TC Tribute Week: Skuin Who Won Our Hearts And Disappeared

19 December 2014

Today's post by a writer I admire very much (and who wrote to tell me about her cat after TC went). Janice Pariat may be a name you're familiar with already (and if you're not, get reading!). This is a story about her cat, Skuin, who was there one day and then not. Some cats just show up and stay as long as we need them. That is the essence of cat. 

(Previous TC Tribute Week posts here and here. My obituary for TC here.)

She came to me a granted wish.

My X-boyfriend and I had visited Friendicoes in the hope of finding a kitten waiting to be homed. “Come back in two-three weeks,” they told us. And we left, empty-handed, disappointed. I hadn’t imagined it would be difficult. (Worse, I hated to wait.)   

The next day, at work, a colleague called. “Didn't you say you were looking for a kitten?”
She’d found one abandoned in a suitcase, in a building somewhere in Lajpat Nagar. Mewing crazily.

She was tiny, about a month old, with stripe-spotted grey fur, and the sweetest, saddest black eyes. We fed her on a diet of watery Cerelac, pooled in our palms, from where she’d lap it all up, her tongue pink and rough. 

“Skuin,” said X when I asked if he had any names in mind. “No, no,” I protested. I didn't want our cat to be called the Khasi word for ‘cute’. But, as these things do, it stuck. We gave her a cardboard box, X’s softest sweater, a hot water bottle, and she promptly abandoned them all to sleep in the crook of my arm, or under my chin, snuggling into my neck like a small luxury fur scarf. She grew and fattened rapidly, slipping into our lives—as cats tend to do—so easily. While I was at work, X told me, she spent most of her time (as I suspect he did) basking belly up on the bed in the Delhi heat, snoozing. But she always met me at the door. 

Skuin grew increasingly prettier too—her chest necklaced by three curving stripes, while the spots on her sides darkened, like a little leopard. Oddly enough, she was most intimidated by the world beyond our doorstep; timidly sniffing the outside air and then dashing back inside at the barest hint of ‘danger’. The only time she did venture into the backyard, she was chased and bitten by a terrifyingly huge tom cat. I remember spending hours trying to coax her out of the electricity metre box in which she hid, on all fours, making cajoling noises, calling her name. Only a few days later did we realise that what we thought was a swollen bruise on her hind leg was a pocket of pus. For the next three weeks, we were at Friendicos every morning at eight. The vet would slip a needle through the gash in her skin, and drain the liquid, while she howled. My heart broke every time. But tough as ever, she got better.  

At the end of that year, X and I moved back to Shillong, Skuin in tow. It wasn't easy. For those of you who’ve travelled to this part of the world, you know it’s a two and a half hour flight to Guwahati, and then a four-five hour drive up the hills into Shillong. By the time we reached Nongpoh, we let her out of her basket, free to clamber the seats and us (not a good idea, but you try sitting in a car that long with a constantly wailing cat).

She was ecstatic, to put it mildly, in my parents house. From a relatively tiny flat in Kailash Colony, she now had not one but two floors in which to wreck general chaos. And a long flight of stairs to tear down chased by invisible pursuers. My favourite memory is crumpling paper and throwing it for her to ‘fetch’ (she had the soul of a dog). In the evenings, she’d curl up on my bed, and slowly inch her way under my blanket. X, who lived with his parents about twenty minutes away, would visit, but she felt like my cat now. It was the time I discovered Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and I liked to think of Skuin as my very own daemon. She’d chatter back at me when scolded, snooze on the book print-outs I was editing, follow me to the loo (!), and drape herself over my bookshelf as I worked.

One night, Skuin slipped through an accidentally left open door and never returned. I don’t quite know what prompted her to venture out. A sense of adventure, or sudden curiosity. True, she’d grown far more interested in the outside world in Shillong—sometimes trying to creep out through the window grills. We searched far and wide, and for many, many days. We left out food bowls that I was excited to find empty in the morning, only to discover they’d been finished by a black-and-white stray. It didn't help that we had a pine forest behind our house stretching over several hills. We placed an advert in the local newspaper, stuck “missing” posters all around the colony, received several prank calls (mean), headed out to people’s homes only to find they’d caught the wrong cat.

I guess what I’ll never have is closure. And for months and months after she vanished the not knowing would become too much. “This is worse than her dying,” I’d weep. But now, four years later, I realise that this incompleteness only allows for more imaginings—that she’s free and happy in the forest, running wild, leading a pack of kindred kitties. I will always imagine her alive.   

(Janice Pariat is the author of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories, and Seahorse: A Novel. Currently she lives between too many cities to keep pets, but is happy to cat-sit for you. Send her a tweet on @janicepariat
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TC Tribute Week: JP, a.k.a The Cat Of Many Names

17 December 2014

(The second story in my TC Tribute Week comes from my friend, avowed cat person and seriously amazing baker. You may know her as the girl behind 50 Dates In Delhi. Her cat is stocky and gorgeous, and as she mentions somewhere in the piece, a big fan of the Good Thing, whose approach to cats is to pick them up and hold them till they can't move and have to submit to loving. (It only works with him, don't try this at home.) 

Some friends are just spot-on cat people, and so when they come home, you don't have to go through cat introductions. They know how to tickle a gentleman under his chin, how to wait till a lady is comfortable enough to stick her nose into her handbag. Fifty Dates is just such a friend, and here is her story. 

Here's the previous story in TC Tribute Week. Here's my post about his passing.) 

I think I first fell madly for cats when I read 'The Cat Whole Walked By Himself' in Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. There was something about that cat--aloof and exploitative--that just spoke to me. Possibly because I am a sucker for aloof and exploitative creatures? 

I've had many cats. When I was in my early teens we had Jojo, a little grey tabby I rescued from the garden. She loves our dog Andie--it was a mutual love--and whenever Andie was taken on her walk, Jojo would appear and walk underneath her, tail tickling Andie's belly. Then we had Marmalade, who fell out of a tree, and Salt and Pepper, who came home from the shelter sick and didn't make it a week. Then there were Tommy and Tuppence--Tommy was my first ever boycat. Little did I know what was coming! Tuppence had kittens twice, and one of her kittens stayed, Peekaboo I sentimentally named her after a cartoon cat. Then my parents moved house and left Peekaboo behind, and I had no cat for years.
I often dreamt of having cats again. There's nothing more comforting that warm fuzzy purring ball in your lap. I swore to myself that when I lived on my own again I'd get one. But in New York I was scared of laws and what if i left (which I did). I never had a cat friendly flatmate after that, and my life always felt too transitory too. But when, in 2012, I was living on my own in Delhi, I decided it was time. It really was time to stop moaning and pining and to go get me a kitten. And I did. 
He was mostly white ('Didi, khargosh jaisa hai!' exclaimed my maid in delight) with orange patches and he was hugely cuddly. We called him Crotchcat because he simply had to always be in a lap. He'd thump into bed at night, ten minutes after the lights went out, like clockwork, and then burrow down into my quilt and purr. I had six glorious months to the soundtrack of that purr, and then one day he just wasn't there any more. I don't know where he went. A friend and a cousin and I patrolled Nilgiri apartments asking children if they'd seen him and rattling his food bowl with Whiskas in it calling for him for a whole week. I like to imagine him in Jahapanah City Forest, king of the jungle, single-handedly decimating Alaknanda's pigeon population.
And I was, once again, catless. Until February 2014, when a little grey fuzzball entered my life. Purring constantly, Jinx, who has now amassed a collection of aliases to rival the CIA, is Kipling's cat. He is the one in charge. He knows arcane secrets, like how to stop 'mow'ing, but he will only share them with me if I pay a price. He will sleep in my bed, if he's cold, and if I dare move then he's gone. He will do as he do do and there's no doing anything about it. He likes some people (he LOVES The Good Thing), and then only one at a time and when he wants them. He will permit me to have parties but will sit atop a lofty perch and judge all of us. He will cuddle, but only one a month and for five minutes. He will eat like he's starving and he will puke, but that doesn't mean I get to cut down his serving size.

But, unlike Kipling's cat or the Rum Tum Tugger, he will come at me screaming when I get home from work, and twine himself around my legs so I nearly trip (every. single. time.). He will play by himself, but I must be awake and cognizant of his existence, so he can pop by and rub against me a bit when he feels like it. I shudder to think of the reception I'll have when I get back from this trip!
JP brings home the lesson of cats--they are not humans and they are not dogs. They are indeed affectionate and loving, but they don't do it on demand for you when you want it. They are equals who reserve the right to relate to you the way they want to. Yeah, yeah, you want me on your pillow purring but I am going to rub my head in your face instead. Because I love you. Just like you pick me up and squeeze me, because you love me.
And for all the 5am wake up head butts, and the occasional pooping on the sides of the litterbox and dear god the 'mow'ing when I'm in the shower, I cannot imagine my life without my best beloved crankypants clichecat. Who perches on the edge of the litterbox with all four paws and poops like a human. To drive the point home.
(JP's human likes cats, cooking, cold weather and whiskey. She writes at  Follow her on Twitter at @50datesinDelhi)
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TC Tribute Week: The Story of Laddu

15 December 2014

(After TC passed, I began thinking a lot about our relationships with our pets. How it can be one of the closest, most emotional partnerships you can have and yet, how so few people can know that part of you. Messages and comments about other people's beloved animals came pouring in privately to me and that's what gave me the idea of having a TC Tribute Week here on the blog. I got four writers and cat owners to write about their fantastic felines for me--some gone over to the other side, some still with us and living to delight, and I will be posting those over the space of this week. If you'd like to leave your stories of pet loving in the comments, please do, so we can all be unashamedly loving about our companions this week. I'm sorry for leaving out dogs in this tribute, but dogs already get so much good press, it's time our cats got a chance too.

First, we have a Twitter friend of mine, Khizra Munir, whose cat, Laddu, has the same thing that TC does. Did. I follow Laddu's journey on Instagram and Twitter--all CRF survivors are bound together by how little we can do about the disease, and I also get great pleasure out of Khizra's descriptions of her crazy cat life, with FIVE at home.) 

 One of the most difficult parts of being a person to a cat or dog is that you have a heartbreaking rough estimate of exactly how long this relationship is going to last. If your pet manages to make it unscathed by illness. For a year now I’ve been making daily (now every other day) trips to the vet with my 9 year old tabby, Laddu. 

Three days a week my quivering ‘baby’ and I make the somber drive to the vet, are instantly recognized and directed inside where our set up of a saline sub-q(drip) is ready. He shivers through the whole ordeal, with his head hiding in the crook of my shoulder.

But, on the drive home, he’s back to his normal self; he purrs, grooms, and occasionally walks around doling out head bumps. He knows we’re going back home.

This commitment of time and effort…we didn’t sign up for this. I don’t think anyone does. But we all understand that it comes with the territory. The same way parents understand that with the milestones and joy, there is also heartbreak and illness to deal with. A year ago when our vet, who adores Laddu, quietly told us his Kidneys were failing, my mother and I cried. Standing there in the middle of her clinic, we cried for our poor baby, who was already such a trooper as a blind cat. At that moment, it just seemed so unfair that this was happening to him.

We also cried because we understood that there was no cure for this. There was only a way to slow down the process, if we were lucky to have him respond to the IVs. And we were. He responded with a “Yes, I want to live” attitude!

Laddu is a beautiful tabby with some hints of shady business in his breeding which is evident in his extra fluffiness and poofy tail. He literally walked into our home as a stray and decided to stay. He is now the love of our lives, the light of my mother’s eyes and the extortionist who gets a claim on a portion of food from all our plates. It’s this love that toughened up our resolve to try everything in our power to give Laddu a fight, until he was willing. 

I’m happy to report that apart from the half an hour of discomfort every other day, Laddu’s quality of life is at its optimum. He’s the first to bound into the kitchen in the mornings for his breakfast, the last one to leave because he knows we sneak him treats when the other cats are gone. He has his favorite spots, like the well-worn round settee which no one else is allowed to sit on. He has his mommy-time; when my mother takes a break from her chores and he’ll follow her voice to where she is on the couch (remember he’s blind). He’s the undisputed King of our castle. 

But Laddu isn’t our only cat-baby. There are four more; four more egos to manage, four more strong personalities to cater to, four more lives we are responsible for. 

Laddu’s cat-siblings are four absolutely adorable beings who cannot speak for themselves, and who trust us blindly to make the right decision for them. And that is the most difficult part in this dynamic; knowing that every decision you make has to be the right decision because they can’t make their own. Which vet to go to? Which food brand to use? Should I get that vaccine which causes fever? Should I get her the shot even though she seems normal? Is she unwell or just being lazy? There’s so much that requires just taking wild guesses from knowing them and their distinctive personalities.  The relationship between us and our cats is complex. There’s no one giving out nods of approval and unlike with kids, there is no reference point to compare with by calling up other cat-parents for advice. You do seek out advice, but ultimately, we’re all just taking wild guesses on what our pet wants or is trying to say. Sometimes we get it wrong, but thankfully, most times we get it right. You’ve just got to remember that pets aren’t accessories to show off. They aren’t just show pieces. They are living, breathing little four legged babies who will never grow up enough to speak for themselves. They will also rarely turn around with an “I love you, Mom!” But once you’re in, you’ll find your own cues for understanding that you’re doing just fine. 

And with cats, that’s more that you can ask for; the pleasure is all ours!

(Khizra Munir is a Karachi based Creative Director and Strategy Consultant, whose ACTUAL full time job is to ensure that cats get their right place in society; as the bosses of us!  Follow her on Twitter at @KhizM)

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What I've Been Reading: Book Recommendations From My Viber Public Chats

5 December 2014

For the last couple of weeks I've been using Viber's new public chat service to talk about what I've been reading and what I love. It's kinda cool to have a dedicated social media platform to JUST books, because while I have a Twitter (and a Facebook, and an Instagram and an ello--holy fuck), I talk there about a whole plethora of topics--which is usually mostly cats, but sometimes is other things also. Anyway, Viber's chat rooms are a bit different from your traditional chat rooms in that no one can talk back to you, but if you subscribe, you get updates from your celebrities or actors or pages or whatever right on your chatting platform, which is quite cool. Personally, I'm enjoying playing around with the format, and you should check it out if it sounds like your kind of thing: (from your mobile phone). I don't spam, I promise.

Here are the books I've been raving about so far.

Week One: What I've Been Reading

1) What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

I'll post more of the chats here on Monday (I've got books I love from India and cat books in honour of TC and next week I'm planning a YA special), but it's best to sign up for real time stuff etc (plus then I can get some vague narcissitic pleasure of seeing my follower count rise. There must be a German word for the satisfaction you feel at watching your social media numbers rise, right?) ANYhow, here's the link again. Let me know what you're reading in the comments.

(I'm still pretty depressed about TC's death, but I need to do or think about something else. I feel like my entire brain has just been soaked in some kind of deep fluid and it's really hard to make thoughts or do anything proactive except basically go to sleep a lot. Cry a little. Make up weird songs. Y'know?)

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2 December 2014

My friend, my cat, my TC died today.

It was a peaceful death. We got a vet to come home and give him a shot (to the heart, quite literally) and he quivered once--I leaned my head on the Good Thing's arm so I didn't have to see--and then it was all over.

He had something called Chronic Renal Failure, which is a term I became so familiar with, I even began referring to it in sassy shortform: CRF. I used "CRF" in the cat forums I joined, hoping to find a cure for him, or at least, something to make him feel better. I was pointed towards blogs called When Vets Don't Know Enough. I was told to call it CKD (chronic kidney disease) because that made it sound easier and more manageable.

It is manageable for some cats. They live a long life. Some cats have to go to the vet a few times a week to be put on a drip or an IV. Some cats have to have annual bloodwork. But they'll never get better. Eventually, they'll all "crash"--that's what it's called when it's the very end--and then they die quite rapidly after.

TC "crashed" four weeks ago. He completely stopped eating. The vet said there was nothing he could do, and because I begged him, "Please don't let my cat starve to death!" he prescribed a glucose drip. My cat forum friends urged me to force feed. I did, triumphant in getting 25 ml into my cat--once strong, once a ginger giant--and he vomited it all over the floor.

TC died today, but this wasn't the TC that lived. That TC died three weeks ago. That TC was a Catcher of Pigeons and a Hunter of Hands. That TC had a purr that made a man he knew say, "Motor chalu?" each time he picked him up. That TC had a happy, inquisitive meow: "Mrrrpp?" he'd say, looking at you, green eyes wide or slanted with affection.

He was my small furball--the kitten that was left. I had gone, armed with my pink basket, to pick a grey tabby kitten, but the grey had been killed by a dog, the owner said, and of the indoor and the outdoor kittens, TC was the only one she could catch. I wanted a kitten, so I went home with him.

"What will you call him?" asked a visiting friend.

"I like Noor," I said, but then changed my mind.

Six months later, his baby daughter was named Noor, but my TC remained a TC, through the discovery of his real gender.

He was never a very affectionate cat, but he did like being social. Once he had gotten over a party actually happening in his home, he'd stroll out and very deliberately sit in the middle of a room and wash his balls or anus vigourously. Everyone would stop what they were doing to coo at him, and he'd move tantalisingly close but always a few inches away from their fingers. Once he saw me getting up to move rooms though, it was all over. He knew who he wanted and he always wanted me.

I want to remember the feel of his body curled up into the crook of my thighs, the way he always greeted me at the front door,  feeling the thump of his landing on the bed, and watching him if I heard a strange noise--if TC jumped, I'd know it was an intruder inside the house, if he stayed still, I'd know the sound was outside.

He charmed the many men I had known in his lifetime, and they knew if they wanted to get the girl, they'd have to compliment the cat, but I never saw him actively seek out any of them until the Good Thing came into our lives. But still, if I left the room, he'd (usually) come with me, because he knew who he wanted, and he (almost) always wanted me.

We had a very lovely cremation for him in a little pet crematorium in Chattarpur, where the men in charge looked at me sympathetically and handed us incense and flowers and scented earth to pour on him. He looked so peaceful, I had to touch him to make sure he was actually, truly, dead.

Part of being who he wanted (and he always wanted me), was knowing that I had to make the decision for him. "If you want to go, you should go," I told him, a week ago, "But if you don't, I'll fight for you, I promise." Yesterday, his eyes--such beautiful, weary eyes--looked at me and asked, truly, actually asked, "Why is this happening to me?"

You know when it's time. It may sound like a myth, but it's true.

We had eight good years. He knew who he wanted--and I always wanted him.

Goodbye my faithful friend. I'll miss you forever.

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And now you're back, from outer space

11 November 2014

* I wrote a bunch of articles about blogging which I felt excused me from the actual act of blogging, but after a while you start to get guilty feelings in your stomach, like when you've forgotten to feed a pet, but not like a real pet, say a fish? Or a Tamagotchi?

Anyhow partially this is because while I haven't been manically busy, I have been a bit... preoccupied. Remember how I told you all those months ago about how I was broke? It continued to be an concern up until, well, last weekend, when finally all the stuff I'd been juggling began to make patterns in the air without me working so hard! Shit finally came together! And because I have a little breathing room now, I'm able to really look at all my tasks and get them done instead of numbing the stress with more brainless TV.

* Speaking of brainless TV though. I've been watching some very BRAIN-FULL stuff lately, which I'd like to offer up to anyone looking for recommendations.
Obviously The Good Wife is the best thing on TV right now, so watch that without fail and also, The Legend of Korra which I will do a longer post about soon, but which is basically the most feminist fantasy series I've ever seen (and it's a cartoon.) And Outlander, which is all time travel! And time travel sex! And history! And for science-y educational stuff, there's Cosmos, which sometimes will make your head spin with information but will make you that much smarter for watching.

* Oh my god, you guys I finally quit smoking! It's been four weeks. FOUR WEEKS! And apart from the drunk smoke, I actually don't miss it much. Sometimes I think about smoking in a wistful manner: this sunshine, this coffee, wouldn't it be nice? But that's a passive craving, which is far easier to deal with than an active one which feels like you're drowning in your desire to smoke. Uff, for a while all I could think of was smoking and now week four. WEEK FOUR!

Right after this photo was taken, Olga da Polga jumped on TC and ruined everything
* The cats are great, thank you, old enough that we should really neuter them soon so that we don't have grandkittens, but a total joy, and I don't regret having three at all except occasionally when I feel a bit outnumbered.

* I'm writing this from my new phone! Yes, I finally stopped being evangelical for Nokia, because a work thing came along for which I needed Android or iOS. I have a Moto G Second Gen, and it's amazing to be back on Android after a break because you can really tell how intuitive it is. Also this is a really good phone. Fast, responsive, solid. I was going to jump on the Xiaomi bandwagon but ugh, I have no patience for flash sales. Sell me something or don't, stop being a drama.
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#SojuParty! The fun we had with this Korean rice liquor

8 October 2014

It's no secret that I love alcohol, right? I mean, not in the way an alcoholic loves alcohol--I'm not dependent on it or anything--but a Saturday night without booze is like, oh, a cup of coffee without a book. Or a festival without good food. So, when the people at Jinro India asked if I'd like to have a party with soju, OBVIOUSLY there was only one answer I could give them.

If you're reading this on Wednesday, October 8, Jinro is running a super fun contest on their page which will end at 5 pm, IST. You stand a chance to win a soju hamper, so get cracking!

I mailed a bunch of friends asking them to come over and partake of all the goodness, and the email I got back varied from, "OMG SOJU TOTALLY COUNT ME IN!" to "What is soju, exactly?" What is soju? It's a kind of Korean liquor, which comes in these squat, pretty green bottles. If you've eaten at Gung The Palace in Delhi (which you totally should), you'll be familiar with these bottles, if you haven't, it's a clear, almost tasteless liquor, with a 20% alcohol content--about the same as wine or beer. I say "almost" because once you drink it--on the rocks is best, in my opinion--you'll be aware after your first few sips of a moreishness, the way it coats your palate and a slight tang if you swish it about your mouth a bit. Light and with much more of a "give" than your usual drinks on the rocks (vodka, whiskey), there's no burn once you drink it, so it's really like drinking water. A very alcoholic water.

Abroad, soju is the top selling liquor in the world. (No, that's not hyperbole.) It sells THREE TIMES as much as Smirnoff, and Psy (Gangnam Style) has declared it his favourite drink. Not a lot of this has filtered to other countries--South Korea has the world's highest per capita liquor consumption-- but it's starting to now. There are bars in London and New York devoted to soju cocktails.

 I had Googled a few to figure out what to serve the soju with, since I'm a bit of a novice, and realised I could mix it with pretty much anything.  I mixed up a bowl of tomato juice with lemon, pepper and Tabasco sauce, so people could have Soju Marys, as well as a bowl of cranberry juice, Cointreau and soda for Sojupolitans. My own personal favourite, however, like for many of my friends, was like I've mentioned before: just a glug of Soju on ice. You need short glasses to serve these, but I soon ran out and had to give it to people in wine glasses, which didn't really take away from the experience, so it's all good.

{A digression: snacks for a party are always hard to manage, especially if you don't have help that comes in more than once a day. This is where I discovered--at the very last minute!--premade snacks from Green Chick Chop. (There are branches all over Delhi.) I bought a bunch of chicken samosas and momos, as well as cheese samosas, and just lightly panfried them, bringing them out for people to eat in batches. My plan was to serve dinner as well, but they were filling enough that no one really needed dinner. So there's a party tip for the future! (You're welcome.) (I also have enough leftover in my freezer for drop bys now, the advantage of having a party that starts at 9.30 pm, after everyone's already eaten.) (We've all come a long way since when we could eat dinner at 11 pm and still have a good night's sleep.) (The momos especially got a rave review--and those I just nuked in the microwave.)}

I invited 15 people, out of which about 14 showed up, for which I had six bottles of soju--we figured one bottle per three people was a good ratio. (Here are the places where soju is available across the country.) For Rs 315 a bottle, the party went on till the wee hours, with no one even needing anything from the back up bar I already had in case of emergencies. Win-win!

This weather is kinda insane, though, right? I think one of the reasons the soju went down so well is that is was SO hot and sticky (and, just my luck, the AC in the living room stopped working), that everyone was really happy to have a light, refreshing drink. Red wine in this weather is a GUA-RAN-TEED hangover, but the morning after this one, I was still as fresh as a daisy. A tired daisy because parties are hard work! But no headache, no cotton mouth, no feeling like I had to upchuck at the sight of food. That, in itself, is already a HUGE bonus.

{Another aside: I met a bunch of very young twentysomethings at a party last month, and proceeded to give them my thirtysomething wisdom as they gathered around me, faces as fresh as flowers. I remember the one big takeaway I had, which I told them about, like a crone prophesying the future: "A two-drink hangover is EXACTLY the same as a ten-drink hangover in your thirties." Uff. SO. TRUE.}

Would I buy soju again? Absolutely. With the combination of reasonable pricing (you seriously can't buy any liquor worth having for under Rs 500, except maybe Old Monk, and Old Monk and I are not speaking at the moment), easy drinking (perfect for daytime AND night parties) and no hangover the next day, COUNT ME IN. 

 Anyway! On to the photos! These are all taken with my phone for Instagram, and there was a certain point in the evening when things got a bit blurry, but we all had a lovely time.

A talented musician friend and a HUGE soju fan. Him & his wife said I "had them at soju." :)

One of the takers of my Sojupolitan. A little bit pink, but really good, apparently.

On the rocks, the way I preferred it as well.

Trying out a Soju Mary. Sadly, the cats and the season changes made my friend sneeze so much she had to leave, which: boo. But not before she drank a goodly amount.

I told people to wear the colours of the Korean flag (black and white and red and blue) which most people didn't, except this lovely friend. You can't see the white bit on the front of her dress, but her teeth count, right?

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Miss Marple is a bad ass in every sense of the phrase

16 September 2014

By the time you read this, I will have finished all eleven Miss Marple books. Let me tell you a secret: I never really liked Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s elderly woman detective. She didn’t draw me from the get go, like Hercule Poirot. Ah, Poirot! There’s so much more to love about him: consider his mustache, his little quirks—the crème de menthe before dinner, the hot chocolate, his referring to his brains as the “little grey cells”—Poirot is camp, and eccentric, and yet, there are allowances made for this. He is the “greatest detective in the world” by his own admission, and possible Christie’s too. There are 34 Hercule Poirot novels, and 13 short story collections. There are only four short story “collections” about Miss Marple, and one of those is just a story.

That is, until I borrowed a set of Miss Marple books from a friend, a Christiephile, and read them all slowly, and then faster, and then, putting down the book, wondered why this woman character hadn’t grabbed me before.

Obviously, Miss Marple doesn’t offer much for the reader looking forward to a good potboiler. There usually isn’t a murder until forty or fifty pages, the first half of a typical Miss Marple book is about a small town or village, where the characters just happen to be pottering about their lives. Sometimes, the story opens on Miss Marple herself, increasingly, as the books go on, complaining about her old age. No, not “complaining,” that’s not the right word for her—more like ruminating about age. You realize with a shock by the time you read book six, that the Vicar’s unborn child is now old enough to go into service himself, and you wonder how many more years Miss Marple has to go on.

In a moment of self-awareness in the book Nemesis, Miss Marple considers herself by the very words people often use about her: “an old pussy.” Sometimes, this word is used with admiration, such as by a retired detective Sir Henry Clithering, when he calls her my old lady, and often, the first glimpse the reader has of Miss Marple is from the point of view of the person watching her: canny blue eyes, a fluff of white hair, a withered pink and white face. “Everyone’s great aunt,” someone calls her in a later book, and indeed, unlike Poirot, who twirls and poses and pontificates, Miss Marple twitters and is scatty, and knits, and gossips.

But perhaps reading her all at one go has helped me realize exactly what a tremendous piece of fiction the Miss Marple character actually was. If you consider it, no one was more disenfranchised after World War II (where many of Christie’s later books are set) than the old and aged, who remembered a world gone by. By twist of fate (it’s never explained), Miss Marple is unmarried, and has no relatives except a rather condescending, but quite devoted nephew. She lives on a small income, subsidized by him, and the books often mention that she’s not very rich, and shall have to take a hand out. (There is one book, the one I mentioned before, where she inherits a small legacy, but it’s not spoken of after). Her small village is being plowed over and redeveloped, and she’s unable to go for walks by herself without falling down or having someone worry that she’s fallen down. It’s a reminder that the aged are essentially powerless, and in that sense, it’s incredible to see how much power Miss Marple manages to give herself, all in the apologetic subservient manner of women of her generation.

Miss Marple is the detective novel on its head—cases are only offered to her later, and still, only in as much as she can manage—people often underestimate her for her gender and her age, and unlike most heroes, she does not stand on centre stage, rather off to the side, like a singular Greek chorus, pointing out bits you may have missed. In fact, her novels are perhaps most engaging for that sense, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where you’re only given the most tantalizing clues, but nothing more, until the very end, when you “ah” and “oh” like everyone else. There is no gathering of people in one room like Poirot does, Miss Marple just pops her bonneted head up before the villain can commit another villainy. She makes no compunctions about overhearing conversations or believing the worst about human nature—that is just what old ladies do. She wins because she plays her greatest asset and her biggest disadvantage—her age—to the hilt, and like the people no one notices: the maid, the child in the garden, the old lady on the bus; but who notice everyone, gets the bad guy in the end.

It’s hard to love a little old lady as much as you’d love a dashing man or a beautiful woman or just your regular troubled anti-hero with a past and a trenchcoat, but I urge you to do a re-read of the books, even if you ignored them before. Christie’s descriptions of gentrified life, the dialogue that shines through, the slow build ups to exciting plot: it’s a look at the crime writer you may have overlooked earlier, but won’t again.  
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What Ladakh Was Like (Part Two)

8 September 2014

We are always tired, something about the walking and the long car rides—this has been a year punctuated with long car rides—and the struggle of our bodies to acclimatize to the thin air, makes us bone tired, fag tired, so we collapse onto our beds and sleep the sleep of the righteous. Our beds are in Chow’s Guest House, recommended by a friend, and which turn out to be an absolutely right choice. Mrs Chow is an old lady doing this as a hobby, she smiles when I tell her she should be on Tripadvisor or something on the internet! More guests! Maybe she doesn’t want more guests. It’s her baby, even though she’s named it after her husband, and the service—a young man called Manoj—is excellent. She serves us lunch our first acclimatizing day, but after that we see her only in passing. “We have not that many guests this season,” she tells us, and lets us leave our bags in the room for the two days we are away from Leh. The room has a low wooden ceiling for insulation and a view of the mountains. There is always blessedly hot water. We are golden. 

To get to Mrs Chow and her home of comfort however, is a walk of much excitement. Our first day exploring, we are shown a back lane that cuts through some uphill climbs and leads directly to Chang Spa Road, the “Bandra”, the “Anjuna” of Leh, or so I am told. We are the earliest to arrive that season, and things on Chang Spa are still being painted and hammered and set up. Down towards Fort Road is where the activity is, and that is our daily walk, to the market—for my friend’s absolute addiction to namkeen packets, and to look for a liquor store, but alas, the highway up from Manali is still closed and hasn’t yet opened for the year, so we’re surviving on what little rations Leh has left. Camel cigarettes and Smirnoff and little canisters of oxygen, bright pink, the size of a deodorant bottle. For rations, it’s not so bad.

We call it Cowdung Alley, the road from Iris Café to Chow’s, because of the Hansel and Gretel trail the herds of cows leave behind. My friend is terrified of cows, one knocked her down as a child, and I am a little less scared but not by much, because I knew the cow that knocked her down. However, it’s decided that it’s my role to go forward and brave the cows, so I peer down the turns of Cowdung Alley and I say, “All clear!” and forward we go. 

Once, we come across a large bull, sitting in the middle of the lane, with no space on his left or right. I try to do my usual thing, where I summon up my courage and walk around him, holding my breath, but at the last moment, I can’t.

I need the loo.

We have heavy bags.

We sit on a stairway for a while, gazing down at this cow. In desperation, we knock on a few windows, hoping someone more brave, or more familiar with this beast will chase him away for us. Everyone seems to be away or napping.

Finally, we walk around the back, hoping to come to another gate for Chow’s, but after a long walk—and some fences to leap—we eventually make our way back to Cowdung Alley after all.

Now I really need the loo.

The bull is gone.

My friend is absolutely passionate about dogs, in that she will stop at every dog and say, “Oh my god, that is adorable.” They are not all adorable. They are grimy, and stray, and large or small, but not cute. However, I will say that dogs bred in the mountains have raffish, confident faces, proud, high tails, and grin at you as you pass them. With a bath, they’d be as fluffy as Fluffy.

We befriend one dun coloured canine with a swoopy tail and an endearing way of cocking his head, when he meets us and the students we went to Nubra Valley with, in front of Wonderland. One of the boys has never had a dog before, and he takes great pleasure feeding it leftover pizza. Earlier, my friend and I had seen the dog crossing the street with great urgency, almost looking at his watch and going, “I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!” I named him Sherlock Bones, and we looked out for him on our walks. Made friendly by the pizza, he always stops to say hello and wag his tail at us, and we say, “Good boy, Sherlock!” and he walks us down the road a little bit, and then dashes off on another errand.

One night, obviously he has nothing else to do, so he decides to accompany us home, which upsets the delicate territory ecosystem of Chang Spa. Four mongrels tear out at us, teeth bared, snarling, and Sherlock, lovely, friendly Sherlock, is hiding behind our legs, growling menacingly using us as a shield. Um, thanks, but no thanks, Sherl. Again, we are stuck, it is dark, and there are packs of baying hounds. We ask a local shopkeeper for help, his wife and toddler son are outside, playing with a tricycle. “Are you scared of Blackie?” asks his wife, her round face shining with amusement. “”Blackie! Blackie!” calls her little son, and all three of them laugh. However, Sherlock/Blackie is not drawn by the baby’s babbling, and walks us home, after a passing man picks up a stone and waves it threateningly at the other dogs.

Once inside Chow’s I am ready to call it a night and go to sleep, but my friend is worried for Sherlock’s safety, and filled with guilt. “Is that him?” she keeps asking, when a dog barks, and I yawn, heartlessly. 

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Do you remember the time?

30 August 2014

(This post began as an alternative to a listicle I was doing for POPxo. I do some writing for them, mostly top ten lists and so on, and they had suggested I do one on a male bestie to an accidental boyfriend. I couldn't think of what to say, so I turned it into a story instead, which was useless for them, but I thought I'd share it with you guys instead.)

When this post was originally suggested to me, I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it. I mean, I’ve had boyfriends, but “accidental”? How does that work? Plus, while I enjoy men and their company, I’m a girl’s girl, cultivating my rich, deep friendships with women, more than men, though I have no problem with being “one of the boys” when I have to.

Then I remembered Gaurav (name changed), from all those years ago. I was seventeen, he was a younger fifteen. We met on ICQ—remember ICQ?—where I went by the jaded moniker Sugar Coated Pill, and his handle was [cool rap lyric]. We started talking randomly, you could add anyone you liked on ICQ if you had their “number”, like a BBM pin.

“Fifteen,” I thought to myself, dismissively. What does a fifteen year old know about life? We went to different schools—I was in a large, teeming co-ed, he was in a smaller, more elite boy’s school. We had hardly any chance of running into each other in real life—no common friends, not even in the same neighbourhood, and so I guess it got easier to talk to him online. Every afternoon I’d come home from school and log in, and usually, there he’d be. Waiting. For me.

I had just moved back to Delhi after two years in boarding school, and was finding it sort of hard to make friends this time round. I had fallen in with the popular kids when I first moved, but we didn’t click, so I allowed myself to drift apart from them. I had some new friends who I sort of hung out with, but again, it was a strange, drifting feeling, like we were hanging on to a liferaft, and only talking till the ship came to rescue us and take us home. With Gaurav, I could let go.

The funny thing was, he was nothing like me.  We came from completely different backgrounds and had completely different interests. I was a “good girl” who stayed out of trouble, and loved to read, he was the “bad boy” who never cracked open the spine of a book in his life. It was a strange friendship, but it worked.

It didn’t hurt that he was cute, either. Like 90s boyband cute. Easy smile, floppy hair, charming, the first time we arranged to meet, I took one look at him and thought, “Oh no.” Because it wasn’t easy. We spoke every night on the phone—he was my best friend, and I was his, except, except, I loved him, and he didn’t.

Accidental boyfriend? Yes, and he knew it too. And when the other girls came in, because he was fifteen, then sixteen, then a cute teenage boy in Delhi, and of course there were other girls. I felt him drift away, though always with a backward, apologetic smile, like, “You know this isn’t really me, right?” He even fixed me up with a friend, who I dated for a little while, and then broke up with all of a sudden, leaving him bitter, saying, “You like Gaurav, why don’t you just admit it?”

That’s my story. My accidental boyfriend, who didn’t really know how he tripped and fell. I’m not quite sure either, but it was fun while it lasted. Oh well. RIP Old Relationships.
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You better run, baby, run, outrun my gun

25 August 2014

My Facebook feed is a sort of mixed bag. On the one hand, I have my "actual" friends, who are almost always either doing something fun or funny. Scroll through their holiday photos, or a picture of a meal they've eaten, or a funny billboard they've noticed, or so on and so forth, and you come to the second layer of my Facebook feed: the acquaintances, people whose names I no longer connect with anything except Facebook, and people I haven't spoken to in years but who I knew once well enough for me to accept their friend request.

This layer sometimes provides me with more entertainment than the first. Whether it's the die-hard Modiphile with his new daily rant (which basically just serves as an exercise in, "How hard can he push my buttons today?") or a girl I think I knew in school? I'm not sure, but who has some lovely photos up of her kids with fun captions. I also love to play the schadenfreude game with old classmates: who looks older? who looks fatter? who looks amazing and oh my god, are we the same age? I know, I know, it's very non-uplifting, but I'm fairly sure everyone does it.

Today, scrolling down idly, I came across a photo which struck me. It was a very ordinary photo: two people at a party, holding up those placards you can pose with. You know the ones, they have some pithy saying on them, and you hold up one to indicate your personality. This one had a husband and wife duo, and the wife's sign said, "I'm the boss!"

Of all the signs that actually indicate the opposite of what you had in mind, "I'm the boss" strikes me as the most pathetic. There's something in the women's eyes, a bitter realisation that this is as good as it gets, that holding up a sign saying, "I'm the boss!" will somehow give them autonomy and power in their relationship.

"Oh yes," says the husband, usually an arranged marriage husband, "Vanya makes all the decisions, she's totally the boss. Aren't you Vanya?" Vanya emerges, smiling and sweaty from the kitchen, "That's right!" Vanya gets to pick the holiday destination, but has to shut up about not wanting kids for a few years. Vanya has an input about the family car, "Let's get the red one!" but the model and make will be left up to her husband. Vanya stays at home and keeps her mother-in-law happy, but by withdrawing sex, can manipulate her husband into little favours.

There was an Airtel ad recently that went viral, about a woman boss giving extra work to her employees and then going home and cooking dinner. Later, it emerges that one of her employees is actually her husband! And she's making dinner for him! As an apology, maybe, for working late? The ad--with all its good intentions--begins with the woman boss apologising for making them stay in so late. Then, tired, exhausted from a long day and a sulky husband, she proceeds to cook up a feast and calls him. "Wife" his phone says, all their phones say "Wife", because that is her identity. The bit Airtel doesn't show is their conversation.

"Come home, na, I cooked."


"Please don't be mad, I needed you to do the work also, otherwise it looks like favourtism."

"I said, fine."

Then off he skips, home, leaving the other men speculating about banging the boss and how easy it would be if they too were married to the one in power.

In this situation, I can guarantee you, the actual boss never held up a sign saying, "I'm the boss." That would flick, cut too close to a nerve. She was the boss, and so she could never be casual about it. She wore her power like a burden, anxious to give it away as soon as possible.

What you want is a relationship between two equals--and this is my essential problem with all pop culture that references a man being in a relationship against his will. Being "dragged" to the altar.
Being tied up with a ball and chain.

While "I'm the boss" may seem like an empowered, empowering statement, in actual fact, it isn't.

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19 August 2014

Too scared to open Blogger after nearly a month and a half away—has it been that long? I’m so sorry, dear reader (for there’s got to be one of you still left right?), and I have no excuses except: writing. And cats. My life has become suddenly extremely full of cats: I went from a normal person with just one cat who sat in the background looking attractive, to bordering-on-crazy-cat-lady person with three. And not even the original three.

The Cats Story: You’ve seen my last “For William” post, and you’ve surmised that there’s a new kitty in my life, but, BUT, in the month I’ve been AWOL, there’s been some mah-ha-jor cat drama (crama!) going on.

Bruno: which is to say “William” which is to say “Suzie”—can I go off on a tangent here about naming cats? It isn’t just one of those holiday games! You were right the first time, Mr Elliot! So, The Good Thing has a theory* that cats should have “people” names, and I saw the funny side of this, and so, we called William, Susan, before his balls dropped exactly eight days later, and then we called him William, as in “Just” or “And The Outlaws”, but then more and more, we discovered he’s basically a really large dog, like a boxer or something, inside a kitten’s body, so Bruno it is. And shall be. Bruntonious Rex, first of his name, sometimes. Bruno was brought in to be a Little Friend to TC, but hello, you don’t have to know TC for six years, to know that that cat basically wants to be fed and watered and left alone. That’s his idea of a perfect life. The occasional pet, when he feels like it. Bruno, on the other hand, just loves him, but since TC hissed and spat, and we couldn’t, we bore the brunt of his essential Bruno-ness. 

*it's not so much a theory, as a thing. "I like pets to have human names," he says. Why not? Why subject another "Cuddly" or "Pimpom" on the world? (Although, I wanted to name one Deadline, just so I could chase it and feel productive at the same time.)

Which is when we decided the ideal solutch to this sitch would be to get another kitten. Two kittens! Playmates for each other! TC left alone! Yay! So, we went to Friendicoes and picked out a teeny tiny little black kitten we named Agni. Agni was super sweet and super small and super amazing, but she also carried with her some kind of crazy strong kitten bacteria, which she passed on to Bruno, who kept knocking her down to wash her vigourously. One day she was fine, the next she was shitting constantly, and by evening she was so sick, we had to take her to the emergency vet, and put a drip in her, and then he got sick, and so on and so forth. Very sadly, she couldn’t battle the infection, and died just ten days after we got her. She was so small, but such a fighter. I miss her still.

For a while, it looked like we’d have no cats kittens (I meant kittens, TC, thanks to his aloofness, remained healthy, touch wood, thoo thoo thoo) at all—Bruno was rapidly deteriorating, he was such a playful kitten, and suddenly he was limp and listless and not eating. We dragged him to the vet too, and got a blood test which confirmed the bacterial infection, which we tried to kill with antibiotics. We did this at home, with a take home subcutaneous drip and shots, and force fed him Lactol, some kind of powdered milk thing for unweaned animal babies. But, finally, finally, he was on the mend, and that’s when his previous caretaker person called and asked if I’d take his sister, newly homeless, and too small and sweet to survive as a feral cat. “Um…,” I said, not sure if we wanted to commit, and so soon after Agni too, but she used a winning combination of bargaining and flattery, and so we captured Olga da Polga from the park, and have not regretted it since. She is seriously the sweetest kitten, likes nothing more than to be picked up and held, and is always searching for human contact. In the absence of that, she amuses herself by catching flies, or lying in the cat hammock (see photo) or chasing her brother, who she furiously hissed at the first few days she was with us. (She also hissed at her own reflection for a while.) She’s named after a book character I loved, and who she reminds me of, but really, she’s such an Olga. I wish you could all meet her. Your day would be that much more improved.

I made this out of an old shirt tied to the bottom of a barstool. It's more succesful than the cat tree that we actually spent money on.

And they leave TC alone for the most part, except Bruno, who seems to still gaze at him with hero worshipping eyes, and will lunge at TC to give him a kiss or a nibble whenever he sees fit, and TC will swat at him, but at least he still has Olga, and all this running around has brought his appetite back, so there’s that.

Cohabiting: I told you the Good Thing moved in, right? Like, moved-in, moved in? It’s kinda amazing. We both work from home, so there was some confusion in the beginning as to how we could both do that and not get on each other’s nerves, but it’s worked out very nicely, with a new high table in the living room (for him and his stuff) and me, still on my desk in one corner of the bedroom, which I like, because it faces a window, and I can dream, and stroke whichever cat happens to wander by. There are lots of advantages to living together, and I recommend it fully.

Cool things that have also happened: I’d been working on this Caravan feature about Miss Malini for like, months, and it finally came out in the beginning of August, and it’s SIX PAGES LONG, and my first thought when I picked it up and looked through it, was, “I wrote all that? All these words? Mine?” PHEW. It was quite hard work too, but felt that much nicer when it came out.

I also spoke at The India Today Women’s Summit, and I wore this long pink gown-y thing from Vero Moda (on sale!), which my mum thinks was way too booby, but which I liked, so there. It was also really cool to be there, and be a speaker, but I wish I had gotten to interact with the other women more. 
See? Totally modest, if a little dressy for one pm.

Oh, I also went away again, with my friend (and her boyfriend and mine) who I went to Ladakh with. This time we road-tripped to Kausani in Uttarakhand. There are several things you should know about Kausani, and I’ll summarize those into easy points: a) the internet LIES, it’s not a “eight to ten hour” drive, it’s a 12 to 14 hour drive, if you take breaks to pee and whatnot, which any human would do, so maybe not ideal for just a long weekend, b) once you’re there, stay in the Himalayan Village Resort, which is lovely, dog friendly, and has excellent home cooked food and c) travelling with a dog is also very fun, if a bit slobbery.

This kinda makes fourteen hours worth it, though.

That’s my news. New book very nearly done, and then onwards to another. Life is good.
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