Friday, December 29, 2017

High point

Ayubowan, bewdas!

In case you're wondering, no, I haven't fallen off the edge of the earth. Interestingly though, yesterday I did do a 9-km hike to a place called World's End. As some of you may have also guessed from my greeting, I'm in Sri Lanka! It's the last big road trip of the year for us and this time we have brought the whole clan along -- Viv's parents and sister, and my parents. Of course this spells total and absolute chaos, but somehow it's also a lot of fun.

It is absolutely gorgeous out here and we are doing lots of hiking and a bit of rock-climbing too.

Xena and me atop Pidurangala Rock

Details of the trip will be up on my travel blog as soon as I get back to Singapore. Meanwhile, I wish all of you a happy new year with lots of good health, good health and good health!

See you in the new year!

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Mum's the word

Xena - Mama, what are you making for dinner?

I almost jumped. Had my food-loathing child just asked me that? Viv is travelling so it's just us ladies in da house. And because I was so thrown off at her food query, I decided to tease her and have some fun.

Me (very casually and sweetly) - I don't know about you, baby. I'm having leftovers. I have enough for one.

Xena (a little horrified) - What...?! What am I going to do for my dinner then..?

Me (solemnly) - Pata nahin. Mere paas leftovers hain. Tumhaare paas kya hai?

Xena (giving me strange looks) - ??!!

Meanwhile, I'm almost falling off my chair laughing, after suddenly realising how apt the expected answer would be even in this scenario.


Friday, December 01, 2017

Dancing on air

Some time ago, my sister, who is an avid reader of Psychology Today, sent me a link to an article with a note -- 'This resonates with your attitude to singing.' I read it and yes, she was right. Ever since I can remember, I had been into music, especially ghazals. At the age of five, I was listening to and loving Ghulam Ali. Without understanding anything, of course. But I could sing each of his ghazals I had heard. Then I started trying to understand the lyrics, getting a deeper insight into the exact pronunciation and significance of the Urdu words.

Over the years, the music cassettes in my house were part of my collection, not my mom's anymore. I would even exchange cassettes with Om Prakash, our house help, and discover new gems. But I was thankful to my parents for never forcing me to take up lessons in spite of my obviously crazy love for music. I'm pretty sure that if I had taken up formal lessons, I might have become a good singer, but my love for music would have died.

Which is why I was very, very particular that in this world where kids are being shoved into every possible kind of lesson, from Karate to Kumon to Kathak, we wouldn't thopo anything on Xena against her wishes. All three of us were on the same page -- that we would expose her to everything, she could try out anything, but what (or whether) she wanted to learn something formally was really up to her. (Except swimming. We told her that she needed to learn it, not to be great at it or win medals, but because it was a necessary life skill. She was fine with that, and thankfully, enjoys her swim lessons.)

When she was very young, I used to wonder what her hobbies would be. Would she like the things that Viv and I generally like, or would it be something totally different? From time to time, we'd ask her if she wanted to go for any trial classes, and she'd always say no.

Then one day, she suddenly asked for piano lessons. Possibly inspired by our neighbour's kids who play the piano and the harp and the violin. She started, but after a few months, didn't want to continue anymore. Her teacher told us that contrary to most cases, this child of ours loved music theory but wasn't so passionate when it came to actually playing the instrument. In most cases, it's the opposite. Kid just want to directly start playing and not bother so much with the theory. We were quite amused. Anyway, we pulled her out of piano lessons.

Last November, I took her for a trial Bollywood dance class because I'd been getting the feeling that it would help her gain confidence -- she had been getting too shy at times, especially when outside her comfort zones such as home and school. As she's already very familiar with Bollywood music (because of my constantly playing it), she was happy to go for the trial.

It was a total disaster. Though she had agreed to the trial class, she started crying the moment she entered the studio and insisted that I go inside with her. I told her that parents are not allowed inside and I would wait outside for her. She would stop dancing and come running to the door every now and then to check if I was there and then reluctantly go back.

By the end of the lesson, I already knew it wasn't going to happen. Sure enough, she said she didn't want to continue and I agreed. I don't know what brewed in her head over the next few days, but suddenly she was keen to join the class again. Maybe it was the fact that two of her friends who had also done the trial class with her had decided to continue.

Ironically, they dropped out after the first lesson and to my utter surprise, Xena didn't want out. Wow. In fact, dance lessons were the ones that excited her the most. She'd come back and tell me all the songs she had danced to, and ask me to send her favourite Coke Studio Pakistan songs to her teacher so her class could dance to them!!

"I think she really likes dancing," I told Viv, filled with amazement.  Of all the hobbies I'd imagined she might inherit from Viv and me, dancing was nowhere in the picture! (Both of us have about 13 left feet in common.)

Over the weeks, we literally saw her glow with confidence and randomly start dancing anywhere and everywhere -- bus stops, shopping malls, the walk from the school to the bus stop. It's been a year, and the passion continues. If there is music, she is grooving.

Last month, her dance studio had its annual stage performance and Xena was part of it. She was the tiniest little dancer in her group, and doing her very best. We were so proud of her.

Here's the video of her performance (she starts on the extreme left and moves to the middle later). 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The clean-up act

The very first thing I noticed when I landed in Singapore two decades ago was how impossibly clean the place was. 'Clean' is always the first adjective used to describe our tiny island-nation, closely followed by 'green' and 'safe'.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we take the cleanliness for granted. The 'Low crime doesn't mean no crime' posters serve as a good reminder that we need to do our part to maintain everything that's good about Singapore, such as the cleanliness. And that means cleaning up, in addition to not littering in the first place, of course.

A few weeks ago, I organised a clean-up activity at the East Coast beach near our home. At first, it was supposed to be a weekend family outdoor activity, but then I decided to extend the invitation to the neighbours too.

In Singapore, if you want to do a clean-up activity in a large group, it is recommended to register it with the Public Hygiene Council / National Environment Agency. They have a link where you can register and once you do, they send you a map with areas marked out for your clean-up activity, along with a lot of useful information such as what to pick up and what to leave alone (e.g. I didn't know that we shouldn't pick up washed up algae) as well as a 'how to' video. They even give you the contact of a trash pick-up contractor you can call right after your clean-up act, in case you pick up so much litter that the trash bins abundantly found all over are not enough to hold it.

So the date was set, the WhatsApp group formed (uff necessary evil!), the resources and instructions (and no forwards) shared and finally, it was D-day! Xena was super excited.

Xena showing off her trash pick-up tongs

We started off near Castle Beach. Even though the area looked fine overall, a closer inspection revealed gazillions of cigarette butts and party paraphernalia amongst the grass. Xena lost no time in getting started. 

The first piece of litter makes its debut into the trash bag.

We were four families in total, and it was great to see the littles ones participate with so much enthusiasm. The youngest in our group was only three and boy, did he actively contribute to the clean-up with a pair of tiny tongs in his tiny hands! 

This patch of greenery looks super clean, doesn't it? Well, guess what? We found the most trash here!

An uncountable number of tiny Styrofoam pieces wedged around the plants, hidden so well that you only see them when you step right in and peer closely

There were even fishing lines wound so tightly around the plants, we had to cut them off to release them. 

More scarily, there were rusted fishing hooks! The thought of barefoot kids playing and running around in that area was horrifying. 

We found straws, bottles and plastic pieces in the sand... and some glass pieces too! I was so glad that I had reminded everyone to wear covered shoes. 

Xena takes a break with her stash. 

We even found a post-visarjan Ganesha idol... oh dear Lord!

We cleaned from 5 pm to 7 pm, till it started getting too dark for us to see clearly. 

My artistic silhouette shot of Viv and a neighbour with their trash bags

Our loots at the end of two hours

We were really proud of ourselves, especially for the good amount of time we had spent clearing the litter between the plants. Not only had we cleaned up a part of the beach that the regular cleaners don't, we had also removed a ton of tiny Styrofoam pieces -- probably the most dangerous item for sea animals.

It also turned out very educational for the kids, not to mention getting them out and about doing something useful for the planet. "Mama, the environment is soooo happy with us!" Xena exclaimed. We have decided to do this more regularly, as a family, as well as a community. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Get off my case

Xena's dentist gave her a cute little tooth-shaped case to keep her fallen tooth. Before going to bed, she put the tooth inside and wrote this accompanying letter to the Tooth Fairy.

Obviously, the case puns are killing me.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Looking forward... not.

The whole world is already aware of my deep love for WhatsApp forwards. That's because I don't hold back. Even if I have just met you, my next few words after 'Hello' might just be 'You know those damned WhatsApp forwards...'

As Diwali approached, my heart raced. I have been receiving Happy Diwali pictures, gifs, and videos since Monday. The count currently stands at approximately 398430577094535 messages.

I did not bother to reply to any of them immediately. Not because I'm rude (actually I am, to WhatsApp forwarders) but because I wanted to wait till the worst was over and then copy-paste 'Thank you. Happy Diwali to you and your family too." the required number of times. Do it all in one shot. Save time. I shall not stoop to the level of replying to a Diwali forward with another Diwali forward. I shall send typed out text, but because there's a limit to my patience, I shall use the life-saving copy-paste feature.

Now some forward-thinking people may argue that I should be grateful -- arre someone cares enough to send you these forwards, arre someone sends you wishes because you are in their thoughts.

Nuh-oh. I'm not in their thoughts. I'm just in their bleddy contact list. I only discovered this amazing fact last week when I asked Viv why people are sending the same Diwali gif to a WhatsApp group I'm in, and then also sending it to me individually! Why me? Itna pyaar kyun?? And then he shook that wise head of his at me and said, "They're not sending it to you. They're sending it to every contact and group in their phone. Without looking, without thinking."

What I really want to know is this: is there anyone in the world who actually likes receiving this stuff? I have not met a single person who looks forward to receiving forwards. Why then are people still sending and receiving and forwarding this stuff? Why is this even a thing?

This morning, I got a Diwali forward from a school friend of mine from 20 years ago. I sent my standard 'Thank you' text, the shock of which must have knocked him right off his chair, because he immediately sent me a 'Hey!' As text. Not a gif with the word 'Hey!' creepily making its way towards me. A simple 'Hey!' in text format. That knocked me right off my chair.

So I sent back a 'Arre wah, there is a 'Hey'? I thought there was only that Diwali forward.' He got all defensive saying at least he sent the 'Hey!' when I never sent anything at all, and then I got all defensive saying 'At least I don't send you Diwali forwards'. Finally, we both agreed that we were even, and had a proper conversation for 20 minutes. It was awesome. So fine, it may have been triggered by an idiotic forward about light and prosperity and joy and lamps and illumination, but it reiterated what I miss about conversations with my old friends. Let's talk. Let's not forward. If there's nothing to talk, then let's not talk. But let's be done with the meaningless forwards. Forwards are backward. Let's stop.

However, there is, even though it's tiny and flickering, light at the end of the tunnel (wah wah how apt for the festival of lights). Once in a while, you come across some forwards which just make life worth living again. Presenting two items below, which I believe will provide much relief to those who have been recently scarred by Diwali forwards.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dancing to her tune

Xena - Mama, I will teach you how to dance, okay?

Me - Really? Okay!

Xena - But you have to follow the rules.

Me - What rules?

Xena - I'll write them. Wait.

[Hunts for a scrap piece of paper and starts writing; gives up midway; tells me she will come up with the last three later]

Hmm... I'm just not sure how I'll learn to dance from her if I follow rule #1. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Pray tell

"So he's very powerful... he lives on the Moon... and he protects us." Said Xena's friend.

Xena's jaw dropped. So did mine.

We were at a restaurant in a big group and to occupy the kids, I'd asked them to play this random game where each kid gives three clues about something/someone and the other kid has to guess what/who it is.

"I don't know..." Said Xena uncertainly. She looked at me. I didn't know either so we looked at the kid who had given the clues.

"So easy! It's Sai Baba!" She laughed.

Xena looked at me again, but this time accusingly. All she knew about the Moon (she devours the kids' Science magazine I work on) was that it was a natural satellite of the Earth and it didn't have its own light and as far as we know, has no life forms on it. And here was a 7-year-old with very advanced knowledge of a powerful dude who apparently lives on the Moon and protects us.

I blinked and nodded at her. It's code for "It's ok. We will discuss this later at home."

And what would we discuss at home? DFDR. Different Families, Different Rules. We try to talk about our choices vs others families' choices without judgement. Comes in real handy when trying to explain why she doesn't have her own iPad or isn't allowed to watch TV unlike other kids, and why we don't have a car or a helper aunty, and why we don't do puja in our house, etc. etc.

Speaking of puja, we were recently invited to a navratri puja at an Indian neighbour's place. When we reached, the kids were all sitting on the floor cross-legged in front of the idol. Every kid present there attends something known as the Bal Vikas programme. They know all sorts of bhajans and mantras (there was a 2-year-old reciting the Gayatri mantra in the cutest voice ever!). Of course, it was a little weird because Xena was the only one sitting among all the kids, not singing along. She probably sat there wondering why all these kids her age (and younger!) knew all these songs, while she only knew Coke Studio Pakistan songs. In spite of some sympathetic looks, I was neither embarrassed nor proud about that fact. I looked at her, blinked and nodded. The usual routine. "It's ok. We will discuss this later at home."

I was on the phone with Mom later, telling her about how I hardly had to cook that week because of all the navratri pujas happening at neighbour's and friend's places, and adding on to that, the free flow of kanjak food that just kept coming home. I love attending these pujas. They have such a nice, vibrant, colourful atmosphere, yummy food and a chance to meet people I haven't seen in ages, and also encounter some new faces. I love the fact and I take it as an honour that I still get invited to these things, despite the hosts knowing that I'm probably the least religious person they know. For me at least, it's a social gathering more than anything else. And of course, the big pull -- everyone wears saris. (I'd go anywhere if you tell me the dress code is a sari. Sari ke liye sala kuchh bhi karega! #sarinotsorry)

"You should also have a puja and invite them na..." Mom suggested.

"I can't, Mom. You know me."

"I know..." Mom sighed.

Mom has a puja room with idols and photos of multiple gods and goddesses, and prays to them daily. In spite of that, she has not even once tried to force me to pray or do anything religious. I'm just not sure of the gods' existence, but I do respectfully acknowledge that others are. I don't even do the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" thingie, for I do not know what that means. Just try to be a good person, is what I tell Xena.

When I was a kid, Mom would sometimes tell me during "tough times" (not sure if I'd get 100/100 in that exam, or that scholarship, etc.), "Pray to God and you will get it." I would look at her indignantly. NO WAY was I going to pray to God (if there is one in the first place!) to ASK for stuff when I'd never even bothered to spare a thought for Him/Her during other times.

"If I were God, I'd be mighty pissed if some kid approaches me only when she wants stuff." I'd tell her, and she'd laugh.

But then, I've always loved following customs and traditions (Need someone to go rangoli for Diwali? I'm there! Some aunty needs mehendi done for karwa chauth? Summon me at once!), but it was always to do with the 'fun' aspect of it, and never the religious one. I loved making the little Lakshmi feet at the entrance to our home with rice flour paste, not because I believed it would bring the goddess of wealth home, but because it looked SO KAYOOOOT! Even now, I selectively follow traditions and customs (let's spring-clean the house for Diwali, but not for prosperity -- for the fact that a spring-cleaned house IS SO NICE!), and once in a while, question myself on my 'na idhar ka na udhar ka' stand on religious festivities.

Sometimes I've been told that as an NRI, I need to make sure I keep Xena in touch with her roots by following Indian traditions and customs. But deep down, I feel like there has to be some meaning to it. As a DAV school product, I was well-versed in many mantras like the Gayatri mantra and the Athaishwarastutiprarthnopasna mantra (yes, that's just the name of the mantra; the mantra itself is about 7386274387642 times longer), but when I think about them, what meaning do they have -- or did they ever have -- in my life? What is their significance that would make it worth it for me to teach Xena all that?

"But you can still just have a puja na... they all have it and invite you." Mom insisted.

"Mom, can you imagine me having a puja at my place? Can you imagine me establishing idols and pictures of various gods and praying to them? Following the proper procedure of doing stuff? I hardly know which finger to use when people offer me haldi-kumkum at these pujas. My leg goes to sleep in 3 seconds if I sit cross-legged on the floor, and then I'm flicking it like a mad person in a sari. If I did a Lakshmi puja, even Lakshmi would be appalled. So many people are doing the pujas properly, faaltu ka why should I irritate Her?"

"Yeah, true..." She agreed.

"Yep, so that's that. I do follow some of the customs and traditions but only the fun ones. Can't really do the serious pujas and stuff..." I said.

"Hmmm. Yes. I know. Haan toh then just have a party." She said, with an air of finality. The total lack of judgement in her voice was palpable.

Attagirl, mommy! Love you to the Earth's natural satellite and back. :)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The little keeper

So here's the post I'd promised, with all of Xena's contributions and commentary on the recent SEA Games. (Sorry, it took me a while to get all the photos and videos and her quotes together.)

Aside from Viv's nightly post-work training sessions and practice matches in the weekends, once in a while we'd find time to take a stroll to the beach. I'd give him some catching and keeping practice and of course, Xena didn't want to stay behind! I captured these slow-mo videos of her 'training Daddy how to play very well'.

Once he reached Kuala Lumpur, she even asked me to take a photo of her like this and said, "Mama, send this to Daddy and tell him this is how a good wicket-keeper should squat."

I had told her that she could watch the opening ceremony and Viv's matches on the computer, so she was really thrilled. She's still TV-free so this was a major event for her. 

7.56 pm (4 minutes to SEA Games opening ceremony)
Xena - Mama, I really need to pee.
Me - Then go!
Xena - But I can't!
Me - Why not??
Xena - I don't want to miss seeing Daddy!
Me - You have time. It only takes a minute to pee.
Xena - Mama, are you sure??
Me - :|

Once the matches started, so did her hilarious commentary.

"Mama, there are four people crouching like frogs behind the batting uncle. So they are all frogs. Daddy is the wicket-keeper so he has to crouch very low. So he is the baby frog."

As the matches got more and more exciting, I really craved some adult company to watch and discuss them. Not that my knowledge of cricket is that great, but surely I had more insightful input than Xena who would point squarely at the wicket-keeper from Thailand and tell me very seriously, "Mama, the Thai frog is not cute. Our frog is cuter."

She also had some very serious questions for me -- "Mama, tell me something. Why can't the batsman get the bowler out?"

Another gem from her after a match that really should have been an easy win, but wasn't -- "Mama, you know, Singapore was losing and then it just accidentally won."

From time to time, I'd explain to her why I was behaving like a crazy person, screaming at the screen, closing my eyes, or minimising the window and walking out, or hyperventilating.

"Xena, if we win this match, we will win the GOLD MEDAL!"

"Mama, will everyone in the team get a medal or only the captain?"

"Everyone will get a medal."

"Yay! Daddy Froggy will get a medal!"

Whenever I'd message Viv, I'd ask her if she wanted to send him a message. She'd say something like, "Mama, tell Daddy Froggy that Baby Froggy says 'Ribbit!'"

She asked me to google Thailand's flag so her drawing would be accurate.

She'd also make lots of drawings to encourage the team and I'd send them over, such as this team picture. She was too tired to draw all the Param brothers (yes, there are three brothers in the team!) so she drew one and wrote x3. Viv told me it was a source of much amusement for the team when he shared it with them. 

Once the series was over, she couldn't wait for him to get back. She had missed him badly because he'd been away at training a lot in the months preceding the Games as well. So it had been a long separation between Daddy Froggy and Baby Froggy. 

She posed with this book and asked me to send it to Viv. 

I told her how we'd be going to the airport to receive and welcome our champions, and she excitedly proclaimed, "Mama, I am going to shake all the players' hands and I'm going to hug all of them and I'm going to pick all of them up but no I can't pick all of them up because they are so heavy but I can pick Uncle J (the youngest player in the team) up because he's only 17."

The Froggy reunion at the airport was a sight to see. She clung on to him and very shyly shook hands with the rest of the team.

Baby Froggy poses with Daddy Froggy's gold and silver medals. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The gold standard

So something super-duper-awesome happened over the last two weeks.

Viv was selected to be part of the Singapore national cricket team to play in the SouthEast Asian games (SEA Games) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was the first time cricket was included in the SEA Games, and they had a 50-over and a T20 series. The countries playing also included Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia, but Singapore's arch nemesis was mighty Malaysia.

I didn't go to Kuala Lumpur for the matches as it would have been impossible for Xena to sit still and watch all the matches in the heat. Luckily, the Malaysian Cricket Association livestreamed all the matches, so we watched it on the computer. Xena, who is still TV-free, was very excited to have the opportunity to watch her daddy play. (I'll do a separate post on her hilarious remarks and commentary.) Because he's the wicket-keeper, we had a clear view of him the entire time Singapore was fielding. He did well, getting four stumpings and a catch overall (plus a stumping that wasn't given out, and I'm still half-sore over that.)

Both countries reached the finals of the 50-over series which was played first, but Malaysia edged us out for gold. It was nice to get the silver, but we were all slightly disappointed because aakhir gold toh gold howe hai... nahin? Now all our hopes were pinned on getting the gold in the T20 series. (Bollywood drama queen that I am, I asked Viv to please listen to SRK's 'Sattar minute' speech for inspiration before the match, and the poor guy actually complied. What a keeper -- wicket- and otherwise.)

And what a nail-biting final it was. My heart was literally in my mouth. The match literally ended at the second last ball, and... Singapore got GOLD! I have been screaming non-stop since, and on some level, I think I'm still screaming on the inside. This was Singapore's first ever cricket gold in an international competition, and hence, a very very very big deal. Like Aamir Khan said in Dangal, "Agar silver jeete toh aaj nahi toh kal log tanne bhool javenge ... gold jeete toh misaal ban javenge ... aur misaalein di jaati hai, bhooli nahi jaati."

(And why did I never mention a thing on the blog all this while? Because I'm a person of science and people of science do not believe in jinxing themselves. Erm, except when their spouse is playing for the country. Hehe!)

So now that it's all over, and has ended on a high note, and Viv is home with two gigantic medals, I can finally get my original heart rate back and blog about everything. He just got home yesterday and what a reception the team got at the airport! (I plucked Xena off school early so she could go to the airport with me and shake hands with everyone in our golden team.)

Our immediate and extended families have, of course, gone completely bonkers. My aunts (who I've always suspected like Viv more than they like me) are making statements like "Arre we don't care if he got a gold or a silver. He's always been a diamond to us." Wah wah.

We have, of course, been celebrating nonstop. Within hours of his landing, our neighbours had thrown him a welcome party. That was a real surprise. People he had never met before came down with their kids to shake his hand and take photos with him and hold and wear and admire the medals. A lady whose son is a big cricket fan came to drop off a bottle of wine. It was fabulous. Viv generally likes to remain low-key, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him in the spotlight, being treated like a celebrity. (I swear I felt like Gauri Khan at one point.)

Viv's hard work and dedication aside, it's not been easy for Xena and me either. He already travels a fair bit for work, and to have him away so much for cricket training or matches means that I can never truly get away from holding down the job, the kid and the household. Our family time has definitely been compromised a lot, simply because of the immense amounts of time the game of cricket takes. Unlike football or badminton or tennis, each cricket match already takes the whole day, and add to that, all the training sessions. Most of his weekends basically went into cricket, while Xena and I made our own separate plans. It was difficult but then you can't make an omelette without breaking a couple of eggs, can you?

I know Viv feels the guilt of missing out on Xena's childhood too. Two years ago, he was seriously contemplating retiring, but in spite of my selfish interests, I had to disagree. Here's the thing. How many of us in our 30s pursue a hobby so passionately that we are willing to put in that kind of crazy hours? How many of us have hobbies that automatically keep us fit? And I'm so glad that he continued playing at the club level all these years. If he had been out of touch, there is no way he would have been selected to represent Singapore at the SEA games.

Here are some more photos from the SEA Games cricket matches, which feature Viv.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The smell test

After I tucked Xena into her bed and said good night, I told her I was going for a shower.

"Okay, but come back after your shower and hug me, okay?"

So I went back to her room after my shower and hugged her. She was kinda awake.

"Mama, you smell so nice..."

"Hmmm... like a flower?" (My shower foam is lavender -- my favourite.)

"Noooooo... if you were a flower, bees would go into your nose!"

"Uhhh okay. Not a flower then..."

"Yep, not a flower. You smell like... uhh..." (thinking hard)


"You smell very nice, like a... like a..." (thinking harder)

"Like a what, baby?"

"I know! Like... the opposite of a skunk!"


Friday, August 04, 2017

The rolling stones

Two months ago, a friend added me to a very cool pebble-painting group whose main objective is to get kids away from electronics, and out and about in nature. It's become a big craze in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of the US, and something that tech-crazy kids of Singapore desperately need. It's like the analog version of Pokemon Go.

The rules are simple -- you paint pebbles and hide them around parks and playgrounds for other kids to find. What you find, you re-hide in another location. You post photos of what you paint, hide and find, and your personal hashtags at the back of the pebbles can help you trace where your artwork has travelled. Singapore may be a tiny island, but it sure is heartening to find in the west coast a pebble painted by a kid living in the east coast.

Xena and I already do a lot of art and craft and outdoorsy stuff, so this fitted right into our interests. However, I had no clue how obsessed she (and me; mainly me actually) would get.

Here are my top reasons for loving, loving, loving this new hobby:

1. It promotes creativity and resourcefulness. 
You can paint absolutely anything on the pebbles using any media you like. In the beginning, we had no suitable art supplies —just two bags of pebbles we had bought. Xena's water colours and finger paints turned out to be no good for painting on the surface of the pebbles. While I checked around to see what kind of paints and markers would be the best, we had to make do with whatever was at hand. So we used nail polish for colours, a correction pen for white and markers for outlines. Since I was really into nail art at one point, I do have some very funky colours and nail art tools. And I have to say they served us very well. And because the 'canvas' is so small, you don't need any real artistic skills. Anything you paint on a pebble will end up looking cute.

This entire batch was painted using nothing but nail polish and nail art tools.

At this point, I'm doing most of the painting, though Xena helps me do the base coats and paints some of the simpler designs after I do the outlines. 

Most of this is Xena's handiwork, with a little help from me.

2. It gets kids out and about. 
Xena and I often go for long walks to faraway parks and playgrounds. By the time we are done, she's often very tired and if we haven't taken her scooter along, I encounter some "carry me" whines. (Now, she may be super-light, but I ain't carrying a 6-year-old home.) However, since we started on this, I don't hear any complaints at all. Scooter or no scooter, she cheerfully ventures near and far in search of painted pebbles. And she goes to great lengths to find them.

We were pebble-hiding near the cable ski lagoon at the beach with a friend, when she borrowed his toy binoculars and said, "Mama, I'm looking hard for pebbles!"

3. It teaches kids to share. 
It's simple: paint --> hide and find -> re-hide. You can't hold on to the pebbles you find, no matter how pretty they are or how much you like them. You can keep them to admire for a day or two, but you gotta release them eventually for others to feel just as happy as you did when you found them. Xena gets this, and I sure am glad that she's able to let go of stuff this easily.

4. It's a cycle. 
If I had a penny for every piece of artwork that Xena handed to me that I actually kept, boy oh boy. Every term, her preschool also sends me every single drawing of hers, and some of them are, well, I have no idea what they are. On an average, I keep about one in twenty. The rest dutifully make their way to the recycle bin, mostly when she's asleep. It's true; kids are inherent hoarders. They get attached to the most random things -- leaves, twigs, candy wrappers, ribbons, pieces of blu tack (I kid you not), etc. What they'd want to do with these things is anybody's guess, but they do love them dearly. So you can only imagine how attached kids can get to a cute pebble with a cute mascot painted on it. Now imagine if you kept every pebble you painted and every pebble you found. That's a lot of stuff to keep in the house, and goes totally against our general KonMari philosophy. So I'm actually happy that the pebble artwork gets renewed and recycled without anyone having to throw anything away.

5. It teaches kids how to deal with disappointments.
This is my absolute favourite. This generation of kids rarely have to deal with failure and disappointment in their childhood. (That's why 'participation prizes' bug me. Why are we rewarding kids for just turning up?) My worry is that when they grow into (rather entitled) adults, they will not be able to cope with all the curveballs life is gonna throw at them. Rock-hunting is great for this reason -- you might spend an hour combing through a park and find ZERO pebbles and that's okay. And of course, there is always the heartbreaking possibility of your beautifully painted pebble being discovered by someone who doesn't know what it is; someone who just picks it up and keeps it, or worse, throws it into the bin. Oh, well.

6. It's 'reboot' time for me.
Viv has been insanely busy with cricket so our weeknight Netflix sessions start only around 10 pm after he gets back from training. I end up with some free time after putting Xena to bed, so I just sit down and paint the stuff that *I* want to paint, without getting distracted with phrases like "Mama, this fish looks angry. We need to change its mouth!" or "Mama, please draw a JigglyWigglypie [aka random cartoon character she learnt about from her classmates that I have no clue about and have to google to draw]." This 'me time' is really calming. I can literally tuck away all my other thoughts and just focus on the pebble I'm painting. And now I have armed myself with acrylic paints and better markers, so the pebbles are looking better too.

Here are some of our latest creations. Will update as we paint more!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

One of a kind

Where possible, I try to sneak in a message about kindness and compassion to Xena.

The other day, we were waiting for the lift to get home after school. I had a splitting headache and she was insisting we take the stairs up.

"I'm not feeling very well, Xena. So let's take the lift today. We can take the stairs tomorrow. Or you go up the stairs and I'll take the lift and meet you upstairs."

"Nooooo... let's both take the stairs."

"That is not very kind, Xena. I'm not well, so you need to think about me too. Imagine if you were very sick and I said, 'Let's go climb a mountain right now.' Can I do that?

"No, Mama, you can't."

"That's right. Do you know why not?"

"Because there are no mountains here."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The big bad word

Xena - Mama, do you know, some children in my class say some bad words...

Me - Oh yeah? Like what?

Xena - Like... the S word.

Me (alarm bells ringing inside my head but keeping a perfectly calm exterior) - What's the S word?

Xena - It's a bad word. We should not say it.

Me - Yes, but what's the word? What does the S stand for?

Xena (leaning closer and whispering) - Stupid.

Me - Hmmm yes, that's not a nice word. We should not use it.

Xena - There is another bad word they use...

Me - What's that?

Xena - It's very bad.

Me - What is it?

Xena - The F word.

Me (alarm bells going a bit bonkers, but still maintaining the calm exterior) - Oh. What does the F stand for?

Xena - I can't say it.

Me - But what's the word? You can tell me the word. That's not the same as using it.

Xena (whispers inaudibly) - F...

Me (horrified, thinking that I'd heard what I'd expected, but still wanting to confirm) - Sorry, what's that? I didn't hear it properly.

Xena (whispers very loudly) - FART.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Money's worth

Me - So Xena, when you're a teenager and you have long holidays, are you going to take up a job?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Where?

Xena - Where can I find a job?

Me - Well, you can work in a shop, or a restaurant, or a fast food place like McDonald's.

Xena - Okay. I can work at McDonald's.

Me - Okay.

Xena - Will you come to eat there when I'm working?

Me - You wouldn't want me to?

Xena - No, I want you to!

Me - Oh yeah?

Xena - Yeah. You should come.

Me - Really? Why?

Xena - Then I can serve you food. And I can also give you my salary. You can take it home first. Because I will only go home later.

Me - Oh. Wow. You will give me your salary?

Xena - Yes. You can give it to me later.

Me - Oh, I have to give it back to you later?

Xena - Yes.

Me - And what will you do with it?

Xena - I will buy something.

Me - Like what?

Xena - Like... if you are at NTUC (supermarket) buying something and you don't have enough money, I can pay for it.

Me - Oh. Really?

Xena - Yeah. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

In the pink

There are men and there are women. All men like women and all women like men. And oh, there are also the half&half -- the hijras. They are the 'abnormal ones'. They dress like women and they lust after men. And they clap their hands when they dance, and they sing in their hoarse voices and it's damn funny. 

This was the state of oblivion I was in, growing up in small towns in India in the 80s and 90s, under the influence of one too many Hindi movies that featured the hijras for 'comic relief'. And I laughed. Oh, how we all laughed. Such was the social conditioning. That was how we were.

Even at the age of 18, when I stepped foot in Singapore, I was quite clueless about the concept of gender and sexual orientation. I thought 'gay' was just another word for 'happy'. In fact, on day one, one of my seniors introduced himself to me as "Hi, I'm XYZ and I'm gay." while his friends guffawed in the background. And I was left wondering why this guy I had just met felt the compelling need to tell me that he was happy. Turns out he wasn't even gay. It was all a big joke.

Over the years, even though I was eventually introduced to the concept of what being gay was, it was still as a source of amusement. "That is so gay!" Someone would say and everyone would laugh.

I had a colleague who I'm pretty sure (now) was gay, but I had no idea back then. Whenever he'd go on a vacation, we'd tease him that he was going bride-hunting and when he'd return we'd ask him for pictures and stories of his bride-hunt. I feel SO ashamed now, just thinking of those days, us laughing around him, with zero consideration for what he must be feeling. It was all fun and jokes, wasn't it? Ha ha.

Except that it was not.

And I have only started to realise the gravity of the matter. My ignorance and insensitivity of those days leave me ashamed. Things like inequality and injustice are not to be laughed at. Discrimination is not funny. The only thing 'abnormal' about the hijras was that no one would give them a 'normal' job. And though the realisation came to me very very late, I need to make amends. I need to make sure the prejudices I grew up with do not spill over into Xena's childhood. I need to raise her to grow up with an open heart and mind, and a strong sense of equality for everyone.

And that was one of the big reasons why we took her to Pink Dot this year. Pink Dot is a social movement to garner acceptance for the LGBT people in Singapore. They have a gathering every year at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim park to raise awareness about LGBT issues and to spread the message of inclusiveness. (Speakers' Corner is the only area in Singapore where citizens and permanent residents of Singapore can hold demonstrations and speak freely on all most topics. After prior registration on a government website, of course. You can't do all this in any other part of Singapore. You'd be arrested in a heartbeat.)

Pink Dot is in its 9th year, but this year is different. Amendments made to the Public Order Act now prohibit foreigners from participating in assemblies and processions at the Speakers' Corner. Sponsorships from foreign companies for such events have also been restricted. This means that past sponsors, aka the big guys -- Facebook, Google, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg and Twitter can no longer show their support for Pink Dot. It was therefore, even more important that locals and local companies turned up to openly show their support this year. And how they did. A mind-boggling 120 local companies came forward as sponsors, and 20,000 participants, dressed in pink, gathered to show their support towards the freedom to love.

And we did too. The last two years, we showed our support by simply wearing pink on the day because Xena was too young to be taken to such a crowded and noisy place. But this year, we knew we could. We had to.

Since there were barricades all around Hong Lim Park and they were checking IDs and bags before letting people in, we had to stand in the queue for almost an hour before we got in. Thankfully, Xena didn't complain at all. Soon, we had joined the massive sea of pink. A friend was there and he introduced us to others who very kindly shared their picnic mat, snacks and drinks with us. They also thanked us and shook hands with Xena for turning up to show our support.

Last night, a friend sent me the post-event official Pink Dot video. This morning, three others sent it to me. Viv's friends and colleagues have been sending it to him. The reason? We are in it! Well, it's a blink-and-miss appearance, but yes, we are there at the 26-second mark. Xena tells me that even her teachers were talking about us being at Pink Dot with her.

It's a very powerful video. Check it out.

Of course, to Xena, Pink Dot 2017 was pretty much just a pink picnic in the park, but we had started talking about all this much before, so she has a fair idea. I'm glad that she thinks that it's okay for 'an uncle to love and marry an uncle' and 'an aunty to love and marry an aunty'.

Though she's too young for an in-depth understanding of what all this means, I'm glad the conversation has started early. And we will be taking it forward. The law will change some day, it surely will. And when that happens, I want all of us, especially Xena, to look back and see that we were on the right side. That we supported what we believed in, and we stood for equality for all. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mexican fiesta

"Excuse me, what is the recipe of your Michelada?"

My jaw dropped.

I couldn't believe what Viv had just asked the waiter.

We were at one of our favourite restaurants, and whenever we go there, Viv orders their speciality Michelada, a Mexican cocktail made of beer and magical spices and fairy dust and 384789572 other secret ingredients that no one knows, except for maybe the cocktail-making androids in their kitchen.

Not that we hadn't tried to look up the recipe on the net, but there were too many differing views on how to make the perfect Michelada. One actually suggested Maggi masala powder as a key ingredient! I kid you not.

So Viv, drunk on his Michelada I presume, decided to get it straight from the horse's mouth.

The very loyal employee of the restaurant hemmed and hawed and laughed nervously and moved along. However, the waiter at the adjacent table who had overheard our conversation came right over and casually told Viv the recipe.

I couldn't believe Viv had actually asked the waiter for the recipe!  I couldn't believe the waiter actually told him!

Anyway, we excitedly messaged the gang because we had decided that the theme for our next pot luck would be Mexican, and this fitted right in. Our last pot luck (themed comfort-food-that-must-also-have-the-acronym-PP) had been awesome and we had been considering making it a monthly thing, with a different cuisine/theme each time.

So last Saturday, we got together at Maya's place for our majestic Mexican fiesta! (I spared my friends from a Mexican dress code though, and I could literally hear the collective sighs of relief. Sigh.)

Viv and R immediately busied themselves with all kinds of permutations and combinations to achieve the perfect Michelada and after quite a few prototypes, finally tasted success -- quite literally. It was really good. Even a beer-hater like me didn't mind taking a few sips. 

Maya and Pizzadude made some killer jalapeno poppers, guacamole and salsa
(Okay, who replaced the cheese dip with the Tiger beer can for this photo??)
I made vegetarian quesadillas. 

Margaritas! No can do Mexican without margaritas!

Till the next one, cheers!