Thursday, August 14, 2014

Just say I love you, Na?

When I announced that I was going away with my friend for a 3 day holiday, my husband was initially very supportive. It was only after I actually booked the tickets that his attitude seemed to change.

'I've booked the tickets, honey!' I said happily to him. 'We're going next Wednesday?'

'What?' He frowned 'You're actually going?'

'What do you mean?' I flared up. 'We discussed this weeks ago, and I told you the dates already. Don't tell me you've fixed work travel then?'

'No, no.' He said quickly. 'It's not that. You go ahead. That's fine.'

He wasn't very convincing though but I gave up after staring at him suspiciously for a while. I then messaged Chhaya about the booking that I had made after struggling for a long time with the Indian Railways website.

'Just don't do anything stupid.' Vijay remarked to me at breakfast the next day.

'What?' It was a fairly out of context remark as far as I could see.

'You know.' He said 'You're always doing stupid things. Don't do them when you go to Kasauli.'

'Stupid things like what?' My hackles were rising.

'Generally.' He said vaguely and yet managed to sound wise. 'Just because Chhaya is into adventure sports, doesn't mean that you can handle it.'

'I can too handle any adventure sport!' I protested. 'I've done rafting...and...'

'Exactly.' said Vijay. 'That's all you've ever done. And you probably almost drowned then.' I opened my mouth to protest but he went on. 'Anyway, what I'm saying is, don't be stupid.'

'Will you stop calling me stupid for no reason?' I demanded. 'What's the matter with you?'

'Nothing.' He said and then in a positively hostile way, he added 'You're stupid.'

I stared after him as he got up and left for work.

Even when the day before the morning we were to travel and Chhaya had come over to stay the night, Vijay was at it.

'Have you packed?' he said tersely as Chhaya and I looked at Tripadvisor to see what there was to do at Kasauli.

'Not yet.' I said. 'It's cool, it's only a few things I'll need...'

'Have you packed your medicines?'

'No, I will.'

'Stupid.' He murmured. Chhaya raised her eyebrows at me, and I shrugged and rolled my eyes. He had clearly lost it. He made a big show of going about the room and gathering up all sorts of medicines and within fifteen minutes had finally made his 'Medicine bag' for me.

'Here.' he said gruffly. 'I've put in Emeset, Pan-D, Combiflam, Augmentin, Eno...'

'I don't need all that!' I said

'Oh be quiet.' He growled. 'Where's your suitcase?'

I pointed at the one I had chosen and he snorted 'Are you nuts? Why are you taking that old one? Take my new one, it's got a case for your laptop. I suppose you'll take your laptop even though you're going on holiday.'

I struggled to retain my cool and said with dignity. 'I am a writer. You never know where inspiration will strike.'

'Yeah.' He said sarcastically. 'Also, you use your Mac as a charger for your iPhone. Stupid.'

I was about to yell at him but thought it would be inappropriate in front of mild-mannered Chhaya, especially after he had prepared a bag full of medicines for me. I remained sullen as he dragged out a more compact bag which was indeed more suitable for a short trip. He put in the medicine bag.

'Why don't you just pack my other stuff?' I suggested sweetly.

'Hah. Shut up.' He was being very rude indeed. 'I'm going to bed. You guys should also sleep early in case you actually plan to go tomorrow.'

'What do you mean?' Chhaya asked him 'Actually planning to go? Our train is at 6.40' She looked at me 'What time should we set the alarm for?'

'7.30, I think' Vijay suggested and then walked out of the room.

Chhaya and I looked at each other once and then turned our attention back to Tripadvisor.

The next morning we were running about to get ready in an attempt to actually leave for the station on time. Vijay was up too, I noted to my surprise. He was hovering around and muttering malevolently to himself.

I went over to say goodbye to Papaji, who is an early riser, and to my annoyance, Vijay murmured from behind me 'Don't forget to touch his feet.' Just when I was going to bend over and touch his feet. I went ahead and did that anyway and then headed out the door with Chhaya.

'Wait.' called Vijay 'What about saying a prayer?' He indicated the pictures of the Gods in Papaji's carefully maintained little Puja area in the kitchen.

Oh. Well, I didn't usually do that, but if it made him happy, why not. I had my shoes on so I didn't go into the kitchen but I dutifully closed my eyes and folded my hands in a small silent prayer.

It was just at the moment that I had opened my eyes that I felt a hard thwack on the back of my head. Vijay must have meant for it to be a playful little smack but it really hurt me. This was the final straw. My forty-plus-year old husband had clearly regressed to the level of a Kindergartener pulling on the pigtails of the girl he liked in class.

'What's WRONG with you?' I hissed at him. 'You CAN just say you're going to miss me and tell me you love me, na?'

'Fine!' He said. He pushed me out of the door, saying 'I love you.'

He shut the door firmly behind me, but I still heard him adding 'Stupid.'

I stared at the door for a while and then squared my shoulders and walked away for my holiday, shaking my head but already smiling. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

But there's nothing to DO at Kasauli...

A couple of weeks ago, I took my first ever break away from the family ( in 8 years. Wow, I'm a Loser!). My friend Chhaya and I headed over to Dharampur to visit some very nice people who happen to be friends of my parents. Dharampur, in case you're wondering, is about 20 minutes away from Kasauli, which is quite the tourist destination.

It really tickled me when our well-meaning Family friends suggested we head over to Shimla, a few hours away, because 'There's nothing to DO at Kasauli.' First of all, we hadn't really gone over there to DO anything; quite the opposite, because especially for a slightly hyperactive person like me, even taking a break of this sort takes 8 years. You know what I mean. So the idea was to just chill.

Anyhow, we walked all over the place and thought it was absolutely beautiful. The nicest part about travelling with a friend like Chhaya is she is the type who carries tissues, hand-sanitizers and other random things with her so you never have to remember anything! ( Oh, your ears are uncomfortable because of the altitude? Try sucking on this Pan Pasand toffee....Seriously, dude, Pan Pasand from the 80's? Gimme!!)

So while I rarely do picture posts, they're the way to tell this story, and here goes!

The beautiful drive. I think that cluster of red-roofs is actually perhaps Kasauli, but don't go by my knowledge of geography.

One of the landmarks of the place - the Church. It's quite small and peaceful. It rained so we ducked in there and it was quite nice, but could do with some renovation and maintenance work. Very picturesque nevertheless.

This mother with her baby really caught my fancy. The monkeys were real rogues overall, trying to snatch our Bhuttas. Luckily, the bhutta-lady knew just how to drive them away (Screaming: Besharam! Jaao, school ka time ho gaya!)

This was a lovely little forgotten surprise at the end of the Mall road - a beautifully and lovingly maintained flower garden which we almost missed. After we went in, a bunch of people wandered in after us, and I heard one man muttering 'Oh yeh private nahin hain.'

The cobbled stones leading to some of the houses down at the end of the market caught my fancy enough to take a picture.

How could we possibly be in Kasauli and not have a Bun-samosa? It's the speciality of the place, and we had it from one of the oldest shops around so they're probably experts - an article by Khushwant Singh put up proudly near the entrance will identify it for you since I've forgotten the name of the joint.  The first day, Chhaya and I shared a bun-samosa because I was scared of falling sick, but nothing happened except for the fact that she complained the entire evening about how I had prevented her from enjoying a whole bun-samosa. Consequently we had to go back the next day and have a full bun-samosa each. It was worth it. The Gulab jamuns were to die for too - really awesome, the long ones without any elaichi-type-crap inside.

Can you tell I was really fascinated by the simians?

It wasn't the fog that we were occasionally caught up in - it was a cloud settling around us. Beautiful feeling.

We went on a long trek to a place called Sunset Point - took us about 1.5 hours, but could have easily lasted longer if we had explored more of the place. By this time, however, I was feeling sick and it had nothing to do with the Bun-Samosas.

A pine cone. I find them almost as fascinating as monkeys. I brought it home for my daughter, who said 'Oh Wow' and then quietly threw it away. Sniff.

Also, we went to a place called Manki Point, which is also known as Monkey Point. There's a Hanuman Temple and you have to climb a few hundred meters to get there, which really isn't very easy, but took us all of 20 minutes, I'd say. We weren't allowed to take our phones into the place because it's in the middle of some Air Force Base. Apparently this is the point where Lord Hanuman's foot touched the ground as he went leaping and bounding to get the herb that would save Laxman. But again, like with my geography, don't go by my knowledge of History either. Social Studies - always my worst subject. But hey - I digress. We did a lot of shopping from the Mall Road, buying several Kullu Shawls (apparently made of Yak Wool, very warm) and Minchy's Wunder Wyne ( Chhaya chose Plum and I chose Apricot but she left her bottle at my place so I'm enjoying both alone at nights) and Amul Dark Chocolate ( very, very nice and only Rs.100 for a really large bar so I wish I'd bought more) and something called Red Chilli Chuk ( very, very spicy and adds that bit of fire to several of my meals) and loads of little toys and paraphernalia for the children, including three whips even. Vijay took one of these when he went jogging at night because he's afraid of being bitten by a stray dog. He's so charming.

The children couldn't understand why I had to go away for three whole days. 'Why can't Didu or Masi go with Chhaya Aunty?' They lamented. But I had to get away, and I'm glad I did. It was a beautiful holiday, three days of doing nothing and everything with a nice companion and our wonderful, warm, large-hearted hosts.

In short. Expect nothing... and go to Kasauli. You won't regret it. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dance Your Blues Away

It's now been almost two years since I started with Zumba. It's funny how seemingly random events can have a profound impact on you. I had no idea what Zumba was when I first did a Google Search on it, and amongst the instructors in Gurgaon was given the cell number of a certain Sameer Sachdeva. When I finally attended his class, I was completely taken in by how much fun and how challenging it was, and became a regular.

Suddenly, the eight extra kilos of post-pregnancy weight after the twins birth melted away - I had been struggling with the fat for over a year and a half, and then with 3 days of Zumba a week, and no other change in routine or diet - I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight and have stayed there ever since.

Sameer and I became friends and he was the one who encouraged me to take Zumba up as an instructor. I dilly-dallied about it for a while, but eventually went ahead and got my license as a B1 (Basic Training One) instructor last November. I take classes only in my own colony mostly, and on weekends.

There are about seventy songs or more that I have prepared choreography for, and try to add about one a week; but in one class we only do about 14 songs and the class likes plenty of repetition, so I don't actually get to do all the songs I'd like. These classes however, I remind myself, are about the students - one problem that I have is that I get a sneaking suspicion that the students don't attempt to get any vigorous activity during the week because of 'lack of time', and concentrate all their physical fitness efforts only on the weekend. I don't think that works. I run weekend classes only, and I still say openly that taking only two classes on a Saturday and Sunday will only be for maintenance of fitness and won't be too helpful for weight loss, beyond a point. I used to do classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and that worked brilliantly for me. So I encourage my students to get in at least one more class, maybe an evening batch, or do some running. Swimming, I'm not that big a fan of, because I remember reading that it makes you hungry enough to put that weight back. I'm living proof of it anyway.

Zumba works at so many different levels for me, and for a lot of people I've spoken to. First of all, it's really vigorous, involving movements that are intense and varied. We use the concept of interval training and slow it down and speed it up between songs and within songs. It's challenging enough to require your attention or you won't be coordinated enough to keep up with the class or the instructor. The group energy adds a great deal to the whole concept. Finally, it's so much damn fun that unlike most other forms of fitness, you won't get bored with it. I know because if something hasn't bored me with my fleeting attention span for two years, it's unlikely to bore anyone else!

I'm a part of the team called Zumba@DelhiSalsaClub, led by Sameer. Sameer himself is an outstanding instructor, and his background in dance - he runs the Delhi Salsa Club, after all - helps a great deal, although it is his energy that it is unparalleled. He's my age ( okay, just a few months younger) and I don't know where he gets that energy from, but the good thing is that it is highly infectious. The other instructors are great too - Aparna Deshmukh, one of the earliest instructors in India, who for me is a fellow mom and a fellow ex-Unilever-ite too; Nancy Rustagi who's got some serious Bollywood moves; Anuj, whose energy and smile are about as big as each other; and the newly certified but bursting with energy and some awesome Bhangra moves, Sahil Kapoor. We don't get to meet as often as we'd like to because each and every one of us does various other things too; but we're bound, at least for the time being, by the love for dance and fitness. And ultimately, it is this world-wide phenomenon called Zumba that is responsible for bringing the lot of us together!

If you're in Delhi NCR, join up with us. If you're anywhere else, join up anywhere else. You may really really like it; it makes you fit...and happy!

Here's a clip of Sameer and Nancy taking the Zumba at Raahigiri. This is in the sweltering heat of Delhi which would make most people melt, but Zumba enthusiasts are made of sterner stuff.

And please don't judge us by the Honey Singh, we love this choreography and it's a great favourite amongst all our students. I'm not exactly sure which of the team members developed this choreo, but I suspect it's between Anuj, Sameer, Nancy - will update once I find out!

For classes in Delhi NCR - call Anuj at 9899771415

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Mahabharata Pop Quiz

I love the Mahabharata, and have read several versions over the years. I've yet to find a version that fully satisfies my curiosity, although the interpretation I've loved most is the Palace of Illusions by Chitra Devakaruni.

My curiosity is nothing compared to that of my daughter though, who's already read two kiddie versions at lightning speed. And my knowledge about the story is far more limited than I had thought, as I discovered today in the car on the way to the Music school where we're both enrolled.

'So Mama, can I ask you a question?'

I refrain from the wisecrack 'Well, you've already asked it, haven't you', and instead say 'Sure. What is it?'

Peanut asks 'So are you serious that Chhota Bheem grew up to become the Bheem in Mahabharata?'

Me: ' Bheem is just a cartoon and...'

Peanut: And the other Bheem was real?

Me: Well, no. I mean, yes, more real than Chota Bheem.

Peanut: But you told me that it was the same Bheem.

Me: No, what I meant was that the big Bheem came first in the Mahabharata story and then some guy thought 'Hey let me make a cartoon of this guy and fool a bunch of kids into becoming his fans!' ( I say this in my Kalia-impression-voice)

Peanut (makes a face): Very funny Mama. But tell me, na, why did Bheem Shah not get killed by the arrows?

Me: Bheem Shah? (Realization) Oh, you mean Bhishma.

Peanut: Ya, Bhimsha. Why did he not killed?

Me: (struggling to keep up) So...he lay on the bed of arrows...until he chose to die. He was a great man of many powers and so he could choose when to die.

Peanut (shocked): But why didn't he just choose to live longer?

Me: (realizing this is an opportunity for some education about a topic that oft bothers us) Because not everyone wants to live together, Peanut. Bhimsha, I mean Bhishma wasn't the type to come crying into his Mom's room every night saying 'But I don't wanna DIE'. He was tired of living, maybe and just wanted to rest.

Peanut (still can't believe it): But why would he want to die?

Me: Maybe he believed in heaven? You know anything about heaven?

Peanut ( impatiently): yeah yeah, it's the sky. Okay, but Mama, can I ask you a question?

Me: Well actually...

Peanut (ignoring me): So Mama, Bhishma could also have just wanted to spend time with Pandavas, right?

Me: See, given that they were on opposite sides, it may not really have worked out.

Peanut: But he could have waited to see who won the war, and then spent time with them. Didn't he like the Pandavas?

Me: He loved them, but you don't do stuff like that...just wait to see who wins the war while lying on a bed of arrows so you can spring up and hang out with the winners...he wasn't that kind of guy...

Peanut (changing track again): But Mama, why did he fight against the Pandavas? I thought he liked them better than the Kauravas...

Me: Yeah, he did , but...( My memory fails me here and I'm thinking - yeah, why did he do that?)

Peanut (happily moved on anyway): But Mama, why did Karnaa become their brother?

Me: Karan, Karan...he was their brother because Kunti was his mother.

Peanut: So why did he go away from them?

Me: Well, because...( I don't know how to explain this but decide I can't just leave her hanging)...actually, he had a different father.

Peanut (Shocked): How can that be? How can brothers have a different father?

Me: (struggling) But...but...even the Pandavas had different mothers, right? It's okay, it happens! ( I really don't want to get into the details here)

Peanut: So then Karnaa wasn't the son of Panda?

Me: Panda? ( beginning to laugh, knowing fully well what she means)

Peanut: I mean that hugging guy, the guy who hugged his wife and died...Pandu...stop laughing!

Me: But Peanut, you're just so funny.

Peanut (accusingly): You don't know the Mahabharata!

Me ( with a sigh of relief, looking out the window): Look! We're at the music school....come on now, we're getting late...

Peanut: Okay, but Mama, can I ask you a question?

Me:  ( Dragging her out of the car and propelling her towards the building) La la la la la la, come on now, chop chop

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Dead End:Extract from Sorting Out Sid

This is a scene from the Chapter 'The Dead End' that comes about one third down the way into my book 'Sorting Out Sid'. It may not be a usual practice to give away something like this, but I think it's obvious even from the book blurb that Sid's marriage to Mandira is doomed. So here goes. This scene isn't as funny as the rest of the book but I like it somehow and it represents a big turning point for Sid, and there's so much more that follows. If you like this, you can go ahead and get your copy of the book from Flipkart here (They're running a huge discount and free delivery right now, so check it out!) 


The phone rang about ten times, but he waited patiently still tapping his fingers on the wheel. Finally Mandira picked up, sounding slightly breathless and more than a little annoyed. ‘Ya Sid? What is it?’
‘Nothing much,’ he said, ‘You enjoying your party?’
‘It’s fine,’ She answered curtly, ‘How are Mummy and Daddy?’
‘Oh, we’re all missing you very much. Hey, how come I don’t hear any music at the party?’
‘I’ve stepped out to talk to you in the hall.’ was her quick reply, ‘So why are you calling?’
‘Nothing, yaar … I just thought I’d tell you …  I was getting a little bored, so I’m going to see Vikas tonight. Sunny told me he’s working on a presentation at the Farm. Remember the Farm? I guess you wouldn’t, we went there together to a party only once … years ago. So, anyway, I thought I’d surprise him there, maybe have a beer with him.’
There was a moment of silence and Mandira’s voice rang out shriller than before, ‘You can’t do that … you can’t just land up and disturb him …’
‘What disturb him, yaar!’ retorted Sid, ‘He’s my friend. I just felt like seeing him, it’s no big deal.’
Her voice was panicky now, ‘Listen … don’t leave Mummy and Daddy alone. They come to spend time with us, and …’
‘And you go out to an office party? Come on, if you can do that, surely I can go and see my oldest and best friend? Don’t worry, I won’t be long. I’ve almost reached anyway. Chalo … bye.’
Mandira didn’t even bother to say bye. She quickly cut the call and Sid took a deep breath and stared at his phone. He wished that there wasn’t this perverse part of him which had started to enjoy itself, especially since most of him felt sick to the stomach.  He looked out of the window towards the gate, and waited.
It wasn’t a long wait. In about one and half minutes the gate opened and she emerged. She didn’t notice him, and he watched her now sprint across the road. Oh. That’s where she had parked, he could now make out the red of the Verna behind the  tall bushes. It had been hidden pretty well. .  It helped Sid to focus on the logistics of the situation. This took away some of the discomfort he felt from the  bile in his throat as well as the bitter feeling of disappointment that rose from his stomach. Of course, he  realized that somewhere in the back of his mind he had known this all along.
He watched Mandira scurry and hit the button on the remote keychain, from several meters away, to unlock the car. She scrambled into the driver’s seat and drove it out, heading  with reckless speed down the road, away from him.
He pressed the redial button and waited until he got another breathless ‘Hello?’. He watched her from his vantage point as she slowed down marginally, saying, ‘Sid, I’m driving. I’ll be home soon, okay? What is it?’
‘You’re going the wrong way.’ Sid said in a pleasant, conversational tone. She pulled to an abrupt stop and even from the distance he could see that she was sitting frozen rigidly in her seat, the phone glued to her ear.
When she didn’t respond,  he hastened to add, ‘The main road is the other way – that’s a dead end you’re heading for.’
Her stunned silence continued, and a feeling of weariness hit Sid all over again. Whatever little fleeting pleasure he had derived from his grand expose was already fading away. In fact, he was beginning to feel painfully sorry and embarrassed for her. He wished he didn’t have to put her through this  - but it was too late now.

He sighed and waited for her to respond. What could she possibly say though? He had hit the nail right on the head. They had both been heading for it for a while, and now they’d reached it – The Dead End.

Buy the book from Flipkart here
Get the e-book on Amazon here
And my first book Just Married, Please Excuse is here 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Interview Time!

Bangalore-based Writer and Journalist Bhakti Mathew interviewed me over the weekend for a new series she's starting on Indian Authors called 'How They Did It.'

And here's an open offer: If you guys have blogs or websites on your own and would like to feature me on any topic ( from parenting to Zumba to freelancing to writing to you get the picture but I'm happiest talking about my books ;), I'm just an email away at yashodhara dot lal at gmail dot com.

Bhakti's interview:

At first glance, it can be easy to shrug her off as just another alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) wanting to write a book (not that there’s anything wrong with an IIM-alumnus or any alumnus writing a book!). But she’s funny, really.

Read more on Bhakti's blog. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vijay and The Call Centre Lady

My husband realises at the last minute ( as usual) that he has very limited time to submit some bank documents at the office. So he calls up the bank and requests the Call Center representative for the same.

Vijay: that will be the Interest Certificate along with the Repayment schedule. Right?

CC lady: Yes, Sir. You will receive the Interest Certificate within 2 days and the Repayment Schedule within 15 working days...

Vijay (shocked): Hang on, Hang on...I have only five days left to submit everything. Why will I get the Repayment schedule within 15 days?

CC Lady: Sir, actually that's our system.

Vijay: What's your system?

CC Lady: The Interest Certificate will be sent by Courier and the Repayment schedule by regular post.

Vijay: But why?

CC Lady: Usually, people require Interest certificate more quickly, so that's our system sir.

Vijay: But...but...I need them both at the same time.

CC Lady: Sorry sir, but I can't help you. That's our...

Vijay: System, system, I know. (Inspired) But tell me. Can't you just send both documents to me by courier?

CC Lady: No sir. That is not something we can do.

Vijay: Listen . Do they come from separate sources or something?

CC Lady: No, sir. They are both taken out at same time from the computer.

Vijay (slowly): So you're telling me the guy who takes the printouts will put them into separate envelopes for despatch through two separate sources?

CC Lady (pleased that he's finally getting it): Exactly sir.


Vijay (taking a deep breath): So why can't he just put them in the same envelope?

CC Lady: That would not be possible, sir. It's the system.

Vijay (trying to turn on the charm): Look Madam. Can't it just be something between you and me? As an exception - you just tell that dude to put the Repayment schedule into the same envelope with the Interest Certificate and send both by courier?

CC Lady (aghast): No, sir.

Vijay (getting desperate): No one else has to know! And if he likes, he can quietly send me an empty envelope through regular post also....dheere dheere woh bhi pahuch jaayega...

(Ad infinitum. In short: I really don't know who to feel more sorry for when I hear Vijay speaking to customer care representatives).