Archive | November, 2012

The curious case of the broken tooth and the bitter truth

20 Nov
Nature's ploy

Natural progression

Three days ago, at about the same time that an eminent person’s soul was leaving its mortal coil at his medically equipped house in Mumbai, I was dealing with bereavement in a clinical environment myself. With my eye fixed on the national geographic images that flickered on the monitor strategically hung over the dental chair, I was silently suffering the loss of my pre-molar. A permanent loss, that only an accident or act of god can bring about.

There were images of tigers, beetles, African tribes, salamanders and other wonders of nature on the slide show above, but I remained unimpressed, for this was my moment of epiphany where I had come to see through nature’s insidious plans.

We go on our entire lives, celebrating our birthdays not realizing just how smoothly Mother Nature (if one must call her that) has tricked us. The only reason she keeps us alive is to perpetuate herself. As long as our lives are moving towards our respective reproductive ages, our hair shines, skin remains supple and elastic, our internal organs work to perfection and our energy levels stay dangerously high. You do realize, all this is in order to facilitate reproduction. While some of us who are cerebrally challenged, will marry and go on to have children, thereby furthering nature’s cause, there are others who will choose some less mind numbing pursuits than procreation and go on to lead meaningful lives.  Whatever the choice, there will come a time, when having made our contributions (or not) to the planet, from Nature’s point of view, we would have reached our sell-by date. For women, that date is sooner than they will acknowledge to themselves, for I have heard many of my tribe claim that they can still produce healthy children, when the lunar calendar and gravity will lead you to believe otherwise.

This isn’t to say that men are immune to Nature’s machinations, but my optimistic guess is that they do not play an active role in furthering her plans in spawning life and are perhaps generally overlooked by her, leading to slower deterioration.

From Nature’s point of view, both the male and female of the species can die as soon as we have given birth to and helped raise smaller prototypes of ourselves.

This tooth of mine, which departed from my mouth forever on that fateful day, was just the first sign. I was stunned when it cracked into two the other day, while chewing on something sticky and was further stunned when my dentist revealed it to me that “No, this is not a milk tooth, this was your permanent tooth, Shunali.” He had a ‘what-was-she-thinking’ look in his eyes as he said that. I was quite annoyed at myself, I must admit, for being foolish enough to think that I still had milk teeth growing in my mouth!

I have been spared the usual signs of graying of hair and a generous smearing of Chanel Vitalumiere and Mac Studio Finish have helped me deceive myself into believing that I am in my prime. But losing a tooth forever, in my thirties, there cannot be a surer sign.

I must prepare myself now, for the future that awaits, for I am no Dorian Gray. As I become less and less useful to nature, the bones will get brittle, the kneecaps with wither, the hair will grey, more teeth will be lost, skin will slide southwards, digestion will get poorer and metabolism, whatever will happen to my metabolism?  Now that is something, I cannot bring myself to write about without bursting into tears.

Dear readers, shall keep you posted on further progressions as the years roll by. Watch this space

On airlines and the irksome things pilots say.

15 Nov The rising sun,over the land of the rising sun from my window
The rising sun,over the land of the rising sun from my window

The rising sun,over the land of the rising sun from my window

While I am on the topic of airlines, what is the deal with the pilots wanting to give us the most unnecessary information at most inappropriate times?  “We are now cruising at the height of xyz and flying over Ulan Bator, which is to your right..,” announces the pilot of the PA system. Why should I care if we are flying over Mongolia, unless I can open the window, look out and see a camel being milked by a nomadic woman? Or over Bulgaria if all I can see below is clouds instead of a mafia shoot out?  Or over Guangzhou, where I can see people buying and selling fake LV bags. Why would I need to know how many thousand feet above sea level we are flying? Because, will it all not be the same if the engine was to fail and we were all asked to take a swan dive all the way down?

Why must I be told what the temperature is outside when we are flying thousands of feet above sea level? It’s not like I am about to step out to hang my clothes to dry. “Hello this is your captain speaking, it is minus 30 degrees Celsius outside so please wear your parkas and cover your ears if you are planning to step out of the plane, mid-air.”

There is also the announcement about what ground speed we will be flying at. While it does matter to me that we reach the destination when it says on the boarding pass, it is highly unlikely, that if I have an objection to the speed at which the plane is flying, the pilot is going to do anything about it.

I could deal with all this extra information if each time, they did not pause the in-flight programming before dishing out the irrelevant details to us, sometimes in three different languages. It kills the moment. Imagine that Warren Beatty is about to confess his love for Annette Bening and just as the tension is building up, the pilot decided to give you some unnecessary information. It is impossible to re-organize your emotions and get that moment back. As far as I know, I only wish to ever be alerted when the plane is going to land or if its engine is on fire. As tragic as that sounds, if it is the latter, I don’t need to be interrupted and told, as I will find out about that anyway in due course.

Some airlines have this nasty policy of taking the headsets back a good thirty minutes before the plane has landed. I watch the flight attendant approach my seat to take away my headsets with the same dread and trepidation that I felt as I watched my teacher come towards my desk to collect my answer sheets at the end of an exam, before I had finished answering all the questions. They’re surely not thinking that after paying so much for our airline tickets, we are going to walk away with their precious headsets, are they?

And finally, most people I know, after a long overnight flight, do not wish to be served breakfast early in the morning.  I have always wondered for what good reason must the cabin crew turn on all the lights during their breakfast service and wake up everybody. Much like a hospital ward where the nurse comes to wash and clean the ailing, much to their discomfort, at the crack of dawn.

These must be the very reasons, more and more people are opting for chartered flights and private jets. For me, those are not viable options because 1.) I cannot afford either  b.) I cannot afford either  c.) WHAT ABOUT THE CARBON FOOTPRINT?

I may not aspire to own a jet but I do have my humble blog and what good is a blog if one does not use it for venting?

The sophisticated traveler

15 Nov

I have not posted much since I returned from Japan, this is probably because all I ever want to do lately, is to write about Japan. The other reason is that I have been a bit unsettled ever since I returned and it is always such an effort to go back to one’s routine. Traveling is fun but it does take its toll on you. Even as it enriches ones soul, it exhausts ones body and as you grow older, that exhaustion begins to show.

Since I have been traveling a fair amount lately, I want to write about air travel and how it is impacting me lately.

Have you ever seen a sophisticated woman on the plane or at airports? She is lean and graceful in her three-inch heels, her hair is neatly tied in a pony, her make up dewy and subtle and she is clad in blue jeans and a beige jacket or a dull gray wrap. Well, that sophisticated traveler woman is not me. In fact, I reserve a special kind of contempt for women like her. Women, who step out of the plane after a 10 hours long flight, looking like they could be in a television commercial for a skin brightening product. I have given such women a considerable amount of thought lately and I know now, I will never be them.

I usually dress in moccasins and comfortable clothes when I travel and somehow manage to look puffed up and pale for days after I have landed. This is usually counterproductive to photography when one arrives at a destination for one just avoids taking photos of self to offset a vanity driven depression.

I am not one of those people who like to sleep on a flight and therefore, leave the plane with panda eyes. I am not phobic of flying, I just enjoy being in a zone of little physical activity, too much uninterrupted television and a lot of food, served in bed, in a manner of speaking. All the above is far too attractive to me, to give sleep a chance.

I also wear no make up while traveling or while alighting from a plane, unless I am expecting to be received by Gerard Butler, which is never. To add to my misery, I gain a few pounds each time I am on a long flight. While I would like to,somehow, blame it on the pressurized cabin, my weight gain is solely due to binge eating on the plane. I am always waiting to be served food and snacks on a flight, sometimes shortly after a full meal, much to the cabin crew’s annoyance. Sometimes I surprise myself with my capacity to eat on a plane and could, in fact, easily put a Somalian refugee to shame with my insatiable appetite.

When people are pulling over their eye masks and getting ready to sleep, I am summoning the cabin crew and asking them to serve me a cheese platter, quickly followed by a request for some popcorn and green tea. I notice that cost cutting has taken its toll on a good number of airlines and I am getting used to being told that the cheese is over. There is also the possibility that there is a red flag against my name and flight attendants of all airlines I patronize, have been told to ration their food each time ‘Glutton Shroff’ is on board. I feel awfully guilty  about being such a chowhound, but I somehow convince myself that diet rules do not apply in airspace and the body needs to be shocked once in a while (by over-eating)for it to burn fat, faster.

I have observed the sophisticated traveler from the corner of my weary eye, where my crows feet meet. She nibbles on her food, puts on some under eye cream and intense moisturizing lotion on her face and elbows. Elbows, you ask? Yes, elbows. She then slips on her socks and her pjs, watches the television for a little while, pulls over her eye mask and dozes off to sleep. She wakes up a few hours later, only to rehydrate herself and re-moisturize her skin and promptly falls asleep again. In the morning, after changing back into her clothes (and hopefully brushing her teeth), she pulls out her hand mirror and touches up her mascara, which, incidentally, has not flaked out at all through the night. She then goes on to refresh her lip balm before tucking into some yogurt on the breakfast tray, half-heartedly.

If I were a lesser woman, I would be inspired, and even threatened by the presence of such a creature in my vicinity. But I sit there, stuffing my face, watching my eye bags grow larger by the minute and chortling at the clever lines in the sitcom on my television monitor. I do moisturize my face, because the cabin pressure makes it dry, but I leave out the elbows. The sophisticated creature disembarks from the plane and disappears into the immigration lines, commanding admiration wherever she goes. I, by now, am looking like an al-queida recruit and after swallowing my pride and my vanity, I sleepily find my way towards the luggage belt. As I spot her once again, lifting her light luggage and walking away, I make a promise to myself silently, a promise to swap my seat with another passenger the next time I find such a sophisticated traveler sitting near me.

Tokyo Mania

1 Nov

As soon as I stepped out of the Tokyo train station and faced the steely grandeur of Tokyo, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. We drove through the legendary Ginza and arrived at our hotel, where our room offered us breathtaking views of the city as well as the harbour. Our hotel at Kyoto was inaptly titled the Royal Hotel and Spa and though the location and service were absolutely fabulous, our room there left much to be desired. Let me put it this way, one had to walk around ones room with their stomach sucked in, just so one would not run into the furniture or the wall.  We were only too relieved to find out that our room at the Conrad, Tokyo was big enough for me to do cartwheels all day, had I been staying in that room by myself. You have only to travel with the husband to realize that even the Lords stadium in London would seem small if one was sharing that space with this man, for he has this rather charming habit of throwing his things all over the place.

After unpacking and fighting over the wardrobe space, we decided to head to Roppongi Hills for a meal of ramen noodles and soup. I was cold and hungry, but as usual, the husband refused to ask for directions. When we finally located Tetsugama, after much bickering, I was about to burst into tears. Steaming hot broth with noodles with generous helpings of togarashi  (Japanese chilli pepper) not only cleared our sinuses but also my brains.  I felt like I was the most sated person on earth and as far as the husband was concerned, all was forgiven.

The next day, as we walked around the swanky streets of Omatesando, where all the top brands of the universe jostled for space and edgily dressed people flitted in and out of these stores I realized, just how far behind we had left the Zen and Kimonos of Kyoto. We were in the neurotic yet attractive city of Tokyo and the inhabitants of this city dressed their part.

Over the next few days that we spent in Tokyo, we sighted all kinds of dressing styles, from the elegantly chic to the monumentally bizarre. The famous Japanese black hair is rarely seen in Tokyo, as most women prefer to wear their hair in shades of auburn and younger boys sport weird hairdos (closely resembling Japanese anime characters).

Men in striped leggings and berets, women in Minnie mouse style dresses with spiked platform heels, green and blond haired Japanese boys and girls walked like zombies in the punk neighbourhood of Harajuku. When my senses were sufficiently assaulted, we decided to get back to the hotel just in time for our group to depart for dinner at a well-known restaurant.

The following day, we took part in The Amazing Race, a treasure hunt, which like the rest of our trip was organized by The Amazing couple S & M. There is some kind of an unwritten law that has governed my whole life: whenever I am a part of a team, that team shall lose. This law holds true even if I were to be in a cycling team with say, Lance Armstrong (with or without the drugs), or a boxing team with Muhammad Ali or an eating, drinking and occasionally baking team with Nigella Lawson. How could my team not lose this time? We took an hour to crack the first clue, which was a Sudoku puzzle, we took forever to locate the right train to take us to the next clue, we did not know how to buy so many tickets for every team member and when all of this was sorted, our train got cancelled. Serendipity! All was not lost because we saw some important landmarks of Tokyo such as the Tokyo Tower, which is a smaller version of the Eiffel made with official permission of the French. We walked across the Hachiko crossing at Shibuya: this is the world’s busiest intersection and it only takes an Indian to not be impressed with the number of people that walk this famous intersection with mega billboards and large video screens.

Hachiko is named after a loyal dog from 1920’s, who would wait at Shibuya station for his owner to return. After his owner died, Hachiko continued waiting everyday, for 11 years. We clicked a picture with the statue of Hachiko and I realized then, just how important it was, to give your dog a good name. Mine is called Olly and therefore, I know today, that there will never be an intersection called the Olly crossing, coz it just sounds so lame. There will also be no Olly crossing, as a verb, as poor Olly has been fixed a long time ago by the good vet. Oh, but I digress…

The photographer hired by the entire group, a fine man who barely spoke English, was stuck with our team, as we were the last to leave. We may not have won the race, but the number of photographs he took of us, made a locals wonder if we were celebrities.

The Amazing Race ended at the stunning gardens of Happo-en, where the other teams, all of whom had reached before us, were dabbing their mouths with napkins after the various rounds of hors d’ouvres had been passed around!

At the same venue, we were treated to Sumo wrestling and learnt that these baby faced, corpulent creatures with big breasts are highly coveted by top models, probably because they appear even thinner standing next to them. Some of the braver men in the group, that included the husband, offered to wrestle with the Sumo. The husband, with his legs wrapped around the wrestler, suspended, upside down, like fish in a crane’s mouth is a visual I would spare you, if I was a better person.

Next on the agenda was the traditional Japanese tea ceremony but when people saw that two approx. 99-year-old ladies were about to perform the ceremony, they vamoosed from there. In my modest opinion, the tea ceremony in Japan is seriously overrated and was perhaps invented as a way to kill time in the days of the Samurais when there was little else to do. In the age of instant gratification and tea bags, who had the time for a slow-mo affair like this? Instead, I chose to stalk the unsuspecting bride and groom, who were at this beautiful venue to be married in their traditional finery.

By the end of our Japan trip, I had witnessed three such weddings and will be in the photo album of each one of them as the strange woman who was tripping all over the kimono clad bride with her Canon.

The Karaoke bars we visited could have been a more memorable affair had some of our folks not insisted on singing ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Sweet child O’ mine’, five times over. Great songs and I have enjoyed them at some point, but they are way past their ‘sell by’ date for chrissakes.

How could we leave Japan without a sighting of the elusive Mount Fuji? The day trip to the hot springs (Onsen in Japanese), which also offered a good view of Fuji, was perhaps the best part of the trip. Some of us had been living in a haze of sake and the clean mountain air was just what the doctor ordered. Our dear friend S and the husband who had decided to become the Geisha du jour, kept us thoroughly entertained along the way. By the end of the day, after much laughter and cervical pains due to lack of sleep, we had sailed in a pirate’s ship, eaten black eggs boiled in the Onsen and sadly, only managed to see a tiny part of the great Fuji, most of which was enveloped by clouds.

The following day, Ginza awaited and we took over Mitsudoshi, Uni Qlo and Muji stores like ants storming a vacant anthill. Our last supper in Tokyo was a heart-warming evening that included a sit down dinner and a dance recital by a Meiko (Geisha’s apprentice). Even as our time in Japan came to an end, one longed for more.

If it weren’t for my children, who I was missing sorely by then, I would have stayed back in Japan, maybe as an illegal immigrant. But then again, Japan wouldn’t quite be the same without the company of my loopy, loony and wonderful friends.  And so it is, that we headed back home from Japan with a heavy heart and even heavier suitcases. I realize, 3 days after I have returned, that mostly, only my body is back in Bombay, for my spirit is still lurking around some Geisha house or in a tony lane around the Ginza saying Arigato Gozaimasu to random people.

 

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