Sunday, January 31, 2016

Remember the Time, Princess Peanut

Over the last few months, Peanut had been preparing for a performance at school for a play where she had one of the main roles - as a haughty, spoiled Princess.

This Saturday we got to go see it.

The family was all quite excited about it, including Pickle and Papad who rose early in the morning, without a peep for a change. A pink-and-golden princessy dress had been acquired. A silvery cardboard crown sat on her brow. And for some strange reason, a hula hoop was taken along as a prop.

The play started at 9 in the morning without much ado, and suddenly we were in the middle of the performance. About ten minutes in, Princess Peanut made her way onto the stage, escorted by her Royal Guards. And from the moment she started to speak her lines, which she'd kept secret from us the entire time, Vijay and I gaped at her open mouthed.

She gave instructions to the general public to entertain her; mocked them when they didn't live up to her royal standards; in a couple of cases, even asked for the unfortunate entertainer to be fed to the lions. Her gestures were graceful, her expression practised, and her articulation flawless.

It hit me about halfway through her lines. One of her favourite music videos is Remember the Time by Michael Jackson, and she had clearly taken some cues from the haughty Nefertiti-type Queen's expressions in the selfsame video!

I was about to remark upon this to Vijay, and turned to him just as he turned to me to whisper -

'Wah! Bilkul apni Ma pe gayi hai!'

I glared at him, but he busied himself in taking a video of her with his phone, which we'd specifically been asked not to do. I poked him in the ribs, but he just wriggled over to get a better view and continued recording.

Other insightful commentary from him ensued, including a thoughtful yet smug 'Pretty Decent Casting so far, what do you say?'

The Princess's part finished and she sashayed off the stage. In what is now becoming a familiar pattern for us, towards the end of the play, we found our family divided -  the boys in one team. all three of them squirming in their seats and wanting to go home. And me, on the other hand, peerfully tearfully through my glasses, full of wistfulness that yet another milestone had been crossed with her first lead part in the play. Another academic year coming to an end. The kids growing older.

Especially the child who was once this chubby, playful little baby and is now a long-limbed elegant haughty princess.

Peanut often looks at old videos of herself as a baby and remarks 'I want to meet her!' She actually feels sad at the idea that she'll never get to 'meet' that child.

Well, I got to meet her. And thank god for those old photos and videos. Here's one for, old time's sake. Or shall we say, so we can Remember The Time.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Still Married, Thank You! Chapter 1

(Note: This is the first chapter of a book project that's been on hold for me for the last few years. I have the first draft of it kind of panned out already, but just haven't worked on it. I don't know if it will ever actually become a book but I've been asked plenty of times about a sequel to my first book, the autobiographical 'Just Married, Please Excuse'. 

I've love to have your comments on the below first chapter, of the unpublished, unrefined Still Married, Thank You. If it looks familiar it's because, like the first book, this draws on some experiences on this blog in its earlier years

Let me know what you think, guys!)

‘Wow. I can’t believe it. I’

I stood at our bedroom window, gazing outside with a feeling of awe.

It was only 6.30 a.m. – practically the crack of dawn as far as I was concerned. Usually, getting up this early to give a cranky Peanut her bottle made me cranky too - especially since Vijay never woke up, despite her insistent whining.  I had questioned him about this, and he thoughtfully suggested that perhaps he was just used to tuning out insistent whining. He had then given me a meaningful look which I had chosen to ignore.

I envied the man his ability to enjoy eight hours of peaceful, dreamless sleep. Peanut was almost a year old, but still a restless sleeper – it felt like it had been years since I’d had a proper night of sleep – and it had, almost, given that the bad nights began right with the start of my pregnancy. I was used to having my sleep interrupted, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.

But today was different – staring at the beautiful scene outside made me feel very lucky to be up at this ungodly hour. 
We lived in a company flat with the windows from the dining room and main bedroom overlooking the prime location called Bandstand. The apartment itself was small, but the windows opening out to the sea-view were huge - and the salty, fresh ocean air made for a feeling of openness and oneness with nature that most people envied.
I had started taking the view for granted of late. I realized that I shouldn’t have, as I stared at the bright orb casting its reflection across the bluish grey expanse of water, relatively still at this hour, as if not to disturb the puny sleepy mortals inhabiting the various buildings peppered across the coastline.
I heaved a deep sigh of immense satisfaction and took a step back to sit down on the bed, determined to enjoy the view some more. Forgetting that I had circled around to Vijay’s side, I accidentally landed on his legs, rather heavily.

‘Sorry, sorry.’ I shifted my bum a bit, but I wasn’t actually all that sorry. ‘Anyway, you should get up and see this.’
He continued to lie there, glaring at me in a rather unfriendly manner. ‘That hurt, Y.’
I peeled my eyes from the window to look at him for a moment ‘Sorry. Am I really that heavy?’
‘Not heavy…just…’ He mumbled something unintelligible, knowing that he wasn’t going to win this familiar post-partum conversation either way, and quickly yawned and stretched. ‘What are you doing up so early, anyway?’
Not bothering to remind him about Peanut’s feeding schedule, I just gestured towards the window and said ‘Please, honey…just look at THIS.’
He heaved himself out of bed, swinging his unnecessarily long legs onto the floor and sat next to me, peering out through bleary eyes. He stared for a few moments and then said in an unimpressed manner ‘‘So? Okay… the sunrise. We’ve seen it before.’
I waited for him to get it.
A look of understanding dawned on his face ‘Oh, right. It’s our chance to take a picture of it for Vivi. That poor fool still probably believes that we can’t ever see the sun rise because ‘we’re in the west and the sun rises in the east.’ Wait, I’ll get my camera…’
I stopped him by catching his arm, and stifled my irritated sigh. ‘Honey. That is not the sun.’
He stared outside with a disbelieving frown for a few moments, and then his expression cleared again – this time, I knew the awed look on his face mirrored mine.
The bright silvery-white moon hung over the ocean – it was large and full. We both sat together, holding hands and drinking in the view.
The silence was only interrupted by the strains of soft music – the opening notes of a ghazal, it sounded like – floating up from somewhere nearby. I went up to the window and peered out towards the right - a stage of some sort had been set up, and some people had already gathered there. Of course. I grinned with delight. Today was the first day of the Bandstand Musical Festival – and we had a ringside view from our bedroom.
Yes, living on Bandstand was a treat.
Even though it was a Sunday which was Vijay’s sleeping-in day, he agreed to join me and Peanut for an early morning walk.
‘Let’s use the baby sling.’ I said in a deliberately casual manner. He shrugged and said ‘Sure.’
I quickly brought out the sling and strapped it onto Vijay. Peanut was still in a bad mood, unable to appreciate at her tender young age any natural phenomenon beyond a good burp. However, as soon as she saw the sling, she became all excited.
‘Walky-walky, Peanut.’ I murmured as I picked her up and placed her into the sling, nimbly strapping her in with the air of the practiced, weary mother.
I surveyed them both with some satisfaction. Peanut was a little too big for the sling now and was kind of spilling out of it, giving the impression of an overstuffed teddy bear. Vijay stood tall in his lanky frame, grinning down at the top of his daughter’s head. She was happy because she loved the sling, knowing that it meant a long walk by the sea. He was happy because she wouldn’t now want to escape into ‘Mama’s godi.’ And of course, I was happy that I would get to walk freely on Bandstand, for once.
We were soon meandering towards the stage, in front of which some chairs had been placed for the enthu, music-loving audience. We found a couple of empty chairs and sat down. Peanut protested once, but settled down when I popped a biscuit into her mouth. We sat transfixed - an unknown artist – unknown by me, of course – was performing a ghazal with a rather lovely, haunting refrain. Vijay, who for some reason could follow Urdu, or at least pretended to, kept muttering ‘Wah, wah’ at what seemed to be the right places, judging the reactions of the other people sitting near us, who were saying ‘Wah, wah’ just a split second after him. In a moment of suspicion, I wondered if they were pretending and just following Vijay’s lead, but it didn’t matter enough to hold my attention. It was an incredibly beautiful, peaceful place to be just now.
My mind was wandering pleasantly. I would really have to try and appreciate this city a lot more, I decided. Sure, it wasn’t my first love, Bangalore, where Vijay and I had met and lived for a few years, only having to move out to Mumbai thanks to Vijay’s strange desire to engage in some Village-Do-Gooding-cum-business with the company’s Rural Project. And it wasn’t my hometown of Delhi, where my mother lived and where I had spent a rather comfortable months getting spoilt along with Peanut, until just a few months ago. But Mumbai had a certain something.
‘Character.’ The correct word had finally occurred to me. 
‘I know’ Vijay snorted ‘Just because he’s an artist, he thinks he doesn’t need to cut his hair. But he does sing well, no?’
I had no opportunity to clarify what I had meant, because Peanut started kicking Vijay impatiently. We quickly stood up and left, in order to pre-empt the scene making that she would no doubt have resorted to, had we ignored her gentle hints about how our purpose here was to walk and not sit around gabbing.
We strolled along together for a while before heading home to the perfect breakfast – consisting of Alu-paranthas for Vijay made by our maid Zarreena; and Pancakes for me, made by good ol’ Kajal who used the recipe that good ol’ Mom had taught her in the good ol’ days before I usurped her to help take care of Peanut.
My eyes opened at about 3.30 p.m. – Good God, we’d slept right through lunch. That breakfast had been as heavy as it was delicious. Peanut too, had taken an unusually long nap today.
I felt a vague sense of guilt about this, even though it was a Sunday. Not that I had anything very important to do these days, whether it was Sunday or any other day. Even though it had been over a year, I was still on maternity leave because the Company was still trying to find me a project. I had asked for flexibility in my working hours because of Peanut, and this seemed to have thrown my HR manager into a bit of a tizzy.
I had called him – yet again – the previous week, and it had been a familiar conversation.
‘Anything yet, Samir?’
‘Not yet, Yash. But today, I forwarded your mail to the Skin team. Don’t worry, we’ll hear from them soon’
Yeah. All Samir seemed to ever do was forward my mails to various Teams – so much so that I had privately labeled him as Auto-forward, only once, during a particularly heated conversation, actually addressing him with this endearing nickname. He had said ‘Excuse me?’ in a confused manner, and I had pretended to have a coughing fit and then deftly hung up.
Vijay had tried to make me feel better about this situation, a few times. ‘Excuse me,  but I don’t see the problem here.’
‘Arrey, I want to DO something, na…’
‘You’re doing something…you’re raising our baby!’
‘Yes, but that’s not ALL I want to do. I want to EARN…’
‘Well, they’re still paying you, right?’
‘Yes! Can you imagine? They’ve paid me for the last so many months, keeping me on rolls just because they’re unable to find me a role again! How crazy is that?’
Vijay stared at me for a moment, before saying.
‘Excuse me. But I don’t see the problem here.’
I gave up. He wouldn’t get it, of course.
The deal was that this mommy-hood thing had been fairly enchanting at first, but I had figured after several months of diaper-changing and bottle-feeding that while Peanut was the most adorable being in the entire Universe and all that jazz – I was SO not cut out to be a full-time mother that it wasn’t even funny. Having nothing to do but hang around with Peanut and Kajal the whole day had been making me edgier than usual – and this was saying something.
Peanut herself was showing signs of developing a rather cantankerous personality, and I wasn’t too happy about the fact that she clearly looked like she had a bit of a temper. One day in the previous week, she had been displeased by the Palak Sag that Kajal was trying to feed her, and we were all treated to the sight of her silent temper tantrum – she was trembling, one clenched fist waving in the air, and grinding her eight baby teeth. Her doll-like appearance, with the perfect pink lips, and plump white cheeks, did nothing to take away from her current excellent imitation of a tiny Muhammed Ali, pumping himself up for a particularly vicious round.
Kajal, being a staunch devotee of Peanut, and therefore unable to see anything wrong with this, simply burst into hysterical giggles, shouting ‘Oh Baba Goh! Itna Gussa!’
I was struggling to come up with the right way to explain to Kajal that this was not something to be encouraged when I noticed Vijay staring at Peanut, with a strange mix of amusement and horror.
‘Honey.’ He turned to me, smiling sweetly ‘Peanut’s becoming more like you every day. Bilkul apne maa pe gayi hai.’
I sighed now, trying to shake these thoughts from my head. We would just have to wait and see when I was able to get back to work. No point ruminating, till then. I continued to ruminate until I noticed a message from Vivi on my phone, saying ‘Call when free, sweetie.’ My mood suddenly lifted.
Vivi, my favorite feather-brained friend, was my one savior these days. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to be assiduously serving the same Company, devoting her entire time to building their brands – whenever I was feeling truly bored, I could just give her a call and she’d be there for me in the form of long phone conversations or impromptu in-person sessions of my whining about my life, and her sympathetic ‘I knowwww, Sweetie’s. I half-suspected that she was only half-listening, but her sunny, whacky personality never failed to pick me up anyway. Soon, my whining would stop and instead she would be treating me to the latest office gossip, her unique descriptions of people and events making for entertaining listening. You know that fellow, Akash Whatsisname? He came to work in a Green Suit today. Green! Arrey, you know who I mean, yaar…that really tall, thin guy –the one who looks like a sperm…
After a brief conversation with her on the phone, I nudged Vijay awake. ‘Vivi and Anshul are coming over in the evening.’
He grunted his approval, without opening his eyes. I gazed at him in a dissatisfied manner. ‘They’ve been out the whole day, while we’ve just been sleeping. They’re always doing something or the other.’
‘They don’t have a baby. We do.’
‘Oh come on, just because we have a baby, doesn’t mean that you and I can’t go out together for a nice meal to some romantic place once in a while!’
‘Okay fine.’ He opened his eyes and stretched lazily. ‘We’ll go sometime. Where are they right now, anyway?’
I realized that Mahesh Lunch Home didn’t sound all that romantic, so cleverly diverted the subject to the one topic that always held Vijay’s full attention – the night’s menu. We soon settled on Chhole Bhature, in the spirit of this Sunday’s complete self-indulgence.
Vivi and Anshul landed up a couple of hours later. Vivi was completely blown away, as I had known she would be, by our home’s proximity to the musical extravaganza on Bandstand, which had been on the whole day. We opened the drawing room window to enjoy the music more fully.

A pleasant evening followed, the drinks flowing freely - beer for the men, wine for Vivi and me.  When it was time for Peanut’s massage, Vivi offered to help me, and I tried to ignore her as she treated me to her never-ending and entirely senseless advice on raising babies. Vivi had no experience in the matter of child-rearing, but this didn’t stop her from applying her imaginativeness with the baseless over-confidence that carried her through life with such ease. At one point, I left her alone with the baby for a few seconds, and heard her squealing 'Look, how flexible she is!'. In a panic, I ran back into the bedroom and found Vivi had leaned Peanut forward into a strange yoga contortion, with her elbows on the floor between her outstretched legs, balancing precariously and looking around in a very puzzled manner. Rescuing my baby, I resolved to keep a more careful eye on them after this.

While we were busy with the baby, Kajal was making the Bhature in the kitchen. As one of her pet quirks, Kajal needed constant reassurance about her cooking, although she was a perfectly good cook. These days, her complex had been brought to the fore because she was rather overwhelmed by the speed and efficiency that she been observing in Zareena.
Her standard compliment-fishing opener for the last twenty years had been a mournful Mujhe kuchh nahin aata…mere ko pakaana nahin aata. Having grown up with her around, I always gave her the standard automatic-response ‘Nahin, nahin, aap to bahut achha pakaate ho’. This would satisfy her nicely – and thus, the moments of insecurity would pass.
Now, while kneading the atta for the bhatura, she developed the sudden urge to say her line, but couldn’t see me anywhere in the vicinity of the kitchen. Just then, an unsuspecting Anshul wandered into the kitchen to look for the bottle-opener.  Kajal apparently decided that mild-mannered Anshul seemed like a good prospect and pounced on him, shouting into his ear ‘Bhaiiya! Mere ko KUCHH pakaana nahin aata’
Anshul reeled backwards, stunned out of his wits at what probably seemed to him a rather strange confession, and eventually came back with ‘Eh?’
Kajal misconstrued his confusion to mean that he was simply a bit hard of hearing. Her enthusiasm undampened by his response, she just said in a louder voice ‘Kuchh nahin aata! Kuchh BHI nahin aata!’ – she then waited for him to contradict her and praise her obviously expert cooking abilities.
Vijay had been listening to this exchange in exasperated amusement from the drawing room. After a long silence, the very confused Anshul asked, as if to clarify that this was not a sudden personal attack on his own capabilities ‘Kissko?
Tucking the now asleep Peanut into her cot, I headed back to the drawing room. I met Anshul in the hallway as he came out of the kitchen, looking as dazed as if Kajal had hit him on the head with her rolling pin. He asked me in his earnest manner ‘She doesn’t know how to cook, is it?...but she is cooking…’. I tried to explain the whole dynamic but soon gave up and just urged him to enjoy his beer, and to try and put this episode behind him.
Eventually, dinner was over and Vivi and Anshul went home. Vijay and I turned in too but we lay in bed, discussing Kajal’s crackpot ways - he repeatedly sent me into paroxysms of laughter with his imitation of poor Anshul’s Kissko?’

Vijay was soon snoring as usual, but I went over the day’s events in my mind, relishing every moment. 

And reflected on how it looked like I was finally falling for Mumbai.

*End of Chapter 1*

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Pickle comes up to me and says 'Mama, I need a new bag.'

'Oh?' I look into his chubby face. 'Why is that?'

'My bag is tore.'

'Okay, torn? Fine, we'll go and pick one on Saturday.'

'But don't get Papal one.'

I kneel down. 'Son, listen, you guys have to stop comparing with each other. Just worry about your own stuff.'

'But HIS is not Tore.' The little boy's chin quivers at the unfairness of it all.

'I didn't say I will buy him one.' I remind him. 'But you shouldn't bother about what he gets or doesn't get. Actually.' I correct myself. 'you should also feel happy if your brother gets something nice.'

'But.' Pickle bristles. 'His is NOT TORE.'

'It doesn't matter if it's not tore! I mean, torn! I mean...look, let's forget about this, shall we?'

He is looking really upset now. I decide I must quickly change tactics and distract him.

'So Pickle! You liked the movie Alladin?'

It works. His sullen face lights up. 'Ya, I liked the genie the most.'

'Oh yeah? And What would you wish for if you a genie who gave you three wishes?'

He thinks hard and then announces -

'My number one wish will be I get a new bag.'

'Well, yeah, that's great!' I cheer him on, wanting to get past this topic quickly 'Okay, so what's wish number two?'

He barely takes a moment for this one.

'That Papal does not get a new bag.'

He then proceeds to tell me a number 3 but I don't really hear it because I'm just despondently contemplating the complete and total inefficacy of my lectures.