IT department, for 36k and change. I’d better hurry up and cash it before the IT gods change their minds, he said. The cheque was already six weeks old.

Last year, I had a different tax consultant help me with my taxes. This man riled me up too – because he was stupid, inefficient, and terribly slow. I’ve realized that I’m a person who handles stress very badly. My strategy, therefore, is to avoid stress altogether by getting things done very far in advance of the given deadline. This works well – except when it comes to tax. Because I’m terrified of the whole tax calculation process, I try to use the services of a professional when that time of year rolls around. All these professionals land me in soup, because everyone wants to get things done on 30th July for the 31st July deadline. I want to get my stuff done by 30th June. Nobody understands this. So they don’t lift a finger to help until I beat them up with a stick – metaphorically speaking; though there’s no telling what I would do if I could only get them within hitting distance of a stick – and by then it’s usually 25th July. And I’m getting ulcers.

So last year, when I got impatient waiting for this man to send me the final little changes to my tax work, I decided I’d got enough to go on, and I would be able to fill the form, generate the xml, and file it online all by myself. Sigh. I did everything ok, but in one small column somewhere, where the date should have been December 2009, I put in December 2010 – a date still several months in the future at the time. Sadly enough, the tax spreadsheet didn’t even complain about this.

In February this year, the IT department sent me a notification by email. I was terribly busy, so I glanced at it and filed it away. In June, I got another notification, which I treated similarly. So it wasn’t until July, a whole year later, when I actually read the third notification, that I realized what they were telling me. They were telling me two things – first that they had tried to deliver my refund and failed; and second, that the refund they were trying to deliver was substantially less than I expected (because of that wrong date, which caused that transaction to fall in the next financial year).

I wasted a lot of time, energy, and stress hormones following up with my tax consultant. It was July – he was just starting to work on other people’s current year’s tax returns. He wasn’t interested in some failed refund for some previous year. He didn’t return my calls, didn’t reply to my mails and generally acted as if I didn’t exist. Naturally – he’s not my tax consultant anymore.

In the end, I tackled the problem head on. I spent a whole day fiddling around on the Internet and finally I had it sorted. I had filed a rectification return correcting the wrong date; I had updated my PAN card to my new address in the hope that the refund would come to our current address (it had gone back three times, apparently, with the message “no such address”, and I have no idea why that should have been, considering they had no trouble delivering my windfall return from an earlier year to the old address where I no longer reside); and I had, for the nth time, sent my updated address and bank details to the IT gods along with a prayer to them to return my hard-earned cash to me, with interest if you please.

Oh, and I had also filed my current year’s tax return – two weeks ahead of the official deadline, even if two weeks behind my own internal deadline.

I was exhausted but cautiously optimistic. This might work.

And, finally, against all odds, it did. First I got an updated PAN card, and then, almost two months later, I got an updated statement from the IT gods, agreeing with my rectified return, acknowledging that no refund had as yet been paid (hallelujah!), and dispatching a cheque for the entire amount due – with interest.

And today, I got the cheque! Wonders will never cease.


*In case you were wondering, I’m the good people referred to in the title. I am.
Don’t laugh.

It’s Yesterday Once More

September 7, 2011

Way back I don’t even know when, Amit bought a Sony twin deck cassette player. If you’re 20-something and you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about. But this was a Sony cassette player and it served us well for many, many years. Towards the end, when we’d given up listening to tapes, we used it as an amplifier and speaker system to rig up to our WorldSpace receiver. Yeah, that was before WorldSpace went bust, which was devastating for me, because where else can you get to listen to that diversity of music all in one place? Granted that all I ever listened to was UpCountry, but hey, there was tremendous diversity on UpCountry too.

Anyway, when we moved out of that house and into this one, we didn’t rig up that system – we didn’t have WorldSpace anymore anyway and tapes had become fossils long ago. We still had a much loved collection of cassettes, but, like our collection of much-loved books, it remained boxed up in our store room for many months.

Enter V, our newest cook and all-in-one. She, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter are caretakers of the empty (haunted, so they say) house just behind ours. When we go up to our terrace, we are talking distance from their bedroom window. From our kitchen, we can hear pretty much everything that goes on in their small home. Apart from their occasional tendency to turn the music up too loud, it’s ok. In fact, it’s quite convenient when we need to tell them something.

Theirs is a simple life. Some might call it tough. They are employed by a wayward father-son duo. The son always wants to kick them out, the father wants them to stay until they are old and grey. Apparently, their employers don’t appreciate large families, so V and her husband have concealed from them the fact that they have an older daughter – who stays with an uncle and aunt in another part of the city. She is 7, extremely pretty, and calls V – who is her biological mother – auntie.

Their younger daughter is small and seems a little under developed for a three-year-old, but she’s healthy and happy. She’s never had a single inoculation or vaccination of any kind because her mother has a thing about injections. Recently, when she had a bad stomach upset, the doctor gave her a de-worming medicine. V threw it away “because she didn’t have worms.” Now she has live worms in her stool.

V and her husband can’t ever leave the house at the same time, not even on weekends, because their employer might turn up at any time and he expects them to be around. So they can never go out loafing or to the market together. They buy all their groceries at the nearest (but not necessarily cheapest) corner store. V had to leave a job at another house because her employer said it kept her away from his house for too long. On top of it all, there’s always the danger that their employer might actually succeed in selling the house (at an exorbitant price) and then the new owners might throw them out at a day’s notice.

V and her husband are from Darjeeling. They grew up together, fell in love, and ran away together. V’s mother died when she was young and her father remarried. She has no contact with any of her family members anymore. She says she had an election ID card in Darjeeling and maybe a ration card as well, but here she has no documents. No address proof. So they have no bank account. We are their bankers. Their other employer is more of a Shylock, paying them salary arbitrarily, frequently three weeks late, and not always in entirety. They have no recourse.

What they do have, is a mobile phone. I don’t know how they got one, without address proof, but it’s all they have. It’s their music system, and their movie hall. They might not be very literate, but they do know how to get movies onto that tiny device and watch them on the postage stamp-size screen. That’s their daughter’s primary source of entertainment (and education). Apart from that, they play music as loudly as they can as often as they can. Thankfully, it’s Hindi oldies, so we don’t mind.

Some months ago, I gave them the old twin deck cassette player. It needed some fixing and it took them all these months to get it fixed. V wasn’t keen to leave it at the shop because, she said, they might take out good parts from it to use on other systems. But they got it done at last, at a grand total of Rs 240. I’d given them half a dozen tapes along with the music system – all Hindi oldies. Yesterday evening, I was treated to my namesake song, Anamika, wafting through the kitchen windows with all the robust roundness that a Sony music system can produce even in its old age – and it was quite a treat, after months of suffering the tinny sounds produced by a cheap mobile phone with the volume set to maximum. This morning, V’s husband was lustily belting out an old Hindi Bollywood love song in accompaniment to one of our old tapes. They hadn’t ever played that song on their mobile phone, but he knew all the words anyway. V, who was working in our kitchen at the time, was telling me with subdued enthusiasm that only three of the old tapes I’d given them were currently working. The rest were being dried out on the terrace. They’ll probably work once they dry out, she said, smiling happily.

The fact that their employer actually managed to sell the house yesterday and that they don’t yet know what the new owners are going to do with them didn’t seem to dampen her joy much.


August 11, 2011

(I’m not saying I’m resuming blogging. But this one I had to share.)

Yesterday when we were walking out of daycare, Mrini kept protesting when I held her hand. She had a small scratch on the back of her hand and it was hurting. I took her other hand and it was all fine.

By the end of the day, Mrini was end-tethered – which expression is my personal shorthand to say that she was at the end of her tether. “Mrini is crying because she didn’t sleep in the afternoon,” explained Tara, helpfully. Amit gave her a bath and she came out howling even more loudly than she had been when she went in.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

The scratch on her hand was hurting. In an attempt to get her to stop wailing and start talking, I asked her how she got hurt. “Daycare Auntie pinched me,” she wailed.

I was shocked. I’d expected her to say some kid did something to her and then I’d have told her these things happen and that would have been that. The girls don’t normally come home with cuts and scrapes from school and daycare, but a few war wounds in the cut and thrust of life are to be expected. I don’t worry too much. Kids learn to sort these things out themselves.

But an “aunty” inflicting an injury was a different matter altogether! Adults just can’t do that – especially not adults entrusted with the care of little children. At least my kids can talk – and even then, we almost didn’t find out about this. What about pre-verbal kids?

It wasn’t any too easy to get any coherent information out of Mrini, but it gradually emerged that the Aunty had been angry because Mrini wasn’t sleeping. I asked her if the Aunty meant it or if it happened by mistake, and she said quite clearly that the Aunty meant it. We promised her that the Aunty would be spoken to and that she needn’t feel scared if she didn’t want to sleep at daycare, nobody was going to hurt her for that. And that she should tell us if any such thing happens again. Then we let her sleep.

The Aunty named by Mrini was not, of course, the main daycare coordinator, but one of the staff. We called the coordinator and spoke to her. If I’d spoken, I’d have certainly been quite cold and stern (even though I like the daycare coordinator a lot) but Amit spoke and he was much too mild. All the same, she got the message. She will look into the matter, she said.

It’s difficult to know what to make of the whole episode. On the one hand, I want to take my kids right out of that daycare. On the other hand, that would be over-reacting. The place is generally good and I’m sure the coordinator will take up the matter with the Aunty in question. Hopefully, the Aunty will realize that she can’t get away with such things. At least some kids can talk.

On the one hand, it’s such a small, tiny little thing. On the other hand – it must have really hurt, to have someone pinch your hand hard enough to break the skin. Poor Mrini – she must have wailed!

And there’s the sheer injustice of it. We have instructed daycare clearly that while it is desirable for our kids to sleep in the afternoon, if they don’t want to, they don’t want to, and they are not to force them. Mrini has not wanted her afternoon nap for several months already. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t. So the staff just have to handle it. Usually, I think, she lies in her bed and probably babbles to herself – that’s what she does at home, at any rate. If she is disruptive with other sleeping kids, the staff have to deal with it. Pinching her, hurting her – is just not acceptable. For an adult and a caregiver to resort to these kinds of means… I just don’t know what to say.

But then – when kids think they have been punished, they don’t want to talk about it. In a way, it’s understandable – you want to hide your misdeeds from your parents and only tom-tom your achievements. The trouble is, these silly little things can’t evaluate when the punishment is way out of proportion to the purported mistake. This is how so many abusers get away – the child always thinks they did something wrong and are ashamed to talk about their “punishment”. Who can tell them that certain kinds of punishment are never, ever appropriate? Luckily for us, we have twins. If one gets into trouble, the other always reports on it. But this time, for instance, Tara was asleep when it happened. All she knew was that Mrini didn’t sleep.

There’s one other aspect that is a little worrying. Children do make up things. Mrini was extremely tired and cranky when this story came out. Tara couldn’t validate it. It is possible that Mrini made it up. I don’t think she did. Not because she can’t – she can – but because it just didn’t look like she was making it up. She wasn’t joking, she wasn’t playing around, she wasn’t even making a play for sympathy. In fact, she had no reason to expect sympathy for a story like this, this being a first. Normally, we’re very, “ok, come on, get over it” about minor injuries. So it’s probably difficult to pinpoint any precise factor and say, this is why she isn’t making it up. I just feel she isn’t. But I can’t say 100% for sure that she isn’t.

Now what? I’m certainly going to follow up with the daycare coordinator. And I’m going to tell both girls (again) that if any of the Aunties intentionally hurts them in any way, they are to tell us right away. And beyond that, I think we may not do anything. We probably aren’t going to take them out of this daycare tomorrow. But we will be keeping a very sharp eye on the kids.

And so begins the paranoid-psychotic cycle of parenting. The end of innocence. Sigh.

A Cheap Screw?

July 4, 2011

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

Especially if it’s gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 30, 2011

Mrini and Tara have always been active kids. Amit and I have always encouraged them too. We never make much of it when they hurt themselves and we generally allow and even encourage them to climb and jump. They have done some truly scary things sometimes, and Amit can get really gory with them when they do dangerous things that must be discouraged. But whenever the threat of injury doesn’t seem to be too great (either the threat or the injury) we let them be.

When they were small, they used to climb the window grills and hang from them.

When the discovered the big play area, they experimented with jumping from as many as ten steps up.

And of course, in the Har ki Dun trek, they skipped over rocks and stones, sank calf-depe in snow, went sliding over ice, and splashed in the stream with complete abandon – at least on the way down.

It’s not that they don’t get hurt or that they don’t wail and moan when they do; it’s that they go right back to whatever they were doing as soon as they can.

In recent days, Mrini has been teaching herself cartwheels. Since neither of us can do a cartwheel (the thought of Amit even trying boggles the imagination), we can’t offer much guidance. But we can tell when it looks right and we can give her feedback on that. She has improved dramatically in the last few days. From leaping sideways more-or-less like a frog (albeit a slightly lop-sided frog) she has progressed to occasionally making an almost vertical cartwheel. It’s amazing to see how that child picks a goal and works so diligently and so enthusiastically towards it. Tara tried a few times, but got easily frustrated and has apparently given up – for now. The last time that happened was with somersaults. That time she came back to it months later and did it with unbelievable elan. So with that one, you just can never say.

Mrini’s diligence at cartwheels and their combined eagerness for physical activity persuaded us that gymnastics would be a good option for them. We had thought of it off-and-on over the past several months, but didn’t really know how to go about it. There was supposed to be a very reliable gymnastics association quite far away from home. The timings didn’t suit. But last weekend, after a long and tiring Sunday, at 7.45 p.m. we walked down to a nearby gym and enquired. It turned out they did have gymnastics classes for kids. Our kids weren’t too young – they were, in fact, a bit old. But we could start them, anyway. We got a demo class for free and could pay up after that, if we liked the look of it.

On Tuesday, we both left work early, picked up the kids from daycare (they usually complain loudly if we pick them up too early, but not yesterday!) and went for the demo class. It was great fun. First the kids – there was a batch of eleven, all of them older and taller than our two – got to do all sorts of running and jumping. Then they did sideways rolls and forward rolls (what we call somersaults). Most of the movements our girls were able to do easily – most of them they had already discovered and practiced at home. There was a split leg forward roll that they didn’t quite get and then there was the reverse roll that they didn’t get at all. After that they did splits (which they were quite good at) and the arched back thing that they didn’t get at all. Considering that it was their very first class, they didn’t do too badly, though. Some of the movements were completely new to them, and others (like jumping jack) they have seen but can’t do, yet. Still – at what they did know, they were as good as many of the others. They had to jump over the width of a mattress kept on the floor – this they could do easily. In fact, they are extremely good at the long jump and could probably have done one-and-a-half mattress widths with their eyes closed. Some of the bigger kids couldn’t really clear the mattress. But then, they had to jump and bring their knees to their chest and this they didn’t get at all – they kept bringing their heels to their bottoms instead.

In the end, they all played “dog in the bone”. (If that’s what it’s called – it’s a variant of what we used to call Pitthoo – our version involved a ball and a tiny tower of unstable stones.) The girls haven’t been exposed to this game, so they weren’t very sure what they had to do, but they gave chase with a great deal of excitement, anyway.

It was just one hour, but it must have been tiring at the end of a school day. One thing I can say for sure is that they went through the whole session with a big grin on their faces. It’s lovely to see how tiny kids don’t really bother when they don’t get something. The age will come when they begin to feel self conscious, when they begin to tease each other, or strive to out-do each other. The time will come when they feel bad and don’t want to go back to a class where they feel they can’t keep up. But right now, it’s the early days of laughter and innocence. If they don’t quite get something, nobody cares. They laugh and carry on.

Looks like gymnastics class is going to be the next source of fun in our kids’ lives.

If Ever…

June 27, 2011

I’m not the campaigning sort. Most campaigns feel fake to me – designed more to direct publicity towards the campaigner than to actually achieve anything. People who really want to change something quietly go out and do it. The ones who cry themselves hoarse are not the ones who’re really making a difference. That’s what I believe.


So I’m not the campaigning sort myself. The only time I did it, it still felt fake. But – never say never again, they say. So if I were to ever take up arms for or against anything, it would most likely be one of these things (in increasing order of likelihood):


5. Corruption – Particularly, corruption in those fields that deal with aiding underprivileged people. Charitable organizations, relief work, rural schools, hospitals and the like, the public distribution system… anybody who claims to be helping other people and is  illegally getting rich in the process is on my hate list.


4. Waste – Indifference to scarce resources is criminal. Why leave a tap running when you could just as easily turn it off? Why take more than you can eat and then wash it down the drain? Why turn the pump on and go away and let pure drinking water fall over the side of the building and run into the gutter?


3. Fairness creams – The belief that fair skinned people are somehow better than dark skinned people and that fairness is, therefore, something to aspire or pray for… it’s just a perverted form of racism!


2. Cruelty to animals – From pelting stones at street dogs to shark fin soup. I’m not promoting vegetarianism, but can we at least be humane to the animals we tolerate, love, domesticate, or massacre?


1. Sexual assault – It still shocks me that so many kinds of sexual assaults are committed on (mostly) women and children and are either tolerated, or ignored. Why, for instance, should marital rape not be considered rape?


What are the top five things that you would like to change, if you could?

State Bank of India

June 23, 2011

That’s what I must be looking like, these days. Or maybe I walk around with dollar signs in my eyes, like Richie Rich in the old comic books. I never thought I came across as a particularly sympathetic sort. I thought I’m a pretty callous type, capable of not just saying no, but adding along with it, “That’s your problem, what’s it got to do with me?”


Still, my domestic help always think I’m a soft touch. I’ve noticed that they are particularly prone to think so when Amit is not around. That’s when their sob stories come out, along with the big eyes and mournful faces. This latest domestic help tried to get money out of me back when she was about a week old. I told her “no” in no uncertain terms. Since then, she has behaved admirably well. Today she asked for a thousand bucks. Since it is well over halfway through the month, I agreed. But I really hope she’s not going to make a habit of it, because I wouldn’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to be held to ransom either.


As if this was not bad enough, the security guard at office came up to me and whispered that he could use a thousand bucks. What!? I don’t even know the guy, for pete’s sake. I mean, I say good morning to him most days, and he does collect my couriers for me and even send some couriers for me – but since when is that grounds to ask me for a thousand bucks!? I told him I didn’t have it, which was true, then I decided it was a weak answer and I told him, “no, I don’t do that.”


I’ve been stupid about money in the past. An old faithful domestic help had taken upwards of 15k from me. When we parted, on good terms, she still owed me 10k. She still owes me 10k. What’s worse is, really long ago, in the innocent days, I lent a colleague money. I think I lent him 7k – which, a decade ago, and at my income level in those days, was a small ransom. He didn’t give it back until things got ugly. It was only later that I – and a lot of others – realized that this chap was borrowing money left right and center and never giving it back to anyone. I was one of the lucky few who got it back, and that was only because I threatened him loudly and in public.


Then there was the flower girl in our old apartment complex. I had absolutely no relation with her whatsoever, considering that I don’t even buy flowers. Her only claim on me was that she happened to occupy the pavement two floors below my apartment. She appeared to believe that this made it incumbent upon me to lend her money. She had a story, of course – her son was sick, he needed medicine desperately, she hadn’t sold any flowers yesterday, ergo, no money, and if she didn’t get 500 bucks today, she couldn’t buy flowers for the day. Plausible, of course. Heart-wrenching, of course. Piled on with fast-flowing tears, of course. Amit – who is smarter than me in these things – said, “tell her we’ll buy the medicines for her son.” I didn’t do that, of course. I gave her the money. For months, she kept promising to give it back to me, but she never did.


It was probably that incident, more than any other, that made me a cynic. But, cynical or not, I remained stupid. I still gave my old faithful domestic help the loan she needed. And I still threw Rs 500 down the drain with the flower girl. So far I’ve managed not to be taken in by the people who wander around the streets of Bangalore wanting to know if you speak Hindi and then launching into a long litany of woes about lost purses and train tickets and whatnot. But basically, I’m a sucker for a long face and a sad tale.


Nowadays, though, the long face remains but the sad tale seems to be a dying art. The two people who’ve asked me for money in the last two days haven’t bothered with a story of any kind. Earlier, at least I felt they were appealing to some human element in me. Now, I’m apparently nothing more than a walking, talking ATM machine.

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