What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

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Spec-tacular

As a kid I never saw anyone (I mean people in the grown-ups class) without glasses. Everyone had that thing on their noses and used that as an excuse to look down it on others (literally, only thing being I did not quite understand why). Since I always want to appear more grown up than I was, what better way to do it than adorn the same.

I developed a fascination for prescription glasses. My home had plenty of them, reading glasses of various shapes and sizes and frames and power, long distance ones and the bi-focal ones which had that strange semi circle in the middle and always made the floor swing wildly, when tried. Spectacles for Maa, Baba and bro, a shelf full of them. I was the only visionary in my household and only solace was to try them till I got a headache.

I had this blasphemous idea that wearing specs would make me look intellectual (a classy synonym for nerdy). Since my eyesight refused to give any results other than 6/6 (however frequently I was tested), I had no option but to resort to plain glasses with thick frames, resulting in a spinster school teacher look, all that was missing was a tight bun, flat shoes and a “midi” to complete the dazzling look. I would then hold a scale in my hand and play “Teacher, teacher” with unsuspecting kids in the block.

And then came the big day. In my thirties. (It is elegant to say thirties rather than share the exact age, no lady does that). (wow, doesn’t sound like me at all !!!) I started getting headaches. One day, two days, a week. My husband-who-knows-everything told me to see an ophthalmologist (phew, got the spelling right after three attempts). No way, I argued, my eye sight is perfect (I-need-glasses-symptoms had disappeared long back.) He smiled indulgently, so I did. Lo and behold, the doctor ruled, I needed long distance vision with cylindrical lenses. Hain??? Trigonometry married with Optics?? I always knew I had far-sighted vision, and the far sighted lenses clinched it. So finally the childhood dream came true, I had glasses on my nose and I could look down on some. I had arrived.

Now that I needed to, I hated wearing them. I would use every excuse to take them off all the while. I will get dark circles, it feels heavy, I can’t wear them when I am cooking were most frequented reasons. Needless to say I made quite a spectacle of myself, pun intended.

Time flew. Power play increased. The spectacle cases started piling up. I learnt the vocabulary, rimless, half rim and started noticing the “brands”. Then I got a brainwave, why not use lenses. Alladin appeared again and I got myself a pair of Bausch and Lomb lenses. Day I, tried wearing them, lens on one eye fitted perfectly, other wouldn’t fit somehow, after 10 attempts. I gave up. I will try tomorrow. Day 2, same result. Day 3, I didn’t try.  After a couple of weeks of this effort, I realized some people are not meant to achieve the greater things in life, and quietly resorted back to my middle class chashma.

And a day arrived when I realized the words in the book I was reading had become blurry. I shook the book vigorously, used to be all right a few days back. Even after a good shake, the words were swimming. Moved the book away half a foot and they settled down. Cool, forgot all about it. After a few days, half foot became a foot and then I realized I could not read the newspaper, no matter where I held it (I really needed a selfie stick). By this time, my optics had been well revised and I knew it was time to get the reading glasses as well. The world had advanced by this time and the semi circle in bi-focal lenses had progressed.

My eyes, though could never have been compared with the beautiful doe, used to be decently big, once upon a time, only nice adjective I heard about them. Otherwise they mostly figured around bulbous, button-like and some others I wouldn’t care to repeat. Once I asked Maa, (school time), how are my eyes, can you call them beautiful. She took a careful look and said, I can, but I have to try really hard. Couldn’t she have been a tad tactful? The saving grace was, they were functional.

Now that I am bespectacled, for some vague reason, I have started noticing other things, the wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, the darkness under them and a new development, white spots on the lids. Hain? Nobody ever told me that my eyes would become so insignificant, that the surrounding areas would take prominence and how! I would not have noticed the white spots but it was literally thrust upon me. And he said in all seriousness, you should get your cholesterol checked. Really? Chasma causes cholesterol? Ok, forget it, 2 +2 isn’t always 5. To cut the long story short, the cholesterol problem was solved but the white spots had found their abode to reside forever. And now I have a wart too. Maybe wearing the glasses is better, the thicker the frame, the blemishes stay out of sight.

Unlike twins, my disagreeable eyes have refused to agree on various axes, including spherical and cylindrical, they are power hungry, vying with each other on “I am high on positivity” and “I am supremely negative, beat it!” I wonder how the lens manufacturer ever gets it all crammed into the thin, light on eyes and heavy on pocket, Vogue frames and gives it a tan too.  I have to admit, I am like literally blind without them.

The day I leave home without my glasses, I need help for the smallest thing including reading the zero at petrol pump and the price on the tag. The biggest problem is when I have to read the small print, only way out is to take a photo and zoom it (Thank whoever for digital technology), how would the virtually visually impaired like me survive. But I wonder, how the hot handsome hunks that I bump into without my glasses, change into middle aged, pot-bellied, bald ogling men, as soon as I apply the glazed glassy look to see them better. The blurry illusion shatters into the harsh reality!

Bikaner Bahu

 

The first time I entered the beautiful city of Bikaner, it was as a new bride, some 23 years ago into a culture I didn’t understand, where the folks spoke a language I couldn’t make head or tail of and to a city I had never been before.

With all the unknowns and with trepidation, that new brides of yesteryears will understand, I stepped into the city, complete with a bowed head, armful of jewellery, and no voice.

Draped in a heavy जरी साड़ी, loaded with jewellery from head to toe, (yes actually), wearing heels, I followed my MIL into those city roads where no four-wheeler had gone before. Now these lanes are small (stretch your arms and you can probably touch the boundary), pot-holed, like all lanes across the country, disgustingly smelly with open drains and overflowing with cow dung. Amidst the dung, move the two and three wheelers, and alongside walk the Homo sapiens (at their own risk) and dogs and cows and bulls and carts and more, coexisting on the treacherous roads. A person like me needs to be insured just to walk there.

So there I was, all decked up, one hand holding up the साड़ी all the way up to my ankles, (Ha, what did you think), other hand fiercely holding the पल्लू on my head, which I was told never to let go, (hence no hands free to hold a purse and thus I learnt how the art of storing money in twin lockers beyond purses originated. And no, I am not explaining this further) looking at the road for spots where the foot could be placed safely without being soiled, and looking out for dangers lurking around nooks namely four legged creatures and motorised vehicles. Vehicles were the easy ones, in Bikaner, they are quite used to blind people like me walking around. And I always thought people coming to big cities from small towns faced hurdles! But the real menace were the bulls and cows, who are around in plenty, all seemingly eyeing me disdainfully, and being dead afraid of them, I was forever ready to flee in the most unladylike manner, with no regard for the erstwhile stated पल्लू. Many a times I was saved by the folks used to saving damsels in distress in those lanes.

And what was I doing there? I was being led to meet my husband’s extended family that resided in such locations and I was paraded around being the latest acquisition. Some of the older generation ladies would make me sit next to them, take my arm and minutely examine every piece of jewellery I wore. Ask me details about who gave it, how much it was worth and I was completely lost. But my MIL passed with flying colors; she had done a good job. And they would utter in their local tone “छोरी पुटरो से” meaning girl is good looking (experience gaveth the verdict).

Some of the more experienced बहूs I met on these trips were tired looking girls with covered head forever looking downwards, following their सासु around, obeying instructions and getting rid of their घूँघट as soon as they were out of surveillance. I asked them why did they cover their head if they had such a big issue with it and they looked at me like I had descended from Mars, you don’t know nothing, you come from a different culture, we will see how you fare in a couple of years (the last with a knowing smirk). I wondered what their life was like, being stuck forever beneath the covered head and small town mentality, with no hope or desire to do anything beyond cook, clean and obey. And snapping at their snotty kids with one finger up the nostril and one scratching the bottom.

And then there also exists that class of people who took offence with me simply because (as far as I can make out) I was born in a different caste, was educated and didn’t understand the traditions. They always tell me (even today), I am too focused on earning (नोट गिनती as they call it), not on family, I never make time for relatives, never call them and generally pull me down by what is termed as ओलबा in the local dialect.  And not breaking the घूँघट clad बहू genre, I listen, feebly protest and finally shut up, I cannot win the argument anyway, and leave teary eyed at times.

When I got married, I was made to sit with a hall full of Marwari women, all dressed in bright red, head covered, stomach visible (which reminded me of a term we had coined in college O-cube-C, which meant, now don’t laugh, one open one covered, and you can easily guess what I mean in the context of a साड़ी), singing the local lullaby called गीत, whose words were difficult for me to decipher, laughing, touching my clothes and jewelry and doing what most females do when in a group, talk. Since my Marwari vocabulary was close to nil, I sat with a permanent smile pasted on my face as folks took off my घूँघट, looked at me, made some remarks I didn’t quite get, laughed and fed me लड्डूs, one after other, till I was in bursting and ready to puke. Much later I learnt that you were not supposed to eat them, just take the smallest bite and keep it down again. Or take a bite and feed the rest to the fellow torturing you thus. Nobody told me that at the right time.

Bikaneri food is the probably among the most awesome in the world, but not when it is stuffed in your mouth. In this city, people show their love for you is by force feeding you; they believe in the past 24 years of your life, you have not mastered the art of eating. You cannot do “अन्न का अपमान” and you have to devour around 6 meals a day, breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, high tea, evening snacks and dinner, all at different relatives abode, who felt I had come completely undernourished and unfed from my पीहर and they had to funnel stuff in my mouth till my पेटीकोट नाडा was about to break. My MIL taught me, don’t eat anything on your own, just eat what you are being fed and you’ll survive to tell the tale.

Funny incidents apart, I was welcomed with open arms by people who lived in this small town and had hearts big enough to shower love and blessings on this bong girl without bias. Even after couple of decades, I continue to be surprised at the way this place strives to maintain the traditions as the next generation gets married while I still struggle to speak the local language and get a handle on expectations.

 

 

 

From Two to Four – wheels

Learning a bicycle is piece of cake, once you have digested it. I remember I was at my ननिहाल, for an extended family gathering having fun. And I wanted to learn to cycle. So my मामा decided to help me out. I was nonchalant 13. The first time you get up and sit on that thin seat and ensure your frock covers your vitals, you wonder how on earth can anyone balance on such thin tyres (observe the oxymoron – thin tyres). The bicycle just insists on falling towards one side, and even if you use Physics to balance, it almost always fails and you end up falling on your rump. My मामा did try his best to help by holding the carrier, but the bicycle handle refused to stay straight, it insisted on swinging in the direction opposite my fall. Murphy or whoever wrote the law of how many times you fall when learning to cycle, I proved it true every 5 seconds, till I had bruises all over and my ego was hurt beyond repair. Three days of tenacity, and I could manage to hold the wheels steady for about 10 meters, and then the law had its way. Fourth day, I managed just about not to fall off, but driving in a straight line was still miles away. I was mostly cycling like a drunk, weeing from one end of the road to the other and at times when I knew the forces driving me to the ground were winning, I chose instead to land on my two left feet. A week into it, and I was under the delusion that I was master of the game.

Came back to Jodhpur and decided to try my skills on Baba’s bicycle. Problem, it had a hard rod, so climbing on to the fellow was a project it itself and then climbing down was another. (Just reread what I had written and trust me, that was not the intent, whatever you may think ) And the Jodhpur lanes, if you could call them that, full of gravel and sand. Anyway, as I said, I believed I had wings (even without red bull), and the supreme arrogance of a beginner. So went full swing, round and round across lanes at full speed. Second round and I was coming down a lane which was an inclined plane. Now physics was far away from mind and my speed tried to defy the still unfamiliar laws and of course, I slipped and went straight into the ditch. A visit to my favourite doctor where he had to tch tch and scrape off all sand and gravel stuck into my घायल legs. He probably wondered whether I did it deliberately to have an excuse to go see him every now and then. Did I? Even though I have now cycled for years, the art of holding my skirt down against the wind with one hand, while trying to keep the handle straight with the other and using my mouth to shoo away the traffic, it is tough to say the least. These days I prefer the one that you can pedal, but which doesn’t go anywhere.

I learnt to drive four wheels in my late 20s, during the forced relaxation period after popping out my baby. The Maruti driving school was good and while in the learner car, my beginner confidence was back with a big bang. Except that I lacked the ol’ fella called courage. We even bought a car, which was kept safely parked outside the home gathering dust while I went to office on a rickshaw. One day I was encouraged a lot, you can do it you know, Is there anything you can’t do? Now, I am a sucker for motivation. And my dear husband took me and the car to a road and literally pushed me to the driver seat. I knew the ABC yes, had read the user manual and done test drives but driving on Noida road alone for the first time with no safety break on the co-passenger seat was perilous. Anyway, started the car with shaking hands. First 20 times, it stalled. Wasn’t giving enough raise (Same problem with us salaried people, when we don’t get enough raise, we stall). So pushed the accelerator, created some noise and moved ahead a few feet, hit the first speed-breaker, and stalled again. After a few feet of this, I got the hang of ensuring, car didn’t shut down, (though the unnatural noises emanating from the sudden pushes and jerks did nothing to calm my nerves, remember I am talking about the car).  There after I started looking at the road and other vehicles around me and realised I had too many cars crowding me, I screamed, “what to do”, froze with horror, panicked, shut down the car in the middle of the road and came out trembling, I can’t do it. And refused to take the wheel after that. Thus ended my first day on road on a four wheeler.

Then came a day when again I was challenged, you can take out the car yourself from the narrow lane where we lived, why should we take a three-wheeler. We should take our car. No, too many cars around, I can’t handle reverse. Yes you can. Three times, she said it and I was persuaded. So I started the engine, reversed, bang, hit the car parked on the other side of the lane, changed gear and curved right, didn’t cut enough, scratched the car on the left, full body length, recovered, swerved right, I guess too much, went into the car on the right, and there I was, driving steadily down the lane. (Well, I did better than a certain someone I know who drove the car right into the boundary of the house across the lane) Poor car owners, never came to know what hit them, by the time I came back, I was already a pro. Once you have dented a car on Delhi roads, you are virtuoso.

This was a WagonR. Few years later, we went hunting for an SUV, as we upgraded ourselves from middle class to middle class+. ( And also I had a fervent desire to look down on some people and what better way to do it than sitting on the tall seats) The Tata sales guy was more than willing to let us test drive the Safari, as he handed over the keys to my husband, who forwarded them to me, his face paled. But his job was at stake, there was no way he could say no. (He asked to see my licence though). I could literally smell his fear as he watched me turn the keys in the ignition. Blimey, ‘Tis the end of the world if ladies started driving what has so forth been exclusively for the gentleman. Disgraced in my eyes, he survived, didn’t wet his pants, to give him due credit, but did not make the sale. At the end of the drive he meekly managed, मैडम आप तो अच्छा चला लेती हैं. We chose a Scorpio instead. I caused two accidents while driving the Scorpio. All because I was driving an SUV on Noida roads, quite unheard of in 2005. A fellow on a cycle came from the front, looked at me, opened his mouth and fell off as I passed by and looked down on him on the other side of the road. It was such fun to be the first to drive off as the light turned green, being the fastest on the road had its own charm. Then there were these two fellows on a bike, who went and hit an autorickshaw since they stared agape so hard at me, they forgot to look at the rest of the traffic. I enjoyed the attention unashamedly. The moral being that a woman driving an SUV with undisguised confidence is still a visual hallucination so people either give a wide berth or have accidents.

I, me #selfie

Long back during school time, there was this short story that spoke about the world of photographs. That alternate world, where everyone was always happy and smiling and never grew old. That story still strikes a chord somewhere except that now you make an extra effort at looking like Donald duck.

For those of us who are blessed to be born in the 70’s in middle class households, we had the luxury of never owning a camera for many years. And finally when we did, it was kept locked in the Godrej, gathered dust, and only came out on special occasions like weddings and could only be operated by people-who-would-never-drop-it aka adults. So, if you wanted to have your memories cast in print, while growing up, you had to rely upon

  • uncles less miserly
  • school friends whose parents doted upon them and would take your photos if you behaved as their best friend
  • school official photos during annual days
  • and find an important enough occasion so that Baba took that contraption out finally

After marriage the jinx was broken and we finally had a Kodak at our disposal. Imagine having your very own camera to carry while holidaying. But we remained staunchly middle class with just 36 possible photos in a reel and with 2 reels that needed to last a 10 day vacation. Somehow this middle class thingy has been following me all my life. Every photo had to be planned, ensuring smiling countenance even when you were upset, right direction, exposure blah blah because world of photographs was forever, it couldn’t be undone, at least not then. Your vacation budget had to include reels and the worst thing was, you could not see the results for several days after the vacation. I remember a reel that we got washed after a couple of years because it got lost in a drawer which was overflowing, we were busy with office and kids growing up and just plain forgot. What a pleasure to find it and develop it and what a pain to find it was overexposed.

I also learnt meanwhile that when it comes to saving your tooth (and nail) or camera, camera has the upper hand literally. College time, borrowed an expensive camera from a friend and was figuring out all its nuances, pretending to learn photography just because it was decidedly upper class in a hostel full of girls who barely made ends meet. Walked back to my hostel room, tripped over something and fell face flat. The hand automatically moved up saving the camera, and my dignity but breaking two of my front teeth partially. I lived to tell the tale.

As we graduated to upper middle class, we dared to buy a SLR, all the way from अमरीका. Again, a legacy of my family, it found a permanent spot inside my Godrej and was taken out on rarest of occasions. Our first vacation with the SLR, we could not get in the beach water because, come on, you had a 300$ SLR in your hand which was more precious than mere enjoyment. One day we discovered dear SLR wasn’t working. It was a whole project to figure out who in Lajpat nagar could repair it. And finally when we did manage to get it repaired, it went plain out of fashion as digital had taken birth.

Life is so bloody easy now with megapixels increasing day by day and camera phones. You don’t need to count how many you click, you have a choice to delete them if you don’t like. Though we hardly ever (delete), we like to clog the memory. The good thing about digital memory is that it isn’t like the almirah, here the photos don’t gather dust, and there is always more space than you can imagine, and you can play tricks with all apps floating around. And the biggest advantage, you can clutter all you want, your mom will not ask you to clean it.

The front camera was added as an afterthought. Nobody in his or her wildest dream felt the need of a camera for taking self image with a contorted face. Talk about narcissism! Probably stemmed from the aversion of handing over your expensive phone to the nearest passerby for clicking you. Well, these days narcissism is probably measured as the number of selfies a day. I, me, #selfie. BTW I have not been able to fathom why the name “selfie”. Wouldn’t selfick or selfoto have been better suited?

And now wherever you go, you find people clicking themselves away everywhere, at malls, concerts, theaters, hospitals, cliff edges, highways and some of them falling, hurting, drowning, such is the craze. The way things are going, you can expect “no selfie” zones coming up soon next to the “no smoking” signs. Yeah, both kill.

selfie

Personally I have not been able to master the art of selfie taking, thanks to my short arms, clumsy hold and lack of desire to learn. Or maybe the camera has taken a dislike to me. Every time I try it, I face one or more of the following issues

  • I am looking somewhere totally weird
  • My arm and fingers occupy a major part of the image
  • The image is blurred, or is it my vision?
  • I don’t like my face, which is most of the time. (or maybe I am looking fat) (maybe the pout backfired)
20160904_085001
fingers occupying half the screen 😦 and you can see the broken teeth too 🙂

 

Ps. My habit of using numbered lists stems from my childhood where Baba taught me to write in points always saying, science students only get marks if they write in points. So now you know why I never scored in English essays (other than the fact that I could not write).

I can think of several apps to be developed around the art and science of selfie (and not the ones that make you look better than you are). Like the one that defines and enforces an upper limit on how many selfies you can take a day. Just imagine the camera shutting down and going to sleep just because it is so tired of looking at you. Or vrrr, camera direction changing to focus on a flower or anything except your face. Or a robot hand that comes and punches you and gives you a real swollen pout.

Coming back to the point, literally, my clumsy attempts at taking selfies, should I angle it from bottom to top, or vice versa, hold it in left or right hand, and how to use the thumb properly, where to look, how to pout, how to get everyone in the frame. I have tried really, and my results have been far from encouraging and I strongly feel like Taking The Perfect Selfie course at London.