Monday, 11 January 2016

Of Showers and Songs- From the Diary of a Bathroom Singer

The key to being a good bathroom singer as any bathroom singer worth their salt will tell you , is to master the art of being un self-conscious and give in to total abandonment. It is not the quality of your voice , no sir , it is the decibel level that counts.The louder and more shriller your voice , the greater the joy . To you that is , not to the neighbors. While growing up , even though we lived in an independent house and not apartments , the bathrooms had a special kind of acoustics and ventilation which meant that if anyone sang in the shower , it could be heard from 2 houses across. This was a matter of great enthusiasm and pride for us kids and generally bath time meant crooning to the latest hit , only to realize that someone else is singing the same song too , somewhere down the lane . My parents after years of banging on the bathroom door demanding that I shut up , eventually gave up and let me get on with it .This was a momentous parenting decision by them as I was totally tone deaf . I don't remember when my singing in the shower started dwindling . It was maybe when I started working. Showers then started to mean introspection time , thinking about what I did or didn't do at work , or crossing off chores to be done in my head or thinking about groceries and what to cook . After the birth of my baby , showers became a place of haven where I could go in and rest for a few minutes away from feeds and dirty diapers . It was also a place of litmus test to see if the new dad and baby could manage without me for a few minutes. When I came back to my parent's house, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia when I stepped into my old bathroom .I could hear the rhythmic swish of the broom of the neighbor's gardener. Birds were gently chirping and I could hear the cat chase a bird. I could also hear my baby gently cooing and talking to her grandparents As had become a habit , I started brooding and fretting and thinking about the long list of things that had to be crossed off. Then from a distance , I heard the notes of a young bathroom singer down the lane. It was like I was instantly transported to the days of my childhood. A bit hesitantly , I opened my mouth but then realized in horror that I had forgotten how to be a bathroom singer . I realized I was feeling self conscious ,a strict no no ! I swallowed and tried again. Voila! The notes got stronger and stronger and slowly the decibel level started increasing . With each passing second , I could feel the pent up tension dissipating . My version of Adele's song reached a roaring crescendo and finally when I stopped it was to total silence on the street. The cat had paused mid way in its chase , the gardener stood rock still , the birds were silent and I think my baby stuffed his little fingers in his ears but I was beaming. A wise man once said – There are very few problems in the world that a good night's sleep ,a glass of wine and a hot bath cannot solve. I'm going to add singing in the shower to this list too.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Snakes on a Plain - Part 1

To set the record straight about my hometown, Mangalore is NOT a village. 
Not even a town , it’s a large CITY with buildings and our very own Municipal  City Corporation.Which does not explain why my house and garden, located in the heart of the city,  has been the favourite haunt to many  species of wildlife including different varieties of snakes, mongoose, monkeys, bats, vultures,  Asian palm civet a.k.a  Marapatti in Malayalam( )  ..shudder shudder.

Our neighbours had well tended gardens too but I always failed to understand why the said species always seemed to take a detour from the main tarred road and visit us , without fail every other day . These sightings caused huge panic and excitement, depending on which sibling saw the wildlife  first. If it was my younger sister, she would excitedly yelp and set about following it to observe it in its natural habitat. If it was my brother who spotted these, he would put on a brave front . ( I know he was scared shitless of snakes and after a few years he stopped all  pretence at being brave)

Whereas if it was me  who spotted the snakes , all the neighbours could hear,  was a piercing shriek followed by birds flying away from the tress and a resounding thud , as my unconscious body hit the concrete floor.

My mom has a standing account with Saint George, our patron saint . He was our go – to saint to protect us from all things snake related. And it works, none of us so far have been bitten or injured by a snake till date. 

Not even when I opened the garage door one night and found a gigantic python coiled and hanging down from the roof. I just stared at it and started bawling so loudly  you would think I was swallowed whole by the python .

Then there was a  10 foot snake found hiding on  the coconuts in our kitchen. All I remember of that day was flying from one sofa to the next , without touching the floor and then running out the of the door crying to my neighbours house , declaring I would never set foot in my house again .

My stories could go on and on about Mangalore.  Then my wedding got fixed and my fiancée was from a big big city like Mumbai  . I had never been to Mumbai before and I always had this vision of Mumbai with tall skyscrapers set amidst a concrete jungle. Surprise Surprise, my husbands company quarters was in a beautiful lush green land spread over  300 acres in the heart of Mumbai . It is the only large green area remaining in Mumbai now.

My heart sang with joy at the sight of the trees and birds. As a newly married bride, I stepped out onto the balcony in the 4th floor, sipping my tea and feasting  my eyes  on the greenery . Other ladies were out on their balconies too and they smiled and waved as they did their laundry and brushed their kid’s hair.

Then I looked down and saw not one but two gigantic snakes slithering away . I screamed and the  tea cup fell from my hand and smashed on the concrete below.
The ladies , not seeing the snake below , nudged each other and whispered “See I told you ,these new generation  modern brides – they are not like us . It’s just the first day of the marriage and she is already fighting with her in-laws and throwing their crockery.Tsk tsk”

Hearing my scream, my father – in law came running out to the balcony .”What happened beta?” When I pointed to the snakes below , he said consolingly , “Don’t worry , they are just baby snakes”. “ Baby Snakes !! Are you kidding me I thought , If these 6 foot ones are babies , then how big is the mama snake ?

Don’t worry '' said Papa again , “You are  safe because we are on the 4th floor. We need to be on our guard in two months as we are shifting to the ground floor apartment shortly''

Faint , thud as my body hits the floor

( Part 2 out soon) 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Dear 16 year old me

Dear 16 year old me ,

Today I felt like going back in time and writing a note to  you so that you can know what to prioritize on when you grow up , on what not to worry , on what to focus and on what to let go.

All the fights you are having with dad for a mobile phone with better features? STOP. Trust me when  I say that if a phone can send/receive calls and messages , that’s all you need for now  . All the  additional features that you are fighting for , is going to be obsolete very shortly . So save your battles.

Do you remember when you first got your phone , you used to wait for friends to call you and text you ? At that time , calls and texts were very expensive , so people preferred to meet each other face to face. And you used to find it nothing out of the ordinary .

Trust me when I say , that there will come a time in future when all you would be doing is being glued to your phone .Technology will advance so much that phones will be used for the internet , for emails , for a whole host of other applications. New technology like  Whatsapp will mean you can chat with anyone instantly and for free. Yes, that’s gonna happen soon . Which is a great thing , the only disadvantage being you will be a slave to the phone all the time . You will be a slave to the pings , the news feed and  the constant  updates about other people .The funniest part is all this is in the virtual world . So make the best use of the real life friends you have and make the most of your trips to the beaches , cinema , ice cream joints ..Because there will come a time in future when you will be  surrounded by  beaches ,but you will have very few people to go with .

And career, what can I say ? I can save you 2 years of hard work and heart break by letting you know in advance  that you are not going to crack the Common Entrance Exam for the Engineering course. You are meant for other things. In a  few years you will be working in a  profession where even the idea of applying Physics, Chem ,Maths and Biology is laughable . So for now ,just enjoy the joys of studying physics and other sciences , without breaking your head on the admission test .Enjoy learning about Newton , and don’t abuse him. His laws will be turned into funny spoofs during parties and you don’t want to look like a knuckle head in front of your friends by asking who’s Newton ?

Remember all the days you spent as a teenager standing in front of the mirror , after some kids teased you  about  your dark complexion . Don’t worry about it , that’ s just a handful of them .
Did you know that ,when you grow up , there are going to be more  horrible ways of bullying? Somebody called Mark Zuckerberg is going to open a  site called ‘Facebook’ and all the bullies you are trying to escape from today are going to be on your‘ friend list ’ a few years down the line. They are going to re-inforce your false belief that you are not worthy  of their attention by first ‘ friending’ you and then ignoring your pics and posts online. Weird huh?

About your complexion , please don’t spend all your money on cancer causing cosmetics that promise to make you ‘ fair ’ . You have to know that it’s only in India that people put so much of a price on ‘ fair skin’ .
But you are to  know now that  few years down the line , Nanditha Das will start a campaign called ‘Dark is Beautiful’ . Psst , here’s another  secret . You will be married to a guy who does not place any importance on the color of your skin and will love you for who you are.  You will move to Ireland . And Irish people will think that your skin color is gorgeous . They will think that you have the most beautiful tan and you will get loads of compliments on your skin color. They surprisingly spend all their money in trying to get a tan like yours. So do not worry about your skin color at all and realize that true beauty is not skin deep.

Remember how scared you used to be of grandpa? Make the most of your time with him , he is not going to be around for much longer. Beneath the gruff exterior, lies a kind heart and an intelligent mind. Talk to him more and learn more about his life and experiences.

Remember how you used to always fight with dad when he used to drag you away from your novel and send you packing to the kitchen to learn some cooking ? And how you used to always argue that in future ,grocery stores  will come out with ready–to-eat meals and other quick fixes? Well you were right , now there are lot of ready to eat meal options available but they don’t taste half as good as you thought. So learn cooking now ,learn all the excellent dishes from mom because that’s something which you’ll need in future.

That’s all for now dear 16 year old me. Enjoy your present and know that whatever bothers you now will  be the least of your worries when you turn 28 .

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

"Youth comes but once in a lifetime." - Henry .W. Longfellow

Have you ever noticed  that some people have changed so much , or rather our impression of them has changed so much , since we knew them from their youth?

During  school and college days, (especially during  the graduate courses ),  students are  classified  in so many different ways.
1) There are the ‘bold’ – the ones who can sweet –talk , impress-talk , just about anything and everyone and can easily go and win debates and extempore inter – college  competitions .

2) There are the ‘ back –benchers’ – ones who literally race you down the hallways to get to the coveted rows in the back of the class . They mistakenly assume that it’s the safest haven to dream , text on mobiles, play ‘desk cricket’ , without falling under the beady eye of the lecturer. But experience has taught that the last row is always the first under attack.:)

3) There are the ‘drifters’ – Students who drift in and out of classes aimlessly . They are only attending  lectures because they have no other better place to be. They will stare at all lecturers glassy eyed and they seem to be in deep stupor , so that lecturers will mistakenly assume that they are  paying close attention to the classes

4) There are the ‘ invisible  ‘ ones . They refuse to answer  direct questions ,or  bunk classes or engage in any activity which reminds other people they exist or  cause any  attention to be focused on them

5)There are the ‘ geeks ‘ or ‘nerds’ who are usually found on the first benches .They are the only ones paying attention all lectures and taking down all the lecture notes . Without  the help of the geeks’ notes during exam time, categories 1-4 ,would never have passed exams or received their ‘Course Completion  Certificate ‘ :)

So everyone , including  parents, neighbours, lecturers assume during college days that certain kids will definitely make it to the top ,without a doubt . They also assume that certain categories are doomed for a lifetime of mundane existence.

Oh , XYZ , he is so bold and smart . When he passes out of college, he will be so rich and successful “ says one lady to another , while selecting vegetables at the bazaar.

But look at ABC , she is so quiet , hardly speaks a word to anyone. Her poor parents, what will happen to them ? How will they get her married” whispers the other lady to her friend.

So this gossiping, predicting continues all through college, putting enormous pressure on some kids. But a few years later, most people are astonished , amazed at the changes that take place in some kids.

Remember that invisible kid ‘A’ from your class? You may hardly ever remember her saying a single word during the entire duration of the course, and here she is on facebook , animatedly expressing her opinions and dissent at the state of political affairs in our country ! I can’t help but cheer , go girl! You deserve to have your voice heard and I’m so glad you found yours !

Or remember that class topper? Everyone had great expectations from her  but somehow in the real world ,academic marks rarely take you further than your first job . So it might be shocking to see her working in a mediocre job like everyone else.

Or take for eg a drifter from your batch . Who would have thought that he could  plant his feet so firmly and his street smartness would  prove to be so successful in networking and building his business?

Each of us have our fifty shades . Each of us  have so many different skill sets and unique traits.  Some may blossom during college days , while others are late bloomers . For some , it could be a loving partner that has bought out the best in them . For others, it’s motherhood that has totally transformed them from a quiet meek one into an independent and fierce tigress. For some others, it could be a lucky break in their career .

So this is for all those who are   miserable and homesick and lonely and depressed and feel out of place and ‘uncool’ and  dowdy and ugly and stupid  and are bullied during your youth . This phase too shall pass, no doubt .

Tom Petty , the famous musician from the band ‘ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ said  about college “I've learned one thing, and that's to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You'll never remember class time, but you'll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don't have. The work never ends, but college does...”

So don’t whine about the lost one mark  , don't shed tears over whom you thought was the 'one' , don't be paranoid about a career and making money  ,  don’t go into depression over a failed term paper , failed job interview , or  worse still , DON'T EVER CONSIDER TAKING YOUR OWN LIFE.

If you or someone you know , is going through a tough time , here are a few resources

Stay safe and enjoy your youth for it definitely comes once in a lifetime ! 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Flying the Nest

I’m sitting here in a foreign land , thousands of miles away from my home and  country and as my  fingers are flying over the keyboard, tears are rolling down my cheeks and my heart is filled with a sense of déjà vu , of sadness , of apprehension .

The reason is my sister, my baby sister, the last of the siblings , is flying from the nest today .  No matter how old she gets, she will always be the baby of the family. She is leaving the comfort, the security, the love of my parents – to venture into the unknown. She will be moving to a totally new city , 15 hours away from my home , into the life of independent living, of hostels , roommates and fun .  She is full of mixed emotions, but is more leaning towards excitement and the prospect of adventure .

I wonder what it is like for the parents. They work hard all their lives, saving , scraping money , sacrificing luxuries and  vacations  to bring up their kids , feed them , clothe them, educate them and one day , one by one , the kids start flying away . I know this is the circle of life , but it sure is heartbreaking . Boy, did anyone ever warn me that parenting could be so tough ? Or have I only realized it now that I’m older?

So here we have the family – Parents sad, grandparents in tears, Bro happy because sister will not be landing on his doorstep and he wouldn’t have to babysit her all through her Master’s degree J   .   And me , the big sister,  sitting here pining away. “Are you crazy”, she asks me? “How can you be sadder than I am because I’m leaving home” ?

How can I explain to her that the world is a big big place? That there are unkind people out there? How can I explain how difficult it is keep your head and chin up constantly, when you don’t have the security of your family to fall back on all the time? How can I tell her that she may get her heart broken, she might trust too easily , she may  get hurt too soon , she could have her ambitions trampled upon ? I don’t want to tell her these things because this is something we all have to go through . We all have to learn and live this cycle.

And then she‘ll magically realize that the world is a big beautiful place. For every unkind person you meet, you‘ll meet a  100  good people. She’ll  make great, new wonderful friends  and will form friendships that last a lifetime . She will know that your roommate or housemate could be the greatest asset that  you have in a strange city .  That your messy , untidy hostel room ,with clothes strewn around , books everywhere ,  with the packets of pot noodles , instant soups – will be your home away from home . She will visit new places on a budget  , learn new things, open up her mind and heart to this big beautiful planet. She’ll learn that no matter what happens, the family will always be there  for her, rooting for her.

That the circle of life , if we are fortunate enough , is always complete. That the empty nest will one day , be filled magically  with the cries of new life .

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Jelly Belly

Once upon a time in ancient millennia, there was Caveman and Cavewoman  . Caveman had the physique of a Greek God- perfectly sculpted body, rippling with muscles. Admittedly he looked a bit shaggy – could have done with a nice haircut and shave , but hey don’t complain. Focus on the lean mean body  J

They divided their domestic duties – caveman was the hunter and gatherer and cavewoman sat in the cave waiting for the freshly hunted game and freshly gathered fruits. In the meantime, she fetched water, wove baskets, wove fur coats, tended to the kids. All the food was organic, freshly gathered. Result- All were extremely fit and self reliant . There was no concept of dieting or  gym.

They tended to live together in communities, so child minding was not a problem at all. The women folk took turns in minding the kids. They were no toy- stores ; kids entertained themselves by playing with twigs and branches, fashioned boats from barks of woods , chased reptiles . In the evenings, under the starry sky,  the adults gathered around an open fire , told stories, sang songs. There was no voice of a  rock star  crooning in the background , just the sound of their own voices and  the sound of the wild.


Now here we are , centuries later , living in a world  where technological advancements have galloped in the last 2 or  3 centuries, making this world a hugely bewildering place. If our forefathers were asked to live in today’s world, they would find it very hard to cope with the seemingly countless array of gadgets and devices. 

Now a 'community' has come to  mean a  virtual group of strangers across the world ,sharing the same ‘interest’ on face book . The ‘interest’ could vary from 'liking' the same TV show to anything under the sun

In addition to the technological advancements, the roles of the different family members have changed or evolved  every 50 years or so . Mid 20th century, women’s liberation   movements had the desired effect and that meant that more and more women are going out to work for a living.  So in essence both the partners have become the hunter- gatherers and so now in the 21st century, family life and roles have become very confusing.

 Largely now domestic chores are shared by both the partners ( Some ladies would steadfastly vouch that the husbands don’t help at all with the household chores and the wives are meant to come back after a hard’s days work  to cook a decent meal, do the dishes, change nappies, help with homework , do the school projects ) So all in all , a very fast pace of life .

Putting a decent , healthy , made from scratch meal on the table every day is a huge challenge for most women. No wonder in many countries, pre packed tins of foods , ready to eat meals , TV dinners are the norm of the day . And it’s no wonder celebrity chefs are making massive sales on concepts  like ‘How to cook from scratch in 30 mins or less’ or words to that effect .

Unfortunately I come from a country, where everything revolves around food , and  that too making it from scratch ( no tinned cans of chickpeas for us , oh my the horror if another lady (from my part of the world) had to look into my shopping trolley and judge me by my tins ! No,  instead it has to be made from scratch taking dried chickpeas, rinsing it , soak it  in water overnight , then pressure cook it  the next day  and finally added to the gravy( making the gravy takes another hour of pounding and grinding) Whew! .  

So  any cooking completed under 30 mins is considered a miracle. We can’t live without our main course of rice /rotis , a curry ( veg or meat based) , a veg stir fry , every single day . So the nights  I crack up , I order a takeaway and consequently my  Jelly Belly starts wiggling again .

To put my quivering belly out of its misery , I turn to my stove with a sigh  and start the preparations for the 3 course meal , yet again ....wishing I could be part of the caveman era .