Woh 7 Weeks: End of a holiday

Past 7 weeks have been pure bliss; ups and downs included. Quality sister time, unique relationship insight (how I love my older friends!), a dash of disappointment, blistered feet, emptied bank balances, crazy credit card bills, tons of food, serving portions I can only dream of finishing, jeans feeling a bit too snug, not fretting about the weight, the beach, pride, inspiration and more than anything LOVE.

7 weeks have passed since I left Mumbai, all starry eyed. And now I shuttle out to Miami airport sobbing. Yeah, you heard me right. I am grateful for all the madness of the past 7 weeks. I sobbed because my sister (she never really was a baby sister) is independent and brave, far braver than I could ever be. Here I was leaving for India, why did it feel like I had forgotten something, someone? The truth is I was leaving behind a big chunk of my heart in Miami.
I hate that I am early at the airport (paranoid as I am, I am always early!) Check-in and security checks, all taken care of, I still have another two and a half hours to kill. I could either brood over how much I was going to miss my sister or see pictures and giggle with glee about the lovely times we had exploring her city with her, going to Disney world or while battling bed bugs (bed bugs was not fun but hey, I m trying to see the glass half full here!)
I could sit and smile about the fun times I had in New York with Roger, Baa and Tarlet. I could think about what an adventure it was discovering what I didn’t want from a relationship… There, I started again. So much happened on the past 7 weeks that I *almost* feel like a whole new person. Okay, I’m exaggerating but, I do feel like Shakti Salgaokar version 8.0.

I’ve fallen in love with solitude and lost my heart to a city. I love Paris, London and Barcelona. But New York, I think we are headed for a serious relationship and imagine the mess that’s going to be when Mumbai finds out!
And yet, I am back to the city I call home. Despite its pollution, dufus governance (the Frenchman working on Mumbai waste management project on my flight brought this to my notice) I love it. There’s so much this city can be if she got the right things to work with, and yet, she sits there, making the best of whatever she’s got. New York is like the sexy woman you want to be. She’s that woman who has the perfect life. A perfect career, she looks hot, so perfect that even her problems seem perfect. Someday, I’ll come back…

And yeah, on this trip I also achieved acute spiritual maturity (yeah, right!).  And I finally figured the prophecy of one my gurus, Mr. John Lennon: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I’m alright to go where life takes me. No more planning. No more superficial goals. Just one principle- have fun.
Btw, Air France: thank you for being a kill joy airline. The cranky me, agrees to go through the ordeal of 19 hours on a flight for two things. Nonstop movies and eating airline food like Charlie Chaplin (dad, u r genius in discovering that simile. Yes I don’t mind airline food. It helps passtime!). Yeh modern day air travel isn’t so bad because food apparently has gotten better and inflight entertainment is supposed to be awesome. Thanks air France for not having a personal screen on my first flight from Miami to Paris and a little note: Hindu non veg meal means a non-veg meal sans beef or pork. It doesn’t mean you serve me rice, veggies and chicken with garam masala tossed on it!

Anyway, the 8 hour ordeal ended at Charles de Gaulle. And look at me, merrily Bon jour and au revoiring people like I knew French, deliberately struggling to read things in French before giving up and settling for English. Whoa! I miss Nani. The last time I was at this airport, Nani and yours truly had flown in from Barcelona on a delayed flight and missed our connecting flight to London. The lady who reissued our boarding cards, issued a wrong one for Nanchan and I put up a classic performance, being the drama queen I am, and got Nani bumped up to business class.
Such funny incidents happen when me and Nani set off to explore the world. ‘Be nice to your siblings,’ is an underrated line from the Sunscreen Song. Love your siblings, pour your soul into them, because trust me, other than your parents they are the only people who know you, your past, your whims, your fancies, your strengths and weaknesses and yet love you like no one else will. My sibling is a part of me, a part of who I am and what I am. I realise this after years of sibling rivalry, friendship, arguments, fights and much more.

So yeah, Nano, this one’s for you. Love life so much that you can be a 70 year old who can tell tales of her life and amuse people by the sheer presence of life in them!
And in case u want assistance, who u gonna call?


Bonds and Memories

Day 13&14, Tuesday 1st&2nd October, 2009

I am sorry. I just can’t fit these two days in a blog post. It’s just so close to my heart, this trip. The story of these two days will be something me and Nani will pakao our grandkids with. Be it the Jurassic Park ride, or missing Ross Geller while reading dinosaur labels. Be it taking mad pictures next to the Cat in the Hat or be it getting drenched on the Popeye ride. Be it being kissed by Chip and Dale or be it riding on a Disney train to Mickey Mouse’s house. Be it taking a flight into Neverland or be it discovering a small small world or be it riding the Carousel of Progress. All these things are meant to be treasured in my heart, I wish I could write about it all but I can’t.

Another reason why I can’t write is that we never got to relish the after taste of the trip. Nani had really bad breakouts all over her body and soon, we discovered a bedbug infestation in Nani’s room. Hell followed. Her roommate wanted to leave the house, the lease was on her name, we found out the landlord was being chased by the FBI and then I wanted to leave the house. We had to wash and clean everything, our luggage, books, clothes, sheets. We had to bake all the books. (I know I love baking, but I never thought I would bake books, damn you, bed bugs!)We had to hunt for a house. And it was hell. My little sister was bitten up, her school had started, she didn’t have a home. And the big sister in me obviously was very very upset. Of course, Moody, NewYorker and Roger were constantly trying to tell me it will be okay and I knew it would be okay. Maybe I was overreacting, maybe I was being obsessive, but the truth is, I haven’t been this disturbed for eons.

We finally did find Nani another place. Everything is ok now as I gear up for my New York trip. But I do wake up at night and see Nani sleeping peacefully despite the red spots on her face, and I get teary eyed (yeah yeah very Nirupa Roy-esque I know!) Why should she suffer?

Disneyland was lovely and strengthened our sisters’ bond, true, but the bed bug issue and the entire upheaval made me realise that joy might bring you closer, but a crisis will test that closeness and strengthen the bond. It’s like the heat-test iron goes through to strengthen it.

You, Me, Hum, Tum, Majja

Day 11, Tuesday 29th September, 2009

The fat cat stared me in my face. I woke expecting the purring to be the dainty Mulayam, but here was Tipper, in all his magnificence, staring me in the face to let him out. Damn, I should have been up two hours ago to make it on time for the walk. Dang. It was too sunny to go out now. So I busied myself with the writing. I was lagging behind in doing my daily posts to the blog and I was fast forgetting little things and what they made me think. Sometimes, I long for a Dictaphone. It’d be nice to record all my crazy ideas (yes, I love all my ideas)

The plan was to get a sushi take-out. But we decided to cook instead. On the menu: Chicken tandoori with boiled veggies and whole wheat bread. I had to make sure my sister was getting good nutrition while I was around.

And then something made me go yaay! Nani replied to me on twitter. She had finally started writing her blog. I have been after her forever to start writing a blog. I think she’s a fantastic writer, has an amazing sense of humor and a keen insight into human behaviour. And yeah, her theories can really get you thinking. I felt she had to write a blog. So, finally a brief twitter campaign later, Nani started her own blog (you can read it here).
I thought to myself, ‘Now I can read all about Nani’s life when I go back to Mumbai,’ and that’s it. The mood swung right back to the dumps.

Don’t get me wrong, I long to go home to my family, my home and my life, but the thought of that life with Nani so far away is a little overwhelming. Yes, I am missing my mom and dad and grandparents. I am missing PiWi, Snehu and I am missing the brother, the better friend and their idiosyncrasies. But then I start each day with Nani and end it with Nani. Yeah, call me an obsessive sister if you must, but I love falling asleep to random jabber with Nanchan and I love waking up a little annoyed with the mad songs she sets on her cellphone alarm. I guess, Mom and Dad will kick me on my backside, but yeah, Nani is like the missing jigsaw puzzle to my life.

I have said this before, but before she came into my life, I remember it being dull. At four, I threw a tantrum and acted up on the sibling rivalry, but Nani is the best thing that ever happened to me. And Mom and Dad, thank you ever so much. I feel grateful for the family we are and frankly, I love all the madness, highs and lows of being us.

I love it and if I had to, I’d do it all over again. Maybe, I’ll cut the sibling rivalry and useless rebellion out. Nah, throw it in. I think it strengthened our bond!

Indian Sisters in America

Day 1:
We managed to check in our overstuffed bags. This was it. I was going to see the united states of America. Well ok, not all the states and not exactly on a holiday. But yeah. I was going with my sister. My most fav person in the world to travel with. Change that. My most fav person in the world. Period.

She is going as a student and me as a starry eyed tourist and a glossy eyed sister.

Yes, me and Nanchan have passionately observed America through news, books, stories, music, films and lately television. Of course, it always was my dream to see Nyc with her. But that can’t happen. She has school. But hey, I m on a flight to Miami and I will enter USA with my darling little nanuli. Wow!

Our first adventure happened qt the immigration counter in Mumbai. Nani’ was holding both our passports, and when our turn came we went forth with one passport each. I got cleared as lalitlalaxmi salgaokar. But nani’s answers didn’t match her visa and that’s when it struck us! Our passports had been interchanged! The immigration officer was baffled and what not, co passengers had a rofl moment. And me and Nanchan, we had a good laugh too. We have always wondered if we could exchange identities (in school she wanted me to take her exams!) and here we were, a silly juvenile childhood curiosity successfully fulfilled.

It was all a breeze after that. Talking to family and friends over the phone. What I didn’t tell Nanchan was the grave worry I had on my mind. I can’t imagine home without her. Until I was four, which is when nanu was born, my life was boring. She and I have had our silly moments, profound moments and though I am a daddy’s girl and mom’s rebel and all that, I depend on nani’ emotionally. Yes everyone is saying bye to her at the airport. I m lucky. I get to go see her in Miami and be with her. But I worry about what happens at the end of the trip. How do I come home to no nanu?

Yeah yeah if u wanna show off and be the pop culture engineer’s sister, you gotta sacrifice and all.

So yeah, Miami will be about creating enough memories with nanya to help me last through the next two years of solitude in the attic we used share for a bedroom. It’s going to be about taking charge and being the elder sister I have never been.

And it will be about, writing and documenting this time we spend together. Because I m a writer and this is the least I can do for my fav girl in the world. (mom, manuaai, pannu and sneha, u guys will have to make peace with being second to nani. And I know u understand why!)

A recipe, a heirloom and an eyeopener

My grandmom is a phenomenal cook. She makes the most delectable fish curries and all but her true speciality is laddoos. She makes so many awesome laddoos that she has penned a book with 52 recipes of laddoos. And everyone from literary figures to politicians enjoy her laddoos.
And amongst the usual, her speciality is choormyache laddoo not the soft guju variety. They r crunchy and nutty! This one is awesome. It is a difficult difficult laddoo to make. But my grandmom wants to pass the recipe on as a heirloom.
So on my birthday, I argued with her. ‘no u shud not b making laddoos, take rest!’
‘and the taiyyari! I’ll put the paatis on ur head?’
‘i’ll make na!’
‘tond Bagh tujha! If u make them, I’ll give u a lakh of rupees!’
And obv I love being challenged so I jumped in. I don’t want the money. But that recipe is precious and the joy that my grandmom would get out of me learning from her: MasterCard style: priceless!
So on a lazy birthday morning, I dropped the phone and stood next to her as she made the perfect ‘golibandh’ paak (syrup).
‘the true magic is making the paak right and then moulding the laddoos while the mixture is hot. I’m warning you, it will burn ur palms.’
And truly, as we grabbed the mixture, I huffed and puffed. And yet I moulded those laddoos. Tears welled up. ‘why do u go through this? Why?’
‘because u all love eating them’
‘look, while I can, I will make it. It’s not a practical recipe but u will tell ur children and grandchildren about the awesome laddoos ur grandmom made. Bassss’
This woman is phenomenal. She has had a pampered childhood, and yet she sailed my grandfather and my uncles through a rough patch (they, I’m told, were almost bankrupt) that went on forever and now she can afford the lap of luxury but she chooses to make each day a challenege and she loves her kitchen like it were her best friend (she has a 40 yr old gas stove because she can’t bear to part with it ‘it helped me cook thru a lean patch’ is what she says)
Her love has noursihed us, literally. And as I learn the recipe she hopes I will at least recall and relate to my bacha party, I wonder if I would have the tenacity to burn my fingers to make laddoos that my kids would relish? Have we lost the ability to love like there’s no tomorrow? Have we lost the idea of putting other’s joys before ours? And have we lost it because life has been a bit too kind to us? I wonder


Some people touch your lives and it just changes. Some people are always around and they mould you with every touch. And then they go away and you realize that they’ll never be gone. They live within you, with the values they gave you and the stories they created with you. It’s Vivek Kaka’s birthday today. Had cancer not taken him away from us 5 years ago, he’d be a jolly 54 year old today.

I can’t put into words what the guy meant to me. He was my Dad’s best friend, and over time he shared a unique relationship with each person in my family. Be it his love for food, or his passion for books or his taste in music and the list goes on. He was like a hero for us kids. He showed us our first cameras, I tasted my first piece of chicken with him, he came home specially to show me a contraption he knew I’d be excited by-the ipod. This was when iPods were unheard of even in the US. He told me about Wikipedia before it became a reference point for the rest of the world. He gave me issues of the Rolling Stone Magazine from the 80s (the best treasure he’s shared, I still have them). He was my hero. 

One day I insisted on playing my cassette in the car and sang along to ‘Time They’re Changin’ in the back of the car. Dad and Vivek Kaka turned around from the front seat and smiled. “Shakti, you’re into Dylan?” Dad asked with a proud smile. “Welcome to the club,” Vivek kaka said and smiled at Dad. The kinda smile that I hold on to dearly and one of the proud moments of my life. Many discussions about music and Dylan followed. 

He was ahead of his times, all the time. You never saw him angry. He heard everything out patiently. He got excited by silly things that excited me. One fine evening, I decided to narrate the plot of my novel to him. Very few people took my plot as seriously as he did. ‘Register it and write it, don’t give up on it. And don’t tell everyone about your plot. It should be our secret.’ I can’t forget that smile. He believed in my dream even before I knew it was my dream. I finished my novel and it is dedicated to him. I believe it will get published soon too, because he’s up there feeling proud of me. I know he is. 

This is just my thank you note, Vivek kaka, Baba would probably write a book about you, Mama would tell endless stories and Nani would go on smiling talking about the things you told her. Papa still has the box of Tea Rose you bought him and Manuaai still cherishes the way you appreciated her cooking. 

And there are hundreds of people who fondly remember you and treasure your memories.

Here’s to you Vivek kaka… I’ll always celebrate you. You live on in OUR songs, you live on in the conversations we have, we think about you when we cook and we think about you when we look at new gadgets. Thank you for loving us. Thank you…

Can Love Be Arranged?

Love just happens, it can never be arranged- a very drunk A to a sober B who is getting to know guys through arranged marriage.

So B is a decent looking, intelligent, well qualified girl who’s also got a decent job. She explains, ‘I’ve played the field and none of my boyfriends would ever get my parents’ approval. That headache, I do not want. So let them choose, right?’
‘But why?’ C, who’s been quiet so far asks, ‘ are you that desperate to get hitched?’
‘No yaar! There’s no reason to say no to the process, is there?’

Now, that’s a conversation I overheard. You can call me a voyeur buy it’s a topic I have been pondering about for a long long time. I am a single 24 year old. My parents are fairly liberal, but they want to ‘assist’ me in meeting Mr. Right.

‘Beta, you haven’t met anyone and how many dateable guys do you meet anyway? Give this a shot. Don’t wait for the last train out!’ My father said to me one evening. There was no rational argument out of that one. I spend 12 hours at work (nah! Not going to date anyone at work!) and rest of the time I spend with my family or friends. There’s a slim chance of meeting Mr. Right in these circles. So this mad writer, novelist and a content manager decided to let the family look for matches. I won’t deny having interacted with a few ‘prospects’ and I’m not surprised that most of the profiles ‘forwarded’ to me have left me pondering (now that’s what I do the best!)

Most of those opting for arranged marriage are in it because it’s something they have to do. ‘You sort your career and the next thing expected is settling down. So yeah it’s the logical thing to do,’ a friend confesses.

Another thing about arranged marriages is that the love doesn’t come right at the beginning. The hopeless romantic in me wants to believe that you look for love and discover it with your partner. But I can’t help but wonder, how does someone’s caste, height, salary or designation help define this complex emotion called love!?
‘They don’t define it but are the practical things that you seek commonality on. Marriage is better handelable if these things are clear. Don’t forget that you’re deliberately looking for things in common, only to make the process of falling in love simpler.’ says a voice who’s been happily married and her marriage is part arranged part love.

My question is how do you know what you’re looking for? Isn’t that the fun part of falling in love, opposites attract, being completely surprised by the emotion?

‘That stuff works in movies. The opposite soon starts irritating you. You have a million fights and before you know it the relationship starts to emotionally drain you out!’ this voice recently broke up, so leave the bitterness be.
Despite the bitterness, the above voice has a logical point. ‘You could opt for either. There’s no guarantee of it working. But in arranged marriage you are a bit closer to reality.’
I disagree. Proof: ‘Wanted: a fair, good looking bride. Min: post graduate, ready to move to Australia temporarily.’ ‘seeking allegiance for a good looking, highly educated bride. ‘

Okay, so if she’s fair, you’re more compatible or if he earns more than 10 lakh a year you guys will make it to your 25th wedding anniversary? How is that close to reality in any way? Besides, in love marriage you probably know the flaws and problems of the partner. In arranged marriage, it’s all disguised.
‘My cousin got engaged to a guy, spent a lot of time with him and then found out that the guy would get fits regularly. The family denied it even when they were confronted. Obviously she broke it off! I feel in arranged marriages, a lot is left to surprise to ensure a good match doesn’t slip away!’ says another friend who knows arranged marriage is not for her.

‘Arranged marriage happens through family contacts and stuff. So, people vouch for the guy or the girl. The family is involved and there are more than two brains who give the relationship a thought!’ another friend argues.

‘Isn’t it better though that the two minds who are involved only think it through?’ The first friend retorted. And exactly at this point, I realized that this debate could go on forever. I was nowhere closer to finding out which one was a better option and I found myself standing right at the same point I was when I started writing this article.

In conclusion, it doesn’t matter whether you opt for arranged or love marriage as long as you end up making a balanced decision. ‘I have seen  enough love and arranged marriages fail simply because of the idea of happily ever after. Forget that nonsense, accept the flaws and smile for what you’ve got and you will manage a happy marriage.’ Concludes my grandma whose arranged marriage has lasted a good 56 years!