Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Curious Case of Hanging Laundry

I am extremely perturbed today. I have learnt from various sources that it’s against gentle manners to dry your laundry out on balconies, your balconies of your houses, out here in Brussels. I also learn that this is true for many countries around the world, but about those mennu kee. I’m not looking for comfort in numbers here. I am, right now, looking at the sun shining on my balcony, and with a gentle wind calling out to the washed laundry piled in the bucket near my feet, waiting to be freed.

Yes, freed. I’m sure wet clothes have feelings too. That they like to hang freely after what they go through in the washing machines. To wave their arms and legs and hems and holes as they dry in the wind and sunshine. And what about their daily dose of Vitamin D? No, this isn’t my angry state of mind muttering untruths to me. This is the absolute truth. It pinches as hard as the hardest clothes-clip the very moment you have to push your clothes rack into your drawing room, and start hanging your soaking laundry there, hoping this summer of 09 will last forever.    

For a city which barely manages to get enough sun in a year to make rai ka achaar, I find this tradition absolutely unbelievable. Or maybe, they just don't know what they're missing! We who have been line-drying our clothes in India since the planet of the apes know what it’s like. The wafer-crispiness of clothes dried in the warm embrace of sunshine is orgasmic to hold. The towels become prickly happy, the separated socks feel loved, the bermudas reach their sandy beach of dreams and even the underwear, for once, feels wanted in public gaze, with nothing to hide!

Why, our clothes proudly unfurling their insides outside is as much a part of our core identity as a flag is made out to be. That is why I say to whomsoever it may concern, that this foreign rule of drying clothes inside the houses is nothing but an affront to my patriotic spirit, my nationalism, my national song, dance, drama and costumes.

Costume makes me wonder. Consider the salwar of the salwar-suit fame. It has many, some even secret, parts which need proper wind and sun to dry. The amount of cloth which goes into making just one of those could cover a whole war bunker against attack. Something so valorous about it, in keeping with the sex which wears it. See how ‘nada’, the string, or ‘bookrum’, said in the right tone, can veritably be war cries. Rebel! Nada! Charge! Bookrum! How is it then expected to humbly hang on a clothes rack, in a forgotten corner of the house, waiting to dry without bellowing with invasive might in foreign winds? It’s just mean.

A man’s most prized all-purpose possession, again nothing less than a steel armour, the baniyan, is also to be met with the same fate. No matter that the vest has been with the man since his mother darned the fifth hole that it got with age, as it went from white to less white to yellow in its first three washes. It is forced to swallow its ‘VIP’ tag, forget that it was once a ‘Boss’ and hang alongside other wet bits of a man’s inner world. Sadly, the new-born sixth hole teeming with curiosity to have a peek at the world around is to suppress its desire and get denied its basic education. Heart-breaking! Here they call the vest ‘gilet’, and assuming the ‘t’ is silent, because just anything in French can be silent anytime, it’s sad they don’t see the message the vests are screaming through their names. ‘Geeley’, we are wet! Dry us outside! Learning Hindi needs to be made compulsory here, for equality and fraternity sake!

Talking about equality... nothing acts as a bigger leveler than one, long, sturdy clothes-line. Like a traffic red light in New Delhi, where Maruti 800 meets a Jaguar without reservation, the clothes-line quietly works on a similar principle of erasing class boundaries. On your line, be it a rusty wire or a plastic rope, the Zaras and the Rupas hang shoulder to shoulder, sans prejudices and biases, with a message of gender-equality subtly thrown in. So here will be your precious Benetton pair of socks bought for the price of your kidney and next to it you’ll see your Lee jeans, custom-made in two hours at Mohan-Singh Place, CP, choice of tag included! And you know as well as I do how now, more than ever, we need to stand visibly together against any kind of oppressive regime.

Like this anti clothes-line rule, for instance!

For now, I have hung my washed laundry on a rack and placed it in the warmest part of the house, inches away from the balcony. Like a ‘nearest to heaven but farthest from god’ approach. But the nationalist in me is itching to twist and tease some gentle-manners, and hang one, just one, piece of my clothing on the railing outside. Like my banner of protest; of rejection of some things foreign. That will be my war-cry against this mind-boggling rule.

That will be my Nada!!

From 'Aliens Love Underpants'

Friday, 7 July 2017

Hairy Legs, Brussels and ‘I think she likes me’

The hair on my arms is the length of my toes. The hair on my legs has reached my toes. I wouldn’t say it is a completely new experience, but it is certainly most novel to experience it when a country is celebrating, yes celebrating, all 13 degrees of its summers with skin and sunshine. On the cobbled streets of Brussels I am probably the only one wearing stretch denims while the world is sprinting ahead of me in airy, breezy and frivolously delicious summer clothes. The moment I spot a pair of smooth legs enjoying the sunshine, it is as if the jeans grow four sizes smaller to kill me with asphyxiation, or whatever the hell tight jeans can do to your health when the heart burns green. 

But my hands are tied. 

I am thousands of kilometres away from a long-trusted tin of Shabnam Cold Wax (Rs 70) and a packet of disposable white waxing strips (Rs 25). Are there no salons in Brussels, you ask? There’s one in every Rue, but with my level of fluency in French I believe I might as well discuss foreign policy with a plant, and succeed in having a path-breaking dialogue, than explain to la fille successfully that I need a wax. Um, there is another reason why I have been Google translating salon menus but not garnering the courage to enter and ask for a pure and simple wax. 

It seems to me to be a secret kind of … something. It caught me by surprise. And I have been trying to unravel it as much as I have been my overgrown eyebrows from my lashes. 

When you shift to a foreign country for the first time, complete with lock, stock and barrels of homemade ghee, you are ready and raring for the new life ahead. You are confident that it’ll be a great experience. So happy you are that it’s not wind under the wings of the airplane but actually your excited panting which floats your craft ahead, right till you land. 

Then a few days later you land again, with a minor splash into the pool of reality that surrounds you. It is different!

There is newness at every step of the way. This is not that kind of newness which tourists make happy selfies or informative photographs out of. Their tryst with newness is temporary. It happens with a bang and begins to fizzle once the trip is done, all #nofilters dusted and suitcases of fridge magnets unpacked. I talk of a more permanent interface between you and The Foreign – a kind where from bread and beer to office and school, everything has to integrate harmoniously and seamlessly into the language of your everyday life. Much has to be done, made possible, understood and learnt. And this includes ideas about your sense of self. Very basic and visible ideas too, I do sheepishly confess.

Like my hairy legs. 

‘Gosh! No one has body hair here, unless it’s golden and invisible! Were they dipped in bleach before being sent to Earth?’ and  ‘Can I really walk my legs into the salon without having the ladies there run out scared of King Kong?’ … just two of the many thoughts which rattle my mind as my caddy rattles behind the French and Dutch ones at supermarkets. During one such musing, with a twang that a thread on an in-growth feels like, I heard a loud ‘What will they think?’ inside my head.

The loudness echoed inside me. I caught it lingering longer than the smell of tadka in an 8-storied building. What will they think? What will they say? It stalked me all over the park, walked behind me right to my building, went up the same elevator and even entered my flat. It is only later that the stress shifted itself, and thank Gouda that it did! What will they think? Hold on! When before have I been so conscious of what people think? Have I not managed to live and let live most of the 34 years of my life confidently and sans self-consciousness? So why am I now eager to theorize ‘A comparative study of hair growth between French and Indian legs’? 

More importantly, who is this ‘they’ that I talk about? Who is this … Oh Crêpe!

I realized how, rather easily, I created an entity. I attributed to a whole population homogenous characteristics and in doing so created an absolute ‘other’. In my head! Simultaneously, I ‘othered’ myself in the process. A kind of alienation, where I was alienating not just the others from me but my own self from them too. Hello wall, I built you for free. And now I’m wondering why…

It felt odd. It felt wrong and unfair. Especially so when I looked back on my few weeks here only to realize the locals never made me into a ‘they’. If anything, they had been kinder to me than many of “my own”. Be it book shops or tram stops, Carrefour queues or bars, nowhere and not once did I get a feeling that I am being seen as different. Forget a second look, even a first look doesn’t come your way. You’re just going about your day, like everyone else. At first it feels unflattering, as if everyone else is invisible to everyone else and it’s a very self-centered life out here. But gradually, you realize how it also means you’re being taken as a part and parcel of everyday life here. You’re being integrated as a ‘resident’, a person among others, and not an ‘exotic import’ who ended up guilty of training a magnifying glass on her own Indian identity when no one else cared. 

And yet, there continues an acknowledgement that we are new and may need assistance. Where language was a barrier, the toy shop owner drew a map on a napkin to show us the mobile recharge kiosk. Where language wasn’t a problem, people made sure to tell us with pride that they’ve seen the Taj Mahal! If Shakespearean Mercy droppeth from heaven above, then this is Merci heaven itself. It’s what you hear for the smallest of gestures. It is also what you feel right back. 

To even linger on the border of a limited world which propagates difference and divisiveness, of any kind, is but missing out on the vast expanse of a very warm and welcoming world, around the world. But then it is easier to commit this crime, than to not commit it at all. I confess guilty to that.  

A few moments before I wrote this my son and I bumped into our concierge in the elevator. She only understands French, while I am yet to not pronounce oui as oye! Lots of animated gestures and smiles and words (without comprehension) were shared. She kept pointing at my son, kept circling her face with her hand. Her eyes wide and happy. I have no idea what we spoke but felt good anyway after our “introductions”. There was something more than looks, language and identity at play. And as if to confirm it all my son beamingly chimed soon as we entered our home - ‘I think she likes me’. 

Recently, we were given a very old copy of ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. We have been reading it aloud, together. This precious copy has lived more than half a century, with a handwritten note that is older than me. This personal note to an ‘Auro’ quotes from the book and says:

It’s only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

It is with this thought that we begin our short stint in Brussels. It is this that I hope my child learns. And as we go about acquainting ourselves with a new world which is our home now, something tells me he already understands that. [Apart from believing what the little boy in this book staunchly does - ‘Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is so tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.’ Oh well!] 

As for my legs, I’m sure this social media addict will update you with a picture soon. But in case I don’t, you know where they’re headed, don’t you?  

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A lovelier world

Everybody has their own definition of Indulgence. For some, it’s busying themselves with their hobbies, and for others it’s about exploring the world and finding their true selves. You know, long drives in their beloved cars! I must confess, though, that there are moments when Indulgence seems like the very reason I wait for the 1st of every month. Pay cheque time! And food, (good food) served at beautiful places brings out the best in me. The best black dress to wear, a limited edition car to transport me, and a most exclusive culinary experience at the end of it. Sigh. Somehow, the mundane makes way for a lovelier world when you accept how divine indulging yourself can be. Here are five fine food places in Delhi for finding it!

1. Tamra, at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel - Tamra is a ‘world in your platter’ place, offering Asian, Japanese, International and Indian fare, straight out of its five interactive live kitchens. It's fun and vibrant.

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2. West View, at ITC Maurya –The exquisite view and the fine variety of mouthwatering delicacies make West View a must-go. But better be a proper meat-eater if you’re coming here. The European style menu is focused on meat dishes and all you need to do is pick your meat cut and how you want it cooked. For the rest, get here in style lay back and enjoy the scenic Delhi range. 

3. Dakshin, at Sheraton – This one’s for the lovers of authentic South Indian cuisine, and I mean way beyond dosas and idlis. The dishes served are uncommon and from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Some exclusive traditional dishes which usually don’t make restaurant appearances will make way to your table here!

4. Spice Route, The Imperial Hotel – It’s not just the exotic Thai and Asian cuisine here which will grab your attention. Imagine sitting in a restaurant designed to reflect the journey of spices from the Malabar Coast in Kerala through Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia to Thailand and Vietnam. Yes! This is an architectural marvel made over 7 years and now serving an exclusive menu crafted by the President’s Awardee Thai national, Chef Veena Arora.

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5. On the Waterfront (OTW), Lodhi – This place is great for lunches and lavish Sunday brunches. The menu is vast and includes kebabs, sushi, cold cuts, curries, grills, soups, stirs, biryani, pastas…yes, exclusively vast. There’s also a jetty here, by the way. 

You know how the finer things are always limited. So I’m wondering if I do manage to get two of them – free time and good food, I may also go a step further in my indulgence and need a car like the recently launched limited edition Dzire Allure, to take me places I desire to go. I hear that its stylish exteriors are equipped with a chrome bumper corner protector, lower lid garnish, stylish body graphics and side skirts. These features add an elegant touch to this beautiful car. Hm. Now that completes the picture of a lovelier world.

Payday, I’m waiting for you!  

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