Monday, March 21, 2011

On Heat, Kids and Writing

Mumbai’s heat is getting to me. This year, instead of the climate slowly changing from not-so-hot to somewhat-hot to kinda-hot to really-hot, nature decided to scream ‘SURPRISE PEOPLE’ and overnight (literally) the weather changed from not-so-hot to really-truly-hot. And I can’t handle it! Living in Bangalore for over four years spoilt me and I forgot there were places on earth where heat ruled like a fire-fisted dictator. This heat is making me wish I were an ice-cube sitting squarely in the ice tray of my freezer. It is making me crave flimsy malmal clothing that will lovingly let the air in and stop this meltdown. I want to sit all day long in a bubbly bathtub with the fresh clean smell of lemon and mint around me. Sigh. As much as I love you, oh dear city, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to deal with your blazing, overwhelming, bheja-frying heat and the sticky-itchy-sweaty feeling you give me whenever I find myself in a non-air-conditioned environment . What to do?

Apart from the heat, something else is driving me up the wall the past couple of days. No time to write. Even when there is time, there is no concentration. Too many distractions. Mostly in the form of one toddler and one infant. Even when they are asleep I have no peace. Why is she so restless? Why doesn’t his cold go away already? Why has she lost her appetite? What should I pack in her lunch box tomorrow? Should I start him on Cerelac next month or some homemade concoction? I really need to buy them some new clothes. She needs a white T-shirt to go with those shorts. Things like these are on my mind all the time and it’s not helping that my kids have been unwell for quite some time now. I’ve been taking them to the paediatrician so often now that I’ve become the main contributor to the doctor’s income.

But writing is what I need to do to stay sane. Especially since I have this story for a novel bouncing around in my head. Not just bouncing, it actually feels like its throwing itself onto the inner walls of my mind and making a huge ruckus. Like a claustrophobic lunatic trying to find his way out of a small windowless room. I better let him out before he does some serious damage to himself.

This claustrophobic lunatic is, in reality, my muse. He’s a bit like me. As in, I’m claustrophobic and I’m a self-proclaimed lunatic. Occasionally, at least. But otherwise he is very different from who I am. When he gets his genius ideas, he can’t sit still. He will hop and jump and whoop loudly and sometimes shout eureka. I have to quieten him down when he gets this way. He can be very pushy. He usually wins arguments about the writing so I have learnt to just shut up when he’s dictating. But on some days he turns into another person altogether. He gets fat and lazy and absolutely refuses to get any work done. I have to beg and plead, and then when I’ve lost my patience I threaten him. It doesn’t always work. I call those the ‘dry days’, when I haven’t written anything at all. But on our good days, when the ink from are pens are flowing forth, we are able to work amicably and churn out something decent.

Writers really are a crazy bunch of people. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on inside our heads, so we decide to live in our own self-created parallel universes instead of living in the real world. This piece supports my theory. I wish I could explain to people how important it is to give me a little time to myself so I can write. But with one hand balancing the baby on my hip and the other holding onto the toddler’s chubby little hand, I hardly think my request will be taken seriously. Even my muse finds it amusing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Grim post for a depressing day

Bahrain, the country where I grew up, is in the midst of a law and order situation at the moment. Anti-government protesters have started attacking both police and civilians, blocking roads and causing mayhem in this otherwise peaceful country. Things are spiralling out of control and people have been advised to stay indoors. I am fearful for my family and friends who are living in the midst of this chaos. When I told mom that she and dad should think about coming back to India, she said, “If something has to happen it can happen anywhere.”

Bahrain is a tiny little island country that I considered very very peaceful. That was probably because I lived in an ignorant little expat bubble. But never has something to this effect happened before. It just goes to show that anything can happen anywhere.

I’ve had two experiences that I believe can be classified as near death experienced. It’s not like I think about these incidences on a daily basis. But when I do, I remember to thank God that I am alive today. They made me realise how close death is to us all the time. Walking with us like a shadow, ready to snap us up in an instant. Like most of you, I too believed firmly that death was a distant foggy eventuality that will occur when I’m nearly a 100. These two incidences shook me out of my reverie.

On 1st October, 2002, around 10 am, I was sitting in the balcony of my parent’s house in Goa. It was the year I had graduated and instead of continuing my studies in Mumbai, I decided to come home and look at my options there. Mom and I would usually spend some time in the balcony after breakfast. On this particular day she was speaking to my dad over the phone, while I was going through the morning newspaper. She finished her conversation, switched off the cordless phone and looked up to see two navy planes in the sky. The airport is close by so the sound of planes landing and taking off is a constant. As I read the newspaper, I heard her say, “It’s falling! It’s falling!” I look up and see a plane headed towards us! That moment is frozen in my memory forever. The nose of the plane. It was right in front of me. Or at least it looked that way.

Even as we stood up and made towards the front door, I wondered why we were running when death was chasing us at such a speed. At the speed of a plane. By the time we reached the front door, the plane had already flown past the top of our house,the mosque nearby and crashed into a recently completed bungalow beyond it. A mushroom-shaped ball of fire rose into the air, just like in the movies, I thought.

The bungalow belonged to some family friends. They were due to move in to their new home shortly. We later learnt that two naval planes collided in mid-air. My mother watched the first one turn nose down and the other head towards us. All the 12 individuals aboard the two planes were instantly killed, along with 3 on the ground.

If that plane has hit the ground 3 seconds earlier, it could have been our home.


On 9th May 2009 I was at my parent’s home again for 2 months, with my 1 year old daughter. We usually slept in the downstairs bedroom but the air conditioner wasn’t working so we slept in an upstairs bedroom. Only my grandma was sleeping in her room on the ground floor. Saturday night, I woke up a little after 1 AM when my daughter stirred in her sleep. She usually needed a bottle of milk in the night and I decided to heat the milk and be back before she woke up completely. I’m generally quite scared of moving around a big house in the middle of the night and I would have woken my mom up to do the needful, but she was sleeping so peacefully that I decided to go downstairs on my own.

I probably was downstairs only for 2 minutes. Mom always keeps a dim light on in centre room so that the house is never in complete darkness. I went to the kitchen, heated up some milk and took it upstairs. After feeding my daughter, I fell asleep soon. I woke up when the alarm clock rang at 5:30 AM and I saw mom going downstairs. After 2 minutes I could hear her shouting. I grabbed my sleeping child and ran downstairs. Mom was is the bedroom downstairs and saying something loudly which I couldn’t really grasp. My grandma who was woken up from her slumber was looking confused. I walked into the room and it sank in. Every drawer and cupboard door was open and the things within were ransacked. There were things strewn on the bed, mostly empty jewellery boxes.

The robbers got away with a lot of gold and some cash. Artificial jewellery was inspected and left behind on the bed. I guess we were dealing with expert thieves. A briefcase containing passports and important documents was missing too but discovered later behind the house.

The thieves broke open 3 doors to get into the house, entering from the kitchen. How they managed all this without waking anyone up is a mystery. Someone from the nearby mosque mentioned that they saw a car parked near the house after midnight but didn’t think anything could be fishy. The police did the whole investigating shebang - from finger printing, sniffer dog, to questioning suspects but arrived at zilch.

But what really rattles me up, every time I think about it, is – were they in the house when I went down to heat the milk? Or were they hiding just beyond the kitchen door and waiting for me to go back upstairs? What if I had come face to face with them? I guess it doesn’t matter now because it’s all in the past. Yet I can’t help but think sometimes – what if?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Short Story: Coming of Age

I wrote this last year. It is based on real events that took place in the life of someone I know.

“Zaid? What happened to you, son?”

It was Ibrahim, the salesman at Zaid’s grandfather’s garment shop. He lived a few doors away from the store.

Holding the 15-year-old by his arm, Ibrahim ushered the quivering boy into his home.

“Put on your clothes. Didn’t you hear about the attack that occurred last night? You should have stayed home.”

Zaid answered in monosyllables. He hadn’t realised he was freezing; he was still carrying his warm clothes under his arm with his books. Soon there were several people around him. They were Ibrahim’s family, most of whom Zaid recognised vaguely. Someone sat him down on the heavy woollen carpet, placing some extra cushions behind his back. But he couldn’t sit comfortably; his rear hurt too much. He wished he could stand up again without offending the person who had so kindly placed the cushions for him. Someone put a blanket over his shoulders. Someone gave him a tiny cup of piping hot kahwa. Everyone spoke in tense and sympathetic whispers.

“Drink. You will feel better,” said an old man, shaking his head in sorrow.

Zaid did as he was told. The tiny cup was being refilled. The saffron tea warmed him, but also made him aware of the blinding pain that radiated from his bruises. He was embarrassed to be among these kind people who fussed over him. He masked his pain, displaying no discomfort and thanking people randomly.

He finished his third, maybe fourth, cup of kahwa and slowly stood up.

“I’ll go home now. Thank you,” he said again.

The people around him exchanged worried looks. Ibrahim spoke then.

“You can’t go back the way you have come. They’ll finish you off. I’ll come with you across the river. After that, take the Nawa Kadal bridge back across the river and go straight home. Do you understand?”

Zaid nodded, only dimly registering the instructions. An old lady in the room recited some prayers for his safety. She came forward and touched his cheek. He nodded to everyone and left.

They stepped outside; the cold air instantly gave some clarity to Zaid’s thoughts. Ibrahim hurried Zaid down the road and then down the steps where the bridge had once proudly stretched across. “Had it been burnt down only a week ago?” Zaid thought. Things seemed to be changing so quickly, he couldn’t believe it was the same sleepy valley of his childhood. So much of Kashmir had changed beyond recognition, right in front of his eyes.

The Aali Kadal bridge was one of the nine bridges that helped people cross the Jhelum, the river that ran through the valley and divided the city of Srinagar into two parts. Zaid had been taking the Aali Kadal bridge everyday to reach his classes, but it had been burnt down by militants recently under the cover of darkness. A three-minute boat ride in a naav, a boat that could seat at least fifteen people, for five rupees per person was the only option left to commuters whenever one of the beautiful wooden bridges was burnt to a cinder.

A thick rope now stretched across the river in place of the bridge. Once Ibrahim and Zaid clambered into the boat the boatman guided the boat across by tugging onto the rope. Zaid watched as the boatman steadied the boat and tugged at the rope with effort, keeping the boat from being carried away by the rushing icy waters. He kept his eyes on the young man’s energy, watching him single-handedly battle the hurrying tide to get the boat safely to the other bank. The man frowned and huffed, letting out a low grunt with each mighty tug. Zaid tried to get his mind to focus on the tugging. He knew he must not think about anything else now or his emotions would easily get the better of him. He forced his thoughts to go blank, swaying gently with the boat, as the water flowed hastily below him.

On the other side, Ibrahim walked Zaid up the steps and repeated his earlier instructions, telling him to take care. He then walked back down to the waiting boat and waved to Zaid as the boatman pulled away, the grunts barely audible to Zaid now.

Zaid hurried across the lanes of Rehbab Sahib and took a U-turn at the lane where his classes were held. The area was almost as deserted as Aali Kadal. He looked up at his teacher’s window; it was shut and the curtains drawn. He headed towards the Nawa Kadal bridge, which mercifully, the militants had spared. He tried to run across the bridge, irrationally imagining the militants setting the bridge on fire behind him. But he was in no state to run. He hobbled and his shoes made loud knocking sounds on the wood. He was sure the soldiers would hear the sound and chase after him, to finish him off, as Ibrahim had said.

If you stop or turn to look at us, I will kill you. The words echoed in his ears. Or did he hear them spoken behind him? He walked faster, not daring to turn back and confirm his fears.

Zaid struggled the whole distance home, fear overtaking the pain and the cold. He reached Narwara where nothing seemed amiss. People went about their daily business like nothing had happened. The Border Security Force had probably not bothered this part of town. His eyes misted over with tears when his home came into sight. He would be safe inside. He carefully covered his face with his muffler. He didn’t want to startle anyone with his bruises.

He entered the heavy metal gate and walked down the pebbled path up to his three-storey house. The original house had been built by his great-grandfather in the 1920s, the extra storeys being added by subsequent generations to accommodate the expanding family. His family shared the house with 5 other families consisting of his father’s brothers, unmarried sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, and uncles and aunts.

The door was ajar. Zaid stepped inside the threshold and took off his shoes, placing them in the shoe rack under the staircase. He noticed there was a flurry of activity happening; some of his aunts were getting ready to go out. He caught snatches of their conversation.

“The funeral is after the Asr prayer.”

“We better hurry.”

“Where is my grey dupatta?”

“May Allah give strength to his family.”

Zaid gathered that there had been a death in the family and his mother and aunts were going to the deceased’s house, ahead of the men, to pay their condolences.

Zaid decided to escape to his room. He climbed the stairs trying not limp. His mother was hurrying down the stairs while securing her head scarf with a pin. She passed him, lost in her own thoughts.

“Namra, please bring my purse with you when you come downstairs. Zaid?”

Oh! She had noticed him. Zaid turned to look at his mother, his face still hidden behind the muffler. Zarina was looking at her son in concern. She probably noticed a limp.

“Zaid? Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? I’m just going up to my room.”

“Did something happen to you?”

“What are you talking about, mamma? You’re going to get late. I’ll see you later.”

With that Zaid climbed the stairs and fled to his room. Someone pulled his mother towards the front door, telling her that they were already late. She would confront Zaid when she was back, she promised herself.

Zaid entered his room and shut the door, locking it. He took off his muffler and pheran and lay down on the beautiful red and beige carpet that was spread from wall to wall. He would have to tell his mother when she got back home later; there was no way to hide his injuries. But until then, he wanted to be alone. He stared at the white ceiling and the ceiling fan that had been unused for almost three months. He thought about what he had lived through this morning. Haphazard images flashed in front of him. He felt a scream rising from his chest. But it stuck in his throat, chocking him. Tears spilled from his eyes, wetting his hair and the carpet below him.

This is not the life I choose to lead, Zaid told himself. Just one more year, and I will free myself from this madness.

Earlier that morning...

Zaid hurried down the road shivering in the biting cold of a January morning. He didn’t want to be late for his science tuitions again today. Yesterday he had arrived just 10 minutes late and had received a stern warning from Yunus Sir. He quickened his pace but the chill hit him with even more force. His multiple layers of clothing seemed insignificant protection against the frosty chills of Kashmir.

He was dressed in the customary pheran, a loose fitting overcoat that flapped in the icy breeze. Under it he wore a heavy woollen sweater over his shirt and trousers. The maroon muffler his mother had knitted last winter was wrapped around his head and the lower part of his face and kept his teeth from chattering. His hands were drawn into the pheran, holding his books close to his chest as he ran along the route he had been taking daily for a month now.

The new school session would begin in March and Zaid’s parents wanted him to be well prepared for it. His mother always said, “You must score high marks in your exams this time.” He wanted to ask her if his previous scores had not been high enough for her, but he would just nod. She would smile and plant a kiss on his cheek and carry on with her chores.

His mother, Zarina, was a housewife who had given up the perks of a teaching career at a government school to take care of her husband’s ailing parents. She was hardworking and amiable, loved by all in the household. Everyone vied for her attention, and Zaid seemed to receive very little of it at the end of the day.

Zaid had always been a high achiever at school, but strangely in never seemed like it was enough. His father maintained that he expected more from his only son.

“You are capable of much more, Zaid. You need to put in your best efforts. If only you wouldn’t waste time in front of the television.”

If only he had not been so interested in playing cricket with his rowdy friends, if only he would concentrate, if only he had an ambition, if only.... It was always some rebuke or the other. Zaid gritted his teeth, wishing he had the nerve to stand up to his father and tell him to just leave me alone, dammit.

He knew that was something he could never do. Etiquettes, in the conservative family he belonged to, did not allow him to look his father in the eye, let alone raise his voice in rebellion. It was unheard of for children to argue with their elders. Old-school decorum and family-taught values were revered and followed to the letter. At least it was assumed that they were.

Things hadn’t changed much in their home for years. Kashmiris devotedly followed their customs, keeping them alive for generations to come. Though they competed with one another on the scale and quality of their children’s weddings, the dowries they sent with their daughters, the size and beauty of their houses, and several other material possessions like clothes and jewellery, they shielded all these frivolities carefully within the boundaries of age old traditions and the respected customs of their forefathers.

He sprinted in the freezing air, his mind jumping from one thought to the other till he realised he had reached Aali Kadal. He was about 200 metres away from the river when he noticed that the lanes were deserted except for the usual Border Security Force soldiers. Patrolling BSF personnel were a common yet intimidating sight in Srinagar.

Things hadn’t changed much in Kashmiri households, but everything had changed outside those homes. The recent insurgency had altered the lives of Kashmiris entirely. He hardly remembered how it had felt to walk these lanes without any army presence. Curfews, gun shots, and grenade attacks were common occurrences these days. But the sound of gun fire, even from a distance, was something Zaid knew he would never get used to. He waited for the day he would finish his schooling and leave this beautiful, disturbed land which he loved so dearly. He wanted to be away from everything his life represented now, dreaming of a life free from fear and control.

“Hey, hero! Come here,” called a soldier sternly, stepping forward from a strategically placed bunker in the narrow lane that led to the bridge.

Zaid had seen the soldiers but wanted to hurry past them without drawing any attention. His grand-father’s store was just down the same road, right before the river. He hoped he had enough time to stop by the store and say hello before rushing off for his classes. It had been a while since he met babajan. But it looked liked the soldiers wanted to make conversation with him. He was going to be so late!

Zaid stopped and turned to face the soldiers. Three pairs of eyes fixed their gaze on him. Only then did he notice the shattered glass windows, the debris, the partly destroyed bunker, and the blood stains on the tar road. There must have been a grenade attack here, thought Zaid, understanding why the lanes were empty. A couple of windows opened a crack from the surrounding houses, fearful eyes peering down at him.

The soldiers walked towards him. Zaid sensed anger in their eyes. Anger and grief. He wondered if someone had died in the attack.

“Take off your muffler. What’s your name?”


“Where are you going?”

“For my tuitions... across the river.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’ve seen you passing through this street every morning. What have you got under your pheran? Show us your hands.”

“I’m carrying my books,” Zaid said quietly freeing his right hand and showing it to them. As he tried to remove his other hand while holding on to his books, the soldier raised the butt of his rifle and struck Zaid’s left arm with it. The books tumbled from under the pheran onto the ground.

Stunned, Zaid bent down to pick his books up. A powerful kick to his rear sent him hurtling to the ground face first. The assault began then. Kicks, punches, slaps, and hits from their rifles rained down on him. Zaid had no time to understand or to react to the situation. It took him a minute to find his voice and he began to plead to them, telling them he was just a student, he hadn’t done anything. But the mauling intensified. They couldn’t hear him above their own fury. They shouted out profanities and yelled at him to removing his outer clothing, wanting him to feel the full force of their blows.

Zaid took off his pheran and his sweater and dropped them to the ground. In his shirt and trousers now, Zaid continued to plead, pointing to his books lying scattered at his feet. He tried to reason with them, knowing that it would make no difference. He was faintly aware of warm pee running down his legs, wetting his trousers. It brought a sense of reality to the absurdity of what was happening.

It felt like an eternity had passed. Zaid wondered if they would take his body home after they killed him. Or would they just dispose of it somewhere? Ten minutes of torture later they were done.

“Pick up your things and run,” barked a soldier cocking his gun at Zaid. “If you stop or turn to look at us, I will kill you.”

Tears streaming, Zaid picked up his books and clothes and limped away from where the soldiers stood, smouldering pain slowly rising from his injuries. He kept walking
without looking back, expecting the sound of a gunshot to slice through the cold air.

He shambled along the road, still heading towards the river. A few minutes later he was still alive. The soldiers had spared him. He shuffled on aimlessly taking the same route he had taken every day to his classes.

He heard some shouts ahead and a BSF search party of about twelve soldiers materialised from the curve of the road. They were heading towards him. They were on a rampage, shattering the glass windows of shops and houses on both sides as they trudged down the lane. Zaid trembled thinking about what they could do to him. But he kept ambling along, as fast as his swollen limbs would let him.

They saw him. A soldier among them held his gaze for a second. Zaid tore his eyes away, choosing to stare at his feet instead. The soldier laughed, noticing his bruises, and a few of his comrades joined in the laughter. Zaid held his breath and walked past them as they jeered.

Zaid began breathing again once he was out of their sight. He reached his grandfather’s shop, but it was shuttered like all the other shops in the area. He heard a door open behind him and someone call out his name. It was Ibrahim.

Zaid shut his eyes now, as he lay on the thick carpet of his room, his tears dried up but hair and ears still wet. He didn’t want to think anymore. Sleep enveloped him gradually, and he let his thoughts drift to the blissful freedom of only a few years ago.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

I wanted to write a poem for International Women’s Day. I tried a couple of times but nothing inspiring came to me. Then I came across this poem by Maya Angelou on this blog. I had read it years ago but it got lost in the corridors of time. I can’t think of anything that would be more befitting as a blog post on this day. So whether you are male or female, old or young, black or white, rich or poor – read this. And take pride in who you are. I hope it has the same effect on you as it has on me, every time I read it. Happy Women’s Day everyone!

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Super-Nanny Wanted

Disclaimer: No offence meant to anyone who has or has gone through a life-threatening disease. Nor to someone who has seen a loved one suffer. Offence is meant, however, to the loony ones like me who perpetually play tragedy queens in their boring lives.

You’ll have to get a sonography done.

That’s what my gynaecologist told me last week when I went to her about a persistent problem. I shrugged and said okay. It sounded a bit ominous, but I really wasn’t worried. In fact, I wondered what would happen if the report showed I had a life-threatening disease. Instead of the thought scaring me, it kind of... well... sounded pretty cool. Does that make me morbid? Or just a really weird person?

I caught myself day dreaming about how the doctor would study the report, frown and study it for a few minutes. Then she would look at me concerned and break the unfortunate news to me gently. I would look at her shocked, unable to think. The good doctor would press her lips together and give me her practiced sympathetic look.
Deciding to be strong about it, I would look at her and ask rationally, “What are my options?”

She would rattle off a list of tests, procedures and therapies that would have to be conducted immediately. “But you have to understand,” she would switch her tone from professional to sympathetic again, “there is no guarantee. We can only delay the inevitable.”

With this optimistic thought in my mind I would walk out in a daze and wonder what to tell my family. What would hubby say? More importantly, what would he think? Would he start making plans of marrying again once I’m out of the picture? Naturally, Wife Bina Life wouldn’t appeal to him much, considering there are two little issues (as they call them in matrimonial ads) to take care of.

But what about me? Do I want him to remarry? Hmmm... that’s a tricky one. My answer would have been an outright NO if we didn’t have kids. I mean, why should he when he can spend his free time praying that he joins me as soon as possible, in heaven or whichever place I’m enrolled for in ‘ever after land’. But the equation changes when there are kids to think about. They need parents, right? Not just a dad, who in all likelihood, will continue being at work 16 hours a day. And suddenly, just like that, I’m playing Kajol’s character in ‘We Are Family’. Or rather, Susan Sarandon’s role in ‘Stepmom’, which, by the way, is a movie that I looooooved.

I wondered who could fit the stepmom’s role in my kids’ lives. No one I know at least. What kind of person should she be? If I am going to kick the bucket soon, I would really like to recruit a person for the job well in advance.

This is the requirement:

1. Most definitely, NOT sexy and svelte. She must NOT be fat either but should have at least a slight problem maintaining her weight which tends to sit on her thighs more than other places.
2. She should be reasonably healthy otherwise and devoid of any life-threatening disease.
3. She must NOT have thick glossy hair. Her hair must be slightly rough, of medium length and she should have a bad hair day at least three times a week.
4. She should NOT be instantly endearing. My kids should dislike her slightly at first and then slowly warm up to her kind ways.
5. She has to be a super cook who insists on eating the healthiest food, made from scratch. None of that ready-made nonsense. Please refer to this post for more details on the same. She must bake.
6. She should have some experience working with little kids. Like a governess or sorts who has worked in one of these new age schools who know exactly how to deal with errant children. Just a firm and unflinching voice that reasons rather than scolds, and the kids will magically turn into angelic little cherubs.

In short, I want a not-so-attractive super nanny.

Come to think of it, my hubby needn’t remarry after all. Super-nanny can be just that – a nanny. A paid one. Brilliant. Stepmom can so kindly go take a hike. Of course, hubby will have to be convinced about there being no need to remarry, but he’ll give in eventually. One has to fulfil the wishes of a woman on her deathbed, right?

So then, point #7 will be.

7. She must be a widow in her fifties, religious, with absolutely no interest in younger men. Or any men for that matter.

On second thoughts, I would not even have to die for super-nanny to enter the household. Yay!

So when I actually went to the doctor’s office with the scan report, and she frowned when she looked at it, I got a little worried. I’m not ready to die yet, I wanted to tell her. Let me live a few more years in comfort since super-nanny will be taking care of the kids and home, while I relax with hubby on a beach in Maldives. But then I saw her smile and say, “It doesn’t look like anything is wrong. No need to worry at all.”

Okay, then. No problem. Then, why am I feeling slightly disappointed? Where’s the fun in telling everyone that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me? I guess I was kind of getting used to the idea of being the tragic heroine in the movie of my daydreams.

Oh well, at least super-nanny’s awesome made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies will cheer me up.

P.S.: Those of you who fit the description mentioned in the post, please send in your resumes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kitchen Banter

Today I made some pizzas. Actually, you can say I ‘assembled’ the pizzas and heated them in the oven. ‘Assembling’ consisted of buying ready pizza bases from Monginis, spreading Maggi Hot & Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce, adding sliced chicken sausages that were lying in my freezer, putting in some chopped capsicum, shredded processed cheddar cheese (I had cheddar so didn’t bother buying mozzarella) and finally topping it all with sliced black olives – straight out of a jar. This master piece was then heated in the oven till it could pass off as respectable pizza.

I served it with a flourish at tea time being mighty pleased with myself, considering all the effort that when into ‘assembling’ it. My daughter immediately refused to eat it unless ALL the toppings were taken off. After much deliberation (read threatening) we reached a truce and only the sausages and capsicum came off.

The MIL, who was feeding the ungrateful little child, said “The bread is ready-made, na?” I smiled weakly and nodded. In our household ‘ready-made’ is a bad word. Ready-made. Ready-maid. Like when one talks about a person being ‘easy’. *wink, wink* And the use of these ‘easy’ items amounts to cheating in cooking. There was a time when I would make the pizza from scratch - knead the bread dough, cook up a luscious red tomato and oregano sauce and use freshly cooked chicken pieces. But those were the carefree days, when cooking was not a chore, it was an art form.

For some who grew up in Bahrain on a hugely unhealthy diet of frozen meat products, packaged munchies, school canteen sandwiches and weekly take-out dinners, I learnt that cooking needn’t be a big pain. You just need to know how to manipulate the original recipe by using the various products available in supermarkets. And voila! You can dish out scrumptious dishes with minimum time and effort expended. Though I loved cooking when I was younger, I quickly realised that I only enjoyed it when the recipes were super easy. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind spend hours in the kitchen when consuming the results only takes minutes?

So tomatoes got replaced by packaged tomato purée, real coconut got beaten down by its powdered and desiccated clones, lemon juice came out of a bottle, and everything got a dose of that wonderful magic ingredient – chicken stock that comes in a cute little packaged cube.

Well, as fate would have it, I got married into a family who doggedly believed that food must be as fresh as fresh can be. If the chicken was not walking around on its own an hour before it was served on the table, it is inedible. Frozen or packaged food were looked upon as the freaky, tattoo sporting punk distant cousins of ‘real’ food. Ready-to-cook food like instant noodles were eyed supiciously, as if they would instantly wreak havoc in unsuspecting bellies.

Right after my marriage when hubby and I were trying to settle into our new home in Bangalore and I was learning the ropes of managing a kitchen all by myself, I brought home a pack of tomato purée. I told him this would save me time in the morning before rushing to work – I don’t have to chop tomatoes or wait for them to soften before adding the other ingredients. He looked at me incredulously, like I was a mad woman talking and finally said, “You have got to be kidding me!” I tried reasoning with him and when that didn’t work, I turned the tables on him and looked at him like he was the crazy one, saying I used this all the time in Bahrain. He smiled and said as sweetly as possible, “That was in the freaking desert! This is Bangalore. You get fresh vegetables here, sweetheart.”

And that was that.

However, after five years of steady brain-washing I have succeeded in getting him to go easy on my ready-made cookery. Okay, actually we’ve met half somewhere halfway. I now try and use the ‘ready-maids’ sparingly and occasionally. Sometimes I do cheat and add them when no one’s watching, telling them to hush when they giggle and gurgle in the gravies.

After having kids I’ve realised how important it is to eat healthy and now I’ve started obsessing about them eating the freshest of the fresh. And when my daughter points to packet of munchies in the grocery store, I look at her and say, “You have got to be kidding me!”