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.

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Celestial Brush With Sufi Music

Sama Concert - NCPA (Vocals - Rekha Bhardwaj)

I'm sitting in a crowd, a million stray faces that seem familiar one way or another, giving me a wicked sense of deja vu. We’re all waiting, wrapped up in our own anticipations, with bated breaths, hoping to be swept away to our own quarantined havens; breaths intermingled, cosmically miles apart.

And then it all began. Mystical lights and whirling prayers appear on stage to guide you on a quest to find yourselves and lose sight of everything you've come to know in the physical realm.

I had never quite known what to expect of a Sufi concert. Honestly, I've listened to Sufi a lot of times before, with an impatience and dissonance that completely discredits its trippy, transcendental quality. As a child, when my dad would put on anything even remotely sounding like a qawwali on the car radio, I’d turn it off in disgust. “Oh God, that’s depressing!” were my words for anything that deviated from uptempo pop and love ballads. My dad would spring it back on and say, “You’re way too young to understand music.”

Over the years, somewhere in the adulting journey, I found that my playlist has grown. It had ushered in new definitions and artists, representing soul-searching genres that passed by like seasons, bringing in wind, rain and sunshine to my senses— essentially music that’d be heavily face-palmed by the 12-year old me. Sufi, however, still struggled to permeate. It just seemed so severely bluesy to me for reasons beyond my understanding. 

So no one had expected me to see what was coming.

I am sitting in a concert, listening to shards of music tearing their way to my murky interior. Me, more of a cynic, liable to believe in the worst-possible outcome than in the possibility that things will magically fall in place — well, unless I'm four drinks down. But, I'm told, Sufi is not about either of those extremes. It’s neither hopeful nor despondent. Sufi music is about accepting things exactly the way they are, in that moment, in their magical realism. And I'm trying to decode that complex philosophy as I listen to fragments of soothing percussion and sensual saxophone and pained strings that come to life with whirling chants. 
When comes a voice — a voice that I have heard so many times in chart-busters before. A voice that I've come to know of as multi-dimensional, one that sets poetry to fire and follows it through to its silent ashes. I don’t know if it was that voice that carried Sufi to me or the concerto effect that unfolded its inexplicable beauty. But I was gradually very calm, erasing every thought, watching it pass as it disappeared into a corner. 

I was floating mid-air in her voice, shuffling me between desert sandstorms and green pastures, understanding for the very first time that Sufi is far from being dull and depressing. 

It is a journey. It is an unadulterated joy of finding something that you — an inbetweener — have been waiting for, right where it always was.

You can now also listen to the Audio transcript of my Sufi experience on SoundCloud.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Day When Secret Stashes and Green Zombies Rose From The Graves

The eve of 8th November 2016 was a memorable one. As residents of India, wherever we all were, whether at a raving party or sitting quietly tucked under a rock chanting our way to the non-material, there came a turbulent wave of anxiety (of a very material nature) that shook us to our cores. I was at a dance class at that very moment sitting with four other ladies when one of us announced, "Ladies, check your Whatasapp. What is this announcement that Modiji has just made?" I looked at her a bit puzzled. Why would I check my Whatsapp for a political announcement? Well, that goes to show the power of word of mouth. As social media isn't quite immune to hoaxes and uncalled-for, nation-wide pranks, we instead turned to our wider LED screens to confirm.

Our grim-faced prime minister emerged on screen, dead-serious and unapologetic.

"Brothers and Sisters,

To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016. This means that these notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards."

Demonetisation was something I had read about in my textbooks years ago, on a dreary afternoon in an uninspiring Economics class. Is this really happening? Right here, right now? Am I witnessing history being made so dramatically that the roaring sound of it could be heard in every drawing-room, at chai-wala tapris and stock market rooms alike.

It felt unreal in the beginning.

But slowly began dull murmurs between us. Hushed-up calls were being made, secret congregations were happening in dingy, isolated hide-outs... Everyone had emerged from their houses to queue up at ATMs. People had stopped thinking straight. While standing in the ATM queue, a man asked my husband if he would trade an obscene, undisclosed amount of money for half its legit amount. It was hard to tell from his face if he was serious or joking.

The last four days have seen the urgent rise of pink-faced zombies and money stashes that could build lost civilizations from six-feet under. Wherever I walked, I saw people being worn down by a celestial spirit, the likes of Betal, wearing strings of 500-1000 currency notes around his neck, asking them the one stumping puzzle, "What will you do now? Pray tell." It was a question far-reaching and far from righteousness, but riddling nevertheless.

What had remained a murky mystery till now was out in the open. And I'm not even talking about black money here. No, I'm not talking about an irrational sum of corrupt money stashed away to evade taxes.  I am talking about the hard-saved secret "tijori" of women that had been cleverly hidden in kitchen jars, saree folders, lingerie and many other unimaginable safe havens and lockers that were hitherto unknown. "My husband gives me an allowance every week. I don't have to spend all of it. So I've been saving. A lot.", one of my friends confided in me.

I, being a freelancer and having an irregular income, had also got in the habit of maintaining a secret stash. But fortunately for me,  I'm also an avid shopper and cannot resist new shoe leather and hardbound leather alike. Thank God for shopaholicism! I had only 500 Rs left in my secret wallet, which I've now laminated to show my future generations what shagun before 08/11/16 looked like.

If you had a sleepless night on 08/11, the morning of 09/11 brought its own domestic confusion and catastrophes. My maid walked in, panic-stricken and heaving, "Bhabhi aap log ne hi toh diya tha woh paisa. Ab humko jail jana padega kya?" [Bhabhi, you had tendered to me 500-1000 rupee notes for salary. Now would I have to go to jail for drawing salary in cash?] Apparently all the fearmongering through Whatsapp and their own circles had got them thinking they were criminals. I sat her down and explained to her the procedure for exchanging her real-life money- that was now about as valuable as fake Monopoly cash- for legitimate cash. She still looked restless. I gave her money to make it through the day.

But calming the f-down seemed a shore too far in a country where money was being flushed down the toilet and being used as fuel for bonfires.

It's been four days since the fear of God struck the country. People are washing their hands off capitalism and embracing socialism by taking to the streets to distribute money to the poor. And for once, you witness the beggars guarding their katoras and bargaining, saying that they will accept Rs. 10 with showers of blessings but not anything that even remotely looks like 500-1000 currency notes. "Humko bhi raat ko sona hota hai saab." [We too have to sleep at night Sir.]

09/11/16 - a day when justice was blanket-delivered, when corruption began to lose its far-reaching grip. But for kitty parties and domestic India, it was the day that the most popular adage went abruptly out of style  - "Nope. Don't save it for a rainy day. Not in kitchen jars, at least."

Image Courtesy - Quartz India

Monday, 7 November 2016

Perfect Weekend Take-Out Food - Does It Exist?

Dear Readers,

As I may have already established through the rather alive-and-kicking 'Food' tab on my blog, I love to cook! For family and friends, Pammi Aunty's cats even. Unfortunately, I am a hit-and-miss sort of cook hence, for general good, I'm not in the catering business.

That said, there are days in my life, once in a week definitely (OK, it’s Friday) that I don’t want to please anyone but myself. When my mother’s home-cooked plain dal khichdi with mango pickles and papad trumps my own, hand-pulsed, spicy saag paneer. Naturally, since I don’t have access to my family in Mumbai and am not sadistic enough to torture my husband to venture into wearing a floral apron after a hard day’s work, I turn to the thriving business of take-out food to appease my senses of personal catering.

Now, I could just get myself hand-measured, pre-curated kits of frozen foods or ready-meal kits to give me the exact sense of nourishment for much less in just about a couple of minutes. But no. That won’t do. I won’t go near a steel cauldron or a cooker. Just give me meals in a box that I merely have to provide half-a-minute of heat to and set about laying on the table seductively with wine glasses and fancy blue china.

And that is exactly why, in my quest for the perfect take-out, I stumbled upon these fashionably suitable, build-to-your-palate, wok restaurants that are all of the rage in Mumbai at the moment.

I had been waiting, with bated breath, for something that will have me eating Chinese out of a cardboard box to arrive in Mumbai ever since I started watching The Big Bang Theory. The idea is delightful, right? All you have to do is receive your food and tip your delivery man — who’s all healthy smiles with just the necessary amount of cheese — handsomely. Also, very encouraging is the fact that they give you forks and everything so no need to bring your cutlery to the party. The only accomplishment that these hand-delivered meals will have you feel is that YOU get to build your own flavours. Yes. Whip out your little Masterchef scribblings. Figure out what protein goes with Kung Pao and coriander and what veggies would subtly pack a punch without being too stringy or clingy. That’s really all there is to it. And if you can’t even get yourself to do that, just consult the most popular choices on the web and play it safe. You get to order your personal wok so no need to negotiate with your partner about just how much broccoli needs to be in there. I mean what’s a romantic meal for two where one of you has to make big sacrifices for the other? Just order what you like and you can fork off as you please. (There’s an unintended pun in there, I’m sure.)

Alas, as rosy as this picture seems, this story doesn't have a happy ending. When I started ordering these take-out woks, I was mesmerized. I tried all the flavour combinations, however ridiculous it sounded to my husband. He called me a mad scientist and stuck to his better-safe-than-sorry Black Bean wok. I, on the other hand, liked playing this game of cooking food on-line, rising up to the adventure of exploring new, tongue-twisting menu items. Who's to say, they may potentially have an equally-satiating effect on my tongue as the joy of calling out their exotic sauce names on the phone. I told all my friends to try it out. Saying things like, “Oh, it’s so convenient!” or “You get what you ask for!” or “Try something-something Bao!” No, I am not making animal sounds. For the uninitiated, Baos are the latest sensation to hit the Chinese food market in Mumbai.

It took about six drunken seasons of Game of Thrones, one of Stranger Things and another two of Scream to awaken me to what my scorched taste buds were trying to telling me.

They all fucking taste the same.

Well, not quite though. There will be at least three categories of sauces in there ranging in the level of hotness-quotient mystique. One will be soy — salty, beany, slightly bitter for those of you who can’t handle any peppers other than the bell pepper variant. One will be posing as a full-bodied sauce — tangy, sweet, coconutty, mysterious, with hits of spices that’ll have you hold you a glass of water within your reach. The last one will be a no-holds-barred spicy sauce that’ll not give your palate enough time to look out for other flavours as it’ll get burned out before you try to go all, “Hmm…I get star-anise.”

So that’s talking about the sauces. You ordered protein in it too, remember? Since there are now only eight planets in the solar system (or is it nine again), you’ll get only those numbered quantities, in tiny, dried-out chunks, orbiting your portion of wok. (Serves you right for ordering a personal wok.) With each iteration of order, we’ll take one away. (Cos it’s fun that you still haven’t figured out how we’re ripping you off.)

Oh, also since you want an entrée to go with your main meal, what are you going to order? Sushi right? Sushi at your doorstep, so why the hell not? Well, here’s a run-down on how to order your sushi. Don’t take it away! And if you do take it away, you’ll have to drown it in soy sauce and dabs of Wasabi to have it do its fair bit of artsy-fartsy talking. Even then, it’ll give you nothing to speak of…except a foul-smelling barf.

That brings to imagination the desserts and beverages offered along with these largely-institutional meals. Well, they are no more carefully-curated than your local grocery’s can of Coke. So don’t jump in there with high expectations, please.

And finally, that brings me to a wider spectrum of thought. Why do we eat take-out food? Granted, you don’t want to step out and you don’t want to sweat your pantry muscles out. But when we do, why would we choose something seemingly-synthetic and gelatinous out of a cardboard box over Shetty Anna’s special, layered Hyderabadi Biryani or your trusted Chinese Dragon’s chowmein that your cute Nepalese sous-chef tosses right in front of you and that does satiate all your greasy, unhealthy cravings? Why would you not, instead, go to Ramu Kaka’s halwai and pick up that tried-and-tested Ragda Pattice that’s been simmering in ghee just for you? At the end of the day, they’re equally calling out to your taste buds, promising you a dinner date to savour and a morning volcanic upheavel to remember.

For me, the wok restaurants charmed me with their option of personalized menus. Considering the principles of a good Chinese meal being followed — the right amount of stir-frying, crispy textures, soy, garlic and ginger and an appropriate Indo-Chinese reinterpretation, there’s got to be win-win in a personalized wok. You get to say ‘No’ to crackling spinach and pak choy and ‘Yes’ to roasted cashews and burnt garlic.
Except for the fact that what I had was far from good Chinese cooking. It was far from good cooking.
For beginners, from what I have read about Chinese food, they consider the meal staple as the rice or noodle. Everything else is a side-kick. The last wok I ordered gave me noodles running chewy and dry.

So that was pretty much the jolting click of finality to me.

We live in a world where time is scarce, waiting-lines are long and convenience is key. One of the perks of living in a big city like Mumbai, I’d say, is woman, you’re never short of grub! Whether you’re looking for something spicy and satisfying or brothy and nourishing or greasy and err…greasier, you wanna make sure that you enjoy it thoroughly when you do (even if that possibly means that you’ll be waking up with burning regret.)

And on that count, I'm bidding farewell to build-your-own wok restaurants.

What are your favourite take-out options? I’d love to know more about what you’re eating this weekend. Especially, if you’re eating from the suburbs of Mumbai. Pray do tell :).