Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The fast track

Half an hour to spare??


It was a glitch in the matrix. It was most definitely a glitch in the matrix.

I had dropped by the mall before picking up Xena from school, to buy a new swimsuit for her. Perhaps I hadn't expected to find one so quickly. Perhaps I hadn't expected to find exactly what I wanted, in the very first shop I went to. Whatever it was, I had an extra half an hour on my hands, which by my planning should have been 10 minutes -- just enough for me to grab a quick bite at the food court and head for the bus stop. 

This is usually how our weekday works. As soon we Xena wakes up, all of us quickly get into the smooth groove of perfect dovetailing. While Xena is brushing her teeth, Viv is bathing and I'm getting her breakfast ready. He comes out and starts feeding her. I start making his breakfast and as soon as they are done, he starts eating his breakfast, while I get her into her uniform and tie her hair and pack her snackbox and water bottle. After kicking both of them out of the house, I grab a quick breakfast over a physical newspaper, and if my work deadlines are not crazy, head to the gym with a book (the cross-trainer has a book-holder), which thankfully is just downstairs. I get back in 45 minutes, bathe and start working. Depending on whether I'm eating dinner leftovers for lunch, or having lunch near her school, or running an errand like today, I leave home. I get her back, bathe her, give her milk, put her down for a nap and start working again. I work for an hour and then finish any household chores so I'm all hers when she's up. She wakes up around 3-4 pm and then we play, take photos and videos, and do some fun activities. I give her an early dinner (which doesn't take long because as you know, she hates food) and then exactly at 6 pm, we head to the beach or the playground for an hour. Viv is back at 7:30 to take over and I start cooking dinner (most weekdays I like to cook dinner, but we do eat out once or twice). By the time I'm done with cooking, she's had her bath, milk, brushed her teeth and is fast asleep. Viv and I then have dinner with a movie or conversation. On most days, I manage to sneak in some gmailing and fbing. On good days, I manage to sneak in some blogging. And thus, the perfectly-planned weekday ends perfectly. I like it to be like that. Fast. Efficient. Well-planned. Well-executed.

Yes, I know the importance of me-time, especially for mommies like me who work from home and don't have domestic help, but I don't get much of it, and definitely not in the weekdays. But I'm not complaining. The thing is, if I had too much me-time, I'd probably get a little sick of it. Or worse, use that time to plan the non-me-time time. Horrifying, isn't it?

So today, when I realized I had half an hour extra in my packed day, I was amused. I honestly didn't know what to do with it. So I decided to spend it at MOS burger. I love their spicy MOS cheeseburger and never have the time for it before picking Xena up as I eat at places where I don't have to wait even a bit for my food.

Compared to other fast food places, MOS takes a while before giving you your burger. They give you your drink and a token number and bring you the rest of the stuff later. So I sat and waited. It felt strange. I felt jobless. Like I could be doing something more productive than this on a weekday morning. But I had to kill time. Wow, I can't believe I said 'kill time'. That phrase rarely appears in my vocabulary. (If I had a smartphone, I'd probably be busy on it. But that's precisely why I don't have or want a smartphone. It consumes you.) So I sat there and wondered about what I should be wondering about. I wondered if I should spend that time planning the rest of the week and making some fun weekend plans. But guess what? It was all done. I literally had nothing to do. I was not used to that feeling. At all.

So I sipped my drink and looked around and took everything in.  Things I generally wouldn't notice. Like how green the seats were. If someone had asked me before what colour the seats at MOS were, I would have had no idea. I was noticing them for the first time. And just like that, sipping my iced peach tea, waiting for my burger and fries, staring at that rather revolting shade of green, I relaxed. The gears in my head slowed down and stopped turning. Agreed, I was most definitely not in my comfort zone, but I felt like I could do it. I should do it. I didn't want to think about anything in particular. I just wanted to sit there and... you know, just sit there.

And I did. For a while at least.

It felt good. 

I had managed to slow down. In a fast food restaurant. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sing-ing praises

This is a week of milestones.

Today marks my 15th year in Singapore. On this very day, a clueless 18-year-old me (okay fine, you know my age now, hmmmph!) landed on the shores at the airport of Singapore, not knowing what life had in store for her. And now, I have lived here 15 years. That is more than twice as long as any city in India I've lived in. My dad's an ex-banker so we moved around a lot and I kind of grew up all over the place. And that is why I don't really identify any Indian city as my 'hometown'. Of course, I have a huge soft corner for Jharkhand where I spent most of my teens (if you want to know more about my hilarious Jharkhand days, you have to read my Jai Jharkhand series), but I still can't call it my hometown. If there's a city that seems effortlessly 'homely' now, it is Singapore. You know how we all crib about India but if any outsider does it, we jump to defend it? I feel like that very very strongly about Singapore too, and I think that's the greatest sign of me being a Singaporean. Sure, it has its issues, but then which country doesn't?

It was not an easy decision taking up Singapore citizenship. We were emotional about giving up Indian citizenship, and it took many many years before we realised that if we're going to be here for good, it just makes sense to exchange our dark blue passports for red ones. A passport is just a piece of paper that enables international travel; it does not make us any more Indian or Singaporean than we ourselves feel from within. It took a while for this thought to sink in, but eventually it did and I'm glad. Because I love Singapore and I'm proud to call it home. Of course I miss India and my family (and roadside pani puris... and winter!), but I also miss Singapore a lot when I am elsewhere. I can't choose one and I don't want to choose one. So until India starts handing out dual citizenship, I shall be a Singaporean with an OCI card.

So here, in no particular order, are five things I love about Singapore:

Food - We say that eating, shopping and complaining form the national pastime here. I don't do a lot of the second and the third, but I sure do a lot of the first. Though virtually every cuisine you can think of is available here, that's not the cool part. The cool part is the local food. The wonderful, delicious, amazing local food. Think chilli crab, chicken rice, rendang chicken, laksa, ayam penyet, yum, yum and more yum!

The little red dot - It is amazing what the country has done in less than 50 years. It is a tiny dot, measuring 49 km from east to west and 25 km from north to south. And yet, it is highly urbanised without compromising on greenery. Things are hair-raisingly efficient. Stuff actually works. The public transport is great. (I mean buses and trains. Not cabs. Definitely not cabs. I don't believe they really exist. Cabs are just an urban myth.) It is really clean, yes, even public toilets. And yes, while the rest of the world laughs at our chewing gum ban, when I compare the streets of London and Singapore, I prefer the ban. If you love travel, it's a nice central hub to explore the region from. Another nice thing is that people from all kinds of cultures and races live in harmony. They may not fully understand one another's cultures, but the basic respect is there.

Distance to India - You can skype, call, sms, or email, but whatever said and done, physical distance matters. My parents, in-laws and other family are in India, but because Singapore is just four hours away by flight, sometimes I don't feel like I live in a different country. For all I know, if I were in India in a different city from them, it would take me longer to reach them than it would now. This is also one of the big reasons why we chose to settle here rather than the US.

Safety - I know I should not take safety for granted anywhere in the world, but Singapore's safety levels amazed me from day 1. During my university days, I'd go jogging on the roads at 1 am. After orientation (that's just a fancy term for ragging), I'd walk back to my hostel by myself at 3 am. And it was fine. I never felt scared. That is something I, coming from India, appreciate very very much.

Viv - "Huh?? Viv??" You ask. Well, Viv and I came to Singapore from very different parts of India on the same scholarship. If either (or even both) of us had turned it down, we'd have never met. And though my life in that parallel universe might not be too bad, I just can't imagine this one without him and Xena. So yes, it was Singapore that brought us together, and I'm grateful and thankful.

So there, that's my list. Of course, there are things about Singapore that annoy me, and some day if I'm in a ranting kind of mood, I might list those. But today, I am celebrating my 15 years here, and reminding myself of all the good stuff.

But... there is a hidden agenda too. Through this post, I am also attempting to yank back old friends I miss who have moved to Dubai, New York and India. You know who you are.

Move back pronto. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Run of the mille

My dad reminded me that my blog's thousandth post is coming up, and that I should write something significant for it. So I decided to skip writing about other matters of national importance, such as a survey on What Bewdas Really Think of Deepika Padukone's Accent in the Chennai Express Trailer, and write something about the bar itself.

The bar. Ah, the bar. Where to start and how to start. So let me not even start and simply point you to this post, which explains why I call this place a bar, and you guys and girls bewdas.

Sometimes I can't believe that the bar has been around for 8 and a half years. Even more incredible is the fact that some of the bewdas have been with me all of these years! I mean, blogging was 'in' when I started, but it is 'out' now, isn't it? We just don't have the patience to read long posts anymore, do we? We find even long emails addressed to us tedious. That's why many of my blogger buddies from ye olde times have moved on to Twitter. Blogging is old school now. So why am I still a blogger and not a tweeter? One, I feel Twitter is a platform more suitable for celebrities; two, I have too much to type (how will I ever ramble in just 140 characters?); and three; I can barely keep up with updating the bar and Facebook, I can't imagine having one more thing to update. So, for the record, I am not on Twitter and never will be. The plan is to blog as long as I possibly can, and that's that.

Some day in the future, when I'm old and retired and don't have much to do, I will start reading my blog from the beginning to relive bits and pieces of my life. Since I started my blog, I have moved from being a clueless fresh graduate to switching my career and starting at the very bottom, getting my master's degree, building my career in publishing, getting married, getting pregnant and becoming a mother. Yes, yes, I hear you bewdas who are shaking their heads and going "Yaar yeh aajkal sirf apni beti ke baare mein hi likhti hai..." I really don't know what to say to that. It's like that cheesy line "Pyaar kiya nahin jata, ho jata hai." Xena ke baare mein blogging kiya nahin jata, ho jata hai. I can't help it. I seriously can't. But in a way, I like that the bar always reflects what is going on in my life, and right now, as you know, she's top of the goings-on in my life.

Sometimes, I read some old posts and wonder if it was really me who wrote it. In many posts, I sound so silly, so childish, so juvenile, so egoistic, so deluded, so utterly foolish. But in a way, it is interesting how the blog has chronicled the changes in my thoughts, my character, personality and writing style over the years. I started this blog not because I had a lot of thoughts (actually I don't think I had any, looking at my first post!), but because everyone else around me seemed to have one and I felt left out. Seriously. My colleagues couldn’t stop talking about this ‘blog’ thingie. Apparently, they all had one. So I decided to get one myself and find out what it was all about. Never did I ever imagine that I would keep the blog going for so many years. But to be honest, I'm taking too much credit here. The blog is alive because of the bewdas who made this their adda. True, we blog for ourselves, not others. But it's also true that sometimes it's those others who keep us going. I can't count the number of times I was pinged by a bewda and reminded to get back to blogging. Truth of the matter is - I love blogging. I LOVE it. But sometimes, it takes a backseat, and I honestly miss it. So thank you, bewdas, for your support, your patience, your comments, your emails and your love.

Assuming that at the very least, I spend about an hour (yes, even on this post!!) on each post, that's 1000 hours I have clocked in at the bar! Some may consider it a total waste of time, but thankfully I don't. It has been worth it and more.

Thank you for choosing the bar for your addabaazi purposes, bewdas.

I made the bar happen, but you make the bar happening.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Hospital-ity II

First of all, my very sincere thanks to all you bewdas for your overwhelming wishes sent for Xena. I'm seriously struggling with some of my writing deadlines because I had been in the hospital with Xena for five days, but I feel like I really owe it to you guys to update you that she is now home! After five days, most of which she spent in an oxygen mask, she was finally discharged yesterday. She still needs to be given the ventolin puff regularly to clear her lungs, and we have been referred to a specialist, but other than that, she's all active and jumpy and umm, monkey-like again.

As soon as we got home, I gave her (and myself) what I would call not a bath, but a hosedown to wash away the hospital germs, after which mommy and baby were off to slumberland. The bed never felt better. We were so exhausted and sleep-deprived that as soon as we touched it, we dozed off. I would have slept longer if I'd not discovered her sitting on my neck and trying to pry my eyelids open with a "Mommy, please wake up!"

In the evening, we couldn't wait to get out. I decided to take her to the park in the beach. It felt SO awesome to see the roads and trees and sand and water and everything else we had not seen in five days. However, I have to say that the hospital stay was not all bad. Xena had entertained me (and the doctors and the nurses and the interns and the nursing students and the cleaners... the list goes on) quite a bit with her antics and I thought I should do a sequel to my hospital-ity post from two years ago.

- Xena now says almost everything in full sentences and likes to provide running commentary of everything around her. Every morning, when the doctors did their rounds, she'd stand up in her cot and hold the railings of her cot like a jailbird and give me a full account of everything she saw. "Doctor aa gaye. Ek aur doctor aa gaye. Two nurses aa gayi." and what not. Once, a whole troop of about twelve came - doctors and medical students. She exclaimed loudly, "So many doctors??!" All of them burst out laughing.

- She soon figured out that the people in the white coats were doctors and the ladies in the white dresses with the colourful teddy bear aprons were the nurses. She would refer to them correctly. Once, she called the main doctor on her case "Aunty". The doctor was very surprised. "I am Aunty today?? Why??" She asked. Then I pointed out to her that she was not wearing her white coat, and that's why she was "Aunty" and not "doctor".

- Whenever the doctors would check her, she would play with their stethoscopes. They usually have toys hanging from the stethoscope to make it less scary for their patients, but Xena was more interested in the apparatus itself. You guys know I take devilish delight in teaching her to say long words like 'photosynthesis' so 'stethoscope' was no big deal. It always amazed the doctors every time she said, "Xena want stethoscope. Check mommy." And they would give it to her and she'd actually check my breathing, while they stood there laughing.

- Ditto with the nurses. They came over several times an hour to check her temperature, her BP, her breathing rate, her blood oxygen level, or to give her the ventolin puffs or other medicines. They always had stickers in their pockets and Xena loved them (both the nurses and the stickers). She would actually take the smiley face round stickers, put them on her forehead, and declare, "Bindi lagaya!" while the nurses exploded in laughter. She would ask them for more stickers, but after I told her that she can only have one because the nurses had to give them to the other children too, she stopped. The next time they came around, she took one sticker and giving the box back, said, "For other children".

- Two doctors once came to check her and she tried to offer them her stickers. She gave one to the first doctor and said, "One for doctor...", paused looked at the other doctor and said, "One for another doctor!" Later, her running commentary went, "Doctor checking, another doctor standing."

- One of the nurses had a tiny slipper-shaped keychain. While she was counting Xena's breathing rate, Xena took it out and actually tried to wear it on her foot! "What are you doing, baby??" I asked. "Xena ghoomi ghoomi jaayegi," she said. :')

- The machine that measured her blood oxygen level was low on battery and one afternoon, it started making a loud boing-boing sound with the display saying "Low battery". She looked at it in alarm and said to me, "Xena darr gayi!" I told her it was okay and that the battery was down. When the nurse rushed over, Xena updated her, "Battery down. Loud sound. Boing boing boing boing!"

- The nurses would use a supermarket-style scanner to scan the tag on her hand every time they gave her any medicine. After the first day, whenever the nurses came, she would simply hold up her hand without even looking up from whatever she'd be doing. It was hilarious. Sometimes she'd remind them, "Puff puff time?" and they'd laugh and say, "Not yet, baby."

- Within the first two days, she had learnt that if the machine beeped, it meant that she had to put her mask back on. Obviously, she hated the mask and kept trying to pull it off, but the moment her blood oxygen would go down and the machine would beep, she'd put the mask back on by herself. Sometimes she'd even say "Oy ma Gode!" (Oh my God!) when the machine beeped.

- The nurse who first gave her the nebuliser told her that if she didn't cry, she would get lots of candy as a reward. Viv and I were laughing our heads off. First, Xena never cries on the nebuliser, and second, they were trying to bribe her with FOOD?? Ahahahahaha!

- The kid with cerebral palsy was discharged a day before she was, and when he went home, she rejoiced too. She kept saying, "Baby ke poppy stroller lekar aaya, baby home chala gaya!"

- The first few times, I had to remind her to say "Thank you" to the doctors and nurses each time they checked on her, but after a while, she started thanking them herself. THe funniest was when one of the nurses woke her up at 3 AM for the ventolin puff, making her cry. She was crying by the time the puffs were done, and between her tears she said, "Thaaaaankyou, nurse." and promptly went back to sleep. The nurse looked like she was going to cry!

- There was a nursing student who would always come by to play with her. She always had her mask on like the rest, and I would identify her from the way she tied her hair all the way up in a bun. When Xena was discharged, she came to see her without her mask. Xena didn't recognise her! Oy ma Gode! Poor nurse looked quite heartbroken, until I gave her the mask explanation.

- She used to say "Thank you" to the cleaning lady who changed her bedsheet every morning. The lady was from China and did not speak any English, so I taught Xena how to say "Thank you" in Mandarin. The lady would always smile and respond. On the day Xena was discharged, the lady gestured to me that she wanted to take a photo of Xena with her phone. I said okay, she happily snapped away.

- At one point, I really started to run out of ideas on how to occupy her and keep her inside her jail. So I asked her, "What do you wanna do now?" She replied with a "Wipe chahiye." So I handed her a wipe and guess what she did?? She started cleaning her hospital cot! She even wiped her blood oxygen machine clean! Don't believe me? Evidence below. :)

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Catch-up #5

Hola, bewdas!
I know I have not posted anything for more than a month, and I'm quite shocked myself that there was nothing at all on the bar's notice board all of June. I didn't think I could go a month without blogging. I meant to write a post on 30th June, but guess what? We are back in the hospital again, and Xena's warded on oxygen. We came here on the morning of the 30th and have been here since. This is the fourth time in four months that we have had to bring her to the hospital for breathlessness. The cycle is exactly the same. It starts with fever, then a cough that doesn't go away, and then her blood oxygen level starts dipping (yes, we have an oximeter at home to track her blood oxygen levels; after two rounds of hospital visits, we decided we needed it) and we rush to the hospital. So here we are, back in the hospital where Xena was born and I was reborn. It's been two days and she seems to be okay when awake, but when asleep she's unable to breathe normally without oxygen support. Her doctors say she can go home as soon as she can do a full night without oxygen support. They can't say yet if these recurrences indicate the beginnings of asthma or it's just that her lungs are still too weak to handle any kind of trigger.

And what a trigger we had last week. You might have read about it -- forest fires in Indonesia caused a thick blanket of haze on Singapore and the psi was close to 500 at one point. 300 is already considered hazardous and anything above 400 can be life-threatening for the elderly and ill. Singapore is one of the cleanest and greenest places in the world and yet, we were so helpless when the haze hit. Even though we had her on full house arrest with all windows and doors shut tightly and the air purifier and air-conditioner running overtime, it didn't feel enough. We were especially worried as Xena has weak lungs and is more susceptible to such things. But the haze passed and I thought that was it. Well, I'm still not sure if it was the haze that caused her hospitalization or some other trigger, but she's here and we gotta get past this.

She's taking a nap now and as I move my eyes away from her face behind that oxygen mask and look around, my mind is filled with so many thoughts. One, to always be thankful for what I have, because many others have it much worse. There's a kid in the bed opposite Xena's, and he has cerebral palsy. He is also here for some respiratory issue, and nothing can compare to what he and his parents are going through. When the doctors do their rounds and discuss him, I hear words like 'morphine', 'palliative', and I feel so heartbroken for him and his parents. I'm not sure if he is aware of pain, but from the sounds he makes all day and all night, I really do hope he can't feel the pain associated with them. Every few hours, the nurses use a tube and suction to make him a little more comfortable. Compared to him, Xena, who when not coughing or trying to pull the oxygen mask off, is generally chirpy and happy, seems like she doesn't even belong here. I don't know why it always takes someone else's misery to trump ours before we come to our senses (actually sometimes we don't) and stop ranting about our lives.

The other thing I notice is how articulate and patient the doctors and nurses are. I don't know why I expect them to be rude and snappy. Maybe it's because this is a government hospital. Maybe it's because they have been dealing with sickness all day and night. But they totally surprise me. I am especially amazed at the nurses' dedication. Doing your job is one thing, doing it with passion and feeling, is another. Of course, I deeply admire the doctors for their knowledge and skill, and how patient and clear they are when explaining things to me or answering my questions, but I admire the nurses more because they don't even get the credit and recognition the doctors get. And they do the 'dirty work' day after day after day. How do they remain so polite and cheerful after having a full work day that involves putting tubes down throats and cleaning up perfect strangers' waste? Xena coughed so violently once, she threw up in her oxygen mask. I could not believe the speed with which the nurses managed to get the mask off, clean her up and get her new clothes and a new mask, reassuring her all the time that it was okay, and that it was actually good that she managed to get rid of the phlegm. The very next second, housekeeping had already changed her bedsheet too. It felt like I was watching things in fast-forward mode. 15 years of living in Singapore and I still stand amazed at the level of efficiency here.

Yet another thing I notice is how the doctors and nurses do manage to catch a moment of respite from their gruelling work. One of the Filipino nurses came over when all was quiet in the ward and asked Xena to teach her some Hindi in exchange for some stickers. "Baby, I don't understand what you are saying, but I find it very very cute," she said. She's now armed with some Hindi, courtesy Xena and her translator (me). When she comes over to bathe Xena, she says, "Baby, nahana nahana?" Then there were these two junior doctors who came over with a small box of toys and played with Xena for half an hour. I don't know if it was part of their medical training as pediatricians to get to know their patients more, or just them looking for some light moments to include in their tiring day. But I do know that all three of them had an absolute blast together. Xena kept asking me, "Doctor klangya? Doctor coming soon?" after they had left. For Xena, harder than staying in the mask is staying inside the cot, considering how jail-like it is and how jumpy and outdoorsy she is. So one of my main struggles is keeping her occupied and happy and so I get Viv to bring me a few of her toys and books each morning. (I really don't want to plonk the iPad in front of her just to relieve her boredom.) I'm eternally grateful to my friend N, who has brought me lunch every one of these days and helped to keep Xena entertained too.

I have stayed here with Xena for two nights now and am gearing up for a few more. Viv has offered to swap with me so I can go home and get some rest, but he's too tall for the parent bed they provide and I know he will have a horrible work day if he's not well-rested. Besides, last night one of the kind nurses who saw me sleeping like a horse aka sleeping standing up with one hand holding Xena's (she wakes up very often and asks to hold my hand so I just decided to stand next to her cot and sleep), she asked me to hop into Xena's cot so I could be next to her and still get some sleep. "Is that allowed? And more importantly, can this take my weight?" I pointed to the cot, looking for a 'maximum weight limit' sign. She made a "Tchah, it doesn't matter." face, so I lowered the side of the cot and curled up next to my baby, hoping that the cot wouldn't give way in the middle of the night! I must say both Xena and I managed to get some good sleep this way, and the cot didn't break either. But I'm pretty sure Viv won't fit if he replaces me tonight, even if he curls himself into a ball. So his job is still to fetch things for Xena and me in the mornings, and take back stuff in the evenings. This has also made me realise the importance of keeping a tidy house. On the first day, I sent him a list of some 40 items that we (mostly Xena) would need during our stay and though I had written down their exact locations, it still took him an hour to get everything together. So I have made a mental note to keep our home tidier than it is. I've noticed that when I am away on stuff that is out of the ordinary routine, such as holidays or hospitalization, it always makes me think of things that I generally don't think of, such as how to live a better life.

So there. While the doctors discuss whether this is just a viral infection of Xena's weak lungs or whether she is likely to develop asthma in the future, we're here, wishing and hoping that we can go home soon.

On a final note, I have some life-altering philosophical advice for you - tidy up your home. And oh, lose weight. So that if needed one day, you can sleep in a hospital toddler cot without breaking it.