Thai High

So the Thailand trip to celebrate 10 years of marriage happened and I’ve come back with rather mixed feelings about the place. The plan was to spend some days in Pattaya and then hang out with the rather mad Aneela and her delightful son in Bangkok.

It was a long and complicated holiday plan. The OA, kids and I drove half way around the country spending time with friends and family before we took off to Pattaya. I was the recipient of plenty of shocked comments – Taking kids to Pattaya?!

Yes, yes we were taking them. And we had a lovely time. Our hotel was right on Jomtien Beach and inspite of the Brat running temperature 5 days straight, we went out everyday and he lived to tell the tale. I’m glad we took the kids though, because it took us to parts of the city most others wouldn’t bother with.  From the Underwater World to running in the rain around the Million Year Stone park, we saw animals we’ve never seen and generally had a great time.

Bangkok was next and I have to say I was a tiny bit disappointed by my experience. For one, it felt a lot like many Indian cities, just, on speed! Rush, rush, rush. Which is like NY no doubt, but my God the heat and humidity were not for me. I can’t stand coastal cities, so to have to rush around in one, was my worst nightmare come true. Fortunately though, we had The Aneela to hang out with and it was amazing to have an almost local show us around and take us to cat cafes and cute little local parks.

I loved the motorbike taxis and recently someone on facebook suggested that India needed them. I’m not sure if India is there yet. For one, the guys driving them smell good and look a lot cleaner than our local auto drivers  – call me a snob, but if I have to hang on to a man for dear life, I’d like it to be a tolerable if not a pleasant experience. For another, I don’t know if Indian women would be happy to jump on and ride pillion with a strange man. I was most impressed to see women come out of office in their formals and hop on to a bike and zoom off home or to the tube. And finally, the traffic here is far more disorganised, making a bike ride as safe as tight rope walking over a river full of crocodiles. I certainly wouldn’t want to trust a stranger’s skill on it!

The malls were dazzling, prices were decent, but after a point I went nuts. When I got home and made a mental list of what I’d bought, I realised I didn’t need any of it. The consumer culture there is a lot more than one realises and there are huge collapsible suitcases on wheels for sale – shop, fill up a suitcase and roll it home.

I of course indulged myself with the famous massages and the OA and babies would quietly lie down on the comfy chairs with a book and wait for me to be done. I kept begging the OA to try one but he hates people touching him and has never been a massage fan. I finally succeeded towards the end of the holiday and he converted and how! Like all new converts he couldn’t stay away and was most disgusted at himself for not having given it a shot earlier.

The massage parlours also showed me how easy it is for moral and ethical lines to be crossed. The very same parlours that give you a full body massage are willing to, for a small price, give the men a ‘happy ending’. Apart from my rage at the unfairness of men being offered happy endings and women, not, I am also shocked at how easy it is to cross that little line. Unlike the effort it takes to cross a mental barrier and go over to a seedy brothel in a separate district, these parlours are safe, clean, shiny happy places, right in the middle of the regular shopping and residential districts. I could be sitting in a lazy-boy with my child reading a book by my side, while upstairs some guy is getting his rocks off. It shook me up.

I also finally saw what people meant about the flesh trade – its so in your face that you get immune to it after a point. Loads of older white men with young Asian girls, barely old enough to be out of school. The girls are picked up to keep house while ‘servicing’ the men. What an amazing deal. It’s like going back by about a 100 years or so. Young, beautiful, available, doing the laundry, keeping house, submissive, all for a price. We were chatting with the owner of our hotel who said they are called summer wives. That the men all say that this is a great break from their Western life where the women are equal, strong and expect them to help around the house. Food for thought. Where people can buy submission, they will. The desire to be equal, fair, is not a common one. And as women get stronger and less willing to take bullshit, there will be men who will hunt for other options, even if it means paying for them. And there will be women who will be happy to sell them that illusion. Le sigh.

I teased the OA that people probably thought we were one of those couples – he is almost fully white haired now and often gets mistaken for Italian/Lebanese – and I am almost always asked if I am from Nagaland. It was probably thanks to the kids that no one thought I was his lady for the night! Well that and the fact that I was in kurtis and tracks for the entire holiday, not dressed to the nines like those ladies.

What impresses one is the Thai willingness to work hard. Unlike the Western world where shops shut at 6pm and leave you high and dry, shops here are open till late night. And oh the hawkers! At any time of night or day, there are pavements overflowing with clothes, toys, quick eats.  I also learnt something rather interesting – apparently traditional Thai homes did not have kitchens. Even in villages, one home was selected to be the one that cooked and fed the rest, while others were given other responsibilities. Even now, many Thai people eat out and it’s easy to see why. Hot, juicy sausages on sticks, fresh cut fruit, sticky rice and glistening chicken in little takeaway boxes – I could eat all day!

We spent a lot of time on Jomtien Beach in Pattaya and that place was the best example of indulgence and hedonism. Lie back on chairs put out by someone, eat fresh sea food grilled right under your nose and then have a little old lady sit down in the sand by the foot of your chair and give you a pedicure. This is where I drew the line. I just couldn’t stand the idea of looking out at the gorgeous blue sea while my children built sand castles and my husband took a water scooter for a spin, while I lay back, stuffed my face with delicious prawns and a lady old enough to be my grandmother, sat under the hot sun in hijab, and pressed my feet. Call me a fool, but that’s probably what I am, then.

And perhaps that is what I learnt on my holiday. That money really can buy you anything. Except the ability to stomach some of it.

The very cool and rather anal, Cat Cafe. I like cats as much as the next person but they fussed so much and made us wash and sanitise our hands a dozen times - and even then we had to wait for a cat to decide if it wanted to come or not. Err.. whatever.

The very cool and rather anal, Cat Cafe. I like cats as much as the next person but they fussed so much and made us wash and sanitise our hands a dozen times – and even then we had to wait for a cat to decide if it wanted to come or not. Err.. whatever.

The Bean shows off her new slippers

The Bean shows off her new slippers

Stopping by a dhaba for chai as we drove through the country.

Stopping by a dhaba for chai as we drove through the country.

The beautiful Jharkhand roads.

The beautiful Jharkhand roads.

The cable cars at Science City, Calcutta

The cable cars at Science City, Calcutta

A traditional Thai dance performance as we ate dinner.

A traditional Thai dance performance as we ate dinner.

Jelly fish glow in the dark at the Underwater World

Jelly fish glow in the dark at the Underwater World

The beautiful tent over Underwater World

The beautiful tent over Underwater World

Don't pee or fart in a Baht bus!

Don’t pee or fart in a Baht bus!

Don't molest women either. Although the Bean read this as - 'Mama? Women shouldn't sing loudly on the baht bus?'  The Brat then enlightened her. :-/

Don’t molest women either. Although the Bean read this as – ‘Mama? Women shouldn’t sing loudly on the baht bus?’
The Brat then enlightened her. :-/

When you come from India, it's rare that you get to call a plant exotic.

When you come from India, it’s rare that you get to call a plant exotic.

Adjutant clerk bird - well named!

Adjutant clerk bird – well named!

Grilling fresh seafood on the beach

Grilling fresh seafood on the beach

You may say, I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one.

You may say, I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.

A very funky mobile bar. And peace prevails around it. I can imagine what the Right would do if we set these up in India!

A very funky mobile bar. And peace prevails around it. I can imagine what the Right would do if we set these up in India!

A light installation made of sunglasses.

A light installation made of sunglasses.

A food court in a mall - never seen one so quiet or classy.

A food court in a mall – never seen one so quiet or classy.

A beautiful restaurant on a quiet lane. Moon River or something.

A beautiful restaurant on a quiet lane. Moon River or something.

Old electronics reassembled to make robots and figures. Chatuchak market

Old electronics reassembled to make robots and figures. Chatuchak market

Did not know they'd moved into the food business ;)

Did not know they’d moved into the food business ;)

Some of us indulged, yes.

Some of us indulged, yes.

The entrance to a mall done up with transparent umbrellas

The entrance to a mall done up with transparent umbrellas

Brat warming a shivering Bean at the airport

Brat warming a shivering Bean at the airport

Cal junta, have I done justice to your famous bridge?

Cal junta, have I done justice to your famous bridge?

Ten

Ten years ago this day, I was standing barefoot in my parents’ living room, wearing a grey and orange teeshirt and faded jeans, signing away my bachelorhood. The OA stood by my side in jeans, a white collared tee, lanky and pale, doing the same. I had dark circles after nights of worry. What if the inlaws showed up and dragged him away, kicking and fighting. Okay, so he was legally an adult and couldn’t be dragged away, but did we need that tension?

Within the next 24 hours we were married twice over and no one but we could dissolve it. I finally breathed a sigh of relief and began to live the life I’d dreamed of.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I truly have lived the life of my dreams. Married to a man I love, having two terrific babies with him, and writing, writing, writing as much as I please. Also reading, gardening and traveling. Sigh.

There are moments in life when you wonder if you made the right choice. Low moments, moments when you doubt yourself, when you second guess, when you feel your chest constrict with panic that it’s over. This is it. You’ve made your bed and it might be uncomfortable. We all have them. But with the OA, the blinding realisation that this is the best thing that could have happened to me, comes back time and again.

Was it Byron who said, Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, ‘Tis woman’s whole existence? Well, I hate to say it, but in our case, Byron was wrong. For me, yes, love, the OA, my babies, my home, are my whole existence. But I just lucked out because they happen to be the OA’s entire existence too.

This is the man who if he does succeed in waking up at the crack of dawn, will help me get the kids ready for school that day, rather than hit the gym. If he gets out of work early, he’s ringing our doorbell rather than catching a beer with the guys. His weekends are spent rearranging the heavier flower pots and cleaning the fans. And once he’s done that, playing football with the kids or reading to them before he takes his wife for a movie or a walk around the complex. I say this not as praise, but as a matter of fact. This is the man who chooses to centre his life around us. The man who shares my dream. Admittedly in his dream he wasn’t hanging quite so many pots or changing curtains so often. And just maybe, his dream might have involved some mountain peaks conquered and some bungee jumping, just as mine involved some travel and some being-Editor-of-a-magazine-at-25. But the basic theme of a home, children, and quiet evenings spent in a tangle of limbs while we all eat chocolate and watch Ice Age 2 is one we both share.

Years ago there was a competition on the blogosphere that I refused to enter for fear of the Furies coming down on my head. Which one is better, it asked – love marriages or arranged marriages. On this momentous occasion I’ll rush in where angels fear to tread. My head says, eventually we all end up in the same place, doddering old fools walking into the sunset. My heart says, No.

In this day and age I see no reason to get married unless you meet that one person who makes your heart skip a beat and your knees go weak. I don’t believe there is a right time to get married when you should start seeing suitable people of your caste, community, age and socio-economic status. We’re not cows meant for breeding who must get married before it is ‘too late’. It’s never too late to find the right person. I’d rather stay single than marry someone because the time is right, our bank balances match and his family likes mine. Acquiescing to the person you’d find it most comfortable to live with is not my idea of the good life. Falling so madly in love that you feel your heart constrict each time he walks into a room is a good start. Particularly if 10 years later you still feel it.

I come from a mixed background. I have Tamil, Bengali, Garhwali and Chinese blood. What does that say to you? It says that for the last 4 generations my family has chosen to follow it’s heart and not just marry because it’s the right time and the right caste. They’ve waited, for the right person.

If you’ve read my blog for more than 4 years, you know I’ve had a tempestuous relationship with my inlaws. It’s only fair that I tell you that things are far better now. Am I the daughter in law they’d have chosen themselves? Good Lord, no. Am I the daughter in law they’re fond of when they visit and see the happiness on their son’s face, their adorable grandchildren and a home filled with love? I think so. I look forward to my MIL’s voice now and the way she says Hello sweetheart, the warmth apparent even over the crackly, static-filled phone lines. My FIL however, is a story for another day. What? This is a real love story, not a filmy one where everything falls neatly into place. It’s been a long journey and it’s not been easy on either side.

But it’s been worth it. Everyday I ask myself if I’d do this again. Every morning I wake up and ask myself if there’s another face I’d rather see on the pillow beside me. And everyday the answer is clear. If I had to do it again, I’d do it. With one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded.

Admittedly I fell for him because he drove well (hah! you didn’t know that, did you?) But he drives like a cab driver on cocaine now so that reason is struck off. I now love him because he’s gentle, patient, kind, and all the things that one would look for in a wife. Yep. He’s my wife and I love him. Today as we complete ten years of mostly blissful, sometimes frustrating, wedded life, I thank God for the broken road that lead me straight to the OA.

People sometimes ask me what my kids could do to break my heart. I don’t know – I’d make my peace with them being beach bums too. But what would kill me is knowing that they ‘settled’ for someone and didn’t fall head over heels, tumble down that rabbit hole into love, the way we’ve done for generations. That they didn’t find that soul mate. That one person who sees right into the core of them, sees them for what they are and loves them for it. I come from a long line of love. And although we own no house, little money and not very much jewelry, the OA and I have this wonderful legacy to pass on to our kids and I very much doubt anything could top it.

On this tenth year, dear husband, allow me to remind you of the nervous, breathless, almost offhanded way you proposed to me  – So, we may as well get married then?

Yep. And now that we are, we may as well stay this way.

Here’s an old, cheesy one for you.

Yes, book post. No, no imaginative title idea

Heart Shaped Bruise – Tanya Byrne

This is a diary by a young girl in prison, a juvenile home, really. It opens with her saying that she is not sorry. And all the while she reiterates that she isn’t, the story weaves back and forth in time, telling you about her past. She’s talks to a psychiatrist and each hard won confession tells you a little bit more of her past. It’s an interesting device in terms of authorial intervention. The story is quite compelling and only the last line finally tells you what her crime was, even though you try and second guess all along.

To a large extent it is very suitable for young adults. A lot of the time I was just looking down on the characters and wanting to pat them on the head and say, ‘There, there, it won’t matter so much, hurt so bad, bleed so furiously, when you’re 35.’ I know, patronising old hag. But you get what I mean, don’t you? That said, very well written.

PS: I lied. Even at 35, somethings will hurt very badly.

A girl’s guide to modern European Philosophy – Charlotte Greig

Of course as luck would have it, I got out of one YA book and fell into another. Yes, I’m just making bad book choices. This one too felt like it was aimed at younger girls. Girls who are still young enough to look around for guidance, not old hags like me who are always willing to give you gyaan and tell you how to live your life. I thought there’s be a lot more philosophy in it. But all I got was a teaser that wasn’t enough for me. Susannah Jones is a philosophy student who has a choice to make. Her older, in control boyfriend, or the new guy in class with unraveling sweater sleeves. It seems like an easy enough choice – or does it? It gets more complicated and as she dithers, I wondered why I was reading it at this late stage in life. There are bits of philosophy, but nothing you wouldn’t have picked up over the years anyway.

Read if you’re below 25 or don’t bother with this coming of age thing. I think I’m going to look for books written by grandmothers, for grandmothers, about grandmothers.

The Art of Undressing – Stephanie Lehmann

I surprise myself with my knack for picking up books of a similar type even without trying. And being very unhappy with the choice. This is yet another coming of age story, except that she’s 25. Ginger is the daughter of a stripper, Coco. Yes, love the names. And like all daughters, she’s the polar opposite of her mother, hiding her breasts in loose tees while her mother plumps up her implants and wags them in your face. Ginger is in cooking school and is torn between male X, male Y and male Z. She is disapproving of her mother’s professional and personal life but can do nothing much about it. Her emotionally distant biological father gives her an opening into his life and also the life of his daughter by another wife.  And then one day Ginger realises that she needs her mother expertise in holding a man’s interest. It’s a fast paced story and there’s lots of food involved. You also get a theoretical class in stripping and coming to terms with your body. At times I found it preachy and obvious. Very predictable. But nice for a slow day.

Swimming upstream slowly – Melissa Clark

These are exactly the kind of books I never pick up so I’m not sure what I’m doing with yet another one in my hand. Sasha Salter is the producer of an award winning kids’ show and wakes up one morning to find she is pregnant. Which would be fine if she were having sex, but not a-okay if you’ve had a 2 year dry spell. Further testing reveals she has a rare problem – a lazy sperm. I knew this was bound to happen. Lazy men are common – and now lazy sperm. I can quite see another sperm evolving – the one with a remote control as its extension.

Anyhow, getting back to the book, she now has the uneviable task of tracing her sex life, calling up all her partners and asking for a blood sample so that this medical phenomenon can be researched as thoroughly as it deserves to be. Strangely, she gets a lot more action now than she ever has and has the luxury of choice!

I didn’t particularly enjoy the writing. And it was the same old – so many men, so hard to decide. With a different point of focus. In the last one a stripper mother and body issues. In this one- crazy Ripleys Believe it or not type body issue. Quick one time read and move on.

84 Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff

A friend who reads good books but unlike me isn’t possessive about them, couriered her copy of it to me, and for that, I will always be grateful. It’s official. I like all books written in the form of communication. Ms Helen Hanff writes to Messrs Mark and Co for a rare vintage edition of a book. They write back. That is their undoing. Because Ms Hanff decides they are to be the best of friends and keeps up the communication. By the third letter I was giggling in bed. The stiff upper lip British employee meets a crazy American writer. I honestly believed there was a love story hidden somewhere in there and it was. A love story between Ms Hanff and London after the war.

Don’t read this if you’re not into humour, heart warming friendships and literature. What I loved most was the guided tour you get through London when Ms Hanff does come to visit.  I would tell you more, but I’m terrified of giving away the little poignant bits. Do read. Really.

Ada’s Rules – Alice Randall

Ada is the Preacher’s wife. Overweight, exhausted and running from home to home, serving, she wakes up one day to get an invitation to her college reunion and the memories of an ex flame and the good old days. She’s gained about a 100 pounds since college and there’s no time like the present nor any incentive like this one to lose weight. Thus begins her journey to weight loss. She makes a set of rules and keeps adding to them. The first one being Stop doing what you’ve always done.

Her weight loss journey is not easy and I like how they kept it real. She takes one step foward, she slides back, she takes another two forward. She has her regular life to live and  financial constraints too. I enjoyed the way the book dips into her crazy past  – those were the best bits to me. Her musician parents, their crazy boarders, their mental state, her unconditional love and caregiving. Her relationship with her twin daughters, her relationship with her body, her relationship with food, make up the rest of the book.

What irked me though, was how the book almost read like a how to lose weight book at times. I thought it would be just a metaphor for shedding baggage and weight but at times it was so literal that I felt almost patronised. I have to admit this is one of the better books I’ve read in the past which is why I am being so harsh on it – I felt it could have been better.

Does she lose the weight? Does she hook up with the ex? What about the fact that she suspects her Preacher husband of having an affair with one of the parishioners? Only one way to find out.

The Postmistress – Sarah Blake

It’s 1940 and the bombs fall on London and American Radio reporter Frankie Bard reports through it all, her voice touching many lives. Not always in a nice way. Who wanted women on radio? They were too shrill, sounded too involved. Far away in Cape Cod, Iris James, a postmaster does her duty diligently. And Emma Fitch, the doctor’s wife waits, for her baby to be born, for her husband to come back from London. A letter that must be posted, binds them all together. I have to confess upfront that I didn’t think much of the plot. But the book had me hooked. The writing is brilliant. You walk through bombed streets in London, you cower in funk houses and you look on helplessly as Jews are coralled and marched towards a certain death. I had great trouble reading this book because I kept going back and re-reading some sections, just for the beauty of the prose. I’m going to try and read this book again, maybe ten years from now. You try and read it now.

Mommies who drink – Brett Paesel

Brett Paesel is an American writer and actress, and this is her journey through motherhood. I read this book about 5 years ago, just after I’d had the Brat and the Bean and I loved it. Her sense of humour is wry and she makes you think. She ran so close to my own counter-culture parenting method that I almost felt like she’d written the book for me. Sign of a great book, I guess, if it speaks to you, whispers to you and at times just yells in your face.

Shall we snort coke? Should we take him to the doctor for that green goop coming out of his eye or ride it out? Why are most mothers so anal retentive about meals? And many more such questions were answered in the course of this book. I don’t know what made me pick it up again recently. This time, with an almost 8 year old I smiled through her panicky moments and at the back of my mind I heard Aamir Khan say, All izz well. New mums, do read it so that you know you’re not alone. Old mums, write one yourself.

Book post time

Seeing Like a Feminist – Nivedita Menon

If you buy one book this year, make it this one. Keep it by your bedside. Read bite-sized portions. I began to read this close on the heels of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s death and I found myself often on the verge of tears, other times choking back outrage. Nivedita’s writing isn’t fancy or witty or flowery. I don’t think you worry about those issues once you dig your teeth into it. There are so many more important issues that just need to be brought to the forefront. So much that we just didn’t know. So much lost time to make up for. Let me give you examples. Reading her book is like putting on x-ray spectacles and seeing the bones that lie under your skin, the underlying rules that make up our patriarchy. The structure that keeps society functioning in a certain way. One of the simplest examples she gives of society’s enforced order, is of a village girl called Moni who was beaten, tonsured and stripped naked for dressing and ‘behaving like a boy’. Is it a big enough deal to merit such a reaction? On the other hand, what would be the reaction if a male employee in a multinational corporation came to work in a saree and bindi? From here she goes on to talk about how social order is so fragile that simply dressing in a different way causes breakdown. I wish I could go on and on, but I want you, every single one of you who reads this blog, to order this book. I wouldn’t even request you so earnestly if I myself had written it. But this book shakes up the way we look at ourselves as women, social order, constructs and so on. Gentlemen, I’d request you to read it too. There is a certain privilege you avail of, as men in a patriarchal society. Should you take advantage of it or should you step back and do the right and fair thing and give the women in your life the equality they deserve? Inter-caste marriages, same sex marriages, property rights, violence, there is nothing Nivedita doesn’t cover. I want to go back and read the book over and over again to make sure I retain every bit. To ensure that I too, see like a feminist.

Again, if you’re buying a book this year, make it this one. If you’re giving a gift, make it this one.

The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

If you’ve read my blog for more than a year you’re sure to know that my biggest bug bear is badly behaved kids. My hand itches to smack them and then their parents. It makes no sense for me to bring up my kids so strictly if others are going to let theirs run wild, misbehave with mine and generally create a shittier future for them. Which is why when I read the blurb on this book I knew I was picking it up. It’s easy to associate with this Greek family settled in Australia, because the family dynamic is so familiar to us Indians. Large families with everyone interfering. That one shocking incident that sends reverberations through the entire group and leaves everyone feeling awkward. In this case, a badly behaved child is slapped right at the start and the rest of the book follows through on the consequences. Frankly I’d imagine it would end there, but you honestly can’t slap someone else’s kids and get away with it (much though I’d love to!) so.

I do feel the book could have been shorter by about 1/3rd but that’s about the only peeve I have.

The Vague Woman’s Handbook – Devapriya Roy

I enjoyed the book. Devapriya’s writing is good, but I once again got the feeling that it was largely autobiographical. The college setting, the newly weds, maybe not much else. But I do wish she’d just dropped all similarities with her own life and done something different. Which is not really criticism of the book, again, more a problem with my own expectations- because she’s a great writer and I have very high expectations of people who I feel write well. I am sure it will be much enjoyed by many – a lovely story, gentle pace. I particularly enjoyed the attention to the friendship with an older lady. I have in the last few years befriended ladies who are older and I know what age brings to a friendship. And for that touch alone, I highly recommend the book. Well that and the fact that the protagonist is as directionally challenged as I am – spin me around in front of my gate and leave me, and I’d be hard pressed to identify my own home.

I kissed a frog – Rupa Gulab

I’ve never read anything else of Rupa Gulab’s and I don’t appreciate short stories. So when this book ended up in my possession I was rather ho hum about it. Actually I didn’t realise they were short stories until I began reading. And for once I was drawn in and finished the entire book in one sitting. In spite of the stories being very desi and very contemporary (you know I don’t really enjoy that). In fact, for those very reasons maybe. I also like that her writing is crisp and witty. A relationship that continues, and fluidly changes shape when one of the partners changes their sex. A mother and daughter go from being family to friends. A love story where love truly must be blind to accept the extra 40 kgs. The second section is on friendship among women, something I feel not enough is written about (refer to the book above this one). Almost every book I’ve read has been about women related to each other. Friendships among women are rare, even rarer, are books about those friendships. The last section however, totally fell apart for me. It is a section on popular fairy tales with a contemporary twist. I feel like the first two sections were meant for adult readers/young readers, but the last bit very definitely for teenagers.

Cold Feet – Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

With this book I feel Meenakshi has really come into her own. I read her blog and I know her slightly, and so with her last book there was a sense of – I know she can do better. And she has. Five women searching for love, dealing with it in their own way. It’s interesting how similar her book and Rupa Gulab’s are in certain ways. Maybe it’s because as journalists/writers we all move in somewhat the same social circle. I saw so many people I’d almost recognise, the situations were so easy to relate to and the characters, some gay, some straight, some not sure, were so .. people we know. Her writing is witty, contemporary and she isn’t doing that awful thing a lot of other authors are doing – trying too hard. It sounds patronising but if Meenakshi reads this, she’ll know it was meant in the nicest possible way. Her writing flows beautifully, conversations are not stilted, the progression is measured and the structure is great. Frankly I don’t think the blurb does the book justice and I wish it were marketed better. Every character is distinctive and perfectly formed and nobody comes across as a caricature – yet another issue I have with a lot of desi writing – apart from the fact that very few writers seem truly comfortable writing in English. So more power to her, I’d like to read more of her work and I’m hoping she goes from glory to glory.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday

Read this one in one sitting and loved it. The story is told through various documents – personal letters, emails, official documents, government memos and so on. I last read something like this in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and am slowly falling in love with this literary device. Dr Alfred Jones is a fisheries scientist who is happy in his little academic cocoon and the height of ambition for him is his paper on caddis fly larva earning recognition. His marriage of 20 years holds no surprises and his wife believes that perfume can’t replace the merits of regular application of soap and water. Enter Harriet Chetworde-Talbot who represents a Sheikh in Yemen, with a request that is quite insane – salmon fishing in the Yemen. A whole lot of bureaucratic drama follows and the project kicks off.

And through these devices we get to know that Harriet’s fiance has been posted in Iran, Alfred’s wife is on a secondment to Germany and the Prime Minister of Britain is keen to distance himself from this crazy project that might just be egg on his face. The vein of dry humour that runs through this fairly peaceful story kept me smiling. I love how ‘British’ and formal most of the personal communication is, too. I don’t know if I’d ever write something so formal, boring and straitlaced, to my boyfriend in the army! My favourite part (spoiler alert) – referring the bereaved to a call centre in India! All in all, an easy read, a social and political commentary that is gentle, yet reveals more than it hides. Must read. Impossible to tell that this is a first book – so well held together, so beautifully crafted.

We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Kevin is a boy who goes on a rampage and kills about 10 of his classmates and a teacher. Nothing you haven’t heard before. Except, how often do you get to know the child and the family behind it? Do you assume they’re all trailer trash? I had no thoughts on this whatsoever, before I picked up the book. We have enough going on in India without trying to distract ourselves with US school shootouts.

I seem to be picking up books that use only communication as their device. This one is no different. Kevin’s mother Eva writes to her husband Franklin and from the early days of their courtship to the hours she spends visiting her son in jail, every bit is documented. Lionel Shriver is a brilliant writer and I was unwell for a couple of days so I actually put the book aside because I didn’t want to gloss over or miss any of the finely crafted points she makes. A simple one right in the beginning when she talks about testing for Down’s Syndrome, being an older mother. And how she wonders why kids are not tested for malice and spite and indifference, in the womb. Made me stop and wonder too, whether we’d like to do that. Now that we’re already down that slippery path where we test for abnormalities and ruthlessly discard a child with chances of muscular atrophy, would we keep a child who tested positive for violence? Would you pick that child over a paraplegic? So much to think about, so much realisation of the power we wield as parents. I plan to read this book again, simply to soak in the beauty of her words, the stark honesty of her arguments. Love.

Bringing up Bebe – Pamela Druckerman

This book, I believe, was written for me. To justify my thought process. Deep down I’m French – you guys just didn’t know it. I didn’t either, but now I do. Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist who moves to France when she gets married to a Britisher. Of course a baby arrives soon and she goes stark raving mad trying to have a dinner out with the child in tow. Reminds me of my first dinner out with the Brat and OA in Madras, a place called Bay Leaf that served Bong food. The 45 day old Brat screamed till he was purple in the face and the OA and I stood out holding him on the road side in turn, while the other gobbled down their food. I’ve never forgotten that and I swore I was not going to let it put me off eating out. We learnt to manage the Brat and had some lovely meals thereafter, at the Park, the Brat in a rocker at the pool side Aqua, and Bella Ciao and Benjarong among others. Often he’d fall asleep and we’d put him under the table and rock him with a foot and he’d sleep through our dinner without anyone even knowing there was a baby under the table!

Getting house help there was a nightmare because inspite of speaking basic my-aunt-has-the-pen-of-the gardener’s-wife type Tamil, I couldn’t figure out the names for vegetables and how to say sieve, stir or strain. So I got in a maid for the cleaning and would cook our meals myself. And that meant that the Brat who teethed early, just learnt to eat spinach raita and aloo posto if that is what I’d made. No ragi, no sabudana, no unidentifiable mashed and pureed food for him. Might explain why he loved calamari at age 2 when most other kids didn’t know what it was. Anyhow, I always wondered why we’d go to parties and find a delicious spread for the adults and simple pasta for the kids. My kids would love to eat the stew/biryani/whatever fancy food the adults were eating. But they’d be sat down earlier and fed some passably bland white food and sent off to play while we adults played gourmet. I on the other hand, never serve separate food for kids at our parties because I expect them to eat the salad, the cous cous, the whatever they’re being offered. Their parents probably hate me, but hey, my house, my rules.

Anyhow, I felt like I was weirdo, but then the Internet brings you closer to weirdos like yourself and that’s how I met BEV many years ago. It’s amazing how soul sistah we are in our parenting styles. We go over for dinner and the kids come with us, but we don’t hear or see them. They all know to stay in the nursery, share their toys, settle their disputes without violence and not come out until it is dinner time. Her daughter and the Bean get along like a house on fire and the Brat falls between her sons in age and plays with both. It’s amazing to see them quietly sit down for dinner, open up their napkins and have French Onion soup, or Hyderabadi dahi vada or something absolutely new, without a murmur. We have a rule – try everything once. And if they don’t like the food, too bad, they go home hungry. One uneaten meal won’t kill them.

So BEV lent me this book telling me it was about written for us, and it was. No noise at the fine dining restaurant, sleep on time, no throwing tantrums in public – that’s our kids for you. And I don’t mean this as some form of bragging, because I know a lot of people judge us for how strict we are with our kids. It just means they’re very welcome everywhere they go, they get to experience a variety of foods and situations and they’re learning to open their minds to everything. I realise this is more of a review of our parenting than the book, so I’ll try and drag myself back there.

The book talks about how French parents don’t let their kids take over their lives. So you don’t have them scribbling on your white sofa, screaming and demanding pish-pash for dinner or banging their glass full of water at a restaurant. A little pause before you pick up a screaming child, learning to taste new food, encouraging autonomy, simple manners like Good evening and good bye (remember we had a loooong post on that one?) and so on. If you expect your child to behave, he or she will. It’s just that simple. If you shrug off their misbehaviour with a smile, saying oh, he’s just a kid, well, he’ll just push all your buttons. It also talks about picking some battles and making do with the others. I realised what mine are – Screen time and manners. Other than that, I don’t stress if they don’t eat, I don’t care if they fall asleep on the floor at a wedding and I don’t mind (heck, even encourage them) if they miss a day of school to do something fun.

Anyway, this is not the book for parents who let kids take over their lives and ride rough shod over them. This is a book for parents who believe in having a life, who believe in manners, in treating kids like small sized humans and not imbeciles. Oh what the hell, it’s a book for all parents. Ones like me and BEV will feel like they’re in good company. The rest will have something to bitch about while their kids tear a friend’s house apart!

Author Druckerman does a fab job of understanding French Culture, the nuances that go in, and seeing where she’d draw a line to suit her own cultural expectations.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm (Parenting wisdom from around the world) – Mei-Ling Hopgood

Yet another expat mum in a strange country, trying to raise her kids to fit in. As luck would have it, I read this just after Bringing up Bebe. And it was a nice kick in the pants! There I was, all feeling proud of my parenting style when this book came in and told me, everyone has their own way.

Actually here too, Mei-Ling picks up what suits her from various cultures, while walking her own path. And I enjoyed the read. Funnily she too falls back on the French teaching their kids to eat healthy food (check). How the Eskimos practice attachment parenting and keep their kids warm (check), how the Chinese potty train early (check) and how Kenyans don’t use push chairs (check!). On all other counts, from Asians teaching their kids to excel and Japs let their kids fight, I was not on board, but hey, I don’t have to be!

For some reason this book held me less – perhaps because I disagreed with a lot of the practices and felt they were not suitable for us as a family and the times we live in. But it’s an eye opener to see how other cultures live, why they choose the practices they do and how we could adapt those to suit us. Definitely a good read.

The Whore’s Asylum – Katy Darby

If you know me, you know I love my period fiction. Set in 1887, Oxford, this one gives you a fabulous picture of London in those times. From the colleges to the gin-deaths and whores. Stephen Chapman is a medical student and shares rooms with Edward Fraser, a theologist. The story is told in Fraser’s words. Chapman is a kind hearted sort, who gets involved with unsavoury types. Put simply, he decides to research venereal diseases. He also falls in love with the wrong woman, Diana. She works with the ladies of the night and is a perfect fit for Chapman, if not socially acceptable. I cannot tell you more for fear of spoiling it for you but it is interesting to see how dedicated and interested physicians in those days had to go out of their way to research their science. And what criminal acts, hardship and social stigma it brought. From robbing graves for a cadaver to experiment on, to frequenting the seedier parts of town, these gentlemen did it all. The book drags its feet through dirty lanes and hostels and ailments and social commentary and medical research. All this seen through the lens of a man of God. A slow read but an interesting one.

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton

I was warned by the friend who lent it to me that I wouldn’t enjoy it. That she didn’t even care if I never returned it. Not an auspicious start to a story no doubt, but then I do love my historical romances and period fiction. Set not so far back, in 1924, this one is about a glittering London full of poetry, mazes in the gardens, follies and romances. A film maker who wishes to shoot at the house and tell its sorry tale and calls upon Grace Bradley, an old maidservant and as everyone knows – the househelp knows everything. A young poet shot himself at a party held in this house and from thereon it declined. Grace was an eyewitness to the event and is taken from her nursing home to help reconstruct the sequence of events. Her evolution from maidservant to respectable old lady in a nursing home show the movement of time.

I found the book slow moving and denouement a slight letdown. But it is an interesting study in social structure, hierarchy and relationships. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy this book, but I’d borrow it for a slow day.

Mummy’s Legs – Kate Bingham

I’m seriously thinking of avoiding all books authored by anyone called Kate. I picked this one up because the blurb fooled me. A young girl helps her mother get a hold on her life when she finds out her husband is cheating on her. It’s supposed to be told through the girl’s eyes and I’m probably really slow because after a point I lost track of who the girl was, who the mother was and what her problem was. I blame it on being under the influence of drugs (had the flu for a couple of days) and very very sleepy – oh, and the book being pointless. Whatever, don’t go there, don’t read it, booooring.

The Lake of Dreams – Kim Edwards

I read Edward’s Memory Keeper’s Daughter and quite enjoyed it, which prompted me to pick this one up. I found the blurb a little deceptive once I read the book, but we’ll get to that later. Lucy Jarrett lives in a little house in Japan with her lover Yoshi and is woken up by an earthquake. Far away from all this, her mother suffers an accident in America. So leaving behind the cherry blossom and her village on the rim of a volcanic mountain, Lucy heads back to her small town around a lake called the Lake of Dreams by the Iroquois or the Native Indian original inhabitants.

I enjoyed the whole small town feel to the book. Everyone knows everyone, a few new stores have popped up and are doing interesting new things, the old familiars are shutting down. An old flame is back, divorced, one numbers requisite gorgeous child in tow. It checks all the boxes and you wonder if she’ll go back to him. After all, he speaks the language of her growing years, unlike the Japanese lover who smells of foreign lands. What I really liked was how her mother had a life and a love of her own. While my parents are thankfully still alive and together, her mother reminded me of my parents. Young, fit, a life of their own and they scrub up good! My mum owns more fashionably elegant items of clothing than I do and my father books his exotic holidays faster than the OA can figure out where the ‘compose mail’ button on the iPad is. What I felt sort of distant from though, was the sibling relationship portrayed in it. They were so formal, so distant – I couldn’t relate to it at all, and it just annoyed me very much.

All this while Lucy has come upon an ancient piece of embroidery and a connected piece of stained glass – something draws her to them. She begins to dig around church records and newspaper clippings to discover who the lady in the stained glass window is. While this is really what the story is supposed to be about, I wasn’t in the least bit interested in it. I was far more absorbed by the interpersonal relationships, the ebbs and tides of them and the family politics that played out. Again, I felt a little let down by the end but on the whole it was an absorbing read for the sheer fluidity of her language. I wish I could write like that.

Love Stories – Annie Zaidi

Disclaimer for those who don’t already know, Annie is a dear friend and an old classmate. But, you know me well enough to know I’d be deadly honest anyway. I loved the cover to begin with. Two smoldering matches. Tells you how much thought went into the book. The other thing that strikes you, a simple device, is that there are no names given to the characters in the 14 short stories. They don’t matter. There’s a he and a she and these are stories that play out across the world. Could be anyone, could be anywhere, their names don’t matter. And of course Annie’s trademark, keen observations – because what is a writer if not a keen observer of life? The plain shirt, the railway station clock, the five o’clock shadow. Annie notices it all. The language is simple. Not for her any flowery excess. Each one focuses on a different type of love. The man you’ve never met, the one whose voice you’ve never heard, the one who was a friend. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that. Only this time do you see the details pointed out. I pulled an all nighouter with this one – so will you.

Astray – Emma Donoghue

She is now my favourite writer, bar none. I don’t know how she does it – changes her voice and her tone and her ideas. I’m in awe of writers who can break free of a mould and do that. Who cannot be identified by blindly reading a page out of a book or a genre. So this one is a series of short stories inspired by news articles that cover a period of four centuries. Runaways, gold diggers, slaves, wives, immigrants, the theme is people on the move. I admire the way she picked the articles she did (she is a keen historian) and fleshed out characters, gave them a face and told their story. Sex crimes, Barnum’s circus, the woman who played the part of a widow and robbed a man’s life’s earnings, a cross dresser, the list is endless and mind boggling. This is a book that must be read to be believed. If there’s an Emma Donoghue temple, I might just become a praying woman.

I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella

I don’t do chick-lit and this was an aberration. I find it boring, uninspiring and my own life is far more fun on a regular day anyway. But I break this rule for Kinsella’s writing. Light, frothy and a joy to read, her ditsy heroines remind me of my own haphazard existence. The story is simple – Poppy loses her engagement ring and finds a phone that does not belong to her. The right thing to do would be to give it back of course, but then where would the story go? Rich, magnetic Sam Roxton, owner of the phone would like it back, but Poppy’s having none of it. The story goes on from there. You already know how it will end, but you go along for the fun ride. A one time, borrow-from-your-friend-for-a-flight read.

An Almost Perfect Moon -Jamie Holland

I picked this up because someone compared it to Nick Hornby. Unfair comparison to say the least. This book is about 3 young men, and told from their perspective. One is about to get married, another is shifting into the country with his partner and the third is still searching for the perfect woman. Frankly I’m sick to death of adults who won’t just pull up their socks and get on with it. Whiny adults with first world problems and an inability to take life on the chin. But then that’s just me being intolerant as usual.

I found the story plodding, the plots unimaginative, the situations cliched. The usual harried new mum, the man who is never satisfied with the women he lands and so on. I don’t know why I dragged myself through it. Life is too short to finish books you don’t like, is my new mantra. So, this is a warning – don’t read this book.

Members of the cat family

Years ago I wrote a post on the taboo surrounding miscarriages. Over the years I’ve spoken about my own experience with other taboo issues like CSA, Child Sexual Abuse, molestation, and so much more. I don’t think I’ve been able to articulate exactly why I do this, other than the fact that I’m tired of the secrecy that shrouds everything that has anything to do with women.

Why is it that our sanitary napkins have to be wrapped in newspaper and disposed of ‘discreetly’. It’s not that we go around decorating our front door with them. Why are stained sheets and underwear whisked away and quickly washed before anyone realises what happened? Why do we not talk about a pregnancy until the first three months are over? So what if there is a chance of miscarrying? So what if we lose a baby? We lose older family members who have been a part of our lives – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, all the time. That is never a secret. In fact we call up, text, mail and inform people far and wide of the loss. So why is the inability of the womb to carry through a pregnancy, such a hush hush issue? Oh, btw, I think I miscarried (ectopic pregnancy, didn’t know about it, glad the decision was taken out of my hands) around the Bean’s birthday two years ago – I think that is why I didn’t post about her birthday. No, I didn’t go to the hospital. Just lay in bed almost bleeding to death until someone called a doctor home and the OA rushed from work. I didn’t go for a procedure after it either. I just lay in bed, convinced that the body would take care of itself given time and rest. I’m still here, two years later so I think we’re doing okay.

Anyhow, getting on with more important matters, I read a fantastic piece on Kafila today ( I love that website anyway) and had to share it with you. Someone far more articulate than I will ever be, has explained the phenomenon. Am highlighting a few of the things she says. Please go over and read the piece by Anupama Mohan when you can.

“I teach a big word in my critical theory classes: phallogocentrism. It is the idea that our societies are centred by the phallus and language (logos) and is a word that often scares, perplexes, and disturbs my students, but I unpack it using an example. In English, the word seminal, which means something important and path-breaking, derives from “semen” and in contrast, the word hysterical or hysteria, which is a word that has for long been associated with peculiarly female physical and mental disorders (and often used for recommending women’s confinement), derives from “hystera” or the womb.”

“So, how do we take the war to phallogocentrism? We begin, I think, by first acknowledging it as part of our everyday practices. Many people have been recently talking about “rape culture,” a phrase that disturbs me even as I recognize that what is being indicated is “phallogocentric culture” where the lingam is worshipped, women keep fasts for men’s welfare or for being blessed with a (good) husband, hide their faces, menstruation, pregnant bellies, abortions, and indeed, run the gamut of their social lives from one threshold to the next and the next, hiding various parts of themselves, physical and emotional. The focus on women as worthy of respect because they are mothers, sisters, and wives is almost always a ploy to constrain women within social identities where their “roles” are defined by and understood in relief from the normative male paradigm. This doesn’t mean that mothers, sisters, and wives are bad things to be, but it does point to the fact that in these roles, women are safest, most worthy, and most valuable to our societies.”

Also, do read this piece by Veena Venugopal. Where she talks about the denial of the existence of female desire. In some ways connected to piece above. A woman must be pure and have no desire. She must merely submit to beastly male desire. Oh well, anyone who knows this blog knows well by now that I have no such qualms. If Farhan Akhtar or Will Smith happen by, I’ll be happy to show them what female desire looks like, upfront and close!

A few days ago the Brat asked me, ‘Mama, can I call you a puma?”

Me: Erm, sure – but why?

Brat: Because Pumas are the best mothers in the cat family and you’re the best human mother there is.

Me: Oh well in that case :D

I put it up on FB and Diptakirti who exists for only two reasons – to obsess over Bollywood (have you read his book Kitnay Aadmi Thay? No? How could you not?!!) and annoy me, asked ‘Is Cougar next (hee hee)?’

I thought about it and while I hate stereotypes and terms of this sort, I’m happy this term came into existence. Happy that this sort of female desire is acceptable. That women no longer seek out merely the security of an older man but are happy to have their fun and move on – just like men traditionally have. That it’s common enough for there to be a term for it.

For years the woman has merely been a Puma. A loving mother. One who submits to her husband until the deed is done and then focuses on rearing her child, the milk of maternal love quenching all other desire (if she had any to begin with). If at all we compare her again, it is to a tigress protecting her young. As her young grow, she is meant to turn to God and community service while the old wily foxy man continues to mate and breed. Centuries have gone by and only now are we willing to accept that a woman can be a cougar, might want to be one too. More power to them cougars I say.

And on that (I’m sure, rather scandalous) note, have a good week you all.