Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Badass...

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
shine!

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

To the manor born...

What do you mean, adopted?
 "Puh paaaaaaaa! Mia says I'm adopted...that I was picked out of the dustbin", I whined, most upset with this revelation. Sid hugged me amiably and stroked my head, "But it's true, Mollsy...you are". Aghast, I whirled towards Mia who was licking her paws like a villain, a smirk spread across her face as if to say "Told you so!".  How could this be? I was adopted...that too from a dustbin, I turned back to Sid for explanations, this was preposterous!  "Still true Molly, quite literally from a dustbin. Well, the girl who found you, found you by a dustbin, so I suppose the saving grace was that you weren't in the dustbin but just by it."  My whole world spun around when he said this, quite literally - since he twirled me upside down and dangled me there. Generally this would send me into a frenzy of excitement, the start of a violent game of wrestling and jumping on Sid that would usually end in much noise, loss of hair (mine, not Sid's obviously!) and Reem having to break everyone up because Sid's shrieking was getting on her nerves. But today, I was unmoved as he head butted me and threw me around the bed.  I thought I was a princess (Mia is queen and she makes sure we all know it!), but this news changes everything. Ohhhh to have that Mia rub it in my face that she had been right all along!  My robust appetite, absolute disregard for discipline, penchant for sharpening my teeth on wooden surfaces and love of toilet brushes and trash cans would continue to be attributed to my "dustbin dog" status. Mia had already told half the neighbours, that beagle downstairs always barks at me as if it knows something, and I've seen him hob nob with her. Even that burly labrador we pass by often, who looks like he has enjoyed a few toilet brushes and chair legs in his day, sniffs at me disdainfully.  It all makes sense now!

"Just file and shape them, and push the cuticles back"
I wandered around morosely, not even finding a pair of flies buzzing past me amusing.  Reem had been baking frantically for a few days and usually I would be firmly ensconced in the kitchen, getting in the way deliberately to retrieve any fallen bits and pieces that would come tumbling down each time she tripped over me. But today I wasn't in the mood.  Mia was seated regally on the living room sofa watching Downton Abbey and sipping a cup of tea.  "What's up glummy bear? Why so morose? Tis' the time to be jolly - it's Di-wolly!". I lay down at the foot of the sofa, sulky and thinking about Diwali, which Mia called "Di-wolly" - she always sounded so stylish when she said things, always classy.  Not like me - I had to be told what Diwali was, And Christmas. And well just about everything. Mia was just so much more worldly - she was older and wiser and always looked at me in amusement when I didn't know something. "Di-wolly is a loud and raucous affair when Reem and Sid dress up a bit and disappear every few evenings and come back complaining about eating and drinking too much and something about needing Eno (Sid loves ENO!). Then they decorate the house and you're not meant to eat the flowers or drink the oil out of those little clay diyas (too late, I had already downed two by then!) or chew the playing cards (too late, the Ace of Spades was dangling from my lips as she spoke). Don't you know anything Molly? Well, I suppose it can't be helped...dustbins aren't a place to pick up much information.". She sashayed away stylishly with her satin coat on (called it her smoking jacket) to bully someone else, with one final dig as she departed "Holi would be more your style...hooligans rushing around with gay abandon!"

I moped around the rest of the day and at night, crawled in quietly to my bed.  I glanced up to see Reem looking at me, her hair tumbling down and tickling the top of my head. "Oye, what are you doing on your bed? Why so glum, chum?"  I allowed myself to be dragged on to their bed and settled in by her side, licking all the cream off her face. "This dog", she said to Sid, "is the most loving doggy ever, never seen one as affectionate as her".  Hah! What was affection when you had no class, no noble lineage like Mia, no proper background. "Puh-paa and Mia said I'm adopted and that's why I am junglee and I don't know what Di-wolly is and I'm not classy like her and I know nothing about anything".  She stared at me a bit shocked for a second and then said, "But Mollsy, what does that have to do with anything? Mia is adopted too - she was found in a park in Lajpat Nagar, and she's hardly classy. Look at her right now, she has her evening dinner stuck all over her paws because she put her feet into her bowl and if I told you some of the stories of the trouble she got into when she was your age, you'd be shocked! And what makes you think that lab and beagle are any different - I'm sure they've had their share of water from the toilet bowl as well"

Mia came rushing in at this moment, curlers in her hair and little ribboned booties on to keep her paws soft, (Mia thought it uncivilized to not wear clothes and always had something on, looking at my nakedness in disgust) and barked at Reem, "Don't say another word or I'll sit on you. Molly don't believe a word she says". I was ecstatic, "Haha, you're adopted too Mia. We're the same".  She snorted at me, "No, we're not and anyhow Lajpat Nagar is South Delhi ok...still posh!". Sid patted Mia "Oh it's sweet you think Lajpat Nagar is posh! What silly stories have you been filling Molly's head with".  She jumped off the bed with a "Whatever!" and settled down at the window seat with her back to all of us. "Anyhow, I'm a Rhodesian dog!" she yelped at me from her elevated seat, "I have pedigree and you're just a mongrel"!. Sid threw his sock at Mia, "You twit, there is no such thing as a Rhodesian - we made that up...Road-asian- as in Asian dogs from the road!". She jumped off in irritation, "I'm going to pour myself a brandy, you lied to me about my pedigree. Come on Molly, we're not hanging out with them". I jumped off the bed, always up for a midnight jaunt.  "Make sure you don't open a new bottle", said Sid as we tootled off, "The open one is for the adopted ones, we keep the good stuff for the pedigrees!"  Mia snorted derisively, "What cheek...not like he's from an aristocratic line.  No Molly, not an aristo-cat, stupid, an aristocrat. Come I'll show you...a re-run of Downton Abbey is on, It's delightful... I'll class you up in no time, so what if we were not to the manor born"!




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Taking the long way!


'My darling', said I, waltzing into the living room, addressing its bald occupant.  He was splayed across the sofa and knocking back a gin and tonic and Gup Shup peanuts at a rather alarming pace. I checked the time - 11 AM.  "You just had breakfast an hour ago, and your third cup of tea twenty minutes ago!  When did you manage to get through all that right after?"  Appearing confused, he displayed his frustrating habit of answering my questions with a question, "What do the two have to do with each other? 11 AM G&T's are the best bubz."  I decided that there were worse vices in men than drinking appropriate amounts at all sorts of hours, and continued with what I had come to inform him.  "This year bubz, we are making the effort. No short cuts at festivals - we're going old school. Hand written notes and posting cards, home made goodies as gifts, creating our own little boxes and wrapping paper. I want people to feel the love! No one makes an effort anymore - and buying a gift is always less meaningful than receiving something a person has poured their heart and soul into!"  He paused in between a mouthful to take in my resolve, and said hesitantly, "Oh I don't know Bubz, this sounds like a lot of work.  I know you hate short cuts and SMS language, but it's such an effort. I mean...". I cut him off. " It's not a language, it's laziness and it's all related! We don't make an effort anymore, we are all in such a blazing rush that we can't even type out 'I love you', leave alone say it to the person. I mean what the hell is 'I luv u', it even looks ugly!" I paused to catch my breath, and before I could start off again, Sid hastily jumped in, "Fine fine bubz, effort it is then. If it means that much to you, of course...make away, I am sure everyone will love it...and I don't mean 'luv' it, I mean the real deal, the four letter word, L-O-V-E it."  I was touched. To get him to agree so quickly was an achievement, there were usually no short cuts involved when persuading Sid, and this had been quick and painless. In fact, a bit too quick and painless. I looked at him suspiciously, "Oh no you don't! I am not just going to "make away", WE are going to make it together.  What was all that hotel management and training in the kitchen for, if you are just going to waste it by sitting on the counter and swinging your legs while I make stuff".  He sighed and dragged himself up, "Alright then, but I'm going to need something stronger than a gin and tonic then." I stared daggers at him, "It's 11.15 AM now, how much more fortification is required at this hour?!" He pranced off to the bar, "I'll be done in a jiffy darling, something festive I'm thinking. I know! I'll make us caipirinhas, they're not too strong for the day, but strong enough to get us through whatever you have planned. I'll be with you in a tick my love!" I threw up my hands in despair and lunged towards the kitchen, determined that his procrastination would not hinder my efforts.

Fifteen minutes later I was happily ensconced in the midst of flour, eggs, mounds of cocoa, whiffs of
vanilla and almond extract putting me in a happy place.  Sid was still to arrive with the cocktails, but had made several appearances trying to take away the sugar, rushing down to buy mint, asking for the blender, arguing with Sarina because she had used some glasses from the bar to fill loose change in, and so on.  He finally came in, laden with our liquid sustenance and I had to admit, they were very good and did put one in an even more festive mood! After stirring some melting chocolate, poking an egg, sniffing a bowl, licking some left over batter, buttering a cake pan and feeding Molly some mint leaves and her own tail, he declared himself exhausted.  "You've been here exactly five minutes! How can you be exhausted?" He distracted me with a yelp, "Oh look bubz, your glass is empty. My, my aren't you a speedy little engine...chugged that one away, didn't you! Can't have that, I must make you some more". I calmly slid the empty glass towards him, "That's yours", and then pulled my rather full glass away from his fingers clenched around it, "And this beauty is mine. You finished yours two minutes ago and grabbed my glass".  He feigned amnesia but disappeared again muttering something about "sharing" and "doesn't matter who's glass it was but it should always be full, it's called being an optimist".

I continued through the afternoon, mounds of good stuff piled up along the counters and the dogs lucked out on lots of crumbs and some fallen bits and pieces. Sid emerged once in a while, but I found him a few hours later snoring in front of the television sandwiched between Mia and Molly. All their mouths looked a bit sticky around the edges.  Evidently Sid had been helping by doing some tasting, as I saw four cupcake liners drizzled along the coffee table. I was about to shake him awake, when I noticed sheets of craft paper scattered on the floor with paw marks all over them in red and blue.  He had decided to give the home-made wrapping paper a go and thought a pattern of paws would do well. It was rather sweet, though the pattern looked a bit crazed and erratic, the dogs having obviously rushed along the papers and chewed a few bits here and there. I decided he needed the rest and stole out to buy a few cards and note paper.

I returned a while later and after being almost run over by two monstrosities of fur, teeth, lethal tails and ghastly paws of red and blue, I managed to extricate myself to reach the refrigerator.  After pulling out a bottle of water, I noticed a post-it sticking on the door with a friendly scribble from Sid. "Bubz, gne 2 play baddy, mke me grilled cheez sandwchs pls. Luv u...cold coffe wl mk me luv u more. See u soon." At the end of the note he had crammed in a comical sketch of Molly drinking a gin and tonic and eating canapes.  I was very amused with the sketch, but the note itself made me cringe!  After packing all the stuff up, writing a few notes and then sending all the gifts off to their recipients, I sat down with a large glass of wine and turned on the television. Sid came in a few minutes later and exclaimed, "My god bubz, drinking again...seriously?!" I glared at him and he plopped down cheerfully next to me, "Just kidding! Give us a sip"  As he took a long swig, he asked " So how was your evening, what did you do?" I stared at him amazed, "I packed all the stuff I made, sent it out and sent a little note from 'us', though you had nothing whatsoever to do with any of it!"  He didn't seem to be paying attention, his eyes glazed over, "What do you mean all the stuff. Where's
my share...I can't believe you didn't save me any!"  I took off on a tirade with no pause which deflated him a bit and he sat looking quite depressed.  After ten minutes of making him feel bad, I slipped over to the fridge and pulled out a cake and handed it to him. "Here, I saved this for you".  He whooped in delight and started eating it straight from the bowl.  "Oh bubz, this is really nice...I get what you're saying now, making an effort does pay. This cake is so much sweeter because of all the love you put into it"!  I took another sip of my wine and said "Actually it's Betty Crocker, I knew you'd whine if I didn't leave anything for you, so I just popped this in the microwave before I left".  He was stunned, "Betty bloody Crocker. Everyone else gets all the effort and I get 5 minute cake out of a box". I patted him on the head and said, "Chill bubz, next year we'll just buy ready made stuff, I'm exhausted. Screw the effort!".  He smiled and said "Words of wisdom. There's the girl I know...let's drink to that!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

To those who let us "be"

'Bubz, no one tagged me in that ten books list', whined Sid. We were having a lazy Sunday sprawled on the couch among all the papers while Mia and Molly lay on their backs, tongues hanging out comically and limbs splayed wide open - their 'everyday-is-Sunday' sleeping position.  I decided to comfort him, "Don't worry, everyone thought it was a bit of a pseudo exercise in intellectual exhibitionism and according to the papers, a lot of the choices just didn't match up with sales for those books. Were people making up stuff? Maybe. But it was interesting to see what stuck in people's minds. Anyhow, you don't really like reading books so why do you care?" He still looked a bit hurt, "Still...I didn't have to actually participate, but it would have been nice to be considered. I too like some of the greats...Earl Stanley Gardner, James Hadley Chase, P G Wodehouse...anyone with three names really!" I kissed him on his bald head and promised to bake him a cake to nurse his bruised feelings, which elicited a whoop of joy and "Get to it woman, cook for your husband...and don't forget to give me the bowl when you are done...licking the bowl is the best part".

As I whirled the ingredients together and the smell of chocolate enveloped the apartment and sent the
Wouldn't tuck my track pants in or wear boots over them anymore!
dogs into a frisky frenzy, I watched Sid plunge greedily into the batter bowl and lick it clean.  The image of this grown man with a chocolate smeared mouth and a silly smile to match his satisfaction brought my thoughts back to the 'ten books list' that went viral for a while on Facebook.  I read in an article that when analyzing the lists a majority of the people had included books they had grown up reading - Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie and several adults including me had Harry Potter on there as well - our appetite for escaping into fantasy still going strong even as adults.  But it also got me thinking of why we gravitate quite naturally towards so many things we grew up with - food, music, friends or places.  Why we do this is not really an unexpected or unknown reason - for me it is simple. My childhood preferences are unadulterated, unconditioned and natural choices. Before peer pressure or society had too much of a chance to make us feel conscious of whether are choices made us look impressive or cool.

Friends, for example, from when you were growing up are probably the ones who knew the 'unfettered' you.  The person you were before you shaped yourself into a more socially impressive adult who loves sushi, wine festivals, designers, espresso and Ben Okri. Not that I am implying any of those choices are not genuine, for as we grow we learn to appreciate so many new things, but some of them we acquire also to show off :) I am still the most comfortable with some of the people I grew up with.  Shagun and I have known each other since I was 7 and she was 6.  There was a gap when we weren't in touch for a while, but when we were back together in college in Delhi, we slipped back into our easy friendship. We knew each other in Wellington, an absolutely magical place for children to grow up, with so much to fuel our imaginations and a landscape conducive to romps, picnics, exciting games of cops and robbers and prim horse riding lessons.  She and I spent many an hour
playing 'house house' in the backyard, traipsing through each other's houses since we were neighbors and embarrassingly enough we were each others' first kiss (though definitely not the best one!).  A serious discussion ensued one day:

Shagun: they put their tongues in you know
Me: yes, and the noses never bump
Shagun: Imagine, cheeeeee!
Me: I know, cheeeeeee
Shagun: they seem to like it though

In silent assent, we decided to see what it was like by gingerly sticking out our tongues and screwing our eyes shut tight. To call it a kiss would be technically incorrect, since at first contact we drew back giggling shrieking with "cheeeeee, it's like sand paper! Why would anyone like that?"  So despite that little moment we've stuck together years later and have hopefully become better kissers!  There so many others - Juhi and I were together when we were about 11, a time when we had fierce contests to see who was the better dancer - busting moves we'd probably be much too embarrassed to do now, but at the time 'Wake Me Up before you go go' hadn't seen anything like it! We have stayed in touch and may not be as close as we were at the time, but I can be in another room listening to the tv and recognize her voice in an ad even if I am not looking at the screen. The same voice that discussed Femina Home Truths with me very seriously and who read my sister's letters secretly with me!  With Jenny and Sonali in Woodstock we posed for silly photographs, ate copious amounts of Wai Wai and fought and made up relentlessly over 2 years and then some more in college - I can still call them and the memory of silly phrases like "The psychology of a child who has not got their chicken..." or "Go to...mum" (long stories, had to be there) can still send us into endless bouts of laughter!  As you grow older, it's hard to make close friends since it's rare that one has the time or the
inclination to let one's guard down and just "be" the way you are around the people you are closest to (Ayesh, you're the exception!).

As the oven timer went off, I slipped out of my thoughts and turned my attention to retrieving the cake.  Sid skipped over with the dogs in tow and harassed me for a piece, ignoring my warnings of it being too hot.  Within minutes he had cut himself a piece and shoved another into my hands.  I laughed as he stuffed his face and his eyes grew comically large and inflated his cheeks to let some of the heat out. I laughed so loud I snorted and dropped my cake and then mock wailed in despair as the dogs descended upon it in glee. It was Sid's turn to laugh and as I cut myself another piece he yelled that "I was eating more than my fair share and women should eat less".  It's nice to live with someone with who you can still let your inner child out!








Tuesday, September 23, 2014

K-Man - the rise of the bland super hero!


"When she isn't writing about her dogs, her blog focuses mainly on her husband...who she is utterly besotted with", said a friend, while describing my blog to someone else.  I laughed when I overheard this.  It sounds so sappy to be 'besotted'! But I realise my blog does give that impression. Don't get me wrong, it's not that he isn't 'besottable', but I am also well aware of Sid's many flaws. My 'besotted-ness' is balanced out considerably by my short temper being unleashed on him regularly for his many irritating qualities. My focus on Sid stems from him being such great inspiration - his silliness, his sense of humour, the stupid things he does, his elaborate plans, his absolute devotedness to our dogs, his inclusive nature, etc etc. But most of all it is one quality that stands out for me...his kindness.

While writing that I am stifling a giggle...it sounds so bland and unexciting. There are no superheroes or mutant X-men who's superpower is kindness ( it may be a part of who they are) but there isn't that one hero who is clad in a soft gold body suit, with baby-pink inner wear on the outside, radiating goodness, helping mankind with kind words or woolly blankets in the cold, or who just holds one's hand when the world feels like it's over.  When I mentioned it to Sid, he was horrified. 'Bubz, don't do it. This is social suicide for me...my friends will think I'm a frilly idiot. And the women...oh no, the women! They never go for the kind sweet boys...can't you love me for something more macho?" I offered some helpful suggestions, "your love for chick flicks...Ms Congeniality...ummm your 'supportiveness' in coming along with me to a spa to 'keep me company'...your fearlessness in standing up for liking even what may seem rather un-macho, like Air Supply!' He looked utterly depressed, "I could go on", I suggested, but with a wave of his hand he signaled the end to
suggestion hour and covered his face . "I'll live with kindness...it's a wonder that I've not been eaten alive by bullies and been socially ostracised after your description of my likes and dislikes".

Not that kindness is uncommon, there just isn't enough of it - it's so underrated. The influence comes
mainly from people around you and unfortunately though I see some stunning examples, there just seems so little.  I am astounded when I see children ordering the help around without a word of thanks or being cruel to the weaker kids. I feel like slapping anyone who screams in fear when they see a dog coming towards them or poke and tease animals if they are in a cage or tied (or free for that matter). I hate bullies as much as I hate SMS language. All this stems from ignorance and an inability to understand or accept 'otherness'.  There is very little stress on raising little people to be kind.  Smart, yes; ambitious - yes; make pots of money - yes. All noble goals, but compassion and understanding of others - and I mean 'others' in a really broad sense -  the victims of intolerance and cruelty could be women, could be men, could be old people, could be the help, could be waiters, could be animals - just others. Kindness and compassion can make the world go round too, but it's so un-macho, so not-high-on-the-agenda...such short sightedness, such narrow vision infuriates me. I don't pretend to be the kindest person on the planet, and neither is Sid, but he has definitely helped me think more about it.

Of course with Sid most things also backfire spectacularly. We were in the car one evening driving back home, when a car careened wildly in front of us and swerved towards the curb where a cycle rickshaw was standing with a lady and two young children seated within it. As the car hit the rickshaw, one of the children slipped through the bars and fell below on the road, while everyone else wobbled a bit but fortunately the driver managed to quickly steer away to avoid causing more damage. We stopped, as did the offending car, but we were closer and rushed over to the rickshaw. The child on the road looked alright, quiet in shock, while the concerned mother yelled in fright.  I asked her if we could help and Sid helpfully chimed in, 'Ma'am can we take you to the hospital?' She was obviously preoccupied examining her child so he repeated his offer, 'Ma'am maybe it's better if we get you to a hospital quickly so your son can see the doctor.' She shrieked in response, 'Arrey, leh jaana toh padega, baar baar kya pooch raha hai" and smacked him in frustration with her handbag. Despite the seriousness of the situation I wanted to laugh looking at Sid's shocked expression, but he was spared from further assault and battery when the offending driver made an appearance and the lady directed her anger towards him.

So yes, kindness will go unappreciated and backfire at times; it would be unlikely to show up in a matrimonial ad ('A kind, yet fair, partner needed for MBA graduate - caste no bar'!), and it does sound rather unexciting.  But children (and adults) need to be exposed to 'others', to learn tolerance and acceptance and respect - kindness has many layers.  In an ideal world this quality would not be an exception.  Until then I hope we get some fuzzy superhero movies - a soft gold body suit and baby pink under-outer wear may sound insipid as far as superhero costumes go, but it isn't such a bad thing - maybe Sid will agree to let me make a video as a start!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ain't no mountain high enough...

"Bubz, we are going to Kashmir. Off the beaten track Kashmir, yes sirree - none of these shikaras and silly costumes. We shall be intrepid explorers, scaling the mountains high and valleys low - only us and nature. And then some rest and relaxation in a little cottage nestled away from the hustle and bustle."

I looked at him with only one thing on my mind - "What about the loo?" 
"The loo?", he asked.
"The loo?", I repeated
"To poo?", he asked stupidly
"And to pee", I elaborated.
"Well what about it?", he asked
"Oh speed up man! On this trek - what is the loo situation?"
"I assume it will be in a tent, with running hot water, an automatic toilet seat warmer and some books stacked at the side" he rambled.
"Don't take this lightly, I am not crouching behind rocks with cows and sheep grazing in sight, giving me disgusted looks"
"Oh bubz, they do it in the open, I'm sure they won't mind!"
"Siddharth!", I shrieked.

He leapt to it and bounded off. I heard him dialing furiously and then fiercely whispering, "Shamsher, listen partner. She won't do it in the open...no not that man, call up and find out the loo situation from the agency. Yes, she said ok if it's a medium level trek and she said clean loo, clean sheets...". I ensured that I followed up over the next few days, belting out "LOO!" every time I saw Siddharth until he finally announced that all had been set and the agency organising the trek had said there would be tented arrangements made to my satisfaction and I would not have to drink "jaundice" water - my definition of any dodgy looking H2O.  I had married him, vowing to trust him through thick and thin, so I decided that his word was solid gold.

So off we went to Kashmir with our darling Neha and Shamsher in tow, our travelling companions
who have embarked with us on a few different journeys now.  We haven't torn each other to pieces yet in such close proximity so we keep at it each year! Our arrival in Srinagar was as scheduled and we got straight into our waiting car with beaming driver - an entertaining chap called Kamran, who took great pride in telling us about Srinagar, religion, politics and how he enjoyed some of Ella Fitzgerald's music which Shamsher put on the car audio system.  Typical to us we retreated with lots of beer in tow straight to our houseboat on Dal Lake, refusing to be taken to all the lovely gardens as we are just plain lazy and do whatever we feel like doing when we feel like doing it.  Srinagar went in a pleasant haze of lots of shikara rides, some particularly memorable ones - a silent float towards the old city by night, watching the people of the lake skillfully navigate their shikaras through the waterways, boatloads of vegetables, of trinkets and baubles, of melting ice cream and corn on the cob jostling amicably alongside people on their way home, rowing purposefully whilst perched precariously on the tip.  By morning a silent calm stretch, the crumbling buildings as we approached the old city, ducks bobbing in and out of the water looking surprised when they surfaced as if to say "Dammit, we've only got this far?".  We went for a pleasant ramble in Dachigham along gurgling streams, bought second hand books in a Sunday market and stuffed ourselves silly at Aadoos with mirchi rogan josh, Kashmiri pulao and what we called 'rum balls', devoid of rum and not strictly ball-shaped.


Thus fortified and rested we made our way after a day and a half in Srinagar to start our trek, three hours away at a place called Naragnag. Our final destination was about 5000 feet away at
spectacular Gangbal Lake, at 13000 feet - one of the many captivating high altitude lakes in this amazing terrain. At the start I knew little of how literally I would get a feel
for the terrain (I clambered with my hands, slipped and slid around on my bum and wobbled precariously at most places!). After a mild ramble through an old temple at Naragnag we were off with some sturdy ponies in tow, stumpy sticks for support and much enthusiasm. Until we got to the first five minutes, which were uphill. Then till the next ten minutes, which were also uphill. Till the next 3 hours, which were at such a steep ascent I thought my feet would get jammed at a 45 degree angle. Loose rock and pebbles, a surprising amount of traffic in the form of groups of cheerful local Kashmiri men who all encouraged us on amiably with 'aaram aaram seh chalo' and not having enough breath to negotiate more than 30 seconds at a time without having to wheeze to a halt, was pretty much how we made it up to the midway point.  There was an episode where Neha tried to snuff me out by making me eat Glucose without water (we though our guides were meant to carry it, but turns out they had other plans in store for us) and I almost choked thinking, "If I die now at least I won't have to climb any further!" After three and a quarter hours we had reached midway and stopped for the night by a small hut on a slope with a cheerful stream nearby. Our lovely guide, Mujib, who kept us motivated and entertained with topics ranging from Bollywood to the Great Gatsby, quickly got us settled in. We forgot the ascent in minutes, as we watched the tents set up and dove inside them like excited children - warm, dry and quite roomy. The night came swiftly, and amid eating a dinner of MTR pre cooked food with rice and discovering that I would have to drink from the stream (the horror!); discovering that the loo was a cloth looped over some branches covering three sides and one was better off finding a rock or a tree (the utter horror!); and then resigning myself to three days of "not thinking about it", I calmed down. Nestled into one tent while we drank the abundant loot of whiskey we had brought with us, speculating about what looked like a fire in the distance, only to discover it was a blazing moon rising rapidly from behind the mountains, pouring out a radiant silver that just left us awestruck. I fell asleep quite quickly, but the night was punctuated with much restlessness due to the new surroundings and the utter panic when I needed to go to the
loo. Sid was shaken awake to be my lookout, and he escorted me chivalrously up the slope. I came back to see him missing - seconds later I noticed much neighing and turned to see Sid scampering down the slopes with one of our ponies in hot pursuit - he had startled it in the dark, while it was wooing its lady love and whether it leapt after him in anger with the interruption, or because it was already in an amorous mood - we will never know, since we dove back into the safety of our tent before the tattu tried anything!

The next morning, memories of lusting equines were driven out of our thoughts as we proceeded on
the second leg of our trek towards Gangbal.  The terrain was much more forgiving on this stretch and also varied - a forest trail, opening into alpine meadows replete with grazing sheep and horses and an army camp, inhabitants of the latter glaring forbiddingly at Sid who had a camera that could be spotted a mile away.  After
the first two hours, fatigue set in again and the landscape though lovely, was hardly noticed as we negotiated giant rocks from dried up riverbeds, concentrating on balance every step of the way. More ascents and previously undiscovered vertigo surfaced on narrow paths with sheer drops where everything swam before my eyes and I held Sid's hand tightly and sidled across the path, my back to the drop, singing to myself to keep calm (for some reason only Boy George songs came to mind at the time!).  As the trek carried on and I brought up the rear consistently, I thought many murderous thoughts of how I would strangle Sid next time he suggested a "medium" trek or perhaps drown him in the elusive lake which our guide promised we would reach in 15 minutes. After an hour we finally got there and though I didn't fully appreciate it at the time since I was so tired, it was definitely the first time I had seen anything like it -  an expanse of calm water, smooth like glass and invitingly blue, a snow capped glacier (Harmukh) rising behind it, feeding it with deliciously cool water. The evening passed in a pleasant haze of a brilliant starry night, fresh trout which was given to us by the neighbouring tent and which we devoured with sticky fingers, and more whisky. The latter was shared every evening with the accompanying shepherds who downed their share very quickly and though they were as sure footed as mountain goats when trotting up and down the slopes, they tried to convince us that they had tripped while holding the glass and spilt their share and needed some more! Experts at being one with nature now, finding convenient rocks and trees and being good look-outs had grown on us, though Shamsher probably needed more practice since Neha was almost discovered by a bunch of friendly shepherds and their ponies as they wandered by her with Shamsher looking out in the opposite direction!

We spent the next morning wandering around the lake, Shamsher and Neha trudged up further to the higher lake and to "touch the snow", while Sid and I settled beside a stream, which he almost fell into and only the thought of me yelling at him if he washed past me in the rapids ("I tolddd you not to stand at the edge, serves you right!") made him keep his balance. Though the trek can be done in one day (6-8 hours one way from Naragnag to Gangbal) and then back the next day, since we knew how long it had taken us to get there we decided to split our journey on the way back as well. Which was wise. Though we were more used to the terrain now, the initial excitement where the slopes only seemed to go downhill and we scampered through the meadows, our early enthusiasm once again waned after the first two hours.  Rocky river beds and loose pebbles on the forest trail slowed progress considerably and four hours later we were back at the hut from the first night. Murderous thoughts, a terrible headache from my sinus problem (bad idea to not wear a jacket the first day even though it was warm) and having finished our supply of water from the lake, put me in a bad mood, but once again it lifted as we settled into our tents and saw the dazzling Milky Way that night and laughed our fatigue away with Haldiram's namkeen, Jumpin mango juice (only available in the mountains of Kashmir since I haven't seen it anywhere else in ages!) and 'party mix', depleting our store of whisky and lightening the ponies' load for the next day. A brilliant morning dawned and it was the final descent to Naragnag which I hoped would be quicker than the ascent - wrong! Steep, rocky, loose rubble and an old knee injury forced me to walk sideways down the mountain the entire time holding on to Sid's hand, progressing at a snail's pace. Four hours later we were done, wobbly legged, burnt brown to a crisp, in need of hot showers, and after hydrating ourselves with copious amounts of water - we all definitely felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

I didn't appreciate it as much when I was on the trek since all we could do was concentrate on
navigating the terrain, but it was a first and hopefully not my last! Whether I will do a "medium" level trek like that again is still to be seen, but emboldened by being able to make it up and down, though slow and whiny, has definitely motivated me. Sid may think twice before suggesting we do it again since he is hoping my murderous thoughts won't translate into reality!

With such devastation in Kashmir right now, I'm thankful we were able to see some of the most captivating and awe inspiring parts of the state, and hope that soon others will be flocking there to see what we did. It was bloody hard, but I at least, felt bloody proud that we managed to scale the "mountains high and valleys low", just as Sid intended.

You can see more pictures of the trek and our trip here, and if you want to know about the Great Lakes trek, which includes Gangbal here is an overview from a trekker at Indiahikes.in

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The only ones


"Hello dolling", said a cheery Sid, sailing into the room, pushing Molly off the dining room chair and plonking himself down.  "Whatcha doin?", he asked, peering over my ipad.  I looked at him square in the face and said, 'Bubz, do you think a family is not a family without children, or less of a family? Why does starting a family imply that only children make a family?" He looked a bit puzzled and looked at my comfortable belly - 'What? Are you pregnant? What is going on? I didn't do it!' I swatted him over the head, 'Do you even think before you blurt out anything that is in that egg-shaped head of yours?'  He looked serious and said "please yaar...nonsense shonsense, whatever makes your stew/rocks your socks/one plus one or two plus two whatever works for you". I grinned at him and rubbed his bald head, "Always so articulate".

But it made me think about the general perception about having children. I think some children are lovely (Rishan is my all time favorite!) but I have always believed (for myself. What others believe is their business entirely) that it is a choice and one that should be taken only if you really want to have children.  I don't doubt that the love one experiences will be nothing that one has ever experienced before, I have my reservations that the joys and rewards will balance out the stress and compromise, and I strongly disagree that it is a must.

As I sit around dangling my legs over Sid's and we heave a sigh of relief that the dogs have finally settled

down to sleep after a usual morning of mayhem (rushing around the house at break neck speed, upturning of water bowls 4 times within 15 minutes so they can splash around in the water and then bounce on the beds and wet the sheets, cleaning up after accidents in the balcony as a result of them drinking too much water, someone shredding socks into bits while the other throws up 6 undigested jelly beans (stolen goods), knocking each other down, etc and then rinse-and repeat).  Our
house is utter chaos on any given day or at least while the dogs are awake.  But it was our choice to have them in our lives - a very planned one, and this is our family. Perhaps incomplete to some, not a family to others, but this family means the world to me.  It's bloody hard work and anyone who has seen us with our dogs will know that all the nonsensical pampering and effort we make for them may not be necessary, but it is the only way Sid and I know :)

The other day Sid got into an argument with a lady who came tearing up the stairs, almost passing out in the process, and huffed and puffed angrily at him:

"Your dog...maid...pulled out of lift...not done"
"Excuse me"
"I literally pulled your maid and dog out out of the lift"
"Why on earth would you do that?"
"It's not allowed"
"Says who?"
"Says society"
"My my aren't you a social champion, is society objecting to my dog or our Sarina using the lift, because we saw that sickening notice put up about 'all help prohibited from using the new lift'?"
"Both...I mean dog, and I mean the colony society, not society. I in fact love dogs, I'm just telling you the rules"
"I don't care...those rules are against the law, so nainy nainy neh neh"
"Are you against the society? What if it dirties the lift"
"My god, we'd be lucky if it were that easy. Our dogs take hours to do anything outside, I'd be thrilled if it was as quick as that"
"Is this a joke to you?"
"Look lady, I really don't want to waste your time. But if my dog were to miraculously do her business in the lift, we will clean it up. We do have that much sense.  If you've ever seem my wife
walk around with little baggies in case of accidents you would understand"
"But that is not the point"
"Then what is?"

He then turned to the lift and showed her the interiors through the open doors -"Look at what is written on the walls- pappu luvs jilmil...they didn't have time to spell 'loves' correctly.  And there is a lovely hand print scratched in good and proper with just the middle finger up, really classy! Ooh and there is just the word 'Sex' - fantastic, don't you think? And last I knew my dogs couldn't write, Molly did once scribble on the bed with a marker to make what could have been the sun, but I think she was just running wildly in circles. Oh and they don't eat ice cream either", he pointed to the empty wrapper littered in the elevator. "So should we ban children from the elevator? We would definitely see much better spelt and perhaps more articulate writing on the walls from adults, don't you think?"

"But they're children! This is only a dog". I gasped audibly and looked at Sid who had turned a bright red and looked ready to explode.  This is a man who slapped a child for pelting stones at a dog; dragged a man of his scooter for kicking a pooch; had a shouting match with a restaurant owner when he saw one of the staff shoving a cat with his foot. I felt sorry for the lady.

My gasping and his crimson-ness didn't seem to affect her as she opened her mouth to continue her train of thought.  But before she could utter another word Sid took off at the speed of a "Mutualfunds-aresubjecttomarketrisksreadtheofferdocumentcarefullybeforeinvesting" disclaimer.

She shouted about him shouting, he said she started it, she said she wouldn't talk to him ever again, Sid said jolly good, she said I am just telling you the rules, he said she needed to know Indian animal welfare rules before charging after Sarina and our dog, she said whatever, he said I'm not finished, she repeated what-Eva with a little more attitude and started walking down the stairs. He charged after her like a raging bull sputtering out a volley of words out of which I only caught a few like "court...preposterous...nonsense...ouch", that last word accompanied by a slide and a thump as he bounced down the bottom few steps. I went in to get Sarina's entertaining version and Sid joined us within minutes.

He was whistling and looked rather cheerful, which was strange considering the red hot chase down the stairs  I witnessed a few minutes earlier. "All ok Bubz?". He took a long swig of beer before I reminded him that it was 9 am and tea might be better suited to the time of day. He considered this
and brushed it off, "Nice lady...I once helped her with her groceries". I obviously looked puzzled, "Poor thing I think she looked quite fed up with me. Told me to stop shouting, I told her I wasn't and that my normal voice was rather loud and shrill - a fact that even you have lamented and tried to shut out by giving me the death-stare or throwing things at me, she said she didn't know about all these laws I was talking about and blah blah and she didn't want to fight. We parted amicably and all is well."

I patted him on the head and well-done'd him thinking about how deeply rooted these perceptions are.  Our
choices and our family are lower in the elevator chain because well 'it's only a dog', but if I had a serial-litterer-too-lazy-to-spell-when-scribbling-child, we could be elevated (quite literally). I was rather irritated about a callous observation some time ago by someone about us not having children making things less complicated if ever things were to go wrong. Implying that our family or relationship had less value than families with children, 'only a dog' making it less complicated/emotionally turbulent if things were to go wrong! I find that strange. Having children, not having children, adopting an aunt or a pet or a child, whatever works for you but it would be nice if people just understood and respected alternative types of family structures...whether kids, pets, parents, an old friend who lives down the street, our crazy Sarina, or whoever it is...it's not 'only a dog' or 'only two people' or 'only the maid' for us.  In our little world they're the 'only' ones.












Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tess

I love a good story...who doesn't? I've always read for as far back as I can remember my own existence.  That's my earliest memory.

Well that's not perfectly true. My earliest memory is possibly burning my nose by rubbing it vigorously against my mother's electric kettle, its gleaming surface attracting me because of the distorted reflection of two ponytails, an upturned nose and a shiny forehead peeking back at me. So my stupidity, impulsiveness and peeling nose is actually one of my first recollections of myself. But another strikingly clear memory is when I was pre kindergarten'ish, sitting on a chair outside the kitchen and pouring over a book. I was no child prodigy, so I obviously couldn't read then, but I made up the words in a desperate attempt to make sense of the unintelligible text.  I would ramble on out loud until my mother or sister would tell me to shut up.  Well past my learning to read, this habit of reading out loud unfortunately stuck and the "shut up's" continued well into my teens.  But for me "hearing" the story out loud just made it even better.

But it wasn't only books that gave me some of the best or most entertaining stories.  I must credit my grandmother - my nani, for being quite a master story teller.  Tess, as my nana called her (short for Teresa) has a veritable treasure trove of tales.  The one I remember from my childhood was about the bubble gum tree growing in the tummy of a child who always swallowed their gum and someone having to go in and chop it down eventually. Or my sister's favorite of the pink bunny who had a tiered pink birthday cake, a confectionary masterpiece that soared so high that the bunny had to climb it with a ladder. Marvelous stuff was concocted for our entertainment.  She has her own quirky words like 'I'm feeling grubby', which would generally mean one feeling like a quick wash under the arm pits, but no, to nani it means 'hungry' or feeling like eating some grub!  Her idea of a dirty joke is
literally potty jokes where erstwhile Indian presidents and notables featured in some stand-up number 2 humour (these jokes were always preceded by 'don't tell your mother I'm telling you this").  Or if I'd break into an impromptu jig, she says "looks like you're doing the bull scratch'.  We're never quite sure what that means but if one were to take it literally it's definitely not a compliment!

A few years ago when she came to visit me in Delhi, I decided to record some of the stories of her interesting life  with the aim of some day documenting it in a book. I bought a dictaphone and tested it 1,2,3 and told her that I'd ask her a couple of questions and she could answer them any way she liked and not to feel conscious with the dictaphone.  She, of course, sat ram-rod straight and nervously asked if she should start with "I come from a good South Indian family and we were always well taken care of".  I said no, instructed her to keep it casual and I wasn't carrying out a sting operation on her so no one would ever care if she slouched a bit and relaxed.  She said alright and so I began "Nani, what is your earliest childhood memory?" She stiffened, sat up straight and a
panicked, "I come from a good South Indian family and we were always well taken care of".  Sigh, there went casual-ness! But as she kept talking, the stories of her life flowed, devoid of stiffness or any sort of carefully practiced articulation...just plain and simple stuff.

Of her fathers workshop on MG Road (I think there was more than one) where all the fancy cars in Bangalore were worked on. Including the Maharaja of Mysore's car, which her father supposedly took them for a ride in one night. I imagined a bunch of excited children with their father, a gleaming smile on his face as he drove them around on a moonlit night - I call that one 'A night in the Maharaja's car'

Of quietly smoking a cigarette and letting her sister take the blame - 'Sneaky Sister'

Of her darker skinned Anglo Indian friend, calling her 'Indian' in a derogatory way and my nani
feeling very insulted - 'With friends like these who needs enemies?'

Of marrying my nana when she was 18 and leaving her sheltered life in Bangalore to live on army bases and life in Northern India, an alien culture to her.  Meeting my nana's family in Sialkot and gradually learning to understand some Punjabi and passing on all the food that she didn't like to my nana :) 'The Great Divide'

Of partition and taking a train to drop my nana's sister back to what then became Pakistan. Of sitting in silence, in darkened carriages and wearing large crosses around their necks and calling each other with westernized/anglicized names to protect themselves from being mistaken for Muslims or Hindus  - 'Dolly and David take a train'

Of the Sutlej overflowing and being caught in the flood, too embarrassed to get out of the water when my nana and some army jawans tried to pull her out. The current had peeled her sari off , a proper upbringing making her think it may actually be better to drown than be seen in her petticoat and blouse!  Of being carried on the backs of the jawans on their stilts as they made their way through the water to a makeshift shelter where exhausted and famished, she wolfed down some aloo in a watery gravy and said she thought it was the best thing she had ever eaten.  'Where the River flows'.

There were so many more.  She's not keeping very well nowadays, but when called she always manages to sound cheerful and ready for a joke or a story, even though she may be having a crap day!

So that's Tess...story teller extraordinaire, expert dirty joker, one of the strongest women I know, never forgets to paint her nails and dress up, and can wipe the floor with us when playing rummy...take a bow nani!