Since I'm now back at work in a way - consulting project for half-days - I find myself a little stretched again. I also had a busy time last month with some last minute changes on my upcoming book 'Sorting Out Sid' - and so hadn't really been hanging out with the kids too much.
While I had been looking forward to a relaxed Sunday at home, I had received a couple of invites during the week. And while I'm usually pretty good at slithering out of social commitments, these were different. The first was the 40th day of one of my old school friend Abhi's new little baby boy - and as he put it ( Abhi, not the 40-day old baby) - it was just a little celebration for close friends and family. I still hadn't seen the baby, and I wouldn't miss this one for the world. And if you read this old post from wayyyy back in 2007, you'll know why.
The other invite was that from a much newer friend - a lady called Shefali, who I had been practising music with a while back. She's a trained classical singer and a big fan of Faiz and his poetry - so we were doing something interesting a while back with my accompanying her on guitar as she sang. However, I had to back out of that because it was all getting too much towards the end of my sabbatical. Still, Shefali was performing at the Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas and had called, asking me to be there.
So while Vijay lay about in his shorts, flashing his long hairy brown legs rather mockingly at me, I bravely decided that I would indeed dress up and go out to not one, but both of these places - and that too in Faraway Delhi, all the way from the remote suburb of Gurgaon. I had called our trusty driver along, who, for all the overtime that he charges us, has never once refused to land up when asked for in four years. So I was all set.
In going to meet Abhi's baby, I was rather ambitious. I thought I'd take Peanut, Pickle and Papad along - after all, it was in the middle of the day, they've been a little bored at home during the summer holidays and so on. I figured I'd give my maid a bit of a break too, so I told her to stay at home. Vijay asked me mildly if the heat had perhaps gotten to my head, but I ignored him and piled all three kids into the car and we were off.
'Hum kahan jayenge?' that was Papad's query.
'To see a new baby.'
'Kyooon?' asked Pickle.
' Because...he's a friend's baby.'
'Abhi Mamu?' piped in Peanut, surprised.
'No, Abhi uncle.'
'Who's THAT?' she wrinkled her nose.
'You've met Abhi uncle a few times.' I prodded. 'Don't you remember?'
'No!' she was very clear on this point. I knew Abhi would be a little hurt by this, given his fondness for Peanut as a baby. But it was true. After your friends get married, they disappear from your life for a while. I've long learned to live with this fact.
We rode along in silence for a while and Peanut then asked 'How old is that new baby?'
'Mama.' Peanut had barely heard my answer. 'Pickle-Papad are 3, right? And I'm 6?'
'So.' She said with an air of self-importance 'When Pickle-Papad are 5, I will be 10, right?'
'Errr....Noooo....' I sighed and launched into an explanation of how these things worked, recalling vaguely that Joey of Friends had once made a similar calculation - I shuddered at the thought that Peanut might have any resemblance to Joey in the mental department and was lost in my own reverie for a while until I was snapped out of it by Papad's earnest enquiry.
'Hum Kahan Jayenge?'
And so the conversation went around in circles two or three times. So did we, because between me and my driver and Google Maps, we have an uncanny ability to get lost and take approximately twice as long as required by normal human beings on any given day to get anywhere at all.
We burst through the door to the hall where the little party was taking place, and immediately found Abhi, his wife and the new baby, amidst a crowd of other people - who were all family and therefore unknown to me. The next hour and a half was very pleasantly spent catching up with Abhi, who I hadn't seen in ages, admiring his new baby from a safe distance given my cold, and watching Pickle-Peanut-Papad increasingly lose their shyness in these new surroundings and beginning to bounce off the walls.
It was towards the end of lunch when I noticed the new parents staring at our boys and saying 'Aha. Now we're getting a sense as to what to expect.' I looked over and saw that both Pickle and Papad were in the process of licking their plates of vanilla-ice-cream-with-chocolate-sauce clean, getting it all over their faces and clothes.
'Stop that' I hissed, embarrassed but knowing fully well they wouldn't give a passing thought to listening to me, when in the midst of such an important activity.
'Oh it's all right.' said Abhi's wife 'These plates won't need washing after they're done.'
I glowered at them, thankful I had at least one well-behaved little girl. I don't need to outline what I saw when I turned towards Peanut half a second later, right? At least she was careful about not getting her favorite pink dress dirty.
The kids fell asleep in the car on the way back, all strapped up in their seat belts or lolling about in my arms, long limbs all over the place. But not before Papad spent a cranky ten minutes complaining 'Cake nahin khaaya....waapas chalo!' I tried to explain to him it wasn't the baby's birthday, but he didn't buy it. Thankfully, he was out, along with the others soon enough.
You'd think that I would have learnt my lesson from this afternoon episode, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. When I thought about going to Shefali's musical performance, I managed to convince myself that Peanut would like to come along. After all, she likes music and is coming along rather well on the piano. So what if she'd never heard a Ghazal before in her life and is more the Gangnam Style variety at this stage in her life?
So naturally, we set out, got late, got lost and eventually found our way to the Hauz Khas Village. Now, most people underestimate my level of ignorance about the city of Delhi but I must tell you - I'd never been there and was rather fascinated by the look of the place.
They made Kamal drop us outside - the sign said 'Park your car outside for a Walking Village.' How charming, I thought! I stepped inside with Peanut and we almost got run over by a belligerent auto-wallah.
I didn't quite understand the concept. They said it was a Walking Village. It was really a Walk-at-your-own-risk-because-there-are-crazy-drivers-here-called-the-Villagers Village. Peanut had a minor meltdown because she seemed to be under the impression I had brought her here to do her in - did I tell you I hate those Snow-white-and-evil-Stepmother stories?
'Why do you want me to DIE?' She implored at one point.
I assured her that I didn't, and was explaining that nothing was going to happen to her while she was with me- she pulled me out of another car's way in the nick of time, thereby saving my life.
Somehow we stumbled and found our way to the Kunzum Travel Cafe. And man, was it crowded. We squeezed into the back - it was hot and uncomfortable. And Peanut said 'Is this the Cafe?'
I replied that indeed it was, and she said brightly 'I'll have a chocolate brownie, Mama.'
I looked around apprehensively. My fears proved correct. This part of the Cafe wasn't really a cafe at all - it was just a little performance hall kind of thing - there was no food or drink anywhere in sight and the place was so crowded that we could barely move. And a serious Ghazal performance was about to start, and here I had a 6 year old who was hungry, irritated by the traffic that had almost maimed us, and now wondering where the Brownie was.
I took a deep breath and whispered to Peanut. We compromised that after four songs of Aunty, we would leave. She agreed. But the preamble on Faiz, given by an elderly gentleman was rather long, and Peanut kept punctuating it with 'What's he saying, Mama?' Frankly, I didn't know myself - I couldn't hear him and I doubt I would have understood more than the basic gist of each paragraph. I was waiting for her to start singing. Thankfully, she soon did.
Shefali is a very good singer with an impressive range, and an even more impressive love for Faiz that shows up in her body language when she sings. First Peanut complained that she couldn't see the Aunty, and then, when I positioned her more suitably, she kept asking me 'Why is Aunty closing her eyes and moving her arms like that?' I didn't bother to answer. I was listening very carefully. I noted that her throat seemed not to be in the best of shape - as she herself said between two songs - but she more than made up for it with her passion for the ghazals, and soon had the place applauding whole-heartedly.
Eventually, after just 'Bahar Aayi' ( Tina Sani) and Mujhe Se Pehli Si Mohabbat (Noor Jahan) , I decided it was time to leave. Peanut had been fairly good till now, but it was already seven and my battery was running out - in a while I wouldn't be able to call my driver to meet us where he had dropped us. We sneaked out, but I knew Shefali had seen me, given her excited wave in my direction before I left. As we exited, I saw the lifesaving sign of a Bagel shop - Peanut soon had her chocolate brownie and all good humor was restored. I resolved that I'd be back to check out the rest of this interesting place very soon. Maybe, I thought rather evilly, I need another sabbatical now.
We were back in our car shortly, and driving home. Peanut chomped on her brownie, refusing to share more than two bites with me - rather ungratefully, I felt.
Still, I watched her and realized that she's now at an age where I really enjoy her company. It used to be a challenge taking her places, but now, she helps me so much - for example when I go to the Happy School - and as today, proved - she's really about as good as any little kid can be. I suddenly found myself getting rather excited at the prospect of our first holiday together sometime soon- just the two of us girls. I quashed this thought fairly quickly, given the fact that I still have trouble finding my way to her school to drop her sometimes.
But I figure that once she's about twelve ( and I'm about sixty six, by her mathematical logic), she'll certainly know a lot about geography - taught to her by Vijay, not me. So we'll be all set to go.
I'm so looking forward to it.