Monday, 28 April 2014

T is for To do lists!

T for Thailand is what I wanted to write,
As I reminisced the days of yore,
A set of papers caught my sight,
It was my to do list, with tasks galore.

Grocery to buy, bills to pay and shelves to clear,
Proposals to make and deadlines to meet,
Calls long overdue to near and dear,
As is a massage for my aching feet.

I haven’t watched a movie in ages,
On the A-Z challenge, I lag behind,
My to do list is just short of two pages.
It seems like the list has its own mind!

I cross of an entry for very task I complete,
But it gets magically replaced by another one,
Like an endless pit with tasks replete,

I realize this to do list will never get completely done!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

S is for Summer

It's Sunday and it's Scorching hot! So I decided to write about my childhood memories of Summers. I'm keeping it short and crisp with an A-Z on Summers.

Air conditioners. Beaches, basketball. Curd rice. Drawing & Painting. Electricity cuts. paper Fans. Glares. Holidays. Ice cream. Juices. Kathiri Veyil (look up the section under climate). Lime mint coolers. Mangoes. New books at school. Oil massages. Pickles. Queues at the movies. Reading. Swimming. Tans. Umbrellas. Veranda. Watermelons. eXams before vacations. Yoga. Zzzz.

What are your memories of summers?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

R is for Regret

I have a way of getting around grief and pain,
Of shock and trauma, I can come out sane.
But one emotion that I can’t get my head around,
Is that of regret doing the rounds.
“I could have, I should have, maybe, perhaps”,
Are words which give me painful jabs.
“Had I? Hadn’t I”– may have changed the game,
I end up feeling totally lame.
I have learnt the hard way,
That regret doesn’t easily go away.
We all have calls to take and decisions to make,
But don’t always have time to evaluate.
I ask myself, “Will I regret this later?”
And all of a sudden, things seem better!
The clouds lift up and I know,
With fair precision, which way to go!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Quick Quips

Six word stories this time:

Straight in the head. Still marginalized.  

Tastes as good as it sounds.

Love, memories amidst layers of fabric


“Last puff”, he said. Every night.

Monday, 21 April 2014

P is to Pray

My ideas on religion and faith require a lot of philosophical explanation, which I plan to write for my post on the letter R. For now, let me just tell you that on the atheist-agnostic-believer continuum, I would peg myself somewhere between agnostic and a believer.  

I have grown to like the idea of praying over the years. I’m not yet sure if I believe in the things we are usually taught about prayers. Stuff like - if you pray, God will be kind to you / reward you etc. As a child, I was lucky to go to a school which taught students the Vedas. Even today, I can recite a good part of the Rig Veda Agnihotra in Sanskrit, while actually knowing the meaning of it all. But in my books, that doesn’t count as prayer.   

When I pray, I usually recount my experiences over the day or think about a person in need I thank, share my happiness, laugh, ask for forgiveness, reflect, wonder, empathize, confess, plead and occasionally question, crib and cry! I pray in English, a mish-mash of Tamil and Malayalam, peppered with some Hindi at times too! I don’t have a set format or verses to say / think about when I pray. I don’t even pray every day. I don’t necessarily pray at temples or in front of an idol. It is mostly in bed or when I travel long distances.

And oh! I instinctively pray when I hear an ambulance. Just for a few seconds, I don’t even know what I think, but I know I pray. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. My prayers range between a few seconds and ten long minutes. Sometimes, I meditate for much longer at yoga class, and the line between meditating and praying is often blurred.

Most people say their prayers are conversations / dialogues with God. But my prayers are all monologues. I don’t know who the recipient of my prayer is. But I do know that every single time,  at the end of this monologue, I feel calm, clear in my head and so full of peace – feelings that very few conversations have ever given me.

What are your views on prayers?

Friday, 18 April 2014

O is for Old

I am one of those who believe that age is just a number. (Well, I’m over the hill now, so that’s what I will advocate right? J )

I was in my late twenties when the first strand of grey sprung up. That definitely has to do with genetics. I also humour myself by thinking they were early signs of wisdom. I’ve had dark circles under my eyes ever since I remember. Apparently, I never used to sleep as a child. I think I am not too old to start learning tennis, an instrument or a new language. I tell myself, if I had the time, I would have made it to the national swimming Olympics team. (Yeah, I like to flatter myself at times) When I talk to friends, I realise it will soon be a decade since I graduated from college. When kids in my apartment call me “aunty”, more often than not, I do not respond, because it doesn’t even strike that it is me they are referring to!

But there was one day, when I really did feel old. It was at a coffee shop in upmarket Mumbai. A group of young girls, barely in their teens walked into the store. Most of them were outrageously dressed and wore heavy make up for an age that tender. They flipped out thousand rupee notes, placed their orders, had conversations peppered with words that sounded rather disgusting coming from them. What bothered me was that this whole thing was rather casual, it seemed to come to them naturally.

I don’t remember living a life like that at that age. That’s when it hit me - I belong to a different generation.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

N is for Night trek. N is for Never again.

This is yet another travel tale! This time from Thekkady, Idukki district - Kerala, India.

A trip to Thekkady is incomplete without visiting the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Inspired by my husband’s induction to the wonders of the jungle, we signed up for a night trek / jungle patrol in Thekkday. I sheepishly enquired about how large our trek group was expected to be. “10 including the guards”, came the reply. Taking comfort in the numbers, I decided to give it a shot.

It was 7 pm. As luck would have it, none of the others turned up! So there we were, two of us, two from the patrol team, armed with anti-leech powder, boots, torches and rain coats; inside the Periyar wildlife sanctuary.  

It seemed like a cake walk along the fringes of the forest, since there was some kind of lighting from nearby settlements. As we went into the thicket, the rain gods decided to make things slightly more adventurous. Picture this – rain lashing down on us, pitch dark, sounds of the jungle and sudden flashes of glistening eyes of animals. There was this one particular moment, when 4-5 pairs of eyes were too close for comfort. My heart was pounding and it felt like my temples would explode. “Deer”, announced the patrol leader.

My husband helped me a great deal by narrating an incident where he got chased by mad elephants in an earlier forest trip!!! The guys in the patrol nodded in agreement and confirmed that was commonplace. Wait, this was not the part where I freaked out… Read on…  
For some reason I stopped and happened to look down at my feet. That is when pandemonium struck. Leech!!! All over my boots, crawling up. That was it. I could take it no more. I had enough adventure for a night. Slimy, bloodsuckers on my feet is not my idea of adventure. Anti leech powder came to my rescue, not for long though. Within a few minutes, my boots were back to square one. Since it was just us, I took the liberty of cutting the trek short and ran back to familiar surroundings. Phew!

This was one of those trips that I was very glad to have done, but I know will never repeat.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

M is for Maranello

One of the most sensible pacts that my husband and I have made is the no gifting policy. Well, it was more for my comfort. I have always found it incredibly difficult to buy the man something he would appreciate and cherish. A typical gift buying conversation would go like this -
Me: “A wallet? A watch perhaps?”
He: ”Please don’t waste money, I already have one of each”.  
Me: “A pen?”
He: “I don’t write”
Me: “A gadget – phone, tab?”
He: “Hmmm... sounds interesting, but let’s wait for the next version to come out”

You get the drift right??

If you use the word ‘fast’ and ‘cars’ in the same sentence anywhere in the vicinity of my husband, you can be sure to see his eyes light up. It is a dream that he knows will never come true – being a race car driver.

So, during our trip to Italy, when I figured we would be crossing Maranello en route Pisa, we just had to make a pit stop (pun intended!) Maranello is best known for the Ferrari factory. Despite being a shoestring budget trip, I decided to splurge on this one occasion and gift him a 20 minute Ferrari drive! It would make up for all the lack of gifting for eternity.

The museum visit by itself had given him such an adrenalin rush, he could hardly make up his mind between a Lamborghini and a Ferrari California. After much thought and deliberation, he went with the latter. We had a person from the shop accompany us on the drive, explaining the controls et al.

Then we hit the highway. Boy! I had butterflies in my stomach, just being a silent co passenger. The revving engine, the wind in my hair, the speed, the roads… I have goosebumps even as I write this! I can imagine how exciting it must have been for him to actually get to drive it.  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Leopard encounter

My husband introduced me to the wonders of jungles and wildlife soon after we got married. We made our first “jungle trip” to Bandipur in South India.  After some basics on safari etiquette, we set out for our early morning adventure. I was in high spirits, hoping to catch a tiger sighting, which the husband explained would be possible only with a generous dose of serendipity.

After about half an hour into the jungle, my jeep slowed down as we crossed a manmade watering hole. After a couple of minutes of recon, our guide signalled to us to look at a tree by the far end of the water body. There is was! Perched on the branch of a tree, perfectly camouflaged, was a leopard! Only the twitch of its tail gave it away. We used the binoculars to get a clear view and zoomed in to catch a glimpse of the face.

What I saw through those lenses will be a memory that I will carry to my grave. I remember trying not to breathe as hard in the fear of inciting the leopard; as if it were right in front of me, looking directly into my eyes. This is the moment when I understood what William Blake intended to convey when he wrote “Tyger Tyger, burning bright”. Those blazing eyes, those chiselled features, a gaze so powerful, so piercing, menacing and beautiful all at the same time.

Monday, 14 April 2014

55 on Karma

Dear Amma,

I’m sorry I spoke incessantly with food in my mouth, spat out medicines, refused to sleep and gave you a tennis elbow. What goes around, comes around.

I’m glad that I smothered you with kisses, played hours of peekaboo and read storybooks into wee hours of the morning. What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

J is for Jungfraujoch

Marketed as the “Top of Europe” experience, the husband and I were expecting our trip to Jungfrau to be the high point of our Swiss sojourn.

We chose to use the services of the Jungfrau railway, known to be a pioneer of sorts in the mountain railway scene. We boarded a delightful cogwheel train at Kleine Scheidegg, which took us to Jungfrau in about an hour’s time. En route, we got off at two spectacular view points and gasped and marvelled at the Alps.

At this point, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that TH and I have lived near the equator practically our entire lives. You may now appreciate the effort it took us to just get to Jungfrau. We actually felt like ghosts, because we could not feel our feet and hands beyond a certain altitude.

When we finally reached, we were dazed to see a bunch of people rush to a particular spot, trampling everything in their wake. TH and I managed to find each other again after all this drama and floated along (ghosts remember?) to get out into the snow. And guess what we find? Shah Rukh Khan! (For the uninitiated, he is a big Bollywood superstar) Not in body and flesh, but his picture on a cardboard was enough to send people into a frenzy.

I occasionally loathe how loud and crass Bollywood can be. So you can imagine my dismay when I go all the way to the top of Europe, braving the cold, only to see people making a beeline to click pictures with a cut out of Shah Rukh Khan and dine in Restaurant Bollywood!
Well, that does not take away anything from the beauty of the place. It is quite astounding. Just watch your back for crazy SRK fans when you step out into the snow.

Friday, 11 April 2014

I is for Illuminate

The word "illuminate” will never mean the same to us again.

The husband and I went on a trip to Thailand in 2011. Ao Nang is a small island in the Krabi province of Thailand that is not as commercial as the rest of the beaches in Thailand. After an evening of island hopping, we ventured out into the sea for a night dive experience. Our boat anchored in a spot off Maya Bay (of The Beach fame). All the lights aboard were switched off and we plunged into the chill waters in complete darkness. To be honest, it was scary in the beginning, but we were blown away by what happened next.

As we moved our limbs to make our way through the water, our bodies lit up in the most brilliant colours of blue and green. Photophosphorescence! The bioluminescent plankton that surrounded out bodies lit up and illuminated the diving spot. Remember the scene from Life of Pi where the whale jumps out of the water? Yeah, that. I scoured the internet for pictures to give you an idea of what it would look like, but none did justice. So, I am posting a photo of bioluminescent phytoplankton that I found on to give you a glimpse of the wonders of the ocean.

The night dive at Ao Nang was the highlight of our trip (pun intended J )

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Holidaying in Havelock

We have all seen pictures from the Andaman Islands promotional campaigns, with turquoise waters and pristine sands haven’t we? The good news is that, these pictures are not photoshopped. I don’t think any camera or any technology can truly capture the beauty this place has to offer. It is best seen with the human eye, best experienced with an open mind and a large heart.

I am going to spare you the details of the touristy things to do here. This post is about how one can get lost in Havelock and yet find yourself!

The husband and I holidayed in this lovely island to complete a scuba diving course. An island with no newspapers, no television, very poor signal for your mobile phone and no internet can be a little disorienting to begin with. Add to it an early sunset (it gets dark by 5 PM!), and you may wonder what you are going to do for the rest of the day! As you would imagine, electricity is scarce as well, so most resorts are big on conservation. One stormy night can disrupt supply of essential commodities from the mainland – grocery, petrol, beer and even bottled water!

Stay warned, if you are the kind who likes to live tweet / Instagram every breath you take on a holiday, or if you are really bothered about your klout scores, you might as well skip holidaying here. On the other hand, if your heart yearns for a holiday where you want to disconnect with the world and connect with yourself, Havelock is the place to go.

Oh, and I stand corrected about the internet. We did see a delightful little shack, which proudly advertised “Rs. 300 per hour, 512 kbps” J

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

G is for Grandeur

There is only one scene that flashes in my mind when I think of grandeur. That view will remain forever etched in my memory, one that I will carry to my grave. It was breath taking, awe inspiring and even had the agnostic me believe in God for a moment. The only other time that I have felt that way was when I saw my little girl for the first time.

File:Crepescular rays in saint peters basilica.JPG
Source: Wikipedia
The St. Peter’s basilica. There was something about the moment that I stepped into the place. Maybe it was the light streaming through the dome or just the sheer size, the grandeur of it all. I felt light headed, like I was in heaven. I thought it was also rather symbolic to feel dwarfed in this magnificent architectural marvel. Check out the picture, look at how tiny the human beings look! We all are tiny aren’t we? Well, that's another philosophical discussion altogether, sometime later perhaps.

The Vatican skyline sports the iconic white dome, but don’t let it deceive you. For, inside the basilica it is another world altogether. I couldn’t get my head around how something could be so huge, yet so ornate. The architectural splendour, the finesse of every small detail was mind blowing. And to have done this centuries back! Phew!

If you haven’t already been to the basilica, you must. Everything else about the Vatican City is indeed grand, but this one is ethereal!

Four things F

Today, I return to writing about parenting.

Fascination – Have I told you, I am in complete awe of evolution? What I saw as a 6 millimetre black and white picture in a scan report grew into something so beautiful and is now with us, right here! I cannot but marvel with a dropped jaw at the miracle that is life.

Forgo – You learn to let go. Let go of sleep, jobs, looks perhaps and in some cases, lifestyles all together. Priorities get a rejig. The beauty of it is that, although you let go, there’s so much you get in return – unconditionally. Love, joy, a sense of belonging, a feeling of being wanted, being able to provide, protect, teach and raise another human being!

Fear – As a new mother, I was always scared whether I was doing it right. I constantly tried to live up to the most perfect image of the role – my mother. Also, being completely accountable for another soul is the single most important responsibility that life entrusts us with.

Fury to Fatigue – Most of this emotion actually started out as Fury. With time, the fury sobered down to just fatigue. Not so much the physical fatigue of going through the pregnancy, labour, surgical procedures et al. It is more the fatigue of listening to endless unsolicited advice, opinions, comments and every other conceivable mode of interference there is. And all this about myriad issues – about the baby herself, my parenting style, the dos and the don’ts, the right and the wrong. The list is endless.

What are the things that parenting has changed in you? Do you have experiences to share?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Enchanted by elephants

Those who know me know how much I love pachyderms. There’s something about these gentle giants that takes my breath away.

It is no surprise that my visit to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka will remain one of my most memorable travel experiences. The orphanage houses and cares for over 80 wild elephants that are orphaned or found abandoned. We stopped at Kegalle en route Kandy from Colombo on an overcast day.

After having spent the morning in the vast orphanage, the entire herd walks across to the Oya River to bathe. I remember having butterflies in my stomach because I could actually feel slight tremors as the herd walked along the small lane off the highway into the river. It is a sight to behold and reminds you how small and helpless human beings are in front of nature!

There are a number of restaurants that dot the lane leading upto the river. We dined at a restaurant offered panoramic views of the river and allowed guests to get up close and personal with the bathing elephants. 

A memorable day, which reinforced my belief that we humans take ourselves too seriously, while being quite minuscule in the larger scheme of things. Literally :) 

Friday, 4 April 2014

DIY Madness

It is wonderful what some free time, coloured paper, inspiration (mostly from Pinterest) and some imagination can do! What started off as an effort to engage my daughter soon became an obsession.

As an infant, I always thought Baby A got bored of simply staring at the ceiling and other random objects in the room. So I made her a cradle mobile out of chart paper, with huge shapes, contrasting colours and some glitter. Oh boy! She loved it. 

Egged on by her reactions, I made her the dragon (which I picked up from a felt toy design by Dawn Treacher on Flickr) and hung it by the window. She would watch it while daddy dearest played her Puff the magic dragon…

When she began focusing a bit more and recognizing bright objects, I made a series of sunlight catchers. The one on the left is made out of wax paper and crayons. Again an idea that I picked off Pinterest, I threw multi coloured shavings of wax crayon in between two layers of wax paper and heated it gently with an iron. Some brilliant shapes emerged and I cut them to shape and gave it a chart paper outline.

Caution: The wax tends to become brittle on ageing. You can see this on the top left corner of the wax paper. So ensure you do not hold this near or directly above a baby. This is best appreciated from a distance.

 I would have liked to name the one on the right something Notre-dame ish,  but I call it the "Brahmastra", which is the deadliest weapon according to ancient Sanskrit scriptures. This worked like magic on Baby A and hence the name. 

The disc is a paper plate with shapes cut out of it and filled with glass paper. We would just lie on the bed, looking at the sunlight streaming through it for hours together. Also, when she grew older, she loved the rustle of the paper and was a great source of entertainment.

The octopus and starfish below are made of felt, stuffed with polyfill. Pretty run of the mill. I used googly eyes for the starfish and hand embroidered the rest. I hand stitched the felt inside out as well. I got a little lazy with the octopus and just stitched it from the outside, used foam for the eyes and mouth of the octopus.

I converted a carton of raisins into the pink handheld puppet. The tongue is made of felt and has space to slip in a finger and wiggle the tongue around. The eyes could have been much better, I botched it up. The hair of the puppet is made out of quilling paper, loosely wound.

Caution: If you do end up making this puppet, ensure you get a picture before you little one can lay hands on it. In a matter of seconds, it will look nothing like the original.

Have you done anything of this sort before? If so, please let me know. You plan to do something like this soon? Keep me posted on how things turn out! Bouquets and brickbats are welcome. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

C is to Conquer

I was not sure what I would even tell her. I had debated hell of a lot about this call. Would she be tired of answering endless such calls? Would she find it intrusive? But how could I not call? You know what made it all the more difficult? It was her birthday that day… I never miss her birthday; it is a day after my mom’s.

I picked up some courage and called her with a lump in my throat and a stomach in knots. There I was, delivering a condolence message, on her birthday, on the passing of her precious little boy, all of 3 years old, who fought valiantly against high grade glioma, a rare and aggressive brain tumour.

Being a parent is the only way you will know how much love and sacrifice you are capable of. It will stun you to discover how large hearted you can be. They say, along with the baby, parents are born as well. Despite being a parent, I cannot even imagine what they must have gone through during the course of the treatment. Awareness has become such a loosely used word - the scale of the misconception about paediatric cancer is appalling and scary. Sadly, paediatric cancer is still unspoken about at a public level in India and support groups are virtually nonexistent.

Above all, children battling this monster and their families need constant encouragement, support and hope. However, not everybody can provide emotional support to these families, simply because one cannot fathom what they go through, without actually having gone through it. But what we can all do is connect people in need with other parents who will be able to help. A small step in this regard is the presence of two closed groups for Parents of Indian kids with cancers: Pediatric Leukemia and Lymphoma India & Pediatric Brain Tumor India (I picked this up from my friend’s FB timeline)

Apparently, two of the largest children's cancer NGO's in India raise less than 3 crores per year. So the next time you feel philanthropic, please do consider donating to institutions / NGOs towards care and treatment for paediatric cancer. In cash, in kind, volunteer… Really, anything at all. I do not want to advocate any particular institution; a simple google search will help you decide!

A million other questions are teeming in my head. A shout out to my journalist friends here. Could you help with awareness? What after awareness? We all know awareness means visibility, and with visibility comes a greater hope of funding. But who is it who allocates funds? What are the various avenues of gathering funds? What about research facilities? Do we have any for paediatric cancer already? What is the status of these institutions? I read, that in some parts of the country, gender discrimination exists even in a condition as terrible as this. Are nurses equipped to deal with children? Do their courses support and recognize the fact that children need special care and attention? Or are there any trainers who can help upskill hospital staff?

If you have noticed, I have titled this post C is to Conquer and not C is for Cancer for a reason – Hope.
My earnest appeal to the few people who read my blog – should you come across a suitable opportunity or forum to share/ provide any form of support related to this, please do so without batting an eyelid. Your efforts will lead to may just lead to saving tender little lives someday. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

B is for Brevity

Today, I write six six word stories on words that begin with the letter B

#1 – Black
Our coffee. My skin. Your heart.

#2 Betrayal
Best bud, stubbed. They are anagrams.

#3 Babble
Gibberish to you , music to me.

#4 Birth
A girl! Rejoice, new born parents.

#5 Beauty
Make-up: passé. Botox: Out of business.

#6 Bitter
That's what makes dark chocolate sweet!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Airport Adventures

I took a two hour flight earlier this week, all alone with baby A. I was quite apprehensive about how I would manage alone, but I met a whole bunch of people who helped ease my nerves a great deal 
  • The C-Suite executive who offered baby A some very expensive magazines, which I politely refused, for she knows not the difference between a Wharton journal and Bombay Times.
  • The classic neighbourhood aunty who gave me 5 minutes of unsolicited advice about raising children from whom I slipped away on the pretext of checking the flight status.
  • A young mother of a slightly older child, who reassured me that that phase I am in now, is way better than hers.
  • A group of college kids, obviously hungover, craving for some sleep. The look of horror on their faces was priceless to the point of being funny when I walked alongside them towards the boarding gates. They sneakily tried to check which flight I was taking by throwing furtive glances at my boarding pass / hand baggage tags.
  • The genuinely nice teenager who patiently kept picking up her toy every time she dropped it, so much so, it became a game of sorts!
  • A chic lady at the coffee shop with a Fendi bag, doused in the finest of Issey Miyake fragrances. She looked disdainfully at my dark circles, far from perfect hair, unkempt toe nails. I felt like an old hag. She then ruined her perfect image by asking for an “Expresso” and I had the last laugh ;-)
I had such a swell time observing people’s reaction to the presence of a woman travelling alone with a baby, but there has to be a rotten egg hidden somewhere right? A pervert who would crane his neck any length to catch a glimpse of a woman breast feeding. Hmph!