Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zzzzz

So. The day has come. Pack-up, ta, ciao, buh-bye, hasta la vista, so long, kthxbai, etc. Time for the bar to go back to hibernation. Aka zzzzz.

Or maybe not.

On this last post, marking the end of the A-Z blogging marathon that I was simultaneously brave and foolish enough to undertake, I thought I'd share some andar ki baatein.

- It was a good thing to happen to me. Doing this marathon made me slow down. And think.

- Following the letters of the alphabet, and posting every day was not easy. Fun, yes. Easy, no.

- At times, the pressure was not so much about blogging every day as it was about sticking to the letter to blog with. Having said that, sometimes it was the letter that helped to generate new ideas. I had never thought, for instance, that I'd ever think about or write a post about why I love SRK and Changi so much. In that order.

- In terms of time-management, the toughest were the two weeks that Viv was away and I was doing everything.

- Yes, I had days of panic.

- Honestly speaking, I wasn't too confident if I'd be able to pull through all the way to Z.

- Yes, I googled stuff like 'words starting with v' and 'words starting with x' because I didn't want the V post to be obviously about Viv, and the X post to be obviously about Xena. I also googled 'gardening-related words' because I really wanted to post about the plant on the W-day.

- X was a really tough one because even google didn't have much to offer me. After 'Xerox', my other options were 'xenophobia' and 'xylem'. (I did consider xylem. Seriously. But I'd already written my plant post the day before. Damn.) The last option was Himeshbhai's upcoming movie Xpose. (It's actually 'The Xpose', but it's Himeshbhai's movie so nothing really matters.) And then I thought it's better saved for an SSSK post after the movie releases.

- Sometimes I got stressed about posting daily and cheated a bit. I jotted down ideas or typed out basic drafts the night before, and then added finishing touches before publishing it the next morning.

- Usually, I set personal work deadlines for myself a week ahead of the actual ones the publishers give me, because I need to have some leeway for Xena's possible hospitalisation episodes. During the marathon, I was pushing my work to the actual deadlines. *Gulp* Thankfully, I met all.

- On some levels, this felt like a big achievement. That's kind of sad too because when I first opened the bar 9 years ago, I used to blog every day. Naturally. Without a blog marathon hot on my heels.

- I think the traffic to the bar increased because of the marathon as I noticed a sharp spike in emails from companies requesting product/service placement in my posts. Some even had suggestions such as "We think our product will fit well in your 'S is for...' post." Complete with compensation offers. I have not replied to any of them yet. I will do so as soon as I can figure out how to best put this in English - Bhaiya/Bahin, tum toh mujhe compensate kar doge. Lekin mere bewdon ke dimaag ka jo dahi ho jaayega, uska compensation unko kaun dega?

- I thought I wouldn't like some of the posts because over-blogging would compromise their quality, but I'm generally happy with how things have turned out.

- It's only April but I've written more posts this year than I did the whole of last year.

- I got some lovely notes of appreciation and encouragement from bewdas, which really helped me to complete the marathon. Many of you sent me emails. Bewdas from the ancient days who had disappeared from the bar suddenly resurfaced and started commenting. My dad wrote to me almost every day, with his comments about my posts. People I did not think read my blog were sending me FB messages. I have written back to all of you, but here it is again -- Thank you. Thank you. And a big thanks to my sis-in-law for telling me about the marathon.

- Right now, I'm feeling a little weird. It's bittersweet; kind of like how you feel at the end of a great holiday, when you know it's over and you have to get back to your normal life and you can't have this forever. Because one, you can't afford to, and two, if it was a forever thing, you'd not enjoy it as much.

But this is not a 'See ya next April, bewdas!' post. I will make a stronger effort to post more regularly.

Thanks for reading. :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for yarn

Xena and I exchange a lot of stories throughout the day. Most of them are thought of on the spot and don't make much sense in the bigger scheme of things. I give her a random character and she makes up a story about it. Then she thinks of a character and I have to come up with the story. It's a lot of fun.

We are so adept at spinning such yarns that we don't even pause to think before we start reeling off. We also have no qualms about lifting entire plotlines from each other's stories, resulting in something really random, weird and hilarious. Of course, the quality of the stories often suffers, but we keep an open mind. Just yesterday, I was too tired to think of a proper story when she gave me the character 'boy'. And so this is how my story went -- "A boy was very hungry. Then he ate some food and he wasn't hungry anymore." She accepted it without any complaints. Of course, later when I gave her the character 'bug', her story went something like this -- "There was a bug. A dragon ate it. So the bug was very sad."

Here's a video of her, spinning a long-winded, crazy yarn about a ladybug. Please note the eight instances of 'suddenly' in the story, presumably to heighten the sense of drama.

PS: I did the subtitling all by myself, yeay! No help from tech support Viv. Took me a full hour though. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for xerox

Note: I bet you thought today's post would be 'X for Xena', isn't it? Well, the post is still about her, but I didn't want to do the obvious. :P


"She's her mommy's xerox copy!" We hear this as many times as we hear "She's her papa's xerox copy!"

When she was born, obviously no one had any idea what she looked like. She barely looked human, if I may say so. It took two months for all the tubes and sensors to come off her and for her to develop some kind of recognisable facial features. Even then, I could not tell whom she looked like. Some said she looked exactly like me, some said she looked exactly like Viv, some said she looked like Viv's sister, some said she looked like my dad, and some (read my mother) said that she looked like her great-grandmother. "Too much ho gaya, mom", I told her, but she was and still is adamant.

When her hair grew into the tropical rainforest she currently sports, the balance started tilting in my favour. I didn't care that people considered my mop to be as unruly as hers. She looked like me, bas. But Viv still got some of the credit because he has curly hair too, and it can get pretty unruly, especially when his haircut is due.

For the last 3 years, we have been trying to figure out whom she really looks like. Every time there's a phase where I think she's leaning more towards me based on people's comments, exactly the same number of people start remarking that she looks exactly like him.

Strangely, no one has ever said that she looks like both of us, or a mix. They either says she looks exactly like Viv, or exactly like me. Puzzling, very puzzling.

Until last week, when someone finally solved the puzzle.

"It's obvious. You guys look like each other." He said to us.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for watering-can

I'm always looking out for fun activities to do with Xena at home, and I thought it would be fun to show her how seeds germinate. It started out simply enough. I soaked some dried beans overnight and put them in a flower vase lined with wet cotton. To both Xena's and my amazement, they germinated at once and grew very rapidly.

Our bean seedlings on day 3

I figured that I simply had no option but to take the activity one step further and actually plant the seedlings in soil. I bought two pots and some soil. The shop had two varieties of soil -- potting mix and burnt soil. The latter sounded dubious but I bought it anyway because of an important consideration -- it had the word 'soil' in it. (Yeah, that's how knowledgeable and talented I am at gardening-related matters.)

As some of you might know, my dad is the incredible hulk. Meaning, he has the greenest fingers I've ever seen in anyone. Once he picked up a coconut washed ashore the beach here, took it back to India, planted it in his backyard and watered it every day for 10 months without losing hope or patience. 10 months. And then, it germinated. Wow. He has a rapidly-expanding organic kitchen garden, which is as big as the house they live in, and my mom actually suspects that it's inching into the inside of their house now. He grows every possible thing you can think of -- pumpkins, cherries, lady's finger, brinjals, tomatoes, coconuts, chillies and 43534875034875 varieties of flowers. The yield of the fruits and vegetables is much more than what they can consume so he distributes them regularly to neighbours and the helper. (I reckon he's not very popular with the vegetable sellers in the neighbourhood.)

And the garden is the reason he refuses to come visit me. He says no one will water his plants in his absence and they will all die. So I asked him to come during the monsoon season when the plants will be naturally watered. He said it might not rain and then they will all die. I try real hard to empathise. But I really can't.

The greenery of his fingers was inherited neither by my sister nor me. In fact, if anything, I'm the kind who can kill a cactus -- known to be one of the hardiest plants of all. So it was with trembling fingers that I transferred the bean seedlings to the soil. Xena watched with utmost interest. I told her how she had to water it every day and it would grow big and strong. (On hindsight, I hope it doesn't give her the impression that just like the plants, she too would grow big and strong just on water.) Every day, we water the plants using her plastic toy watering-can and observe the leaves, which have now become quite big. The other day, I even showed the plant to my Dad on Skype. He praised me to the skies. Not. He said that the plants looked abnormally tall and needed more sunlight. Okay okay. So now they have more sunlight and are looking well. I think.

Our bean plants

Looking at Xena's interest, I've tried to expand our 'garden'. We don't have a big house or a backyard or a balcony, so my pots are small and placed on a ledge in the yard where they get enough sunlight. We've also planted some chilli seeds, and are planning to move on to tomatoes too.

Maybe, just like Dr. Doolittle's daughter, I'll suddenly discover that I have inherited his green talent. Maybe some day, dad would be really curious to see what I've done and make that visit. Or maybe I'll fail miserably and he will come over to help 'fix' things.

And some day, when Xena's doctors give the okay, I'll take her to India and she can see her grandpa's grand garden for herself. She might come back with a master's degree in gardening.

Who knows, maybe green fingers skip a generation.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for visitor

We had a visitor yesterday. Argentyne. Someone who has been visiting the bar for years now, but visited in person today. It was wonderful to meet her (and not just because she said I'm taller in real life than the impression my blog header gives. Muahahahaha.) On a serious note, it didn't feel like we'd never met before. That always amazes me in a way. From the time I started blogging, I've had the opportunity to meet many many bewdas/bewdis in person, and not once did it feel like a first meeting. We just started talking as if we were picking up from an earlier conversation.

Very few of these actually live in Singapore. Most of them are visitors, just passing by. Singapore is a great hub for travellers, and at some point or the other, many of the bar's bewdas/bewdis find themselves on our tiny island. And if our pockets of time match, we meet. I have vivid memories of all the visitors of my blog whom I have met so far, and one of the closest to my heart is my dear darling Shub. She'd been reading my blog since 2005, and was a regular commentator for ages before we met over aloo ka parathas. We hit it off straightaway. A soul sister, I'd say. It amazed me to no end to have found her through the online world. Through her, we came to know Pizzadude and Sumanth. Pizzadude and I instantly bonded over our undying love for Bollywood, and a rocking bromance bloomed between Viv and Sumanth. Shub served as the glue that held us all together.

They say you are the average of the five people you hang out with. And the five of us sure had some above-average fun. I just went back to read the post I'd written about the five of the us and the mad things we did together, and now I'm in full senti mode. The nicknames (S2/D2/P2, husbandu, oifu, Joey, Thudson, veshti-man), the airport garlanding (Shub was the founder of SMART - Shub's Mind-blowing Airport Reception Technique, which we first used on Pizzadude and eventually on her too), the elaborate birthday surprises like this and this, the orchestrated kidnapping of Viv, the typewriter slap, the power-packed India trip to attend Shub and Sumanth's wedding. Everything. I always feel that my late 20s had really rocked because of these guys.

And then one day she dropped the bomb. They were moving back to India. I was in denial for the longest time, and on some levels I think I still refuse to believe it. But before leaving, she had done the most wonderful thing of introducing us to two of her friends (the ones we had the post-baby baby bash for) who were, I kid you not, exactly like them. 1 for 1 exchange offer. Jokes aside, her departure was a lot less painful and my 'Mera is duniya mein ab koi nahin hai' feeling was mitigated to a great extent due to these guys and Pizzadude who had thankfully not decided to pack up too.

One day, during a bus ride (obviously, as all such thoughts occur only during bus rides), it struck me that my current primary circle of friends has its origins in my blog. Most of our friends in Singapore had been from our university days, but most of them moved out of Singapore, breaking my heart (Hello Dubaiites, are you reading this??). We do hang out with the rest of our NTU gang from time to time, but our closest friends are these guys whom I met through Shub. If she'd not visited my blog, we'd not have met and I would have a completely different group of friends now. It might have sucked, it might have been great. I don't know and it doesn't matter. What I have now is awesome. The 30s are rocking because of these guys.

Thank you, Shub, for wandering over to my blog that fateful day. I love you and I miss you and I hope we can meet again soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for unconventional

A few weeks ago, I was at a neighbour's baby shower. All the women there started talking about their own baby showers and one of them asked me how mine was. "Well, I don't quite know. I gave birth before my baby shower." I said. She burst out laughing. Tsk. No one takes me seriously yaar. She then repeated my answer to the others and they all burst out laughing. So I did too. Oh well.

Yes, I did feel the pinch of not having had a baby shower, but in the mayhem that followed, it didn't matter. I had a baby. The baby shower didn't matter anymore.

But when a dear friend got pregnant, I was thrilled. I had grand plans for her baby shower. Just like mine, it was meant to coincide with her traditional godbharai ceremony. And just like mine, her baby also turned out to be a premmie. Researchers should really look into premature births as a contagious condition.

At my birthday lunch two weeks ago, we were both lamenting the fact that neither of us had had a baby shower. And in the bus, on the way back, a tiny thought crept into my head. What if she had a 'post-baby baby shower'? Now that would be a real surprise. Totally unexpected, unlike birthdays, where the approaching date makes you more alert and hence less susceptible to being surprised.

Last weekend, she'd invited us all to her place for lunch and to meet her parents. That was my chance. However, I didn't keep my hopes too high because I have lost track of the number of times we planned a trip to her place and then cancelled it because of Xena's health. We live on opposite ends of the island, so going over to each other's place is not exactly a breeze. So I didn't do much till the day before. I checked Xena's blood oxygen level and it was fine. I concluded that she was ready for the trip, and furiously got to work. Props were made with whatever I could find amongst Xena's toys - crayons, balloons, fingerpaint, stickers, etc. I made a sash with the words 'SASSY MAMA' written across it with fingerpaint, and a banner that declared through crayons that it was a post-baby baby shower, and decorated them with Xena's stickers. Her doll's abandoned tiara was pinched and decorated it with... you guessed it -- stickers!

Then it suddenly struck me -- we needed a cake! She is on a dairy-free diet at the moment, so I couldn't get a regular cake. Even muffins and other such treats all have some form of dairy. One of the options I could think of was a banana (I imagined a candle on it, the way they stick agarbattis on bananas in some temples), which was rather pathetic, and the other option was a watermelon cake that another friend had suggested. The problem with that was that we were going to yet another friend's place in the morning for a shuddhikaran puja and havan, and I didn't think the watermelon cake would survive a havan and a 90-minute commute. It would be squishy and gross. No cake then, I decided.

And then I remembered something. That I'm an Indian. We are the jugaad experts of the world. And like lightning it came to me -- sooji ka halwa! Perfect to stick a candle into, and had no milk in it, unlike regular Indian sweets. So I rushed to the supermarket and bought semolina and ghee (to the readers who are raising their eyebrows, shaant gadadhaari bheem, shaant; keep calm and read on) and started making it the night before. As I added a dollop of ghee to the wok and it started melting, it hit me. Realisation, not the ghee. That ghee was a dairy product. Sheesh. Double sheesh. So I started afresh, this time without any ghee. It was basically semolina, water, sugar and cardamom. I knew it had the potential to taste like crap, but I was of the hope that she would be so touched, she wouldn't notice the taste. To further distract her from the taste, I decorated the halwa using cashewnuts and raisins.

The next morning, I packed the halwa, a candle, a lighter, the sash, the tiara, the banner, a couple of heart-shaped blue balloons, a pump, blue-tac, play-dough, and a bunch of other things. We attended the pre-havan puja at my friend's house and then set off. (We couldn't stay for the actual havan because Xena can't be in smoky places because of her sensitive lungs.)

We reached sassy mama's house and had a nice sumptuous lunch. She then retired to her room to attend to her baby's needs and all of us jumped into action. Viv and Pizzadude had been briefed beforehand, but we had to quickly brief her husband. The balloons were blown, tied and stuck, along with the banner. We got the 'cake' out and kept it on the table. Then we waited for her to come out and discover it all. To our agony, she came out and went straight into the kitchen, without spotting anything. So we sent our secret agent Xena with the sash to lure her out. Xena gave her the sash and we heard a delighted squeal from sassy mama, who thought Xena had made it for her. Soon, we ambushed her with the tiara and pointed out the banner and then she got it. We got her to blow out the candle (in collaboration with Xena, the official candle-blower at all our birthdays) and cut the cake. Then we ate it. She said she really liked it. Awww. That's what friends are for. Lying.

The no-dairy cake

She thought that was it. But of course, it wasn't. I had prepared some games, which we played after putting Xena down for her afternoon nap. The first was a Koffee with Karan style quiz, where questions were posed to the new parents about their baby. Some samples: What colour were his first non-hospital clothes? What does his name mean? Where was his first outside-of-diaper peeing experience? (In case you're curious, the answer to the last one is 'on the nurse'!). Everyone thought it would be a one-sided contest in favour of the mommy, when the daddy surprised us all by correctly answering the very first question -- the full name of their gynaecologist, while the mommy only knew the first name. She bounced back quickly and overall, he lost badly to her. And then she immediately demanded her koffee hamper. Gulp. Later later, I told her.

The next game was for everyone to write down two qualities that make her a great mommy. I'd handed out coloured pieces of paper shaped like speech bubbles for everyone to write their notes on. After they were done, I put a ribbon through the holes punched into the pieces of paper, tied it all together and gave it to her as a keepsake.

And then came the third and final game. I gave both of them a few containers of Xena's play-dough and told them that they had use it to make a baby each. He immediately protested because he thought he'd be hopeless at it, but we convinced him to give it a try. He asked if there was a time limit and I told him there wasn't. While she made hers fairly quickly, lamenting that it looked like an alien, he took ages and ages. And what he finally made blew us away. The level of detailing he'd incorporated into his work of art had our jaws on the floor. No contest there. He was the clear winner. Hence, I sneakily told them that since it was a tie overall, they could each buy a koffee hamper for the other. Or not. Hee hee.

Behold.... his play-dough baby vs. her play-dough baby!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for twos

Twos. More (un)popularly known as the terrible twos. That developmental stage of toddlers characterised by temper tantrums and misbehaviour, arising from the inability to balance reliance on grown-ups with a growing sense of independence, and a lack of control over their own emotions. A friend of mine had posted a photo of his 2-year-old daughter sitting on the ground in front of a shop and howling her lungs out because she wanted a toy and the parents refused. Another shocked friend actually witnessed her toddler go through the most dreaded of all -- 'the supermarket tantrum'.

It all looked and sounded very scary, and something unavoidable. After all, parenting is all about experimenting and often, there is no right or wrong way to do something. Viv and I were prepared for the twos, yes. But we were also apprehensive. And then, something miraculous happened. Xena's twos were not terrible at all. They were terrific to say the least. For the most part, she was a delightfully well-behaved two-year-old. And while Viv and I do think that maybe we just got lucky, we did put in a lot of effort to maintain sanity in the household. Of course, we don't do everything right, but some things we do work well and are worth sharing. I had written this post on how to stay sane for the first two years of parenthood. Carrying the series forward, here are some tips and strategies we used that helped make Xena's twos a truly terrific experience.

Early training
I was really thankful for all the things we had done in the first two years. It really made it so much easier for us to establish our authority without stepping on her independence. We also took the 'Let's all be reasonable' approach forward, and she was open to it because she had been exposed to it from a very early age.

Benefit of doubt
It's not that Xena never gets cranky. She does. And when she does, instead of getting all worked up, the first thing I do before trying to correct her behaviour is to ask myself - is she hungry/sleepy/bored/unwell? If either of the four is true, I give her the benefit of doubt and take a gentler approach. On the way back from school, she's often rather cranky in the bus. But I know that it's because she didn't eat anything or much at school (story of my life), had an active day and is tired and hungry. Also, when she's unwell or bored, she tends to throw things, which she generally does not otherwise. I don't tick her off then. So how do we deal with such situations where they have a "valid reason" and we can't exactly tell them off? The answer is in the next point.

I love distraction as a tactic to correct bad behaviour, though I'm not sure how long I can keep using it. Sooner or later, she will catch on. But it works wonderfully at the moment. If I know that the bad behaviour comes from a "valid reason", I don't want to stretch the situation further by telling her off or trying to make her see reason. If I'm taking her to the beach and I bump into an old friend and start chatting with her, it is inevitable that she would get fidgety after a while. She's three, she really really wants to go to the beach, and Mommy is not moving. It is unreasonable for me to expect that she would understand that I need to stop and chat with my friend. So if I need a few more minutes of talktime, I distract her. Show her a butterfly, or ask her to 'show aunty how you blow bubbles'. Distraction also helps to make sure the tantrum situation is as short as possible, because if it is stretched too long, the kid will remember how it went and take advantage of it the next time. For example, if a kid realises that crying for ten whole minutes or writhing on the floor eventually gets him what he wants, he will use that every time. So it's important not to show your true emotion, no matter how frustrated and/or embarrassed you are, because you need to stop that memory from forming in the kid's brain. So no matter what, don't give in just to bring the situation to an end.

I can't hear you
One of the most annoying things toddlers can do is whine without a reason. When Xena cries or whines for no reason, I get annoyed but I simply tell her in a very calm voice, "I can't hear you if you talk like that. Please speak in your normal voice." And then I actually ignore her and pretend that I can't hear her at all. It took her a few times to get the hang of this, and now she can simply tell from my body language that she needs to talk in her normal voice and only then will Mommy listen to her. And obviously, if I can't even hear her, she would not be able to convey to me why she is whining. If she continues, I simply walk out of the room, really pretending not to hear her. This also prevents any tantrum from escalating to louder and more frustrating levels, especially in public.

Intolerance for bad behaviour
Xena is now very clear that under no circumstances will bad behaviour be tolerated. I can't stand badly behaved kids, even if it's my own. Rules are rules, and Xena knows them. For example, she knows that if she hits or kicks anyone, or throws things, it will not be tolerated. No matter how much of a hurry she's in, she needs to tidy up her play area before we leave for the beach or the playground. On some days, when she's in the mood to test limits and flout her individuality, she refuses to tidy up. I then tell her calmly that we can leave after the mess is cleared up. There was once she still refused and even started defiantly throwing more things on the floor. I immediately cancelled the beach trip we'd planned. I really did. I can be mean mommy at the snap of a finger. She had her castle-building equipment and digging tools all ready, and had been really excited about the trip because it was going to be the first sand play session after a long hospital stay. And even though I had a nagging feeling that I should just take her before she fell sick again, I was unmoved. She knew that bad behaviour would not be tolerated and I didn't want her to see any exceptions.

A proper apology
If she shows disrespect towards her toys or books (e.g. by throwing them, standing on them or being rough with them), I give her one warning. After that, the toy or book immediately goes to the storeroom where she's not allowed access. If she wants it back, she knows it's not a simple case of saying 'sorry'. She has to tell me what she did wrong and why it was wrong, with a promise that she won't repeat the behaviour. (Sometimes my weird insistence on 'respect for toys' lands me in odd situations. I remember a play date we'd gone to and as a gift, I'd taken a lego airplane set for her friend. The moment we gave it to him, he wanted to open it. I thought they could build the airplane together and how fun it would be. I almost had a heart attack when his mother opened the box and poured all the tiny pieces into a large container that was already half full with millions of other lego pieces. And then she threw away the box and the instructions. My heart sank as I realised that the airplane was never going to be built.)

The TV ban
I'm infamous in my neighbourhood for my no-TV stance. I kid you not. Many mothers have indicated to me in a not-so-subtle manner that they think I'm crazy. The thing is that most people think that banning TV is all about addiction. It's not. First, it's proven that TV literally switches off the brain and if your kid watches TV before the age of 3, he/she will have fewer brain cells than he/could have had without TV. Now that Xena's 3, the pressure is off and I probably won't be as strict as before. However, there is no reason to watch it for the heck of it. I'd much rather she watches butterflies in the garden below than a cartoon programme or an 'educational' programme featuring butterflies. I'd rather read books with her than have her watch some baby Einstein DVD on the alphabet. Other than the brain cells argument, my other issue is the instant gratification that devices such as the TV and smartphones provide to these kids. You turn it on, you get something amazing. This generation is already over-pampered and has everything. I need Xena to know that she has to work to get things, and rewards only come after hard work and even then, not everything comes with a reward. It's probably just my theory, but I feel that the lack of TV has made her a patient person, ready to work hard and wait it out. The TV ban also helps her connect and interact more with people rather than devices, and show a true interest in them. She's much more of a people person than Viv or me. Other than the kids she plays with, she also makes a note of the names of all the babies she sees in the playground and how old they are and how many teeth they have, and which tower they live in and what their parents' names are. The other day, I was packing up her old clothes to donate to an orphanage in Cambodia, and explaining to her what I was doing. She listened patiently and then asked me what the names of the Cambodian kids were, who would be getting her clothes. (I made up names from A to Z.)

Set the right example
I had an epiphany the other day when she was tidying up and I was sitting on the couch with her doll on my lap. I neatly tossed the doll across the room into her toy hamper. Feeling rather proud of my accurate aim, I turned to see Xena staring at me. It was then that I realised that after all my 'don't throw your toys' lecture, I had done precisely that. I had just thrown a toy. So we talked it out and I told her I would not throw any of her toys. That's why I don't believe in hitting kids (though sometimes I really really feel like giving her a tight slap) because it just tells them that their parents tell them not to hit other kids, but don't follow it themselves. Another incident was when one day she started swishing a pointy stick in the playground. My first instinct was simply to snatch it from her before she poked someone in the eye, but I also remembered my 'don't snatch things from anyone' directive to her. So I went over to her and gently told her what could happen if she swished that stick around. She understood and was more than happy to throw it in the dustbin by herself. That day, I learnt that I need to adopt a 'Do as I do' approach rather than just a 'Do as I say' approach.

Correct wrong behaviour, no matter whose it is
It's tough at the playground because she sees kids do the very things that I always tell her not to do - don't snatch, don't pluck flowers, don't push, don't cut the queue, etc. I get around it by always explaining to her why she shouldn't do these things. From a young age, I've been organising play dates for her and getting her to understand the concepts of playing together and taking turns and sharing, so by now she's great in these aspects. However, I realised that a few days ago that because of her puny size and agreeable nature, she gets pushed and shoved at the playground quite a bit. For example, she always gives way, even if she's first in line for the slide or the swing, because she's scared of being shoved. I started to reiterate to her that since she was in line first, she does not need to give way to anyone and their turn will come soon after. I have to tell the other kids that too, that they can't push her and get ahead. I literally stand there with a 'I will destroy you if you misbehave' look on my face, and that look is meant for everyone. It's a little weird but I have to be quite firm with them at times because their parents are not there in the playground. Only the helpers are, and not all helpers bother to teach manners and good behaviour.

The right words
Terminology is very important because whatever I say will come back to me in weird ways. I try to avoid saying things like, "Xena, you're making me very angry." or "Don't be a bad girl." etc. As much as possible, I take the path of reason and she responds well to it. I avoid if-then statements because they can cause her to pick up a pattern. Instead of the 'If you tidy up, we will go to the beach.' I use a 'We will go to the beach after you tidy up.' approach. There's a difference between the two and it's huge. These days, she insists on picking out her own clothes. This can take forever, and is frustrating if I'm in a rush. So instead of 'What do you want to wear to the party?', I ask her 'Do you want to wear the red dress or the blue jumpsuit?' This makes her feel that she's still in control as she's the one who has the final say, but saves a lot of my time. Similarly, if it's getting dark, but she wants to continue playing, I don't drag her back. I simply say, "Do you want to leave now or in two minutes?" Obviously, she picks the latter, but she sticks to it.

So here they are --- some tips which really helped us and which might just help other parents too as they go through the terrible twos with their kids. I, meanwhile, am focusing on something even more challenging. A time when according to experts, defiance is at its peak. I can actually see it already.

Threenage, it's called.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for smartphone

I don't take my mobile phone out much, especially not in company, so it was years before a close friend had the opportunity to see it. He looked at my phone and then at me, and then at the phone again. And then he asked in exactly the kind of tone that Katrina Kaif had used when Hrithik Roshan took out his 'Japanese schoolgirl' fluorescent pink phone in 'Zindagi na milegi dobara' - "Is that your phone???"

Nope, my phone is neither fluorescent nor pink. It's just a simple Nokia phone. I don't know what model it is, because frankly, I don't care. Every time I renew my contract, they give me a free phone. A phone that is probably too outdated to be sold to anyone. I accept it with gratitude. I don't really care what kind of phone it is, as long as it can send and receive calls and sms messages. My favourite phone so far was the first phone I had -- the Nokia 3310, also known as 'the blue brick'. I made calls with it. I sent messages with it. Sometimes I even played snake on it. I dropped it several times and it never died. It was also a handy self-defence tool; I was pretty sure that if flung appropriately, it could crack a skull with ease. So there, that was all I needed in a mobile phone back then. And nothing's changed now.

I've not yet jumped on the smartphone bandwagon. Yes, I'm that tadipaar dinosaur. Most of my friends think I'm anti-smartphones, which is not exactly accurate. Smartphones are great. They are indeed very smart and have amazing features and apps and what not, which make our lives very easy and convenient. What I'm anti- is the behaviour that humans exhibit when they become slaves to their smartphones. And the thought of having a smartphone and turning into one of 'them' scares me a little bit.

Every evening all of Xena's friends congregate at the playground. Almost all of them are accompanied by helpers. On some rare occasions, some moms turn up and then spend the entire evening fiddling with their smartphones. I know judging others' parenting styles is an absolute no-no, but it really bothers me when I see the kids trying to get their moms to play with them, or look at the cool things they are doing such as hanging upside down dangerously from the see-saw, but the moms don't even look up from their phones. I don't want to do that. And I think if I had a smartphone, I might be doing that. Or not. I don't know. I just don't want to risk it.

It annoys me when a bunch of people are together, and someone or the other is busy with a smartphone instead of joining in the conversation. Fortunately, my friends though armed with smartphones, know better than to fiddle with them when we are together. We don't have to implement the phone stack rule, which is brilliant by the way. I have also read that some restaurants require you to check your phone in at the entrance, and you get it back on your way out. And did you know that there is a restaurant in Jerusalem that offers a 50% discount on meals to diners who switch off their mobile phones?

Not having a smartphone has made me an outcast on several occasions. I'm not oblivious to the weird looks that I and my phone get when I'm exchanging numbers with someone. And don't even get me started on the current bane of my life -- Whatsapp. If only I had a penny for every time someone said, "Why aren't you on Whatsapp?" Recently, I was part of the group organising an Easter egg hunt. The discussions started on the group's page on Facebook, which I have on my iPad, so I participated actively. As the event neared, at some point the conversation moved to Whatsapp and I simply had no idea what was happening, until the day of the party when it started raining heavily and I received an sms from one of them telling me that they were discussing what to do on Whatsapp, and someone would sms me the outcome of the discussion. Of course, I don't blame anyone. Whatsapp is indeed a very convenient medium for such things, and it was also easy for the organisers when they were buying stuff for the party as they could simply take a photo and Whatsapp it to everyone before buying it, and have live discussions together. And I could imagine their frustration at not being able to include me. I knew the feeling because I remembered how perplexed I was when I met someone who has chosen not to have a mobile phone.

Once in a while, I wonder if I should just stop frustrating everyone around me and get myself a smartphone. And then something happens to make my stance stronger. Like what happened last week. I take the bus every afternoon to fetch Xena from school. One day, I received an sms from my editor - "Going to WA you the diagram, please advise on changes.' I was never more thrilled to message back that I was not on WA and that she could email me the diagram and I'd look at it when I was at home on my computer. What I really wanted to say was -- I will not work in the bus. I simply won't.

The other day, I was seated in the back of the bus and saw an amazing sight. Of the 14 people seated in the lower deck, 12 were on their smartphones, playing or watching something. The 13th was fast asleep and the 14th was me. And I figured that if I had a fun phone, I might be engrossed in it too. I'd want to maximise its features. I'd be working in the bus. I'd be Googling and Crushing Candy and Facebooking and WA-ing and YouTube-ing and what not. I know it's all about self-control, but in all honesty, I'm not sure what kind of self-control I have.

I enjoy my bus time. I just want to sit in the bus and look out of the window and have random thoughts fill my mind. It's my detox time. Also, we all know how important vision breaks are, and the only time I look at distant objects is when I'm in the bus, or the beach or the playground. I don't want to be looking at a near object then. So the best solution for me is really to continue with a really boring phone with extremely basic features.

I don't know how long I can do this without caving though. Last week, Xena's water bottle started leaking in my bag, and nearly killed my Nokia. I opened it up and wiped whatever water I could spot and left it out to dry. I don't even know how on earth I managed to find another phone, but my desperate rummaging in the drawers had somehow conjured up one. It was a Motorola and even more primitive than my Nokia. I didn't know whose it was and why it was there. But I sure knew that it was not a permanent solution. It was extremely user-unfriendly and I couldn't even use the basic features properly. And suddenly panic struck me. Would I have to buy a new phone if my Nokia didn't revive itself? Would it have to be a smartphone? Should it be a smartphone?

All my questions were answered when the next day, my Nokia started working normally. Phew.

Yesterday, Viv announced that he might be ready for a new phone. He asked me if I would like to take over his HTC, or I'd prefer sticking to my Nokia. I was tempted because it looks cool and is more user-friendly than my Nokia. I just didn't know if smartphones could be 'unsmarted'.

"Can I have it without any 'smart' features?" I asked him. He said yes. Wheeeeee.

Not a bad idea at all. Win-win, in fact.

I'd still be free. And yet, friends like the one in paragraph 1 above, would not ask me silly questions like "Is that your phone???"

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Radio

I was racking my brain thinking of an 'R' word for today's post when of all people, Himesh Reshammiya, came to my rescue. While fiddling with Saavn radio, I stumbled upon his song, "Mann ka radio bajne de zara", from his movie 'Radio'. This was apparently his 500th (!!) song, and his first after the rumoured throat surgery he had in order to acquire another (a non-nasal) voice. Sure enough, the song starts off in a very low-pitched non-Himesh way, but soon switches to his trademark style. Complete with atrocious lyrics like 'Fultu attitude de de tu zara'. And I thought radio was the perfect choice for today's post because of its significance in my life.

When I was a kid, I remember Akashvani playing a lot at home. I still remember 'Yeh Akashvani hai', Amin Sayani's Cibaca geetmala, and even narrations of Chacha Chaudhry and Sabu stories on radio. But it was the songs that mattered the most to me. I used to get very upset when someone of national importance died, not because I cared, but because they would stop playing the songs and play only some depressing shehnai tune all day long. I never learnt music formally, but I'd sing along with any and every song that played on radio. I could rattle off the lyrics of any song you named. The other day, my Mom asked me on Skype for the lyrics of 'Mann re, tu kaahe na dheer dhare' and I spouted it all out in no time. She asked me how I knew the lyrics of a song which was so old. I figure it must have been all the radio that I listened to as a kid.

When I came to Singapore, I was introduced to the world of English songs. I spent four years at university listening to the likes of Backstreet boys, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Alanis Morissette, Boyzone, Madonna, 98 Degrees, Toni Braxton, Ricky Martin, Robbie Williams, Enrique Iglesias, Santana, Cher, Ricky Martin. TLC, Whitney Houston, Sugar Ray, Savage Garden, Creed, Pink, Brian McKnight, NSync, Christina Aguilera, LeAnn Rimes, Mariah Carey, Blue, Destiny's Child, Eminem, U2, Kylie Minogue, Marc Anthony, Macy Gray, Whitney Houston, etc. etc. It was a whole new world for me. It was massive, it was different and it was totally new. I used to walk all over campus, listening to radio, all the time. Some of the RJs in those days were really amazing and funny and they were just as fun to listen to as the songs.

However, after I graduated, I grew out of it. Radio became a thing of the past. My radio time was split between MP3s and TV shows. Until I discovered the expat radio channel that plays Hindi songs every day from 5 to 8 pm. It reminded me of my childhood. It was kind of comforting to just listen to Hindi songs randomly playing at someone else's will. Once in a while, I make chai for myself and just sit back and drink and listen.

Though 99.9% of the songs these days are crap of the highest order, I need my Hindi radio station. I really cannot live without it. No matter what, the radio HAS to be switched on at 5 pm. Even Xena knows this now. I just have to say, "Xena, it's 5 pm!" and she runs to switch on the radio. I even used it as an alarm clock for Viv to make sure he didn't come home too late (i.e. after 8 pm) from work. "If the Hindi music has stopped by the time you return, be prepared to face a different kind of music," I used to tell him.

Once in a while, the channel plays the songs in the 'ek purana, ek naya' format, where they alternate new songs with old songs. They also do a 'showstopper of the week' show, where they pick an actor and play all his/her hit songs. I had reservations at first (who wants to listen to three hours of Ajay Devgn songs??), but I realised that almost every actor, in spite of some very bad movies, has some very good songs. A couple of weeks ago, I almost choked on my chai when the RJ announced that the showstopper of the week was Jacckkky (okay, I don't know how many c's and k's he's added to his name so I have played safe) Bhagnani! My first thoughts were, "Wha...??!! You're seriously going to play 3 hours of Jacckkky Bhagnani songs?? Does he even have that many movies? How much did his producer papa pay your station??" The RJ was inviting listeners to suggest songs on the station's Facebook page. I went to check and sure enough, there were many many people who were just as puzzled as me as to to how on earth they were going to play 3 hours of Jacckkky Bhagnani songs. They started off with 'Suno na sangemarmar', which is actually a nice song (okay fine, these days anything sung by Arijit Singh is erm, music to my ears), and some other random songs from whatever movies he's acted in so far. And then they stopped. I went aha, now what? And then the RJ reminded us of the date - 1 April. Good one!

Sometimes I wonder if radio is going to become a thing of the past soon. Like audio cassettes and pagers and walkmen (walkmans?).

That would be a sad sad day. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for questions

They say that the average 4-year-old asks 437 questions a day.

'They' conveniently forgot to add that an average 3-year-old asks 34457389475983472059872 questions a day.

There is a garage near Xena's school. It's opposite the bus stop where we take the bus back home, so we see it every day. One day, she saw a mechanic lying under a car. This is our conversation, translated into English.



"Why is uncle lying down?"

"Umm... he's repairing the car."

"What happened to the car?"

"It's broken."

"Who broke it?"

"Umm... nobody broke it. It's just old and needs some repairs."

"Why is it old?"

"Because... err... it was made a long time ago."

"By whom?"

"Hmmm... By some uncles, aunties and some machines."

"What are their names?"

"I don't know their names."

"Why did they make the car?"

"So that people could travel."

"Which people?"

"Ummm... uncles and aunties and children."


"Because... you need to travel to get to places."

"Which places?"

"Anywhere you want."

Fortunately for me, our bus came and that was the end of the conversation.

The next day, to my utter horror, she saw the mechanic lying down under another car.

"Why is uncle lying down?"

Oh. Dear. Lord.

I decided to adopt a different strategy this time. I turned the tables on her.

"You tell me. Why is uncle lying down?"

Her answer was instant.

"Because he is very tired."


Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Poppy

Poppy. Xena came up with this nickname all on her own. We have no idea how and why. We'd made nice plans of getting our child to call us 'Mama' and 'Papa'. But she had her own plans. She has toyed with 'Mommy', 'Mummy', 'Mama', 'Mommers', 'Mumsy', and 'Mimi' to address me, but she has been pretty consistent in calling him 'Poppy'. Though once in a while, he does become 'Poppers' or 'Popsy', she always goes back to 'Poppy'. Now even I call him 'Poppy'. I'm sure that people who overhear us might be gagging at the overly sickly sweet nickname they assume I've given my hubby.

Anyway, the point of the post is that Poppy is back! After two whole weeks! I am so thrilled and relieved.

- Family walks to the beach, yeayyyy!

- I can finally exchange the good, bad and ugly happenings of the day with someone who's not three years old.

- I can 'pass the parcel' when Xena drives me crazy. (Contrary to popular belief, sometimes she does.)

- I can catch up on my work deadlines. (He will drop her at school so I'll have more time in the mornings.)

- Xena's race cars that have raced their way under our heavy couch can now be retrieved.

- I've been eating out or packing food from outside for the last two weeks. I can finally have ghar ka khana! Not that he's the one who's going to make it. Just that it's so boring to cook for one, I prefer cooking for four (yes, contrary to his appearance, he eats for three). I could cook for four and eat it over four meals, you say? No can do. Because Xena will stand at the kitchen door with her puppy face asking me to come out and play with her. Also, one of my favourite moments is cooking to the sound of the two of them playing football in the dining room.

- When I've exhausted my barrel of self-created stories, I can always say, "Ok, now Poppy will tell you the next story."

- I can take a looooong shower in peace.

- The cockroach dead body disposal service in our house falls under his department and I kid you not when I tell you that the dead cockroach in the kitchen has been there for the last two days.

- I have been sweeping the house, but it can finally get vacuumed yipppeee! You see, due to Xena's lung condition, we don't use a regular vacuum cleaner. We use the industrial-strength Rainbow vacuum cleaner, and only Viv can operate it because let's just say that if I am Ravan's son Indrajit, the damned vacuum cleaner is Angad's foot.

Is it therefore any wonder that in my head, I'm jubilantly singing (very very loudly at that), a catchy but horrible song from the 90s?

Mera piya ghar aaya, o ramji!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for osteoporosis

Disclaimer: The grim topic was not my idea. This public service post has been issued courtesy my sister who holds an M.B.B.S. degree from G.M.S. (Google Medical School). I'm close to getting mine too. 

So my sister called me at 10:30 pm. As soon as I said 'Hello?', she said, "Are you drinking enough milk?" It was past bedtime for good girls like me. The lights were out and I was already in bed. Yet, my response to her question was rather long and articulate.

"Hainnnnnnnn???" I said.

"Calcium," she said. "Are you getting enough calcium?"

"You're calling me past my bedtime to ask me if I am getting enough calcium??"

"Yes. Don't take it lightly. It's very important. Adult bone mass peaks around the age of 30 and declines after that. Now is the time to get serious. These days, even young people are getting osteoporosis. It's painful and you can't do anything about it. In spite of the easy preventive measure. Calcium. Are you getting 1000 mg of calcium every day? Most people don't."

"I don't know... I drink milk every day... I think that should cover it?"




"I also eat cheese."

"Not enough."

"It's high-calcium cheese."

"It still might not be enough. There are plenty of other sources."

"Okay, tomorrow I'll check the milk carton and the cheese packaging and whatever else I eat to see if I'm getting 1000 mg of calcium every day. Ok bye thank you good night."

The next morning, I remembered her words as soon as I woke up. Like a good girl, I drank my cup of milk and googled calcium sources and osteoporosis and bone mass loss and what not. And yes, what she had said made sense. I'm not getting enough calcium in my diet, and it might come back and kick me in the butt in later years. These are not things I generally think about, but once in a while, my sister urges me to get to such 'grown-up' things.

As a kid, I'd always hated milk, packeted or fresh, and often used to secretly pour it onto Dad's houseplants. (Dad, those plants were really healthy and I take all the credit!) Later, Complan and Horlicks and Bournvita made it a little better, but milk was still not something I drank willingly. When I came to Singapore and started living on my own, I totally stopped drinking milk. Once in a while, Dad or Mom would ask me on the phone and I'd guiltily buy the single-serving carton and have it. But it was definitely not a part of my regular diet. A few years later, I started again when my sister urged me. Fortunately for me, I didn't mind the taste and smell of the carton milk here. Soon, it became a habit to drink a cup of milk with Milo (the unofficial national drink of Singapore) everyday, and I still do it.

And I thought I had it all covered. Apparently not. One cup of milk is far from meeting the daily adult calcium RDA. I'm not a fan of popping supplements, so I looked up other sources and spinach, kale, fish, egg yolk, tofu, soya milk, fortified orange juice, oatmeal, etc. are good sources too, especially for those who are vegans, lactose-intolerate or of the belief that humans are not meant to consume milk (there was a forward going around about it some time ago; I just didn't know what to make of it though). You also need enough vitamin D to aid calcium absorption. And of course, regular exercise is important to keep the bones strong.

And since I did all this research and am going to look deeply into our family calcium intake, I thought I'd share this on the bar's notice board too for all the 30-something bewdas who might have no idea that they are not getting enough calcium. Quoting my sister - "Now is the time to get serious." It's time to start reading food labels, closely noting the numbers and practising my mental maths.

Her reminder was also very timely as I was about to write my 'O' post and wasn't sure I'd do justice to the O words I could think of - oxygen, ozone, orange and ornithology.

So... Let's all be a little more fit and healthy, so that if 20-30 years later I'm still blogging and you're still reading, I won't be writing joint-pain posts and you wouldn't be saying, "Meeee toooo!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for nostalgia

From time to time, we all get hit by episodes of nostalgia. Perhaps our best memories are from our childhood -- stuff that happened many years ago. That's why it is hilarious when a 3-year-old gets nostalgic. About stuff that happened just a year or two ago. Lately, Xena has been relating 'tales of her childhood' to me. And as if a reminiscing toddler is not already funny enough, she tells me these stories as if I don't know about them at all.

Here are some samples of her recent nostalgic moments.

"Mama, when I was very very small, I was inside your tummy!"

"Mama, I was splashing around inside your tummy!"

"When I was inside, your tummy was big and round. Then you went to the hospital and the doctor pulled me out and SUDDENLY your tummy became flat."

"I used to be a small baby. Then SUDDENLY I became a big grown-up girl."

"When I was very small, I used to cry for milk when I was hungry. Like this - nga nga nga..."

"When I was very small, I could not sit or stand or walk or scoot or jump or run. I was lying down all the time!"

"When I was very small, sometimes I wore only a diaper! No top or pants! Only a diaper!"

"You know, Mama... when I was very small, I did not pee and poop in the toilet. I did everything in the diaper!"

"When I was very small, I used to try to eat my toes!"

"When I was very small, I did not have any teeth. Now I have sooooo many."

"When I was small, I was not 10 kilos. Then SUDDENLY I was 10 kilos."

"We went to Australia and Poppy drove us in a blue car. I had my own car seat. I sat at the back because only grown-ups sit in front. It was very cold and I wore a jacket and a hat and mittens and we saw kangaroos."

"When I was very small, I used to say 'clockloach'. Mama, it's not 'clockloach'! It's 'cockloach'."

"When I was a little girl, I had soooo many soft toys. Then Dr. Thomas said that all the soft toys needed to go on a vacation till my lungs became big and strong. They will come back when I turn 5 years old."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Me

M is for me. And no other day screams 'me!' as much as one's birthday.

As some of you might have gathered from my last post, it was my birthday on Sunday. Time to feel depressed and all that. However, thanks to Viv's company, I haven't aged at all in the last five years. How, you ask. Well, other than software. his company also produces an anti-aging product. Well, it's not so much a product as it is a strategy. Basically, every year in April, they send him off for the NAB show in Las Vegas. Smack on my birthday. And then he's off to Amsterdam in September for another business trip. Smack on his birthday. So we haven't celebrated our birthdays together for a few years now. The only way to look at it is that since we don't see each other's birthdays, we don't age in each other's eyes. So there you have it, the secret to eternal youth.

Moronic jokes aside, it's no fun to have my birthday without him. However, I've been fortunate enough to always have had some family here around my birthdays in the last few years - my in-laws, or my parents, or at the very least my sister-in-law. This year was a little different though, as no one was at home. It was pretty much Xena and me. My friends know that I absolutely detest midnight birthday celebrations (the truth is that I want to be asleep at midnight -- birthday or no birthday), so thankfully no one rang the doorbell at midnight. I'd have called the police I think. I'm not kidding.

So I had a good night's rest and technically started my birthday only when I woke up. Xena was up and smiling. At 7 am! She rolled over to me and said, "Mommy, aaj tum ka birthday hai!" I thanked and kissed her and then promptly corrected her 'tum ka'. (I'm so khadoos, no?)

I had a lunch celebration with friends at Robert Timms at Suntec City, topped off with a chocolate mousse cheesecake. Yummy! Xena was very excited because she got to blow the candle and cut (read massacre) the cake, but she refused to even have a lick of it. Fine. More for us then. Hmmmph!

After lunch, my Bollywood buddy Pizzadude came home with us. I put Xena down for her afternoon nap and then Pizzadude and I had adrak ki chai and watched... Veer-Zaara! Honestly, he's pretty much the only person in the world with whom I can watch and really enjoy movies from the 90s and 2000s without rolling my eyes. Purana bewdas of the bar would remember the hilarity that ensued when Viv, feeling left out, decided to join us for a screening of Dil toh pagal hai. We watched half of Veer-Zaara and actually enjoyed it to my surprise. We couldn't finish it though because Xena woke up and when she's up, the TV goes down.

After Pizzadude left, Xena and I had a nice, quiet evening. We played with play doh and fingerpaint, built a giraffe using blocks, blew bubbles in the playground and then took a nice long walk. Soon, the day had ended and it was time for bed. I realised that installment 1 of my birthday had come to an end. The next few will happen very soon. We'll celebrate again when Viv is back and yet again when my sis-in-law is back.

And yet again when I'll celebrate it all by myself.

It's not been easy taking care of Xena all by myself these two weeks. Between the morning chores, getting her ready and fed, dropping her off at school, picking her up, keeping her engaged, working on my own projects, this daily blogging challenge (yes, I'm aware I brought it upon myself), doing housework, attempting to feed her all her meals by myself, and not forgetting to have my own meals (happens a lot!), I'm utterly exhausted. I told Viv that when he's back, I'll take a week's vacation in Vivocity my mothership mall, where I'll abandon everyone and everything, and roam and chill and shop (I call it the real 'duty-free' shopping) and get a pedicure and catch a movie or two. I'm looking forward to my own company.

I don't think Marilyn Monroe meant to represent primary caregivers of toddlers with her quote, but it sure is super relevant - "I restore myself when I'm alone."

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for lie

Here is positive proof that contrary to popular belief, women DO NOT lie about their age. 
PS: They just lie about other women's ages.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for king

I mentioned in this post how I don't have a favourite actor but Shah Rukh Khan is my favourite star. I often get asked why I like him so much. I also get ridiculed when he has a bad movie out (and we all know how many of those he has). I also get looked at when he's really hamming it up in a scene. I had to go into hiding after Ra.One released. So why then do I love SRK? I have decided to issue a clarification on the matter once and for all. Here are five reasons why I heart King Khan.

His story is inspiring.
He came to Mumbai with nothing. No hero-like looks or stature, no producer papa, nothing. He started off on television. That too, the television of those days. And then he broke all the rules and did what no hero or hero-wannabe would do -- play the villain. And then he went on to rule not just Mumbai but far beyond. Of course, one can't downplay the role of luck, but there is surely something about him that attracts success. To me, he truly defines the term 'X-factor'. I would love to read his autobiography some day.

His PR skills are amazing.
He is one performer who really makes an effort to connect with his audience. Of course it is all PR, and I will not dispute that, but when you see him live, you can see that he knows that his superstardom comes from the people and he makes a genuine effort to acknowledge it. He said in an interview that all he wants to do is make people happy. And you can see he means it from the way he presents himself to his audience. When he went to promote Chennai Express on Comedy Nights with Kapil, he hugged everyone who joined him on the stage, even though they didn't ask him to and I'm also sure not all of them felt or even smelt clean. Would you like to hug totally random strangers? No way. But he did it with a sincerity that you don't really see in showbiz. A few years ago, I attended his live show and I saw his amazing PR skills live. He declared that he was going to ask someone from the audience to join him for a romantic dance on stage. Of course, all the girls went completely bonkers. He proceeded to totally ignore all the hotties in the audience who were waving their hands madly, and instead invited a very plain-looking and overweight girl. PR stunt? Totally. Heartwarming? Totally. Not just had he made her day, he had made everyone happy. I was cheering like a mad person.

His charisma is mind-blowing.
Needless to say, I preferred SRK hosting KBC over Amitabh Bachchan hosting it. Yes, Amitabh Bachchan is also very charismatic, but in a more towering sense. SRK's charisma is more grounded. I simply loved him in KBC. He was funny and spontaneous and made the contestants feel at ease. He underscored the idea that everyone was there to have fun. With AB, things felt a little more serious and he also looked rather formidable - I am AB, you are a commoner. With SRK, he put himself at the same level as the contestants and made them feel like they were talking to a friend. The contest is stressful as it is, and the whole world is watching. The last thing you want is the host making you feel less than you are.

And... Do you remember the bitchy contestant on KBC? I couldn't believe how rude she was to him. And I'm not even saying that one has to be gushing in front of him. Her behaviour was simply not acceptable because no one deserves that kind of rudeness. But he patiently and humbly continued the game, and when she quit and said that she had no desire to hug him before getting the cheque, he very politely said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to give the cheque to your mother. I'm sure she will not refuse to hug me."

His humour is spontaneous.
Any show he hosts is side-splittingly funny. I have stopped watching award shows because he doesn't host them anymore. I simply use Youtube to go back to his old shows (especially when he used to host them with Saif) and they're still so enjoyable. Even though he most likely followed a script, you need to have superb comic timing and a shrewd sense of humour to deliver it. No wonder all other hosts, in spite of having scripts too, seem so lame compared to the SRK-Saif pairing. I thought he was a total riot on KBC. Have you watched this video? He was HILARIOUS. Any other host might have gotten a bit irritated at the contestant's indecisiveness, but SRK made the situation funnier than it already was. I especially loved when he started talking in Punjabi and said, "I don't want to play anymore."

When the conditions are right, boy can he act.
There's a reason why this is the very last point in my list. SRK is definitely not a great actor. That's a given. Of his 80 odd movies, perhaps only a handful are good. And a lot of them depend on the age and stage you are at. I was completely bowled over by him in DDLJ and KKHH because of the age and stage I was at, but it's not like his acting was exemplary. However (and this is a big HOWEVER), it's not that he can't act. I always quote Swades (and also Chak De India to a certain extent) when confronted with the accusation that SRK is a bad actor. He may not be a great actor, he may have acted badly in a LOT of movies, but I will not take it lying down if someone says he cannot act at all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for job

In 2011, I quit my job as a manager at a bigass publisher to take care of Xena. I was deeply and madly in love with my job and it was not an easy transition. I didn't feel it so much in the first few months because Xena was in the ICU and I was shuttling between home and hospital all day long, with not much time or energy to think of anything else. Even after she was stable and got home, my days and nights were spent tending to her needs.

It was after almost half a year that I started to feel the withdrawal symptoms of quitting my job. However, Xena was not in a state where she could be left with anyone other than me at home, so I knew it would be years before I could go back to a real office. To make sure that I didn't go completely bonkers at home, I continued writing and editing, but on a freelance basis. This allowed me to regulate my workload based on Xena's health and needs, and also to keep in touch with the changes in the syllabus and trends in the industry. And of course, whatever money comes in is always a bonus, since I don't have my salary and perks anymore. Last year, on her doctor's recommendation, we put her in half-day preschool to get her to eat under the powerful influence of peer pressure. I started taking on more work as I had more time in the mornings when she was away at school.

Now I work a half-day shift from home in the morning, taking just enough work to nicely fill out that part of my day when Xena is at school. A lot of people ask me if I'll ever go back to work in an office. The answer is in the affirmative. Once Xena's health and eating improve, I'll consider going back to an office.

Provided they take me.

Though I have been in close touch with the industry's happenings and have not stopped working, I am aware that this gap of a few years could prove to be a disadvantage when I apply for an office job again, especially if I want to get back my managerial position. That is a little scary. I can imagine myself being questioned at the interviews on all the skills that are needed in a corporate environment, which they'd assume would have rusted in the years that I spent focusing only on Xena.

So I decided to do up an addendum to my resume. One that shows that even though in the last few years, my primary position has been 'mother', I've had plenty of opportunities to exercise the skills the position requires. (Honestly speaking, If I really were to take motherhood as a 'project', there is no question that it has been the most challenging one so far, with many layers of intricacies and complexities, and one that requires a multitude of skills to be used all at once.)

So here it is, dear interviewer, a list of reasons why you shouldn't hesitate to hire me, in spite of the break I took from the working world.

I am a leader. 
I lead a team, the size of which ranges from 2 to 3894738949837032. The reason is that although the more senior of the two members is relatively stable, the junior one can be quite a handful at times and under those circumstances, simply cannot be considered as a single headcount. Both staff members were personally hand-picked by me, and are competent and reliable. The more experienced of the two works mostly offsite, whereas the junior member works half day offsite and half day onsite. I am based mostly onsite and lead all operations from there.

I am a keen listener. 
My staff feel free to approach me anytime as I take the time to really listen to them. Though the senior member often spouts jargon, which I filter selectively, I take a deeper interest in what the junior member has to say. And I listen and I remember. I know who hit whom at school today, I know who peed and pooped how many times, I know who cried and who ate and who didn't eat lunch, I know who bought a new bag to school, I know who brought what for show and tell, and whose water bottle has which cartoon character. Heck, I even know the colours of her three teachers' water bottles.

I'm a team player.
The three of us make a very efficient team. We have established the perfect morning routine, where everyone works in tandem to get stuff done in record time. We wake up at 7 am. While I prepare the junior member's breakfast and snack box, the senior member brushes her teeth. Then as he gets himself ready for office, I get her dressed and seated in the high chair with her breakfast. While he feeds her, I make our breakfast. After she's done, I serve his breakfast. While he eats, I tie her hair and get her to put her socks and shoes on. And then they are off for their respective offsite operations.

I'm an independent worker. 
Every year, for a few weeks, the senior member is away on business trips, and then I'm a one-woman army dealing with the junior member, my own projects and all operations, all by myself. It is also at these times when junior member decides to become the equivalent of the 3894738949837032 staff members I'd mentioned earlier. Also, I encourage my staff members to pursue their hobbies in the weekends, and so the senior member goes off to play cricket on Sundays. He's out from 7 am to 7 pm, but onsite work doesn't stop even in the weekends, so once again I take full charge of everything.

I delegate.
Though most of the major operations are split between the senior member in my team and me, I delegate appropriate tasks to the junior member too, such as peeling garlic, boiled eggs, folding laundry and some dusting and sweeping. I carry out regular appraisals to praise her good performance and to give her feedback to address any shortcomings.

I'm deadline-oriented. 
I make sure that junior member and I never miss a single deadline for our respective projects. (As for senior member, he can handle his deadlines by himself. I've trained him well over the years.)

I am organised and detail-oriented.
I have to be very organised to run the operations. I have to be on top of everything, such as school projects, excursions, medical appointments, play dates, outings, nutrition, household chores, etc. I keep track of many small details -- library book due dates, parent-teacher meetings, birthday parties, buying the gifts for the birthday parties, new clothes waiting for junior member to grow and fit into, etc.

Also, the junior member in my team tends to take too many days of medical leave, but I have done a thorough background check and the reasons appear to be genuine. This, however, hinders some of the operations, such as my own projects. I have to be even more organised to make sure that none of my deadlines are missed due to her hospitalisations.

I'm goal-oriented. 
I set realistic goals for my team members and help them achieve the goals. The senior member used to report quite late in the evenings, and the reasons he gave inspired no confidence. We discussed and set a realistic goal of 7:30 pm on normal days, and 8:00 pm on crazy days, and an action plan (take the private fast bus instead of the public ones) and he is now able to meet the targets.

For the junior member, I set a target (10 kg) and used grassroot-level involvement and positive reinforcement to help her achieve it.

I handle stress well.
Junior member, due to her relative inexperience, often puts me in tough spots (think throwing up in a crowded bus) where I need to think on my feet and quickly find the best solution out of the stressful situation. I have implemented several instances of successful crisis-management.

I'm resourceful. 
I spend a good part of my day reading and learning about the latest developments in the field. I am part of motherhood groups and have contacts at my fingertips that I harness to find out anything I want within seconds, such as where can you buy styrofoam balls to make a model of a poodle for a class project, and where can you find ready-to-use icing for a birthday celebration at school, and who is the best pediatrician in the area.

I have a strong sense of CSR. 
I work with my motherhood groups to organise donation of baby items to be sent to organisations such as Babes, and children's clothes and books to be sent to orphanages in Cambodia. I volunteered at my junior member's school fund-raiser for the APSN.

I'm self-motivated. 
The last few years have not been an easy journey for me, but I have to keep myself motivated and positive and just march on.  

Happy? All right, gimme the job already.

Added on 16 April: I found this video and thought it was perfect to share on this post:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for I

I is for I. First person singular. I in English. Main in Hindi.

I've had a really odd relationship with this word. In Hindi. My dad got transferred to Bihar when I was six, and that's how I picked up Hindi. And because it was Bihar, it wasn't the kind of polished cool-sounding Hindi we hear in most Hindi movies. It was the kind of Hindi that villains in movies like Dabangg 2 speak. The "Hum kah rahe hain na" kind of Hindi. Dad had a few more transfers in the next 12 years, but they were all within Bihar. (He went to Calcutta, Vizag, Hyderabad, etc. after I left India.) So as I shuttled from school to school within Bihar, my Bihari Hindi just got stronger and stronger. Of course we learnt proper Hindi at school, so my written Hindi was always good, but I have always spoken Hindi like a true Bihari. And even though all of the 7 schools that I studied in before coming to Singapore were English-medium schools, we only spoke to our teachers in English. Hindi was always the language of choice when we spoke amongst us. And we always used 'hum' for 'main'.

So, after a dozen years of hum-ing, I suddenly found myself in Singapore, being ragged by my Indian seniors because I was the only one in my batch who spoke like that. The first time I said something like "Hum Bihar se aaye hain...", the senior ragging me looked behind me and said, "Aur kaun kaun aaye hain tumhaare Bihar se?" I didn't get the sarcasm so I replied, "Aur koi nahin. Sirf hum aaye hain." Much to my surprise, they broke into peals into laughter. I also got ridiculed for calling them "bhaiya" and "aap", but that's a different story altogether.

My 'hum' became the point of amusement for everyone. It took me a while to understand why. No one else around me said 'hum'. One, they almost always spoke to one another in English, and two, even when they did speak in Hindi, they used 'main'. I tried real hard to change, not because I thought 'main' was cooler, but because I knew it was correct. But much as I tried, I simply could not shrug off the 'hum' that had been laminated in my brain. I'd start off my sentence with 'main' and would have switched to 'hum' halfway without even realising it. It got very annoying, so I decided to just switch to talking to everyone only in English. That was helpful in a way because it really brushed up my spoken English, which wasn't great because of my years in Bihar where I didn't have to speak much English at school. And of course, even though everyone at home read English newspapers, magazines and books, we never spoke English at home. I used to do well in the written English exams, but I wasn't confident enough to rapidly rattle off sentence after sentence in English. I'd have to think them out in Hindi, translate them in my head, think of the correct pronunciation of each word, and then start speaking. It was very stressful. But it was very helpful to me in the long run.

But I love Hindi and I always have, and I couldn't bear to stop speaking it completely. The only person I continued to speak to in Hindi was Viv, and he didn't mind my 'hum' at all. In fact, he'd use 'hum' back when speaking to me, even though he spoke to the rest of the world using 'main'. I did make an attempt to make the rest of it sound a little polished -- more Lucknowi than Bihari -- but the 'hum' stuck on. I've continued like this for the last 16 years of my life -- English with everyone else, and my hum wala Hindi at home with Viv -- and I thought I could get away with it.

Until I had a kid and my kid started speaking.

Viv and I had decided that since both of us have different mother tongues, we'd ditch both and teach Xena Hindi, a language that will serve her well in any part of India should she choose to go there, and one that we can help her out with when she takes it as a subject at school. So now was my chance to start from a clean slate. To teach her correct Hindi from the beginning. But it was hard. Bewdas who have kids will know that when they start speaking, they refer to themselves in the third person because that's how they've seen themselves being addressed. So Xena too started off with "Xena ko chahiye" for "I want it." And I followed suit by saying things like "Mama ke paas hai" and "Mama ko de do" and so on. So I still didn't have to change my 'hum' because I was not using it yet, I was using 'Mama'. When I started teaching her pronouns, I made sure she used 'main' for herself' and 'aap' for me. But in my efforts to teach her 'main', I'd not realised that I'd have to drop referring to myself in the third person too because everything was getting all mixed up. She was joining her 'main' with the verbs in my sentences such as "Mama karegi". I realised it the day she declined my "Mama ka help chahiye?" offer and said, "Main apne aap karegi."

Main apne aap karegi.

Great. This was even worse than my 'Hum apne aap karenge'. The mother was talking like a Bihari bhai and the daughter was talking like a Mumbaiya bai. At least according to what the movies show.

So I'm now trying really hard to correct it all. And I finally have a good enough reason to ditch the 'hum' once and for all, and really focus on 'main'.

Mushkil hai, lekin hum koshish kar rahe hain main koshish kar rahi hoon.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

H is for hot

Viv and I are fans of hot food. Hot as in spicy-hot, not temperature-hot. He's actually a notch above me, because I would never enter a chilli-eating competition, and end up winning it too. (Yep, he really did that when we were in university.) He also almost entered the 'hall of flame' in a restaurant in Thailand, but it turns out the food was too hot even for him.

At home, I make moderately hot food, but I try not to go overboard because I feel that if the food is too hot, a little bit of the flavour and taste is lost. For that reason, even at restaurants where we are given a choice, I don't go for the highest level of hotness, though Viv does (and sometimes regrets).

I thought it might be fun to jog my memory and think of the hottest foods I've had, and here is my list. (Even though the norm here is the word 'spicy', I'll use 'hot' throughout the post because I think that the word 'spices' encompasses a lot more than just chillies. I often get disbelieving looks when I explain to my local friends how food can be spicy but not hot.)

1. Nando's in Lahore
I never miss the opportunity to make people (especially my dad) envious by telling them about my trip to Pakistan. I was there on work in 2006, promoting my company's books and carrying out presentations in various schools to train teachers on how to use them. In addition to work, I also had the awesome opportunity to see everything -- Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Wagah border and... Adnan Sami in a mall!' And that's where I first had food at Nando's. My hosts (the distributors of our books) had been asking me what kind of food I liked and I'd mentioned that I liked hot food. So they took me to Nando's. (Surprisingly, Lahore had Nando's before Singapore had Nando's, so I'd never had it.) My hosts instructed the waiter to turn up the heat in the dish I ordered and to make sure that 'Lahore ki naak na kat jaaye'. The waiter took their words a little too seriously, and though Lahore's naak stayed intact, my naak was molten by the first few bites. My hosts also challenged me to have two of the jalapeno poppers and I took the dare. Luckily, I had also ordered some Portugese lemonade which made sure that 'meri naak na kat jaaye'.

2. Habanero sauce at Cafe Iguana, Singapore
Cafe Iguana is one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in Singapore. Riverside dining, hot Mexican food and frozen mango margaritas. Yum and bliss. And that's where I'd had a taste of Habanero sauce for the first time. Though I saw the warning on the bottle that said 'The hottest sauce in the world', I poured a generous amount over my prawn chimichanga and took a large bite, setting my mouth on the kind of fire that only half a jug of the frozen mango margarita could douse.

3. Roadside pani puri, Bangalore
A few years ago, we were in Bangalore, staying at Viv's uncle's place. Uncle C knew that my favourite food was roadside pani puris so he took me to his regular guy one evening and asked him to make me some nice pani puris. I had them and they were okay. Uncle C noticed that I didn't look that happy and chided the pani puri wala. "Put a little more mirchi, yaar", he said. The guy got a little extra enthu and so the next round was.... woooohooooo. Hooooooooo. HOOOOOOOOO. So I asked him to tone it down a bit and then the next round was perfect. I can't remember how many I ate, but I believe I only stopped when it was time for him to go home.

4. Yellow ginger chicken, Thai Express, Singapore
One of our favourite haunts near our place is Thai Express. They have a reasonable vegetarian menu so it works well for Viv too (well, he just pretends that he did not hear the waiter say that the sauces and broths in even the vegetarian dishes are not exactly vegetarian). We used to go there so often that we knew the menu inside out. (But they pissed me off when they started charging for water.) I've tried every dish they have, and I have to say the yellow ginger chicken is HOT. Even hotter than their drunken fire noodles, Viv's regular order. It's the kind of hot that no sweet, frozen drink can neutralise.

5. Mutton vindaloo, random Indian restaurant, Singapore
I'd heard that vindaloo dishes are not for the faint-hearted, but I believed it only when I tried it. I can't quite remember where I had it but I do remember one thing. Hot hot hot. HOT. I bet even if they rinsed the aloo from the vindaloo in boiling hot water, it would still be fiery hot. Mutton vindaloo never again.

So what is the hottest food you've ever had?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

G is for geek

Okay, so I have a rather small dressing table. The different objects on it are always fighting for space. With the addition of Xena's box of 3842984730247039 hairclips and rubber bands (which I admit were added by me, but still), it's gotten worse. However, I always keep one of the corner spaces reserved for my ipad and phone, which I place there just before I go to bed. I see red when that space is occupied, especially if I'm not the one who put the stuff there. So the other day, when I saw two of Xena's water bottles and two large drinking glasses on 'my spot', I lost it. I picked up all four items and marched over to Viv. Then I said in my most polite voice, "Viv, my dressing table is huge and has a lot of empty space. I think two 500-ml drinking glasses and two water bottles are probably not enough to occupy all that free space. Why don't you get four more of each and put them there?"

He stared at me for a few seconds with a completely blank look. Then he spoke slowly, "You know, sometimes it takes me a while to figure out if you're being serious or sarcastic. I have to process your words and insert the Boolean NOT operator in the correct places before I can tell what you're really saying."


Monday, April 07, 2014

F is for Favourites

So I got this notification on Facebook that I had been tagged in a photo posted by a classmate from my primary school days. I was sure it would either be a "Like this page if you like Sai baba" kind of thing, or a "Latest research from Johns Hopkins shows that everyone has cancer cells" kind of thing, both of which irritate me to no end. So I clicked to see what it was so I could immediately untag myself. What I saw made me almost fall off my chair. It was a photo of six of us in our school uniform from some twenty years ago. My first reaction when I saw my two-decade-old self was "OMG class nerd". To verify it, I sent the photo to Viv, a few of my current friends and my in-laws, i.e. those who have never seen that avatar of mine. And the reaction I got from them was consistently, "OMG class nerd". Ditto from the comments on the Facebook photo. So when Facebook prompted me with the "Are you crazy enough to publish this to your timeline?" I hastily pressed the "HELL, NO!" button.

But then I got all nostalgic and dug out my 'opinion book' from those days. Remember opinion books? They were full of inane things that we forced our friends to write, such as their favourite animal, flower and fruit (Seriously? Favourite fruit??), which I have to admit, serve as a great source of mirth now. As I read the list of my own favourites back then, I thought it might be fun to do a comparison of what I used to like then and what I like now.

My favourite colour (then): Pink and sky blue (ahem, 'sky' blue, no less)
My favourite colour (now): Purple

My favourite food (then): Chilli chicken
My favourite food (now): Spicy roadside pani puri served in a leaf, with potato stuffing, not chana, and imli ka pani, no meethi chutney

My favourite subject (then): Sanskrit (because it was easy to ace)
My favourite subject (now): Science (because it is so intriguing)

My favourite actor (then): Salman Khan (I kid you not) and Aamir Khan
My favourite actor (now): None (To clarify, SRK is my favourite star, but I have no current favourite actor)

My favourite actress (then): Bhagyashree (still not kidding) and Juhi Chawla
My favourite actress (now): None

My favourite films (then): Maine Pyaar Kiya, QSQT, Padosan
My favourite films (now): Too many to name

My favourite song (then): Aate jaate from Maine Pyaar Kiya (I had never heard any English songs and I had no clue this song was such a blatant copy)
My favourite song (now): Too many, but if asked to pick one at gunpoint, I'd pick Naam ada likhna from Yahaan

My favourite flower (then): Lotus
My favourite flower (now): Pink gerbera

My favourite fruit (then): Mango
My favourite fruit (now): Mango

My favourite bird (then): Peacock
My favourite bird (now): Err... I don't know. I don't even think I care.

My favourite animal (then): Rabbit
My favourite animal (now): Err... rabbit again? (Incidentally, Xena was born in the Chinese year of the rabbit)

My favourite game (then): Cricket (to watch), Badminton (to play)
My favourite game (now): Badminton (to play)

My favourite place (then): Kodaikanal
My favourite place (now): Queenstown

My favourite drink (then): Maaza
My favourite drink (now): Bundaberg ginger beer, frozen mango margarita

My favourite author (then): Enid Blyton
My favourite author (now): J.K. Rowling

My favourite singer (then): Lata Mangeshkar
My favourite singer (now): Varies, the latest being Arijit Singh

My favourite ad (then): Lehar 7Up (was it the Fido Dido ad?)
My favourite ad (now): Tum chalo toh Hindustan chale (it's not exactly an ad for a product, but it always makes me tear up)

My favourite season (then): Rainy season
My favourite season (now): Mild winter

My favourite junk food (then): Binnie's pudina flavoured potato chips (I beg you, please watch this ad. You'll die laughing at "Humko yeh nahin maangta, humko woh nahin maangta, humko aur koi chips nahin maangta! Toh kya maangta?? Binnie's Binnie's!")
My favourite junk food (now): Cadbury's rum & raisin dark chocolate (though according to some very promising new research, dark chocolate is not junk food anymore, but an essential nutrient required for the survival of the human species)

My hobbies (then): Reading, poetry, sketching, playing the keyboard, singing
My hobbies (now): Singing, blogging, watching Hindi movies, reading Bollywood news

I am afraid of (then): Lizards
I am afraid of (now): Lizards

The place I wanted to visit (then): London
The place I want to visit (now): The whole world