My baby

My beautiful colicky baby, aka, the “अंग्रेज़ बच्चा” was born after a long wait as you may have read in my earlier blog ( )

From the day he was born he was tuned to US timings, sleep in the day, play in the night. I remember my days in a haze, get up after a sleepless night, go to office, sleep whenever possible, especially if there was a presentation ( sorry boss). I figured quite early that lectures and meetings are a great place to take a nap. Came home tired to a more tired mom or mil who had been looking after my baby and now needed a break, so played with kiddo, while the man of the house watched TV. His diet was small, he would eat very little, sleep for an hour, then was refreshed enough to want to play. At 11 pm in the night, all I wanted was a bed and a pillow, and my baby used to be wide awake. In wee hours after midnight, I would be irritated enough to wake up the husband sleeping like a baby to help the baby sleep. I had this fundamental issue of not being able to sleep while my son was awake ( which occurred till he was almost 18), and after catching a few winks, it was time to take my tired bones to the next grueling day.

One night he started crying and just would not stop. With no prior experience we had no idea what was wrong, tried walking him around on the shoulder, taking turns, but he refused to cease his howling. Hungry, stomach ache, rashes, no. Finally we were out on the road in front of the house along with the startled dogs who till then had एकछत्र राज of the lonely streets. The dogs and the baby wailed in unison, till the opera reached its crescendo and we knocked on the friendly neighborhood doctors home at 2 am in the night. He diagnosed the problem as an aching ear, a few drops of the magic potion and he was fit as a fiddle, went off to sleep and we left the sleepy dogs lie.

We actually had two babies growing up together, my son and my sil’s daughter who was a few months junior. With both kids in the same pram, looking almost twin-like since my son, though was older, was thinner. All ladies coochie-cood the babies and would invariably ask whether they were twins. We had fun answering, no, 4 months apart, and leaving them with their open mouths and feverishly working brains on how that was scientifically possible.

The pseudo twins

90’s was pre diaper era when American products were not so easily available and of course the moms and mils were firmly against the use of any such contraption. Delhi being pretty cold in winters, and without diapers and no central heating, all we did through the night was change pants. By the time it was morning, there wasn’t a place to walk at home where a wet pant wasn’t unsuccessfully trying to dry.

Coming home from office, he would be on the bed mostly wearing nothing more than a shirt on, feverishly cycling away with his hands and feet and giggling away only to gurgle when food was stuffed in his mouth, breathe, swallow and giggle again. I can close my eyes and see the sight again, that made my days so wonderful, despite wet pants and tired bones and sleep deprivation.

The coming home hug

As he learnt walking, the world developed a different set of problems. He walked with his head held high and invariably tripped over every obstacle in his path and his chin, knees and palms were constantly grazed and red. Till I decided to get him a helmet and knee pads.

I can do it too

My baby did not like meeting strangers. Once I took him to office and as expected everyone wanted to carry him and he responded by shouting at the top of his voice for the rest of the day. At home he marked his boundaries. If we had visitors, he would remain in the bedroom and not venture out while he stared unblinking at the aliens who dared set foot in his space. No amount of cajoling would pull him out of his लक्ष्मण रेखा. Strong attempts just resulted in further howling so.. Take him to any crowded place, and he would cling to me or his Dad and cry.

20160226_134105 (1)
Time to howl

He learnt his tantrums from his parents. When he wanted a toy or book in the shop, ( this was once or twice), and I said no, he lay down on the road and raised hell in order to get me to buy it. But me being me, I would pull him back home, gave him a strong lecture on how a child should behave and generally pulled him up for the childish behaviour that a child should not be doing. He would stare at me with big doleful teary eyes during such sessions or व्यथित eyes as my dad would say. Needless to say, he did not repeat it too often, who wants a hiding from a strict parent. He soon learnt that the way to get anything is via his dad, who would melt easily.

The divine tantrum

His first day at the creche, he was flabbergasted to be left alone and cried for the whole 3 hrs, he at the creche and my mom at home. When she went back to pick him up, he was standing precisely where she had left him, with a teary wet face, holding his bag and bottle firmly. Both laughed and cried after the reunion and held on to each other tightly. Next day, when he was being left, the look on his face said- what you are betraying me again? and turned his back to my mom and slowly started adjusting. It took my mom more time to adjust than him. The first new slang he learnt from his toddler friends was “कुत्ते का पित्ता” as he proudly kept repeating at home.

dance or look?

The love, the hugs, the playing with almost everything, be it vegetable peels, waste papers, clothes in the cupboard or while washing, kitchen utensils, the jumping to the lap, pulling my ears, learning to walk and then run, falling down, crying, picking himself up and walking again. The hiding in the clothes cupboard or in the washing machine tub and the “boo” on being discovered, the forever unkempt house with nothing at its designated place. The first words, “dadadada” and then the अनर्गल प्रलाप at the top of his voice. His own created vocabulary, spoon was “tinta” and curd was “din-din”, camel- ऊँट  being टून्, and Aarti, my sil, was “तेते”. The sicknesses, the cough and the vomiting, the looking at me with “when will I feel better” expression, but being brave during the injections. I can go on and on, but I have crossed my self imposed word limit, so more later..


Project Mirchi

Powdered red chilies is a spice that makes me sneeze and makes my face go bright red but I can’t do without. How do I say it, I have a spicy tooth. For more than 20 years now, my mil has been buying whole spices, getting them ground and shipping to her children. By shipping, I mean carrying by trains and buses from Bikaner to Delhi and Pune and literally huffing and puffing while bringing them. “Absolutely no spices from the market, they have adulteration, you should eat the real thing” She admonished. One fine day, looking at her getting tired day by day in doing this stuff year on year, I decided to put an end to it and do it locally at Pune.

First I had to convince her it was a project I could undertake and handle, and that कोल्हापुर मिर्ची is comparable to that in Bikaner and let us try it this year. After a fierce mental struggle of to-give-up-or-not-to-give-up, she relented. Project approved and funded. I planned a week for completing the project, give or take a couple of days.

First step was to buy the whole red chilies, season’s new crop. Now, I am as educated about this as the baby born next door, so asked my help to get samples from the market. After analyzing three samples ( from three different vendors) procured over a week and the raw material cost, my mil declared that one sample was unfit because it was last years, other was too wet and the third too costly. So the only option was the too costly one and it became the chosen vendor and raw material. By the end of the first week we had 2 kilos of big red solid chilies procured. It may be noted that this whole process was conducted as per ISO norms. We had already overrun our schedule but the rest of the steps were expected to be done in a jiffy.

Step 2 was to break the heads of each of the chilies. An hour of labour by 2 ladies with face mask to avoid sneezing and two cups of tea later, it was done. No delays in this step.

Step 3 was to get it ground into powder form. Seemed simple. Could have been the end of the story which may not even have been told if it wasn’t for a tiny glitch in the matter. It did not quite happen that way. It was taken for grinding and the vendor said, you need to rub oil on the chilies and sun dry it for a couple of more days. My mil interjected saying it was unheard of in the parts of the world she hailed from. So we clarified the process with another vendor. Got the same response. Now confirmed, we had no choice but to cover the mouth with mask and apply the oil on every individual chili. There was really no place to sundry it, except spread on the bed in one of the rooms. Where sunlight would streak in for a couple of hours a day and it would take maybe a week to dry. Now I know why these things are easier done in villages and not in city apartments.

A week passed in all this rigmarole. The project was already delayed by a wide margin due to the large number of unknowns and no prior experience and we assumed the risks were all over by now. Now we needed to retry the step 3. With tremors in the heart, it was taken again, to the vendor. But the shop closed early that day so had to be brought back once again. This was a moderate risk but delay was marginal. Since nothing else could have been done with these chilies, we retried for the third time a day later. The vendor coolly added 1/2 kilo of salt and 250 ml of oil and ground the whole thing. Looks like that oil application at home and sun drying was redundant.

Yes, three week post the start date, the project was completed to satisfaction and we had our first meal with the mirchi under discussion. It tasted just like the food with Everest का तीखालाल। Since she had to have the last say, my mil declared that she never heard of adding salt and oil in her whole lifetime and shrugged, maybe they do it differently here. While thinking about the lessons learnt, I realized that my mil was probably better equipped for this than I.

Still makes me feel quite like the queen of spices.

PS: The turmeric and coriander season is due in March.

The joys of being middle class

If there is one thing I have learnt in the decades spent on Earth is that there is no quick and easy way to make money or save money. Having grown up in a two frock childhood ( recall my blog ), I am most decidedly middle class and no matter how much I earn, I am not getting rid of that tag. There is something unbelievably sexy about being middle class, I can easily list the top 100 sheer pleasures of my middle class existence. We in India staunchly believe in the concept of जुगाड़  and if we find anything free anywhere, we grab it like our birthright. Even though we understand there is no way to make the quick buck, and we have read about being penny wise and pound foolish in school, we persist, just in case.

As a kid, I loved picking up all the सौफ at the restaurant. Open the tissue paper, pour it all in, hide it under the armpit and walk out nonchalantly. Assume nobody is watching. Later I did start wondering what the waiter, who I handed the miserly 5 Rs tip, would be thinking. Covertly sneaking a glance at him, I could see him shaking his head in a resigned manner – another middle class family. But who cared? We paid for the meal, but the free stuff gives infinitely more happiness.

All my college friends, the ones who stayed at the hostel would barge into any party/ wedding locally just to get good food. Hand over an envelop with a 100 Rs note ( +1 Re coin for शगुन ), 5 of them would eat like they had been starving for weeks. A low cost to pay for a hearty meal for so many.

Even middle class folks acquired some degree of sophistication over a period of time. They graduated to picking up all toiletries, slippers, and even toilet roll from the three star hotel where they stayed in for a day. The next level hit when you stay for three days and stash away everything every day, forcing the housekeeping to replenish the stock daily. Squeeze them dry. As you go for breakfast- which has to be included- ( no self respecting middle class Indian would ever stay in a hotel which does not include at least one free meal and these days, wifi), you pick up all the fruits and cakes and sandwiches you can safely carry, all the while eyeing the waiter, which would then serve as lunch. The level of sophistication only impacts the items you pick, not the intent. The better the hotel, more stuff you can pilferage.  Which one of us has not picked up Air India cutlery and the salt, pepper and ketchup sachets (and also the wet tissue)?

Once upon a time there was something called STD when calling friends and family used to be pretty expensive. We once got an opportunity to make free calls and I think we would have spent at least 3-4 hours, calling up every relative who existed in the diary, even ones who we may just wish Happy New Year once in a lifetime.  And of course, everyone spoke to everyone, 2 raised to n. Thrilled at the coup, we were mentally calculating how much money we saved that day, and phish, the motorcycle developed a problem and we spent a few thousands in its repair. That is when I realised that nothing in life is free.

Then there are these schemes, where you fill the “lucky draws” in every mall and you can win a free trip to Bangkok and other gifts of varying cost and taste. I hate filling that form and giving my number, I always tell them I am not lucky, but my husband fills it almost always. The ever optimist. Once we got a call, you have won a free gift and you need to come and collect it from somewhere about 20 kms away. This was our first time and we were excited enough to go. We spent 6 hours listening to the reasons why we should invest into some housing scheme and at the end, we got 6 bowls.  Trust me, I have got many such offers post this incident and I absolutely did not increase my bowl collection.

My husband loves credit cards. Firstly you save on the interest, secondly you get some “free gifts”, whether it is movie tickets, or a discounted spa visit or some money off on the next purchase, or maybe an extra 5% off at Shoppers Stop. So he has a box-ful of credit cards and tells me which one to use when going to the market. He even has which days to use which card so as to yield maximum yield. Well, I have no issues so long as he pays for them.

When my slippers are worn out, or break, I am reminded that it can be repaired at a lower cost till I yell. We like our “scents” which we buy when we see a 1+1 or better still, 1+2, and the whole family smells the same for the next 6 months. Haggling is a prime distraction whether it is with the haat vendor for Rs 20, or when buying a 55” TV, -can I get one more set of 3D glasses. I still can’t bring myself to buy a 4000 Rs dress because- कितना expensive है !  And I wear that salwaar which is torn from the bottom- घर में क्या फ़र्क़ पड़ता है। . Why can’t Anuraag wear this tricolor track suit, it just has India written all over it (and was given to his niece).  And because we store that non-working shredder for 3 years on top of that Godrej almirah (which itself is 20 year old) since  ‘ठीक हो जाएगा.  And if you don’t like the shirt you got as a gift, pass it on to someone you don’t like. If ever there is a competition in being middle class, we will win hands down.

We are also visually impaired to a large extent. The first thing we see when we open the newspaper is SALE. It is all pervasive. Sale, Sale go away, come back to haunt me another day. As Sheldon would have put it “It is a Singularly Addictive Literal Euphoria of the human mind leading to acquisition of impractical ensemble of unnecessary material possessions which necessitate quikr for clearance of the clutter” phew! But I don’t like sales, it takes away the sheer joy you feel after you have saved all of 100 Rs post haggling. Yeah, I am almost feeling like a pure proud middle class Indian.