‘Y’ for yay!

The month has simply flown by! Just one more day left and one more alphabet to go!

It seems like yesterday that Damyanti told me about the a-to-z , and encouraged me to sign up. I did, mainly because April was still faraway and it all sounded more fun than scary.

Before I knew it though, the dreaded day had arrived! Not having prepared anything beforehand and quaking with nervousness, I agonizingly typed out my first post, A for Asthma.

I half hoped no one would notice it!

But wonder of wonders, someone not only bothered to read it but also felt that it was a “Very Nice Post.” My heart swelled with happiness at this first ever comment, left by Hollywood Nut Jeremy.

For the second post I wrote about my village bazaar, all the time thinking to myself, why would anyone be interested in this tiny, forgotten corner of the world.

But then Liz Brownlee stopped by to say, “how fascinating to have a little window into such a different life!” I was over the moon!

“I can’t wait to see what other adventures you will have to share,” added Donna L Martin, motivating me to go on, giving me a sense of responsibility about this endeavor — that there was no stopping, now that I’d begun.

As the days went by, I discovered more great writers and even better human beings — Jemima PettPam Margolis, Keith Channing, Curtis Bausse,  Megan MorganSubhmohanty, and soooo many others! There are many more I know and I hope to add you all to this list soon — now that I won’t have to write everyday and can read all of you in peace 😉

And your love letters, Gulara, will of course have to be read all over again!

So a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Damyanti for encouraging me to be a part of this madness; my friends Sukanya, Dipti, Malobee, Bhaswati, Deba, Urmi and Tuski, for tossing up interesting words everyday; and Arlee Bird for starting this whole crazy fun thing!

Today, I am surprised to be feeling more sad than relieved that we are close to the end!

But for now, we can all pat ourselves on the back for having successfully completed this challenge…well almost! Yayyy!

jumping kids.jpg

This post is the 25th in a series of 26 posts that I am writing throughout the month of April as part of the A to Z challenge 2016.

‘X’ for X-mas

George Uncle was a grey haired, kindly, good-looking gentleman, who ran the cafeteria at the airport where my father worked. Sometimes Baba would take me and my brother there to watch airplanes land and take off. But an even bigger attraction for us were the delicious treats that George Uncle loved to surprise us with on such occasions  – ice cream, pastries, a plate of chilly chicken or even mango custard!

mango custard

 

Christmas was another occasion made special with a rich, gooey chocolate cake sent by him. We waited impatiently for Baba to arrive home every Christmas eve, knowing there’d be something for us.

All these treats were welcomed with a quiet smile by Ma, so it was a great mystery to us why she began to hyper ventilate when one Christmas eve Baba sheepishly handed her a packet of home made sausages.

“Chee! Chee! Chee!” (Everything must be repeated thrice for dramatic impact — my mother knew this successful formula even before Ekta Kapoor, the queen of TV soap operas stumbled upon it.)

This was followed by a pregnant pause.

Then, in a calmer, sterner voice, reminiscent of my school principal Sister John Berchman, she said, “Phele dao. Ekhuni!” (Throw that out! Now!)

Baba looked wistfully at the packet, took one last whiff and disposed of it with a heavy heart.

Needless to say this was a huge shock to me and my brother!

x-mas 2 cats

It was the first instance of ‘beef ban’ we had experienced, that too imposed by Ma. Our religion did not permit us to consume beef, Baba explained.

Several years later, as fate would have it, my father was transferred to Cochin, in Kerala by his company. I was shocked to learn that Hindus there consumed beef with relish! The state has people of every religious denomination – Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and beef is a truly secular food that unites it, just like it’s many festivals.

Onam, for instance, is a harvest festival celebrated by all Keralites regardless of race, religion and creed for over 10 days!

And so, me and my brother received some early lessons in love and generosity from George Uncle and in tolerance, from God’s own country.

Kerala

 

This post is the 24th in a series of 26 posts that I am writing throughout the month of April as part of the A to Z challenge 2016.

‘W’ for Work from Home

This piece was published yesterday at Rediff. It is reproduced here with a few changes.

At my office desk one afternoon, staring at the computer screen before me I wondered, and not for the first time, ‘What am I doing here?’

My expression was severe and my headset firmly in place – in order to strongly discourage anyone from coming up and saying ‘hello.’ Not because I do not like people – just that I couldn’t risk someone peeping into my screen and discovering that I wasn’t working on a PowerPoint about Delivering excellent Customer Service or whatever it is I was supposed to deliver. Instead, I was having Koffee with Karan –taking sips of caffeine (in reality) and rapidly firing my witty responses and winning the hamper (in my head).

But apart from escaping into other people’s more exciting lives, I also needed to plan a getaway from my immediate surroundings, before I was found out! As usual, I turned to my life coach Shah Rukh Khan for inspiration. I heard his voice in my head say, Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho toh puri kainat etc. etc.

And voila!

A bit of aimless surfing and I found myself staring at an article titled, The best jobs for smart but lazy people. (I’m sure the ‘smart’ was inserted simply in order not to offend the ‘lazy’.) The universe had obviously conspired to bring this before my eyes, filtering away other interesting pieces like, The best recipes for those who have no time, or How to lose friends and insult people.

Topping the list was the job of an English teacher. What’s more, the classes would be virtual, with technology enabling you to conduct lessons right from the comfort of your bedroom, or while sipping tea on a mountaintop in Darjeeling or lying on a beach in Goa –the possibilities were endless!

Now was the time for AzaadiTear down the cubicle walls, break down the management’s doors! (Before you charge me with sedition let me clarify that I meant it metaphorically. The boss followed an open-door policy, i.e. he was a lonely man who kept his cabin door always open, in the hope that someone would drop in for a chat).

Disappointingly, not only did he readily and animatedly accept my resignation, but almost looked happy at my departure. Perhaps this was just another sign that the universe was guiding me towards my destiny.

work from home

It has been five days now since I landed my dream ‘work from home’ project, and here is an update on how it is progressing:

Day 1 @ Work from Home 

After practicing how to say  a pleasant but formal, friendly but business-like ‘hello’ for several minutes, I am all set to launch into my first lesson, titled: How to smoothly conduct business meetings.

Strangely my perfect ‘hello’ is greeted by complete silence at the other end. The greeting is repeated several times and when finally the pleasant but formal tone has been replaced by a high-pitched, irritated one – there is a response:

– Oui! Allo?

– Ah! Jean-Sebastien, are you able to hear me now?

– Yes, but there is some delay.

-Well it’s a long distance from India to Europe (sheepish giggle at own poor joke).

10 min into the lesson and we are inexplicably disconnected. I don’t know about other business meetings but this one wasn’t going smoothly for sure.

Day 2 

The subject we are working on is Conflict Management. A most interesting discussion is underway when suddenly a frenzied screaming alarms me and my poor, faraway participants!

Cause the walls start shaking
The earth was quaking

… You Shook Me All Night Long

My husband is unwinding with some AC/DC  and a glass of scotch, and has suddenly decided to crank up the volume to maximum! Pressing the mute button I hurl a few obscenities at him, before proceeding to soothe the frayed nerves of my poor learners.

I see a conflict of unmanageable proportions looming at home, soon after this lesson is over.

Day 3 

The topic today is, Why I love to travel.

After a wonderful beginning, where my learner recounts his trips to Madagascar, Machu Pichu and Madrid, I suddenly don’t see him anymore. The audio is fine but the video is no longer available! A quick check reveals that the broadband’s net speed has dropped from the promised 10 Mbps to 30 Kbps. I switch to 4G but it promptly turns into 2G.

A sad realization dawns — forget taking lessons from Munnar or Mahabalipuram, with this sort of unreliable internet, I wasn’t getting out of Marthahalli anytime soon.

Day 4

A most interesting subject today: How to manage Gen X and Y – the challenge faced by every organization.

About three slides into my presentation, I am distracted by a strange notification popping up: ‘Your troops are ready for battle!’ Damn. The pest of a son has infiltrated my workstation — downloaded a game called Clash of Clans!

I bring my focus back to the subject at hand and decide now is a good time to share a video with the participants. I had kept the relevant YouTube page open and now copy-paste the link to the ‘chat window’. It is a video I have carefully selected, which depicts a scenario that may come up when dealing with gen X and Y employees.

But when my learners click the link, I hear strange words, intercepted by what sounds like gunfire!

“All units, all units this is Spaceman.”

“5,4,3,2, 1. Deploy!”

Mystified, I click on the link myself and realize that what is playing is a video titled, Call of Duty –advanced warfare!

The pest has not only downloaded a game, but also been watching this video while I was busy touching up my lipstick in preparation for the lesson.

Why are there no tutorials on How to manage the gen Z’s at home?

Day 5

My computer has crashed and I am trying to conduct the lesson over the phone. (I do get mobile network sometimes, when I stand in a specific pose, at a particular window with my head angled a certain way).

There is a power cut since morning and the temperature is close to 40 degrees! You can imagine that it is not easy to talk about How to beat Stress, given the circumstances.

 

A week of working from home, and I’m already fantasizing –not about seasides and hill stations — but about stable internet, uninterrupted power supply, air-conditioned environs, non-interfering colleagues — in short, an office cubicle.

 

‘V’ for vacation

It is the first word that comes to my mind because a vacation is what I so crave right now!

Like an annual pilgrimage, we religiously go to Goa every year for a holiday.

goa

The pace slows, the wine flows and the fried Pomfret irresistibly beckons.

pomfret

 

I would love to travel to many other places but have not had enough opportunities so far.

Meanwhile, as long as I can have tonnes of food and rest, any place is a holiday destination for me. As they say, ‘the real adventure is in your head,’ (or maybe on TV for some). The place is quite incidental.

‘U’ for umbrella

My grandfather’s. He passed away many years ago, while I was still in school and I haven’t thought about him in a long time.

But it is raining in Bangalore today and that makes me think of dadu (grandpa) and his chaata (umbrella). He always carried it along — a big, black, ungainly one — wherever he went. Sometimes others laughed at him because of that.

umbrella

‘Dadu, why do you always carry an umbrella with you?’ I asked him once.

‘Because it may rain.’

‘But it is a sunny day today.’

‘Well then it will protect me if the sun gets too hot. And what if it does rain? Who will look a fool then?’

‘What if the sun stays mild and it doesn’t rain either?’

‘Then I will use it as a walking stick. I can also chase any stray cows and goats out of my way.’

That was grandpa for you –a logical man, though he was not very educated and had lived in the village all his life.

Some think my atheism is all new fangled nonsense, born out of reading too many of the wrong kind of books. But in truth, my first brush with atheism was perhaps as an 8 year old.

My grandmother would host a grand Laxmi puja (worship of Goddess Laxmi) every year at our home in the village. Dadu helped diligently with all the preparations.

‘Will Goddess Laxmi bless us all?’

‘There is no Goddess Laxmi.’

I was too appalled to react. Finally I gathered my wits about me and asked,

‘Well why do you worship her then?’

‘Do I have a choice? Your grandmother will kill me’he said, with eyes full of love and fear of the woman who’d been his companion for close to half a century!

‘But…what about all the other Gods and Goddesses? Surely they exist! Who created everything? That mango tree? Those rice fields?’

‘Well who created God then?’

‘But, but…erm…’

Dadu always had the last word.

***

This post is the 21st in a series of 26 posts that I am writing throughout the month of April as part of the A to Z challenge2016.

‘T’ for timepass

Today for T, I would like to introduce the word timepass for those of you don’t know it already. It is every Indian’s favourite word as well as activity (or lack of it).
time|pass [ˈtʌɪmpɑːs]

Noun: the action or fact of passing the time, typically in an aimless or unproductive way:

For example: “Stop this timepass and get to work, yaar.”

If someone were to call you a total timepass, for instance, it could mean you’re faltu, or ‘a complete waste of time’.

 

Down South, the word ‘simply’ pronounced [zimbly] has the same meaning and is more commonly used. It means saying or doing something JLT (just like that) i.e. for no reason at all.

Q: Why did you throw that banana peel at my face?

A: Zimbly.

banana2

A word of caution here, timepass is NOT to be confused with pastime.

pas|time [ˈpɑːstʌɪm]

Noun: an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby:

“His favourite pastimes are cricket and kite flying.”

Shelling groundnuts, for example, would fall in the category of timepass rather than pastime, no matter how much you may want to call it the latter. In fact roasted nuts are sold as timepass in certain parts of the country, especially the North and East.

 

So to conclude, I will say that timepass is my favorite ‘pastime’ — and thank you for allowing me to do just that with today’s post — i.e waste your time.

wasting time

 

What is your favorite timepass?

This post is the 20th in a series of 26 posts that I am writing throughout the month of April as part of the A to Z challenge2016.

‘S’ for Sarita

I’d written this piece previously for an online publication. It is reproduced here with a few changes.

I feel a sense of relief when I see my maid in the morning. I guess that is why she is called the ‘calm walibai’.” — received on WhatsApp.

These are the lines I wake up to on a dull, foggy morning and as with most forwarded messages on my phone, I see divine truth revealed in this one.

Irrespective of what your horoscope tells you, it is the bai (maid/help) and not the stars that determine the sort of day awaiting you and what your long term future looks like.

In my case, both appear as bleak as the weather, for my wonderful help Sarita has abandoned me to my fate.

Nazar lag gayi, what else!

For years I had been the cynosure of all eyes in my residential complex — ‘the lady with the full-time maid!’

While my friends cribbed about household chores and unappreciative husbands, I pared my nails and lectured them: “When you don’t do any work you don’t need to look for appreciation anyway. The secret to a happy married life — if such a thing exists — is a good maid.”

After all, Sarita had just handed me my cup of chai and a Good Day biscuit. There could only be achche din (good days) ahead.

I didn’t spare the career-oriented, corporate sort either: “Let me tell you what you already know — a bai can make or break your career. Between Sheryl Sandberg asking you to ‘lean bloody in’ and your mother-in-law pulling you back with a ‘ghar pe  dhyan do bahu‘, how is a woman to find her balance without the support of a trusted maid?”

The bai is not just your corporate success mantra — without her in your life, you have no time for WhatsApp, Facebook or, horror-of-horrors, any gossip even!

In short, you have no life.

illustration of a maid

Consider these two conversations with my soulmate, Mrs Aishwarya Ranganathan, better known as Aishu (who lives in a God forsaken land called America, where they have no help, poor souls).

Sample conversation 1 (when there is Sarita in my life)

Aishu (sound of coconut-grating in the background): What is this WhatsApp message you have forwarded to me?

She gets her second husband to kill and I can’t get my first one to pick his towel off the floor!

What does it all mean? Who is this lady?

Me: It is referring to Indrani Mukerjea, duh, who else.

Aishu: Who? Sorry, but I still don’t get you…

Me (in genuine bewilderment): Don’t tell me!! You haven’t heard of the sensational murder case yet!

Aishu (tearfully): Where have I had time yaar? Always cleaning, washing and cooking. Fill me in on the details na, please.

Me (patronisingly): Well with the help of her 2nd husband, she killed the daughter she had with her 1st husband. And her 3rd husband’s role in all this seems a bit fishy too.

Aishu: Oh! Why do you think so?

Me: Well Arnab thinks Peter Mukerjea has a lot to explain and Arnab of course is always right.

Aishu: Hmm…I see… you make so much sense and are so well-updated on everything. Aiyooo…got to rush…my sambar is getting burnt. 

I know of course that she too is burning with jealousy and not just her sambar.

Me: (preening, smug, supercilious and loud enough for Aishu to hear): Saritaaaaa….ek cupchaaai laanaaa…”

By now Mrs Aishwarya Ranganathan is feeling the same murderous rage that Mrs Indrani Mukerjea felt, and my day is made.

Sample conversation 2 (when there is no Sarita in my life)

Aishu: Shocking how Hrithik and Sussanne have split, no?

Me: Whaatt! When did that happen?

Stunned silence at the US end. Coconut grating and other activities temporarily suspended.

Aishu:  Don’t you read anything? Which world have you been in?

Me to myself:  A joyless, bai-less world.

To her (in an outraged, highly offended tone like someone I know on The Newshour): What will become of this world I ask you! If men are going to keep abandoning their wives for other scheming, plotting women where will it lead the nation to, I want to know? Never, ever, ever…trust a man I tell you!

Aishu (with an effort at patience): But it’s the wife who left him. And supposedly for Arjun Rampal.

Me (jhadu dropped and both hands on cheek Miss Universe style): No!!

Aishu: Hrithik, Sussanne and Arjun are already vociferously denying all this. You don’t need to add your voice to that.

Me (now in a completely changed, empathetic tone): Poor Sussanne. Driven to the arms of another man because of her insensitive husband. Never, ever, ever….

Aishu (cutting me short — patience was never her virtue): By the way… did I tell you I’m off to Hawaii for a bit, to escape this unbearable weather?

By now I start to feel a bout of depression induced headache coming on, and Aishu’s day is made.

After Sarita’s cruel abandonment, I learnt to deal with tasks which people mistakenly categorise as unskilled labour — like swabbing the floor. But culinary skills were beyond me.

“It is a fine art,” my husband had declared. “I am taking charge of it. 15 minutes is all it takes to serve up something.” (“But the kitchen looks a battlefield when you’re done and takes 15 hours to restore to its former self,” I didn’t add.)

“It is very soothing, therapeutic even, to wash dishes and fold clothes,” I’d offered. (“But that is only when I have to write an article or file my tax returns — when every other chore seems most attractive,” I also forgot to add).

This continued for sometime, but to cut a long story short — we did not manage to stay supportive of each other’s culinary and other misadventures. My marriage is not as happy as it used to be with Sarita around — whoever said three is a crowd?

And I cannot focus on my career either, for I never had one to begin with.

“Behind every unsuccessful woman is a self-centred maid,” I want to tell everyone. But people are holidaying in Hawaii and have no time for my pearls of wisdom.

‘Inner peace, inner peace…’ I chant in vain to ward off envious thoughts. But calm is only where the bai is, and mine is no longer with me.

*****