Monday, 26 October 2009

Mind Your Language!

I am pretty cool with languages. Of course, I have several pet peeves. I dislike people spelling loose as lose (or vice versa). I am not particularly fond of Americanised spellings. Or saying AlumiNUM when its Aluminium, and an element. Or, for that matter, intregal when its integral. Not to mention Nucelar for Nuclear. Inventing words, like Irregardless. Making verbs out of nouns (latest e.g. Bucketise; Previous hate, Guesstimate). Okay, so this list is growing and I get irritated easily. Guess that is the truth. I am NOT cool.

Nevertheless, I am conversant in Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and English, and would be able to deal with you (without holding it against you or being uppity about it, I think) if you spoke only one of those languages. I realise I am not great at any of them, thanks to the mish-mash-ness that has been my life so far, but I can handle it. And have. Though I only do Math in English.

What I cannot handle though is when you try to sell me insurance, or a health plan, or offer me a loan, or want me to move my balances on my other credit cards over to you, or want me to hook myself up with a second phone connection (Free!), apply for a new credit card (Rs. 5000 per year Only! Platinum membership!), buy 10 kilos of Encyclopedias, and so on, and are particularly insistent on the whole thing, call me at work at 10 am when I am right in the middle of some thoughts on somethings, and then insist on only talking to me in Hindi. That drives me insane. So, please, if you WANT to sell me something, don't:

(a) Call me at work
(b) Call me at home
(c) Call me
(d) Call
(e) At all
(f) Especially if you feel like talking in Hindi.


(Yeah, Yeah, I understand, they have numbers to report, things to sell, salaries to earn, families to support, etc. etc., their grasp of the Queen's tongue is not up to par, and they are just doing their job so stop being so high maintenance already. But still, they are calling me at work and don't even know my name and are not listening to me at all when I tell them I am in a meeting and no, they cannot call me back today, tomorrow, or ever. Fine, so think of me what you will, I am a horrid person who ought to be made to watch Shah Rukh Khan movies in a loop as punishment and to recognise that I should be more open minded towards people who insist on speaking in strange manners, fine fine).

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Welcome, Namaskar

I have a mental list of jobs that are unique to India. Since I just discovered a new one this past weekend, I decided to share.

1. Cheque Stamper. There is a woman who has a blue stamp thingie. She adjusts the numbers on it to reflect your account number and then stamps every one of the leaves in your book with it. Sometimes, your book cannot be stamped, because she is out fetching tea. So you wait patiently.

2. Bathroom Flooder. This person presumably is allotted the task of cleaning bathrooms in public situations. Instead, she pours copious amounts of water there and waltzes out. You are never sure though if it is water or pee or the pot overflowed or whatever. But at least her allotted job seems to make sense.

3. Window Cleaner. Again, original intention is acceptable. He carries a cloth and a bottle of blue 'Colin' He rubs and rubs the windows, but he has forgotten to ever wash the cloth, and thus imparts more dirt than he removes.

4. Toll Booth Value Adder. This is my recent find. We passed five toll booths on our drive. At each of them, there is a guy, in uniform, standing at each stall. As you approach, screeching tires and so forth, the guy moves a small vertical stick that is placed right in your path. Then once your biz is done and you drive away, he places the things back. In his spare time, he bends over for the cool dude inside the booth who actually issues your ticket and takes your money.

5. Physical File Mover. This one is a major favourite of mine. Sometimes, its called dispatch. 'We will put it in dispatch madam' they said. Oh cool, I said, imagining a conveyor belt or something that would take my letter from OfficeX to OfficeY. Three days later I went to ask about it. 'Sorry madam, he took sick leave' they said. I discovered that it was an olllldddd guy who was assigned this task. He moved at the rate of 0.05 meters per day. So it would literally take him the whole week to go next door for a signature.

6. Sundry SideKicks. There are people that ride in cycles while the master (like, for e.g. a plumber) rides a bike. The bike dude will conduct all transactions through the bicycle person. Including conversations with me, despite all three of us overlapping in time and space. Bike dude will be chewing paan and will mutter something. SideKick will then repeat the same to me in a squeaky voice. I will address bike dude in response. SideKick will repeat what I say, in his voice. After a point I gave up and SideKick and I had a great conversation, ignoring the other fellow entirely. We are meeting for coffee tomorrow.

7. Assistant to Assistant. Self-explanatory. Recently, they are demanding that I 'put in an email' so they can 'take necessary action' - these are very smart people, I would be wary of them in general.

8. Tick Mark Specialist. There is some guy (or gal) who takes a red pen and marks ticks all over my official documents (such as pay-stubs and so on). The first time I saw it I was appalled. Why is someone poring over my pay-stub? I asked. The assistant to assistant nodded his head towards a sidekick-cum-spokesperson who said that he is checking that the math is right. Nowadays I feel scared if I don't see the ticks. What if my pay is all wrong? Why is he not checking it anymore? I wail. 'His daughter's marriage madam' they say.

9. Generic Computer Terminal Starers. This is less a person and more a movement. In every bank, government office, library, canteen, chickenhouse, henhouse, pighouse, etc. there are computer terminals. There is a person in front of every one of these. What does s/he do? Why does s/he direct me to the next terminal every time I ask anything? What does s/he mean come at 4 pm? Oh, the sign on the wall says 'All Transactions 4-5 pm' Why is s/he here at 10 am then? What is that? Minesweeper? Okay, must be beta-testing Minesweeper version 97.0 in a 1980 time-warp. I better come back in 2009 at 4 pm.

10. Toilet Tissue Agents. I am perfectly capable of tearing out my square of toilet paper. My daughter has trained me, in recent times, so that I actually tear on the indentation and not in a jagged end. She is also equally capable of the task, incidentally. Then, why, do you, in your beige shirt worn directly over your pink sari, think it incumbent upon you to hand me squares of TP? And, also, what use is it on my way OUT after finishing my business inside? Is it for the next time? And why do you grin maniacally when I refuse it? And WAIT! Are you going to pour that water on the floor? I flushed after I peed, I promise, PLEASE don't pour water...

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I am a stickler for deadlines. Generally. If I have to meet you at 5, I am there at your doorstep at 5, generally. When things have spun out of my control and someone is talking and I am having a hard time inserting a word in and finally just give up and let them run out of steam, I end up being late. That happens. Or, due to my foolhardiness several years ago in entering into a lifelong commitment with a man who blows puffs of smoke at time itself (outside of work, especially if the TV is on), I might be late to a party. Always, as we are stepping out to some place where I think its important to be on time (which is nearly every place I go to), the child has to go potty. I might be late then. But if I lived alone on an island with no one to hold me back, believe me, I would row over to the mainland exactly on time. Or, as mostly happens, early.

Yesterday was a day when my ability to be on time was sorely tested. Plus the sun was furious.

I went to pick the monster up. She had not even packed up her backpack, despite the bell having run several minutes ago. I saw her making faces at me at the window as I walked up. Monster! I dragged her out bodily. Her best friend 'Friend' insisted that they had to bring sweets (or something) the next day. So we had to go back to the teacher and ask her what on earth that was all about (nothing, just some childish randomness). Back out again. Down the stairs. The long walk to the gate, and then the longer walk to the main road.

Police everywhere. Car nowhere in sight!

Considering I had just gotten dropped off by the driver like seven minutes earlier, I was really flummoxed.

Chief Minister, an irate looking cop said.

Which explained it. They just cleared out the whole road in anticipation of that. I wondered for a second what the name of the guy was (being a particularly aware citizen of the country, who diligently reads the newspaper everyday). Then I tried to quiz them about my car. They insisted that they had sent away all the drivers because the CM was coming. Oh. That made sense. At 3 pm, when kids have gotten out of a long day of school, and the sun is beating down furiously, it makes sense to hold them all to ransom and make them hang out on the street for that. Yes. That makes sense.

All the ladies were whipping out cell phones to call their drivers.

My phone chose that point of time to fully run out of battery. Bip. Bip. Bip.

I do not know the driver's number in my head, so I would have had to borrow a phone from someone, call my husband on his chennai number, hope that he would pick up the phone, ask him to call the driver, and so on. The very thought of doing all that was making my head spin.

The monster was hot and gearing up for a mini-tantrum, which I squashed into the ground with a nice yell, at t=0 .

I was walking around aimlessly when I finally found the car lurking somewhere at a distance.

We got in and settled down amidst our countless bags (I swear that we do not have enough space in the car because of the bags), and headed homeward. The plan was to stop at home for just enough time for her to change (and use the bathroom) and then rush off, she to one of her random classes at the neighbourhood place, and me to my non-random class which I had to teach.

The traffic was blocked up near home. I tried to tell the driver to take another route, this would take us past the monster's after-school class. Dense as he is, the driver pulled up at the class. I was like, doooddee, she needs to change her uniform. Oh well, we went home, and da-da-dah, changed (without too much argument on the dress, thankfully), out again, and dropped her a few minutes early to her class. Thankfully again they did not complain about it. All the smiling and gentle soaping has been helpful I guess!

I was drumming my fingers all over and going chmah, chmah with my mouth as we headed over to my office. Finally managed to reach my class only five minutes late. My colleague, whom I would have called in the middle of all this to say that I am slightly delayed and can he please hold the fort, if only my cell was in working order, was there. The students were late. One sauntered in half an hour (or more) into the class.

No, that does not justify my being late. I still hate being late! Even if the other party is routinely late, I would prefer to stick to my time, thank you very much, Mr. CM and Police Commissioner, and everything else notwithstanding...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Plastic Overload

On my US trip recently, I shopped a fair bit (for me, that is). I bought shoes, socks, clothes for the monster, crepe bandages, Hello Kitty bandaids, apple TV, and hair bands. Of course the duty free booze.

I had one empty backpack checked in. Since my husband was not around when I left, no one could complain about the stupidity of checking in an empty bag. He would have somehow tried to squeeze it into my pullman (despite the impossibility of it, he would have tried, and somehow tried to blame it on me when it did not fit). Also, the pullman is fairly small and it was still not fully filled when I left from here. Yes, I have finally managed to jettison extra stuff on my travels and manage to travel fairly light most of the time.

In New York, where I have spent many memorable half-days at my friend's apartment in Queens, usually to and from somewhere, I have my routine fairly set. He has cloth bags coming out of the pores of his flat. The nice grocery bags that you buy over there. I sling one on my shoulder every time I step out of his flat, even if it is just to the starbucks down the road. You never know. This time, I discovered why he has so many bags. Apparently, he punishes himself when he goes grocery shopping and happens to forget to take a bag. How? By making himself spend on buying a cloth bag. Nice idea, eh? I love it!

Anyway, this time, he suggested I just take my backpack. Since I have to pack stuff in it anyway finally. Super smart. So we went all over the place to the runner's store and to Children's Place and to a pharmacy and so on and stuffed everything into my backpack. I brought back three pairs of running shoes (for various individuals, mind you). I would have had worries about whether they would all fit in my luggage for the way back, so this was really a great idea. The monster's clothes and matching hair band and so on were of course really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Not a single bag did we take at any store. And, the best part, once we returned home, I spent five minutes rearranging stuff in the backpack and did not open it out until I returned back home here five days later, after going to Pittsburgh and back again and so forth.

It has become an easy habit, to carry bags whenever we go out to buy anything. Grocery, veggies, booze, clothes, library books, books, all have their allotted bags. Nilgiris gave me 1% off for bringing my own bags. I am beginning to like Nilgiris, they sell these green trash bags, which they claim are a lot more biodegradable than the regular ones (may or may not be true, wanted to test it out in my garden, but the time scales are still too high), at least its an effort. And now the 1% off, which is nothing to scoff at, I think. Fresh@ has these notices everywhere saying bring your own bags, but no one really follows that advice. Which is why the girls there always sing to me when I do so.

So feeling all perfectly saved the earth single handedly about it, I opened a kitchen cupboard.

And found.

A Million Plastic Bottles. Juice. Have We Really Drunk That Much Juice In Just Five Months?

I think I am still wayyyyyy negative; although I carry water from home now when I step out of the house, I have a long way to go. Surely. I kid you not, I can build a house out of those bottles (probably should, idea not my own, read it in Judy Moody).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Deepavali Shopping

In the olden days what did I do for this festival of lights?

Frankly, I cannot even remember in entirety.

I think we washed our hair. I think some species of sweet things were created. I think we had the day off from school. In our household, we never spent huge amounts of money on crackers. My sis and I stuck to sparklers, snake, the occasional flower pot. We got a small packet of the red little bombs for dad to light (he liked to, up to a certain point of time, it was sort of like he was the only brave soul in the house who could light the bombs, rest of us wilting females). Our street would be littered with the debris of hundreds of rupees worth of crackers, at the end of the three days. Although most of the houses had kids in them, it was not a requirement. In fact, the rockets, the chains of bombs, the loudest toned things, were all lit by adults. Perhaps from the viewpoint of safety. Perhaps. Two little mud lamps would stand on our doorstep, on either side. We had a large number of lamps, in various materials of construction, that we would light all over the house (having secured all the door curtains on top, of course), but that was not on Deepavali day. It was sometime later. Cannot remember exactly when.

I don't remember any other tradition associated with the festival. I can feel some of the excitement of a new packet of sparklers, the responsibility with which I would stack the used sticks (still hot) away, the occasional fear when I nearly destroyed one or other of my mum's potted plants (I just thought I had, but my little matchstick of coloured light, reminding me of the poor little match girl, was no match for the wet mud and soon died, harming no living creature, plant or animal directly, only indirectly, the fumes....).

In 2004, I was the Deepavali Grinch. I hated it entirely. It was also our first Mumbai one. Noisy does not even describe it. The apartment complex of leviathan buildings that we lived in exploded in an outburst of joy. Bombs went BUD BUD. Rockets wheeeeeeeed past our window (shut securely, heat oppressive). The parking lot was infested with little boys lighting crackers everywhere, ridiculing the security guards if they tried to stop them. And the litter! My god! The litter they left behind. Most of all, it made my then six month old child wake up every few minutes. This was a child that woke when we flipped a switch, or, you know, breathed hard. So this was a crazy week. Mumbai so damn hot already. Clearly, I was not going to do anything at all for the festival. It was hardly a festival for me, most like torture!

I still don't like it. Its a festival of noise, smoke, and booby trapped roads. Possibly gluttony as well, but thankfully that is something I can choose to not take part in. However, I am feeling much less conflicted about it this year than the last one. Because I want my daughter to, well, not hate it, but sieve the wheat from the chaff and figure out a meaning to the whole thing, without overly imposing my views. Plus, I don't want to be the one to deny her the 'fun' - yes, I did have fun with it all as a child, and the part of my reason for hating all of it is the realisation that the fun comes at a big cost. I could tell her, here are three reasons why YOU should NOT burst crackers. Di Dah Doo. I could just not buy her anything at all. She would probably have a bit of a cry about it and tell me all that her friends said and so on, but that would be it. I did that for three years of her life, maybe even four. Before she became the social animal that she is now, with a trillion little people who she likes much more than Amma-Appa. Before her comprehension of what other adults tell her became so acute. Before we both ceased to be the only voices in her head.

Then last year, I let it go. I said, if you WANT to do this, you should. My husband, who also avoids the whole thing, took charge of the thing, albeit reluctantly (preferring TV or sleep to the process involved in bursting crackers with a child in tow, and listening to nagging by the participant ladies regarding violation of safety principles). So we had a small stack of crackers (which nevertheless cost trillions of rupees). I fished out an old-new sari - something that I had never worn and therefore could be considered 'new', and I think the monster had a new dress sort of coincidentally. I disliked the festival a bit less. We spent time with family.

This year, I am already a bit cranky about its impending arrival. I am hearing the bombs already. I am jumping out of my skin - which is not saying much, sometimes, absorbed in the intelligent task of boiling milk, I jump out of skin when the maid comes in. Its super hot here in Chennai, and I am confident that once the cracker-bursting reaches a crescendo, it will be hotter. The child is already after me to buy her crackers (of course I have outsourced it). I have responded as usual with 'If you want to, you can burst them' We have not yet figured out where to buy them, however, something ought to turn up, I suppose. I am not even feeling somewhat open-minded about the associated 'traditions' - whatever they might be, as last year. All I want to do is for for a long run in peace, play basketball with joy, and eat healthy food. But, I did feel enthusiastic about buying clothes (a tradition that is part of the season, per my husband), and we braved the mall yesterday. It was as usual a most disappointing and unnerving experience, but I must say, I hung in there, and managed to do the deed. Which means that there is at least one Salwar Kameez that has to find its way out from my cupboard, pronto (based on my buy one, release one rule, which I mostly stick to). Overall though, my mood is still dark. And it is with a sense of apprehension that I approach this week, at the end of it which the whole Deepavali business will unravel... Oh well...Onward we go...

Friday, 9 October 2009

Chop Chop Chop We Go

The part I like the most about cooking is the chopping of vegetables. I would like to claim that I am pretty good at this. As in, my pieces are even, and I get the job done fast. These are the two aspects of veggie cutting that are most important. Believe me, I have served as assistant cook, in charge especially of veggie chopping many many times with many many good (but quick to criticise) cooks. There are some small aspects such as not wasting too much of the veggie in the guise of peeling, ensuring removal of icky bits and bits with potential worms and such-like, good washing, etc. which are necessary but not sufficient characteristics to earn the Crown.

Although I don't like to eat it anymore, I absolutely adore cutting vegetables for Aviyal. Simply because it involves so many colours. And there is a definite requirement that they be evenly long cylinders in shape. I don't generally like unidimensional-ness. I am constantly interrupting myself and parallel processing. I have a million browser windows on all the time. I like my veggies mixed up, especially for colour.

All this is not to say that I don't enjoy, what some may think of as, the actual cooking. I do. My sister insists I enjoy it because I don't do it often enough. That is a possibility. But I have not yet figured that out. My single days of cooking don't count. My weekend forays to feed the love of my life don't count much. My Indian experience has generally involved a hired cook. My repertoire is not large and is shrinking rapidly. It is rather heavy on vegetables (possibly because of the love of chopping them!). The food itself is rather simple, and is unlikely to satisfy most picky people. I go easy on the spices as well, in honour of a husband whose lifetime of irregular eating habits is catching up with him, so to say. Overall, an honest rating of my food will be: Edible, but Blah.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the process. I get lost in the mist for hours. It relaxes me. Even the most hated task of cleaning up the counter after the task relaxes me. I had a rare opportunity to indulge myself last night. The cook was absent (huh). The husband is in Mumbai. That left the monster and yours truly. We switched on music. She does that herself, of course, as any self-respecting 5.5 year old would. We drew from a book called 'Learn to Draw Animals' - I made Leo the Lion; Chris the Cat; Tim the Tiger. She made Priyadarshini the Lioness & Christine the Cat. She struck my Chris off to say 'Chris the TomCat' - a term that she uses to refer to Male Cats while the rest of the world KNOWS its the Cruise-Holmes duo.

I made Sambar (Capsicum) & a Mixed Vegetable Subji (Beans, Carrots, Potatoes, Onions). She wanted Salad so we had that too in the mix (Cucumber, Carrots, Ginger, Lemon). I kept some plain Dhal aside for her. She ate in a glass bowl the size of my pinky finger. I had to feed her the last episode of dinner, i.e. curd. My evening jadoo-pocha person kindly did the dishes while I polished the counter to brilliance.

Loved the world.

Now the cook is back.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

No. I Don't Have Blog Block.

See, the first thing to do is to deny it.

Apparently, a classic leadership technique is to take issues and trivialise them.

I am good at that.

I am trivialising my blog block.
I am trivialising my tendency to spell things with s rather than z.
I am trivializing my irritation with the red squiggly.

I even wrote a poem recently, so there, what block? who block? It went like this:

Time, how it flies
Like a bird with wings.
Look at us now,
you and I.
Sitting here eating,
listening to music,
and checking emails.

For those of you taking a class on poetry and such like, monster girl, was writing emails to her cousins. And we were listening to The Beatles. She likes Yellow Submarine. I like Norwegian Wood. Neither of those songs make sense to me. But I still like them. Or therefore I like them.

There. Its done. The flood gates are opened. Let the fun begin.