Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for questions

They say that the average 4-year-old asks 437 questions a day.

'They' conveniently forgot to add that an average 3-year-old asks 34457389475983472059872 questions a day.

There is a garage near Xena's school. It's opposite the bus stop where we take the bus back home, so we see it every day. One day, she saw a mechanic lying under a car. This is our conversation, translated into English.



"Why is uncle lying down?"

"Umm... he's repairing the car."

"What happened to the car?"

"It's broken."

"Who broke it?"

"Umm... nobody broke it. It's just old and needs some repairs."

"Why is it old?"

"Because... err... it was made a long time ago."

"By whom?"

"Hmmm... By some uncles, aunties and some machines."

"What are their names?"

"I don't know their names."

"Why did they make the car?"

"So that people could travel."

"Who could travel?"


"Which people?"

"Ummm... uncles and aunties and children."


"Because... you need to travel to get to places."

"Which places?"

"Anywhere you want."

Fortunately for me, our bus came and that was the end of the conversation.

The next day, to my utter horror, she saw the mechanic lying down under another car.

"Why is uncle lying down?"

Oh. Dear. Lord.

I decided to adopt a different strategy this time. I turned the tables on her.

"You tell me. Why is uncle lying down?"

Her answer was instant.

"Because he is very tired."


Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Poppy

Poppy. Xena came up with this nickname all on her own. We have no idea how and why. We'd made nice plans of getting our child to call us 'Mama' and 'Papa'. But she had her own plans. She has toyed with 'Mommy', 'Mummy', 'Mama', 'Mommers', 'Mumsy', and 'Mimi' to address me, but she has been pretty consistent in calling him 'Poppy'. Though once in a while, he does become 'Poppers' or 'Popsy', she always goes back to 'Poppy'. Now even I call him 'Poppy'. I'm sure that people who overhear us might be gagging at the overly sickly sweet nickname they assume I've given my hubby.

Anyway, the point of the post is that Poppy is back! After two whole weeks! I am so thrilled and relieved.

- Family walks to the beach, yeayyyy!

- I can finally exchange the good, bad and ugly happenings of the day with someone who's not three years old.

- I can 'pass the parcel' when Xena drives me crazy. (Contrary to popular belief, sometimes she does.)

- I can catch up on my work deadlines. (He will drop her at school so I'll have more time in the mornings.)

- Xena's race cars that have raced their way under our heavy couch can now be retrieved.

- I've been eating out or packing food from outside for the last two weeks. I can finally have ghar ka khana! Not that he's the one who's going to make it. Just that it's so boring to cook for one, I prefer cooking for four (yes, contrary to his appearance, he eats for three). I could cook for four and eat it over four meals, you say? No can do. Because Xena will stand at the kitchen door with her puppy face asking me to come out and play with her. Also, one of my favourite moments is cooking to the sound of the two of them playing football in the dining room.

- When I've exhausted my barrel of self-created stories, I can always say, "Ok, now Poppy will tell you the next story."

- I can take a looooong shower in peace.

- The cockroach dead body disposal service in our house falls under his department and I kid you not when I tell you that the dead cockroach in the kitchen has been there for the last two days.

- I have been sweeping the house, but it can finally get vacuumed yipppeee! You see, due to Xena's lung condition, we don't use a regular vacuum cleaner. We use the industrial-strength Rainbow vacuum cleaner, and only Viv can operate it because let's just say that if I am Ravan's son Indrajit, the damned vacuum cleaner is Angad's foot.

Is it therefore any wonder that in my head, I'm jubilantly singing (very very loudly at that), a catchy but horrible song from the 90s?

Mera piya ghar aaya, o ramji!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for osteoporosis

Disclaimer: The grim topic was not my idea. This public service post has been issued courtesy my sister who holds an M.B.B.S. degree from G.M.S. (Google Medical School). I'm close to getting mine too. 

So my sister called me at 10:30 pm. As soon as I said 'Hello?', she said, "Are you drinking enough milk?" It was past bedtime for good girls like me. The lights were out and I was already in bed. Yet, my response to her question was rather long and articulate.

"Hainnnnnnnn???" I said.

"Calcium," she said. "Are you getting enough calcium?"

"You're calling me past my bedtime to ask me if I am getting enough calcium??"

"Yes. Don't take it lightly. It's very important. Adult bone mass peaks around the age of 30 and declines after that. Now is the time to get serious. These days, even young people are getting osteoporosis. It's painful and you can't do anything about it. In spite of the easy preventive measure. Calcium. Are you getting 1000 mg of calcium every day? Most people don't."

"I don't know... I drink milk every day... I think that should cover it?"




"I also eat cheese."

"Not enough."

"It's high-calcium cheese."

"It still might not be enough. There are plenty of other sources."

"Okay, tomorrow I'll check the milk carton and the cheese packaging and whatever else I eat to see if I'm getting 1000 mg of calcium every day. Ok bye thank you good night."

The next morning, I remembered her words as soon as I woke up. Like a good girl, I drank my cup of milk and googled calcium sources and osteoporosis and bone mass loss and what not. And yes, what she had said made sense. I'm not getting enough calcium in my diet, and it might come back and kick me in the butt in later years. These are not things I generally think about, but once in a while, my sister urges me to get to such 'grown-up' things.

As a kid, I'd always hated milk, packeted or fresh, and often used to secretly pour it onto Dad's houseplants. (Dad, those plants were really healthy and I take all the credit!) Later, Complan and Horlicks and Bournvita made it a little better, but milk was still not something I drank willingly. When I came to Singapore and started living on my own, I totally stopped drinking milk. Once in a while, Dad or Mom would ask me on the phone and I'd guiltily buy the single-serving carton and have it. But it was definitely not a part of my regular diet. A few years later, I started again when my sister urged me. Fortunately for me, I didn't mind the taste and smell of the carton milk here. Soon, it became a habit to drink a cup of milk with Milo (the unofficial national drink of Singapore) everyday, and I still do it.

And I thought I had it all covered. Apparently not. One cup of milk is far from meeting the daily adult calcium RDA. I'm not a fan of popping supplements, so I looked up other sources and spinach, kale, fish, egg yolk, tofu, soya milk, orange juice, oatmeal, etc. are equally good ones, especially for those who are vegans, lactose-intolerate or of the belief that humans are not meant to consume milk (there was a forward going around about it some time ago; I just didn't know what to make of it though). You also need enough vitamin D to aid calcium absorption. And of course, regular exercise is important to keep the bones strong.

And since I did all this research and am going to look deeply into our family calcium intake, I thought I'd share this on the bar's notice board too for all the 30-something bewdas who might have no idea that they are not getting enough calcium. Quoting my sister - "Now is the time to get serious." It's time to start reading food labels, closely noting the numbers and practising my mental maths.

Her reminder was also very timely as I was about to write my 'O' post and wasn't sure I'd do justice to the O words I could think of - oxygen, ozone, orange and ornithology.

So... Let's all be a little more fit and healthy, so that if 20-30 years later I'm still blogging and you're still reading, I won't be writing joint-pain posts and you wouldn't be saying, "Meeee toooo!"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for nostalgia

From time to time, we all get hit by episodes of nostalgia. Perhaps our best memories are from our childhood -- stuff that happened many years ago. That's why it is hilarious when a 3-year-old gets nostalgic. About stuff that happened just a year or two ago. Lately, Xena has been relating 'tales of her childhood' to me. And as if a reminiscing toddler is not already funny enough, she tells me these stories as if I don't know about them at all.

Here are some samples of her recent nostalgic moments.

"Mama, when I was very very small, I was inside your tummy!"

"Mama, I was splashing around inside your tummy!"

"When I was inside, your tummy was big and round. Then you went to the hospital and the doctor pulled me out and SUDDENLY your tummy became flat."

"I used to be a small baby. Then SUDDENLY I became a big grown-up girl."

"When I was very small, I used to cry for milk when I was hungry. Like this - nga nga nga..."

"When I was very small, I could not sit or stand or walk or scoot or jump or run. I was lying down all the time!"

"When I was very small, sometimes I wore only a diaper! No top or pants! Only a diaper!"

"You know, Mama... when I was very small, I did not pee and poop in the toilet. I did everything in the diaper!"

"When I was very small, I used to try to eat my toes!"

"When I was very small, I did not have any teeth. Now I have sooooo many."

"When I was small, I was not 10 kilos. Then SUDDENLY I was 10 kilos."

"We went to Australia and Poppy drove us in a blue car. I had my own car seat. I sat at the back because only grown-ups sit in front. It was very cold and I wore a jacket and a hat and mittens and we saw kangaroos."

"When I was very small, I used to say 'clockloach'. Mama, it's not 'clockloach'! It's 'cockloach'."

"When I was a little girl, I had soooo many soft toys. Then Dr. Thomas said that all the soft toys needed to go on a vacation till my lungs became big and strong. They will come back when I turn 5 years old."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Me

M is for me. And no other day screams 'me!' as much as one's birthday.

As some of you might have gathered from my last post, it was my birthday on Sunday. Time to feel depressed and all that. However, thanks to Viv's company, I haven't aged at all in the last five years. How, you ask. Well, other than software. his company also produces an anti-aging product. Well, it's not so much a product as it is a strategy. Basically, every year in April, they send him off for the NAB show in Las Vegas. Smack on my birthday. And then he's off to Amsterdam in September for another business trip. Smack on his birthday. So we haven't celebrated our birthdays together for a few years now. The only way to look at it is that since we don't see each other's birthdays, we don't age in each other's eyes. So there you have it, the secret to eternal youth.

Moronic jokes aside, it's no fun to have my birthday without him. However, I've been fortunate enough to always have had some family here around my birthdays in the last few years - my in-laws, or my parents, or at the very least my sister-in-law. This year was a little different though, as no one was at home. It was pretty much Xena and me. My friends know that I absolutely detest midnight birthday celebrations (the truth is that I want to be asleep at midnight -- birthday or no birthday), so thankfully no one rang the doorbell at midnight. I'd have called the police I think. I'm not kidding.

So I had a good night's rest and technically started my birthday only when I woke up. Xena was up and smiling. At 7 am! She rolled over to me and said, "Mommy, aaj tum ka birthday hai!" I thanked and kissed her and then promptly corrected her 'tum ka'. (I'm so khadoos, no?)

I had a lunch celebration with friends at Robert Timms at Suntec City, topped off with a chocolate mousse cheesecake. Yummy! Xena was very excited because she got to blow the candle and cut (read massacre) the cake, but she refused to even have a lick of it. Fine. More for us then. Hmmmph!

After lunch, my Bollywood buddy Pizzadude came home with us. I put Xena down for her afternoon nap and then Pizzadude and I had adrak ki chai and watched... Veer-Zaara! Honestly, he's pretty much the only person in the world with whom I can watch and really enjoy movies from the 90s and 2000s without rolling my eyes. Purana bewdas of the bar would remember the hilarity that ensued when Viv, feeling left out, decided to join us for a screening of Dil toh pagal hai. We watched half of Veer-Zaara and actually enjoyed it to my surprise. We couldn't finish it though because Xena woke up and when she's up, the TV goes down.

After Pizzadude left, Xena and I had a nice, quiet evening. We played with play doh and fingerpaint, built a giraffe using blocks, blew bubbles in the playground and then took a nice long walk. Soon, the day had ended and it was time for bed. I realised that installment 1 of my birthday had come to an end. The next few will happen very soon. We'll celebrate again when Viv is back and yet again when my sis-in-law is back.

And yet again when I'll celebrate it all by myself.

It's not been easy taking care of Xena all by myself these two weeks. Between the morning chores, getting her ready and fed, dropping her off at school, picking her up, keeping her engaged, working on my own projects, this daily blogging challenge (yes, I'm aware I brought it upon myself), doing housework, attempting to feed her all her meals by myself, and not forgetting to have my own meals (happens a lot!), I'm utterly exhausted. I told Viv that when he's back, I'll take a week's vacation in Vivocity my mothership mall, where I'll abandon everyone and everything, and roam and chill and shop (I call it the real 'duty-free' shopping) and get a pedicure and catch a movie or two. I'm looking forward to my own company.

I don't think Marilyn Monroe meant to represent primary caregivers of toddlers with her quote, but it sure is super relevant - "I restore myself when I'm alone."

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for lie

Here is positive proof that contrary to popular belief, women DO NOT lie about their age. 
PS: They just lie about other women's ages.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for king

I mentioned in this post how I don't have a favourite actor but Shah Rukh Khan is my favourite star. I often get asked why I like him so much. I also get ridiculed when he has a bad movie out (and we all know how many of those he has). I also get looked at when he's really hamming it up in a scene. I had to go into hiding after Ra.One released. So why then do I love SRK? I have decided to issue a clarification on the matter once and for all. Here are five reasons why I heart King Khan.

His story is inspiring.
He came to Mumbai with nothing. No hero-like looks or stature, no producer papa, nothing. He started off on television. That too, the television of those days. And then he broke all the rules and do what no hero or hero-wannabe would do -- play the villain. And then he went on to rule not just Mumbai but far beyond. Of course, one can't downplay the role of luck, but there is surely something about him that attracts success. To me, he truly defines the term 'X-factor'. I would love to read his autobiography.

His PR skills are amazing.
He is one performer who really makes an effort to connect with his audience. Of course it is all PR, and I will not dispute that, but when you see him live, you can see that he knows that his superstardom comes from the people and he makes a genuine effort to acknowledge it. He said in an interview that all he wants to do is make people happy. And you can see he means it from the way he presents himself to his audience. When he went to promote Chennai Express on Comedy Nights with Kapil, he hugged everyone who joined him on the stage, even though they didn't ask him to and I'm also sure not all of them felt or even smelt clean. Would you like to hug totally random strangers? No way. But he did it with a sincerity that you don't really see in showbiz. A few years ago, I attended his live show and I saw his amazing PR skills live. He declared that he was going to ask someone from the audience to join him for a romantic dance on stage. Of course, all the girls went completely bonkers. He proceeded to totally ignore all the hotties in the audience who were waving their hands madly, and instead invited a very plain-looking and overweight girl. PR stunt? Totally. Heartwarming? Totally. Not just had he made her day, he had made everyone happy. I was cheering like a mad person.

His charisma is mind-blowing.
Needless to say, I preferred SRK hosting KBC over Amitabh Bachchan hosting it. Yes, Amitabh Bachchan is also very charismatic, but in a more towering sense. SRK's charisma is more grounded. I simply loved him in KBC. He was funny and spontaneous and made the contestants feel at ease. He underscored the idea that everyone was there to have fun. With AB, things felt a little more serious and he also looked rather formidable - I am AB, you are a commoner. With SRK, he put himself at the same level as the contestants and made them feel like they were talking to a friend. The contest is stressful as it is, and the whole world is watching. The last thing you want is the host making you feel less than you are.

And... Do you remember the bitchy contestant on KBC? I couldn't believe how rude she was to him. And I'm not even saying that one has to be gushing in front of him. Her behaviour was simply not acceptable because no one deserves that kind of rudeness. But he patiently and humbly continued the game, and when she quit and said that she had no desire to hug him before getting the cheque, he very politely said, "If you don't mind, I'd like to give the cheque to your mother. I'm sure she will not refuse to hug me."

His humour is spontaneous.
Any show he hosts is side-splittingly funny. I have stopped watching award shows because he doesn't host them anymore. I simply use Youtube to go back to his old shows (especially when he used to host them with Saif) and they're still so enjoyable. Even though he most likely followed a script, you need to have superb comic timing and a shrewd sense of humour to deliver it. No wonder all other hosts, in spite of having scripts too, seem so lame compared to the SRK-Saif pairing. I thought he was a total riot on KBC. Have you watched this video? He was HILARIOUS. Any other host might have gotten a bit irritated at the contestant's indecisiveness, but SRK made the situation funnier than it already was. I especially loved when he started talking in Punjabi and said, "I don't want to play anymore."

When the conditions are right, boy can he act.
There's a reason why this is the very last point in my list. SRK is definitely not a great actor. That's a given. Of his 80 odd movies, perhaps only a handful are good. And a lot of them depend on the age and stage you are at. I was completely bowled over by him in DDLJ and KKHH because of the age and stage I was at, but it's not like his acting was exemplary. However (and this is a big HOWEVER), it's not that he can't act. I always quote Swades (and also Chak De India to a certain extent) when confronted with the accusation that SRK is a bad actor. He may not be a great actor, he may have acted badly in a LOT of movies, but I will not take it lying down if someone says he cannot act at all.

PS: The greatest sacrifice I ever made was when my roommate and I shamelessly cornered SRK when he was rushing off from his breakfast. This was a few years ago, when the IIFA awards were being held in Singapore for the first time. He told us that he had time for only one photo (there were no smartphones to take selfies back then). Actually he said, "I have three seconds." I took the camera and pushed my roommate forward, "You go." My utter heartbreak aside, photo ki kya zaroorat hai jab SRK apun ke dil mein hai. :)

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for job

In 2011, I quit my job as a manager at a bigass publisher to take care of Xena. I was deeply and madly in love with my job and it was not an easy transition. I didn't feel it so much in the first few months because Xena was in the ICU and I was shuttling between home and hospital all day long, with not much time or energy to think of anything else. Even after she was stable and got home, my days and nights were spent tending to her needs.

It was after almost half a year that I started to feel the withdrawal symptoms of quitting my job. However, Xena was not in a state where she could be left with anyone other than me at home, so I knew it would be years before I could go back to a real office. To make sure that I didn't go completely bonkers at home, I continued writing and editing, but on a freelance basis. This allowed me to regulate my workload based on Xena's health and needs, and also to keep in touch with the changes in the syllabus and trends in the industry. And of course, whatever money comes in is always a bonus, since I don't have my salary and perks anymore. Last year, on her doctor's recommendation, we put her in half-day preschool to get her to eat under the powerful influence of peer pressure. I started taking on more work as I had more time in the mornings when she was away at school.

Now I work a half-day shift from home in the morning, taking just enough work to nicely fill out that part of my day when Xena is at school. A lot of people ask me if I'll ever go back to work in an office. The answer is in the affirmative. Once Xena's health and eating improve, I'll consider going back to an office.

Provided they take me.

Though I have been in close touch with the industry's happenings and have not stopped working, I am aware that this gap of a few years could prove to be a disadvantage when I apply for an office job again, especially if I want to get back my managerial position. That is a little scary. I can imagine myself being questioned at the interviews on all the skills that are needed in a corporate environment, which they'd assume would have rusted in the years that I spent focusing only on Xena.

So I decided to do up an addendum to my resume. One that shows that even though in the last few years, my primary position has been 'mother', I've had plenty of opportunities to exercise the skills the position requires. (Honestly speaking, If I really were to take motherhood as a 'project', there is no question that it has been the most challenging one so far, with many layers of intricacies and complexities, and one that requires a multitude of skills to be used all at once.)

So here it is, dear interviewer, a list of reasons why you shouldn't hesitate to hire me, in spite of the break I took from the working world.

I am a leader. 
I lead a team, the size of which ranges from 2 to 3894738949837032. The reason is that although the more senior of the two members is relatively stable, the junior one can be quite a handful at times and under those circumstances, simply cannot be considered as a single headcount. Both staff members were personally hand-picked by me, and are competent and reliable. The more experienced of the two works mostly offsite, whereas the junior member works half day offsite and half day onsite. I am based mostly onsite and lead all operations from there.

I am a keen listener. 
My staff feel free to approach me anytime as I take the time to really listen to them. Though the senior member often spouts jargon, which I filter selectively, I take a deeper interest in what the junior member has to say. And I listen and I remember. I know who hit whom at school today, I know who peed and pooped how many times, I know who cried and who ate and who didn't eat lunch, I know who bought a new bag to school, I know who brought what for show and tell, and whose water bottle has which cartoon character. Heck, I even know the colours of her three teachers' water bottles.

I'm a team player.
The three of us make a very efficient team. We have established the perfect morning routine, where everyone works in tandem to get stuff done in record time. We wake up at 7 am. While I prepare the junior member's breakfast and snack box, the senior member brushes her teeth. Then as he gets himself ready for office, I get her dressed and seated in the high chair with her breakfast. While he feeds her, I make our breakfast. After she's done, I serve his breakfast. While he eats, I tie her hair and get her to put her socks and shoes on. And then they are off for their respective offsite operations.

I'm an independent worker. 
Every year, for a few weeks, the senior member is away on business trips, and then I'm a one-woman army dealing with the junior member, my own projects and all operations, all by myself. It is also at these times when junior member decides to become the equivalent of the 3894738949837032 staff members I'd mentioned earlier. Also, I encourage my staff members to pursue their hobbies in the weekends, and so the senior member goes off to play cricket on Sundays. He's out from 7 am to 7 pm, but onsite work doesn't stop even in the weekends, so once again I take full charge of everything.

I delegate.
Though most of the major operations are split between the senior member in my team and me, I delegate appropriate tasks to the junior member too, such as peeling garlic, boiled eggs, folding laundry and some dusting and sweeping. I carry out regular appraisals to praise her good performance and to give her feedback to address any shortcomings.

I'm deadline-oriented. 
I make sure that junior member and I never miss a single deadline for our respective projects. (As for senior member, he can handle his deadlines by himself. I've trained him well over the years.)

I am organised and detail-oriented.
I have to be very organised to run the operations. I have to be on top of everything, such as school projects, excursions, medical appointments, play dates, outings, nutrition, household chores, etc. I keep track of many small details -- library book due dates, parent-teacher meetings, birthday parties, buying the gifts for the birthday parties, new clothes waiting for junior member to grow and fit into, etc.

Also, the junior member in my team tends to take too many days of medical leave, but I have done a thorough background check and the reasons appear to be genuine. This, however, hinders some of the operations, such as my own projects. I have to be even more organised to make sure that none of my deadlines are missed due to her hospitalisations.

I'm goal-oriented. 
I set realistic goals for my team members and help them achieve the goals. The senior member used to report quite late in the evenings, and the reasons he gave inspired no confidence. We discussed and set a realistic goal of 7:30 pm on normal days, and 8:00 pm on crazy days, and an action plan (take the private fast bus instead of the public ones) and he is now able to meet the targets.

For the junior member, I set a target (10 kg) and used grassroot-level involvement and positive reinforcement to help her achieve it.

I handle stress well.
Junior member, due to her relative inexperience, often puts me in tough spots (think throwing up in a crowded bus) where I need to think on my feet and quickly find the best solution out of the stressful situation. I have implemented several instances of successful crisis-management.

I'm resourceful. 
I spend a good part of my day reading and learning about the latest developments in the field. I am part of motherhood groups and have contacts at my fingertips that I harness to find out anything I want within seconds, such as where can you buy styrofoam balls to make a model of a poodle for a class project, and where can you find ready-to-use icing for a birthday celebration at school, and who is the best pediatrician in the area.

I have a strong sense of CSR. 
I work with my motherhood groups to organise donation of baby items to be sent to organisations such as Babes, and children's clothes and books to be sent to orphanages in Cambodia. I volunteered at my junior member's school fund-raiser for the APSN.

I'm self-motivated. 
The last few years have not been an easy journey for me, but I have to keep myself motivated and positive and just march on.  

Happy? All right, gimme the job already.

Added on 16 April: I found this video and thought it was perfect to share on this post:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for I

I is for I. First person singular. I in English. Main in Hindi.

I've had a really odd relationship with this word. In Hindi. My dad got transferred to Bihar when I was six, and that's how I picked up Hindi. And because it was Bihar, it wasn't the kind of polished cool-sounding Hindi we hear in most Hindi movies. It was the kind of Hindi that villains in movies like Dabangg 2 speak. The "Hum kah rahe hain na" kind of Hindi. Dad had a few more transfers in the next 12 years, but they were all within Bihar. (He went to Calcutta, Vizag, Hyderabad, etc. after I left India.) So as I shuttled from school to school within Bihar, my Bihari Hindi just got stronger and stronger. Of course we learnt proper Hindi at school, so my written Hindi was always good, but I have always spoken Hindi like a true Bihari. And even though all of the 7 schools that I studied in before coming to Singapore were English-medium schools, we only spoke to our teachers in English. Hindi was always the language of choice when we spoke amongst us. And we always used 'hum' for 'main'.

So, after a dozen years of hum-ing, I suddenly found myself in Singapore, being ragged by my Indian seniors because I was the only one in my batch who spoke like that. The first time I said something like "Hum Bihar se aaye hain...", the senior ragging me looked behind me and said, "Aur kaun kaun aaye hain tumhaare Bihar se?" I didn't get the sarcasm so I replied, "Aur koi nahin. Sirf hum aaye hain." Much to my surprise, they broke into peals into laughter. I also got ridiculed for calling them "bhaiya" and "aap", but that's a different story altogether.

My 'hum' became the point of amusement for everyone. It took me a while to understand why. No one else around me said 'hum'. One, they almost always spoke to one another in English, and two, even when they did speak in Hindi, they used 'main'. I tried real hard to change, not because I thought 'main' was cooler, but because I knew it was correct. But much as I tried, I simply could not shrug off the 'hum' that had been laminated in my brain. I'd start off my sentence with 'main' and would have switched to 'hum' halfway without even realising it. It got very annoying, so I decided to just switch to talking to everyone only in English. That was helpful in a way because it really brushed up my spoken English, which wasn't great because of my years in Bihar where I didn't have to speak much English at school. And of course, even though everyone at home read English newspapers, magazines and books, we never spoke English at home. I used to do well in the written English exams, but I wasn't confident enough to rapidly rattle off sentence after sentence in English. I'd have to think them out in Hindi, translate them in my head, think of the correct pronunciation of each word, and then start speaking. It was very stressful. But it was very helpful to me in the long run.

But I love Hindi and I always have, and I couldn't bear to stop speaking it completely. The only person I continued to speak to in Hindi was Viv, and he didn't mind my 'hum' at all. In fact, he'd use 'hum' back when speaking to me, even though he spoke to the rest of the world using 'main'. I did make an attempt to make the rest of it sound a little polished -- more Lucknowi than Bihari -- but the 'hum' stuck on. I've continued like this for the last 16 years of my life -- English with everyone else, and my hum wala Hindi at home with Viv -- and I thought I could get away with it.

Until I had a kid and my kid started speaking.

Viv and I had decided that since both of us have different mother tongues, we'd ditch both and teach Xena Hindi, a language that will serve her well in any part of India should she choose to go there, and one that we can help her out with when she takes it as a subject at school. So now was my chance to start from a clean slate. To teach her correct Hindi from the beginning. But it was hard. Bewdas who have kids will know that when they start speaking, they refer to themselves in the third person because that's how they've seen themselves being addressed. So Xena too started off with "Xena ko chahiye" for "I want it." And I followed suit by saying things like "Mama ke paas hai" and "Mama ko de do" and so on. So I still didn't have to change my 'hum' because I was not using it yet, I was using 'Mama'. When I started teaching her pronouns, I made sure she used 'main' for herself' and 'aap' for me. But in my efforts to teach her 'main', I'd not realised that I'd have to drop referring to myself in the third person too because everything was getting all mixed up. She was joining her 'main' with the verbs in my sentences such as "Mama karegi". I realised it the day she declined my "Mama ka help chahiye?" offer and said, "Main apne aap karegi."

Main apne aap karegi.

Great. This was even worse than my 'Hum apne aap karenge'. The mother was talking like a Bihari bhai and the daughter was talking like a Mumbaiya bai. At least according to what the movies show.

So I'm now trying really hard to correct it all. And I finally have a good enough reason to ditch the 'hum' once and for all, and really focus on 'main'.

Mushkil hai, lekin hum koshish kar rahe hain main koshish kar rahi hoon.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

H is for hot

Viv and I are fans of hot food. Hot as in spicy-hot, not temperature-hot. He's actually a notch above me, because I would never enter a chilli-eating competition, and end up winning it too. (Yep, he really did that when we were in university.) He also almost entered the 'hall of flame' in a restaurant in Thailand, but it turns out the food was too hot even for him.

At home, I make moderately hot food, but I try not to go overboard because I feel that if the food is too hot, a little bit of the flavour and taste is lost. For that reason, even at restaurants where we are given a choice, I don't go for the highest level of hotness, though Viv does (and sometimes regrets).

I thought it might be fun to jog my memory and think of the hottest foods I've had, and here is my list. (Even though the norm here is the word 'spicy', I'll use 'hot' throughout the post because I think that the word 'spices' encompasses a lot more than just chillies. I often get disbelieving looks when I explain to my local friends how food can be spicy but not hot.)

1. Nando's in Lahore
I never miss the opportunity to make people (especially my dad) envious by telling them about my trip to Pakistan. I was there on work in 2006, promoting my company's books and carrying out presentations in various schools to train teachers on how to use them. In addition to work, I also had the awesome opportunity to see everything -- Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Wagah border and... Adnan Sami in a mall!' And that's where I first had food at Nando's. My hosts (the distributors of our books) had been asking me what kind of food I liked and I'd mentioned that I liked hot food. So they took me to Nando's. (Surprisingly, Lahore had Nando's before Singapore had Nando's, so I'd never had it.) My hosts instructed the waiter to turn up the heat in the dish I ordered and to make sure that 'Lahore ki naak na kat jaaye'. The waiter took their words a little too seriously, and though Lahore's naak stayed intact, my naak was molten by the first few bites. My hosts also challenged me to have two of the jalapeno poppers and I took the dare. Luckily, I had also ordered some Portugese lemonade which made sure that 'meri naak na kat jaaye'.

2. Habanero sauce at Cafe Iguana, Singapore
Cafe Iguana is one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in Singapore. Riverside dining, hot Mexican food and frozen mango margaritas. Yum and bliss. And that's where I'd had a taste of Habanero sauce for the first time. Though I saw the warning on the bottle that said 'The hottest sauce in the world', I poured a generous amount over my prawn chimichanga and took a large bite, setting my mouth on the kind of fire that only half a jug of the frozen mango margarita could douse.

3. Roadside pani puri, Bangalore
A few years ago, we were in Bangalore, staying at Viv's uncle's place. Uncle C knew that my favourite food was roadside pani puris so he took me to his regular guy one evening and asked him to make me some nice pani puris. I had them and they were okay. Uncle C noticed that I didn't look that happy and chided the pani puri wala. "Put a little more mirchi, yaar", he said. The guy got a little extra enthu and so the next round was.... woooohooooo. Hooooooooo. HOOOOOOOOO. So I asked him to tone it down a bit and then the next round was perfect. I can't remember how many I ate, but I believe I only stopped when it was time for him to go home.

4. Yellow ginger chicken, Thai Express, Singapore
One of our favourite haunts near our place is Thai Express. They have a reasonable vegetarian menu so it works well for Viv too (well, he just pretends that he did not hear the waiter say that the sauces and broths in even the vegetarian dishes are not exactly vegetarian). We used to go there so often that we knew the menu inside out. (But they pissed me off when they started charging for water.) I've tried every dish they have, and I have to say the yellow ginger chicken is HOT. Even hotter than their drunken fire noodles, Viv's regular order. It's the kind of hot that no sweet, frozen drink can neutralise.

5. Mutton vindaloo, random Indian restaurant, Singapore
I'd heard that vindaloo dishes are not for the faint-hearted, but I believed it only when I tried it. I can't quite remember where I had it but I do remember one thing. Hot hot hot. HOT. I bet even if they rinsed the aloo from the vindaloo in boiling hot water, it would still be fiery hot. Mutton vindaloo never again.

So what is the hottest food you've ever had?