Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Good

My list of complaints has been fairly long of late. And it has taken me this long to (semi) sort through them and find the positive side of things.

* Fresh@ is a semi-supermarket in the area. It is literally walking distance from my place, except that the sun is too fierce to attempt it so I usually drive. I have been very disappointed with it because the veggies are not fresh. Especially the spinach & other leafy veggies that I need in bulk every week. Plus they have that ugly roll of plastic in which you fill the veggies and the kind lady weighs it and attaches a small sticker for you. You know. The grocery items are sufficient; there is a reasonable selection of everything, good enough for us. But the veggies thing was irritating me immensely. Thankfully, this past weekend, on Sunday when we went there, the veggies were really, all things considered, reasonable. I had carried my freezer bags - the netted ones - and the lady did not mind at all, was in fact happy, to weigh my veggies in them, and when the stickers did not stick, she did not crib her head off, just gave it in our hand and trusted that we would give it to the cashier (which we did, of course). So yeah. Nice veggies, no plastic.

* The monster is in a dance class. I am keeping it low key, knowing that if I let the family get all over her about it, she will refuse to go. But I did track down 'Ramakrishna Textiles' in Tiruvanmiyur to get uniform cloth and 'Lakshmi Tailors' on Canal Bank Rd for stitching it, and she looks awesomely cute in it. Since its kept completely low key, she is fine so far. I my mind it goes in the category of 'Good Exercise'

* Everytime we enter the campus, we need to fill in some slip of paper with all nature of things and when we get out, hand it back to Out Gate Security. I have been most most annoyed because the security (In Gate ones) speak some hybrid language - possibly Cat or Dog, but most likely a mix of Tamizh and Hindi. They also refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Play School, and one time, when I said 'Creche' the supervisor came out from his little cabin and said 'Oh Cre-ccchhh' which made me think of retch. Anyway finally I sorted this out by a glib lie. I give them my driver's name, and the name of a school (whose existence they don't doubt) that is right next to the dance class place. I switch furiously between Hindi and Tamizh so they now like me. Most importantly, they love the monster peering out of the window and always have a smile and a wave for her. Now I don't hate those boys either, so the mutual feeling of love pervades.

* Most of the repairs round the house are done. I mean, I really hope that all of it is done. We have a reasonably system in place for drinking water. The help is all set, and though their timings are still not formalised as mum is here, I can see a trajectory. The floor has lost most of its stickiness. Curtains are in place. All except one box (consisting of things from the Skoda which is, clearly, not my responsibility) are done away with. Wait, there are couple of boxes that the monster insists on playing with - calls them her boats, but that does not count of course. I find my bookshelves, which used to loom in our Mumbai households, dwarfed in that room. I don't visit them too often because I have hidden away the Tintins and the Calvins there from prying eyes. But, its all good.

* The compost pit is doing well. The garden is a bit bare, I am still waiting on some resolution on my water situation and at least a bit of cooling in the weather, but so far, so good. Yesterday we were visited by a most spirited Chameleon. It was outside the window and trying to climb the glass (it could not, finally). Yellow in colour, with its angry crest, I was on the inside, with glass and the netlon between us and I still jumped back when it bared its teeth at me, the crazy little creature (him, not me). I also have a small garden lizard that is half red half brown. And its cousin which is fully brown. Very young and slim so that I was sure it was a small snake till I saw the legs. A greyish brown bird family visited last week, I took pictures and later saw them in the jungle inside the campus as well, but I cannot identify it yet. A crow has its nest in the tree just outside the house. Mynas abound but for some strange reason I have not found sparrows here.

So all in all, the list of complaints seems to be shrinking. And about time too.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

How to: hasten the destruction

I have been shopping a lot of late. For myriad things. First, I needed some things for the house itself. Bulbs. Kitchen drain traps. Curtains. Foot rugs. Toothbrush holders. Soap dispensers. Stuff like that. I have detailed lists of course, in my black book (well, its a book I have been taking notes in to keep me sane over the past couple of months of flux, and it happens to be black, and its not as if I was going to fill in hunky boys names and phone numbers there in a hurry, so...). Then, I got myself a couple of cool things to wear since its not possible to do my usual pants and shirts routine here. I had uniforms and shoes and socks for the monster. We also bought some bedsheets and books and CDs for several (not very important) reasons. After those things started the grocery items. Which I still need and still go shopping for at least two times a week (aside from vegetables). So, in all, at least by my standards, I have shopped a lot in Chennai.

In most instances, being Bag Lady, I have had my own bag(s) - yes even at the Disney store in NYC. There are still a few plastic bags that got accumulated in the house because of store policies (they have to seal your stuff into the bag and stamp it and so on and so forth), or miscalculations (I thought I would buy a bag worth and ended up with two). I am still sorting out the situation with respect to vegetables. I am yet to find a satisfactory vegetable market to go to. I have deep rooted cribs about vegetables still. But thats for later.

I had no notions about people's attitude towards earth destroying habits, in general, I have the attitude that I will do my best and mention it to you in passing, and if you do a few good things yourself, great, if not I don't have comments on it. Its your life, and no, I don't get all riled up that YOU are destroying MY earth. Everyone knows I do enough destroying myself. And not just by breathing. I use air conditioners. I seem to have piles of clothes to wash everyday (and I always choose hygiene in that case over saving the earth). I definitely use plastic items. My idea of recycling newspapers is to give it to my maid to do what she will with it (and not to sit around making bags out of it). I definitely own a lot more things than I need for a comfortable life. I recently bought a leather handbag.

Nevertheless, I get damn depressed over how life has progressed, here, in our little overcrowded swelling hot country. It was hardly twenty years ago that everyone carried bags for vegetable shopping without forgetting. Literally two decades ago that my grandmother stitched cloth bags from every living piece of cloth in the house (old curtains, cushion covers, saris, dresses, everything was fair game for her). My mom carried her entire set of files, a tape-recorder, bottle of water, and walked all over the city, a pink bag with long handles that grandmom had stitched, and this was mom doing the field work for her Phd. We had a bag for our music class. As a child, I hated those bags that I covet now. I am depressed about my childhood attitude and thinking of all my grandmom's bags out there that I don't have with me. I get depressed when I go the supermarket and a person buys a little piece of paneer wrapped and hermetically sealed in plastic and then the store woman puts that in a thin plastic bag with the supermarket's logo emblazoned on it. I get depressed when I go to small local shops and the guy whips out an ugly white bag to weigh the rice into and then an uglier blue plastic bag to put the white rice bag into.

But most of all, I could have cried on Sunday night. I went to an old old lady with hanging ear lobes who was slowly making a garland of jasmines. I asked her the price. She said 5 per. I paid her 10 and she gave me two pieces. She whipped out a nasty yellow plastic bag. I said no thanks. Don't you have the leaf. Everyone remembers the leaf, right? The dried leaf in which you would wrap flowers and tie it with string. Well, guess what, the lady was SO scornful of me for asking. Curled her lip at me, thats what she did.

Yeah, thats progress. Its not the actual wanton use of plastic, but the attitude that, not only is it okay, it IS the only way.

(And today, after repeated cribs by child that the boys are playing football with the nice yellow cloth bag I send her as a lunch bag, I have succumbed and bought her the ugly plastic thing the rest of the kids carry. So take that, Mother Earth, Die Now).

Monday, 22 June 2009

Nothing much has changed now, has it?

We are back at our old haunt again after, now, let me see, some 15-16 years now. Back in the day, we would hang out there for EVER. All of the evening for sure, right after the hostel tea (something horrid, like bread pakoda or something), till the mosquitoes finally drove us away as night fell (and even that we could tolerate, back then, somehow). Yes, my friends. The basketball courts at the old alma mater.

The good thing is that now, when we show up, we are (both) referred to as 'Captain' - especially me, because, you know, I am cooler. They switch on the lights for us if it gets dark. There used to be no floodlights back then. Our game, at least mine, is definitely better, despite the age and what He may have to say about 'my potential' and my lack of exploration of it thereof. I still run around more than necessary; move too much; but I am also smarter and my shooting percentage is definitely better.

But seriously, people. Wooden boards? In this day and age? Even the high schools have fiber glass. And the net is all tattered and torn. Plus they insist on stocking women's size basketballs (I hate them. They feel like mini-balls. Yes. That is an acceptable term that is used to refer to basketballs meant for children and definitely not meant to be offensive to any male readers here). Furthermore (I must miss writing my regular work things enough if I am insisting on using that word on my blog. Ha!), they dont have any new, shiny, leather spaldings. Just some local bald rubber basketballs. They even look fuzzy from long use.

So that way not much has changed. The world has moved on. Magic and MJ and Shaq have come and gone. Some twenty batches of kids have graduated from here after us. More and more girls are seen being masochistic enough to choose to study here. But I bet that, even now, the girls basketball games are held at 3 pm, in Chennai. So that the stars, the boys, can play at prime time, at 5:30, and have a sizeable audience to encourage them. All of the action happening on the mishapen concrete courts with the old wooden boards with the broken nets.

Heck, I don't care. Its their problem, their battle. I am happy to walk in in my brand new Black Air Jordans, child in tow (carrying, but never playing with, a small tiny yellow basketball), wearing my Dry-Fit clothes and shooting a few hoops every once in a while there. My life has changed, thats for sure!

Friday, 19 June 2009


In Mumbai, when we bought bulbs, we bought in bulk. Like at least ten at a time. In my most recent abode there we had tube lights that came with the house and then some sockets in which we bunged CFLs. In the old abode on the high high higher floor, in a misguided move we had installed some 'light fixtures' - they sucked royally and bulbs fused every other minute and blew the wire along with. The husband bought boxes and boxes of bulbs to satisfy the craving the fixtures had. Usually we walked into a hardware store and identified the type of bulb we required and said

Ek box dena (or deejiye)

The guy tested every one of the bulbs in the box and forked it over in exchange for the ruppees.

Here also we have wierd looking fixtures on the wall. A friend who has done the same (temporary) move as us and rented a similar house from same source insists that she hated the fixtures and needed to get them all changed over. I don't hate these as much as I hate my own light fixtures in Mumbai, plus, I do not have sufficient patience to tolerate changing of so many things now. So I am going with the fixtures. They are all fitted with 40W round, yellow bulbs. As and when they fuse, I am changing over to CFL. They fuse often. Plus there are so many places to light up on the outside etc. that we have had plenty opportunities to move on to CFL as any sane human being would.

With visions of our Mumbai purchases, I dragged into the hardware store.

Bulbs irrukaa?

They were irritated. Bulbs in the Electric store they yelled. Oh okay. I went to the Electric store, after purchasing a cheap-ass kitchen drain trap thingie since that was missing and incidentally available in the H.S. (and not in the E.S. of course). The Electric store guy had THREE CFL bulbs. I went down the road to the other one. He had NONE. Though he did offer to hook me up with four round bulbs, a kindness I had to turn down, because, you know, BAN THE FUCKING BULB already.

Of course, I did operate in semi-darkness last week (three round bulbs of 40W each are hardly enough to light up a room enough to allow us to read). But now finally I have done some adjustments, gone ten times to various E.S. in the area and we have some semblance of light in the home.

Should I smuggle bulbs from Mumbai, I wonder.

While at it, I should smuggle alcohol too. Its a nightmare to get something as simple as a bottle of beer here. While really, all I had to do was ring 2570xxxx and he would land up with the chilled goodies in about three minutes (I suspected at times that come Saturday he would be half way to our flat already, knowing fully well that we would call). And by the way, the booze store there gave us a box of chocolates as a Diwali gift for being the preferred customer.

The crazy thing about India is that at times its hard to believe its the same country across the length and breadth of it. I mean you have the usual floods in one part drought in the other type situations. Then there is the generic weather. Then there are all these cultural differences (what else can I call it?).

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

What about the night then?

I crash onto my bed by ten in the night these days. Latest. I usually set the sleep function (yes, we have some new air conditioners) in the monster's head for 9 pm, because, you know, the racket thats school and so forth. Since we are losers like that, our child requires one of us to be with her in order to sleep. Since I am a loser like that, I invariably fall asleep before her, pretty much on my way back down from switching off the light.

So last night when the phone rang, I assumed it was the alarm and did what one does with alarms. I reached out and punched buttons and made sure the sound went away somehow. Then it rang again and again I assumed I had slept the alarm rather than switching it off and reached out with more determination. Then I realised it was something else.

The phone.


Kept on my side of the bed. Because.

Because I was expecting a call.

From the water tanker dude.

And it was him. He had come! God bless his soul. Goodness, what time is it though? TWO THIRTY in the night??

Or is it considered morning.

Anyhow roused the large form on the bed and we went downstairs. The tanker was there in flesh and blood. Oops. Hope the water was cleaner than that. We were up till three am filling water from it using a giant green tube with circles on the outside of it. Looked like an anaconda. We watered the plants with the remaining water. We could not see how dirty everything was. We went to bed after paying the guy.

And could not sleep.

Tossed and turned.

Turned and tossed.

Wished for the snoring that would signify the husband being asleep. (yeah).

Did not hear it.

Finally fell asleep just as my alarm rang actually. Signifying the beginning of another day. Of school and calls to Mumbai and so on. But a day, nevertheless, when I don't have to worry about running out of water.

(Plus I fixed a leaking flush at 6:30 am using nothing but my brains. So.)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Earlier Mornings

That is what we face at the homestead now. Earlier than ever mornings. I have a headache just thinking about how early in the morning I have to wake up now and henceforth till the end of time. Why, you might ask? Well, school for one. The maid and cook for another.

Today, walking along with mum at 5:40 in the morning (a time when the weather is nevertheless pointlessly warm muggy and you could cut with a knife heavy), I was really and truly amazed at how many people were up and about and walking and listening to music (devotional songs apparently) at ear-splitting volumes, and cycling and driving really really fast on side roads. Plus there is so much light, I wonder, did the sun even set? (of course it did not and never will, so what I mean is, has the earth stopped turning or something?)

And now, an hour later I am pondering, while sweating incessantly, about how to fix the motor for the water, how (or why) to bathe, whether to go to Woodlands for lunch, and oh god its white uniform tomorrow to school.

Feck it. Whats the point. Might as well go do the Hindu crossword instead of sweating at the keyboard. This has been quite a vacation, I must say!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Tickle Me Pink

Its like this. I get lost easily. Not in a figurative type of sense, wait, that too. But literally. Really and absolutely. It makes for many funny stories about me, but overall its quite an annoying thing. I can never get myself from point A to point B with any degree of confidence or certainty. But I must say though that while my location is up for grabs, my speed is good. So take that you slow walkers and dawdlers.

The trouble was diagnosed fairly early in life. My sister used to make enormous fun of me because I could literally get lost in going from home (on 6th main) to grandma's (on 13th main; on a straight road out). I finally found a way to get between these two places (and school, and music class, and sanskrit class, and BFF's house, and, of course cavitha circulating center cum library), by taking the same route over and over and over again with my sister and, well, CTM (Commit To Memory. Usually occurs with a small hand on the side in MBD Guide Books and their ilk). To test me, she would start out on another route to the same place and ask me, 'So tell me, which way to turn now?' - I would frankly admit that I had no clue whatsoever. But my sister had her fun I suppose.

In adulthood, the situation is no better. In fact, I would say its worse. I am living in bigger cities for one. Try as one might, its hard to get lost in Mysore (though I have achieved that feat several several times). There is all the crap with flyovers and construction and one-ways, for another. Guaranteed to fox even an internally GPS-ed individual, such as my husband (per his own claim). He is most unaccomodating of this feature of mine, though I have tried to play it as a possible medical condition, he thinks its just because I dont have a penis. This problem gets convoluted with my driving abhorrence and its a big muddle and mess and the source of many fights and arguments.

Of course you might hasten to think, this attitude of my closest has probably worsened the situation. But I will stoutly deny that. I am stronger than that. I will not allow the power of suggestion by them to take over my life. No, I will not, and have not. Heck who am I kidding. You two are at fault guys. Its not me, its them.

I have independently (without jeers jaunts and yelling) contemplated the situation in my own head. It cannot be a general dumbness or lack of intelligence. My IQ is quite high, I mean, it has always been (of course I have tested it many times, in proper pen and paper format when young and on those fake online sites now in computer age). I can feel the neurons connecting, when, say, I am at work. I have several constructive suggestions to people when they approach with issues not necessarily in Chemical Engineering. I manage to hold my head high and answer the monster's innumerable queries with confidence, I rock in interviews and exams and sudoku and what not. I suppose these things mean I am not an idiot. Heck. I know I am not an idiot. Quantified and certified. But my eyes do glaze over when people talk about money and mortgages and the SENSEX and interest rates. (zzzzzz). There is that. Hmmm.

Anyway this is a different, albeit persistent problem. However, I do well when reading maps, which means I don't have dysgraphia, really. I take a bit of time in orienting myself in a map (might just be a natural average amount of time, not sure how you all operate), but once I am on, and I have no distractions, I can navigate well. I have pored over miles and miles of US maps back in the day and except for one unfortunate Orlando trip where I made the driver (oops, husband) take four or five U-turns, I have been a rock-solid, reliable navigator. Or navigationalist, as I prefer to call myself. Hand me a sextant mateys.

So anyway to cut a long story short, I think google maps is awesome. In some ways its perfect for me. Armed with it, I never need to know the way to anywhere a-priori. Just have to follow the 'dot' . Apart from a few errors which are obvious if you research a bit, it has been really, a lot of fun and quite a life-saver in the past month. I don't have it on my phone (though I am contemplating an upgrade to the dreaded and most hated device of all; sell my soul to the devil why don't I along with it). So I sneak up on the driver(oops, husband)'s 'device' and try to figure it out. Or else, I do what every geek worth her salt would, I do my homework well in advance. I use googlemaps on my desktop, write down the salient points in my notebook (they would go clear out of my head if I tried to remember); talk to enough local people (i.e. auto drivers) to know what to call what and how best to provide crisp directions, find out phone number of place I intend to visit, harass them and ask them for nearby landmarks, and, unashamedly pay extra if I have mistaken something they said.

Thus I have found, on my own (with just a little bit of help from the internet and the phone and the blackberry dot and simply by paying auto drivers whatever they ask for, which is never within reason):
1. Nearby grocery store, and am 1/2 on this (meaning went twice got lost once but eventually found it Rs.40 later).
2. Gas Cylinder stores (Both Govt. and Private), and, though I stressed a bit about it, I did not get lost getting there a second time.
3. Nilgiris and Ambika Appalam branches in nearby areas (merely for future reference).
4. Bus Ticket place in two nearby areas (yeah am leaving tomorrow on a weekend trip).
5. Crossword & Landmark stores (for gift type things and well, you know, could not resist a few myself).
6. E-zone (per WJ's advice, bought a new hob since piped gas thingies).
7. Bata (school!!!).
8. Sugan uniforms (2/3 on this - got lost once) in Pondy Bazaar (reputed and only approved supplier)
9. Kesavan Tailors in Nadhamuni St. (the pinafore is BELOW the knee, horrid).
More pertinently, I am now confidently rolling off my tongue, TTK Road and Venkatnarayana Road and Nandanam Signal and heck, even Venkatesan Road. For now I can get to those places as well. Knowing me, I will forget everything in about a days time, and that is when I really hope my newly discovered crutches (and notes thereof) will help.

And meanwhile, what I find is that in case you possess a penis (or are a woman unknown to my husband but possessed with superior direction sense - my sister thinks she does have such sense but there have not been situations enough for my husband to comment on this matter, and, since he has gotten lost enough times in getting to her place in New Jersey, and vice versa when she visits me in Mumbai, they don't like to talk much about this matter to each other), then this whole GPS business is actually a bad thing for you. Because it makes you get out of the habit of having mental images of places and routes and makes you rely on following a dot (or listening to gawd awful peremptory TURN LEFT IN 3 METRES type commands - heavens what IS that they affix on unsuspecting cars), and eventually, over the years, will dumb you down. I, meanwhile, will be waiting to get my revenge, beware.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Public Transport

Really, that was the highlight of our US trip this time. We were in New York City and Cambridge (Mass). Both are notorious for their traffic, and in our experience, finding parking is as bad as it is here, in Pondy Bazaar in Chennai (a rather unfortunate name for a shopping district of that level of variety). We don't have valid licenses, so driving was out at any rate. Which turned out to be a very good thing. We took the trains EVERYWHERE. We took really very very few cab rides. To and from Kennedy to Queens, where we stayed, you know, 'cause of the luggage, we took cabs. In Boston, we took the train even with all our luggage. It was just awesome. We visited friends, went out to dinner, went to museums, went shopping, I went to work, all by train. We went to Penn station to catch the Boston Amtrak by train, and then from Boston South Station to Harvard Square by T. On the way back we were contemplating a cab from Penn Station to Queens since our luggage had expanded a lot. But our friend showed up there on cue and we lugged the bags all on to the train again! Incredible. I wish we could boast of such systems (and such discipline on our part) here in our country.

We did the same in Athens when we were there two years ago, and really, those trains are even better than the American ones (because they are newer). I have said this before, but I just cannot wait to try the Delhi metro, only it never seems to go where I need it to! And for all the junk we have to put up with in Sakinaka (and other places), I do hope the Bombay metro will be nice.

And yes, the monster LOVED the trains - the Subway in NYC, the T in Boston, and the Amtrak we took between those two cities, not to mention the elevated tram somewhere in one corner of NYC. So yeah, it was wonderful.

(Meanwhile, without my knowledge or consent I have been signed up for a game where I am Pooh. So off I go. Thankfully, I am allowed to bring a banana onto the boat we are going on so my purpose of making Piglet eat some fruit is served.)

What Price Coconut Oil?

We cribbed our heads off at anyone who would listen to us (which was not too many people, after all), that the hygiene condition at the time of handing over the house was unacceptable. We told the owners (who operate in manner of international organisations through several individuals owning small bits of the overall responsibility, providing each other much needed cover and allowing leeway to bat problems from one to the other without much ado), we told the contractor who was commissioned to do the things that make it our home (i.e. shelves in the bathroom for our myriad possessions, none related to making up a woman's face or lips or eyes), we told even the iron-box-dabba shop people outside.

Nothing happened.

The husband wrote a caustic email.

Nothing happened.

He held back the payment to the contractor.

Things happened.

An army of aunties showed up, presumably to clean up. They demanded
(a) Suraf Powder (I felt reluctant to give them my excelomatic with the special blue grains in it. But they persisted).
(b) Harpic (they used some other term for it).
(c) Coconut Oil (Huh? I went. I gave them the chutku bottle of Parachute Advansed Hair Oil that I possess. And yes, don't get me started on the spelling there, been irritated for years with Parachute for that).
(d) Mopping Cloths
(e) Acid
(f) Ladders and stools
(g) Hot Tea (and then they cribbed that it was too strong. Fuck. I even made it nice and sweet for them with two spoons of sugar each, despite nearly puking at the thought of drinking tea like that).
(h) Several bottles of good, clean drinking water
(i) Money (which I was told to refuse, having to pay the contractor who then paid his side kick, who presumably took his cut, and then handed over remaining largesse to the ladies)

They did not want:
(a) My Lysol floor cleaner solution
(b) Bleaching powder - a staple cleaning item in my mother's household
(c) Me or my inputs on the matter (other than for tea or other supplies)

By evening the floor, the doors, the window frames were all rendered nice and sticky through an unique combination of oil, soap, water, and cotton wool. I was told to not 'walk around without wiping my feet' I was assured they would be back today to finish up the work. I dread to think of what will ensue. After they finished up my bottle of Advansed oil they brought in some cheap-ass oil in sachets, which I suspect is what is making the house smell like aviyal gone bad.

Oh well. At least I have a cook. She calls me Akka.