Monday, 26 November 2007

Putting a baby-sitter

Did I hear anyone say motherhood was all pink and wonderful and a walk in the park? Hmm. They are clearly not leading my life. Motherhood is all about re-living your own childhood and developing extreme amounts of respect for your own mother, and the institution. Nevertheless, I survive. I enjoy MagicPot and Jigsaws and Bhindi and Paavadais, and even, the colour pink now. The monster is, well, a monster and a geek, but she is my monster and geek, and I am partially (at least) to blame, so we chug along. Of late, she sounds quite adult, and amma-monster days (meaning weekends when the husband has gallivanted off to Bangalore for work) are actually loads of fun (if tiring). We visit the Supermarket; we talk about spellings of everything we see around us; we buy random pieces of clothing from the roadside (and resolve to donate away equal number of our older clothes); we withdraw cash from the ATM (she loves to press that button on our way out); we go to the library.

Mid-day, if the sun is a little high, we get into an argument. You are annoying me. YOU are annoying me. You don't talk that way to me. YOU don't talk that way to me. Want a time out? Ugh, you smell (Of chocolate, apparently, should I feel guilty for the chocolates I devoured last night or should I wonder if mine child has lost it?)
We have a nice loud session of this. She cries. My temper flares. My temper calms. She cries some more. We throw each other off. Then we hug, and cuddle. I advice her. Her replies are at a tangent. She has finished with this conflict, and moved on. I am not done. I get the distinct feeling that she thinks I am her friend. Which is good. And bad.

Now when its the three of us during the weekend, the ups and the downs are much more pronounced. Its great when we eat our dinner together. Or rather, she eats by herself while we are still in the liquid part of our dinner. Its wonderful to take afternoon naps together. I always try very hard and stay awake till they are both asleep and snoring, slip out, and watch songs on MTV. Its awesome to go grocery shopping together. I don't have to drive either the car or the cart. She is a perfect doll sitting up there in the cart with appa pushing her. But when its mid-day and the sun is high! OH! She does something really silly. I lose it first, but gain it back soon. He loses it and loses it some more as she cries. One look at his face and she dissolves into tears (usually starts off sounding quite fake, if you ask me). I have to play middle-man. Which sucks. I want to either just cry loudly or just lose my temper loudly. Middle-man has to be calm. Reach a resolution. Identify the source of the conflict. Ugh.

So we had this guest over on Friday night. Nice guy, friend of ours from a long time ago. Yes, from college, and he and I went to graduate school together as well. He is interesting because generally he knows everything about the life of all the people that went to college with us. I mean, everything, not just a vague recollection of the continent they reside in. A yearly meeting can be used to get up-to-date on all the good gossip. And so it was, I racked my brains and came up with names of a lot of folks, and, as expected, he gave me all the dope on them (or at least the dope that he considered fit for my consumption). Of course I asked him about his own family and kids and we exchanged some parenting tips.

In the typical tamil way, he says to me, "Why don't you put a baby-sitter for your child? Then you can have some free time." AAh Put a baby-sitter, as in find a person who will substitute for you, so you can enjoy yourself. What an interesting thought! It has barely occurred to us! I recall an older lady last year during our trip to Udaipur. She looked me in the eye and said, "Your child is too active, why did you not bring her ayah on the trip? You will tire yourself out this way" She is a nice person so only expressed shock and surprise (and not disgust) when I told her there is no such person back in Mumbai. Its us. And, of course, the weekday creche, which is GREAT LET ME NOT HEAR ANYONE SAY ANYTHING AGAINST IT GODDAMMIT.

I sent off friend with (a)I am a very involved parent (b)We don't think baby-sitters can work (c)Bit mad no, we are?
I am sure he will work these bits into his spiel about us when he next meets other people. But its fine. He is not a malicious gossiper. He is one of those who genuinely wants to have as much connection with his friends as back when we all lived together on the same campus.

But seriously, I want to put a baby-sitter now. I dreamed of going to a movie, eating dinner calmly without worrying about why on earth the tomato soup is so damn hot every time, visiting restaurant bathrooms secure in the knowledge that no little hands are touching the walls when your back is turned, holding hands, taking a walk, talking about mutual friends in disparaging ways (just to let off steam guys I really do love you, don't worry), swearing a little bit, riding escalators in our usual fashion - me a step higher so I can put my hands on his shoulders without stretching, shopping in dusty second-hand book stalls by myself and not worrying about dust and cough and is it time for dinner, sitting in coffee shops and watching people without having to worry about her falling off the chair she is climbing from the back, an endless list of simple silly things I did without a thought that I should be storing up on them.

But seriously, its all good. We all make our choices. Of course we go to movies and dinner and coffee shops and any bookstore that happens to be there. She comes along. She enjoys it, never cribs. Its more work for us, of course, but its all good. At any rate I don't think I can find a baby-sitter that will let me guiltlessly go forward into the night. Grapes are sour. Hell yeah. Goddam you, Just back off, will you....

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sports and the woman

Competitive sports and me - well, we haven't really met in a while now, except in my dreams. Back in school, college, and even grad school (somewhat), this was a big part of daily distraction. In fact, I blame my love for these damn sports tournaments for the fact that, now, I find it so difficult to lose weight, gain muscle tone, etc. Women my age glibly tell me that they lost a hundred kilos because of their morning walk. I feel all inspired by this, morning walk? Easy Peasy. But then I remember that my body is used to really vigorous exercise, a morning walk is as useful as the Re.1 packet of gems when one is hungry.

During my schooldays, I doubt there occurred even a single race (of the running kind) in the city that I did not participate in (at least from classes VI-XII). Not that I won much. My peers were quite a sporty lot. I just made up in enthusiasm what I lacked in muscle mass. Of course, in specially designed sports meets where participation was limited to geeks, I did well for myself, picking up tons of loot in terms of medals and trophies.

Likewise, in the geek-o-rama college where come december, a 100-strong team of klutzes would travel across the country to indulge in some sports - running, jumping, basketball, cricket. Mind that of these 100 some 20 would be girls, based on an enforced decision by the powers-that-be. The girls teams were always considered inferior. My challenging a guy to run the 100m with me always treated as a joke.

During the rest of the year the dear old alma mater let us sports-freaks engage in interamural stuff, usually pitting hostel A against hostel B. This strictly implied Boys hostel A and Boys hostel B, and the suggestion that we were also part of a hostel was met with derisive laughter. Nevertheless, using my loud-mouthed-ness and working to my advantage the pity they felt for my shortness, I learnt in college the pleasures of six-a-side soccer, three-a-side volleyball, and three-a-side basketball, which are really much more fun than the traditional forms of the games. For us girls, getting together a full squad for a formal soccer team being well near impossible, these informal versions were really a boon. We lost every single game we played though, and while derisive laughter continued, I received one compliment "You have well developed calf muscles" for my efforts. And yes, I made some really tight friendships with girls who dreamed my dream and went along with me on these foolish inter-hostel sports missions uncomplainingly.

The land of milk and honey and what not. I really thought my fight for equality was not required any more after all this was the developed world. It was MUCH worse! I had everything going against me - my height, my skin colour, my accent, my gender. But it is like breathing to me, I cannot stop myself. In hindsight, in my seven years there, I did some stuff that was fun - I was on a mixed soccer team three years running (we won some games), I played in the famous (well, for my school at least) Haigis Hoopla basketball tournament (we lost everything, I bled on the court due to a vicious foul and the American girls refused to continue the game because of, you know, tropical diseases and all), I stole the ball from African American playahs (so what if they were rejected from the teams, they thought they were OH so good), had really enjoyable (and super competitive) desi beach-volley and full court basketball games. Stuff of my pleasant-est thoughts. I even was a coach once - but thats another whole story.

Okay so cut to the present day. I am trying to embrace middle-age. My mangalsutra, my C-section scar, my varicose veins, my job these should weigh me down. Yes, I do that Mumbai Marathon thing, but its not that competitive. Its a long distance, its a fight with myself, its a serious mental game, it has hallucinatory moments. Its fun, don't get me wrong. But its not a 100m dash. Where you lean in and feel the tape, oh ecstasy! Its not the 200, where the curve just kills your knee and inner thigh. Its surely not even the 400, where you round one curve and then there is the other one looming ahead, not to mention the straight stretch that you must sprint over, with all you got, yummy! Of course, it could be those things, basically, its running. And yes, I do sprint at the very end of the 21 km, regardless of what has happened earlier. Now I have to make sure that I get those things from my day out on Jan 20. But for a few days there I had other visions.

In December is a sports tournament, right here, two steps from me. The usual one with running and jumping and basketball. I had dreams of taking part. After all, there is an 'oldies' team that is put together usually. I made some noises about this. Eyebrows were raised. You are a woman, I read in their man-eyes, then even their mouths said it. There is no woman's team, they said. We would need special permissions. No, I said. I want to take part in the men's tournament. I have legs, same as they have legs, I can run the same as they can run. I don't need medals, I have plenty of them. I want to just be there in the line-up I said. Oh no no you don't they said. But, for you, next year, for sure, we will have a woman's squad. You must participate, we think you will do well. I smiled my thanks, but it doesn't help, really. I don't want to be on the woman's squad. It will suck. We will get laughed at. I am sure I will win something, but I doubt it will mean much. All I want is, for once, people to say, okay there is a person who tried hard to run well. No laughter. No, Wow! for a woman...

So, earth to Kenny again. I am 33. I am a mother. I have a job. I get out to South Bombay every January and I run a race. It is hard, but I do it, I enjoy it. I even think I am reasonably good at it, not just for a woman. And in my heart I know that if there is ever such a day when I compete in a race as a person, with no bias for my gender, that day, merely by the act of participation, I would win. Even if I came in last, and the tape was rolled up and taken away by the time I wheezed over.

Monday, 19 November 2007

How to flush Rs.10.50 down the kitchen sink

The scene starts in the bedroom. Yours truly, Kenny, is "half asleep" which means those scenes of mountains and geometric series that indicate approach to zonked-out-land have started forming, and the words have started slurring. Enter the husband. Mr.Man lets call him today (I have retained my maiden name, Maine, do you see that?). Yours truly suddenly jerks out of geometric series and, enroute to multiplication tables, remembers the milk that is sitting next to the stove. She opens an eye. Oh what the heck. I opened one of my eyes and said to Mr.Man "Hey that thing that is white and liquid and sitting in a steel vessel next to the stove is milk, not curd being set for the morning, not curd being set for the morning. Please put it in the fridge, thank you" At that point the pine trees and equations in large font took over and I assume I drifted off.

The scene now moves to the kitchen, wee hours of the next morning. What do I find that is white and liquid and sitting demurely in a steel vessel next to the stove? Come on now, guess it. No, you silly gooses, its not milk anymore, its that special thick thing that happens to it. I do what any self-respecting member of the household would, and pour into the sink before the maid/cook come in and start scolding me for my carelessness. So thats how you do it. And yes, as of this month, the milk that comes in the suspiciously grimy packets costs Rs.21 per liter.

Now, this was quite an entertaining experience, I felt like I was Caligula or something, pouring half a liter of milk down the drain. But it set me thinking along such domestic lines, and I came up with:

(1) How to burn up Rs.500 on diwali night
Obvious answer! Hardly even requires Mr.Man's intervention, or miscommunication akin to 'Got the keys (?)' in the very forgettable thanksgiving episode of Friends. Crackers! Flower pots, wheels, sparklers, whatever your little heart desires. Buy them, set them on fire. Watch with glee as your money burns. This has the side benefit of polluting the place, increasing ambient temperatures (and tempers), and potentially causing burn injuries

(2) How to use up 16 KWH of electricity
Just one night out of several that you can potentially celebrate diwali, set up 100 bulbs of approximately 20W. Buy them in colours. Leave them on for the whole night, of 8 hours. This one also has a side benefit that come summer you can enjoy the load-shedding, secure in the knowledge that you have personally contributed to it.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Children's Day

Is it not parent's day today, the monster asks when I tell her that its Children's Day. I was too bored to explain Chacha Nehru (whom Appa hates), and birthdays, and roses, and crisp sherwanis and Lady M.Batten and so on, so I just left it there, saying, no, everyday is Parent's Day and some such. The school seemed to have arranged some magic show with a clown and so on. This I learnt late at night sort of obliquely in the middle of conversation about what else? crying and avoiding the-kids-who-pinch.

The play-school is undergoing renovations. The ladies are all super excited. Kitna Posh Lagayga! they are walking around exclaiming. I am forced to join in their joy, though I am thinking, god, these guys are working so slowly, its so damn dusty, some kid is going to bang its silly head on these tiles, and so on. Anyway, the supervisor requested that parents volunteer at the school since the teachers and the care-taker ladies were super loaded with moving to the temp location, and cleaning and clearing out and over-seeing the renovations.

Mother-guilt forced me to haul-ass over there at 4 pm sharp on Children's Day. Thinking in my head, the monster is bound to be asleep, I can be useful to them for a little while at least. Of course this pink creature with her hair all piled-up nest-like on the head emerged sleepy-eyed the minute I showed up inside, sidled up to me, and started mewling. Now, if I had anticipated this (which I should have), I would have mentally allocated 10 mins of mommy-daughter time. Perhaps that would have helped. As it happened, right at that time, the idiotic fellows doing the renovation broke this whole wall right next to a pile of books, making the books look like they were rescued from collapsed buildings. Alarms went off. Our books Our books. If anything tops mommy-guilt its book-love so I drifted off to help with this issue, leaving the pink-mewler in the able hands that deal with her EVERYDAY.

The supe-lady and me, we had this surreal conversation with the main guy (good-looking, thin chap) doing the work there. Please move these books here, we told him. Okay, he said. Hey You, he called out to an old-ish guy. The old-ish guy showed. Move these books here, he told him. Hmm said the guy and proceeded to carry some tiles from here to there and back again, on the outside. We went back to the main thin chap and said, Okay, get the idiot who kept his shoes on the cupboard (referred to generally as KAPAT) to move them. Hey you, he called out again. Nothing happened. My blood was reaching higher temperatures. Supe-lady is calmer. The shoe got moved. There are guys all around going on with their business as if the world is turning because of them, including one who was on the floor scraping cement off with his bare hands, I think he was supposedly cleaning.

Now, when I volunteered for this stint here at the play-school, I was imagining, hanging around with the kids, in a circle, enthralling them with my rendition of Karadi Rhymes, getting them to smile. Taking them to su-su, in a line. Resolving pinching-scratching-Katti quarrels. And talking intelligently to the cement-covered guys and moving and shaking stuff. Most of all, I did not want to touch anything in the old place, because my skin is hardly what it used to be and it was too damn dusty and cement-y in there.

So of course what I had to do was move about 500 books from the cement enclosed shelft on to the other KAPAT. Dig around in the other, old KAPAT, find poster colours, sheafs of papers with childish scrawls, chart paper, etc. and move them. It took us upwards of half and hour.

When I returned, I found that the largest girl (okay, one of the) in the play-school, looking for all the world like a very pink bunny with a birds nest on her head, had been crying all the while, going AMMA AMMA AMMA. It was a combination of Puke-Crying and regular stuff. No actual puking but you know.. I was really exasperated. The aunties gave me some tea, which was very welcome. I managed to calm it down finally and we hung around singing rhymes. There was a small fight involving pinching. All the kids made cameras from lego and clicked my picture. The boys were running around like maniacs screaming about fighter jets.

Thanks to the intervention of my friend, I calmed down, and we got home, somewhat on talking terms with her. The neighbours asked the usual How was School? question. I immediately said, OH she cried so much when I went to help out in her school. Why, did you do that, they asked her. Because I wanted to be with Amma and I love her very much. she said.


Saturday, 10 November 2007


In a sense, it has come and gone. Diwali I mean. I was busy celebrating my first white hair and sort of forgot partially about the festival of lights. And since we were supposed to celebrate it a day before the rest of the local populace, it was like a bit of a fairy-tale, really.

I blah blahed about Rangoli and Murukku and Coconut Burfi (and beer). Bought some dreamy mud diyas for Rs.2/- which I fell in love with on the street. Plotted various things in my head, diwali will be like this, and like that, and I will do this and that, and run 14k in preparation of the marathon, yada yada yada. With about 36 hours left before the work week, right now, I am in a haze. No, no, I am insanely sober, having watched Baghban on TV all afternoon. I cannot separate fact from fiction. I feel like I lit diyas sometime. I remember changing the monster's dress once because of the diyas in the lobby. I recall a rangoli. I can taste some sweets and murukkus and sundry other foods (all yummy). But I am not sure. It could be my over-active imagination, or I could have actually transformed myself into the now almost extinct Domestic Kenny and done a few things in honour of the festival.

Like take last night for example. The official Diwali night. Two of our friends came over with a back-pack full of food. We did what we were expected to (such as order beer). We were hanging out. The child was demonstrating its skills by writing their names on a slate. If you ever need help cracking an anagram, please to employ child. You know how you write the letters all in a sort of circle so you can visualise the combinations. Well, thats how she normally writes words. It is up to you figure out the word based on all the letters she has managed to put down. Sort of a fun game. Anyway so we are doing this slate business. We are shouting big time at each other. WHAT IS THAT? OH! THAT LOOKED LIKE AN APPLE? WHAT?? IT IS Q? OKAY YEAH. GUYS WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE AMBIENT TEMPERATURE NOW? WHAT IS THE EMBARGO TIME FOR THESE GODDAMN CRACKERS? GROWING UP, WHICH WAS YOUR FAVOURITE ONE? MINE WAS THE SNAKE...HISS...

We were dressed as shabbily as possible. I was wearing husband's discarded shorts and my favourite CRY RUN WALK Tshirt from last century. The child was wearing a half-dress created out of cloth remnants (original plan was for me to wear the kurti and her to wear the dress and we would finally look like mother and daughter). The friends were better than us (considering they travelled through a city which was decked up and dripping jewels) but would not easily be allowed on the ramp. Of course the husband was trying to display his biceps by wearing the oldest possible tshirt from his gym collection.

And monster child has dissed all the light decorations all around us as 'Too much jing' This has to be fiction. I mean, this is the girl who thinks in pink and gold generally, and never has enough bangles on her little hands.

Oh Diwali, I am thankful for the time off, the afternoon naps, and most of all, the ten spoons of neat Milkmaid I stole and ate enroute to making my coconut burfi. That last thing is indeed a fact, and I better figure out a long-ish run tomorrow morning to get around that...

Monday, 5 November 2007


So I think its fair to say that I have had a full life. I take a leaf from my favourite fictional character, the one-and-only Psmith, and begin at the beginning. Meaning my formative years.

I spent the first few years in bliss, trying to resist sleep (which came all too easily), so I could catch the exact moment when the bud ceased to be a bud, and became in fact the flower. Many a summer night were spent thus in the garden, watching jasmine bushes. I attained fame for abilities to sleep sitting, standing, etc. thanks to this pastime. Moving on to schooling years. School was fun, always, the curriculum was fairly trivial till I reached the eleventh standard (and that chapter on Angular Momentum and Ice-Skating). And I spent my time fruitfully, exploring the vast school compound, tracing patterns on paper to mimic the movements of favourite worms, collecting the cones one must use to feed ice-cream to elves with (from the Eucalyptus trees). On Saturdays I derived especial enjoyment in rolling in the red mud of my school wearing the white uniform (complete with white socks and shoes). The stated excuse was that we were playing kho-kho. Hours and hours of running around in the manner of a snake; weaving my way through the sitting forms of people of opposite teams, and the jubilation when time ran out and I was still running around. Upon reaching home, my neat-freak of a mom ran me straight into the backyard and into the bath, my proclamations of my spectacular performance at the game falling on deaf (though very clean) ears.

College was a time to grow up a tad, explore oneself, make different sort of friends, and of course eat crackjack biscuits sitting on a culvert near the hostel. My obsession with books took a back-seat in college and I weaned myself off pulp fiction quite successfully. I fell in love multiple times, first of all with the sylvan surroundings, then with everything else around me (stopping short of course of the hostel food), including Mount Road, Stella Maris College, Women's Christian College (where we used to roam around attending culturals, winning and then spending prize money). Of course I dug out future husband from the midst of sweaty brown basketball players at some point (with this I attend to the engagement tag from choxbox).

Graduate school in verdant New England in decrepit apartments made me discover passion for cooking; and a nostalgic love for Indian authors. The convenient public library was a great hang-out, despite shocks to system arising from people borrowing Wodehouse on Tape. Imaginatively named places such as The Pub (which was a pub)added a whole lot of colour to my life in graduate school, while the weekend outings to the famous basketball courts gave me my exercise (and a notoriousness as a down and dirty player who never worried about hurting herself while inflicting a foul on a person twice her size).

The short stint in Cambridge was wonderful because it gave me the time to get into teaching. My tall Mexican high school student's face when she got her 100% in Chemistry is a vivid memory though her name has escaped into the ether. That year and half was relaxing and fun, though a tad cold at times.

The five years here in amchi Mumbai are too complex to trivialise in a sentence or two. But suffice to say that I really do feel like I have had a full life, a matter not entirely attributable to the fact that I saw Salman Khan in person at the Marathon few years ago.

Now to the nub, or crux of the post (finally!). I celebrate today, with this post, the following facts. Luck has stood by my side always. My husband of 10+ years, and the monster we have spawned, are precisely what I need. I am thankful hugely to my relationship with my mom, which tis very special. I have wonderful friends and very meaningful relationships with them. And today (or rather in real fact, yesterday), rather unexpectedly, having long given up the search or may I say quest, for it - my first white hair. With this addition, I can go ahead and wax eloquent and philosophise and willy-nilly advice people on matters. I am now one of the wise!!

Friday, 2 November 2007

That is Love

I have generally been a short-tempered person. You will not know this to meet me casually, and generally the brunt of my temper is felt by my husband, my mom, and now occasionally the monster child. We of course do not need to go into cause and effect. I recognise it as my failure, on hind-sight at least.

So this morning, we had a classic tiff. In addition to yesterdays shittiness as a work-day, driver doing a no-show, maid already demanding her Diwali dues, cook making me a really ridiculously minute amount of food for lunch, and the monster child coming up with a stomach ache which may or may not be imagined. As a normal reaction to the events and occurrences of the morning, I should have lost my temper, retreated into silence, cold-shouldered the husband rather pointedly, picked up fight with child, pulled my hair out trying to sort out her crying bout without resorting to spanking, and generally retreated back several steps in my own estimation of myself as a mature, compassionate adult.

But, somehow, the usual 'pop' that goes on in my head just prior to completely losing it had another effect. So here is what happened. The 'pop' was first. I did the retreat to silence thing. But I was not at my usual incoherent in anger state. I could see that. I found myself thinking, he is just tired. What does it matter, really. It will all work out for the best. Its not a big deal. Stuff like that. The child's antics (such as running off some place while I was in my bath, and me, stomping around the floor with my hair in that ridiculous towel-ring-after-bath having to encounter neighbours while searching for it hysterically) did not manage to induce ire either. I calmly (but firmly) brought her back. We ate our cereal. We talked about this and that. I let her wear a simple paavadai to school. I was calm. Not breathing fire. I laughed at the maid; told cook to find me some more food for my lunch dabba (there was last night's leftovers so easily solved problem, that); drove myself, enjoying FM radio. All the while just thinking, I have forgiven him. I am not angry at him. Hope he is not angry at me either.

God! It was so liberating. So much better than my normal state of anger, self-pity, self-righteousness, thinking of all the things I do and how its not reciprocated, pushing memories of all the things he does for me away as not relevant, etc. I hate myself in that state. I love it when I am the big person who forgives, forgets, does not hold grudges, does the right thing no matter what, thinks about all the times others have been great. Today, for a change, I am happy with my own reaction and behaviour. And to top it all, we are on the same page. The husband (who is also prone to angry reactions though not to the same magnitude as me) seems to be in a fairly calm state, as his email explanation for behaviour tells me! Oh maybe I am just finally growing up.