Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U is for unusual

I can be quite the purist when it comes to masala chai.

Once, I met this lady who told me she loves masala chai tea (grrr....) so much that she went to Mustafa and bought the masala tea mix (GRRRR....) so she could make authentic (GRRRRRRRR...) masala chai tea (STOP CALLING IT CHAI TEA ALREADY, YOU FEMALE WOMAN!).

Already offended on multiple levels, I still got myself to tell her how to make authentic masala tea the proper way, by boiling the actual spices in the milk+water mixture and using tea leaves, not tea bags. I'm not very sure she was listening though, because very soon after, she was subtly trying to check if I'd accept Jesus as my saviour.

Lady, I have masala chai in my life. You really think I need a saviour?

There are very few things in life that I revere as much as a well-made cup of masala chai. Which is why I found it very uncharacteristic of me that when I came across the concept of masala chai cupcakes, instead of going 'What the...?!", I went, "Why not?"

"Omg there is such a thing as masala chai cupcakes!!!" I messaged the family WhatsApp group, followed by a "Omg where are you ALL when I wanna try making them????"  😭😭😭

The sister-in-law, who is sweet enough to always indulge me when I say really weird things reacted with a "Oh!!" followed by "But also ew?"

(She's a chai-lover, but not a dessert-lover, so the idea of masala chai cupcakes must have short-circuited her brain. Kind of what happened to me when I found out about vodka pani puri.)

I was a little sceptical at first, but strangely, I was feeling quite open to the idea of masala chai cupcakes. Compared to the weird teas I'd been offered in different points in my life (tea with pepper powder, tea boiled with green chillis, and of course, Starbucks chai tea), this seemed like a safe bet. I figured I'd make a small batch so that if it was as disgusting as I'm sure it sounds to many people, I could just toss it without feeling bad. But here's the thing with baking stuff that needs eggs. You can only go down to one egg when reducing your batch size. And that still makes quite a big number of cupcakes.

Anyway, last weekend, I threw caution and cynicism to the wind and made them! Xena sat at the dining table, reading her book (and silently judging me). She looked quite disturbed at the sight of the tea cooling on the table and more disturbed when I told her I was going to add it to the cupcake batter, but at the same time, she was filled with relief because she knew that the presence of tea meant that she wouldn't have to sample the cupcakes at all.

With Viv in the US, and the in-laws back in Bangalore and with no guinea pig sister-in-law, I knew it would come down to me to finish off the batch. And I was willing to take the risk.

What a relief that the cupcakes turned out to be totally... edible! I wouldn't call them fantastic (yet) because I still want to tweak the recipe (use a bit of baking soda to counter the tea's acidity, and use more tea leaves so that their flavour comes through more strongly).

The masala chai flavour was quite subtle, but it was there all right and it didn't seem to disagree with the idea of being in a cupcake. Phew!


Okay, I absolutely have to share this punversation the sis-in-law and I had over WhatsApp last night as we tried to find her a suitable topic for her U post. She had recently posted about how much she missed the pun wars we punstars and pundits used to have on her Facebook wall (gosh, I miss them too!) and so it was so fun to get back to punning, even though it was just the two of us! We need a gigantic group pun war soon!   


Monday, April 24, 2017

T is for tenacious

We were shopping for groceries at the nearby Fairprice, when we realised that the volume of our loot far exceeded that of the shopping trolley we'd taken along to lug the stuff back in.

So Viv and I started splitting up some of the bags between ourselves to carry in our hands.

Never the one to be left behind, Xena immediately offered the power of her tiny muscles.

Xena - Mama, can I carry one of the bags? This one?

Me - Oh, that's so kind of you. Thanks, baby. But I think it might be too heavy for you to carry all the way home. The straps of the bags might cut your hands.

Xena - Hmmm... Mama, I have a great idea.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S is for six

Every once in a while, I look at Xena and go, "Oh my goodness, she's SIX."

Seriously, sometimes I can't believe I have a six-year-old on my hands. She seems so -- for lack of a better term -- 'grown-up' sometimes. Was I like this at six?

And then I got down to thinking -- what was I like around that age?

I only remember snatches of my life back then. Some of it is hazy and some of it crystal clear. But boy, was it a big contrast from Xena's life as a six-year-old.

My dad had just gotten posted to Patna. An alien city in an alien state with an alien language. I had joined Std I in a school which was about 150 metres from my house. (Distance was the most important -- and probably the only -- consideration when it came to choosing schools in those days.) The nearest big and important road to my place was called West (or was it East?) Boring Canal Road, or just Boring Road as most people preferred to call it. Only now do I see the humour in it.

I used to walk to school every morning. There was one particular point in the lane in front of our house, where I would pause and look up at the living room windows of my home. Mom would always be there, waving. I remember one day I was mad at her for something and I didn't look up and just kept walking. (I had no idea how hurtful it must have been for her. If Xena did this to me, I would be heartbroken. Sorry, Mama!)

My best friend in school was the class teacher's daughter who used to be top of the class before I joined. Then I took over, but somehow we still remained 'best friends' in spite of the competition. She was Muslim, and I remember thinking that that made her qualified to answer my inane questions such as, "So tell me, what's the difference between ikhtiyar, ibtida, intehaa, imtihaan, istakbal and inteqal?" I still remember the horrified (and sometimes terrified) looks she used to give me. You see, Hindi was very new to me, and so was Urdu, and I was just trying really really hard to pick up the languages, using whatever means I had. I used to listen to a crazy amount of Hindi film music and would spend a lot of time dissecting the lyrics and trying to really understand them.

In the evenings, I used to attempt to play badminton with the bhaiyas and didis of the colony. I also insisted on playing cricket, and because "girls were not allowed to play cricket", the boys would say "iska doodh-bhaat hai" which pretty much translated to "she's totally inconsequential, but we can use her to fetch the ball and stuff". I did that for quite some time and then I got really good at fielding and then they just had to let me bat. (I had paid my dues after all.) Woohoo! Highlight of my year, I tell you.

Soon, they let me in, and tried to teach me how to fly kites and play marbles and spin a top (I got surprisingly good at it. Haven't spun a top in decades though.)

Every evening, I would go downstairs to play and come back only when it started getting dark. All the kids did that and none of the parents worried. In spite of the fact that no one, including ourselves, knew where we would be heading each day.

Our landlord lived in the same building as us, and he had this huge dog called Jimmy. And because it was always leashed, we would dance in front of it, singing, "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy! Aaja aaja aaja!" (Remember the song?)

We didn't have a phone. In fact, there were only two phones in our building, and we were really fortunate because one of them was in the apartment just opposite ours. But we had strict orders from our parents never to give out the number to anyone because we had an understanding with the neighbours that we could use their phone for "making and receiving very urgent calls only".

There was an aunty in the neighbourhood who had a mehendi tree in her courtyard. She would pluck the leaves, make the paste and invite us to go nuts over it. She had a tenant who was newly married and used to put the mehendi on her lips. I kid you not. She looked scary, sporting the mehendi-orange lips.

Some evenings, the dosa wala would come by. He would use his steel spatula to make loud clanging noises on his griddle, and all the grown-ups would rush down and surround him. Buying authentic dosas from a Tamilian in a small colony in Patna. It was the real deal. It was a big deal.

It got really cold during winters (I think the lowest was about 6 degrees), and sometimes some uncles would collect newspapers from everyone and make a bonfire in a side alley! I think it was just for the heck of it. I mean, no one needed a bonfire. But it was such an event. We would huddle around it, all excited, warming our hands.

Maybe it's time to share with Xena what her mommy was as a six-year-old. I can already imagine her baffled look when I recount all this.

Friday, April 21, 2017

R is for rebel

I should have seen it coming.

One of the games Xena has been playing since she was really tiny has been waking up each morning pretending to be a new animal. So on some days, she'd go, "Mama, I'm a snail today. My name is Snailie. You're Mama Snailie and Dada is Dada Snailie."

The very next day, if I'd address her as 'Snailie', she'd protest.

"I'm not a snail today, Mama! I'm a snake called Snakie!" And this update would be reflected in all of the drawings she'd make that day. Take a look!

Of course, she'd quickly undergo metamorphosis again.

"Mama, I'm not a snake today! I'm a scorpion! I'm Scorpie the scorpion. You're Mama Scorpie and Dada is Dada Scorpie!"

The next day, she'd be a worm called Wormie, and so on. Crickey the cricket. Grassy the grasshopper. Cammy the camel. You get the drift. I was quite amused that in addition to the cutesy animals that most kids want to be, such as bunnies and squirrels, she also had some very odd choices.

For the last few weeks -- ever since we got back from the Science Centre hatchery actually -- she's been a chick. A chick called Chicky. Obviously. And I'm obviously Heny/Henny, while Viv is Roosty. This has been dutifully reflected in the drawings.

She asked her teacher to draw a Mauritian Fody so she could colour it. The hapless teacher had to google what on earth a Mauritian Fody was first. 

Yesterday, when I logged into the school portal to check her learning portfolio in preparation for the parent-teacher meeting, I almost fell off my chair laughing. The learning portfolio features photos of work that the kids do in class, and most of it is 'serious' stuff, to showcase to parents how well their kids are doing.

There was a project called 'A look into the future', where the other kids had ambitiously described how they wanted to be doctors and astronauts and superheroes when they grew up.

My dear child, on the other hand, had written the below.

Bas itna sa khwaab hai?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Q is for questions

"Mama, we should have brought the dinosaur cards along!"


"Then we could have played with them while we waited for our food."

We were at Blooie's with the in-laws for dinner. Strangely, Viv had also made a rare appearance. Xena had been pulled out of a serious dinosaur card game she had been playing with her grandma, and it was making her restless at the restaurant.

"Why do we need dinosaur cards? We can play something else." I suggested.

"Like what?"

"Like... Questions!"

"What is that?"

Now that I had made up the name of the game, I had to quickly make up the rules.

"Umm... Each person asks the others one question each, which he/she doesn't know the answer to." I hoped it made sense.

Apparently, it did.

We spent the next half an hour playing Questions. And even though the questions were really basic, the whole experience was quite an eye-opener.

I found out that my mom-in-law had majored in Economics and my dad-in-law in Physics! 

I found out that my dad-in-law's favourite food is puri with aloo ki sabzi (and I've never even made that for him!). 

I found out that Viv travelled in a train without his parents when he was 7 years old.

I found out that as a kid, Viv would ask all visitors as soon as they had stepped inside, what time they were going to leave. Not because he was rude or wanted them to leave, but because he wanted to know how long he had them to play with.  

I found out that my mom-in-law's favourite colour is turquoise. 

I found out that dad-in-law never really liked being a banker. And he was a banker all his working life! (In contrast, imagine the freedom newer generations have when it comes to picking a vocation!)

I found out that Xena's favourite school lunch is macaroni soup.
(It seriously is the world's most awesome preschool menu ever! Everything is all wholemeal and super-healthy, and they grow their own herbs in the school garden. The dishes follow a 30-day rotation, which means each dish is not repeated until the next month. Wowza.) 

I found out that Xena's favourite food at home is idli-oh-no-mama-it's-not-idli-it's-dosa-no-wait-it's-not-dosa-it's-actually-pizza! Okay then.

And it wasn't just stuff about the others I was discovering. The rapid fire format made me discover things about myself too. There were many, but this one stood out, because the answer was quite unexpected.

I found out that if asked what my most favourite thing to do was, I'd say 'baking'. I'd have never guessed. Baking? Really? Reeeeeally? 

Yeah, maybe. 

Do try playing Questions at your next gathering with family and close friends (i.e. people you think you know really well) and see if you make any interesting discoveries!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P is for party

I live in the east coast of Singapore, which is a popular area for many expats. Most condominiums in this area have a good mix of locals and expats. The diversity in ours is pretty mind-blowing. And that is one of the biggest reasons why I'm always so gung-ho about organising pot luck parties. Most communities kind of stick to themselves, and these are the only opportunities when not only does everyone come together, the entire world's cuisine also comes together.

I've realised that most people are always happy to attend such events, as long as someone is willing to do all the organising. And everyone knows I'm always willing to be the willing one. And there are always enough enthusiastic people who are happy to join the organising committee and put their talents to good use. And boy, do we have some talent in our neighbourhood or what.

Last week had been a busy, busy one. Other than the planning for the big neighbourhood Easter party, I also had to make Easter cookies for Xena's class Easter party on Thursday. I decided to experiment with wholewheat, low-sugar cookies. Thanks to the very cute Easter cookie cutters I have, you totally couldn't tell that the cookies were healthier than regular ones. The wholewheat made the dough not very smooth and the edges were not as sharp when cut, but the cookies turned out fine. According to Xena's report, the kids gobbled them up in no time.

Aren't they kayoooot? This is the recipe I used, but I cut the sugar in half. 

Cut to Sunday. Our neighbourhood Easter party. The skies looked dark and we looked troubled. We had spent an incredible amount of time and effort on the decoration, egg hunt plan and games, and even though we had an indoor back-up venue, it just wouldn't be the same if we didn't have it in the open bbq area, which was right next to a playground and had lots of space for kids to run around and adults to mingle.

Just as we were putting up the decorations on the trees, we felt the first drops. "Make a call," said one of the organisers, "Let's move in now. The decorations will be ruined if they get wet." I was very reluctant to move in. There were some clouds but the other parts of the sky looked really blue. I'd also checked the cloud cover for 240 km around Singapore (and also 480 km; yes, I'm crazy like that) and it didn't look like any dark clouds were headed to our island to wreak any havoc that evening. So I told everyone to stay put and continue, keeping my fingers crossed that my gut feeling wouldn't let me down. Thankfully, the little drops that had fallen on us were the only ones that evening. Phew!

One of the ladies had made these cheerful Easter cut-outs, which looked lovely on the trees.

I'd drawn this basket of Easter eggs on the side of a giant cardboard box, and a neighbour had painted it. 

We also had some standalone 3D eggs in the bushes, which a talented neighbour had made. Xena and I painted the pink one. She used a paint roller to whitewash the egg (as it was made from an old brown cardboard box) and add the pink layer, and I painted the designs.

More cardboard box Easter decor items! 

My amazing neighbour who juggles three kids and part-time studies somehow found time to make this hockey game station for the party. 

Obviously, the kids had a real ball with it.

Another lady had done up a 'Pin the tail on the bunny' game and kids of all ages loved it. We had decided that both games were just for fun, and would have no prizes. Kids these days are too used to getting prizes for every little thing and we wanted to break that trend. 

One of the ladies had set up an Easter craft station where the kids made little Easter bunnies using toilet paper rolls and craft items. Xena is posing with hers. 

Then came the egg hunt. Since we had a whopping 72 kids, I split them up into three groups according to age. We used the same set of plastic eggs (and they didn't have any candy inside, of course) for all three groups. Each kid had to find at least 2 eggs to claim a yo-yo, so we got all the eggs back after each group was done. That way, we didn't have to buy, like, 144 eggs. 

The egg hunt was hilarious. We had it in the playground and the hiding places got progressively tougher as the age range went up. 

The 4-6-year-olds, for instance, not only had to find the eggs, but they had to sit down together, pull each of them apart into two halves and then put them together by colour. Xena had helped me the day before to scramble up the halves of the eggs.

I felt that the oldest kids would find the egg hunt a bit too juvenile for their liking so I made theirs into a group activity involving teamwork. They had five minutes to do these tasks: (a) find all the eggs; (b) exchange the eggs with me for some jumbled letters; and (c) unscramble the letters to form three Easter-related words. 

I didn't really time them; it was just a threat to add some drama, but the kids felt very important when they solved the puzzle 'just in time'. 

We also had a game for the adults. Each adult picked a chit with one half of a Hollywood celebrity name, and they had to find the other half. And because we had close to 100 people, it was totally chaotic. Just as I had hoped and expected, and a lot of fun. 

The winning couple's chits 

And of course, what is a party without food? There sure was a LOT of food. And it was of all kinds. 


At the end of the party, the kids were scrambling to get their hands on their decor, especially the cardboard cut-out animals. We were only too happy to let them take them home, considering the time and effort we had put into them. 

Everything went very well, and everyone ended up making new friends. People were amazed at how little they knew about their neighbours. In fact, every other face seemed to be a new one. We really need to have more of such gatherings with our neighbours. 

Happy belated Easter!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

O for obsessed

Since the last post was a big ol' rant, I need to have a rave to balance things out a bit. And the only thing that I have been raving about for more than a month is Coke Studio Pakistan. After I was done listening to Khakhi banda some 3487583475 times, I went back to old seasons and rediscovered some amazing gems from the Rohail Hyatt era.

So here they are, my top all-time Coke Studio Pakistan songs. Well, I started off meaning to pick just five but then I just couldn't do it. So I said okay, I'll do seven, but that wasn't looking possible either. Then I told myself that ten would be the absolute last option, but then I just had to include this one, and that one, and oh, that other cute little one, and oh gosh how could I even think of excluding that other one? So... one thing led to another and here we have 13 (Yay! My favourite number though!) of my top favourite Coke Studio songs!

Miyan ki malhaar
Gosh, this song is rain and rain is this song! Listen to it and you'll know what I mean. We've been having some beautiful unseasonal rain in Singapore lately, and this song goes so well with it! I listen to it at least 4-5 times a day.

Neer bharan
This song is a killer. I'm in love with Zara Madani's voice. 'Nuff said.

Tum naraaz ho
Sajjad Ali's voice is so velvety, you'll be totally lost in this song. Oh, the feels.

Khakhi banda
Nope, still not sick of it. Still listening. Still loving.

Mahi gal
Okay, this song took a while, but now I love it to bits! And the lyrics are magical -- 'Teri deed gareeban da hajj ve'... Fariha Pervez's guest appearance takes the song to a whole new level.

Anokha laadla
At first, I found this song very weird. I still can't tell what it is about. Religion? Love? A spoilt brat? It's probably one of the very very few songs that I really love without caring too much about the lyrics.

Ve baneya
I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Fizza Javed's parts but Mulazim Hussain's parts are mind-blowing. It took a few listens before the song grew on me though. I just love the honesty and smile the man carries in his voice.

Nimma nimma
In general, I don't like lullaby-type or meri-maaa type of songs, so I quickly dismissed this in the beginning. But later, I found myself humming the tune and craving to listen to it again. And now I'm hooked.

Moray naina
Zara Madani. Stop it, lady. You're killing me.

Uddi ja
Okay, this guy is super-talented. He wrote, composed and sang this song. And it's done brilliantly. Even Xena really likes this song and keeps singing it.

Ala baali
Setting aside the very strong Sukhwinder Singh vibes you get from Jabar Abbas, this song is a winner. Nirmal Roy's unique voice and the playfulness of the song make a great combination. Kinda makes me want to belly-dance to it. Weird, huh?

Shamaan pai gaiyaan
I've seen Rachel Viccaji as the back-up singer in pretty much every single Coke Studio song. So when I saw her come up to the front, I was madly rooting for her. And boy, did she deliver. In fact, she almost overshadows Kashif Ali in this song, who's already very very very good.

Tu kuja man kuja
I added this song only two days ago, and I'm still getting into it, but I do know it's here to stay. The two very different voices come together so well. And the instrumentalists do a mind-blowing job.

I wish I could have included some more, but I really shouldn't. There is this one hilarious parody song by Ali Zafar though, with lyrics that go, 'Baby, you're the one, but allowed toh hai na chaar!' Only Ali Zafar can do justice to a song like that. But because the song is very un-Coke Studio, I excluded it from my top 13. But do check it out. It will have you in splits.

And wait, wait, wait, there's this other little song...


Okay, you know what? I have a playlist of the 30+ songs that I have been listening to on loop day and night, so if you'd like to listen to all of it as a single playlist, here it it! You can click on this to see all the songs, or simply press play below.

Play it really really loudly, okay? And do let me know if you like/hate any of them!

Monday, April 17, 2017

N is for Netflix

For people like Viv and me who do not watch TV, or have any TV channels, or no time to channel-surf, Netflix is a boon. I'm sure there will be people who will argue that Netflix is a boon for everyone, but it is especially for us. Every now and then, after putting Xena to bed, we like to sit down and watch something on Netflix together.

However, like everything in life, Netflix has some good stuff and a whole bunch of crap. If you thought this post is about my favourite Netflix shows, you're mistaken. Here is a list of shows that we started watching, but ditched midway because it was just sucharoyalwasteoftime.

Mad Men
This was one of the first few Netflix shows we watched, and it was a multiple award-winning show, so we had high expectations. Many many episodes later, I still couldn't care less for any of the characters (and boy, does the show have a lot of characters). We stuck around for quite some time (why oh why) hoping for the show to go somewhere. It didn't, so we went elsewhere.

Orange is the New Black
I know fans of the show are going to hate this review, but we couldn't even get past the first season. The girl-on-girl action was getting a bit too much and was happening literally for no reason, and overall the show just didn't seem to go anywhere. Someone said the newer seasons are getting good reviews, but we just can't go back to this show anymore.

I'm not a fan of supernatural dramas, or anything that involves zombies, so I wasn't even sure why I started watching it in the first place, but after the end of the season, I told Viv to go watch it by himself if he wants, but under no circumstances am I going to watch the next season. Terrible, terrible show.

Stranger Things
I get it, I get it. The nod to the 80s pop culture, the E.T. nostalgia, etc. etc. But I just found it very hard to care for anyone in the show. And that 'beast'. My goodness, where do I even start? I know it's supposed to give you a feel for the 80s, but surely they could have made a better beast.

We started watching this on the recommendation of someone who said look, finally, the homosexual community gets the forefront in a mainstream TV show. All that is fine, but I cannot watch a show just for that. Where is the story, where is it all going? Why is that Icelandic character so utterly useless? And don't even get me started on the Indian character Kala who goes to a Ganesha temple in Mumbai and speaks to the lord in English.

How to Get Away with Murder
Like Sense8, I felt this show was also more in the news due to its PC-ness than its actual content. Powerful female black lead? Applause! But the story itself? Nothing to really hold my interest. Annalise Keating's character felt like it had more style than substance, and her students looked like they were in the middle of a bad I Know What You Did Last Summer movie.

Master of None
Again, the PC-ness of it was too much. And the show is so not funny. I watched two episodes with a poker face, not even breaking into a smile. And I totally don't get how that episode with Aziz Ansari's parents got so many awards. It was the worst ever! Just because you're the star of a show and you get your parents to act the part of your parents doesn't give them the ability to act. They were terrible.

Prison Break
We actually started watching this because we had pretty much run out of material, and I remembered that it had been a very popular show at one point. (Is it still?) But I can't say I liked it. Everything just seemed a little too convenient and the lead character a little too smug for my liking.

The OA
If I had to pick a show as the highest-level crap of the crap, it has to be the super-pretentious OA. I found everything about the lead character sooooooo annoying, I just couldn't stand her after a while. The way she casually tells everyone, "I'm the OA." as if that's explanation enough just grates on my nerves. This is probably what happens when you conceptualise a show and then decide to play the lead (unless you're Charlie Chaplin.) And that 'prison' of theirs, with the shared 'river' and oh, where is their toilet, if some of them have been living in those glass pods for years? If it's the river, then lord, oh lord, I definitely don't want to watch this show.


Breaking Bad, what have you done to me? Why did you set the bar so high? Now I can never ever enjoy any TV show. :|

Saturday, April 15, 2017

M is for Mini-me

"Oh Mama," exclaimed Xena. "The chick is SOOOOOO KAYOOOOT!"

We were looking at a newly-hatched chick in the hatchery at the Science Centre's discovery zone. There is a completely transparent incubator where eggs are segregated based on how old they are, and if you have enough time and patience to hang around near the 21st day eggs, you will be rewarded with an amazing sight. We didn't have the time to actually see a chick hatch out of an egg (there is this really cool video someone took and uploaded, in case you're keen), but we did see a wobbly little chick and the two halves of the egg it had climbed out of. And it was this particular chick that Xena was finding SOOOOOO KAYOOOOOOT.

It amuses me how much Xena copies the strange terms and quirky words that I use sometimes. When I find something irresistibly cute, I feel that the word 'cute' just doesn't do it justice, and I go "SOOOOO KAYOOOOOT!"

The other day, I was kinda panicking about the number of things I had to do that morning, and she came to me, held my hands and gently said, "Mama... first... we need to calm down. Then we can think better." I nearly fell down laughing. Every time she flips out over something -- a bruise or a school project or a lost library book -- I hold her hands and gently say, "Xena... first... we need to calm down. Then we can think better."

Then there was this time I was making dosas for her. When I served the first one to her, she said, "Oh Mama, this is wrong..."

"It is?"

"I wanted one carrot dosa with no cheese, and one plain dosa with cheese. This is a carrot dosa with cheese..."

"Oh dear... sorry, I must have mixed them up in my head. But it's okay, isn't it? You can eat this. I'll just make the plain dosa without cheese."

"Yeah, it's okay. I can eat this," she said, sounding a little disappointed. "But I had specifically said one carrot dosa with no cheese, and one plain dosa with cheese..."

Oh dear lord. My 6-year-old had specifically said that. I wonder who overuses the word specifically. Oh. Dear. Lord.

As she grows older and I realise that her mirroring my words and actions is moving out of the KAYOOOOOT phase into serious territory, I feel a little nervous. Take what happened the other day, for example. Normally, I'm very particular about using only an after-then strategy ("After you finish your meal, we can play Scrabble.") instead of a threatening if-then strategy ("If you finish your meal, we can play Scrabble."). But that day, I was cooking and she kept getting up and coming to the kitchen instead of staying put at the dining table and finishing her milk.

"Mama, please play Afreen afreen for me." She said. Without thinking, I'd blurted out, "I'll play it if you finish your milk." Without hesitation, she said, "I'll finish it if you play the song." My ears literally burned. Not only was I horrified at how rude and threatening that sounded coming from her, I was also shocked at how fast these kids catch on. I repaired the situation quickly by saying, "Ooh, how about we focus on the milk first, and then we can focus and really listen to the song together properly?" She agreed. Phew! I made a quick mental note to be even more watchful of my words around her.

Sometimes, it's so hard to be yourself and yet be this ideal person for your kids to emulate. I'm not talking about hiding our mistakes from them, just showing them the 'better' way to deal with things. How we react to stuff is exactly how our little Mini-mes will react to stuff; the words we choose to use are what they are going to use. So I try to show her my best side at all times -- my kindest, most polite, most enthusiastic, most creative, most resourceful, most pleasant, most sociable, most politically correct, most unbiased, most forgiving, most resilient, most adaptive side, even though I'm obviously not like that all the time. But I do it, at the cost of feeling a little hypocritical at times. I'm still trying to make my peace with this conflicted feeling. But then that's my view on it -- in parenting Xena, I'm just trying to create a slightly better version of myself.

Friday, April 14, 2017

L is for lovely

Without any attempts at any subtle plugging, I shall go ahead and shamelessly proclaim it -- it was my BIRTHDAY yesterday!

After a certain age, birthdays are not that exciting. When someone asks, "Ooh, what are you doing for your birthday?" there's no real cool answer to that. "Nothing much... normal workday, then birthday dinner in the evening." has been my standard answer these last few years. And though you wouldn't associate the word 'exciting' with this scenario, to me, it's a perfectly acceptable way to spend an adult's birthday. However, this year, I felt a weird sense of inner joy and contentment and that was pretty exciting. Old age, I tell you. I wonder what else it has in store for me?

The days leading up to my birthday had been rather crazy. My magazine's current issue had to be sent to press urgently, a colleague wanted the proofs that I was working on so urgently he was ready to meet me at the airport (in-laws left for India today and I'd told him I wouldn't be home) to pick them up. On top of that, I'm organising the Easter party for our neighbourhood and I totally didn't expect 95 adults and 75 kids to register for it!

Viv has been literally living in the office in preparation for his US work trip, once in a while making it home, say around 3 am or 5 am. And not to even mention the April blogathon. In the midst of all this, I'd thought my birthday would just come and go. Like any other day. But it was quite lovely, to be honest.

I was working late on the eve of my birthday when dad-in-law popped his head in exactly at midnight (Why was he awake at that hour, you ask? I have three letters for you - IPL.) to wish me a happy birthday. At about 12.05 am, I heard the keys in the front door. It was definitely more likely to be a burglar than Viv. But it was Viv! My husband had crossed oceans and fought dragons cast aside screens and screens of C++ to get to me as soon as my birthday began! I was touched. We decided to take a midnight stroll and get some ice-cream. It was a privilege because we can do this kind of thing only when someone is home with Xena.

When we got back, I scooped her up from her bed and transferred her to ours. She turned sleepily and mumbled something. Viv said, "Hey Xena, what day is it?" She immediately got all alert, and kissed and hugged and wished me before promptly going back to sleep.

On the morning of my birthday, I put on new clothes after my shower. I can't remember the last time I'd put on new clothes on my birthday right from the morning. I do buy something new for my birthday (or save an outfit gifted by someone) but I wear it only in the evening when going out to celebrate. But this time, the in-laws had taken me shopping for my birthday and got me a whole bunch of outfits. I could wear one in the morning and then wear another one in the evening, and I'd still have two more to go! It was pretty exciting.

Then the WhatsApp fiasco happened. A neighbour, who occasionally plays badminton with me, decided it would be damn fun to wish me for my birthday on the neighbourhood WhatsApp group -- yes, the one with SIXTY-TWO people on it -- instead of messaging me directly. As more and more people felt arm-twisted into following her message with their own happy birthday messages, I had to literally beg for it to be taken offline so we could spare everyone the spam.

But this meant that everyone in the group now knew it was my birthday. And because I know almost everyone (because I'm the admin of the neighbourhood FB group and organise the social events), many of them took the time to send me personal wishes. I was touched. To me, if someone is taking time off to do something for you that is 100% optional, it's very touching.

Later, when I checked my FB account, I saw a lot of birthday wishes on my wall as well. Many of them from people I'm not really in touch with. Again, going by my 100% optional rule, it was touching that people had bothered to wish me. I decided to spend some time replying properly to each person. I didn't want to simply 'like' their wishes, or post generic thank you messages to everyone, or just write an FB post on the lines of 'Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. Feeling blessed.' I feel that is just lazy and also stresses everyone else out -- those who had not wished you and now that you have thopo'ed your birthday on their faces, have no choice but to sheepishly say 'Happy belated birthday'. So I took a moment to think about each of them, about our last interaction or something relevant about them that I remembered, before individually replying to them. I felt like it was the least I could do. I felt happy doing it.

It was strange to feel the kind of gratitude I was feeling, because in my 20s I used to be someone who had high expectations from everyone on my birthday, which on hindsight, was not a good thing at all. These days, I'm a lot more mellow and content with whatever I get. So much more soothing for the soul. For example, if an acquaintance wished me on FB, my first thought would have been 'Ha! You remembered only because FB reminded you!' whereas now I feel grateful. FB reminds everyone, but it's those who take the time to wish you when they didn't really have to, who make it that much more special.

The sister-in-law had sent me a very pretty wallet for my birthday. Knowing my practical self, she'd let me choose what I wanted and ordered it to be delivered to me. But she had a bigger surprise waiting for me on her blog -- a heartwarming post about me! (Well, it's about Viv and me, but mostly me, hehehe!) In the post, she's documented our friendship from the first time she'd met me some 12 years ago when I was just Viv's girlfriend. Who doesn't want to read stuff like "She fires on all cylinders, she’s living proof that it can be done. At any point in time, she’s juggling a dozen balls, and doing it in a fabulous dress and kickass heels." on their birthday? Because this week had been one of those where my super-efficient self was also having its doubts about itself, this really helped. It made my birthday extra special.

When I picked up Xena from school, her friend's mom who knows it's my birthday insisted on dropping us home in her car. "I have to drop you home. It's your birthday!" I couldn't say no. I'm always declining her offers to drop us home (mainly because we are bus people and I don't want Xena to get used to being ferried around in a car every day) but I had to take it. On the way she was telling me how much she loves her own birthday, and suddenly it struck me -- one should!

For lunch, mom-in-law had made puri and aloo ki sabzi. Like dad-in-law, I really like puris too, but I rarely make them because of the hassle and oil involved. She, on the other hand, had made about 20 or maybe more puris, and I swear I only had about 7 or 8 of them. Not more. Mom-in-law looked at my guilty face and insisted that the puris were really tiny so it was okay, but the truth is the truth. I told my inner fitter self that it was okay because I had gone to the gym in the morning and no one goes to the gym on their birthday. My inner fitter self just shook her head and said, "Riiiight."

And because I'd not already consumed enough calories at lunch, in the afternoon, right after I'd sent the issue off to the printer and the child off to bed for her nap, I made a cake. (Of course, I make my own birthday cake. It had to be homemade, low-sugar, yada yada yada.) I made a heart-shaped green pandan cake -- no icing. And I have no pictures of it because we cut it up and ate it. It was soft and spongy and homely and comforting.

In the evening, all of us went for dinner at Super Loco, a Mexican restaurant I'd been dying to go to for the longest time. I'd chosen an outlet which was at walking distance from Viv's office because I expected him to go back to work after dinner, but strangely he didn't. Yay! We wrapped the evening up with some tiramisu and cheesecake (definitely not homemade, definitely not low-sugar, but definitely tasty as hell).

It was a lovely day indeed. I guess growing older isn't that bad.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

K is for kimkartavyavimoodh

Say what?!

If you didn't have Hindi as a subject in school, you might have never heard of the word किंकर्तव्यविमूढ. When our Hindi teacher broke the word to us, we were blown away. What a word. What length. What beauty. What randomness. What joblessness.

I think if you break it down, it goes something like किं = what, कर्तव्य = to doविमूढ = dunno. Basically it means "dunno what to do". This word has particular significance for many a bloggers during the taxing month of April, because there are some letters in the alphabet which you just don't know what to do with. 

After 'words that start with k' failed to turn up any satisfactory results, I turned to my own creative juices. Come on, guys. Give me something!

K for karaoke? Write about the Bollywood karaoke club that I have recently joined? (It's true. We get together, sing loudly and off-key, and hope that the security guards -- or worse, the police -- won't come-a-knocking.)

K for knock knock jokes? Xena has been introduced to the world of knock knock jokes by her classmates and because they totally don't get how these jokes work, people around her have to endure really really bad knock knock jokes that do not make any sense at all. Sample this:

Knock knock

Who's there?
Octo who?

K for kanjak? Every year, some of my neighbours organise kanjak puj where nine girls are worshipped as devis. We just attended four last week. We were literally puja-hopping. Xena even attended one in her swimsuit because the invitation was for 5 pm and her swim lesson was at 5.30 pm. I don't care much about pujas and stuff, but it's definitely a fun social event that I try not to miss. I also lug my DSLR along to capture shots of the girls in their pretty Indian gear. And then I go back and dig up kanjak photos from the previous years and get all senti about how much they have grown. And then I send these old photos to the ladies who hosted the pujas and get them all senti too. 

So yeah, these were some options, but none of them seemed worthy of a full blog post by themselves.

"Somebody help me with the letter K!" I pleaded to the in-laws and Xena at dinner the other day. I was really in a किंकर्तव्यविमूढ state. While the in-laws racked their brains, Xena looked at me with a startled expression -- as if I'd let her down in some way. 

"Mamaaaaaa!" She said. 


"You can just write K for Kentrosaurus!!" She said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

(I don't know anything about Kentrosaurus. I didn't even know such a dinosaur existed. I had to look up its spelling for this post.)

I looked at her face, earnestly looking up at me, totally expecting me to take up her Kentrosaurus suggestion. 

Oh my darling, darling daughter. What do I do with you? किंकर्तव्यविमूढ is what I am. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J is for journal

One of the best things I like about Xena's school is that they follow an exploration-based approach to teaching. There are no worksheets or homework to take home. There is a parent-accompanied project for each term, but it's optional. (We, of course, do not take it as optional, because it is too much fun.)

As this is the last year of preschool and the kids needs to start getting ready for a lot more writing, the K2 kids have started a journal-writing project. Every week, the kids need to write a journal entry on any topic they like. They can also paste pictures to accompany the text. 

Viv and I do not interfere much with what Xena wants to write (i.e. her ideas and the content), though we do need to help her with the process. He needs to keep correcting her hold on the pencil (she holds it as if she's about to stab the paper), while I help her to spell the words she doesn't know how to spell, but wants to include in her entry. 

Just the other day, as I saw her bent over her journal, laboriously writing her entry, it suddenly struck me that my little one has already started her blog! 

Here are a few of her journal entries. (Yes, this is basically a guest post.)

Last Thursday, my friend and I went to a very special place called The City. I wore a wig and a superhero dress. I looked funny. Hehehehe! I dressed like a surgeon too. I patted a toy stegosaurus to sleep. I dressed like a policewoman and took care of the city. I was a cook and a waitress. I served food to my mummy. There was a mini cash register. I was a mini mini mini cashier. I was a shopper too. What a fun day!!!!!!!!!!

Friday was a school holiday. My mummy had a meeting in her office so she took me along. I got many gifts from people in her office. I got a clock toy, M&Ms and biscuits. There were many people who wanted to take photos with me. There was a giant model of a T-Rex. His name was Professor T-Rex. He was wearing a funny hat. I sat in my mummy's meeting, reading my book. Everyone said that I was good. 

I had a wonderful time at Mauritius. I went to a nature park. I touched a giant tortoise. I named it Tortie. We went on a sunset cruise. I lay on a net over the water. I did dry snorkelling. Hehehe! We went to many beaches, waterfalls, a volcanic crater and a tea plantation. Mauritius is a part of Africa. I had a good time!

I went to my uncle's wedding in India. I dressed up and danced. I put mehendi on my hand. I named the bride and groom 'Bridie' and 'Groomie'. He looked handsome and she looked gorgeous. Everyone said that I was pretty too. The bride and groom were on stage for a long time. I gave them food, a drink and water. They said I saved their lives. I met a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles. We took a family photo. I can't wait to go back to INDIA!

I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. I wore funky yellow goggles. I watched a cartoon show on a TV fixed on the ceiling. At the end of the session, the dentist told me that I had been a very good patient. She even gave me an inflated glove with a smiley face on it. I have a shaky tooth. When it falls, the tooth fairy will come and give me a shiny coin. 

When my first tooth started shaking, I wrote a letter to the tooth fairy. When my tooth fell out, I put the tooth under my pillow with the letter. In the morning, guess what I saw? A shiny coin! It was super shiny!!! After all my teeth have fallen out, I would have 20 coins. That is 20 dollars!!!! I will buy something nice with it. Do you have any ideas??

When I was in India, my grandpa took me to three special places. We visited a natural history museum. I saw an elephant skeleton and a whale skeleton. The skeletons were enormous!!!! I also saw preserved snakes and other animals. I watched a show about the sun at a planetarium. We went to the science centre and the dinosaur park. I had a good time!

Last weekend, I had a dinosaur-themed party at my home. There was a big dinosaur balloon on my TV. I wore a dinosaur T-shirt. I put on a dinosaur tattoo. My grandma made dinosaur idlis and my mummy made dinosaur crackers! My mummy made a cake with dinosaurs on it! The inside was very colourful. The dinosaurs were green, yellow and pink. We had brownies and ice-cream for dessert. There were chocolate dinosaurs on top. Hooray!!! I had a good time!

I watched a movie called E.T. It was about an alien on earth. My friend said that E.T. was running to his spaceship but it was too late. The spaceship was gone! E.T. was alone and scared. A boy called Elliott took E.T. to his house. They became friends!!! E.T. was so cute!! At first Elliott's sister Gertie was scared of E.T. Then later they became friends. Elliott and his family and his friends helped E.T. stay away from bad guys. E.T. was able to go home in an enormous spaceship!!!!

I went to Gardens by the bay! There were many dinosaurs all over! I saw a stegosaurus, diplodocus, T-rex, parasaurolophus, triceratops and ankylosaurus. The diplodocus' neck was very long, as long as a supertree!!! I did many dinosaur crafts. I made a sand art bookmark and a keychain. We played many fun games but I couldn't win a prize. I went for a train ride with my mummy!!! At night there was a light show. The dinosaurs and supertrees were glowing! It was great!!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I is for interest

"Mama, I'm going to perform for you. Can you record my performance?" asked Xena.

I was only too thrilled to do so.

I've had a deep interest in music since I was a tiny tot. And though I'm not the one to thopo my interests on my kid, I've always secretly wanted Xena to get into music. When I was in university, I was part of a band called Shrutilaya. I had no musical training, and hence no knowledge of shruti or laya, and I struggled with the pitch in some of the songs, but my band mates were kind enough to only give me songs that I could manage. I can safely say that performing on stage was one of the best experiences of my university life.

At times, I find myself wishing that I'd had the opportunity to learn music properly, but a part of me feels that formal musical education would probably have killed my love for music. And that's the reason why I refuse to take it up even now, when I can.

I have been singing to Xena from the time she was an embryo, so she's been exposed to a LOT of music from even before her birth. Even when she was in the NICU as a newborn premmie, I would sing to her, much to the amusement of the nurses.

Over the last few years, we have sung a lot of songs together. Old-timers on this blog might remember our rendition of Piyu Bole and Kajra muhabbat wala. But lately, she's been singing stuff by herself. There was once a time when she'd sing "only if Mama also sings" but these days, if she's singing something and I join her, she actually asks me to stop! "Mama, you don't sing. I will sing."

I've asked her if she wants to take up formal music lessons. She's always said no, and I've not pushed her into it. The last thing I want is for her to learn music but lose the appreciation she has for music and the enjoyment she gets from it.

So whether she ends up learning music formally or not, I'm so so glad that she loves it as much as I do. Here is her performance that she asked me to record a few days ago. (This is the Coke Studio Pakistan version of Afreen Afreen, or like she refers to it, "Rahat Uncle's and Momina Aunty's song".)

Monday, April 10, 2017

H is for hypocritical

So I saw this watch online and thought it was hilarious. I ordered it, thinking I'd give it as a gift to someone who'd appreciate the joke and take it well. But when it arrived, I was in love with it. It was just toooooo funny.

"Just keep it for yourself then." said Viv.

I would.

Except that this watch was not me at all. If anything, it was the opposite of me. I've been known to terrorise people for being even a few minutes late (though now I've learnt to be kinder to parents of babies and toddlers) and at one point, I used to even threaten people that I'd start shopping the minute their lateness commenced, and they would have to pay for every single purchase I made in the minutes that they were late by.

For such a punctuality nazi, wearing this watch seems wrong, doesn't it? Like I've cast aside my principles or something. If I walked around wearing this watch, it would be hypocritical, wouldn't it?

Viv thinks I'm overthinking. I want to think I'm overthinking. Please tell me I'm overthinking.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

G is for graduation

"Mama, they made us wear A TENT!" said Xena excitedly, as soon as she saw me after school.

I chuckled. Of course, a graduation gown is "A TENT" to kindergarteners. She was talking about her graduation photoshoot.

"Graduation what?!" I hear you. I had the exact same reaction when I saw the letter from the school asking me to pack a white collared formal shirt for 'the K2 graduation photoshoot'.

Just imaging the 5-year-olds in white collared formal shirts having a graduation photoshoot was hilarious. I didn't know finishing preschool also fell under graduation. Kinda like how when someone says, "I'm running the marathon." you look them up and down and ask, "Like marathon marathon? 42.195 K?" And they say, "Of course not. I'm doing the 5K."

Anyway, back to the photoshoot. Apparently, not only did they wear "THE TENT" on top, they even had mortarboards and graduation scrolls! (The school does the photoshoot very early in the year as those going on to international schools leave the school several months earlier than those going to local schools, so March is probably considered a safe time to 'capture' them all.)

I'm very, very aware of this being Xena's last year at preschool and the massive changes the end of this year is going to bring to our lives. So, in a way, in spite of the hilarity, I get the graduation. Because in a way, it will be mine too. I'll graduate from being the mommy of a preschooler to that of a primary school child. I most definitely won't be allowed to call her 'baby' anymore (but who says I'll conform?) and I most definitely won't be allowed to carry on with the fun and games approach to academics (but who says I'll conform?) and I most definitely can't make her bunk school and take off on a sudden holiday in the middle of the term (okay fine, I'll have to conform to this one -- you simply do not mess with the establishment).

But yes, things will get a little more serious, a little more grown-up. And so, whether I like it or not, I'll have to, you know, graduate.

All right then, someone give me my tent already!

Friday, April 07, 2017

F is for friendship

"You're friends with everyone!" said a neighbour. "How do you do it?"

"I'm not friends with everyone. I know most of the neighbours, yes. But that's only because I'm involved in organising all the social events. I'm not friends with everyone." I said, with a little internal sigh. It's the truth.

Friendships are hard.

No wait, friendships are hard in adulthood.

Recently, I read the book What Alice Forgot. Among others things, it made me wonder how cool it would be to have your best friend live across the road. Someone you could meet and hang out with whenever you wanted. Someone you wanted to meet and hang out with. I felt a tinge of envy.

When I was a kid, friendships used to happen so organically. I spent my school years in seven different schools and before setting foot in each new school, I'd always wonder (and worry, sometimes) if I'd find friends. Strangely, I always did. Without having to make any special efforts. In fact, each school I went to even had that one 'single' person waiting for me so we could share a desk and our lunches and our secrets and be 'best friends'. An important concept at that time. Best friends. Friends who met every day, never once getting sick of each other.

It's much harder in adulthood. What happened along the way? I guess things were never so complicated in childhood. You were friends and that was it. Your differences made no difference. If anything, it added that 'zing' to the friendship. Okay fine, Shah Rukh mera, Salman tera. 

Yes, there was drama (lots of it, in fact) -- competition, popularity, overlapping crushes, the works. But it was still somehow, very simple.

When did it get so hard to be friends?

I was still doing okay before Xena came along. I had friends, neighbours and colleagues I could talk to and meet whenever I wanted. Then parenthood -- the giant polarising factor in friendships -- struck, and it was all over. When I was not a mommy, I'd always wonder why my mommy friends were so busy. They had one kid, and all the help in the world. Why couldn't they make themselves available for one dinner? After I became a mommy, I realised how hard it was to meet up for a simple meal, especially with non-mommy friends who would not really get why it can only be that particular date and that particular time and that particular place we can go to.

But then a new world had just opened up for me -- mommy friends. Mommies who understood exactly why and how it was different doing things as a mommy. But then with mommy friends comes the flood of judgement. The very different way of doing things. Parenting philosophies and choices. I was okay in the initial years when Xena was a baby, because if mommy XYZ chose not to breastfeed for whatever reason, though internally I might have raised an eyebrow if the reason didn't meet my standards, it wasn't going to affect my baby in any way. So other mommies could choose to do whatever the hell they wanted to as long as Xena and I were not affected.

But as she got older, it was not just 'different mommies doing things differently'. Tolerance was out the window. Things started to affect Xena directly. Mommy friends started becoming annoying for me, and I started becoming annoying for them. I couldn't hang out, for instance, with mommies who refused to tell their kids off for bad behaviour, or who believed in letting toddlers 'fight it out and solve their own problems'. They couldn't hang out with me, the mommy who was 'too involved in her kid's life for her own good'.

With time, I started drifting further and further away from mommies I used to get along perfectly with, and it was all due to clashing parenting styles. I admit I can get a bit too strict about how I parent Xena, but that's how I want to do things. No weekly movie play dates for the kids, thank you. No daily juice drinks or packaged Milo offered to the kids as 'something healthy', thank you. No biscuits and cookies as daily snacks, thank you. No play dates at home where you just send the helper with the kid, thank you. No TV, thank you. No lipstick for my kid, thank you. Just as I had my quirks about stuff like this, I saw the other side too. Stuff that was ok for me, but not for others. The no-sugar, no-gluten, no-dairy, no-non-organic food mommies. I didn't fit in with them.

There were small things and big things, but they were things that drove a wedge between us. We all do it to one another. It's very hard to find that perfect combination that clicks, making for a smooth friendship.

Parenthood is so, so grey. You make your own rules and you make your own exceptions and then you go and break some rules for your own reasons. No one other than you can really get your rules. I know people who roll their eyes at my insistence on not giving Xena store-bought biscuits and cookies "because they are so sweet and so unhealthy", and yet baking the same stuff at home for her. (I just like to know what's in the food she's eating and I like to control the refined flour and sugar. I also strongly believe that homemade anything is infinitely better than the store-brought version. But I can see how hypocritical I can come across as sometimes.)

It was all so strange -- we were hanging out in the first place because of mommyhood. And yet, it was that very mommyhood that was driving us bats about one another. Here's the thing -- with each of us having such specific ideas, and those ideas directly affecting one another's kids, it's gotten harder and harder to 'just be friends'. With parenthood, it's not easy to 'live and let live'. You can tell yourself a thousand times 'thou shalt not judge' but the reality is that at some point, you will say to yourself, "I'm not letting my kid be exposed to that."

Though I've never regretted that fact that my life has over the last six years pretty much revolved around Xena, at some point, I realised I had reached a point where I craved some adult friendships. Like real, physical friends. Not Facebook friends. Not WhatsApp friends. Not friends who live in another country. Among my closest friends, half are not in this country, and I manage to meet the other half who do live in Singapore only once a month (if our schedules work out, that is). Working from home is awesome, but it makes the problem of the lack of adults in my life even worse. There is no tea break, water cooler gossip, group lunches, which after a point, can get to you.

It was great when the sister-in-law was my neighbour because here was an adult I could get along with, be friends with and because she's single, have no kid-related judgement issues with. We could literally hang out almost every day -- and because she also worked from home -- at any time. But then she got a fabulous job in Bangalore and moved away. And that's when it suddenly hit me that I had lost my only 'colleague'. Now it's just me in a giant office, staring at my computer.

I've tried 'friendship trios' (doesn't work; quickly escalates into something too political to be sustained) and even the occasional mommies' night out. I mean, if the kids are out of the equation, it wouldn't be so bad to maintain friendships, would it? Wrong. During one of those nights out, we swore that we wouldn't talk about our kids at all, and so we only talked about them maybe 97.8% of the time. And so we were very very careful about what we said. Anything you say or do can and will be taken against you. 

The other mommies' night out never happened because just as I was stepping out of the house in my new dress and with make-up on (Hey, I work in my PJs. Stepping out, all dressed up, is a big deal!), one messaged saying she was too tired and the other messaged suggesting we should cancel and the third just never said anything at all.

For someone who thrives on plans and routines and schedules and discipline, even when planning a 'night of fun', it was too much. I realised right there that that was it for me. Trying to 'make friends' like this, was too hard. This felt odd. Where was the friendship? The part of life that is supposed to make you feel light and happy and relaxed and make you want to spend time together?

Is it even possible to have friendships that start off organically anymore? I can't remember the last time I felt "I think you're cool and I'd like to hang out with you more" about someone instead of "Gosh I have a kid too so we should totally become friends so we can take a moment to sip chai and make careful small talk, while the little buggers play with each other without driving us crazy".

I'm going to have to stop doing that now. Xena will not be my wingman wing-girl for finding friendships anymore. No more mommy-friendships, or rather, 'friends just because we are mommies'. I have realised I have neither the youth nor the patience to go through any more forced friendships. If it has to happen, it will.

If not, oh well. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

E is for E.T.

As part of our 'space programme' at home, we have been talking about planets and stars and of course, the most exciting aspect of it all -- the possibility of aliens.

Viv and I decided that the movie E.T. will make it to our carefully curated list of stuff that Xena is allowed to watch. So one weekend, we sat down with her and watched the movie. Gosh, I couldn't remember most of it. I also kept wondering where the part was where E.T. gets his (her? its? Ok, let's stick with 'his') magical powers from the sun. And then I realised that I was confusing it with Koi Mil Gaya! Double sheesh!

Towards the end of the movie, when E.T. realises that a spaceship is on the way to pick him up, he's shown to be super excited. So excited that it makes for a comical moment in an otherwise grave scenario. Xena was very amused at his antics.

"Mama, why is E.T. so excited??"

"Because he's finally going home!"

"But why is sooooooo excited??"

"Hmmm... Imagine if we all went somewhere and you got lost, and you're all by yourself for days, and you don't know where Mama and Dada are. Wouldn't you feel scared?"

"Yes, I'll be very scared. I'll cry."

"So wouldn't you feel excited if you found out that Mama and Dada were coming to get you?"

"Yes." She nodded wisely, "But Mama..."


"You have to come in a spaceship."

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

D is for dinosaur-themed party

So my little dinosaur-obsessed dinosaur turned 6 last month. And obviously, I didn't pause even for a moment to think about what her birthday party theme should be. I'd already done the thinking almost a year ago, when I'd sneakily planted the idea of dinosaurs in her head.

You see, I have my own 'syllabus' for her in mind when it comes to the things I want her to learn about. Because of my work, I'm really familiar with the primary school science syllabus so I come up with topics that are not in the syllabus (just so things don't get repetitive and boring when she starts science at school) and plant the ideas in her head. Inception. Muahahaha. It starts off by sparking a conversation about the most fascinating aspect of the topic ("Imagine an animal roaming around on Earth, which was as big as three school buses..."). Then all I need to do is pick up some relevant books from the library and the rest of the stuff happens on its own.

When the dino boom happened, not only did her knowledge and reading skills improve tremendously, it had some nice side effects for me too. I'd leave her in a room with 10 or 12 dinosaur books and she'd be all set for an hour or so, while I furiously did my chores or had a teleconference or whatever it was I needed to do without any disruption. Then I'd come back and she's enlighten me with all sorts of fun facts about dinosaurs.

There were some other cool perks too. When the dino-obsession started, she started asking for dinosaur pizza and dinosaur dosa and dinosaur paratha and what not. So here was my chance to sneak in more vegetables. Imagine a pink (grated beetroot mixed in batter) dinosaur dosa or a green (atta made with spinach puree instead of water) dinosaur paratha. The dinosaur shapes somehow made food more interesting and palatable to her. Ek teer hazaar nishaane. 

She's a real authority on dinosaurs now. She knows dinosaurs I didn't even know existed. And she says their long and complicated names so casually, it's hilarious. "Mama, look! This baby pachycephalosaurus is so cute!") Yesterday, she and her friend were running around, roaring, and I asked them what they were supposed to be. "Mama, we are gallimimuses." I swear I had to google to find out what the animal (and the spelling) was.

So, for her 6th birthday party (it was a modest one, with just us, in-laws and some close family friends), we went full dinosaur. Prepare to be bombarded with dinosaur-related stuff. You've been warned.

The decor was very basic, but I'd ordered this giant dinosaur balloon online as the 'centrepiece'. It arrived literally days before her birthday! Phew!

Of course, she had a dinosaur T-shirt on...

...and a dinosaur tattoo to complete the outfit. 

Mom-in-law and I made mini-idlis and decorated them with these dinosaur toppers I'd ordered online. (Oh online shopping, what would I do without you?!) In case you're curious, the orange idlis were made with batter dyed with beetroot juice. 

I made these dinosaur crackers using dinosaur cookie cutters (that I'd ordered... where else...). 

They went really well with a dip I'd made using Greek yoghurt and chopped jalapenos. The crackers disappeared in no time. No one spared them, kids and adults alike. 

And of course, there was the cake. I made the dinosaurs with marshmallow fondant and used dinosaur moulds to shape them. 

And the inside had a colourful checkered pattern to match the dinosaurs on top. (These days, I'm so obsessed with 'surprise inside' cakes that I'm starting to find 'regular' cakes a bit boring. It's a little scary, to be honest.) 

This is how a slice looks. Now tell me you want to eat a regular cake slice which has the same colour throughout??!! Hehehe!

I'd melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips and chilled them in dinosaur moulds. Voila! Cute chocolate dinosaurs, which served as the perfect topping for dessert -- homemade brownies and ice-cream. 

And finally, the party favours -- dinosaur toys for the kids to assemble!

I think it's safe to say that the 'home term' on 'dinosaurs' has pretty much come to an end, with this party being the crescendo. The next term's topic I've incepted in her head is 'space'. (The solar system used to be a part of the primary science syllabus until some years ago when it was ruthlessly plucked out. No one knows why. I reckon someone high up at the Ministry of Education was really really fond of Pluto, and just couldn't take the news.)