“One does not love breathing”

My spectacles broke. Yeah, one min I was drinking a teeth-chattering-throat-freezing strawberry smoothie and the next thing I know the right temple has fallen on the table, leaving my glasses woefully unsupported and wobbly. You know, that feeling when you’ve been wearing a bra and then suddenly it gets unclasped and for a moment you feel un-hugged, unloved and well, unsupported? Just like that. (If you’re a man reading this, you lucky dogs never had to have your chest supported! Go away!) If you know me, you know I’m blind as a bat without my glasses – only my hindsight is 20/20, not my regular sight. (Haha, see what I did there? What? I’m a blogger. I have licenses.)

So there I am, pink drink in hand, parts of glasses strewn around and vision too blurred to even make out my friend’s face. Begged for some cellotape from the sour-faced barista, taped it up temporarily, finished the darn drink, picked up son from school and went home. With the mother of all headaches. Not my son! I mean a real headache.

My cup of woes is not full yet. Since the minute I realised my glasses broke, all I could think was ‘omygosh how am I going to read?!’. It’s another matter that I haven’t read anything of consequence in the last 2 weeks. But hey, if I WANTED to, I could have read. Now I can’t. I CAN’T READ TILL MY GLASSES ARE FIXED. These back-up glasses are all OK for regular work, but anything beyond reading show names on the TataSky blue bar is inviting the wrath of Thor and his hammer inside my head.

I even fantasized for a minute how it will be if I were a witch and I could wave my wand and the glasses will be fixed. Yes, exactly like how Hermione fixes Harry’s glasses on their first ride on the Hogwarts Express. And nope, I can’t read that book now even if I wanted to. Woe is me.

Slade House beckons and I have to let the calls go unanswered. It breaks my heart. Shehan Karunatilaka’s cricket based shenanigans await. So does the apsara Menaka and her choices. All those unread books that I arrogantly scrolled past on the Kindle, without a second thought – they mock me now, this blurry eyed me that cannot read. My son ate less than he usually does because we couldn’t read his meal-time book. He then proceeded to recite The Gruffalo from memory, but had to stop because one lady kept pushing food into his mouth. Mothers!

So, today, I wait impatiently for the husband to get home from work. Not because I miss him, no (because we have been married for more than a decade and hence are past such silly things as ‘missing you’ and ‘I love you’. It’s all ‘get some eggs and bread on your way back, won’t you?’ and ‘Please fix my glasses on your way back, or don’t come home’ these days.) but because my precious pretty prescription (hehe) glasses are coming home with him.

I can’t wait to get back to my book-babies. I probably won’t read anything today. Or tomorrow. But hey, if I WANTED to, I can. That’s all that matters. Wasn’t it Harper Lee who said, “Until I feared losing it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” One does not worry about not being able to read until one can’t. Shudder.

Hold on now, David Mitchell. Be right there.

Book Review: White Oleander, by Janet Fitch

White Oleander
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a long while do you come across such a book that’s a sheer pleasure to read. Every line, every word, so perfect and such poetry. I’m a sucker for good prose (even if the story is hardly there!) and this is just my kind of book. And to think this is the author’s debut novel. Bravo!

I loved Astrid Magnussen. I hated Ingrid Magnussen. The 3 days it took me to read the book, I was living with Astrid. The string of foster homes, the good ones and the bad. When she ached for her mother, I was there feeling her loneliness. When she found her light at the end of the tunnel, I was there cheering for her, but at the same time, praying that it doesn’t get messed up, that it’s not just a dream she wakes up from. It’s that powerful a book, the way it makes you identify with everyone. I don’t know how Janet Fitch does it, but she did – we look at the characters the way Astrid does, we feel what she feels, our perspective changes when hers does. We love Ingrid. Then we hate her. Then we’re confused. Just. Like. Astrid.

On a side note, I’ve always been enthralled by the oleander flower (in Tamil it’s called arali) – when I was a child, we had a shrub in a neighbor’s garden and I remember being warned by the adults that it was poisonous and not to ingest it. And oh, most Tamil movies in a rural setting had at least one or two women committing suicide by eating ground arali seeds! Ah, well. ๐Ÿ˜€

The theme of the book reminded me of another coming-of-age book I read recently – Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I found Tartt a bit of a chore to read at times and I definitely found the book long by half. But where Tartt lost me, Fitch just had me wrapped up in beautiful prose and kept me in that cocoon for days, snug and comfortable in the sweet melancholy of those words. I remember feeling greedy and hungry when reading the book – my eyes would jump to the next line, next paragraph and I had to pull them back and savor the words at hand. (Afterthought – I felt so when I was reading Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale).

This story of a mother and daughter has sadness, but it’s not sad. There’s a constant glimmer of hope, of good things even amid the despair and loss. And that’s probably what I loved (I felt the Goldfinch was very sad) about this book. I don’t know if I will read it again, but I will always remember this feeling I have now, of quiet contentment and calm that comes when a great thing ends but envelops us with a gentle hug and whispers that it will be back soon.

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Remember 10-15 years back, when Internet meant sitting in front of a little dial-up box and mechanically re-trying because the sonofab**** just won’t get connected? All that silent cussing and praying, both equally earnestly? And then when it DID get connected, that loud crackling noise and assorted beeps and bops and oh joy, when Yahoo.com opens up nice and bright?

Today was like that. Because, thanks to the incessant rains or whatever nonsense, my WiFi died on me. Actually not just me – on the entire population in my apartment complex, but when did I ever pass up an opportunity to wallow in some self pity! And I’m thinking now or rather I’m unable to imagine now how we lived back then without Internet!
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If you’re in your 30s now, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about so don’t bother acting like I’m talking gibberish. Yes, you. You know how it was. No WhatsApp, no Facebook and above all, no Google.

No. Internet.

When I had a doubt in Field Theory (hypothetical – you need to read something on the subject to even have doubts!) I first called my friend/classmate and hoped she had the answers. And if she didn’t? Well, wait till I got to college and ask one of the brainy types (One never had a doubt that was doubt enough to take to a professor, so let’s not complicate things). There were no quick solutions. Convert Fahrenheit to Celsius? Look up the formula from a textbook, yo. What’s the capital of Sierra Leone? Check the atlas or the GK book (we had those things back then!). How to bake a pavlova? Pavlova who? Right.

Well, nothing earth shattering, no. We got by. We lived. We spoke to other human beings in person. We walked to the shops. We had books and libraries. We didn’t second guess our teachers and doctors. We didn’t let the milk boil over too often because someone was engrossed in a smartphone. We did good.

But it’s not so now, people. I think I’m going insane. Like, slowly but surely treading the path to cuckoo land.

I make breakfast but where’s Instagram to take a pic?!

I put the milk on the stove, but where’s Facebook to catch up on?!

Son wants to see Little Krishna, but where’s YouTube?!

And I have to ask the rest of the folks if THEIR WiFi is up or not BUT WHERE THE HELL IS WHATSAPP?!!!!

WHAT SORT OF AN EFFED UP SERVICE PROVIDER HAVE I SIGNED UP WITH WHO WILL LET SUCH IRRESPONSIBLE THINGS HAPPEN?!!!

I’M SHOUTING.

I’M GOING INSANE.

And then the son (who was till now yelling Amma Amma like a million times!) asks me to help him fix his building blocks. Well, alright kiddo, you’re in luck because Amma has nothing better to do right now. I chuck the phone and sit down with him. And we built an aeroplane. Stairs to climb up. A toll booth. An entire parking lot with real (toy) cars and trucks. We had little cops pull up errant bulldozer drivers and take them to jail for not following traffic rules. We hauled playdoh rocks into trucks and sent it spinning down a ramp. We sang made up songs about each other (“Amma Amma goes to kitthen…and bwings me chapati buvva” – Amma song, by V). We did good.

If you think I’m going to end this piece saying it’s a great blessing to spend time with family, yada yada yada..well..yeah, that’s there but, dude, I want me some Internet, yo. My brain cells are fried after that little play session and I NEED MY BYTE FIX RIGHT NOW.

AAARRGGHHHH!!

Just another day at the office! #not

I’m going to rant now because it’s been an awful while since I did. And because I can.

So I get a call from some guy claiming to be from the insurance company I took a policy from and saying it was about my policy. He starts speaking in this really heavily accented Hindi and at a speed that would put a bullet train to shame. Before he could get to any specifics I told him, “sorry, can you please speak in English? I’m not comfortable with Hindi.”. The guy then says, “And I yam not comfoRtaybel in English” and hangs up. And I’m left holding the phone, wondering what the heck just happened.

Seriously, what does it take to have an English-speaking person to man the f***ing customer service lines? Or at least ASK me what language I’d prefer? Just because your service rep is sitting in some hole in Gurgaon or Noida (or Bangalore? Chennai? I don’t know! I don’t care!) doesn’t mean the rest of the country should suddenly be well-versed in spoken Hindi, that too with a heavy accent. You can’t call up a customer, say it’s about something they’ve bought from you and then hang up on said customer because he/she couldn’t understand what you were saying.

I know there are folks who will now pull the “Hindi is our national language, how come you don’t know it, blah blah blah” card. Wait, ok? Firstly, this whole national language thing is highly debatable. Let’s leave it there. Secondly, I know Hindi. I’ve taken all those Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha exams, all the way from Madhyama to Praveen and it actually qualifies me to teach Hindi in some places. It’s not a question of not knowing the language. My problem is I’m not comfortable discussing important things (like my life insurance policy!) in a language that I don’t really converse in on a daily basis. The most Hindi I speak is to my temporary house-help and the most technical words in that conversation are jhadoo, pocha and bartan.

See what my problem is? And you know what’s worse? I get this exact same type of call every bloody week. It’s the same thing all over again – I tell them I need an English speaking person and there’s this long pause while the person takes offence and then hangs up. Dude, what the eff?

I still don’t know what it is about my policy that they want to discuss so badly. Maybe I should call THEM up and ask in Telugu. Every damn week.

But it’s my insurance policy. Dammit.

A post without a photo is a bit sad, so here’s a pic of something I would love love love right about now – mocha coffee!
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Lessons on death

I was watching some movie on TV the other day while my son was playing with his toys. There was a particularly noisy scene (crying, screaming, etc) and the kid happened to look up and the scene was of a person dying. He saw that and just said, “Uncle jo-jo” (jo-jo is his word for sleeping). I obviously didn’t correct him ‘coz it’s still too early to teach him what death is. He’s only 2!

But time flies. Before I know it he’ll be old enough to understand it’s not sleeping. And I’ll have to talk to him about it. Explain what happens when a person dies.

I don’t know how to do it. Yet. I know exactly WHAT I want him to learn, though. The HOW is still a work in progress. It’ll come. Until then, here’s what I’d like him to know –

1. Death is not something to be scared of. It’s a part of life, like everything else. It’s not in our control, so there’s no point worrying about it.

2. Death is final. So don’t take life for granted. Don’t take people, esp your family, for granted. Cherish everything and everyone. Don’t hold grudges..well, at least not for too long. Live.

3. When a loved one dies (because they will. It’s inevitable.) it will hurt. A lot. You’ll feel like it’s the end of everything. Like nothing will ever be the same. That’s completely normal. Things will not be the same, yes. But in time, you will get used to it. So give yourself time, even though all you can think of is just curling up in bed and never waking up.

4. Crying is good. Cry as much as you want, as long as you want and as loud as you want. But cry. That said, if you don’t feel like crying, don’t beat yourself up over it. You probably got that from me – I’ve lost 3 grandparents and a great-grandparent and I couldn’t shed a single tear. It’s ok.

5. No matter how weak or alone you feel, there will probably be someone else who feels weaker and lonelier. If you can, be there for them. You don’t have to be strong. Just be there.

6. The only way to beat death is to be remembered even after dying. So keep the memories alive. Forever.

7. The only indispensable person in your life is you. Everyone else will come and go. So love them when they’re there and let go when they go. Time heals everything. Death is no exception.

Some of this, I know, he’ll understand only by himself when he’s much older. I hope he does. His mother figured this out only when she wondered how to teach him about death. ๐Ÿ™‚

I took this photo yesterday, when he was all lost in his own magical world of crows, butterflies, gates and cars.

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Unhealthy is healthy

What is it with people and “healthy” discussions? I want me some unhealthy discussions once in a while. You know, the kinds that end in a broken relationship or two. Where words are used like knives, aimed to cut and rip. The kind where voices are blowhorns. Where the chances of objects becoming whooshing projectiles is very real. When you don’t know where the next blow, verbal or other wise, will come from. When tears don’t mean no squat.

Why do I want such discussions? To know the real people behind the facades. So people can know the real me. Behind all that made up opinions and being politically right, the real opinions lay in wait..for that little crack in the armor, that little gap to ooze from.ย  And give the right amount of shaking (or a couple of well aimed blows, preferably below the belt) it will erupt. And everyone in the vicinity will be drenched, nay, scorched by the lava that real opinions usually are. I’d like to see that, you know. I’d like to see that naked vulnerability that remains once the real person is out. When the judging begins. The ugliness that is human nature. It should be seen, once in a while. To re-affirm our ‘faith in humanity’. Or lack thereof.

What the heck is a healthy discussion anyway? The ones where I think “what an ass!” but say “you’re very insightful”? Where’s the fun in that! ๐Ÿ™‚

In other totally unrelated news, the Christmas tree is finally finally up. This is the most late we’ve ever been.

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Freedom. To be.

Remember that Pepsi ad? “Freedom! To be! Azaadi…dil ki!” They got it right, you know. We have all sorts of freedom today, but how often do we have the freedom to just BE? You know? Just be. Whatever we are. How ever we are. Wherever we are. Me? Not very often. So much so, it took me some painful physical pain to understand that I need the freedom to just be. In the moment. Enjoy it, for whatever it is. And who gives me that freedom? Me.

Here’s how it rolled.

10:30 PM. Weeknight. Dinner is done. Kid’s in bed. And what am I doing? Chores. Washing up. Cleaning up. Loading up (the washing machine!). Refrigerating up (damn leftovers). And those chores are not even the worst part. The worst part was this acute mental tension that omg it’s 10:30 already, when will I finish, when will I sleep, when will I wake up.. get the drift? Torture. Plain and simple.

And out of nowhere it hit me – so what if I don’t sleep by 12? I’ll be sleep deprived, yes. But will the sky fall on my head? Interestingly, no. So, for the first time in a long time, I let go. I stopped looking at the clock.

Next day. Same time. I consciously kept the clock out of my mind. Same chores. Probably took the same time to finish, but I felt I finished sooner. I wasn’t rushing around trying to do 10 things together and end up feeling miserable because, obviously, you can’t do 10 things at the same time. Well, unless of course you’re Superwoman…but then again, why would a superhero be doing household chores whenย  there’s a world out there that needs some saving, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚

So, long story short, I defenestrated (is that really a word) the time-monkey that was sitting on my back (very comfortably at that). Right out the window. And I feel free. F. R. E. E.

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Watch a sunset!

Yes, the chores are the same. Yes, it’s still 11pm by the time I hit the bed. But whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it on my terms. Not according to Mr.Time.

I wonder why it took me so long to get this. Maybe the working-woman in me needed some time to unlearn the time bound way of doing things and just let it go. Yes, I will need it when I get back to working or when the kid starts going to school, but until then I have the freedom to be. Just be. To quit this perennial race against time to get those 5 mins of doing absolutely nothing, those 2 mins of not worrying about ‘what next?’. Because it’s ok. Those 5 mins and 2 mins are everywhere. In my mad rush to ‘finish’ I’ve been blind to them. All I have to do is stop (oh the horror of stopping in between a task?!! Yes. It’s ok.) and just be.

Damn it’s good to be free.