Sticks and stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The engagement tag story

Noon tagged me for my engagement story and I am positive that everyone knows everything there is to know about the OA and my filmy affair. The running away, the tears, the fireworks… but never one to shy away from a tag I shall do it all over again.

I was in the midst of a break up with CB (college boyfriend) and the relationship just wouldn’t end.  Each time we sort of called it quits he would just turn up the next day smiling his huge smile and I’d sigh and figure that maybe there was something left to work on.

Now the OA was my shoulder to cry on through the breakup. In fact he just missed falling into the safe friends-zone (oh come on – the one Joey warns Chandler about?!)!! He patiently listened, didn’t advise or argue. He just bided his time dating other random women and acting like he wasn’t in the least bit interested in me. Or so I thought. He now says he was waiting for me to wake up and realise that he was the man of my dreams. So full of bullshit, isn’t he?!The rest of our office however couldn’t believe we were spending so much time together and still not an item.

The thing with CB finally ended and I was rather shattered. I don’t care what people say, I believe that even if you are the one to ultimately call it quits on a relationship, you are still rather devastated. You invest so much in a relationship and then suddenly one day you realise it isn’t working. You can either cling to it like a leech or have the sense to let it go while the memories are still good. Left single and sad and alone in the city, I hung out a lot more with the OA who was busy studying for his management entrances after office hours.

I was used to colleagues teasing me about the OA but after his impassioned avowal that he would never marry someone like me because I didn’t cook, I naively believed I was off the radar. I looked up to him since he was pretty senior in the food chain at office and was basically such a good guy. I don’t know when idol worship changed to love. It just happened.

The rides to and from office I would say, were where it all began and ended. Since I was the first he generously picked up each morning I’d sit in front while the rest slowly and sleepily piled in to the backseat along the way. We even discovered our very similar taste in music on those long rides.

Some days I’d get ready earlier than usual and so walk down to his place instead of waiting for the kind man to come and get me. Now he shared a flat with three other guys and with my Victorian upbringing I didn’t want to go in there alone. I was definitely not interested in catching some guy roaming around in his undies. So I would send him an SMS telling him that I was waiting at his door. He’d rush down, socks in hand and apologise. So I began to muster up the courage to go in because I hated having him rush down and then I’d sit on the edge of a chair in the living room and primly look away while he shoved his feet into sneakers and rushed around brushing his hair. (yeah okay, laugh all you want!) I think I realised the growing closeness when instead of the usual ‘I’m waiting downstairs’ message I began to send him just this – ‘Goodmorning  :)’ to indicate that I had arrived. He later on told me in a rare moment of mush that the moment he saw the smiley in the message he’d see my face smiling up at him. He has a good 9.5 inches on my 5’3″ so even after the metaphoric looking up ended I continue to look up to him.

Truth be told my mother told me he was interested in me, long before I figured it out. I’m a little slow like that. Practical and worldly wise, she didn’t understand why a young boy who could be getting in a lot more sleep was leaving for office half an hour earlier so that I could catch my shift, and coming out of his way to pick me up and hanging around after office in case I got late to give me a lift home so that I could avoid the dirty, crowded blueline buses.

I told her she had a dirty mind and didn’t understand platonic relationships. She told me she’d lived long enough to know a man in love. I ignored her. Now I eat my words. Mother. You are always right. Well, mostly right, if not always. Throw these words in my face and I will ban you from my blog.

So anyway, mother visited me, caught the OA as he dropped me off, offered him a cup of tea and left, satisfied that even if I did end up falling in love with him, he was a decent guy. She went home and told my dad that she could see it in his eyes but that I was too blind. And of course there was nothing she could do to keep me away from him, because as far as I was concerned she was being an orthodox old lady and there was really no reason to ‘keep me away’ from him. I stubbornly (so whats new?) kept meeting him and ignoring her because she was just an old fuddy duddy, see?

And so it went on. The OA wisely waiting. Me blithely ignorant. Or was I? I am still not too sure. All I know is that I saw him almost every waking minute and it just seemed right. He took a few days off from work and that is when it all began. The frantic SMSes. Willing the phone to ring or beep. Sending messages that you know you wouldn’t send a friend but still not sending anything that could be read as too flirtatious. How many times a day will you message a friend saying – ‘What you up to?’ I mean would you really care to know what a friend, even a best friend is up to, ten times a day, every single day?!!! How about – ‘Had dinner?’ Err… who cares?

A friend who took the ride to office with us called me aside and warned me – ‘I notice the look on his face in the rear view mirror. He’s nuts about you so if you’re going to break his heart, this might be a good time to tell him you’re not interested.’ Break his heart? What did I have to do with his heart? What the hell was wrong with the world and why were they all ganging up against me. Yes, I’ve always had a persecution complex!

Finery and liquor can do a lot to push a relationship to it’s culmination (I’m a teetotaller!). An office party happened and as usual he was picking up and driving a whole bunch of us there. The party was rocking but suddenly it struck me that this man I was spending most of my day with looked really hot when he cleaned up! That he danced like a dream and made interesting conversation. And that when the music came to an end, I didn’t want to stop dancing with him. Yes, you could call me slow. Why on earth was I insisting on setting him up with my best friend when I was single and ready to mingle? And my sales pitch to my friend – he’s cute and terrific husband material! So why was I selling when I didn’t mind buying?!!

I tore myself away and went and sat in a corner to sort my head out. Was I really interested or was it just the atmosphere and the fact that about 200 other people had been throwing us together? My phone beeped and the screen lit up..’What are you doing in that corner when you should be dancing with me?’

I looked across the lawn and he was standing with a bunch of colleagues and listlessly sipping his drink. I replied…

And so we kept at it. I don’t know if anyone noticed that we were sending messages for an hour. But it made me self conscious. When you’re in love, or when you do something you shouldn’t be doing, you do end up rather self conscious. You think everyone knows what you are up to. And to my mind the whole office knew and was probably reading our messages as they floated across the lawn with the music and the conversation. Finally he sent me a last one…’Let’s get out of here..’

But we couldn’t. We had to give 3 people a lift home. All looked rather disgruntled that we were leaving just as the party was warming up. But nobody wanted to fend for themselves in the wee hours of the morning so they knocked back their drinks and joined us.

We dropped two of them home and only my flatmate and I remained. The tension in the car was thick enough to cut with a knife. I wondered what lay ahead. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and see them dashed, neither did I want to make a fool of myself. And what exactly was he planning to say to my flatmate? How were going to get out of that?

But I needn’t have worried. My husband is a simple man and even then he had a simple solution. Turning to my flatmate he said he wanted to get out of the office party because it’s hard to enjoy a party when you’re concerned about getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. That he wanted to go to a real party now… ‘Want to join us? I’m taking MM to dance with me. She works too hard.’

Flatmate who was no fool and could see the sparks flying, mumbled an excuse and left. And there I was..alone with the OA in the car. Now I’d been alone with him a thousand times before. But it was never like this. I sat there in the darkness of the parked car and knew that the next answer would make a huge difference to my life.

‘Wanna go dancing?’ he smiled gently and now that I look back I can remember the distinct lack of enthusiasm in the voice.
No, I mumbled, wondering again if I’d misunderstood what were simply friendly or maybe mildly flirtatious messages.
I was dressed to the nines and my stilettos were killing me and I knew I couldn’t have danced if I wanted to, so I told him I could barely stand.

‘Coffee then? Drive?’
Sure… I replied hesitantly. What if I were found raped and dead the next morning, huh? I am nothing if not suspicious!

And so he drove and we chatted. And at some point he asked me to marry him. I kid you not. I have no recollection of what he said or how he said it. Simply because I was rehearsing my acceptance speech in my head. And perhaps because on the other hand I was also not expecting this to be the big night. I thought he’d perhaps confess undying love. Who in this day and age proposes marriage without dating for at least a while???!!! My honorable husband obviously.

‘Huh? What?I beg your pardon?’, I jerked upright in my seat.
I’d just heard him say… ‘…. when we’re married…’
Us? Married? Did I just miss my own proposal? Obviously. So full of yourself MM, that you miss your own proposal because you have other things going on in your head…
Apparently I’d just been proposed to. And then the womanly wiles kicked in and I made him sweat. Made him say it all over again. And again. And again. ‘You mean you’re in love with me? So why can’t you say it that way? Will it kill you to say the word ‘love’?’
From the way he changed gears I had a feeling I would be killed if I didn’t stop trifling with him!
‘Well if I’m talking marriage, obviously I am in love with you, right?’…
The age old thrust and parry of mating rituals.
‘Yes, but can’t you ask me properly? What makes you think I feel the same way? Have I said I want to marry you?’
He turned and looked me in the eye with a confidence that gave me my answer.

We had coffee at a 24 hour coffee shop and just sat and grinned foolishly at each other. I was finally at peace. I knew this was what was meant to be. There were no edges. Everything felt like it fitted. I can still see us in my mind’s eye. I in my black trousers, blue silk top and he in his beige trousers and black shirt ( He gave that shirt away to the guard recently and couldn’t figure out why that upset me so!). But for the life of me I cannot remember a single word of the conversation we had.

Sometimes the most significant moments in life catch you off guard. You imagine that when you are proposed to, violins will play in the background. That you will remember the scene and the words exactly. But that’s not how it happens. All I can remember is the dark highway stretching ahead, the glow of the instrument panel in the car and the strong hand that hesitated a moment before reaching out for mine.

I swore that I’d make him go down on his knees but we went through so much hell after wards that the whole knee thing seemed so trite and pale. When a man leaves his family and everything else that matters just to be with you, solitaires, poetry, roses, champagne and romantic dinners are just what Hallmark uses to sell cards. I never did get a proper proposal. I don’t think I care for anything more.

We had a huge engagement party in my hometown. He missed the train even then and came sleeping in the luggage rack of a passenger train but that is a story for another day. The engagement ring was beautiful. A square cut diamond with pink diamonds on either side. And since nothing conventional stays with me, it broke. A train door slammed shut on my hand and the ring saved my finger from breaking. But was squashed and damaged beyond repair. I didn’t get it repaired and I don’t remember the engagement date either. It’s either the 21st or 22nd of December. I must ask him.

As we wrap up eleven years…

Today we complete eleven years of marriage.

I look back on the last 11 years and I’m at a bit of a loss for once. How does one encapsulate them?

I gained a husband but he came by himself. No family. No baggage. Not the desi way.

And when the family came, it was not pleasant. But then one doesn’t really expect pleasantness when the resistance to the marriage lead to one party having to leave home.

I’ve cried on your virtual shoulders and said things in public that I wish I hadn’t.

But what’s done can’t be undone.

This year I finally gained the family he was born into. It’s been gradual and I’ve mentioned it to you. But only now am I confident enough to say the words out loud.

It’s been a tough march.

We started off with daggers drawn and things only got worse. Accusations, counter accusations, unpleasant public scenes, harsh words.

We made up and broke up. And then again. It was like the ebb and flow of the tide.

But over the last couple of years we’ve patched things up and done a fair job of it. The patchwork isn’t ugly – it’s like an old handmade quilt. Ratty, but comfortable.

We have our off days, we sort things out.

My FIL falls asleep while watching TV and I quietly get a blanket to tuck around him. We go to attend a family wedding and he looks around at the other ladies and then suddenly turns and looks at me with pride and does something no one has done in years – pinches my cheek.

He makes a rather patriarchal statement regarding the babies and I fight him tooth and nail. One of us usually relents. More often than not, it’s him.

My MIL, on the other hand has grown into a friend. We chat quietly over a cup of tea, exchange family gossip. Plan the dinner menu. Well, she plans while I battle deadlines at work. She has tears in her eyes when she’s leaving and she hugs me, not letting go until the OA gently pushes her towards the car with a reminder that she’s getting late. I love you, sweetheart, she says.

I grin. And we send each other flying kisses at the exact same moment.

The OA says I’m an approval seeker. He’s right. I don’t like it when people don’t like me. I’m Monica.

To know me, is to love me, I say with teeth clenched. And I get back to figuring out what I have to do to make things better. To smooth over the rough edges. To.Make.It.Work.

The last eleven years have not brought professional recognition or accolades. They’ve not brought money.

But I’ve invested a lot of time in this little family of mine. And a lot of effort. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I chose to fake it until I could make it, but it worked.

I often wish I’d had their blessings when we got married. It would have been so much easier on a young couple who anyway had to make the many other adjustments that marriage demands. I wish the OA had not felt alone and vulnerable. I wonder if he questioned his decision as he signed the dotted line. I wonder how it must have hurt to have my parents stand by us at a receiving line, but not his.

But I’m glad we’re here today. I’m glad I didn’t start off as a welcomed, accepted bride and grow to hate them as is often the case.

I’m glad we started at the lowest point in our relationship because the only way from there was up. Expectations were rock bottom and anything we get from each other today, is a bonus.

People always say the grandchildren bring change. But I think that is unfair to the hard work that goes into making things work. Change comes only when both sides want it and yes, the grandchildren are a good incentive.

But the look in my husband’s eyes when he walks in from work and finds his parents, kids and wife crowded in on his bed, having tea and laughing, is one I’ll not forget in a hurry. For once he doesn’t even chastise us for the biscuit crumbs on the counterpane.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I couldn’t not share this with you, could I?

I’m sure we’ll have our rough moments again, but I finally know what it is to be accepted by them. And this time I’ll have the incentive to work and bring things back to this point.

My eleventh anniversary gift to the OA?

A complete family and peace.

Which is a good thing, because I’m too broke to give him much else this year.

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!

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.

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.

Eight years come Easter

So the OA and I celebrated eight years of marriage on the 25th of April (cue to wish us, thank you), in Dharamshala. Our trip to the hills said something about why this marriage has lasted as long as it has. It was Easter (Hope you all had a Blessed Easter) and we were in a strange city and not attending Church. Actually I realise I am even more casual about such stuff than the OA. He tried to get us to wake up and attend the service at the lovely St John in the Wilderness Church, but I said I’d rather not drag the kids out of bed and rush them around on a holiday. At the beginning of this year we noticed there are a lot of long weekends and so we have a bunch of little trips booked up for the rest of the year. We did Sariska two weekends ago and have been using our Club Mahindra membership to the fullest. Yes, kam daam, full paisa vasool would describe us. Not too far, costs us nothing more than a tank of petrol and we’re off. We don’t shop, we eat at the local joints, we don’t even bother to ask for mineral water bottles.

We’ve been trying to get other couples to join us but most people are unwilling to travel on festivals and want to be home to celebrate, while others find it a nuisance to travel with babies. And in that one line I realise what has held the OA and I together. I dated guys who were wilder, I dated guys who were richer, I dated guys whose parents loved me. But I guess I married the one who thought just like me on these very relevant, daily issues. I don’t think I could have stayed married very long to someone who believed in going to the church/temple regularly and fasting and keeping rituals. Neither could I have married a man who couldn’t be a man and handle his share of parenting. Who didn’t think it was a lark to pick up a two month old baby and drive off to the hills with a wife burning with fever and a toddler puking out the window! Similarly he has a very healthy respect for women who are low maintenance and can handle their kids and still have a life. Anyone remember that post? We took the two month old Bean to Kasauli against all odds and that was still a fun trip.

So last weekend we grabbed two Easter eggs as a nod to tradition and drove off. We stayed one night with some friends who were once princely rulers and their old haveli brought much joy to the kids. Cows to be milked, orange orchards to be explored, old ruins (including a deeeeeeep well) and much more. We literally had to drag the kids out of there. They’d also dug out size  appropriate beds for the kids and the Bean got lucky with a little cot that she refused to get out of. She’s not over it yet and at six hourly intervals I get a request for a cot. *groan*

Good Friday was spent with the friends and everyone laughed at the irony of spending it exploring an ancient Gurudwara. Holy Saturday was at the Bhagsunag Temple and Easter Sunday was spent trying to see the Dalai Lama. None of it was intentional, but that is how it ended up being and for me, it was a good Easter because I was with my brats and the OA and that was all that mattered.

I came back all tired and grouchy and a friend teased me – But I thought you said the kids are no trouble. Well, they weren’t trouble, they were, well, just kids! They walked all over the place and only whined when they were really exhausted, at which point the OA and I, kind parents that we are, threatened to leave them sitting on the road if they didn’t get up and walk. That worked. No strollers, no carrying, nothing. Funnily they were all excited and raring to go the next day inspite of what I thought of as us traumatising them. They kept awake late most nights but the OA and I stayed up even later, reading for a quiet hour, sitting outside the room in the garden and chatting for a while, getting our own little hour of conversation. But then they’d be up bright and chirpy and the OA and I would bury our heads under our pillows and groan, telling them to go to the bathroom and not trouble us. Which they did willingly, except that they don’t really maintain boundaries. So they kept skipping in and out of the loo, sitting on our bed, having loud conversations while the two of us moaned and slid lower in the bed and snapped at them for letting the sunlight in. Finally with a broken extra hour of sleep we’d get out of bed and take them for breakfast. Ah, good times! But I think the biggest problem was the soft beds. The OA and I are not creatures of comfort and even our bed at home has been divested of its thick coir mattress and replaced with a local cotton handstitched mattress. It’s really good for the back and the hard bed now has us so hooked that other beds just end up being a pain instead of a comfort.

The anniversary was spent driving back to Delhi and we stopped along the way to play in a river, watch a bridge being constructed, examine some Stinky Williams and a quick lunch break (at 5pm!).  Healthy diets and timings usually go to the dogs when we travel and the kids ate pancakes for dinner and burgers for breakfast and butter chicken with roti at some point in between it all. Earlier I used to carry colouring books etc but I’ve realised that they don’t bother with them choosing instead to look out of the window. Neither do they need to be entertained with cartoons put on the laptop or puzzles or anything. I make up a bed out of the backseat by stuffing luggage in between the front and back seats and then spread a sheet over it. They fall asleep when they are tired, get up and look out when they are rested and chatter with us all the way. We now argue over the radio stations and if we do tend to fall silent for a while, the quiet Brat who never says much will suddenly pipe up in a very Itna sannata kyun hai bhai way. “I don’t want to talk,” says he, “but I want to listen to you  all.” It’s scary how much they pay attention even when you don’t think they are, because the OA and I were discussing an uncle’s heart attack and the two of them who had been arguing over something suddenly joined in with questions – what is a heart attack? Why does it happen?

Anyway, a lot of people want to know how and why the OA and I love travelling so much with two little kids so I’ve got my travel tips down pat. They won’t work for everyone, but its okay, we’ve got to do what works for us!

1. Carry lots of snacks and water. It’s a holiday and you’re on the road so it’s okay if you eat whenever you want and whatever you want. Healthy diets are for being at home. Funnily no matter how much junk we eat on vacation, we all come home looking leaner and fitter (and more tanned)! Sanitiser, tissues, umbrellas, toilet roll, newspaper for accidents, plastic bags to avoid littering. We also carry two big laundry bags and keep stuffing our dirty clothes in those instead of packing them back in the suitcase. It’s simpler to unpack when you come home. The laundry goes straight to the laundry room and the rest of the stuff takes very little time to unpack. Which brings me to the other point – always pack your stuff back neatly when travelling home instead of stuffing it higgledy piggledy. I find it saves me a lot of time when we reach home tired and sleepy with a full day of work and school the next day. Again, it really helps to travel by your own car because then you can just separate things into bags and stack them in the boot without worrying about how you’re going to get it all home.

2. Drive if possible, or take a train. Nothing like seeing each place as you pass, stopping to examine a big toadstool, getting off to eat hot fresh jalebis at a level crossing while waiting for a train to pass, splashing in a stream and collecting pebbles.  Don’t carry video games and laptops for the journey at least. Let the kids do what we did as kids – look out, play number plate games, count red cars followed by black jeeps, sleep, appreciate the silence, play antakshari and do some colouring. I hate to have them thinking that they need to be entertained. The journey is part of the holiday and they’re not doing us a favour by coming along. If they whine I offer to either offload them on a truck heading back to Delhi or ask if they would like to stay back in Delhi with the cook the next time we’re going on holiday. Admittedly I do carry some DVDs in case there is a problem. Case in point, a storm at Sariska where we were stuck in our tent for hours. No place to walk, nothing to do and the wind howling around us. We played for a while, read for a while and finally left them to watch some Madagascar while we read our books by the lamplight.

3.  No shopping for a hundred toys each time you pass a shop. I understand the excitement of a new place and let them pick up something small – as of now they think anything more than Rs 100 is very “inspensive” and so a plastic gun, a bunch of blocks, some rubber insects and they’re duly grateful for our largesse. I’ve told them that at least they are out having fun and so they must think of those who aren’t on holiday and so they get really excited about picking up gifts for those left home –  a shawl for M didi, the maid, leather boots are suggested for Baby Button and gently turned down. It’s really sweet to see them not go for a toy but pick up a spaghetti top for me and choose a shirt for their father – all sadly returned to the racks.

4. The idea is to sightsee and sights are what see, but within limits. I don’t pack the day with too much. And I don’t take them to places where they have to be quiet or careful. They’re too young to be forced into silence and fear of breaking something expensive.  If we see one temple/fort in the day, we spend the rest doing fun stuff with them, even if it is something simple like playing cricket/basketball in the hotel gardens. They pick one toy for familiarity, but more often than not they don’t even cast a look at it. I’ve often wondered why my kids had no comfort objects or transition toys. Clearly I am doing something wrong. No blankie, no teddie, nothing. Strange brats.

5. Eat local food. We love eating local food and the kids learn to eat whatever is offered. Maybe not much, just some plain roti and subzi but try it they will. Over the years they’ve learnt to try everything once. I am not one for getting into the hotel kitchen and requesting for sandwiches and pizzas – there is always some curd, rice, dal, roti available and if they don’t like the special local cuisine, they make up for it by eating the other familiar but available food. If they don’t, they are not allowed to go out and play. It always works. Parents with really young babies tend to take along maids to cook and feed the babies. But I find it more of a nuisance to drag along house help who would much rather take a break from duty and watch TV. I nursed the babies as long as I could and then fed them simple stuff available everywhere like boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, bananas, curd and rice. Zimble. At times like this I miss our firangi friends who are mostly pretty cool. On the other hand its so much easier to get highchairs and motels with toilets on the road abroad. Here I have to hope and pray that they don’t want to go potty once we set out because the toilets are filthy at stops.

6. Make friends. Travel is all about meeting people and we encourage them to make friends with other kids. The only rule I have is that they aren’t allowed into anybody else’s room unless I’ve carefully checked out the family. The last trip I allowed them into a little girl’s tent only after ascertaining that the only other person there was her mother, also sitting at the door like I was, reading a book. And here I have to say the new school has done them a world of good – they’re very inclusive. The Bean has become a bit of a mother hen – she walks up to shy children even older than herself and invites them to play.  It’s really rather sweet to see her hold their hands and coax them into a game of hide and seek or catch. The Brat is less proactive but has slowly grown into a strong, capable ringleader, holding his own when other more boisterous children feel nervous about taking the first step in a new place. I have to admit I feel rather tickled as I sit there watching the kids confidently invite other kids, make up a game, and in general display any degree of confidence. I often say I couldn’t care less if they become beach bums or engineers. I just want them to be happy and confident and good people. It’s a long road ahead and I might never know if it worked out that way.

7. Don’t fuss. If they fall asleep in their jeans or don’t brush their teeth one night, it’s not the end of the world. I am anal enough about it at home to ensure that they will not suffer by missing one day. By not sweating the small stuff I take a lot of pressure off myself as well as them. At one hotel the gardens were being watered and we played a game where we had to run under the sprinkler as it turned around, without getting wet. The kids had a blast and ended up getting quite soaked. One thing I never seem to have enough of, is changes of clothes! No matter what I do, we end up filthy. On the hills the kids end up puking. The last time I hopped out of the car really fast and rushed to open the door and let the Bean out. Too late – she threw up all over herself and down my pants. Not only did I wash her down on the highway, clean up the puke off the inside of the car (the Brat took one look at her and thew up too) but I also had to strip down to my smalls on the road and change into another pair of pants. If I thought delivering a baby lying pretty much naked on an operating table was the end of the indignity motherhood brought, I had another think coming.

8. Try and stop off and meet family/friends even if it is a little out of the way. Gone are the days when we had extended family holidays and got to meet everyone. Our kids are lucky to see their uncles and aunts once a year. So we ensure that we atleast have a meal or stay a night with someone we know. The kids get to see a different way of life – some places the ladies cover their heads, other places people take their slippers off at the door, some places we eat in steel thalis and although they are tiny details the kids soak them up and learn that people live differently and we have to follow the rules in their homes even if we don’t like it. This time the children who live in Delhi and never seem to have noticed turbans suddenly woke up to Sikhs in Punjab. “Why are they wearing that thing on their head, mama?” From there on to an explanation of religion and for the first time in 6 years I told my kids that their mother was a Christian and their father was a Hindu. They nodded vaguely and dismissed it – clearly we’re not as exciting as the “salwarjis” (the Bean’s cute mispronunciation – much cherished since she pretty much gets everything right these days) who are big and strong and have the best roads in the country.

9. Travel whenever you get the chance, regardless of the season. People thought we were mad for going to Sariska, Rajasthan in the heat. Hell, we thought we were mad too. But we ended up having a blast. Our safari was at 2.30 in the afternoon, open jeep, hot sun beating down on us, no sheltering trees – by 3.30 we were numb to the heat – I think our senses had died. By 5 it was cool and beautiful. By night we were using quilts. This was truly Rajasthan as we hear of it. The kids didn’t care about the heat and ran around all day in the sun, risking heat strokes and narrowly missing them I am sure. The off season times are better in resorts, you get more space, better service and more peace. The OA and I went to Kerala in the rains, against popular consensus and loved it. We went everywhere, got drenched and sneezed and dried off, but got to see the lush God’s own country at its most beautiful.

10. Don’t let a small hitch change your plans. I’ve gone on holiday with high fever, with a UTI and all sorts of other problems, simply because I didn’t know when we’d next get the chance. This last Dharamshala trip was jinxed. The Brat had fever and we were leaving on the third day of his fever. We took a calculated risk that the fever would come down by the third day and it did. He slept most of the way and took his medication on time, reaching the hotel fit and fever free and ready to bounce on the springy beds. We asked him if he was feeling too sick to travel and he shook his head and said he wanted to go on a holiday and see snow capped mountains. So we went. He’s come back apple cheeked from the mountain air. Two days before we left the OA was driving past some construction when he heard a blast. He turned around to see that our passenger window had shattered – no idea how. We sent the car in for servicing and it came back worse, jerking, shaking, shuddering to a halt. Frantically sent it in again – and it came back with the dashboard cracked open (wtf?!) and the music system giving an error. We got in and drove off anyway. On the way the fuel gauge packed up so we had to keep guessing our usage and topping up the tank. The charging point wasn’t working so no iPod, no charging our phones, nothing. But we soldiered on, managing with local radio and singing loudly when we were out of signal range. We came back and the car finally gave up the ghost when the OA was on his way to office yesterday. We were hopping mad at the garage but quite grateful that it laboured up to the hills and brought us home safely.

Okay enough gyan – here are some pics from both the trips.  Starting with the tents we stayed in at Sariska. Air conditioned so can’t really say we roughed it out. But the kids enjoyed the tents, constantly zipping themselves in and out and threatening to unzip and walk into the toilet when we went in. Pests!

*gasp* My kids playing the weirdest game of cricket ever. I have no idea who the Bean is bowling to. Neither does the Brat.

This picture tells you what it is like to be mother to the Bean. I was trying to get a picture of her sitting and balancing on the football. In the split second it took for me to click, she’d jumped off the ball and right out of my frame. Most exasperating.

She is incapable of sitting on her own butt or standing on her own legs. At any given point she is either clambering on to my lap or climbing on to her father’s back.


Refusing to get off even when he gets up to go someplace. Standing confident, the lithe little acrobat.

And on the other hand, my contemplative little Brat – collecting pods, pouring water and digging with his sturdy little fingers in an attempt to green the desert.

And now for the animals. I have to begin with the disclaimer – No, we didn’t see any tigers. But then I will go on to say, that I find a lot of people ruin their trip by setting it up as the tiger trip. It wasn’t for us. For us it was just the widlife trip and we were more than satisfied with the hundreds of sambar and bluebull that surrounded our jeep and nosed in. Similarly we didn’t set the kids up for disappointment by telling them we were on the hunt for a tiger. We told them we were going for a jungle ride and whatever came, would come. And this is just a fraction of what came..  The guide told us that unlike most other sanctuaries, this one has no real natural water bodies. The royalty built a number of watering holes for the animals. So kind of them, right?

Wrong. Because they built watch towers along side the watering holes and then bang! shot the poor thirsty animals. I don’t support shikaar, but this is positively the worst way I can imagine preying on animals.

I’ve never seen so many peacocks… Did you remember that the phrase for it is a muster or an ostentation of peacocks? The OA and I racked our brains and finally remembered it just in time to tell the kids!

And here’s an example of how close things were – this little bird came and sat on our jeep!

And now the pics from Dharamshala and McLeodganj. These are the rabbits at the hotel.

Followed by the ducks and the fish pond.

The Bean gets to watch the rabbits being bathed and then spends the morning watching over them as they dry so that a wild cat doesn’t get them, cuddling the younger ones who are petrified of the water and shivering.

This is view of the play area, swings to the left that I didn’t remember to take pictures of.

The beautiful, beautiful Norbulingka. I keep going back there. We had brunch there – waffles with honey and fruit. Whats not to like? The Bean threatened to drown a couple of times, but that aside, a wonderful time spent there.

Peaceful and serene. Even the Brat leaped over the little streams without a sound!

The OA keeps an eye on his daughter who began with sitting on the edge of the pond and then slowly climbed in when no one was noticing. At this point she is perched on the inner ledge and they are having a rather civilised conversation. I’d have simply pulled her out and shaken her up, if I hadn’t been so busy clicking pictures!

At the Bhagsunag Temple. The Bean is so tiny that the bell was too heavy for her to ring!

This is the swimming pool into which the water from the holy waterfall is collected so that devotees can have a dip. I was very impressed to see local swimmers practicing their laps in the freezing water, getting out and warming up and then plunging right back in.

The Bean wakes up to a view of the hills. She could get used to this life.

The OA helps the kids with their Easter eggs.

The Bean plunges into a stream with enthusiasm. We were driving by and it just called to us so we scrambled down the hillside and scraped our knees and hands but got there!

The family that prays together…

The Bean throws up all over her last pair of clean pants and goes home confidently in a pair of frilly bloomers… with Dr Seuss to keep her company. In case you’re wondering, that is a dupatta that I pushed into the window to act as a curtain and keep the sun off their faces.

This sign had us cracking up and I had to bring home a pic for you guys… Enjoy!

And finally, to the man who has spent the last eight years with a crazy woman, though thick and thin,  from pukey beds to stripping on highways to dancing under waterfalls to feverish kids to long drives, to empty pockets but never an empty promise, from crashed up cars to looking dashing at parties…thank you. Thank you for the best ride of my life. I have no idea where we’re heading to, but as the Bean says, This is a sooo fun trip!  This one goes out to you.

and this

and this..

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