Listen to thirty minutes of Zoom any day of the week to enlighten yourself of the upcoming releases. Either there’s something wrong with my hearing or there’s a serious dearth of creativity in Bollywood right now. As most viewers, I don’t understand what goes into the making of music for a movie but what I do know is good music can make or break a movie. And it’s been a really long while since the industry came out with some differentiating foot-tapping number.
The only ones that have stood out in recent times are perhaps “Pappu Can’t Dance Saala” from “Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na” or the ones from Bachna Ae Haseeno (thanks to The Boss). So much so that the originals sound very similar to the remixes. Or is it because they are overdoing the promos?
Even the popular “Singh is Kinng” didn’t boast of any grooving numbers. If it weren’t for the aggressive marketing or the chemistry between Akshay-Katrina, I doubt it would have been as successful. And don’t even get me started on Himesh Reshammiya; to think that he got the formula right once and has been rehashing ever since movie after movie in his nasal voice with the lyrics changed is suffocating. To think of Yuvvraaj being promoted as a musical with Ghai trying to replicate the success of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, it’s no where close. It’s a shame that the music took 87 days to make while the shooting lasted 90 days - whatever that means. Nothing these days makes you want to look back and hear one more time. I can’t quite recollect when I last named the movie from its music without as much as flinching an eyelid. The other day, a song from the recently released Dostana was playing and I thought it sounded very familiar - no wonder Karan Johar in action. If anything, the choreography can get better in the least. Great steps among recent movies: I’d pick the Bachna Ae Haseeno title number.
I am longing for an era as the ’90s when we had movies with almost all the songs that were chart busters - remember Aashiqui, Dil, Main Pyaar Kiya, DDLJ, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and much later Dil Chahtha Hai - phew that was so effortless. And I have to now really rake my brains hard to come up with even 2 or 3 movies with overall good music in recent years. Maybe I will settle for Rang De Basanti, Jab We Met (alright, this is biased because I’ve seen it like 7483 times), and Bachna Ae Haseeno.
What’s on your playlist?
Do you believe in a notepad and pencil to keep track of your to-do list? Sounds very old-fashioned? I’m a sucker for planning things and doing most of my activities in an organized manner. One of my quirks is to get the hardest task on the list out of my way as early as possible. So, if a deadline for an article is 10 days away, I like to get the first draft ready a week before leaving enough time for review and final submission two days before its due; this saves some nights of anxious sleep and the family from my foul temper. Getting the balance right between living life one day at a time to keep the surprise element and planning every moment is tricky!The habit of getting things done methodically well ahead in time can be annoying at times. For instance, I finalized the deal with Packers and Movers 35 days ahead of our scheduled move. And I can say from experience that crossing items off list early on works great and keeps everyone sane.
The tricky part in this whole business of accomplishing stuff is identifying what needs to get done and actually executing it. Over years, I’ve come to use different tools such as Ta-Da List, Joe’s Goals, Remember the Milk, and Google’s To-Do List. But there’s one which is not in the list that won hands down with its proven track of remarkable performance; to this day, I completely vouch for it. It’s my memory. A few years back, I wrote about using memory mapping techniques I use in How I Remember Birthdays. I extend this to keeping track of my everyday lists as well. The first thing in the morning, I do a mental run of what needs to get done that day and go about doing them one by one reviewing later in the evening as to what is pending.
Mental note-making may not work for everyone. There is a very obvious drawback in this primitive system. At times, I am encouraged to procrastinate things I don’t like to do such as the calling up the customer service people to get my water purifier serviced or following up with Insurance firm on the due-date for premium payment or stocking vegetables in the fridge. But then aren’t mundane tasks what most weekends are about? Some periods of the year can be particularly busy such as December for me when personal and car insurance is due, LGs birthday falls right in the middle of it all, book closing, posting seasons’ cards and so on. Similarly, keeping track of 117 items for big projects such as moving cities is not feasible. This is when I turn to my good ole friend : the notepad, for assistance in accomplishing my mission. Strangely, memory can’t compete with the power of writing things down.
There are good days when all items get crossed off the list. The high you get in checking an item is amazing. Seriously. Try it if you haven’t done it before. There can be days when nothing will get done. Be prepared as the list seems insurmountable. On such occasions, I do a little trick of just breaking them into passable pieces and handling them one at a time. Of late, I’ve gone back to my notepad days to manage my days better.
What do you prefer - the techie approach or the notepad way?
Steaming hot freshly brewed filter coffee with a copy of The Hindu stretched on the veranda (read: courtyard in South Indian homes) : can’t be a more perfect start to one’s morning. I prefer the “Times of India” now and a hot cuppa chai instead of coffee. With online versions available for most newspapers as “e-papers”, times have changed. But there’s something about seeing it in real paper, the texture, the font, the size, the layout, your favorite columnist’s piece on that particular page, the color - it’s a personal relationship that no bits and bytes can replace! When I’m visiting my parents’ where Times is not available, it takes some getting used to to read The Hindu.
Do you remember when you first got into the habit of reading a newspaper? I can distinctly recollect reading one every evening after school ever since my 4th Standard - when I was barely nine years old, though it fails my memory if it was the Times or The Hindu. Something tells me it was “The Hindu” as I recall attempting the crosswords. I grew quite fond of the Southern Daily by the time I was in 11th grade carefully marking difficult words in the famed editorial section to be looked up later in the dictionary. With a target of learning five new words everyday, The Hindu did a good job. Cracking the crossword was a considered a great feat and I took pride in flagging the finished Saturday piece to my classmates on a Monday. That was 15 years ago. I can barely get a few right now. And it’s a shame The Hindu doesn’t publish original editorials anymore - most of its pages are filled with syndicated pieces borrowed either from The Guardian or NYT.
Gossip is like a magnet attracting one faster than good reading material. No wonder chick-lits are doing brisk business in India. The Times of India has capitalized on this psychology better than any other newspaper in the country. I once argued with the Editor of Pune Mirror that people first read “Bangalore Times” or “Pune Times” supplement before moving on to the main newspaper. He opined his tabloid had a crisp way of presenting what was happening in Pune. Sure, but people didn’t care and would stop buying if it didn’t carry the masala stuff too. For instance, burglaries in south side of town, power cuts in so and so neighborhoods, and who gets a BSNL bill of Rs. 1 Lakh is not sufficient to improve circulation. And, the media houses understand that. If people bought newspapers exclusively for news, then The Hindu should have the highest readership in the country today. But, it isn’t!
Gossip satiates people offering wholesome entertainment. Observe this - if you are in the office bus and work for an IT company, see how many who carry the newspaper read the real news sections and how many flip through the which-celebrity-is-dating-whom parts. (Don’t consider the Nerds - it’s Economic Times for them and the show-offs)!
Here I compile a list of my favorite newspapers over the years from the places I’ve lived in and the sections I like to read. Some of them I don’t subscribe to but read online.
- Times of India - Columnists Santosh Desai, Bachi Karkaria, and at times Shobhaa De (I know this is going to be a total put off for some of you). Sunday supplement Times Life.
- Economic Times - everything about it
- Pune Mirror - Gouri Dange (no e-version available but some of her columns are posted on her blog)
- The Hindu - Shashi Tharoor’s column and Reader’s Editor K Narayanan. Sunday Magazine.
- Chicago Tribune - I preferred this over NYT during my stay in Chicago.
- Boston Globe - Ditto
- Mint - Mitra Kalita’s columns
- New York Times - Maureen Dowd
I was going to compile a list of the ones that I totally detest. But after giving it a two minute thought I’ve decided against it. It would be an insult to the much experienced writers. Writing is a craft, a profession too lonely that takes up way too much time.
Your turn: what are your favorites?
After reading this post “First Sentences” on LG, V e-mailed me a heartfelt message saying how much he misses being around his son during his growing months; the time when he has started expressing himself better and every “papa” uttered conveys the 23-month-old really misses his dad. It has become customary for me to show pictures of V and LG together to LG every morning and evening that the boy has taken our photo sessions for granted. There are days when he positions himself on the dining chair (funny, considering he is barely the height of the table) struggling to open the laptop cover and in vain calls out for me. The separation has caused the toddler so much anguish that he refuses to talk with his dad over phone but longs to see his pictures.
I do what best I can by posting frequently on the other blog - Lil General Rules to bridge the gap between the Father and Son. I was at a loss of words to reply meaningfully to V’s message because I can’t say I understand this separation. I’ve never been away from LG for more than 2 hours at a stretch ever since he has been born. At times when certain days are frustrating, I imagine it must be blissful for V to be away from a demanding toddler. But I now realize it’s not! Frustrating moments are often short-lived; separation causes more pain than one could fathom. In a jiffy, I sent him these lines in reply –
Cost of a MBA Degree: 10 Lakhs
One-way trip home on a flight from Calcutta-Bangalore: Rs.6,000
Innocent moments - seeing LG’s expression of awe on seeing the cycle for the first time and feeling it all over : Priceless
Yea, I know very MasterCard-ly. But there it is!
[this picture was taken when LG was two-weeks old]
What do you do when you are down and out - on one of those bad days? Go out and have a drink or lounge on the couch to watch your favorite movie for a zillionth time? Go for a drive or call one of your best pals and cry your heart out? Strangely, in the past I did none of these on my not-in-the-mood days. I just went into a shell and kept to myself - doing best what I did which was doing nothing. Of late, I’ve found the secret that burns my negative energy and thoughts in a flash actually making me feel good at the end of it.
The demands of being a stay-at-home mother for two years now, not having a real job that requires me to step out of home and have a life, the lack of a social circle, and a husband who will be away for an year does take its toll at times. After moving to Bangalore to our own apartment, I’ve found peace in the most unusual thing - home improvement/maintenance. Yes, you heard it right! Before you read between the lines, I do have a maid who does most of the cleaning but I find immense pleasure in dusting the windows, scrubbing the floors, cleaning the glass surfaces, shining the wooden artifacts, reusing old curtain to make new cushion covers, and developing an indoor flower garden. I know this is called domesticity; but I’ve never been the true house-wife - not the born kind. I still cook dishes from recipe books. If you are imagining our home to be picture-perfect that you’d be scared to sit on the couch or think twice before stepping your feet on the floor, it’s far from it. The house was rented for three years, so the floor’s no longer the reflecting surface it once used to be; the glaze of the tiles in the bathrooms is lost but we’ll soon get there.
This is a great therapy as it is physical and burns a lot of calories. It is also a job that requires no thinking - very mindless and monotonous in many ways which appeals me at times for a change! Here, I leave you with images of the first dhania (read: coriander) sprout that showed up. LG’s formula tin has been reused to be filled up with mud and dhania seeds, old curtain cut into cushion covers, and new plants waiting to be re-potted :
With half of the country celebrating Diwali on Monday and the Northern part ringing in the festival of lights on Tuesday, one knew all was well with the world. Because, the confusion prevailed over when was Deepavali actually? “When in Rome, do as Romans do”, is one principle I follow when it comes to festivals; if we are living North and our Diwali falls a day before, then we celebrate it both the days. It’s bursting crackers and eating sweets after all - so how does it affect anyone anyway other than adding a few hundred calories
This Diwali was different though. First, with V being away it wasn’t fun hauling myself alone to do clothes shopping, preparing sweets at home and letting LG cling on to me every time something burst or lit up the sky - so much as a sparkler. This was perhaps the first time as far back as my memory goes, that I have spent the least on fireworks - precisely Rs.97.5 which included two sparkler boxes, one snake (yea, that polluting one!) tablet, a plastic gun and three rolls of cape. Except a roll of cape, the rest remains unopened. So much for Diwali!
I had worked out a master-plan to prepare LG for what was coming, a day or two before. Bangalore, unfortunately is not like the smaller towns of India where one finds it hard to have a uninterrupted 2-minute conversation a week before Diwali. With schools closed, kids ring in the celebration way ahead of time. As a kid, I remember meticulously drying the 100-walas in the Sun just to ensure they stayed dry on D-day. And, then there was the elaborate task of removing the single pieces from the 500-wala so that we had enough stock to keep us going for a week. Now, that was fun! Coming back to my plan for LG, I got a gun and a cape and surprised him with two or three shots as he ran for cover. A few minutes later when I went to fix his lunch, he hid it in the tool cabinet, locked it and waved his hand saying “kaanum” (read:lost) - imitating my actions for stuff I would want out of his reach. His way of expressing he wasn’t too happy with it. I tried a few more times before giving up on Diwali. The Diwali evening was again a quiet one. We were mere spectators for sometime as the rest of the people in the apartment tried their hands namesake on a few 100-walas. And Diwali was over.
The weirdest thing in the whole episode was all the kids in the neighborhood were seated quietly out of fear by one side with hands clutched to their ears while the parents took turns in finishing the stock. I am amazed at how times have changed. It’s more about wearing new clothes, having some days off from school and nothing about crackers. Good for the environment-conscious and against-child-labor kids.
“Please is frame ko yahaan par taang do!” : One of the frequent requests from me to my husband on random Saturday mornings until a few months ago. For the uninitiated, weekend mornings were meant for lounging on the sofa with breakfast in one hand and Economic Times newspaper in the other.
Two hours later when everything stays where it was and not an inch of movable/immovable objects has been displaced - Sigh.
“Please is frame ko yahaan par taang do!“, I repeat in an emphatic tone with extra effort for showing no signs of irritability. More often than not, the job gets done. Sometimes when the Husband is on a roll, more than what I had requested for.
Fast forward to now. I’m afraid the Husband has been officially liberated of such mundane chores as drilling holes in the walls to put up year old pictures or that odd collectible picked from an equally obscure place god knows when! Of late, I’ve donned the hat for doing odd jobs around the house from drilling holes (with a drilling machine of course) to fixing leaking pipes, removing a faulty fan regulator, securing velcros of mosquito netlons with adhesives and transporting stuff on and off from the lofts.
For people who live outside India, it might sound strange as to why such a mundane task calls for an elaborate post. Well, to begin with in India, atleast the people I know hire people for such services and never do such tasks themselves. There’s always a electrician or a plumber to be summoned who are more than happy to get things done for as low as Rs.50. But I just realised that it saves me immense time by doing it myself rather than calling the required person for such small things and finally getting it done the way I want. So here I am equipping my tool box replacing old star screw drivers and broken drill bits. Strangely, it also works as a great therapy taking my mind off things that I’d worry about if I were not doing anything. So when I’m stressed out I take to cleaning and fixing things around the house with recycling stuff being the latest fad.
When the Husband gets back, we would be pretty much an independent family and one less thing to argue on as to if the nail should have been 2 mm above the pencil mark or below!
Last Saturday evening, Lil’ General and I were invited to a two-year-old’s birthday party. Not many people know us around here. After exchanging pleasantries, the conversation drifted to the “What does your husband do?” part.
“He is studying.” I replied. A pause. “He’s doing an MBA course actually.” I responded in an excited and matter-of-factly tone.
“Oh!” came the response. “Where?” came next almost spontaneously. Pat came the response from me out of experience in a nonchalant tone.
It’s tough to digest the information from a lady as old as I am with a toddler in tow whose husband is away studying. So I always leave the topic at that without encouraging any further discussion unless specifically prodded.
I am used to the drill now. So I gave it time before moving on to other topics knowing only too well that we’ll restart the discussion with renewed fervor in a while. After the usual small talk about how-much-does-yours-on-sleep, which-school-are-you-seeking-admission-in, came the “So how do did he get in? GMAT?” round of questions. Now again the kind of questions depend on the gender and interest. In this case, it was a male so I went about satisfying his curiosity in detail. The topic almost always ends in a gender-neutral question, “Has he quit his job or is he on a sabbatical? Isn’t that a big risk to quit and study?” How do you answer convincingly to such a question? That we each drew $100,000 salaries a year for a decade and stashed away our incomes in hedge funds earning handsome returns; that we were smart enough to withdrew before they went bust so we can afford to sit on our a**es now while my husband earns a fancy degree from an equally fancy college. I don’t have the wits or the presence of mind to answer so I usually resort to a light-hearted “Considering that we are an unemployed family, I bet it is!” I have received varied responses to this one ranging from, “It’s worth it to live off your resources while he studies” to “you can afford; you have large reserves.” I’m at a loss of words to carry on the discussion any further. No offense, though. We are all entitled to our own inferences.
So here it is to all of you who have been wondering but were too modest to prod further. Yes, V quit his full-time job to study. He is not on a sabbatical and I don’t work for a corporate either. I just do a bit of freelancing that pays me to meet any miscellaneous expenditure. Anything that trickles in is always good, no? That qualifies for us to be called an unemployed family, I guess. It was as simple as this when we decided to put V through school again: it was now or never! I say “we” because we are in this business of studying and unemployment together as a family. Anytime in the future wouldn’t have been any better than we are today. With Lil’ General not starting school yet and not old enough to comprehend a parent being away for longer periods of time, this was the best window we had. Ofcourse, 2-3 years earlier would have been ideal.
We’d always toyed with the idea of me going back to work full-time when V goes to school. But that was before LG had come along. With LG around, I didn’t entertain the thought even if it meant using all our savings accumulated over the years and losing a year’s income. It just didn’t feel right to leave LG in someone else’s care. I know there are working parents who manage the show with nannies taking care of their kids or by sending them to day care. We are what we are by the choices we make. If I had to choose a career over my son, then I wouldn’t have taken a break and would’ve started long back.
Coming back to the RISK part, yes it is. It means a lot more than what it appears superficially. It calls for a change in lifestyle - if only moderately, for we were never spendthrifts or pub-hoppers. It means making a budget and living within the allotted money, ordering pizzas once a month and not eating out on the pretext oh-i-don’t-feel-like-cooking-today, shopping for quality groceries economically at the beginning of the month when the best deals are available. It means not forgetting to pay your credit card bills on time thereby inviting a penalty. It means air travel is a luxury when one can do with a second-class a/c train travel. It means not wasting food, vegetables, and in general cooking with alert senses. It means learning how to drive because a driver is unaffordable. It means sitting up late at nights to complete writing assignments even on exhausted days because there’s no way one can turn down the only source of income. It also means not to be foolish with the stock market - not the time to take more RISKs. It also means no compromise for LG come what may. So yes, the kid does get his quota of new monthly toys and Gini and Jony dresses - just that now his mom keeps an eye on the sale going on! You may call it a frugal living. I’d call it cutting down on wasteful expenditure for once and living modestly.
And what do you know, it’s been a fun two months being accountable for everything you do. I know the shops that stock the best rice at the lowest prices or the stores that sell quality clothes and toys for LG. The only area where I’m extraordinarily lavish is with my phone bills. They do run into thousands thereby offsetting the savings on everything else. But that’s what keeps me going! Here’s to an opportunity for changing careers and living frugally!
It’s late afternoon; I’m browsing mindlessly on my Laptop in the dining room with LG fast asleep in the bedroom. There can’t be more peace than these stolen moments to get my work done and out of the way. And, unless you were in my shoes you wouldn’t understand how precious ‘an hour of LG’s nap’ is. It will be a good seven hours before I get another opportunity to think about work. With the maid not turning up for work today, my domestic responsibilities are not sparing either - cleaning, moping, you know the works!
I have a deadline to meet on an article before tomorrow and the first draft seems like a dream. Hit by a bad bout of writer’s block, the words just refuse to take shape for the opening sentence. I turned to my favorite blogs hoping to take my mind off the work on hand for a while. Didn’t work! So, I just shutdown the goddamn machine (sorry for the profanity) , walked around the house, tried to nap for a while in vain before picking up a book from the bookshelf. And, what do I choose - Erich Segal’s Love Story : an amazing book full of emotions, packed with drama and most importantly one that can be finished in one sitting. Just about what I needed for an afternoon like this ..lost count of the no. of times I’ve read the book. ‘Bozo’ is a favorite name in the family so much so that a teddy character in LG’s family goes by the name “Bozo Brother”. I just put the book back in its designated spot on the bookshelf with “liquid eyes”, as Ol says. With LG still asleep, I’m in the mood to get back to work with the hope of turning in the assignment by evening.
The family got together this weekend. Mom who was already here for over a fortnight was joined by Dad early Friday morning. We generally hung around, ate good food, went shopping, walked around the neighborhood with LG while he invited attention from passers’ by and did what we do best at times - nothing! The heat just got to us. It was feeling like a furnace and the entire day power cut just made it worse - unbearable actually.
Grand-parenting is a lot more enjoyable than parenting, so says mom. It is a responsibility-free phase of life where you get to enjoy everything the child does. When the child is your own, you are all the time worried about what to feed next, bath time, ensuring baby essentials are stocked up, cleaning the potty, readying clean clothes, sterilized bottles, getting the bag ready to go out, worried about baby proofing the house and what might be the next target - the list is endless, there is always something to do that you can never enjoy the moment. The more naughtier the grand-kids, more delight for the grad-parents. Every time LG climbed his way on top of the dining table to pull down a bottle of pickle or on to the sofa to unplug the mobile being charged, it put a smile on my mom’s face. Wonder if she would have been as happy thirty years back while we were kids. Growing up, I’d often heard how my naughty brother made mom cry as he never let her sleep in the afternoons and was constantly either breaking something or catching something creepy like a water snake. She says, seeing LG reminds her of those days. I’ve rarely seen her so happy. The two of them rock when they are together. LG enjoys her company equally that her absence is something he has not been able to come to terms with after they left this Tuesday. He can’t speak yet, can’t express himself like us but his actions say everything. His clinginess, his crankiness and the sorrow in his eyes shows how much he is missing her. It was funny to see how he played with Dad this time mistaking ta-ta for tha-tha. Every time anyone uttered the word “tha-tha” he would wave his hand as if to say bye-bye.
The party is over and it’s back to work now. On a unrelated note, a editor for a travel magazine wrote last week asking if I could do a 2000-word feature for their upcoming issue. I was all excited about it and the deadline wasn’t every tight either. The money was decent. I accepted and then on second thoughts had to let it go. The unpredictable Internet connection, family visiting, frequent power cuts and a demanding LG made me think twice. These are just reasons I know but this is also the reality I live with now. If only I had pushed myself hard enough, this wouldn’t have been a lost opportunity.