What happened next

One child starting big school (needing all sorts of things everyday – labelled clothes, art materials, show and tell stuff, needs someone to ride the bus with him to school while the driver learns where he is to be dropped etc)

One house where none of the stuff from our old house fits. Curtains, furniture, everything the wrong size, hence nothing feels like home

One messed up iPhone

AND

One robbed BlackBerry that didn’t belong to me – means no contacts – friends, family, work

One maid going home since her duty is done

One new maid who can’t speak or understand a word of English including things like ‘bed’

One absent driver who went home to get married and apparently can’t get enough of his new wife, professional duties abandoned. Which means taking a mix of lifts, autos, buses and metro rides that take the commute up to 3 hours of exhaustion one way and a very tired person with aching fever-in-the-bones-knees

One long commute that is 2 hours one way. Unless it rains in which case it goes up to 3 hours

One little girl to be admitted to a new school

One cook who is willing to cook for the maids but cooks absolute crap leaving takeaway as the only option

One flooding house and ruined furniture and carpets. Wooden flooring swollen and uneven and coming apart

One set of facilities to be shifted including gas, phone lines, billing address, bank work, locker…

One set of knees unable to move. Pain on a scale of 1 – 10? About 15.

One case of PCOS acting up and taking the body’s cycle haywire, so that I am now weak and anaemic with the blood loss (apologies Arun, Anand, Devakishor, Alok and the other men, I did try to keep this as polite as possible) resulting in black out and fainting spells. To say nothing of a pimply, oily face that would scare the life out of you if you encountered it in a dark alley at night

One travelling husband

All equals a complete breakdown and a few more blackouts where strangers took me home. So yes, I’m on a week’s leave. My doctor says my knees are degenerating really fast and there is no cure. Which means I will soon be chopped off at the knee and walking around on stumps. Not funny. I’m lying in bed, keeping me knees rested and just moving from room to room and instructing maids in the purest of Bengali on how to order and settle things. I have dug out my old laptop and typing on a tiny little keyboard is no fun so don’t expect to see too much of me.

The only bright side is that the kids are thrilled. They don’t realise I am sick and are thrilled to be able to get into bed with me, cuddle while it rains outside and play games and be read to. The only silver lining to this cloud. Frankly the more I think about it I realise that God sometimes does what is best for you in His wisdom. The only way to take me off my feet and make me rest, was to literally take my legs away from me. Maybe this is time to take stock of my life and slow down.

Stay  well you all.

Just. Because I am exhausted

  • You know that you’re overworked when you type in a colleague’s name instead of your own username while trying to log into your email account.
  • You know what Indians abroad feel like when you move to the suburbs and the real estate agent shows you blueprints of properties and you realise there are spaces marked out for temples and gurudwaras in many complexes whereas the only excuse of a church close by is a service held in a local club.
  • You smile in surprise when you move to the infamously chauvinistic Haryana and see hordes of women cycling  around to work, their pallus neatly tucked into their waists. Until you look closer and see the distinctive red and white (pola-shankha) bangles on their wrists.
  • You understand how stereotypes work when your daughter says “I won’t kiss you because you’re not pretty” and your son whom you have just snapped at, comes back to you with a piece of chocolate.
  • You realise the power of undisguised want and raw honesty when your children shout out Mamma, and you yell back, “What do you want?”, to have them reply with a simple, “Nothing, I just want you.”
  • You realise you are bone tired when your head pounds no matter how what you do, your face stays oily and pimply and your back and feet ache until you want to die simply to shed your body and see what weightlessness feels like.
  • You learn that no matter how many times you hear people say women are women’s worst enemies, it doesn’t hit home until you experience it for yourself.

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The one where G’pa and Nana abandon us

It’s been a crazy, crazy week. My commute has shot up to 2 hours, carving a 4 hour chunk out of my day and throwing it in the garbage. I have a house full of cartons. No place to walk. No place to set down a glass of water. Gurgaon is hot, dusty, arid desert for as far as the eye can see. Which is probably why they plant palms all over the place. The curtains are up but they don’t shield us from the harsh sun beating down relentlessly. The kitchen is a mess. The tiles have some weird design that make them look permanently dirty and I sat on my haunches and scrubbed them with acid till my knees ached, my back groaned and my hands were raw, but to no avail. My iPhone speaker stopped working and so I had to talk to everyone on loudspeaker!  Here’s the clincher. I get no signal in certain parts of the house so I am anyway unreachable most of the time and I’ve had to give out my home landline number to people against my better judgement.

The kids have loved the house, running up and down the stairs, swimming twice a day, playing on the swings and hiding in nooks and corners. I’ve had my heart in my mouth as they peer out of windows on the 14th floor and say they want to jump down. The Brat says he will open his glider wings and fly away. I am hastily putting latches on all of them. A storm two days ago lost us three SHUT windows. That should tell you something about the force with which it came.

And to top it all I still have to put in as much work as ever, with a fewer hours at my disposal, most spent in the commute. My parents were horrified to see me this time. Apparently I look haggard, am snapping more than usual at the OA and my eyes are puffy.

And so while I was at work, they took the kids for a swim, put up all my pictures, unpacked a dozen suitcases, hung up paintings, made me a dressing table, shifted two fans, fixed bamboo chik behind my curtains for added insulation and hung up the TV. I came home and almost burst into tears.  I am always amazed by their energy, their generosity with their time and money and their ability to keep up with the times. Its not everyday you see a grandfather heft up a huge TV, go at a wall with the drill and figure out the wiring and put it on, unpack cartons of stuff and then take his grandchildren for a one hour swim on his back. Its not everyday that a grandmother runs up and down the steps of a duplex, bargains with vendors to get stuff fitted and sets up your phone lines before she cooks lunch for you.

Ma also got me her spare blackberry and here’s the icing on the cake. It got lost. The last straw, I hunted hysterically and then burst into tears. I think that told my parents how exhausted I was. I was scolded firmly, told to stop working myself into a lather and just breathe. And then, after filling our fridge with food, slipping some housewarming gift money into my hands and filling our home with their love and laughter, they left.

The Brat started getting cranky as evening neared and he realised it was time for them to leave. He’s spent almost a month with them and he kept crying that Kipper needed him. And for the first time since I left home for college, I cried to see them leave. I know. Juvenile. But its overwhelming to have 10,000 things to do and for the first time in years I felt like a child as I left my worries and cares in their hands for a while. I felt awful for having lost Ma’s phone, considering it was an expensive one and had a lot of her contacts on it.

I picked up a sobbing Brat and hugged him, the Bean climbed on to my knees behind him and I sat there hugging them and rocking them as my parents hugged this teary lump of humanity that was their flesh and blood. And then they left with the OA for the 1.5 hour drive to the station, shutting the door on three sobbing babies.

A little later I washed my face, put on some music and the kids and I began to dance. The Bean joined me but the Brat kept sitting down and saying.. “But I’m missing my G’pa..” Finally it was time to sleep and I let them sleep with me, this being early days in a new house and them having just been abandoned by their grandparents. The Bean cuddled up to me while the Brat shifted to a corner and put his head under a pillow. A while later I saw the pillow quiver unmistakably. I lifted it to see the Brat sobbing uncontrollably, moaning G’pa, G’pa… I took him in my arms and he fell asleep crying, his cheeks tear stained.

I couldn’t have asked for a better relationship between my parents and my children. Sometimes I physically feel the love that runs between the two generations, being the bridge that I am. It’s like electricity and sometimes I feel that even as a wire, I have no more use here. My work is done.  And yet, when I see the children break down each time they’re separated, I am almost the villain of the piece. It makes me wish they cared less, just to stop the pain. But there’s a line from a song I’ve been tripping on recently – ‘ Yes, I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all… ‘ (Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now) PS: If you haven’t heard it, please do. I quite like it.

Speaking of which, the Bean’s current favourite is Soul Sister by Train. It’s damn cute to watch her running around the house singing at the top of her voice, “Hey Soul Sister, Aint that mister mister on the radio, stereo…” It’s either that or the other extreme –  Tere Liye from Prince. Ugh.

I think its in the genes. The OA and I were driving some place and I was nagging. And when I finally ended my litany of complaints and asked him what he does for me, he gave me a wicked grin, took a deep breath, and just in time, began to sing along with this song that was playing on the radio , ‘Jannatein sajayi maine tere liye.. ‘ Complete with filmi expressions and hand movements. Totally ruined my nagging wife moment.

So yes. That’s pretty much where we are. A reading lamp on, the room cool after the hellish heat of the day, my computer functional, a phone lost, about 10 kms of various wires and cords tangled and lying on the floor, waiting to be sorted out.. and in the midst of it all, a mattress laid out and two little children fast asleep, dead to the world and free of care. And somehow even while I typed out this post and looked at them, I began to believe that we’re going to be alright. Things will work out. Until then, there’s always the music.

Notes from the suburbs

In no particular order…

  1. To me, the suburbs have come to be defined by lack of option (and I’ve been here all of three days so I really shouldn’t be commenting just yet!). Lack of option about moving there, lack of housing options – yes I know you can get from 1 bhk penthouses to sprawling mansions – but there are 14 others just like yours. Nothing unique about it (Another brick in the wall now plays in the back of my head like the soundtrack to my life) except maybe the different colour curtains peeking through your windows. It means taking Amul Milk instead of Mother Dairy because that is what your local guy supplies. It means buying Vim instead of Odopic because that would mean trekking to the next market.
  2. It means bowing to monopoly. The cook servicing my building isn’t the best and is quite a nasty creature, but I can’t get another from the neighbouring building, whose cooking I might prefer, who knows how to make idlis, because they wont cut in on each other’s turf. The third time it happened I was tempted to push her over my 13th floor balcony and watch her go floating down screaming. To say nothing of pricing. The last one told me she won’t wash up the cooker and wok she’d used because it wasn’t the building policy. I told her that building policy could kiss my ass. This is my house, I am paying, so things are done my way  – so she could like it or lump it. She agreed. I think a little firmness is required. They are used to yuppies who don’t have time or the courage to argue with them.
  3. There is a uniform. Within 12 hours of hiring the cook she mistook me for a maid. I was down at the swimming pool with the kids and she entered the lift with me. I smiled at her, and continued to instruct my maid in Bengali on lift usage for days when I am not around. The cook began to get rather chatty with me and I replied politely. It was only after I walked into the house and began to talk to my mother in English that she asked me – are you the person I met yesterday, the one that hired me? Hmm… my simple work wear cotton salwar kameez obviously didn’t pass muster. Or else I shouldn’t have been at the pool, minding my own kids. When I met her the day before I had been in my home uniform of little faded cotton Sarojini Nagar sundress – which was probably more madam-like than my expensive pure cotton patiala set! From now on, it has to be shorts or capris if I plan to be recognised as mother and not maid!
  4. Men in elbow length ladies gloves. Yes, I get that the harsh sun burns your skin but it still looks bloody weird! I can still handle it on the bikers. But on the man sitting inside an AC car, I can only imagine that its vanity!
  5. The foliage. Somehow, nobody seems to be planting anything other than frangipani and palms. I know they are fast growing and hardy, but almost all buildings have only those and nothing else. No mango, leechi, guava, jackfruit, neem, nothing! It is truly fast food culture. Plant something that will grow fast and cover up the dry red countryside.
  6. Distance. I am going nuts having to plan my day. I am not a planner by nature and its not like me to work my day out well in advance. I know I will have to do it now, but it goes against my haphazard, easy going temperament. I am actually down to making lists these days and then staring at them in horror and wanting to burn them.
  7. The last one is something I can’t define. There is something very self indulgent about the way I live now. Within a gated community, with 100% power backup and water too (trust me, I don’t miss the lack of them!). But it seems as though my life has shrunk to fit into 10 acres or so and will stay that way. Walk within the compound, befriend those in the building, swim right there, play a game of basketball within the boundary walls, call the local store to deliver your goods, take a lift to go down (well, with my knees I shouldn’t be complaining!) and more. It’s almost as though I’ve got the world to stop and just focus on making things convenient for me. It’s taken the struggle out of my daily life and being the contrary person I am, I am complaining! It just somehow reminds me of those fake snow and ocean amusement parks where for a while you leave the real world out. No doubt my two hour commute each way, is enough to make up for any other lack of struggle but I feel stupid looking around the complex and getting excited over the presence of a doctor. It reminds me of living in a real organic city and having doctors, grocery stores and dry cleaners all living cheek by jowl with you. Not this orderly way of rows and rows of residences and a neat little pocket of 5 shops.
  8. I now get nostalgic each time I hear someone mention the word Delhi. Because really, I don’t live there anymore. Yesterday I went to drop the keys off with the old landlord and I noticed the repairs have already begun. And the first thing to go were my Warli figures; wiped out, along with all other traces of us having spent five years there. A man was filling sacks with the mud and plants from my tub and dumping them on the road. Blank walls stared back at me. This wasn’t really home. Home was the place where my babies were squealing in a swimming pool, threatening to jump off the 13th floor and running up and down the stairs of the duplex. I shut the door on the corridor and slowly came down the stairs one last time.  Funnily, my knees don’t ache anymore.
  9. Oh – and I had to add a new tag to my list. Gurgaon.