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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Gym-nasty

Like I always say, once you enter the fourth decade of mortal existence, life takes on a whole new meaning.  You stop worrying about wearing the most unsuitable clothes and show off creaky venous old knees; you color hair not to hide the white showing through, but to get a brunette look.  And among some of the other weird things I have no wish to expose just yet; I also enrolled myself into a gym.

Yeah, so I did. I can’t fathom what on earth prompted me, after successfully giving it a miss for all of my forty and five years and suddenly here I was, struggling into tights and t-shirt and trying to get rid of my belly fat and other protruding anatomical juxtapositions which don’t look right (yeah, the fat would have looked better a few inches above). I guess too much time on my hands and a desire not to feel totally lethargic and waste yet. So, lo and behold, I was ready to take a swing at things I had not attempted before.

The gym is pretty close to where I stay, so walked over. Went inside to ear blasting music and a plethora of machines all around. I with my weary eyes had to look where I walked else I would be the first to fall flat on a dumbbell thrown carelessly around, or the jutting leg of a legpress. I was given a tour of all the contraptions and re-learnt all the muscle names forgotten in class VIII, triceps and biceps and hamstrings and which one is smaller and larger. I also got an overloaded with names of machines and exercises which I didn’t remember five minutes beyond. I could see several trainers repeating basic math- one, two, three, buck up, back straight and I fondly remembered my PT instructor.

Since I was not put off the place during my first visit, I decided to pay the fees and hoped that would prompt me to continue. Day 1. A baldy instructor confronted – why does everyone I encounter have to be bald?? Gods have something seriously against me. At least my gym instructor could have been a treat to the eyes. Sigh, he isn’t, doesn’t look a hunk from any direction (including upside down), looks more like a soft spoken teacher or a government servant. He started off rattling something in Marathi and I had to stop him mid way through his monologue, Hindi please, or English, I asked doubtfully. Yes madam. Then he started my routine. By the time he finished with me, I was almost dead, all limbs creaking and trembling, wondering whether I needed a stretcher to go home.

In my dotage, the way I exercise is my break time is almost equal to my exercise time. The fun during the breaks while I struggle to get my breath back is to look around and see the blatant display of chiseled torsos and muscular wealth. The day I joined, all the folks turned and glanced at the old woman gone crazy, took one look and disdainfully went back to their routines. So much so for my hotness! At least I can see a hot Dwayne smiling or a desi Hrithik looking at me sideways from the wall, and a surly looking uninspiring female body builder who gives a smirk.

Over a period of time, I learnt to use some of the machines, lift some weights, and perform some basic workout though it pains me to see guys lifting so much weight while I was struggling with the lightest dumbbell. Going overboard and trying extra would cause a “sweet and sour pain” in my glutes for the next two days as my instructor keeps repeating. He hurts my muscles more than my sentiments, and I walk out in a weird gait (resembling a three-legged-walk) since everything was sore, feeling distinctly old and in need for oiling.

Over a period of time, as I interestingly watched the steamy sweaty bodies and listened to Mika screaming “shake that booty” at the top of his voice, I realized there are basically five kinds of creatures infesting the gym.

  • The “hen-pecked-husband” whose wife doesn’t let him sit along with his pot belly in front of the idiot box, and packs him off to get a six pack. Poor harassed fellow, he finds it so tough to slide into most of the machines, which are really designed for human size. Huffing and puffing, his painstaking attempts at lifting weights and then taking half an hour of break with open mouth struggling to breathe in air right in front of the TV.
  • The “self-obsessed-and-proclaimed-hunk” wearing tight shorts who spends fifteen minutes lifting weights making alien guttural sounds and faces and then walks with a forced swagger and spends next fifteen in front of the wall length mirror looking at his jutting muscles from all possible angles and showing (off) to all the trainers around and measuring the micrometer change in his biceps. The mindless body and his gymfies on Instagram and Facebook lives. God save him!
  • The “I-have-time-and-clothes” girl who adorns yoga pants and sports bra (only thing everyone noticed) and something insignificant on top which is completely superfluous, with a ponytail and a mouth that can literally move mountains, and a magnetic personality, pulling all sweaty bodies towards it. With bobbing boobs and behind as she treads the mill, all trainers (including mine) fall all over themselves to train her and look at her with gaping mouths and rising heart rate.
  • The “exceptionally athletic Superman” who is actually focused on just building muscles and totally oblivious to the rest of the world around him. The guy who pushes every machine to its limits and cribs that they were not strong enough, and who spends daily 2-3 hours just exercising. And the walk, reeking of self confidence! But I wonder, he is already there, then why make the rest of us all look and feel nobodies.
  • The “aiming-to-impress-girlfriend” sweaty smelly thin fellow, the pea-brained nincompoop who wants to build brawns and not brains, with silky hair, big phone and glares and thin spidery legs, squatting away to glory, face straining hard to avoid the gaseous excretions towards his fellow folks.

Ideally I should qualify myself into a sixth category, who last squat was only during the last Indian style loo visit, but then being a unique specimen, I am not sure there are many like me around. In the past year, I have started enjoying the one hour stint at the gym every day (well, almost). And my top three reasons of visiting the same place regularly happen to be

  • After working out, I don’t feel guilty about not working out and the cake tastes so much better, especially with the icing (and I wonder why I am still putting on weight?)
  • That hot dapper who always comes in at the same time and is a temptation of magnificent proportions.
  • Enjoying my favorite mind exercise of judging and categorizing people.

Maal-eficient

This started when I was labeled JMMT which I didn’t quite understand at first, hence the clarification “Jhil Mil Maal Thi”. I wondered whether to be angry due to the inappropriate use of the word “Maal” or because of inappropriate use of past tense.  These days, when even “sexy” is considered pornographic and the कमाल माहौल with all feminists around, I wasn’t sure whether a smiley or an angry emoji made sense. The thought lingered and I decided to decode and shred the word that has so many connotations in the great Indian middle class context. Delete middle class, I seem to have a fixation with it. I have not checked whether the word has found its way into the oxford dictionary yet, but even as I count on my fingers, these spring to mind almost immediately.

I think the most traditional use of the word “माल” would be for goods or things. And most frequently used in transportation and businesses where large amounts of goods are moving inward or outward. God, this is beginning to sound like a thesis, which was not the thought I started this with at all, so the antithesis has to begin now.

Directly from things is derived the “expensive माल”.  As the मालदार “Lion” of 70’s Bollywood fame used to say, to his “Mona Darling”, “Mona, हमारा माल कहाँ पंहुचा?” “मालिक, सारा माल पुलिस ने पकड़ लिया”, here, like we all know we are talking about contraband and Pirates of Caribbean and National Treasure and the visualization is that of crates full of gold biscuits and ornaments, stashes of green and pink currency and underground temples when lighted up revealing precious stones and idols and more.

There is also the tasty माल that refers to awesome food, the ones you hog over in great Indian weddings and in hotels only at company expense, (without even burping) like the dry fruits and कचोरी and समोसा and sweets that are smashing but brutal for the तोंद . Which makes me wonder why “maal-nutritioned” means the opposite of what it should mean? All the rich brats are actually well stuffed with माल and not the skinny ones from Sudan.

Now, if you talk to the students of Symbiosis and other NRI-class schools where neo-rich kids with their expensive cars are sent to get a quart of education but instead get a pint of rum and a pinch of the stuff up their nostrils, “yeah, this is good shit, man, ये माल कहाँ से लाया”.  Here the माल, low in quantity, high on quality and has to be stuffed up noses or intra-venous, forever banned dope in Indian homes and can kill Bill too (or two, aaah, doesn’t matter)

And then you have the malls where all the imported माल is displayed, even the Indian माल is displayed in a way to appeal best to फिरंगीs, much to the dismay of the poor and the tired, who can look but not buy; and the rich and the famous who buy without a look, where you and me go to enjoy an afternoon of conditioned air instead of raising the home electricity bill in this scorching heat. A Sunday afternoon well spent on ogling all the stuff you will never need, with a cup of coffee costing three times more than it should, and then spending some bucks in getting worthless things just for the heck of it.

And then of course the maal, from where this whole train started. “A sexy woman” or “hottie babe” as some sites literally translated. Derogatory and anti-feminist. All feminists are advised against reading this blog, to avoid what is almost blasphemy to them. But really they shouldn’t worry. All this no-bra-fad will prevent them from actually being labeled as maal, does anyone really like juggling balls except for jugglers (oops, faux pas).

I read this interesting question on Quora

“My boyfriend in Indian, from UP, and if he is with people he doesn’t know, he tells them that I am his ‘maal’. We have been together for 3 years. Does ‘maal’ mean girlfriend, is it ok to use, or do I need to beat him? 🙂 His English is quite good, but he never uses the word girlfriend…

I am learning Hindi but it takes time, so your thoughts are really helpful. (I am English).”

And one of the interesting responses was

“In fact “MAAL” was an indecent word used earlier, in those days even “SEXY” was indecent word and if any one uses this would be considered equal to rapist. Nowadays in hitech and modern society these words are quite normal and don’t stand the meaning what these earlier used to have. If the guy is good, these don’t matter…. in current fast forward culture.” (Took the liberty of correcting the grammar, but not the lingo)

BTW, the JMMT guy later modified his statement and said “ABMH” meaning अभी भी माल हैं, much to my satisfaction.

Which makes me wonder, when I was sixteen and two, I would have flipped my lid, if someone called me sexy, my middle class upbringing has strict objections to use of such words in public, would have literally felt abused. Today it doesn’t make a difference. Maybe because I am middle class plus, or just plain forty plus. Actually any plus size woman would probably be happy being labeled sexy or maal, yeah, I still have it in me to attract eyes. Is it my tolerance or my experience or my complex talking?

With my latest fad at creating jh-ictionary, I thought since the word could not really be understood without context, and only causes गोलमाल, we could make a different word for each context, so here is an attempt to add few new words, to avoid the confusion in the minds of neo-urban-but-desi folks.

So, to wit,

knormaal: /nor-maal/ Simple and normal goods or things (The k was just to confuse you)

dealmaal:/deel-maal/ a smuggler is a dealer who deals in maal, hence proved (stretch of imagination by far, readers are invited to provide better words)

maalnourish:/ has been explained before, the over-fed, obnoxious, nourished by maal, obese generation

narcomaal:/narco-mal/  narco grade maal that can blow you away and give you highs and lows.

Mall-a-maal:/mal-a-mal/ Mall of the maal. The over-priced, over hyped buildings housing stuff that you buy, don’t use for six months and then olx them away.

Desimaal:/deci-mal/ literally meaning you know exactly what), but she is sure to get confused, you can always explain she is petite and simple J. Trust me, she will go out on the date with you.

 

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!

During the middle ages

Yeah, I am 40 plus (in age, mind you) and I absolutely refuse to specify how many years, months and days plus, just like any other smart woman my age. That is why I hate sharing my id proof, I have a push-pull fight every time at the airport. But moving on, one fine morning, or rather, one fateful day, I woke up and realised the most terrible thing in the world had happened, ( no, I am not referring to Sep 11 )  I had become middle aged. My world collapsed. Something drastic needed to change if I could not move the clock back.

I had had the symptoms for sometime but did not quite get that it implied the seven signs of ageing. Firstly my hair started falling at an alarming rate, the washroom drain would get choked daily and I would roll my eyes at the maid for not cleaning it properly till she showed me a headful of hair, after which I shut up. ( not to mention the fact that some ( ok, have it your way, most) of them were white which was the second symptom). Third sign being that aha, sweet back pain as I got up in the morning, which wasn’t so bad that I needed moov, but made me move with my hand on my back, reminding of, well someone in the category of Nirupa Rai moving around with a stick.

And then I turned blind, I could not read. I had to move the newspaper as far back as as the selfie stick and still I the letters were blurred. The ophthalmologist was very gentle with me, said, don’t worry, it happens to the middle aged. And I was adorned with thicker owlish glasses which goes with my intellectual personality, or at least that is what I like to think. The only issue with this accessary is that not only do I look blind, I also act like one since my reading ability has vanished.

My memory was the next to go. I would look at a guy and try hard to remember his name, which would like fail me forever, till he said goodbye, and then it would come to me in a flash, yeah, his name was Gordon. So we would have had a half hour conversation where I asked innocent questions like, how is family? (Not remembering if he was married, or whether he had kids, this was the cleverest question, could imply his parents as well). I wanted to do an entire blog on my forgetfulness, but then I forgot what I wanted to write.

And the perspective change of course, where Aashiqui one was an all time favourite and Aashiqui two was a disaster, can’t stand these cliched goddamn self destructive drunken martyrs any more. And my son remarked, mom, you don’t like this. you are old! No my dear, at my age, we call it experience.

I am not going to talk about waist size at all, it should suffice to say that, my husband’s clothes are a good fit on my permanent four month paunch, rather than my own wardrobe, which suddenly developed a strange habit of bursting at the seams. Do clothes really shrink that much? Three square meals a day, makes me a खाते पीते घर की।

What to do? I had to do something to reach the fountain of youth. Since allopathy has not invented anything to reverse the process, I had to find other means. Visit to the homeopath. Can you stop my falling hair? Can u remove the wrinkles below my eyes? He sighed and said, madam, I am no anti Newton, hair will fall. Skin with wrinkle, madam, इस age में ऐसा होता है।. And I walked out defiantly. A friend tipped me that wearing a Ray Ban is a great idea to hide the telltale under eye wrinkles and I looked around and could suddenly see people of all frames and sizes wearing black glares. Oh yeah, so that is the reason. ( Other reason being it is easier to stare, Indian favourite pastime after cricket, but that is not under discussion for now).

I started discovering all age reversing, anti ageing and wrinkle removing creams in the shops. Somehow only those would catch my eye. After trying a handful of such creams and asking dear husband, कुछ फ़र्क़ पड़ा ? Actually that is a pretty wrong question to ask. He can’t say no, he dare not lie, poor guy. So faced with too many diplomatic responses, इतनी जल्दी पता नही लगता है। तुम cream के  instructions follow कर रही हो ना ? and so on, I came to the forgone conclusion that nothing was going to change. Creams are creams and don’t perform miracles, despite what is written on the leaflet.

With all international brands available at अपनी दुकान and brick and mortar stores, shopping has never been as easy. Except that everything is supposed to be for teenagers and forever 21 kind. And trust me, even when you try them on, you still don’t look young unless you close your eyes and dream. I walked towards a row of interesting looking garments, but the assistant gently moved me away to show me plus sizes. I surreptitiously moved back and defied her by picking up a medium size shirt for trial. With my head held high I moved to the trial room and after a few minutes, come out, threw away the garment carelessly, I don’t like the fit, being my excuse. The assistant silently handed me over another one, try this mam. This time I don’t meet her eye, walked back head down, and finally smiled, this one fitted. As I moved over to the cash counter, she gave me a big I-told-you-so smile, standing right next to the plus size rack.

The biggest problem ever since I aged is ogling, this really tall hot guy that I eyed at the mall, clandestinely holding my tummy in, gave me a really flashy smile, that immediately melted me and I smiled back behind my glares. He moved towards me, oh God, this breathing in thing is tough, stood right next to me and asked, Auntie, would you mind moving a little to the other side, I am trying to look for my friends and you are in the way. Aargh… Yeah, he was probably my son’s age anyway. The only good thing is at least I can breathe now.