Saturday, January 24, 2015

Intelligent Conversations

Papad: Masi, why you mallied Shaunak Uncle?
My sister: Well, because I love him.
Papad: Don't you love US?
Sis: Of course, I do...
Papad: Why didn't you mally US?
Sis: Erm, I ...I can't...
Papad (pointing his little finger at her): I'll mally you, okay? I'll send you a message.


Pickle: Are you CLAZY?
Papad: Nevel in my LIFE..
Pickle: Are you CLAZY?
Papad: Nevel in my LIFE.
Me: What are guys doing?
Both look at me blankly and then Pickle volunteers: We playing Are you CLAZY Nevel in my LIFE.


Peanut: So mama if the earth is the mother, the moon is the uncle, right?
Me: Whose uncle?
Peanut: The moon.
Me: No, I mean, whose Uncle?
Peanut: Who's Uncle, I'm telling you MOON is Uncle.
Me: (frustrated) Peanut, I'm saying WHOSE UNCLE IS THE MOON.
Peanut: (more frustrated) I DON'T KNOW WHO IS THE MOON'S UNCLE!!!


Me: Pickle, say Tree?
Pickle: Tlee
Me: No. It's high time you learned how to say 'rrrr' 
Pickle: Lllll
Me: Tree!
Pickle: TLEE
Me: Tree...
Pickle: TWEE...
Me: Okay, good, getting close...TREE
Pickle (frustrated): Abbey, PED HAI! 
(Runs away leaving me defeated, yet again)


I wake up bright and cheery today. It's a cold foggy day but I'm determined to get a good start to the morning. 

I walk out and see my kids at the dining table. All three of them, already dressed for school, like little angel-eskimos. They look up at me with their adorable little grins. 

Peanut is the first to speak. She's bubbling over with enthusiasm as she exclaims, 

''Mama! Tonight I dreamed you were DEAD.' 

Good morning, everyone.


P.S - Crossposted the last two from my facebook page. Check it out and join for more regular updates than the blog :) 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chapter 1: A Funny Thing Happened...

(Just decided to publish a few chapters from a draft of a book I've written called 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Growing Up'. Let me know what you think and if you'd like to see more!)

‘Gudia. Come here. Read this!’
I glanced up towards her. It was no use telling my mother not to call me by that ghastly pet name. She was currently giggling about something as she read from a book. What was she up to now, I wondered, but abandoned my own reading to scoot on over to her like a good obedient daughter.
My mother was shaking with the silent laughter that meant she was really tickled. She handed me her book and said ‘Go on. Read.’
What was this, now? Hang on, this was one of the adult books. I knew because I had seen it amongst the other adult books on the high shelf in my parents bedroom that we had been warned to stay away from and which of course, I regularly nosed through when my parents were away at work. I looked at her uncertainly, but she nodded and pointed, ‘This paragraph right here.’
Okayyy. Fine. I read quickly. It was a paragraph about a guy who appeared to be undergoing some sort of medical check up. I frowned as I read, mouthing the words silently and unconsciously starting to read aloud towards the end.
‘...They then held us by the testicles and instructed us to ‘Cough’. There was one unfortunate fellow who heard the instruction as ‘Off’, and he applied himself to taking off with as much speed as he could muster from that crouching position.
They were still rubbing him with ice when I left.’’
My mother went into paroxysms of laughter again as I finished reading. I smiled politely, waiting for the shaking to stop.
‘Isn’t that hilarious?’ said Mom when she’d caught her breath. ‘Very.’ I agreed, and then hesitated ‘Er, Ma?’
‘Yes, dear?’ Mom said indulgently.
‘What’s testicles?’

At this, Mother dear stopped laughing all of a sudden. She appeared to be seeing me for the first time and examined me closely. She then demanded. ‘How old are you?’
‘Twelve.’ Come on, she knew that, surely. I knew she could be a little woolly headed at times, and I was after all only the middle child, but still.
Mom opened her mouth as if to say something and then closed it again. She frowned. And then the frown cleared.
She informed me in a very matter-of-fact, decisive way.
‘If you’re twelve, then you already know, of course.’
I didn’t. How was I to know? No one ever told me anything. But once my mother said ‘of course.’... That was it – the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and there was no point arguing it. Without offering anything else that might have been mistaken for an actual explanation, Mother dear turned back to her funny adult book and was soon shaking with silent laughter again.
Taking this correctly to be the dismissal that it was, I turned back rather morosely to my own Sweet Valley Twins book.
Somehow it didn’t seem very exciting anymore. *****
My mother hadn’t always been weird. She had been warm, affectionate, loving and a whole bunch of other good stuff, but it had all gone out the window the minute that my sister came along. At least, that was kind of the way that my own traumatized four year old self fondly remembered it.
Like I said, no one ever told me anything – especially in those days, and this was 1983 and a half. In today’s day and age, we have access to books like Topsy and Tim meet The New Baby, but in those days, there was nothing. Nada. Zero. The concept of telling a child that a sibling was in the offing was unheard of – children didn’t need to know anything!
Of course, there is a remote possibility that some attempt was made to apprise me of the impending arrival, but I was perhaps too distracted by a butterfly or something to register the fact. A very remote possibility, though and I only mention it in a bleak, martyr-like attempt at fairness. I was no moron.
As it happened, Mother Dear suddenly disappeared off the scene for several days. After a couple of days when it came to my notice, I made my enquiries only to be informed that she would be home soon enough and that could I please refrain from dropping kishmish all over the floor like that.
I must admit that when I said earlier that I was no moron, I may have been a little biased favorably toward myself . After all, in later years I was informed that I used to spend hours in a little play pen as a toddler, solemnly picking up and consuming little bits of kishmish that our enterprising maid Saraswati had strewn about in zig zag patterns on the play pen floor. This apparently kept me out of harm’s way and allowed the harried old lady to get on with her work. My parents seemed to think this was a quaint and admirable solution. In a later era, we might have considered this ground to fire a maid’s ass, but they simply patted Saraswati on the back and went off to their own busy day at work.
It was only my grandfather, ubiquituously known as Papa, who appeared to think that I deserved to be enlightened as to my mother’s whereabouts.
‘She is in the hospital.’ He said with a huge grin. For a moment, my love and respect for him wavered. Why did he look so happy about the fact that Mother was sick? He continued, his smile turning dreamy. ‘And she’s going to come back with Chand.’
This further mystified me. Mother was in the hospital - and she was going to come back with the moon? That was very strange and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it at all. I was very disturbed that night as I went to sleep. I needed my mother to say her usual ‘Goodnight. Sweet Dreams. I love you.’
But the very next day, my traitor of a mother returned with a whole new baby, whom everybody affectionately referred to as Chand or Chanda. I could see the writing on the wall: I had been ousted from her affections forever – it was easy to tell. She never let that thing alone so that I could have a go at it. I could only stand by helplessly as the little puckered-up stranger raised hell and carved out its place right in the center of the whole universe. I watched as my mother fed that baby - it looked as if the feeding was hurting her. My hatred of the thing grew. I knew it was evil from the moment I saw it.
My brother didn’t seem perturbed by the new arrival, just vaguely amused by it. He was more interested in his cricket and bullying of the neighborhood kids and hogging the television. It never occurred to me that he simply might have already been through this earlier when I was born. He was older than me by three and a half years, exactly the same age difference between me and the new It. We were now a well-spaced out family. And also a – well, spaced-out family.
That little stranger had grown up now to be a skinny eight year old who was no longer a stranger. Well, no stranger than the rest of us. In fact, she had turned out to be a pretty good companion for me; my sister and I were always together, constantly inventing games for our own amusment.
Most of the games were invented by me, but the point was that I finally had a willing compatriot and partner in crime or to put it another way, a guinea pig with the slight advantage that she could talk and therefore protested at times. It was true that the poor child was often bullied into being the scapegoat in these childhood ‘games’, but I tended to wipe away all feelings of guilt with the thought that I was greatly contributing to her education. As the more experienced sibling, I told myself sanctimoniously, it was up to me to share life experience with her so that she would not have to suffer the various troubles I’d seen. Besides, sometimes I even switched with her, so that she could pretend to be the pet- owner and have the pleasure of walking me as a dog instead.I, of course, was the majestically named Tipu Sultan. I think her dog-name was Bonbon or equivalent.
Since these were the days before iPads and iPhones or anything even remotely as mind-numbingly absorbing as these devices, we found ourselves with a fair degree of free time. My parents were both working and had limited time for us.
My father was a doctor. He was a dermatologist and it was a long time before I understood what the good Dr. Lal actually did for a living. Mother dear was in Customs & Central Excise and to this day I’m not very sure of what she did until the day she retired. We all exhibited a remarkable lack of curiosity about each other’s doings but co-existed, sometimes amiably, in our shared infrastructure, our home in Pandara Park, just a little off Pandara Road.
If ever my sister and I were bored, and there were many such moments, we would take the problem to Mother dear, only to be summarily informed ‘Educated children are never bored.’ Having solved the problem so efficiently for us, she would go back to whatever it was that she was doing: which on the rare occasions that she was home, was either cooking, reading, knitting or Sorting.
Sorting was a fascinating activity – whether you were blissfully occupied with it like my mother, or simply passive observers like my sister and I. It was my mother’s lifelong belief that nothing should ever be actually thrown away, and that if it was meant to leave your home, it would eventually disintegrate. However, in order to manage all the rubbish that accumulated as a result of such a wonderful principle, regular Sorting had to be done. Thus was born the concept of Sorting Saturdays, which wasn’t really the official terminology until much later. For us, it was more like ‘What the heck is wrong with Mama’ day and we watched curiously as she lovingly rearranged a chosen section of the messy house. Somedays it was our book shelf, consisting largely of Archies and Hardy Boys and she painstakingly arranged the books in alphabetical or numerical order, which we would ensure would last for about a day and a half. At the end of Sorting Saturday, Mother dear would heave a sigh of satisfaction while the rest of us, including my father often huffed and puffed in resentment at having been ignored by her for so many hours at time. It didn’t seem to matter to Mom that the sorted area looked exactly the same as before, minus perhaps, to give her some credit, one layer of dust, accidentally removed as a result of her enthusiastic fiddling.
Since my sister and I were normal children who gained no pleasure from making the world around us a tidier place to live in, we were left to our own devices on weekends. I had stoically taken charge of the situation at a fairly early age, and by now we already had a fair repertoire of games to choose from in order to keep ourselves occupied.
‘Want to play German-Referee?’ I asked my sister conspiratorially, as if it were a rare treat for her, rather than the game we played every other day.
This was a rather unique Game invented by Yours Truly. I, as the Referee was the one who would glide about on skates while hanging onto the collar of my sister, who, as German, was assigned the task of building up to a certain speed before suddenly wrenching herself free and veering off, leaving me hurtling towards some corner, or wall, or door, and on one or two occasions a rather surprised and disapproving Dad. The game was incomplete without the pretence that we had somehow ‘lost’ each other by mistake and wailing dramatically ‘Germannn....’ ... ‘Germannn...’ and ‘Referreee!’ The names of the principal characters in this

singular game were derived from one of the only movies we ever had the good fortune to see on the VCR that my brother proclaimed as his own, a movie about Football called ‘Escape to Victory.’ We understood nothing of the movie since Abhimanyu had already viewed it at a friend’s house and used our own TV simply to review his favorite parts, meditatively forwarding or rewinding to those bits - including one Bicycle Kick of Pele’s that I had unsuccessfully tried to emulate myself. But we had cottoned on to the fact there were people called Germans and Referees in the movie, and the names caught our fancy for our little skating game.
‘All right.’ My sister grumbled. As German, she kind of had the short end of the stick but being an innately good sport, she would soon get into the spirit of things. She didn’t have skates of her own yet. In our family, every novelty item was bought only once for the oldest child, and then years later when he had cast it aside, it would come to me. I had yet to cast anything aside in the direction of my sister, and it would be a few years before she had her own skates. For now, being German was the best she could aspire for. Her countenance brightened considerably at the realization that this was also yet another God-given opportunity to send me whizzing out the front door and maybe even down the stairs from our first floor flat.
And so another few pleasant hours passed on that lazy weekend. Mother busy with Sorting, Abhimanyu in something akin to a stupor, forwarding and rewinding the tape of Escape to Victory until my father finally lost it and banished him from my parents bedroom, which of course was the only place which could house the television. And me and Chanda alternating between barking at each other and filling the house with our cries of German-Referree, while Kajal, who had replaced her aunt Saraswati some years back stood muttering malevolently to herself in the kitchen about how things were so much better on weekdays when she was allowed to actually do her work without the interfering presence of the crazy members of this Family. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Ceremonies Begin

Yesterday my mother organised a Puja - the Sunderkaand Paath - since my sister is getting married next week ( Yayyy!). Vijay and I drove all the way to Noida and walked into my Mom's home. I did a double take - there were about 5 elderly men sitting there, none of whom I had ever seen before in my life. Was this wrong house? No. These were just the Pandits. Apparently a couple of them had bailed. This was going to be one heavy puja, I figured. Mom, as usual, had it all under control, floating about in her simple yet elegant green salwar kurta - the arrangements had been made wonderfully, with the furniture removed, sheets laid out on the floor, even a microphone and various other puja paraphernalia laid out and ready.

It began shortly after we arrived. The little booklets with the words to the paath were handed out and for the first few minutes, I was very enthusiastic, singing along and clapping with all my might. My sister, demurely dressed in an orangish Anarkali-type thingy, turned around a couple of times and asked me to cool it, but I beamed at her in the 'Hey, you're getting married and I'm the older sister! If you think this is embarrassing, wait till you see me at the Sangeet!' sort of way. It was a complex message but we've always had a bit of an understanding, so she got it and turned back around with a sigh.

My enthusiasm waned quickly enough. The words were complicated and I kept losing track. Soon I figured that just making loud nasal sounds in the approximate tune also seemed to be working but I tired of that too soon enough. We were sitting in the back of the room and my back was beginning to hurt and Vijay had made himself comfortable by leaning his heavy frame against my shoulder. He whispered to me that he was going into a meditative state, which I assumed meant he was going to sleep now.

The puja went on and on and on. I kept looking at the clock. And then my sister, who looked brave and resigned. And then I saw my mom, who looked at various points - intensely involved, emotional, peaceful but overall, I knew she was happy about this whole thing. I leaned back and tried to meditate. After a long time I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. Exactly one and a half minutes had passed.

Three hours of energetic singing from the Pandits, each playing some tinny instrument or drum, loud and fairly harmonious. I was as impressed as I was agonized about the whole thing. My bum was hurting and Vijay and I were very, very hungry. When I was on the verge of breaking down and crying, the singing ended. And then....a Pravachan started. Oh yes. Another 30 minutes of my sitting there in stunned disbelief, while the rest of the group listened, seemingly quite interested in the lesser known stories from the Ramayana. My stomach was rumbling now but everyone ignored it. Even Vijay was clearly awake now and leaning forward and smiling. I wanted to bop him on the head, but refrained, given the general setting.

The highlight of the ceremony for me had been during the beginning, when one of the Pandits turned around and handed me his cellphone, asking me to turn it off. I was thrilled. Never in my life EVER had anyone EVER asked me for ANY help with regard to technology (my young children don't count). I was now a tech-genius. I gazed at the phone in my hand, unsure of what to do. My sister and Vijay simultaneously whispered 'The button on the top'. I pressed it with all my might and then powered off. Yes indeed - I was now a tech genius! I felt like my young nephew Pikki, who is known to the be go-to guy in the family for tech-related issues. I felt young and rejuvenated and all-powerful like I'm sure all tech-geniuses feel on a regular basis.

But now, the thrill had worn off and the Pravachan was still going strong. Suddenly a phone rang from the corner of the room. Loudly. Everyone ignored it but I could see it was throwing the Chief Panditji who was giving the Pravachan off. This would mean it would take longer. I scrambled up to the phone. I suspected it belonged to one of the Pandits but all of them were cleverly disowning it at this time. It was a Blackberry sort of thing, on charge in the far corner, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to switch it off. One 'Savita' was calling and she was the persistent sort because it had already rung about 12 times and she was still waiting. I pressed a couple of buttons and disconnected the call. Within a minute, Savita was back, and the phone was ringing loudly again. This time I did the clever thing. I simply answered the call and Savita started speaking. I put the phone on mute and quietly put it back where it had lain. For the next several minutes, Savita kept talking to no-one seemingly without noticing - apparently, her Pandit was the strong and silent type -and we were not disturbed again.

And then it was over. The Aarti, followed by the handing out of the Prasad. Vijay was quite aghast at my eating the entire apple. He gently suggested that it was Prasad and we could have taken it home for everyone there. I mumbled 'Whatever' and continued chewing.

After the Pandits had been served, we sat down to eat and it was the most delicious meal of my entire life - alu-sabzi, kheer, puri, raita and even some pumpkin thing that tasted divine. Mother was still very happy about the overall proceedings having gone successfully. I hugged her and then we were off for another long drive.

It wasn't until I had put the kids to bed at night and was sitting and watching my favourite show House ( the only thing I ever watch occasionally on TV) that I realized what had happened today. It was the point when House tried to weasel out of Cuddy's birthday dinner because her Mom was going to be there and she growled at him.

'House. I need you there for two hours behaving like a normal human being. Yes, you will be in hell but I will feel better having you there. THAT's what a relationship is. We average our misery.'

It left House stunned.

It left me stunned.

That's what it was. We do stuff like this for each other because that's what a relationship is. Of course, Mom wasn't miserable. She loved the Puja. And I know she felt good about having Vijay and me there. It also explained why I actually felt so good despite having internally moaned for about 4 hours today. After all, my sister was getting married and this Puja marked the starting of the proceedings and putting everyone in the right frame of mind, invoking the blessings of various powers and beings but more importantly - getting the family together. It was great! It was a great day!

Plus - I now felt kind of like Dr. House. A Tech-genius and a fantastic sociopath of a doctor. Not bad for one day. Not bad at all!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

No Dearth of Clowns Here.


Last week, Peanut was in for a disappointment - her brothers were invited to a party and she wasn't. It's always been the other way round and she was wailing about it. I explained that this was the party of a 3 year old boy and a friend of the twins' and that she would have to get used to the fact that she wouldn't always get to go to parties where her brothers were invited. She muttered 'But the's always so delicious.' However, being a rather understanding child, she let the matter go.

The party ended and the twins came back, flushed with happiness. I was touched when I saw that they had actually got back a large piece of cake for young Peanut. What good brothers my little boys were turning out to be!

Peanut stuffed her mouth with the cake, now flushed with happiness herself.
'Wasn't it wonderful of Pickle and Papad to actually bring you cake? They must have heard you saying that's what you like best about parties!' I gushed.
Peanut swallowed another mouthful and then informed me 'Well, I told them to bring me some cake..'
'You DID?' I was aghast but only for a moment. My smile came back and I said 'Well, it's still something that they actually remembered to get it for you...very sweet of them, and...'
'Ya, but Mama' Peanut wanted to confess something, it seemed, and she went on. 'Actually, I promised them that I would pay each of them five rupees if they remembered...'
This time my smile disappeared for good, but my child continued innocently 'I knew they would never remember otherwise...'


Vijay and I were invited to our children's school for observing their Morning routines in the class. One day I went ( to Pickle's class) and the next day, Vijay went ( to Papad's).

I was amazed at the serenity with which all the activities were conducted. The storytelling, the morning circle...all with a certain hushed reverence around it. The children were terribly well-behaved. Pickle was pleased to have me hovering in the back of the class but when I reached out to tap him playfully in the back, he shrugged me off and whispered 'We don't play like that in the class.' I was mighty impressed with this good little boy.

And it struck me. How different our children were in the school environment just an hour after being shoved out of the house, with all the screaming and shouting about getting late and why aren't you wearing your socks and Now you'll miss your bus for sure and so on. Clearly, the teachers and the school had a certain thing going on. It was better to build this silent peaceful routine based on trust and respect and mutual understanding than to engage in threats and shouting all the time. We had a lot to learn.

I discussed this at length with Vijay later and then we turned to our twins. I asked, although I was sure I already knew the answer ' come you're so very good in school in the morning routine?'

The twins looked at each other and then Papad spoke up 'Becoss othelwise we will be taken to Plincipal office...' and Pickle added 'And the Madams will schold us!'

Vijay looked at my stricken face and said dryly ' it's not so different from here after all...'


Me (getting hassled especially by the twins in the morning) And the next time I see you guys without socks, you're getting punished! It's cold, and you're not well...
Peanut : But Mama, we feel hot in our socks at we take them out.
Me (snapping): I'm not talking about's okay when you sleep at night without your socks...I'm just saying that you should wear them in the mornings, okay?
Peanut (muttering to herself now): Okay, so that means as soon as I wake up without my socks, I'll be punished... first thing in the morning.


Me (reading a story to Papad) - and then Noddy said
Papad (getting up) I'm going to go bathroom,  Mama. (Turning back towards me and holds out his palm with imaginary remote control) PAUSE.


Me (trying to get Pickle to read the words in the story): And this is...?
Pickle: (Loudly) TO
Me: No, sweetie, that's 'in' ...we know 'in' we've done it so many times, right? Now I will read some words and you will read some...'So .. (looking questioningly at him, pointing to the word)
Pickle: THE
Me: (Very happy) That's correct. THE Baby Bear..(looking at him, pointing to the word)
Pickle: AND
Me ( Delighted) Yes! ( Now confident he can read most of the sentence- So the baby bear and his sister scrambled to their feet...) 
Pickle: AND...HIS...
Me (prompting on the bigger words): Sister...Scrambled...(Thinking... Come on, I know you can do this, Pickle...)
Pickle (face shining in triumph) EGG!


Vijay: I can't find my phone...
Me: Peanut, find Daddy's phone.
Peanut (calling from the other room): How?
Me: Think about would we find it?
Peanut (after a short pause, calls out) By calling him!
Me: Ya, so call him.
Peanut: How can I call him?
Me: (Rolling my eyes at Vijay. This is the kid who calls us every given opportunity from the landline to complain about her brothers, while we're in the office. I call out to her) Well, how do you always call him?
Peanut's voice floats in promptly, with a sweet sing-song lilt:  Oh, Daaaaa-ddddyyyy....

Saturday, November 15, 2014

3 Peas in a Pod

Pickle Story of the Day: 

'I'm hungry' he announces just as we leave the house. Vijay is driving us all out for an errand and all three kids are in the back, 'just along for the ride.'
'Already?' I say 'You just ate breakfast!'
'Ya but I'm still hungry, Mama.' he says, rubbing his tummy for effect.
Vijay is feeling indulgent. 'There's a McDonald's Drive-Thru.'
I open my mouth to protest, but then recall that Saturday is Junk Day as agreed between us and the kids. 'Hmm. Not very healthy' I murmur out of the side of my mouth, but the kids are already exulting, happy at the prospect of their Happy Meal.
Soon, all three of them are peering into their Happy Meal packs for their toys 'Cool, a Tom and Jerry Sticker-Glass!' (Whatever that is). Now I'm feeling all soft-hearted and even add a Soft Serve Vanilla Cone to their terribly unhealthy meal.
The children are all smiles as they bite into this long-forbidden-due-to-viral treat and then Pickle announces 'Say thank you to ME.'
My widening smile freezes - I expected him to finish that sentence with Mama-Daddy. 'What, Pickle?'
He turns to his brother and sister 'I was the one who said I was hungry so you got all this, na?'

Papad Story of the Day: 

I am leafing through his school journal and find a page where he's drawn something round.
The instruction says 'Draw your favourite character from the story The Little Red Hen and tell us why.'
Under his drawing, the teacher has transcribed his reason 'I like the Greedy Pig from the story because ... he eats all day.'
In the same handwriting, the teacher writes politely. 'Interesting thought, Papad. But do you really think eating all day is a good habit?'

Peanut Story of the Day: 

'Mom, I don't understand this book.' She complains. 'Can you please help me?'
I look over and see it's the Selfish Giant. I am instantly reminded of how my grandma used to tell us this story. Dang, I really thought she'd made it up herself. Sigh.
'Sure.' I say 'Which part don't you understand?'
'The very end.' She says 'The last know, I just don't understand what happens...'
I run my eyes over the words on the last page and a sinking feeling hits me. This is my kid who's obsessed with the thought of death, and here's a story where the main character dies in the end. Wonderful. But hey, I'm the mom. I can break it to her easy, right? It's all about presentation.
I explain in a cheerful tone ' See, did you notice something? It says here that many years passed and the Giant grew old. And then one day the little boy he loved reappeared in front of him. How could it be, Peanut?' I figure it helps to be analytical here. 'If the Giant grows older, why does the little boy stay the same age? Can you think of whom it might be?'
She thinks hard and then puts two and two together 'He is...God.'
'That's right.' I say enthusiastically. 'See, he also says that the Giant let him play in his garden, and now the Giant must accompany him to his garden, known as Paradise. So you say, he's inviting him to Paradise, like Heaven, where the Giant will always be very happy with him. Cool, huh?'
I beam at her but she's still frowning at the book. Then her brow clears, and she nods. I let out a sigh of relief.
'So.' I ask gently. 'You get it, right?'
'I get it.' She nods firmly and picks up her book. 'God killed him and took him up to Heaven.'
She scrambles up off the bed and marches off, and I stare after her for a moment. And then I find my voice again, 'Hey wait, Peanut...'

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thank you for the Music

I somehow rush home in the nick of time after work on Thursday, grab a calm little Peanut and rush her to our music school. 

The Piano teacher M suggests in his business-like manner that today I let him give Peanut a mock test since her Grade 2 exam is coming up next week.

I readily agree and sit outside the class, lost in my own world. My guitar teacher N, with whom I have a class after an hour or so, passes by and gives me his usual formal 'Oh hello Yashodhara.' ( He's one of the few people I regularly interact with who uses my full name) 'I hope you've been practicing.' 

The guilty look on my face obviously gives it away even before I can say the words, but he's rushing for another class and gives me a wave. I hear the strains of Peanut's playing through the door. It sounds like she's doing alright. Whoops, she missed a note there. And there's a little faltering on that scale. But she'll do fine. Right? Right. 

Before I know it, there's a cool little pair of hands covering my eyes and I'm guessing it's not any of the teachers. 'Hello Peanut' I say. 

'How'd you know it was ME?' 

She's been sent out by M to call me into the class and I pick up my books and guitar and purse and phones, feeling hassled and enter the class. There is no chair today but I don't bother and just sink to the floor in a tired heap. It's been a busy day at work and this routine is one that I'm still adjusting to. 

'How'd she do, M?' 

'Very BAD.' M says, busy tabulating her score in his diary. He finally looks up. '75 only.' He gives me a look that suggests it's all my fault, even though I'm one of the enthu enough parents who's actually taking piano lessons with the kid in a bid to try and keep up. 

We go through her lesson, with him explaining the things that Peanut is supposed to work on. Scales. Arpeggios. Slurs. Her pieces. Adjusting her position on the stool and so on. I take notes assiduously, for once, my phone to one side. I try to keep my handwriting neat because now that I have less time at home, I have to make sure that the notes are clear enough even for Peanut to read and absorb herself at home. Thank Goodness she's a good reader, I think. 

After a while, Peanut's class time is over and M says to me 'Now YOU.' M is a very, very good teacher and a fantastic player himself and this makes me a little afraid of him. I have tried to practice for a few minutes daily but I've missed a couple of days this week and it shows up in my underconfident playing. After I've warmed up though, I'm able to play some of the songs that he's been helping me with earlier. 

'Very strange song.' He says about one Oriental sounding number from Peanut's Grade 2 book that I've been trying.

'Because of how I play it?' I suggest.

'Not only that.' He says, face completely straight. 'The song itself. Very strange one.' He's taught the Trinity grades, and he's not all that used to teaching the Royal School of Music curriculum. He was of the view that the latter is only for 'Serious students of music' but once he heard Peanut playing the pieces initially, he was convinced that she was advanced enough to switch to that system. 'Anyway' He nods slowly. 'There's some hope for you with this song.'

M is a very straightforward fellow with a quirky sense of humour that shows up only at certain times. I realize he means to be encouraging. 'Oh really?' I can't help but smile at him. 'You think? You really think there's some hope for me?'

'Yes, yes.' He says, still very serious. 'Some hope is there.' He nods again. 

I roll my eyes and decide to try a new song. He gives me his excellent technical instructions on how to read the music and apply the fingering. And then, ten minutes before the class is to end, we're looking at each other blankly. I'm tired and don't really want to go on anymore. Peanut is happily scratching on the whiteboard in the room, humming to herself. She's quite amused by my attempts at piano, often informing me at home 'But MA, that's an E-flat..' or 'MA, you're so SLOW.' I have requested her to be quiet in the class while I'm getting my instruction from M. Or else. So she leaves me alone now for the most part. 

'That's enough.' M says now, much to my relief. 

'It is?' I sigh and start to put away my book. 

'Yes, yes.' He says with great conviction and then adds 'For ME.' 

I look at him to see if that was meant to be a joke, but he's already busy making notes in his diary about our lesson so that he can remember what to catch me out on next time. 

Ten minutes later, I'm seated in front of N in a larger studio room. N is a younger man than M although both of them appear to be in their twenties. N is probably about twenty three and reminds me of Vijay's nephews. He's an easy going man who has quite the vocabulary. His emails to me and even his conversation in the class include things like 'This will perhaps make things more lucid' or 'While the timbre is rather questionable here, I feel...' I always wish I had audio recorder and often have to hide my smiles when he goes into his earnest and incredibly articulate explanations around technique. 

'So.' He's not smiling today, in fact his well-cut high-cheekboned face is rather stern. 

Usually he's extremely polite and warm with me, even a little diffident - only going as far as to say stuff like 'Ballpark.' or 'Something like that.' when I play something where the Timbre is Questionable. But I've picked up the signals by now and know when he's not happy - I just have to look at his face while I'm playing and there's a particular goggle-eyed, slightly horrified expression that he has on, which quickly melts when I stop playing and he then nods vigorously saying something like 'Almost.' before proceeding to tell me exactly how I was screwing it up. 

'You've not been practicing. At all.' He says to me. I shift uncomfortably in my chair. It's the first week that I haven't picked up my guitar at all since I started lessons with him a few months back. 

'I know. I'm sorry. I just about manage a little time each day for piano. Been missing guitar practice.' I try to lighten the mood and say jocularly. 'I guess I'm a little more scared of M than you.' 

Big mistake. 

N draws himself up in his chair and suddenly, he's looking both goggle-eyed and menacing instead of the handsome easy-going youth that I'm comfortable with. 'Well.' He says 'That can be corrected. I can be strict.' I squirm a little more and proceed to busy myself with getting my guitar out of the case. 

N has a plan in mind. He's not teaching me anything new and he knows my penchant for wanting to constantly learn new songs. He says instead that I should just go over everything we've learned over the last few months and focus on the techniques he's been trying to instil in me, which have involved a fair degree of unlearning of years of wrong fingering and hand position. It's a more silent and intense class than usual and I fervently wish I had remembered to carry my guitar-diary into this class. I resolve to make the notes on my phone as soon as we're done with the class. 

By the time we're done, N has thawed a little bit and the light is back in his eyes. I'm still unable to look him in the eye for too long though as I think through when on earth I should fit the guitar practice in. 

I've not been able to fit writing anything new in while busy on weekdays, as it is; the days seem to pass by in a flash ever since I started work; but I know it's something I was meant to do. It's just that with the kids, the work, the yoga and so on, it's a little tough to fit in regular practice with both piano and guitar. Why am I learning two instruments again? It was easier when I was doing piano and voice. But heart of hearts, I know the guitar is my instrument and it makes a difference to be able to pick it up again. 

Peanut is taking a group voice lesson and it finishes exactly when my guitar lesson does, and she's waiting outside for me, humming to herself and looking rather pleased with life in general. We bundle into the car and go home together. I'm still feeling a little hassled and inadequate. 

But the one thing that I really value about this one day in the week is the fact that Peanut and I get some mom-and-daughter time together. She's singing a song to herself now, reading from the paper that her teacher has given out today.

'Make me a channel of your peace...where there is hatred, let me bring your love.'

I listen to her little clear voice, still going a little bit off in some places. I close my eyes and then the words register. Hang on. 

'Let me see that.' I demand, practically snatching the paper. 

It's as I thought. It's a musical rendition of the beautiful prayer attributed (perhaps wrongly) to  St. Francis of Assisi. It's something that I repeatedly used in my sabbatical and one that I'm very fond of. I discovered it through the writings of the brilliant Eknath Easwaran, first suggested to me by the one and only Dipali. 

Peanut and I sing it together now and I pick up the tune easily. My driver as usual silently suffers through it all the way back home. And as the words sink in, suddenly I'm relaxed and happy. Life is good after all. 

And in the silence that follows, I remember seeing the sign at the music school's reception, on the notice board, declaring. 'Without music, life would be a mistake.'

True. True. And it's not one that I'm going to make. Or Peanut. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wednesday Wedding-clothing Woes

My sister’s getting married in December. Isn’t that wonderful?

It IS wonderful in every possible way, and I am so happy for her, especially since the man she is going to marry exhibits all signs of wonderfulness himself, including a tendency to make random jokes in his head and then laugh out loud merrily and un-selfconsciously. For example, yesterday evening when they were over, I caught him craning his head to get a good look at the ceiling light of our drawing room.He caught me eyeing him curiously and grinned widely ‘That’s a CFL bulb’ and burst into loud laughter. I have a soft corner for people who actually enunciate each Ha in their Hahahahahahaha and so smiled, feeling a little bewildered all the same. My sister intervened to explain that it had something to do with a work project that is currently occupying the fiance’s mind, perhaps a private joke. I didn’t probe the matter any further. I remember the way my sister used to look at Vijay before we got married, and for a while after, heck to this day – the expression suggesting ‘Oh he’s very sweet but a bit mad.’ Which is actually about right.

Anyway, so it’s wonderful that she’s getting married, except that it involves my getting clothes. Now, even for my own wedding 12 years ago ( GodDAMN!), I didn’t bother with too much shopping, leaving it to the mother and some help from the sister, although she was a barely-twenty college type at the time. I had a beautiful lehenga at my wedding and a very nice sari. I pretty much never wore the sari again, and the lehenga was pulled out for a wedding a few years ago, and it was discovered that it was so loose for me that it had to be safety-pinned. My sister was not impressed.

She had been chasing me for a while now about the wedding outfit and I had been deftly avoiding the question. The feeling of dread was growing though – she warned me that it wasn’t so easy to get stuff done at the last minute just before wedding season and therefore I should get my act together. So finally, I did what I usually do in moments of personal crisis. I turned to my other sisters in the Gurgaon Moms forum and asked them what the hell I could do about getting outfitted when I am the type who wears these things only once and therefore hate spending a bomb on new stuff.

The moms jumped in with a bunch of fabulous suggestions and encouragement as usual, but the one that appealed most to me was to go to this Lady in Gurgaon who runs a business out of her basement, and is great at converting old stuff into spankin’ new stuff. Now this was great, I thought. I ran the idea past my sister who was not altogether pleased saying that I was the BIG sister and I should wear SOMETHING new. I negotiated with her that I would indeed buy SOMETHING new for one or maybe two of the functions, but why not at least check out what was possible with the old stuff.

And with that, another two weeks passed, with my doing nothing further on the subject. Until Wednesday.

Since it was a holiday due to elections ( I voted by the way – did you?) I requested my sister to come along with me as I went to visit the Lady in her Basement. Being the rather good-natured and helpful sort, the sister agreed and landed up this morning at the stated time of 10.30. I of course wasn’t ready, having busied myself with some other mundane errand of sorting out some winter clothes and so I then rushed to get ready. Together we went to the Lady, and soon, the conversation was going like this.

Lady (to me): ‘So which material do you think you want for the blouse?’
Me: (shrugging) I dunno.
Sister: I think crepe, gorgette ( something about brocade)
Lady: (turning to her) Yes, and even silk would be an option.
Sister: Yes, but…
Me: ( Doo-doo, la, la la…)

Lady (to me): ‘Don’t you think we should look at adding a tinge of orange to this?
Me: (aghast) Orange? I dunno…
Sister (nodding slowly) Yes. Yes. Yes, actually, that would make all the difference. It will really brighten it up, and we can do the same with the dupatta.
Lady (turning to her) Isn’t it? How about this shade? Or something like this?
Sister : This one, I think. Definitely.
Me: (Doo-doo…la, la, la)

Lady (to me): And the sleeve length that you’d like for this?
Me: Huh? I dunno.
Sister: This will look nice sleeveless only
Lady: Yes, I have some good options. This one, with this back? This material here is wonderful sequin work, very in these days.
Me: (trying to contribute) Sleeveless? But it’s December, it will be cold.
(Blank looks from both the women, and then they turn back to their discussion)
Sister: This back looks a little better, I think, it will go well with the traditional look of the material.
Lady: Exactly what I was thinking, it will complement it very well.
Me: (Doo-doo, la, la, la)

So you get the picture. I pretty much shut up after that and let the two of them make the decisions for me. So some refurbished outfits were agreed upon, and I am now on the prowl for something ‘new’ as promised to my sister. It’s her big day and apparently as the REAL sister, I’m not supposed to be able to let her down in this clothing department. Damn.

In the car on the way back, she remarked ‘You know, I was wondering why you’d need me for something like this.’
I asked her wryly ‘Do you not know me at ALL?’
She nodded to herself. ‘I understand totally. Just make sure when you go to her for the actual fitting that everything actually FITS, okay?’
‘Okay.’ The doubt in my voice must have given me away.
‘YOU CAN HANDLE THAT, RIGHT?’ My sister was gazing at me through narrowed eyes.
‘Sure.’I hesitated. ‘It’s just that…I find it difficult to say no. If they tell me it fits, I’ll say yes and walk away with it.’
‘NO!’ My sister shouted. ‘How can you not know if something is too loose or too tight?’
‘I DUNNO’ I cried. ‘I guess I feel that might be how it’s SUPPOSED to be or something!’
Stony silence.
‘We can do it on a weekend?’ I offered tentatively.
‘Fine.’ She growled at me.

She seemed to calm down after a while, and then asked ‘And what about Vijay? Has he thought about what he’s going to wear for all the functions?’

Me ( Staring out of the window, pretending I haven’t heard her, starting to hum to myself) Doo-doo, la, la, la…