Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Malayaleeccentricities...Let's talk Food!!

I'm presently in the Kingdom of the Gods (of Malayalees), in the fiefdom of the Menons - we are meticulous book-keepers - or so I have learnt the ancestors were too in the service of the kings of Travancore-Cochin and Malabar. They were number jugglers, I don't fancy numbers at all - they juggle before my eyes. So I document words, practises and those things that make Malayalees uniquely Mallu - and sometimes only a Malayali can understand why it is strange. That's how we like it -little need to be said! And boo-yoo that we aren't much into experimenting with tradition, except when we are not in Kerala. Then we are game to try and re-mould our lives to suit any weather, palate or customs! :) So now for the time that I'm in Kerala, I'm going to attempt to write on Malayaleeccentricities

Our fascination with food, for instance, is not really all-encompassing. Yesterday I was making chicken curry, when Dad sauntered in into the kitchen. I believe I was making a Malayali-version of a simple chicken curry. However, in the absence of dry roasted coconut and a thick gravy, the snap assessment is that it is one of those experimental preparations! Sigh!!! Similarly, coriander leaves are as North Indian in garnish as curry leaves tempered in coconut oil are in this part of the world. Every time I chop a bit up for the fresh aromatic smell, I'm asking if I'm making a Mumbai dish!

Can you understand the lure of kappa (tapioca) boiled with just turmeric and salt with shallots and green chillies crushed in coconut oil again with a bit of salt? Even as I write this, there is a pool forming in my mouth - I have just put it on the list of must-ask-Mom-to-make! Its spicy, its bland, its tuber-y and its blah - ohhh but it is so Malayali. When friends well-versed with Malayali cooking rave about the kappa and meen curry (kappa with fish curry), I ask them if they have tried the humbler fare.

Similarly, in north Kerala, especially Thrissur - during Onam, there is a traditional breakfast made from steamed yellow plantains. Well, there is no recipe to share, because it is just ripe plantains -steamed till it nearly oozes out of the skin. It is steamed either as a whole or after chopping into bits. It is served with the skin on - what the blessed soul that gets to eat it has to do is use just two fingers artfully to peel off the steaming skin and then crush two huge pappadams( the Kerala variety, mind you, which is differently from the poppadums and the appalams and the Lijjat papads you might be used to) and make it into a mouth-wateringly maserated mess ( when I begin to alliterate that means the nostalgia is at its peak!) before popping into your salivating mouth. In several households, there is puttu (steamed rice cakes) kept on standby for the more snooty or fastidious! However, in my family, pazham and pappadam is the tradition - we would be crazy to try and experiment!

 I don't know if the reason it is only served during Onam is to keep some kinds of 'dishes' exclusively to herald Onam festivities. I cannot see the reason why it can't be convenience food for hassled mothers to dish up to their kids. But even on days when Amma was struggling to get us all ready and prepped to school before grabbing her bag to head to work, she never gave us the pleasure of savouring an out-of-turn pazham-pappadam!!

And then I think of our daily fare - not the glorious avials, kottukaris and the other sadya fare. The regular stuff made at home - the theeyals and the thorans and the mezhukkupurattis(this literally translates into vegetables sauteed in a bit of oil!) -the unglamourous, unlauded cousins - ask any Malayalee about their personal favourites and trust me, while they will be impressed by your knowledge of puttu-kadala and avial - they will secretly be craving their Amma's simple mathanga-pulingari or a vazhappindi or vazhakkoombu thoran (that's made from the different parts of the plantain - nothing goes to waste) or even the muringila thoran (drumsticks leaves)...That smell of hot hot coconut oil and curry leaves and mustard tempering in it is infinitely more blissful than the smell of jeera tempering in ghee!

Like there is a good name and a pet name that are distinctly different among Bengalis and 'good' clothes and 'home' clothes among most middle class Indians - Malayali food also has 'home' food and 'guest' food classifications. I'd say it is a distinctly discriminatory practice where we, the Malayalis decide what the non-Malayali will love and savour. The rest we pack it away to enjoy when there are no guests around our dining table. We discriminate and how - call it our Malayaleeccentricity!! :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan!!

Its 8.30 in the morning and my heart is racing. I have less than 48 hours left in the city. In 2009, as I was surrounded by crates and carton, I remember feeling this sense of panic - a mild ache in the heart along with the sense of disquiet about what could be in store!

This parting is a bitter-sweet one. This is the third time I'm bidding adieu to this city without knowing if I will be back. As a young adult of 22, Mumbai had appeared forebodingly huge to comprehend. But a career as a journalist that took me across the length and breadth of the city set me off on the love-hate relationship. In the span of a year, I  had moved from a bare apartment to a small one-room tenement within that span. In hindsight, cunning house-brokers, heartless landlords and how a trainee's salary stretched so much and no more were the biggest takeaways of this time. Food was mostly rasta takeaway- dosas, sandwiches and hot hot oily Indian Chinese and fruit plates - the dishes might not appeal to my palate anymore, but then the pleasure of  paying for it with the few rupees that was my honest sweat provide that extra zingggg and taste to the memories. A year and a half later, I left happy - sure in my cocky head that Mumbai is not for me, such big cities were not for small lives.

You never know how much a city has ingratiated itself into you till you leave it. And then, every little chink, every irritation appears minor - trivial even. The chaos of the traffic is forgotten when the memories turn mellow with longing, the ravages of rain and the pocket handkerchief apartments are forgiven. All that remains in the memory is vignettes of the city that allows everyone to claim a piece of it as their own!

I returned in 2005 - no longer cocky, a bit broken- needing a haven to heal. That's when I realised how fortuitous big city living is when all you need is a bit of obscurity, some space from prying souls and time to contemplate and regroup. Big cities let lost souls slip into their cracks and keep them safe and anonymous.

The next time I packed my bags and bid adieu to Mumbai was in 2009. UK was calling and I was once again back on the student mode. I left a happier soul, not worried about where life was taking me. There was a world to conquer out there..sights to be seen, beaches to leave footprints behind on.. I came back to Mumbai this time realising that I was truly in love with the city.

I'd lived for over a year in an amazing beach town of England, but the hustle and bustle of an overcrowded, dirty metropolis lured me back. There were practical considerations but the emotional connect was unmistakeable. I still hate the pocket handkerchief existence..But this city still smells freedom, independence and dignity to me.

I'm forsaking my beloved city again - will the third time perhaps be the final time?? Somewhere the heart sinks...I have cribbed about it, wished to move away where I can stretch my arms and legs and not have to bump into walls or furniture, swore till I was blue when I was stuck in a traffic jam waiting for Ganpatis to walk their way into the sea...I want to believe I will find my way back, time and again to reminisce about the lovely days spent here - just the way you never forget your deep love.

To date, I'm yet to find the city where my heart has set down anchor. I wonder if the vagabond that I am will ever find a place to call home for the rest of my life. But Mumbai - you are under my skin. I shall return..that's a promise!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ayyo Amma Madrassi!!

I hate being called a Madrassi!!

The promos of the new Rani Mukerji film Aiyyyyaaa, suggests it is about the Marathi mulgi wanting to marry a Madrassi ladka, while resorting to obscene gyrations in skimpy clothes to suit the Madrassi fantasy of feminine allure while screaming Pullingum and Streelingum and everything in between just makes me want to scream my frustration from the rooftops!!!! And dare you say, develop a sense of humour! I'd say say that to me after you get your facts right!

We of the races of the brown skinned,  do not all trace our lineage to the unimaginatively homogenised population of brown/black/dark skinned men and women. The depictions are always of resplendent nine-yard silk sarees, a yellow cloth bag and white 'lungis' and of course a couple of 'Ayyo Ammas' thrown in for good measure. We are all stamped with the royal seal of being the citizens of the erstwhile Madras.Even if your history is strong enough to help you argue that Madras was also the name of the Residency that comprised of five princely states encompassing a larger geographical area than the city, I'd still tell you to go back and read up on how even in the days of the British Raj, Mysoreans and Hyderabadis would have killed if they were all clubbed with the Madrassis!!!

The region called South India or Dakshin Bharat of today comprises of four states not one. Our scripts differ, our languages differ and if you ask any 'Madrassi', they will probably be able to identify the region from which the other Madrassi ( as you tag us) is from with microscopic preciseness!!

Now, that we have set the tone for the post, let me clarify - this isn't a rant! We have so much to rant about which have already been ranted about - The Ayyos, the Ammas, the Rajnikanth jokes (which I must agree we also louuuve to participate in), the Nariyal and Nariyal tel jibes. But amidst all this, I was trying to see what are the points of commonality that could make me look the other way, when someone calls me Ohhh you Madrassi!

Guess what I came up with - FOOD. Food is the greatest unifier ever. I was looking at international cuisine and I realised that every region has its own cuisine and what we call Italian - could be Roma, Napolitan, Sicilian and what not. Take Chinese food for instance - (Ahhh not those made in oily unclean woks in your neighbourhood by the Bihari boy, who came to be a cleaner at the neighbourhood kirana shop! ) - the spicier versions can be from Sichuan, Manchurian is in fact a regional style of cooking from Manchuria and not all that is red and batter fried!

Coming back to the Madrassi point I was making, I was explaining it to someone very dear but very ignorant about 'Madrassi ways' that there is no South Indian/Madrassi khana or food category! 

Malayali cuisine is leaps and jumps different from Tamilian or Kannadiga fare. The fiery Telugu fare is a class apart! Now this led to the interesting twist in the tale - the ignorant posed the next question - so whose cuisine is idlis, dosas and sambar? Now you have me stumped!! In Kerala, we make doshas, in Tamil Nadu dosais, Kannadigas do dosas too!! Hmmm...I can tell you a madrassi sambar from a Malayali sambar and the kannada or telugu saaru.  A sambar without coconut oil tadka isn't kosher in Kerala - try serving that in any of the other three states and the finicky nose would shrivel up quicker than you can say sambar! But then come to think of it, these are all the culinary interpretations of multiple chefs speaking four different languages to cater to the palate of four different brown-populations!! Similarly an idli by another other name would taste just as divine with coconut chutney, sambar and the podi (known to the uninitiated as gun-powder!) The taste of the podi might differ, but the concept is the same - the rendering different.

On this subject- a delicate clarification - if you are in Kerala, you can ask for and get a sadya. ( That's a traditional Onam sadya in the photo alongside!) Go to Madras and ask for one, and you might draw a blank unless the person you asked this of  is a Malayali (which is a pretty plausible possibility anywhere in the world!). Sappadu in Tamil Nadu is verrrrrrry different from the sadya in Kerala. Comparing the two might be like comparing mozarella cheese and mascarpone cheese!

So the other day I made rasam and then ran to the nearest Udipi and picked up vadas - medu vadas to you, uzhunnu vadas to me and udad vadas to some! And then plopped it with that yummmmm sound into the boiling rasam..Left it there for about half an hour, ladled it into two steel bowls and in three minutes flat, the bowls would have looked unused were it not for that lingering smell and a stray bit of kari-patta that was ignored..And the satiated tummy sent a placatory message to the seething brain - 'No one knows which of the four South Indian cooking moghuls made the rasam or the vada. But whoever did, created a widely replicated masterpiece.'

So if you swoon Ayyo Amma you Madrassis and how you cook this, I'll probably be benevolent enough to smile at you and pass you another bowlful of yumminess. For the rest of the time, I'd say forget it and pass you a Social Studies text book to get your history, geography and general knowledge up to speed!!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Intimate Whispers By The Seaside

The sea is violent - Im here to see her anger, feel her pain as she rolls in the waves to break the will of the stones.

I am perched on the stony ledge - perched at a spot that arrogantly mocks her- 'Dare you touch me. I shan't move, make me melt if you can'.

With each passing minute her anger grows. I can sense her channeling her inner tides - they in turn feed off the demons she nurtures in her heart. With each roar, she spews foam and froth. Every mad rush to break herself against the stones ends in complete disintegration. Each attempt is a mini-defeat. After each defeat comes the rallying of the spent force, a strategic withdrawal only to return, the emotions once again bundled into untidy waves of ferocity.

I am a mere speck, two eyes on an inanimate rock, the heart that throbs to tell the story. The book on my lap shows tell-tale signs of moisture - did the waves that tried to maul the rocky ledge leave behind a trail of tears?

I doubt it. I think water seeps through the cracks in the ledge, soaking it slowly like the pages of my book. And before I know it, stones could struggle loose from its bondage, the ledge would turn a fickle guard against the marauding sea.

I roar my pain out, but the waves outshout me. The saltiness of the sea water droplets mingles with my tears - I now have a bit of the sea within me.

The half read, much soaked page mocks me - have I finished judging who the winner is?? The ledge has lost its rigidity, the sea has shattered a million times to be whole again. And I?? I live half soaked, half dry to tell another tale.

(Photograph taken at Mumbai Marine Drive by dusk) 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Fight Against Cancer

My family has a terrible secret in its closet...Everyone knows, but few acknowledge, we all seek solace in the medical truth that it is not hereditary...

Today I lost another family member to cancer...

Dad's brother - the one closest to him in age.

A death in the family is a jolt in multiple ways - you worry about the impact it has on family members, you wonder about the impact it has on those older than the one dead - its an alarm of your mortality too. No one wants to admit that death scares them. That unknown abyss that we plunge into leaving behind all our loved ones, our responsibilities, our dreams, hopes and aspirations.

This is the third member of his closest family that has succumbed to cancer. My grandfather on Dad's side, his oldest son and the second one - my two uncles- out of a family of 9, three deaths due to cancer is already an odd of 1 in 3.

My last meeting with my uncle was in April this year. As he gave me my Vishu kaineettam, he smiled as if he knew a secret none of us did and said he does not see much life left in him. He wasn't diagnosed then, I remember telling him to not think negatively. He smiled then and said I know. He was a good astrologer, perhaps he believed the planets were unfavourable. I find it difficult to live by horoscopes. But then his prediction rang in my head as I got the call this afternoon saying he's no more.

The day my uncle was diagnosed, I remember feeling a gut-wrenching fear. The patterns are the same, the writing is on the wall. Everyone in Dad's family has a weak stomach - they are prone to acidity, stomach cramps and living life on Gelusil and other antacids. Ulcers and stomach ailments are usually brushed deep into the medical charts as no one wants to compromise on the spice in their food or a change to their diet. Two brothers in two years - the pattern is a little too frequent for comfort. I have realised with a sense of disquiet that my young-at-heart father is now feeling age catch up with him - perhaps when you lose people you grow up with, that sense of passing time is inescapable.

Could we have done anything to keep my uncle alive for longer? The rational head says he died before the pain and suffering got the better of him. He died within three days of the realisation settling in that it was not chronic stomach ulcers that were the cause of his illness but cancer that had eaten into his stomach and liver.

Many in my family seek solace in leaving it all to destiny. Was there a way the cancer could have been detected at an early stage, giving him a better chance to seek cure? Death does not wait for anyone, sure it does not, but how do those that are touched by death but have to continue living embrace the finality of it? How do you learn to continue living a new life after thirty five years of togetherness? I fear for the living, the dead as they say are in a better place, where no suffering touches them.

For the living, the scars and regrets last their lifetime.

I wish there was a way of beating hereditary predispositions. I wish there was a way of not having to constantly brace for errant mutant cells that corrode organs and then slowly sound the death-knell. For a while at least, I know, every little niggle, every hint of pain comes with the paranoia of whether I'm ignoring warning signs from my body, whether Dad is from his.

We don't have a choice, do we?? We make the best of what's in our control - just cock our ears to what our body is trying to tell us perhaps?? And even as we do it, give our best to bringing that smile on the face of our loved one..leave a lot of happy memories that like helium balloons float around, bringing smiles even through tears.

Here's a toast to all those who have gone ahead, watching us from there.. Hope you all are together, hope that we have a home to come to, when we eventually make our way there some day.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Smell of Freedom

Hello bloggies,

Its been ages, wonder if at least a few of you who added me on your subscription list remember. I have been a bad bad girl! I make these wild announcements of Life 360 and what not and then disappear without a trace. My friends, Lazy Pineapple and R's Mother have been sweetly coaxing me back but trust me, it wasn't lack of inspiration or lovely encouragement that kept me away. 

It was work! ( Now where have you heard that excuse before?!!) 

But since June 21st, the day I published my last blog, I have been places, done things and unlearnt a few truths, gone on the backfoot, stretched myself a little too much for comfort, had one too many bumps and bruises and what not...

So much to tell you, so little time.. The coming months are likely to be hectic too according to my zodiac forecast, now why is it that when I'm looking for doomsy forecast, I turn to the Hor(ror)scopes??

Its one hour to midnight my time and I'm determined to ensure that my next post is logged in for 13th September. Why the 13th if its not Friday?? Well, 13 is still a 13...wickedly mysterious, vaguely discomfitting and when combined with Friday, positively ominous..

However, there is something the horrorscopes missed...The smell of Freedom..

After months of letting my work, think my thoughts and key my words, this evening I broke free... when I sealed the envelope on the courier that contained my blood and sweat of two months, there wasn't a sense of bubble burst that I felt, it was more like a sigh of the freed!

Am I rambling today? Kind of like all over the place?? Well that's a peek into the real me..the me behind the facade of Journomuse..I'm a rambler, and especially when I'm free of fetters, of worries of having to sound sensible and precise. For the last two months, that is what I have tried to be...precise, error-free and dot-on-time. Now I have the time, there are no deadlines to chase and time is my buddy. And from somewhere nearby, the smell of freedom wafts by..

And do I have a twitchy nose?? Like a little puppy, I'm going to chase the smell down.. It smells of treats of little bite sized bitter chocolate, of time for books and big mugs of coffee, for secret browses through guilty pleasures...lots of fun and laughter..and snuggling under the blanket not having to wake up if I so please... It's the life! :)

Now that also means you shall hear from me more often...there have been a few travels...some new experiences... I shall tell you about it all...for now, sit back and smell that smell...that smell of Freedom...

You know how Freedom smells to me...how does it smell to you??

Write in, let me know...I'm waiting..Blogging is fun when you tell me too..and then we shall discuss and maybe the next time I smell Freedom, I shall smell a bit of your favourite smells too..

PS: That photograph was taken on one of the journeys to South Mumbai...watching the Sunset by Marine Drive, that's some experience..that smells like freedom too...:)

Much love,

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coffee Tales Poured Fresh!

So a couple of days of working out of coffee shops and don't I have tales to share with you -

This post therefore will be in the form of three vignettes - quick shots like nicely brewed espressos...


So there I was, trying to race towards a deadline - at yet another coffee shop, the one at makes you go Brrrrr at their pricing and even worse iced-offerings...but they have comfortably spacious nooks where no one absolutely disturbs you and so I think I like a few of their outlets.

The target was a piece of roughly about 800 words.
The time available - half a day.
The time flippantly wasted on Facebook, mails and assorted menu dilemmas - 1.5hours
Time wasted pouting over a very very very bad Iced Italian Lemonade - 30 minutes
Time left - Roughly 2 hours (that is if the project needs to be in the blue and not red as per cost against time calculations!)
Words finished 1.25 hours later - 250 ( Brain Freeze from Yucky Lemonade, Content Constipation from not  healthily ingesting the concept before beginning to abuse the keyboard of my netbook and general I'd-rather-just-walk-about-doing-some-absolute-velapanti!)

Each time I look up from chuckling over a cheeky Facebook post or a lovely blog post I strayed over to read, I'd see a pair of eyes watching me - kind of like with that 'where do I know you from' familiarity! So, highly immodestly, I must admit here, that I do (very very rarely of course) get these looks  from die-hard news fans or from people who think I look like a certain hook-nosed, slightly obese Hindi actress! And there I was thinking, Oh ho, my cover is blown, he must be wondering where he knows me from...Continuing to look busy, I pretended work!

This had been going on for about the first two hours that I'd spent at the Brrrrrrr....aaaa...with just about half an hour left for me to finish the deadline, a voice piped up from over my head -

Excuse me, can I disturb you?
I look surprised, as if I hadn't registered the presence yet, as say Yes?
Are you busy?
Yes I am, but go on, tell me
(Here the cue is, where do I know you from? or something along similar lines)
Ehhhh..see, I'm basically getting tired of waiting and I don't know till when I have to wait. You have been here for a while and I thought I'd ask you if maybe I could come over there and sit and maybe talk to you?
(*Uhuhuh...like really?! goes the brain...he was all this while looking at a nice intro-line to start smarmy-talk?)
Ohhhh...no, I'm sorry, I'm swamped with work and a deadline. (*nose earnestly back into the document and fingers fly over the keyboard. Constipated content jam eases miraculously, thoughts flow in a straight gush straight from the brain kind of via blue-tooth onto the screen)

In under ten minutes - the remaining 550 words were typed, checked over and dispatched to the client and confirmation received too of the receipt!)

Bags are packed and out of the Brrrr....aaaa - who wants a smarmy chat up after an awful syrup masquerading as a Lemonade??


The second snippet is kind of gushy...its about how impressed I am with Cafe Coffee Day's The Lounge concept. I was at their The Lounge recently, which has a plush, relaxed plump sofas well spread out look. And the best part was their food menu. For once, your choice is not one pre-packaged mayonnaise dunked sandwich over another, that appears shrivelled within the glass cases that separates the coffee bar counter from the seating area. What you get is a cute tick-and-you-get menu filling form, along with the Menu itself. So if you are feeling adventurous, like I always do, to make your own sandwich or roll, then they let you feel good about yourself.

So I had a chance to say NOOOO to the bane of my life- icky mayonnaise and also got to choose a nice crusty multi-grained baguette, with a spicy mustard dressing for some Oriental Chicken. Clever cooking and even better idea, I say, of giving the customer, the option to choose their meal the way they want! For roughly just 20 per cent more than what you pay for a shrivelled, pre-packaged, ketchup-mayo smothered sandwich, here is art on a plate. I was so impressed that my greed got the better of my usual instinct to photograph my plate before I sink my knife and fork in. This is however, the remains of the day! :) A splendid working morning spent in a comfy sofa, overlooking a busy road - occassionally looking at harassed looking IT employees in and out of a techno-park nearby and chuckling at my relaxed work-day!

(Psssst, not an advertorial..just a happy tummy, yummy coffee - happy customer, ting ting ta ding)

When I was a fly on the wall - and can't help overhearing the earnest conversation -

Three wise men, sitting at a table near mine discuss health problems - one has hovering close to the danger-line blood-sugar levels and the other two believe the cholesterol menace is a far more dangerous existential angst. The common solution is cutting down on rice and potatoes!! None of them can remember how many weeks it has been since they have touched rice or indulged in potatoes. The sardaar in the group reminds his two friends how it is more difficult for him since Punjabis have 'aloo' in just about anything they can conceive of as a 'well-balanced' meal. Predictably, the discussion veers to age and it turns out one is 28, the other 34 and the third just touching 30!

And to think, you'd have thought these were post-forty cribs if not of those in the decades after that!

And now, here's the LoLoLoL bit - as the discussions continue, the boy at the coffeshop approaches their table with two creamy cold coffees, one suspiciously topped with cream or ice cream and two slices of double chocolate cake!!! Rice and potatoes are OUT, but who said anything about chocolate, cream, butter and tons of sugar??!! Right?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Coffee Shop Culture

I am the generation of Doordarshan and Chitrahaar that evolved into DD Metro and MTV and then embraced cable television wholeheartedly... When I was in school, it was phone numbers that were exchanged, emails weren't all that common and computers were the luxury of a few ( ahemmm, I'm one of the few who did have a desktop at home that had Lotus on it. I also practised my fledgling DOS commands on it and felt thrilled when the machine responded to my commands with the 'right' answers that I had been taught to expect. Dad soon brought back MS office software from the Gulf for us and soon enough, I felt much like a computer geek, ready to conquer the world ahead of my peers.)

 By the time I was doing my post-grad, the in-thing was to share email ids, re-draft resumes with our email contacts added to our address and phone numbers. Any incoming mail into the inbox made us felt wanted, cherished and remembered. Mails would be checked every alternate day and the sense of immediacy we felt then was something to be cherished. Today, my mails are delivered to my phone, moments after the sender dispatched them. And today, I marvel over how people still do send postcards and letters to keep the craft of writing intact. In fact, I can't remember writing anything longer than a few words on a cheque in months if not years. I digress as usual..So getting back,  Greeting cards got replaced by FREE e-cards...Clever messages could be sent for free and the roaring business that Archies cards had at a relatively huge shop near our college kind of took a massive hit to its business.

Till then, going to an ice-cream parlour was the idea of spending time or treating friends. In Kochi, there was the Caravan ice cream parlour - the first one to serve sophisticated ice-creams and sundaes. It was a treat to receive permission from my mom to go there with classmates for someone's treat. It meant being an adult, taking a bus from where I stayed, getting down at the stop nearing Caravan and walking with my head held high and money that Amma had given me earlier in the morning, jiggling in my purse. Asking for the bill and then taking money out of the purse is a rite to adulthood. Much as I hate to have to go through that ritual now that I am a 'fully-matured' adult, while growing up - being allowed to behave like adults held so much thrill. Having the bus conductor, the waiter treat you the way you have seen them treat your parents makes you feel like you have finally arrived on the social scene..

McDonalds was our dream treat while in college and I'd often pamper the kid in me by ordering the Happy Meal. I must say I had a fancy collection of Happy Meal soft-toys and other collectibles. I couldn't be bothered to feel embarrassed about standing in line behind a bunch of kids, scrambling for those very toys that the twenty year old me was eyeing. I don't think the concept of stepping into a coffee shop for coffee existed in my lexicon till I began working.

I was talking about visiting coffee-shops with a friend, when she told about how her mom refused to have a seventy-bucks coffee at the newly opened Barista near her house in Delhi, more than a decade ago. Her brother had just received his first appointment letter as a new graduate and taking his mom to the swank new Coffee Shop was his way of declaring he had arrived and how. But a horror-stricken middle class mom refusing to touch the scaldingly priced coffee would have been a personal nightmare.

While growing up, the Indian Coffee House and its other local versions were our ideas of coffee shops. The liveried waiters bringing us cutlets and coffee in chipped cups and saucers was a great idea of eating out. It was a treat reserved for my birthdays. By the time Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days arrived on the scene, we had learnt that coffee-shopping was a mark of sophistication. The ability to differentiate between an espresso, cappucino and latte was a declaration that you are worldly and a force to be reckoned with among your peer group.

However, the truth is, most of us knew the cheapest priced burgers on the McDonald's menu and on the Barista boards. The idea was to be able to talk about having a McDonald meal or a Barista coffee. It didn't really matter that you had the most expensive one.In fact, by the time Costa Coffee made its presence felt in India, hanging out in coffee-shops had become a rite of passage for school and college-going kids. The bakeries of Kochi now wear a tired, shabby look. On every other corner, there is either a coffee shop or an ice-cream parlour. Most offer free wi-fi and the luxury of whiling away time without being asked to vacate like from your nearest busy Udupi hotel. Unlike the Udupis, where the number of customers served translated to profits, coffee-shop chains made money from frequented patronage and as hangout joints.

Today, on a Monday morning, I'm seated in a cozy Mocha, waiting to catch up with a friend for lunch even as I get some work done in the three hours before I meet her. The fact that there is no wi-fi currently available at this coffeeshop is a downer, but I'm armed with my own internet dongle. We cannot afford to be disconnected from the cyber-world for long. So we make our own provisions for wi-fi now.
Someone gets me a beautifully brewed cup of chai along with some bun-muska. As I munch on breakfast and compile my to-do list for the day, I realise ek post toh banta hai. After all, life as we have known it is changing fast. One chronicle of the lost times and the new life we are forging is necessary. However, I am one to embrace change. There is little that is not good and lots that can be bettered. So here is to Coffee Shop Culture and working out of them and not being bound to stuffy, cribby offices... :)

Have a happy week my bloggies ( shortened version of blog buddies ;)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Travels Again!

So travels begin again...

Hopefully not a long break, I should be checking back in by next week.

By the way, talking of travelling, how do you spend your time during your travels??

I must admit I haven't travelled by train since the initial days of my career. Then train was the only viable option for the pocket. A few years down the line, the weighing of options began - Air travel won hands down - anyone who has worked in the media or as a journalist would know, how difficult it is to get leave. So travelling from Mumbai to Kochi by train would mean losing at least 50-52 hours of precious one- to at most- two weeks of leave. So then my air travels began.

I think I would have travelled more by bus and plane than by train. Having an NRI father meant, we were weaned on air travel. As a child, I remember being scared of planes crashing over the vast vast ocean my little eyes would see from the plane window. I think this was around the time of the Kanishka crash ( if my memory serves me right!) Imagine the plight of my mother, travelling from Kochi to Cameroon, when I was just one and later to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, with a precocious seven-year old, a fidgety, highly clingy two-year old old and loads of luggage. Amma still shudders at the thought of what trauma those flights would turn out to be. Keeping the ever-bored older brat and snivelling younger one in check. Amma had one rule - never to allow her kids to be a nuisance to fellow travellers.

Every time, I travel in flights filled with kids, I think back to those times. Parents these days are so indulgent. On my flight from Mumbai to Bangalore recently, there was a little rascal sitting behind me ( sorry about sounding completely non-maternal, but the kind of kid that makes you wonder why people are so dying to procreate!) The kid did not have a low register, everything needed to be said at the highest pitch. The parents were like character actors in his personal drama. The kid would not stop talking for thirty seconds at a stretch. I am usually the kind who loves kid banter and can engage them in conversation for hours on end. But give me a kid like this and I'd hunt out socks and stuff it nice and tight to keep them quiet. So well, the parents didn't believe in any form of censure. So there was the brat, shouting at the top of his lungs to just about everyone, talking about everything from the seat-belt to when they would be served, to his nursery rhymes. The father didn't have enough clout to get the child to be seated before the take-off and could be heard pleading with the steward asking him to use his toughest tone to convince the boy to sit down!! Need I say how the rest of the trip went?

But the best time to travelling is late night flights. I can rarely sleep on flights. On long international flights, I watch back-to-back films - in fact, it is my most favourite passtime. I look forward to long haul flights for the chance to catch up on several films. Though I usually have a book or two in hand, I find myself rarely reading on international flights. So much to do and there's always a steward or stewardess coming up, offering you a drink or a snack. However, on domestic flights - with mostly only those stewards turned vendors to turn to - I normally seek refuge in my book. Mine is often one of the few reading lights that remain on, much to the irritation of my fellow travellers. There is however one thing that can keep you entertained, if the book you are reading is not entertaining enough!

The most hilarious part for more, about taking a late night flight is identifying the various categories of snorers around you...

Some are gentle gurglers - you feel like going awwww, they must be really tired and want to get them a blanket to keep them snug and warm.

There are the robust hooters - you can't miss them, its a shrill hoot and travels across aisles and windows and pierces your ear drums at regular intervals.

Then I have identified the steam rollers - a bit imaginative of me to think that if they were to be a machine, there would be steam emanating from all that mechanical energy being generated..

And finally, my favourite - the sleep musicians - the hardened snorers, who have perfected a medley of tunes - a range of wind-tones that go from the gurgle of the stream to the wheezing of the car engine starting every morning in your neighbourhood.

The only kind I'm scared of is the one where the person appears to be choking in their sleep, as if someone has a couple of fingers pressed to their throat!

Do you have any favourite mode of entertaining yourself while travelling?? Tell me, tell me, I'm all ears...:D

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Clearing the Clutter....

Mere Pyaare Blog Saathiyon,

This letter is to you, you and you, who read my blog faithfully - whether I'm spouting the inane or the profane or the profound. Don't worry if you don't follow me all the time, I don't either. (Shhhh..but that's a secret, let's keep it between us, shall we?)

My poor blog has been moaning and groaning, whining and pining...but I, like the heartless, cruel Cinderella's step-mother left it, untended - without even a notice.

I think that is the problem with being your own employer and employee...I can't crib about my Boss because that's me. Bosses are meant to be cribbed about, because it is usually their inefficiency that creates the pigeon-statue situations in life.. You know what I'm referring to, don't you?? Sometimes you are the pigeon, other times the statue situation! Bosses get to play pigeons more often than the employees...But then, what if you are the Boss..Unsavoury thought! So for now, let's leave that aside...

I can't crib about my commitments being neglected by my inefficient employees, because that's me too...I'm the peon and the maid and the content-writer and the accountant...And occasionally, just occasionally, when someone asks, I proudly don my BOSS hat..they don't need to know that the peon, maid, content-writer and accountant of the company hats have been neatly hidden under the BOSS hat, do they??

Last few weeks have been a flurry of hectic travel-  dal-roti ka sawaal and thodi si masti.....Ohh, and have I mentioned I have somehow turned into a para-dropper in my own life - which means, there is little slack time cut for emergencies, so when an unplanned travel or a hard-to-say-no-to assignment comes along, I'm usually just sweeping everything off from my cluttered table, making a mess of the floor and then sitting pretty on the desk, looking like I have all the time in the world for that task!!! Yes, I agree it is not the way to go, but I have been planning to get myself a time-day-week-year planner, which I haven't gotten around to..More importantly, once I buy the planner, Murphy's law is likely to ensure I have little to do..and empty pages on the time-day-week-year planner might mock my vella-panti or jinx my rather pretty flow of work/assignments...See, sometimes superstitions just sneak in!

So now, I have decided I won't make lofty announcements like Life 365 ( eating humble humble pie!) but shall try to implement a Life 365, without any baand, baaja or announcements!!

Talking of clutter, this afternoon - my first free one in about two weeks, I sat down with two of my favourite handbags - the ones that travel with me the most. I upended the first one and my bed looked like a disaster zone. And then I thought what the heck, and turned the second one inside out too...Here's a small list of what you could find in my bags -

  1. Mobile phone charger
  2. Camera/phone transfer cables
  3. Earphones
  4. Portable music player
  5. A 4GB flash drive
  6. My bulky sunglasses cover with the sunglasses and cleaning solution and cloth in it
  7. A notebook ( Yes, I still carry one around all the time, throwback to good old days of journalism, when I'd worry about having to take down a number or a quote and not having a piece of paper)
  8. Three assorted pens - (two I have no recollection of how they sneaked into my bag, I swear I don't steal...By the way, one does not have a refill in it!)
  9. A Book for the road...Currently it is Confluences ( For those interested in History and research, its highly recommended)
  10. Body Shop Body Butter tub
  11. Asda Hand Sanitiser - really possessive about my last bottle of cheap Asda maal! 
  12. Two pairs of earrings
  13. One broker bag-chain
  14. One stole ( For those times in the theatre, when you suddenly feel cold and there's this stole to save you from freezing to death)
  15. An invite for a wedding long over ( Don't know why I have it in my bag)
  16. Three boarding passes ( they serve as book-marks. All my book-marks sit pretty in a drawer at home)
  17. Two strips of tablets - Oakcet and Paracetamol ( not much of a medicine person, so must have forgotten them there after buying them!)
  18. About ten receipts for purchases ( note to self: Store them in a shoebox. Second note to self: Maybe no, why tally it up and get heartburn?)
  19. My battered wallet - the innards of this one is a disaster zone too, but can't be bothered to clean it up today!) 
  20. A tampon bag ( must in every girl's bag, I say, you don't know when disaster strikes you or those around you!)
  21. Two assorted half-empty sachets of tissues ( When I want one, I never get one..but they are there somewhere, now I have proof)
  22. One tub of Orbit chewing gum
  23. Two buttons - (one of a long-forgotten coat- I remember searching in vain for the extra one when the button popped and now, I realise, it had been kept here for safe-keeping)
  24. Assorted keys on one key chain. ( Keys include those tiny ones of locks for suitcases too..Can't figure out where the locks are though!)
  25. One bag of chana - ( I was munching on it on the plane and left it in the bag, half open - so three fourths of the content are loose cannons rattling about one the bottom of my purse) 
  26. Assorted ticket stubs - of a Malayalam movie seen last week, passes to Turkish monuments and a scribbled upon ticket - Im a meticulously note-taker, only to forget about them five minutes after the notes are written!)
  27. Maps - Istanbul, Aberdeen and Edinburgh ( This means the handbag hasn't completely been cleared out since September 2011!
  28. Toothbrush - ( Ahemmm, less said the better about how many I unearth after every other travel!)
  29. A bottle of perfume
  30. Hairclips and assorted hair ties - ( never find one when you look for one, now I know where they were hiding)
  31. A pack of tired looking wet-wipes
  32. A hand-mirror ( my most favourite one, because it is my Eiffel tower memorabilia)
  33. A packet of ear-buds ( Don't ask me why they were in my bag, beats me!!)
  34. A bracelet that has lost one stone ( so can't be worn till I replace the stone obviously!)
  35. The swipe-card to a hotel I stayed in Istanbul ( Guess I never returned it!)
  36. About fifteen battered visiting cards of people I met - ( I haven't carried one since August 2009, but I never refuse to take one, if someone so much as places it on a table next to me)
And now you wonder why they say a woman walks around with her life in her handbag! 

( On travels, I usually also have my little netbook, fondly called Reddy because it is Redddddd in colour and my passport wallet too)...More the merrier I say...

Have fun and I'll write in from the various ports of call, 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Brush with the Irreligious

It has to be a reflection of my mood and the thought processes resulting in the mood that I feel like posting on abstract thoughts - I call them abstract because there is no rhyme or rhythm to the flow of the thoughts. Just a strange twist in the road, that makes you stop, stare and then vocalise the impulses currently running through the nuts and bolts that keep your thoughts within the larger area of your head.

By now most people that read me occasionally or more regularly (which are a few loyal ones and I love you loads)know that I'm a Malayali from the red-red Kerala. Communism and socialistic ideals flow through the blood, however much we say our politics veer more to the right than the left, the culture of the Malayali society largely tends towards one that is shorn of devout religiosity.( There is a need for a big rejoinder here, like most communist states where the irreligious ruled roost for decades leading to the emergence of ultra-conservative religious patterns, Kerala too is seeing a disturbing trend towards a strain of communalism - worrying and thought-provoking!) The two biggest festivals of Kerala are Onam and Vishu - the traditional harvest and New Year celebrations - and these two festivals are celebrated across the world by Malayalis - irrespective of caste, creed and community. So these thoughts might have influenced my take on spirituality and the irreligious.

In our society, a lot of words are loosely used to mean the other - religion and spirituality is perhaps the best examples. A lot of people say "I'm spiritual" when they mean "I am religious" because "religion" somehow has a more conservative, narrow-minded connotation to it. However that does not justify how being religious can mean being spiritual. On the other hand, I believe there is a strong case to be made for being spiritual despite feeling irreligious. I think I'm increasingly turning spiritual and irreligious. So today, when I read a friend's message that said Spirituality is an appointment with yourself, I was thrilled.

I related to that. But somehow, the statement that appealed to the irreligious in me, somewhere presents a large contradiction. If you call spirituality an appointment with yourself, then isn't that kind of like an indulgence?? I deliberately take out the term self from before indulgence, primarily because indulgence too is an appointment with yourself. You indulge someone to gather some happiness for yourself in the bargain too!  It is the extent of pampering perhaps that differentiates indulgence from self-indulgence.

In India, where separating spiritualism from religion is considered next to impossible, we need to look for better definitions. Look at reason why people seek out religion? I have a simplistic reasoning. I consider it original because I arrived at it. I might be regurgitating what someone very very wise has said better, but in my space, let me present my take. We are conditioned from very young to crave a bigger power's benevolence - to watch over us, to hold our hand, to show us the right from the wrong. I think religion gives you the way to attaining the realisation that at the end of the path to enlightenment is the harnessing of your mental energy to make life's choices work out best for you. We are often happy to believe that the good that happens in our life is a fruit of our labour. On the other hand, no one wants to be told it is their idiocy that landed them in bad times. We'd rather believe in our naivete and think of bad times as tests set by a bigger power. So instead of setting two different question papers for the tests of life, you set one, make God the invigilator and the marker of your paper and dedicate good and bad performance to His tutoring.

Turning to God is in fact turning inwards, checking for resources within to pull yourself out. I believe my theory makes sense and brings solace to my search for meaning in life because I see God not helping those that leave everything to Him and do little about it. You don't really have to profess leaving everything to Him, but if you gather your inner resources together and work out a problem, you will feel the presence of a higher power guiding your decisions. That power is nowhere exterior, it could well lie within you. A bit of divinity, a bit of godliness - all within a soul that is not in an elevated sense of existence.

We live, we love, we desire, we crave, we anguish and pine - the positive emotions guide us higher, the negatives pull us down. However, the negatives are necessary to make the positives look incandescently bright. I think we cling hard to negative emotions like hate and disgust and hide behind morality ( often without inherently prescribing to it!) because the fear of a higher power or the worry of retribution is the safety mechanism some wise old men devised centuries ago to keep the flock in line. After all, a social animal is one that has the intense need to conform. If ten people do something a certain way, the eleventh one is intrigued to try the same formula because he knows it is tried and tested, it appears to have worked for ten, so why not for the eleventh and so on!

If you were to blame your mistakes on no one, but just dust yourself up and move on in just the same way you'd pat yourself on the back for a success and move on, then life will get easier. Why should we all adhere to the same structured sense of propriety or seek the customised logos that our social groups long to give us? Why do we need prototypes of dumb and dumber??

This is my brush with the irreligious but deeply spiritual. The Spirit in me is happy and at peace and my life, I'd rather was an experiment in the spiritual rather than the religious!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Open Letter to Parents

Dear Parent,

Every child has a lasting memory of their parent - lingering physical memories apart, they way they impact your upbringing, your thought process and also how you perceive your life and of those around you - that I think is the true essence of parenting. You don't need to be the biological parent of a child to be a good parent. What I mean is passing on your genes does not qualify as parenthood, it is what you do to nurture the child into an adult that reflects your commitment and skill as a parent. And they and they alone can qualify, in my eyes for the respect and consideration, that we believe every child owes their parents.

This stance might be a tad controversial - especially in the Indian context where becoming a parent is considered the pinnacle of existence - how you fare once you have produced your offspring is rather of less importance than having the numbers to brag about you 'having done your bit by society'. Just as how mothers bring up their kids is considered above criticism, no matter how neglected the child appears, the role of the father is largely seen as that of a provider. As long as he brings food to the table, fees for school and provides for other expenses - he is a good father. I beg to differ.

Upbringing is not just about providing four meals, clothes and an education. These are the bare minimum and in a country as poor as ours, we do believe if our bare expectations are met, then we have succeeded. But the educated, upwardly mobile middle class that I believe I am part of ( as also most of my blog audience), judging ourselves on a very narrow set of yardsticks and feeling we measure up needs to be reassessed. I have often heard a common refrain from several of my peers and elders - "We grew up with limited facilities and even more limited attention. We grew up fine". To this my question is - Did you? What is fine - well adjusted, rational or completely secure about your upbringing?? Don't you privately have regrets or nurse grouses for those times that you feel a bit of concentrated push or educated advice might have changed the course of your life??

More importantly, the age that you grew up in, the access to a lot of facilities were in the public domain. That meant that it was a more level playing ground for the masses. For the classes, who could afford private tutoring and an elite education, the story is largely different. But, rich families in your days never meant financially well off families with disposable cash. It usually meant landowning families that were self-sufficient and far above the 'we-have-four-meals-and-rarely-scrape-the-bottom-of-the-rice-bowl' families. But at the end of the day, the disparity and differences between the well-off middle class and the struggling middle class  wasn't as pronounced as it is today. I might be at the risk of over- generalisation, but a letter on a blog on complex issues of parenting can only raise points to ponder over. It cannot be exhaustive or conclusive.

Our country is wracked by duality - we want to maintain our core of Indian sensibilities while embracing Western values of parenting. What we are trying to do is adapt to a comfortable mix of both worlds that have now come to represent our lives. But in this hotch-potch, we rarely stop to think if we are sending mixed signals to our children? We are quick to critique those that are highly conservative and traditional in how they bring up their children - imparting old-world values that we grew up with and shielding kids from all those that we think is the assault of new-age life. However, after they start school and bring home views from their peer group, the discord in life at home and life outside creates friction and a sense of suffocation in the child. While many young ones these days are extremely adept at moving with the flow, there are several other sensitive ones who are crushed by expectations and mis-match that they see in their lives around them and in their own.

The current generation of parents juggle a number of hats at one time. Apart from being the father/mother of one or two children, you are also ambitious professionals, often juggling yet another social role of an activist or social worker/entrepreneur etc. You believe you have the roadmap to success for yourself and through you, a role model to set for what your children must achieve. Their care is largely left to people you pay ( with whom you are rarely satisfied) or with grandparents ( after all, weren't they the ones to insist you have kids soon after you got married? ). To this again, the question will be, but we were brought up by our grandparents, who brought our parents up as wonderful individuals. Now our parents are doing their duty. Do we realise how much the context of parenting changes with each generation? 

You might wonder, what brought this tirade about! These are musings, rather direction-less, but thoughts that emerged from a passing reference to someone dear to me as a 'rather ambition-less man'. In a manner of speaking, alluding to how he didn't live up to his potential professionally, which in turns also appears to taint his performance as a parent. His daughters are grown up today and are quiet and confident girls. Unlike most fathers of his generation, who were absentee parents in their children's upbringing, he was around to support, comfort and nurture. He was not one to reach home after the kid has gone to sleep and leave home before the child is awake nor were his weekends spent socialising or climbing the professional ladder. However, at the end of the day, he is branded 'ambitionless', an 'insufficient parent' and sadly 'a poor role model'. Why are we so harsh to critique others when we are far from perfect?

Finally, my question to you is, do  you think more of what all your parents provided you materially or how they contributed to influencing your personality and psychological stability and maturity?? Should parenting be about setting successful role-models and assuring financial stability or something far more tangible - materially intangible for sure, but tangible in other ways. Ways that matter? Who decides success in  parenthood? Isn't it time to revise yardsticks for yourselves and therefore for your peers too?? After all, you don't live in the age your parents did and your children won't be faced with the same choices that faced you.

Food for thought??


A confused no-body!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rukawat ke Liye Khed Hai!

Life 365 is going through fits and starts..I'm completely washed out..the heat has gotten to me and how. Hoepfully, I'll be back soon!! :) Till then, hope there are enough posts still of Word Sketches you need to catch up on!

Won't let the summer beat me down..but can't wait for the Monsoons to begin!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Unspoken Language

Ask a foreigner to imitate an Indian and he immediately does two things - flattens the way he speaks English ( much like how we might use the Chapati belan) and begins to move his head in an imitation of those clay-dolls  that moves its head and body in two directions, when set into motion!

My firang friends often ask me questions by exaggeratedly shaking their head. However, at those times, the joke is on them. For I don't realise that it is mimicry in action. We are so used to people talking with their eyes, face, neck and hands that when someone does it with mimicked exaggeration, you consider it par for the course and don't realise that it is a deliberate attempt. Often after failed attempts to elicit laughter, they ask me outright if they were shaking their head right, to either denote approval or denial. And there ensues a quick course in The Unspoken Language of the Indians.

It is funny how different parts of India have their own gestures for yes or no. But I have rarely had to explain myself to another Indian when I reply with only a nod and no syllables accompanying it. Need I repeat that that is never the case with my international set of friends. Much like an animal in a zoo that knows that something they did is like a magic trick that the crowd around your cage is waiting for you to repeat, I put on my best show face and exaggerate my already exaggerated reaction - a smile and a series of quick oscillations of the chin forward and backward - I want/I agree/yes, that's exactly what I mean. ( What the reaction means need to be understood according to context!! Go figure!)

So since observing and researching such behaviour is a favourite passtime of mine, I began consciously noticing how people talk the Unspoken Language. I like noticing people who are far far away from me, those who are visible but not within the audible range. So the conversations are left to my imagination and the game is to gauge the reaction from their gestures. Here are a few of the common and my favourites -

  • Smack the lip, shut the eyes tight and make the smacckkkkkk sound to express how  delicious you found something ( you will be surprised at how many people actually do that without even realising the gesture in their hurry to express their pleasure over a dish!) 
  • Yes - Mentioned earlier, but nods that oscillate your chin forward and backward - the quicker the movement, the more emphatic is the approval. Oscillate sidewards and thats a big No! 
  • However, if someone is explaining a kind of tough premise and you aren't following it, the same movement needs to be slowed down along with the furrowing of the eyebrows to denote Perplexed Contemplation
  • If the hands are moving like windmills, then be assured the explanation is on a mega-scale! Beware, the person explaining it might be doing it just to hide they have little content but lots of drama to offer. 
  • Indians love using the arm to the chin to show "I am giving the bullshit you are spouting some 'serious contemplation' even if I might look like an actor using cliched expressions"
  • The exaggerated wink with the accompanying idiotic laugh is many people's idea of making you in cahoots with some harebrained scheme or prank that is either being hatched or being played out! 
  • Eyes in slits, nose flared and lips pinched is "Wait till I get you for this!" usually when your better half is having a field day at your expense in front of your friends but anything said at the moment will just make you look churlish!
  • And the most Indian of it all, and this one is rather exaggerated - the right fist to the head that's slightly thrown back with eyes closed and a look of distress on the face accompanied often by a lethargic oscillation of the head sideways - I am feeling so sorry for myself, I am having a Meena Kumari moment/ the sweet drama of the situation needs to be acted out!
This list is inexhaustible. And it might be a fun game to invite more entries and adjudge among ourselves which of the gestures of the Unspoken Language Lexicon takes the cake!! 

I unfortunately happen to be a highly animated character - much like the navarasas taught in Bharatanatyam, every conversation with me is punctuated by my animated facial inputs to words. But I just realised, as you are reading this post, perhaps you tried one or two of the gestures I mentioned just to check whether that's how you'd express it yourself, didn't you??

Time for some honesty! Come on!! ( Shakes head in quick series of oscillatory forward-backwards - sign of encouragement!)

:) :) :) 

(Image Courtesy: 123RF)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

One Day in the Life of Us...

I have a maid and a cook, who between them make my life wonderful. They ensure that despite being a stay-at-home-consultant ( that sounds better than freelancer somehow!)I have people to supervise and make me look totally in control and super-efficient at housekeeping.

 The maid, L is about four feet and a little something tall, a stick figure who looks like she's studying in school. She however,has little clue how old she is, parents who could perhaps give her a vague idea are no more and a marriage to a unemployed, uninterested-in-working guy means that she brings in the money and does the looking after the household too. With three kids to support and overheads to pay, L works at eight houses (at the last update I took!) from 8.30 in the morning to about 1.30 in the afternoon, after which she turns the housewife -cooking, cleaning and swabbing her own hovel. Her time at my place is a brisk half an hour at the most, in which she clinically goes around doing her bit, rarely cracks a smile at anyone or acknowledges guests who might sometime drop by home. I want to ask her if she gets time to shower every day, but then I guess that's an inappropriate question, for she is not dirty or smelly. Just shabby!

 My cook C on the other hand is made of pleasanter disposition. A thin tall woman, she is always impeccably dressed, has a serene smile and weighs her words like the ingredients she uses to cook food at home. She's been with us over six months and every other day my sister and I look at each other, in silent appreciation of the food that has been cooked for us. With both C and L, I share a courteous relationship. I am not one of those employers, who needs to breathe down their necks..I rarely interfere except when I have to pass on instructions or ask for something specific to be done. Just like other colleagues I work with, I start on the premise that they know their stuff and I just need to make my expectations from them clear at the very outset.

L is brash, prone to outbursts, which are kind of like a dormant volcano erupting into life, spewing lava. Imagine a completely dead pan face suddenly erupting with animation and the kind where the pitch is at the level where the glass wobbles a bit. She and I have a few clashes time and again. She has the knack of getting up to mischief, looking innocent till detected and then saying
"Aap hi ne toh bola karne ko!" (You told me to do this!)
"Par maine aisa karne ko kaha tha kya L" (Is this how I asked you to do it?)
"Ab maine jaan bujh ke toh nahin kiya, ho gaya.."( now I didn't decide to deliberately to commit this mishap)
" L awaaz pehle neeche karo" ( L, let's go easy on the decibels)
" Mein kya bol rahi hoon, aap hi toh daant-te rehte ho mujhe" ( What am I saying? you are the one scolding me)
"Maine awaaz neeche karke bolne ko kaha (I'm asking you to lower your tone while talking to me)
"Achcha baba, galti ho gayi, ab nahin karoongi" ( Ok, I'm sorry, I won't repeat it)

I have lost track of how many times we have this conversation every month! The result is nearly the same, she is upset for ten minutes, then it is like water off the duck's back. I rarely get my way completely, but then she is conscientious enough to remember to do something to please me to make up...An extra bout of dusting, sorting out the clothes that need to go for ironing etc.

C, on the other hand, rarely gives me any scope for criticism. Never a crib, never a complaint about having to cook on some days with hardly enough ingredients in the pantry. It's when she literally scrapes the bottom of the storage bins that she throws her hands up in askance!

L often tries to steer C into supporting the cause of the 'working class'. Like this morning, while I was already 'at work' and L was pottering around me, I saw a gecko -ugly, thin and mean looking, make its way across the door sill. We, sisters absolutely hate seeing any around and I shouted out to L to drive it away. Now if it was a reaction to my shout or my instruction, I'm kind of unclear, but L's shrill No took me quite aback. And out came the rapier tongue -

"Arre, mere se kya karwana chahte ho, mein nahin karti yeh sab!" (what is it you want me to do, I don't do all this!)
" L, uske jhaadu se bahar karo, ghar ke andar ghusne mat do"( L, just drive it out with the broom, don't let it enter the house)
" Arre maine bola na, usko choone ka nahin. Mujhe maarna nahin hai!" ( I told you once, you shouldn't disturb it, you want me to die?)

The shrillness and the outright No just made me see Red. I went in, picked up the broom and was shooing the lizard out of the open window, when she tried to come stop me, but gave up when she realised I was going to do it anyways! Once the lizard was out of the house, I turn to her and there she stood with her hands on her hips -
" Aapke pata hai usko bhagana nahin chahiye, woh sar pe girega toh khatam" (Do you know you shouldn't disturb it? If it falls on your head, then it is all over!)
"Kya khatam? L, yeh sab andhvishwas hai! Aise sab cheezon ko pakde rakhoge, har cheez se dar ke rehna hoga) ( What over? L, these are superstitions, if you keep believing these things, you will have to be scared of everything!)

L turns to C and asks her to intervene -
" Bolo didi ko ki yeh sab karna galat hai, kuch hoga toh phir unko kuch nahin, hamare paas kuch nahin hai baba" ( Tell her that these things are wrong, if something unfortunate happens, she has nothing to lose, we can't afford to take the risk!)
C, as usual kept her own counsel and kept stirring the contents of the pot bubbling at the stove!
By now, I was in my lecturing mode and L was in no mood to listen - kind of like, you stick to your modern views, I have too much to lose, I shall stay with my elders-tested wisdom!

After she left, I stood in the kitchen looking at C. Perhaps realising that I was staring at her, she turns around and says,
"Didi, uske cheekhne ka bura mat man-na. Hamare colony ke sab auratein aise hi hai. Chipkali girti hai toh bahut abshagun hota hai!" ( Don't take offense at her outburst. All the women in our colony behave like her. A gecko falling down is considered inauspicious)
" Tum log aisi cheezon ko pakadke chalte ho, isi liye toh itna andhvishwas bhara hai is desh mein" ( you people hold these beliefs so dear, that's why there are so many superstitions prevalent in this country!)
" Sahi hai didi, isi liye main chahti hoon ki meri ladkiyaan padh likh le. Hum toh aise hi nikle, par woh agar samajdhar nikle toh unke liye achcha! ( that's true, that is why I want my daughters to study. We ended up like this, but if they turn out wiser, good for them!)

And with that Mona Lisa smile which is her trademark, she went sealed the lid on that argument, turned off the stove, emptied the curry into a bowl, picked up her bag and said Bye for the day!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bit of Take and Lots of Give!

So today I was on Facebook and realised another friend has decided to take the plunge - sacrifice the so far safely guarded singledom for the joys of (un)holy matrimony. The way I mention matrimony must give you an idea of how I weary I am of the topic! If there is one subject that has been the bane of my parents' life over the past five years - one that has dominated conversations in our nuclear household of dad, mom, sister and I, it has to be the question of when are we sisters getting married?

I had looked at a related topic in my post Whats with One True Love? However, then I was far far away from India, snugly comfortable in grey England, free to be fiery and rebellious since the society there lets a stranger live their life quietly without the usual questions in India, 'So what does your better half do?" ( the better half of me contemplates what the other half is about to do - because the right hand never knows when the left hand is going to be up to punch you!) 'How many children do you have?' (Currently, I am in the 'out of wedlock' phase, wondering if I should add a couple more to the population, without disturbing the relationship status) See, now I'm an inherently well-brought up child, polite to a fault. So all these are responses that dance around in my brain while I laugh sheepishly and mouth the right answers - Oh you see, I'm not married! or No no, no children yet!

The other day, I sat down with my best friend, who incidentally is also taking the deep plunge later this year to figure out how concepts of marriage have changed and along with it our expectations. Let me give you a background. My friend and I never run out of topics. We choose a broad area and then start free-wheeling discussions that might look like Google suggestions - you know the links that take you to websites you never thought could have connected material?? Well, whenever we talk of marriage, we end up discussing even colours of nail-polish and/or the price of bhindi and baingan. It is all connected, if you don't see the link, well, next time you are invited to silently audit the discussion. No, you can't participate, but you can hear our conversations. (We pride ourselves on being deep-thinking individuals with very original thoughts!)

The conversation began with our weariness over all things domestic - the maid's unflexibile timing that limits my chances to leave early for a lunch date with her, the rising rents that make living in Mumbai alone such a pain, the pressures of a media job that leave hardly no time for a social life or even for a more fulfilling personal life. This is where the topic marriage sneaks a back-door entry. Mamma has once again raised the topic of me growing older, she concurs that her aai thinks this year is a good time to take the plunge of faith.

The catch is multiple - for one, financial independence and the ability to live without someone to 'make life easier' means that the premium laid on marriage is higher. Finding an eligible man, who earns enough to take care of a family and is also decent enough to be presented before parents are no more the only yardsticks.Sometimes, we agree there's no method to this madness. 'Clicking' together and 'clicking' right is equally important. The expectations from a partner have gone from the practical domain into a largely emotional domain. And the reason, as mentioned earlier, is the financial independence that women enjoy as well as the courage to live life alone, on our own terms. The need today is for companionship, shared goals and therefore the reticence to settle for someone who offers to provide food, shelter and companionship as a by-product.

Now marriage is a complex topic with complex rationales and algorithms that might explain a successful alliance or the probability of the match succeeding to stay together life-long. Maybe other aspects will be brought up in the comments sections (as I have realised these days. I always tell readers to go down the comments section too - so many well-thought out comments give other aspects of the debate that my sometimes linear, otherwise muddled post missed!) However, there is yet another myth we always talk about - how it is untrue to say there are more failed marriages now than among the earlier generations. Statistically and legally, you could perhaps argue that and score yourself a point. But I know several sets of parents among friends and family, who lived out their lives in unhappy marriages, out of societal and familial pressures. They were no less unhappy than many are today, perhaps it might not have been on the account of wanting to balance careers and personal lives or independence and dependence. But it wasn't like they were less issues. I think that point of view is a gross overgeneralisation. They suffered silently and took the blows as their just or unjust deliverance. They cribbed, grew bitter or turned to God and godliness or took out their frustrations elsewhere. Today, realities are different and therefore our approach to problems and the solutions arrived at!

In fact, I am of the view that the much-battered reason for marriage - companionship in old age is also not a sustainable reason. There are several more youngsters preferring to stay single. They are already building social communities that offer friendship, companionship and support in other ways. Who knows how our societal structure would be in a decade from now?? We extrapolate on the basis of what we have lived and seen. I live in a different reality from what my parents have lived in and therefore I have a more optimistic outlook that I won't end up bitter and lonely if I'm not married! But if there is one concept of marriage that I believe weathers all the decades past and those to come eternally - it is that Marriage is a Bit of Take and Lots of Give! When you find the person you feel you can give a lot of yourself to while taking just a bit in return, then I think you have hit on the secret formula to success!!

On a funny note, I have been trying to arrive at the reason why there is a sudden spate of marriages among my social circle this year. So far in the past four or five years, the average of friends getting married have been at best one or two. 2012 seems to be a watershed year...( can't stop laughing at the term watershed-  interpreted literally,  you know where that line of thought will take you!) Maybe the Mayan prophecy of 2012 being the end of the world is not so wrong after all - for many in my universe, it is the end of the world as they know it! Now that's the best part about prophesies. If you want to believe it, its just about interpreting realities to suit your premise! On that cheeky note, a toast to all those getting knotty and knotted! :)

(Image courtesy: Baloo's Cartoon Blog, Cartoon Resource)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Age, I Change

So I have missed another day in my Life 365 Marathon...And as usual I have reasons too. But who cares? Now, but there is another thing I am not sure about. I'm not sure if I will catalogue this post under Life in the City - My Series on Mumbai. :) Perhaps I should, perhaps you can tell me once you get to the last full stop of this post? 

Yesterday, I had to go to Fort for a meeting. For all those non-Mumbaikars, Fort is that part of the South Mumbai that could make a time-travelling English tourist feel vague strains of familiarity. The buildings are largely the way the British made and left it. If you are a tad imaginative, you can piece together how the area around Flora Fountain, now locally known as the Hutatma Chowk (for a martyrs' monument that has come up next to it), would have looked during its days of glory. Like everything else, most buildings have gone to seed, but businesses, big and small continue to operate out of it. The lanes are narrow, much like the cobblestoned paths of London. The cobblestones are long gone to be replaced by the tarred Indian roads, however, the leafy tree lined avenues would have been witnesses of the centuries past.

I rarely take a taxi once I get down at the Churchgate station - that is by the way, the last stop on the Western Line of the Mumbai local train network. Just as the train is pulling into the Churchgate station, my heart always skips a beat. This is a part of Mumbai that has changed the least in the twelve years that I have known it. Hmmm, on second thoughts, there is little that can afford to be changed.

The flats in these regions are humongous by Mumbai standards and pretty well-maintained from the inside. Incidentally, I have never understood how Mumbaikars can be house-proud but not necessarily building proud. So you could see several dilapidated looking buildings desperately needing a coat of paint, with residents that read like a Who's Who list. Step inside their parlour and you wonder if you fell through a hole like Alice of the Wonderland fame.

There's an old world charm about everything here, the Jehangir Art Gallery, the Kala Ghoda area, the Sassoon library and the crumbling Old Watson's Hotel - said to be the oldest surviving cast-iron building. It has collapsed a couple of times in the recent past, but then Indian ingenuity keeps the building in the survivor's list. Walk farther down and there are the majestic buildings of the Bombay High Court and the University of Mumbai. The hawkers that have encroached the walkways of most of the Victorian era heritage buildings are like a rude-jolt back into modern day reality - reality that the core of South Mumbai might look better preserved than its more recent suburbian offshoots, but a severe toll has been wrought by migration and population explosion on the leafy boulevards of the city.

Now I wonder if it is only the city and its infrastructure that appears crumbling and peeling with age. The train I took to go to the city would easily be over three decades old. There are newer swankier ones that ply on the same line, but these older ones, with the rusty springs poking uncomfortably out of the worn out seat cushions still continue to be in service. The stations that serve seas of humanity every day show evidence of massive wear and tear. In Andheri and Jogeshwari - two stations I use most, I know a few steps that I need to be careful on. If I keep place a foot wrong on those worn out steps, I could very well be slipping down the whole set of stairs uncomfortably. Age and lack of maintenance - the question is when do you shut down the station to undertake maintenance? If the Andheri station is shut off for renovation, there would be bigger riots - people would rather continue using crumbling infrastructure than suffer the inconvenience of taking a longer route to the next station!

As I walk towards the building where my meeting is scheduled, one final thought makes me chuckle so hard that I'm sure several people did turn around to check for the source of that strange noise. I have walked these very streets as a rookie in Mumbai. Then the heat did not bother me as much and travelling light was the mantra - the insouciance and irreverance you may say of the young and free-spirited. This time however, the thought of taking myself to Fort alone, required a lot of enforced mental conditioning. I had to convince myself of the importance of the meeting and the need to be there personally than get it done on skype! Once convinced, my preparations to leave began at about 12 and by the time I'd left home, in my bag, was a bottle of water, a small box of munches (just in case I got hungry on the train), an umbrella for the trek from Churchgate station to Fort and a book to ensure I get in some constructive reading done during the one-hour journey!

I was never this well-planned, I was impulsive, fun and all-over-the-place. I feel like a peeling Mumbai now...I age and I guess I change too!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Battling the Bulge

The Weighing Scale is my biggest enemy.

While in school, the thought of the day when height and weight would be measured during PT class would instill a kind of dread in me. Why, you ask? Well, being on the chubbier side, I used to hate having others know how much I weigh. Among peers, to be considered fat, especially in those painful years of adolescence where every change in your body, is another new embarrassment. Since the annual report card had a specific page where height and weight was to be measured and recorded two times a year, the height-weight measuring was mandatory. Our Physical Education Teachers never did the measuring and recording in dignified silence, as a mark of consideration for those, who weren't of the ideal measurements! So there we would be, standing in a row, as per our attendance rolls in alphabet order and my little heart would be going thud thud..There would be two teachers involved in the process. One to measure and say the figures out aloud and the other to duly note it down.

Now there were tall gawky boys in front of me by the time we were in senior school, for whom weight was not a factor. They were out to check out their height vis-a-vis their peers. Those whose height were below average, would have a defeated look as the PT teacher loudly announced it, knowing that the bigger boys would be insensitively tittering or calling out rude nicknames - (who said growing up years were all about innocence, insensitivity rules the roost in school!). For the girls, height was of comparatively lesser concern, as long as it was in the average zone. The loud announcement of weight was mortification. Being three kilos over the average was enough to be stamped FAT in school. That's a tag you struggle to shed unless you have cracked the code of how to lose the chubby lard as you grow older. Some of my friends did manage that, I'd always feel a tinge of envy that they didn't go through multiple deaths of mortification. ( and who said you only die once? Ask a chubby child in school how often he/she feels like its death!)

Now, I am not obese. I am what you call comfortably plump. But while in the description 'comfortably' indicates a coziness and homeliness, in reality its highly uncomfortable. You dangle somewhere on the borderline of thin and fat. No one understands the description - my weight is in the average range. The immediate response would be is that thin or fat?? Well, more like fat you see.. Thin is a rather definitive term. Fat is all-encompassing.

Skinny women get all the sympathetic tut-tuts when they dive into a divine chocolaty concoction and then exclaim "Oh My God, I have surely put on five kilos". The chubby ones, hearing this often look in painful resignation. Just smelling the air around the chocolate would have spiked their weighing needle by half a kilo! Some chubby ones, who sometimes harbour self-images of being on the thinner side than the thick, end up vocally endorsing the skinny exclamations...and that's when the fat ones have a moment of vindictive laugh (at least to themselves - Look who's agreeing, has she seen the mirror this morning. All the lard she struggles to hide with clever clothes can be seen due to the ill-advised design of her top!)

I have stoically borne years of being nicknamed Fatso and constantly exclaimed over, for being the runt of the litter ( my pituitary gland - I learnt in Biology in school - stopped flushing the hormone needed to grow tall pretty early unlike the rest of my mother's side, including my sister who just kept growing taller and taller.) So much so, that at any family function, any round of familiarisation that routinely happens when cousins from all over gather, usually began with "Ohhh, you grew sideways while your sister grows upwards." Chubby ones, let me tell you, learn to take a lot of criticism on the chin due to early exposure to insensitive relatives, while the truly fat ones learn to be totally immune.

As I crossed my thirties, fewer people take a swipe at my weight. I have somehow gone into the in-decent shape zone. Perhaps because everyone in my age group is now struggling with weight issues due to poor work-life balance and pregnancies etc. Now the first question is about how healthy. A number of my ex-colleagues in television had developed cholesterol and high blood pressure very early in life - towards their late twenties and early thirties. So the first question as they look at you is about whether I have had a health-check recently. Cloaked in the obvious concern is I believe, the need to justify their woes. Kind of like it is not just I who developed these health scares, everyone else I know is also as miserable as I.

Though the struggle with shedding the lard has been a perpetual battle, on all the health indicators, I score a perfect ten, including BMI or the Body Mass Index which the new age gurus say is a better indicator of weight than just the actual measurements. Now I have arrived at a new mantra - staying conscientiously fit. A healthy diet and routine walks keep me in the healthy zone.

Recently, mom gifted my sister and I a weighing scale to keep us sisters in check. It is blue in colour and one that has those tiny slim lines showing the graduation of weight. Even as I write this piece, I see it sitting silently in a corner, mocking me and my efforts to lose those few extra kilos. And then I wonder, why is so much stress placed in our society over weight of women? Aishwarya Rai not shedding her post-natal weight has gathered more reams of newsprint than articles on healthy eating. Any hint of extra-flab on Vidya Balan and the Bollywood diet-gurumatas pounce on her with alacrity. All the marriage proposals that you read on paper or on matrimonial slight want slim girls or girls of a 'slim-build'.

So what do you do if you are naturally on the more-endowed side? I once remember crying to Amma that I wish I was born in her era. She used to tell me how in her day and age, looking plump was seen as a sign of coming from a well-to-do family (only they could afford food that fattened the human body or something like that I guess was the rationale)

I guess this post is a reaction to my musings after a conversation with a dear friend who messaged me saying "I am having a Fat Day". It doesn't help that its summer and those with stick figures around her were walking around wearing next to nothing. Now if it wasn't India, she could have worn clothes she wanted to wear and not worry about being mauled or ridiculed. But in our exacting society, battling the bulge too is a major uphill task. Even if you manage to kick the bulge, the tag takes far longer to shed!

(Image courtesy: crazymarathoner.blogspot.com and Minnie Pauz)