2 October 2015

Birthday post

My sweet mother reminded me that I write a birthday post, and so I did. Only I wasn't quite ready to share it then. Here it is for posterity.

Cicadas are making a ruckus: loud conversations between friends and lovers, possibly between enemies. I am sitting on the patio of a Greek monastery on the island of Crete while I write this. Another birthday away from family.

Mid-life. Crisis.

And then I think about the word, crisis. What would be a crisis? No family, no friends, no original thoughts, no iPad? All of them or any one of them?  I have rather pathetic predictable life, so no crisis I conclude. But in that predictability is much that is possible and serendipitous. So here's waiting around for lady luck but in the mean time...

the epiphany this time is: I think I am waiting around to becoming someone, and perhaps, it's time to end this foolish ride. Aren't I someone already? Ah, wait that's because I think the someone I want to be is not the someone I am right now. But wait, who was this someone again? Wasn't it a self-imposed definition? So it can be changed. It is in my control. I think of a study that I read that in today's generation the proportion of teenagers who want to be famous is about two-thirds of those polled. I wonder what it was in my generation and is it really a life-time goal to be famous, to be someone? I have to remind myself that it comes with some complicated responsibility. That power corrupts. That there's a price that you pay if your desires constantly outpace your circumstances. And then you die. So is it all really worth it?

12 February 2015

The Karma Bank

As you meander through life, there are times when you dearly wish for things to work out in your favour. For me right now, this is often wishing that D would go to sleep! And when this desire creeps up on me, I think, can I make a withdrawal in my karma account? Have I earned enough to make a debit? 

Growing up at home we got religion, but later, as I grew up as an individual, I wanted philosophy. Ritualism felt tiring; irrational behaviour coupled with inconvenient demands. Yet, when I was really low what helped was prayer. Not to a god, but prayer that I learned so young that I can't even remember when. Prayer that runs off my tongue like morning dew off a leaf. Mindless prayer, whose complete meaning I am yet to understand. But this prayer held me together at times when I thought I couldn't stand, like physically on my own two feet. It was this prayer that I said over and over again as I stood in line to end a partnership. 

I contemplate now what religion means to me and what I want to teach D. She is too young for philosophy, but not too young to learn prayer. But how can I teach her something that I don't do every day, but something I know just helps when things are rotten and you need your mind to focus? Can I teach my child kindness and honesty, just for the sake of it, without the fear of a god? Besides, at the end of the day I want her to adopt whatever philosophy suits her - something that gives her meaning. I want to be the person who enables all experiences, with the rider that she chooses what she wants. But even to do that she will need a starting point and I can only provide what I know, right?

The karma bank is a way of thinking that I have adopted to have a sense of ethics. Basically, everyone has an account here. Yes, everyone. All individuals. Some are just more aware of it than others. All our good actions, selfless thoughts, get accrued as deposits. It is a current account - no interest! And we make withdrawals, when we bag that last ticket to the movies or run the red light and don't get run over. The problem with the bank though it is not online. You just don't know how much you have accrued and what the over-draft facility is like. I figured out a caveat to that though- if one believes in rebirth, then your account is linked to your soul and then you have all these lives left to make up for all the over-draft that you do in this one. The other problem with the bank is that it doesn't tell you how much you earn through your actions - no point based system against which you can reference your actions. Does helping a granny install skype on her ipad earn you as much as helping a granny cross the road? 

Ho hum. Things that I ponder while I put D to sleep.

2 February 2015

What not to do when hungry

Oops. As I sit down to write this post, I realize we are in Feb and I completely forgot to finish my 31 posts for January. Technically you were supposed to write everyday, but I cut myself some slack and decided if I make 31, I'll be good. Need a better plan next time.

So, I am one of those people who needs to eat every couple of hours. Regularly. I get cranky and sometimes dizzy If I don't follow an eating regimen - I joked that I have low blood glucose, till one day when I had to get myself checked at a random time, which happened to be when I had not had my usual 2 hr snack, and the technician called N to confirm if I had eaten since my blood glucose was quite low. Tada. Now I have biochemical proof for the behaviour.

Eating regularly is one thing, what complicates life is that I like eating well. Not as in, eating fried snacks and such, but eating a variety of foods. This has made me arrive at a list of things not to do when I am really hungry:

# 1 Don't open the fridge without a plan - One is apt to open the fridge like a cupboard and stare at the contents. If fridge is empty, then you might consider # 3 or # 4. Beware, is all I say. If like me your fridge is typically stuffed then do not pick out ingredients without knowing what to make. Try to go for the easy option, like masru anna (curd rice) or a fried egg with toast. But since hunger pangs short-circuit your ability to make quick rational decisions, this might not be obvious. Instead you might want to do # 2.

# 2 Do not read food blogs - You might skim over things in the fridge and decide that it might make something delicious, only you don't know what or how. So you pop over to your internet and start searching food blogs using the ingredients as a search term. But what happens is that since we eat with our eyes, as much with our tongue, you'll see perfect pictures of food items on blogs and keep clicking the next recipe to the next. Or discover that what you want to make requires 4 other essential ingredients that you don't have or that it will take 2 days of soaking and 1 day in the oven to be ready. Sum result - you are still hungry and now gastric juices are stimulated. Which might prompt you...

# 3 Do not read take out menus - Stuck to our fridge are menu cards from local take out joints. Unfortunately they are the chinese, north-indian and south-indian variety where every concievable taste is catered for. When hungry though, it will read like the prospectus of a juicy stock that will promise sky high returns in under 12 hours. Enticing, but your brain won't be able to get it's decision-making gears in order. Consequently, you are still hungry. Or worse, you order, and order all the wrong things, and you'll have loosies next. 

# 4 Do not go to a grocery store - If you the stoic types, who can really go shopping to buy ingredients for your meal when you are hungry, then in my book you are superman. Or else, you might pop over to the supermarket thinking, surely, they will have more variety. Errm... that is the exact problem though. Having studied human psychology more in depth than academicians, marketing chaps know that to make a kill, they need to package it brightly and put it all together in one area, close to check out. Like me, you may think that if you don't take a cart or trolley in, you'll buy less. Remember that brain short-circuit? That's what is going to suddenly turn you into a many-armed goddess that allows you to carry chips packets, biscuit packets, all manner of kurkure types as every single snack ad that you have seen will play itself in your head or radio jingle will reverberate in your ear drum. Consequently, you'll finish two packets of chips to realize that now you are thirsty and that hunger just got worse. Salty, fried things are the worst when you are hungry.

So, what can you do? 

Once I have figured it out, I'll let you know!

24 January 2015

Handwriting competition

Saw this in the morning newspaper:

"Children show the write way" : The Hindu, 23 January. Their weblink to the article doesn't seem to be working.

Got me smiling about writing. Remember how you first had pencils. A pencil box that contained pencils, sharpner (oh that word is not real) and rubbers (ah that means something other than eraser). Every year before the start of the academic session we would go to the stationery shop, "Prem General Stores" which to me was like visiting wonderland. There wasn't much choice for pencils, but erasers, ooo... the mind boggling shapes and scents, should I get one with "M" or a cute animal. We were allowed only one so that was a tough call. Then in 5th standard we were graduated to using pens - not the ball point wonders, but ink pens. What fun it was to pick out a fountain pen; I was disappointed at being disallowed from getting ink colours other than blue and black, and since the majority used blue, I went with black. Every night I would fill in the ink of the pen and every now and then, end up with a giant bindi that was out of place on my school uniform. Then around 8th or 9th ball point pens came into their own, so it became even cooler to use an ink pen. I had one till about 5 years ago. Used to like writing letters with it and signing important papers - both of which I do rarely now.

The article prompted me to take a trip down memory lane. 

Our lives centre around our touch screen phone, ipad and computer. D already knows that if she touches a screen, something happens. I do wonder if she will follow the same sequence of penmanship graduation that we did.

22 January 2015

Time: a new personal perspective

I consciously decided to save a memory from graduate school: Of waking up on weekends and sitting for hours on the dining table, reading fiction or non-ficition, something not work-related. I would keep making cups of Taj Mahal tea bag tea and snacking on cereal, eggs, then toast and on till lunch time. I would wear a sweatshirt over my night PJs, and a bathrobe and loll about while the sun shined through our kitchen. I was always cold, so the sun was welcoming and warm.

Today, I leap out of bed early, weekend or not, and count the number of minutes I have before D wakes up to decide what all I can accomplish. No dithering. On days when I can be ready and finish my breakfast before her first cry, I feel like I did when I finished running double digit miles for the first time - elated. I also like being in charge and having this extra time in the morning really makes me feel in control.

Time has become such a precious resource now that I even make a list of websites that I need to visit (!) having lost the luxury to simply surf. Luckily I don't do social media, so my distractions are limited. Blessedly, I have trained my family not to expect me to pick their calls or respond immediately to the ringing of the phone, so at that front too I have little to worry about. My garden though is suffering. Already it wasn't well because Gulmohar trees, which had been decapitated when we first moved here, have leaves and what not now, so there's no sun in our balcony. The compost has been smelling too because it started to get too much wet waste and not enough dry; that's slowly being repaired though.

And of course, I haven't been able to keep up with the blogging schedule.

Cultural things that I liked in Germany

I was in Germany for three months last year and it was my first extended stay in that country. It's always fun to go live by yourself in a place where no one knows you, so you get the time and freedom to have experiences and make observations that are truly your own.

here are couple of things I liked:

1. Share cars: I tried blablacar as well as mitfahrgelegenheit, now run by carpooling.com. Services that allow individual car drivers to announce their travel from point A to B and fill in their car. Long-distance car pooling. You require a certain amount of trust to do this type of stuff. Given the high rape incidence and general security issues in India, this certainly won't go very far here. This offered an alternate to getting around - since train at the last minute is too expensive and bus rides can be too long. I was concerned about language but I assume that people who do this type of stuff already have an open mind to strangers and it really did not affect my journey.

2. Bus travel app: Even though I was in a small town like Wurzburg, public transport was decent, to the extent that they had an app for the buses which in real time could spit out what buses you could take, linked to a map, so you knew where the bus stop was, and for your convenience, it could even calculate the amount of time it would take to walk there from your current position. Perhaps this is a reality in much of the west already, since they were big on punctuality, systems and order longer than we have been and digitalising their system was easy. 

20 January 2015

*Short Story* The benefits of being evil - Part IV

Peeved and frustrated, Rukmini had to summon all her maturity as a businesswoman to keep from storming to the DJ station and making an announcement that someone had forgotten their pregnancy test on the bathroom sink. It would not have struck the right note. Instead, she used Rekha as her sounding board. Rekha's plan was simple - install a CCTV to catch the culprit. Rukmini grappled with the do-it-yourself technology. Hitherto she would have used a detective or paid someone to stand near the loo, but now all she needed was a gizmo hooked up to her computer.

The following week the camera was purchased and installed. Vikas was deputed to put it together and he couldn't understand why Rukmini would want a camera in the bathroom, but not near the till or the main door or the kitchen. The idea that she wanted to simply catch a pregnancy pen user amused him no end; would she also like one installed on her balcony to identify the pigeon who was playing havoc with her plants?

Saturday night rolled in and Rukmini felt taut with excitement. They were going to get to the bottom of this mystery. Both Rekha and she had brought their drinks into her office and while snacking on peanut masala, watched the CCTV footage like it was an India-Pakistan cricket match. The bathroom stall doors swilled open and shut, someone left a lipstick on the counter, someone lit up a cigarette (how had Rukmini not smelled it?); mostly it was women in twos and threes coming to gossip. Sudha, who was in charge of the bathroom came and did her job; Rukmini couldn't help but admire her fastidiousness. Then, after she put the mop and pail away, she used the bathroom. As she was leaving, a pregnancy pen was on the counter. Both Rekha and Rukmini rushed out of the office to the bar bathroom. As soon as Sudha saw them rushing towards her, she panicked, hitched up her sari and ran through the kitchen, through the back door into the alley. It was Rekha who caught up with her and assured her that they just wanted to talk. Rukmini, panting, put a reassuring hand on her and told her, whatever she said, she would still have her job.

Sudha was crying by now. She slobbered on about how sorry she was and she didn't want to do it, but the money was good, and with the baby she wanted to save as much as possible. Money? Rekha and Rukmini exchanged glances and Rukmini could wait no longer, blurted "Why would you, a pregnant woman, need to take a pregnancy test? Did someone pay you?" Sudha confirmed this between wails. One of the bar's clients had offered her five thousand rupees to take the test and leave the pen on the counter. She did it twice, but the lady could not find the pen. When they took her back to the bar, she identified the client as Rose.

Although they tried to be discreet, with the sixth sense all woman have about being watched, Rose picked up on their stare and then calmly walked towards them. Her manner suggested - Shall we settle this inside?

Rukmini was the first to say something. "Hi Rose, I don't know you. Whatever is happening between Sudha and you is private, and since it is not harming the bar in anyway, none of our business." 

Rose just smiled and said, "Aunty, I know you are trustworthy and a curious cat." Charmingly blunt, thought Rukmini. "I needed to be pregnant, so that I don't get married. You see, an astrologer has told my boyfriend that if he were to have another child, he will definitely get caught by the police and die a horrible death. I was going to announce this at my bachelor party, till I realized that I will need more than just words to convince him. So, I paid Sudha for taking the test and giving me the pen. Only, by the time I got to the bathroom to pick it up, it was missing."

Rose looked at a trembling Sudha, "Where is the pen?"

"Amma, I left it there only." 

The four of them trouped to the bathroom.

The pen was gone. Someone had put their dupatta to good use and picked it up anonymously!

18 January 2015

*Short Story* The benefits of being evil - Part III

Rekha was peeved; it was an affront to her excellent PR skills to admit that she could be mistaken. So she set about finding out more about the caller. Her name was Rose and her claim to fame in the bar circle was that she was having an affair with an older man. The excitement did not end at him being married, he also happened to be the local real estate mafia don. All this would have sounded fictitious had their pick up rendezvous not been the bar, where all her friends could witness a tinted Audi role up to her on Saturday nights. Rose's friends had assumed that the affair would last a couple of months, and then if lucky, Rose would still be alive. Rose had a blasé attitude to the whole situation - she was having a good time and didn't think it worth to worry about consequences. Yet, consequences were there and of a kind she did not expect.

The man was in love with her. He proposed marriage to her, offering to dissolve his current marriage and talking to her parents to solemnise their union. How do you introduce a divorced old gangster as a potential spouse to your parents? You don't. Yet, Rose had accepted the proposal, and by putting floating conversations and rumours together, Rekha felt that it was her bachelor party that she wanted to celebrate that night.

Next Saturday Rukmini made a special effort to seek out Rekha who identified Rose. A baby-faced, button-nosed woman met her gaze; not what Rukmini thought would set the heart of a mafia man afire. Perhaps she was influenced by Hindi movies who always had the villain's mistress as a buxom, lascivious lass with ruby lips and a feisty temper. Ah men.

That evening Rukmini found a pregnancy pen on the bathroom counter, again.

16 January 2015

Managing your legacy

A musing. And yes, yes, cheating blog post as it's a day late.

Taking a break from the short story where I only had a title and I am cooking up the plot, bit by bit.

So, a few years back I had blogged about a job titled legacy consultant. I believe that people's ambitions can be best summed up as an angst - will they be remembered? and how? My job as consultant would of course be to suggest ways in which they could be etched. The easy-way is to have kids. But that's a ultra high risk investment - no way to tell if they'll want to remember you. Plus incubation time is very high.

On the other hand, have you considered a flyover being named after you? PV Narashima Rao has this flyover in Hyderabad. Shyam Prasan Mookherji has one in Mathikere, Bangalore. Would these gentleman really consider a flyover as sufficient legacy?

Personally, I am going for a garbage segregation center to be named after me. And maybe if funds permit, a library.

15 January 2015

*Short Story* The benefits of being evil - Part II

As Rukmini went through the motions of cleaning up the bar that night, she found that she couldn't stop thinking about the stick. There was something about finding it that disturbed her. Why, she couldn't say? She tried to analyze her feelings - what did it matter that it was left on the counter, or that someone felt safe enough to use the bar's bathroom for the test? It was a personal choice that did not hurt anyone or the bar's reputation. Yet, it nagged her. It felt personal and she didn't understand why. She tossed and turned in bed that night and woke up cross.

Rekha visited that morning and tried to bring some cheer into her life. She launched into gossip to distract Rukmini. A few days ago she received a phone call to arrange a party for a bride-to-be and the party had to be two days later; the client used the word "emergency".   Who has an "emergency" bachelor party? And they were clear that the party had to be at Shantam Pappum. Rekha scrambled to figure out how to organize this party, since the money was good, but before she could call Rukmini to know of the bar's availability, the caller cancelled her request. Rekha thought she found another organizer, but when she asked around in her network, no one had heard of this caller. What was really odd was that last night, she saw the caller here, at the bar, and when Rekha asked her about the bachelor party, she looked puzzled and concluded that Rekha must have made a mistake.

14 January 2015

*Short Story* The benefits of being evil - Part I

It was a busy Saturday night - under Rukmini's nose flowed trays of cocktails, vadas, Gobi manchurians, vodka shots and the rare neat whisky. The bar was so packed that Rukmini had to put out a "Sorry, we are full" sign. She had never imagined this. A client suggested that she hire a bouncer to screen and manage the crowd. Rukmini had thought it was said in jest, a compliment to the popularity of the bar, but now it seemed like it was a necessity.

She slipped into the bathroom to make sure the stalls were clean. Lying blatantly on the counter next to the sink was what appeared to be the pen that one gets with a pregnancy kit. Rukmini quickly grabbed a tissue and tossed it into the wastepaper basket. It did catch her eye that two blue lines were visible in the little window on the pen. Wasn't that supposed to mean positive for pregnancy? The first thoughts after disposing the pen was of annoyance - shouldn't the girls be doing this in the privacy of their own bathrooms? This wasn't the waiting room for a gynaecologist. Then once Rukmini the bar owner was done being irritated, Rukmini aunty took over and wondered if the person who took the test was OK. Hopefully she wasn't drinking tonight.

13 January 2015

Baby ke side effects...

Haven't felt this fit in a while. All that kneeling down, running after her to change diaper, then pant, then shirt, carrying her around, has really toned me up.

Enjoying the (almost) flat stomach while it lasts. Better wolf down some chocolates now.

12 January 2015

Eco femme: cloth sanitary pads

Graphic details follow. Reader discretion advised.

A few months ago I mused about using cloth sanitary pads. An attempt to move away from the rather environmentally unfriendly plastic thingummies. Back in the day, a pad looked like a baby pillow and I swear I could feel it sticking out like an additional bum. D with her diaper, reminds me of those days. Today of course we have ultra thin, wings, XL, front cover, pearl beads and god knows what else. But the bottom line is that it's made of plastic that doesn't biodegrade. So, I went online and got myself a few of these Eco femme pads. They are made by a women's self help group in Auroville. Comments:

- Comfort: Surprisingly, the pads are super comfortable. They come with the a little clip mimicking the "wings" feature of regular pads. They look ungainly, but fit like a charm. Plus you would think with the cloth you would feel wet and gooey much more, but you don't. I don't know what technology they use to make this stuff, but you feel comfortably dry. I use the day pad for the night as well and it does a fabulous job. I especially like the feeling in this thing - it feels like a well worn undy and you don't get the sense that there's something sticking out.

- Care:  Yes, so its obviously annoying that you can't toss the pad into the washing machine straight away. It has to be soaked, and mine got a strange odour as well. You have to include the time to wash it in your daily routine. I basically put it in cold water, scrub it in the shower, let it dry and then toss it in the washing machine. However, this leads to my next comment,

- Figuring out how many you need: I ordered 3. Not sufficient. Especially since I get little sunlight in my balcony and it takes forever for the pad to dry. I only got the day pads since my flow isn't a tsunami and it peters out starting Day 3. But I am going to have to order more, so that I don't use any plastic ones at all. 

- Storage while away from home On this front I have been remiss. While there is an option to buy a carry bag to pocket your used pad while on the go, I just wasn't comfortable doing this, especially since I have the odour issue. Since I stay 5 ticks from home though, I can pop in, put it in to soak and slip in a new one pretty easily. 

- A small complaint. I ordered 3 single day pads. I was disappointed that they were all of the same print. But that's just because I enjoy prints. 

If you are thinking of moving to a cloth pad, I recommend you try Ecofemme. Just prepare mentally for the washing. 

11 January 2015

The week in review

This blog is inspired by the fact that (A) I am creatively brain dead (B) I have to write something and (C) just before this I planned my weekly menu. So, what happened last week...

I had to go into to work to participate in the annual science fest, so mum was over to babysit D. I love this about being in the same city as mum and mum-in-law: on-demand baby-sitting! But going into work meant that I had to get organized before D was up so bath, my breakfast, her breakfast, maid jobs should all be ready by 8. I shouldn't be complaining. It's not like I had to get up at 4am and grate 3 coconuts. But it meant I couldn't dilly-dally either. No sipping coffee, staring outside window and pondering the state of The Hindu editorial. All chop, chop, chop. And it worked quite well once I put my mind to it. 

One issue I was facing was getting organized for dinner. No, I didn't I have to make it, but I have to figure out what to get made based on what's rotting, what's left over etc etc., Previously, invariably, I would overlook something in a white dubba and get a fungal garden. I avoided this by planning a weekly menu. That's 10mins of decision making spared each morning. This was so successful, I am wondering if I should come up with something like this for my wardrobe.

I have to credit mum for a pep talk about this last Sunday. She's the queen of organizing and gave me the low down on getting my act together so that I can contemplate how to morph into a "working mom".

10 January 2015

{Fink, Sheri} Five days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-ravaged Hospital

The theme is serious. It narrates what happened in a hospital (Memorial) in New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina.I spotted this at Mumbai Airport. The non-fiction aisle carried it, and although the title was not captivating, I had 5 hours to kill, so cheapo that I am, I started to read chapter 1 while standing in the store. It captivated me, so I downloaded it on the kindle app. Technology, ya?

I was in the US at that time. Over a series of days before the Hurricane I remember the dire warnings - catergory 3, then 4, then 5, then 4 again. I recall the Mayor issuing statements. The situation escalated quite quickly to evacuation. Much trouble was expected, much happened. I listened to the stories on NPR but didn't quite internalize the horror till I read this book.

This narration is about patients in the hospital - the tough choices that care-givers had to make - a matter of life and death. It made me really think about my attitude to death. My own personal viewpoint is pragmatic: we all have to die, better prepare our loved ones for it. Your energy might live on, but your physical body will be compost one day. I am also clear that I don't want to prolong my life using artificial means. But not everyone thinks this way. There are people who are hard willed and do not want to die. No matter how sick they are, they are convinced of their need. I feel felt that these individuals were being selfish: taking up resources and prolonging a life that didn't contribute, or had already done the most that it could.

The stories in this book solidly rocked my opinion. What I had completely disregarded was that the "value" of life is in each individuals' hand. They might be sick, but their very presence made people in relationships with them - spouse, children, grandchildren - feel special. They contributed immensely to the mental strength of their kith and kin. So instead of passing judgement on the sickest people, I should be respecting their choice. Sombre realization.

9 January 2015

Celebrating D's milestones

Today was a visit to D's doctor. We held our breath as she was put on the weighing scale.

D is a LBW baby. I only knew it as a cricket term before D. Now enlightened: low birth weight.

With a dietician for a mother and being ultra-conscious about being healthy, I wanted to make it my mission to get her weight up. We are monitoring her gram to gram progression. Our ped here is rather measured and kind - when he first examined her, he commented that for an LBW her weight gain was good. And again today, the first comment he made was that she was gaining weight nicely. She's still below the suggested minima for her age, but if you saw her crawling and standing, you wouldn't think that she had any limitations. The low weight probably helps her be nimble. Anyway, it was nice today that my expectation and the number on the weighing scale matched.

You go girl!

8 January 2015

South Indian Coffee: invoking Panduranga

A few years ago we holidayed in Chikmagalur and stayed on a coffee estate. I knew that much Indian coffee came from these parts; the nuances we learned while we visited. So on our return, we picked up a coffee packet. I joked at the store that since we don't get this coffee in Bangalore, there was no point getting addicted to it. Lo, he says, but we deliver.

Thus began our gourmet luxury coffee drinking experience. We now have this delivered to our home, 4-5 times a year. You simply SMS the owner with your address. He sends you the total amount to be credited to his account. A couple of days after the transfer, your coffee is delivered. 

The stuff is pricey, at Rs 250 for 500g. But the coffee is delightful.

If you would like to experience it visit them at pandurangacoffee.com and get yourself a pack. I also think these make for great gifts for those people who like their coffee and local estate-sourced stuff.

7 January 2015

The importance of being right

How important is it to you to be right? 

When it comes to facts, it's easy to see when you are wrong. One can hardly argue that the sky is pink. Yet, during sunset, as the various pollutants in the sky diffract the rays of the sun, sometimes, just a little part of the sky can be pink.

As a scientist, it's important for me to be factually correct, at least on the subject matter which I *think* I know. It's embarrassing when I am wrong. But that's forgivable - you can't remember the right stuff all the time. I have a good memory for figures in scientific papers, authors and small details of science, so it does bother me when I can't recollect a detail properly.

Now, the difficulty in life is that people want to be morally and culturally right. The my way or highway attitude. As a girl, you should be modest and wear a dupatta with your salwar kameez kinda right. Beta, you must put a sweater for your daughter when you take her out for a walk kinda right. When you can't kiss your boyfriend in public, wait, when you can't be seen with a boy in public! Or when you start to debate that however glorious our past in philosophic thinking, we didn't have flying machines in vedic times. Poetic descriptions are not facts. 

I was reading comments on news articles about what political leaders have been saying at the Indian Science Congress and I am embarrassed. Not because it is possibly incorrect, but because scientific discussions revolve on having proof and debating hypotheses. The debate in the comments section however, was stripped of this spirit and instead replaced by judging the character or political inclination of the person making the comment. Now, this national malaise is what the Indian Science Congress should be addressing!

6 January 2015

Its all about family or is it? Part II

Vikas and Rukmini exchanged confused glances. Was this a medical emergency? Before they marshaled their thoughts into words Lakshmi stirred. They helped her sit up and unfortunately their seating configuration was like that of a candid interview, Vikas and Rukmini on one sofa, while Lakshmi was on the single seater. Lakshmi winced, and began.

Her family was angry with her. Their anger had to with a choice that Lakshmi had made.  Although Lakshmi was the sole breadwinner, everyone felt rightful of her income, an attitude that she accepted willingly, having seen nothing different. Vikas had encouraged her to study, but she wasn't inclined to reading and writing. But during their time together she had picked up English and learned the tasks of a housekeeper. Her earnings kept her family of six running - her parents, brother, his wife and their two children. When Vikas had questioned the growing number of family members she was expected to support, she just shrugged. Lakshmi felt that as long that they didn't interfere in her life, she didn't care. Her income was valuable enough that no one at home reproached her or even talked about her marriage, because losing her meant wedding expenditure and loss of livelihood! It amazed Vikas how selflessly Lakshmi lived her life, and how she never acknowledged or thought much about it.

A month ago, a distantly related cousin visited them from Saudi. He was a driver there, but had managed to work for a big Sheikh and make good money. On his last visit to India five years ago, he had married a young girl from their village and that was the last they heard from him. This visit was unusual; he came bearing lots of gifts and spoke exceedingly nicely to all her family. They were treated to lavish outings and restaurant food. A few days after this, when she reached home after work, she found only her brother, the cousin and his wife in the living room. She sensed that she walked into a delicate conversation. As she moved to go to the kitchen, her brother asked her to join them. 

The conversation was about how children complete a family. The cousin's wife then started sobbing about how no matter how wealthy they were, they would always feel incomplete till they had their own child, but her womb would not allow it. The doctors had declared that if she were to try to birth a child, either she or the child would survive. Would Lakshmi consent to lend them her womb, to incubate and bear their child? Lakshmi had blurted that nothing would make her sleep with her cousin. She was angry and had stormed out of the conversation. It was her brother who had consoled her and asked her to return - some new thing that the doctors do would mean that she didn't have to sleep with the cousin. The baby would be conceived outside her body, then they would do an operation and put the child into her body. It would then grow in her for the next nine months.

"Is this possible, Sir?" she asked in her narration. Vikas nodded and told her the English word for it: surrogacy.

For the last few days, going home had become hell. Her brother would be waiting for her and would repeat again and again, how much money she would make by agreeing to do this. But Lakshmi was not convinced. Her concerns were many: Who would marry her knowing she had borne another man's child? How could she carry her child in her womb and give it up? Why should she give up her well-paying jobs and stay confined at home? Finally, it was an operation, what if things went wrong and she can't have children ever? She even asked why it was that she was chosen - the cousin had seen how strong she was and wanted someone in the family to bear the child. But Lakshmi disagreed with this reasoning, she felt that the cousin considered her family poor enough to want to do anything to make more money. It was her brother who had been persuaded. In one of their conversations she asked her brother why his wife couldn't bear the child and he had slapped her, saying that as a married woman his wife could not undertake this. It all fell on her.

This morning she had packed her belongings and slipped out early. She didn't want to stay at home anymore. Her family wanted her to make another person's family, but as her choice revealed, ironically, she had no family of her own.

Note: a non-bar story, written in an hurry. Wish I had more time to polish the nuances of surrogacy from the emotional perspective of the birthing mother.

5 January 2015

Its all about family or is it?

If you are new to Rukmini, read about her on the right hand menu or if you have the time, try one of her stories by clicking on the label at the end of this post.

Rukmini squinted into the note. Which temple was she supposed to take the left on? There were three gopurams sticking out on the road in front of her and they all seemed to have a left turn possible. 

Vikas had first texted his address to her and asked her to figure out the route from google maps. Rukmini had to show this to one of the bar's client to understand what this meant. She was aware of google maps, but not of its immediate applicability to her life. For her, going to a new place always meant noting down careful directions, mostly centered around clearly visible landmarks, rather than distance or direction. She called Vikas and asked for such directions, and heard him guffaw for a full minute. Rukmini, notepad and pencil in hand, resisted the urge to slam the phone down. With her current smartphone, that bout of ire would cost her an instrument.

On the eve of date, she had left home an hour earlier than required, figuring that she would lose her way. It was not an uncommon experience for her. Many times she was advised - hire a driver, or take a taxi - but on self-driving Rukmini was adamant; the act being synonymous with independence. So, she made allowances for the fact that she had a lousy sense of direction and had no memory for routes.

Vikas was waiting at the gate when she pulled up. He seemed relived that she had arrived. With one raised eyebrow Rukmini cockily asked, "If you are standing outside, who is doing the cooking?" She was alluding to the terms of their date hat he would do the cooking. "Come in and see", he retorted good-naturedly.

Rukmini heard noises from inside the house, and even before she had the chance to take off her slippers, Vikas pushed her forward towards the kitchen. A woman grinning from end to end, was looking at her. "Tell her Lakshmi", urged Vikas, looking at the maid.

"Amma, today I only boiled water and did the dishes. Sir did not allow me to do any cooking." Rukmini was shocked to hear this in English, but thought it wasn't the time to bring it up. She teased that perhaps Sir had set up Lakshmi to say this; however, a look under the lids confirmed that Sir must have been the chef, as all types of continental foods stared back at her. With a triumphant shove, Vikas then moved her into the living room, "Go make a cocktail for us, I have to put some finishing touches to the food. I presume, you can make a good cocktail?" He laughed at his own wit and sauntered back to the kitchen. Rukmini was left to wander his living room and figure out which was the bar.

The decor was simple, and the primary motive behind the furniture and upholstery seemed to be comfort rather than aesthetics. There was order too, of a sort. Books, magazines and newspapers were strewn about casually; it was easy to mistake the room for the reading room of a library. Rukmini opened an wooden cupboard, which she assumed was the bar, and was surprised. She had assumed it to be stocked, but found just two bottles of liquor. Maybe Vikas was testing her creativity in the cocktail department? She was just beginning to set out the glasses, when a loud insistent rattle emanated from the gate.

"Lakshmi, get out of the house now" cried a man's voice, in vernacular. Vikas and Lakshmi rushed out, as did Rukmini. There were three men at the gate. "Don't come inside, I have a dog." Vikas spoke in a calm, but authoritative tone. Dog? Rukmini looked around - she was scared of dogs too. Funny, the house did not smell of a dog.

"Let her come outside then", growled the man. "That girl deserves a thrashing, insulting our family, letting all that education get into her head. I told her mother that sending her to school was a mistake. Now, look. You, Sir, it is your fault too. Why did you interfere in our way of life?"

Lakshmi found a voice, "Anna, go home. I'll come in some time."

The man rattled the gate even more loudly, and stopped only when they heard the bark of a dog. "So there was one in the house?", Rukmini thought.

"Lakshmi you come out right now." and the man bared his teeth this time. Vikas stepped up to the gate and told the man to go away instantly or he will call the police. The man seemed to back off, but didn't leave the gate. Vikas then dialled a number on his phone, and in vernacular asked for the beat van to come to his house, because some people were threatening him. This conversation seemed to have sunk into the man and the three departed. Rukmini would bet that they simply went around the corner and were probably waiting for Lakshmi there.

The trio went into the house and Vikas made Lakshmi sit down. He got her a glass of water and asked her to explain. She promptly dropped the glass of water and followed it to the floor.

to be continued...

4 January 2015

Chitra Sante 2015

An event that is truly Bangalorean - the art (Chitra) market (sante) that happens around this time of year. Artists come from across India (yes, yes advert said artists from Karnataka, but there was quite a few non-karnataka folks), string up their art and allow you to immerse yourself in a concept, or diagram of the artists' imagination. Plus eat murmura, peanuts and other chatpata stuff usually found on beaches.

A pleasant surprise was the line to get food. Yes, a line. There were no barricades or strings to let you know where the line was, but through community pressure it was enforced. There were no break-ins while I was in line, and it was the kids most times who were reluctant when goaded by their parents to cut the line. All civil and chummy.

I was particularly struck by this one painting, where the artist, Mr Naveen Kumar G had set a single woman by a peepal tree sitting idly next to a closed door above which was a miniature of Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". (pictured) If I had the wall space, it would be hanging at home now. But alas! There were a lot of Buddhas, abstract Ganesha's and Tanjore paintings, which are not my cup of tea. One artist had a water theme, not as a natural phenomenon, but as a scarce resource, using a water tanker and empty steel pots to make his point. Lots of colour, shapes and texture - can be quite overwhelming.

My buy was a water colour. My camera doesn't do it justice! :)

3 January 2015

Mulled wine - jugaad recipe

This winter holiday drink is one of my favorite memories of Christmas. For our Saturday night lounge-in at home, I thought of making it. I looked online for recipes and found, as expected, ingredients missing from my kitchen. Four primary things required:

1. Red wine - had a bottle that I picked up for the evening.
2. Spices - always available in an Indian kitchen
3. Sugar - always available in all kitchens
4. Lemons and oranges - these were the missing items. I substituted orange marmalade.

And, here's what I did:

- took a pot, added 3 tablespoons of demerara sugar, a stick of cinnamon, 3 cloves, quarter inch of a vanilla bean and 2 bay leaves. Instead of the lemons and oranges, I added a tablespoon of marmalade. To this added 1/2 cup of water. Allowed it to boil till sugar was completely dissolved and aroma of spices was permeating the periphery of the pot.
- Added half a bottle of the red wine and star anise. Allowed it to heat gently.
- tada! all done.

2 January 2015

Of annoyances that turned into blessings

When we were looking for an apartment near my work place, as is my method, I made a list of our requirements, in decreasing order of priority. I thought I hit jackpot, except of course, when N came to grant his seal and pointed out obvious drawbacks that I was in denial about. Well, today, those little things are helping us, and how.

We live by a railway line, which in the recent past got a second line, so double the train noise. Our entire home is treated to Dolby surround sound quality train symphony, every couple of hours. For the 30 seconds that the train passes us, we cannot have a conversation. If the bedroom window is open, you would think a train will burst through the balcony any moment. When we had asked about the noise before shifting we were assured that a) oh, it wasn't very frequent at all and b) we'll get used to it. Wrong on both counts. All this now seems wonderfully self-centred when you consider that the train noise is particularly loved by our daughter D. It works well when you want to distract her. I am beginning to suspect that her first word might be "train". 

Right below our apartment is the children's playground. They emerge in the evenings, and on holidays, converging like moths to a flame. I was typically not around in the apartment during those times, and only on the weekends did I have to hear the thwack of a bat, fielding advice, girls running around screaming...you know the noises. Sometimes, as I was trying to catch a nap, I would see a little monkey sneaking into our balcony to retrieve a ball. And on one occasion, I came home to a broken pot of a prized green-thingie. Ya, ya I don't know the name, but it had memories. One of the first things I was able to grow. Now this lot is great entertainment for D and they pop over sometimes to come play with her - girls only, the boys bat to see if she is following their sixes! Ah what pleasure to sit with her while she quietly sits mesmerised by the sounds of giggles, screams and high-pitched whining!

1 January 2015

the 1st

It's resolution time. As I slip back in time to think about what resolutions I made, I am only reminded of the ones that I didn't keep. Here are things I should have done:

- learn how to make Vadas with a hole in them. I can only recall one frying event this year - sabudana vada, which doesn't need a hole. Hurrah; this is why I probably made them!
- be more mindful (mindless is more often how I find myself)
- become a better swimmer. I think I only took my costume out to have it washed and then stuffed in the inner recess of my cupboard.
- get up earlier than my usual time. I hear that as you grow older you need less sleep. Why has this not happened to me yet?
- grow more things from seed. I planted strawberries and fancy flowers which would have bloomed into the thousand shades of a rainbow. Alas, all I have is three tubs of soil filled with weeds.

Ho hum. I suppose it should count that I got something done this year. I became a mother!