Thursday, 18 January 2018

Perks Of Sporting A Baby Bump

"Get out of the way! It's an emergency. We have a pregnant lady in the house and she needs to get to her gigantic bowl of salad right now! Moveeeee people...."

Fine. He didn't really say that...But there was something about the way the manager furiously snaked across cramped tables in one of Mumbai's hottest, most-buzzing salad bars, hushing words to his staff and customers, actively expressing the discomfort he felt on my account, that went fittingly with that exclamation. Surely some curious divinity was at play. I took one askance glance at the long queue of people who were, strangely enough smiling, not mad at the manager for making me feel like royalty. Curiouser. Ha! I smiled cheekily; of course, I was high-fiving my baby bump for bailing me out of yet another potentially miserable waiting-line.

This is my second pregnancy but in some aspects, especially in terms of feelings and bonding, it feels like a first.

I've been around women who get this innate, spiritual mommy-voice activated the moment they witness the fated two lines. They watch their bellies grow, have strangers say hello to the baby, refer to themselves as 'We", hold spontaneous pep talks with the baby, grow plants, click weekly bump pictures, glow and emit that fetching mommy-to-be radiance, plan and think ahead.... Well, you get the picture.

I am not one of those women. At least, I could have been their arch nemesis in my first pregnancy. I was employed full-time throughout my pregnancy so I had no time to dwell on what was going on with my body and baby. The only time I connected with my daughter was when I caught my reflection in the mirror. All I could gather myself to say—and even that felt ludicrous—was "What's up baby? How's the weather inside?"

I do feel terribly guilty about that. So this time to make amends, I've found a middle ground. I am taking notes. I watch and observe. I watch my belly contort in disgusting ways when the baby's getting all alien-like, trying to jump out of my uterus/womb. (Is it me or does the word 'womb' sound creepy AF?)  I baby-talk to it. I just cannot get myself to talk to the baby like a grown-up cos well, then I'll confuse it with my inner-voice and treat it like a shrink. Now, before you tell me I can't refer to my angelic baby as an "It", it is only for the sake of convenience and gender-neutrality.

Anyway, I thought there'd have to be other women on this planet who're like me and the only time they emit that pregnancy glow is when they're in the flattering kinda warm light or from morning sickness sweats.

I'm here to tell YOU, pregnancy-phobic woman who's casually toying with the idea of starting a family, that despite all the pains that it brings, there are a few perks of sporting a baby bump, ones that you'll terribly miss when the baby's un-morphed itself out of your being and taken along the spotlight with it:

1.  Nine months of starry PJs and tent-like, breathable clothes:
Bottom-line : Pregnant women are expected to be comfortable, no matter which red carpet event they have been inconvenienced to attend. The usual dress code norm doesn't apply so breathe and blossom in your favourite stretchy PJs and flannel sweats. Oh and it doesn't hurt that some of the maternity lines are gorgeously flattering and comfortable. Expensive yes but worth the million-dollar feeling of belonging in your tailor-made fit.

2. Hormonal in the right way:
Who doesn't love a furious hair brush that doesn't return with loose strands of hair fleeing from your head? Now pregnancy does wonders to your hair. Most pregnant women will experience arrested hair loss and grow their tresses longer in pregnancy, thanks to the good hormones and nutritional supplements. At least, the second trimester does its bit of making you feel like you're on top of your game with magically-disappearing acne, voluminous hair and curvier curves.

3. The Pampering Rituals and Royal Treatment:
As I've already established, the moment your bump is visible, people will shower you with compliments, concerns and pot pies. "How's your health sweetie?" "Is there anything you feel like eating today?" "Did you sleep alright?" You're only human, so of course you may be tempted to make the most of all the attention. Guess what? You can and should. You're not being parasitic or obsessively self-centered. Take liberties. Go ahead and cross a busy, uncaring street. You will stop traffic. Be rude and fall asleep right in the middle of a roaring party. You'll wake up to bright and endearing smiles and a cushy blanket.

4. Cravings that are not symptomatic of food disorders:
Remember how in the middle of the night your husband found you with your head and hands buried deep inside the refrigerator digging out leftover rajma rice or a tub of chocolate ice-cream? And you could feel that piercing judgment on his face that perennially ruined your secret midnight-snack escapade. Well, same situation. Except no guilt trips. "The baby made me do it." As long as you're eating everything good for you and your baby, you're encouraged to do it more. (Read controlled caffeine and no alcohol, which may not necessarily spell nirvana for everyone.)

5. Forgetfulness, hurtful meltdowns, insensitivity to other mortals—it remains in that sweet, spotless zone of  mind where it's all forgiven:
While you may not be shedding any hair during pregnancy, you will shed uncontrollable, bitter, resentful tears. Over a bad cup of tea. Over your husband getting marginally late from work. Not pleasant. What is comforting though is that now all your sudden meltdowns and ill-timed outbursts come backed with a medically-sound factfile. In other words, no remorseful repercussions to follow.
Word of Caution: This is a temporary phase of power - a glossy bubble that'll burst sooner or later. Don't get used to it.

6. Not having to bend over: 
As you progress towards the third trimester, you'll find that bending to pick anything is getting increasingly difficult. Especially when you get to a point when you can't see your toes. Which is why this'll be a great sunshiney time to make hay and experiment with different necklines. First of all, you won't have to worry about peepshows from bending over and second of all, you feel a lot more confident and sexier (on some days). And if you happen to accidentally drop your keys in public, it'll evoke a Ninja-like reflex from passersby—the keys shall be picked before you can control your wheeze to ask for help. So by all means, flaunt what your Mama hormones gave you :).

7. No matter what's happening to your body, you feel you can accomplish anything:
"Honey, how was your day? What did you do? Oh, you cracked that presentation. Good for you! What did I do? Oh  I just made my baby's toes and fingers."
Despite the panda eyes, heartburn and swollen ankles you're sporting, there's something incredibly empowering about creating another human. You're gripped with this overwhelming feeling that you can conquer the world. Great time to lead a project or start a new venture cos you haven't felt more God-like before.

8. Nine Months of Holistic, Healthy Lifestyle:
Let's face it. We don't really worry about what we're putting inside our bodies until we have another human inside of us. Words like holistic nutrition, wellness and spirituality are fancy mumbo-jumbo that don't apply to you on a regular basis. But when you're pregnant, you're biologically forced into eating fresh, nutrition-packed, small-sized portions of food at regular time intervals. Try and betray that rule and see how your body plays havoc on you. (Read: Acid reflux) For that reason, you'll find you're drawn to fresh food rather than take-outs. You'll read the fine print on food labels before popping it in your mouth. You'll be keeping a food diary.
So while you may be obnoxious company for friends on a lunch date, your body and baby can't thank you enough.

9. You get a cute baby at the end of it:
Let's face it. The third trimester is rough. You'll lose sleep, appetite,  rationality, cell phones...So it helps to know that the shore is near and pretty soon, you'll be holding this cute, tiny, adorably helpless human in your arms that you hadn't even met before and are already irrevocably in love with. And he/she loves you right back unconditionally. So get ready to feel really special. (Small Disclaimer: The unconditional clause lasts only till your baby discovers the toy store.)

Experienced/expectant moms, got any fun perks to share? Let's change this world one baby at a time :).

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Are You Laughing Along At Sexist Whatsapp Jokes?

As a growing kid, attending weddings was just another excuse to stuff my face, to the point of misery, with ice cream and stay awake till the wee hours of the morning to play board games and be silly in general.

At the wedding, all the kids would be in awe of the new bride, dressed head-to-toe to dazzle, not talking unnecessarily, not laughing with her mouth open. Overall looking like she's one of those puppet dolls meant to seem eager-to-please - in family terms, 'sanskari'. So when we got a chance to talk to her informally, we'd be like, "Oh she's not fallen from the stars and she's pretty much like us with her own mind, hobbies and pet peeves...

In nearly every wedding I went to, there'd be running jokes about the loss of freedom imminent for the groom. There'd be the band playing songs that would warn the groom that he was going to be 'shaheed' and some close bachelor friend would be making speeches about how "shaadi is barbaadi" in the groom's interest. The bride in question would also be the victim of such warnings but she'd be going through a slightly more solution-oriented ordeal - lessons about how to please her mother-in-law, portrayed as the vamp in her life. About how to keep the husband in her 'mutthi', about how to run her house etc etc. For us, as the chillar party in the background, such conversations seemed mildly interesting and peculiar but held little relevance in our lives.

But then I grew up to be on the other side of the spectrum. I understood how the loss of freedom in marriage meant very different things for a new bride and groom. For a new bride, getting her own way meant avoiding domestic conflicts, retaining a small part of her identity rapidly being lost among sudden family obligations and yet living up to the new title that was bestowed upon her - "humari bahu". Everything else that she had known before her marriage - her mom, dad, siblings, friends, her hobbies, personal ambitions, food habits,  at least for some time, till she learned how to balance her new family-life with other second-place priorities, would have to wait. It was usually an upward climb involving gently putting her opinions across and manipulating the decision-makers with a bit of drama and costumes. She had to remember to seem self-sacrificing, well-behaved and lady-like at all times... Things that she never had to worry about before marriage.

For a new groom, the loss of freedom usually entailed sharing his room with his wife, giving her closet and wallet space,  letting the reigns of TV controls loose, letting go of juvenile movie posters, sacrificing spontaneous plans with the boys for family get-togethers...It meant giving up some of his cherished boyhood.

I'm not about to get into who made greater sacrifices to their freedom out of the two.  Each couple's marital equation is different. And undoubtedly, when you have a special someone to share the rest of your life with, personal boundaries do tend to blur. That's alright. The idea is to find your own formula for happiness, right?

But then you wake up in the morning, you kiss your husband and kids 'good morning', sit with your cuppa chai after finishing your morning chores. For reasons beyond comprehension, instead of grabbing the newspaper, you go straight to Whatsapp. Of course, there are some 70 odd messages on assorted family and friends groups to catch up with.

This is what you see:

Oh! I get it. Marriage is suicide 'cos of the wifey in the equation...ha- ha-ha...

A. Ghunghat? Bollywood-stereotype much? B. Oh so we need to wear make-up at all times so the husband doesn't get a stroke. Cos, we're that ugly in our skin.  Fine, I'll laugh.

Cos home is where the hell-raising wife is. Right...

Bald, frail uncle wishes to have new wives in arms everyday. Hmm....not creepy...not creepy at all.

"Darling, you aren't laughing. What's the matter? Don't you have a sense of humor?"

Initially, I told myself, "Chill, they're just jokes." Fun way to bond with the rest of your family.  But as the frequency increased day-by-day, I began to feel squeamish. There were jokes that went to great creative length to show a wife's bitter, nagging, clingy side and the poor husband who's had to live through it all. There were jokes that talked about mothers-in-law's sorry plight as created by the new, 'modern' daughter-in-law.  Or there were sad elegies about how a mother works all her life for her sons, forgetting to eat and sleep, putting all her personal wishes aside sacrificing herself for her sons while the son's wife sleeps in peace, not worrying about anybody but herself. Or some poetry about the 'paraya dhan' aspect of girls. Or something satirical about the new-age 'sanskari' bahu and the death of our cherished values and traditions at her hands.

In a nutshell, if you wanted to feel really shitty about waking up as a married woman, you need to visit Whatsapp family forums first thing in the morning. Right after an uptempo morning message with Buddha silhouettes, amidst Rahul Gandhi humour and Japanese technological advancements, before good night messages with a beautiful crescent moon, that's where you'll find your cyanide.

Not only were these forwards regressive and insulting to women, but what amused me most was that most of these jibes and bitter digs at women were sent by women! They were shared, re-shared, multiplying like rabbits, as if they were some kind of twisted incurable disease spreading through Whatsapp contacts.

I often wondered to myself, "Who's writing these things? Every day, I get at least six to eight of them on my whatsapp. How come not a single woman ever takes offense at these jokes?" I considered expressing my disapproval in the nicest possible way in forums belonging to my husband's side but then who'd risk getting lambasted for not being sporting? Sure, I'd just have to learn to ignore them but they were getting harder and harder to overlook just by sheer numbers.

Not to say that there are no husband jokes. But surprisingly, I just don't see enough of them on family forums.

Maybe over time, as women, we've learned to look the other way when somebody passes a lewd comment, a sexist joke, pages of unsolicited 'good girl' advice, and body-shaming illustrations meant as cocktail jokes. We've learnt to laugh along or shrug them off cos we don't want to confront the problem and come across as stuck-up, argumentative drama queens. We don't want to tell off the joke-teller, trying to lift the spirits of the crowd who probably needed that joke to come out of their sad, daily grind.

As harmless as these misogynistic jokes appear to be, there is an inherent hostility in them. What they're really doing is singling you out based on your gender, based on the generation of women you belong to. They're calling you off for having desires over and above your husband's family. They're telling you how self-absorbed you've become for wanting time alone with your husband or even something basic like wanting to go shopping or to a spa to pamper yourself.

Researches have shown that tolerance and encouragement of sexist jokes, which is higher in men discriminating against women, also lead to harboring of hostile feelings towards women and the subsequent lowering of their status in the society, beginning from home spiraling down to work, affecting their chances of professional growth. Think about it. In a family, at a dinner-table, how often is it that you would make jokes on your dad or husband's incompetence in anything as compared to your mom's or wife's? On a normal day, you wouldn't think twice before pointing out flaws in their cooking or choice of outfit.

The emergence of Whatsapp as a means of connecting with all your dear and loved ones is comforting. We're blessed to live in a time when you don't have to wear your sneakers and stand in queues at the nearest payphone to make quick "trunk calls" to our family and friends miles away from us. As much as this is a blessing,  it is also a doom. 'Cos what whatsapp has also done is opened doors to everybody's private drawing room conversations, especially for people who can no longer be openly sexist for fear of social boycotts. When on Facebook, you'll find these people sharing liberal thoughts on gender equality and anti-rape slogans. When on private whatsapp forums, the same people forward cliched gender behavioural stereotypes , sexual innuendos, graphic female body-shaming images and wife-bashing jokes.

In one way, Whatsapp has made women-bashing an everyday thing.

Irrespective of what it has done, you wake up in the morning, you kiss your husband and kids ' good morning', sit with your cuppa chai after finishing your morning chores. For reasons beyond comprehension, instead of grabbing the newspaper, you go straight to Whatsapp.
And all you can do is ask yourself, "Should I be laughing along? Should I ask why my fellow family members are portraying me as excess baggage? Should I ask why none of the other women are taking offense in being called money-sucking, logic-deprived parasites?"

But I switch off notifications and silently sip my tea, unaware of the deep crimson flush in my cheeks. "It's just a silly forward," I tell myself.

Friday, 14 July 2017

It Was My Last Day In The City

It was my last day in the city.

As always, Mondays are a busy morning. I had a whole day lying ahead of me before I went away but all I wanted to do was sit here and revel in this city's in-your-face beauty.

And so I sat by my window sill, in the quiet humdrum of a busy day, to the constant noise of cars, buses, motorcycles - their blaring sirens, their screeching tires.
A million dreams and aspirations whir by a narrow street, in an organized madness, trying to make it through the mist of strangers to their higher purpose.

I looked on from a vantage point and wondered to myself, "This city takes so much from you everyday. To find meaning to your life here can be a fatal thing."
Faceless crowds pushing and shoving you into rapid movement when all you want to do is slow down and catch your breath.
Empty eyes in untold time follow you off-handedly until they lose sight of you in the blinding beat of the jarring city anthem.

I vividly remember walking along the streets of this city in the afternoon, as a new city girl.
Signs telling me where to turn, where to look, when to stop...
"I don't think I know how to get home." I feel the restless hustling but I don't quite know where to go.

At every turn, the city got bigger; all I carried within me is a tiny, microcosmic world of my own, a small speck in its jutting vastness.
The only thing binding me to it was the interwoven sunlight on my street, the corner Alphonso vendor and....
Ah! Just then I saw you from a distance wearing your usual flashing smile when you look at me — me, a tiny, spacey-eyed girl in her grungy tee.
Almost immediately, I remember feeling hope — of knowing that I had just made it somehow.
Of course, you were just suspended on a loud billboard, coated in dirt, slowly being washed away.

Every time I step out in the city, I am flushed. I feel exposed. My rhythm is broken. My voice is muddled with anxiety. I don't want to leave home.

But for all you know, just once in a while, this city pursues you. Perhaps when you're in a rickshaw and you stop at the red-light signal long enough, let's say around twilight, and the city becomes your muse. 

I peered out of the rickshaw and saw little faces, breathing in the musty air, looking down from their matchbox houses.
Drafts of their evening cardamom chai-scented breeze reach out to me.
Homeless children sell balloons — they criss-cross through cars caught in a signal, moving from bumper to bumper. I follow the trail of animated balloons crowding into one another, grinning down at me from a distance.
Lovers leaned into each other in a side-walk, bright-red petals from broken flowers cling to asphalt, the smell of wet concrete in the air.
Stray dogs scavenge near garbage bins. Birds fleet home. Pedestrians, rushing past the traffic which was beginning to inch forward, let out fire with their protesting mouths, igniting a trail of city lights.

In this city, beauty lies in the ordinary, in the everyday.
I know nothing of wilderness and lush green fields. I know only of sparse trees decorating the city landscape.
I am not familiar with clear open skies and starry nights, fireflies lighting the path to constellations.  I am familiar with the dark depths of the ocean surmounted by hope springing up in the horizon as skyskrapers reach for the stars.
I am at ease in the harsh anonymity of my existence in the big, bad city. I'm wary of friendly neighbors showing up at my door with casseroles and getting freebies at the local bread shop.

I  am  a  city  girl. I sit by my window pane, looking at life scrambling at every corner of this cramped urban jungle and in my heart I just know, even though I'm going away, this is my home — this is where I belong.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Why Would You Want Your Husband In The Room When Giving Birth?

I've often wondered about this. Isn't it strange that you'd want a man to partake in an event that seems uncomfortably private in the feminine sense? When I gave birth to my daughter in the town of Bokaro, I had with me in my room, three doctors, two nurses, my husband and my mother-in-law. It wasn't a complicated labor. It was easy.

But I was a hot mess.

And not just physically. It was like I was temporarily schizophrenic, fighting within me many voices - one that craved peace and quiet and a single point of direction from the calm, even voice of my mother-in-law, another that sought attention, that clung on to everybody at the table to explain to me what was going on, why my body was in a battle with me, what was happening down there, and if I would I make it to the end of this...And then there was also this tiny voice growing within me, rising to the surface in a mob of questions. These questions were directed at my husband. "Why do I get to go through this while you stand there looking at me sympathetically? "Why couldn't you put your foot down and get me that f***ing epidural? " "Yes, here I am in enormous pain, sweaty, smelly and unattractive. Do you realize you did this to me?"

I wondered then, "Did I really need him to be here?" He could have just hung out at the coffee shop while I went through the agony of it all. I mean haven't men skipped the blood, poo and gore all along to hold their new babies while looking adorably at their post-workout glowing wives?

It was a hot day in peak northern summer when my daughter arrived. And yet when I gave birth, I had both chills and sweat trickling off my spine all the way to the cold steel of the theater table. I looked at the jubilant faces of all the people crowding around me telling me it's all over and that my beautiful daughter has arrived. But the face that I sought, even before the face of my new angel, belonged to my husband.

And here's why. I was in pain and gripped by fear. And even though my husband's face was causing me great anguish when the contractions were getting gritty, it was also a source of gleaning comfort. He stood by my side telling me to let go of the feeling of misery, let go of the sense of time, guiding me how and when to breathe. Even though the process of labor had nothing to do with him whatsoever, even though it wasn't a pretty sight to take, even though I was giving him the silent treatment and deathly stares, he stood by me and saw me to the end of it.

And then it was all over. I had given my final push and my daughter had been declared as arrived.

Here is what I was doing when that happened:
I was laughing. Uncontrollably. With me eyes closed. I was so happy that it was all over that I didn't even crane my head to steal a glance at my daughter.

Here is what he was doing when that happened:
He was squeezing my hand in victory. And then he gasped in awe to take the sight of our beautiful daughter covered in blood and slime, still pale from the womb. And when she let out her first cry and turned pink, he held her in his inexperienced arms, strong but slightly tremulous from the miracle of birth.

In effect, her dad was the first point of contact with her family when she stepped into the world.

Before I asked my husband's presence in the delivery room, I did this quick visualization about how awkward it'll get later. It'll take all the feminine mystery away and maybe mess up things for us intimacy-wise. There are contradicting theories about whether men should be in the delivery-room. One school of thought talks about how a man's presence in the labor room is redundant and a man can never look at his wife the same way after he's had a first-hand look at childbirth.

I can safely say now that I don't care much for that school of thought. I couldn't have done it without him. I look at childbirth for two life partners as living a world of raw emotions together - pain, anger, fear, joy, sensual pleasure, love...If your partner sits by you on this ride, there isn't another wild adventure that'd ever come close to giving him that kind of rush.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Darjeeling — Where The Hills Laugh And Sing

Wait a minute….did I just hear laughter? Can you hear it too?”
En Route To Darjeeling
Somewhere before Darjeeling, we had been stuck — maybe that’s the wrong word — I mean soothingly waiting in a line-up of cars that wouldn’t budge and wouldn’t be ever-so-aroused by any blaring horns or impatient tip taps on windows. It was a little unusual for an unending line of cars to be standing there like that. Only the faintest murmurs and dull revving of engines express their quandary. If we had been in Mumbai in a debacle like this, we’d have had some form of road rage to alleviate or participate in by now (ie if somebody hadn’t already been beaten blue). Yet, here we were, with people who had no rush to get anywhere, no profanities to scream at each other, all thrown together in a very Ohmmm-inspiring backdrop of ascending hill silhouettes interrupted by clouds that were flushing pink with twilight.
And then among the racket of crickets and low grumbling of engines, I hear laughter. An unmissable, strange, divine echo of a chuckle that was too unfeigned to belong to a human.
We had been traveling for almost ten hours now so maybe I’d been hearing things. From Bagadogra airport to the roof of the world, Darjeeling, is a breathtakingly beautiful upward spiral of a drive, one that makes you wonder why you’re squandering your life away in the city. We took the same route as the Himalayan toy train, moving against it on one side, as it shone majestically, slowly breathing white puffs in its trail. We spiral steadily upwards alongside green pastures and rock-strewn mountains with white explosions in the sky every now and then. Of course, in this delightful place, who could resist a warm cup of chai, a valid reason to stop and lech at our picturesque surroundings (and the gorgeous hill people with no acne wrecking their lives)? 
So we stop by at Kurseong, a hill station around 5000 feet above sea level, at a tea stall located on a bend with a canopy tucked perfectly between the hills. My daughter played with a dog called Kaali. My husband and I order tea far too delicate for my taste but it really doesn’t matter. We’re pretty busy chasing the delicious view of the Himalayan range peek-a-booing at us from between the clouds. We talk about how we’re in this strange, peaceful but convoluted territory of India’s ethnic Gurkhas who have been fighting for a separate identity — Gorkhaland — to define life in these winding hills and their habitations. “I think the government should give them everything they want. And more,” one askance look at their benevolent faces and I could feel myself believing in their cause.
Sharing laughs with a view to die for
We continue our upward climb. At Ghum station, which happens to be the highest railway station in India, we’re greeted by glowing teenagers. They wore distressed denims and understated sweatshirts with their jackets cinched around their waists, sharing smokes and stories as they wait for their ride to come along. I think about their life in the hills. I mean can you imagine any crisis whether one of the heart or any other form of longing that cannot be cured by this glorious evening weather and a panoramic view of the Himalayas? No wonder they look so radiant and pink. Of course I was romanticizing everything. I was a traveler. Sadly for me, there were many fleeting moments that I missed capturing on my camera, such as this group of young students sitting and waiting. It would have helped bring forth the seeming transparency and simplicity of mountain life.
Woman At Work - Tibetan Refugee Center

Just as mysteriously as we had been arrested in a traffic block, we’re lifted from it. We start pacing towards Darjeeling. I’m left pondering about the origins of that laughter but there is the slow-winding climb to brave so who cares about weird cackles straight out of the Poirot series? Before planning this journey, the only calling that Darjeeling had for me was four strong cups of first flushes of tea a day, perhaps a cursory stroll in the tea gardens… Though I was a tea addict and the tea gardens would’ve been my Napa valley, I wasn’t exactly too thrilled about touristy Darjeeling. Little did I know that this elusive city on slopes, dwindling between the past and present, the one our driver called “The Queen Of The Hills, had so much to offer.
At 6700 feet above sea level, when you’ve been slowly winding upwards, you don’t quite get to appreciate just how thin the air gets. Not until you climb a flight of stairs anyway. We get to our abode, Ivanhoe House, a quaint Victorian heritage house known to be the favorite haunt of the likes of Sir George Everest and British Raj families. 
Lobby of Ivanhoe House
We greet everyone enthusiastically, trying to match the speed of the Gurkha women, who are doubling up as porters, lugging our heavy suitcases. One long flight of wooden stairs puts my adrenaline levels to check and sends me reeling from shortness of breath. Which is when we’re informed that in the hills you have to take it slow, follow through your breaths and find your rhythm. It is this advice that served me well as I managed to go on multiple hikes and long uphill walks feeling invigorated as opposed to my initial sensation of crashing and burning.
Cosmic forces ar work
To me, Darjeeling has been like a swift-paced period drama, shuttling between different temporal boundaries, changing sky landscapes as though they’re linens. One moment, you’re sitting on your green porch with clear blue skies and sunlight bouncing off your gleaming coffee table, planning your busy itinerary for the day. The other, you’re hunting down the mall market for umbrellas, looking towards the great black clouds on pale skies that threaten to warp every idyllic vantage point that you cared to devour. One moment, you’re congregating with townspeople and other visitors at Glenary’s, sipping Himalayan coffee in the backdrop of the evasive Kanchenjunga. The other, you’re staring at old pictures of British Raj families, appreciating expensively ornate chinaware carefully strewn around your dining room, remotely hearing yesteryear tunes on the old piano now sitting upright and silent in a corner.
At Glenary's
In Darjeeling, you’re among fresh, dewy faces, soaring pines, clouds that slide to your table, mystic mountains in the distance and the whiff of freshly plucked tea.
Darjeeling, you’ve been a darling. A delightfully capricious one to say the least.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Honey, What’s On Netflix Tonight?

“Yo babe, have you decided what we’re watching tonight? Oh, and I’m not watching another sorry ghost story.”
“OH-kay…I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. Anything you like lovebug. Just make it a good thriller.”
“Hmm, that’s narrowing it down. How about Once Upon Time in America? It’s a mafia…”
“Tttt ttt…no mafia movies. Baby, you know how much I hate them.”
“Oh, but you did like Godfather. What if I’d said Godfather?”
“I’ve already seen it.”
“So then you don’t really hate mafia movies.”
“Uggh…I don’t want to see a mafia movie tonight. Not Godfather. Not any other Al Pacino or Robert De Niro movie.”
“First of all, just cos they’re Italian, it doesn’t mean they play only mobsters. Racist much? And what’s with you shooting down my ideas all the time? It’s almost like you want me to suggest something so you can just say it’s not good enough.”
“I only like to have options. OK how about we watch…”
“Nope. Not another depressing, artsy-fartsy movie. And for God’s sake not 13 Reasons Why. We don’t have enough Nutella to survive it.”
“Now what’s that you’re doing? I was gonna say The Office marathon !!!”
It’s yet another Friday night in happily-ever-after land. Married couples, let’s face it. The weekend isn’t “Honey I so wanna grow old with you” until you’ve demonstrated to your partner with deep, contextual examples about how painstakingly dumb and thoughtless he/she is about art, cocktails and life in general. For us, as just another city-dwelling couple, Friday night marks the beginning of the plopping selves in front of TV ritual. You know, just some good old-fashioned way of spending “quality time” together in the eternal quest for entertainment. Maybe, it’s followed up on Saturday, maybe not. But Friday Night is our thing. Speaking of TV, remember the time you both got equal and fair play on your TV remote? Yea, me neither. The only time I recall as when we both got absolute control and were pretty satisfied with our watch list, drinking cocktails and leaning romantically on each other’s shoulders was when we were way up in the skies, among two hundred other peace-loving couples.

I could watch what I want on my laptop and likewise for him but then ‘Where’s the we in that?’ as couple therapists would annoyingly point out. Besides I can’t watch anything by myself. I’m the kind of person who prefers solitary reading to watching. Anyway, coming back to this age-old conflict. We have tried to resolve this by negotiating turns to decide what to watch and allotting time-slots. But every time we do that, one of us ends up grumpy, wondering out loud, “Since when we have become those boring couples who behave like brother-sister?” And then when you’re seven years into marriage, that kind of prefix summons up an entire Pandora’s box. Since when are we the kind of boring couple that don’t go out on Fridays…that choose TV over other things…that need alcohol to get high…Besides, in my experience, having complete watch-power leads to bad decisions. So maybe it’s best to get your partner on board first. (No pun intended.)

Before we do become one of those couples whose TV gripings have gone a bit too far and public, settling scores on Facebook with passive-aggressive status updates and gritting our teeth over another bad movie suggested by the other, I thought why not put some people-negotiation tactics at work? Here are a couple of negotiation-cards that I’m going to put to use. I mean before eventually giving up and declaring our house a No-TV zone.
  1. The Getting-into-the-groove Card:
    "Are we really in the mood to watch that sugar?" [Slowly, gently, runs fingers through his hair.]
  2. The Unexplored-terrain/ Adventure card:
    “Sure, I’d love to learn about Star Wars. In George Lucas, we trust. But how about we watch something we both haven’t seen today? I mean, wouldn’t it be wild?”
  3. The Nausea-inducing Love Card:
    “It’s got terrible ratings, I know. But when was the last time a bad movie came in the way of true love?”
  4. The Downright Despair-filled Defeatist Card:
    “Oh, have I picked the wrong movie? Well, here’s one more thing I suck at.” [The tone is everything here.]
  5. The Not-so-subtle, Mildly-threatening Card:
    “Oh, sure. Let’s watch, “The Jihadist Next Door”. Who knows where they are and what pisses them off? I mean you may be very well be married to one without even realizing she’d be ready to suicide-bomb the apartment over TV control repression.”
  6. The Yes-I'm-Judging Card:
     “Wait, who’s recommended this movie? Your friend Paul? The one who badgers and harasses his wife with really sexist comments at parties? Yea, let’s watch what Paul says.”
  7. The Passive-Aggressive Card:
     “Oh, of course honey, I’d love to watch that! It’s the perfect movie to fall asleep to on a Friday, especially on a night like this, with no better prospects.”
Of course, if this doesn’t work, there’s a more philosophical, love-affirming question to ask each other, before letting go of the cable and choosing real conversations over TV to solve our spats. “Do we really want to be that couple who doesn’t watch Netflix?”

Monday, 27 March 2017

How To Be A Morning Person - A Personal Experiment

Image Source: Thought Catalog

I am not a morning person. I wake up at about 7.45 am on a weekday and on weekends, well, let’s just say I don’t get to exchange morning greetings. Here’s why I am not a morning person. ‘Cos I usually wake up to a racing heart. Like I've already missed my morning bus. (Not that I have a bus to catch.) In my ideal world, the first fifteen minutes of the day would involve a sun salutation and morning kisses and a dramatic “It’s a new dawn” kind of curtain-sweep. This is what I tell myself every night when I resolve to reform my morning routine. In my actual world, I am swiping snooze about three times on my alarm and then addressing more alarming emergencies of my mind.

On a weekday, I wake up groggy with my left eye. That eye scrolls through social media while the right eye is deciding how to overpower the other with the ruse for a few more winks. A cursory look in the mirror. As expected, washed out.

And then my mind starts running.
“You know one of these days you should buy a night cream that elevates your morning look from toilet to passably regular. What are those funny kinks in your hair? Anyway, gotta get Saanvi to school. Yea, yea, she’s just in pre-school but school’s important. Must pack her a healthy snack. No, not another cheese sandwich. First, I need a strong brew of tea. But there’s no time for tea. And whatever happened to oil-pulling? Can I oil-pull at night? [Googles that.] Focus. You’re running late. Why hasn't the house-help showed up yet? Of course she’s not coming. What does she care? Only if you were more organized….Can I go back to sleep? Where are the bloody socks? One day, I'm going to have a meltdown cos of the damn socks! Sleep-deprived mum loses shit over a pair of socks. It’s possible. Why does she have to wear them anyway? Look at your cracked feet! You should wear socks at bed-time. Ooh you could get those cute kitty ones. Unlike her, YOU DO need socks. [Googles cat-print socks] Woman! You can do this later. We’re late. But why are you breathing so heavily? Is this a heart attack? [Types “Signs that you’re having…] Fuck no! You don’t have time for a heart attack!
And my mind goes on…

Some day, if I ever make it to the papers, they’re going to ask me for some wise morning routine advice. Sista, let me tell you now. I don’t have any. I still can’t tell when I should oil-pull or do stretches or take my vitamins. From the moment my day starts, all I deal with is fire-fighting level emergencies. Tiny details and chores that if missed, threaten to pull my day under.

And I realize that all I'm doing is getting through a normal day of a stay-at-home mum with some bits and scraps of writing jobs here and there. It’s not like I am managing multiple charities or feeding a million people, or saving dolphins or umm…fire-fighting. I talk fast. I eat faster. I don’t stop and chat thereby offending my neighbours. I am on the move even when I am at rest cos my mind’s either racing to the worst possible “What-ifs” or happy day-time fantasies that are entirely illusionary and have nothing to do with the present.

So you see the inside of my head is a confused battle-zone that doesn't quite know which side it’s on. As a close friend of mine once told me, “I'm my own worst enemy.”

When it gets too much, I escape to this fantasy involving a month long stay-cation. One fine day, I’ll hit the mountains alone in an idyllic cottage with just the right amount of people in the neighbourhood (I cannot handle being secluded) with enough money to survive, three changes of clothing, books and multiple bottles of shampoo and conditioner. There will be no wi-fi, no day commitments, no errands to run for others… I’ll write if I want. I’ll eat when I want. I’ll listen to music and go for long walks. I may even climb trees. I’ll clear my day of its mundaneness and reclaim whatever it is that is essential to being happy and in the moment.

But here’s the downer. I have no fuckin’ clue what makes me happy. I can pray for it all I want but I cannot define it.

I do know what makes me unhappy though. I guess it’s more or less the same things with everybody else.
  • I don’t like being told what to do or how to feel. I like making my own mistakes and drawing up my own judgements and revoking them if needed.
  • I don’t like nitty fault-pickings. Not just with me but with anybody.
  • I don’t like worrying about everyday things like what to eat or drink or what to wear or how to impress someone.
  • I don’t like feeling like I'm the only one going through the shit I go through. Cos I know for a fact that there are people who have it much worse.
  • I don’t want to race to the top. I’d like the freedom to take my own time to get there. If at all.
So with that bit of wisdom unravelled, I thought I’d make some amends to my existing lifestyle. At best, it’s a personal experiment bordering on being a social one.

Skip the morning alarm (and snooze):
From tomorrow, which is a holiday here, and a perfect day to wake up to make-believe coffee from the hills of South America and smell the fuckin’ roses, I'm going to start my morning without being assisted by an alarm clock. Yea. You don’t need a godforsaken blaring alarm to remind you that you have a day ahead of you. Your body is enough for that. How does that make things better? Well, for one there’ll be no snoozing the alarm so you’re up the moment you open your eyes. Of course, I can’t go back to sleep, no matter what. I don’t know how this will pan out but we’ll see.

Find A Sleep Schedule
Which obviously means that at some point during the week, I’ll also figure that I need a somewhat consistently boring sleep schedule. I'm kind of a night owl cos my me-time begins after my daughter is safely lodged in her slumber land. So I won’t be forcing myself to go to bed early. But I won’t be stifling yawns to watch late night TV. Instead, I’ll read a slow-moving classic at bed-time cos I don’t want a gripping one to ambush my sleep-centre.

Stop With The Micro-Managing
My nerves may be jumpier than usual. So we need something for the nerves. The good ol’ letting the controls run loose. For the first few days, I’ll have no fixed human/super-human goals or food menu to achieve or errands to run. I’ll conquer the day as it comes. That can’t be good for the nerves you’d say? But I think there is a natural way to finding your rhythm and the first step to doing that is assuming you don’t have one. It can’t be from following the habits of most productive people cos well, everybody’s mind and body work differently. Sure, maybe I’ll figure that some things are not working or worlds are falling apart or I need more caffeine than usual.

Control Caffeine Intake
Which brings me to the fourth part. There’ll be controlled caffeine consumption. What! I might as well give up on this whole bizarre Namaslay mumbo-jumbo, right? See with this death sentence right here, I don’t quite know if I'm going to make it through the week. But all I'm basing this on is some tenets of good living. I cannot, as a matter of habit, give up tea/coffee altogether. But I can get it down to two cups a day. The first cup of the day can be any time I choose but the second one will have to be before 6 pm. I could however flirt with other hot, sugarless pseudo-tea imposters in between meals like say cinnamon tea or lemon-grass tea or spearmint tea. (When I say tea, I mean hot water here.) I am more of a hot-beverage person so this may actually bail me out.

Eat And Hydrate
What will we be eating for the day? Anything at all we feel like along with the recommended eight-ten glasses of water. We’re more or less on the track of healthy eating already. We try to eat a balance of everything, including fruits. I don’t eat fried food. I don’t eat processed foods much. Serious. I don’t even like mayo or ketchup. I make my own dips and salad dressings and pasta sauces. Sometimes, I cheat with Maggi noodles but that is once in a blue moon when I don’t feel like cooking. I'm down to two small squares of chocolate in a day from wolfing down an entire bar. So I am leaving the pantry open for the sake of my sanity and with the blind faith that I don’t have an eating disorder... For the first few days, we won’t follow a set meal-schedule. I have a feeling we will arrive at the most optimal one in time.

Amp Up Exercises
Now, I'm assuming with all that, I should be able to gain back lost time to binge-watch the shows I've missed on Netflix or go on spontaneous dates with the hubby. Wishful thinking that. So what are we doing with the extra time? I'm going to try and amp up my exercise routine. Right now it’s about twenty minutes of yoga. So to that, there will be an added routine of moderate cardio and skipping. I’ll go slow and see if it makes me super-human any time soon — I’d settle for a smiler version of me. And I hope that the extra endorphins translate to more quality human interactions.

No Gossip, no slander:
But socializing comes with its own cautionary levels of slandering and mean gossip and ill-founded comparing and spiralling into negatives. I have noticed that most of my conversations of late have revolved around that. As a result, my poetry is grim. So I'm introducing a curb. Whatever is going on in the head rarely translates into reality. Your worst fears have not yet happened. Your empty head is just killing time by drawing irrational conclusions. Unfortunately, I have no control over what happens in my head, only my words. So for this week, there will be no gossip or slander. No “He did what?” or “What was she wearing?” Unless it’s really gnawing at me from the inside and occupying all of my mind. I'm going to try and channel my free mind-space into creating something or discussing ideas or writing more poetry. I'm also going to try and explore the much-fussed about “good in everyone”.

I'm drinking my second cup of tea as I write this down. In between laying the table for breakfast and getting off the phone with an old friend. My mind is surprisingly still cos I have this seemingly genius plan to reset my mornings and my lifestyle. Everything seems perfect.

And yet, there’s a new dawn to dread, when it all really begins.

Stay with me to know how I made it through this week. And if at all, at the end of the road, I'm going to find a morning person :).

If you enjoyed reading this, please slam some motivational hearts back at me :).