Thursday, November 19, 2015

I found our guest room bed today

It was there last Friday,
And the bedcover and cushion covers
had been changed recently,
after I had spotted
monkey paw prints in that room
after the dreaded invasion
which was not as catastrophic
as it could have been.

But the clean and tidy bed
vanished after last Friday.
We had an overnight guest,
for whom a single sheet was spread
on top of the bedcover,
given the brevity of her stay.

And then our social life
went into overdrive,
and the guest room bed
vanished under piles of
ironed laundry (three separate loads)
unironed laundry,
socks and underclothing,
towels, napkins, dishcloths,
tea towels, shorts,
pyjamas, nightgowns

All overtook the poor bed
in a few short days.
I'm so glad it's found,
and I wonder to myself,
just for how long will we see it
neat and tidy?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Unwelcome guests!

We had some very unexpected guests this Sunday, rather unwelcome ones. I'm glad my neighbour phoned and told me of their visit, which would otherwise have been a huge shock.

Let me begin at the beginning.
Diwali is around the corner, and fairs and festivals are mushrooming all over the NCR. No, we don't visit all of them, just a couple of them. On Sunday afternoon we went with our daughters to Dastkaar Haat, a good hour's drive away from home.

We found a parking spot quite easily, and spent a good couple of hours enjoying the different stalls, buying small, interesting items like beautiful earrings (the girls and I), a small damru and a strange wooden cube puzzle which is now thoroughly annoying the person who purchased it: the spouse, since he is just not able to turn it back into a cube again. We bought apple chutney and flax seed fudge, candles in beautiful  rolled paper diyas, elephant dung paper products (the older daughter) etc., and then sat down to refresh ourselves with vada pav, icecream and delicious puranpoli. We were collecting our various parcels from the different stalls after paying the bill, when my phone rang. It was my next door neighbour, asking me if I was home.
I said that I wasn't, I was at least an hour and a half away. She told me that apparently my kitchen door was open, and a troop of monkeys had got into my house.

I told the family, and the RE immediately said that there was nothing to be done till we got home, so not to panic.

My older daughter has a spare key to our flat in her house, she tried calling our son, who was  enjoying a prolonged siesta, and didn't answer his phone.

We drove home in an exhausted, stunned silence, occasionally cheering ourselves up with the thought that at least we had eaten in peace, before the phone call!

We had just bought a brand new carpet, and I was hoping that the monkeys wouldn't destroy it. Or knock over the television. Or throw pickle oil all over it.

The RE was worried about the cabinet full of cutglass and bone china.

The girls didn't say anything.

I hoped that the monkeys had left. I didn't want to have to deal with them as well as whatever destruction they had wrought. They can bite.......

As we neared home I could feel the tension rising within me.

At the colony gate the RE asked for two guards to come to our apartment, and for them to carry stout sticks.

We took one such stick from the building guard.

We rode up the elevator to the third floor. I was extremely nervous about whatever lay within.

I unlocked the door. The RE told me not to switch on any lights, just in case the monkeys had switched on the gas......

It was dark, so we used our cell phones as torches.

The carpet was clean and undamaged.

There was no smell of gas.

We switched on the lights.

The TV was upright, the crockery cabinet unopened.

There was a banana peel on the dining table, the salt cellars were awry.

There were teeth marks on the cap of the RE's thyroid medicine bottle.

Our bedroom looked okay, as did the guest room.

The kitchen looked tornado struck.

The fridge was, fortunately, unopened, as was the pickle cupboard.

The glass fronted snack cupboard was wide open, the lemon squash bottle was on the floor, closed.

The Rooh Afza bottle was open, lying on its side, and the sticky red syrup was all over the floor.

The plastic cookie box with four tabs had one tab wrenched off, all the cookies devoured.

There had been four packets of pistachios in the cupboard, two were still there, one was ripped open and seemed full of half-eaten nuts. There were pistachio shells everywhere.

The front balcony (which has a door each to the drawing room and kitchen) was apparently the party venue. There were pistachio shells and cookie crumbs all over the place, even on the balcony chairs and table.

There were sticky red paw prints around the kitchen and dining room.

Before I could even heave a sigh of relief and give thanks to the powers-that-be, my girls had wielded mops and brooms and old newspapers and cleaned up the house to a functional level.

The younger son finally woke up, saw all the missed calls, and came over. He had got us those awesome cookies from Dehradun.

We all felt that the loss of some cookies, pistachios and a bottle of Rooh Afza and some odd namkeen was a very small price to pay for an invasion of this nature.

My older daughter looked at the beautiful turtle from New Mexico, and the bowls from Turkey, and said that we were truly fortunate that nothing valuable was damaged. The RE said, it's like being in an accident and escaping without a scratch. Much thankfulness all around.

The next morning a few monkeys came to our balcony again, presumably hoping for an open door. I clapped my hands and made shooing noises. Enraged, one yanked at my poor tulsi plant and knocked the pot over.
The pot didn't break, and most of the plant survived too.

We are now, of course, extremely careful with all our doors, especially when we go out, and even otherwise. The monkeys are not a constant feature- they arrive a couple of times a year, are a great nuisance until banished, until the next time. We have obviously taken over their territory, and they keep trying to take it back.

However unfair it may be to them, I would rather they stay away.

I am still truly thankful that our home escaped with minimum damage.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Big Fight

Life is full of conflicts- major ones, minor ones, global ones, national conflicts, sectarian conflicts ( all of which seem so unnecessary and so very distressing), inter-personal conflicts, and intra-personal ones, which are the most ludicrous of all.
Your average homemaker may or may not get sufficient sleep. This seems plausible enough when she has school and college going children, who have to be woken up and sent off with meals packed and breakfasts served to them, and to husbands too.When the spouse has retired, surely she has no reason to complain.
This is where the intra-personal issues arise. The body gets used to waking up at a particular time. The body also wants to go out for a walk, most mornings. On the days you decide not to walk, the bathroom beckons. It is usually possible to go back to sleep after a 'small' job. Once the bowels move, though, it is harder to get back to sleep. And if there are the usual issues of an urban Indian home, sleep remains under threat: there are early morning doorbells to be answered- the part-time help comes in, the press-wallah dhobi comes to collect the clothes that need ironing, the car-cleaner needs the car keys, drinking water needs to be filled before a particular time- it goes on. This is all normal. Problems arise when chemical substances confuse the poor body still further........

The weather these days is pleasant in the early mornings, and sweltering during the day. It has also triggered some strange allergies: my eyes itch, then water, and then the sneezes begin. Yesterday was a case in point, with streaming eyes and runny nose and acute irritation. I decided to take an anti-allergen. I thought of taking half a tablet, but it seemed as though the tablet was sniggering at my bulk.(Note to self: do not act upon the perceived sniggers of inanimate objects, particularly pills). One Cetrizine at bedtime, and at least the sneezes were under control. I decided that a morning walk was not an option, and woke up at 7.25 a.m., with five minutes to spare before the RO water supply was over for the morning. I filled the bottles, watered my solitary tulsi plant, filled the birds' water bowl (at least one pigeon drinks there every day), opened up my absent neighbour's house and watered her plants. The maid arrived, as did the dhobi. I parked myself on the couch and dozed, telling the maid to not clean our room as the RE was still asleep. As she left I told her of my dopey state, and when she sympathetically told me to go to sleep, I said that I was sure the spouse would be up the minute I entered our bedroom. I was wrong- as I closed the front door behind the maid, the man manifested himself in the dining room!  I made tea for both of us, drank tea, asked him to remove the tray from our bed, and I was asleep again. I did get up once to switch off the light, and pottered out to see him chopping onions and tomatoes for an omelette. I slept. And slept. And woke up to the inevitable conflict- needing to go to the bathroom vs. needing to stay asleep. Guess who won!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eid (not always) mubarak

Our housing society has many employees, and most residents employ part time help for their mundane household chores. Many of these helpers are Muslim women from Bengal. They have interesting ways of substituting for each other, when one or the other has to go back to her native place, for whatever reason.
When we first moved here, in October 2013, my neighbour suggested that her maid work for me as well, and said that she was honest and reliable. Which was all very well, but Mehrun was with me for perhaps two months or so. She brought in Menuka, who was with me for nearly a year and a half: mid-March this year, she came in one day and announced that she was going to her village, and  Shaheen would do my work.  Menuka and Shaheen were quite reliable and regular- they rarely took time off, and would normally inform me in advance if they were doing so. In fact, Shaheen only took one day off for Eid in the five months she worked for me. (That she used to come to work very early in the morning and upset my morning walk schedule was another matter). In the interim, Mehrun came back and asked to join my employment again. I was loath to dismiss Shaheen, for no fault of hers. But it so happened that a couple of months later she had to go back to her village, as her daughter's in-laws were making her life miserable. Menuka hadn't returned. When I was leaving on my travels, she told me that Mehrun would work in her stead! Quite the merry-go-round. So, since my return earlier this month, I'm finally back with my original helper.

I'd forgotten to ask Mehrun yesterday whether or not she'd been coming to work today, on Eid, and was pleasantly surprised to find her come in earlier than usual. Apparently one madam had refused to let her take the day off today, so she decided to work in all her houses. A few days ago she had informed that she was taking the next day off, which is, to my mind, perfectly acceptable. I asked her why she didn't employ the same strategy when it is an important festival ? Perhaps that madam is very overpowering/entitled. I don't know what her reasons were. But I do think it very unfair to not give a person time off to celebrate a festival.

On a happier note, while I was going to our colony shop to pick up some vegetables, she asked me to buy a litre of full cream milk, so that she could go home and make sevaiyaan. (She wanted to pay for it, but I declined. A litre of milk and some cash as Eidi seemed to be an affordable token gift).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A very rooted story: Chasing New Rainbows by Manika Lal

How much of a person's life is defined by his or her origins, the place he/she was born in, the family and the town which define him/her?
India's modern stories are often found in the metropolises, or else in the rural areas. Stories from small towns, where the social structure is far more defined than in the big cities, where your ancestors and their peccadilloes are public knowledge, are not so very common, especially original works in English. Life may take the person out of the small town, but it is not so easy to take the small town out of the person. Manika Lal's novel, Chasing New Rainbows, explores the life stories of two 'best' friends, Kalpana and Vasundhara, growing up in the nineteen seventies, whose life trajectories take them on very divergent paths.

A deep childhood friendship apparently comes to an end with Kalpana's sudden marriage to Prince. (Yes, his family seems to have delusions of grandeur : although not of royal blood, they are very wealthy. Thankfully, he does have a nicer, desi, name). Although she would like to study further, beyond graduation, a cousin 'aunt' finds a perfect match for Kalpana, with immense pressure for an immediate marriage, as the prospective groom's grandfather is very ill and would like to see his Prince married before he departs this world. Prince is an ambitious young man who would rather focus on his business plans than on marriage, and although he agrees to marry, he is very cold to his beautiful new bride. She does come to terms with this new life, but a core of dissatisfaction remains deep within her. When they move to Mumbai, she is happiest when at her bedroom window, overlooking the birdbath in the housing society's garden, watching the birds. For her, birds and open spaces are home, the childhood home she has lost forever, since her parents have locked up their sprawling ancestral home and moved to a city to stay with their only son. Motherhood brings its own satisfactions as well as a new loneliness to Kalpana's life....

Vasundhara's childhood is far more restricted and constrained than Kalpana's. Perhaps their families had been similar to begin with, with large properties in the town. Vasu's father, however, has not consolidated his ancestral holdings, but has squandered them, leaving him with just the house he lives in, and a job in the local municipality, which somehow sustains his family. His hopes and ambitions centre around his son, Akash, Vasu's older brother. All resources are spent on his education and his nurturance. Even his baby sister is taught to take care of her older brother. Akash does go abroad for higher education and a job, but, tragically, suddenly stops communicating with his family. A pall  of gloom descends upon their home. Vasu has recently graduated, but is completely shaken by this event. Kalpana's visit telling her about her impending marriage upsets her even more, as she had hoped that they could, once again, study further together. (Kalpana's parents had sent her to live with her Nani and attend college in Nani's much bigger town). Her aunt, Muniya Bua, is shocked to see the state of her brother and his family, and especially her young niece, when she visits them on Raksha Bandhan. She decides to take Vasundhara back with her to her home in Delhi. Vasu's response to life in the capital is described beautifully and with great empathy. Slowly but surely, Vasundhara overcomes her insecurities, takes up a job, grows independent and supports her parents to the best of her ability. In all this, her family neither seeks out a match for her, nor do they encourage her to find one for herself. Vasundhara excels at her work, but is also very lonely, despite the unwanted interest shown in her by several male colleagues. A business associate from Mumbai seems to be interested in her, and she feels a growing attraction towards him.....

A chance meeting at a mall in Mumbai brings Kalpana and Vasundhara together again. Their renewed friendship helps both of them share their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other,  overcome a great deal of pain and sorrow, and find the eponymous new rainbows that they have both been looking for.

Manika Lal writes with great sensitivity and empathy. The interior lives of her characters are richly described. The chapters dealing with the different characters add layers to the narration. Finally, it is a book of hope and courage. (I also feel that better editing is required). I am hoping for a sequel!

Monday, September 14, 2015

A long break, a book event, keys, closed doors and the resident engineer

In the interim I travelled, spending time with the older son and his family, which includes my grandchild, who is now a delightfully busy and playful toddler. After spending just a couple of days with the RE's sister and her family, I hopped across the pond and visited the English side of the family, which includes another delightful infant, now all of seven months old (my late brother's grandson). I had a wonderful time with family and friends, and came home to jet lag, an aching wrist, and a stye on my left eyelid. (It's less swollen now, but still a bit painful).

These woes, however, are minor when I consider the trauma inflicted upon me by the spouse this Saturday evening. Saturday was one of those rare days when I had stuff to do on my own, stuff that was not really of interest to the RE. I made breakfast for both of us, prepared lunch for him, and left the house, carrying my front door key, just in case he happened to be out when I returned. ( In case you are interested in earlier key stories of our lives, do click on this link and the links in the post).

Saturday was not an easy day for me: it was my late sister's birthday, the first since her passing.
It was also her daughter's birthday. I spent the morning with my niece, and then went on to have lunch with the inimitable Aneela and the wonderful Kiran Manral,who was in the NCR to launch her latest book, All Aboard. ( See post below this one). After a delicious lunch, (and some truly awesome dark chocolate) we went to Meher Chand Market for Kiran's final book event on this trip, where a good time was had by all. Finally caught up there with Devapriya, who was too late to have lunch with us, but who is a dear friend whose delightful vagueness in real life belies the brilliance of her writing.   
( I almost drowned in nostalgia at the sight of said market, which is now full of very hip and happening shops and restaurants, a far cry from the innocuous little local market it was when I was a youngster who lived right next to it from late 1963 to mid-1976).

Our present accomodation is on the third floor, with a single entrance: we have a wooden door, beyond which is a metal grill gate covered in wire mesh, which has a giant key. ( I once went crazy hunting in my handbag for said giant key as soon as we'd left home on a long-ish trip to Delhi, and was so worked up by my inability to find it in the bag that I asked my daughter to send her driver across to make sure I hadn't left it in the front door, and on our return journey picked up the spare key from her place just in case I had actually lost it. I hadn't: it was lurking within stuff in the same inner pocket of the handbag in which I had kept it. I do live. My only excuse is that this was quite soon after we had moved, and the key's aura wasn't yet in harmony with mine).

I got home around seven, exactly as I had planned to. The house was dark. I tried inserting the key in the lock, but it was not locked, merely bolted from the inside. I phoned the man on his mobile. I phoned our landline, which has a LOUD ring. I called several times. I rang the doorbell too, several times. I was quite sure that the man had fallen asleep with the air conditioner on and the bedroom door closed. BUT I WAS STUCK OUTSIDE THE HOUSE WITH NO WAY TO GET IN, AND I NEEDED TO USE THE BATHROOM, especially after the several cups of tea I'd had with Devapriya and Aneela after Kiran had left to catch her flight. I also call my older daughter, who says they'd been out together, but had dropped him home around 5.30 p.m, and he'd said he had some e-mails to write. (I had taken our car).
There are four flats on each floor of our building. Next door neighbour's house was dark, also, my front door isn't visible from there. The people diagonally across are relatively new. The flat across from us is where I need to be. It helps that they have a full time help who knows me. Both the little boys are there, watching cartoons on the television. I tell them the situation, and they are as hospitable as can be. I use the bathroom! I ask for a telephone charger, as I need to keep calling home and my battery is running low. My older daughter calls, asking if she should come and pick me up. I decline, as I'd rather be close to home. The minutes keep ticking by. My phone grows warm in my hands from the constant calling. The mind starts playing tricks- the RE always answers his youngest sister's calls- I am tempted to call her (she lives in the US) and ask her to call him, just so that he picks up his wretched phone. The mind, useless worrier that it is, then goes into full fledged worry mode, imagining all kinds of dire possibilities. I am getting more and more jittery by the minute, although I am absolutely sure that the wretched man is snoring away to glory, and all my fears are heedless. After almost an hour of this nonsense, he FINALLY answers the landline! I call the older daughter, who tells me that she and her sister are at the colony gate and will be with us in a couple of minutes.

Nobody yells at the man. We merely express our anxiety, and describe the various solutions to gain entry into the house that we had thought of. Of course he had planned on having just a ten minute nap, or he would have locked the grill gate from the inside. If he hadn't been so sleepy, his cell phone would have been with him, instead of being charged at the point near the front door. He used to have a charger plugged in near his side of the bed. Why has that vanished? We think that a self-locking door, as we had in Kolkata, might be useful. (Though the risks of him getting locked out are very high with such a system). We decide to get a loud doorbell installed in our bedroom (though we haven't done it yet). The RE feels we should employ a full time help to be there as a permanent door opener! (With my luck, that person would probably be a modern day Kumbhkaran). Rather bitterly, I say that he obviously doesn't want me to go out on my own. I recall the zillion times I've woken up at all odd hours to open the door for him when he's returned from his travels.
The younger daughter and I have to go out together on Sunday morning. The girls suggest that I lock him in, and hide the spare key! I do lock him in, if he's asleep or in the bathroom when I need to leave, but the second key is kept very visibly and prominently near the main door, as I'm quite paranoid about leaving anyone locked up. We tell him that we will lock him in, and the key will be right there, but he should be a good boy and not unlock the door for anybody.

The next day, as we unlock the door and let ourselves in,  the RE calls me on my mobile phone just to let me know that he's awake!!!!!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Coming Soon!!!

Kiran Manral's third novel is soon to be launched!
And since most of the action takes place on a ship, "launch" seems particularly appropriate.

 'All Aboard' is published by Penguin Random House.

When Rhea Khanna is dumped just days before her marriage, by her boyfriend of four years, the only thing she wants to do is to get out of the city to clear her head.  The opportunity presents itself immediately when her aunt, a retired school headmistress, invites her to accompany her on a Mediterranean cruise.

As Rhea struggles to cope with her grief of being dumped at the altar, she finds herself getting attracted to the seemingly unavailable Kamal Shahani—the infuriatingly attractive ex-student of her aunt and a hot shot entrepreneur.  To add to the confusion, Sonia, Kamal’s very attractive ex-girlfriend boards the ship in a bid to win him back.

Will Rhea heal her broken heart, or will she end up even more shattered than she was when she got on this cruise? Read, to find out.

The Pre-order links for the book here:
About the author:
Kiran Manral was a journalist before she quit to be a full time mommy. An erstwhile blogger, both her blogs were considered amongst India's top blogs and she was a Tehelka blogger columnist on gender issues.
Her debut novel, The Reluctant Detective, was published by Westland in 2012 and her second novel Once Upon A Crush, was published by Leadstart in May 2014. She has three books due for release in 2015, the first of these being All Aboard! from Penguin Random House.
She is on the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival, an advisor on the Board of Literature Studio, Delhi, an Author Mentor at and a columnist at She was awarded the Women Achievers award by Young Environmentalists Group in 2013.
She currently blogs at and is on twitter @kiranmanral.