Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In 'hot' pursuit

A long long time ago, young Indians working in Singapore used to bug people travelling from Singapore to India to carry all sorts of electronic gadgets for their parents. "The quality is very good. Authentic. The real stuff. And cheaper!" was the argument.

The parents, on the other hand, would bug the same poor travellers to carry back bottles and cans of garam masala and what not for their kids. "The quality is very good. Authentic. The real stuff. And cheaper!" was the argument.

And then a couple of years ago, things changed. The parents in India started looking at the gadgets with disapproval and saying, "Oh, we get all of these in India now. And cheaper. And better quality. Don't send any more." And not to accept defeat, the young Indians starting looking at the bottles of spices with disapproval and saying, "Hmmmph! We get all of these in Singapore now. And cheaper. And better quality. Don't send any more."

The world had reached equilibrium. Everyone was at peace. The frequent travellers were finally breathing easy, and stopped avoiding both the young Indians and their parents.

And that's when one of the young Indians -- yours truly -- made a startling discovery.

Singapore does not carry green chilli sauce.

I repeat - Singapore does NOT carry green chilli sauce.

Allow me to react again --> :O :O :O

Even Mustafa Centre, the be-all and end-all of everything Indian, did not. The staff gave you puzzled looks when you asked for green chilli sauce.

"Chilli sauce?? Green??" They asked, and then shrugged and pointed to Maggi red chilli sauce bottles.

And I gave them the 'look' and wondered - what kinda Indians are you if you don't know green chilli sauce? I can understand if local Indians don't know it. But you sound like Indians from India, and every Indian worth his/her salt grew up in India on Chinese food (or least what they thought Chinese food was, till they landed in Singapore) with a generous dash of chilli sauce. Green chilli sauce.

The thought of my kitchen sans green chilli sauce bottles was revolting. In a country where carrying drugs carried a death penalty, my green chilli sauce was my legal marijuana. How was I to survive without it?

So I spread the word. Let every living soul who even remotely knew me, know of my obsession. Hung my head in shame and admitted to the parents that yes, there was something they could send that I could not get in Singapore. Chased the same frequent travellers, who could not believe that I had pushed them back in time, and asked them to bring back bottles of my wonder drug. While people emerged from duty-free with perfume bottles for a friend they were about to surprise, the poor souls emerged with green chilli sauce bottles for a friend they were about to abandon.

So when my Mom-in-law came to visit me, she got me green chilli sauce bottles. When Mom and Dad came to visit me, they got me green chilli sauce bottles. When Dad-in-law came to Singapore to attend a conference, he got me green chilli sauce bottles. Shub went to India and got me green chilli sauce bottles. My seven blog sistahs sent me a bottle of green chilli sauce (among other things) for my birthday. And the rate at which I was finishing off the bottles was quite unbelievable. Fortunately, I believe there are about sixteen more bottles floating around in various parts of Singapore that I have to pick up. So my "virtual cellar" is full, even if the home stock is dwindling.

Today, I met an old friend for dinner. She's a Singaporean Indian who'd just come back from a trip to India. She handed me a large plastic bag when she saw me.

And inside the plastic bag, I found five bottles of...

My stock (the third one's "work in progress")

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cheap thrills

  • Semi-hunky guy walks into the gym acting all cool, but looks around joblessly because he doesn't have the pin needed to work the weights. You do. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • Guy asks you if he can borrow your weights pin. You graciously let him borrow it. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • You've been on the treadmill for at least twenty minutes, and guy has done a grand total of two hand weights, four crunches and three leg lifts, intercepted with long 'watch-himself-in-mirror' and 'leisurely-stroll-around-the-gym' sessions. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • After your run on your treadmill, you move on to the weights. You find the pin set at three weight plates. Erm. You lift three plates too. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • Guy realises that he forgot to take the pin out and stealthily creeps behind you while you're doing weights, to check out where the pin is set. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • You move on to do leg lifts while the guy gets on the weights again, and changes the pin's setting. He does a grand total of one and a half lifts and then gets up. Muahahaha moment. :D

  • Deciding to wrap up for the day, you go to retrieve your pin and miraculously, now you find it set at seven plates. MUAHAHAHA MOMENT! :D

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The dark side

If you thought I had fallen off the edge of the earth, well, you were half-right. I was tottering on the edge, but managed to steady myself and step back on to the earth. Last week I had the most trying week of my work life. And the strangest part is - nothing had really gone wrong at work, there was no shit and no fan; it was smooth sailing. But, it was the hours that were killing me. I had the chance to see the dark side of my job. Literally. Mornings that were too early, and nights that were too late. Damn, I should have sensed something was not right when they gave me a key to the office.

A wise woman called Sayesha once said to her team, "Don't let your personal life affect your work life. At the same time, don't let your work life affect your personal life." In her last job, except for once or twice, she left the office on time every day for four years, much to the envy of the other senior editors. She looked at people who worked very late with disapproval and considered them inefficient. And that's when whoever decides these things decided to shake her vanity a little and make her the team leader of the Boston team in the new job. Though I love the challenge, working with Boston is quite taxing - my team, including myself, is new at the job, the Management at Boston has high expectations and low opinions of the Singapore office, and I often have to use my work email in the weekends, especially on Friday nights (when it's Friday morning for them) just so I don't have to wait till my Monday night to get a response from them. Then there are the teleconferences, which can only be held at 8 am or 8 pm due to the time difference. And strangely, last week I had way too many of the 8 pm meetings, peppered with some 8 am meetings. No big deal, you say. It is, for someone who wakes up at 6.45 am, goes to work, and hopes to leave by 5.30 pm. And to add a little spice, last Thursday they decided to hold a conference call between the Singapore, Tokyo, Boston and Melbourne offices! I blinked twice when I saw the conference request - 7 am. 7 am??? Taking into account the 1-hour bus journey (Yeah, I'm a bus person. I believe that cabs in Singapore, especially during 'the dark hours', are an urban myth.), I'd have to wake up at 5 am, and be at the bus stop at 6 am!

As I stood at the bus stop in the darkness, with the morning air making me shiver, I wondered if the first bus would have even left the terminal. But it had. My eyes lighted up along with the headlights of the bus, as it halted in utter surprise. It was so early that even the bus driver gave me a "We're hiring" look. Sheesh.

The office was in pitch darkness. There were no lights and no security (!). Anyone who has seen my office building would have marveled at the gothic architecture that has earned it the name 'The batman building'. At that hour, as I stepped inside, it was like stepping into a movie set. A ghost movie set. Brrrrr. Not fun.

The meeting went well, and though my office allows me time off whenever I have such meetings, I could not leave early because it was my colleague's engagement party the same evening, and the venue was a stone's throw away from the office. So it really looked like I was gonna have a 7-11 day. But I was riding on the momentum of the week, hoping to wrap everything up before the week ended.

By Friday mid-morning, I was all done. All the late night and early morning meetings were over, and I was back to remembering how much I love my job. I decided to take the afternoon off to do things I hadn't done in a long time - call my parents, take a walk, go to the library, clean the house. And catch up on sleep. I also found some time to go for darshan. At the gym. And as I worked out, I thought. I thought of work, and the time it takes off our lives. I thought of decisions people make about their work:life ratio. When I switched from engineering to publishing, it was for the love of the industry, and that made it easy. Would switching your lifestyle within the same industry - the one you love - be as easy? I thought of all the people I know who work crazy hours and do not get the time off that my office allows me (thank goodness for that!). If one crazy week had exhausted me so much, I wondered how people like Viv were handling it. Viv's office has now moved to Changi, right next to the airport so it's easier to fly him to China I think (where he lives by the way, and occasionally drops by his Singapore home for food). I realised that I may be used to Viv's lifestyle by now, I could never have that kind of lifestyle myself. And that's when I came up with certain rules.

First of all, one should only work in an area one is interested in. If you are going to spend 1/3rd of your day at your job, it had better be something you love. At the same time, no matter how much you love your job, it is important that it does not take up more than 40% of your day. It may pay the bills, but it is after all - only a job. It cannot and should not overpower your life. There is a lot more to get out of life, and spending all your time at work will sooner or later only result in sickness and frustration for you and your family. Many may disagree with me, but I really do believe that working smart (e.g. being disciplined, organised and focused) can eliminate many of the extra hours spent at work. And if it still doesn't, something is wrong. Smart bosses know it, but unfortunately 99% don't.

Last week I asked my Singaporean friend why many of them choose to migrate to Australia. "Better quality of life." Came the answer. More time to chill out. More time to do things other than work. It's true - the Singapore work life is terribly stressful. Singaporeans are said to be competitive to the point of being paranoid, and the foreigners get sucked into this system in no time at all. Even India with its bid to get ahead of others, is more chilled out. I was so envious of my Dad, every time I would go to India on vacation. I'd see him get up at 5 am and go for his walk. He'd ask me to join him, and some of the times I did. At other times, I mumbled a sleepy "Are you kidding me?" He'd come back, read the newspaper, do some gardening, and then around 8.30 or 9, I'd see him shaving. Looking at him, one couldn't tell if it was a weekday or a weekend.

"You know Dad, I'd already be at my desk by now?" I'd say as he shaved.


"What hmmm...? This is not fair! And you have so many public holidays in India too. So many Gods and their birthdays, ufff! All we get in Singapore is the very measured racially balanced pathetic platter of public holidays."


The more he hmmmed, the more irritated I got. But I knew it - it wasn't he who was irritating me, it was me. It was my jealousy. I knew I wanted that kind of life. The time to go for a walk before you go for work. Time to work out every day. Time for gardening. Time for reading. I wanted all that in the week. But I had chosen my own path. Unfortunately, the Singapore work life doesn't give you much room for such things until the weekend, when you're too exhausted from the work week to do anything. I cannot count the number of times my friends have turned me down for a meet-up in the weekend stating "fatigue" or "pre-Monday depression" as the reason.

Sometimes I wonder if it's true - the higher you rise on the corporate ladder, the less of a life you have outside of work. Recently at one of the company events, I met this guy who had also started his career as an editor, just like I had. Today he is a division director. The fiercely ambitious side of me was totally inspired by him. Many questions fleeted through my mind. Did he have to pick a path? Was it difficult? Would I ever get where he did? How long will it take? Does he have to work late into the night? Weekends? How much does he make? What is the trade-off? Does he have to sacrifice a lot? How is his family life? Does he have friends outside work? Is he healthy? Is he happy? Is he really happy?

And there was the most important question, the question that I had to ask myself. The question to which, no matter how much I thought I knew myself, I had no answer. If I did find myself at the crossroads one day, what would I pick, the job part of my life or the 'life' part of my life?

And more importantly, would I still be able to differentiate between the two?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Coach coach hota hai

Sayesha Smitten showbiz kitten is back.

And this time, she's not climbin' no trees and snoopin' around Bollywood directors' living rooms to bring you the latest and insider Bollywood news.

This time, she is, truly, smitten.

I can't help it - I think Shah Rukh knocks a decade off my age. He turns me into a smitten, worshipping, silly teenager. And watching KBC episodes on youtube over the last few weekends has rekindled my hopeless teenage love for King Khan. Every time I try to dismiss him as a hamming overactor after watching a Ram Jaane, Anjaan or KANK, he does a thappad-like comeback such as Swades or Chak De India, and turns my knees to jelly again. Kudos to Shub and Viv for tolerating my clapping and my (soundless and hence rather unsuccessful) hooting throughout the movie. Speaking of behaviour that turns out embarrassing for friends, Viv came for the movie directly from his cricket practice and I was so excited I held up his cricket bat in the theatre a la He-man and went "Chak de!" after the movie ended. And oh - before I forget, a message to that friend of Viv's who came home for dinner last night and "accidentally revealed" to me that "Shah Rukh dies in the movie", almost breaking my heart - Mera namak khaakar itna bada dhokha? Sadak par mil jaiyo kabhi - ek hockey doongi rakh ke! :/

Switching to a less destructive mode, I pen down (and translate) the most inspiring (and applicable across every walk of life) lines from the movie, which I'm not surprised made their way into the list of MP3s from the movie. (And no, I haven't copy-pasted this from some website; I actually listened to the MP3 like a gazillion times and typed out every word.)

Sattar minute. Sattar minute hain tumhaare paas. Shaayad tumhari zindagi ke sabse khaas sattar minute. Aaj tum achha khelo ya bura, yeh sattar minute tumhe zindagi bhar yaad rahenge. Aur kaise khelna hai, aaj main tumhe nahin bataoonga. Bas itna kahoonga ki jao aur yeh sattar minute jee bharkar khel lo. Kyunki iske baad aane wali zindagi mein chahe kuch sahi ho ya na ho, chahe kuch rahe ya na rahe, tum haaro ya jeeto, lekin yeh sattar minute tumse koi nahin chheen sakta. Koi nahin. Toh maine socha ki is match mein kaisa khelna hai aaj main tumhe nahin bataaoonga balki tum mujhe bataoge. Khelkar. Kyunki main jaanta hoon, ki agar yeh sattar minute is team ka har player apni zindagi ki sabse badhiya hockey khel gaya toh yeh sattar minute khuda bhi tumse waapas nahin maang sakta. Toh jao. Jao aur apne aap se, is zindagi se, apne khuda se, aur har us insaan se jisne tumhe... tumpar bharosa nahin kiya, apne sattar minute chheen lo.

"Seventy minutes. You have seventy minutes. Perhaps the most special seventy minutes of your life. Whether you play well today or not, you will remember these seventy minutes for the rest of your life. And today, I will not tell you how to play. All I will say is - go and play these seventy minutes to your heart's content. Because whether what happens to your life after this is right or not, whether you have anything or not, whether you lose or win, no one can snatch away these seventy minutes from you. No one. So I decided that I won't tell you how to play; you will tell me. Through your game. Because I know that if in these seventy minutes, every player of this team plays the best hockey of her life, then even God can't ask you for these seventy minutes back. Go on. Go and snatch your seventy minutes. From yourself. From this life. From your God. And from every single person who did not believe in you."

It may be quite obvious, but for the record, here it is once again.

I love you, Shah Rukh. Chak de!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India is in, dear.

The diversity. The culture. The heritage. The values. The literature. The history. The geography. The intelligent minds. The arts. The festivals. The costumes. Henna. Hindi. Bollywood. Cricket. IT. Mom and Dad. Family. Friends. School. Teachers. Monsoon. The ads. The pani puri. The life. The spirit. Home.

India is in, dear, and there's nothing your cynicism can do about it.

Random thoughts on the eve of Independence Day:

  • When he was here, Dad had changed my Mozilla homepage from Google to the Times of India website. I never changed it back. This morning, when I opened the browser, the first piece of news I saw was the results of a poll. 89% of Indians would like to be born as Indians again.
    *raises hand*
    Is my vote too late?
    (Anyone who pooh-poohs or mentions anything about the poll being carried out on a small sample size and generalised across India will really get a whack on the head with my rolled-up hypothetical newspaper. :/)
  • I sent an email to my typesetter based in India wishing him a happy Independence Day. He replied saying, "Happy Independence Day to you and all other persons of Indian origin in your office." Hmmm. Person of Indian origin? Bah. I wanted to tell him I am no "person of Indian origin". I am... errm... original Indian person?
  • I've been listening to the song 'Main jahan rahoon, main kahin bhi rahoon, teri yaad aati hai' ("Wherever I am, I think of you") on loop. Can't dismiss Himesh's talent here - not only is it a beautiful melody, the idea of using a love song for one's homeland is great.
  • I have never worn anything Indian to my new office so far. I was waiting for Independence Day, and tomorrow I will wear my Lucknowi churidaar kameez to work, complete with kajal and bindi. Can't wait.
  • Shub and I are meeting up for chaat and a chat tomorrow. The original plan was pasta (bah!) at Sketches, but I like plan B so much more!
  • I broke my shoe at work today. I went and bought myself another pair during lunch because a colleague had promised to walk to Little India with me to get a blouse stitched for the sari I've promised to wear at her engagement.
  • Little India sucks. Bigtime. Gosh I hate the place. I prefer Big India any day. And I seriously hope that people who have never been to India don't base their judgement of big India on what they see in Little India.
  • There are no little boys running on the streets of Singapore selling the Indian flag for five rupees. Or any amount for that matter. So I decided to make my own and display it on my cubicle tomorrow. I printed two copies of the flag and stuck them back to back with a chopstick at one edge. Damn chopstick doesn't stick. :/
  • I popped by a 7-11 to buy a drink I absolutely did not want just so I could pick up a straw and try replacing the chopstick with the straw tomorrow morning. We'll see how that turns out.

    Update: The chopstick worked. Pic taken with my phone camera.

  • Viv, if you don't get back to Singapore quickly, I really will go ahead and watch Chak De India without you! :/

It's strange how my cynical side completely takes leave of me as far as India is concerned. And I am not alone. The world is swarming with millions of NRIs like me who feel like it's their birthright to bad-mouth India, but if anyone else does it, boy are they in BIG BIG trouble. NRIs who are not quite sure why they are living out of India since they miss it every single day. NRIs who cry when they watch Swades, but do not move back a la Mohan Bhargava. NRIs who do not know how to respond to resident Indians who think they are hypocrites. NRIs who are so seeped in their lifestyles that they know that emotions aside, it's probably not practical for them to move back to India. NRIs who can't quite explain to others who do move back why they can't. NRIs who know the benefits of taking up citizenship of the countries they live in, but they just can't get themselves to do it - at least not yet.


Ah well. At least we have company.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Home signs

"You're so like Phoebe from F.R.I.E.N.D.S!"

I can't count the number of times I have heard this line. In fact, one of my friends thought I was so Phoebe that she actually gave me a Phoebe keychain as a gift. But that was in university days. If you are as obsessed with the TV series as I am (except seasons 7-10, they suck), you will find that as you grow older, you undergo a weird transformation - from being like one character in F.R.I.E.N.D.S to another. And it was only when Clueless mentioned in the bus the other day, "You guys are together very Monica!" that I went "Sheesh!" But there was no argument, she was right. As someone who suffered the misfortune of living with Viv and me in our house for three months during her holidays, she was the one person who could objectively tell us that separately, we may be normal, but together we were very Monica.

So I decided to make a list of things that make Viv and me 'together very Monica'.

  • One of us simply has to vacuum every strand of hair that leaves the scalp before it even touches the floor, while the other doesn't think that waiting till the weekend will cause any kind of a black-carpet situation.

  • One of us simply has to place the clothes-drying rack right next to the dining table because it's the sunniest spot in the house, while the other can't stand the thought of clothes drying in the dining area.

  • One of us believes that drying clothes is an art that will significantly affect their fold-ability and iron-ability, while the other thinks that the three are independent variables.

  • One of us simply has to fold every single piece of clothing (and I mean every single piece) while the other thinks that some clothes can just be flung into a drawer.

  • One of us can't stand the thought of mobile phone chargers plugged into the socket with the switch on, but with no mobile phone at the end, while the other doesn't mind removing a charged mobile phone from the charger with the switch still on.

  • After getting home late, one of us likes to immediately plonk on the couch and turn on the TV at volume 44, while the other frantically "shhhhhhhhhhhhhh"es till all the babies in the neighbourhood start peeing.

  • One of us likes to keep bills and spam letters on the coffee table for sorting, while the other believes that coffee tables are only for keeping magazines and remote controls (six of 'em no less - TV, Cable, DVD player, VCR, fan and sometimes air-conditioner.)
  • One of us likes to fold every single plastic bag and keep them in a large paper bag, while the other thinks stuffing the small plastic bags into a larger one is fine.

  • One of us simply has to write accounts every single day, while the other can't be bothered.

  • One of us believes that before taking a bath, the water heater should be switched on for a time so accurate that you have the exact amount (mililitres down to two decimal places) of hot water needed, whereas the other doesn't think it's a huge waste of electricity to approximate.

  • One of us believes that the hooks behind bathroom doors are for hanging clothes perennially, while the other believes that the clothes on the hooks should leave the bathroom along with the person.

  • One of us completely flips if the tap is turned on more than required when washing dishes, while the other is pretty oblivious to it.

  • One of us believes that pink gerberas do not go with anything but white fillers, while the other doesn't get what is wrong with pink gerberas, yellow dahlias and pink orchids in the same vase.

  • One of us simply has to get up the moment the alarm rings, while the other thinks that snooze is the best feature of mobile phones.

  • One of us believes that tom yam soup, pulao, matar paneer and pasta make for a great meal, while the other can't believe the ridiculous combination.

  • One of us can't understand why the dining table must have a white tablecloth and suffer visible spills every day, while the other can't understand why the first can't understand that the tablecloth must be white.

  • One of us feels that the coffee table should have table mats for people to keep their plates on when they eat, while the other thinks that table mats are ugly.
The strangest thing is - we have so many little idiosyncrasies of our own that no matter how much I try, I really can't tell which one of us is more Monica. Any guesses? ;)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My art will go on (and on)

Not that my family has a history of art failure, but my sister is undoubtedly the most artistic one. She was the first one to start doing henna with a cone, and she was so good I stopped running to the neighbourhood Lalli ki mummy whose idea of a complex henna design was one big shapeless 'circle' surrounded by four smaller ones.

With time, I picked up the cone. Not because I had any particular interest in it, but when you're the six-year-old sidekick of your ten-year-old elder sister, whatever she does is cool and whatever she doesn't is uncool. With time, she graduated to oil on canvas and sand painting and knife painting and what not, while SashBhai was content with doing a different kind of 'knife painting'. Muahahaha! :D Bad jokes aside, no matter how much of a tomboy I'd become, doing henna was something that did not leave me. In fact, I even did my sister's wedding henna. She, of course, could not return the favour because her hands were full with a hyperactive baby Aish wanting to express her creative input too.

Anyway, so when I came to Singapore, I thought that was it - I won't have the opportunity to do any more henna. And that's when I discovered henna for fund-raising. Fun-raising, rather. Henna works wonders at fund-raising events, especially with the non-Indians, and I've been doing it for almost 8-9 years now. And at all these events, they refer to me as 'the henna artist'. It embarrasses me. In all my years of aping my sister's sketching, painting and henna-ing, I have never referred to myself as an 'artist'. It is too grand a word. I prefer to be called the 'henna girl'.

So a few weekends ago, I was asked to do henna at the SVC's Olympic Dream 2007 - an event to raise funds for disability sports in Singapore. On that early sunday morning, I made my way to the stadium packed with people who had apparently been there since midnight! I was directed by the organisers towards the 'Artists' corner', a covered area housing a face-painting artist, a caricaturist, a realistic-sketch artist, a balloon sculpting artist. Whoa. I was one of 'em artists? Gulp. Anyway, I made my way to the henna artist table and stationed myself there. Soon there was a long queue in the 'artist's corner' and all of us got busy with our 'customers'.

Check out my little customer - her hand was so tiny that I was done as soon as I had started!

Soon, it was lunchtime and the crowds started dispersing. The organisers brought in lunch for the (literally) 'starving artists'. We finished eating, but the post-lunch crowd was not there yet, so we started doing random things to occupy ourselves. The balloon artist started to make wristbands with balloons (!) for the organisers. The caricaturist and realistic sketch guy started to sketch random things around them. And I, vaguely aware of something odd happening around me, started to make henna patterns on a piece of paper with great concentration.

Half an hour later, a big crowd had gathered in the artists' corner, but not to get anything drawn. They were just there watching. And that's when I looked up. The realistic sketch guy was holding up his canvas, and I was on it. Me, bent over my sheet of paper, making my henna patterns. Immortalised in charcoal - in all my wild hair glory. The crowd wow-ed.

One of them asked me, "You didn't know he was drawing you, did you??"

I looked at the artist. He was beaming at me, looking really proud.

"No clue at all." I said.

The crowd wow-ed again at the artist's ability to complete the sketch without the subject's knowledge, murmured and finally left. I smiled at the artist and then to myself.


Of course I knew.

Why else would I draw random henna patterns on the sheet of paper with such great concentration? As an artist, I knew when to give another artist his due.

As an artist? Of course. I was an artist.

Keeping SashBhai still and quiet for half an hour is a form of art, you see.


Friday, August 03, 2007

About time

It started when I was sitting in my living room watching Lage Raho Munnabhai (I've seen it at least thirteen million times, and Mom had too, but Dad hadn't, and I'd strongly recommended it to him), and I heard RJ Jahnvi spout these beautiful words:

Shaher ki is daud me daud ke karna kya hai?
'Gar yehi jeena hai doston, toh phir marna kya hai?

(Why do we run the endless rat race of the city?
If this is what we call living, then how do we define dying?)

Pehli barish me train late hone ki fikr hai
Bhul gaye bheegte hue tehelna kya hai?

(We worry about the train being late because of the first monsoon showers
Have we forgotten how it is to take a slow walk in the rain?)

Serials ke kirdaaro ka saara haal hai maloom
Par maa ka haal poochhne ki fursat kahan hai?

(We know everything about the characters in TV serials
But we have no time to find out how our own mother is doing?)

Ab ret pe nange paon tehelte kyun nahin?
108 hai channel phir bhi dil behelte kyun nahin?

(Why don't we walk barefoot on the sand any more?
There are 108 channels on TV, but why don't they entertain anymore?)

Internet se duniya ke to touch me hain,
lekin pados mein kaun raheta hai jaante tak nahin.

(We're in touch with the whole world over the Internet
But we have no idea who lives in our own neighbourhood.)

Mobile, landline sab ki bharmaar hai,
Lekin jigri dost tak pahuche aise taar kaha hai?

(There is no dearth of mobile phones and landlines
But where is the cord that would reach a dear friend?)

Kab doobte hue suraj ko dekha tha, yaad hai?
Kab jaana tha shaam ka guzarna kya hai?

(Do you remember when you last saw the setting sun?
Do you remember when the evening passed you by?)

Toh doston, shaher ki is daud me daud ke karna kya hai
'Gar yahi jeena hai toh phir marna kya hai?

(So friends, why do we run the endless rat race of the city?
If this is what we call living, then how do we define dying?)


Dad went back to India today. :(

Mom's already in the US. I'd got her to Singapore by bribing her that if she came here, she could watch baby Aish's antics over my sister's webcam. "You can watch her eat, sleep, babble, and drive Apa nuts. It's just like a reality show. Except that you actually care about the daily activities of the character." And that's when my smart sister bribed Mom with promises of the 'live show' and whisked her off to the US. Hmmph!

Dad didn't go to the US as he had limited days of leave. But he did stay on with me for a couple of days after Mom left for the US. However, in the last few days, I hadn't been able to spend a lot of time with Dad, and he was all alone at home. Last week I had two teleconferences with the US office, and annoyingly both were at 8 pm, which meant I only got home by 10 pm (bedtime for my very disciplined Dad). Taking leave was not possible, and I was beginning to feel incredibly guilty for not being able to spend time with him. Luckily, he wasn't getting bored while I was at office. He'd go for a walk to the beach in the morning, then go for a swim in the pool in my condominium, and then keep himself busy with the books I'd got from the library till it was time to heat up the lunch I'd have kept in the fridge. Post-lunch, he'd engage in reading the news on the computer and emailing me, followed by what he called 'the matinee show' - watching the 'DVD of the day' that I'd recommended (he's not really a hindi movie person, and I'd taken it upon myself to convert him!). Then he'd go for a swim (again!) in the evening and then read my blog till I got back from the office.

So on Thursday, I took half a day off to just hang out with him. It had been almost a decade since I'd spent quality time with my Dad. He and I have always had a special bond. A lot of relatives tell me I look exactly like my Dad, while others say I am a photocopy of Mom. I don't believe any of them. In fact, I believe that my sister, by virtue of being born first, had the entire collection before her. She picked the best features from Mom and Dad and went 'Yippee! Thenga!' while I scraped the bottom of the barrel and went 'Okay fine!' But the one thing I know for sure came from Dad is my love for writing. Within his banker self dwells a writer, just like the one that dwells within my engineer/editor self.

So on thursday, we decided to go cactus-shopping first. Dad is crazy about plants, and especially loves the grafted cactus that I take for him every time I go to India. (Oh yeah, I may have got his long fingers, but I certainly didn't get his green ones! I'm the kind who can kill even cacti just by looking at them. Sheesh.)

After I'd got him this adorably tiny cactus with a red flower, we decided to take a walk to the beach. I'd asked him what food he'd liked the best so far, and he'd mentioned chilli crab. So we decided to hang out at the beach and then go for a chilli crab dinner.

It was cool and breezy at the beach, and we walked close to the water till we were too exhausted to walk anymore. So we found some cement benches under some palm trees and talked. We talked and we talked and we talked. I told him about what's happening at my workplace, how I love it but at times miss working on the kids' magazine in the last company, and he told me of his plans after retirement. I asked him when he discovered the writer in himself, and he told me of the time when he discovered the one in me. I told him about my sudden love for my sudden discovery Abhay Deol, and he said that he found my recommendation Ahista Ahista one of the best movies he'd seen. We laughed over stories from my childhood, of the time when Mom had gone to Grandma's for a week, and Dad had enthusiastically cooked chicken for my sister and me (the chicken was so horrible, my sister and I almost turned vegetarian for life). He told me of all the things from my childhood that he had preserved in my 'bachpan box' - my first toys, my favourite childhood book 'The lost girl and the scallywags', my crutches from when I had broken my leg, my handmade birthday cards to him, and what not. We spoke of the time when he bought me my first bicycle and taught me how to ride it. Hell, we even discussed politics, something I never ever discuss with anyone (mostly due to my ignorance in the subject area). I asked him which Indian Prime Minister he thought was the best so far, and he named Nehru. "Leaders in those days were passionate." he said. "India had just got independence, and the focus of the leaders was nation-building, not personal gains. But these days..." Sigh.

Dinner was awesome too. It's difficult to describe what I felt when I saw him happily digging into the chilli crab like a child, looking at the huge lobsters in the tank in awe, trying to use chopsticks to pick up the peanuts, offering to crack open the crab shell for me because I couldn't, telling me I should work less, and eat and sleep more. I felt like a daughter. If you know what I mean. I felt alive.

That night, I slept so well. I did not dream of exams. I did not dream of work. I did not dream about where I was going to settle down. In fact, I did not dream.

And when I woke up this morning and realised that it was a saturday and Dad, Viv and I had the whole day to one another, I had the most wonderful 'I'm home' feeling I'd had in years. It was one of those moments when sappy quotes written by sickeningly happy people, and propagated in the form of annoying forwards start to make perfect sense. This is what life is - spending time with your loved ones. We've got to stop running after and wasting our time on things that do not really matter, and really look at what and whom we have and cherish them, and give them our time. Most often, when we spend time with someone, it's always 'over dinner' or 'over a movie'. Are we that socially stunted that we can't spend time with one another if it's not 'over something'? Whatever happened to great conversations, enlightening debates and moments of togetherness 'over nothing'?

They say time is money. I say bah!

Time is not money - it's way more valuable than that.