Back after the holiday break and don’t feel like getting back to work? Is that why you are blog surfing? Don’t worry, it’s an all too-familiar feeling albeit until a few years ago; I don’t wake upto alarm clocks anymore.
So while you’re here, I might as well narrate an incident that happened two days back at the parlour. And I promise that would be not as boring as the title of this post is. Parlour - yes, the same place where newly married husbands don’t mind driving their wives to while they catch a movie in the multiplex and still have enough time before the beautified wife emerges out; with time, the chauffeuring comes down as the husband prefers lounging on the couch on Saturdays to catch a Formula 1 race or basketball game than you know what! My trips were always far and few in a year and never lasted more than 15 minutes. After all, how long does it take to pluck a few hairs off one’s eyebrows, right? I’m glad LG’s entry has not affected that part of my life yet and I still sneak in a quarterly trip for 15 minutes. The much-needed haircuts are an annual affair, perfectly timed so that mom doesn’t see the tresses cut too short and the husband doesn’t find it too long.
One of the days this week, yours truly paid the monthly visit (frequency increases as child grows) to the same parlor of which she has been a regular customer. Choosing one requires strategic thinking in many ways - one that is no more than 1 Km far from home so that you can dash back, one that is affordable, clean and finally, one where I witness no attitude. This newly opened place was close to home and very near to where I shop for groceries, so it worked fine for me until this week’s visit. For starters, the lady at the reception was rude from the moment I entered. And then what perhaps irked me the most was guys dashing in and out of the room for no reason. Hey, this is a woman’s parlor, if you plan to have guys inside then you’re going to lose people like me. There were guys who were chatting up the girls while they were at work - threading, waxing etc. And they had no good reason to be there. Conservative you may say, but I found it odd for a well-kept and much-advertised place such as this one. Initially, I had planned a haircut but canceled on grounds of an uncomfortable environment. The lady at the reception had stepped away for a chit-chat with another dude inside a cabin while I waited to pay and leave. She merely raised her eyebrows when I told her the reason for canceling my haircut as if I was some alien conservative from a nearby village. Whatever! She randomly chose to increase the price by 10% and refused to give a bill or an explanation. Merely, said they had started collecting taxes. Fair enough, I was aware of it as they did the last time too. Instead of Rs.20 it was Rs.22. This time around, she wanted Rs.28 without a bill. Rs. 6 is not a big deal to have an argument but anything unethical even if it is 1 Re. does warrant an explanation. She just shrugged, went in, and sent the change through a helper after 5 minutes when I lost my patience. Those 10 seconds of non-spoken conversation and actions were enough to lose a loyal customer.
For an upcoming place like this, it is not the price of service you are offering to a customer that matters, it is the amount of good name you garner. Heard of word-of-mouth marketing, anyone? This place spends a substantial of money on marketing through paper ads regularly. And this happens all the time even at the biggest retail stores that spends thousands of rupees on advertising and marketing. So now I’m on an hunt for another parlor and that’s giving me sleepless nights. Seriously, no kidding
If you reached this far, I admire your patience. Now, get back to work.
If you are wondering how the three title words are related, then don’t worry because there’s no mystery in there; all I could think of at this time of the day were single unrelated words. It’s Friday night and I would have loved to gorge on a cheese Pizza topped with jalapenos, black olives, mushrooms, corn, and the other regulars. The thought of a newly opened pizza outlet about 250 meters from where I live doesn’t help much. Pune and Bangalore are contrasts in every aspect of the daily life. I waited a good seven months before I could feast on a Pizza - one of my favorite foods - in Pune because I was pregnant with LG and couldn’t make it to the city. Can you believe it meant an hour’s drive to visit the nearest Domino’s or Pizza Hut and home delivery was virtually unheard of until about six months back? In Bangalore, there are two outlets within half a kilometer.
Sleep. Now food and sleep are two things I value very much in life; I can’t decide which one comes first but today I will go with sleep. Or maybe food on second thoughts. I can describe to the minutest detail the layout of our bedroom, the speck of dust adorning the fan blades, and the globe shape formed by orange hues from the night lamp’s reflection; no big deal if you spend hours night after night staring into these objects, right? For years, I went to bed to 10:00 p.m. and woke up by 6:30 p.m. - yea, I was one of those humans that required a minimum of 8 hours sleep to be sane the next morning. It all changed once Li’l General came into our lives. To match his night-time milk schedule, my bedtime shifted by an hour. Of late, with work keeping me up late nights, the mind is too alert by the time I land in bed while the body craves for some good sleep. I’ve been struggling to get a balance between the two. Committing to more work this month isn’t helping either. So, I guess blogging will be a bit slow until I finish my projects before Santa arrives. Yes, the Santa Claus countdown has begun. V plans to visit us for a few days later this month. Yay! For now, I’m totally sleep-deprived and “sleep” tops my wish list for next year (I have the right to change it tomorrow, if I get a good night’s sleep today ). Talking of wish lists, do you have one or believe in one?
“Where are you from?” is a simple question that doesn’t warrant any thinking; it’s akin to asking “What’s your name?” Unless one is an absent-minded professor, the reply should be a reflex reaction. However, of late I find people respond to the place of their origin with a “It’s slightly complicated” or an evasive “Umm..” followed by what they think is appropriate at the moment after due consideration. I’m with the group that chooses a place per convenience. Weird? Well, let’s see as I draw the picture for you.
Born in Southern Tamil Nadu. Studied in places across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Bahrain. Parents living outside India intending to settle in a different town where neither have roots nor were raised. I’ve worked in Bangalore, Pune, and Chicago not necessarily in the same order. Married to a Bengali who was born and raised in Punjab and speaks Punjabi, Hindi at home. I currently live in Bangalore. So when people ask me where I am from, I answer “Bangalore” though I’ve never lived in the city continuously for more than four years. The fact that we own an apartment here brings that affinity for the place. Wonder what people with multiple apartments in different cities would say? After all, real estate is no judging factor to be rooted to a location for an identity.
A few weeks ago, a lady (let’s call her Ms. S) at met had a similar story to narrate. Her father was in the armed forces which in turn implied she had schooling in more number of schools than there were grades to study in (sometimes one grade in more than one school). The “Indian Identity” was not uncommon to folks from the Armed Forces and with parents in transferrable jobs such as those in banks. But to majority civilians when job-hopping was considered a big career mistake, it was a strange feeling until a few years ago to not have a place that you could call home. It’s an increasingly wide-spread phenomenon. Every second person you meet in India’s metros today are like Ms.S and I. Our kids in that sense will have more Indian-ness in them. And for all you know, they might just start calling themselves an Indian instead of a Bangalorean or a Delhite.
Regionalism is still pretty much intact in tier-2 and tier-3 towns of India. The cosmo experience has its own advantages. With the stay in every city, you take away some aspects of it that change your lives permanently. Pune, how-much ever I detested initially, always made me feel good for its community living. I regret spending the festive season in Bangalore. Be it dahi-handi during Krishna Jayanthi or pandals during Navratri and Ganesh Chaturthi, the city came alive taking in Puneites and outsiders alike in its festivities with an open embrace. My best Holi moments were in Pune. Bangalore, for all its claim of a blend of traditional outlook and modernity of a cosmopolitan, has that inherent aloofness, a cold feeling that’s difficult to describe.
Living across cities opens a wide array of culinary choices. I find it rather interesting at the ease with which we have sabudana khichdi one day, idli the next, paratha, and pohe the following days. Until a few years ago, we would have been discouraged to welcome Maharashtrian or Bangalorean food home out of a lack of understanding. What was restricted to experimentation in restaurants has entered our kitchens now.
Where you live transforms one in ways that’s difficult to comprehend at times. Sometimes it’s beyond reasoning. It was only natural for V to have immense faith in visiting Harmandir Sahib every time he was in Amritsar because that’s what he believed in during his growing up years. He may not live there anymore but that doesn’t shake the faith you’ve harbored all your life.
So, where are you from? A straightforward answer would indeed arouse my curiosity in you
Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. - Elizabeth Stone
How one takes care of a piece of one’s heart is individualistic. Let me start with mine. The decision to have Li’l General was not momentous : a carefully thought and well-timed decision when I felt I’d had enough of my career and was ready to take a break without the nagging urge to go back within three months of maternity leave. Yet, I did not have the slightest idea of what was in store. As I look back at those 39 weeks now and read the blog posts dating back to my pre-delivery days, I realize it was very much taking one day at a time. So it was a total shocker on the operating table on the D-day as I realized how naive I had been to not think about it or even understand the whole process. V and I did not invest in any baby literature - books, videos, DVDs, anything for that matter. The only information related to what was going on was through the Baby Center Newsletter - a good friend at work casually mentioned this site sometime during my 27th week. What ensued in the following weeks after our son LG’s birth was even more funny as I reminisce now. One morning eight days after LG was born, we were to take him to the Paed for at-birth vaccination that had been delayed due to his calcium-deficiency condition. Three adults - V, my mother and I - were sprawled over the bed trying to figure out how ISRO managed to plant the tricolor on the moon. Alright, jokes apart it was serious stuff that required an equivalent amount of brainpower. We were discussing which was the front part of the diaper and how it should be secured around LG’s hips. I was holding the newborn diaper pack that my dad had got from Bahrain (wish I had known the imported pack was available at the pharmacy round the corner) while V and my mom were holding one end each as I narrated the steps. It took us 17 minutes to get the damn diaper on. More experimentation followed for various other things in the following weeks from how to bathe the baby to hey, there’s something called wipes to clean the baby after you-know-what. In the end, we gave up on new age parenting and LG grew up as a baby in the old-times co-sleeping with me and bathing on my legs.
In short, no one told me it was a 24-hour-a-day job and that parenting did not allow for annual leave, casual leave or even sick leave. It meant one could not nap when one wished to and had to time it with the kid’s nap times even if it were 10:17 a.m. And like Chetan Bhagat said in a recent article having kids could be like owning a luxury car. High maintenance stuff. When people ask you, “When are you planning to start a family” they don’t reveal it must be your lucky day if your newborn hasn’t pooped while you are having lunch or that it could be months before you and your spouse could have a meal together. This is the only way of parenting I knew from my experience with LG the past two years or had ever been exposed to.
It was the monsoon of ‘99 when I first moved to Bangalore. Since then, I’ve lived here for four years at a stretch and then moved in and out of the city only to return with a renewed fervour - a longing one has only for a place you feel at home. You can live for years and still not feel the pulse of a city. Pune was one such place for me - cold! The three years I lived there, I never knew which restaurants served the best Italian food or which road-side paanwala rolled the most mouth-watering paan, or which day of the week you got the best chole bature at the neighbouring sweet shop. To Pune’s credit, it was the most welcoming city I’ve ever lived in; its just that with a closed-mind of always ‘wanting to go to Bangalore’ I never made the effort to fit in. There I said it and it is a huge relief now.
Things started looking up towards the end when I enjoyed some delicious chats almost four times a week during our evening walks; never realised how those colorful chutneys could arouse one’s taste buds - an act of gluttony, is all I can say! The thought of those crispy samosas, glistening jalebis from Pradeep Sweets every Saturday morning for breakfast will make it tough for me to get into bed now. Sabudana khichdi figures way high on the list of my favorite food items now - something that I tasted for the first time there. It’s pohe and sabudana khichdi anyday over Idli/Dosa. So you get it how I felt for the food I discovered in Pune yet there was this emptiness of not knowing enough to strike a conversation when it came to places and understanding the pulse of a city.
Bangalore has changed dramatically these past few years but somethings never change like the ubiquitous Shanthi Sagars (we preferred calling them *.sagars in the good ole techie days). Even after all these years, I can confidently vouch for some of the good eat-outs around the city from where you get the best tea leaves to the most creamy malai ras, to the best soan papdi in town and where you can indulge in greasy parathas that feels like real parathas. It feels so nostalgic as I recount some of the places we have frequented in Bangalore East. Many hold fond memories - of good food ofcourse. I am a total foodie, you can count on that; someone who eats first and regrets about calories later when the flab shows up!
- Casa Piccola @ Indira Nagar: Black Forest Crepes, Chocolate Mousse, French Fries, and Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Little Italy on 100 Feet Road, Indira Nagar
- Caesar’s on MG Road
- Orange County @ Manipal Center
- Bombay House on CMH Road : Malai Ras
- KC Das on Varthur Road - Misthi Doi
- The Dhaba : Dal Makhani
- Lalitha’s Paratha Point near Commercial Street
What are your recommended hangouts in the city you live in?
I’m a die-hard optimist and proponent of living in India. But something tells me if I continue talking to customer care executives of various companies 6-hours-a-day as if it were a part-time job, I would soon end up as a nervous wreck.
Last week Monday through Saturday, I clocked about three hours over 35 calls talking to Su-kam Power systems, Tudor India Limited - marketers of Prestolite Inverter batteries in India, a local real estate agent responsible for getting Khata transfer done, CAT enterprises - a water-proofing solutions company in Bangalore, and finally Domino’s Pizza. The common thread across all these calls - they had offered me a service which was fully paid for; that is still under warranty but the product is now broken and needs to be fixed.
Something seriously ails the customer service industry in India. People in metros such as Bangalore often don’t follow up vigorously to mend broken things because it’s not worth their time and effort. So they are more prone to replace it with a new item. After my repeated calls to Su-Kam and promises of sending an engineer went in vain for over five days, the first reaction from V was to get a new one than go through the inconvenience of a power cut and the torture of waiting endlessly for someone to show up. But I wanted to try so long I could before I gave up because the feeling of trying-hard-and-getting-frustrated is better than the feeling of being cheated. From the dealer who supplied us to the guys who fixed it here to Prestolite, I tried everything under the sun before something positive came out of Tudor India. There was finally a ray of hope on Friday evening to get the faulty inverter battery replaced before the warranty expires in 15 days. But the Tudor gentleman was forthright in saying that uder some premise the warranty will not be granted because there’s just a fortnight left before it expires. So he said he will get it fixed (read: pay me and I will get it done). Knowing how things work around here or having seen it the past few days, I relented to cough up more money and have it replaced than spend another Rs.9,000 for a new battery the right way. Sometimes you can’t be too staright-forward to get work done; you have to work with the system (read: corruption)! Su-Kam gentleman who visited was kind enough to tell me that the Bangalore in-charge is on leave 10 days a month. No wonder I kept calling him and one good thing came of it - LG was entertained to listen to “Jee Karda” song from “Singh is Kinng” movie which was his caller tune so much so that I have the song memorized now from the dozen times I’ve called him with no response.
The bright side of the week is the count stands at one down with inverter hopefully fixed. Now it’s 3 more jobs to get done over the next week; I have my hands full and can’t be more excited to talk to parrots trained to say, “This will be fixed within 2-3 days. Positively!”
It’s 10:00 p.m. right now. And, I’m waiting for my pizza from Domino’s (remember the monthly-once—eating-outside excitement) which was ordered at 7:06 p.m. Oh! they did deliver but the wrong one and I paid for the right one. Hunger pangs killing! The optimist in me tells me to hang on before heating up the leftovers of lunch!
“Ever wondered why so many babies are born in September?”, read the tag line of an ad in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that I’d seen numerous times a few years ago; yet, every time I’d stop by to see the glittering diamond gifted by the husband to his wife on New Year’s eve. Too late to make a wish for that diamond or LG being a September born.
You’ll know very soon what the fuss about being born in Sept. is all about? But before that, a little history on my schooling. 1st Std. to 12th Std. in 13 schools across 3 states and 2 countries. That should give some insight into my primary and secondary education. I did not do kindergarten because the schools at the places we lived in then did not have one, so I was enrolled into 1 st Std at 3.5 years only to move after a few months; the next place we moved to had a school with KG and I did 3 months of LKG before being sent home indefinitely as I was suffering from the contagious whopping cough. At 6 years, in 1st Std I did not know how to recite the letters of the alphabet in order even in 1st std. though always stood within the first three ranks until the school found out about the “ABC”s and concluded there was something fishy. I didn’t know any rhyme beyond “Twinkle Tiwnkle Little Star” until a year back when I learned excitedly “Humpty Dumpty” and “Ring a Ring a Roses” while teaching LG. And, I actually did the first 3 months of my 10th Std. with Matriculation syllabus in Tamil Nadu, India before moving on to a CBSE board Indian School in Bahrain. That sets the record straight giving some perspective on my schooling days. Despite so many moves, never once did my parents lose sleep over getting my brother and I admissions in the school, usually only one in the vicinity. Those were simpler days.
I’ve been losing my sanity over finding a school that would accept LG for nursery. Yes, nursery. He turns two-and-a-half next June. Admissions begin as a early as August with the entire process getting over by November, I’ve come to know from my interactions with the schools. Hadn’t it been for a casual statement from a visiting friend about the admission process, I would have slept over it waking up sometime next May to get LG admitted in a nursery. I do live in an Utopian world of my own, don’t I?
Not familiar with the schools around the locality I live in, I sought help from a few people I knew in the apartment of the names of schools kids went to here; then turned to the faithful Google for further info on feedback of schools, distance, phone numbers, admission process etc. It’s been a vicious circle ever since. If the location and medium of education (preferably Montessori) is conducive, then not LG’s age. If LG’s age by some stroke of luck is right, then the admission process is already over in the school. In short, I got tired of working out the combinations in my head and turned to a spreadsheet like an organised mom listing schools, addresses, age criteria, other requirements, how to apply, last date, fees, so on and so forth. The query sheets and traceability matrix of most projects I’ve worked on were way simpler and concise than this one.
It is expected of a parent to go to lengths for a child. Right? So I went with the flow until I blew my top while filling the application form for this G*** International School. It read : “A brief about the child’s strengths and problem areas. Please post a write-up about your child.” I worked hard on this one than I have on my resume during my working years. Totally exhausted from racking my brain on the strengths and weaknesses part, I outsourced the write-up part to LG’s dad. What can you say about the strengths of a 1 year, 9 month old kid? Hardworking - works all day pouring sand into his plastic bucket with a spade and climbs up and down tirelessly in the mid-day sun on the slides. Or should it be “a great team player” -believes in sharing his toys with other kids. Or go a step further and say, “believes in learning hands-on” - even if it means keeping a finger at other toddler’s eyes to demonstrate where their eyes are located. Folks, I’m at a loss for word because damn it, the kid is barely a two years old and you expect a write-up and laundry list of strengths and weaknesses. What is this - a shrink session to assess the child on before admitting him/her?
Most schools that I have called have this rule: “As of June 1, the kid should be between 2yr 9 months and 3 years old for Montessori M-0 or (s)he should be between 1 yr 10 months and 2 yr 9 mo to be admitted in toddler session or (s)he should be above 3 years for nursery.” One school with good feedback, when I prodded on about the right age for LG after they refused to admit him for the next session, said ,”Ma’am, you can consider applying for 1st std when he is 6 years old.” Felt like replying, “Thank you very much. I’ll keep that in mind four years from now and home school my child until then.”This child-planning in all likelihood will beat India’s five-year plans.
Let’s not get started on the fee structure. I feel ashamed at saying that we would be required to spend nearly 70% of what my parents spent for 4 years of my engineering in 1 year for LG’s nursery which is a whopping Rs.70,000. Isn’t this crazy? I did my 4 years of engineering (tuition, hostel, photocopies, stationery, commute and other miscellaneous expenses) in Rs.91,537 or so. Yes, I kept a daily account then. Even factoring in an average of 6% annual inflation should get the nursery fees so high assuming nursery today is equivalent to a regular degree a decade back ? And, more than enough reason for me to get back to mainstream work?
My afternoons are fruitfully spent visiting schools and taking a tour of their facilities. On some occasions, I do forget for a minute where I am seeing all those splash pools, swimming pools, gyms, aerobics classes, skating rink if it weren’t for a sudden cry from the day care center or students racing to the buses at the end of the day. The schools I’ve studied at, even the most sophisticated ones, are a far cry from the ones I’ve seen in the last few days. Individual chairs and tables - not those long wooden benches that I’ve seen all my life, flashy classrooms with colorful posters on the walls - no wonder these schools universally carry the “international” tag. Honestly, I didn’t come back with a good feeling. My stomach churned at the thought of sending my to be 2.5 year old son to BIG schools as these. I was looking for something small and cosy to start his 15 years of basic education; one that he would look forward to go to every day and not something intimidating with its sheer size and sophistication. The hunt continues.
So, it’s after all not such a bad idea to get that diamond for a New Year gift and start the baby making process in Jan just in time for school admissions?
After a long wait, I’ve decided to get this out of my head and be done with before logically moving on with the rest of the posts. Here comes the concluding part in the “Moving Cities” series.
With boxes of all sizes and shapes stacked up in every room, we spent the night on plastic covered mattresses laid on the floor; food for us was ordered from outside and some generous neighbours offered to cook up a meal for LG. About 25% of stuff was yet to be packed and we got going the next morning with the carpenter dismantling the wardrobe and the toiletries being stowed away like trash into a stack in the cartons. Yes, DRS Agarwal - the packers and movers - sucked this time. Satisfied with their services three years ago, we decided to go with them this time too for moving from Pune to Bangalore despite the relatively exorbitant price they charge. And, I regret that decision. The two days that they packed, I had to don on the hat of a supervisor as they lacked coordination and each one was up against the other picking quarrels, delaying loading etc. The last day at Pune was a circus; never had I imagined that so much could be done in twenty-four hours and still be left with energy. The loading which was scheduled to begin at 11:00 p.m. got delayed to 6:00 p.m. because of a severe shortage of diesel in Pune. To fill the container’s tank took the packers to petrol bunks across the city and by the time it was all done it was late evening.