Monday, 15 May 2017

Honey, What’s On Netflix Tonight?

“Yo babe, have you decided what we’re watching tonight? Oh, and I’m not watching another sorry ghost story.”
“OH-kay…I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. Anything you like lovebug. Just make it a good thriller.”
“Hmm, that’s narrowing it down. How about Once Upon Time in America? It’s a mafia…”
“Tttt ttt…no mafia movies. Baby, you know how much I hate them.”
“Oh, but you did like Godfather. What if I’d said Godfather?”
“I’ve already seen it.”
“So then you don’t really hate mafia movies.”
“Uggh…I don’t want to see a mafia movie tonight. Not Godfather. Not any other Al Pacino or Robert De Niro movie.”
“First of all, just cos they’re Italian, it doesn’t mean they play only mobsters. Racist much? And what’s with you shooting down my ideas all the time? It’s almost like you want me to suggest something so you can just say it’s not good enough.”
“I only like to have options. OK how about we watch…”
“Nope. Not another depressing, artsy-fartsy movie. And for God’s sake not 13 Reasons Why. We don’t have enough Nutella to survive it.”
“Now what’s that you’re doing? I was gonna say The Office marathon !!!”
It’s yet another Friday night in happily-ever-after land. Married couples, let’s face it. The weekend isn’t “Honey I so wanna grow old with you” until you’ve demonstrated to your partner with deep, contextual examples about how painstakingly dumb and thoughtless he/she is about art, cocktails and life in general. For us, as just another city-dwelling couple, Friday night marks the beginning of the plopping selves in front of TV ritual. You know, just some good old-fashioned way of spending “quality time” together in the eternal quest for entertainment. Maybe, it’s followed up on Saturday, maybe not. But Friday Night is our thing. Speaking of TV, remember the time you both got equal and fair play on your TV remote? Yea, me neither. The only time I recall as when we both got absolute control and were pretty satisfied with our watch list, drinking cocktails and leaning romantically on each other’s shoulders was when we were way up in the skies, among two hundred other peace-loving couples.

I could watch what I want on my laptop and likewise for him but then ‘Where’s the we in that?’ as couple therapists would annoyingly point out. Besides I can’t watch anything by myself. I’m the kind of person who prefers solitary reading to watching. Anyway, coming back to this age-old conflict. We have tried to resolve this by negotiating turns to decide what to watch and allotting time-slots. But every time we do that, one of us ends up grumpy, wondering out loud, “Since when we have become those boring couples who behave like brother-sister?” And then when you’re seven years into marriage, that kind of prefix summons up an entire Pandora’s box. Since when are we the kind of boring couple that don’t go out on Fridays…that choose TV over other things…that need alcohol to get high…Besides, in my experience, having complete watch-power leads to bad decisions. So maybe it’s best to get your partner on board first. (No pun intended.)

Before we do become one of those couples whose TV gripings have gone a bit too far and public, settling scores on Facebook with passive-aggressive status updates and gritting our teeth over another bad movie suggested by the other, I thought why not put some people-negotiation tactics at work? Here are a couple of negotiation-cards that I’m going to put to use. I mean before eventually giving up and declaring our house a No-TV zone.
  1. The Getting-into-the-groove Card:
    "Are we really in the mood to watch that sugar?" [Slowly, gently, runs fingers through his hair.]
  2. The Unexplored-terrain/ Adventure card:
    “Sure, I’d love to learn about Star Wars. In George Lucas, we trust. But how about we watch something we both haven’t seen today? I mean, wouldn’t it be wild?”
  3. The Nausea-inducing Love Card:
    “It’s got terrible ratings, I know. But when was the last time a bad movie came in the way of true love?”
  4. The Downright Despair-filled Defeatist Card:
    “Oh, have I picked the wrong movie? Well, here’s one more thing I suck at.” [The tone is everything here.]
  5. The Not-so-subtle, Mildly-threatening Card:
    “Oh, sure. Let’s watch, “The Jihadist Next Door”. Who knows where they are and what pisses them off? I mean you may be very well be married to one without even realizing she’d be ready to suicide-bomb the apartment over TV control repression.”
  6. The Yes-I'm-Judging Card:
     “Wait, who’s recommended this movie? Your friend Paul? The one who badgers and harasses his wife with really sexist comments at parties? Yea, let’s watch what Paul says.”
  7. The Passive-Aggressive Card:
     “Oh, of course honey, I’d love to watch that! It’s the perfect movie to fall asleep to on a Friday, especially on a night like this, with no better prospects.”
Of course, if this doesn’t work, there’s a more philosophical, love-affirming question to ask each other, before letting go of the cable and choosing real conversations over TV to solve our spats. “Do we really want to be that couple who doesn’t watch Netflix?”

Monday, 27 March 2017

How To Be A Morning Person - A Personal Experiment

Image Source: Thought Catalog

I am not a morning person. I wake up at about 7.45 am on a weekday and on weekends, well, let’s just say I don’t get to exchange morning greetings. Here’s why I am not a morning person. ‘Cos I usually wake up to a racing heart. Like I've already missed my morning bus. (Not that I have a bus to catch.) In my ideal world, the first fifteen minutes of the day would involve a sun salutation and morning kisses and a dramatic “It’s a new dawn” kind of curtain-sweep. This is what I tell myself every night when I resolve to reform my morning routine. In my actual world, I am swiping snooze about three times on my alarm and then addressing more alarming emergencies of my mind.

On a weekday, I wake up groggy with my left eye. That eye scrolls through social media while the right eye is deciding how to overpower the other with the ruse for a few more winks. A cursory look in the mirror. As expected, washed out.

And then my mind starts running.
“You know one of these days you should buy a night cream that elevates your morning look from toilet to passably regular. What are those funny kinks in your hair? Anyway, gotta get Saanvi to school. Yea, yea, she’s just in pre-school but school’s important. Must pack her a healthy snack. No, not another cheese sandwich. First, I need a strong brew of tea. But there’s no time for tea. And whatever happened to oil-pulling? Can I oil-pull at night? [Googles that.] Focus. You’re running late. Why hasn't the house-help showed up yet? Of course she’s not coming. What does she care? Only if you were more organized….Can I go back to sleep? Where are the bloody socks? One day, I'm going to have a meltdown cos of the damn socks! Sleep-deprived mum loses shit over a pair of socks. It’s possible. Why does she have to wear them anyway? Look at your cracked feet! You should wear socks at bed-time. Ooh you could get those cute kitty ones. Unlike her, YOU DO need socks. [Googles cat-print socks] Woman! You can do this later. We’re late. But why are you breathing so heavily? Is this a heart attack? [Types “Signs that you’re having…] Fuck no! You don’t have time for a heart attack!
And my mind goes on…

Some day, if I ever make it to the papers, they’re going to ask me for some wise morning routine advice. Sista, let me tell you now. I don’t have any. I still can’t tell when I should oil-pull or do stretches or take my vitamins. From the moment my day starts, all I deal with is fire-fighting level emergencies. Tiny details and chores that if missed, threaten to pull my day under.

And I realize that all I'm doing is getting through a normal day of a stay-at-home mum with some bits and scraps of writing jobs here and there. It’s not like I am managing multiple charities or feeding a million people, or saving dolphins or umm…fire-fighting. I talk fast. I eat faster. I don’t stop and chat thereby offending my neighbours. I am on the move even when I am at rest cos my mind’s either racing to the worst possible “What-ifs” or happy day-time fantasies that are entirely illusionary and have nothing to do with the present.

So you see the inside of my head is a confused battle-zone that doesn't quite know which side it’s on. As a close friend of mine once told me, “I'm my own worst enemy.”

When it gets too much, I escape to this fantasy involving a month long stay-cation. One fine day, I’ll hit the mountains alone in an idyllic cottage with just the right amount of people in the neighbourhood (I cannot handle being secluded) with enough money to survive, three changes of clothing, books and multiple bottles of shampoo and conditioner. There will be no wi-fi, no day commitments, no errands to run for others… I’ll write if I want. I’ll eat when I want. I’ll listen to music and go for long walks. I may even climb trees. I’ll clear my day of its mundaneness and reclaim whatever it is that is essential to being happy and in the moment.

But here’s the downer. I have no fuckin’ clue what makes me happy. I can pray for it all I want but I cannot define it.

I do know what makes me unhappy though. I guess it’s more or less the same things with everybody else.
  • I don’t like being told what to do or how to feel. I like making my own mistakes and drawing up my own judgements and revoking them if needed.
  • I don’t like nitty fault-pickings. Not just with me but with anybody.
  • I don’t like worrying about everyday things like what to eat or drink or what to wear or how to impress someone.
  • I don’t like feeling like I'm the only one going through the shit I go through. Cos I know for a fact that there are people who have it much worse.
  • I don’t want to race to the top. I’d like the freedom to take my own time to get there. If at all.
So with that bit of wisdom unravelled, I thought I’d make some amends to my existing lifestyle. At best, it’s a personal experiment bordering on being a social one.

Skip the morning alarm (and snooze):
From tomorrow, which is a holiday here, and a perfect day to wake up to make-believe coffee from the hills of South America and smell the fuckin’ roses, I'm going to start my morning without being assisted by an alarm clock. Yea. You don’t need a godforsaken blaring alarm to remind you that you have a day ahead of you. Your body is enough for that. How does that make things better? Well, for one there’ll be no snoozing the alarm so you’re up the moment you open your eyes. Of course, I can’t go back to sleep, no matter what. I don’t know how this will pan out but we’ll see.

Find A Sleep Schedule
Which obviously means that at some point during the week, I’ll also figure that I need a somewhat consistently boring sleep schedule. I'm kind of a night owl cos my me-time begins after my daughter is safely lodged in her slumber land. So I won’t be forcing myself to go to bed early. But I won’t be stifling yawns to watch late night TV. Instead, I’ll read a slow-moving classic at bed-time cos I don’t want a gripping one to ambush my sleep-centre.

Stop With The Micro-Managing
My nerves may be jumpier than usual. So we need something for the nerves. The good ol’ letting the controls run loose. For the first few days, I’ll have no fixed human/super-human goals or food menu to achieve or errands to run. I’ll conquer the day as it comes. That can’t be good for the nerves you’d say? But I think there is a natural way to finding your rhythm and the first step to doing that is assuming you don’t have one. It can’t be from following the habits of most productive people cos well, everybody’s mind and body work differently. Sure, maybe I’ll figure that some things are not working or worlds are falling apart or I need more caffeine than usual.

Control Caffeine Intake
Which brings me to the fourth part. There’ll be controlled caffeine consumption. What! I might as well give up on this whole bizarre Namaslay mumbo-jumbo, right? See with this death sentence right here, I don’t quite know if I'm going to make it through the week. But all I'm basing this on is some tenets of good living. I cannot, as a matter of habit, give up tea/coffee altogether. But I can get it down to two cups a day. The first cup of the day can be any time I choose but the second one will have to be before 6 pm. I could however flirt with other hot, sugarless pseudo-tea imposters in between meals like say cinnamon tea or lemon-grass tea or spearmint tea. (When I say tea, I mean hot water here.) I am more of a hot-beverage person so this may actually bail me out.

Eat And Hydrate
What will we be eating for the day? Anything at all we feel like along with the recommended eight-ten glasses of water. We’re more or less on the track of healthy eating already. We try to eat a balance of everything, including fruits. I don’t eat fried food. I don’t eat processed foods much. Serious. I don’t even like mayo or ketchup. I make my own dips and salad dressings and pasta sauces. Sometimes, I cheat with Maggi noodles but that is once in a blue moon when I don’t feel like cooking. I'm down to two small squares of chocolate in a day from wolfing down an entire bar. So I am leaving the pantry open for the sake of my sanity and with the blind faith that I don’t have an eating disorder... For the first few days, we won’t follow a set meal-schedule. I have a feeling we will arrive at the most optimal one in time.

Amp Up Exercises
Now, I'm assuming with all that, I should be able to gain back lost time to binge-watch the shows I've missed on Netflix or go on spontaneous dates with the hubby. Wishful thinking that. So what are we doing with the extra time? I'm going to try and amp up my exercise routine. Right now it’s about twenty minutes of yoga. So to that, there will be an added routine of moderate cardio and skipping. I’ll go slow and see if it makes me super-human any time soon — I’d settle for a smiler version of me. And I hope that the extra endorphins translate to more quality human interactions.

No Gossip, no slander:
But socializing comes with its own cautionary levels of slandering and mean gossip and ill-founded comparing and spiralling into negatives. I have noticed that most of my conversations of late have revolved around that. As a result, my poetry is grim. So I'm introducing a curb. Whatever is going on in the head rarely translates into reality. Your worst fears have not yet happened. Your empty head is just killing time by drawing irrational conclusions. Unfortunately, I have no control over what happens in my head, only my words. So for this week, there will be no gossip or slander. No “He did what?” or “What was she wearing?” Unless it’s really gnawing at me from the inside and occupying all of my mind. I'm going to try and channel my free mind-space into creating something or discussing ideas or writing more poetry. I'm also going to try and explore the much-fussed about “good in everyone”.

I'm drinking my second cup of tea as I write this down. In between laying the table for breakfast and getting off the phone with an old friend. My mind is surprisingly still cos I have this seemingly genius plan to reset my mornings and my lifestyle. Everything seems perfect.

And yet, there’s a new dawn to dread, when it all really begins.

Stay with me to know how I made it through this week. And if at all, at the end of the road, I'm going to find a morning person :).

If you enjoyed reading this, please slam some motivational hearts back at me :).

Thursday, 23 March 2017

My Funny Valentine

Image Source: Amazon

“Open your eyes. Right about now will be good.”

She felt the warning signals before she could entirely leave sleep behind. It was like her mind had been fleeing, cluttered and troubled as it would've been, before her body could arrest it with the ruse of caffeine. As soon as she woke up, without habitually drawing the curtains to usher the morning sun in, with some degree of comic agility, she went into the kitchen.

Her skin tightened as she took in the frosty sight. First, she hears her voice. Tall and trembling, it seemed as if it belonged to a stranger. “Is that what you want? “Cos I've been waiting to walk out that door!” Did she mean it? Then she heard his. A pleading, calm voice. A voice that in its evenness bore resemblance to reason. Well, until you heard the words that escaped his mouth. “Fuck the roses. Fuck Pre-valentine’s. You always wanted it this way, didn't you, you fuckin’ control freak.”

Broken shards of glass. Liberated, lone petals slow-dancing in the wind with glass crystals. Roses on the table, still perfectly wrapped in their smug prettiness. Aha, these silent roses. Aren't they a perfect weapon of mass destruction? He’d got them for her, holding them by his teeth. “Pre-valentine’s is it? Do you have any idea how much this hideous bouquet cost me? No, you don’t! Cos you think you’re entitled to them, especially on days when they’re selling at airline prices, don’t you my precious?” She briefly thinks of the alarming frequency with which she went for his face with them. “How many times have you lied to me, you lyin’ piece of shit?”

She broke into a chuckle. A startlingly self-assured, upside-down kind of giggle. Before she knew it, she was laughing so hard that she collapsed on the floor with one hand on her jiggling belly, her knees scraping through the jagged broken glass. She was oblivious to the pain, to the oozing blood. She continued sitting there in a kneeling position, very still, in a brown lace negligee that was falling out of her slouched shoulders. Her brain often sent her signals of levity under intense pressure — didn't her therapist call it fear-grinning — as a voluptuous, unstoppable giggle. One that got her into trouble at funerals or on stage when speaking about something as morbid as sexual predators at the workplace. And there she was now, pretending this whole situation is just really a giggle explosion and it’ll pass. How long should she laugh about it, not moving from that ridiculous prayer position, not addressing the bleed, not pulling up her negligee, and not feeling anything? She could very well be sitting right there eating canned beans or frozen pizzas without a care in the world.

“The good news is I don’t have to clear this mess,” she announced to an invisible audience. The kitchen floor now resembled a crime scene with intermingled spats of blood, roses and broken glass, all the no-brainers to a crime of passion in a deserted, untidy apartment.

Three nights ago, over coffee, her friend had brightly suggested the idea of them spending Pre-valentine’s together. A couples’ soiree at her house. Valentine’s Day could be their private thing then. A fetching idea.
The conniving whore! Oh, she’d been so blind. The stolen glances between them, the morning shower humming, the sudden cell phone secrecy, the inexplicably vacant conversations and mood swings…He was having an affair with her, you dim wit.

Of course, she was no saint either. But she still held a shred of sanctity to chain all her possible betrayals in her mind. Fantasies, possibilities….wasn't that what separated romance from reality? If at right this moment, her ex-lover was to walk in and hold her in his arms, planting her with soft, comforting kisses, whispering carelessly-soothing words, wouldn't she have fallen sloppily back in love with him? Even if he had, a really long time ago, in a badly-fused moment, broken her heart into tiny, crystallized pieces? Would time matter? Does the space between her and her ex, with whom she’s not had a single exchange of endearment, for a decade, still hold true? Time and space — aren't they just optical illusions?

But she had loved him then. And she loves her long-time husband now. A little less today probably. And as she walks out that door, she’ll have wavering indices of love reserved for either of them with each passing day, and maybe just like that, one day she’ll snap out of it for both.

She took one last, long breath, coming a full circle in that position, staggering to her feet. Her long yogic limbs were strong enough to pull her out of any misery. A wave of nostalgia. Last night, after a heated argument and a grislier scene on a battlefield of a bed, they lay side by side one last time, sharing smoke and flicking ash all over her brand new red-roses satin sheet. She pictured wafts of smoke from a moving train. She wondered where she would go next, what she would do for a living, how her days would inch forward…

Climbing out of her languid life, she reaches for her trench-coat on the stand. Suitcases, change of underwear, lipstick…they could wait. It was a wintry morning but she could see the beaming sun in the horizons. Dramatic much? She walked out of her house, giving one last, longing look to House № 57. As she averted her face towards the dawn, she saw him from a distance sitting outside on a sunny bench, evidently at the edge of a rough night. The last time she saw him, she wanted to strangle him. She picked a pebble from the ground and pelted it at him. He ducked, even though he was nowhere close to getting hurt. They smiled. He screamed from across the street, “Come on now. I know you want to kiss me. It’s Valentine’s.” Strangely audible words to My Funny Valentine rose above the noise of morning clatters and revving engines.

And she knew she had no choice but to kiss him one last time.

Monday, 27 February 2017

The Big Mysteries of A Mom's Life - Unearthed

If they were to draft historical accounts of my life say, for the purpose of studying a life unexamined, there would be two significant periods that would emerge. Before the birth of my daughter (Pre-Saanvi) and after (Post-Saanvi).

Now I have vague recollections of what my life was before my tornado-swept daughter came along as a moderately-turbulent upheaval in my life — I cry myself to sleep when I think about it just how much room there before was to sleep in peace.

Pre-Saanvi, I got my beauty sleep, preceded by a cup of chamomile tea and a feel-good classic (*cough* Lady Chatterley's Lover). I skipped work/college to watch pretentious movie marathons at the International Film Festival. I didn't break into songs like Skip to my loo at any given time of the day. I NEVER stepped out in starry PJs and flip-flops and giant heart-print bags doubling up as bottle-holders.

You can say in the pre-Saanvi period, I always held it together. [Carefully wipes off memories of drunkenly-throwing wooden straws on random people at a bar.]

My older sister was one of the first people who showed me the other side of parenting — you know the scary-ass, SOS side. I was in my late teens, fighting acne and sleep, worrying about lesser mortal things like what to wear or how to tame my curls. And my sister - she always looked like she could really use the snooze button on her alarm. She was the world's fastest Indian to shower. While I gave myself bonus shower time to recuperate from the horror of her uncomfortably short one, which was always interrupted by a loud "Ma" on the door.

Her life was a big mystery to me back then, just as much my current life situation would've been.

So it occurred to me, there are some things that one may not necessarily relate to (or "get baffled by") until one steps into parenthood:

1. What multi-tasking is really about:
If you are the sorts who thought doing Math while listening to music is multi-tasking, wave hello to newborn-parenting. While the entire process of reproduction may have involved a lot of parallel activities in the background, here's when it gets out of control. You're wearing a baby sling with your baby somewhat trying to latch on as you do laundry, chop vegetables in the kitchen, attend an urgent phone call, fight back a pressing bladder and sometimes, in dire circumstances, stuff your face with leftover food like a crow.

2. Why a mom's social media feed looks like she's running a little crèche all the time:
I mean there may be new world orders, earthquakes, change of presidents but a mom's social media feed is always talking about poo or sleep-deprivation or potty-training or DIY costumes, right? I mean isn't it annoying?

No, it's not. When your kid reaches the coveted potty seat, it means you don't have to sniff diaper pants any more, a welcome graduation to merely washing and perfuming his/her bum. It's cause for wide celebration. And the cute pictures? Let's face it. Kids in costumes are adorbs.

3. The curious case of the mom bun and ill-fitted shirts:
The 24-year old me used to see these moms, all sporting the same messy-bun hairdo and wearing ill-fitted gingham shirts with leggings and I, the aspiring fashionista, would be like, "I could so style these women."

Guess what? OOTD and style quotient are miles away from a new mom, buried deep underneath fantasies of long hairwash rituals and reading beauty magazines. She may be the most organized mom, running her baby five-course meals by the clock, or a klutzy, house-upside down mom perennially out of time. What she's wearing, in terms of being fashionable is usually the last thing to cross her mind, well, after she's convinced herself to not use the 15-minute beauty time-slot to take a nap.

4. Where's the father/father figure in all of this:
I remember as a kid we had these family lunches with all my friends and their families assembling at somebody's house, playing memory games that involved figuring out, quite literally, "Who's the Daddy?" We rarely met anybody's dad so it was all a bit confusing. Three decades on now, we're still somewhat struggling with getting dads to participate equally, perhaps with some trite hand-on dad definitions like "Oh, look. I can do her nappy." or "Come sweetie, let's take your cycle for a spin today."

Fathers are unsung heroes, "bread-winning", saved-the-day-by-showing-up parents. Even though I'd say my husband is a hands-on dad, we, as a culture, are still miles away from equal parenting.

5. Why do you have to bring kids to the movies if they're not going to be watching it?
I remember how I used to dread going to family movies because there'd be dozens of kids ruining the movie for me with spoiler alerts, loud ill-timed chuckles, antsy walks and screeching wails. And then I'd come back thinking, "Why can't parents control their kids? Why do they have to bring them to the movies?"

The answer is they need to get a break too. They're people. They don't have any other place to leave their kids. Besides, they probably wanted to watch Deadpool but picked this one cos it's appropriate for child-viewing. So cut them some slack.

6. Contemplation is a luxury. But hair-washing?
 I used to hear all these new moms go, "Oh, I cut my hair cos I had no time to wash it, let alone de-tangle it." And it crossed me as strange. All they have is a little human, incapable of walking and running into trouble, sleeping most of the time, perhaps, just crying for milk and attention occasionally.

What we don't see is baby vomit and food getting in her hair. All the freakin' time. What we don't hear is attending phone calls and cooking and cleaning after her baby's mess and juggling kids' activities and grocery-shopping (with a baby) and scavenging for food. What we sleep through is her baby wailing through the night that got her to hit the snooze button eight times to let go of her mid-week scheduled hair-washing at 6 am.
With a baby, hair-washing is a pampering ritual, at best reserved for Sundays.

7. What sleeping like a baby really means:
And if you have one of those rare, miracle-of-life babies, who do actually sleep 12-14 hours at night, even through their post-midnight snacks, pray to God everyday. Cos you will need God to fight venom from your sleep-deprived peers. A typical night with a baby involves a lot of fumbling in the dark and rocking your baby at different hours of the night. You invariably keep a tab on the party people as they come blaring back at 2.00 am, listen to the chirpy birds who seem pretty pleased with their life, and appreciate the gorgeous sunrise horizons with misty-eyed, blurry vision.
As one of my mom-friends put it, "The person who coined the Sleep like a baby idiom didn't really parent any kids."

8. Why do moms carry a hideous, monster bag:
My sister would be taking her babies for a stroll till the end of the road and she'd be armed with an intimidating bag with refreshments and tissues for a year. I didn't get it. You just fed your baby. What could possibly happen?
Well, maybe she was standing in the line waiting to board a flight with her baby for the first time when her baby threw up and started producing these supersonic-frequency wails. And while she rummaged her fetchingly gorgeous new travel tote to fetch tissues and prepare milk under piercing, judgemental looks from the other passengers, she was internally telling herself, "Must buy giant bag with ugly, accessible pockets holding ready-milk and tissues at all times.

Any of these things eye-opening for you? Well, I'll come back for more while you go hug that tired-looking, unkempt mom in your block :).

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Hey Mommy, Do I Look Pretty Today?

There's one thing that always perplexes me about men and women, more than all the dwindling Mars vs Venus mysteries.

My husband and I are getting ready to go to the mall, mostly for grocery shopping and weekend-scheduled play-time for my daughter Saanvi. We're sipping our coffee at luxury, watching Impractical Jokers, when he suddenly looks at his watch and goes, "Shouldn't you be getting dressed? We gotta leave in an hour." So I, like a dutiful wife, who needs her doll-up routine as much as that doze of caffeine and evil-witch laughter, exit from the scene while he continues to sit there, until it's just five minutes left to go. And when he comes to the room to check up on me, I am at the stage which, for me, is the most time-consuming - deciding if I need to tie up my hair in a ponytail or let it down, debating if I need that extra coat of mascara or eyeliner to make my eyes look even, holding the blow dryer barrel to my head to add volume to my bangs that are crying out for mercy...

And in the desperation of the moment, of wondering if I should be taking this face for a spin after all or hide it under covers, I'll turn to him with a pleading-pup expression to ask him, "Does this look OK?"

He'll then, based on my look, from knowing how to read between the lines on my face for much too long, give me one of the following responses:

1. Baby, the question is do you FEEL ok? Cos I don't want you fidgeting about. ( anybody gives a hoot about feelings right now.)
2. What do you mean do you look ok? You look great! Furreal.
3. Wait a minute. Who cares? We're going grocery-shopping!
4. Do you really want to go dressed like that? To a mall! (In our case, it usually means that I've gone over-the-top.

And it doesn't matter what he says. I'd still turn to the mirror and continue fixing something. I'd still take a trip down the memory lane to remember what I said to my Business Communications teacher when she asked me what physical feature I find most striking in myself. I'd still ferret my reflection for that one thing that can make me effortlessly pretty, which is getting harder and harder as time goes by.

I'd still give a damn about my appearance. About clicking flawless pictures. About looking cool and sexy and accomplished and elegant and poised and well-dressed.

Of course, it may be tied in a tight rope of feelings to many things that I'm feeling but it's getting exhausting.

Small disclaimer here: I am not saying that men are not obsessed about their physical appearance, well, unless they have an important day coming up. That stereotype is as tiring and yawn-inducing as the one about women being fucked-up drivers. I know of some men who spend an inordinate time fixing themselves before stepping out. And I know of some women who'd step out in dirty sweats and messy buns without a care in the world..

But there's something more deep-rooted about body-image anxiety that comes to women, not just from movies, air-brushed media ideals or beauty magazines.

It comes from the kind of conversations, you as grown-ups, have with a little girl as she is growing.

That is something I realized after paying close attention to what I and other people say to my daughter as a way of making conversation with her.

"Hello...  little princess! I love your polka headband. Did you pick it yourself?"

"OMG she's so cute in her tutu! Like a dream! You should totally make her learn ballet."

"Where's my lil angel off to today with her pretty pink glass slippers?"

"OMG...her hair! You gorgeous thing! God, please give me your hair, Saanvi!"

" Saanvi let's play dress-up. You can be Elsa in a ruffled gown! Oh you can so be a model."

"If you don't eat greens, how will you have long beautiful hair like your big sister?" (OK, I confess to that.  It was an experiment to see if that'd get her to eat spinach. Na...didn't work.)

I get it. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Women, I know, have to exchange compliments as a bonding ritual. So it's only natural that we apply the same rule to our little girls. Now up until this point, my daughter hadn't gotten to discover or appreciate what she looks like, except just in dressed-down adjectives such as chubby, brown, tall, or if there's something funny in her appearance, like a milk moustache or a wobbly lock of hair. You can congratulate me on my evil plan to keep her away from Disney princesses - well, I could only go this far with that one.

But the alarming frequency with which people have been dishing her the darn-cute routine became evident to me when one day, she walked up to a family at a restaurant to say Hi and when they responded brightly, she said, "I know what you're going to say next. That I'm cute." She wasn't being an arrogant prick. She was being honest 'cos that was how most people spoke to her. And unfortunately, that was all that some people spoke to her about.

Why should we hold back our instinctive "Awws" and "So cutes" to little girls, you'd wonder? As far as grandma myths go, haven't we been told never to bite our tongues with heart-felt compliments as they'd contribute to the evil eye?  And ain't it a bit far-fetched and paranoid to say that it could lead to future body anxiety? Those were my initial thoughts when I read this thought-provoking article. 

As Lisa Bloom observes that when we talk to little girls mostly about their clothes and bodies and hair, we send them a wrong message. We tell them that being pretty and wearing a pretty dress is more important than anything else in the world. We tell them their looks are a big part of their worth. We tell them that it doesn't matter what book they're reading or what ideas they have for world domination or how much they love dogs, in our eyes, they'll always have to be pretty princesses in pink.

So, the next time you meet that sparkly, curly-locked, twinkle-eyed girl at a birthday party, save the sticky compliments. Instead engage her in a conversation. Ask her what she's reading. Discuss her favourite characters. Ask her what is her favourite animal. Give her clues to a puzzle to solve. What superpower does she want? What is her favourite dessert? Has she seen snow? Has she been to a beach?

You'd be surprised how much she'd recollect that conversation.

Do you agree with the above theory? As a little girl,  do you have any memorable conversations with adults that did not revolve around your looks or your dress?

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Random Bits And Pieces To My Grown-Up-Version Daughter

It's mid-afternoon in Mumbai, the month of December, but a scorchingly hot day, straight out of mid-May. My four-year old daughter is wearing three layers of clothes - my sheer jacket, her fur-vest and my ridiculously large-bowed plaid shirt that fits her as a maxi. (The things I buy for compulsively keeping up with fashion.) She's twirling all around the room, drunkenly swaying to "Love you Zindagi". Her eyes have got this virgin sparkle, going with the theme of all the pink and purple sequins that she's tossed on the floor in the name of art. Of course, it's completely normal in our house to have some degree of tacky pinkness on the floor or on our faces at any given time of the day.

To my dear girl as I look at you today,

I can see it in your eyes that there is no other acceptable form of life for you right now, except the one that involves you in the centre of your bubbling joy. It doesn't matter who joins you in your over-the-top party. You are your own party. As much as I enjoy looking at this right now, I can't help wondering if you would eventually, like the rest of us, cross this rainbow-zone to join us in the world of self-restraint, measured happiness, shuffling forever between aspirations, the past and future, never quite belonging to the moment. (Pray not.)

And that is why I've decided to write to you some random bits of wisdom, nothing of too much consequence, but hopefully nothing you'd want to pay a deaf ear to or filter off as "These Millennials - they'll never understand us."

Take it from me love. While mother-daughter gyaan is subject to change as we move forward, these are some valuable words that'll come to your rescue, when the Google search engine won't. Oh, and while we're on the subject, can you promise me never to Google medical symptoms? Instead, look up idioms on Urban Dictionary. Or indie artists on Wikipedia. Or any wickedly charming anti-heroes you fancy. Try Pablo Escobar.

You might look up Escobar. But the rest, you're going to disregard. I can tell.

One day, you'll leave my cushy nest and embark on your own journey. For all the little things in life, of course, you'll have your friends and cousins and aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents to turn to. Even then, the only counsel that will matter, at times, is that of your heart. And that's when it'll all get very confusing. I can't blame you. You heart what you heart. And that heart of yours - it's a tricky beast to capture. The only way I know about it is to take a step back, slowly disentangle yourself from its lure and remind yourself that you're enough. It may work. It may not. But always sleep on it before you go blindly chasing what that nasty red devil wants.

This one too, you're going to disregard. I can tell.

OK, so for all practical purposes, why don't I just tell you things that'll actually be of some use to you, instead of giving you trite, self-help mantras that everybody quotes at friendly brunches but nobody actually follows? Maybe, these'll make the process of growing-up less complicated.

Or not.

25 Bits And Pieces From Mama (Enriched With My Half-Life Experiences)

1. You're never too old/ too fat/too full/ too sick to eat  ice-cream: And I'm safely assuming you're not going to be the vegan/ froyo/cake-trumps-ice-cream category. God, p-l-e-a-s-e, tell me you aren't. First of all the cake vs ice-cream argument is moot. You can have both! And ice-cream's a life-saver. Got me through heart-aches and headaches. Brightened my dull days. Kept my food down during my final pregnancy term. So, please just keep a tub of it handy in your refrigerator. Right now, you love it so here's hoping.

2. Never give up your seat: Well, you should make an exception to pregnant women and senior citizens. But definitely not to anxious-looking, grouchy aunties and uncles. They're still going to look as miserable so one miserable person is better than two.

3. Travel. Alone or with your tribe: And if a spontaneous plan comes up, fight for it! Cos that's the only time when all of you will be available. Learn new languages, eat with chopsticks, however futile it may seem, karaoke, and never sit it out when you want to. ( I'm referring to strictly dancing here.)

4. And while you're travelling, take a polaroid cam: No staged-camera pictures and duck-face selfies (or whatever animal you're channelling these days) with mountains in the background please! Polaroid may be ridiculously retro but film cameras make the perfect holiday postcard. Plus they pack a lot of memories.

5. Clean the kitchen top before you sleep: 'Cos if next morning Shanta mausi doesn't show up, you'd not have to drag yourself with half-open eyes to the kitchen and moments later, storm out of it in utter disgust only to head to Starbucks.

6. Look in the mirror and find something you like: Yes, that silhouette is fascinating on you. Your smile is worth a million-dollars, your curls frame your face nicely and no, that tiny stain on your brand-new, white pants isn't that pronounced. (I just saved you half-hour.) Incidentally, that is the gist of what you're saying to me now. ("Mom, stop staring at the mirror. Your hair looks great!")

7. Don't leave the house in PJs. Not even the cute starry ones. They're not the most flattering in bright lights.

8. Always keep wet wipes in your bag: By the way, you introduced me to them. And boy, are they a miraculous find! Work on stains, smudged kohl, and dirty leather alike.

9. If a boy/man pulls a chair for you on the first date and leaves you stranded while he goes talks to his friends on the second, he's not worth it: Human behaviour is inconsistent. But such swift inconsistencies, you can do without. You'd rather be with someone who doesn't pull a chair for you at all.

10. Don't be a quitter: And if for any reasons involving your sanity you are one, have a back-up plan and don't look back.

11. Don't swallow your feelings or pride: And if you must, don't gorge them down with cold French fries or old doughnuts. That's wasting precious calories.

12. Step out often: But wear sunscreen. Actually just wear it regardless. We've fuckin' polluted every place.

13. Be somebody's speed-dial: And have someone on speed-dial. Or whatever you're calling it these days. Especially useful for post-midnight apocalypses.

14. Knock lightly before you open a deserted cabinet. You don't want poor unsuspecting lizards dropping on your feet.

15. When you get to your thirties, always make room for Aunt Ruby. She can barge in any time. (You may want to look up Aunt Ruby under long-dead idioms.)

16. Is it worth doing it everyday when you hate it so much? Just learn to trust somebody with your laundry.

17. There is such a thing as the chain of assholery: Please don't give sweethearts grief for what jerks did to you. Cos Karma's watching and she's a bitch who loves moving in circles.

18. It doesn't help to be stressed-out and whiny:  (Something I'm working on personally.) Take it from me. Things will be out of control once in a while. And nobody likes a whiner. Plus it brings on early wrinkles.

19. Always carry something to a party. Even if it's just rye-bread. (No, not rye-bread really.)

20. Once in a while, know how to push the right buttons. Cos the world moves on push-technology, if used correctly.

21. Saying 'Sorry' shouldn't be a knee-jerk reflex: Don't we often end up saying "Sorry" for being trampled on? Train your reflexes to not do that. Right now, you assess the situation and damage before saying you're sorry. In other words, I have to eyeball it out of you. You got it babe.

22. Don't watch any classics or Jane Austen based movies with your man: Cos he'll ruin it for you. I can't watch Pride and Prejudice with a straight-face any more.

23. As a rule, I know you're going to disregard everything over-concerned Aunties tell you. But if you find an aunt with large, pop-coloured eyeglasses/crazy purple hair/a biker jacket/a stack of Virginia Woolfs in her library, pay close attention.

24. Greet everyone and treat them as you'd like them to treat you: Cos a kind word goes a long way. Besides, you don't want the server spitting in your coffee.

25: Never wear white-on-whites: Top five things to get jinxed. After freshly-ironed hair in monsoons and spotlessly clear skin before a really important day.

I asked you what you want for your 5th birthday. You couldn't decide between a long vacation, a labradoodle or a superhero party. Eventually, you gave up the idea of a party cos you were afraid you wouldn't get enough gifts.

I hope you  keep this thirst and spirit for life, however material and self-absorbed, alive.

Cos kid, you're worth so much more to me.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Introverted Parent Trap

Image Source: Presspack

Scenes From An Early Morning School Drop-Off:

[Dark, greyed elevator...something of a quiet place to shut your eyes in for a few seconds.]

I hop—wait, I am merely sliding in —with my four-year old daughter gleefully jumping into it first with her eight-watts smile, disturbing the whole atmosphere without even saying anything. Morning person much? A man and two other women join us, hounding and blocking what I consider my free breathing space. Each of us moves to light up our destination digits, makes brief eye contact and zones out in our individual fortresses.

I pick the dark corner that also lets out a secret vent for my benefit. Saanvi continues to intrusively study everyone, keeping her wide-eyed smile. Of course, she can't stand still even for ten seconds. She notices something and yells at me from another corner, pointing crudely at the only man in the elevator.

 "Mom! Mom! Look at him. He is wearing dad's t-shirt."

Of course, that remark is open to wide interpretations and I'm mortified. But I've learned the hard way that whatever I do in a desperate attempt to salvage is only going to backfire. So I just give her a half-smile and avoid eye-contact in general. I'm counting in my head to get the fuck out of everyone's hair when comes another uninvited remark.

"Uncle, can you give it back? Papa really likes that t-shirt."

Obviously, now I have to dive in head first with apologetic giggles that only get drowned in the roaring laughter coming from the seemingly-polite ladies in the elevator.

Kids say the ballsiest things, don't they? That's cool.

Mostly, they say things that overwhelm you and outnumber you in rapid sentences. And that's OK too I guess.

But if you're an introvert like me, it can get exhausting.

Last year, we went on a holiday to Bintan. Saanvi had just turned three that year. It was her birthday. We had a quiet dinner at an Indian restaurant so she could have her lunch staples—roti and bhindi—as opposed to Ramen and pizza. She picked the table next to a sweet Indian couple. The entire time we were there, our tables were shuffled incredibly close together with her chair facing the Indian couple. I felt sorry for them 'cos they seemed to be newly married. My husband took a picture of us from that day. The couple was downright jubilant to be in our company. Saanvi was in mid-sentence. And me - well, I had this sheepish, awkward smile.

Like I wanted to get out of there as fast I possibly can.

And that is definitive of how I feel when we're out as an introverted mom and extroverted daughter duo. 'Cos here's the thing about being an introvert. You want to be able to control the volume of conversations. So, when I'm talking to people, one-on-ones with people I know are ideal.  Group-conversations are next best cos you get to catch your breaths a lot. Of course, I love my friends! I'd meet them with their kids too, sometimes craving for a cup of coffee with them in the middle of the night, imagining the kids all tucked in with a nice classic, say Wizard of Oz, while we sit outside and indulge in some petty, slanderous gossip about everyone we know.

But the perennial introverted parent trap arises in one form or the other. Like in the following situations:
  • When you're amidst strangers in a long journey and you're forced to engage in conversations 'cos your chatty daughter won't have it any other way. And she won't even nap cos that'll get in the way of discovering new people. (New people are over-hyped.)
  • When you're in the company of society park moms who're engaging in long conversations with your daughter asking her interesting open-ended questions. And you kind of feel obligated to do the same with their kids.
  • When you've had a long, tiring day of relentless conversations with your little jabberer and you're ready to call it a night. And your daughter asks you to cook up a fairy tale from your imagination and narrate it to her. One that does not end with, "And she was tired, miserable and sleepy ever after."

I know what you may be thinking. Am I even remotely implying that my energetic daughter is making me miserable? So what if she talks a lot?

Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful each day for having a little ray of happy, bouncing sunshine in my life. And she's a good conversationalist. Not kidding. She talks like a grown-up. She'll talk about anything from fun science facts to philosophy, sometimes she'll just make up her own trivia for the sake of conversation fillers.

But for me, in order to be a functional mother, who listens to her and  nurtures her with the same sort of love and energy every day, I have some alone-time mandates. Maybe, it is a little selfish. But my me-time refuels me, sometimes more than a good night's sleep, more than my other basic necessities in life.
And that's when I knew what I need to do in order to survive motherhood. So that I can over-indulge myself in uninvited conversations. So that I can make it through birthday parties without feeling like a deflated party balloon. So that I don't go looking for a spiritual connect before letting another person into my space. So that I can flit from one group to another without having to feel like an alien. Which is the hardest part for an introvert by the way. When we find a comfortable space, we cling to it with all our might. So chances are, even when I'm out on a social spree, you'll always find me with the one person I started my first cocktail with. That is if said-person hasn't abandoned me. (I do have social abandonment issues.)

So here are some everyday guidelines I've laid down for myself:

1. Tuning out from the world completely: Alone-time is not hard to come by since we're a nuclear family. So, I put my phone on silent, sit with a book/writing pad /mindless television, whatever the need of the hour and stay put for as long as it takes to feel rejuvenated.

2. Starting my day ten minutes earlier than everyone: Sometimes, all it takes is five deep breaths,  a dose of morning fresh air and quiet to get me up and about.  The realization that the world hasn't started needing you yet  is divine energy.

3. Having a job that doesn't necessitate face-time: Because honestly, what good can come of a room full of people trying to fill up air with their own stuck-up ideas and making themselves look important? Fine, maybe greater good that can potentially change governments. But fortunately for me, I'm still trying to get all the way back to jump-starting my career and I realize that with my skills, I could potentially even work from a remote island. As long as it has WI-Fi.

4. Music: Big part of my survival kit. I can absolutely not do any sort of physical activity without my playlist. It is therapeutic. Irrespective of whether you're an introvert or extrovert, it's important to have at least one thing in your life that is meant just for your personal pleasure. My playlist is one of them.

5. Letting it go: You may try to mingle more and be more receptive to others and put yourself out there more often. But you can't change who you are. I try to accept that and not beat myself about it. I fail miserably but I try again.

Of course, it fills me with an inexplicable envy when I see bright, cheerful moms who can fill the room with their positive vibes and radiant energy. But I've come to healthy terms with the fact that I'm just not one of them. I'm happy to spend my alone-time refuelling for random play-dates and spontaneous social events that tend to drain the life out of me.

As long as I'm there in body and spirit, I'm enough.