Monday, June 27, 2016

Where's the passion?

"Mia, what is passin?", asked an excited Molly.  Mia, who was in the middle of chewing her toes, looked up in disgust. "It's pronounced "pash-shin" you twit, not passin! Oh Molly, you've been here three years, when will you learn?"  Molly tried saying "passion" a few times, laying more stress on the "pah" part and spraying Mia in spit.  "Molllllyyy you disgustemundo thing. Look at what you've done. I've just had a bath two weeks ago, if Sid sees me like this, I will be hauled off for a ghastly shower! Go get my eau de cologne and hair gel at once. Let's see if we can mask some of this damage you've done."  Molly trotted away dutifully and returned with a large bottle of "Musk for Mutts" and a green tube of "Keep it straight" (taming shaggy dogs since 1873!). Mia proceeded to slather on vast quantities of the stuff, slicking down her unruly mane.  She made Molly spray the perfume while she walked through the cloud of scented mist and tossed her head about in style. Molly watched in fascination, sighing in admiration "Oh Mia, you're so elegant."  Mia twirled around and patted Molly on the head, flattery could get you anywhere with her!  "Come my little one, passion you said? Take notes!"

Molly settled down in front of a newspaper, a pen wedged in her mouth. "Passion, or pasión in Spanish", said Mia with a flourish as Molly shivered in excitement (she did love it when Mia spoke in foreign languages, it was all so posh), "comes from the Greek verb πασχω meaning to suffer". Molly looked puzzled at the unfamiliar letters, which Mia had traced with her manicured paw on the ground.  "How do you pronouce that Greek word?" Mia clicked impatiently, "Who cares, it's Greek to me! All that matters it's an old old word and basically means when you have an intense feeling for something or someone".  Molly still looked puzzled "Use it in a sentence".  Mia replied
almost instantly "I have a passion for antique furniture, crossword puzzles, tea ceremonies, origami, and old French movies". Molly looked amazed, "Wow, that's a lot of passion, where do you get the time?" Mia laughed, "Molly, we are dogs! We have only time. Just because you spend most of your time trying to find ways to open the cupboard and raid the dustbin, doesn't mean you can't have any other interests or find time to enjoy other things".  Molly looked genuinely puzzled, "But I like raiding the dustbin. It gives me such joy. I could do it all day long!"  Mia looked scornfully at her, "Trust you to have dustbin raiding as your passion. But then you are lucky, for not everyone gets the time or the opportunity to do something everyday that they are passionate about".  Molly looked pleased, but quickly adjusted her face to look pitiful (Mia loved it when she looked pitiful). "And what about Dad? He's passionate about photography and he gets to do it everyday.  So he and I are the same, we're living our dream!".  At this revelation Sid, who had been observing, and choosing to ignore the two of them, looked up in shock "Oh God! I can't believe the dustbin raider and I are the same!" Molly leapt into his lap, "But Puh-Pah passion is passion. Now take Mummy...totally unfocused she is. She works, but she wants to do everything else also. Dancing, writing, singing, baking, yoga, reading, start her own business, etc. No focus".

At this reference to my lack of focus, I chose to interrupt. "I like lots of things. And I can't do all of
them, all the time, but I'm lucky that my work allows me to indulge in other stuff. When I retire I intend to have a rollicking good time, there's so much to do! So don't feel too sorry for me my little Molly".  Mia looked pleased with this answer and came over with a withered piece of paper, which I took to be her attempt at origami. I accepted it with a straight face and patted her on the head, secretly thankful that she had other things to fall back on! But the whole discussion got me thinking about work and "passion".

I always find it interesting how most of us when introduced to new people and asked what we do, always answer with a "I work at XYZ". We are conditioned to see ourselves within the confines of what we do to earn a living. Which is not a bad thing, it's just rather dreary that our jobs seem to define us. When I was once introduced by someone to a new group, he said "She's a storyteller (aka a liar)." Which was an entertaining and a refreshing change from how I would usually answer. It also got me thinking about how several people don't do much else, outside of their work, presumably because they don't have the time. But I find it surprising that people feel that they have to work till they die, not because they necessarily need the money, but because it's difficult to just sit at home. I totally agree...but what does that have to do with a job? There is so much to indulge in beyond our jobs, and to let just that become our life is, to me, a dangerous thing. I spent 4 months last year in between jobs and I had the best time...there is always so much to do and learn...write, read, bake, sing, dance, yoga, travel. You could volunteer, play a sport, or even do something that pays you, not for the money, but because it interests you. I'm blessed
to have always had jobs that allowed me time to indulge in things that make me happy. Though I am quite insistent as well, my time beyond work is sacrosanct. For to live a life without passion, without doing anything that truly interests you...may as well never get out of bed!

My little internal rant was interrupted by a crash coming from the kitchen.  Molly was obviously indulging in her single minded pursuit of smelly trash.  As I walked towards the kitchen, ready to shriek at her, I noticed she was sitting by the windowsill, gazing at the moon outside.  So that meant? "Mia!", I yelled, glaring at a porky brown backside sticking out of the cupboard.  A cheeky whiskered face looked back at me, unapologetic, "You said it's good to have multiple interests, pursue my passion. I'm just trying out Molly's. And why is my origami in the trash?!" I hauled her out of the kitchen, while she yelped about the curtailing of her rights and she was better off on the streets where no one tried to interfere.  If I wasn't passionate about these two, I really would have torn my hair out by now!

Monday, May 30, 2016

On a Healthy Note

I wrote an article for the Hindu Metroplus, which they published on May 30th.  A subject close to my heart - my involvement with the choir, the Capital City Minstrels, has taught me a lot and continues to give me so much beyond just making music with other people. The benefits of choral singing are much more than one would imagine, and I chose to write about that, weaving in the experiences of other members in the choir.  The original article was a bit longer and had a bit of humour in it, while the final published piece (image below) was shortened a bit to meet word limit requirements and also keep the tone more informative and factual.

I'm sharing the original for a few of my friends or those who might enjoy my slightly longer version, with a bit of humour thrown in.

Hindu Metroplus, May 30, 2016

Music has always been an integral part of my life.  I was an abysmally poor clarinet player, a reasonably good dancer, and I am a safety-in-numbers-singer with a choir.  I’ve been a chorister for five years in school and now completing half a decade with the Capital City Minstrels in Delhi. CCM, as the choir is better known, has been performing in India and abroad for 22 years, with members from across the world.  And several, if not all, of us have experienced how choral singing is not just about singing in unison, but benefits the mind, body and soul.

Courtesy: Monica Chhabra
We have a horrendously addictive Whatsapp group, which wreaks havoc on mind and body, and I suspect does very little for our souls.  Apart from inane chatter, some articles on music feature as well. One pictogram showed the physical benefits of singing -from keeping vocal cords exercised so you sound younger; to getting an oxytocin high  - the happy hormone produced during childbirth (happy?) and sex (possibly explaining the slightly flushed and unconquerable look some of us get after singing). Another interesting piece was research by the Tenovus Cancer Centre, which analysed saliva samples of singers with cancer or caring for a cancer patient and found that just one hour of choral singing increased levels of immune proteins, reduced stress and improved mood - helping patients to be in the best position to receive treatment.

It made me think about how several of us in CCM have been impacted in similar ways – social, psychological and biological.  I am close to my choir mates, but they would probably draw the line if I took a swab to their mouths for a saliva sample. However, several of us have experiences that demonstrate benefits.  After losing my father, the devastation and helplessness I felt was savage and relentless. But almost on auto pilot, I returned to rehearsals shortly after.  The exhilaration that fills you when different voice parts blend in harmony and the camaraderie of the group gave me peace, joy and stability amidst the upheaval. Another member referred to the difficult time she had after losing her brother, tragically on a rehearsal night.  It took her some time to re-join CCM and sing her heart out in a cathartic outpouring - “I don’t pray anymore, I sing with my choir”.  Returning to the stage a couple of days after losing his father, Neeraj Devraj mentioned how important it was for him to sing with the choir at the time, in tribute to his father.
Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography

Others talk about choral singing helping with illness or work pressures, which manifest in problems like hypertension, insomnia or stress.  Dr. George Mathew, Reader with the Nehru Homeopathic Medical College, describes the rejuvenation he feels after rehearsals as a great stress buster.  Another member describes the problems faced when her husband fell ill and her daughters were young. She joined CCM in the early 2000s and refreshed and renewed through song, it took her through two angiograms and caring for post-operative trauma.  Yamini Joshi, a musician and music therapist, found CCM when she had fallen sick in college and was struggling to find an anchor.  “Having a choir family allows you to share and be surrounded by positivity. I find the act of going to rehearsal on a Wednesday evening after work, just brightens my day…it’s a mix of maturity and gay abandon.” 

Courtesy: Buddha Studios Photography
Choral singing is also a great equalizer.  You can be a great soloist, a corporate bigwig, a struggling artist – you sing as one with the rest of your section.  Aasish Francis described his job where he was more of a single contributor in a smaller organization. He felt that being a part of the larger CCM not only “helps you understand your place as part of a larger whole, but also teaches you to guide and motivate others as they make the same journey”.  Another example of this was CCM singing in Europe last year.  We were hosted by a Swiss choir that didn’t speak much English and we communicated through hand gestures, smiling, and Google dictionary.  But when we sang together - language, age and racial differences melted away. 

So I may not have saliva samples to test, but most choristers will vouch for the power and healing of singing in unison.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year or rather Old Year finds

The new year always always comes with resolution building and making a to-do list of stuff you want to achieve. A clean slate, a fresh easel, etc, etc. I have tons of things that I'd like to do, but I'm not really the type to write all that stuff down.  This year, I hope to write more, and not just my little stories about Sid and me and the dogs and our friends, etc, but also some stuff about interesting things I find or use.

So for a person who spends an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook, I am quite bad at doing other things online - I don't shop much online, preferring to spend much more and go to a store! I do use sites like Pinterest to save things I come across, but most of the time I forget and then have to search for things. I don't like reading online so my Kindle and Kindle Fire are just lying around.  But in the last year, I've come across a few sites, products and apps that I've been using more regularly and realized how much more convenient, cost effective and useful they are. Some of these are more gifting ideas, but they are all available online and I discovered them through their social media pages and got them delivered to my doorstep. So here's some fun stuff I came across last year:

1) Flipboard - is not new, but like I said I only downloaded it recently and got Siddharth hooked on it too. While both our Flipboards look vastly different, his filled with current affairs, sports, technology news and mine with travel, food, books, social media, marketing and work related topics - it's the only app I end up reading on. It collates articles from various sources into a snappy magazine for you and you can flip through and get some really great content. Of course Sid now sits and reads on it all the time and is looking a bit cross eyed!

2) All Things - I love chocolate and I can't remember how I stumbled across All Things, but I decided to include chocolate bars as gifts to my family in their gift bags at Christmas. I'm a sucker for anything home made or with a limited variety and basically not just the biggest brands and flashiest stores. Their packaging was interesting with each type of chocolate with a different cover - All Things Monday, was dark chocolate and granola with a blue pinstriped cover and a little pocket on the front with a To Do list slipped in! All Things Barcelona with a sangria filling, though not bang on sangria flavoured was still yum, and All Things Tropical with a passion fruit filling was my favourite. All Things Chilli with a hint of heat was alright, as was All Things Polo which had a generous hazelbut filling - but perhaps too generous as the outer chocolate layer seemed less in comparison. For the kids I got All Things Christmas and All Things Winter - which were sweet and magical and tasted like all things kids love - crushed peppermint candy in the former and marshmallow bits in the latter. Great gifts!

3) Avirich - I'm not big on buying clothes online, but I've realized how much great variety there is and a lot of them cheaper than in the stores. I recently bought some clothes from the Label Life, a website I have used to buy Christmas gifts before, but I ventured into buying some clothes this time and was pleasantly surprised.  I love dresses and I wear them to work and otherwise, so when I bumped into a lady at a Christmas party who had her own online dress store (only dresses!) I was really excited. She mentioned that she had recently invited a bunch of lady friends over to her apartment to try on dresses and buy them, but other than that they were only available online. I went to her website - and I liked several of the designs - shifts, skater dresses, A-lines, sun dresses, etc so I have every intention of ordering a few. And once again much cheaper than I am used to paying for dresses at regular stores!

4) Burst of Happyness - my sister, Shaheen, is into everything natural and organic and though I am not as disciplined, I am trying to make better choices.  So when my friend Karen told me about Burst of Happyness with their natural, homemade and vegan skin products, I decided these again would make great Christmas gifts for my mom and sister, and I ended up buying some for myself also. From natural deodorants scented with lavender and grapefruit and using coconut oil, baking soda and other oils; to shampoo bars of beer and aloe to moisturisers with mango, kokum and shea butters, I was quite happy with my haul as was my sister who put in a special mention for the moisturiser. Again some convenient and much appreciated gifts!

5) Books and Beyond - Last year was also the year I was told categorically by Sid that I just had too many books and needed to use less space in the house for them. After getting rid of around 150 or so, I decided to join a local library. I've been going to Books and Beyond here in Dwarka for a few years now since it is also a toy shop, and my brother-in-law, Anand, introduced me to it since they also rent out toys for kids' birthday parties and to schools. The owner, Gagan Jolly, is a very sweet man who chats with me about books and puts a lot of effort into helping me choose good reads.  And as convenience is key, he also has them delivered to my doorstep if I can't go to his place. If I call him up and ask him for a book, which he doesn't have, he orders it for me and it's delivered to me within a day or two. It's not just books, I even ordered a new Monopoly set from him and it shall be delivered to me in a day or two since he didn't have the regular version I needed at the time. At Rs.500 a month, and I end up reading 2-3 books a month, I'm happy, Sid's got more space and all is good!

6) Day One - an app I found through an article on Flipboard, this is a sleek and simple journal app. In an attempt to write more, I thought it might help to quickly capture a picture or jot down something that I can go back to later. It's private, but also allows one to publish posts to social media or via email and also converts it into PDF. It's clean, it's attractive and I've only just started using it and right now just jotting down silly things, but since it's just me for it doesn't really matter. It also lets you publish certain entries online if you choose to make them public -

7) Gifts of Love - not new either, but I got gifted the nicest cake plate from here recently by Neha and Shamsher and I passed by the store in the mall and thought a lot of the stuff looked great for gifting. I bought some nice gifts from the Wishing Chair recently and was very pleased with what was shipped to me, and in my new aim to shift to more online shopping, I went to the Gifts of Love website and intend to use it for some gits this year- though I've got my eye on some great magnetic notepads and boards in quirky designs for myself and a very pretty looking calendar and some stationary for my office,

8) Yoga Bars - I haven't tried these yet, but plan on ordering a few since the mayonnaise filled sandwiches and sugar filled drinks at my office cafe are diabetes-on-a-plate, and I like to stock up on filling and nutritious snacks.  Their nutrition labels show no artificial colours or flavours, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, no chemicals and no compromise on taste. I am ordering a box this week - probably an assortment of cardamom and coconut; chocolate chuck nuts and oats and almonds.  Say no to your office cafeteria!

9) Ekaiba - I got the sweetest gift from a friend I made through the choir I sing with, CCM. Smita doesn't sing with CCM right now but has kept in touch and reads my blog and my posts about my silly dogs and mentions how much she enjoys these whenever she meets me (which is like once a year). So I was touched and very pleasantly surprised when she sent me some lovely candles and a decorative box with an assortment of herbal tea bags inside from her new start-up design label - Ekaiba. With decorative items hand made by her team who specialize in decoupage, she made me lovely candles with frolicking doggies on them! With pretty boxes, candles and other decorative items and online orders to be placed at her website, I'm happy I found another place for unique and fun gifts.

10) This last one isn't an app or a website, but more to do with convenience and variety. I follow Little Black Book religiously and am always looking out for good caterers for home parties. With a friend asking recently about South Indian food catering in Gurgaon, I did a quick search and LBB threw up this article about seven caterers that did regional food for parties - from Parsi to Goan to Hyderabadi to Malayali to Rajasthani and Kashmiri. If you're tired of the ubiqitious and generic "Continental" or North Indian with no particular distinctions between regions, I thought this would be a definite list to try out.

So there's my list of interesting finds from the last year!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Child's play

Calling Sid is never usually an instant process. Considering he is much too social for anyone's good, his cell phone is always engaged when one calls him. He thinks it is impolite to not take a call, and to not have at least a minute's conversation is unimaginable - even if it is a telemarketer (who I'm sure have blocked him from their call lists, as he tortures them with inane questions just to exasperate them). As his wife, a "privilege" I get is that he will cut the call he is on and ensures that he calls me back immediately to ensure that I am not stranded without fuel in the car or in the middle of some crisis  or needing him to ask him an important question like "Do you want me to buy you momos"? (if you don't pick up the phone, you don't get any!)

So I was quite amazed when I called him from work and his phone wasn't busy. He picked up after the third ring. Silence.

"Bzzzz pssstt khchooo...this is Khandelwal"
"Who are you Khandelwal-ing?"
"Khandelwal to Khokhar, Are you getting this? Come in Khokhar"
"What are you doing? I don't have time for this stupidity"
"This is far from stupidity. This is life or death, Khokhar.  Survival on Mars to be exact"
"Are you playing The Martian again? Stop it immediately, I need you to pay attention"
"Uff baby, you are such a spoil sport.  What do you want?"

I quickly rattled off instructions to give to Sarina for lunch, which made him impatient, as expected.
"What is this mundane chit-chat? This is what you called me for? To get her to make lauki and daal?  Molly go call Sarina"! I heard some whining in the background and asked, "Have you made her wear those ridiculous cardboard antennae and green mask? Stop it immediately."  There was a pause and then a guarded, "No, I haven't", but before I could ask him again, there was some urgent scuffling sounds and an impassioned "Nooooooo, Mia don't take it off, Oh no she's swallowed Molly's antennae". And then silence, he had hung up on me.

I didn't bother calling back since the chaos at home tended to take time to unravel and I needed to get back to work, After wrapping up for the day, I headed home, distracted by various other things on my mind. I had forgotten about my earlier phone conversation with Sid and even if I had thought about it, I didn't think that the Martian phase would still be on several hours later. So I was completely taken aback to find the front door wide open, Mia the scaredy cat hadn't ventured far and was sitting right outside the door preening herself and bounded up happily when she saw me approach. "What are you doing outside baby, get in, come on" I said, while ushering her inside.  Wondering why in the world the door was open I walked straight into the living room, which had been shut, and walked on to the most bizarre scene. There was mud strewn around the room, and potatoes strewn around within the dirt.  The O'Jay's Love Train was blaring on the speakers and a large plastic sheet that I recognized as the talc sheet from the dining table had been pinned clumsily against a wall. Frolicking amid the potatoes was Molly, or rather Molly with a hair band - one antenna protruding from the right side of the band, while the stump of what must have been its partner, but had now been half chewed stuck out defiantly on the other side. Her green mask had slipped off her face and was hanging around her neck. She didn't look too unhappy about the situation and was amusing herself by pawing violently at a potato and delighting when it flew up in the air.  On the sofa, typing furiously, was Sid. He was eating a baked potato with ketchup and barely lifted his head to acknowledge my presence.  

"Siddharth, I spoke to you at 12 in the afternoon, it is now 7 in the evening. Please don't tell me you've spent a good part of the day on creating life on Mars! Did you get those papers I needed from the bank"?  He nodded towards the corner of the table to a few sheets of official looking papers were stacked and I snatched them up with a look of approval. "Thanks baby"! Nodding again he solemnly declared that "Meticulousness and ticking things off the list is what helped Matt Damon survive so long on Mars". I rolled my eyes and went to the kitchen to get something to eat. So much for meticulousness, I could see no signs of the lauki I had asked for, and went back to ask Sid about it. "I got aloo made baby, that's all that Matt Damon ate on Mars. We got to be true to the movie".  As I launched into a little rant about paying attention and knowing when to stop playing and take things seriously, he stopped me in my tracks. 

"Can you hear yourself, you're arguing about bloody lauki! Take it easy, there's enough of the mundane nonsense to deal with everyday, a little change from the most boring vegetable in the world is not going to turn your world upside down". And with that rather explosive statement, he went off to the bar. I noticed, while he was poured out some drinks, that he had bits of aluminium foil stuck to his track pants.  He came back, handed me a glass, and walked past me. Before I could follow him I got a call on my phone, after speaking for a few minutes I hung up feeling tired. Just another reminder of things I had left to do. This year has just been insane. I've lost a parent and watched the other become seriously ill almost immediately after. I've changed jobs in the midst of this madness, worked with my sister, brother-in-law and Sid to try and deal with the situation as best as we could - dealing with things a day at a time. The pressure has been so overwhelming at times, but the person who (as expected) would help me through this is of course Sid - or rather the child in him.  

Whirling around the house with the dogs, or calling me to tell me about a stupid joke he heard on the radio, or playing the Martian - even a few minutes of ridiculous distraction is totally therapeutic. I took a sip and walked back into the living room. Sid was strapping Molly into her harness and pulling her mask back on to her face. He looked up at me and asked if I wanted to play. When I nodded he tossed me some aluminium foil and explained, "I obviously don't have space suits so we will make do with tacky costumes, but it's all in the imagination"! As I pasted bits of foil on to my pants, I asked him what in the world had happened to his Downton Abbey phase where he would wear the most ridiculous wigs and drink tea and make Molly wear a tiara and sip cocktails, while Mia had to be the butler and answer the door (since she refused to budge from the front door usually!). "Oh babe, we're going American. Ever since you stopped working for the British, we're being loyal and now we're only doing American movies and shows. Next time we're playing Quantico. I've been practicing Priyanka Chopra's accent and I've bought the dogs toy guns and FBI badges, it'll be amazing"!  I chuckled at the thought of him crying and saying "No, I've been framed! Why would I do this?" while Molly pointed a gun at him.  He nodded in approval at my now silver-foiled pants and said, "Ok, so Mia is the Hermes space ship and we are in the rover.  We have to hurtle towards her and she will catch us and pull us to safety. Considering Mia can be resistant to orders, let's do a trial run with this Molly. Help me chuck her across the room, and if Mia catches her we'll go next"! As I helped him pick up a unsuspecting Molly, I thought of how I had been sucked into this ridiculous game. But two minutes in and I was totally caught up.Mars had thrown everything it could at me and I had survived, help was on the way!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The choir types!

“You don’t look like the choir type”, snickered a colleague, when I announced that I was leaving to make it in time for CCM practice. I asked him what a “choir type” looked like and everyone around chimed in with their version of what fit the bill – words like “sedate”, “reverent looking” and “pious types” were bandied about and some high pitched notes were shrieked out for my benefit to showcase what “choir types” sounded like. I tootled off for practice, after explaining to them that I didn’t sing in a church choir and that even if I did, church choirs hardly consisted of pious singers (sweet choir boys and convent girls are a myth J).  I listened to the learning tracks in the car (as with many of the other members of the choir, I listen to everything last minute in panic that I will be singled out during rehearsal to check if I know my music) – a rather “reverent” list ranging from “Who put the bomb in the bomb ba bomb” to “Heal the world” to rock gospel and everything in between.

Over my 3 years at the Capital City Minstrels (arguably Delhi's most well known and one of its oldest choirs) the “choir types” I’ve sung with are probably the funniest and most irreverent bunch of people I’ve ever met.  A few incidents come to mind over the years.  Our previous conductor, Fiona, was taking practice a few seasons ago and we had the accompanying percussionist, Suchet, thrum and drum and pum pum pum through one of the songs and finish with a flourish. Fiona (and all of us!) had watched him through this and when he ended she let out a long sigh to denote her approval/pleasure and within seconds a cheeky drawl directed at Fiona came from the ranks – “Cigarette?”. We erupted in raucous laughter and that one word still makes us remember that afternoon practice session.

We were in Goa for a music festival in 2012 and the sea air is enough to make everyone a bit crazy. Feni (that heinous drink that I am sure a few choir members who will not be named, have eternally
sworn to never partake of again), boisterous dancing including some on the bar counters, and more hedonism ensued over the next few days amid singing at a stunning church for the festival (such a memorable performance!) and at the governor’s house overlooking the sea!  One of the afternoons when we were all together at one of the shacks, Vanshika received a call on her cell phone - it was the cab driver from the night before. Sanjaya and a few of us were around her and overheard her saying something about “Whatttt…your pants…no, how could I have your pants, what are you saying?”. Sanjaya, always quick to jump into anything that looks vaguely murky, said “Oh my god Vanshika, what is this with the cab driver and his pants. What happened last night? You girls uff”.   We all roared with laughter and Vanshikha tried to make sense of the cabbie’s rantings.  It all settled down after a while as it turned out that she had picked up a packet from the cab, thinking it was hers, and therefore depriving the poor man of his trousers!

And so the madness continues – these are the only “choir types” I know really.  But don’t be
mistaken, for there is reverence as well.  We may not be a professional bunch of singers, some stronger than others, but the enthusiasm, passion and absolute mad joy on our faces when we’re belting out the notes – now that’s reverence!

After our summer concerts in the city, for two weeks in June 2015, our merry band of minstrels, 30 strong, will be journeying to Europe. The group consists of 27 singers, our brave leader – conductor, Carolin Remy (she is truly brave to embark with a raucous bunch for two weeks!) and two brilliant musician accompanists.  Eight concerts will be performed over 12 days in Hungary, Germany and Switzerland.  Along the way we intend to take touristy pictures and selfies galore as we travel to these places and assume that much of what happens in Europe will stay in Europe! So if you’re planning a holiday this summer, or have friends at any of the places mentioned, we’d be delighted to have a cheerleading squad there.  We work hard and have a wonderful time performing and are looking forward to a brilliant summer of singing in Europe!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Do a Ranthambore

"Dolling", shrieked Sid, stumbling in laden with books.  "This year I have resolved to make New Year resolutions. No one makes them anymore because it was so "last-year" to make resolutions that I've decided to be a trend setter, go against the tide and make it fashionable again.  Resolutions are now "in", forget "last year", they are soooo "this-year".  I blew gently on to my steaming cup of tea, nursing the plump mug between my palms and asked him what the trend was in resolutions this year. "Oh I have a whole list m'love, starting with being a part of this HT Brunch book challenge...I shall put the challengers to shame! Will read so many books their heads will spin...well, I may not read all of them, but I will upload pictures of all of them so that in the world of social media I will be the champion. Facebook, after all, is all that matters.  As long as the pictures are up there, people will believe anything no?!"  I rolled my eyes and said, "In your case, they should definitely be judging a book by it's cover, nothing beyond the jacket! What a solid plan...such resolution! To spend more time on Facebook uploading pictures of a fake on-trend!"  He chuckled, "Oh bubz, I will of course read most of them, but what if they're absolute snoozers, like this fellow here - Chetan Bhagat? Writing about some IIT I really want to know about them!  Might have to skip him.  Now this Ben Okri chap...pretty cover, I'll tackle this one first." I bit my tongue and let him continue.  "Molly, Mia", he bellowed and for once the two hounds trotted towards him on hearing their names, maybe their new year resolution was to be more obedient!  "Come with me chaps, I may need your help tackling these books. If I need to upload pictures, we need to make sure the books look like I've thumbed through them and given them a good read. Chew on this one a bit Molly, and Mia you can dog-ear this one...". I tried to explain to him that 'dog-ears' weren't made by dogs, but they had already vanished to the bedroom.

He emerged ten minutes later looking utterly exhausted.  "Bubz, this reading is very tiring. I need a
break. Be a good girl and fix me a cup of coffee, please!" As I switched the machine on, I asked him what he had started reading, which elicited the surprised response of "Read what? Oh the books - I was writing my name in all of them."  I told him that he was continuing much in the tradition of most new year resolutions, abandoning them mid-way, or in his case, even before he could start!  He pish-toshed me, and made some other strange sounds to convey his disregard of my opinion and then said, "At least, I am making the effort to make a resolution. What about you? What's your's bubzie?"  I thought before I answered - I had actually thought quite a lot about it over the past few weeks - "To do a Ranthambore".  He "pish-toshed" and snorted and made various other guttural sounds before saying, "Oh please, that isn't a resolution, you want to go to Ranthambore - that's not a resolution. That isn't even hard to do - you have to choose something that takes some effort, not plan a holiday with jaunty hats and Shikari Shambu outfits!"  I silenced him with a snort (we are both adept at conveying a wealth of meaning through sounds emitted through our noses and throats!), and said "Not GO to Ramthambore, I mean a metaphorical Ranthambore...oh dear god, I've lost you already, pay attention".  He shut his gaping mouth and decided to listen. Hmm, perhaps obedience was also going to be one of his resolutions this year (unintentional of course!).

I explained to him about how I had been thinking a lot about Ranthambore.  Last month my parents were going to be in Delhi for Christmas with us. After that, my sister and her family, Sid and I, some friends and my parents were going to take off to Ranthambore for a couple of days for a short holiday.  Over the last two years or more, with work and travel being fairly hectic for me, I had become fairly lazy and busy to focus on some of my personal relationships.  I didn't visit my parents as often, I didn't speak to or meet my friends as often and even with Sid who I live with, I take for granted the time we have together.  We didn't go out as often or go on holidays like we used to initially.  The little time I wasn't travelling on work, I just wanted to be at home and not go anywhere. I had felt quite guilty about not going home to see my parents as often, though they did come to Delhi a couple of times, and even our phone conversations had become brief and hurried as I was always having to rush somewhere or the other. I was happy my parents were coming to Delhi for Christmas, something they had never done as we always went to them in Bangalore, and I was looking forward to showing off some of my Christmas baking and cooking for them, and especially for my dad - Ranthambore. He loved travelling with us and as soon as I suggested we go out of town for a couple of days when they came to Delhi, he immediately jumped in excitement and said "Let's go for a safari...Ranthambore".  I was happy that we would spend some quality time there and amidst trying to spot tigers, we would play endless games of Taboo, eat and drink aplenty, whine and moan about my dad wanting us to do everything on schedule, and generally have a good time. Planning was well underway and my dad was driving all of us quite crazy with his calls about what time we would take the safari and what in the world did I mean that I didn't know and "Whatever" was not a reply and nations were not built and wars not won with a "Whatever" attitude! He wanted to know who was going to sit in which car on the drive over, the occupants in each jeep for the safari and had detailed conversations with Siddharth about buying another camera for the trip.  The calls to each of us asking the specifics and details became rather incessant and if one of us didn't pick up, he would immediately call the other to complain that his calls were not being answered!

Unfortunately, Ranthambore never happened.  The trip that all of us, and especially I, was looking forward to, spending some much needed time with my dad - to make up for being rather erratic in the quantity and quality of time I had spent with him recently.  And now it was much too late.  I looked
up and Sid had a strange look on his face, a mix of sadness and alarm.  I asked him if he was alright.  He nodded and said, "I know it's sad Bubz and I was looking forward to it too. I have a confession to make. You know how your dad secretly thought he took better pictures than me? I had full intentions of taking some kick-ass pics on this trip and showing off in front of him. I also thought I would knock his elbow every now and then so his pics would come shaky. Oh god, do you think he is hearing all this?" He looked around alarmed as if my dad's hand would come shooting down from the heavens and swat his bald head. He flinched as if imagining it! I burst out laughing, "Well if he is listening, he's probably thinking that the next time you're shooting, he'll definitely knock your elbow just to pay you back for thinking that!"  He looked a bit worried, while I continued, "So anyway, for me "Ranthambore" isn't the actual trip.  I want to just be there more and spend more time with family, friends and people who I have tended to overlook because of work or being busy with something or the other. Mine is not so much a resolution, but rather something I'm unfortunately learning the hard way. I couldn't do Ramthambore with him, but there are others I need to do this with.  He looked like he was going to cry, "Oh bubz, your's is so meaningful and my resolution is crap. The dogs have already eaten part of that Chetan Bhagat book and I don't wanna read all those books...I want your resolution". I looked at him amused, "I don't have ownership over it you know, you're welcome to do a Ranthambore yourself".  He cheered up immensely at this prospect and declared that he would be the bestest son, husband, dog-father, friend, son-in-law that ever was that year and starting that very minute he was going to call my mom to have a chat.  Minutes later I heard him speaking with her, "Yes yes you must come over...and make me laal maas please, oh and biryani, oh and that chocolate truffle tart". "Siddharth", I called out threateningly from the other room, "Spending time does not mean asking her to come over and make you something to eat!" I heard him lower his voice and say "Ma'am this Reem is being a spoil sport. I will have to call you later"!  I smiled to myself and settled in with my half chewed book - this HT Book Challenge fit in quite well with doing a "Ranthambore" - making time for the things and people you love!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


In some ways, he was probably the original 'badass'.  Many people knew of his rather formidable exterior - tough boss, a perfectionist, an ace pilot with an impressive accident-free record of flying 60 different types of aircraft, never minced his words and called a spade a spade, loved great cars and single malt whisky and the good life. But to Shanu and me - Parvez Khokhar was someone we had wrapped around our little fingers and in his eyes we could do no wrong.  Even badasses have soft and silly sides :) He could do some really ridiculous things that years later still make us laugh...

A few years ago when I left VisitBritain, I tagged along with my mom and dad to Europe. A bit old to be sponging off them on a holiday, but I did so shamelessly!  I traveled economy, while they were in business class (inspite of them trying to convince me to let them buy me a business class seat, but my
shamelessness did have some limits :).  I still remember being interrupted in the middle of a movie
by the air hostess who said that my dad had sent her over to keep an eye on me and make sure that I was taken care of. I shook my head and thanked her and silently hoped she wouldn't be back, but just as I settled in again there was PHK in the flesh bearing down on me, with horror of horrors, two boxes of chocolates! The people sitting next to me were very amused as my dad chose to explain what he had got me and insisted I eat the chocolate immediately. I said I didn't want to, he asked why, I said I wasn't hungry, he said there was always room for chocolate, I said now wasn't one of those times, he said ok and hoped the air hostess had come over to check on me and he would send her back later.  I started eating the chocolate out of nervous embarrassment and contemplated jumping out of the emergency exit. There were more visits - by my mother, the air hostess and my dad (my co-passengers knew the lot by then, greeting them when they came over!). We had a stop over where I went to the cattle class terminal and they were
whisked away to a business class
lounge, but sure enough my phone
rang while I was waiting and PHK's voice instructed me to eat whatever I wanted and he would be reimbursing me, and I was also to check my itemized mobile bill after the trip so he could pay for the call he was
making to me at that moment! We
argued a bit about eating and not eating and me having money and children never paying and I finally ate because I was stressed out after
the conversation because I
apparently was too poor to buy myself a sandwich!  Paris was lovely - we wined and dined and roamed around.  My dad even got to practice his limited French one evening at our hotel. He had given some clothes for a laundry service and there was one item of clothing left - his boxer briefs.  The polite young man from the laundry service was trying to understand my father saying "My underwear is missing, my boxers, my underwear."  When that didn't work, some rather strange gestures were made, which may have got him locked up under different circumstances. Still no luck - so he finally decided to try some French and said "My lingerie is missing, my lingerie!". My mother and I burst out laughing, while my dad looked disapprovingly at us ridiculing his French.  It seemed to work because the young man smiled and said "Oh you mean, le slip le slip", while my dad bellowed that was what he had been saying the whole time. He never did get "le slip" back, but I think they compensated rather generously for it with 30 euros or something!

Another silly thing which I will always remember about him is his hair - or rather how he fussed over it. He quite liked his hair and was quite vain about it.  But the secret to his nicely set mane was not all the potions and serums I spend a fortune on (and still have way too many bad hair days), but a ridiculous little knitted pinkish-purple beanie! As far back as I can remember, he would come out of the shower with his hair washed and wearing his purple fluffy beanie to "set" his hair.  He would then carefully iron his clothes, polish his shoes vigorously, moisturize his face and hands (we seem to have inherited a lot of Ponds Age Miracle!) and then once he was ready and about to leave the room, he would pull off the beanie and voila - a perfect head of hair!  That itty-bitty-bob-of-a-thing worked better than anything I've ever tried!

He hadn't been horse riding in a while, but he was an accomplished equestrian and rode often,
particularly in Wellington during his Staff College days.  Being his daughters, it would have been inconceivable for him to not have us learn. So we did, with all the other kids, and while the adults cantered and galloped and hunted, we were in the equivalent of the baby pool splashing around.  We would sedately do figure 8s and go around in a circle with the 'saab' instructing us on how to sit properly and how to pull the reins correctly and how to offer the horse a lump of sugar without getting our hand bitten off.  Once I was placed on a rather feisty horse with a very apt name - Sheeba!  She decided, quite correctly, that I was no match for her and tore off with me - a shrieking 7 year old on her back.  In retrospect, she was possibly just trotting but at 7 the world does seem much faster paced!  It was one of the days (unfortunately) that my dad had come to watch us and there I was shrieking for him while Sheeba and I streaked past.  He looked most disapproving and instead of being overly helpful he yelled for me to stop sitting like a "sack of potatoes" and pull myself together.  It was too late however as by then I had slid off Sheeba's back in slow motion and lay slumped on the grass like said sack of potatoes, unhurt but with a bruised ego.  He helped me up and dusted me off and told me to get back on.  We didn't ride much after that so we got nowhere close to how good he was, but waking up in the cold in Wellington with him and wrapping the putty around our legs and pulling on our riding boots was one of the fondest memories I have of Wellington and time well spent with him.

There were so many other little things - we did tons of road trips in our silver Volkswagen Golf, the longest and most memorable one being 5 days from Wellington to Tezpur.  But the ones from Bangalore to Wellington always stick in my mind because we would go tearing down those hair pin bends, feeling terribly car sick (he hated stopping so we were always well equipped!) and singing "Papa Don't Preach" loudly; doing the Jane Fonda workout with him when I was all of 5 and using the dining room chairs for support with all the exercises to get stronger thighs (my dad was also obsessed with his legs - claiming he had the best legs in the family!); of him coming to my dance classes and embarrassing me by telling my instructor that I was the best dancer he had ever seen and I inherited my great dancing genes from him and then horror of horrors, demonstrating a ghastly jig! In Bareilly, he went out in the sweltering afternoon heat just so he could get me a bicycle I had been clamoring for, only to come back and discover I had no intention of riding it and he then had to push me around on the new bike!  When some of my friends were taking a little longer to get ready at my wedding and he was waiting impatiently for everyone to get into the coach, he messaged me "You told me the party was at 1900 hrs. It is now 1905 and your friends are late!"

So he may be the original badass, but at home he was just our silly ol' dad.  I'd like to think he is zooming around in glee somewhere, disturbing the peace of the skies and knocking poor little cherubs off the clouds - that's all I wish for him :) Fair winds wherever you shall fly papa...

10 Things I'll miss about him

1) His terrible one legged dance, with a clap thrown in now and then, and a weird shuffle if ever "Another Brick on the Wall" was played!

2) Strange nicknames for us "Shanu boo", "Reemzy boo" "Goosy cat" "Reem K and Shaheen K"(always said together!)

3) The dirty looks he gave us if we ever ate food with our hands!

4) Tears streaming down his face while watching Govinda movies - he thought Govinda was hilarious!

5) His obsession with Rishan, my nephew, who looks so much like him and running around everyday to buy Magnum for his demanding grandchildren (and daughters!)

6) His aviators (has had the same pair throughout as far as I remember) which he wore come rain or

7) "Is there anything sweet to eat" after any meal and then eating a spoon of jam if he didn't find anything!

8) "Have you washed your face?" or "Have you combed your hair" and even if you said yes he would quietly hand you his little comb or in the case of Rishan start combing his hair frantically!

9) Eating even the worst brownies only because we had baked them!

10) Yelling "conquer the chairs" if we had to look for a place to sit at a restaurant or anywhere with limited seating

And 11 (one for luck!) - Always enquiring after my two mongrels - Mia and Molly. How are the Rhodesians doing (Asian dogs from the road!)?

#ParvezKhokhar #Badass #GreatDads #Fathers