Bad luck hi kharab hai

The Bean has been sick for more than a month now. Fever, cough, cold, a bout of urticaria, an allergic reaction which gave her boils in her nose, her ear and her face, and a chance that she had an intestinal obstruction. And of course the ever present asthma.

She’s a fiery little spirit and apart from the days when she’d thrown up too much to be active, her sharp little tongue and sharper brain, kept us entertained and reassured that she was going to be okay.

She began class two a couple of days ago, but hadn’t been to school in weeks. So I finally gave in to her pressure and sent her to school. With her nebuliser in her backpack.

She can assemble it in a trice, and knows how to pack it up and fit it back in the case neatly too. As she slung her heavy bag on to her skinny little back, waved her fragile wrist cheerfully and set off to school, I felt my heart break into a million pieces.

No child should know how to do this. And no child should have to carry her nebuliser to school.

In other good (!) news, my mother slipped in the toilet yesterday and smashed her ankle. A little piece has separated and she might need surgery to see it through.

I teased her that this was text book old age – Slip in the bathroom and break a leg.

I sit here chewing my nails in worry as I surf the net for a ticket. I keep an eye on my phone in case the school calls saying the Bean needs to be sent home.

And all the while I wonder how people who have terminally ill patients, be they parent or child, manage to do this endlessly. Perhaps they make their peace with it.

All I know is that I’m emotionally wrung out.

Chhote Nana had his last surgery day before yesterday and they had to give him 8 times the dosage of anaesthesia that they give to regular patients. He now has 15 rods in his leg that they keep fiddling with, keeping him in a constant state of agony. Seven months and he’s not out of bed, nowhere close to walking.

I’ve lost count of the number of surgeries he’s had and I worry for Cousin K who has been with his father through all of them.

He’s only 23 and he’s been through more than most of us have experienced in a lifetime. Three of the family of four in hospital. One close to death.

We’re watsapping each other on the family group and the phone pings madly through the day and night. The US arm, the sleepless invalids, everyone is up at all hours. I suggest that our generation take a vacation once all the oldies have recovered. We deserve it. The parents chorus  - Yes, you all do.

I’m busy checking on who has eaten, who is in pain.

Cousin K messages – I’m on hospital duty and Dada has had his breakfast.

I suggest something else.

And a weary – No one gives a rat’s arse about what I’m saying -is the response.

I giggle inspite of myself.

Yes, we’re highly irreverent.

My mother responds immediately – What nonsense, I’m doing as I’ve been told.

A weight lifts off me slowly. The tickets have come through and I can be by her side as she undergoes the procedure tomorrow.

Don’t come, she begs. Stay with the Bean.

My mother with a badly smashed ankle.

My daughter so badly asthmatic that she takes the nebuliser in her stride and merrily heads off to school.

Do I stay or do I go?

The OA gives me a look – Do you really think I’m less capable of caring for the kids than you?

No. No, I don’t. In fact he’s more meticulous and careful than I can ever be.

But I’m good for cuddles, laughs, stories and general smothering.

I tell my maid not to skip work while I’m traveling because Bhaiya will be managing office and kids alone. I tell her why I’m going – my mother has had an accident.

She tsks with real concern – How terrible. Now who will take care of your father?

I resist lecturing her and head off to pack my overnighter. It takes me a couple of minutes because now I have a mental checklist of what I’ll need in case of an emergency in the family.

Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of illness for a while.

Or as Cousin K helpfully suggests on our watsapp group – Anyone else want to break any bones? Please do it now. We have a room booked in X hospital and might get a group discount.

Laughter really is the best medicine.

See you on the other side.

 

Celebrations!

I realise I’ve really neglected this blog over the last year or two, so time to try and play catch up! First off, the Bean’s 6th birthday. She had just attended a dozen mermaid parties with fake curls, tiaras and mer-tails so she had that playing on her mind when she asked me for a party with mermaids. We chatted about it for a while and I broadened the scope to make it an underwater theme. Not being too committed to mermaids that suited her fine and we soon had a whole underwater theme going.

As luck would have it, I’d just ordered a box from Kukucrate (they make up theme based kits and you can subscribe to them for a funfilled month) for a trial and the theme for the month was Underwater! Such a stroke of luck. The night before the party was spent with the Bean, Brat, and a friend and her son helping me make decorations, wrap return gifts and generally organise things. One of the items in the Kukucrate box was thermocol half-globes that we painted and inserted pipe cleaners into, to make jellyfish. This we hung from a lampshade in the living room and it looked lovely.

Surprisingly I had a lot of blue cushions, blue curtains, blue table cloths and fish shaped tableware so the house was dressed up to suit the theme. We hung green and blue crepe paper cut into strips to look like seaweed and hung up strings of blue and green balloons which burst the moment we hung them in the garden. The children have outgrown their swimming tubes- a turtle and a something-or-the-other that I hung up in the garden. A basket of soft balls was given and the kids had to aim through the centre of the tube. Many of them got it and Cousin K and the OA who suddenly realised they were running out of gifts, began to up the ante. Began to shake the tube so that it was harder to aim at, the kids still got it. Then put the trampoline at the start line and began to make the kids jump on the trampoline while aiming, while Cousin K kept shaking the tube around.

It was hilarious fun and by the end the OA, Cousin K and one other mother who had stayed with her daughter and I, had collapsed in a heap, laughing. The kids of course loved the way the game got tougher and tougher and surprised us with their ability to keep up with it. I picked up some face painting crayons and made tattoos for the kids  - sea themed. I have to say the kids were rather gentle in the way they looked at my handiwork pityingly and said, ‘It’s not too bad, Aunty. You could be a great tattoo artist someday if you keep practising.’ Err, thank you. The OA manned a third corner where the kids were fishing for paper fish on paper clips, with magnets. This too was from the Kuku crate box and very popular with the kids. The fourth corner was a rug with crayons and sheets of sea themed animals for the kids to colour.

The cake was a two tier fresh strawberry cake with crabs and other sea creatures crawling all over it. Fantastic. A lot of the food fit the theme too. I opened up strawberry cream oreos and placed small white marshmallows in them to look like oysters, bought a small fish bowl and filled it with goldfish biscuits, cut a yellow capsicum and studded it with olives to look like an octopus and stuck it in a bowl of hung curd dip. Also had bowls of grapes and pomegranates. And one huge dish of sausages and another of popcorn that was a huge hit. The Bean had begged me with the world in her eyes for Maggi and so for the first time the banned item made it to my dining table in a huge fishy dish. I can’t tell you how funny it was to see the adults dig into it when they came to pick up their kids. I’d honestly imagined I’d be struck off their X’mas card lists.

For the first time this year I politely requested all parents to drop kids and pick them up. We usually like our parties full of kids, parents, a few cold beers and lots of fun. But increasingly I realise kids misbehave when their own parents are around. Left to our tender mercies they play according to rules, don’t push or fight and generally end up being far better behaved. The party ended with a few friends staying back for a drink, the kids sliding into a pile on the carpet and watching some TV and all of us polishing off the simply fantastic cake. Burp. 

Pictures now.

The octopus taking a dip

The octopus taking a dip

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A huge dish of Maggi with veggies, the oyster oreos, sausages, popcorn and goldfish in a bowl

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The jellyfish from the Kukucrate kit hanging from a lampshade

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Green and blue balloons and a turtle shaped swimming tube to aim balls through.

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The kids spent a pleasant few hours cutting out these sea creatures and colouring them. Then we stuck them on a ribbon. It is currently being used as a banner in the nursery.

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Some portions of the house that were in keeping with the blue/sea theme.

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The Kukucreate items that worked with our theme – jellyfish made of thermocol and pipecleaners, and the paper cutouts with clips to fish for with magnets.

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Was most thrilled to find a fishy cushion I’d picked up at Fabindia on a whim.

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For those who wanted to sit by the pool and chill.

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I have more fishy bowls than I realise!

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The tenth anniversary was supposed to be in Bora Bora. But then we had kids and I stayed home and we were wondering if we’d even be in a position to make it to Baroda. ;) Anyhow, the plan is a convoluted one. A quick short trip with my parents to Orchha, on the weekend pre-anniversary, the day off for the OA and I to spend together in our pajamas and then go for a fancy dinner, on the anniversary. And a slightly delayed big holiday with the kids to Bangkok, again, to celebrate 10 years of being US. People did suggest we leave the kids and go, but as I’ve said often, my kids might be good for nothing else, but they’re fantastic travelers. And what are we celebrating at the end of these ten years if not our love and the product of that love.

It was not the best time on earth to go to Orchha but we’ve been wanting to do it for ages and as luck would have it, the weather was great – grey and a slight drizzle. The OA got me books, flowers, jewelry. I thought and thought and thought and finally thunked. I knew what to get a man who didn’t want anything else for his anniversary – a wife who would drive. Yep, I’ve begun to drive and it was quite useful because I’d barely done ten days when I found myself being shoved behind the Scorpio’s wheel while the OA went off to clear up a traffic jam on the highway. I was terrified as I took the wheel, but I guess there is something to being forged by fire. The kids were majorly tickled by seeing me drive and I guess the only thing left now is to not give up as I have before. It’s killing my knees, but I’m going to hang in there.

My parents joined us for the weekend and it was particularly significant for me because if they hadn’t supported us, it would have been just another quick court registry before we got on with life. They’re still quick to support us in our times of need, tell us off if we’re behaving idiotically and basically be the best support system anyone could have.

So, back to Orchha, we stayed in some lovely tents, visited the Orchha fort, went for the light and sound show, drove to Shivpuri and spent a day at the Madhav National Park  - sighted crocs, blue bull, deer, a variety of birds (all mostly spotted by the Brat even before the guide could open his mouth) and much more. Is it just me or are guides mostly picked for their ability to annoy and patronise? Even a lovely boat ride where we spotted more crocs and birds. Back at the hotel the kids spent a lot of time in the pool while I read a book in peace after a long time.

On the last day we drove into Jhansi and visited the Fort and also Rani Lakshmi Bai’s palace. An old lady sat at the door charging us Rs 2 for entry and taking the tickets back as we left, no doubt to charge someone else. A guide wandered around trying to educate us, mixing up fact with fiction and telling us that Aurangzeb died because Ma Kali appeared before him and scared him to death.

These were the greats of our country. For Rani Lakshmi Bai to do what she did, when she did, was commendable. And now her personal palace lies in ruins, the gardens overrun, a smelly toilet left open, paan stains in the corners and the rooms empty, covered in cobwebs, the building falling apart. So little is left of a life as magnificent as hers, what do you think will be left once we pass on? We don’t even have a legacy such as hers. No poems, no stories, nothing.

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s rousing poem (she happens to be from my part of the world!) on the warrior queen came rushing back to mind and even as I wandered around the decrepit building I felt the tears rush to my eyes. Khoob ladi mardaani woh toh Jhansi waali rani thi. I began to recite from memory to the kids, the OA joined in and my voice broke – we both looked away, embarrassed at how overwhelming it was.

It was a rushed trip, all this covered in a mere three days, including the drive. So much of this beautiful country left to see, so little time. And now, photos of the trip.

Different views of the Orchha Fort. Simply stunning.

Different views of the Orchha Fort. Simply stunning.

Because I couldn't take anymore stairs.

Because I couldn’t take anymore stairs.

The light and sound show at Orchha.

The light and sound show at Orchha.

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Can you spot me and the babies?

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The Bean admires the view from a jharokha.

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You can almost hear the sound of payals down this corridor.

Our hotel was built around ruins. The gardens were stunning.

Our hotel was built around ruins. The gardens were stunning.

A ruin right in the middle of the Madhav National Park.

A ruin right in the middle of the Madhav National Park.

The Bean falls asleep with my hat on her face, as we settle the hotel bill.

The Bean falls asleep with my hat on her face, as we settle the hotel bill.

The OA tries to make up for me not being able to take the stairs by describing everything to me. This is why I married him.

The OA tries to make up for me not being able to take the stairs by describing everything to me. This is why I married him.

Loved this train track running through Gwalior, people hopping on and off as though it were a bus.

Loved this train track running through Gwalior, people hopping on and off as though it were a bus.

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The aangan in Rani Lakshmi Bai's palace. I'd love to sit here with a book. I wonder if she ever got to enjoy it in peace.

The aangan in Rani Lakshmi Bai’s palace. I’d love to sit here with a book. I wonder if she ever got to enjoy it in peace.

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The Brat’s 8th birthday was one of the most rushed plans ever. I was supposed to be travelling on a shoot and back in time for his big day, but I was only coming back late night on the 4th and didn’t think I could get everything ready for the next day. So we planned for the next weekend. And then the shoot got cancelled and we decided to let him have the pleasure of his party on his birthday and everything had to be rushed forward by a week – crazy! We hadn’t thought of anything other than the cake and the rest were quickly thrown into place.

Now that the kids are old enough for organised games, we picked a version of Pin the tail, in this case, on a dino. The OA decided to draw a T-rex for his son and I was as usual, shocked by how good an artist he is. He is my favourite example of eldest son primed to become CEO and nothing less. Free of social pressures and patriarchy, this man who never picks up a pencil other than to teach his kids, would have been a good artist. If nothing else, the peace on his face when he sketches, says something. If I could give my husband one thing, it would be a fresh start. One where studies took a back seat to the many talents he has, be it art or cooking or sports. Anyhow, lest you think I’m a fond wife gushing, check this picture out. He drew it without erasing anything and then let the kids colour it.

The T-rex being sketched by the OA. The Brat coloured it after his father was done.

The T-rex being sketched by the OA. The Brat coloured it after his father was done.

I have become the official tattoo artist after the Bean’s party and have been painting themed tattoos for the kids. Most of them take one look at the tattoo I’ve made, shake their heads sadly at me as though – You poor deluded woman, you call yourself an artist? And then walk away without a word so as to not hurt my feelings. They all came back for seconds, thirds and face painting after a while.

The food was deviled eggs, pancakes, fruit, popcorn, sausages and Maggi – again, since the Bean had asked for it, the Brat had to, too. We made little signs and stuck them on ice cream sticks that were dug into lumps of Plasticine – saying Carnivorous and Herbivorous to mark out veg and non-veg food. We also made up funny names for the rest like Primordial Slime, for the Maggi and Oviraptor Eggs for the devilled eggs. The kids had a lovely time and the OA and I actually finished cleaning, sweeping and swabbing the floor by 9 pm and got into bed in time to watch a few episodes of our latest obsession – Homeland. The Brat got an insane number of books, most of them on animals; clearly his friends know him well. :)

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The OA working on his masterpiece.

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We moved pots around to create a jungle entrance to our place.

We moved pots around to create a jungle entrance to our place.

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The OA’s T-rex fruit salad is almost ready. We added some pineapple and mango to the watermelon.

'Oviraptor' eggs!

‘Oviraptor’ eggs!

Pancakes

Pancakes shaped like dinos, with marshmallow eyes. These were a hit. 

The cake was fresh mango and sprinkled with cocoa powder. The fossil was fondant.

The cake was fresh mango and sprinkled with cocoa powder. The fossil was fondant.

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Some need a little help with conquering the ferocious T-rex.

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G’pa gets in on the action while a bunch of pint sized contestants distract him!

The “Just Married, Please Excuse” Contest

So, the very funny Yashodhara of Y On Earth Not, has a book out. I expected nothing less from her. Although how she managed three kids, a job and brought out a book, will always be a mystery to me. Titled Just Married, Please Excuse, it is pretty much autobiographical, telling the tale of Yash and Vijay’s courtship, and the early years of their marriage. While I’ve had the pleasure of learning her voice through her blog, nothing prepared me for the book. Kahani mein action hai, emotion hai, aur drama bhi hai. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited before I picked it up, because hey, I read her blog… I know how this story ends. But it’s a whole different thing to have the gaps filled in and handed to you in the form of a book.

I read it through the night, fully knowing where it was going. And I guess that is the triumph of her writing. It keeps you engaged and amused to the very last page. I’m not going to tell you anymore – so buy the book.  What I will do though, is tell you a story of the OA and I, just after we got married. But before that, some stories from the week just before we got married. This is an entry for a contest she is running and since I love Mamagoto’s food enough to sell my kids and park myself there for a lifetime, I’m participating in the hope of winning a meal. Yes, I’m cheap like that.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the OA and I had a rather filmy love story. Dashing Hindu boy meets shy Christian girl. Pursues her until she gives in. Suddenly realises he should have been working on his parents instead of her, but it’s too late. Boy’s parents dig their heels in, boy decides to follow his heart and the girl. Boy and girl struggle to put him through post grad college and true love triumphs.

This is where this story begins. Convocation was over and as he tossed his cap into the air, I felt a surge of pride. We’d done this without anyone else. A lot of other students had significant others attending, but they also had parents. We were a lonesome twosome with no adults (I still thought of myself as not-quite-an-adult) there for us. Our wedding was a week later so his parents were at the height of their outrage and mine were busy organising the event.

The next day we had a train to catch back to my hometown. Two heavy suitcases dragged to the gate, friends hugging at every step, congratulations being shouted out (he was the first getting married straight off campus), plans being made… and we were late for the train by, oh.. about an hour already.

As the cab pulled in to the station we heard the train whistle. We had it all planned. He’d rush ahead and pull the chain to stop the train. I’d follow with the coolies and the luggage. He raced off and I started running, urging the coolies to keep up. We jumped down on to the filthy tracks, clambered on to the next platform and repeated the exercise until we reached the correct platform. As I clambered on to the last filthy platform, my hands a mess, my teeshirt filthy, the train jerked to life and phlegmatically began to pull out. I screamed for the OA, frantically looking up and down the platform. He was nowhere to be seen. And then I saw him wave in my face as his coach flashed by me. “Throw me that suitcase,” he yelled. And I made the coolie throw one in. The train chugged on, picking up speed and I made the coolie throw the next one in to another coach. By now the OA was far ahead, while the other coolie was running alongside, collecting his earnings and giving change. I kept running along, realising (to my horror) that the end of the platform was nigh. I might have made a jump for it but the heavy bag on my shoulder would weigh me down. I needed someone to pull me into the train. But the love of my life, soon to be husband, was riding a train and disappearing into the sunset – without me.

And then, DDLJ style, a hand shot out of the coach and a stranger’s voice called my name. It was not the OA’s hand – the OA’s ugly, stubby fingers cannot be mistaken and this was a beautifully made, strong brown, male hand – but I didn’t care. I grabbed hold and the hand pulled me in with little effort, just as the platform came to an end. I gasped in relief and looked up at my rescuer in surprise. Who could he be? He was the OA’s batchmate and had taken the liberty to help when he saw me in need. I thanked him profusely and headed off to find the OA and tell him what I thought of being thrown over for a couple of suitcases of books.

Of course, being the OA and I, we were as disorganised as ever and the reservations had been done too late, with the result that we had only one berth to share all the way back. The last couple of days in college had been stressful and he looked exhausted, so I generously forgave him and obligingly squeezed myself into a corner so that he could get some sleep. The hours flew by and we pulled into another station. He opened one eye and I asked him, solicitiously if he’d like a cup of tea. He nodded, turned over and went back to sleep. Telling myself that the poor man needed some TLC, I headed off to hunt for some tea. I found one chaiwala eventually and he was mobbed. I waited my turn and as he handed me my cups, he said, “Madam, isn’t that the train you were on?”

Were on??

I turned around to see the train was pulling out of the platform and leaving me behind, for the second effing time that day. Flinging down the hard-earned, steaming cups of tea, I ran along the train again, the speed just that bit too much for me to risk my life. I hoped and prayed that the OA had realised I was not on the train and was looking for me. I should have known better.

Once again, a voice called my name and the now familiar hand popped out. I grabbed without a thought and jumped on to the train. The OA’s friend had seen me get off the train and realised I’d not got back on when it started. I pledged my firstborn to him and rushed to wake the OA and tell him of how misfortune was following me. He opened an eye, heard me out and then, disappointment writ large on his face, said, “You mean you didn’t get any chai?”

At that moment I deeply regretted not having managed to get the chai. I could have flung it in his face.

And yes, dear readers, I married him inspite of that. Shoulda married the other guy. He’s married too, now, by the way. Too late.

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But picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

The night before the wedding we were a raucous household. Family from all around the world was staying at our place and of course the OA too. He had to be, considering he had nowhere else to go. He was part of my mehendi, I was part of his cocktail party. As we called it a night, happy and exhausted, my Uncle who was down from Australia after a gazillion years, recklessly volunteered to make breakfast and his desi favourite, mango lassi for everyone. But he needed some help. The distinct lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the family didn’t deter him. Finally, the OA, drunk as a skunk and always up for anything food related, offered to help. Yes, you can always tell which ones are not related to us by blood, because they enjoy cooking. No one in my bloodline is a happy cook! Heck, that’s why we live in India and hire people to do it.

Anyhow, he woke up at the crack of dawn and began to help Uncle. I, naturally, after all that   train-chasing, was getting some much-needed beauty sleep. An old family friend came by to see us in the early hours of the morning. She was too old to attend the wedding and reception at night, and wanted to wish us in advance.

Ma settled her into the living room and said she’d just sent someone to wake me up and I’d be awake and down in a minute.

The lady nodded understandingly and said, ‘What about the groom? Where is he?’

Oh, said Ma, he’s in the kitchen.

Right, said the sweet old lady… ‘having breakfast, I suppose?’

No, said Ma. She is honest to a fault. “He’s cooking it.”

It would not be an exaggeration to say the old lady almost fell off her chair.”Look, I know his parents are against the marriage, but surely you can’t treat him this way because he has no one standing up for him!”

I still split my sides laughing over this one. And yes, of course we cleared that up.

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Now while the idea was not to ill treat the OA because no one was standing up for him, we’re not the sort of family to stand on ceremony and give him son-in-law treatment either. And that is how he found himself on the railway station with my brother, at the ungodly hour of 4 am, picking up family coming in on a delayed train. Everyone was pulling their share of weight and I don’t think either we or he, even considered doing it any other way.

My grandmother and her siblings arrived and my brother introduced the OA by name to them. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic in their greeting and the OA and my brother put it down to age and exhaustion on their part. A lazy red glow spread as the sun rose and they drove home in silence until my granduncle asked my monosyllabic brother if he could take him to visit his old college, in our hometown. This is how the conversation went.

Granduncle: I studied in this city, 45 years ago. Do you think you could take me to see my old college?

Tambi: Actually Thatha, we’re pretty busy with the wedding arrangement and your college is on the outskirts of the city. We may not get the time.

Granduncle gesturing towards the OA: What about him? Can he take me?

Tambi: No, Thatha, he doesn’t know his way around the city. He’s not from here.

Granduncle, looking disappointedly at the OA: Oh I see. Is he here to attend the wedding?

Tambi (master of understatement) drawls: I sure hope so.

Yes, yes, granduncle realised his faux pas later, but this story has given us many a merry evening.

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And now finally, so that I don’t get disqualified on the technicality that I’m not married during these tales, I’ll share the honeymoon one.

When I met the OA and fell in love, I was rather in awe of him. He was older, wiser… and I thought he’d take care of me. Yeah, Sound of Music hangover. And to his credit, he mostly does. Except for when he doesn’t.

Poor as church mice, we took a bus from Delhi to Manali for our honeymoon. Hopes of a knight in shining armour were dashed to the ground rather rudely as the knight stuck his head out of the bus window and emptied his the contents of his stomach across the hill roads. I watched curiously, wondering how he could throw up more than he’d eaten in the last 6 meals put together. The only explanation was that he’d thrown up his intestines too. But I dutifully got him water, washed his face, begged someone to give us the seat up front and tried to (wo)manfully raise my shoulder as high as I could to give him a head rest. Too drained to care, he slept. Around us other honeymooning couples billed and cooed and necked. I adjusted the smelly puker into a corner and resigned myself to a rather unromantic couple of hours.

Half way through the night the bus stopped. It was eerie. The sounds of the jungle came closer. I woke up and being the nosy person I am, checked out the bus. There was no reason to stop. No roadblock, nothing – and the driver was missing. I waited for someone else to make the first move. Three old ladies, sisters on a holiday together, hobbled off the bus to get an explanation. It turned out that the driver had decided to strike because he was being made to work overtime and not being paid for it. He laid out a blanket off the edge of the road and was snoring before we could say ‘Manali.’

The old ladies realised they needed numbers and came back to recruit from the hordes of youngsters in the bus. Shy young brides looked up at their husbands in awe as the men got up and stretched and swaggered, ready to get down and take on the lone driver. One of them called out to the OA to join them. He opened half a bleary eye and chivalrously volunteered, “Let my wife handle him. You won’t need to send anyone else,” and went back to sleep.

Yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen, I still honeymooned with him. Not just that, procreated and continue to live with him. A silent, suffering woman, that’s me. The only good that came of that night, is that we still dine out on that story.

The Summer of ’12 – Part 2

Okay ladies, I’m back. Man, you guys can work up a lather when you want, can’t you? :) (PS: Pictures added to the Turkey trip in the previous post. And don’t start freaking out, the OA didn’t bother to check – yes, it’s always his fault – and the camera would run out of charge after 2-3 hours  of use. So not too many pics anyway. Plus this trip was all about meeting people and not too much sightseeing, so all I have are pics of friends’ mugs and mine, grinning toothily into the camera . Not putting those up for obvious reasons.)

So we landed at the Dulles airport. Walked out, and were hit in the face by 40 degrees. WTF Virginia!? I know we come from Gurgaon, but hey, we’re here for a break, not a taste of home weather. Top that up with no ceiling fans in most homes and it’s deadly.

Anyhow, I’m rushing ahead. The first thing I laid eyes on as we exited, was the most darling, dimply face. My nephew Baby Button. I have to confess that I was terrified he’d be one of those babies who need space, and time etc. All those things I politely accept when offered in public but would hate in my own kids. Okay, don’t lynch me. Do you want honesty on this blog or not? So I approached him with trepidation, then promptly forgot all my resolutions, abandoned my luggage trolley and threw myself at him with all the eagerness of a puppy. Fortunately he’s a true desi baby who is as used to random strangers as the next and he put his little round arms around my neck and submitted to being slobbered all over, without a squeak.

We went home with me itching to pull him out of his car seat, all the while reminding myself that I was in a country where it was against the rules. The first couple of days were spent just sacking out at home and rolling on the carpet playing the stupidest games ever. But games that kept a 16 month old amused. I might be biased here, a wee bit… but I think he’s the brightest, beautifulest, most amazing baby on earth. There. Let’s just get that out of the way so that I can tell you all else without that playing on my mind.

The first weekend was spent at a cottage at a lake, with the Mad Sibling aka Tambi and his gang. Two cabins occupied, indoor pool, loads of babies all over the place and more food than I’ve seen in a long time. I loved how everyone just picked up and fed a baby, never mind who it belonged to. Anyone would change a diaper, any of the dads would take the kids for a swim. I guess that comes from having a small, close knit community. They see each other through the week and on the weekends obviously. I doubt we could ever do that back home. I don’t see myself scolding somebody else’s kid and living to tell the tale. Comes from having much bigger social circles I suppose. We can party every weeknight and still not meet the same friends more than once in 6 months.

I have to say with some regret, that I was a little underwhelmed by the country. I was all ready to be smacked in the face by the American Dream. All set to stand mouth agape. But that only happened in Turkey. The US countryside was pretty, but so was UK. Which left just the shopping. And with Gurgaon bursting at the seams with massive malls and foreign brands, there was nothing we had not seen before. Which didn’t stop us from shopping of course. What really bit me on the arse was the fact that every bit of cotton clothing I picked up, came from Bangladesh or India. What?! I didn’t spend my lifetime’s savings to go abroad and buy Indian maal. Why didn’t we just keep our best cotton here, to begin with? And I know the answer, so don’t start giving me 101 Economics. The OA already tried and wisely shut up when he saw the look on my face.

FYI, I’d got an MRI before going off and it shows that I have two torn ligaments and my right knee cartilage is shredded. I was told not to walk at all. But we left for our holiday and I was walking up to 10 hours a day, carrying bags etc. I’ve come home unable to move and have begun my physiotherapy. Am in a lot more pain now than I was, but I guess I have only my trip to blame for that. I shouldn’t have walked so much.

But I did. I did a lot of sighseeing and since we were short of time, we split up. So the OA went to Wall Street to pay his respects and I went to the NY Public Library. He went to an Iron Maiden concert (actually I’d have loved that too) and I went to spend the night with friends. We did a whole girlie night driving around DC, seeing the monuments by night, eating ice cream, watching movies and chatting till daybreak. None of us had our kids with us and that just took us back 15 years. We felt like we were in college. Giggling, screaming, arguing, having intense debates and then making life changing confessions. Many of these friends have been made much later in life – err.. yes, these were my bloggy pals.

Which made me wonder – are you still best friends with your school best friend? Is there such a concept as a best friend? I don’t think I’ve ever had one. Have your friends grown with you? Or have you outgrown and moved on and made new friends? I know, that thanks to the blogosphere and the internet, I’ve made many interesting friends later in life and I find I’m much closer to them than I am to people I knew years ago. Perhaps because I’ve changed so much as a person and have made these friends according to the person I am now. Not the joint rolling (yeah fine, so laugh at me, so what if I didn’t smoke ‘em?) roadie that I was. One friend has a theory. She says we lose a lot of our old friends because they don’t want to make the effort to understand us. It’s easier to just go along with the image of the person they knew us to be. What do you think? There’s an interesting piece by the NY Times here. Says it’s harder to make friends post 30. And yes, some of my closest friends, people I can call at 2 am, are friends I have made post 30. Now what?

Getting back on schedule, I fell in love with the homes. The big windows, the lovely gardens, the airy kitchens that even I wouldn’t mind cooking in. I was a bit aghast at the amount of paper towels used in kitchens and the amount of food people just ‘trashed’  - why do people verb every word? Look, like I just did! Cartons of juice, milk, bags of bread, all trashed after big parties because no one has the space to store them. I thought back to our piddly efforts to conserve in India and realised that for every bit of effort 10 families in India make to not waste food, one family in the US can reverse it, without trying too hard.

I loved the way people dressed in NY – So smart, so unselfconscious and so much fun. In contrast I found DC stodgier. My brother was most offended that I found NY more fun than the suburbs – “hah! What’s to like? Queues for the cabs and the toilets”. But I am a small  town girl who moved to the big city. I have no desire to drive to places. I want public transport, cultural events and zing. I know for sure now that I could never live in a suburb in  the West. It’s either a big city or nothing. In NY I forgot I was brown. In the suburbs my eyes searched for another non-white face. And since I don’t drive and have no sense of direction, moving to the US would be slightly suicidal.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find I am almost an XS in most brands. Until the OA gently reminded me that I am not getting any smaller. The average American was huge. I don’t want the offence coming in now, so please accept this as a villager’s observations, and not as judgment.

I loved how people smiled and said hello at stores. In India, you walk into a store and if it’s a small town kirana shop, it’s usually some grouchy, paunchy guy who serves you like he’s doing you a favour. So I loved being welcomed with “And how are you today?” I of course would smile and take the question seriously, while whoever had brought me out would roll their eyes. My excessive desi politeness left people confused. If I knocked over a display and went to say, “I’m terrible sorry but I …” , they’d look at me in surprise. Or if I asked – “Could you please help me find a blue in this teeshirt?” they’d hasten to serve me with alacrity. Until I learnt that all I had to say was “I’m looking for a blue in this.” Amazing how you can speak the same language and still have to take a crash course in simple shopping! The few firangs we ended up chatting with in buses and tubes were all surprised at how well we spoke English, which surprised me, considering the number of Indians living abroad.

We had a few unpleasant reminders of how it pours when it rains. Literally. There was a thunderstorm while we were there. We were at a Hawaiian theme party that night and the moment the heavens burst forth, we ran out and danced in the rain like crazed kids. Not so funny the next morning when we heard that trees had fallen and all sorts of disaster had struck, including electric lines going down. Some friends couldn’t lock their homes, others had to manually unlock garages, food was going bad in massive freezers, dishes couldn’t be done, I could go on. As the OA grinned, no one needs a generator or inverter there and there’s no jugaad option.

The next thing that went wrong was on our bus trip back from NY to DC. The AC stopped working after an hour and we still had three more to go. It was the middle of the afternoon and obviously, the bus windows were sealed. The firangs began stripping down to bare essentials, pulling tees up and tucking into bras, rolling pants, sweat pouring down faces, hair matted in the heat. And there I was, aunty from a village with no options in my tights and full sleeved shirt. I sat there and wondered if I  was going to die. The sun streamed in, baking me, and I lay limp, wondering how to phrase my epitaph. I have never, ever, faced such discomfort in my life. The bus stopped at Baltimore and we tumbled out on to a hot tar road, bare feet burning, hunting for water.

The last was my brother’s clothes dryer got spoilt. Of course we couldn’t hang clothes out in the balcony because it’s not done. So all that hot sun wasted away while we dried stuff all over the furniture. And the replacement piece had to be fitted back by my brother because no electrician was on speed dial. The OA and I looked at each other in horror as he opened up the machine nervously, no idea what was wrong or how to fix it. And then looked at him in awe as he figured it out and did it. Of course we’d have to do it if we lived there too, but we don’t have to and don’t want to, so yayy!

There were points when we missed the kids but mostly I was just glad we’d left them behind. They’re too old for strollers and too young to walk 10-12 hours a day. At the Museum of Natural History I saw the dinosaurs and felt my heart sink. It was just wrong to see anything dinosaur related without the Brat. And the OA and I, like love sick couples, became love sick parents. We made little videos and spoke to the kids right through them, doing our best to share them. I didn’t show it to them when we got back because I didn’t know if sharing what they missed out on was good or bad.

Which is not to say they didn’t have a blast without us. They went to Benaras, Orchcha and Madras with my parents. They loved the haveli they stayed in at Orchcha and Madras of course is a second home to them. Since my brother is the only other one among us 9 cousins who has procreated and is too far away, my kids reap the benefits of being the sole set of grandkids to many people. They were spoilt rotten and returned with no recollection of vegetarian fare. Egg dosas, prawn curry, roast chicken – the insane amount of protein brought them back taller, stronger, heavier, healthier and fussier. I have had to reintroduce them to plain vegetarian meals and they imagine we have nothing better to do than drop everything else and entertain them, which is pretty much what went on in Madras!

I think my happiest moments were the bookstores. I didn’t realise how different countries stock differently – the airport bookstore in Istanbul had me drooling. My SIL groaned because I even seemed to find books in grocery stores carted back a load. Yes, book post will come soon.

But what left me really heartbroken, was the Holocaust Museum in DC and the Museum of Tolerance in NY. I went to both – overkill, says the OA. And I cried through both. There are times I believe we should all be wiped out and the reset button pressed. How are we ever going to make up for the Holocaust? Darfur? Rwanda? Cambodia?

I feel like I’ve skipped over so much and left so much out. But I’m just overwhelmed by the trip. I met too many people I care too much about to blog about. I felt emotions I haven’t felt in a long while. Maybe the biggest thing was walking into my brother’s home. He left India a few days before my first anniversary and said he’d be back in 2 weeks. It’s been 8 years now. Big changes rarely come in that form. They come as small steps. A short two week trip changed his life as well as mine. Because most nights my prayers begin by asking God to move him closer to me. Perhaps what bothered me most, was not that I didn’t see him often enough. The poor child did visit almost twice a year. No. What bothered me, was that for the first time I didn’t know what his life was like. This was the first time I hadn’t lived his life with him and it jarred. I’ve come home feeling a load of my shoulders. I can die happy, knowing that I’ve been in his home, had him pour out dosas, rolled on the floor with his baby, gone on long drives with them, partied with their friends.

But nothing prepared me for the ache of handing my little Baby Button back to his mother’s arms when I said goodbye. I sobbed like a baby while he looked at me quizzically. We’d got to be best back seat friends. He had this funny way of pulling my arm across his belly and holding it there as he sat strapped in. Sometimes he’d pull my head into his little lap and pat me. He hated being strapped in and the OA and I once danced in the back seat for over 1.5 hours to keep him from crying on a long drive. My jaws ached with the funny faces I’d made but it was more than worth it to see his dimples resurface. I accidentally referred to myself as mama when I was playing with him. Because that is what it felt like. Like a third child in our old age, I laughingly told the OA. Of course kids being cruel in the way only they can, the little Button favoured the OA over his besotted aunt. The OA would ignore him deliberately, and he’d go over and pat him, try to get his attention. I wish I could play hard to get, but I’m temperamentally unsuited to that strategy. Even as the flight took off, I plugged my aching ears (I flew out with high fever and a bad cough and cold), and felt my eyes streaming and my body literally racked with sobs. It’s going to be years before we make the trip again. I don’t know if his aunt and uncle from India will be of as much interest to him then, as we were this time. I forgave the US for taking my brother. I have yet to forgive it for taking my little brat too.

Baby Button pulling me into his lap by my hair. It was his way of showing me how shitty being strapped up for 4 hours felt. I wonder who his car entertainment is now :(

At the Holocaust Museum.

Of chicken and pork – II

If I’d thought that the Bean getting chicken pox was the worst of it, it wasn’t. Keeping the kids away from each other was a Herculean task. We entered the house and both kids flew to Button – I screamed, “Don’t touch him!!” They came screeching to a halt and remembered everything I’d coached them all the way from Delhi.

At this point everyone in the family rushed in to ensure that their feelings weren’t hurt and I lost track. The basic rules were that we were to sanitize our hands with bottles lying around the house in between touching my two and the Button. Button had also been given a homoeopathic antidote and I don’t care what people say about the system, it worked, and how!

X’mas at our place has always been crazy. Throw in three kids who have to be kept apart and a bout of chicken pox and the crazy quotient sky rocketed. On the whole it wasn’t too bad because the Brat had his shot and the Button had the antidote. So the whole family did their best to entertain the Bean and not let her feel unloved each time the Brat and Button cuddled. If I had a rupee for every person who said it was unfair to expose the Button to CP, I’d be a rich woman. But I think we’re all a little richer for having spent that time together. The Brat and the Button were soon inseparable. The Button actually believed he was the Brat’s equal and would keep beating him up, pulling his hair, crawling all over him, and finally pushing him over, all while the Brat lay on the floor laughing helplessly and hugging him.

We had our annual X’mas party planned so it seemed only fair to call and tell everyone who had kids to keep them away from mine. Dutifully we called up and told everyone that we’d understand if they didn’t show up. I was surprised by the number of people who showed up anyway, some without their kids and some with. The kids had a blast and I hugged the OA through the last dance that night, grateful we’d come home. I can’t imagine what we’d have done stuck in our flat in Gurgaon, unable to take the kids to the common park, to the grocery store, unable to have friends over. A shitty X’mas that would have been.

And in all this we’d wake up each morning and frantically examine the Button to make sure there were no spots on his little dimpled self while he’d look at us with his curious, big bright eyes, convinced that he’d left the comfort of his home only to end up in a madhouse. It was almost like having a third baby and the OA and I kept him with us as much as we could, washing his little butt, changing diapers and feeding him his bottle. Everything but his meals – only his mother could manage to make him finish his entire portion. It was also her job to feed the ultra fussy Bean who can drive a saint to crime. I have no idea what she did in there and I don’t want to know. All I know is that she made insanely huge portions and got them down the Bean’s throat while I enjoyed the respite from begging, pleading, coaxing, screaming, threatening to feed her to crocodiles and finally attempting suicide.

And then of course because all of this was too good to last,  we woke up one morning to find spots all over the Brat  -he’d got the bloody chicken pox after all. I’ll never forget the betrayal writ large on his face, ” YOU said if I got the vaccination I won’t get it!” Oh well, we tried, I reasoned with him, but the doctor said you might have already been in the incubation period.

But a child who has had a poke in his butt and still gets CP is not to be reasoned with. He got it worse than the Bean. At least a 100 little boils all over his body and we were back to the neem leaf and oatmeal baths and slathering on calamine by the gallon. On the bright side, his bout barely lasted a week. On one occasion, while trying to make sense of the unfairness of getting it after having had the poke, he seriously explained to a visitor, “I got it because Nani cooks too many things for dinner. We had chicken as well as pork at the same meal. So it turned into chicken pox.” Errr, okay, whatever helps you make your peace with it!

The Bean was torn between relief and remorse. “Now he won’t leave me to go play with the Button!” and “Maybe he got it because I was teasing him and saying I’m coming to lick you. I’m very sorry now.”

But honi ko kaun taal sakta hai yaada yaada and we couldn’t have got it in a better place. All day they played across my parents’ and my uncle’s homes, swinging, cycling, climbing trees, sitting by the pond and watching fish and even going boating to the Sangam. None of this could however make it up to the Brat that he could no longer touch the Button. And we tried hard, I’ll tell you this much. In fact many weeks later, we were back in Gurgaon and the Bean casually asked, “Mama, how do you know when you love someone?” And the Brat responded gravely (he thinks he’s an adult now that his permanent teeth are in), ” When you love someone you want to play with them all the time, you share your toys with them and if you have chicken pox you don’t touch them.” I thought that summed up love pretty succinctly.