Marriage. Does it Work? A happy and long Marriage – an oxymoron?

Is it imperative? Does it become a (bad) habit? Must one taste it to reject it? 

Still socially relevant, or are we are better off without it? 

Are they made in heaven after all?

 

Cake marriage

Friendship- the founding Stone

Uhuh, nope, not made in heaven: tis a friendship between two grown-ups, an ever-evolving one. 

What is it, if not a mundane knot, that goes on to unravel a lifelong companionship? These two lovers, as they are, attempt to imbue this ‘sacred and legal tie’ with the perfume of romance, and make it last by some slutty, hormonal boomerang-like monkeying around; many ifs and buts, and juggling the quotidian later, dust begins to settle, more accurately, unsettle this holy bond – albeit, stealthily. This sparkle-free dust mysteriously reappears, routinely, on the slate of marriage, and expects to be cleared up. If you see it not, a thick layer forms pretty quickly. Ignore it at the peril of arriving at that greedy black gown’s doorstep (read divorce lawyer).

 If marriage is based on friendship between two consenting adults- it can and should work. Friends fight. They make up. Friends empathise, and they rally for you. Friends have your back, always. Friends also tear apart, and turn distant when they find other more interesting folk, after years of knowing you. You’ve become predictable and boring and lost your sense of humour, so friends drift apart, and away, as is the hum in the stream of things matrimonial.  Later, if this friendship so merits, there’s the cajoling, the apologies, the revival of interest but in a new paradigm.

Sound advice : show the chinks in your armour early on- get them out of the way. And, never ever put your best foot forward- leave it for later. Make your ‘marriage’ rise and shine when the chips are down, because it surely will if timed thus. In any case, the longer the marriage, the harder one must work.

We’ve tried it all – including role play, and drunken nights altho one of us doesn’t care for any drink that’s alcoholic in nature. Sacrificing juice for whiskey- now that’s what i call a selfless act! What would you call it?

What i say is not new- the world out there knows that holy matrimony is only holy insofar as you work at and out its holiness.I know that, I’m married. We work hard. There are dips, and there are highs. We work through them. The romance rumbles, it blossoms, and prospers, touching new highs when apart;Distance, an imperative to keep the embers glowing, if not aroused. 

The home is flooded with light, the afterglow of a fire even. Don’t let that spark go to seed, fan it consistently, go on surprise date nights, use Alexa unabashedly- let her flood your home with sweet music.

We do.

If there’s a paucity of free flowing funds- depends on how much money is needed for ‘true’ happiness, eh! Quite a lot I reckon. Look around you – most joyful companionships, legal ones, are sitting on a huge pile of, yep, you got it, green bucks. Not all though, not all.

Outlaw Attack

Where there is (love) marriage, can In-laws be far behind? Can a marriage survive its In-laws? I don’t know.  Uncertain tremors as I ponder on this perennial cliffhanger of a question. They say, one marries a family, not just the guy or the girl; true, especially so in India. But being able to voice one’s grief, and one’s torment to the child of the said In-laws- can provide succor and much-needed balance. If the parental space is sacrosanct, then things can get pretty vicious and nasty. Not being able to call it like it is- now that’s hard, and damaging. 

We need to air the voice of dissent. The resented spouse is (usually) persecuted by the Laws, albeit often in very subtle and shrewd ways. That is sensed by the oppressed. The One being hunted needs to be able to vent. Behind closed doors. We did.

It is okay to feel resentful about the other’s parents, it’s okay to want them to not overstay. It’s also perfectly okay to want to start one’s life as adults, and live apart from the Laws. Often seen as taboo, or unmentionable, makes a marriage rather unhealthy. There’s always a way around it. Live close-by but not under the same roof, especially not managing the same kitchen, heaven forbid! Not happening.

I am all for loving and serving one’s parents- piecemeal. Be there when needed, don’t be there all the time…it’s detrimental to any relationship. In-law love flourishes in the gap between your home and theirs.

Reversal of Fortune 

Leaving the In-laws where they are, let me take on the arena of our imaginary ideas about Marriage, fed by society including one’s own experience at home – let me just say, once you are in it, a lot of our hardcore beliefs are turned on their head, especially if we’ve grown up under the umbrella of our parent’s bad marriage, and more so, if it’s been a good one. 

Start fresh. Get rid of brain-fluff, and dry-clean that area in the head which is marked:

Human Marriage – do’s and don’ts

Try not to keep a score sheet.

Well, it’s a bit like setting yoghurt, innit! You warm the milk, but do not heat it. A terracotta bowl is lined with the perfect bits of homemade yoghurt to aid the process (impossible without). The temperature has to be just so, in order to produce the most creamy, soft to the touch, white bowl of delicious curd, which mustn’t  let off water. To achieve such yoghurt sounds dead easy, however it takes patience, skill and affection. Do not undermine the power of a sweet melody sung to your settling yoghurt!

What you put into that bowl – the perfectly luke-warmed milk, full-cream preferably, is what you will be served, sweetened or just as it is. The reverse will happen, if you do not attend to it in time, and leave it unattended and standing beyond its time: it sours, it curdles and can go rancid. Ultimately the expertise wielded will be yours to expedite.

You’ve permitted the rot of bitterness to creep in, and left  unattended the hurts hurled in stressful times, on time. It’s all about timing isn’t it? It’s all about not waiting it out too long. It’s about taking the heat off, and holding hands every once in a while, and above all, it’s about mindfulness.

In the meantime, marriage counselors are thriving. There’s hope yet, for at least one seeks remedies. 

Do Children cement marriages that aren’t rolling?

We often hear an older parent meting out good counsel, inevitably unasked for, “Have kids and all will be well dear child.”

“Kids are the solution to your failing marriage, trust me.” 

“Nothing like the sound of children’s feet to fill all the cracks that your marriage seems to have developed.” How subtle, and really now, you don’t believe that for a minute! But society is watching, yours, mine, ours.

This simplistic, unreal and catastrophic advice, is telling you to  walk through a summer campsite with no exit route? No, thank you!

Fight

An article in the Guardian says, “Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship. The irony is that even as the marital satisfaction of new parents declines, the likelihood of them divorcing also declines. So, having children may make you miserable, but you’ll be miserable together.

Parents often become more distant and businesslike with each other as they attend to the details of parenting.”

Counselling in marriage

Of course once the curd is well set, children are welcome, and add zing, joy and flavourful variety. They also oil the wheels of your consistently serviced and tuned up vehicle. It’s an image i find irresistible. When there’s a creak in the crank, pay attention!

However, a marriage that’s a crumbling wall, needs a slight push at its weakest, and kids will do that, unprovoked.  

Marriage Clichés

You’re either a man or a spouse.

You can either live it, or outlive it. 

Marriages are for the weak. 

Marrying your best friend heralds the end of your friendship.

 Husband is the HEAD of the family and wife is the NECK that turns the head around!!

Not all true, but close. 

Unhasty Conclusion

When you’ve found companionship, and wish to tie the knot, know it’s the very beginning of a long road ahead.

You’re aboard an all-terrain vehicle.

Share the driving, it makes it that much more pleasurable- allow each other to see the passing fields, the hills, the gorges, the rivers and lakes, in turn. Thereafter role reversal happens with ease.

An suv is an ideal vehicle, allows room for more than just your breath on the rolled-up window panes, as the case may be.  

A happy marriage is not made in heaven- it’s pretty much a screenplay that you co-write, and co-direct, and then you spend your life, enacting. Tweaking the dialogues, edits and dynamics to suit the era you’re in, is child play if all is a cooperative undertaking.  

Ask me, i’m married and we drive each other around every bend we encounter, laughing all the way. Okay, not every bend, and not all the way, but we do laugh a lot, it keeps the adrenalin on a drip!

Hand holding

– It’s a start-up, do not forget, and will reap dividends, eventually. I’m reaping, what seems like a version of surplus shares.  

Godspeed!

 

 

 

 

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant coverThis book caught my fancy, not just because it was the chosen book of the month, with my Book Club. I had more than a hunch, there sat a good book in my kindle waiting to be read, having bought it over six months ago. I read Vasudha Chandana Gulati’s review, someone whose opinion on books I dearly value, and quickly bought it. Her review had certainly done justice to the book, and here I am, airing my own.

After arriving at the end of the book, I just sat and looked at Eleanor, sitting across me, and said, “Well done you!” Surreal eh! She had been with me for three days, and I with her. We had bonded. 

I have loved the narrative, as is obvious. I only ever review a book that has me, by the balls, so to speak. It had me from the second chapter, and I quote a paragraph (among many that had me grinning, or thoughtful, and stirred) :

“He pulled at the collar of his shirt, as though trying to free his enormous Adam’s apple from its constraints. He had the look of a gazelle or an impala, one of those boring beige animals with large, round eyes on the sides of its face. The kind of animal that always gets eaten by the leopard in the end.”

This is an example of how Eleanor constantly thinks, judges, analyses people around her, a lot of it is all at face value. It is a novel replete with humouristic metaphors, personifications and similes. Not to say that the book needs to be studied, but Eleanor, as a character, is definitely worth a closer look- reminding us of how we live after all, repeatedly through her plain-as-day wisdom, in your face too. She’s full yet she’s broken, and devises a way of living through daily machinations with unerring regularity- timing herself, feeding herself with the exact same food, and drinking Vodka, plenty of it: predictable, honest and robotic almost. This is what lends her a sense of peace. It is what she needs. Why you wonder? Is this who she is? Or is this what her experiences have rendered her- a being with almost no wants, and one who is ‘completely fine’? She not only appears OCD, but autistic in a way, saying it out like it is. Often I’m told, I’m a bit like that. But is she? Am I?

Therein lies the rub.

Eleanor describes a favourite plant she calls Polly : “My beautiful Polly, prosaically described as a parrot plant, sometimes referred to as a Congo cockatoo plant, but always known to me, in her full Latinate glory as Impatiens niamniamensis. I say it out loud, often…..It’s like kissing, the ‘m’s forcing your lips together…. She came with me from my childhood bedroom, survived the foster placements and children’s homes and, like me, she’s still here. I’ve looked after her, tended to her, picked her up and repotted her when she was dropped or thrown. She likes light, and she’s thirsty. …I talk to her sometimes; I’m not ashamed to admit it. When the silence and the aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me, like ice, I need to speak aloud sometimes, if only for proof of life.”

The loneliness, admittedly, comes to her in waves. The story gradually builds up a character with deep-seated fears, lurking in the abyss of her being. It is some strongly negative experiences that have worked on her psyche, alluded to occasionally. Through her growing years in a variety of foster homes, she teaches herself to be fine, completely fine.

She buries the Before, in the cavern of her being, and shuts the door on the darkness. It does not bother her at all during the life in which we meet her, until Sammy, a character who falls by the road, is introduced, and this is how she and Raymond strike up an unlikely friendship, willy nilly. 

In the meantime, early in the book, Eleanor falls in love with a musician- and builds a life around him, never having actually met him. When her mind’s creation, meets reality – the world crashes around her. It is only then that, with the help of Raymond-from-work, does she arise- and is forced to confront those demons that had lain dormant. Now begins her journey, with a therapist, whom she starts off by dismissing. Eventually, she is made to walk through her past, delve into it- and emerge as someone more normal and far lighter, having shed the weight of compressed grief.

Never finer, in the After, Eleanor embraces this newness, with glee, and Raymond, a true friend, watches and applauds. So does the reader, beaming happily, with tears escaping the corner of one’s eyes every once in a while. It is Raymond- clumsy smoker, unkempt for the better part, with terrible table manners, with whom Eleanor’s unwilling relationship turns into a life-altering one. He saves her from self-destruction.

As one has known, not all is ever lost. If there’s even one who believes in us, and loves us, it is enough to bring us back from the dead, as it were.

Honeyman says of Raymond,

“I think there are a lot of Raymonds in the world – ordinary, kind, decent men who don’t often get featured in fiction”

 She is a fine storyteller, weaving it all like an expert, yet this is her debut novel. She has breathed life into idiosyncratic Eleanor, making us fall in love with her. It is certainly worth a read.

O Heavens, it’s a Girl!

 

We sat in the lobby, or reception as it were, surrounded by mothers and children, with various disabilities, or special needs. The Doc’s door opened and shut at regular intervals. Whenever his eyes met ours, he would smile warmly, asking us to be patient- and how well we recognized that expression. We had been patient, and we knew we would require far more with what we were going to share with him. We loved this doc, and we trusted him. We needed to trust him more than ourselves. He’s been our boy’s messiah and friend, and confidant for the longest time. We had just moved to Gurgaon from Bangalore, and we carried news, earth-shattering news, and rushed to share it with him: our son was a girl- he had gender dysphoria! What’s that?

As defined by google : the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.

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The boy has never had it easy, and therefore nor have we. At age 16 when your male child announces that he is ready to reassign himself to the female lot, you baulk. Why you might ask? Well, for one there had never been any signs thereof- how can one miss seeing the strangeness, which is part and parcel of gender dysphoria, right?

Then, apart from not reading the signs that should have jumped out at

us- he was always a naughty, wicked little fella, up to tricks that are

generally associated with ‘boys’; then he has had umpteen phases of

this and that- and none lasted beyond a week, or a fortnight, at best.

That’s not all. He’s always had girlfriends!

That should seal his boyhood, right? Not right.

What was this noise all about? So our reaction was nothing short of expressions betraying shock and disbelief, and rejection, totally so.

“Okay, so now this….honestly what next?”

“Why this- when did you feel this way, and why now?”

“Honestly, what else are you going to cook up?” “Enough is enough, try and finish your school education- that should be the focus, not another phase for heavens’ sakes!”

We tried shutting it down before it began shaking the family terrain, yet again….but could we?

The boy had been diagnosed with ADHD at 4 and a half years, and hypo mania (borderline bipolar) at age 15. The episodes were so hard for us to handle, and so terrifying, that we had sought help, at 13, when there had been self-harm. Only in Bangalore did a psychiatrist tell us that it was clearly hypo mania and he could very well harm himself irretrievably. Medication was imperative. So that was that, and there were periods of calm, punctuated with periods of manageable unrest. However all through our boy’s life, there has been a kind of indefinable angst, a sentiment that nothing is enough- he has always wanted more than what we’ve considered his fair share. The sister has taken the brunt of most of his riling, his angst, his fears and his grief. None of us could fathom what it was that made him so, what it was that would make him happy; what was it he sought from this world, from us, his family. We plodded on, loving him, taking it in our stride, communicating verbally- seeking therapy of every type- including cranio-sacral, reiki, PLR (past life regression). None of it ever worked because the boy has always outsmarted it all. The only thing that did, partially, was medication, which belongs to the physical world, so once ingested it helped a wee bit. Even in that sphere, he has cheated and even overdosed- to what end? To feel, said he. The day he took all of his tabs, he talked non-stop for ten hours at a stretch, and a lot of it was not gibberish. He repeatedly asked us for our forgiveness for hurting us through his life- for being who he was etc. It broke our hearts to see him spout what he did. Was this the dysphoria that made him thus, I ask myself.

Once he had said to me that he cut himself so that he could feel his body- because he felt nothing, at least hurting himself would yield some feel. But we knew better, we knew that he felt a lot- perhaps too much, but was unable to express what drove him, what exactly he felt. He would cry, then he would laugh. But mostly, his eyes wore an expression of another world- a world we couldn’t parry with, one we could definitely neither enter, nor attempt to understand.

Was all of it this, I ask myself, the dichotomy of his existence- who was he- or was she?

Today, we know our son’s a trans woman- we’ve accepted this fact. The Doc is by his side, as are we. He is on hrt (hormone replacement therapy). I have connected with many trans women, and tried to grasp what they have been through, and what they must continue to live. It is a hard journey in a country like ours, where trans are regarded as half and half- whereas they are wholly one gender or the other, trapped as it were, in the wrong body. I’ve been alerted to the existence of such folk, and the government, bless them, has provided for a third gender- it’s a beginning. Although I still wonder why a reassigned trans, who is then a woman or a man, as the case may be, cannot get the passport he/she merits after surgery?

People empathise with my situation. Friends understand that it can’t be easy, and it isn’t. As my boy undergoes both therapy and HRT, he has mood swings, dizzy spells at work, and nightmares that disallow a long spell of restful sleep. No, it is not easy. I birthed a boy- and I have now to contend with two daughters. Why is it that difficult? I’m not sure. Mostly I suffer with the boy child. I have learnt that the reassignment surgery is tricky as it is painful, and the recuperation thereafter, long, tedious and agonising. Talking to other trans’ helps, and they all say, despite the pain, they would not have it any other way. I didn’t ask for this, nor did the father. Yet, here we are. Time to celebrate perhaps- still the pain that the boy has had to undergo and suffer in silence?

Someone asked me, “But nature doesn’t make mistakes, does it?”

Well, you only have to look around you and see how many trans there are, to know that the possibility, while not huge, exists. Being a parent to a trans woman- it’s got to become my strength, not my weakness. I love my child, very much, and were he to have been born a girl for starters, would I have not loved her all the same? So the point of the matter is that there lies a person within this lean frame- he’s a pretty boy, and a soulful, caring person- a bit lost, a bit unworldly and very talented. I love this person deeply. The boy will soon be the girl- and we will embrace her in her new form with gratitude and complete acceptance. It is we, the parents, who will help the world accept her beauty, with her multifarious capabilities, and so she will start afresh, reborn as it were.

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Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai (a book review)

 

A Funny Boy

Now there are many books that I’ve already read this year. Some moved me deeply; others had an atmosphere, a strong storyline, characters that call out to you, and ones that speak in your head with clear voices, a plot that has a crescendo, and then ones that paint visual images across a board, that stay with you forever. This one had it all. The difference lay in the fact that it started slow, at first capturing an air, a melody that was essentially Sri Lanko-tamil. I’d rather a novel start slow and then build its way into your heart and mind, than start with a bang and end with a whimper. This one gathered pace, like a building storm, and then whirled around my head in its humid Sri Lankan air, weaving it all just right. It was a read that has stayed with me, with the country it projects. I am writing this review after a month of completion of Shyam Selvadurai’s debut novel.

A funny boy is a coming of age novel. It is not just that, set, as it is, against the backdrop of a troubled Sri Lanka, and realistically builds the strife-ridden scenario, quite seamlessly into the story of a young boy, who’s different. That is clear from the start, but what the difference is, comes into focus much later, and very sensuously too. Little is said, and much is derived. It draws you in very gradually, and then you know. Your heart beats hard, as you read on, the gradual development of young Arjie, and the blossoming of his self-awareness.

Arjie, in fact, tells the story.

All names in the novel are quaint, as they are authentic. The humour with which certain episodes are recounted, are written with a flair, as those where there is bereavement, grief of untimely death, the loss of a secret loved one. The writing is exquisite, in as much detail as required to get the reader hooked. I certainly was.

Arjie’s is a Tamil family, living in Sri Lanka in peace and harmony, till the situation erupts and spiralling out of control, snatching so much of one’s identity with it. Who is one after all, one might ask- the country or the genetic makeup- or are they really apart? Or perhaps, they can both reside in peace in a person, until one is told otherwise. For a child- the differences are few, if any. The relationship Arjie shares with an aunt, which later transforms, is telling of this fact, and Selvadurai deftly uses his characters to showcase this dilemma many must face as Tamil Srilankans.

Every person has a rightful place, a well-etched visage and character. Every chapter nudges the story a little ahead. In one chapter, ‘Small Choices’, Arjie’s father is forced to take in an old friend’s son, whom he grows to trust and love. The story hereon, takes a very interesting turn, and we get an insight into the underbelly of the strife between Tamils and Sri Lankans. This is a part I enjoyed very much, among others, even as it made me squirm, and wish for the story to surge ahead, which it did. I knew something was amiss, I knew there was some action about to unfurl upon me, and it would be pivotal in taking the fate of the family to its predictable place. It did!

This is not a sad novel. It’s a tale well told. Selvadurai has lived the story even as he has recounted it with truth and precision. If one enjoys a good story, and a great ambience, this one is a fabulous read, be it on an armchair, or on a trip aboard a ship or an aircraft. I read it seated on a bench by a roadside, and then completed it in an airport, where I had four hours to kill.

Kamalini Natesan

His Überness – Airport Musings

 

UberingI spent over a fortnight in Philly, and what has moved me above all, was the Über driver, male or female, each one with a story, each living a life of value, in the car driven. My daughter, Ambika, and I have had some worthwhile conversations with many, if not most.

I shall begin with the one, and the only one I can relate verbatim since it’s überfresh! It had me gripping my sides this morning as I boarded the cab to Terminal D of Philadelphia airport, over an hour back.

“Mornin’, how are you this morning?”

“Good, good, off home today, so mixed feelings.”

“Why dat?”

“Leaving my daughter, and well…you know, home.”

“O I say!” (see)

“Where you fom?”    “India.”

“Dat like a city, like Philly, or….?” Über-perplexed.

“Right.” I smile, but no judgment. “Actually it’s a massive country and Delhi’s the capital, like DC ….” Pause. I allow him to take in this fact.

“Dat right? Mounnains, harrbourrs?”

“Not Delhi, but India has plenny,” say I forcefully, losing him here I’m thinking.

“Da’ right? Good.”

“Ya, betcha, fabulous!” in American say I.

“You got wifi?” I ask, not sure why.

“Everyone got wifi, I don unnerstand why people ask me dat. Philly got wifi.”

I smile again, feeling silly.

“So where you originally from?” Changing track.

“I’m fraam Philly, I am, and no one can take that away fraam me, I love de cidy, I juss love de cidy!” I’ve clearly touched a happy nerve.

“That’s good then. I’m a city girl too.” Silence. Did he care? A rock song plays. He’s a big guy, probably from the Bahamas, or wherever. I thought I’d heard him say, “like the Bahamas.”

“I don gedit, why people ask for wifi. The mobeel is with the wifi when you buy ‘em, so I don gedit!” He’s been pondering over my question. He’s been thinking. He’s one of those who stays puzzled till an answer that makes sense jumps out, if he can work it out. I did try explaining in my poor woman terms, but he couldn’t get his head round it.

We arrived. He took leave of me, and as he wished me a happy journey, he less than subtly told me that my bags were way too heavy, when he placed them on the pavement- “Good luck with dose!” and with a wave and a twinkle he drove off. I liked the guy’s simplicity. I’d enjoyed the short drive and his accent.

Another one from yesterday when Ambika and I undertook a longish drive back to the city with an Uberpool driver, was a young, muscular and well tattooed American. Ambi, in her best American accent struck up a conversation when he asked if we were mere visitors.

His story was not uncommon, that of leaving his studies and getting stuck in a job. He was from Atlantic City, a town we’d stopped by at, recently, on our way to Cape May. It’s essentially a gambler’s paradise, and he didn’t care either for his hometown’s moniker as Gambler’s Paradise, or for summer. He waited for summer to get over every year. Imagine that! He was Ubering because he needed money and had been in Philly for a month, and liked it so far. “Anywhere’s better than Atlantic City” he gruffly said.

“I am going to return to studying, a few credits at a time, I think.” We had by then, receded into the seats- barely there, and had him thinking aloud to himself. We could hear his mind’s wheels churning. A bloke in his mid-thirties could rethink his life, it was fascinating. (as one can tell from the information gathered). He wished us well when he dropped us off near City Centre.

We don’t ask names, they don’t tell us either. But they become people, and personalities, not just bobbing heads in front of us, carrying us back and forth from destinations. I’ve ridden over 25 Ubers during this trip if not more. Probably more, but I didn’t keep count.

A ride that was significant was one in Cape May, where an oldish lady, with frizzy grey hair and a kindly face signaled to us, through the rain, that she was our ride, and we, hers. A 20-minute drive, and this very chatty lady threw an important fact : she was the sister of the Mayor, no less! She thought we were locals from New Jersey. That I was a visiting mother, whose daughter had brought her to NJ’s Cape May for a break, lent her great joy, and she was deeply disappointed for us that it hadn’t been a sunny day. Her farthest destination had been Canada. She was terribly content at having been that far. The daughter and I, we smiled at each other knowingly- how far we had come. 

Most of the cabbies have barely left the shores of their state, leave alone USA. It doesn’t cease to amaze me, ever. They are so comfortable and perhaps also not sure of what they’d discover across borders. They don’t read much. Car’s radio music, or even plain chatter is their constant companion, for better or worse.

There’s a tremor that takes hold of us humans, knowing that there’s a better life to be had, and it requires an effort to get there, sometimes it asks for sacrifice. Not many are willing to dive in, and risk it. It’s comfortable being in the Über zone, it’s familiar, it’s what one knows. The Über driver is different people, and among them, is one who is biding his time, waiting to plunge in. We’d met a few. 

We chanced upon a beautiful Afro-American girl who was unhappy with Uber, the company, but drove on. The money was good, said she. She kept cussing under her breath, and we were amused, noting how she moved to the music that played on her radio, as she blamed Uber for her woes, and the traffic!

The driver, who used to live in California and thought it too expensive, liked it better in Philly too. He was clearly blessing the sky above him, for the opportunity to make money for his family. He sounded cheery and grateful.

“Ya, I lake’t here, lafe’s cheaper, and my wife’s hapey,” he chuckled.

Then there was a young guy, a student, who went to college at night, and his wife drove an Uber too. They had a dog, and an infant at home, so they took turns; love or something like it I reckon.

So many beautiful people out there Ubering, and innumerable number of folk that also got into the cabs with us. Every driver’s story had us thinking later. Many were under-grads, taking up jobs because their situation demanded it. Getting a driver’s licence is not difficult, and while driving can be tiresome, one of them summed it up well, “Oh I meet so many friendly and interesting passengers on my daily ride, I loooove this job of mine!” He had made this job sound wholesome, real and unpretentious. He wanted nothing more, and was probably twenty-something. What simplicity! It touched a chord.

One thing that is noteworthy is the greeting- unmistakable and on automation: “Hey, how’re you doin’ today?”   It often ends there, but when it doesn’t, conversations happen. I was asked if I liked Philly, and if I were happy that our daughter was working in UPenn. What could I say, but the truth- that I loved that she was here, and not in NYU (getting a heavy nod of approval in response to this), and we loved visiting her here, again and again. The weather being as unpredictable as it is, made it that much more enticing.

UBER

Uber has changed and touched many lives- on both the passenger and the driver side. It certainly made our life really, really smooth, and when we weren’t walking, we were Ubering. I love how things transform, and since we all can’t be on the road in our cars, this is the next best thing ever. I thank every drive undertaken, because it enriched my mind with different ideas, very different lives, and even showcasing the secret to survival – this is how the human race thrives one way or another.

Conversations at Kabi

I entrust my feet, and half of my newly-waxed legs into very warm, swirling waters : Heaven with a pinch (the temperature being just a little over perfect). They settle in nicely, my feet, leaving me to savour the ambience this sensory experience is creating. I am already praying, may this last for the rest of the day, when the pedicurist, a stranger, albeit a gentle one, asks me in hushed whispers, “Is okay naa Madam?”

Pedicure
“yes, yes!” I mouth, even as my mind says, ‘shush! let me be, o let me live gently for this one hour of complete unadulterated bliss- using my legs as a means for salvation and a route to higher thinking.’

On cue, Parmod, as this no-longer stranger, calls himself, lets me be for the rest of the pedicuring hour. But does the world let me be? Nah, not a chance!

I pick up my juicy novel, written by a friend, no less, and recommence Paula’s journey, when I overhear snippets of a conversation, that cannot be ignored.

“Arrey, vohi toh, she thinks she’s some angel dropped straight out of heaven,”

Pause

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying yaar, she’s not blameless. I’m sure she’s had it out with others as well. That guy is loaded, why would she….”

Interruption from the other side.

My side is going, “haan, haan, right, right. Husband hai aakhir!” (after all he’s her husband!)

Dialogue pause.
“Ok, so then you dole out advice naa, don’t tell me all this.”

Interruption.

“Ok, so then you tell her naa. I can’t. I won’t. Mujhse toh nahin bola jaayega.” (I won’t be able to spell it out).

A long dialogue ensues ostensibly from the other side. 

“Ok. Theek hai, we’ll catch up tonight at Meena’s, but careful what you say in front of the others haan. Sound sympathetic, abhi toh, you sound like quite a bitch!!”

Titter, titter. Some more laughter, the other side must’ve taken this ‘critique’ well. The laughter I hear is clearly fake and to appease. I can’t suppress a giggle myself.

In the meantime, my legs are being well soaped, lathered and massaged. I remember where I am, and gleefully return to the savouring.

Just as I re-settle myself in the sofa, I hear a young child yelling,

“No, no, don’t cut my hair, nooooo!” Chilled to the bones, I turn back sharply: a little fella is being harassed by three adults. The helpless mother repeatedly asks her son, and not a daughter, which is made clear by her sermon – “If you don’t let bhaiya cut off your locks, you will be girl, not bwoy! Kaatney do, see good man, gentle man, hair uncle.” Hairy uncle would’ve been closer to the truth- the man had hair plentiful.
crying haircut

I get the gender bias, and it irks me. The kid would not stop protesting, and my gentle pedicurist begins cruelly grinning at the little fella’s plight, urging at me to join him. Why must they bring the kid here, I am thinking. The locks could just as easily have been chopped off at home, and the day’s job would’ve been done. But style is something else- his 3 year old mop had to be styled. Good lord!

I sit there wondering how to smother them all. I decide against doling out advice. Who was I to tell them anything, although they were in a public space, destroying my peace of mind- and ruining the hour that I had culled out of a very busy schedule. No problem. Aaaargh!

I try the novel again, hoping to restore some inner balance via Padma’s story. The mobile rings. I ignore it, till I note the face displaying, <maa>. Panic. I had forgotten to check in with my mother. I decide to shut the quiet novel, and speak to maa.

“Hello dear, are you okay, you sound tired?” and I haven’t spoken a word yet. See, this is it, mothers always know.

“No maa, I’m fine, energetic, bursting with kind thoughts,” I sarcastically mouth. It’s lost on her.

“Ah nice! I just thought you sounded tired.”

“No maa, am not. You slept well? Have you eaten?”

“Yes shona, I have slept very well, I have eaten well. I’m having a good time with my great grandson.” Music. If mother happy, child happy. No complaints.

“That’s great maa. Chalo, I’ll…..” And am interrupted.

“So what time are you leaving tomorrow?”

“At night.”

“Hehehe, I know that, what time dear?”

“11ish I guess. Not sure. Tomorrow is too far away for me to ponder upon time or any other such related philosophies,” I sardonically say, since I hear the little fella screeching, under the shine of the murderous scissor dangling from the expert hands of the petrified male hairdresser! Should I be seeing some humour in this, I wonder.
Apparently my mother does :

“Hehehe, you are so funny Reena. Okay then, I’ll let you work.”

“Yes maa, am very busy right now, I’ll call you tomorrow with my exact time of departure,” and I disconnect. I’m irritable, of course I am. Wouldn’t you be? Maa was sweet, but not enough to take my mind off the little fella who’s high-pitches are spreading like dark ink in Kabi. I’m certain every employee is cursing their owner for not putting her foot down on small people being disbarred from entering Kabi.

How long does it take for such a small head to be styled? Gosh!

“Madam, chai, coffee, kuchh?”

“Nahin, thank you!” Go away. Leave me alone. Everyone out of Kabi
please.

No one moves. The music plays, a song by Linkin Park, I woefully
recognize:

Everything you say to me Takes me one step closer to the edge
And I’m about to break”

How appropriate is that! I let out a laugh, much to the pedicurist’s consternation. I look away. I open the novel. An immediate
interruption, as if I am being watched, and the minute I decide to
read, the novel’s opening switches on the interruption switch :

“Kaunsa nail colour, dekhiye naa.” says dear Parmod. (which nail varnish would you like, please choose.)

What!? I had missed the massage, I had missed the deeply pleasant
feel of my muscles being made to relax. I would have to pay
anyway, NOooo!

Now I am faced with the tough choice of nail varnish- colours galore, and none that I like. Life is filled with sudden anguish.

I choose a deep purple, reflecting my irritation, and ask him to use a silver one to finish off, what I consider a stylish look. I don’t really care anymore. Actually, I’m okay now. I’m done. I decide to return another day, when my weary feet ache and I can’t deny them any longer, and I will have prayed to the Lords above, to grant me a day of pedicure minus interruptions. I will reject my mobile, discarding it in a bin at home, and will come unarmed, and re-enter Kabi, with an
open mind- one that will cherish any and every experience.
Amen to that.

My feet look as rested, as my mind is restless. I am seated in front of a mirror now, and wondering when I grew this old. Suddenly I am
asked,

“Pressure theek hai?”

Ah! My shoulders are being massaged. I didn’t know they did a
shoulder press after a pedicure. This morning isn’t over yet, and it might still be salvaged after all. This is divine. But I can’t peel
my eyes away from the vision of me, and I shudder. I am aged. I am
ancient. The journey downhill hath begun. The day is a seesaw between joy and agony. I will survive yet.
And then I hear someone say, “Okay, happy now? Dekho, kitna good bwoy ho tum. Ab Lollipop milega!” (see, what a good boy you are, now you will receive a lollipop!)

The little fella, in the meantime, has been styled and is about to be rewarded for having yelled his lungs out for the better part of my
time in the beauty parlour. Seesaw is stuck downhill. God save our
kids from us parents! I cast a last forlorn look at the mirror,
before paying my bill, and quite automatically thank the receptionist for ‘an awesome experience!” when I am asked, “How was it Madam,
happy, satisfied?” How can you spoil someone else’s day by speaking
the ugly (pun intended) truth about yours? You just mutter, and leave.

There is no ‘comments notebook’ otherwise I could’ve possibly put
down my mean thoughts.

 

 

Hudson upon the Hudson

Giant barge sliding by,

Leafless trees bid spring,

An ungloomy farewell. IMG_1101

Winter reflects its glacial face,

In the Hudson,

IMG_1100A Gull rides stilted,

its slowness,

Even as the river displays

Fractions of gray sky,

Lazy waters scroll by.

A mother, her daughter,

Observe, smile, giggle,

Contrasting the solemn geography.

Selfies feigning to mimic,

True photography.

IMG_1096

A row of crows lined up,

On an old forgotten

Bungalow’s rooftop.

 

Torrential rains, dripping chimneys,

The duo’s cosy airbnb,

Gazebos galore,

Church steeples of lore,

Grass both green and brown. IMG_1088.jpg

A discreet native pub,

Sizzlers with Beer,

Surprises with local cheer.

 

Hudson by the Hudson

Displays stillness in winter,

A perfect getaway,

The routine splinter,

An imagery’s mosaic,

Drawing a collage eclectic,

Befitting the holiday album.