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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Equally Unsafe

One of the best things about the family I was born in, was that there was no gender discrimination of any sort. In fact, I only realised after studying class 8 Anatomy that boys and girls are supposed to be different. Call me dumb, but that is the way it was. But soon after that, in the next two years or so, I suddenly grew up. In fact I was forced to grow up and realise the world is not as beautiful as it looked before the apple. There were many people around who looked at this young bubbly chirpy tomboy girl as an object of desire and pawing and who just left a feeling of loathing in my mind.

When you are 13-14, with all the hormonal changes in the body,  girls are already struggling. Dealing with studies, teenage issues, boys, parents and lechs. I was travelling in a train, sleeper class with Maa. It was an overnight journey and we both had lower berths. Maa fell asleep on one and so did I. I was 13 years old, wearing a frock, covered with a thin sheet.

In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling spiders crawling over my legs. I grew wide awake and saw a guy sitting near my feet and his hands moving over my legs. Though nobody had really told me about good touch and bad touch, instinctively, I knew this was not right. I sat up suddenly and moved to the other end of the berth. The guy reassured me, don’t worry, all is well, lie down and go back to sleep. But I could not. I was wide awake, trembling and sitting with my arms wrapped around myself curled up near the window. I thought of waking up Maa but my mind told me not to, no, don’t wake her up, she may think it is your fault. (She wasn’t like that, but the mind of a 13 year old can play tricks, maybe it was the 70’s Bollywood effect, who knows). So I sat through the night, wide awake, at the corner of the berth, sometimes falling asleep, but waking myself up the next instant. The guy became tired after waiting for a while, and finally left. But I could not sleep again. Since then I have ensured I always book the upper berth and cover myself head to toe with a sheet, safely tucked under me from all sides, or not travel by train at all.

In the same year, there was another incident as I was staying with my extended family. One would assume that a young girl would be very safe with family, brothers, cousins and uncles. But in the repressed Indian households, that is seldom the case. Summer holidays, too many people in the house, you did not get individual rooms to sleep, all growing up “kids” slept in a giant drawing room, brothers and sisters and young unmarried uncles one after the other. I have come to the conclusion that night’s wake up the animal in boys who are not yet mature enough to be called men. And I woke up again with hands pawing me. Talk about being despo. 20 people sleeping one after the other and this guy is pawing his cousin sister who has just entered puberty. Woke up, removed the hands once, tried to go off to sleep again, hoping he would get the hint, but it insisted on coming back again and again. At that age, girls don’t like creating a scene, they don’t want all eyes on them and looking at them as if they have done something wrong by growing up. I warded off the hands a number of times, but they always returned back so finally I woke up another cousin and told him what was happening. And then the fellow got beaten up surreptitiously but squarely, without the rest of the family being aware of the fact. And the guy had the audacity to claim because my knees touched his once in an overfilled car on a bumpy road, he assumed I was leading him on.

Those two years were the most troublesome for me as a lot of people around thought I was too young to resist, an easy prey. I feel so sad for the girls who have succumbed to the carnal desires of the men with no sense of right and wrong. This guy had come to Jodhpur to “see” a girl, for marriage prospects, a standard Indian practise along with his foreign returned brother. Being a distant relative, they stayed at our home. This was a school day but for some reason, I had not gone to school, maybe I was sick or something. Maa had gone to her school and Dad had gone out to the market for something. Hence, it so happened that for about an hour I was alone at home with the foreign (returned) brother who believed Indian girls were as easy. I was reading a book sitting on the sofa and this guy came and sat next to me suddenly and started talking. I hardly remember what he said, but I remember every detail of what he tried to do, how he tried to touch me, how I tried to move away, how he came closer and closer and tried to manoeuvre himself in a way that he could touch me anywhere and everywhere. I was sick, I was stuck, I was alone at home. I told him I will shout, he said, there is nobody here. I was in real trouble.

Finally I had a brainwave. I got up and walked out to our roof and went and sat at the parapet edge, which was visible from the street and the shops. The guy followed me and started insisting I come inside. I refused and said, if you try anything I will jump. By that time the people from the street had started looking up. They could see a young girl sitting on the edge and a man standing behind. Now this guy could really not do much, so after some futile attempts at persuasion, he went back inside and I stayed there, on the edge, in the harsh sun, till Baba came back home. I told Maa this story later, once the guy had gone back and though she was very upset, at the end she did nothing, nobody told the guy what he did was wrong, nobody slapped him or kicked him. I continued with my life and he with his.

It is not that my life has been shattered because of these incidents, or I sit every day and curse these people. No, we move on. But the mind of a young teenage girl, changes. She grows up, her childhood is suddenly over. And what if more had happened? What if I had been raped, scarred for life? I was “lucky” enough not to be. It is really ironical that I consider myself lucky because though I was pawed, molested, but I was not raped. But, if there is me, there are thousands who are not so “lucky”. This blog is for all those girls, telling them to be careful, don’t trust people blindly, you have the freedom to decide who is allowed to touch you, keep your presence of mind, find your way out of tricky situations, raise hell if you have to. On this independence day, I wish the world to be free from perverts and dirty minds, I wish for a hassle free life for women, I wish for us to be equally safe.

Food Food

My relationship with food started when I was very young. Even as a kid, I loved the warmth of the place, the aromas and the dishes my parents cooked up. I vaguely remember sitting on the kitchen floor (our kitchen was huge, you could put a double bed and sleep), my mom making hot chapatis and my bro and I would hog like anything on simple  रोटी and भिंडी की सब्ज़ी. My dad also loved to cook, so when it was a question of specialty dishes, he would shoo mom out of the kitchen, turn his lungi into lambda/2, curse everyone around, and get going. Every couple of weeks, we would have family friends over, my parents would spend the day cooking and those coming would also bring some variety, and we would have a feast. I never knew how eating all that food never fattened me up (in contrast to even water being fattening these days).

So, was it surprising that I wanted to cook too? And my mom would not let me. See, in very early days, we had a kerosene stove, and she was not comfortable with me going close to it. When I was in about class VII, we got our first gas stove and suddenly I had access.. Still she would not let me. “You worry about your studies, you have your whole life ahead, ज़िन्दगी भर खाना तो बनाना ही है”. So what would a persistent brat like me do? I would wait for her to leave home and then I would do whatever the hell I wanted. The first vegetable I ever made was आलू की सब्ज़ी, when my parents were not at home. And it turned out to be somewhat edible, my parents ate it, with complaints, but finished it. And then there was no more stopping me.

Unlike a lot of educated girls in my generation, I knew the basic art and science of Indian cooking, all my spices and oils and what goes with what, several years before marriage. Yet, when I got married, my first kitchen experience with traditional “पापड़ सेकना आता है?”, was as tough as it goes. I passed, but barely. See, the papad turned out, not 100% flat, a little too much burnt in a few places, some pieces chipped off as I used a चिमटा and held it too tight. (I still do that, I can’t hold a papad with my bare fingers near the flames). Even after 20 odd years, I have only marginally improved. My bong food experience of yesteryear’s did not teach me “how to  सेकोfy a papad perfectly and impress your mil”.

Cooking after a full work day was not something to look forward to, but early days, I had the enthusiasm. And with practice, the daily bread churned out in one hr flat, with one curry, daal, rice and chapatis, thanks to the great invention called the pressure cooker and its separators. And once in awhile, we had friends over and I figured out quite a few things to cook, that wasn’t time consuming and went well with folks, including reusing leftovers.

These days, the biggest bottleneck with cooking is, the fellow who eats it. He will not have anything to do with pastas, but he loves Pizza; any kind of noodles is completely no, no. So most non-indian cuisines are ruled out. And he has a hate hate relationship with the most coveted spices like cloves and cinnamon. Any whiff of that and.. You end up hearing remarks like “ दाल में आज कुछ problem है” ,“सब्ज़ी hostel वाली लग रही है”, “इसमें गरम मसाला डाला है”. Talk of paranoia. The spice is not there in the house, and he can smell it. So, working with such restrictions, it is best to let the maid handle it and pass on the comments to her. In my home, you eat what the maid cooks up, or starve. Maybe he will be happy the day he can download food.

The interesting fact about cooking, my cooking, is that when I put a lot of effort into this art, the dish is typically a flop and I have had the pleasure to throw away stone cakes (cakes as hard as the adjective) which even insects refused to touch, creating food that people could barely eat and I had to finish it across three days.

The day I know my maid is going to be missing in action for the next seven (unbelievable) days, my temper starts soaring higher at the thought of being made to cook by maid. It doesn’t matter that I love cooking and it hardly takes me an hour to cook up an interesting meal from scratch (or a story like this one). My husband is content with खिचड़ी also, but when I decide to get worked up, I really work at it.

So day 1 is really, oh well, just दाल चावल. Excuse me, it does qualify as meal. And I have excuses, several of them eg, coming home tired after a hard day’s work (can you hear the dripping पसीना), followed by multiple calls and a long 3 ½ km brisk walk. Day 2 is more normal (the undying guilt of feeding दाल चावल to hubby) with रोटी and my special culinary delight called पत्तागोभी मटर (ugh, even I could barely ingest it).

Third day I decide to go experimental with अचारी दही वाली भिण्डी and when I hopefully look at my dear husband for an encouraging feedback, all I get was “ये कड़वी क्यों है?” How do I know, ask Sanjeev Kapoor. Embittered but emboldened, relentless search on the internet for the next designer dish from my exclusive boutique results in पनीर पुदीने काली मिर्च the next day (except that I forget the kalimirch part of it), but it is still a hit. Again my hopeful look (why don’t husbands get it, you are supposed to say it is awesome, to get something edible next day), and this time I got “अच्छी है”. Mere 2 words for an hours work! Wonder what I’ll try the next day? With all the encouragement I get, I would probably stick to safe खिचडी.

 

The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.