Monday 30 September 2013

Let's play, School!

The hunt was on. No, I don’t mean for the Kingfisher calendar girl. They are probably still looking for one who will model for nothing (no pun) even as they try to keep the planes afloat. I mean a different hunt altogether. I mean prey, oh pardon me, play school for my toddler.  Today was his first day, and even as he sits doing something away from his mother’s madly beating heart for the first time in 2 and half years, I write this. Hence, please excuse geysers of excessive melodrama and plunges of deep philosophy as I try to tell you how my journey of picking the most suitable play-school for my child has been.

Once upon a time I wrote ‘No play-doh without dough’ Today, I care to share how the final decision was reached. 

The how

How I went about looking for suggestions? Word-of-mouth, with all shapes of communication channels experienced, explored and exhausted (including Grapevine which is more complex than E=mc2). It did not mean I went around with a ‘Play-school suggestions needed’ tattooed on my forehead. I asked people I trusted ...

[To read further, please click here.]

Friday 27 September 2013

Shreeman Baniyan

5… 4… 3… 2…1 … and it’s time to talk about Shreeman's Baniyan!

Vest stolen from Google
If I could make a movie one day, I would make it on men’s baniyans. (Oops, will this post be banned by BMC for referring to men’s ander (wear) ki baat? Oh, that’s excluded from censorship? Praise be the lord!) Perhaps my movie will be a period drama called ‘The Unsung Hero’ or an action flick which ... Arrey, why do you smile? Okay, let me explain. 

Sitting under the Baniyan Tree of Knowledge one day, I was musing about this and that when enlightenment in the form of the following flashed down from heavens above. It dawned upon my philosophical mind The Truth about this piece of men’s inner wear. And the conviction immediately translated into a letter to the PMO requesting them to declare the Baniyan the National Dress of India. Let’s see why!   

Good character certificate
Do a thing first! Go to your balcony and peep at the neighbour’s clothes line, or observe your own. Is there 
another piece of nearly-washed clothing hanging with so much humility as a man’s vest? So much humility and simplicity as is seen in a white (often blueish) baniyan is unmatched in any other piece of clothing. Absolutely no frills attached, and just a tiny little tag with a number statistic no one cares about. Even with grand canyons for arm holes and plunging necklines, they continue modest. One size can surely fit all, and some can even accommodate two and a half men, nearly. These low-key beings ask for no limelight, no prime time, no good quality washing powder and not even a passing reference in the crorepati fashion industry. They just quietly promote equality – since all baniyans look the same, feel the same, show the same and hide the same (almost). They are secular in nature – everyone wears one, and usually not in the colours of their flags. The Baniyan Brotherhood’s sense of fraternity can make any two strangers from different castes look like twins when wearing them. If this is not Constitution friendly, what is?     

The name is enough
Look at the names they carry. While a sense of gender levelling and homeliness is kept in mind by calling some 'Rupa', most others can make you feel like studs if not look it. Amul Macho, Boss, VIP Supreme and even Dollar for that matter, considering its namesake currency continues so strong. I would surely name my 4th child after a baniyan I tell you, and perhaps encourage him/her to become a Jockey too. No, I am not jokey-ing around. I mean it! Why, even a mall in West Delhi is called ‘Vest-Gate’, as it should be, looking at the tattoos donning shimmery vests walking in with gota-zari women for formal lounges. It was sheer providence and the many hands of the many divine which made exactly one half of the ‘W’ of ‘West’ break to reveal the real ‘V’ for Victory Vest inside, yo! 

The versatility 
Such freedom of expression impression the baniyan offers, you can spot them anywhere, on any occasion. Log into Facebook and see. You can combine it with a dhoti, with shorts, pants or even your favourite RSS-ish chaddi with drawstrings. Mamaji is wearing one and standing under the waterfall, even as mamiji’s three-piece suit tries to keep the dupatta in place. Retired uncle ji from one house away wears it all night all day, even when welcoming in the RWA executive for a crucial meeting. And chachaji flaunts a few holes, other than the ones for arms and neck, even as he lounges on the bed for a picture with his suited-booted bhateeja. Reminds me of an armour actually, with scars from war and wounds of battleground dotting it all over- be it rust, mite holes and even good old mera wala neel. Like they say - when you have earned them, you flaunt them. The newer-modern ones are worn to malls and other’s mansions for shopping or football-beer party, respectively.  The older ones are worn everywhere else. Multi-faceted!

All this, even when Shreeman Baniyan asks for nothing in return. Completely selfless in service these daid-do meters of cloth. No ironing, no high maintenance and certainly no glitter-stone work and high-fashion cut. Why, it does not even care where it ends up one day when wounds of war far exceed counting ability. It becomes anything from a mop to chopped up dusters. Such good cotton, why throw, no? Or maybe it’s pure love for this humble inner wear (and not global warming) that makes men cling on to it, more and more. 

As I type in Baniyan on Google’s 15th birthday doodle to look for a heroic image for this ode, I recoil in shame. It throws up ‘banyan bonsai’ in its result. We need more voices to join in the cause of promoting The Aam Baniyan. Giving it it’s rightfully earned pedestal. Justice needs to be done and fast. Start a sign campaign for making it the national dress of India at least. 

In the meantime, any script-writer for my 'MIB - Men in Baniyans'?

[This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda]

Saturday 21 September 2013

The 3 Giraffes

All giraffes come from the same family, Giraffidae, in the real world. They enjoy similar grumpy old faces, flaunt tails that seem to serve no purpose and necks and legs for which the word ‘long’ falls short of length. These 3 giraffes you see lounging on my settee were adopted by us over the last year. They look different from each other – in colour, size, make, material, as they happen to come from different countries. The wooden one is from Nigeria, the yellow from the US and the green one is hand-made in India. But that’s about it. Essentially, they are all giraffes. G for Giraffes. 

Just like we from different countries and continents are all humans. H for Humans. 

Then, since we all belong to one big homo sapien family walking the planet, why not get together in a closer circle? Why not open the windows of our houses freely to see and perhaps welcome in cultures and ideas that we call ‘foreign’? Why not expose our children to traditions from parts of the world other than ours, which might just make their lives better informed, more interesting and certainly closer to unknown shores?

Look around. We live in a touchy and touch-me-not world. 

[To read further, please click here.] 

Friday 20 September 2013

Dear Lord, the flowers don't kiss any more!

Dear Lord,

Next time, let me be born in another country.

After a long day of this-and-that, I tune into my home box office and all I see is Harry Potter doing something with his broom. As much as I like Chinese action flicks for gravity-defying deeds and long plaits on men, I fail to understand why I have to watch them 11pm after 11 pm every late night. I know Shrek’s dialogues by heart (all parts) by now. I assure you I can play the theme song of Madagascar on my flute despite being tone-deaf and not knowing how to hold a flute even. And I also think if I were to try, one of the magic spells from Potter’s movies will come true in my very house. Lord, how I wish the same spell could deliver me of all things childish and ‘G’ and make me feel like a grown up ‘A’ woman of 30 watching TV with a grown up man of 32, even as my toddler sleeps. Who, just who is wielding the scissors and chopping away to glory not just important parts of movies but whole movies from my heftily paid movie package? Once upon a time, flowers kissed. Now, even they have been banned from cuddling on screen. I go to bed disappointed with my idiot box. But, of course, with thoughts and Indianness as pure as the IB Ministry would like them to be! 

I wake up the next day and what do I see, my Lord?

Sir Ass-araam lounging on his seat, sharing spiritual gyan, floral head-gears and, was that a wink I just saw? 

[To read more, please click here]

Sounding the Red Siren against Sexual Abuse

In the year 2000 I moved from my secure, joint-family, small-town setting to become a student of a reputed college in New Delhi – raring to go, promising to make the best of hostel life and continuing wide-eyed in this big city with flyovers, McDonald’s and something called pubs.

As a part of Delhi University rules, every student enrolled in the Bachelor’s programme had to give a certain number of hours to social work to get their degrees at the end of 3 years. This idea was run under the National Service Scheme (NSS) and while some colleges simply handed over the certificates, mine made us do our bit, every minute of it. Most of us cribbed. It involved our meagre pocket money being spent on commuting to far flung places and spending free time earning good karma - something which we considered ourselves too young for. Out of the array of activities, I picked teaching in a Jhuggi Jhopri Shishu Mandir about 8 kilometers from my college hostel in South Delhi. And 40 hours in a month is what I had to complete, which meant going everyday for an hour. 

Once I got over the idea of being stared down as I entered the slum cluster and learnt to ignore the catcalls welcoming ‘madam ji’, I started enjoying the teaching greatly. A class of about 60 students, all 4-6 year old in their dark blue and white uniforms would welcome me with a sing-a-song ‘Good morning’ and repeat their letters and numbers after me in the same sing-a-song voice. It was tough, to make them sit still on the mats and listen. All they wanted to do was dance to songs they sang themselves. A few days into it, and I started a story telling session, where the last 15 minutes of every class were to be spent in sharing personal tales. I had noticed a few children never participate and while I did not want to force them to, I thought this activity might interest them. 

I was not prepared to hear what I heard. 

I don’t talk to him because his father came to kill my father with a knife one night, because my father stole a fish from his stall” – said a boy with an Om tattooed on his wrist, telling me why he refuses to sit next to the other boy.

Her mother is a prostitute. Everyone knows that. Other women are saying she is a witch too.” – said an older looking girl pointing at a little one sitting in the back row with an angry scowl permanently etched on her brow. 

A series of real stories shocked me awake from my small-town-to-elite-college-comfort. Were they pulling my leg to unnerve me? I was still wondering if I should let this exchange go on when out came this –

You see that girl in the corner? We don’t sit with her. Her father does dirty things to her. She is very dirty and if we sit with her, our father will also do those things to us. So our mothers told us to keep away from her. Maybe she also does dirty things to her father.” – giggled a couple of boys and girls together, completing each other’s sentence with a misfit excitement punctuating their sentences. I looked at her, as she fixed her gaze on the floor with a steely tenacity. That explained why she always sat alone, opened not her mouth and did not participate at all. She sat right there and her moving shoulders told me she was sobbing, something I had noticed so many times before without realising that this little 4-something girl has been crying all this while, even as the rest of the class sang ‘A sey Anaar Aa sey Aam’.

My class was suddenly transformed into a very disturbing reality that I had no idea about, that no one had told me about before this day. I dismissed the class and waited for the principal of the school to come. The girl, Sapna, kept sitting where she sat. I asked her to go home and she nodded a no, saying "mummy has told me to stay here till the building gate closes at 4pm." I approached the principal and told her what I heard, showing her the girl insisting on sitting here. I could not believe my already numb ears when she said this to me:

"I know, beta. It has been going on for a very long time. We can’t do anything about it. These slum dwellers are like that. Let’s just do our jobs and not get personal. It’s none of our business. Plus, we have so much to worry about anyway. She sits here till I close the premises to leave around 4 pm. Then she goes home too. She is usually the first one to arrive." I wonder what shocked me more. The reality of the girl’s sexual abuse at the hands of her own father or this principal’s complacency and acceptance of it as something we cannot and should not do anything about.

Back in college, I related the story to a professor who took it as seriously as it was supposed to be taken. She visited the Shishu Mandir with me, called the girl’s mother and asked her what this was all about. The mother, shuttling between sobs of helplessness and determination to not let us interfere in her household matter told us this – "Yes, he does dirty things to her. Every day. So, what can I do? He’s the father. We have nowhere to go. If I leave him, this girl will die of starvation. At least this way she is fed and even studying to become successful one day. I just look away, even if she calls me for help. What can I do? The neighbours saw him fondling her once and the word spread. Thank God we were not excommunicated from the jhopris. Where will we go? Maybe it’s just a bad habit of my husband’s and it will pass. I hope it does. I do want it to stop. I have told her to stay in school as long as possible. I hate it too. I try to stop him. But then, he is feeding her, educating her and getting her new dresses too. What more should I ask for?"

And the girl still sat in her favourite corner, with her shoulders moving, knowing what her mother was talking about, re-living it in her mind as she did on her body, day after day. My professor contacted an NGO which worked for the rehabilitation and care for the girl child. After many meetings and even a little force, the father admitted to his crime and agreed to undergo counselling, between bouts of crying. 

My 40 hours of teaching were over, but this horrific story became a permanent chapter in my book of learning. I remember asking after Sapna from a junior who was assigned the same Shishu Mandir for NSS but she had no such student in her class. A year had passed already. 

This is the first time I share this story. Thanks to Rekha’s and Roshni’s blog posts spreading awareness about Sexual Abuse and the Girl Child, as part of Time to Sound the Red Siren Campaign by UNICEF India and Protsahan. As I look back with the eyes of a 30 year old mother and not a 17 year old teenager lost in a big city, I understand so much more than I did then.  

I see and read how sexual abuse is usually at the hands of a person known to the victim, say the father of the girl in this story. How, knowingly or unknowingly, we become abettors in the crime, like the girl’s mother, the principal, the whole jhuggi community and even those little children. Most importantly, I see how there is always recourse and hope, considering that Sapna’s father shamefacedly admitted to the crime and willingly sought counselling to stop his ‘habit’, something that seemed to be a burden for him to carry too. 

Be it making noise on public forums or whispering it in responsible ears, anything can help in stopping sexual violence against the girl child, or any child. It takes very little, and what it takes is well worth it!  

    [This post is in collaboration with Protsahan and UNICEF India‘s Time to sound the Red Siren campaign. Sexual abuse cuts across class, ethnicity, religion and origin. Millions of girls in India face obstacles in their lives, experiencing various forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse on account of their age and their sex. Each year, an increasing number of children in India face sexual violence. Recently, there have been cases of rape that have galvanized global attention and sparked mass demonstrations and widespread debate on the issue of sexual violence directed at children. However, there are many cases that go under reported. Fear of social stigma and victimization often stop children and their families from reporting these crimes. Since much abuse is hidden from public view – and because it is too often tolerated – the numbers do not reflect the true magnitude of the problem. When violence occurs, the physical wounds or bruises may disappear but the mental scars may not.]  

Monday 16 September 2013

Taming of the Poop

Till your child is toilet-trained, you feel no qualms about discussing chhee-chhee topics in public, without even bothering as to when your companions last saw the inside of a diaper. So that should explain the presence of this post on such a dignified forum. Kindly excuse me, please. But my obsession with social media tells me that toilet-training is indeed one of the most important concerns bothering parents everywhere. A friend recently messaged me asking me what I am doing to make my son go in the right place, with the exact aim and the perfect sense of time. Another is distressing over how her daughter’s potty seat had to be strategically covered with Goa’s beach sand to keep it from driving away the tourists, even as the little one insisted that here, and here alone, she will go potty (I don’t blame her. She has scenic taste, I say). And a few days back, when a friend from school shouted out to me for tips and tricks, I promised her this post.    

Basically, the moment the clock strikes the 2nd year, the cuckoo comes out to say – Hey you, start worrying about the poop, before it hits the roof. Here is what I did ...

To read further, please click here

Saturday 14 September 2013

83-13-30 - and Shopping

No, the title is not supposed to be a version of 36-24-36. Neither mine nor yours! Rein in that brain, rest it and just read. These are years – 30 years before 2013 was 1983. 17 years from today will be 2030. Too many numbers to begin with? Shopping sounds better. So, let’s proceed.   


Notable piece of news? The Cricket World Cup trophy came home. Even bigger news? The author of this post was born. Yes, my doctor deliverer held me up even as Kapil Dev held up The Cup, this very same year. Now, if I was born in 1983, would I know what shopping in 1983 was all about? I am sure if I thought hard enough, I would remember where my frilly frocks came from. But, I decided to ask around. Parents, their parents, maternal aunt, paternal uncle, the 1000 or so cousins born before me, even asked the kid brother who was yet to come, really. That hard I worked to know how, just how, were people shopping back in 1983? With land-lines more ‘dead’ than alive, mobile something that Batman travelled in and online banking an impossible idea from future colonies on Mars, people were simply going to the market with their lists and picking things up. Maybe stopping over at the bank and withdrawing some money, in case the monthly budget kept in the envelope under the flower vase had run out already. Market meant a Paltan Bazaar. Shop meant a generational general merchant (& Bros. & Sons variety) where all branches of the family had been buying the time-tested brands from. Clothes were handed down, or bought in whole-sale from good bargain shops. Luxury was NRI relatives (God bless those ones from then) getting you a Sony TV, wooden body and wooden screen cover complete. Needs were few, choices of brands even fewer and the will to experiment with the fancy looking-foreign sounding “imported” bottles in exclusive shops (British ancestry, please) reserved for the elite. That was shopping where I was born, in 1983.


Three decades down, and we enter the Now. The breaking news is breaking through your TVs, so that I need not tell you about. Plus, I wasn’t re-born. But shopping? Seems like that has been re-born in an entirely different avatar! The groceries either come home through our telephones or are picked up in super-market. In 10 feet of retail space you see 10 brands of tooth pastes and 100 different brands of women-attracting deodorants (though none for keeping them). Clothes with Italian tags, bed sheets named after Greek Goddesses and even dedicated sections for keeping children and pets occupied even as you pick and choose from shelves that reach the sky. The lift will zoom you till the car and then goodbye cart, and mall and supermarket – our monthly groceries as well as a few indulgences have been bought, and hefty parking charges for our wheels paid. Good deals on electronics, books, cameras, phones can also be picked up from Karts christened after the products. No shipping charges, payment on delivery sometimes, cash back guarantee if the customer is not satisfied, secure banking transactions and there you have it – Sir Shopping in shining armour, sitting beneath that button and always at your service with just a click. And the latest from the online shopping grapevine?  eBay’s CHECK - a one-stop, auto drop down wonder, gift-wrapped for us as a tiny button, downloaded on our tool bar within seconds and always at our beck-and-call. Press it and see the best deals on the site for anything you desire. Ah! Fingers can continue to be lazy, wallets smile happy and more time on our hands to philosophize on the pot, or elsewhere. Oh! As for that NRI luxury and Sony TVs from 1983? Well, last I checked my cousin Sachin a.k.a Steve from the US of A was busy buying Rakhi gifts from this very .in site. Genius invention for our generation! Even Einstein must be wondering – Jeez, why didn’t I think of it?


Fast forward, not 30 years but a little over half of that – 17 years. Bad mathematics? Well, partly. But mostly because if yesterday technology was leaping forward at the speed of sound through air, today it is moving with the speed of light itself. So 3 decades of the past are equal to half that time of the future – techie-wise. And it will only take lesser time for bigger leaps, as my 30 years turn into 60. S.i.x.t.y.? Wow, time to change the topic and get back to shopping 17 years from now. 

Even though my mane looks like Einstein’s in humidity, I am not him most certainly. But I do shop online, a lot, and am experienced with the good, the bad and the ugly bits of ordering your objects of desire through .coms and the more patriotic .ins. After burning the midnight yellow CFL in my lamp as well as a handful of grey cells, I came up with the following 5 ideas that can change the orbit of online shopping into a wider-smoother-faster ellipse in 2030.

Idea 1 – Auto-Replenish
Dear post-it on the fridge, you just lost your job. No more grocery listing. No more keeping a tab on beer in the chiller or oil in the pantry. Auto-replenish technology will send a signal to the online shopping portal whenever the stock is dwindling and poof! It will be delivered to you even before you spot it was over. Radar racks and censors in the fridge will do that listing for you, send the re-order list to the portal and get your needs delivered at your door step in good time. Radical? I think so too! You can now save your post-its for love-ly messages instead which say – ‘Out for dinner with friends, honey. Cook yours, will you!’ Of course, all inside a little red heart! 

Idea 2 – 3-D Prototypes
By 2030, 3-D printers will take over homes – be it for helping with the kids’ school projects or sending a sample of your wedding card to the generous Sony TV NRI family from once-upon-a-time. Why not use them for shopping too? Free ordering/printing of prototypes of products might help us with choosing options. Will the size of the phone look good in my hands? Are those ear rings too big for my face? Will an iPod armband for cycling feel comfortable? Will save us so much hit-and-try buys of wrong shapes and sizes and thickness and depths. Don’t you think?

Idea 3 - Expert Advice
Let’s face it. Online shopping portals offer everything – variety, exchange offers, best prices and bonanza deals. What they do not offer? Expert advice, like the one available in the form of a goodly young man who follows you in a departmental/electronic store in a tie and guides you about the various specifications of the products you are looking at. Most importantly, he gives you a much-needed inter-brand comparison. No, I do not mean product reviews which are available aplenty on forums across www. I mean a person who could tell me, for instance, which rim tape is best for my bicycle, or which lens should be my next buy - right then and there. For all the times I haven’t really been sure of what I want or need, even if it were an animated avatar doing the expert talking I would not mind. Would you? Make him good-looking, feed in the information, the know-how and the comparisons and dear Factoid, I will be ready to fall in love with you. 

Idea 4 - Delivered, urgently
My pizza comes home in 30 minutes. Why can’t the handbag I want to gift my sister coming for dinner in an hour? Or ColicAid my baby’s tummy needs for gassy fuss at 2am? Or maybe just a tissue paper roll even as the pressure on the pot is on its way? Big things or small, fancy or mundane, a little networking with small shops around and there we have it (Yes, small shops will always be around!). Delivery within minutes! EBay does this already, as my experience of ordering on it tells me.  But we can make it faster, by many hours! And then, does not the idea of including the stores in the online ordering system beam better than all of government’s Inclusion Policies put together? That provokes a thought!

Idea 5 – Artificial Intelligence, at my service
Getting personal is not always a bad thing, especially if we are talking about personalized shopping services. What if a site more intelligent than me can keep track of my past purchases, memorize my interests, remember the products I dig and prompt suggestions every time I need them? Say, in the type of books I buy or the kind of gadgets that suit my interest? And equally important, not overwhelm me with information on products I really don’t care about. I mean, why flash pictures of designer ties to a hippie? We do know sometimes technology can be better than us. After all, smart phones are, aren’t they? So why not the AI on my favourite shopping portal. I can just let my head be in peace. It’s 2030 people, who wants to use their own brains?

For now, I have used mine. All 30 years of it, and even beyond. While I wait for much-deserved patents for all 1-5 above, I will go look for a new pair of glasses. A press of a button away and poof! I already found what I was looking for. Look at that! If that’s not fast, funky and futuristic what is?

[Written for 'The future of shopping' contest hosted by IndiBlogger in association with eBay] 

Friday 13 September 2013

In the 'Theek' of Health

Once upon a pretty time, I wrote about colour on my face here

Rant alert, again, but no face attached this time. Just a few size tags. Why?

People are obsessed with weight. But why they remain more obsessed with another’s weight, especially if the other scores lower on the weighing machine, continues a mystery. To some, you have to be in that perfect theek of health - which means a certain circumference of arms, legs, waistline and ahem, which suits the diameter of their heads. If not, then according to their expert fatty acids you are too thin, too weak, too skinny and too irresponsibly used anorexic. My dimensions get me a lot of attention from some women folk around (Mister says he’s certain men folk too are attentive but he does not like to think about it). Now, getting attention is good, and must be enjoyed at all costs, all 360 degrees and 50 shades of it. Here is my way of doing just that.

From school to marriage, I was petite. On the rajgaddi of the wedding day, some joked I would fly away with the hail storm that graced the occasion. Others wondered if I was 18 yet. And a few worried that I will starve the head-geared boy sitting next to me, consuming him with my passion for “dieting” habits - habits which my sweet tooth had not the courage to acquire, or the need to form! Never understood the ‘Oh! Figure conscious?’ thrown at me every time I refused a second helping of what tasted like burnt onions, by belles who seem happily full – with food and snide remarks, both. 

Then, 3 trimesters later, I heard ‘You are not putting on enough weight. You only have a belly. Your child will be too weak’, even as I ate right, exercised right, felt sexy and enjoyed my baby bump thoroughly. Out came the baby and in went the mummy tummy – both jacha bacha weighing fit-and-fine. But who could stop them? 'Girls these days' and 'At least think of the suckling baby' snugly fit in one very long sentence said in ear shot every time I refused to drink a glass of ghee (I liked the ‘girls’ bit). 

Most recently I heard, with eyes stuck on my thighs – ‘You had become theek in the middle, but now …’ and I had a hearty laugh before I let her complete. I had got my affirmation from a different shape that I had finally reached the exact shape that I wanted to enjoy for all times to come. Perhaps, my college time skinny jeans, which welcomed my legs with full arms, were spreading indigestion in her tummy? Or maybe, it was just the burnt onions.

But do I care, especially when I make no remarks about other’s girth, not even in times of drunken mirth? 

I am a size somewhere between 8 and 10. It suits me and those I love. If you are not my size, that suits me too, because your waist-line is none of my business, just like my hip size isn’t yours. Of course, the size of the brain is independent of it all, with a proclivity for wardrobe malfunction when rudely picking on other people’s sizes. Thanks to my political connections with Mendel – the Father of genetics, along with a little discipline thrown in, I plan to remain a size 8. But would the Mothers of Jean-etics understand? Maybe, if they stop eating the grapes which the fox could not reach. The last I heard they were sour enough to be very unhealthy - both for the body and the mind.

Remember the word GIGO from school-time computers? Garbage in Garbage out! Thank God for 2 ears, and a pen to write it all down.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Sponsored Video: Lifebuoy 'Help a Child Reach 5'

First things first! Please click on the video below and spend a few seconds listening to what Kajol has to say. Listen to it as a parent, a concerned citizen or simply as an observer.

You saw film actor and mother, Kajol, asking you to join her and support Lifebuoy’s ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign.  And to be promoted is the simple habit of hand-washing, aimed at eradicating diarrhoea. While I cannot see your reactions, or know the take-homes that you grabbed from the video above and Gondappa's story contained within, I can tell you what I know.

Statistics Speak
Why a whole campaign revolving around hand-washing? The world over, 15 children die from diarrhoea or pneumonia every 15 seconds. Hand-washing, if done at key occasions during the day, is known to reduce the occurance of diarrhoea by 45% and pneumonia by 23%. That would mean saving the lives of over 600,000 children under five every year, which is actually the number of children who die due to diarrhoea or pneumonia in India each passing year. Significant numbers, isn’t it?

The Campaign
Having changed the hand-washing behaviour of over 130 million people, the world’s leading health soap, Lifebuoy, is now aiming even higher. Lifebuoy’s Hand-washing Programmes teach school children, new mothers and the community the practice of hand-washing with soap at key occasions, and in turn helping more children reach their fifth birthday. This intervention aims to contribute to the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4) – that of reducing the mortality of children under five by two-thirds by 2015.

In order to work towards this goal, Lifebuoy’s ‘Help a child reach 5’ has adopted a village-to-village target approach, with the first one being Thesgora, Madhya Pradesh, with one of the highest rates of diarrhoea.
Kajol has become a part of this campaign to urge people for donations towards Hand-washing Programmes. In fact, this donation campaign was initiated with the release of the above film, where Kajol speaks about LifeBuoy’s award-winning ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ video.

Your Role
Most of the times, it does not take much to do our bit. Let charity begin at home first. Let us ensure that our children and family members maintain basic hygiene and make hand-washing a necessary habit, not just to prevent these two dreadful diseases, but so many others too.

We can also be a part of this campaign. We can donate towards this cause at The proceeds from the donations will go to Population Services International (PSI), a leading health organization. For every donation made, Lifebuoy will match the donation amount for its hand-washing programmes. Lifebuoy will also donate Rupee 1 to the programme every time the ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ video is shared online. 

A simple click of a button and we can ‘share’ the message of the video around - a message that may see so many children live to celebrate their 5th Birthdays.

Let’s do what we can, together.

Some related links:

[This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy, but all thoughts are my own]

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Home-Maid Lessons

The relationships we share with our house-helps are usually a potpourri of emotions. Maids know how to open our best most charitable corner of the heart, every passing Diwali or daughter’s school fee day, whichever occurs more often. They also bring out the longest faces our visages can manage, what with those undeclared leaves right after taking 2 month’s salary in advance. I have seen myself going from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other like a pendulum oscillating drunk, for reasons which are every home’s story. She comes (or not comes) for an hour every day and helps me with what she is supposed to, at least with 60 per cent of the job profile that was pre-decided when I kept her. She seems happy, especially since the other residences are Houses of Horrors for her and mine a halka ghar, whatever that means. 

Houses of Horrors? She tells me bizarre stories of how some ‘momsters’ have asked her to clean verandas with cold water in peak winters and bare-foot please, the child may catch infection from her slippers. How her colleagues have often been falsely accused of eating burfis by the Madam, gossiping about Sir, having an affair with the driver, and being married to a murderer lodged in a village jail – all untruths and only spread to fire them and even keep another from hiring them. Their character certificates are written and re-written at the drop of a mop, and the stories continue - not just of how they treat us but also of how we women mistreat our own helps. 

This post is about my maid, who comes and goes with a big smile on her face, so I am assuming she is happy with me...

To read further, please click here

Monday 9 September 2013

Saying Hei Helsinki, Again!

I can travel through my travel pictures. Such a mind I enjoy. Every time I feel that urge of packing my bags and leaving the mundane behind, I open my photo albums and get lost in them, literally. I have travelled a lot, not enough to pen a ‘Lonely Planet’ but certainly more than what just 3-decades of shamelessly indulgent existence deserves. Hyperbolically speaking, my photo collection can make a ring around the Moon and make astronauts feel Saturn is closer home. Really!  

Lately, on an unusual day of trying to feel constructive, I started labelling old pictures and shoe-boxing them in the right categories for ease of search. That’s when I came across old pictures of our Helsinki-Stockholm trip from some years back. Forgetting what I had set out to do, my grey matter started itching to remember the little Finnish I had learnt for the trip. To God Mr. Google I instantly prayed for some help and found my answers.

I looked at the basic phrases of Finnish on this British site. With a smile I remembered how everyone smiled when I tried to pronounce “Anteeksi, missa on WC?” (Excuse me, where’s the toilet?). Being 7 months pregnant meant frequent nature calls and the sub-zero temperatures did not let you hold it in too long either. Even as I scanned the list for all the mispronunciations a human being is capable of, I kept going back to the blue-and-orange advert banner flashing before my eyes. It seemed to be saying to me what Oscar Wilde wildly said once – The best way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it. Was this tempting 'Hurry!' a Happy Coincidence asking me to do just that - give in? 

Past Tense 

I was in Helsinki for Christmas holidays in 2010. Call it a cross between a honeymoon and a baby shower, if you please. It was the closest I have lived to the Arctic Circle and very exciting. Exciting because at 9 am the Sun used to make an attempt to rise behind the snowy clouds and at 3:30 pm it was gone. Did that mean it was time for dinner and bed in the afternoon? No sir, no way! The city kept awake, of course. Wrapped up like onions and with my belly full of baby, we used to walk the streets every night, me and my husband. The smell of snow, of Christmas lights adorning every corner and the ‘Hei’ generously shared with strangers on festively high spirits, literally, made us go wow at every turn. We saw all important sites of Helsinki on foot, night-after-night. In the day we slept like owls. We even took an over-night cruise to gamble away our hard-earned money on the Baltic, only to enjoy old Stockholm’s charm on empty pockets but wide-eyes the next day.  

The Finnish are impressive personalities, with lovely cheek bones, jaw lines and eyes which remind you of blue lagoons, albeit at a height of nearly 6 feet. I made sure I got an eyeful (and I am sure Mister did too) only because when pregnant, you should look at nice-looking things and no other. We ate everything from shark to boiled beetroot to our comfort food in foreign climes called McDonald's and Subway. The water went from spring to mineral to sparkling to I-just-want-the-normal-purifier-water, someone? Pregnancy hormones behaved themselves, the baby kicked in glee eating all that fruit yogurt and Mister and I got a good one week to hold hands in abundance and answer the ‘boy or girl?’ questions of kind passers-by with a shrug of our shoulders, but a heart full of anticipation.

On one such night, when the 20 layers of clothing on our bodies could not hold out the minus 20 degrees of wind blowing and we desperately looked for a coffee shop to revive our frozen ribs, we came by a warmly lit-up baby shop. It was our last night of the holiday and as we peeped inside at the prams and strollers, we swore to ourselves, right there, that we will get our little one to Helsinki and Stockholm one fine day. To tell him how, at 28 weeks, he had added to the beauty of our experience manifold!  

Present Tense 

The advert on the Finnish language site that seemed to be Coincidence's doing was to be the catalyst for keeping my promise to my little one. I rubbed clicked on the magic lamp link and a genie seemed to start a chain reaction of click after click leading to a ‘booked’ for the December that is to come. Not having planned and booked my family’s travel on my own before, I had no idea about the how and why of doing it all online. But a desire to throw a surprise for the boys and being wildly led by what Wilde said, I thought why not.

I was bent on planning everything to the T, to ensure that my holiday is speed-breakers free. I wanted to ensure a wallet-friendly package, hassle-free booking procedure and everything delivered as promised on the site. I also wanted to leave no stones unturned or no other site unchecked before doing my fare comparisons. And the last thing I wanted to see? A message that read ‘page expired’ or ‘session ended’ as my bank balance decreased even as the transaction failed over a sad server connection. With this baggage of expectations I entered the advert and keyed in my expected dates of travel.   

This indeed took just a few seconds and the confidence ringing through the ‘best international flight combinations for you’ made me very confident in turn. An array of flights found and the competitive rates to grab right before my eyes. A quick calculation of budget and time zone difference away, my flight was ready to take-off with me and my family. Next came the hotel booking, especially important since a week is not a short duration. Will I have to sell off my car to afford it? Or my house? I mused. The filters helped me find the one that fit the family income as well as my specifications of facilities, especially since I was to have a toddler in tow. The detailed advanced search for short-listing hotels was a breeze.  

 And seemed to have read my mind! Radisson Blu Royal Hotel , where we had stayed the last time around too, popped up as I entered my requirements. And when I saw a Smart Deal offer on the hotel of my choice, I quickly added a few extra items to my long shopping list because now I could afford to - thanks to the sudden windfall of another happy Smart Coincidence! 

I was a happy (and confident) traveller already, as I “travelled” on and finalized the formalities. Like I said, I had never booked a holiday single-handedly before. But now I know, that if this is the site you too choose for your travel plans, you need not worry about failed transactions, online banking security, sorry speed of servers, limited options to choose from and hidden catches waiting like a trap. is a different experience altogether.

Future Tense

I sit enjoying my Pre-travel Happiness High, for I know already that I have ensured a well-planned and comfortable trip to Helsinki for my beau, my boy and myself. And what begins so well, can only grow to be even better. Happy Travellers we shall surely be. I always wanted to scream “Olemme takaisin, Helsinki” – We Are Back, Helsinki. And this time around we will be three. But shh! That is just a little secret between you, me and my genie.   

[Post written for 'Creating Happy Travellers' hosted by IndiBlogger in association with]

Sunday 8 September 2013

78 cards, and a box full of hope

When I was asked to write about an inspiring woman entrepreneur that I know personally, I climbed the highest mountain in my milieu and with my binoculars starting looking for the women with ringing registers on the very clouds around. I saw one who was busy with her book shelves in a shop that was opened 20 years ago, at the spur of the moment, and which now had grown to garner a dedicated following, much to the envy of some of the best names in book-selling around. A cloud away, there is a grandmother supervising an army of 60 seamstresses for various brands, who threw her walking stick away and learnt to sign the cheque book even as she entered the sunset of her life. But then, an epiphanic moment later, I realized I was actually on the lookout for the Story Untold - a more down-to-earth, home-grown and inspiring one not by the magnitude of the enterprise but by the magnitude of conviction, calibre and confidence that went into its inception and then its execution.   

Ameet Gulati belongs to a famous business family of Ludhiana, married to one of the most inspiring officers the Indian Revenue Service has seen. An MBA by education, Ameet worked for HDFC even as she went about being her father’s right-hand-(wo)man in his business enterprise. As she juggled the many hats of a successful business advisor, mother and wife, even a perfect hostess and the best of friends anyone can hope for, her head kept missing that one hat she always wanted to try wearing. And she went ahead and got that too! 

Today, among the various feathers that she has collected, Ameet is also a recognized name as a Tarot Reader and a Numerologist. 

I have seen and admired the spectacular sparks of inspiration that come flying out this woman’s persona. You have not, not as yet. So, in my attempt to connect you to her, I thought I will let her do the talking. I sent her a few questions that came to my mind, and this is what she has to tell us all:

Q: Why Tarot reading, Ameet? And why now, when both your hands are so deeply busy with home and business?

A: Tarot reading because it always interested me as an enigmatic window to a world I wanted to enter and explore. Yes, you can call it love-at-first-sight the moment I came to know about this practice and started reading books about it, often on the sly. Even Astrology cannot give you an objective ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as an answer to your query like Tarot can. And now, because there is no time like Now! Let me also tell you something. The best way to hold the most number of things is to open your arms and embrace what you can call challenges in a big tight bear-hug. No woman has just 2 hands, Sakshi. Do you? We can have as many hands as the things we like to do, want to do and set our minds and hearts to do.

Q: It is a very unconventional idea of a profession, considering you were dabbling with numbers but the non-Numerology kind. Did you have any misgivings as to how it will be received by your family – immediate and extended? How did you plan to convince them?

A:  I had a major dose of misgiving, to be honest. I knew no unconditional acceptance will come my way for this profession from both sides of my family. That is why, when I started my classes I took only my husband into confidence, who stood by me throughout. My doubts were not unfounded. When I became a qualified Tarot reader ready to practice and broke the news at the dinner table, the hushed silence could have made a pin drop sound like a bomb. I had to do a lot of convincing – that it is not a parallel religion, nor superstition. No, it is not black magic most certainly. Coming from a business background, where numbers often do the talking, eye brows were raised about how much money will it fetch me anyway? And I tell you, while the numbers coming in have started to impress them, the idea of seeing me comfortably surrounded by my cards still does not. 

Q: What did you need to change about yourself, or maybe strengthen about yourself as a person in order to embrace an alien practice? Do you get depressed listening to people’s stories?

A: You know, when you willingly walk into a domain known and understood by such few people, ready to be tagged as something as rare as a Tarot reader, you strengthen yourself against all kinds of pre-conceived judgements too. I’ll be lying if I say I was totally confident that I will be able to do justice to my interest. But then, a few clients down I realized the power of healing, of helping, of showing hope and ways of reducing a stranger’s troubles. No, it is not depressing at all, Sakshi. If anything, it makes you count your blessings and say a silent prayer of gratitude.

Q: You have travelled different cities, got exposed to reputed exhibitions like Wedding Asia and helped innumerable people see direction. How has this profession helped you to grow, as a person?

A:  I often sit back and think to myself the same thing. How, once upon a time, addressing my father’s business associates used to make me shake with the responsibility. How, just a runny nose on my child would make the mother in me go ‘Why me?’ No more. To see a stranger respond with such immense faith in you, and then get healed of all problems because of your advise is something that fills you to the brim with confidence. I feel very positive spiritually, and have learnt to empathise with people totally unconnected to me. I also feel I am a more understanding person overall since when I began my sessions.   

Q: Feel free to preen, Ameet.

A: No feathers to flaunt, really. Ok, let’s see! One per cent of my clients are those who enter a session for the fun of it – out of sheer curiosity maybe, or to question my work in return. However, when they come back one fine day feeling that the predictions came true and the prescriptive advice helped, you tick another believer into the list and pat yourself for it. However, on a more serious note, Tarot is all about relationships. It deals with emotional issues which usually keep human bonds on tenterhooks. That is when every successful session and every happy client becomes a standing ovation, a self-affirmation of my faith in my practice, my cards and most importantly the trust generated between two completely unconnected people and 78 cards in between. Spreading positivity and getting results are the feathers, really! And it is amazing how they help to make your own daily life so much better. 

She has no wares to sell and no training sessions to carry out. All she has is her ever-solidifying belief in the practice of tarot reading and numerology, and her faith in her own self to help heal and solve.  I could not think of a better example to present when I heard the words “nurturing independence in the backyard”. Ameet has nurtured for herself another way of being independent. She has also nurtured in her family and friends independence from pre-conceived notions, and shown how learning something is the key to understanding and respecting it - no matter how alien the subject - in an unbiased manner. But most importantly, she has, and continues to, nurture in troubled minds hope of resolving the most irreparable relationship issues and problems that beset them. And that freedom of mind is what I call the real independence of being. 

Post-script - Ameet was unsure about being featured, saying 'entrepreneur' is a very big word for her. But as her friend, I too have found ways around this woman's mind. I even got her to pose for me. Emotional blackmail works. She can be contacted at

[Written for the Indiblogeshwaris Ladies Independence Special Contest in association with]

Thursday 5 September 2013

Our Father at Home, Holy Be Thy Name

In the world of poets, writers and even those poster shares which form the backbone of Facebook spamming, fathers are conspicuous by their absence. The mother is sung about, the father's never to be found in any song. Motherhood is a virtue, fatherhood ... is that a word? Well, maybe a mention here and there, to rhyme with rather, or lather, or just to portray fairness and equality in mommy bloggers’ blogposts about parenting. Other than that, no one seems to be writing about fathers and their -hood. Look at us, most of us know Mother's Day but we need a glittery message on our neighbourhood Archies Gallery door to remind us about Father's Day - with last year's unsold cards proudly displayed, hoping they will get sold at least this year around.  

Let's begin at the beginning, when millions swim and swim, looking for that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, fully knowing that only one will win. And what victory is his ...

To read further, please click here.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

My Nose, My Time Machine

The nose is a very important organ. Not just because you can poke it where you please or dig it in times of boredom. The nose is also important, as we all know, for helping us smell. Now, olfaction is an ancient sense. We have been sniffing around for food or trouble ever since this planet of the apes came into being. However, if a cocktail of science and psychology is to be believed, it seems that our 2 humble little (or big) nostrils can even evoke vivid memories in our heads, with just a whiff of a scent that we have smelled in the past. 

And it’s 100 per cent true! 

All too often, my nose becomes my Time Machine, for as it smells various fragrances doing their rounds in my house, it makes me fly back into time faster than the speed of Shaktiman. A simple inhalation and a deep exhalation that softly says, “Ah, those were the days!” and brings an ear-to-ear smile on my face. What creates those ‘ah’ moments in my mind? Here are some:

Aam ka achaar

God made mangoes seasonal, but he added ‘let there be mango pickle all year through’, and mankind learnt how to make it. Puri-aalu needs it, gobhi-parantha loves it and mathree is nothing without it. Same goes for us. Every time the bottomless jar of mango pickle that my mother-in-law made opens in my kitchen, out comes the masaledaar smell of about 200 ingredients mixed right and preserved in oil to keep it finger-licking good. The smell instantly takes me back by many years to when I was 7 years old, sitting next to my grandmother with 5 other children and watching her hands fill huge martbaans with pickle made from home-grown mangoes. Even the trees used to watch on, fascinated, as her measured hands made manna from their fruit, to last our joint family of 12 a whole year. Oh we did our bit too – removed the seeds, and dropped the mango pieces in the yellow paste waiting in the paraat, beaming with pride as our pick got pickled!

The same tangy aroma reminds me of days of hungry temptation too, as we sat on our school desks. In the periods before recess, which were usually reserved for chemistry lab work, tiffin boxes would start opening with clandestine clicks as if too impatient with hunger to wait for the interval bell to ring. We front-benchers would stare at our teacher lecturing about organic-inorganic compounds and show us magic tricks in test-tubes, while all the while our olfactory organs were going dizzy with the mango pickle smell around the pulao that a backbencher’s lunch brought our way. And no, frequent glances at the watches did not make the time pass any faster. Needless to say, by the time the acids and the alkalis were put to rest at the sound of the bell, the rear seats in class had been fully fed.

Cardboard boxes

Call me strange, but there is a smell to an empty cardboard box which, I am sure, only a few mortals have learnt to appreciate. From humble Relaxo chappal boxes of yesterday to Hush Puppies of today, from peytees which carried our monthly groceries from the kirana shop to sleek-n-slim ones within which our LED TVs arrive now – cardboard boxes have a characteristic smell of their own, not musky but somewhat that. 

The smell makes me remember those countless hours I spent with my kid brother creating wild collections of match boxes picked off the streets, used Campa Cola caps and Ripley’s Believe it or Not cut-outs from newspapers – duly sorted and laid to rest in cartons arranged by our father to forward his children’s “creativity”. With no real sense behind all the hard-work, we continued with a steely purpose to fill up the Gagan ghee cartons to the brim, housing within our sibling hearts a secret desire to enter the Guinness Records ourselves with the classified, taped and neatly preserved collections! Days of gay abandon, when best-out-of-waste was not found in fancy showrooms but in the space under the staircase in my house. And that’s where it still lies – a little forgotten, but right there. And that’s where I get transported to every time a big brown box stares at me to be emptied of its contents, or to be filled up with my memories, whichever happens first. 

‘Flora’ in a Bottle

Not all scents are made to jog the memory down childhood’s lane. Some take us back by just a few years from what we call today, to when we were grown-up adult hearts and arms, ready to take a beloved in. For me this was some years back, when I met a boy from my school days, fell in love, got our love arranged and impatiently waited out the 6 long months before our wedding day. As we love-birds were courting and counting down days to our wedlock, he gifted me this lovely fragrance ‘Flora’ by Gucci. I did what many would do – locked it up only to be used on those very special occasions. And special occasions were all occasions when I was to meet him - coffee dates, long drives, movies and other fillers-of-courtship-days-until-d-day when Love chooses to swim in the air, and walk the ground too. Today, 6-years and one toddler later, whenever I go spray-spray the same pink hearts and little cupid appear as they used to in those filmy days of hand-holding, smiling and going pink, in that exact order.  

Sigh! Those were the days. 

Every time I wake-up from my reveries into the present that we must occupy and live in, I wonder - if only our noses had an inbuilt filter buffering away the bad odours from the good. Alas! Evolution was never meant to be perfect, and neither was olfaction. And while mishaps of toddler toilet-training, dankness of the monsoons, smell of sweat in cycling shoes and of the fishy curry getting cooked for you cannot be wished away, they can surely be wiped away. How else will all the nostalgic scents flow easy and act the spark plug for my nose, my Time Machine, and zoom me back to yesteryears?

The elixir for that is in another bottle, not Gucci this time but certainly flowery enough and as wonderful. And that’s my AmbiPur, a hero that helps keep the smelly out and the smiley aglow - who not just deserves mention in this lovely smelling post but a picture too. Here it is then, posing, but instead of saying ‘cheese’ it chose to say a deep fulfilling ‘Ah’. And just look what happened ...  

Now, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or so say the sacred texts. If you really want to see how I make no tall claims but speak the tried-and-tested truth, spare 2:43 minutes of your lives and watch this video, taken many weeks before this post was invited. I assure you no blossom scents will come out from computer screens and enter your rooms to prove their potency. What you will see here is me, and a few others, as part of a secret experiment to demonstrate the power contained in this bottle. In the midst of mind-numbing rot I sit blind-folded, ignorant of the reeking garbage strewn around. My nose does the talking, as it waxes eloquent about how my surrounding scents take me back to Kerala backwaters, with boats full of flowers floating around me and my beloved. This here is my moment of Ambi Pur induced nostalgia caught on candid camera!

 So, there we go! You have got your proof that I speak the truth and nothing but the truth, and I have got a second bottle to add to my 'Ah! Those were the days' collection. I had only one heart-felt thing to say then (in the video at the end of the prank) which I say now too, with even more confidence - "I had seen this advertisement before but I did not know it is so cool. Now I do, really! So, thank you!"

And chances are, you will say exactly those words when you experience your Ambi Pur too.

[Written for 'Smelly to Smiley' contest hosted by IndiBlogger in association with AmbiPur;]
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...