Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A is for aquatic

Prescript: At one point, I was sooo tempted to call this post 'A for April Fool's Day!' and sneakily opt out of the April blogathon, but I didn't. I won't. I've convinced too many people to do this to opt out myself. Okay, let's do this! 


As soon as I reached the school to pick Xena up, my heart skipped a beat.

Something looked fishy.

It was.

It was indeed a fish. A fish in a tiny sealed packet of water, in Xena's left hand and a plastic tank in her right hand. She looked delighted. I knew the class had gone on an excursion to a fish farm that morning, but I did not imagine for a second that they would come back armed with 'return gifts'.

A fish on my hands. A live fish on my hands!

So I looked for her teacher and my words just came tumbling out incoherently. "Hi, what is... what is... what is this? Is this a fish?? Is this a fish that we need to take home? Is this some project? What is this?"

The teacher smiled and calmly said, "Oh, every child got a take-home fish at the fish farm."

All I could think of was this. A take-home fish? A live take-home fish??? You let them take a fish home???

If you think I was overreacting, let me elaborate on the last time I had a pet of the aquatic nature. I was a little girl, accompanying my dad to the fish market, and I saw a tiny fish flopping about over a heap of dead ones. I asked my dad if he could buy it for me so I could keep it as a pet. Dad looked unsure, but he bought it for me anyway. I got it home, and transferred it into a tall glass jar. It swam around happily. I was thrilled.

Now the question was - what would it eat? Nobody knew what kind of fish it was, but I did know that in general, fish ate worms! Simple. So I went down to the garden and dug up an earthworm. (Yes, I did!) I put it in the jar and guess what? The fish ate it!

But not for long. Maybe it was a saltwater fish, or maybe earthworms were the wrong food for it. I don't know what happened but one morning, I woke up to see it floating belly up. I was very young, and the tears flowed freely. I cried the whole morning and even refused to go to school. (Me, the school-loving class nerd, refusing to go to school!) I did go to school eventually (of course) and vowed that I would never EVER have another pet. If a tiny fish I'd got at the fish market had that effect on me within a few days, I couldn't imagine what a dog or a rabbit would do to me.

And that's why I had a major panic attack when I saw Xena with the fish. I'd accompanied her on every single excursion so far, even though it's optional for parents to go. This I'd skipped because she'd said, "Mama, you don't have to come this time. I'm very responsible." and my heart had just melted.

Of course, now I was paying the price for it. We had a fish on our hands and there was no way out. We couldn't abandon it. So I asked the teacher, "Err... okay... What do I give it? What will it eat?" She gave me a peculiar look, one that translated into "Why don't you start with dum biryani?" Then she slowly said, "Fish food."

"What kind of fish food?" I may be a fish newbie, but I was sure there are different kinds of fish food.

"Just look for betta fish food in the pet shop." She said.

Okay. Okay. I took a deep breath. We can do this, I told Xena. It was more for myself actually.

And so, holding Xena's hand in one hand and the fish and the tank in the other, I made my way out of the school. The water in the bag was not enough to completely cover the fish and I feared for its life. The excursion had been in the morning, so the fish had been in that oxygen-deprived state for several hours now. The bag was machine-sealed so even though I wanted to instantly put it in the tank and empty the contents of Xena's water bottle into it, I couldn't. Not that I'm an expert, but I could tell that the fish was not looking too good. So I told Xena we needed to get home as soon as possible to put the fish in a lot more water. I tried to get a cab, but of course, they are just an urban myth so you can't really get one.

So we took the bus, and I have to say it was one of the most stressful journeys of my entire life (second only to highway robbers shooting at our bus when my dad was posted in Bihar, but that's a story for another day). The fish seemed to be turning over to try and submerge itself as much as possible in the 0.0045 ml of water the bag contained, and I was having terrifying visions of the belly-up fish from my childhood. "Don't you die on me!" I kept muttering under my breath, with a curious Xena looking on.

We got home and immediately filled the tank with water and put the fish inside. It instantly started swimming around, and for the first time, I noticed what a beautiful blue fish it was.

Okay, food next. I wasn't sure how many times these fish needed to be fed, and whether it was already its mealtime. I was lucky that mom-in-law was home, so I literally flung Xena at her, took a photo of the fish on my phone and made a mad dash for the nearest pet shop. I showed them the photo and they gave me some betta fish food. I asked the salesperson (it was an unsure-looking teenager, who looked like she was probably on a holiday job) how much and how many times I had to feed it and she said, "Umm... you could try a little first?" Sheesh. I figured I'd have to turn to the net for real and useful advice.

I hurried back and put some of the flaky food in the tank. And guess what? The fish refused to eat it. After a while, it swallowed a flake, but immediately spat it out. Arrrghhh! Why do all food-haters of the world come my way?? Sigh. It was Xena's fish after all. Food rejection is a way of life in that world.

So I quickly got online and asked for advice in a forum that had never let me down. Sure enough, within 5 minutes I had all the answers. It was a Siamese fighting fish, also known as betta. It was supposed to be quite a hardy fish. "Don't keep another fish with it, it's very aggressive!" One of the forum members warned me. "Another fish??? Are you kidding??? No chance." I thought. Let's just try to keep this one alive.

Of course, there was some confusion as well, as some said the tank was fine, while others asked me to get a bigger one. Some said that they are very hardy fish, while others said they can suddenly die for no apparent reason. Some said that their betta lived only for a day (!!!!!), while others reported a lifespan of a decade. One of them even said, "They don't live long. Which can actually be a good thing." One of them also shared my indignation at the school thrusting 4-year-olds with pets without any proper guidelines, and asked me to go return it to them!

I couldn't return it, of course. Xena was too attached to it by now. She'd even named it Blueberry. With mixed feelings, I got on google and tried to get some more information. I found that these fish have stomachs the size of their eyeballs, so they eat very little. In fact, it's critical not to overfeed them, or they'd die. Overfeed? Right. This one refused to even be underfed. But at least I was assured that it wouldn't die of starvation.

The next morning, it was still not eating. I dashed to another pet shop and got another kind of food. Pellets. Guess what? Rejected again. I was feeling rather depressed. Honestly speaking, I did not have time for all this googling and pet shop runs and worrying. Mine is a very tightly-packed schedule, and a household that runs on near-100% efficiency, and there really is no space for any other living thing in the house. The fish not eating was adding to the stress.

However, things changed that evening. It started to eat. Yippppeeee!

The next morning, it was waiting for me like a bhukkad of the highest order. It literally jumped at the food and polished it off in 3 seconds. I was so tempted to give it more, but I reminded myself about the stomach-eyeball rule.

More googling told me that feeding it and changing the water regularly might not be enough. I could get a plant for oxygen, and possibly some pebbles to liven up its home. The next day, I ran to the pet shop again and bought colourful pebbles and a water plant. I came home and washed the pebbles (they looked too colourful not to run colour, and I used to own a FabIndia top at one point in time, so I'm wary of anything that's brightly-coloured), but they were okay. I placed the plant and the pebbles in the tank, and the fish took to its new colourful home like... erm, fish to water. It was swishing around happily, weaving in and out around the leaves, and blowing tiny bubbles.

I didn't know what the cost of the fish was, but I did know that I'd at least spent ten times the amount at the pet shop in those three days. But I kept reminding myself that I should invest only my money, not my emotions. But I've to admit it's been hard. When I come back from the gym in the mornings, it's not to an empty house anymore. As soon I put my keys down, I go over to check on it. It makes me happy in a weird kind of way to see it happily swimming around.

More googling told me that it's a boy fish. At first Xena was very reluctant to accept this and kept saying, "But she's a girl!" But now she's come around and we've decided that he is Mr. Blueberry Bubbles.

(Before I knew that this betta was a boy, I'd briefly considered naming it Betti. Hur hur. But I knew no one else would find it funny.)

But there is also that nagging feeling of guilt that maybe it deserves better. Fish forums tell me that for it to really thrive, the tank should have at least 1 gallon of water, there should be a filter and a heater, and water conditioner and weekly treats of what they called 'frozen bloodworms'. I went to the pet shop to check out what on earth these were, and I think my blood froze at the sight of the frozen bloodworms. Moreover, they needed to be kept in the freezer. Okay, there was no way I was going to keep those things in my freezer. So yes, the guilt is there. We are moving out in a few weeks for the renovation of our home and I'm in the midst of getting rid of as many things as I can. The last thing I should be doing at this point is buying a 1-gallon fish tank with a filter and heater and what not.

A friend told me that fishkeeping is one of those things that starts out simple and consumes you if you get really into it. Kind of like buying a DSLR camera. You get a simple enough camera at first and then you start buying complicated lenses that go up to thousands of dollars. And you can't stop.

But this was not a camera. This was a living thing. After doing all that, it could still die on me any day. It's been about a week, and I've had many many panicky 'Is it ok? Is it gonna die?' moments, similar to what I'd had when we had done the caterpillar metamorphosis activity. But the caterpillar was a relatively low-risk venture where things didn't hinge on us doing much. You feed it leaves and it becomes a pupa and then you just step back and watch in amazement.

Blueberry seems mostly okay, but still behaves strangely at times. Like last night when it was getting startled at the slightest movement. It's better now, and after googling, I've moved it to the top of a shelf that sees less movement than the dining table. Apparently, they can get stressed and die any time. Apparently, they can get constipated and then you need to fix it using a frozen pea. Apparently, I need to stop with the googling.

Blueberry has invoked a medley of feelings in me. Wonder, astonishment, amusement, love, serenity, panic, depression, anxiety, guilt, and love again. For now, I'm taking it one day at a time, and do the best that I can. I don't know what the future holds for it, and how Xena will react when the inevitable happens, but for now, Blueberry is very much alive and swimming and a part of our home.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Catch-up #8

Hello, bewdas!

It has been an absolutely mad week, and now that the weekend is almost here, promising to be quite mad as well, I thought I'd quickly sneak in a catch-up post.

Li'l Xena turned 4 years old this week! It sounds odd, but the best way to describe her is that she's a complete person now, full of ideas, jokes (really bad ones, just like her daddy), stories, opinions and never-ending questions. I will, at some point, write that post I've been writing after each of her birthdays, to share the parenting gyaan that has helped us manage her (and stay sane) as she went from three-nage to fearless four.

My mom-in-law flew in this week, and you know what that means! Afternoon chai-ya-ya-yai-yaaaaa! (Try to sing it in the tune from Gupt's title song; at least that's how it plays in my head.) As some of you would know, I'm not a chai addict, but I love making it for other people and I love chai when I have company. So every afternoon, mil-dil sit down together for a cuppa and talk about life.

Work has been super this year, and I'm quite happy with my first-quarter projects. I published two kiddy books with my dream publisher and I'm in the midst of a third one with them. The deadlines tend to be quite insane, and when I feel stressed, I look to ducks for inspiration. Calm on the surface, furiously paddling underneath. It helps.

As you know, we tend to do the craziest things when we really shouldn't be. For example, I should be working on that next chapter instead of blogging now, but here I am. Like how I was crazy enough to sign up for the A-Z blogging challenge in April last year. At a day's notice. A post a day. With Viv away on his annual pilgrimage business trip to Vegas. With me managing the house and Xena and my work by myself. Cuckoo! But I did it -- I wrote 26 posts in a month, and I must be stark raving mad because I've decided to do it again this year. I've also convinced Clueless to do it, and if you click on her blog, you will see that her last post was the last post of the challenge. She has agreed, and now I'm working on my next target Shub. These are the two people who used to live in the far west end of Singapore and I pestered and pestered them until they moved to the east! (At least I like to think it was me.)

So let's see how it goes. If you have ideas on topics that I can blog about during the challenge, please share them with me. I will be very grateful because my mind is blank at the moment.

See you in April! (Every day!)
Sayesha the bartender bhai

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Project parenting

"Mama! You didn't take a photo of our fire eel!" Xena reminded me. 
Oh, right. I didn't. So I took a photo of our fire eel (if you're wondering what on earth a fire eel is, shaant gadadhaari Bheem, shaant. We'll get there by the end of this post). 
Xena's school gives out home projects quite regularly. They are optional, and are to be done by the kids at home with help from parents. Or is it the other way round? I think at one point they must have been compulsory and then they had a queue of parents banging the school door down, screaming, "Stop-it-we-can't-take-it-anymore!" and then they decided to make them optional. Anyway, being the geeky enthu cutlet mom-daughter duo that we are, we treat them as compulsory, of course. Most of her friends bring printouts off the net, but we try to do something creative with each topic. And we try to remember to take a photo of the projects before submitting them. 
I love the whole idea of these projects because it really gets her creative cells working. The topics are up for individual interpretation, so we talk and discuss before deciding on what to make. It gives me a chance to talk to her about thinking out of the box and keeping an open mind and also recycling. They also come in handy when I'm all out of ideas on what we can do to keep ourselves occupied in the hot afternoons or on rainy evenings when we can't go out. 
We must have done a gazillion school projects since she started preschool and though I keep taking photos of whatever we make, they are all over the place -- some on my phone, some on Viv's, some on the iMac, some on the iPad. And I kept thinking that some day I'll compile them and put them in one place for easy reference. And there is no place like the blog. 
So today I decided to sit down and dig up all the photos from wherever they were, and compile this post. 

Project 1: Crab
Yup, that was the topic of her first project when she was in pre-nursery. There was no further elaboration. I wasn't sure what we could do. I didn't want to do something all by myself, but she was only 2 and I wasn't sure how I could involve her. So I turned to devon ke dev mahagoogledev. And found this really cool idea. All it takes is some red finger paint, and two little willing hands. We stuck the googly eyes just for fun. 

Project 2: Banana recipe
This time, they were a little more specific. They wanted us to make a dish using bananas and send them the recipe and photos of 'the making'. This was around the time when Xena would not eat ANYTHING, so I was really surprised that after we made banana 'happy face' pancakes (yes, that's what we named the dish) together, she actually took a tiiiiiny bite.

Project 3: Crazy hat day 2013
So every year, they have a 'crazy hat day' at school and you're supposed to turn up in, you guessed it, a crazy hat! For her first year, we made an erupting volcano hat. I took a sheet of white paper and we used our fingers to paint it with fingerpaint. We didn't have brown so I showed her how we could mix red and green to make brown and she was very excited. I did the flowing lava part by myself, as it involved scissors and finer motor skills than she had at that point (the twirls have been hand-curled).

Project 4: Fireman suit
"Say whaaaat?" was my reaction when I read the project brief. How on earth was I supposed to make a fireman suit? I considered making one with a black garbage bag and insulation tape, but then I remembered she had a black jacket which would do nicely. So we stuck the tape on the jacket in strips until it resembled a fireman suit. Her school shorts (yes, she was so tiny that her school shorts were trousers for her) are very dark blue so I stuck the tape on them too and made the full set. The helmet was made by sticking black paper over her colourful scooter helmet. Then I took a hose that was lying around and we 'shot' the firefighting scene. 

Project 5: China
Okay, this was done in panic mode because we had clean forgotten about it until the night before! And the topic was sooooo broad! But then thankfully, a disposable bowl, paper, black marker and googly eyes came to our aid. She coloured the ears and stuck the eyes and I did the rest.

Project 6: Let's recycle!
This was a 'do at school' project. Methinks it was just so the teachers could confirm that parents were indeed involving their kids. It was Father's day and dads had been asked to come to school to make something -- anything -- using the materials provided. Viv was overseas on a business trip, so I went over and told them I was 'dad for the day'. And then we got down to work. There were shoe boxes and milk cartons and lids and bottle caps and straws and toilet paper rolls and paints and what not. Xena and I made this robot.

Project 7: Orange animal
We had been tasked to make a character using an orange. We made Octo Octopus. Please note the liberal use of the googly eyes in the projects so far. (I'd bought a whole packet. I wasn't going to let any opportunity to use them pass.)

Project 8: Restaurant menu
We had to come up with a restaurant menu. As simple as that. But a part of me was saying, "Naah, kuchh maza nahin aa raha hai. Let's take it a notch higher.' So we decided to do a 3-D menu showing the actual items made of play-doh. We took a shoebox lid, wrapped it with wrapping paper and stuck the dishes on it. Everyone asked me if Xena had done anything at all in it. The truth is - she had, to the best of her abilities. For example, I made the individual components of the burger and she layered them. She did the pizza toppings and helped me roll the sausage and spaghetti too.

Project 9: Crazy hat day 2014
Last year, we made a pineapple hat for her. As usual, we didn't use yellow and green paper, but painted white paper using finger paints. I did the cutting of the green parts, but this time she did a bit of the sticking.

Project 10: 3-D fish model
We had been thinking and thinking and thinking, but couldn't really think of how we could make a 3-D fish. Then we decided that we'd go out, pick tiny yellow leaves that had fallen down, and use them to make scales on a fish made by sticking two disposable bowls together. But it rained and we couldn't go down and we didn't have disposable bowls, so we just decided to make a balloon fish. (She gave me the idea because she said, "Mama, let's make a pufferfish!") Googly eyes to the rescue again!

Project 11: Water transportation toy
Xena doesn't have a boat or a ship toy. And I only realised that when the project brief came along. Well, I wasn't going to buy a toy just for a project, so we decided to go all old-fashioned and make a paper boat from newspaper! It looked a bit sad without any people inside so Xena stuck her favourite Elsa and co. stickers to serve as the passengers.

Project 12: Tropical freshwater fish
And now we finally come to the fire eel. When I read the topic, I couldn't think of anything. So Mr. Google helped with the shortlisting. But then we knew most kids would take a printout of a goldfish or a guppy, and we wanted our fish to stand out. An eel would be great, but we had to find a freshwater eel. And that's how we came across the fire eel. So I opened up this photo of it on the iPad, and both of us sat in front of it, armed with play doh. She helped me do the rolling and pressing and I did the finer work. Soon, it was ready. "But Mama, it doesn't look slimy!" She said. She was right. "Hmmm... you're right. Shall we paint it with clear nail polish?" I asked. "YES!" She exclaimed. She LOVES watching me put nail polish, so this definitely sounded fun to her. So we did that, and had ourselves a slimy fire eel!

PS: Please note that I did not use googly eyes for the eel. (Needed a lot of self-control.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Love is friendship set to music

Last Thursday, Viv and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. A friend expressed his amazement at the 8 years of marriage, 13 years of togetherness, and almost 17 years of knowing each other, "You must know each other perfectly by now. Are there still any surprises?" Thankfully, the answer is yes. As we evolve, there still are surprises and differences and new things we discover about each other along the way. Five years ago, I heard on the radio a statement which I have used as the title of this post, because I think that's kind of what we have.

Though Viv's initial plan was to celebrate by going for a movie together (my sis-in-law had agreed to babysit), I flatly refused because firstly, the movie he had picked was something I was not going to watch under any circumstance. Much as I love Sherlock, I was not watching The Imitation Game, after suffering through two hours watching Enigma. No more movies on cracking codes for me, please. Less so on our anniversary. Secondly, I did want to include Xena in at least a part of the celebration.

So I told him I'll put together some miscellaneous activities for the evening, and all he had to do was leave office a little early. We started the evening off by going bowling, something that we had not done in a decade. It was also Xena's first time bowling. They didn't have a Styrofoam bowling ball for her, so we had to help her push the extra extra light ball that they gave us. But they had these little bumpers popping up on both sides of the lane whenever it was her turn, so there was no chance of a gutter ball. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did we.

Afterwards, we indulged in McDonald's Prosperity curly fries, which are made available to us deprived folks only once a year, around Chinese New Year. The yearly pilgrimage was totally worth it as the fries were just as yummy as they had been last year. And even Xena popped in a few of them! Wooohoooo! (See, regular parents would tsk-tsk and shake their heads at the thought of parents rejoicing about their kid enjoying McDonald's, but as you might know, ours is a special case. McD trips are approved and even encouraged by her dietitian.)

After that, we grabbed a cab and went for dinner to one of our favourite restaurants - Long Beach UDMC - which is by the beach and serves the most awesome chilli crab ever. Of course, Viv being a vegetarian, I had to eat the crab all by myself ("err... the smallest we have is still 1 kg," the waitress told us) and I managed okay. Xena contributed significantly to project 'Help Mama finish the crab' by eating approximately 5.45637 grams of it.

Then we went home, and while I put her to sleep, Viv went and fetched some Q drinks. I asked for pineapple and he said "You like pineapple flavour??" Mango is my known favourite flavour, but pineapple is my secret favourite flavour. And he didn't know that. A well-kept secret. For 17 years. Ha!

And we sat down over the drinks and went through the '36 questions to bring you closer'. It was my idea. In the daily grind, most of the time we end up talking about Xena or work or food or friends or family or cricket or movies or home renovation. We rarely just talk and share. And when this link popped up in my Facebook feed last week, I just knew it would be the perfect end to the evening.

It was very very interesting. I can't say for sure if it brought us closer like it promised, but it did give us a newer insight into each other's minds. It also made us appreciate each other more. We ended up thinking and talking about many things that we otherwise never would. Sample these:

- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

But the one that surprised me the most was this particular one.

26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."

Viv immediately said he had nothing on this. I immediately went, "Me neither." But then I thought a little more and surprisingly, I did have something. I had a sudden realisation that all my life, I've never had anyone with whom I can discuss and dissect Hindi song lyrics the way I want to. I am insanely (and rather laughably I must say) passionate about them and yet, there was and is literally no one in my life -- not family, not friends, not colleagues, not neighbours -- who would not instantly fall asleep if I got started on how I think the song 'Tinka tinka zara zara' was probably written as 'Tinka tinka zarra zarra' by the lyricist and the music director changed it because the tune didn't work or something, just like 'Apne karam ki kar adaayein' should really have been 'Apne karam ki kar ataayein', how extremely simple lyrics ('Tum yeh kaise judaa ho gaye, har taraf har jagah ho gaye' and 'Dard jab teri ataa hai toh gila kisse karein' are just two examples) can be so beautiful you get goosebumps or a lump in your throat even if you don't identify with the situation, and how you have to really really search very very hard in the current generation of songs to find lyrics that touch the heart.

I have to admit I felt a little sad when I thought of all this. It was a weird kind of 'loneliness', if I may call it that.

So the real question is -- will Xena grow up to be that person?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I sure do hope so.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Broken record

So one day, I found myself added to my school's WhatsApp group. I didn't know such a group existed. And they didn't know that I existed on WhatsApp. Anyway, other than the very annoying 'good morning' memes, 'interesting' forwards ('drink coriander juice every day and you will NEVER get cancer') and Santa-Banta jokes, it hasn't been too bad. A lot of reminiscing. A lot of leg-pulling. A lot of laughter.

You see, my Dad moved a lot when we were kids, so I ended up going to some 7 schools in 12 years. I conditioned myself not to get too close to my classmates, because it was too heartbreaking to have to move two years later. But this was the group that I was the longest with - four years. That too, when we were in the 15-18 age range. So obviously, this is the group that knows me the best, the group that I remember the most, and connect the most to. So I got a warm welcome, and within half a day, someone shot this question at me.

"So Sayesha, do you still like toota-phoota ("broken") songs?"

"Toota-phoota songs??"

"You know, the dukhi aatma ("sad soul") kind of songs?"

"What?! When did I like dukhi aatma kind of songs??"

Before I could even protest properly, they were all nodding in WhatsApp unison. Seriously? That's how they remembered me? That's how they ALL remembered me?

And then I tried to remember. It's true that I used to sing a lot of songs back then. On demand. In competitions. Anywhere and everywhere. I tried to jog my memory and think of the songs they had heard me sing - 'Tere bina zindagi se koi', 'Tere dar par sanam...', 'Rulaake gaya sapna mera', 'Dil kehta hai chal unse mil', 'Saare sapne kahin kho gaye', etc. etc. And I had to admit that most of the songs I sang were sad, or at least kinda romantic, but sad. But it was not because I was a dukhi aatma. It was because these songs had the most amazing, heart-touching lyrics.

So I decided to stand up for myself.

"Heyyyyyy! I liked songs with meaningful lyrics, okay??? I did not sing random toota-phoota songs like 'Tum toh thehre pardesi' and all that!" I protested.

I could sense their amused smiles in WhatsApp unison.


And then it struck me. Sometimes, it's your school friends who really know you the best, who can sum you up in a way that no one else, not even you yourself, can. And sometimes, it's okay to just accept it graciously.

So yes. I like toota-phoota songs. What can you do?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and put my latest toota-phoota discovery called 'Tu hai ki nahin' from Roy on loop. 34798236948327043280 times.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Frozen in time

"Let it gooooooooo!"

One day, Xena came back from school, singing this at the top of her voice. I was surprised. That song was not familiar to me. So I asked her to sing the whole thing.

"Let it gooooooooooooo!" She hollered. "Kyaanadaaaaa any more!"

"What anymore??"




"What's that?"

"I don't know."

"Who taught you this song? What song is it?"

"Belle taught me. It's the Elsa song."

I know Belle is her best friend at school. But who on earth was Elsa?

"Who is Elsa??"

"She's Elsa." Explained Xena, as if that was enough.

And then I found out. Elsa was some kind of princess in some kind of animated movie called Frozen. I don't really keep track of English movies all that much, and I'm definitely not a fan of animated movies. (Except for Finding Nemo. Who can hate Nemo?)

But this Elsa seemed to be a global craze among little girls. So much so that the director of Frozen Jennifer Lee has publicly apologised to parents for the song 'Let it go", which ironically the girls can't seem to let go of, even though it's been a year.

Over the next few weeks, Elsa became more and more prominent in our household. I was amazed Xena was so into her, in spite of not having watched the movie or knowing anything about it. I googled to realise that her "kyaaanadaaaa" was 'can't hold it back'. She refused to believe me. I played the song on Youtube to prove my point, but she simply refused to acknowledge that that was the Elsa song. When I persisted in my attempts to correct her, she protested saying, "But Belle says 'kyaaanadaaaa anymore'." Oh. Ok. That's settled then.

In the last few weeks, we have attended numerous Elsa-themed events and parties. I have bought her an Elsa dress, Elsa hair clips and an Elsa bus card holder. (Well, actually, it was Santa who put the Elsa card holder inside the ladybug bag he gave her for Christmas, but don't tell her that.) She also got an Elsa stationery set as a Christmas gift from a friend of mine who remarked, "I figured I couldn't go wrong with Elsa". And of course, she has already asked for an Elsa cake for her 4th birthday.

Elsa is now a household name for us. She comes up randomly in all kinds of conversations. As does her sister Anna and some kind of snowman in the movie called Olaf. Sample these:

Me - Xena, why is your bag on the floor?
Xena - Because I'm Elsa.
Me - ???

Xena - Mama, Belle is not my best friend anymore.
Me - Oh no, what happened?
Xena - I told her I am Elsa and she is Anna. And she said she is Elsa and I am Anna.
Me - Oh dear.
Xena - So she is not my best friend anymore.

Xena - Mama, I'm Elsa.
Me - Oh yeah?
Xena - Yes. And you're Anna.
Me - I'm Anna? Okay!
Xena - No no. Hmm... Daddy is Anna.
Me - Why is Daddy Anna?? Why can't I be Anna?
Xena - Because you are Olaf.
Me - ????!!!!!

When I try to discipline her jungle hair into a tidy ponytail or braid for school and she protests, I just tell her that Elsa always has her hair neatly tied in a braid, and it works most of the time. I don't know how long this craze will last, but I'm milking it for all its worth. The best thing that Elsa has done for me is what her teachers reported today -- she didn't want to eat lunch, and they told her that she needs to eat so she can be Elsa. And eat she did. (Note: This did not work at home. Of course. What was I thinking?)

Some day, when she is older, we will all sit down and watch the movie together. I wonder when that would be, and whether she'd still be as crazy about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, Olaf needs to go and shake the song out of its head.

Let it gooooooooo!
Kyaanadaaaaa any more!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annual report - 2014

Wish you a very happy new year, bewdas!

Yesterday, we hosted a small new year's gathering at our house where a bunch of us recapped the year and shared our resolutions for the new year. One of my friends reminded me that I still haven't written my usual annual report post for the year, so here it is. But before that, I need to hunt down Bubblegum and Arun, two of the regulars at the bar. They had posted their resolutions for 2014 in the comments section of this post of mine, and I need to ask them how they did.

My resolution for 2014 had been a super generic (and 'safe', one might add) one - to strive to be a little better than I was in 2013. In every sense. I'm really glad to report that for the most part it did happen. Of course, I have to start with Xena. We were definitely less stressed about her in 2014, as she fell sick less and was mostly able to keep her blood oxygen levels in the normal range even when sick. Of course, we had one frantic run to the hospital, that too just before her birthday, but compared to the gazillion trips in the previous year, this was nothing. 2014 was also the year her weight touched the elusive double-digit milestone of 10 kg at the grand age of three, when most babies achieve this before they can even walk. She did go back to 9+ pretty quickly after that, and has again inched her way up, but still stands at the magic number of 10 kg. Her eating has been a lot better, though she still rejects 99.9% of all foods, and we still need to put her in her high chair with a book and feed her all her meals, and even milk. But generally, it has been a good year for her. *touchwood*

Work has been fantastic. Thanks to the deep faith shown in me by ex-bosses and ex-colleagues, I got some really interesting projects. I had been writing and editing mostly primary level science books for about a decade now, but 2014 gave me the opportunity to delve into a bit of fiction (kiddy-level, of course), and also a bit of Mathematics for overseas markets. Both were kind of challenging, but beautifully fulfilling and enriching.

2014 was a year when I worked hard and partied hard. Truly. Compared to previous years, I organised/hosted more parties. First, there was Easter, then Diwali (I got to wear a sariiiiii! YEAYYYYY!), then Halloween, then Christmas and New Year's Eve. I got to organise lots and lots of games at these parties. I also had a chance to attend a friend's baby shower, where they had some fun games -- design and wear a diaper using toilet paper, pictionary of baby-related phrases and make a play-doh model of a baby. It was refreshing for me to not be the organiser of the games, and my super competitive streak (I can actually be a little scary in that aspect) took over. I won the first two, and was the runner-up in the third --only because the winner violated the game rules and added to their model a sperm and an egg with a plus sign in between! Hmmph. (Yes, I may be very Phoebe for the most part of it, but put me in a game and I can be SO Monica.)

2014 was also the year when I ticked two important items off my travel bucket list - a trip to Paris and taking my parents to Bali. The latter was very very important to me, and I cannot be any more thankful for the fact that we did the trip and made it back safe and sound.

We also got to spend a lot of time with family. My sister-in-law, who used to live on the other end of the island, moved closer - literally 5 minutes from us. We have been playing badminton! Viv's second cousin, who lives here, got married and his wife is a total sweetheart. So we have all been hanging out together as a big happy family. My parents visited after 3 years, and my mom-in-law visited too. (Yes Appa, we missed you. Please come see your monkey granddaughter this year.)

Viv and I watched a LOT of English movies at home in 2014. First, the nearby library has a lot of movies that I can rent for free. Then, there's a DVD rental place within walking distance of our place. We have also been renting a lot of movies on iTunes. Xena is still off TV, so we put her to sleep (her bedtime is about 9 pm) and then sit down and watch our movies.

Three of our closest sets of friends had their first babies in 2014, and even though all three live in different parts of the world, it is so awesome and so exciting for us. It's like Xena suddenly had three siblings!

It was a good year for Viv too. He did a lot of Insanity. At 6 am no less, justifying the title of the workout. Om Shaun T, Shaun T, Shaun T Om. He also scored 144 runs in a division 1 cricket match. He was the opener and last man out, and we were very very proud of him. I know he is very appreciative of the fact that he can be out for cricket during weekends, but sometimes I just wish he played only 20-20 and wasn't away for the whole day. Just then, such instances happen and they renew my support for him and his love for playing.

So that's what happened in 2014. As for the 2015 resolutions, I'll try to be a little less generic this year.

- We're planning some major renovation this year, and though it's going to be a real pain and a lot of work (think hacking of walls, floors and wardrobes, getting rid of furniture, moving stuff into storage, finding temporary accommodation), but at the end of it, we hope to have the nicest house that we possibly can within our means.

- I need to continue experimenting in the kitchen to create high-calorie stuff that Xena will be less reluctant to eat. Her endocrinologist said that if she can hit 11.5 kg by her 4th birthday, we'll have a stronger reason not to go for the daily growth hormone injections. Of course, I don't see her putting on 1.5 kg over the next 3 months, but I'll do the best I can.)

- Viv and I plan to continue what we have been doing all along - keeping Xena away from TV, phone and ipad screens and letting her have real interactions with real people. This needs to be on the resolutions every year, because it is a little hard to implement with all the screens that people of all ages seem to be bent over everywhere we go. So far so good though.

- Exercising is another thing that is perennially on my resolutions list, because again, it takes effort. In 2014, I didn't go to the gym as much, but we hit the swimming pool more times than we had ever done in any of the previous years (mainly because of Xena's love for the pool, of course), and I enjoyed it. I need to learn how to do it properly though. (I swim with my head above the water at all times!)

- I'll take on more challenging and interesting work this year. At the same time, I'll try and not go overboard with work, and not burn all of my weekends on it. I'll try my hardest to make some time for intentional vella-panthi, something I've never really indulged in, but something that I have begun to think is really important.

- If all goes well, 2015 might be the year when Xena finally visits India. We ourselves have not been there for the last five years!

- I plan to work more on my spoken Chinese. At the moment, I'm probably still qualified only for the beginner's level, so I won't be taking the intermediate classes, but I'll try and refresh what I learnt last year using online tutorials.

- I'd like to pick up a new skill, something creative and fun. And going by my recent inclinations, it seems to be nail art. Will do a post on that as soon as I reach pro levels!

- And lastly, I'd like to plan and be part of more get-togethers, plan more outings for Xena, keep in touch with family and meet up with friends more often. The airline tragedies this year have hit us all real hard, and underscored the fragility of life. Anything can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Cliched as it may sound, we need to live every moment.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Indirect speech

So day before yesterday, Viv and I threw a Christmas eve party. It was a small one, just family actually (the three of us, my sis-in-law who is also our neighbour, his second cousin and his wife) - and sis-in-law's housemate whom she'd invited as she had no plans. The tree was up, the decorations were in place. (Well, mostly, since Xena was the one who'd put them up.) We'd bought gifts for everyone, wrapped and put them under the tree with their names. Xena and I were wearing hairbands -- mine had two Santas and hers had two reindeers. The whole family was dressed in red and white.

I had prepared some Christmas-themed games - pictionary, dumb charades, etc. It had been a long time since we'd played it, but it was super fun. Viv was in his element as usual, and hence very entertaining to watch. The Christmas-themed movie title he got had two words, and that was pretty much the only straightforward miming he did - showed us two fingers. After that, things went the Viv way.

He split the second word into two and to show the first part, he sneezed. So we guessed the usual sneeze-related words - sneeze, cold, allergy, pepper, etc. Somehow we managed to guess that he was trying to show 'achhoo'. For the second part, he pointed to his bum. So all of went, "bum, butt, ass, posterior, etc." He kept pointing and we realised he's trying to show us something to do with pants. Something to do with pants? No. Jeans? Yes. A belt? The loops for the belts? No. The label at the back? Yes! Then he tried to mime 'name' by showing a strip across his forehead. The name of a brand of jeans? Yes. Levis? No. He showed a martial arts pose. Bruce Lee? Yes, but shorten. LEE? YES.

Then he asked us to put the two parts of the second word together, and then sat down because according to him, he was done and we were to do the rest. Errr... Achhoo Lee? Yes. ACHHOO LEE? YES. WHAT?! THERE WAS NO SUCH... WAIT... SERIOUSLY? WHAT THE...?!

We'd got it, you see.

Yup, the movie was 'Love Actually'. And instead of showing directly, like a normal homo sapien, a heart for the first word and letting the audience easily guess the second word on their own, Viv in his trademark style had taken us on a trip involving sneezes and jeans. Jai ho.

And though I 'tsk-tsk-ed', he knew and I knew and we all knew that DC is always fun because the insane lateral thinker is in da house.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, bewdas!

PS: The pics are not of our home (we wish!). They were taken in a mall.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Random review: PK

*mega spoilers ahead; read only watching the movie*

Viv and I rarely manage to watch Hindi movies in the theatre together. One of us has to be home with Xena, so we take turns and watch them with different people. I honestly can't remember the last time we had watched a Hindi movie in the theatre together.

But PK was different. I knew I wanted to watch it and I knew I wanted to watch it with him. Such is the reliability of a Rajkumar Hirani movie. (I used to be like this with Shah Rukh Khan movies, but then I saw Ra.One and my life changed. I decided to go into utter denial which I am continuing -- that if I don't watch an SRK movie, it doesn't exist. Hence, I can continue to worship him.)

So the sis-in-law kindly agreed to babysit Xena, while we went for the movie. We fed Xena dinner and put her to bed by 8:15 pm, and went for the 9 pm show, so that there wouldn't be much for SIL to do other than keeping an ear out for her waking up and crying.

So here are my random thoughts about the movie.

  • Ok, first things first. PK is a thoroughly entertaining movie, with Hirani's trademark humour, catchy concepts (think 'jaadu ki jhappi', 'Gandhigiri', 'aal iz well', and now 'wrong number' in this one), hilarious dialogues and endearing characters that engage the audience. I'm not sure if the movie will change the people it wants to change, but it will make them think for sure.

  • I like the fact that Hirani picks movies with very relevant and prevalent themes and is not afraid to challenge things. His movies are very touching, and they do change people, even if it's in the slightest of ways. Though I feel that his earlier movies were much more influential than this one probably will be, but this is more a reflection of the topic this time than his movie-making skills. What a talented dude. He can write, direct, and edit, and yet not screw up any part of it. (Most Bollywood buffs would know that he was the model in this very old Fevicol ad.) 

  • What I love the most about his movies are how they can make you laugh like mad, and also cry like mad. Though it's interesting recalling how his last four movies affected me. I cried the most buckets in Munnabhai MBBS, then a little less (but still substantial) in Lage Raho Munnabhai. I had a lump in my throat in 3 Idiots, but I sailed through PK without much ado. 

  • Overall, I liked the movie and found it very entertaining. However, there were several tiny things that were distracting me, and adding up to make the entire experience not as enjoyable as it could have been. Warning: The next few points are kinda nit-picky.

  • Speaking of lead actors not looking nice, Aamir too didn't look all that nice. The bulging arms were just too much. Maybe they'd have suited someone taller, but on him, they just looked weird. In fact, I felt that they made him look shorter than he is, especially in the scene where he's pouring milk over the shiva linga.

  • I wasn't too happy with the bhojpuri lingo they had given Aamir. First, I thought he wasn't really pulling it off that well (my Dad was posted in Bihar for more than a decade so I grew up listening to a lot of Bhojpuri) and secondly, I felt that it was taking something away from his acting. Like the effort he had to put into memorising the dialogues was showing through the performance, and not in a good way. (It's like when Irrfan Khan is asked to act in English. Such a waste of a great actor.) They did hire a very good language coach for him, but the outcome was disappointing. Aamir just couldn't pronounce 'expression' as 'esperason' as taught by the coach. (In the movie, he ended up saying 'experason'). Fortunately, the dialogues themselves were hilarious (think "Woh kauwa nanga baitha hai..." and the different meanings of the word "achha"), so they kinda just sold themselves.

  • Harping on the Bhojpuri, I was really annoyed at the song 'Love is a bhaste of time'. If he can say 'love' and 'mirrorWA', why can't he say 'waste'? Sigh. The tune is very catchy though!

  • Speaking of catchy tunes, I found the 'Tharki chhokro aayo re banke mhaaro mehmaan' song HILARIOUS. I'd heard the song before but somehow I thought it was 'ghar ki chhokro' and dismissed it as something in some local dialect. But the picturisation and the lyrics were hilarious. Sanju Baba was toooo good. He really killed it as band wala Bhairon Singh. And my heart is aflutter at Vidhu Vinod Chopra's statement that there will be a third Munnabhai movie!

  • I was so amazed when I found out that all the costumes Aamir wears in the movie belong to real people on the streets. The costume team was asked to roam around and buy interesting clothes off people! Watch this video for more interesting trivia about the movie.

  • I wish they didn't have a love track between Aamir and Anushka in the movie. Seriously, it was totally unnecessary.

  • Why, oh, why did Sushant Singh Rajput have to do the trademark SRK open-arms pose in the song with Anushka? No one should be allowed to do that anymore. The original pose was done in a different era, and yes, we all swooned, but no one, not even SRK, can pull that off anymore. No no no no. NO. Please. Go back and watch DDLJ. Preserve the sanctity of the pose. Just don't try to replicate it.

  • The bride-cat-letter scene was a giveaway. I'm sure most people went, "Of course! I knew it!" when they "revealed" what had actually happened. I'm still wondering if they could have done it in a more subtle way.

  • Did anyone notice that Parikshit Sahni has changed his first name to Parikshet? (Viv works in colour correction for movies, so we end up sitting for the entire end credits of most movies, and that's how I caught this one.) This one's not for numerology for sure. ;)

  • UTV has released an entire bunch of behind the scenes videos on YouTube for curious folks like me. It's amazing how a simple scene lasting just a few seconds can be so complex to shoot and nail. The fat-barber-butt-pyjama scene took 11 retakes! I pity the poor actor!

  • Ranbir Kapoor's cameo was such a welcome surprise! And I know that this might offend Aamir fans, but at some point during the movie, my mind did wander over to the 'who else could play this part, and maybe better?' zone, and I could only think of Ranbir. I hope they do a sequel with him in the lead.

  • But first MunnaBhai 3. Please. 

Bar rating - * * * 1/2

* Run for your life! And do not look back.
** Once-watchable (if you have nothing better to do).
*** Good stuff, watch it in the theatre.
**** Awesome! Watch it in the theatre AND buy the DVD!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas gift (of gab)

Xena - Mama, did you ask Santa to get me a ladybug bag for Christmas?
Me - Oh, right. Let me call him right away. (fake dialing on my phone) Hello, Santa? Could you please get Xena a ladybug bag for Christmas this year? (pause) Yes, yes, she will be good and finish all her meals... (turning to Xena) OK?

Xena (looking at me most suspiciously) - Mama, can you put Santa on speaker?