No votes for me

For years ours has been the go-to house because I’ve been a work from home mum and parents feel safe sending their kids to a place where they won’t be left to maids or where they’re sure there are no unknown males. The last couple of years have been ground floor homes and I often smile over my cup of chai as I see the bunch of cycles thrown at my door, higgledy-piggledy. Kids running in randomly with an Aunty, paani, request. Pile ups at my door as they rush in from school while their mothers beg them to at least go home for a quick wash.

Increasingly though, that crowd is thinning out. Because ours is the only home where the kids don’t have a TV in their bedroom. Our TV is out in the common area and even so, kids who come over to play are encouraged to pick up one of the many games lying around. I don’t actively prevent them from watching TV, but I usually pull out a board game and start them off. Or an art session. Or suggest that they all go for a swim. Or a cycling race around our complex. If we do put on the TV its not for uncontrolled endless viewing but because we’ve planned a specific movie evening with popcorn. And once the movie is over, the TV goes off.

The Brat is almost 10 and his friends are into Playstations and the like. We don’t have one. The Bean’s friends are allowed glitter nailpolish and heels – at 7. I don’t subscribe to those either.

Friends drop in at all hours but on school nights I have a strict curfew and I don’t know how others let their kids play basketball till 9 pm because heck, my kids won’t wake up for school if they don’t get to bed on time.

Snacks at my place are fresh fruit, milk and peanut butter or tuna sandwiches. At other homes they are Maggi, Chocopies and jam biscuits with aerated drinks. I also insist that they all sit around the dining table and eat instead of taking it into the nursery and spilling crumbs all over the beds.

Clearly our place isn’t winning a popularity vote.

I know my kids would prefer that I loosen up but it seems people around me are loose enough for me to have to stay tight to maintain the tension it requires for this tent to stay upright. This is not easy. I am liberal by nature and in my politics. I hate policing the kids and this is not the way I was brought up. But I see little kids wearing glasses earlier than ever, I see overweight kids (they were so few when we were children) and I see all sorts of ailments and lifestyle diseases becoming more common than we realise. I hate being the strict aunty. I love having a houseful of kids and the sound of them playing and chattering is truly music to my ears. It doesn’t disturb me in the least.

While all kids love to get out of their own homes and go to another’s for a change, I am well aware that my kids prefer the laxity in other homes. The endless TV, the junk food, the lack of supervision by parents, the over flowing toy bins, not being embarrassed by their mother who insists that all the kids help tidy up their room before going home (just as I insist my kids do when we’re visiting someone). It’s tempting to let it slip, to go back to being the most popular aunty like I was when I spent hours reading to kids when they couldn’t read and were mostly surrounded by maids or with grandparents who couldn’t play hide and seek with them.  But it would go against what I strongly believe in and I struggle to stay on this path.

Interestingly (and of course they don’t know this yet) I think the OA and I will be among the less hysterical parents when they do begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I believe obesity, modified foods, sugar, refined flour, additives, food colouring and lack of proper supervision in their formative years are more likely to harm our children than the odd bottle of beer. I do believe in instilling healthy food habits and lifestyles so that when they do grow too old to listen or care, they’ll have healthy habits and hopefully healthy bodies. I believe if they have some amount of discipline and health on their side it will be easier to fight or even experiment in some sort of controlled moderate manner. I’m proof if anything, of someone exposed to sex, drugs and rock and roll, only to turn out a complete teetotaller who is nonetheless entirely tolerant of people who make those choices. Of course there are no perfect solutions or easy answers. And so I bumble on and hope for the best.

All I know is that right now the cries of children in Palestine is making it hard for me to think straight. Signing off on a fairly bleak week. Try and stay safe and have a good one, you.

Here’s a mother who punished her daughter by selling off her Katy Perry concert tickets on a closed Facebook page. What do you think of that sort of disciplining? I’ve often been strict and taken away privileges etc (which is why my kids think I’m a mum from hell) but I don’t know if I’d have publicly shamed the kids, specially in their teens. That said, if I had to pick an extreme I’d pick discipline over nothing.

 

Sticks and stones

When the OA and I started dating, we were so madly in love that we could see no wrong in the other. I gave in gracefully to anything he wanted. He indulged me like a favoured child. Any disharmony in our lives was purely because his parents didn’t want us to get married. Nothing else.

And then we got married and the fights began in earnest. Our own issues. The OA is the good cop in our family. By which I mean, the unpleasant tasks are usually left to me, and he’s the calm, zen, happy person who never does wrong. Which is why its always hard for people to accept that he can defend himself and put up a fight with the best.

Anyhow, the fights were spectacular – full of sound and fury, but rarely vicious. That’s because we were establishing boundaries. So we yelled, we slammed doors and brought up the last time you did this and the first time you did that. Often I’d walk out of the house to cool off because I couldn’t stand being in the same place as him. Once I hopped out of the car at a traffic signal in Connaught Place and walked away with barely any money and just my phone, at 9pm or later. He had no choice but to drive on and by the time he parked he couldn’t find me, was panicking at the thought of me getting harassed and eventually called up my parents to find out if they had heard from me. My mother called me the next day and made me promise I’d never do that again. Party pooper.

Over the years we’ve settled into a routine and our give and take has been established. We fight less because we know what the other won’t budge on. And when we do, it takes too much energy to keep it up and we usually make up in a while because we have friends coming over or some chore to do and its quite ridiculous to do it in cold silence.

And then a couple of days ago we had a disagreement – we’ve had a problem that we’re facing as a family (even though the kids don’t know it, obviously) and it’s been a while and the OA and I feel like failures because neither of us is able to snap out of the vicious cycle that it draws us into, and work on the issue to save us all.

The argument started small and we kept our voices down. And then in quiet, cold, calm, bitter voices we hurt each other far more than if we’d physically beaten each other up. Just a few short sentences. It was over almost as soon as it began. And we both knew that we’d breached a line we never should have. Opened a Pandora’s box we knew better than to.

Within an hour of our quiet, bitter disagreement we made up. Precisely because both of us knew how horribly we’d hurt each other, how low we threw our blows. And what a rookie marriage mistake we’d made  – instead of teaming up to sort out the problem, we let it get big enough to make us turn on each other.

We’re okay, we’re fine, we’re talking. But I can never forget what he said to me and I can’t take back what I said to him. The sad part is that we both know that the things said about us are true. And that’s what makes them hurtful. It’s only when you’ve been married so long that you can efficiently wrap up a fight in ten minutes, cut each other to the quick with a few lethal words and get on.

I woke up the morning after feeling like his words were tattooed into my skin. I’d always been aware of the failing he pointed out. I just didn’t need him to articulate it. And vice versa. It’s been a while and we’ve consoled each other, apologised and tried to move on. Because we also turn to each other in pain, for comfort. But we’ve unleashed the Kraken and there’s no putting it back now. Whoever said sticks and stones can break my bones but words can do me no harm, did not know what they were talking about.

What is your all?

Another year, another job offer that tempts me with more money than I’ll ever earn. Another year spent dissecting speeches made by Nooyi, Sandberg and what not. Exhortations to lean in.

The point is, that ‘lean in’ means different things to different people. This year I’m leaning in by trying my hand at a lot of different types of things. From cooking appams (haan, okay I owe you a post on that!) to painting my furniture to improving my driving…

Saying no to more money (and we can all do with lots of money, can’t we?!) has been tough. Here I must insert my favourite quote on money. I’m sure you’ve all read Erich Segal’s Love Story when you were young and foolish. The story made me sob through the night before my 10th board exams. But the quote that stayed on with me was the honest conversation between Oliver and Jenny when he asks her what her father thinks of him.

He thinks you’re okay, she says.

Having been disowned by his rich parents and now church mouse poor, Oliver fishes a little – ‘But he’d like it if I were richer, wouldn’t he?’

Jenny answers with her characteristic honesty – ‘Wouldn’t you too?’

And ain’t that the truth. We’d all like to be a little richer, no matter what we earn. The tough part is deciding where to draw the line. I am 35. Technically I’ve missed the career bus. And yet something tells me this isn’t the end of the line.

This time, for the first time in 11 years the OA saw me dither and almost say yes, and then when I asked him for his opinion, gently said that he thought it was a bad idea. For years he’s pushed me to get out of home and work, to get my butt off my home office chair that has now taken the shape of my substantial arse. For years he’s said I’m wasting myself and that I should have been the one with the career. And now as he gets to know his wife better he understands my desire for work but my dread of routine, schedule, organising. I hate institutions. I hate swiping in. I hate office politics. I hate hierarchy. It goes against all my deeply held beliefs and tussles with my desire to ‘get ahead and get a career’. They contradict each other.

I make a fair amount of money with my current projects but it’s the frills that my jobs offer that make our life awesome. That, and my flexibility. I can work from home, we don’t need to coordinate our leave, if he calls and says lets go do stand up comedy tonight, I can feed, bathe and put the kids to bed before we leave. The only trade off is that for the amount of money I want to earn, I have to do a lot of projects and I rarely get a day off. I’m working on vacation, working on the train, working on the plane. All so that I can make money, and still be home.

When I tell my family about the job that is pursuing me, the reactions are predictable.

My mother tries hard to keep the disapproval out of her voice – When do you think you’ll be able to leave the kids?

My brother who rarely opines on my life gruffly says – You’ll have to let go, someday.

But the Bean is only 7, I point out. She’s a baby. Too young to go to daycare. She likes coming home to Mama. Everyone likes coming home to Mama, the mad sibling points out in his sane way.

But the OA. The OA who knows it’s not just the kids. He knows how tense I get when I have a project deadline, he who rubs my back till I fall asleep. Who wakes up each time I get up at night to check the time on my phone incase I’ve overslept and the kids miss school. Who drags the kids away and lets me work in peace. He knows. He knows I am a tightly wound person and going back to an office environment kills me. That I am unable to let standards around the house slip and the truth is something has to give. Even Indra Nooyi admits she couldn’t have it all.

He knows that for me its also the sheer tension of getting in on time. Of looking presentable (!). Of making sure that there are enough groceries for the next day. Of worrying and fretting that I won’t get home in time to make the kids do their homework. Those things keep me up all night. The last time I had a full time job was when the Bean was 18 months and I lost my knees and my skin to it. I’m still paying the price for it.

But it’s so much money, I moan in despair. So much pretty, pretty money… I don’t know how to say no.

Open your mouth and push the word out, says the OA as he rubs my feet to help me unwind and fall asleep – ‘We don’t need more money. There’s always more money.’ And he doesn’t judge this inability to let go, the tussle to put on my office face and be a professional even while I train my creeper rose to climb up the railing and help the kids tie up skipping ropes to create a zipline.

I sit up in bed again – did I lock the front door? Did I put the milk away in the fridge? I think the light in the kids’ bathroom has fused.

Go.To.Sleep he grinds out. I lie down obediently and tightly shut my eyes like a child.

And so another year goes by, another lost opportunity, another what if…

And life goes on.

Library time again

The Weight Loss Club – Devapriya Roy

I must begin with a disclaimer. I know Devapriya, only slightly, but I do know her. Now, with that out of the way, I have to begin by saying, I loved the book. I did. It’s always shocking to find that you thoroughly enjoyed reading a book written by a regular person. I don’t know what I expect authors to be – horned and winged creatures I suppose. Perhaps because a good book seems like its been written by a mythical creature.

But enough of the rambling. Anuja Chauhan and Devapriya Roy, are two contemporary writers I enjoy. No hinglish, no sense of the author struggling with the language, no stilted writing, no trying too hard. Just fabulous, flowing prose. And a great story.

The Nancy Housing Cooperative (the result of a clerical error) is just a regular housing society in Calcutta with the usual hovering Bong mother who wants her son to go to IIT, a bullied daughter in law, an overweight academic whose mother is frantically looking for a good match, Treeza who is in depression, Ananda who is taking care of his ailing mother… They’re people we know, they’re people we relate to and yet, you want to know more about them. And then Sandhya arrives and you wonder what she’s doing here. She’s a Brahmacharini and she’s going to turn their lives around.

It’s amazing how Devapriya manages to string it all together and bring it to an end in a crescendo. I got caught up in the fervour and as with all books, was most distraught when it ended. I, for one, am hoping for a sequel. Hint, hint.

Confessionally Yours – Jhoomur Bose Disclaimer again – I know JB too, not too well, but enough to admit that I might be a teeny bit biased. I loved her blog, I love her spirit. And I enjoyed her book.

Polly Sharma, trainee reporter lives a life I don’t envy. Her husband has no interest in her. Her MIL walks all over her. And even her best friend treats her like – well, like crap. She doesn’t get a byline, her boss is a bitch and all in all, Polly isn’t a likeable character, simply because she has no spine.

I find it hard to relate to such doormats because they’re so not me. On the other hand, I was most thrilled to see Jhoomur create a protagonist who was nothing like her. Almost all first time authors write an autobiography and it gets tedious. But this character is nothing like the fiery JB either and in fact the only connection to JB is that Polly is given an assignment to interview an anonymous blogger who writes an extremely juicy blog. Set in a media office, this book made me felt right at home. The four letter words, the crazy hours, the politicking, the tight deadlines, the bitches.

In the end of course Polly comes up trumps but I have to say there were moments I wanted to smack her. All in all a fun, quick read.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a genetics professor who is socially challenged. You’re given to understand that he might have Asperger’s, but its never quite spelled out. Good looking, a flourishing career, one would say these are the perfect attributes in a husband, but Don is pushing 40 and nowhere close to being in a relationship thanks to his social ineptitude and lack of empathy (something he is aware of and interestingly, working on). After a few disastrous experiences that serve as a reminder that he is different, he decides to cut through the initial few dates that are a waste of time and get to the core of the matter.

In true Don style that is logical, focussed and unemotional, by asking all potential dates to fill out an extensive questionnaire. Does she smoke? Is she vegan? Does she waste a lot of time on make up?

Enter Rosie who is hunting for her biological father and needs a geneticist’s help. Disorganised, fun loving and a student cum bartender, she turns Don’s life upside down so that he is no longer cooking by the day of the week and saving 30 seconds on a lecture to use for his fitness routine. They come up with a wild idea to help her find her father and in all this, Don loses track of his own Wife project. And one by one his rules start falling by the wayside as Rosie helps him shake off the shackles of his very organised and entirely boring life.

The Rosie Project is a highly entertaining and interesting book even if you’re not a Big Bang Theory fan. It takes a light and highly sympathetic look at those on the autism spectrum and shows you the view from their side of the hill. He isn’t stylish, he isn’t social, he isn’t funny and he finds it hard to pick up on the unsaid. He has no empathy, yet he elicits yours. This is a particular triumph of the author because its hard to be rooting for someone who has few of the qualities we look for in a hero. And Nerds rule!

Those Pricey Thakur Girls – Anuja Chuahan

The Mint says Anuja Chauhan is “The only Indian writer of popular fiction really worth buying..” Not too far from the truth. I raced through The Zoya Factor in spite of my intense dislike of cricket. I loved the Battle for Bittora because it took me back to my small town roots. And I will even forgive her for all the jibes at Stephanians she makes in Those Pricey Thakur Girls, because well, we can’t all be Stephanians and the bitterness is understandable ;)

I had the pleasure of interviewing her some years ago and she’s as interesting a person as her books indicate. But more about the book. I’m pretty sure that most of you have read the book so I’m really late to this party. Justice Thakur’s daughters, named alphabetically, Anjini, Binodini, Chandralekha, Debjani and Eshwari (a reminder of how long and hard families try for a son!) are a handful. Fortunately the first three are married off and number four, Debjani, who has just begun her career as a newsreader with the national television channel is next up. The youngest, Eshwari, is still in Modern School and has a way to go.

Enter Dylan Singh Shekhawat, part Manglorean Christian, part Rajput and full investigative reporter with the India Post. The chemistry between him and Debjani is enough to blow up the lab, but the path of true love never ran smooth. Set in the mid-eighties, it is two years after the death of the assassination of the PM and the anti-Sikh riots that followed. Dylan is investigating these riots and confesses to much disdain for the state sponsored tripe that Debjani reads off the autocue, as news.

Chauhan weaves the rest of the family in with consummate skill. The free loading Chachaji whose affairs with the cook are driving his pug faced wife crazy. Their top heavy body-building son. Debjani’s elder sister, Anjini, the prettiest of the lot, a terrible flirt and burdened with childlessness. Binodini, married to a ne’er do well who is constantly trying to get her family to fund her husband’s failing enterprises. The vivacious young Eshwari who hates Satish Sridhar who lives next door, is one of her oldest friends and allies and encourages her to date one of the other Modern School studs.

It’s easy to forget the hero and heroine and get sidetracked by the accessories. I love Anuja’s writing. Lets get that out of the way. The Hinglish she throws in as dialogue doesn’t detract from the skill with which the English flows. She’s humorous, she’s compassionate, she understands eccentricities and she creates real people with flaws, who are lovable anyway.

What’s most important is that she’s intelligent. Cricket in one book, politics in the other and media in this one. She understands each of her subjects, researches them thoroughly and only then does she write. These are not trite, candy floss novels that skim over some vague office or the other. These peel away in layers, revealing hidden depths and often touch upon important issues, making a case for them in the most subtle way.

By the end you’re in love with every minor character and wish she’d give them each a book of their own. I hear the little nephew Samar Singh is all grown up and gets his day in the sun with her next book. But I’d really love it if she could give us something on Eshwari who shows much promise. I’m going to buy all the books and get her to autograph them for me. Yes, I can be fangirl too!

 Where’d you go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

I ordered this on my Kindle, which is a mercy because I got so taken up with it that I was reading it on the Kindle app on my phone while the dentist was looking at my teeth, on my Mac when I should have been working… you get the picture.

Semple uses my favourite literary device, letters, blogs, FBI reports and emails. She already had me at that and didn’t really need to do more. But no, she had to go and write a cracker of a book and bring.me to.my.knees. Bernadette Fox is mother to Bee Branch, a super intelligent child who was born with a heart problem, and wife to Elgin Branch, yet another genius who works with Microsoft.

As the story progresses you realise that Bernadette has issues. She is mentally ill and also, in that almost necessary combination, brilliant. She once won awards as an architect for being green at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to be green. Life deals her a few harsh blows and she takes it rather badly, retreating into her home and cutting herself off entirely. She makes fun of Seattle, of Microsoft, of the over-involved school mums… she spares no one. And is generally disliked. It all comes to a head when the school where her daughter studies arranges a fund raiser and when Bee demands that she make good on her promise and take her to Antarctica as her middle school graduation present.

The agoraphobic Bernadette who outsources all her work to a virtual assistant in India called Manjula Kapoor, including calling her doctor for an appointment (because she doesn’t like to deal with people – even her contact with Manjula is only over email) and buying clothes for their trip to Antarctica is outraged when she finds one of the school mums trespassing on her property with a weed removal specialist.

The FBI suddenly gets involved, her husband is having an affair, her house is literally falling into the neighbours and suddenly, she vanishes without a trace. I wish I could tell you more but then I’d have to kill myself for ruining it. Hysterical, intelligent, original, and a light hearted look at artistic temperament, mental illness, infidelity, privilege, parenting and oh so much more!

Semple’s book makes you want to knock at the little door on her head, walk in, and take a look around at what goes on inside and go ‘Hmm.. so this is the kind of brain it takes to write a mind blowing book.’ The story takes an insanely funny yet scary twist and its interesting to see how much an author needs to research things like architecture, software and even Antarctica to write a book. Not like the crap we read these days, just written off the cuff and about banal, mundane lives. Gah.

Read this book, people. I guarantee you’ll want to hug me for the recommendation. If not, meh, you have bad taste!

The House of Velvet and Glass – Katherine Howe

This year, 2014 is the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the fascination with the sinking of that ode to indulgence, remains. It spun off a number of novels and I can understand the interest because I keep coming back to them. The novel takes a look at the lives of those left behind.

Sybil Allston’s mother Helen, and sister Eulah were on the Titanic when it sank. Leaving her sphinx like father Harlan or Lan Allston, her recalcitrant younger brother Harlan III and herself, to pull together the pieces of their lives after the tragedy, and get on with it. Sybil’s mother frequented the parlour of a medium, and wracked with grief she falls into the habit of visiting the medium too, to see if she can make contact with her dead mother and sister. She was once in love with psychology professor, Benton Jones but he upped and married someone else. A widower now, he’s back in town and seemingly still interested.

Things take a turn when Sybil does manage to make contact with the other world. When Benton finds out, he suspects it to be some manner of fraud and decides to investigate with her. Her brother suddenly shows up and it seems he’s been asked to leave Harvard over misconduct with a lady whose reputation is suspect. It’s just a lot more than Sybil can deal with right now.

And the reader goes back and forth with every alternate chapter, delving into the Senior Harlan Allston’s mysterious past on the ships and the exotic lands he sailed to. All the while leaving you wondering, can you look into the future? Can you make contact with loved ones who have passed on?

I enjoy books like The House of Velvet and Glass precisely because while they seek to answer many questions, they also leave just enough unanswered to keep you wondering. They belong to a time when travel meant true adventure. When you didn’t have a mobile phone to stay in touch, to bring back pictures of the strange and wondrous sights you’d seen, when you struggled to communicate with the locals. When dwellings had their own unique character and ugly rows of high rises didn’t dominate every skyline, be it Beijing or Bombay.  From opium dens in Shanghai to the deck of the Titanic, Howe has it all down pat. Each character, no matter how small, seems to have a purpose.

Lan’s past in shipping is the most fascinating part of the book to me. How he grew from brash young sailor to cold, taciturn old gentleman is an interesting tale. Yet, for all that it checks off the correct boxes, it is a slow read. Howe has brought together fascinating ingredients like opium dens, morphine addiction, women’s rights, the Great War, scientists and psychologists – but she’s not been able to build the structure into the towering edifice it had the potential to be.  An interesting read nonetheless for its observations on society and class divides.

A Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

This isn’t an easy book to read. Short staccato sentences. Leaping from one period to another between two paragraphs. And all this with no names. They are just He and She. A boy and a girl who met in Delhi and were drawn to each other. She’s pretty, but we don’t know anything about her prettiness, other than that she believes she is so. He’s ugly – dark, wiry hair, flat nose, ears that stick out – he looks like a servant, she thinks.

And yet she’s drawn to him and within hours, with no explanation they’re together. Her mother is dead and her father abandoned them years ago to move to Singapore. She lives with an Aunty and Uncle. A typical Aunty who wants her to dress up, join her for parties and get married to an NRI. The book is their love story as well as an ode to Delhi. From the cream cheese in Khan market to the qawwals in Nizamuddin, the filthy Yamuna in East Delhi to little cafes where they play Brubeck and Dylan.

This is a story for Delhiites above all as you relate to drug dealers in seedy lanes in Pahargunj, the roadside parathas and whisky, Mori Gate, samosas in boiling cauldrons, Fact and Fiction in Vasant Vihar, It’s dark, it’s noir, it repels you even while it draws you in. Interestingly, it is a story most of us have either lived or witnessed.

One would imagine it wouldn’t interest, precisely for those reasons. But it does, because we’ve all been 20, all loved the bad boy, and many of us have fallen down that abyss of drugs and self destruction or just missed it. Kapoor’s way with words is what holds you, because early into the story he is dead. You stay on because she reels you in and holds on to you, dark as it is. For instance, her description of him is – ‘There’s not a shred of fat on him, it’s all muscle and sinew, coiled eye and glacier bone, as if he’s covered every inch of land, burnt off every strip of fat through breathing.’

Read it if you’ve been there. Read it if you haven’t been there and want to know what it might have been like. Read it for an alternative version of the life you could have lived.

Cry Baby – David Jackson Erin wakes up with a splitting headache and realises in horror that her six month old baby has been kidnapped. Someone has bugged her person and is giving her instructions via an ear piece.

We often say we’d kill for our children. And Erin has to prove that she means it, because that’s what the kidnapper wants. He wants her to kill a couple of people for him and only then will he return her baby. Erin is a regular jane with no idea how one goes about a murder. But she is driven by the need to save her baby’s life and she begins. As the death count goes up, the police get closer.

The story shifts between Erin and a police station, showing both sides across the space of 24 hours. It has an interesting twist to it and a wiser reader might have seen it coming. I was just too worked up about the kidnapped baby to really think ahead. What bothered me is how the crime almost accidentally solved itself. The police showed no initiative, were far behind the criminal and did absolutely no sleuthing. Very disappointing show on the part of the police force. Still a fairly interesting read.

What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty Alice wakes up one morning, pregnant and happy. Only to realise she is not pregnant happy, but a mother of three and in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.  And in hospital, after a fall in the gym, thanks to which she has lost a decade of her memory. Her daughter and she hate each other, she is one of those super skinny, over achieving SAHMs, and hang on, she seems to be in the middle of an affair, except that she hasn’t the heart to tell the man concerned that she doesn’t even know his name. It’s an old trick, this amnesia one, and it plays out fairly well.

Alice is trying to come to terms with who she really is, revive her relationships and take stock, except that the super sonic life she seems to have been living until 24 hours ago is not allowing her to do that. She has the biggest pie on earth to bake, she has a date, she has so much going on  – and all with people she doesn’t even recognise. What Alice Forgot is a wake up call to all those whose lives have turned into the people they swore they wouldn’t. Alice detests the person she is now, is horrified that she and her husband hate each other, her sister and she have no relationship to speak of and her social circle is a bunch of catty women who are constantly taking a swing at each other.

And in all of this, who is this Gina who keeps popping up in conversation followed by a couple of seconds of silence? I liked the pace, I liked the plot, but I disliked a lot of the characters. And what is most annoying is how no one seems to be willing to update her and she flounders around trying to figure out how the last ten years went by. Or maybe that is just a consequence of the unpleasant person she’d become. A quick, light read.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Yvonne Carmichael is a respected, middle aged scientist with grown up children and a steady, peaceful marriage. One day she bumps into a sexy stranger and the air sizzles with chemistry. Next thing you know, they’re holed up in a corner, doing it. And then he bumps into her again and again and what started out as a one time thing ends up being a prolonged affair, with all the accoutrements including a second phone.

While he knows everything there is to know about her, she knows nothing about him. Is he a spy, a secret agent? Why is he always juggling phones, having rushed conversations, clearly in the middle of some sort of emergency? Neither of them has really planned where this relationship will go, and when she is brutally raped, she turns to him to save her from the stalker who is clearly planning a second round. Getting the attacker to stay away from her is not as easy as they imagined and this is where their personal and professional lives begin to unravel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even if I wish it were a little more straightforward and shorter. There’s a lot of back and forth and vagueness, and I think we could have done with less of that. Apple Tree Yard is a reminder that you don’t have to be young to make a mistake. That a middle aged woman can be vain, can feel desire, can commit adultery, can compound her mistakes. As can middle aged men. A reminder that these aren’t the preserves of youth.

The story starts with Yvonne and her lover being in court, on trial. And information comes through in bits and pieces, where the realisation slowly dawns on the reader rather than it being a sudden revelation. In all this her husband stands by her stolidly and perhaps comes across as the most trustworthy character. Or does he? Read it to find it. This is not a book you can read in bits and pieces while traveling. I tried to, and kept losing the plot. Until I stayed back from the beach one morning and focused.

I didn’t regret it at all.

What it takes

I was rushing down the footpath to the local market. The kids would soon come in from play and I needed groceries before I locked down for the night. I’d worked late and was off my schedule. If I didn’t hurry it up, they’d come home to a locked door.

And then I got stuck behind a mother and a child. She had an annoyingly shrill voice and I mention this only because I was already hot, tired and cranky and this was the last straw above the cacophony of horns. Except that the annoying voice was patiently answering baby questions – Mama, why are there more white cars than black?

They didn’t know I was behind them, or maybe they didn’t realise I was in a rush. They were walking abreast, taking up all of the path and I couldn’t get past them. I slowed down and listened to the baby lilt – Mama, woh police uncle kya kar raha hai?

Finally I realised I was beyond late and hopped off the path, on to the road and oncoming traffic and then back on again. Only to get stuck behind yet another mother and child. I can’t recall what her voice sounded like but as she held the little baby hand and walked along, slowing down to keep pace with the baby steps.

Mama, catty kahan gaya?

Mama, catty mera friend hai?

I was hurrying to the shops to get groceries for the kids’ tiffin, and I had to get home in time to let them in. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

That’s the stage we’ve reached now – where everything needs to run on some sort of a schedule. And most of it rushes by in a blur.

I’ve forgotten what it was like when everything was in slow motion. Walking slowly to keep up with unsteady feet. Holding back as small fingers fumbled with shoelaces. Practically sitting on my hands as a baby fist grasped a small teaspoon and brought rice to its mouth, spilling 90% before it reached its destination.

And a reminder of what parenthood really entails. All these endless acts of patience. You don’t go braindead doing this, as most people suspect. You learn patience, compassion and you appreciate what it takes for a muscle to move in a certain way, for a mind to comprehend a certain concept.

And as dusk fell, I went home appreciating the time I’ve spent with them. Ready to enjoy the bustle that lay ahead. Looking forward to what tomorrow brings.

And oh – I did get home before them. Phew!

The Nursery is Dark

Thanks to Gentle Whisperer’s suggestion I went through my posts from 2008 and have dug up the first ‘The Nursery is Dark’ post.

———————-

The Nursery is Dark

… said a friend driving by our home and looking up. Where are the kids?

The kids have gone with my parents. To spend a week or so with them in our hometown. My parents have been asking for a while to take them. And I’ve been tired, bogged down with work and trying to spend time with them and a dozen other problems. So in a moment of weakness I said yes. The OA is only too happy to get rid of them and spend some alone time and also some happy-couple-time.

But me? I know it’s only a matter of time before I go and do what I did the last time the Brat went to visit my parents and the time before that – go bury my head in his cupboard, smell the baby-bratty smell in his little washed and ironed teeshirts and cry.

But this time they’ve taken away my Bean. My baby Bean. I don’t know if I want to cry or not. It feels quite foolish considering I have sent them willingly. Well willingly only because the parents want them and the OA thinks that between work and home I don’t get a break and because the Bean cries through nights, the Brat has been sick and we haven’t had a good night’s sleep since Noah’s Ark set sail. I know the OA wants some time off to do his own thing  – adult things without worrying about it being baby-friendly or not. And the biggest reason – because the babies get what we can’t give them here – space and pets and freedom. They come back happier and healthier.

How lucky you are, say friends with little kids – you can leave your kids and go for a holiday. Well yes, we’re lucky to have my young parents with a huge house and lots of help and family around. But we are forced to leave the kids simply because we don’t get a break through the rest of the year. We take the kids everywhere with us, we aren’t in the habit of dragging an ayah per kid along to every place. They’re usually strapped on to us or in a stroller or their car seats. We have no near and dear ones in Delhi who we can safely leave the kids with and go to work or for a movie. Our phones are switched on to silent mode even during important meetings so that if the kids wake up or cry, the maid calls and we rush back. And since that is such a hassle, we usually ensure that one of us is home if the other is out. There are no really good daycares where we can leave them and know that they are safe. So yes, more than anyone else, we need to take this break from the kids, the responsibility and the stress and exhaustion.

The original idea had been to go away for a few days, but we’ve changed our minds. We’ll just be hanging around at home and catching up on much needed sleep. Maybe hitting a pub or a disco if I can fit my fat butt into anything slinky. Let’s see.

But I was cranky all of yesterday. I didn’t realise it. I was yelling at the OA and snapping at people and giving the Brat time-outs in the crib like it’s going out of fashion. It was when I was out on the balcony collecting the dry clothes that my brother turned up and put an arm around me. He didn’t need to even ask what happened. There’s something about having your childhood mate, the one person who has always been around, look at you with kindness. I fell into his arms and blubbered like a baby – I don’t want to give my babies to Mamma.

There. It was out. And he soothed me and asked why I had agreed in the first place. ‘Because I know they love taking the kids back, I know the kids enjoy it and I know the OA craves the break… but I? I don’t even like to leave them to go back to a fulltime job. So crazy about my two little pests am I…’

Mad Sibling goes back into the house.

Ten minutes later I walk in with the folded laundry and my mother demands – You don’t want to send the kids with us? Then why didn’t you say so?

MM looks around in confusion. Light dawns. She hunts for the Mad Sibling, realises he is in the toilet and is just about held back from breaking the door down and killing him.

I explain to the parents that it’s not about them. It’s me. I am just unable to let the children go so far away, without us. One is a year old and the other is not even three. I know they will be well taken care of, but I still hate the thought of not being available to them. And I know that the OA wants a holiday and some rest. I need it too. But I am willing to forego everything, just to have those two little baby faces look up at me with big smiles.

The Bean got really attached to my mother over the last few days and I hadn’t had any trouble putting them into the train and leaving. She’d been a little clingy earlier in the day but that is just her reaction to me. When I am not around, she is fine. Which is the case with both my kids. They love having us around, but they’re confident, happy little kids who go off with everyone now.

I got off the train and pressed my nose to the darkened glass, trying to catch a glimpse. They didn’t notice me. They were jumping around on the berths and laughing, my parents already the centre of their universe. I stared at the Bean. Willing her to look at me. I don’t know why. I should have been happy that she had settled in without a backward glance.

I stood out there – just watching the tableau. The two grandparents playing with the babies. All four happy faces. I knew they’d all be okay. I don’t know how long I stared, but I suddenly noticed my brother and the OA reflected in the glass. Standing patiently behind me. We left the station and drove home. The city sights flashing by the window as I stared out blindly.

The first time we left the Brat with my parents was to go to Goa. He was just short of a year old and I dropped him off and came back. He was fine and when they brought him back, he looked at me as though I was a stranger. It broke my heart. But atleast I knew he had been happy. By the second time I knew he would be fine and I didn’t want to send him, but I was desperately sick and had no help. With a working mother who had no time to come and help me with him, I just had to send him there. The third time he was a pro. He’s already been away 5 times for about a week each time and he’s not even three yet. He is quite a happy little chap, extending a hand of friendship, trusting and confident… and always ready for new experiences.

But the Bean? The Bean is all mine. The one I have cared for from the first day. The one no one else helped with. The one I single-handedly cared for with no parents or anyone around, straight out of hospital and surgery. The one I held close to myself, night after night, sure that I wouldn’t share her for a minute with anyone else. The Bean who I desperately wanted to be non-clingy yet now can’t believe that she actually has changed and become so easy going.

I just spoke home. They reached an hour or two ago. The kids are playing in the dirt with the four dogs. I can see the picture in my mind’s eye. The huge 100 year old mango trees under which my grandmom played. Where my mum played hide and seek. Where the brother and I built a treehouse and got up early in the morning to watch birds. And now the fourth generation sits in the shade of those very same trees. Who knows, maybe my greatgrandmother still watches over the home and is happy to see my two little ones mucking around.

The Bean is screaming ‘bow bow’ in delight and licking the dogs back as they frolic with her. I can hear her in the background as I talk to my mother. I can imagine her chasing the squirrels as they scamper up trees. I can see the Brat leading her grandly by the hand to the two ponds to see the fishies. I can imagine them getting into the fireplaces and playing peekaboo. The old house must have come alive with the baby sounds after almost 20 years.

The Bean has apparently already walked into my uncle and aunt’s little nursery school and plonked herself on the benches to attend class, sitting in between children who are three times her age and twice her height. I ache to see that with my own eyes. Instead I sit here listening to maudlin music, the tears pouring down my cheeks, the ache growing as I miss them. Knowing fully well that for them I am out of sight and out of mind. Getting a taste of what life will be like after they go to college. I have a pile of work to do and a meeting in another hour. I should stop now and get going but somehow I won’t cut such an impressive figure with my tear stained cheeks.

You know how they tell you to get a job and not let your children fill up your life because you won’t be able to fill the void once they leave for college? Well I had planned for this trip of theirs and taken on extra meetings and interviews and stories in anticipation of the long days ahead. So my time is accounted for. I don’t have a spare minute. And yet, yet, nothing on earth can fill the void in my life. Don’t believe them when they tell you that having a job fills the empty nest. It’s not true. Babies leave a baby-shaped hole in your heart that no job or man or hobby on earth can fill.

I absently think that I must get up and go draw the curtains in the nursery because it is 10 am and the sun shines in on the kids making the room hot and unbearable. And then I realise that I don’t need to. I didn’t throw open the curtains and let the sunshine in this morning. The nursery is still dark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Edited to add: To add to it – my brother too left this morning and I hugged him at the top of the stairs and cried. And when he left, I sat down on the stairs – too unhappy to walk back into the emptiness of the home I love so much. And cried like an abandoned orphan. I’d resigned myself to seeing him only at Xmas this year, after he visited India last October for his wedding. This visit was a surprise and it’s completely destroyed the composure and left me miserable. I watched him and the SIL play with my children and I know I want to see his children grow up with mine. I want to see them not once a year but every week. Every month, if not everyday. Of what use is family if you meet like strangers once a year?

The nursery is dark. Again.

We’ve left the Brat and Bean with my parents every year for a week or two while the OA and I take off on our own for a bit, after they turned one. Just to live it up, so to speak. Auli, Goa, Manali, Turkey, the US, we did it all without the kids. Of course we do lots of holidays with them through the year but that one couple holiday a year has been sacred. Not because they’re not rock solid, awesome travelers, but because once in a while the OA and I love being able to look into each other’s eyes meaningfully without someone going – “What happened? Has she got an eyelash in her eye? Why are you holding his hand? Can’t he walk by himself? Will she get lost? Arre, why’re you kissing him? You can kiss me instead.”

Except for last year when we felt a pang of guilt and ended up taking them to Bangkok with us. This changed everything. We now find we can’t take any holidays without them because the guilt just runs us through like a sword and we don’t enjoy the freedom.

We’ll be off on our annual long holiday soon and we’re taking the kids with us. But the kids had other ideas. They wanted to go spend time with the oldies in the small town. But how, when, why, I protest. There’s holiday homework to be done and swimming to do and plays to be caught…

We’ll go stay with the grandparents, they insist. You go anywhere you want, Bangkok, Madras, whatever you want.

Very nice. Nice to be thrown over for a couple of old farts. Nice for our big city pleasures to be rejected for the joys of playing with the dogs and spending time in the big old house, going from grandparent to grandparent. I was particularly reluctant this time because Chhote Nana and my mum both have broken legs and the kids are used to very active young grandparents. Chhote Nana was 40 when the Brat was born, for chrissake!  The kids called the oldies and demanded that they invite them and of course the OA and I were steamrollered once that got out.

I was a little misty-eyed at their excitement to go home. My parents’ home, that is. Every year I worry that they’ll get a little too big city. A little too stuck up for the pleasures of fish ponds and mango trees. Of walking dogs and drives into a little local market that has a queue at its one and only McDonald’s outlet. Of old people who are up with the lark and out before the nightingale makes her appearance.

It’s not happened yet. If anything, the Brat (bless his soul) gets more attached to his grandparents every year and sobs when he leaves them – something he doesn’t do when we leave him there. He is upset for days after we bring him back to Delhi and we spend a lot of time and energy cheering him up and getting him back into the swing of things. The Bean on the other hand is usually happy to bloom where she’s planted. Happy with us, happy with them, happy to be back. Except for this year. She’s slowly growing into the daughter I’ve always dreamed of, almost a friend, helping me around the house, sticking by my side, fighting with the OA over me – all this when she’s not busy fighting with me! We’re the worst of enemies and the best of friends and she’s missing me terribly this time. She wants to be there and enjoy the grandparents, but she wants me too. Obviously I can’t be on leave endlessly and working from there is just too distracting and crazy so I avoid it unless necessary.

The granders of course have bent backwards to entertain them, more so because they have broken legs and don’t want that to spoil the kids’ fun. My dad and Chhoti Nani have made up for the other two damaged oldies and taken them all over the place, evening jaunts, history walks, planting saplings, doing homework, going swimming and what not. Much more than the OA and I would have done on weekdays for sure.

To the extent that a few nights ago we were out to catch a play with the SRE and Dipali and the OA mentioned to them that he thinks my parents are the best kind of grandparents because they’re so involved and so much fun. Made me all lump-in-the-throaty because I was trying to be dismissive of their efforts and referring to them as idiots (yes, I’m a polite, well brought up daughter) and here was the son in law, ignoring his trying-too-hard-to-be-cool wife and honestly appreciating what his in-laws were doing. I have to admit that there are times I wish my parents were the old retired sort who trailed us around the country raising our kids while the OA and I raced ahead on our respective career paths. And then I feel a pang of guilt for wishing that on them. And myself. Our kids are ours to raise and its nice for them to get a holiday once in a while and then let the grandparents get back to having a life of their own.

The OA and I have spent the last 3 weeks behaving like teens so I have to admit that this life of your own business is rather underrated. Sleeping late, eating at odd hours, spur of the moment plans, cussing out idiotic drivers on the roads is all rather easy to get addicted to and thoroughly enjoyable. But by mid second week I heard that the OA was calling and speaking to the kids each morning on his way to work and I was all set to jump into the train and bring them back unreserved if I had to.

But we’ve held our horses and we have just a few more days to go. Until then, you can read some old posts on the brat breaks we’ve taken. My favourite post on this topic was called The Nursery is Dark. I’ve combed my archives but just can’t find it. :(

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/and-while-we-get-our-act-together/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/baharon-phool-barsao/

http://themadmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/going-bananas/