Sunday, November 19, 2017

Owning a Piece of Paradise: Our place in Goa

It’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m typing this while leaning back in bed. This, the master bedroom, is large and airy, and the view through the large balcony windows is nothing but thick green trees- just the way I like it. And I cannot quite believe that we now have our own place in Goa.

We arrived yesterday to do it up. This was all Vijay’s discovery – in his frantic bid to discover farmland all over the country yesterday, he also happened to come across a few apartments and villas in Goa. This one, Villa no. 9, somewhere on Anjuna-Vagator road, somehow struck him as one we could actually buy. A month later, he made another trip with me and the kids, and we all fell in love with it, and by January, we’d actually paid the first instalment. And now, about ten months later, we spent our first night here last night.

The work was still ongoing when we landed up. Puneet, one of the key people at the builder who sold this to us, was apologetic about this, but he knew by now exactly how to win us over – by offering us breakfast at his own home before travelling together to see the status. The last couple of times, we had been despairing about the place not being ready, but this time, as the car drew up to the driveway, we were silent. There are nine villas in this little complex, and ours is the last one – and it looked perfect.

Built in shades of cream and yellow from the outside, and with spacious interiors in white and dark wooden material, this place had just clicked with us. Vijay had dragged me to a Pepperfry studio and we’d made a selection of contemporary furniture, and Puneet had been kind enough to get most of it set up. So as we walked in, I saw the blue sofas, the low wooden coffee table in the drawing room; our dining table up ahead in the dining area, with its four chairs and accompanying bench ( I recalled each of the kids claiming ‘I’m NOT sitting on the bench’ when we had bought it); and a few other key items, including beds with mattresses in each of the three rooms. It looked about ready to move in, even with just this much.

And then I saw the million other boxes piled up in a corner. ‘What’s all this?’ I squeaked.

‘Ah.’ Vijay grunted. ‘The kitchen items and other stuff.’

While I had pretty much decided that my furniture selection was all that had to be done, Vijay had over the last several weeks been ordering items like crazy over Amazon. Water purifier, washing machine, a Television and numerous kitchen goods. I set to work unpacking them while Vijay did a tour of the house with Puneet, who showed him that things were ‘90% done, and everything will finish by tomorrow, sir.’

It felt a bit like Christmas to me, as I unwrapped items wonderingly. I was joined by one of the workers Tulsiram, and a lady wielding a broom, who put her weapon down to instead pick up a pair of scissors and cut through the packing. Plates. Spoons. Microwave oven. Mattress covers. Bedcovers. Towels. Pearl Pet packaging. Dusting cloth. So on and so forth. It took about two hours to place things and set them up. The workers continued hammering on nails here and there.

We took a break for lunch, Vijay and I, and ended up at our favourite beach shack on Vagator beach. Vijay ordered (surprise surprise) Alu Gobi and naan and I asked for the Goan special fish fry. It must have been really special because it took an hour to be served, by which time I had already filled my hungry tummy by dipping into Vijay’s food.

 It was already 4 p.m. by now. Our plan had been to go and shop for things like curtains, but there was still work to be done in the house. Vijay had been going nuts calling up service folks to come and install things. The guy from LG, the guy from Tata Sky. The purifier guy was missing in action and pissing him off.

‘What are the necessities?’ I asked. Vijay’s big plan was to set the place up this weekend so that a few weeks later he could actually bring Papaji down here for several weeks – the idea being for him to avoid an uncomfortable Delhi winter. The polluted air has been getting to him too, so Papaji’s been warming up the idea of some time away from home.

‘Well,’ He frowned. ‘We really need to prioritize the water purifier. And then, the wi-fi.’

I laughed – it’s true. Right after air and water – it’s wi-fi that has become a necessity for us to live anywhere. But I did miss being able to do a whatsapp video call and show the kids the place – the signal here isn’t great. Which also means more time offline. Which is kind of nice.

We were super tired by the time yesterday’s work ended. But we had another task to do – grocery shopping. Vijay was determined that we get a few basic items and stock up so that the kitchen would be self-sufficient by the time he comes around with Papaji. So we went to get some items that wouldn’t spoil – it was 8.30 p.m. by the time we dragged ourselves out of the house, and we found a place called the Oxford Store – a rather large supermarket-type with an interesting collection of items, and a particularly large liquor section which Vijay noted rather gleefully. We started buying the staples – salt, sugar, atta, oil, ghee and so on, although I got rather overexcited by the biscuits section. Vijay stopped me and we forged on ahead. And then I saw the toy section. Soon, I was armed with Pictionary and Jenga ‘for the kids, when the they come here.’ But then a lady landed up and sternly informed us the store was closing. We said, sure almost done.

After about ten minutes, the lady was following closely on my heels shepherding me to the checkout counter. I desperately grabbed more items on the way, pocketing a Rum and Coke when I saw Vijay picking out beer from the the liquor section. We ended up with four sacks of items and several dirty looks from the checkout counter lady, which I didn’t quite appreciate given that we gave them over six thousand rupees of business. It didn’t matter, we knew we’d be back.

We were too tired to cook, even though we had Maggi with us, and Vijay and I had a meal at one of the zillion little restaurants that dot every road in Goa. Rather average a meal, with my Vindaloo and his Alu-parantha way too spicey. Only my chocolate ice cream made up for it and then we were home. We crawled up to the master bedroom and discovered for the first time what a pain it is to live on two different levels if you’re as forgetful as we are. ‘I left the water downstairs.’ ‘Where are my glasses now?’ ‘Did you get the phone charger?’ ‘Don’t forget the tissues, please.’

At about 11 p.m. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and then it was all black.

At 6 a.m., I woke up to the sounds of dogs howling. I couldn’t help grinning when I saw that beautiful green view. I bounced out of bed, Vijay grumbling in protest that it was too early, but the place looked absolutely gorgeous. I walked up to the terrace and then into each of the rooms to take pictures.

After I’d made Vijay a cup of tea, fumbling around in the kitchen ( too much sugar, but he drank it willingly) and myself a cup of coffee, he was awake enough to take a walk around the neighbourhood with me. We’ve always known it’s a nice green quiet neighbourhood, but we had never actually explored it on foot because we’d always been rushing about to get the house ready. We got out of the gate, meeting Bhaiyya Lal the guard and the two strays Kalu and Neelu ( the kids are going to LOVE this) who apparently do day and night duty with the guards. We walked towards the left, the road a little uneven, through a shaded area and found a lady who had a long stick and was expertly plucking fruit off a tall tree. She looked as amused to see us as we were to see her and we grinned cordially and went on.

‘Oh, wow, bhais bhi paali hai!’ Vijay saw a cow, and since nothing makes him happier, he stopped to stare at it. ‘This place is a real village!’

We walked around and saw some plots had construction work going on. ‘Ah! This will come up soon.’ He stopped to take a picture. ‘Nice name – Glimose Villas.’

I glanced at it ‘Glimose?’

‘Ya.’ He frowned. ‘So?’

I waited for him to get it.

‘Oh, Glimpse! Why have they written the P in such a fancy way, looks like an O. Hah. Whatever.’

We walked on, and saw all sorts of quaint houses – many of them hidden well behind thick trees and vines, so that we could only get a glimose of the buildings. ‘Luis Lobo!’ I read a name plate. ‘How cool. And look. David D’Souza! This is so cool. I hope you make friends with them when you’re here in December. Please make an effort.’

‘Why?’ Vijay queried. ‘Are you hoping they like us so much that they end up leaving their houses to us or something?’

‘No, you fool!’ I snapped. ‘Just be neighborly. These are our neighbours now!’

‘They’ll probably move when they meet us.’ He said with an air of quiet confidence.

We went further and I saw something I’d never noticed before. ‘Oh look! There’s a restaurant right here! It’s called Naked! And look, unlimited liquor for only 599.’ I paused to take a picture. ‘If we put this place on AirBnB, am sure folks will like this – walking distance, a restaurant called naked, unlimited liquor…’

‘You put that picture up, people will bypass our villa and go straight there.’ Vijay informed me.

We went ahead and I was very excited to see a tiny mom and pop store, with only a pop there – the old man grinned at us. ‘Do you have anda?’ I asked eagerly.

‘Yes.’ Said the old man.

‘Do you take Paytm?’ Vijay ventured.

‘No.’ said the old man.

‘I forgot my wallet.’ Vijay whispered out of the side of his mouth to me.

‘Shall we ask him to just give us four eggs on credit?’ I whispered back.

‘No!’ said Vijay. ‘Don’t him on the spot. I’ll come back and get it.’

We walked ahead and saw some very pretty homes. Goa really is incredible. The greenery around this area beats for me the sun and sand of the beaches – even though the beach is only 3 km away and that was a big reason for us buying the place. I took some pictures of dogs stretching in the sun, and our own shadows stretching long out before us, and other random things, feeling very happy even at the idea of being able to come back here and call a little piece of this land our own.

Back we went. Vijay went to get the eggs and other stuff while I went up to the terrace and did yoga without my yoga mat. The terrace has the best view of course, and is quite private and under the bright blue sky, with the faint sounds of the labour waking up and construction work nearby kicking in, there was also the sound of peacocks crying and the dogs starting to howl again. It was possibly the best thirty minutes of Yoga I have ever done. Vijay came back just in time to catch my finale, the headstand. And then I agreed to make the old man some breakfast.

Unused to being in the kitchen, even one as well-designed and open as this one, I cooked up a meal of scrambled eggs. Five eggs in a bowl, some onions and tomatoes, salt and chili pepper and I tossed it in a pan, using our brand new cookware. With some Mosambi juice and toast (bread roasted with ghee), breakfast was ready. Vijay busied himself tidying up the groceries.

‘You know.’ I said enthusiastically. ‘We’re really lucky that our terrace is in the corner- it’s so private, it was lovely doing yoga.’

‘Can’t say the same for this kitchen.’ Vijay looked out the window. ‘I can see a naked guy from here.’

I rushed to the window to see, but came back disappointed. It was only Tulsi ram, the head labourer walking around near the pool in his Lungi.

Villa no. 9 is right next to the swimming pool, and I don’t know yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I suspect that the children will vote that it’s a good thing. We’re bringing them here in December and now I’m really looking forward to it.

So now I’m finishing typing this up to post it at some point when online again. Vijay has finished taking a post-breakfast nap and it’s time for us to go and get those damned curtains.


But the thought that I have is that however life turns out, whether or not Vijay and I actually ever get to retire here together in this beautiful place that we now on – even just these few moments here with my earnest old man who plans our life and works so hard to make our dreams come true – even just these – they’re enough. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Husband's Help Getting Ready for Work


(In continuation of my lazy streak, extract from unpublished work 'Still Married, Thank You')

I found myself feeling a little nervous as I started to get ready for work. It wasn’t to do with going back to work after a long gap, or worry about how Kajal would manage Peanut and vice versa. It was to do with the fact that I didn’t actually have anything decent to wear. Luckily, I had this one fairly nice and formal back skirt – a smart little thing really, with a zipper at the back. To my immense relief, I found that it fit rather well, despite my extra roundness. I only had to hold my breath a little bit while zipping up. Most people, I realized, would have tried on their clothes for their first day at work after almost a year. However, I wasn’t most people, and I just rummaged around in my cupboard to find a reasonably nice top.

Vijay came into the room just as I was trying on my sixth top. He glanced at the growing pile of clothes on the floor and philosophically stepped around it to head into the bathroom to get ready.

‘Honey.’ I wailed ‘Tell me, how does this one look?’

He quickened his step and his back disappeared through the door. I pleaded. ‘Vijay. Please. You have to help me. It’s my First Day.’

The door to the bathroom slammed shut. Swallowing my irritation, I went and stood near the door and called to him ‘Okay fine. Just tells me if it looks okay. I won’t say anything – I promise.’

The door opened and he poked his head out. ‘What?’ His expression was all innocence. ‘Were you calling me?’

‘Does this look okay.’ I gestured at my outfit. I had found a green sleeveless top to go with the black skirt – it was a little tight, but I thought that perhaps I could carry it off.

‘The skirt is nice.’ He said and then after a pause, added ‘But the top is too tight.’

‘Really?’ I looked down. I thought it looked nice. ‘You’re sure?’

‘Yes.’ He said, gaining confidence ‘You look like you’re holding your breath.’

‘I am NOT holding my breath.’ I was indignant ‘I’m breathing normally. How can I be holding my breath if I’m talking to you?’

‘Okay, you’re just not looking too comfortable in it.’

‘I don’t feel uncomfortable.’ I was getting obstinate now. ‘I’m perfectly comfortable in this.’

‘Well, I think you’re looking so uncomfortable that anyone who looks at you will also feel uncomfortable.’

I was displeased, and briefly wondered if I should trust the fashion sense of a guy who had worn the same pair of jeans for the five years that I’d known him.

He added thoughtfully ‘You know, if you just proactively tell everyone you meet today that you’re really feeling just fine in this top, then maybe…’

‘Never mind.’ I snapped, and tugged at the top, trying to take it off ‘For you, it’s a big joke na. Instead of building my confidence a little bit on this day, you…’

The door slammed shut just as I pulled the top over my head. Too late, I realized that it had been a tactical error to antagonize Vijay – the top was too tight and I found myself unable to get it off over my head - my arms were trapped at an awkward angle and I was stuck.


‘Vijay…Vijay…’ I called, but this time the bathroom door stayed firmly shut.

****

If you like hearing about Vijay, you'll love my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse' and my upcoming 'How I became a Farmer's Wife' ( slated for Jan 2018, HarperCollins)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Extract from Old Writing


I was just randomly going through some unpublished writing for the sequel I'd planned to my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse.' A book I refer to as 'Still Married, Thank You'. It turns out that the sequel to JMPE is actually going to be 'How I became a Farmer's Wife', out in January 2018. But I was amused and touched by this memory - of how Vijay connected with my grandfather 'Papa' who passed on a few years ago. He lived in the same colony as us, and I was very close to him. He was awesome. So is Vijay, of course.

The only activity that Vijay had recently undertaken which I was very happy about was the fact that he had started hanging out with my ninety-three year old grandfather Papa.
It so happened that he had started to run into Papa rather a lot ever since he had started taking Peanut out to the park – Papa was very regular with his walks, and would inevitably come up to them, and be delighted in equal measure to see Peanut and his favorite Grandson-in-law. Peanut would run up to him and he would hold his arms out to her – she would sidestep his hug and instead, proceed to swipe his walking stick. Papa was a very popular personality in Garden Greens and everybody seemed to know him. The little kids would come up and take his hand and walk along with him as if he was their great-grandpa – and this was the only thing that would cause Peanut to remember that she was the actual great-granddaughter and she would drop the walking stick on such occasions and run with alacrity to reclaim the hand that was rightfully hers to hold.
Vijay and Papa would end up spending time sitting on the bench, and Papa would regale Vijay with some of his shayari, and both of them enjoyed these exchanges, rather a lot – although the conversation on Vijay’s part was usually only ‘Wah, Papa, Wah.’ It was more than enough for Papa who didn’t find any one in our Family sufficiently interested in Urdu poetry to be able to appreciate his considerable knowledge of Ghalib, Faiz and the like. His hearing was failing him, so he wasn’t confident about his ability to carry on a conversation with most people beyond a point – with Vijay, he was comfortable and found great joy in his company
Vijay had announced to me the other day ‘I’m going for a movie tomorrow.’
‘What?’ I said ‘You know I have this major presentation day after, and we haven’t been for a movie together in like…ages. And I’ve not even been feeling well. And…’
‘I’m going while you’re in Office, Y.’ Vijay rolled his eyes. ‘And I’m taking Papa with me.’
‘Oh.’ I suddenly felt small ‘That’s nice. To jao, na. Maine kab mana kiya?’
Vijay had had the bright notion that Papa should experience what film-watching was like these days, in a PVR theater. The last time Papa had gone for a movie had perhaps been twenty years ago. After his initial resistance, Papa had agreed to this plan, and was apparently rather excited about the whole thing. I felt a little guilty that such a thought had never occurred to me. In fact, I was barely seeing anything of Papa since I was pregnant and sick and busy with my job. It was good that Vijay was looking out for him.
They had ended up going for a movie called Ishqiya – Vijay thought it was a great movie, and kept trying to tell Papa the storyline because he wasn’t able to catch all the dialogues. However, he confessed to me, it was very embarrassing because of the unusual degree profanity in that particular film. Especially because everybody laughed at some of the racier dialogues as they were delivered.

‘Papa kept asking me – what did he just say …at all the wrong dialogues. How could I tell him it was stuff like ‘Teri Ma ki Ch***?’ Eventually, to handle this, Vijay began to pretend to have suddenly developed a bit of hearing loss himself and fended off Papa’s curiosity with several variations of a breezy ‘Ha ha, Papa. Popcorn lenge?’

****

Stay tuned for much more of Vijay, coming up soon as he stars as himself in 'How I became a Farmer's Wife', HarperCollins, 2018. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Slipping In the Rain


I've come back from my Zumba class in the morning and am about to have breakfast. Vijay's away this weekend and the day stretches out ahead. I look outside and note that it's started to rain, and hard at that.

'Anyone for a walk?' I call out on a whim.

'Yes, yes.' says my daughter Peanut, ever ready for fun.

'I'm coming, wait for me.' seven year old Papad can clearly hardly believe what he's hearing.

'Mommmm' Pickle wails from the bathroom. 'I'm doing poo-poo.'

I reassure him that he can join us after his poo-poo and head out with Peanut. We step out into the rain, and I suddenly notice that she's going to be taller than me in just a couple of years - she's right up to my ear! The rain soaks us almost immediately, but it's not a cold day, really.

'Shall I bring an umbrella?' Peanut isn't used to this.

'What would the point be then?' I ask.

We walk a few steps more and then I wonder out loud where Papad is. I turn and there he is, running up in his crocs, big grin on his face. Peanut sees a small stream already created by the pelting rain near the pavement and exclaims 'A boat! I need to make a paper boat.'

'Huh?' I say. 'Come on, you're already out in the rain, it's okay...'

'No, Mom.' She says with a sense of urgency. 'I've never done that! I need to make a paper boat and see it float in these waters.'

I realize it is a reasonable ambition and so tell her to hurry home then. She shoots off and Papad and I head to the park. In a matter of seconds, Pickle arrives, having had the good sense to bring with him his football. The twins throw away their crocs and start to play - I marvel how they can kick so hard in the rain, barefoot but they are in the seventh heaven, laughing and kicking and running and shouting. I take off my slippers - my shirt which used to be light green is now dark green and clinging to my skin, and I realize it is a little cold after all. But the feel of the wet grass under my feet is still warm and overall it's ludicrous and yet wonderful to be standing there in the rain watching the boys play football. Papad slips and falls and for a moment I'm worried, but he's up and laughing again and I realize that there's so much water around that he's not going to hurt himself. He realizes it too and so does his twin, because soon they are both sliding to the kick the ball, reminding me of baseball players sliding into base. Peanut reappears with a really large paper boat which we put into a small stream running alongside the park. It floats for about two seconds before toppling over, and despite our valiant attempts to right it, it is soaked and ruined. It doesn't seem to bother her though, she seems satisfied with that two seconds and she grins up at me brightly.

The rain falls even harder and we show no signs of going home. My daughter, always an observant kid, remarks. 'Mom, we're a really weird family.'

'What?' I exclaim. 'Just because your father is crazy about farming and away this weekend again doing it, and your mother doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain?'

'Kinda.' She smiles and then kicks hard at a puddle of water so that my track pants get even muddier. 'Hah! Soaked ya.'

We are the only ones in the Central park, lined with buildings of our colony. I know that at least some people are watching, probably with a mixture of disapproval and amusement. Football isn't really allowed in this park and here is this crazy mother not telling her kids off. But there's no one else around, and it's not going to hurt anyone or anything, so I say nothing to the twins, who now have anyway decided to abandon the ball and pursue sliding in the grass as a full time career option. Pickle's pants are torn already, but I note that his form is improving. They both break into a run with identical determined expressions on their faces and twist slightly as they reach muddy waters and slide through with grace and skill. They're making it look easy, but I know it's not.

'Can you do that?' I ask my usually well-behaved daughter. She shakes her head.

'I want to try.' I surprise myself.

'Okay.' She's malleable. 'Come on then.'

She leads the way and I follow more uncertainly. We reach the slidey-place but both of us are unable to slide with our knees half-bent the way that Pickle-Papad do and wind up just clumsily sitting on our bums. We give it another go and I balk at the last minute and stumble but stay upright, while Peanut manages the slide. Pickle and Papad shout their expert advice on how to do it, contradicting each other as usual and we keep at it until finally I am able to realize that the only thing holding me back is the fear that I'm now too old for this and that I could end up injuring my knees or my back or something - I stop thinking and just run deeper into the puddle and of course I slip, my legs slide out under me and I land in the muddy puddle, and lie sprawled there, it raining on my face, and I feel incredibly triumphant. I run up and do it again with the children, and that's when I notice that two more kids have appeared in the park.

'Hey, Kavya, Hey Leela.' I say to the little princesss, both of whom have mischief on their faces all the time and consequently are among my favourites in the colony. 'How come your parents allowed you to come?'

'Parents?' Kavya rolls her eyes. 'I didn't tell my DAD. I just came!'

Leela affirms that she used the same strategy and soon the two of them are also playing the sliding game with us. Two more kids then land up, and I note with some amusement that the brother-sister combination seem to be in their pajamas. A couple of adults land up too, including one lady who I often talk to in the pool but whose name I haven't actually learned all these years.

'It takes only one crazy person.' She sings out to me in greeting. 'And then you see, the rest land up.'

'Ha ha.' I grin at her. 'Well, it's wonderful out here today, I don't know why more people don't come out in the rain.'

'I know!' She agrees. 'We were in the pool and we continued to swim when it was raining. Saw you and decided to come this way. It's beautiful, isn't it?'

I converse with her, possibly one of the few times outside the pool, but both of us still as wet as if we were in 5.5 feet of water. I finally work up the courage to ask her name and learn that it is Payal, and that she has a home in the hills with an Apple Orchard where she hopes to retire soon and that she is a pre-primary school teacher who is currently learning about learning disabilities and that she is taking tuitions for the economically disadvantaged children in our colony. I marvel at her spirit and her friendly nature and her choice of career and everything about her and say, with feeling. 'Why can't there be more people like you in this world?' She just laughs good-naturedly and we turn to talking about the kids and how important it is for them to get outside and play like this.

The twins come running up to me with a request to be spun around. I hoist up Pickle by the arms and spin round and round and round - it's as if he's flying, his legs close to the ground and he deliberately drops his foot so as to make a circle of splashing water around us, which fascinates the other kids and of course all of them now want a turn. I go dizzy doing it, but the past is when Papad begs for me to stop spinning him because 'My pant is falling and I forgot to wear Chaddi.' The other kids double up laughing at this, and we carry on, but I finally have to refuse when they come back for third turns, because by now I've done about ten of these and my head is spinning. They whine for a moment but I'm firm and they recover and start spinning each other, with Peanut and the other girls taking turns to spin Pickle and Papad around. They also then carry each other all over the park, and the rain has turned to a slight drizzle but no one's even noticed because they're all just having too much fun, and there I am watching them in contented silence.

I know that I couldn't have brought my phone out into the rain and clicked pictures, but it's imprinted in my mind - Peanut, tall and skinny, hair flattened by the rain, dripping wet in a blue shirt and green pants above her knees. Pickle and Papad in their black shirts, with dirty torn pants clowning around, for once happy with Peanut's friends picking them up at their will to toss them about the wet, completely safe bed created by the rain-fed grass.

And just so I don't forget, I make sure I write it all down here.

Because how often do we let go of adulting enough to really enjoy the simple things in life? Like the pelting rain, greenery and mud and the happy, squealing, innocent laughter of delighted kids?

So, yes, indeed. Let it rain.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chapter 1, Sorting Out Sid: THE PARTY

Chapter 1 of my second book 'Sorting Out Sid' - (Excuse the formatting please, copy-pasting from a PDF is a pain!)
If you like it, get it on bit.ly/SortingOutSidAmazon
THE PARTY
‘Why does she have to live in a place with such poor maintenance,’ muttered Sid to himself as he peered short-sightedly out of his car window, trying to spot a parking space. it was past nine now and pitch-black with none of the street lights in Aditi’s complex working. Hah, he thought, a supposedly posh high-rise complex with a fancy-shmancy name like ‘Sherwood towers’, but can’t even take care of the basics! He conveniently ignored the fact that his own apartment was in a complex called ‘Bellavue Boulevard’. Sid drove along slowly in his old Wagonr, having left the Verna at home for Mandira in case she needed it, though she said she was unwell. He spotted what looked like an empty slot. He couldn’t quite gauge the distance between the two large cars and so, paused uncertainly. Sherwood towers had a lot of rich residents, and Sid definitely did not want to bump any of the big-ass cars with his trusted steed. Also, he did not really want yet another scratch on his own car, however old and beat-up it was.
Though it had been a few years since he had been badgered by Mandira into learning to drive, Sid wasn’t a confident
driver still. Driving at night made him especially nervous, and it didn’t help that tonight he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Not that his eyesight was too bad – a mere .25 in the left eye, and .75 in the right – but the glasses did help.
it wasn’t his vanity this time – he could have chosen to leave them in the car while he was up at the party, but he had been so distracted while leaving the house that he had forgotten them. And he just hadn’t felt like going back to get them. oh well, he had made it here safe and sound, he’d be okay driving back too. Hopefully.
Just as he had made up his mind to plunge blindly into the parking spot with a prayer on his lips, the street lights came on and light flooded the area around him. He heard the sound of music and people cheering from what he knew was Aditi’s flat.
Of course! Just a little power failure. Could happen to anyone. Sid decided to forgive Aditi for living here and parked his car smoothly. it ended up only a little too close to a bright yellow Honda City, which he had never seen before.
He checked himself out in the rear-view mirror before getting out of the car, an old habit. Sid always needed to know that he was looking sharp. He was letting his hair grow out this year, but it was carefully styled and slicked back, every strand gelled into place. He bared his teeth to confirm he had nothing stuck in there and finally stepped out.
He was in his carefully torn new jeans and his favourite dark blue shirt which had the first two buttons casually undone and sleeves rolled up. only the tail end of the Black Panther tattoo on his right arm was on display this way. His new, brown, high- heeled shoes made him look and feel taller, which was always welcome, even though he stood at a perfectly respectable five-ten. Sid had always wished he could have made it to six feet, but no amount of stretching in college had helped. Still, he knew he looked pretty good in a lean, clean-cut, boyish way.
He took a deep breath, trying to keep at bay the thoughts of his evening at home. He slammed the car door shut, put on his most confident swagger as he headed towards Aditi’s building, and then bounded up the stairs, two at a time, to the first floor.
As he reached the door, he heard the sound of ABBA and groaned inwardly. ABBA? in this day and age? He reached out and rang the doorbell. the tinny annoying tune of ‘B-I- N-G-O’ made him cringe as always. He glanced at his watch as he waited and his eyes bulged a little,
damn! nine thirty already? He knew Aditi had expected him to turn up at seven p.m. sharp. Just so unreasonable of her. it was the unwritten protocol these days to come at least an hour late, although a control freak like Aditi wouldn’t subscribe to that view. Sure enough, as soon as the door swung open, her hard and unsmiling face confirmed that she was not happy with him. tonight, her long, wavy hair was tamed into a tight ponytail which gave her a severe look despite her frilly dark-green top and tight jeans. She stood glaring at him in silence. He bravely maintained eye contact, but had the distinct impression that she was tapping her feet as she waited for him to say something. He decided to go with his usual approach, which meant pretending not to notice anything was wrong.
‘Happy Birthday, Buddy-boy!’ He gave her his most charming grin and reached out to envelop her in a big, warm hug.
She stood there, unyielding and stiff. As a result the big, warm hug ended up as a clumsy one-sided embrace. He took a step back and saw that now she looked really mad.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, suppressing his own twinge of irritation. She didn’t have to make such an issue out of everything. it was only a little tardiness, after all.
‘it’s not my birthday, you dolt,’ she hissed. ‘it’s Ayaan’s.’
Ayaan’s? Oh no! That was right. Sid felt his ears turning red. this was indeed what you might term a bit of a boo-boo. of course, it was Ayaan’s birthday party – he was turning two today. Sid had obviously not been paying attention when Aditi had called last week to confirm he was coming for ‘the birthday party’ – he had just assumed it was her own. Wasn’t hers around this time of year? He decided to blame Facebook – it was because of those darned birthday calendars that no one bothered to remember anything any more. Although he had known Aditi for over twenty years, right from their school days, it was still tough for him to think of her as a mom. He hadn’t had a clue he was coming to a kid’s birthday party.
Oh bloody hell! Wait. Kids’ parties needed gifts. His usual alternative for a gift – ‘Heh-heh. i’ll take you out for dinner next week’ wasn’t going to work with a two-year-old. Sid felt mortified. So to cover up, he grinned and said ‘Of course it’s Ayaan’s birthday. get out of my way, you imposter! Where is the real birthday boy?’
He took a step past her and vaguely looked around towards the knees of the few people who were crowded around Aditi’s drawing room – some sitting, others standing and most shouting over ‘Dancing Queen’ to talk to each other. Aditi was saying something to him, but he couldn’t hear it. Finally, she grabbed hold of his shoulder and, putting her mouth close to his ear, shouted, ‘He’s asleep now. the party was at seven p.m. Sid! All the people with kids have left already. But then again, you always do this, don’t you?’ Sid cringed as she continued, ‘You’re just too cool to land up on time even when it’s an important occasion? You know how much this means to me. i don’t know why i expected better from you.’ this made him feel even worse. He just stood there gazing at her, unsure of what to say. After a few seconds, Aditi spoke again, more curious than angry now, ‘And hey – you didn’t bring Mandira?’
He stiffened a bit at the mention of his wife. ‘Well, you know, she said she would come but then she had an office thing, and you know, it was just one of those things ... you know? So i said i would go alone. Hey, so where’s Krish? Are we having beer?’
Aditi was staring closely at his face. that penetrating look of hers always made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t know why but this woman somehow always seemed to know – or at least, to always want to know what was going on inside his head. He wondered if he had made another tactical error by asking for beer at a two-year-old’s party, but he was pretty sure he had seen a few people with drinks in their hands. Aditi’s face wasn’t disapproving any more. ‘What’s wrong, Sid?’ she said, sounding concerned. ‘did you guys fight?’
Sid’s immediate reaction was to deny it with a half-scoffing, half-snorting sound, followed up with an ‘Arrey, no, no yaar.’ After all, it hadn’t really been a fight. Just a small ... difference in point of view. Yes. All married couples had them. no point talking about it. So he continued, ‘i’m telling you, na – she’s just super busy nowadays. She said to give you her love and wish you ... er, i mean, Ayaan a happy birthday.’
Aditi clearly didn’t believe him and he didn’t blame her. Mandira had always been a little cold to her, as was the case with all of his female friends. Sid recalled how, a few months ago, she had remarked in the middle of an argument, ‘that “Aaadu” chick-friend of yours is three years younger than i am and already has a kid, and at the rate we’re going, we’ll probably be first-time parents at the age of fifty.’
Aditi’s continued scrutiny of his face was driving him nuts. He decided to resort to joking. ‘So since my wife is busy at work, are there any hot chicks i can meet here?’ He leaned over and leered at her, adding, ‘Besides you, of course?’
It worked. Aditi laughed. ‘Yeah, yeah, watch it. Krish is around. And oh, don’t try to flatter your way out of the situation, Mister. You’re late, you forgot and...’
‘Hey, I'm really sorry about that, yaar.’ No posturing this time – his misery was genuine.
Aditi squeezed his arm and grinned, and he knew he was forgiven. She was as quick to forget as she was to flare up. ‘never mind. there are some people i want you to meet. Especially this friend of mine from Bangalore – i’ve told you about her, right? neha?’ She began leading him towards a girl sitting on the sofa when the doorbell rang again. Aditi stopped in her tracks and Sid almost bumped into her, ruining the effect of the cool walk he had put on while following her. She doubled back past him to the front door, saying, ‘i’ll be right there – just go over and say hi to her, no?’
Sid abandoned the cool walk and headed over in a normal fashion to the girl that Aditi had been making a beeline for. She was in conversation with an earnest-looking bespectacled young man and sipping from a tall glass of Coke, which he presumed was spiked. the first thing he noticed about her
was that she was rather small. An unusual-looking little thing, he thought as he took in her sharp-featured face with high cheekbones and a long, prominent nose. Her skin was fair, practically glowing; her make-up had been applied, he noticed, liberally yet tastefully. Her shoulder-length curly, black hair was stylishly cut to frame her face, giving her a pixie-like appearance. interesting, he thought, but she wouldn’t ever make it as a model given her size. You wouldn’t call her petite – no; in fact, she was sturdy and well-endowed as revealed by her low-necked, sleeveless purple blouse. not that he was looking or anything. the blouse was teamed with a flowing white skirt, and she had around her neck a chain of closely strung together, large white beads. He decided that she wasn’t his type. But the overall effect was striking.
He stopped right in front of her and the bespectacled young man, but neither seemed to notice. He cleared his throat – meeting people for the first time always made him a little nervous. And right now, he somehow found himself even keener than usual to make a good first impression.
He stuck out his hand to her and said in a deep voice, ‘Hi, Neha, i’m Sid.’
Neha didn’t seem to hear Sid over the loud music – she was facing away from him and concentrating on what the young man was saying. However, a moment later, she did acknowledge Sid’s outstretched hand - by distractedly placing her glass in it. As he stood frozen to the spot, holding her glass, she glanced up with a quick smile and said in a clear, penetrating voice ‘Harish Bhaiya, thodi si aur ice please.’ She then turned her attention back to the young man.
Sid’s face turned red, flushed with embarrassment. Harish Bhaiya was Aditi’s Man Friday. He was a thin man with lanky brown hair and a faint moustache, and Sid knew he looked nothing like him. Yet, this rude and uncouth woman, this complete stranger, was pretending to have mistaken Sid for him. He was on the verge of sputtering with indignation when the real Harish entered the room from the kitchen with a large tray of drinks and ice. Sid saw that Harish’s hair had been oiled back to look slicker than usual, perhaps in honour of the occasion. Harish’s torn jeans and blue checked t-shirt definitely looked a lot like what Sid was wearing. He also noticed, for the first time, that Harish even had a tattoo on his forearm – of course, it wasn’t a cool, intricate Black Panther like his. It was pale blue and said Harish Yadav in Hindi. Still, there was no mistaking it. Tonight, of all nights, Sid looked like a Harish.

After a couple of seconds, Neha seemed to realize something was amiss, probably because the earnest young man was now shooting confused glances towards Sid over her shoulder. She looked up again, this time more carefully, at Sid, who stood there clutching the glass. She clasped her hand over her mouth and stood up to face him, her eyes wide-eyed in horror. He had been right – even in fashionable three-inch heels, she stood a good head shorter than him. never mind that she had just made him feel about two feet tall.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she breathed. ‘i thought you were ... you see, he ... Oh shit. i mean, I’m really sorry.’
Sid might have believed her except for the fact that her horror was already fighting a losing battle with her sense of humour. She seemed to have made up her mind that one way to look at this was that it was rather funny. She started off slow, with poorly suppressed giggles, but was soon in the midst of musical peals of completely uninhibited laughter at a volume rather disproportionate to her size. Despite the loud music, people heard her and turned around, and many slightly bewildered grins went around the room. No one actually knew the joke, but Neha’s laugh was very infectious.
That she was laughing at him did not come in the way of Sid being fascinated by her laugh. He waited politely for it to subside, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon. Finally, there was a bit of a lull during which neha wiped her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Sid took the opportunity to say with all the panache he could muster, ‘So, as i was saying ... i’m Sid, not Harish. And you are perhaps, Kanta Bai?’
Neha had almost regained control at this point, but Sid’s wisecrack set her off again. Sid watched as she threw her head back helplessly, her face now flushed completely red. But this time it was much more gratifying, considering that she was laughing at a joke he had cracked. He was feeling friendlier towards her by the time she caught her breath and straightened up to face him one more time. ‘i’m really sorry...Sid,’ she said breathlessly. ‘of course, Aditi’s told me a lot about you.’
‘Oh, has she?’ said Sid, half-pleased and half-wary. You never knew with Aditi. He decided to go with the polite, standard response, ‘Likewise – she’s told me a lot about you too.’
‘Really? What did she tell you about me?’
Sid was flummoxed. Neha was waiting intently for his response, her head tilted to one side, gazing at him with big brown eyes done up with purple-blue eye shadow. He did recall Aditi mentioning neha’s name a few times but he couldn’t for the life of him now recall the specific things that she had been gabbing about. So he smoothly lied, ‘oh, of course, you know, that you’re a really good friend of hers.’

She continued to look up at him with her head tilted to one side. Sid looked down to avoid her eye, and racked his brain for something else to say. He then caught sight of the bulge in neha’s tummy.
oh, he thought, okay. Another one bites the dust. out loud, he said, ‘And of course she told me that congratulations are in order!’

Neha narrowed her eyes. Sid was dimly aware that someone had come up behind him and was nudging him in the ribs. Aditi? He didn’t know why she would first get him to strike up a conversation with someone and then interrupt immediately. She had absolutely no manners sometimes. Well, she could wait. He didn’t notice that ‘Dancing Queen’ was now fading out rather quickly, else he probably wouldn’t have posed his next question to neha quite so loudly, shattering the sudden silence in the room.
‘So! When is the baby due?’

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Saleslady named Valerie

Earlier this week, I was in Hong Kong for the first time ever. I didn't get to see very much of the city because of it was a busy work trip, but whatever I did see, I liked.

I know it's a comparison made often with Singapore, but the place has a certain vibrancy and life about it that I found really appealing.



But what really left an impression on me was strangely enough, a saleslady at a toy shop at the Hong Kong Airport.

I was at the toy shop because I was headed back home and my working parent guilt had kicked in. First of all, it was Peanut's tenth birthday and she was very upset that I would be getting home only in the afternoon. And to make things worse, earlier in the week, Pickle had split his lip when another kid ran into him and Papad had been down with viral; so it wasn't exactly the best time for me to be travelling. Thankfully, Vijay was holding fort, and I could now focus on picking up something nice for the children.

The lady at the toy store was an elderly woman but with delightful reddish-purple tinged hair and a ready smile. She was very concerned about my bag, which I left carelessly on the floor of the shop and she kept hovering over it and picking it up to hand it to me. I'd thank her and then get busy with examining another toy and leave it on the floor again, and she'd scurry over to pick it up. She didn't speak very much English, but she managed to guide me to some of the nicer and more unique toys in the store.

I looked carefully at the educational toys that she showcased to me most earnestly.

'Er, you got any...Fidget spinners?' I asked lamely.

'Ah, sure, sure, we have.' She led to me another corner of the store and took out the most beautiful, multicolored, metal fidget spinners I have ever seen in my life. It made me want to become a kid again. I picked out three of them, mentally filing away the biggest and best for my biggest and best birthday girl.

'You fan?' the elderly saleslady asked.

'Well, not a fan, exactly.' I hedged 'But I guess everyone likes fidget spinners, for some reason, although I...'

'No, no.' She blinked her heavily masacared lids. 'You take this fan?' She held out a blue plastic fan and before I could refuse, she switched it on and a cool blast came onto my face.

Peanut liked this sort of thing. She tended to feel warm in her room. This way she could study at her desk with a cooling blast constantly on her face. I was impressed by the thought, and agreed to buy the fan. I also spotted another water-balloon kind of toy that looked impressive because it was the self-sealing variety and since I'd never seen a self-sealing water balloon in my life, I decided to buy that for Peanut too.

I managed to pay for it all and the saleslady, whose name tag said Valerie Chan, billed it all carefully and painstakingly for me.

'You needa bag?'

'Nah, I'm fine.' I said. 'I'll just stuff it in my laptop bag right here.'

She looked doubtfully at my small and overly stuffed laptop case. It was the kind on wheels and I had about three days worth of clothing and other items in there. But I figured I could do it.

I put in the fidget spinners, no problem. I managed to stuff in the water balloon game, it was squishy and so I managed to stuff it in between some clothes. But the fan? It was in a box and I realized with some embarassment that I would have to open up my badly packed overstuffed laptop bag. I struggled with the zipper for a while but it wouldn't give.

Valerie peered out over the counter with concern. 'You need help?'

'No, no.' I laughed a little too loudly. 'It's fine...' I struggled with it some more and the zipper gave way, but my clothes and unnecessary extra pair of shoes were popping out. 'No problem.'

She came around from behind the counter anyway and knelt down on the floor to help me. 'No worry.' she said. She tried to help me make some space, and then came up with a brainwave. 'We take out of the box?' She took the fan out of the box along with its rechargable battery and handed them to me, saying 'You wrap it in clothes.' I went ahead and sheepishly wrapped them in clothes, wondering why I couldn't have just done that in the first place.

With some help from Valerie who practically had to sit on the laptop bag for me, I managed to squeeze everything in again and closed the case. We were both panting a little and I was sweating as we stood up.

'Well. Valerie.' I stuck out my hand. 'Thank you. You're very nice.'

'Ah!' Valerie inclined her head graciously and then smiled at me. 'You also very nice.' She indicated the space between the two of us, and said. 'It very refreshing.'

I grinned at her and waved, wishing I could buy out her entire store, and wheeled my case out of the shop.

'Wait, wait.' Valerie came running after me, holding up my bag again. 'You bag.'

'Oh hahaha.' I grinned, and inclined my head graciously and left.

As I walked away, I found myself thinking - Why can't more people in this world be as nice as this one woman? It would really be a better place. But what did she mean, I wondered, why had she used the word 'refreshing.' Was it refreshing to have nice customers in her store because most people weren't as nice as me? But I hadn't been particularly nice, I'd just bumbled along as usual. Did she mean that I was like a breath of fresh air for acknowledging her niceness? Or was it something else that she meant that I couldn't understand? I had no idea.

But I find myself hoping that I'll get to go back someday and ask her.