Fifties is the new Sixties

Knock knock

Who is there?

My knees

My knees who?

Do you want Mayonnaise or butter

It is that time in life when you get up, you can’t figure out which body part is paining less. Everything seems to be lumpy or painful or just sore.

Even before you get up, when you have spent majority of the night getting up with a parched throat and with a dire desire to pee, you do both and come back and repeat ad infinitum. In between you catch few moments of sleep.  That is called the “The P dilemma”- 2 P or ! 2 P. (just so it doesn’t get into squabby filters).

To add further to the woes, you recently figured that fondling a pillow under your legs is generally considered a good practice for wobbly knees. But nobody tells you the pain of the pillow. Turning from one side to another takes on a whole new dimension when you have to turn not only your aching body but also thy pillow. And that too when you have just gotten comfortable and warm, you realize that you must sleep on the other side, else dear sleep will elude. Ouch, aah, toss and finally turn, pulling the comforter under yourself while dragging the pillow, much to the chagrin of an irate husband who is suddenly un-comforted literally.

Let me start at the beginning. Of a painful bright may day. The day started normally but gradually went south. Normally an avid walker, I gave up after a couple of rounds with a mask and unmasked unruly teenagers around. Generally wheezing and puffing, I pulled my tired body a floor up and flopped on the sofa with a knee jerk reaction- something is wrong with my knees. They seem to have developed a life and direction of their own and never the twain shall agree. With the left heel throbbing away (thanks to the heels I dared to put on after 20 years for 2 hours) and right knee giving way (to whom, I wondered aloud) every now and then. The ever-helpful husband recommended a painkiller and muscle spray and crepe bandage. I gave him my martyr look that told him I am not giving in yet, I will tolerate the pain. Last brave words ever said. Poor guy subsided gracefully.

The night went tossing and turning religiously following the P dilemma- – 2 P is always the winner- and I realized I had another part of anatomy called lower back which knew how to ache too but don’t know whether the sore knee influenced the back to start acting up or it was the other way round. My hollering – back off didn’t seem to influence the joints in any way. So, the next morning, I was limping around with a bent back. Now I did need some remedies for my maladies. Thank God for my friends whose only job is to look for all kinds of recipes for my stupid ailments. Get some “choona”(edible lime) the one that is used in all betel leaves, mix with turmeric and put on the painful region and tie with crepe and you are done. Sure enough, a day later, I was done for. The aforementioned knee started itching and became red and puffy. The desi solution was dumped in the wastebasket and now I was hobbling around with a bent back and a painfully itching knee. Now, wasn’t that cor-nee!

A couple of anti-allergic later, I was on call with my orthopedic doctor who wanted me to get my knees x raid (choice of the spelling is by design). But the next-door clinic said, we can only do chest x rays, forget your knee pain for a month, don’t you know there is covid around. About 20 days later, enquired again and the lady relented, ok, “itna dard hain to aa jao”.

The x ray just revealed there was no issue, at least that is what the doctor said. It is normal, “for your age”. On a side note, this “for your age” is a remark which is totally superfluous and innocuous and can be done away with and buried so deep that it is never heard of again. All it does is make you feel double your age. 

So back to square one. Now the days and nights are fraught with oohs and aahs of the wrong nature. The P movement continues along with the comforter pulling and pillow dragging. At least nobody can say I don’t have an active nightlife. The husband tries to hold my hand comfortingly which is pulled annoyingly away, now don’t you bother me anymore, my knee is giving me tough problems- of differential nature.

Every time I look at my knees, I try to ascertain if there is some swelling, which always, to me, appears so, (at my age) but the doctor says- it is quite normal, along with the post subjective judgment. Anyway, fat anywhere is fat, right. And also, it is now a little tough to even look at my knees properly since my protruding tummy fills the vision. Putting on 3-4 kgs is no joke and if you miss your knees so much, try reducing. I could only manage it by eating enough (aka hogging) and no exercise.

That brings me to my perineal problem of being fat along with wobbly knees and anything I wear is too tight, and the bulge in the front is quite like a 6 month pregnant woman (with maybe twins). And I have no desire to hear it is normal “for your age”. Even my maid just came and recited the same – “Bhabhi is umar me thoda hota hain na”. I am now officially “ It is normal for your age” years old. Maybe I can start my next blog with Once upon a time when knee pain was unheard of.

PS: Please don’t share your solutions to knee pain. I am a google doctor too.

Romance with the hills

Imagine it is a Sunday. You get up to a bright sunny morning. To an aroma of steaming hot large cup of tea with an uninterrupted view of the Dhauldhars (The large is important, small cups of tea don’t work for me). You savour the tea and walk down a flight of stairs to a sprawling garden filled with hundreds of plant and flowers, all different, tastefully decorated and ah the fragrances and behold the variety of colors!  You walk around leisurely, click some pictures, do your morning exercises. Then lay in the easy chair and bask in the sun.

A view of the homestay

Soon you are hungry. So you go back to a aroma filled breakfast of alu paratha and home made achar. After a guiltily sumptuous breakfast, you have choices from 1) going back to sleep 2) reading a book 3) watching TV 3) playing a game or 5) going for a walk. The guilt and the great weather makes you choose a nature walk.

Morning view as you step out

You walk by the flowing water, climb down the hill, feeling quite adventurous, (try as I might, can’t call it trekking), and keep walking as you reach the jungle with tall pine trees. Look all around you, trees and trees, tall ones, sunlight flickering through them and large boulders. Find the almost invisible trails left by other adventure seekers and keep walking till you reach the river. Sit down with your legs dipped in icy water and enjoy being one with nature, the solitude in the vast universe with only the sound of flowing water and chirping birds.

The view from the walking track
The jungle walk

After some-time the sun starts hitting you from the clear blue sky above and you decide to move your sun-soaked body back to the romantic mansion aka “Romansion”.

Lunch is anything you choose, but is always enough, warm and different every day and served with a lot of love. After a lip smacking meal, the previous choices are back and now you decide to lounge on the sofa and read a book. The tough part is what to read from the 100s of books of all genres just lying around waiting for a book lover to embrace them, in the living area and in the library. After a while, you find something that piques your interest and settle down for the next two hours.

After the evening Hi-tea, you decide to do some brisk walking and this time you take a different route, just walking down the winding village street among the abundant green fields around and a breathtaking view of the mountains and the sky. Fresh after the walk, you decide to have a cozy evening playing games with your family. Again spoilt for choices. You can choose from 1) Carom 2) Ludo 3) Table Tennis or 4) Badminton.

The full view of the Dhauldhars

Finishing your day with a light and tasty snacky dinner. By the time it is 10 pm, you are quite sleepy and can’t wait to rest your head on the soft pillow, only to get up at 6 am the next morning.

Gear change. Today is a working day. Post your breakfast of kanda-poha and cha, you take your laptop and settle down in a very comfortable chair in the library, put your feet up and work uninterrupted with steady internet.

About 15 years back, we had spent a holiday in a Swiss village. After several years, I found similar comfort in my India, in a small village called Chimbalhaar near Palampur, Himachal.

The night view of the snow capped peaks

I love to travel and with all the lockdowns and current challenges, life had been drab for a while. So we decided to find a home somewhere in the hills, in the heart of Himalayas and stay put for a couple of weeks and enjoy the views and then some. What a decision at the right time! We spent almost 55 days here and have fallen in love with this quaint little town and this home where Amazon also delivers and 4G works in the woods. COVID apart, who would want to come back to the city where bird chirping is replaced with car honks. Totally isolated from the world, huge and beautiful property, and plenty of scope for nature walks and picnics.

And then it rains.  The wind howls and the rains come pouring down and windows and doors bang and the place is even more beautiful, clean and washed and cold. And you wear a snug jacket and nestle in front of the TV with a heater warming you up. The place received a fair share of rains while we were there and looked even more breath-taking.

The awe-inspiring bridge on the river with crystal clear sky

The property has been built in an old English style and has its own vegetable garden with organic fruits and vegetables and spices growing. And the narration would not be complete without mentioning the caretaker Ashwani, who runs the whole place and ensures you are very comfortable and feel at home.

Someone has aptly named in “Kaivalya”. I am pretty sure I am going to visit again in the coming years.

Palampur is not far away. I only dared walk once through its busy mall road (complete with the mask) with hanging wires, the Sun peeping from behind the mountains and a crowd. Palampur is also a town with tea-estates. Visiting a tea estate, tasting the variety of flavours and bringing home the Kangra tea is a touristy thing.

The typical mall road
The magnificent tea-estates

Since the country has been suffering and in a state of lockdown, we haven’t been really able to go around and see all “spots”, but I did not miss it. Sitting in the balcony and writing this blog makes me feel quite Ruskin Bond’ish. Well, said enough about the place- words cannot do justice- maybe some pictures can.

The stupendous view you wake up to over tea every day
A post-rain capture

Being Fifty

Whoever said turning 50 was a piece of cake, has no idea what they are talking about. It takes several kilos of the cake (or pie or pastry), across numerous years, to help turn you into the obese, grey haired, jaded, worn-out, unrecognisable person. And it isn’t a one day phenomenon, you know like when you wake up one bright summer morning and realise- gosh- I am never going to be 40 again! It is a notoriously slow process, that begins when you are born and slowly creeps up on you to the inevitable and irreversible day. 

So a few months ago I turned 50. And COVID happened. Haven’t quite figured out which is the bigger disaster?  Or maybe it is Trump. Tough times, difficult choices. Like all self-respecting middle class people, I had to celebrate that occasion, marking the end of my prime youth and beginning of my expected sedentary life. If people can celebrate breakups, I can celebrate ageing, so nothing really wrong there. So I did, with pomp and show, sailing through the middle east, and sharing a handful better selfies with the world in general. 

Nothing drastic has happened since, world is still the same, mornings are as bad as ever, save for a few tell-tale signs that are an eye opener. Yes, they remind every day, you are old dear, and the quicker you realise and accept it, the better. Thought of sharing the learnings – so if you intend to forget your age- bingo! I will not let you.

Sign no 1 : You find workout videos very inspiring, especially the ones that say – for mature people (or older adults or however you term yourself like How to feel 25 at 50). You try to prove (more to yourself ) you are better than the lady in the video who does all these twists and turns with unbelievable ease, but they did not tell you about the invisible wall between your foot and your hands and bend as hard as you will, you cannot reach your foot, the only twist that happens is the one in the back that makes Combiflam a must. Finally to save your dignity, you mumble- all doctored and fake videos!

Sign no 2 :  You fundamentally stop caring about the sign no 1, what matters is the cake that looks so yum, the buttery naan, and the all so yummy food we ended up cooking during all these lockdown months inspired by the plethora of mouth-watering recipes that have flooded the internet. The increased inches on your anterior that makes it impossible to look down and see your balance body parts and the post lunch lethargy leading to lay-downs are just side effects. So what if the jeans needs to be loosened or the belly button peeks out from between the shirt buttons. Looking good is passé, feeling good is what matters, The Divine Revelation. And  despite that- people will tell you – How nice! Beautiful pic! (And you look so good “for your age” ) As soon as you post that selfie with wrinkly double chin and fizzy hair (after 99 retries) on social media. Bang! All the aforementioned revelation disappears into thin air and you start hunting for a better picture to post after 10 days.

Sign no 3: Everyone you meet is half your age. Now that is rum, I mean you talk to people and realise they are your kid’s age, (who isn’t a kid anymore and the family is already talking about his foreboding marriage). I mean why is the world population so young? It makes me feel literally -old. Ancient, one and a quarter foot in the grave which is also decayed. This sign is also strengthened by another one- in order to find your year of birth on any online application, you need to scroll for the year and by the time you reach the correct one, it is another year gone. It is like the kid you babysat once is now your doctor. And that makes it almost impossible to flirt with him because you memories of him are of that crawling diaper-clad drooling baby.

Sign no 4- your essential ornament is the one on your eyes, life is hazy without it. Literal blindness. Can’t read the back of the medicine strip, the recipe on the masala sachet, the latest meme on Facebook and the word document that comes on WA. I mean documents are supposed to be read on a computer, my mobile screen with the largest font isn’t the place for it. And spectacles with masks is a spectacle in itself, first dealing with the frost and then not being able to breathe. I know masks and spectacles are the saviours in these times, though in disagreement with each other. Despite that disability, I am able to better recognise idiots from far off (and fend them off), now that I am 50.

Sign no 5: You stop giving a !@#$. You actually start that in your forties, slowly but surely. Enough is enough. Live on your own terms. And conditions (and use the aforementioned spectacles to find the fine print). Who is getting perturbed by what you say, whether the house is immaculate, if what you are wearing is befitting, if the socks match, what is the world contemplating, are worries of the past! You have no qualms being opinionated, showing complete intolerance for fools, forgetting names unashamedly, using the banned words you never used in your youth, flirting with boys (anybody 10 years younger is still a boy), watching the forbidden with eyes wide open, and then some..

Sign no 6: Maybe it is the men-o-pause thing, but all men (and some women) suddenly develop a morbid taste for the  “ghanta gyan” (worthless !@#$) accompanied by the most unrelated, unnecessary, unrealistically posed and buxom (I prefer to say fat) middle-aged ladies. And they are the same people who are simultaneously mesmerised by the size zeros. I get it now- it is the kind-of-women-who-may-still-take-interest-in-me-despite-my-potbelly-and-baldness, as an intelligent Choudhary remarked. I wonder why I never see such forwards with a juxtaposed guy? Let me also have my bit of fun!

Sign no 7: You become invisible to people of the opposite sex and to people half your age, except when they need free advice. They stop including you into nonsensical activities because “they think you can’t handle it”. And if by mistake they do ask- you can always make the excuse since you are too old. Men stop flirting with you, and if they do, it is out of pity. Some amount of attention will do you good, somebody needs to remind the inattentive I-am-watching-videos-with-my-new-bluetooth-earphones-spouse. But you can emit loads of free advise starting from children to panellists in a talk, doesn’t matter you’d never trust yourself if you were you, just don’t tell them that.

Sign no 8: Cherry on the top. Some things are free or discounted – like colonoscopy- ugh. And being called “grandma” and the art of coughing, laughing, sneezing and peeing at the same time, the period pain without the period. Things that should be taut and projectile going limp and free falling with gravity, (I am talking about your skin, buddy). But the fact remains that you can still count. And you have your brains intact. You can laugh at others and at yourself. Realising that none of it is under your control anyway, and never was, was something not taught by meditation but only by being fifty.

The ramblings of a frozen mind

And then there was lockdown. Who would have thought that me, who would fly every other month to another city, country, continent, would be stuck in her own home. Yeah, after around 25 years of marriage, it feels just that. Along with an equally old husband and an adult kid.

I have been perpetually tired of being told not to do something (করোনা as spoken in Bangla). So I decided, now I am going to talk of Corona, and have everyone get bored to death. Speaking of which, what is the latest stats like? Everyone is suddenly a statistical analyst and mathematician and probability guru (oh they call them wisdom consultant now) who know exactly what the graphs look like, what the phases should be, and how to flatten the curve, doesn’t matter we still prefer curvaceous options to flattened ones. I mean, how does it really help me to know the curve theory- an upward swing most definitely- especially in the gastric region, burrp, since one is perpetually hungry at home.

The grey cells are working extra at creativity, I am forever creating new recipes (most will be looked upon with distain and like- can we order from outside, anything but your cooking, mom!), or discovering new ways of reducing the number of utensils that need to be washed- you know eating straight out of the pot in which the cooking happened – that is what one pot meal is meant for, right- (no, no, don’t go there, there are pots and then there is the pot). How to use fingers in lieu of spoons. How to get away with cleaning home once a week. And how to avoid a brewing fight between three utterly frustrated people vying for the solitary relaxing chair. See the depths to which I have sunk, with imagination stuck at pots and dishes.

When this whole funda started about working from remote, I was quite delighted. Ah, to be able to avoid the traffic for a few days, gain back those couple of hours to and from office (little did I know the actual gain would be a few kilos). Maybe I can join that yoga class finally. And walk I definitely must- at least 5 kms a day and get back into shape (round was not the shape in my mind then). All quite noble thoughts and ideas. I will have all the time in the world. Maybe also write the next bestseller. The stark reality of the situation had yet to hit.

And then the noisy Sunday happened (I have been warned- don’t call it noisy, clapping is not noise, it is motivation- yup, I do agree). So – as the Sun rose on the motivating Sunday, the maid fell- I mean not really, but into a slumber of “Bhabhi, I can’t come today, we need to clap”. No issues, Sunday is one day, I can manage, I thought self-righteously. And manage I did with a lot of culinary delights appeasing the palate. And then after the cacophony and jingles, came the lockdown. And all hell broke loose (maybe the sound waves were responsible).

Week 1 was, continuing from the previous day euphoria, Oh I will manage. But somehow the days seem to stretch, work expanded to fill all the time, whatever Murphy said turned true, before you could blink it was evening. The routine just became – make breakfast, office work, make lunch, more office work, make dinner, even more office work, with in between time slots for other mundane stuff like eating and cleaning the home.

The next week was decidedly less ambitious. One curry was enough for the three of us, lentils was merely an accompaniment that can be replaced by curd. Bread does not need to be toasted, why does milk need boiling? Work distribution started in earnest. The bad mummy and bad spouse in me woke up and devised a devious scheme that ensured my husband would no longer sit idle and at least spend one hour a day less on whatsapp. My vicious and cruel intentions included my son, who had to do a few chores too, complain if you must, but just do it. Ignoring the fact that I can do whatever it is better, parking the ego in the closet, think of the ROI, saving the 10 minutes from doing another chore is priority number 1.

Self- righteousness at its peak. Netizens remind us we should have gone back to our roots, how much better the environment is, how you can see Pluto, the last planet, if you squint a little; folks are creating traditional recipes religiously, for want of a chef (and unless you put it on social media, it isn’t complete). Every smart person in the world is getting better at whatever it is they do, and they have to tell the world and disrupt the limited peace of poor old me (need to give them a piece of my mind), teaching and preaching, you must come out of lockdown with a new skill! Online classes, oh the mouthwatering recipes, the challenges, Am I the only one who is seriously tired of the information overload pushed down my throat? Really, the only skill I seem to be learning is how to delegate more work to the unsuspecting mortals at home. I must be getting better by the day as the husband has started volunteering for tasks too.

And then my husband decided (to be completely honest, I decided for him), that he would take the bold step of removing all his hair on the head. It is important to be location specific here. And then I finally learnt a new skill, the art of using trimmers and razors on a round, sometimes uneven surface, and removing the sparse population of hair on his head. I am happy I did quite well in fact, just made a couple of nicks where blood spouted. Not too bad for a first timer.

With all the heinous hair-raising experience behind me, I have been giving broad hints to my son as well, but he refused to acknowledge it. His hair and beard are all over the place and he keeps giving examples of one celebrity after another in defense – if they can keep long hair, I can too. Is it that he doesn’t trust my deft hands to do the needful or he really wants to look like the wild guy from the wild!

The last straw was when after a few weeks, I decided to take a stroll along the walking trail, and the looks I got along with – madam – it is not allowed, the police are checking. So back home, with

we and Netflix ,

burgers and a drink,

busting stress in the thrillers,

on the couch with the Millers.

Amidst the fast and the furious

Mind it, the situation is hilarious.

So what if it is the lockdown?

I still need to calm down.

Work or no work

I am going berserk!

Fighting with the family

Is what I’d do even normally

Peeved at being @home

with pocha and a broom

The noisy Banerjee family travelled

As kids when travelling by train, I remember Baba carrying his aluminium suitcase and 5-6 थैला around his neck, one carrying medicines for all possible ailments (but if you needed a Crocin, that may have been forgotten), one carrying food and biscuits, another- a towel and chain complete with lock and key and a few handkerchiefs, bowl and spoons, coins, nail-cutter and also some cleaning clothes- just in case (and rest I never really got around to- since I was not allowed to peek inside them). And of course several water bottles and vacuum flasks. Over time the suitcase converted to a trolley, the train journey became a flight but the count of  झोलाs of थोले Banerjee as he was known did not reduce.

Since he was the neighbourhood traino-pedia, he had his own system of booking tickets in those days when there was no चिड़िया called online. He always had his own copy of railway timetables at home (he would go and get one the day it was released), along with reservation forms. Whenever there was a hint of any journey in the distant future, he would wear his specs, sit down surrounded by the timetables and forms and perform a detailed analysis of all possible permutations of how to reach point B from point A, including the amount of wait, in-between stations, long and short routes and more. Then he would fill several forms, various options that he would have shortlisted, with variations across trains, dates and classes, and berth options. Finally it was time to go visiting the reservation office.  He would hand me a couple of forms, my brother a couple and all of us would stand in different queues and talk to each other, how else, by shouting. Now this was a complex algorithm. The options had to be tried in order of priority. So if a low priority form holder reached the window first, he would have to relent his position. Once a form was presented and if we got confirmed berths and the kind of berths he wanted, work would be over; else it would fall back to next option and so on ad infinitum. The clerks sitting behind the desk looked on with exasperation as we presented one form after other and never even said thanks. Sometimes, we would run out of forms or none of the options would work and then we would choose another destination and the whole episode would start all over again. Spending a day at the reservation office from breakfast to lunch was a common occurrence for us, till our travel plan was frozen. Just imagine the situation if we finally did manage to make a booking and then the plan had to be changed. Baba definitely didn’t believe in agility.

A couple of days before travel, the packing ritual would start. My and Maa’s packing would be done quite easily, but Baba, loved the chaos of home in utter disarray. Our home, normally a mess, would turn just a level messier with no place to sit on any of the beds, sofas or chairs. Everywhere would be spread stuff that he needed to take, clothes, नाड़ा, batteries, डब्बा, hankies, keys, cups, flasks, लुंगी, chains, medicines, spoons and of course polythene bags. Every single item had to be inside a polythene bag. If I dared remove something, he would get upset, No, no, don’t remove that, if I forget that, there will be big मुसीबत.

If I offered to pack, it meant, getting a lesson in how to pack and then anything I did would eventually be moved to a different location without any clear explanation except that the original place wasn’t right. And that would continue till the time we had to leave. Finally everything would find its place in a suitcase or a bag or in one of the many थैला he would carry. But we promptly forgot where we packed what and we were forever looking for things during the entire journey. And the essential was almost always left behind despite the long (un)planning. Murphy also probably decided, enough is enough, if they want chaos, let me shower my blessings.

Once we would settle in the train with everything finding its place below the berths and rest spread around us, Baba would suddenly want to drink tea. And of course we would have forgotten where the cup was packed. So imagine us opening one suitcase after another in the train, rummaging through under-wears and लुंगी, and नाड़ा to find a plastic cup to drink tea in. Much to the amusement of other passengers, we were a noisy family, everyone had a different memory of our higgledy-piggledy packing, we would openly fight, and we had to rummage through at least three bags, before we found the blasted cup. Then we would settle down again, half of the bags left open- who knows what we may have to search for again, might as well leave it open.

Then would begin the अड्डा session where Baba would make friends with everyone around, with of course the loudest laugh and share all details about himself including his address, salary and his children’s marks. He would also borrow their newspapers and remember to keep it in his own थैला after finishing it.

Baba had an annoying habit of getting down at every station and climb the train only after the train started moving. Maa always fretted he would be left behind and he carried all the money and tickets and address. Just to worry her further, Baba would move out of sight and climb into a different compartment. Now Maa would be almost out of her wits, where is he, did he get on, keep looking out for him fearfully. Till the next station and Baba would come strolling in, would get an earful from Maa and we all just looked away, For every male reaction, there is a female overreaction; just another day in the life of us noisy Banerjee family.

A space odyssey

This has nothing in common with the famous Clarke novel and any resemblance is entirely your figment of imagination.

I suffer from what I call a space-o-phobia, which starts by me being uncomfortable at the beginning, quickly feeling miserable and ultimately in a rage, when my personal space is violated, ah that is a strong word, let me say, invaded by general junta.

We, Indians don’t understand the concept of space- literally or figuratively. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There are always people at the railway station, and airports and temples and parks and other places of common interest in India, who love to sit heavily down so close to you that you can tell what they ate last summer, and if you had a bio-sensor, you could tell their blood pressure by the stench of sweat. Sometimes they lean over you to reach the dustbin, ugh, I mean, it is ok you did not take a bath, or even that you consumed garlic bread, but the bench is 5 ft long and there are only three people sitting and mathematically we can leave at least 6 inches between when I end and where you begin. But they don’t get it even when you make the inward move-meant-to-move-away to avoid the edge of the bag they are holding on their knees, which is digging into my thighs without permission. And then a finger rummages inside a nostril, comes out and wipes itself on the bag, and I quickly get up and leave, running away from the invisible germs chasing me.

Then of course, our famous q culture, and we are clueless, ruthless and queue-less around it. In a bus q (which I haven’t tried for decades now), or an airport q (the most recent encounter) or a q in a washroom or a q to exit from a plane, the people behind stick to me actually, all their protruding parts trying to fit seamlessly into me and me moving forward instinctively only to be dissuaded by the vast bottom and the backpack of the person in front. Saying “excuse me” believing that it will miraculously create space in the mass of humanity, fails. My awkward motion to create some gap, only results in others moving forward to occupy all the space available, quite like the definition of gaseous material, which by the way, is available in abundance in all such locations, and you feel suffocated. No, keep your bosom away, pls and then being hit by the whack of the backpack being slung over the shoulder, or a boot stepping on my toe and my screams drowned in the giggles of the uncaring children around- don’t you have eyes at the back of your head, or a mouth that can mouth sorry! By the time I reach home, I feel quite like having passed through a sugarcane juicer.

I sometimes wish someone should invent a space-ial invisible magnetic wall around me, so as soon as an ass tries to come within the no-man’s-land, they get a shock of their lives and are forced to back off. I mean I do have a right to my personal space- including my bruised toe, and any attempt invasion should be legally prohibited. Maybe there can be a restraining order by default, nobody comes within 1 ft of another human being. Look at Norway, country with basic minimal set of people and abundance of personal space.

The third kind who make a space-tacle of themselves is the nosey public- typically the elderly auntie whose only interest in life is to ensure they get to see all the dirty linen before it is washed. They have to know when is x getting married, and when are y having their kid (with graphic details), what is my salary, where do I live, who ran away with whom and why am my travelling and more. And that is after I am trying to hide behind the large spectacles having suddenly developed an wild interest in a book, or pretending to be asleep and only responding in monosyllables. They would size me up and down and come to conclusion about how cheap my clothes are and what parlour I go to, and that my Gucci watch is a fake, quite like the robot reading my vital statistics – “Caucasian female, ht 160 cm…”, in that monotonous intonation. They are also the ones who always know why India played badly in the last match, or what Trump should do differently, what is Kareena doing these days and they insist on giving me all the gyan, uninvited and unwelcome. Come on, give me some space! Oh, why didn’t God say, Let there be space! I need air!

Another group of people who I find utterly cringeworthy are the ones who talk extra loud on the phone or listen to the infamous videos on speaker in public places and then laugh even louder. Gone are the days when you needed to shout on the phone. If you have detective instincts, you will soon know what goods the fellow sells and at what rate, why his son failed in exams, his wife is cooking brinjals tonight and that he loves Kapil jokes. I am really trying hard to respect your privacy; now do I need to wear earphones in order to avoid hearing you. I mean the damn thing was invented so you could listen to your shit while I listened to mine and the waves don’t cross each other’s path and mutual interference could be avoided. I am totally disinterested in the menu of the last wedding you attended or what is the latest in the soap- Nagiin.

Ah, at such times, I so prefer the younger generation, who with their headphones and heads down into their mobiles are fully occupied in a room full of strangers or family and our communication is limited to “food?” “yeah” and “all good?”. Likes are the most impersonal means of communication, you declare your presence and leave it at that, comments are good too, you can choose to respond if and when you want. And since people do not get their fingers up their noses on media, it is quite tolerable.  Sometimes cyber space is best crafted to get away and really get some space! I mean, I have heard from solid sources that giving “the look” makes people respect your space, but whenever I have tried that, it fails miserably and I normally get worse looks or the finger or a blasphemy back. That takes me into an introspective mode trying to determine why my looks don’t kill with a laser beam! Would getting into my shell work? Or do I need a space suit suitable for my space?

Cabbie Cabbie

8.15 pm. Land in Mumbai. And let me begin by bragging- from a business class flight, – you know what that means, you have your own bed in the sky and a clean toilet, so no cattle class woes .. (Did I say that too soon?)

8.40 pm. cleared immigration. Fun of coming in business class that you can move forward while the rest commoners have to toil through the long q.

8.45 pm. waiting for luggage.

9.15 pm. Still waiting for luggage.

9.30 pm. Continue waiting for luggage. 45 minutes now. Whatever happened to the “priority” tag? I thought I would get my luggage like this (with a flick of the finger) and head home.

9.45 pm. fuming now. What the blisters are they doing? The entire world is waiting, so it can’t be lost luggage. And my car must be here by now. I had told them to reach by 9.40 pm. There it comes, finally I can see the pink lace, earmarking my suitcase. (thank God, nobody here knew I came from the elitist class!)

9.45 pm. Call driver. Phone busy. Hmmm, why do I have multiple cabbie/ driver numbers?

9.46 pm. Call again. Are you Sharad? Driver says, Yes, but I am not coming, call the other number. What, why? I am in Pune, it is the other guy. Sigh.

9.47 pm. Call the other driver. Phone busy. What is with the phone busy!

9.48 pm. Call once again. Are you Kesar? No, I am Sandeep. Hain? From the cab service? Yes.

Me: where are you?

He: outside the airport.

Me: why aren’t you here?

He: I will come when you land.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. (you idiot)

He: oh ok, have you landed madam?

Me: No, I am calling from mid-flight. (sarcasm drooling)

He: ok, tell me when you have landed.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. Why aren’t you in the parking? By when will you reach?

He: Oh, you have landed madam, good, I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait next to chai point.

10.00 pm. Call again. Phone busy.

10.01 pm. Call once again.

Me: where are you, 10 minutes gone!

He: coming madam, there is traffic. Will be there in 2 minutes. pls wait near chai point.

Me: !@#$%, Already there for past 10 minutes.

10.15 pm. Call twice again.

Me: It is half an hour! You still have no reached. You had to be here before 9.40.

He: coming madam. 2 minutes only.

10.30 pm. Call thrice again.

Me: 45 minutes over! What happened?

He: in parking madam, will just come and get you.

10.45 pm. Call fourth time again.

Me: will you come or not? It is 15 minutes past when you said you are in the parking.

He: coming madam.

10.50 pm. Call cabbie agency.

Me: your driver is really late. Been saying coming in 2 minutes for the past 45 minutes!

He: Let me check, madam. I will call you back.

Me: chai point beckoning. think maybe I will finally drink chai from chai point since driver will not come for another “2 minutes” at least. Me stands in queue.

10.55 pm.

He calling: madam, where are you?

Me: Where you told me. Chai point.

He: Can’t see you madam.

Me: look at me dancing away!!! (well not really)

Found each other. Gave him an earful. Heard some sorry madam’s. Too much traffic madams. Let us go, madam’s.

Reached the car. Key inserted in boot. Boot refuses to open. Trying left, right, press, pull, shove. Doesn’t work.

Me: forget the boot, we can keep suitcase inside. Let us go.

He:  madam, key is not coming out, I need the key to start the car!

Me: !@#$

Another 20 minutes of push, pull, shove, kick, press. Finally, he jumped on the car boot and jumped on it till, key finally came out. Phew. Let us go to Pune now please.

20 minutes later, car stopped on side.

11.15 pm.

He: Madam, can you give me 1000 rs now and rest when I drop you?

Me: Why the hell should I, you come an hour late and now you want money, will give only when I reach.

He: No madam, can’t go, I have to give some money to him, (pointing at the other guy,) then I can take you.

11.16 pm.

Me calling cabbie agency

Me: I am not giving him money; I am angry and frustrated.

He: madam, please give na. it is the same amount only, before or after, how does it matter?

Me: rubbing my eyes, what choice do I have at 11.15 in the night. Need to get home as I have meetings. Ok, take it.

We move on. He on the phone. Time noted- from about 11.30 pm till about 12.30 am. Man, the guy can talk. Who is on the other side, I wonder?

We reach the ghats. He keeps the phone down. And is suddenly enegrised. Accelerates from Starts 80 to 120 kmph. Twists and turns. I hold on for dear life.

We cross the ghats. He stops at mid-way.

1.45 pm.

He: Madam, 2 minutes only. Bathroom.

Me: ok.

1.20 pm. Half hour later, I see him standing and drinking chai. If he had to drink chai, I could have done that also, why did he say 2 minutes! @#$ People who make me miss chai are like…

1.25 pm. Driver back. Drives on at 140 kmph. Now I am scared. Is he angry because I showed my anger at Mumbai? Should I call the police?

Me: Bhaiya (in my sugar coated tone), can you pls drive slowly. There is no urgency.

He slows down. To 120 kmph.

After some time, he begins watching whatsapp videos while driving.

Me: !@#$. Which was worse, being on phone, or driving at 140 kmph, or watching videos?

Me: Bhaiya (sweetness personified), pls don’t watch videos while driving.

He complies. Finally lands me home.

2.30 am.

He: madam, see I got you home on time.

Me: (!@#$,) bhaiya, your driving is too rash, but then I am in no state to give you feedback.

5.30 am.

Heart palpitations subside. I drift off to sleep.

6.30 am.

Alarm rings. It is Monday morning. Work day begins.

How to act smart and impress people – by Jhil Velli thi

His eyes had a glazed look. He looked up for a few moments. Then stared down at his fried rice intently. His gaze has the perplexity of the philosopher who was trying to figure out the recipe. I wondered – what happened? He looked at me like I had asked the most innocuous question pertaining to the existence of the universe. And then looked back defiantly at the rice. All ok-?- I was beginning to get worried. No, he nodded the Indian no. and finally said – I am thinking. Wow, like wow. The great man is thinking. His grey cells are working. And what, prey, I asked, frustrated, are you thinking? After a poignant pause, he deigned to look up from the fried rice puzzle, and muttered, I will tell you when I have thought. Man, was I impressed!

And then the corn went pop in my mind, this is a clear-cut technique about how to act smart and impress people. Not all mortals can do it. His utterance with the right pauses and at the right time, made me wonder whether he was thinking of how the stars aligned to have fried rice find its way to his stomach. Now, if anyone ever asked me what I was thinking, I would have the most idiotic mundane reply like what was the name of the actor in that bad last movie we saw, see how common place, nothing impressive at all about it.

Acting smart is about saying the unexpected thing at the unexpected time, not the expected normal response. And then the general feeling is- what a guy (or gal), he thinks out of the box. – The question about where and which box we are talking about somehow is never considered and questioned. Are we all living within this invisible box? The person who thinks out of the box, probably crossed that sacred boundary and thought something, that is a big deal, whatever the hell he thought is completely irrelevant.

Today I am going to tell the world about the art to act smart and impress people, have had decades of practice. I will give you all the tips and knowledge and will not even charge for it. Just make sure you adopt these great innovative ideas in your daily life.

  • Look the part, to act the right part. You have to wear spectacles, the large nerdy round ones. With thick lenses, that makes your eyes look quite like an owl’s. Your hair should be plastered in oil (or you can go bald, the smartest ones are believed to be bald. The clothes you should wear have to be
    1. Out of fashion
    2. Shabby, maybe even torn so people think you are so nerdy you have no idea what you are wearing.
    3. Loose so you look hopelessly shapeless.
    4. Colours you wouldn’t want to look dead in.
    5. A viable alternative- to all of the above is to wear a formal suit in summers when outdoors like on a beach. And glares when indoors. That does the trick too.

 What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you see such a person – this guy must be a genius or someone important. Exactly, that is a feeling you need to be able to generate. The finale effect can be created with odourant that reminds people of rotten apples or maybe dead rats.

(There is this another related species, round face, curly hair, big round stomach, black designer saree, big bindi, big and bold matching jewellery (even temples around the neck), and a strong perfumed attitude, that marks the arrival of the bong pseudo-intellectual- saw several while watching a Bong play, and they all fitted to the T)

  • Never answer a question directly. If asked even the time, you should sigh, look up and down as if wondering about space time travel and NASA, take down your spectacles and clean then with your dirty clothes, wear them again and then say with a resigned look, the times are really bad, my son. The moment has gone, the microsecond when you asked the question is lost in the eon and now after 1/ 23467th eon, do you think that time will come back again, in that fraction you could have achieved so much. Trust me, though the poor fellow may wonder why he ever spoke to you, he will confidently tell the rest of the world, what a guy, his thoughts are out of the world and will send some of his smarter enemies your way. But never, never give a direct response.
  • In a meeting, you can choose an article in the room to focus on, which can be a flower vase, or the aforementioned fried rice plate or maybe your handkerchief. Or maybe close your eyes with a weary look. Let everyone around talk. And in between a heated discussion and a flurry of emotions, suddenly pipe up loud enough- what if ? everyone will stop and look at you. Don’t complete your sentence and go back to the tranced state of detailed examination of the handkerchief. After a while people will go back to their discussion. After five minutes repeat yourself. And after about 5 times of doing this frustrating everyone out of their wits, finally say- what if we now took a break? The brain cells are heating up and the solution is right there, but I can see it only after gulping the coffee. They will all want to hit you, but dare not, in case you do pop out the genius answer of the year, post coffee.
  • Learn some very relevant phrases. Remember that the right phrase at the right time can make a world’s difference between whether you are perceived as a fool or a smart ass.
    1. Do you mean to say that…
    2. I feel what you are saying makes sense but…
    3. There is a saying that explains it all, just that it is eluding me…
    4. Under the given circumstances, can u say with authority that…
    5. My experience of past 20 years says that…
    6. Hmmmm
    7. (sigh) hmmmm
    8. (laugh) hmmmm
    9. (Smirk) hmmmm
    10. (snort) hmmmm

This hmmmm is a universally understood language depicting a range of emotions- based on the tone and can convey almost anything from – “are you dumb”, to “this is perfect”. This always confuses and when you have successfully confused people around you, they will think you are a direct disciple of Einstein.

  • The last rule, act asshole class confident. If nothing else works, this will. When you walk in, look like you own the place. Signalling people with the flick of finger or a raised eyebrow indicates best in class. Don’t introduce yourself, assume people know you and if they don’t, it is their loss. “You don’t know me” with an incredulous look does wonders. You can follow it with “who is the owner of this godforsaken dump?” If it is a quiet place, shout loudly – maybe at the receptionist. Everyone is sure to notice and wonder who this VIP is. Or if this is too tough, just be downright rude. Profanities can be used to sprinkle flavours. Only mango people are humble and respectful.

Well, if you can’t do any of this, maybe you really aren’t smart, or you can’t act, or just not born to be a class apart. If you are not a smart ass, I guess you are just a dumb ass.

Worthless Rant

Of late, I have been feeling nobly unworthy. And it all started with the DIY and 5 minute craft videos. Somehow those videos have a mesmerising quality, you can watch it repeatedly and still not fathom what is coming next. What you can’t do is actually try to replicate it. That is when you realise, that you are dumb. You are an idiot and something that looks so trivial, you can’t even do that! What use is this life without being able to successfully do a simple do-it-yourself. In fact, I am so unworthy, you can use me as a worthy example on how not to turn out to be.

To further reduce my self-esteem, I have tried to list down a horde of things I can’t do, and how useful the rest of the world is, as compared to me.

  1. I can’t stitch the shirts and trousers that my son wears. I keep on hearing how certain someone stitches all the clothes for her daughter, her dresses and everything and how she manages to find the time to do all this after finishing all the chores in the house in a joint family. They are so well made, better than ready-made clothes. I have therefore concluded that I completely wasted my yesteryears getting an engineering degree, getting into IIT, and then working rest of my life. I should have been a seamstress and sewed clothes for my family, including the banian (vest) and underwear’s, I could have walked with my head held high. How worthless am I that I can’t even stitch the traditional “A” on the banians.
  2. I am unable to cook “Usha poha” (snacks with rice flakes). The name depicts the owner of the recipe, Usha, my maid of honour, makes awesome Poha. And try as I might, I am unable to replicate the patented recipe. As my esteemed husband would say “tumhara poha thoda dry hota hain” (The poha you make is dry), or “tumne chini nahi dali” (you missed adding sugar), or “vaisa nahi hain jaisa usha banati hain” (doesn’t taste like Usha Poha) or “who baat nahi hain” (It is not as good).  I bow my head with shame, why doesn’t the earth swallow me up, I can’t even make poha well (The Usha poha version). I hitherto wish I had learnt culinary skills rather than internet technologies and C programming.
  3. I am hopelessly inadequate at the art of selfie taking. I will not elaborate on this, we all know how insignificant and miserable we feel when we are unable to post selfies once a week on Facebook, I can’t even post once a year, I am so bad. In fact, read my blog to gather more details about my selfie shaming. There is body shaming, there is fat shaming, there is colour shaming, with me it is selfie shaming. Shame on my selfies. I think I am only capable of asking Siri to do the needful- only if I get the accent.
  4. I have two left feet and I cannot dance, sala. Period. All my childhood and adulthood, people have tried to push me on to the floor and after a brief look at my clumsy attempts, they give up. They can’t bear to watch me. I can see them struggling to be kind, no it is ok, you anyway said you can’t dance (I can hear the brains creaking – we also can’t dance but our can’t dance is any day better than your can’t dance). This is not TRUE. I can actually dance better than, hmmm, ok.. I knew I had a name.. at least one person on this earth.. Sunny Deol, maybe? I mean why did God send me to this world to be insulted in this fashion, and danced away to glory.
  5. Of course, at an elevated level are the DIY’s where you mess up the whole shit and come to the conclusion that life isn’t fair. They are designed to reduce your feeling of I-am-good-bro down to ashes. How can that idiot on youtube do this and I can’t. Is it because I am dumber? I once tried to do a DIY fashion hack –(I presume the intent was to make you look sexier). There was a spelling mistake. It made me look messier, till I gave it up for pocha (mop). I mean how tough is cutting cloth with scissors, but somehow when I do it, the shape ends up pretty much shapeless. I think I am more a DDIY fan, bole to, Don’t Do It Yourself, unless of course, you have absolutely nothing to do, Still better, watch Netflix, a better use of time and less wastage of things-I bought-that-I-had-no-use-for.

I can hold up my head for my one and only one quality. I breathe out CO2 for plants. Nobody can take that away from me. During this deep introspection phase, I also absurdly observed that there are so many other things far worthier. Well, think of something you consider good for nothing. I can guarantee they are still better than good for nothing me.

  • A piece of rag (post DIY effect), we can use it to clean running noses, or the kitchen table, as a wiser person told me.
  • An old broken bottle – DIY has taught me they are most useful things discovered since the fire.
  • An old broken gramophone (don’t ask what that is, google it, pls, they still need to come out with google for dummies) – Even that can be repaired. But I am above repair (do I mean beneath repair, or maybe beyond repair?)
  • A piece of trash – come on- recycle, reuse, you know the ropes. Find a DIY to tell you what to do with it.

Unworthily yours

P.S. Self Esteem is exactly that, the esteem you hold for yourself. Who cares what the world thinks! Hold up your head and walk tall. Fall if you haven’t observed what you are walking into, pick yourself up and start again. Tell yourself you are worthy of falling over better things (sorry, my sarcastic avatar gets the better of my pious self). Grow up, doesn’t matter. You feel worthless, tell the world and laugh with them. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone, yes anyone, get you down, you owe yourself that. You are the best (at something, even If it is at breathing out CO2).

Around the world in 20 days

Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.

Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.

The famous Auckland Harbor

Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!

The gaseous volcanic region


Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout.  Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.

The gloomy deserted beaches

Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.

Mapping the location

Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.

A view to kill

Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports.  With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.

The Eighth Wonder


Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.

I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.

The falls in the Fiord

Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.

San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).

The Del Coronado beach

Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.