Sunday, January 19, 2020

To iron or not

Ironing clothes is a big chore. There are people who send them out for ironing and complain and some others who do it themselves and still complain. I clearly belong to the second category. 

The isthriwala... now how do we call them in English? Random searches reveal the word to be 'presser'. I wonder if it is because they press clothes or because -by my own experiences- they are hard pressed for time or simply because they handle a lot of 'press'ure, particularly during the weekends. I simply would like to use the term Ironman. Not unlike the suited superhero these men do make our lives peaceful.

Many times you can ascertain the happenings in a household or guess the season of the year simply by looking at the bulk on an Ironman's head, that is, if they are not covered with old worn bedsheets, old veshtis or simply placed inside the ubiquitous 'kattai pai'. Formal white shirts and plain trousers for men, neat salwar kameez, crisp cotton sarees, western formal wear for women on working days, blue formal shirts and plain trousers for men, uniforms for kids on Mondays, white striped formal shirts and trousers for men, shimmering silk sarees and pavadais during navarathiri and formal white shirts and trousers for men. And sometimes when you peep into a drycleaner's shop you can find cleaned and ironed travel clothes and well, formal shirts and trousers for men!

However, some people are very clear about certain things. More the muscle more pressed out and neat and new their clothes become some feel! So they send their clothes to the other side of the city or sometimes country for ironing. My friend for example prefers newpapers to be folded in among her clothes. Another prefers newspapers only in her mother tongue and sends clothes to Telengana.

We on the contrary prefer doing everything ourselves. This has resulted in four iron boxes, two for steaming, one for normal and one more for travel. Plus an ironing table. Plus Sunday newspapers diligently collected and neatly pressed to aid us. Plus a place earmarked for the above activity. Plus an app to remind us of the chore...

To cut a long story short, one morning, after a long week which included lending one ironing box to a neighbour, one box conking out and then simply unable to find the other two, we woke to find a pile of clothes yet to be ironed with school and office hours looming ahead. Even before I could point a finger the husband quipped, "You are the one always ironing out things, so I thought you would have done it" and takes the role of iron man and starts doing his work. 

Given the wee hours and barely able to open my eyes, I only wished I became Dr. Strange and possess the time stone or still better....the Hulk!


Friday, January 17, 2020

Of questions and answers

I love quizzes. Doesn't mean I know the answers to all questions. A wise man once said, 'Only those who do not know the answers must ask questions'. As soon as I came across this I clung to it like a sloth to a tree and started asking questions much to the annoyance of family and friends. And not the 'what is for dinner' types. I mean real questions like what does the pale blue dot mean to why did PewDiePie take a break from YouTube.

When I was younger and more innocent I would participate in anything that vaguely resembled a quiz. I held on to certificates that was given for answering questions like how many bones are there in the human body. I would participate in sports quizzes (because I answered most questions in the auditions) and not answer a single one in the finals, naively boasting that I was the only girl in the finals not comprehending the irony and well, the ignominy of it all. This I would squarely blame my schoolmates for calling me a know-it-all, foolishly basking in its glory not realising that in their quest to not participate they found a scapegate.

This continued for some years until I found the pleasure of participating in open quizzes where one can hide behind many many quizzers. The best part about these are that you can simply boast of participating because year after year after year the same sets of teams would appear in the finals. No one would even notice your blank stare in the dark auditorium. Nor would they look at your, I knew it or the intelligent nods one gives to absolutely incomprehensible questions. All in all these are quizzes where we can say the grapes are sour and quietly slip away.

Thankfully I found a group of friends as passionate as I about quizzes and as as nonchalant, and not in the least conscious about giving blank stares. Most fun is derived while guessing the answers. But looks like the quizmasters have seen through the guessing game. Even a simple question like, "What is vadacurry made of", is twisted so much and presented such that we have to recollect all master chef episodes without even realising the answer is closer home. One question in its twisted fashion was, 'How is the animal 'dhol' known down south. The twist was when the qm said it had two words. Two of us browbeat the third member when she said Chennai (sennaai), which was, well, the correct answer! We actually carry pain relief tablets for  headaches arising from simply reading the questions.

Many a times our passion has seen us get ready a whole month ahead posing question after question. We have a, you guessed it right, a WhatsApp group for that. We get the entire household geared up, plan and prepare for the day, getting the children to keep quiet as not to muddle our minds, staying out of anyone's discussion a good 30 meters away. It could affect our concentration in the prelims you see. Our target will always be to better the previous year's score by a point. We are clearly not interested in getting humiliated on stage. We are very happy to sit in the audience and watch the finals, thank you very much! Middle aged maturity showing that it is all about participation and not competing with the the younger crowd. A glorified way of saying that we don't know the answers!

Coming back to the said D-day, we in our enthusiasm once went all the way to the other end of the city only to realize the quiz was not on that day but the following weekend.

This post was inspired when one night I suddenly woke up with a question,  'why was my answer to a particular question - hitler's meesai. The search (at 2AM) revealed a game related to WW2. Still unable to comprehend I began writing this.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Exam fever

Around anytime of the year just before any kind of holiday, ranging from summer holidays to something as measely as a Sunday, children breathe a sigh of relief. Not so much for the parents. Latest studies from my neighborhood psychologist reveal high amount of stress in adults which is related to tests and exams. No, not their physical tests and blood reports but their wards' school, college, school entrance, college entrance exams, cycle and motorbike tests, pre school activities, drawing competitions, craft competitions and craft from waste competitions. It is another story that these tests lead them to medical labs for more tests.

WhatsApp messages range from, what is the timetable, send exam portions, solve question 2A and part of 2B, please send previous years papers for class one exams, are your kids studying through the night or only in the morning or morning and night and end with some parents asking questions about a particular day's examination after the child leaves for school. Each has their own reason for such behaviour so I will not get into that.

I go through a different kind of stress resulting from the confusion of whether or not to be stressed about stress. The kids behave like they are not related to me the moment I indicate some recognition of their impending exams. All sorts of excuses are brought about, the most common being 'I know everything'. This was given up by both kids when I told them if they know everything they must answer all questions correctly.

If I ask the son to study he would either give a blank stare or say that he is hungry and start eating, taking as long as he can to finish. The younger one would suddenly remember her long lost dinosaur eraser and her star shaped sharpener and begin looking for them, for two hours that is.

Almost having given up, I, one day found a silver lining. The boy who would simply laze around instead of going down and playing with his friends would bolt down before I could begin to say the word study. Or before he could hear the S word would march into the kitchen, push me out and start making dosas for the family. On normal days he would delay going to bed but would fall asleep the moment he picks up his history book. Can't blame him for that though!

Daughter would do anything to procrastinate and many times would end up cleaning her cupboard, accessory drawers and would even help me fold clothes, cut vegetables or write letters to her thatha and all other friends.

I reflected upon these and have now reached another level of peace. They are learning something right? Studying the cobwebs without blinking an eye is an art I should say.

We do have our Vadivelu moments. The other day I asked the older child to study for his exams.

Half an later he was found cleaning his sister's plastic mouth-organ diligently with soap and a soft piece of cloth, measuring the amount of water used and holding the instrument up against the sunlight. As I stared dumbfounded at this new level of procrastination, he said, "Amma am using physics here".

I sat down, (con)vexed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Socialising...

...has been the most abused term if you ask me. I can hear 'man is a social animal, humans have been socialising for many thousands of years, culture was built and destroyed because of socialising' and all that blah. It is the avatar it has taken now that really baffles me. Add to it the word media.

Instead of childhood friends, friends of childhood friends, school friends, college friends and my sister's friend's sister, we now have a wide plethora to abstain from mixing with. At least we used to know the above mentioned people. Not any more (or for the past decade). We now boast of groups.
And what groups they are indeed. School group, same batch group, same section group, close friends from classes 5,8,10,12 groups, last benchers, sitting near the window group, teacher's pets and pests, neighborhood group, same street group, same milkman group, college group, same group group, cutting college and going to movies group, cousins group, distant cousin group,  extended family group, fighting with mother-in-law group, kids' school groups, kids' separate sections group, close friends from school mothers group, office group, project 1 group, active members of project 1 group, water cooler group, apartment group, apartment block A first floor group, apartment same househelp group, running group, running women only group, running women only and unable to reduce weight group and the list extends to the 'ordering food from the same mami' group and is still non-exhaustive.

And how many people do I actually know? I have just enough fingers and toes to count!

Put me in a physical group of ten and I would talk the least and not be heard most of the time. So after a few weeks of trying I became a silent observer on social media (many years back) and then quit Facebook and none of my 500 plus friends noticed! I was a little active on Orkut (remember the time?) because I knew the people I connected with and after migrating to Facebook forgot most of the faces.

I have dutifully created accounts on Orkut, Twitter, FB, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google duo, telegram, Snapchat, hike and my friend's cousin's beta version but was so overwhelmed at the password reset emails I would get, that after checking the accounts five times an hour I finally said the grapes are sour and hung my social media boots and wear them when no one is looking.

People share anything from photos from their childhood - many of them with their eyes closed, sitting near a well and most of them being badly re-shot black and white photos-to the digitally captured and edited latest ones of their climbing Machu pichu or snorkeling in Thailand. And photos of their pets, friends of pets to information ranging from birthdays to the fact that their second cousin's chitappa's friend was the brain behind Pondy bazaar's latest look. The strangest part is that all these messages get a standard wow, super and thumbs up smiley responses.

On the road I get very confused when I see people. Most of the times I seem to know them and smile foolishly only to realise a second later that they don't know me because I belong to the the 'I see but never reply' group. I would have seen their photos  somewhere somehow and every other day but as I am virtually non-existent, they don't know me. One day I was running for my life as I tried to pet a dog which I recognised from one of the gazillion WhatsApp photos. Since both the mutt and I hadn't liked or friended each other both the dog and the owner (who seemed vaguely familiar-was it my cousin's wife's schoolmate, or her athai.. I don't know) chased me until I completed a week's running in that hour.

When I was in school, if I happened to smile at a school senior who didn't know me, I had to spend days covering my face with my thin long plaits (my school uniform was pinafore otherwise a duppata would have been most helpful) just so that I don't get laughed at by her friends who would generally laugh at anything that sounded junior to them.

Now no such problem. I don't see people face to face. I leave a comment and no one notices. Someone posts a beautiful picture and if I comment on that over phone (talk that is) after three hours they would feign ignorance or wonder at my stupidity of talking about old stuff.

That doesn't mean I don't check messages and look at photos. But having drawn a line and moving in circles within that space, I can only imagine that I know everyone and everything. Quite like Vivekh's "Enakku comissionara theriyum..." dialogue
.
"I am rarely on social media" I would boast to my friends. 'Even when I was active on FB I have never downloaded the app not have I activated WhatsApp notifications" I would regale the miniscule amount of persons I vocally get in touch with. I don't mind this kind of publicity. One, there is no public in the city to listen to me, two, who actually checks what I do.

Except of course the all knowing better half. So much so that he tells the kids one day, "Don't ever ask Amma 'What', she will zap you".

Monday, November 18, 2019

Presenting a story

The kids and I are glued to the idiot box savouring Master Chef (Australia, I would like to emphasize).

The husband walks in and after many attempts to attract his family's attention stations himself right in front of the television with a cup of coffee, that he had to make himself and inquires, "What are you all doing?"

Daughter and I stare at him even as the son cranes his neck around his father's frame to continue watching. "Appa we are watching Master Chef" quips the younger child impatiently. "They are showing a story".

He turns around only to watch chicken, quails, ducks and salmon being grilled. 'What story? And why are you all watching this? ' And you, are you going to attempt any of these?' he asks me.

'Are you nuts? From when did we start having non vegetarian food' I snort. 'Then why do you watch it?', he retorts intelligently

"It is pleasing to the eye plus doesn't smell. We can never get to have those desserts can we.. so beautifully delicious. So comforting and food that simply pops out of the plate wonderfully...' I masterchefy fluently. 'And they present a story through food", I add as an afterthought.

"I can only see three over fed men.' he says, "And that dude is wearing a pink suit... A pink suit and a purple scarf... Are you people insane?" he bellows un-gastronomically and walks off and we can hear him banging his head on the door as we continue to stare at the screen.

It is all about presentation these days.

The other day I visited a friend at her place for lunch. This lady cooks beautifully from what her Instagram and Facebook posts reveal. I eagerly anticipate this luncheon invitation and skip all three meals the previous day.

I enter her house and see her frantically photographing delicious food laid out aesthetically on the table. Even as I spot deliciousness beckoning me I can't help sensing unpleasant smell drifting from somewhere. My phone beeps and I see the food on my Instagram feed even before I get to the vicinity of the table. I salivate and congratulate my friend on her latest culinary masterpiece.

She quickly hastens me to the table before my drool spoils her elegant carpet. I wistfully look at the food even as she plonks a plate laden with some pale rice accompanied by some dispirited looking vegetables. Bewildered and a little humiliated by this extremely partial treatment I attempt to touch the photographed and already much liked plate only to receive a friendly slap on the wrist.

"Hey this is the actual food. That is only for social media" she giggles uncontrollably as I spot some cardboard beneath the tastefully arranged hyderabadi biryani. 'That will make the dish appear much better you know' she says knowledgeably. I quickly gobble up the pale rice, mutter incomprehensible adulation and scoot before she brings her much acclaimed dessert.

After this I start looking at all beautifully presented food critically. So much so that I pick and prod at swiggy delivered food until they become a mush even as the family look down disdainfully.

I still watch Master Chef though. No one is going to invite me to taste the food are they...

"I will present my own traditionally cooked story", I declare to the children and husband one day and march into the kitchen. The daughter comes with a ladle and holding it like a mike asks, 'So Amma, what are you going to cook today?'

"It is going to be a traditional platter. Vegetables cooked aromatically in buttermilk broth, lentil stew, watery lentil and tomato broth, brinjal two ways served with warm aromatic rice. And for dessert it will be rice cooked in milk and cream. All these served on fresh green plaintain leaves' I explain enigmatically. 

'We understand that you are going to make avial, sambar, rasam and paal payasam and add ghee to the rice.. But what is that brinjal two ways?' asks the husband and smirks knowingly. "It is thogayal and curry", I grit my teeth.

Laugh all they want...What do they know. Today they will discover the other side of my culinary skills I say to myself and begin cutting the vegetables.

Only that my story begins with torn plaintain leaves and ends with our ordering food from Adyar Anandha Bhavan.

To my credit I do make brinjal two ways - blackend and unblackened!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hairy tales

What is it with boys and their laziness to maintain the mop on their heads, leave alone washing faces? Many a times my son would spend about an hour in the bathroom and come out like someone who had buried himself neck deep in sand leaving the head out in the sun. And then spend about half an hour in front of the mirror ruffling his hair making sure he looks just the opposite of yesteryear brylcreemed heroes. 

Our weekends begin with the task of chalking out a plan, that closely resembles a war strategy, to take him, drag him or kick him all the way to the salon which must now be accomplished at least twice a month. An any-time now teen that he is, this has to be done with absolute nonchalance, which is now a characteristic of his own behaviour. Seen, but not to be seen. Spoken to but not speaking. All weird gesticulations practised by his parents and sister to evoke response are now met with a non-committal stare.

I am digressing but that is the whole point of this adolescent tantrum. Quietly undoing his parents' well thought out speech on a hair cut by simply staring into the wilderness. And then the parents lose track and start talking about his birthday dress, colour of socks, disorderly school bag and start discussing with each other about who is going to get keeravadai from Grandsweets as there is no side dish for lunch only to realize an hour later that the boy in question has quietly slipped away and is now plotting schemes with his sister. The only time brother and sister are on amicable terms.
Having missed the main problem by more than a hair's breadth, it is now postponed to the following week. By which time his hair will resemble a nest with our expecting an exotic bird out anytime in the future.

These tales are common place everywhere. A few months back, a friend  called one day in the wee hours. Scrambling out of bed, I knocked down the phone, AC remote, and tried to press the buttons of the remote instead of the phone creating early morning mayhem in the process and was shooed out of the room. The call was to fix a salon-date for our sons with both competing for who has the most unkempt hairdo in the class. It is another story that our plans were already thwarted by the boys a week earlier.

Another day, I visited a friend and was ushered in by an extremely grumpy boy who looked very familiar. It was her son made unrecognisable by his new haircut. That explained the grumpiness. The friend later revealed that she had threatened him that if he didn't use a hair brush soon his hair would be brushing off the cobwebs on the ceiling, a six-footer that he is.
Wel(l)com(b)ed.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Of words great and small...

The whole world and its sister are now going organic, natural and exotic, not only in consumption but also in communication. Wherever went the days when flamboyant words were found only in classics? These days they are expressions of aesthetism, class and all-knowing superiority.

People selling wares at dastkar, santhai and the flea market (no, they are not cheap) pitch the magic words- 'Ma'am would you like to try this moisturising cream? It is hand made with a dash of ginger and honey with a subtle hint of fig and garlic". Aesthetically challenged as I am, I venture to ask, "can I use them as a spread for sandwich? My kids love honey and figs" I quietly slip away even as the vendor feigns deafness.

The older child now is extremely interested in cooking and much to my chagrin takes after his father when it comes to olfactory powers not to mention culinary skills. After months of enduring 'there is less salt in this', 'this is roasted slightly lighter than pitch darkness' and so on, he now 'master chefies' every phrase. 'Amma can I have some lentil stew', ' this plaintain curry lacks flavour and punch", 'the peanut sundal lacks the nutty flavor' and only stops when I sweetly ask him eat the sambar rice or he will receive a punch on his nose.

The lesser said about the younger child's, 'Mom, t'day's shloka sessions and the prashad were oh-so awhsom' the better. She trumps me.

Day to day life is presented with positivity and a lot of sweetness. Food is food in what whichever way you present it. The same goes with perfumes, soaps, clothing, tooth brush , pens, pencils and 'gently exfoliating' pumice stones. To me rest rooms will always be toilet/bathroom and bikes will be cycle or scooter and pooches, dogs.

I support eco friendly products but give a pass when I see 'mild smelling and organically healing' nature bars. Just call them soap dude.

Extremely frustrated over this exaggerated farrago that our lives have become, I storm out to get my sanity back and bump into my Shakespearean friend. Recently, she was given charge of 'curating' phrases for hand made soaps and she churned out lines like, 'An organic bar with nature's goodness, appealing to your inner Goddess' and the like.

I stood eyes glazed and bewildered and almost flipped at the cost of one soap bar. Her mother who was listening in with much amusement asked me,  "Are you going to buy the soap?" "Of course not! It is so expensive" I blurted.

And the wise lady quipped, "Let people who pay for it bother about understanding the slogan then!"

Point taken.