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."

"Fine."

"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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Summarizing

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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for william

3 July 2014

who scratches
who has a black spot on his head
and another deeper, by his tail
who is soft and full
of purrs and kitten dreams
who is warrior with crooked whiskers
who is the bane of the older cat
dignified, paddy pawed older cat

somewhere on the internet
i read this about kittens
you have a small carnivore.”
william is a carnivore
he is like a raptor,
if you gave him flesh to tear
he would tear it
he attacks his kitten food
and kills it by shaking his head,
he jumps on high tables where the cat’s food is
and sticks his nose in
he will have all the food.

william has half a black nose
and a sliver of sandpaper tongue
who will bite the hand that feeds him
only because it looks like a toy
who hides inside the sofa and emerges
surprise! Here I am!
who does not yet have cat dignity
and so, is always delighted to see me
he shows this by biting my foot

we love him best when he is sleepy
rorschach back to the world
for then he is tame kitten, sweet kitten
not the wild animal that beats
sinew by sinew, drop by drop
in his aching, furry, bestial flesh.


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What Ladakh Was Like (Part One)

2 July 2014

You ask me why I dwell in the green moun­tain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
-Li Bai, Green Mountain



I've been back in Delhi for long enough to nearly forget Ladakh now. It stays only in the sprinkle of dried apples and sundried tomatoes in my fridge, almost used up. It stays as a string of prayer flags tied to the posts of my bed, but mostly, Ladakh as a feeling is leaving me. Now when someone asks, "What was Ladakh like?" I have my stock answer: "Amazing!" but I feel like they're expecting me to say amazing, the same way I feel the word "amazing" so inadequate, so trite, just bubbling to the front of my mouth. 

When I first moved to Bombay, I asked locals, "Do you ever not look at the sea? Does it become a blind spot?" and they said, "Well, the sea is the sea." When I got off my plane in Ladakh--throat fluttering, lungs heaving, air air air, we must have air!--I turned around to look at the mountains we were surrounded by, and wondered the same thing. 

See a mountain, climb it up, and all the year, you'll have good luck.


***

This is the first holiday I've taken with a girl friend since the Good Thing and I got together. He is away in London, where I cannot afford to go. My friend loans me money for a ticket to Ladakh, she
makes a packing list for us, and hunts out her old backpack and raincoat for me to use. I feel cossetted, like a child, with someone else in charge. We are independent women! We are strong! We feel a surge of self righteousness when we see little groups of families travelling, all of them turning their heads round and staring, STARING, until it feels like my eyes are full of curses from them, and I spit after them in my head, "FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF ALL OF YOU!" Maybe they could sense our smugness, our "we're so much better than you because we're cool and on holiday alone, and you are stuck behind your large family, where the ladies where salwar kameezes and woolen socks under chappals, and your dad is paunchy and has his monkey cap pulled so high it looks like a little nipple on top of his head." My family was never much for holidays that didn't involve going South. We went to Kerala and Hyderabad. Sometimes we had day trips from those two places. We went to Sri Lanka a few times, and everyone had fought with everyone else by the end of it.  Travel seems to me to be an exclusive pleasure, particular to me in my adult life, and not something I share with family or most people.

*** 

 

The food is almost universally, abysmally bad. I am surprised I have such a strong reaction to it. I nearly want to cry after a rafting journey of 20 kilometres when the food greeting me at the other end is insipid saltless daal and rice. In Nubra Valley, there is more daal and rice, in Pangong, where it is so lovely, so lovely, and so breathtakingly cold, there is a different kind of daal, and rice. The man who cooks it listens to my objections about daal and rice ("Please make something different.") and twinkles at me and ignores it. "Couldn't have been too bad," said my friend, a vegetarian for whom daal and rice epitomises comfort, "You had two helpings." "I was still hungry," I told her, leaving out the fact that satiating hunger is very different from actually eating tasty food. Eating to get full leaves you with a craving in the very centre of you, you feel full but unsatisfied.


Finally, I throw myself upon all Leh city, with all its cosmopolitan small town-ness can offer me. There is a hotel called Wonderland up the road from lovely Chow's Guest House, where we are staying. Wonderland does everything, and does it well. We eat pizza and momos, rogaan josh and rice, all not the best food in the world, you understand, but it beats daal and rice.  Another place pulls out their liquor license just before we leave--Bon Appetit--and serves up gorgeous hot chai cocktails--with delicate pizza and pasta, and the views are excellent. I would have gone to Bon Appetit all the time if I could've. 

On the same rafting trip which we are sharing with a couple on holiday away from their child, and a young man who broke free from his package tour, the couple pulls out vodka on a surprisingly calm river, we do shots, and eat the packaged namkeen my friend has passed around. We stop for fifteen minutes on a sandy bank, and smoke cigarettes which the rafting instructor packs away into an empty box. On the way back to the city, they--vegetarians all, except me---discuss how "disgusting" meat is, and I silently long for a mutton biryani. 

***


How confidently the driver handles the vertiginous roads. We do like the foreigners do, and keep an eye out for people wanting to share a taxi. Within minutes, we have answered a neon poster's call, and have rides booked for Nubra Valley and Pangong. The drive to Nubra--first things first--is terrible, six hours of jouncing about in the back seat of a car missing shock absorbers. The only one who is comfortable is an old man travelling alone. He sits in the front seat and looks serene. I want to ask him why he is alone but lose my nerve. Often he hands his camera to me and asks me to take his picture. When it runs out of battery, he hands me his cellphone. I plug in my earphones to try and combat the nausea brought on by TURN-TURN-TURN-LOOP!, but he is impervious to the hidden sign of headphones, i.e, leave me alone. He taps me on the shoulder, and hands me his little Nokia, and I comply with very bad grace. 

This is the first time I've ever been so close to snow. I grab some in both my hands holding it, revelling in its texture. Snow is crumbly, snow is so white it hurts your eyes if you look across a large expanse of it. I feel the give of the snow when I pick it up to make it into a snowball, I am a tropical child, and here I am tossing myself into the snow to make a snow angel, it burns under my low rise jeans, but look at me! I'm doing it! The others are more confident, running up and down the snow hill, but I feel my sneakers sink in and slide, and I'm too scared to take a risk, so I just stay at the bottom, holding my chunk of snow till it bites into my palms. 

In Nubra, I remember that I've read about a certain kind of local beer that's good. We ask for "chang" to rhyme with "clang" and are corrected gently, "chhang" to rhyme with "hung." They source us a bottle at the Dragon Guest House, and we sip it cautiously, it's like fizzy wine mixed with wheat beer. The man serving us is a recent Delhi migrant and he's amused by our low brow tastes. He works the tourist circuits--up next, he is off to Rishikesh for rafting season. 

The lights go out, and I persuade my friend to hop out and see if she can find someone to ask if they're coming back soon. She grumbles, but picks up the torch and goes outside. A minute later, she calls to me, and I refuse at first, because it's so cold outside, and so warm inside, but she insists, and I climb out of bed and go and stick my head out of the door. "Look," she says, softly, and I walk towards her and look up, and the sky is blanketed with stars, so many, so bright, so shining, they break my heart, because I will never see a sky like that for the first time again, and already, even though they are vast and the fact of them is right there, already I miss them a little. 






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Dog Days Are Over

16 June 2014

I have been away--both on holiday (to Ladakh, which was everything they tell you Ladakh is going to be) and also immersed in my new book instead of procrastinating, which means a lot less writing over here. You'll be happy to hear I'm meant to deliver it by July (!!!), which means programming as usual on Compulsive Confessions when that's done. 
I've also been planning a very long Ladakh For Dummies post, a mix of what to do, pack, eat and what we did, and stories of travel. So keep an eye out for that soon. 

I've been feeling domestic lately. Probably this is because the Good Thing has given up Bombay and moved into my lovely Delhi flat officially--our lovely Delhi flat now, I guess, and we have been in a whirl of decorating ideas. Specifically him. I'm more of the "oh, it's fine, we'll move it when we're moving" school of thought. But with a little nagging, we've been pushing furniture around, and examining our options, and the flat will soon look drastically different from what it did last week.

This domesticity in me, however, didn't come out in anything so tame as moving a couch. No, I wanted to go the whole hog. The full bananas. The complete picnic basket. I signed us up to be doggy foster parents on Friendicoes' programme. For those of you not familiar, Friendicoes is an animal shelter here in Delhi and they do a lot of work with stray and abandoned dogs. Specifically abandoned dogs. Delhi being the Land of Status Symbol, people buy pedigree dogs like they're on a Zara sale, and as soon as they're adults and boring, or have a little something wrong with them that a quick vet visit could fix, they dump them. Some of them dump them at Friendicoes, which makes them susceptible for a lecture, yes, but at least they've had the decency to leave their dogs in safe hands. Some of them just abandon their dogs wherever they can, and it makes me so angry to think of a loved pet just wandering the streets looking for the family it had before. Although how loved could a pet be if their owners were willing to dump them?

Certainly when I met the boxer, he was skinny and shivering, not really the picture of a spoiled breed dog. They had named him Quentin, and they called to say he needed a home to live in. Apparently, the other pedigree dog at the shelter, an absolutely gorgeous golden retriever called River, had suspected distemper, so they needed somewhere for Quentin to stay while the other dog recovered. His previous owners had left him tied to a pole for several long hours, despite people trying to reason with them to give the dog another chance. I did a little research about boxers while we were waiting for him to come over and they're very sensitive to temperature, having almost no hair, they could get heat stroke or catch a cold super easily. I was wary, because, I mean a boxer. I didn't know much about the breed but I thought they could be in the same category as a Rottweiler or Alsatian, big dogs that could turn menacing swiftly.

"You got us a what?" asked the Good Thing, his eyebrows raising.

"Only temporary! I promise!"

"A boxer? Who's going to walk it and feed it?"

"I will! I swear!"

He wasn't pleased, but I was all like, "This dog will die if we don't take him in" and "Temporary!"

"What if he doesn't find a home?" he asked.

"Well, I guess he'll go back to the shelter, and I guess they'll kill him." (Note: Friendicoes is a no-kill shelter, but I didn't know that at the time. Euthanizing sounds cruel, but I think it's for the best sometimes when you have more abandoned dogs than humans can take in.)

Another concern was the cat, but we were more worried about the damage a huge dog could do to the cat than the cat and dog getting along, so we decided to give TC the run of the house except the living room, and to keep Quentin only in the living room and attached balcony. When the shelter workers dropped him off, he only needed a wound on his butt dressed, they guessed that was why the owner's dumped him, because of his wound, and because he had probably been used as a breeder.

Oh but. His jowly face. His eloquent eyes. His stumpy tail that took a few hours to get used to us and then wagged away.  He took his departure from the Friendicoes workers quite philosophically, gazing after them for a bit and then pacing the room. The Good Thing has never had a dog before, and I last had practice over seven years ago. We both watched him. "Ugh, he's drooly," said the Good Thing, trying to register protest, but half-heartedly. "Good boy!" I said, and watched his face light up, his stump like a metronome.

I renamed him Dobby that evening for his ugly face, but he didn't respond to that or Quentin. "You've got to have a name, dude," I told him, as he sank by my feet snoring. "What do people call boxers? Tyson? Caesar? Sheru?" At the last one, his head went up and his ears went back. His old life.

"Sheru? Really?"

*wag wag wag*

"Okay... Sheru."

TC was not happy with the situation. A couple of times we put Sheru on the leash and let TC come in, but it was only a matter of time before he started to strain on the leash and look at TC with anticipation and ol' TC rose up on all fours, arching his back and hissing and spitting.

"Why won't you let me catch a cat for you?" asked Sheru.

"Foolish humans! What have you done?" asked TC.

But at night we switched our areas, moving from the living room where we worked all day, to the bedroom. We turned off the light for the dog and left him with fans on and the balcony door open and he was a little sad that we were leaving, but he soon settled down. TC greeted us with a cold shoulder until we made a fuss of him and then he was just like, "Okay, okay, he can stay."

The first night, I got a call from my father in Kerala telling me that my grandmother had passed away. She was a really lovely lady, and I had to go for the funeral, and I was wondering if I should call the shelter and have them rehome Sheru for a few days.

"I'll look after him," said the Good Thing. (Do you see why he's the Good Thing?)

"Really? But it's not your responsibility! I can totally call them and have them bring him back only when I return."

"No, it's cool. We'll manage."

The funeral was sad, and we're not going to talk about it, except that when I returned two days and one night later, there was this whole Man and Dog thing going on in the flat. I had been reading some of that dog psychology stuff, you know, dogs are pack animals so you have to be the alpha and so on and so forth. I mentioned it casually to the Good Thing before I left, and he did some reading too. And oh boy. He was the alpha all right.

Sheru was delighted to see me again, but every time the Good Thing left the room, he'd stand and stare at the door. The Good Thing had also discovered that Sheru was reasonably well trained, he could sit and stay and shake hands every now and then. "Sit," I said when I got back, "Stay!" But he was so happy to see me he just kept offering me his paw over and over again, like a short circuit blew in his brain and he knew this would make me happy.

Here's when the nice thing happened. I posted a picture of Sheru to Instagram saying that he needed a home. And two of my friends, who have recently gotten hitched, got in touch. They loved boxers, they said. He looked just like their other dog who lived with his mum. Could they come over and meet him?

Obviously, anyone who liked dogs would like this one. I mean, we're more cat people, and we liked this one. He was eminently lovable. And so, we handed him over after a house check by Friendicoes who like to make sure their pets aren't twice abandoned. I knew that wasn't going to happen, because if you could've seen Sheru with his new owner. It was like click-click-click, all the pieces of a dog and a person falling together at exactly the same place.

We dropped him off on Sunday afternoon to his new flat, where he had access to every single room, not left out of the activities because of a temperamental cat. A full-time house help who loves dogs. A flat that's always full of young people, all of whom would make a fuss of him. In the living room, we made excuses not to leave so we could hang out with him longer. Sheru in his turn kept coming over to us to have his ears pulled, to sniff at our hands. But his new owners fed him as we were leaving and he didn't even look up when we left. It was nice. And sad. But mostly nice. 

"Should we get a kitten?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

While we are decorating, and kitten-ing, we probably won't have another foster dog for a few weeks. "How can you say goodbye?" asked my friend, "It must be so hard!" But dogs, as lovely and enchanting as they are, are not the pets for us. We're Cat People. We like our independent lives, with a cuddly creature still there, but still independent. We're helping, in our own small ways, we're trying to home some of the many needy animals out there who need some love, some social media attention. Do I think Sheru would have still gotten a home if he had been at a shelter? Sure. But maybe not as quickly. And maybe not with his perfect family.

Here's my PSA: you should consider fostering. Especially adult dogs. They're delightful, already potty trained, and less demanding than a puppy. Being in your home will make it easier for them to find a new one because you can tell their new owners all about their quirks and habits. Even if you have another dog or a cat, it's really not that hard to keep them separate. And in your own small way, you'd be helping.












  
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Kerala I don't hate you, but...

2 May 2014

I have a tortured relationship with one half of my gene pool. My father, as some of you may know, is a Malayali, and a Malayali quite well known because of his writing. I never really thought of Kerala as anywhere except where my other grandmother lived. A big house. The smell. Don't stand under a coconut tree or one might kill you. Fun fact: more people are killed by falling coconuts than in shark attacks. My little cousins--well, not so little anymore, but there. In Kerala, I read my aunt's Agatha Christie books, I lounge around and eat, they always bring home beef chilly fry when I'm visiting, I chat with my granny, I don't visit as often as I should, but still, Kerala was a very personal part of me. Half of my makeup. Distant from Delhi which was home, but wandering about Ernakulam, I saw my hair on a million people, I wore gold and white saris to weddings, I even lived in Trivandrum for two years when I was eight.

That Kerala was different from the public Kerala that emerged when my first book came out. The new Kerala did not like me at all. The new Kerala, the public Kerala that wanted to lay claim to me because of my last name thought I was a strumpet, a lady with loose morals. That Kerala was first puzzled and then extremely pissed off that I didn't speak Malayalam. The new Kerala doesn't like me, I don't think, and yet, and yet, they are loyal readers. Some of them hate me, and some of them are proud.

It's no secret that Kerala for all its equal sex ratio and literacy is quite conservative. Sandhya Menon on her blog ..and then, did an excellent post on this the other day.

A society that's arguably progressive, and educated, Kerala is a place where with this coexists a patriarchy that is, at an immediate glance, as surprising and confounding as it is deep rooted. In a state where communism (whatever its avatar today) thrives, where women work just as hard as men -- if not harder -- to sustain their families, the incongruity of the existence of male chauvinism and blatant patriarchy worries and fascinates me. If educated, financially independent women still struggle for justice, safety and equality, then what hope do those without the above-mentioned privileges have?

Menon struggles with the same things I think of, and in my case, I meet Malayalis who don't live in Kerala most often, and they're educated and professional and gentle and everything you aspire to be.

I bet a whole lot of women in Erna-flasher-central-kulam have seen their first erection right in the middle of a busy street on a dreary old work day.

I saw my first flasher in Connaught Place, but really, as a Delhi person, this is a bit pot calling the kettle black, so I'm not going to comment on this aspect. Just putting it out there. But there was one bit of the post that struck home, regarding a TV anchor called Ranjini Haridas.

She's a classic template for poking merciless fun at girls who decided to be "modern." Men hated her. But the women, ah, here was a fascinating story unfolding. Young women, ripe for rebellion and finding their wings, all over Kerala felt here was something they could point to in case of crisis. "If she can, I can." Haridas wore sleeveless clothes, body-con dresses, knee-length shifts, off the shoulder blouses, see-through ensembles, stuff that no anchor had worn on Malayalam T.V. hitherto; she did her hair experimenting with high glamour; she didn't shy away from adventurous make up; she wore exactly what her free little heart desired and she did it with confidence, not letting criticism of her clothing or her speech cramp her style in the least bit. Men kept hating, she kept working, laughing all the way to the bank in her designer high heels.

And:

To me, it says many things, this hatred from men in Kerala young and old, educated and not, married or single. The insults are almost always sexual in nature, the language is highly disrespectful, (apart from being abusive itself): the use of nee, the informal word for 'you' in Malayalam is the only way she's addressed. Her lack of hypocrisy is another source of anger. Unlike many women who care about their reputations, Haridas tends to live life rather candidly and if that threatens the Malayalee man, then so be it.  

The way I see it, the anger these men feel is directed at her being happily single even though she's ... gasp... nearly 35! Anger at her being unfazed by the barrage of biting criticism, at her completely normal way of behaving even on screen (she hugs, touches, gesticulates and uses her body freely that way you or I do). The anger is towards her success -- six years of calling her a whore and she's still the top rated, and possibly highest-paid, anchor in Kerala. The anger is towards her completely ignoring the very men that hate her; they just can't seem to get a rise out of her. But I think the thing that threatens them most is that she is an aspiration: she is what a lot of their daughters, sisters and wives would like to become. Glamorous, articulate, successful, confident, and assertive. Everything that these men don't want in their women, lest they get left behind; lest they get dragged to a police station for raising a hand; lest their women leave them after finding self-worth.
 The whole post is fucking brilliant. Read it.  

Meanwhile, I'll be here quietly trying to figure out my confused feelings for my fatherland.



 
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