Sunday 24 March 2013

Adieu and hello

There are some who'd like to give me a hard kick in the backside for saying this (read all my friends and relatives who are Delhi-haters and would like nothing better than to move down south/west but are stuck in NCR for various reasons). I had tears in my eyes after I handed over our apartment keys to the landlord and was on my way home to our Gurgaon hotel. As the movers were packing away, quite efficiently and obviously needing little or no input from me, I indulged in some reminiscing and grew all mopey thinking of the wonderful times we had in the last 3 years. Sure, there have been some lows, and I'll be the first to admit that for a non-native to live in NCR can be incredibly challenging and frustrating.
But people make all the difference and we struck pay dirt in that department. So many friends, lovely helpful people who enriched our lives immeasurably. Ads was using my phone to text one of his school friends. They promised to keep in touch through fb and skype (Aside: He asked me when he could have  a fb account - I pretended not to hear him!).
The friend texted: Friends forever.
Ads texted back: Yes. Friends forever.
The exchange has been running in my mind like a repetitive track all through the last few days.  Friends forever? I don't think so. Not when you are 7 and will in all likelihood never meet each other again. And when I was driving to the hotel, the thought again brought tears to my eyes. Lost and broken friendships, the pattern of my life and it seems, the pattern of my kids' lives as well.
My ever-unflappable and practical husband asked me to be more positive, not realizing that I just needed a day or two to collect myself and miss the good times. Soon I will be able to collect them all and store them away in memory, to be relived and smiled over again and again in the future. 
To be so sad at leaving one home, yet so happy to be entering another - aren't I lucky?? :)

Saturday 16 March 2013

One down, one to go

I went for my usual morning walk today. When I came back, the kids were up. The huge (and obviously, very pleasant) surprise was that Ads had brushed his teeth and done potty AND he had brushed Y's teeth and cleaned her potty!!
Is my work here done, or what?? :)
Ads has been more or less taking care of his own stuff for the last few months. Bathing, potty, wearing clothes and so on. He has trouble with buttoning shirt cuffs, clasping his belt and so on. We haven't even gone anywhere near shoe-laces yet. But having him take care of his own toilette frees up a large amount of time.
Lately, I have also been getting him to do some outside chores. Pay the electricity and maintenance bills, for one. He needs to drop the cheque at the office downstairs and wait until the surly manager draws up a receipt. He has been buying simple groceries like milk, yogurt, paneer etc from the shop downstairs. That is also an exercise in addition and subtraction since I always give him a 100 or 500 Re note and ask him to calculate how much change he should be bringing back. He recently started charging a commission of 10 bucks for every transaction he carried out, and we are still arguing about that because according to me, you don't get paid for chores like these and anyway he eats most of the milk and paneer that we buy :)
Next up, he wants to learn how to make his own breakfast (simple toast and oatmeal), soap his back and strap on his watch :)

Thursday 14 March 2013


The review of "Durbar" by Tavleen Singh in some newspaper or the other prompted me to buy the book. I haven't read any of this veteran journalist's other books but assumed it would be an interesting read. And it was. The story starts with Tavleen as the newbie journalist, learning the ropes as Emergency is declared in India. She gets to know people close to the Gandhi family and is privy to intimate dinner parties and social occasions where she meets Rajiv (then still a pilot), Sonia and the other Gandhis. Her impressions, good and bad, of the Gandhi clan are interspersed with various assignments across the country - Operation Bluestar in Punjab, Kashmir and later the IPKF intervention in Sri Lanka.
The book is racy and gripping. I got to thinking about what a monentous decade and a half that was - the Emergency onwards to Rajiv's assassination in 1991. There are a lot of memories, too many in fact.
Chennai, 1991. I remember my grandmother rocking back and forth on the sofa near the TV in our flat that hot summer day when Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur. Enna azhagu, enna azhagu (how handsome, how handsome) she kept saying, tears streaming down her face, distraught at the gruesome manner of his killing.
Meerut, 1982. I remember my mom sleeping for several nights with a kitchen knife under her pillow because there were communal riots in the city and in our locality, and my dad was away. I must have been as old as Ads is now, and my brother about the same age as Y. I'm not sure whether I was frightened then. I know that the mere recollection of it gives me palpitations now! One night, we had a violent mob baying at the gate. Were they Muslim - I assume they were - otherwise why would they come attack a Hindu home in a predominantly Hindu locality? Amma fled with 2 half-asleep children across the connecting door to our landlord's house. We rushed to the terrace and hid ourselves and some of the family members threw down stones and other handy items at the mob. I have no recall of what happened later and how we escaped lynching or worse; I keep thinking about how brave my mother was and how terrified she must have been.
Lucknow, 1984. I remember that morning on TV and hearing that the Prime Minister had been shot down by her Sikh security guards. There were angry crowds roaming the streets, attacking Sikh neighbourhoods and homes. They were barging into every house and demanding to know whether any Sardars lived there. All I could hear from the inside of our house was a loud angry hum. There was an atmosphere of deep tension in the house. Amma asked me to keep writing Sri Ramajayam in my diary and that monotonous exercise calmed me down. Incredibly scared, I focused all my energies on filling up the pages and with every letter I drew, I prayed really hard that the mobs should go away and peace return to our street and the city.
I was left with a lot of admiration for this gutsy lady journalist who went willingly into some very dangerous situations, spent years following political campaigns and travelling the length and breadth of the country, and hobnobbed with the high and mighty of the land.
Yes, those were stirring times. Durbar brought all those years back in bright technicolour. I think for that reason alone I liked the book, spicy backroom palace gossip and all. Sometimes all you need to enjoy a book is a large dose of reminiscences!

Friday 8 March 2013

Afternoon rambling

Slowly and surely, it's all falling into place. The familiar feeling of being suspended in-limbo has taken over and the heart has guarded and steeled itself against any unexpected emotional responses and withdrawal symptoms.
The house in Bangalore is being painted and necessary repairs done. A hotel has been identified close to it where we'll stay for the week or 10 days that we have to wait for our goods to follow us from Gurgaon. Friends have been commandeered during this time to provide moral support and shopping companionship as I sally forth to buy furniture, curtains and rugs for the much larger place we are moving into. Peeps in Bangalore, much appreciate recos on places to buy all of the above -- we'll be staying in Whitefield, so please don't suggest places in JP Nagar!! FYI, I strongly veer towards traditional Indian work.
The schools have been given notice, as have my maid and cook, who are understandably sad at my leaving. Even if I say so myself, S and I are very good employers - I pay above market rates because I think a good househelp is the greatest treasure anyone can have (and its a hard job as anyone knows!), I do atleast of the quarter of the work assigned to the help by myself (I like washing dishes and doing laundry!), I'm generous with loans and advances (and I've never been taken for a ride - yet) and most importantly, we travel so much that the help has atleast a week off every month! :) Last minute shopping has been done. We're getting some furniture custom-made - Delhi is really good for that sort of thing and you have excellent carpenters and woodworkers here. The car will be sold in a couple of days. Fortunately, our current place is very centrally-located and it won't be a major hardship to be bereft of a set of wheels. The movers have come looked at the stuff we have and provided a quote, which has been duly accepted.
It helps that the weather here seems to have moved seamlessly from winter to summer with no suggestion of spring! It makes the thought of moving to cooler and infinitely pleasanter climes so much easier! I've been trying to find one good thing about the summer in Delhi-NCR for the last three years and have come up with precisely one reason. My appetite drops so dramatically during the season that all I consume is loads of water, lime juice and icecream. Plus I try and swim almost everyday, with the result its the time of year I look the most fit and toned (if a little wilted). The one silver lining!
Another 2 weeks to go! It's been a good innings here (nonwithstanding the gun that was pointed at the husband a couple of years ago - remind me to relate that incident sometime!). I have never had any major separation pangs while moving; sometimes I wonder whether it's a coping mechanism I developed early on to deal with frequent relocations. When we moved to the US from Bangalore, a dearly-loved city, the tears that flowed were only because I did not know when I would be seeing my parents again. When we left San Francisco, there was anxiety about a new life in India, worries about Ads being able to adjust, but no regret about leaving that golden land. Perhaps, the new economic reality for many of us is that India is the golden land of opportunity, much as the USA used to be a couple of generations ago!
Enough rambling for one afternoon, I guess :) Time to go and prep Ads for his admission test!

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Tiger odyssey

Whew. What can I say about Bandhavgarh? It was the trip of a lifetime. It was a dream come true for Ads of course, given his previous obsession with all manner of big cats. We had booked, postponed and rebooked this holiday so many times that I was despairing of ever going. Until a week before, S did not confirm to me whether I should cancel (yet again) or pack. Fortunately, the stars aligned and a week ago, we were on a train bound for Jabalpur in MP. Thanks to a last minute tip-off from a friend, I had hastily included Jabalpur in the itinerary and we were spending a few hours there before heading to Bandhavgarh.
Jabalpur is like any other Tier 2 (or 3?) town in the country but that's not why we were there. We were there to see the Dhuandhar falls and the Marble rocks at Bhedaghat. I thanked my friend from the bottom of my heart for tipping me off are the pics...see for yourself!
The Narmada. These falls aren't the tallest or biggest but the volume of water is significant.

The water cascading through the gorge

A more peaceful avatar of the Narmada, at Bhedaghat.

Anybody remember Kareena Kapoor's song and dance in the movie "Asoka"? Well it was shot here.

The rocks are brown, blue, light pink and finally pristine white marble!
After a quick lunch (which was promptly thrown up by both kids within a couple of hours!), we started the longish drive to Bandhavgarh, passing through some unexpectedly pretty countryside. Farmland on both sides of the road was circumscribed by rolling meadows and low hills with small ponds appearing in between. The biggest surprise was how sparsely-populated the region was. Add to that the general aura of prosperity and the smooth road we were whizzing on, and I could almost imagine it to be the countryside of any First World country!!! Incredible India never ceases to surprise.
We reached our resort around 7 pm by which time it was pitch-dark. The property is inside the forest, occcupying about 25 acres of land. There are enough wild animals roaming around the property for us to need an escort every time we had to go back and forth between our cottage and the common areas such as the dining room and reception. The sky was crystal clear and we could actually see countless STARS!!! Imagine! It was most thrilling to identify constellations and bask in the clear unpolluted air.

View of our cottage - can you see the two chairs on the deck? Perfect for basking in the sun!
A few words about this place (let me know if you ever travel to Bandhavgarh and I'll let you in on my secret). It had wonderful reviews on tripadvisor, my trusted travel buddy and while they were marginally more expensive than many of the other resorts, they more than made up for it by their impeccable service, mouth-watering food and extensive knowledge of the forest and its wildlife. It was more like an intimate homestay than anything else. Ads in partcular had a wonderful time outside the safaris since he was able to have long conversations with the owner-manager about everything from the jaw movements of a tiger, mating calls of the spotted deer to raptors and at one point they were even talking about the 2013 Oscars!!!!! The owner is UK born and bred with strong family ties to Tanzania and an encyclopaedic knowledge of African wildlife so obviously I picked his brain for the best spots to view wildlife in Africa and so on which has been filed away for future use :)
The major crib of most people who run tourism ventures in the area is the short-sightedness, incompetence and ignorance of the bureaucrats who are in charge of conservation efforts and the ever-changing rules and regulations that make wildlife-viewing so much harder than it needs to be. The common thread ruunning through the conversation is a fundamental dispute about whether tourism is good for conservation or vice versa. Clearly sensible tourism plays a major role in policing the forests as well; if tourists were not around, the poachers would have a free hand. A shabby, fluctuating and person-dependent conservation and tourism policy is doing far more harm than good to both the tiger and the environment it lives in. Sadly, this is the case in most of the wildlife reserves in the country. I don't have experience of any countries outside the US and India but there is definitely a lot that can be learnt from the fantastic way the US Parks Service does their job (budget cuts and the never-ending criticism nonwithstanding).
The forest is incredibly beautiful with dry deciduous vegetation, stunning blue cloudless skies and countless birds, reptiles and mammals which can more often be heard rather than seen! We had to wake up at 5 am everyday, fortify ourselves with nothing more than a cup of tea or hot chocolate. The open jeep was well-provided with hot-water bottles and thick blankets which were huge essentials in the biting cold. The roads inside the park are horrible and jolting along these for 4-5 hours, twice a day, is bad for the back and bones of two people on the wrong side of 30! The safaris were themselves pretty interesting. We would be jolting along a mud track and suddenly (based on alarm calls of deer, monkeys and birds) the driver would speed off like a maniac with no regard to life or limb, gathering more jeeps crammed with hopeful and bemused tourists like us along the way. We would screech to a halt somewhere where they expected to spot a tiger and wait there in pindrop silence for several minutes (or an hour, or two). We did not have any luck with the first two safaris but managed to catch a tigress and her 4 cubs on the third one!
No one said meeting a tiger in the wild is easy!! We saw wild boar, jackals, langurs, rhesus macaques, deer (sambar and spotted) and plenty of birds but missed the elusive leopard. Ads loved the entire experience and is already plotting vacations to other reserves. It was a little hard on Y though; while she managed the strenous schedule with loads of grace and enthusiasm, it was a bit much for a 4 year old to handle! Fortunately she did manage to catch up on sleep during the safaris, uncomfortably perched on my lap or sprawled out on the backseat of the jeep.
I think the wildlife bug has bitten all of us - not good for our pockets at all :)