Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shopophobics anonymous.

Axiom of the shopping God (Goddess??).
I am a female. Females like shopping. Therefore, I should like shopping.

Unfortunately somewhere in evolution progression, there was a genetic misfiring and an anomaly was born. A female who doesn't like to shop. Me.

I know that I am risking being expelled from the female species, but malls give me the heebie-jeebies. The thought of going to shop, rather than giving me pleasurable feelings of excitement and giggly glee usually gives me anything BUT that .Especially on Saturdays (which is the only day I realistically get to shop). The sheer swarms of people grabbing clothes and shoving each other makes me want to dig a hole and pull the cover right in after me.

My desire to own any piece of clothing is inversely proportional is to the exact same replicas present on the rack behind it. Somehow, it’s difficult to imagine how it will be humanly POSSIBLE to avoid meeting people wearing the same clothes.

Look at the odds…

(Clothes on rack X No of branches of mall)

(Number of female population in city/ Price of clothes)

Almost everyone in your likely social circle has a great chance of wearing EXACTLY the same thing as you are wearing.

And the trial rooms – I object on ethical grounds to mirrors which flatter only to deceive– slimming mirrors in malls if you please! One looks at the mirror and see a becomingly attired, comely version of oneself staring back – and then one goes home and God alone knows where the person in the mirror goes. Bah!

I know women who can spend hours and hours just browsing and trying on clothes – what is the POINT of Window shopping? For a few minutes you delude yourself that you are the owner of something? The whole effort of standing in queue for hours to get into a trial room and then try it on, only to not buy it because you really weren’t planning to in the first place strikes me as an inexplicable form of dementia.

And holiday seasons – Diwali, Dusserah – all that burden of buying! The exhibitions and the bargaining – I am completely unequipped to bargain, experience has taught me that looking at shopkeeper beseechingly just does not cut any ice.

Its not that I don’t like possessions – I love new things as much as the next person. But it’s the process of acquisition which I find excruciating.

And these days it’s so complicated – the whole mix and match thing. Heck, if I could mix and match, I would have been a fashion designer. Indians are NOT DIY kinds. We want simplicity. We want things which come with instructions – otherwise it’s just too much pressure to figure out the right algorithm. Does one go for coordination or contrast? Are these fabrics compatible? WHAT kind of occasion does one wear it for – with this trouser it’s formal, with this it’s light casual – so many decisions, so much stress!
And I believe that it’s the whole mix-n-match movement which has resulted in upside-down shopping behaviours. I know I have taken to picking up dupattas first and then trying to figure out what goes with it. I even had a distant relative who picked up petticoat first and tried to match a sari with it.

The whole anxiety of consumerism is starting to get to me now. I have people coming and looking at me as if I was an alien when I say I don’t like shopping. Colleagues are scandalized at how fast I decide I don’t want to buy anything in shops and bolt out for air. Wedding shopping is an agonizing punishment – after a point I am like the proverbial Nandi bull just nodding my head at anything which is shown to me.

So I have taken to lurking in small stores on weekdays with a list (like a grocery list) of things I ABSOLUTELY DESPERATELY NEED to buy.

I was contemplating the personal shopper phenomena one day, under the happy illusion that I could completely outsource the whole exercise. Until I was disabused by someone who told me that one needed to actually accompany the personal shopper.

They really should start my kind of personal shoppers – the ones who will actually buy the clothes that you want (the right look and color), in the right budget (if one can euphemistically call it that – sighhhh) at the right time- without me moving out of my house.

Any takers?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lunchroom lament

I have a lunch stalker. Well, he seems to want to stalk me at other times, but the cafeteria is his current favourite hunting ground.

The cafeteria is one of the great levellers in the work place. Where you stand with reference to other co-workers is sharply brought into focus – irrespective of rank, designation or money.

There are certain cues to figure out where you are in the lunch hierarchy.
Are you welcome at all tables or will people surreptitiously edge a lunch box on the empty chair so that it appears taken?
Do people wave at you to come and join them or do they avoid making eye contact the minute you walk in?
Is there a sudden drop in conversation the minute you approach a lunch table?
Do people, who till then look like they have roots growing under the table, gulp food and mutter ‘excuse me... work beckons’ the minute you join them?

My lunch stalker falls into the latter category (but of course!). Let’s call him Mr. X. As far as I can figure out Mr.X used to eat alone most of the times before I joined.

To give a brief background, he is a fairly senior (in the organizational hierarchy) gentleman of late middle age and overwhelmingly talent (if only in own head - His boss and others seem to disagree) and thus, he has a great sense of what is due to him and his consequence. Typical interactions will be liberally interspersed with many “when I was talking to MD’, ‘at the board meetings...’, ‘I can’t share this information because unfortunately what I do is so very confidential’. He has a disconcerting habit of starting conversation in with himself and then suddenly shifting gears and talking to the person in front of him (who of course, has no idea what the heck the topic is about).

As luck will have it, his cabin is a few feet away from my desk so I am in his direct line of vision.

His original strategy was to come and ask me completely arbitrary questions – from the spellings of words, to prices of mobile handsets to NASDAQ index and then proceed to propound his views on life for the next forty minutes until my eyes glazed over. So, I devised (quite clever I thought) solution to that – I put on headphones! This seemed to work reasonably well.

But lately, he has taken to ambushing me at lunch time. We have a small cafeteria – so I usually go early to grab a table, and like to chill out there with a book and occasionally with this other relatively new, co-worker.

Mr. X keeps an eye on my desk to see when I go for lunch (or so claims my boss, who has been watching these little tête-à-têtes with intensely sadistic amusement. So much so, that he has mandated that I sign a legal agreement promising not to quit because of persecution at lunch time). So whatever time I go, five minutes later Mr.X will come and sit on the table and talk and talk and oh God, TALK.

Yesterday, I thought I would quietly circumvent his attacks by going at the end of lunch hour. Mr. X already present (right at the front table where one couldn’t avoid him) saw me and desperately waved at his table. I shrugged and pointed out that there were dishes on his table so I would join the other regular co-worker. Before I knew what happened, Mr. X had jumped up from his table, gone to the pantry and ordered the kitchen fellow to clean the table so that I could sit there – after that basic courtesy mandated that I DO sit there.

Because of his self-importance, he has divided the office into people he deems worthy of interaction and those who are not. The former, from all I can see are almost without exception, overwhelmingly rude to him. In fact, one senior lady, having seen my unsuccessful efforts to extricate myself politely from his clutches came up to me and actually gave me a tutorial on “how to be rude to Mr. X’
I unfortunately CANNOT be overtly rude to people. There is some congenital flaw in my personality - which won’t allow me to walk off in the middle of conversations. Mr. X has figured this out and thus I provide him with easy prey. ( as I did in my earlier office, where without fail I would attract variations of Mr.X) I wouldn’t mind it so much if it was once in a while – but every SINGLE day – even when I am terribly busy or asocial or preoccupied.

As far as I can see the only way to stop him is by death or resignation. Maybe, my boss had a point after all.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


One of my dearest friends has just had a baby four days ago. I am very happy for her in the deeply, quiet way you can only be happy for people you care very much for.

There are other acquaintances and sundry classmates I know who have kids – but this is probably the first of the so-called inner circle.
The first time I have seen a tiny kidney bean shaped thingummy in the sonograph transform into an actual baby.
The first time I have heard about nausea and morning sickness and weepiness and sundry other physical metamorphosis at close quarters.
The first time I have gone to shops to look at baby-monitoring books and the first time in my life I have talked about maternity clothes and filed away baby names for reference.

I know at this point I should be gushing and cooing or at any rate, babbling incoherently (gushing and cooing is really not the kind of thing I do very well) in delirious maasi-like fervour but for some reason, I am not.

Perhaps that is because there is this other whole set of tangled emotions which are also happening simultaneously.

Predominant amongst them is awe. The fact that someone you know so well has actually gone over to the other side. A person who was the ordinary girl next door has suddenly, miraculously created a person. A person who will eventually be a human being with feelings and emotions and opinions and intelligence. Try as you might, the brain struggles to reconcile the friend you know so well as the person who has brought a human being into the world. There are these flashbacks of her standing on top of a desk in college to wolf-whistle or sprawled in someone’s house watching a sitcom or ganging up to tease about a boyfriend- which don’t gel very well with the mental image of what a mother is supposed to be like.

There is this sense of shared (can you call it voyeuristic?), overwhelming responsibility interspersed with periods of mind-numbingly blind panic – how will she protect the child from the world and its many hazards? How will she teach him right from wrong? How will she get up n number of times during the night? , how will she know when he is hungry, sleepy, unwell? How will she cope day in, day out for the next twenty years? What will she do if she is tired and needs a day off?

And there is a sense of wistfulness as well. No longer the “what are you doing in the evening- catch a movie?” No longer can we hang around in Barista till we are kicked out at three in the morning talking of nothing in particular.

I know when I meet the baby – I’ll be captivated. And I know just like we all ( my friends and I ) have moved through various other life altering changes of work, relocation and marriage, we will all make this transition too.

But one thing is for certain - Life, as we knew it, will never be the same.

Baby boy for you, there are so many hopes that I don’t know even where to begin.
A hope that you grow up in a safe, happy, healthy, cherished haven.
That love, hope and cheer always are your companions. God bless forever and ever.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Conversations with Goddess (of the undomestic kind)

I have a maid who comes to clean at my house. Let’s call her Undomestic-Goddess-Amma (or Ugamma for short). I inherited Ugamma from the in-laws – she’s been going there for the last dozen years and has recently added me to her work portfolio. Quite the Family Retainer from the old English melodrama or our very own desi Ramu-chacha .So she enjoys all the privileges and benefits of the old retainer however in the minor matter of doing the actual work – she differs slightly – as in, she has an allergy to it. While at a broad philosophical level I do agree that one should get money without having to work for it, consistently becoming a victim of it is another story altogether.

We have the following very edifying conversations with marginally varying themes every other day.

Storm in the teacup
Me: “Ugamma –All the tea cups have this residual layer of tea after you have washed them- I had to wash all of them again last night”
Ugamma (in tones of polite interest): “Accha?”

Washing washbasins
Me: (Pointing to a wash basis where I am standing): “There is some dirt on this side of the basin – can you wash it please?”

Next day I go to the basin and the other bathroom and I see that resplendent in accumulated dirt.

Me: “Did you not wash the basin yesterday?”
Ugamma: (in deeply affronted tones): “Of course I did!”
Me: “Oh ..but its still dirty
Ugamma: (with quelling dignity) “I washed the OTHER basin”

Mental note to self – specify all the basins in the household that you want washed.

After a while I go to the other washbasin and I see though the previous days offending stain on the left side of the basin is gone, the dust on the right side continues to gloat at me.

Me: “Ugammaaaaaaaaaa” and wave at the offending spot
Ugamma: “I have CLEANED the side you told me to”

Continued note to self – list down ALL specific components of the wash basin you want washed. Note to self part 2 – WASH the damn thing again at night.

Desh ki dharti
Me: (Holding aloft a pair of trousers and with a shirt slung over my shoulder) “Ugamma – have you seen the trouser bottom edge– its carrying more mud than any trouser has any right to”
Ugamma: (in tones of munificence): “Well of course, I have not washed the rims of the trousers”
Me: “Er.. what have you washed?”
Ugamma : (triumphantly) "I have washed the MIDDLE part”
Me: “Well from tomorrow can you please wash the edges as well?”
Ugamma: (in the manner of someone humouring a developmentally-challenged child) “Accha theek hai”

Niagara clothes
Her usual washing clothes routine goes something like this.
She always appears to be in a rush to go to the bathroom to wash the clothes. She will disappear inside and firmly lock the doors. The door will remain locked for 5 -45 minutes depending on what her planned schedule for the day. Actual sounds of washing clothes however have been consistently timed at three and a half minutes (after merging the colors and the whites together to form one cheerful rainbow coloured liquid)

Then after a while when I walk into the drying balcony and slip on a mini lagoon

Me: (mournfully) “Ugamma – I nearly broke myself here – can’t u WRING the damn clothes even a little bit”
Ugamma: (very firmly) “This is linen (pointing at my very cotton-because-I-am-allergic-to-synthetic-clothes-salwar-kameez) – you cannot wring linen”
Me: (desperately squeezing clothes to avoid the indignity of being a Mandakini under the clothes line) “Doesn’t matter even if its linen, still wring it”
Ugamma sniffs disapprovingly and flaps a couple of clothes half heartedly

The MIL seems to be able to manage her pretty well – but then she has a completely different (autocratic) managerial style with the bais. I would need a personality transplant for that. But I have noticed that she (MIL) also needs to recourse to trailing behind the lady to ensure some of the stuff is being done.

I unfortunately, need to get myself to work by nine in the morning – getting myself up and jostling my brain cells into a state of semi-wakefulness is a full time task without shadowing the U-lady.

Sacking the lady is not an option – apart from the fact that she IS trustworthy – the task of getting another maid in these bai-famine times is too harrowing to contemplate.

So we shall continue at this merry stall-mate (check-mate actually if one REALLY comes to think of it) until such time I can come with a solution to this. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Misadventures of the Married Kind- II: Maika

(Continued from here...)

Hindi movies and soaps are abounding with tales of the coy, shy female going to the ‘maika’ from her ‘sasural’ and how she transforms back into the uninhibited girl that she was before she morphed into the dutiful bahu.

True enough. Most femmes do tend to be a little bit more carefree, a little bit more irresponsible and a lot lazier the minute they go to their old homes.

However, no Hindi programme seems to have depicted what transformation takes place in the jamai-feller the minute he goes to the wife’s house.

I have been closely studying this phenomenon and have observed a number of behavioral transformations which become suddenly visible.

One of the most interesting reactions to the maika is the change in a jamai-feller’s metabolism. A normally active verging on exhaustingly active) person suddenly seems to go into some kind of deep state of suspended animation.

Seemingly the only way to rouse this person from this comatose state is to initiate conversations about food. Suddenly one will witness a rapid increase in heart rate and salivary glands. Vocal chords are also activated – enough to list out the particular delicacies which are craved on that particular day.

A great degree of analysis and thought are involved in deciding the menu for the day. Dish x can be offered only on Fridays (after skipping an evening snack in order to have plenty of space for aforementioned Dish x). That should ideally be accompanied by dessert Y (and only Y – anything heavier than Y shall not be appreciated and anything less than dessert Y will be a waste of an opportunity). There is a great deal of debate and thought before foray on relative merits of Dish X versus other dishes- this analysis can start as much as a week in advance of advent into maika and HAS to be satisfactorily resolved in specimen’s head.

There is also a marked degree of increase in dependency on wife. A normally self sufficient, fully functional human being becomes dependent on wife for almost everything. – The roti (to the sofa where he lies comfortably reposed), kapda (to the bathroom when he wants to shower) and well, not makaan but the makaan ke fittings (‘increase the fan speed’/’close the lights’/’ switch on the hand-shower’)

Also there appears to be a distinct tendency to fall into a very deep, dreamless and long sleep – apparently disassociating his mind from the normal cares of daily routine – which one would expect in the girl going to her erstwhile home but is surprisingly very visible in the fellow also.

Another visible and completely inexplicable observed change is how the Nietzsche-Plato-Saki-Luce reader develops this incomprehensible fascination with Mumbai Mirror. Early mornings one can see him making a beeline for the same, sitting in a corner, beatifically reading about Kangana Ranaut and ‘How-a-squirrel-in-Toronto-steals-a-Mars-bar” and occasionally chortling to himself. This, I should add is a particularly baffling occurrence.

This is an on-going study, so additional findings will be published as and when discovered.

P.S. I have to add a word of gratitude to the jamai-feller here, for allowing me to write stuff like this in the first place.

P.P.S Incidentally, a friend of mine (who knows my er ..Idiosyncrasies) has plans to brainwash the self same jamai feller to start a blog where people (she!) can see his views of marriage and misadventures. Thank God, he hates typing!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Finding Francis

Eleven o clock on a dark wintry evening. Agent 011 with a frown on her face was sitting in the specially built, black-yellow supersonic car, clutching the documents close to herself.

Her mind flashed back to the conversation she had with her boss. Agent B. The Head of Intelligence operations in the organization and in the country.

The very ordinary, desiccated looking Agent B. Behind his rather inconsequential facade was a razor sharp mind that controlled some of the biggest brains in the country. The normally cynical and unflappable B was worried. One could see it by the way he paced up and down his cabin.

"This is the biggest thing to hit us in a long long time" he told Agent 011. "Have you any idea how big it is? Even the President is small change!"

The President. The mysterious man in the trademark hat. The man behind the scenes - the mastermind of the Organization. Second in command to the Chairman. One of the most powerful men the Organization has seen.

Agent B continued.” This has global implications. The future of our entire organization across the world is at stake." "Like us, ten countries across the world a similar top secret information collation has taken place. We need to get this information, the documents and the recording of the information to the global HQ in New York. Any errors, the documents falling into the hands of the enemy is curtains for us.”

"You need to identify the head of operations. Francis is his name and get this document and the evidence to him. Make sure you get it to HIS hands only and no one else. Francis is one of the cleverest people in the setup. He has been working undercover in **** (mentioned the codeword of the organization) He will ferry it to the right places. BUT" and a pause here.” You have to get it to him by midnight. By midnight, it has to reach him so that he can convey it to HQ by Friday. By midnight the shift also changes - so you will not be able to meet him and any delay spells doom."

"..And 011.."Agent 011 paused and looked up “It’s dangerous. There are spies everywhere. Be careful"

So here was Agent 011 sitting in the car going to pick up the recording from Agent 017 and Agent 021 who were at the top-secret underground estate located in an innocuous looking mill.

She looked up, out through the dark tinted glasses at the road. The terrain seemed unfamiliar.
Desolate and gloomy and a winding road that seemed to go nowhere.
A few minutes of panic. Could there be an infiltrator? Was the man driving the car - the enemy? Looked at him. She had carefully selected him from the line of supersonic cars because his face was familiar and she was certain she had used him on a mission earlier. Decided to cross check anyways – everyone had their price!

Rapped against his seat - “Where are you going?"

"The place where you told Me."

"This is not the road. Is there another entryway to the place? What are the directions I gave you?"

The driver replied "It’s the same place!"

A look at the directions printed on the wireless indicated that there are two such locations in the city. The driver had gone to the wrong one. (Murphy operates even in super secret missions). Clock was ticking. Hurried messaging exchanged between the two agents and the driver skid to a stop, and rushed back in the other direction.

As luck would have it the shortest route was fraught with many obstacles that had to be crossed, the road was riddled with some sort of big craters as if some enemy had destroyed the expressways. The roads were abuzz with people – civilians’ maybe. But she thought not – they were probably counter espionage agents trying to retard her progress. And even at that time of the night, there were hordes of vehicles on the street commuting in a completely erratic manner which suggested a desire to self destruct.

Suddenly the car screeched to a halt. Agent 011 glanced at her watch while simultaneously making a lunge for the door.

Agent 017 was pacing up and down the stairway smoking cigarettes like a chimney. Not a good sign at all.

“What’s the matter?” agent 011 managed to rasp out “Where are the documents?”

“That moron agent 021 – he has gone and done something to the software. Everything has come to a grinding halt. I am sure he is related to the President or something. There is no other way he could have got a job in this place else blah blah blah”

017 continued his diatribe. Normally agent 011 would have been more than happy to join him in bashing up agent 021 – an embarrassment to the agency-(he had single handedly managed to goof up almost ungoofable projects). But there was no time. Francis had to be caught.

She rushed to the InfoTech hub- the top secret state of the art facility housed in the most unlikely place. Agent 021 was making bleating noises standing behind another agent (unknown to 011) who looked anything but happy to have him there.

“What’s the status 021?”

021 jumped – startled. “Oh they have just managed to start it up again – but it means a delay of half an hour”

011 cursed fluently under her breath. And then cursed some more. “We DO NOT have the luxury of half an hour. WHY THE beep-beep did you not do this earlier?” Turns to the other agent.” I am sorry – but maximum time we have is seven minutes.”
Joins 017 in pacing outside. 017 is still continuing his soliloquy on the utter incompetence of 021. 011 is almost tempted to poach a cigarette off him though she doesn’t smoke. No one warned her about the stress of joining an intelligence agency.

Whips out her communicator instead and tries to dial Francis. As luck will have it Francis is missing in action. Calls up his deputy and tells him about the delay. The deputy, who apparently has not been briefed about the documents, insists that Francis cannot be found and does not seem to realize the importance of getting the parcel to global headquarters on time.
011 jumps back inside. Unknown agent, fingers flying over the keyboard is trying to crash a half an hour process into a few minutes. Seven minutes come and go. 011 tries Francis again on the communicator. No luck. Contemplates calling Agent B but decides against it. By some magic unknown agent has managed to finish the work (in a record eleven minutes). Grabs the documents from him and sprints to the supersonic car. Agent 017 runs behind her and jumps into the front seat.

With a squeal of tires the car takes off. Again the road seems to have been destroyed in some mission. Desperately tries to get the location of Francis on GPRS. Ten minutes. Each moment is nerve-wracking. 017 is busy urging the driver to hurry. Driver sensibly points out that he cannot fly. 011 is taking deep breaths and calling upon the names of every God known to mankind to come to their aid.

Entry into the maze where Francis operations are conducted from. A labyrinth like place in pitch darkness. One lone man in the corner. 017 jumps out and runs to ask him the way.
Seven minutes later – both agents make a spectacularly hurried entrance (jumping from a moving car) into operations center. The time -11.57.

Ask for Francis. The deputy there looks at the disheveled agents and says “I think Francis has left”

Heart stopping moments for the agents. Then miraculously luck (FINALLY) decides to favor them. Francis himself walks out. Documents safely given to him. The time 11:59.

The world and the organization apparently will live to see another day.

(This was written about three years ago. To put it in context, this was for a Global new business pitch worth well LOTS of money by advertising standards. Agent 011, in addition to the sundry tasks in getting the country strategy in place had the all-important work of catching the 12 o clock courier (The elusive Mr. Francis) – as usual advertising people will ALWAYS work at the nth moment so getting the presentation and the films/recording to the courier was fraught with tension – apparently more than usually so – the resulting trauma led to this post)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Identity crisis

What’s in a name said the old Bard feller. Well, if he had to change names - he might have sung a different tune.

I find myself suffering from writers’ cramp every time I write my name these days. The original name pretty much covered seventy percent of the alphabet – the addition of one more name causes a bit of a glut.

It all started when I got married. I have had the old handle for darn too long to willingly contemplate parting with it (its not even women’s lib or anything militantly feministic – just sheer familiarity.)

However, the materfamilias started their collective guilt-tripping – “HOW can you not take their name? They will get offended/hurt/ostracized!”/ “It will be a problem on your passport you know – your marital status will say married but will not reflect in your name” /”What will you do when you have kids – they will have problems with admissions” and much else in the same vein
(Incidentally the in-laws and outlaws have discreetly forborne to have ANY opinion on this.)

I countered with a - I have worked far too long. I have a reputation (sic!) in the industry – do you expect me to throw all that away and go back to being a fresher? Besides, all my official documents are all on the old name. And I am damned if I can remember one more signature (as it is I barely recall the old one).

So we settled on hyphenation. And therein starts the problem.

No one seems to want to use both the surnames. Most people chose whichever they want to depending on temperament and upbringing.

At work, my boss who is a disgruntled ex-advertising-feller-in-a-strange-alien-workplace (like me) usually uses my first surname. The Human resource female (who seems to have made it her life’s mission to remind me of my marital status – she comes wearing a wig of sindoor and has her wedding snaps as a screen saver) always uses the latter (using a prefix ‘Mrs” in all official communication – which incidentally annoys the shit out of me).The rest use one or the other or both or none (“oi ..you there..c’mere”)

My official email id uses the earlier name. My business cards use both. My appointment letter uses the new one.

In Bombay I use the first name. In Pune (depending on who is within earshot) I use the other.

For the purpose of piety (temples) I use the latter (Actually I use only my first name and someone else adds the suffix) and for the profane (shopping!) I use the former.

This whole double identity thing is beginning to muddle my brains a little. I catch myself wondering what name to use when people ask for it these days - occasionally doing a mental inky-pinky-ponky to chose. I have tried using both – but usually by the time I am half way through the first name people lose interest in what I am saying. The other day I actually forgot both the names and stood there blankly for a few minutes. Then I had the happy thought of offering my christened name and sacrificing both the last names. I have toyed with the idea of converting myself into a south Indian and just using the initials (or better still abandon both the names and use the town)

The other day, after ranting on this for fifteen minutes on this I look expectantly at the hero. He grins at me and asks – “I forgot to ask you – what do you use as your middle name?”

Maybe ill just call myself Oi.