The Leader of the Band

I often forget what my parents give me, just by their very presence, just by living their lives the way they do. And while I often thank ma for her never say die spirit and her unconscious living of her life as a feminist, I don’t say thank you to my dad often enough.
I grew up slamming doors at and with dad. I inherited his volatile temper, his love for music, plants, decor, politics, ability to forgive fast, love of socialising, thinning hair, and hearty laugh.
Today I carried his luggage out to the cab and he patted me on the head with a – I have a few more years to go before you have to do that, sweetheart – bringing tears to my eyes.
And this is what he left me with this afternoon – a song from his youth, introduced to my brother and me, over WhatsApp (something we introduced him to!), a day ago.
The give and take is endless, but parents always give more than they receive. I didn’t pay enough attention to the song when he played it for me, and now as I sit in my empty living room and play it over and over again, I am reminded anew that you’re never too old to be introduced to something by your parents. And it’s never too late to be grateful for them.
Enjoy the song – and you can thank him, not me. Funnily, he was reminded of his dad, the thatha I never knew, when he sat there listening to it.

// The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band. //

The fledgling

Academic question. Not at all personal. *koff koff*
In fact, I’m asking for a friend.
At which point does one cut the cord and stop missing one’s parents?

Years ago I would sob every time I left for college and my parents spoke to one of my professors about it. He was very nice about it and told them an anecdote about how the eagle keeps removing the feathers it lines its nest with, until the nest becomes too uncomfortable for the fledgling to stay.
My parents are failures clearly, because it’s been twenty years and they’ve only made the bloody nest more comfortable. Of course it is all their fault – raising their child to be dependent and dysfunctional when she is not within an 800 km range of them.

I have a couple of plans in mind now

  1. Act increasingly nasty when I next see my parents, forcing them to fight with me, vitiate the environment progressively so that by the end we’re all happy to see the back of each other.
  2. Be nasty to my kids starting today so that they hate me. This nips the issue in the bud and they don’t end up being miserable babies at the grand old age of 37. This whole business of being a good parent is overrated and misunderstood. You must raise them to hate you so that they don’t miss you too much.

If you have other ways to handle this mess, please give your solutions in the comments box. The winning comment will get – oh, I don’t know. Tear-free evenings?

Goodbye, Carmen

CarmenCarmen left our home today (January 14th). It’s rather aptly a cold, grey, rainy morning as she leaves our home, taking all light and color with her. Why is she called Carmen? Not because she’s a gypsy at heart. That would be too obvious. She was christened Carmen because she’s a car, men! Simple.

She joined the family a few days after the Bean joined the family. The OA had booked her and sold our other car and we’d been waiting for more than a month. I went in to hospital cursing him for the bad timing. He wanted a red Verna ‘because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford a red Ferrari’. Hyundai didn’t have enough orders for a red Verna to paint up a batch so we kept waiting.

The day the doc declared me fit to leave hospital, we took a cab home and I insisted on going straight to the dealership. I did a dharna there with a 3-day old Bean in my arms (explains so much about her!) and refused to leave until they gave us our car. When I opened my shirt to nurse her, junta cleared the showroom double quick and begged the OA, ‘Please take ma’am home, we’ll get you a red Verna asap.’

Carmen arrived a few days later. She was worth the wait.

From some of the highest motorable paths to forced off-roading, her gypsy soul took her places few sedans go. Cousin K and I learnt to drive on her and she showed us how a fantastic turning radius can change your driving experience and save others’ lives! And once in a while I’d take her out of the Gurgaon traffic and on to the Faridabad highway and let her stretch her long legs, the wind in my hair, just two slightly reckless girls having fun.

As she left this morning I ran out to see her come out of the garage and turn the corner to the exit gate. Low slung, shiny, soundless, she glides like a model on a ramp. I grinned through my tears – in her head, she thinks she’s a red Ferrari.

Have a good life, Carmen.

No longer sorry

amy

I saw this on Pinterest today and it spoke to me.

A few days ago the Brat walked in with a recipe book he’d borrowed from a friend’s mother. The OA and I took one look at him carrying a book bigger than his body and fell over laughing. But here’s the truth – he loves food and he wants to learn to cook.

This brings us to an uncomfortable situation. I am home more often than the OA and most often it is I, tossing up a salad or a sandwich for a quick meal. And so naturally the kids are drawn to watch me cooking. If it’s on a slow day, I’m tolerant of their presence in the kitchen. If not, I tell them to get the hell out of my way if they want anything to eat, because I have to get back to work.

The OA on the other hand, enjoys cooking and encourages them to join him in the kitchen. Having the disadvantage of only recently taking up cooking as an interest, he watches and records hours of food programming and even after all these years, doesn’t know as much about food as I do, theoretically. How did this come about?

I grew up with a feminist grandmother who didn’t believe every woman needed to know how to cook. What every woman should know, she’d often say, is how to earn. And once you’re capable of supporting yourself, you can decide if you want to cook or hire a cook. And so she, my mother (who is a superb cook) and I, hired cooks and went out to work.

But no matter what your family environment, there is no denying social pressure on a woman to cook. My in laws were horrified that their son had not married a Havell’s appliance (please see the series of advertisements here if you haven’t already – they’re fantastic). And I cannot begin to count the number of women in my own generation who felt there was something wrong with a woman who didn’t enjoy cooking, didn’t feel her heart burst with joy at the thought of homecooked meals for her children and didn’t rush to pour out hot dosas every time a belly somewhere growled.

I was young and gave in to pressure easily so I bought recipe books, and cooked when I got a chance (less than most others because wild horses were usually required to drag me to the kitchen) and even joined cooking e-groups etc for the tips. I am now a competent cook, guests expect a fairly good table at my place and I know a good deal about cooking – but I still hate the drudgery of it. Still get tired thinking of even brewing a cup of tea, still hate joining conversations on methods of layering a biryani.

At some point I realised that the OA too, was fighting his own demons. He had a love for food and cooking that had never been discovered or encouraged. He’d walk into the kitchen while I was cooking and try to be helpful, end up bossing me around (because of course I *was* doing something wrong) and be sent off with a sting in the ear for his pains. And so I established a tradition – he began to cook our Diwali family dinner. It started out pure vegetarian, the entire family revolted and the next year it was beer batter fish. Over the last year as the kids have grown and he has more time on hand, he’s been cooking more and more and I’ve eased out of the kitchen almost entirely. The kids make their own sandwiches, the cook does the daily fare and if the OA wants something fancy, he makes it.

It took me years to get to this point where I could back out of what is a traditional female role and encourage the OA to step up to the plate and do what he enjoys doing. The patriarchy screwed us both over and yet we took so long to make this handover. It wasn’t easy watching the cook begin to take orders from him, guests turning to him to ask what was on the menu, and the kids coming to him with their requests. Particularly because working or SAHM, mums run the kitchen in most homes – I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with. I continue to handle the day to day running of our home since I work from home, stepping in when the cook is absent. But on the whole, if someone comes in bursting with the excitement over something they want to eat, they know who to take that excitement to, and its certainly not me.

And so it was that the Brat staggered in with his massive recipe book and a demand that we cook something out of it. I looked at him with deep love and much affection and said – You have to be joking if you think Mama is getting up to cook complicated stuff.

And sure enough, he and the Bean nodded and turned to their father, taking it in their stride. ‘Oh yes, Mama dislikes cooking and finds it boring. Dada, you enjoy it, so lets plan a meal. Anyway, you’re the cooker in this house. Mama is the doctor.’

And the three of them bent their heads and began to pore over the book. I turned back to work and heaved a sigh of relief. It is done. I am no longer the default cook in this home. And the next generation has already come to accept home cooked food as Papa ke haanth ka khaana and not Ma ke haanth ka khaana.

I feel a twinge of something and suppress it. I think it is social conditioning calling and I’m not home to receive it. It really was this easy and if only I’d stopped fighting my limits some years ago, I’d have not wasted time making elaborate meals and trying to ‘fit in.’

I’m off to sign off the cooking groups and sign up for a few more on my interests. When I get home, there’ll be a hot meal cooked by husband and kids awaiting me. Life is good.

Rain drenched and sated

When the Brat turned a year old, I got the entire family to write letters to him and those were posted on my old blog. My dad’s letter said -‘Your father is a great guy, but there are two things I can teach you that he can’t – trout fishing and playing a guitar.’

The Brat turned 9 this year and G’pa has neither taught him the guitar nor taken him trout fishing. So we planned to go to Munnar this summer, to show my kids where their mother grew up and the lawns she learned to cycle on. The original plan had been to go with the mad sibling, aka Tambi and his family. But their trips to India are always rushed and my kids are growing really fast and I don’t have the luxury of time. So we booked our tickets and and decided to go ahead without 40% of the group. And then Ma broke her leg. Clearly she couldn’t join us.

So we dithered. Clearly we were not destined to go without Tambi and Family!

And while we dithered, flight tickets got more expensive and hotels got booked out. So finally we decided to use the tickets we’d booked and go south only. Stopping off in Chennai to catch up with family and a cousin who is due any moment now (yayy! More babies in the family).

Our last visit to Kerala was baby-free and we wished we’d brought them along. So we fixed that by a quick trip to Pondicheri and then on to Cherai Beach, Kerala. My dad decided to keep to the program and he came along with us.

It was a bad time to go to Tamil Nadu for sure, because the heat had me sapped. Pondicheri was fabulous and the hotel was lovely, but nothing made up for the heat.

Early mornings and late evenings were spent in the pool or on the beach and afternoons were spend reading in bed. The Brat has taken to Tinkle comics and I heaved a sigh of relief. I’ve always worried that our children will turn up their noses at what we enjoyed, as poor fare. And yet here is a brand new generation reading a brand new Tinkle, a holiday session, laughing with Supandi.

Lost in his book

Lost in his book

The Kerala leg was simply fantastic. Heavy rains, lush greenery, everything screaming GODS OWN COUNTRY. I sat by the window and watched the rains pour down, the sea lash wildly at the shore and the skies darken dramatically, while we all sipped on hot chocolate. And then it would clear up and we’d all run out to play. I fell in love with Cochin too – the port, the ferry… the Jewish area. Everything had so much more character than the high rises and sameness that I returned to. I almost always have post holiday depression, but I find its getting harder to handle over the years. And this time I was wiping away tears as we drove to the airport. The city gave me a grand send off with grey skies and driving rain. If the kids hadn’t been in the car I’d have sobbed like a baby.

The last time I visited Kerala I remember observing that men in Kerala wear mundus even now. Which is fantastic. It’s perfect for that weather. Makes me wonder why so few men in the North wear kurta pajamas or dhotis. Temperatures soar here too and it must be so much more comfortable than trousers and jeans. Oh well.

Also, it’s interesting how Kerala is home to so many more communities than any other place – each one retaining its identity. Syrian Christians, Mappila Muslims, Jews, Goud Saraswat Brahmins who are native to Cochin and so on. They’re specific to this area and co-exist fairly peacefully. They’ve managed to do it while retaining their culture. Why is the rest of the country unable to do this? This is what one would call truly cosmopolitan.

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Breakfast buddies

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Made by man meets made by nature

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Because there is nothing as hypnotic as staring into the depths of a pond

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Backwaters ahoy!

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Bumchums

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Mine

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Daniel Craig. Or not.

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The Bean hanging on to my hat as she takes in the seaview from the hotel reception

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I like big eggs in my biryani and I cannot lie

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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.

Forty and fantastic

The OA turned 40 on the 1st of June. Try as I might, I can’t get used to the idea of being married to a man who is 40. Middle aged😀 Of course I’m right behind him and will get there in a couple of years.

I finally see what older people mean when they say they feel no different. I feel 22. And to me he still feels like the 26 year old I dated. Except for the odd dressing down I receive, reminding me that the honeymoon is over.

I spent a lot of time mulling over how we could celebrate this big one… Frankly I don’t know why I bought into the hype that this is a big one. I suppose its just nice to pick an occasion, any occasion and fuss over a person.

The OA comes from a rather dry, unemotional, practical family and it’s taken him years to get used to my flights of fancy, my nonstop chatter, my thirst for excitement and the desire to celebrate everything and all the time.

So when I asked him if he wanted a big party or wanted to travel on his birthday, he shrugged. Disinterested. It didn’t really matter to him – we travel and party often enough for his birthday not to require the same. In fact, he gave it some thought and said – No party please. We end up playing host and making drinks and serving people and don’t really get to enjoy their company.

I offered him a bike (mid life crisis alert!), a new TV, a new music system… and finally I gave up. Until I came up with this one – I decided to ask his friends and family to mail in birthday wishes and memories and pictures, and I made a book out of it. Words are my currency and I strongly believe they make the best gifts.

This coincided with my exit from Facebook ( I deactivated because I needed some time to get used to the fact that I was actually friends with right wing voters and supporters. How?!) and I had no way to get in touch with 90% of the people from his life and past – specially since this was to be a surprise.

Suffice to say, I spent days and weeks calling, mailing, following up. My husband is a very easy going, charming man who rarely states opinions to the contrary, rarely speaks on contentious issues, is always helpful, kind and warm. And yet, few people considered it important enough to respond to me and send in their birthday wishes by the deadline I’d set.

Ma says people have their own way of showing affection. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse one from showing affection in the ways someone asks for it, once in a while. Like attending a wedding even if you hate crowds, because the groom is a close friend. Like going to a kiddy birthday party even if you hate kids, because it’s your little nephew’s first birthday. And so on.

People might be busy, they may not like to write notes, but these notes were requested to celebrate the 40th birthday of a very charming, kind, warm man – not his rather controversial wife!

Many didn’t bother to even acknowledge the mail, or reply and say that they couldn’t be bothered! Some replied way after my deadline. There were certain people without whom I felt the book would be incomplete and so I harassed them in the most polite way possible, reminders, mails, messages. I’m sure they felt that I was piling on – but all they had to do was say No. And I’d have backed off. Instead I got endless excuses about how they were traveling, or busy, or blah blah.

And I have to admit, if they said No, I’d have thought less of them because they are people who claim to be close to him – friends as well as family. What good are family and friends if they can’t dislodge themselves from their comfort zone to do something for you?

Which is not to say it was all bad. The letters that came in, brought tears to my eyes. Warm, joyful, affectionate, reminiscing and telling me a little more about my old man. Hideous old pictures of him looking like something the cat dragged in.

I got in touch with a friend who was estranged over a rather serious and bitter issue – it’s been many years but he responded promptly and warmly and made my day. Reminded me that old friends truly are the best.

I had planned to print the book online but thanks to all the delays I knew it wouldn’t get done and delivered in time. I asked a friend to help me out and we laid it out across two days and took it to a printer locally.

That was the last day before we were to travel and we had house guests, the book, packing, last minute plans…. I came home with a new row of pimples on my chin. And a shiny beautiful book tucked under my arm.

The Bean and Brat had written to their Dada too and the Bean helpfully told her father – “I know where Mama went, we all know where Mama went – but we can’t tell you.” Cousin J picked her up, put a hand over her mouth and walked out of the room. The rest of us rolled on the floor and laughed helplessly.

The OA’s birthday was on Sunday and we dropped the kids off at my parents’ place on Saturday. That meant spending his birthday on the road. We’d left one car there on our last trip and when we got in to their place we gasped – As his birthday gift, my parents had painted it, changed the tyres, changed the music system, put in blue tooth, shampooed the seats… The works -it was almost brand new. I’m thinking we should accidentally leave our Scorpio aka Uddham Singh there next time.

We’d planned to have a karaoke party because the OA loves singing. When the local DJ rolled in speakers that reminded me of the Michael Jackson Black or White video, the cat was out of the bag and the OA began to exercise his vocal chords. My parents had rather apologetically asked me who I wanted to invite for his party given that they only had old fogeys in town at that point of town. I have to admit I love all the old fogeys who are great fun, don’t mind shaking a leg, are never disapproving of what the young people are wearing, drinking or doing – so I said lets have them all.

Fortunately some of our friends did end up in town and that changed the atmosphere. After a lot of Blue Bayouing and Jailhouse Rock we ended up raucously screeching out Metallica and finally by the end of the evening, it was my turn. And I only belted out Bollywood cabaret numbers from my childhood. Jawaani Jaaneman, Laila o Laila, Pyaar Do etc. It was crazy because everyone went wild dancing and screaming and the Bean was jumping in a corner going quietly insane with excitement and the Brat rolled his eyes, told me I was an embarrassment and walked away. And all this without me touching a drop of liquor. We wrapped up at 1.30 am and left for Delhi the next morning.

The car decided to give some trouble on the way – I guess they’d messed something up while denting and painting it. By mid noon we were on the hot, dusty highway, wondering what the hell to do. We managed to get it down a dirt track and find a shack where a mechanic opened it up, took one look, told us two cylinders were not working, and fixed them. The OA got a bazillion phone calls and since the kids weren’t with us, we just drove along without stopping, chatting with people we hadn’t spoken to in ages and knocking back sandwiches and brownies.

We got into Gurgaon late at night, had a quiet dinner with the OA’s brother and SIL and called it a night. Starting last night though, we’re back to celebrating. Since we’re child free and footloose, I’ve planned not a birth’day’ surprise, but a birth’week’ surprise for him. Every night after work I’m taking him to do something new/something he hasn’t done in a while. From massages to plays, to live music… the week ahead is packed and the old man is all set to party. As a policy we’re even avoiding material gifts for our kids these days and only giving them new experiences so this works out beautifully.

As someone said to us, with the kids all grown and out of the way, our 40s are over the hill, but then that is where you pick up speed, don’t you?!

 

Edited to add: Yes, of course he loved the book. He spent days poring over it, reading each letter, reminiscing, gasping in shock when he read one from a friend he lost touch with years ago… It now sits by his bed side and he picks it up and flicks through it every little while.