Sunday, September 17, 2017

Extract from Old Writing


I was just randomly going through some unpublished writing for the sequel I'd planned to my first book 'Just Married, Please Excuse.' A book I refer to as 'Still Married, Thank You'. It turns out that the sequel to JMPE is actually going to be 'How I became a Farmer's Wife', out in January 2018. But I was amused and touched by this memory - of how Vijay connected with my grandfather 'Papa' who passed on a few years ago. He lived in the same colony as us, and I was very close to him. He was awesome. So is Vijay, of course.

The only activity that Vijay had recently undertaken which I was very happy about was the fact that he had started hanging out with my ninety-three year old grandfather Papa.
It so happened that he had started to run into Papa rather a lot ever since he had started taking Peanut out to the park – Papa was very regular with his walks, and would inevitably come up to them, and be delighted in equal measure to see Peanut and his favorite Grandson-in-law. Peanut would run up to him and he would hold his arms out to her – she would sidestep his hug and instead, proceed to swipe his walking stick. Papa was a very popular personality in Garden Greens and everybody seemed to know him. The little kids would come up and take his hand and walk along with him as if he was their great-grandpa – and this was the only thing that would cause Peanut to remember that she was the actual great-granddaughter and she would drop the walking stick on such occasions and run with alacrity to reclaim the hand that was rightfully hers to hold.
Vijay and Papa would end up spending time sitting on the bench, and Papa would regale Vijay with some of his shayari, and both of them enjoyed these exchanges, rather a lot – although the conversation on Vijay’s part was usually only ‘Wah, Papa, Wah.’ It was more than enough for Papa who didn’t find any one in our Family sufficiently interested in Urdu poetry to be able to appreciate his considerable knowledge of Ghalib, Faiz and the like. His hearing was failing him, so he wasn’t confident about his ability to carry on a conversation with most people beyond a point – with Vijay, he was comfortable and found great joy in his company
Vijay had announced to me the other day ‘I’m going for a movie tomorrow.’
‘What?’ I said ‘You know I have this major presentation day after, and we haven’t been for a movie together in like…ages. And I’ve not even been feeling well. And…’
‘I’m going while you’re in Office, Y.’ Vijay rolled his eyes. ‘And I’m taking Papa with me.’
‘Oh.’ I suddenly felt small ‘That’s nice. To jao, na. Maine kab mana kiya?’
Vijay had had the bright notion that Papa should experience what film-watching was like these days, in a PVR theater. The last time Papa had gone for a movie had perhaps been twenty years ago. After his initial resistance, Papa had agreed to this plan, and was apparently rather excited about the whole thing. I felt a little guilty that such a thought had never occurred to me. In fact, I was barely seeing anything of Papa since I was pregnant and sick and busy with my job. It was good that Vijay was looking out for him.
They had ended up going for a movie called Ishqiya – Vijay thought it was a great movie, and kept trying to tell Papa the storyline because he wasn’t able to catch all the dialogues. However, he confessed to me, it was very embarrassing because of the unusual degree profanity in that particular film. Especially because everybody laughed at some of the racier dialogues as they were delivered.

‘Papa kept asking me – what did he just say …at all the wrong dialogues. How could I tell him it was stuff like ‘Teri Ma ki Ch***?’ Eventually, to handle this, Vijay began to pretend to have suddenly developed a bit of hearing loss himself and fended off Papa’s curiosity with several variations of a breezy ‘Ha ha, Papa. Popcorn lenge?’

****

Stay tuned for much more of Vijay, coming up soon as he stars as himself in 'How I became a Farmer's Wife', HarperCollins, 2018. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Slipping In the Rain


I've come back from my Zumba class in the morning and am about to have breakfast. Vijay's away this weekend and the day stretches out ahead. I look outside and note that it's started to rain, and hard at that.

'Anyone for a walk?' I call out on a whim.

'Yes, yes.' says my daughter Peanut, ever ready for fun.

'I'm coming, wait for me.' seven year old Papad can clearly hardly believe what he's hearing.

'Mommmm' Pickle wails from the bathroom. 'I'm doing poo-poo.'

I reassure him that he can join us after his poo-poo and head out with Peanut. We step out into the rain, and I suddenly notice that she's going to be taller than me in just a couple of years - she's right up to my ear! The rain soaks us almost immediately, but it's not a cold day, really.

'Shall I bring an umbrella?' Peanut isn't used to this.

'What would the point be then?' I ask.

We walk a few steps more and then I wonder out loud where Papad is. I turn and there he is, running up in his crocs, big grin on his face. Peanut sees a small stream already created by the pelting rain near the pavement and exclaims 'A boat! I need to make a paper boat.'

'Huh?' I say. 'Come on, you're already out in the rain, it's okay...'

'No, Mom.' She says with a sense of urgency. 'I've never done that! I need to make a paper boat and see it float in these waters.'

I realize it is a reasonable ambition and so tell her to hurry home then. She shoots off and Papad and I head to the park. In a matter of seconds, Pickle arrives, having had the good sense to bring with him his football. The twins throw away their crocs and start to play - I marvel how they can kick so hard in the rain, barefoot but they are in the seventh heaven, laughing and kicking and running and shouting. I take off my slippers - my shirt which used to be light green is now dark green and clinging to my skin, and I realize it is a little cold after all. But the feel of the wet grass under my feet is still warm and overall it's ludicrous and yet wonderful to be standing there in the rain watching the boys play football. Papad slips and falls and for a moment I'm worried, but he's up and laughing again and I realize that there's so much water around that he's not going to hurt himself. He realizes it too and so does his twin, because soon they are both sliding to the kick the ball, reminding me of baseball players sliding into base. Peanut reappears with a really large paper boat which we put into a small stream running alongside the park. It floats for about two seconds before toppling over, and despite our valiant attempts to right it, it is soaked and ruined. It doesn't seem to bother her though, she seems satisfied with that two seconds and she grins up at me brightly.

The rain falls even harder and we show no signs of going home. My daughter, always an observant kid, remarks. 'Mom, we're a really weird family.'

'What?' I exclaim. 'Just because your father is crazy about farming and away this weekend again doing it, and your mother doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain?'

'Kinda.' She smiles and then kicks hard at a puddle of water so that my track pants get even muddier. 'Hah! Soaked ya.'

We are the only ones in the Central park, lined with buildings of our colony. I know that at least some people are watching, probably with a mixture of disapproval and amusement. Football isn't really allowed in this park and here is this crazy mother not telling her kids off. But there's no one else around, and it's not going to hurt anyone or anything, so I say nothing to the twins, who now have anyway decided to abandon the ball and pursue sliding in the grass as a full time career option. Pickle's pants are torn already, but I note that his form is improving. They both break into a run with identical determined expressions on their faces and twist slightly as they reach muddy waters and slide through with grace and skill. They're making it look easy, but I know it's not.

'Can you do that?' I ask my usually well-behaved daughter. She shakes her head.

'I want to try.' I surprise myself.

'Okay.' She's malleable. 'Come on then.'

She leads the way and I follow more uncertainly. We reach the slidey-place but both of us are unable to slide with our knees half-bent the way that Pickle-Papad do and wind up just clumsily sitting on our bums. We give it another go and I balk at the last minute and stumble but stay upright, while Peanut manages the slide. Pickle and Papad shout their expert advice on how to do it, contradicting each other as usual and we keep at it until finally I am able to realize that the only thing holding me back is the fear that I'm now too old for this and that I could end up injuring my knees or my back or something - I stop thinking and just run deeper into the puddle and of course I slip, my legs slide out under me and I land in the muddy puddle, and lie sprawled there, it raining on my face, and I feel incredibly triumphant. I run up and do it again with the children, and that's when I notice that two more kids have appeared in the park.

'Hey, Kavya, Hey Leela.' I say to the little princesss, both of whom have mischief on their faces all the time and consequently are among my favourites in the colony. 'How come your parents allowed you to come?'

'Parents?' Kavya rolls her eyes. 'I didn't tell my DAD. I just came!'

Leela affirms that she used the same strategy and soon the two of them are also playing the sliding game with us. Two more kids then land up, and I note with some amusement that the brother-sister combination seem to be in their pajamas. A couple of adults land up too, including one lady who I often talk to in the pool but whose name I haven't actually learned all these years.

'It takes only one crazy person.' She sings out to me in greeting. 'And then you see, the rest land up.'

'Ha ha.' I grin at her. 'Well, it's wonderful out here today, I don't know why more people don't come out in the rain.'

'I know!' She agrees. 'We were in the pool and we continued to swim when it was raining. Saw you and decided to come this way. It's beautiful, isn't it?'

I converse with her, possibly one of the few times outside the pool, but both of us still as wet as if we were in 5.5 feet of water. I finally work up the courage to ask her name and learn that it is Payal, and that she has a home in the hills with an Apple Orchard where she hopes to retire soon and that she is a pre-primary school teacher who is currently learning about learning disabilities and that she is taking tuitions for the economically disadvantaged children in our colony. I marvel at her spirit and her friendly nature and her choice of career and everything about her and say, with feeling. 'Why can't there be more people like you in this world?' She just laughs good-naturedly and we turn to talking about the kids and how important it is for them to get outside and play like this.

The twins come running up to me with a request to be spun around. I hoist up Pickle by the arms and spin round and round and round - it's as if he's flying, his legs close to the ground and he deliberately drops his foot so as to make a circle of splashing water around us, which fascinates the other kids and of course all of them now want a turn. I go dizzy doing it, but the past is when Papad begs for me to stop spinning him because 'My pant is falling and I forgot to wear Chaddi.' The other kids double up laughing at this, and we carry on, but I finally have to refuse when they come back for third turns, because by now I've done about ten of these and my head is spinning. They whine for a moment but I'm firm and they recover and start spinning each other, with Peanut and the other girls taking turns to spin Pickle and Papad around. They also then carry each other all over the park, and the rain has turned to a slight drizzle but no one's even noticed because they're all just having too much fun, and there I am watching them in contented silence.

I know that I couldn't have brought my phone out into the rain and clicked pictures, but it's imprinted in my mind - Peanut, tall and skinny, hair flattened by the rain, dripping wet in a blue shirt and green pants above her knees. Pickle and Papad in their black shirts, with dirty torn pants clowning around, for once happy with Peanut's friends picking them up at their will to toss them about the wet, completely safe bed created by the rain-fed grass.

And just so I don't forget, I make sure I write it all down here.

Because how often do we let go of adulting enough to really enjoy the simple things in life? Like the pelting rain, greenery and mud and the happy, squealing, innocent laughter of delighted kids?

So, yes, indeed. Let it rain.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chapter 1, Sorting Out Sid: THE PARTY

Chapter 1 of my second book 'Sorting Out Sid' - (Excuse the formatting please, copy-pasting from a PDF is a pain!)
If you like it, get it on bit.ly/SortingOutSidAmazon
THE PARTY
‘Why does she have to live in a place with such poor maintenance,’ muttered Sid to himself as he peered short-sightedly out of his car window, trying to spot a parking space. it was past nine now and pitch-black with none of the street lights in Aditi’s complex working. Hah, he thought, a supposedly posh high-rise complex with a fancy-shmancy name like ‘Sherwood towers’, but can’t even take care of the basics! He conveniently ignored the fact that his own apartment was in a complex called ‘Bellavue Boulevard’. Sid drove along slowly in his old Wagonr, having left the Verna at home for Mandira in case she needed it, though she said she was unwell. He spotted what looked like an empty slot. He couldn’t quite gauge the distance between the two large cars and so, paused uncertainly. Sherwood towers had a lot of rich residents, and Sid definitely did not want to bump any of the big-ass cars with his trusted steed. Also, he did not really want yet another scratch on his own car, however old and beat-up it was.
Though it had been a few years since he had been badgered by Mandira into learning to drive, Sid wasn’t a confident
driver still. Driving at night made him especially nervous, and it didn’t help that tonight he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Not that his eyesight was too bad – a mere .25 in the left eye, and .75 in the right – but the glasses did help.
it wasn’t his vanity this time – he could have chosen to leave them in the car while he was up at the party, but he had been so distracted while leaving the house that he had forgotten them. And he just hadn’t felt like going back to get them. oh well, he had made it here safe and sound, he’d be okay driving back too. Hopefully.
Just as he had made up his mind to plunge blindly into the parking spot with a prayer on his lips, the street lights came on and light flooded the area around him. He heard the sound of music and people cheering from what he knew was Aditi’s flat.
Of course! Just a little power failure. Could happen to anyone. Sid decided to forgive Aditi for living here and parked his car smoothly. it ended up only a little too close to a bright yellow Honda City, which he had never seen before.
He checked himself out in the rear-view mirror before getting out of the car, an old habit. Sid always needed to know that he was looking sharp. He was letting his hair grow out this year, but it was carefully styled and slicked back, every strand gelled into place. He bared his teeth to confirm he had nothing stuck in there and finally stepped out.
He was in his carefully torn new jeans and his favourite dark blue shirt which had the first two buttons casually undone and sleeves rolled up. only the tail end of the Black Panther tattoo on his right arm was on display this way. His new, brown, high- heeled shoes made him look and feel taller, which was always welcome, even though he stood at a perfectly respectable five-ten. Sid had always wished he could have made it to six feet, but no amount of stretching in college had helped. Still, he knew he looked pretty good in a lean, clean-cut, boyish way.
He took a deep breath, trying to keep at bay the thoughts of his evening at home. He slammed the car door shut, put on his most confident swagger as he headed towards Aditi’s building, and then bounded up the stairs, two at a time, to the first floor.
As he reached the door, he heard the sound of ABBA and groaned inwardly. ABBA? in this day and age? He reached out and rang the doorbell. the tinny annoying tune of ‘B-I- N-G-O’ made him cringe as always. He glanced at his watch as he waited and his eyes bulged a little,
damn! nine thirty already? He knew Aditi had expected him to turn up at seven p.m. sharp. Just so unreasonable of her. it was the unwritten protocol these days to come at least an hour late, although a control freak like Aditi wouldn’t subscribe to that view. Sure enough, as soon as the door swung open, her hard and unsmiling face confirmed that she was not happy with him. tonight, her long, wavy hair was tamed into a tight ponytail which gave her a severe look despite her frilly dark-green top and tight jeans. She stood glaring at him in silence. He bravely maintained eye contact, but had the distinct impression that she was tapping her feet as she waited for him to say something. He decided to go with his usual approach, which meant pretending not to notice anything was wrong.
‘Happy Birthday, Buddy-boy!’ He gave her his most charming grin and reached out to envelop her in a big, warm hug.
She stood there, unyielding and stiff. As a result the big, warm hug ended up as a clumsy one-sided embrace. He took a step back and saw that now she looked really mad.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, suppressing his own twinge of irritation. She didn’t have to make such an issue out of everything. it was only a little tardiness, after all.
‘it’s not my birthday, you dolt,’ she hissed. ‘it’s Ayaan’s.’
Ayaan’s? Oh no! That was right. Sid felt his ears turning red. this was indeed what you might term a bit of a boo-boo. of course, it was Ayaan’s birthday party – he was turning two today. Sid had obviously not been paying attention when Aditi had called last week to confirm he was coming for ‘the birthday party’ – he had just assumed it was her own. Wasn’t hers around this time of year? He decided to blame Facebook – it was because of those darned birthday calendars that no one bothered to remember anything any more. Although he had known Aditi for over twenty years, right from their school days, it was still tough for him to think of her as a mom. He hadn’t had a clue he was coming to a kid’s birthday party.
Oh bloody hell! Wait. Kids’ parties needed gifts. His usual alternative for a gift – ‘Heh-heh. i’ll take you out for dinner next week’ wasn’t going to work with a two-year-old. Sid felt mortified. So to cover up, he grinned and said ‘Of course it’s Ayaan’s birthday. get out of my way, you imposter! Where is the real birthday boy?’
He took a step past her and vaguely looked around towards the knees of the few people who were crowded around Aditi’s drawing room – some sitting, others standing and most shouting over ‘Dancing Queen’ to talk to each other. Aditi was saying something to him, but he couldn’t hear it. Finally, she grabbed hold of his shoulder and, putting her mouth close to his ear, shouted, ‘He’s asleep now. the party was at seven p.m. Sid! All the people with kids have left already. But then again, you always do this, don’t you?’ Sid cringed as she continued, ‘You’re just too cool to land up on time even when it’s an important occasion? You know how much this means to me. i don’t know why i expected better from you.’ this made him feel even worse. He just stood there gazing at her, unsure of what to say. After a few seconds, Aditi spoke again, more curious than angry now, ‘And hey – you didn’t bring Mandira?’
He stiffened a bit at the mention of his wife. ‘Well, you know, she said she would come but then she had an office thing, and you know, it was just one of those things ... you know? So i said i would go alone. Hey, so where’s Krish? Are we having beer?’
Aditi was staring closely at his face. that penetrating look of hers always made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t know why but this woman somehow always seemed to know – or at least, to always want to know what was going on inside his head. He wondered if he had made another tactical error by asking for beer at a two-year-old’s party, but he was pretty sure he had seen a few people with drinks in their hands. Aditi’s face wasn’t disapproving any more. ‘What’s wrong, Sid?’ she said, sounding concerned. ‘did you guys fight?’
Sid’s immediate reaction was to deny it with a half-scoffing, half-snorting sound, followed up with an ‘Arrey, no, no yaar.’ After all, it hadn’t really been a fight. Just a small ... difference in point of view. Yes. All married couples had them. no point talking about it. So he continued, ‘i’m telling you, na – she’s just super busy nowadays. She said to give you her love and wish you ... er, i mean, Ayaan a happy birthday.’
Aditi clearly didn’t believe him and he didn’t blame her. Mandira had always been a little cold to her, as was the case with all of his female friends. Sid recalled how, a few months ago, she had remarked in the middle of an argument, ‘that “Aaadu” chick-friend of yours is three years younger than i am and already has a kid, and at the rate we’re going, we’ll probably be first-time parents at the age of fifty.’
Aditi’s continued scrutiny of his face was driving him nuts. He decided to resort to joking. ‘So since my wife is busy at work, are there any hot chicks i can meet here?’ He leaned over and leered at her, adding, ‘Besides you, of course?’
It worked. Aditi laughed. ‘Yeah, yeah, watch it. Krish is around. And oh, don’t try to flatter your way out of the situation, Mister. You’re late, you forgot and...’
‘Hey, I'm really sorry about that, yaar.’ No posturing this time – his misery was genuine.
Aditi squeezed his arm and grinned, and he knew he was forgiven. She was as quick to forget as she was to flare up. ‘never mind. there are some people i want you to meet. Especially this friend of mine from Bangalore – i’ve told you about her, right? neha?’ She began leading him towards a girl sitting on the sofa when the doorbell rang again. Aditi stopped in her tracks and Sid almost bumped into her, ruining the effect of the cool walk he had put on while following her. She doubled back past him to the front door, saying, ‘i’ll be right there – just go over and say hi to her, no?’
Sid abandoned the cool walk and headed over in a normal fashion to the girl that Aditi had been making a beeline for. She was in conversation with an earnest-looking bespectacled young man and sipping from a tall glass of Coke, which he presumed was spiked. the first thing he noticed about her
was that she was rather small. An unusual-looking little thing, he thought as he took in her sharp-featured face with high cheekbones and a long, prominent nose. Her skin was fair, practically glowing; her make-up had been applied, he noticed, liberally yet tastefully. Her shoulder-length curly, black hair was stylishly cut to frame her face, giving her a pixie-like appearance. interesting, he thought, but she wouldn’t ever make it as a model given her size. You wouldn’t call her petite – no; in fact, she was sturdy and well-endowed as revealed by her low-necked, sleeveless purple blouse. not that he was looking or anything. the blouse was teamed with a flowing white skirt, and she had around her neck a chain of closely strung together, large white beads. He decided that she wasn’t his type. But the overall effect was striking.
He stopped right in front of her and the bespectacled young man, but neither seemed to notice. He cleared his throat – meeting people for the first time always made him a little nervous. And right now, he somehow found himself even keener than usual to make a good first impression.
He stuck out his hand to her and said in a deep voice, ‘Hi, Neha, i’m Sid.’
Neha didn’t seem to hear Sid over the loud music – she was facing away from him and concentrating on what the young man was saying. However, a moment later, she did acknowledge Sid’s outstretched hand - by distractedly placing her glass in it. As he stood frozen to the spot, holding her glass, she glanced up with a quick smile and said in a clear, penetrating voice ‘Harish Bhaiya, thodi si aur ice please.’ She then turned her attention back to the young man.
Sid’s face turned red, flushed with embarrassment. Harish Bhaiya was Aditi’s Man Friday. He was a thin man with lanky brown hair and a faint moustache, and Sid knew he looked nothing like him. Yet, this rude and uncouth woman, this complete stranger, was pretending to have mistaken Sid for him. He was on the verge of sputtering with indignation when the real Harish entered the room from the kitchen with a large tray of drinks and ice. Sid saw that Harish’s hair had been oiled back to look slicker than usual, perhaps in honour of the occasion. Harish’s torn jeans and blue checked t-shirt definitely looked a lot like what Sid was wearing. He also noticed, for the first time, that Harish even had a tattoo on his forearm – of course, it wasn’t a cool, intricate Black Panther like his. It was pale blue and said Harish Yadav in Hindi. Still, there was no mistaking it. Tonight, of all nights, Sid looked like a Harish.

After a couple of seconds, Neha seemed to realize something was amiss, probably because the earnest young man was now shooting confused glances towards Sid over her shoulder. She looked up again, this time more carefully, at Sid, who stood there clutching the glass. She clasped her hand over her mouth and stood up to face him, her eyes wide-eyed in horror. He had been right – even in fashionable three-inch heels, she stood a good head shorter than him. never mind that she had just made him feel about two feet tall.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she breathed. ‘i thought you were ... you see, he ... Oh shit. i mean, I’m really sorry.’
Sid might have believed her except for the fact that her horror was already fighting a losing battle with her sense of humour. She seemed to have made up her mind that one way to look at this was that it was rather funny. She started off slow, with poorly suppressed giggles, but was soon in the midst of musical peals of completely uninhibited laughter at a volume rather disproportionate to her size. Despite the loud music, people heard her and turned around, and many slightly bewildered grins went around the room. No one actually knew the joke, but Neha’s laugh was very infectious.
That she was laughing at him did not come in the way of Sid being fascinated by her laugh. He waited politely for it to subside, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon. Finally, there was a bit of a lull during which neha wiped her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Sid took the opportunity to say with all the panache he could muster, ‘So, as i was saying ... i’m Sid, not Harish. And you are perhaps, Kanta Bai?’
Neha had almost regained control at this point, but Sid’s wisecrack set her off again. Sid watched as she threw her head back helplessly, her face now flushed completely red. But this time it was much more gratifying, considering that she was laughing at a joke he had cracked. He was feeling friendlier towards her by the time she caught her breath and straightened up to face him one more time. ‘i’m really sorry...Sid,’ she said breathlessly. ‘of course, Aditi’s told me a lot about you.’
‘Oh, has she?’ said Sid, half-pleased and half-wary. You never knew with Aditi. He decided to go with the polite, standard response, ‘Likewise – she’s told me a lot about you too.’
‘Really? What did she tell you about me?’
Sid was flummoxed. Neha was waiting intently for his response, her head tilted to one side, gazing at him with big brown eyes done up with purple-blue eye shadow. He did recall Aditi mentioning neha’s name a few times but he couldn’t for the life of him now recall the specific things that she had been gabbing about. So he smoothly lied, ‘oh, of course, you know, that you’re a really good friend of hers.’

She continued to look up at him with her head tilted to one side. Sid looked down to avoid her eye, and racked his brain for something else to say. He then caught sight of the bulge in neha’s tummy.
oh, he thought, okay. Another one bites the dust. out loud, he said, ‘And of course she told me that congratulations are in order!’

Neha narrowed her eyes. Sid was dimly aware that someone had come up behind him and was nudging him in the ribs. Aditi? He didn’t know why she would first get him to strike up a conversation with someone and then interrupt immediately. She had absolutely no manners sometimes. Well, she could wait. He didn’t notice that ‘Dancing Queen’ was now fading out rather quickly, else he probably wouldn’t have posed his next question to neha quite so loudly, shattering the sudden silence in the room.
‘So! When is the baby due?’

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Saleslady named Valerie

Earlier this week, I was in Hong Kong for the first time ever. I didn't get to see very much of the city because of it was a busy work trip, but whatever I did see, I liked.

I know it's a comparison made often with Singapore, but the place has a certain vibrancy and life about it that I found really appealing.



But what really left an impression on me was strangely enough, a saleslady at a toy shop at the Hong Kong Airport.

I was at the toy shop because I was headed back home and my working parent guilt had kicked in. First of all, it was Peanut's tenth birthday and she was very upset that I would be getting home only in the afternoon. And to make things worse, earlier in the week, Pickle had split his lip when another kid ran into him and Papad had been down with viral; so it wasn't exactly the best time for me to be travelling. Thankfully, Vijay was holding fort, and I could now focus on picking up something nice for the children.

The lady at the toy store was an elderly woman but with delightful reddish-purple tinged hair and a ready smile. She was very concerned about my bag, which I left carelessly on the floor of the shop and she kept hovering over it and picking it up to hand it to me. I'd thank her and then get busy with examining another toy and leave it on the floor again, and she'd scurry over to pick it up. She didn't speak very much English, but she managed to guide me to some of the nicer and more unique toys in the store.

I looked carefully at the educational toys that she showcased to me most earnestly.

'Er, you got any...Fidget spinners?' I asked lamely.

'Ah, sure, sure, we have.' She led to me another corner of the store and took out the most beautiful, multicolored, metal fidget spinners I have ever seen in my life. It made me want to become a kid again. I picked out three of them, mentally filing away the biggest and best for my biggest and best birthday girl.

'You fan?' the elderly saleslady asked.

'Well, not a fan, exactly.' I hedged 'But I guess everyone likes fidget spinners, for some reason, although I...'

'No, no.' She blinked her heavily masacared lids. 'You take this fan?' She held out a blue plastic fan and before I could refuse, she switched it on and a cool blast came onto my face.

Peanut liked this sort of thing. She tended to feel warm in her room. This way she could study at her desk with a cooling blast constantly on her face. I was impressed by the thought, and agreed to buy the fan. I also spotted another water-balloon kind of toy that looked impressive because it was the self-sealing variety and since I'd never seen a self-sealing water balloon in my life, I decided to buy that for Peanut too.

I managed to pay for it all and the saleslady, whose name tag said Valerie Chan, billed it all carefully and painstakingly for me.

'You needa bag?'

'Nah, I'm fine.' I said. 'I'll just stuff it in my laptop bag right here.'

She looked doubtfully at my small and overly stuffed laptop case. It was the kind on wheels and I had about three days worth of clothing and other items in there. But I figured I could do it.

I put in the fidget spinners, no problem. I managed to stuff in the water balloon game, it was squishy and so I managed to stuff it in between some clothes. But the fan? It was in a box and I realized with some embarassment that I would have to open up my badly packed overstuffed laptop bag. I struggled with the zipper for a while but it wouldn't give.

Valerie peered out over the counter with concern. 'You need help?'

'No, no.' I laughed a little too loudly. 'It's fine...' I struggled with it some more and the zipper gave way, but my clothes and unnecessary extra pair of shoes were popping out. 'No problem.'

She came around from behind the counter anyway and knelt down on the floor to help me. 'No worry.' she said. She tried to help me make some space, and then came up with a brainwave. 'We take out of the box?' She took the fan out of the box along with its rechargable battery and handed them to me, saying 'You wrap it in clothes.' I went ahead and sheepishly wrapped them in clothes, wondering why I couldn't have just done that in the first place.

With some help from Valerie who practically had to sit on the laptop bag for me, I managed to squeeze everything in again and closed the case. We were both panting a little and I was sweating as we stood up.

'Well. Valerie.' I stuck out my hand. 'Thank you. You're very nice.'

'Ah!' Valerie inclined her head graciously and then smiled at me. 'You also very nice.' She indicated the space between the two of us, and said. 'It very refreshing.'

I grinned at her and waved, wishing I could buy out her entire store, and wheeled my case out of the shop.

'Wait, wait.' Valerie came running after me, holding up my bag again. 'You bag.'

'Oh hahaha.' I grinned, and inclined my head graciously and left.

As I walked away, I found myself thinking - Why can't more people in this world be as nice as this one woman? It would really be a better place. But what did she mean, I wondered, why had she used the word 'refreshing.' Was it refreshing to have nice customers in her store because most people weren't as nice as me? But I hadn't been particularly nice, I'd just bumbled along as usual. Did she mean that I was like a breath of fresh air for acknowledging her niceness? Or was it something else that she meant that I couldn't understand? I had no idea.

But I find myself hoping that I'll get to go back someday and ask her.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Seven years of the rather spicy Pickle-Papad

So I started this blog over 10 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first kid Peanut. But lo and behold, already her little twin brothers, Pickle & Papad have turned seven. It's really funny how time flies. So much has happened in the last seven years since the twins were born.

*I went from being a mom-of-one ( who'd never thought she'd ever have kids) to suddenly having the kids outnumber me and Vijay.
*I gave up my corporate job and went on sabbatical.
*I took up Zumba fitness and ended up an instructor.
*I've written four novels, the last of which was in Nov 2016 (When Love Finds You) and continue to be published by HarperCollins for my next two due in 2018, and have also been published by Duckbill for Peanut Has a Plan.
*I started yoga, piano and guitar lessons and continue to plod along with them with varying levels of success with three great teachers, Apoorva, Nandita and Nikhil respectively.
*In March this year, I gave my first ever TedX talk on Designing a Fuller Life.
*I went back to work, did a role leading Corporate Social Responsibility & Gender Diversity, built a team I love and now have come full circle in a Head of Marketing role.

And while I've been doing this, the children have been growing up, the Three Musketeers who fight all day and drive each other (and Vijay and me nuts); and Vijay has experimented with farming for a full year, giving me fodder for my next book while the children have enjoyed every single moment of it through 2016.

The twins are older but none-the-wiser, and prove to be great fun and a source of laughter; their single-pointed agenda in life is to have a good time. They're learning music now and while they aren't anywhere near Peanut's level of talent, they enjoy their piano and guitar lesson with John who comes home once a week - I admire John for putting up with their tuneless but enthusiastic attempts at music, but he seems to enjoy it.

And why not? At their birthday party recently, one of their guests, Sattvik came up to me and whispered secretively 'Aunty? How do you manage three kids? Must be very difficult, no?'

It's true. There are many times when I wish the two of them would just listen. But then, I also feel that what makes the twins so much fun is their inherently rebellious spirit and their constant encouragement to each other that emboldens them to do silly things without a care in the world.

Here's just one example of the chaos that is Pickle & Papad.




They are sensitive kids though and they do want to help.

Vijay was trying to negotiate a sale of some property today. He had told the prospective buyer to pay one lac extra to take care of some taxes. He complained to me about the man's lack of responsiveness, saying 'I've reduced it to just 48 plus 1 but the guy still isn't giving me an answer.'

The ever-helpful Pickle piped up 'I'll give you the answer, Daddy - 48+1 is 49!....What's so funny, Mom?'

Nothing, son. 48+1 is indeed equal to 49. And when it comes to you and your brother, 1+1 is equal to about a hundred and eleven.





Enjoy yourselves and by the time you're old enough to read this, it'll be too late and I might have learned how to discipline you. But with any luck, you'll stay the happy little brats that you are.

Happy seventh! 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Squash with Vijay - Day 2

Day 2:
(Previous night) Me: So we'll play squash tomorrow, right?
Vijay: (Grunts)
Me (all enthu): I'll set my alarm and wake you up.
Vijay: (Grunts)
*****
(Morning) I roll out of bed with great difficulty and find Vijay has disappeared. He's out in the drawing room playing on his phone.
Me: Up already?
Vijay (looks up bleary-eyed): Couldn't sleep from four thirty a.m.
Me: Wow, you were really looking forward to the game, huh?
*****
I run about getting ready and head over to the balcony and fetch the rackets: Let's go!
Vijay (glancing over for a millisecond): You've got out the tennis rackets. The squash ones are the longish ones, yaar.
Me (indignant, already running back to do the switch): As if I didn't know that! You think I'm a fool or something?
*****
On the way to the court, Vijay complains about a backache and staggers along as I bounce all the way.
I pause for a moment, concerned: Are you sure you're up to playing today, honey?
(Inner voice: I'm going to WIN today)
*****
Indeed, it looks like today Vijay is hardly on top of his game. His shots don't have their usual sting and he's slower to return mine. I place the ball cleverly towards the front of the court, causing him to stumble and miss as he reaches out.
I must be getting better, I muse. Sure, maybe the guy's a little tired, but it certainly seems a lot like progress on my part, and...
Vijay (straightening up): Okay. Let's start.
Me ( surprised): Huh? What do you mean, let's START?
*****
Vijay's shots are now like bullets from a gun. They not only sound like gunshots, but just like bullets, the ball is suddenly invisible. I flail about in vain, and then Vijay starts to just smash the ball himself, again and again, murmuring 'Ball garam nahin hui abhi.'
I retreat to a corner and cower there, muttering 'Seemed garam enough to me.'
****
I can't seem to hit the ball at all now. I run for it and miss. It rolls to a corner. I go pick it up and smash it as hard as I can. It hits the wall only one foot above the ground and rolls towards Vijay's feet.
He eyes me skeptically.
Me (shrugging) I'm a little out of touch.
*****
Things pick up as we play on. I am now able to return some of his shots. I find that it helps to psych myself into playing with more power if I use some sound effects.
'Aaa-uhhhh!' I say as I hit the ball, and proudly explain to Vijay 'That's my Monica-Seles.'
He leans forward to return the shot, but the ball bounces twice before he can get to it.
'Hyaaah!' I pump my first and then add 'That's my Marina.'
'Got any others?' He grunts.
'No.' I admit.
*****
We start the game and within no time, the score is seven-love. No prizes for guessing who's winning.
'You're playing too hard.' I complain, panting.
'Arrey, make me run around, na.' He says. 'You're the one giving me all these Lallu shots!'
'LALLU?' I grit my teeth. This is an insult. He's gone too far now.
I brace myself in a PV-Sindhu type stance, never mind that it's a different game. The ball comes right towards me and I lunge, pivot, swing and SMASH.
It bounces lightly against the wall and arrives obligingly right in front of Vijay, who obliterates it and me in the same stroke.
I see what he means by Lallu.
*****
'Alright then!' I bark. 'Is that how you want it? Wanna play with me? Wanna PLAY with me? HUH? WANNA PLAY WITH ME?'
Vijay's lips twitch just slightly but he ignores me, managing to refrain from responding with the truth.
*****
Fine. F****. B******d. I mentally use the cuss words I know to work myself up into a frenzy. Bloody. Damn. F*** the bloody F******. I hit the ball with all my might, but it glances off the edge of my racket and heads straight for Vijay's head.
'Ooooh,' I wail, and flap towards him 'Did you get hurt, honey?'
******
The games do not go well. For me. Vijay wins both of them, with me unable to score a single point.
'Let's work on your backhand.' He suggests.
'What's the point?' I sigh.
'No, no.' he says encouragingly. 'You played well, today.'
I perk up, willing to believe anything at this point. 'You think I'm getting better?'
'Of course.' He scoffs without missing a beat. 'Couldn't be worse than the first day.'
*****
'This is the stance.' He demonstrates, standing behind me. 'Your leg a little in front. No like that. Now grip it like so. And then, hit it like that.'
'You know.' I remark chattily, cosily ensconced within his larger frame, holding the same stance. 'In that Ed Sheeran Video of Shape Of You, Ed Sheeran teaches that girl a boxing stance in the same way. It's kind of cute. You seen that? We're just like Ed Sheeran and that girl...'
Vijay, hastily. 'Okay, so now, SMASH!'
****
Not seeing much success with my backhands, Vijay tries to encourage me 'Now see here...it's like ...you're maaroing a thappad! Come on, you can do that! No one's better at maaroing thappad....maaro, yaar!! What are you DOING?'
*****
The phone alarm rings and I say happily. 'Time up. I'm going!' I take my racket and run away from the court.
'I'll just play a few knocks.' Vijay calls. When I see him from the ledge above the court, he's moving around at a dizzying pace, serving himself impossible shots, diving to pick them up in impossible returns, and all in all, taunting me with his grace and style and power. All trace of tiredness and backaches seem to have disappeared from him, although I realize that they may have just passed on to me. The words that strike me as I look at him are Lithe Lion.
I turn wearily to take my Loser Lallu self back home.
Tomorrow's another day, though.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Interviewed by a Raccoon

(A fun Interview by Anushree Sharma for The Reading Raccoons and Senior Reading Raccoons, two wonderful communities on Facebook that are seriously all about good reads!) 



She is -
1. A corporate professional
2. A zumba instructor
3. A best-selling author of 5 books
4. A Mother of three.
If that wasn’t inspiring enough, Yashodhara Lal Sharma still feels that it is never enough and that there is always more to do. One look at her picture and you’d know you are dealing with someone who knows her mind precisely and doesn’t mix up words or their meanings to say exactly what she wants to. Her zealous enthusiasm is worth every ounce of admiration. Her blog describes her as a “Woman-In-Progress” but if you listen to what she has to say, you’d know she has found her ground already and without ceasing to move beyond her own benchmarks, she still stays firm on it.
She talks to SRRs today about her books, her inspirations, her priorities, her concept of balance and some more things that make her who she is today.
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Q. An author, a Zumba instructor, a corporate professional and a mother of three little ones - When one looks at this, one is in awe. But one isn't aware of the perpetual struggle for balance that goes underneath. Would you like to tell us something about that?
Yashodhara: I think you’re right about the fact that there is a lot going on underneath and that there is a struggle, just like in everyone’s life. But I wouldn’t anymore call it a perpetual struggle for balance because I believe I have deliberately imbalanced my life towards the things that make me feel stronger; and this has been a journey.
I was always someone who enjoyed doing many, many things. I’ve told myself I’m a Jill-of-all-trades but over a period of time, I realized I am really good at a bunch of things too, and it’s just a different way of being from someone who prefers to master one or two fields. Life is a lot more interesting for me because I can vary it up. And everything feeds on everything else – my inspiration from writing comes from my interactions with the corporate world and my family; my workout regime provides me with the energy to do other things; my interest in music sparks a whole different creative side of me.
A couple of books that have helped me figure things out– Refuse to Choose; and Finding Your Strongest Life.
And since you ask about Balance, I’ll quote from my TedX talk on this same subject - Balance isn’t learning how to juggle multiple things; Balance is learning how to fill in the missing pieces of the Puzzle of our lives! The talk is here - http://bit.ly/yashontedx
Q. I know you are already juggling multi-faceted activities but I still want to pose this question, do you sometimes feel you have lost on something in life that you could have also focused upon?
Yashodhara: Of course. There’s always more to do; and true mastery, as they say, for any skill requires 10,000 hours to be put in. So whether in terms of breadth or in terms of depth, there’s always more that could be done. But I feel I’ve opened up a whole new world for myself in the thirties; and I look forward to doing more and learning more in my forties and beyond too. There was a point I used to feel bad that I didn’t focus more on learning music as a child; but I’m making up for it as an adult, and I have a twenty year plan to be good at the piano when I retire.
Sometimes I look at other authors who have a lot more time to write and to promote their work and build their brand, and I can’t help but compare. But then, I tried being a full-time author myself for a short while and it didn’t work for me, I felt unfulfilled about not being able to work – so as long as a choice is a conscious one, it is fine. These days therefore, I just try to be as conscious about my choices as possible.
Q. We have been having this series of posts lately about what kind of exposure must kids have in terms of reading? Does one monitor it constantly? Advice them in terms of do's and don'ts in reading? Any thoughts about this?
Yashodhara: Yes, my thoughts are that supervision doesn’t work in such an exposed world anyway. I don’t think it’s about curating or controlling what they read, beyond a point; but being connected to what they’re reading and being able to talk to them about the issues that they discover, some of which will inevitably make them uncomfortable. In the age of the internet and YouTube and iPads, there’s only so much monitoring you can do. I don’t believe in it and frankly, I don’t have the time for it, either! So I'd say just instill the love for reading in them; encourage it and give them resources to explore (I use iloveread.in as well as Kindle Unlimited for my daughter); and be around to talk about the books.
Q. How did you decide on the nicknames of your children - (And I loved them) - Peanut, Pickle and Papad? And amusing as the names are, children are known to have their stands about their names. Are the names well accepted by them?
Yashodhara: So Peanut happened because in the ultrasound when we first saw her, she was shaped like a Peanut. And then while we were on food names beginning with P, we brainstormed names for the twins - like Popcorn, Pepper, Pizza and even Parantha. Pickle & Papad was Picked and yes, it’s a bit of a Pickle now that they’re growing up, but only for Pickle, who is somewhat conscious about his name and doesn’t want it revealed to his school friends.
Unfortunately for him, Papad and Peanut are unabashed and infact, rather proud of their own nicknames and since they all go to the same school, they call him by it loudly in the canteen, much to his dismay. It may scar them a little over time, but then I never claimed to be a great mom.
Q. When did you first realize that you want to write? Which was your first story?
Yashodhara: I have wanted to be an author forever; I just naturally assumed I’d grow up to write, and yes, I was a big, big reader. I don’t recall my first ever story, but my mother has preserved a rather embarrassing collection of my ‘works’ including poems and other silly pieces from when I was seven years old. I’d buried the desire to write when I first started working in my twenties, but I had a wake-up call with my difficult second pregnancy that made me realize life is short, dammit! And here I am, seven years later, with seven books – five published already and two slated for the next year.
Q. You generally pick up the mundane, find humor in it and make it hilarious. Where do you find the inspiration for this? Finding humor always is a tough task, no?
Yashodhara: I would say it started with my blog, which I began in 2008. I was bored and pregnant and decided that I would rekindle my love for writing by focusing on whatever was going on around me. In fact, the stories about my husband on my blog www.yashodharalal.com were the ones most appreciated by this lovely community of mom-bloggers and that was what gave me the inspiration to write my first book ‘Just Married, Please Excuse.’ I have since written fiction books as well, but I feel my favorite form of writing is more memoir-style and I’m happy that my next two works with HarperCollins are going to be - ‘How I became a Farmer’s Wife’ (based on my husband’s adventures in farming) and ‘The Last Summer Being Gudia (a childhood memoir based on my own experience growing up in Delhi of the 90’s.) And I don’t think finding humor is a tough task. I think humour, for me at least, is a very strong natural defense mechanism to deal with life!
Q. How does writing children books compare with writing adult books? Which one is easier?
Yashodhara: Oh, any day, writing a kid’s book – just because it’s one-tenth the size! But it is an art in itself and my first book, Peanut Has a Plan, had a lot of learning from me. I was lucky to be able to learn from the best, though. My publisher Duckbill is composed of Sayoni Basu and Anushka Ravishanker – Sayoni has a wonderful sense of humour and Anushka is a force to reckon with in children’s writing. I hope to be able to keep giving them books over time based on young Peanut’s adventures in life. As you can guess, Peanut loves it, although Pickle and Papad are up in arms and demanding to know when ‘Pickle Is a Football Champ’ and ‘Papad the Taekwondo King’ are coming out.
Q. So when you wrote Peanut has a Plan, did Peanut actually read it as an alpha/beta reader before it went into publishing? If yes, what were her inputs? And also when you publish on your blogposts and/or books, does that happen post husband/kids reading?
Yashodhara: Peanut did get to read and input into ‘Peanut Has a Plan’. As a lover of books herself, you cannot possibly imagine the thrill that she felt when she learned that a story about her was actually going to be published. To be precise, her exact words were ‘How am I going to deal with all the fame!’
When she read the draft, she liked it a lot, although it took a while for me to explain to her that it was based on her but was a fictionalized account of her entrepreneurial ventures. Just so you know, Sayoni and Anushka of Duckbill happened to be my Zumba students and one day they read a blogpost I had written on Peanut’s ‘businesses’ and suggested that it could be a book.
So Peanut’s inputs were twofold – first, she thought I’d made myself as the Mum sound a little meaner than in real life, which was heartening. The other was when the illustrations came in and she couldn’t reconcile to having big teeth and a bird that randomly appeared on her head sometimes. We capitulated on the teeth and kept the bird. The illustrations by Shreya Sen are wonderful, and that’s the beauty of a kid’s book, I think – seeing it brought to life through illustrations.
Vijay’s not so much the reader, so it was only just before the publication of Just Married, Please Excuse that he woke up and said ‘Arrey, yeh to mere baare mein hain’ and sat up till 2 a.m. reading it. For ‘The Farmer’s Wife’ book though, I’m pleased to say that several months before time, he’s read it and given me critical inputs and called it ‘beautiful.’ Which is high praise coming from him.
As far as getting them to read my blog posts about them before I publish, no way! The kids are too small to care as of now, and Vijay is resigned to being written about, just like he's resigned to so much else about being married to me.
Q. Have you spent your nights telling Good night stories to your children too? Did you make them up or read them from books?
Yashodhara: I’ve done a lot of storytelling to my kids. With my now-ten year old daughter Peanut, I used to read to her incessantly, even when she was a baby. And it’s shown up in her love for books. By the time the twins rolled around, things were different and I didn’t make the time to read to them so they are much slower – but the good thing is, they’re learning from their sister and are getting into books now. I have mostly been reading to them from books, but of late, I’ve created a strange sort of Family Saga set ten years into the future – based on my daughter, now nineteen and her fiance ‘Richard’ who come home from America and are treated with disapproval by my husband Vijay, who unfortunately almost always features as the hero as well as comic relief in my writing. The kids LOVE this and while I concluded it last night, they’ve told me in no certain terms that they want this particular story to continue ‘forever’.
Q. There are still a lot of regressive corporate policies which thwart a woman's ambition. You have vividly spoken about them in your book "When Love Finds You" as well. Personally, how has the corporate journey been so far?
Yashodhara: It’s been a mixed bag for me. I started out strong; and then after my first pregnancy, I felt I didn’t get a lot of support from the corporate world in terms of the flexibility I needed at that stage; but then I got back in the game, stumbled around and now I find myself at a Vice-President role in an organization and strangely enough, one of the important things I do is actually lead the charge for Gender Diversity. Over the last several years, things have changed quite a bit in terms of corporate policy and now there’s a lot more understanding about why Diversity makes business sense – I’d say the corporate journey overall for me has been pretty great, and I’ve been lucky to have mentors who really believe in me based on my past work with them. In ‘When Love Finds You’, I address issues around this.
Q. Can you tell us some of your most favorite authors? Who among them inspire your writing?
Yashodhara: My favourite writers growing up were Gerald Durrell and Bill Bryson and James Herriot, all of whom write with a fair degree of humor based on real-life experiences – clearly that shows up in my preference for writing with humor and relatability. My favorite book of all time is the Thornbirds! I think the writing influences are many for me.
Q. Tell us something about your next endeavor.
Yashodhara: Ah yes. ‘How I became a Farmer’s Wife.’ For the longest time, my husband wanted to be a farmer. This even featured as a chapter in my first book years ago, and I put it up on my blog in December 2015 here -http://www.yashodharalal.com/20…/…/the-proud-landowners.html.
Well - last year, he went ahead and actually rented some land, bought some cows and surprised everyone around him, most of all me, by doing what he’d said he would. This book is a very humorous and almost entirely accurate account of the whole experience. I wrote it in a short span of time, and wasn’t sure what my editors would say, but HarperCollins absolutely loved it and we have big plans and hopes from this book, which should release in early 2018, perhaps under a slightly altered title.
Q. We have many newbie authors amongst us. What would be your advice for them?
Yashodhara: My advice is simple. Keep your focus on your writing. Watch other authors but resist the urge to compare. Read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ but don’t follow the bits you don’t agree with. Be prepared for a tough journey. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing. And then just go ahead and keep doing it. And keep getting better at it. And last of all, please don’t say you don’t have time to read. That’s not cool.
Also, as a bonus, here’s a memo I wrote last year to First-time authors. And don’t worry; I made almost all those mistakes myself too, ha ha! I hope it proves useful for you!
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I enjoyed interacting with Yashodhara and her energy is super-contagious. Hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did interviewing her.
Below are the names of her 5 books and they are all available on Amazon.in:
- Just Married, Please Excuse
- There's Something About You
- Sorting Out Sid
- When Love Finds You
- Peanut Has A Plan (Children’s Book)

Author Profile:
Yashodhara Lal is a best-selling author of four novels with HarperCollins, and a children's book with Duckbill. Her next novel 'How I became a Farmer's Wife' will be published by HarperCollins in Jan 2018. She is also a mother of three children, a corporate professional, Zumba instructor, and a student of yoga and music. She is married to Vijay and they live in Gurgaon.
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Stay tuned to this space for more author interviews.
Happy Reading! Happy Raccooning!

(Thanks, you wonderful Reading Raccoons, you! - Yash)