Archive | July, 2014

On playing with fire and close encounters with the FDNY in Gotham City

9 Jul
Fire Department New York City

Fire Department New York, outside our hotel building


Today was an eventful day. We almost tasted our fifteen minutes of fame courtesy the spouse, in New York, Warhol’s own city, no less.

It so happened that the spouse decided to fix the older one some breakfast this morning since I was busy running an errand with the younger one, not far from our aparthotel. When I arrived at the scene with the child, we found that there was smoke all over the living room and Z began to animatedly tell me that her father did not know how to toast bread without causing a mini fire.

The guilty party had a more logical explanation waiting for me, of course. Apparently it was the toaster’s fault because the toaster in the kitchenette was not an automatic one. I figured that the husband had forgotten all about the bread and gotten busy with the emails on his laptop while the toast slowly went up in flames. I could not figure however, what it took for a slice of bread to burn to such an extent and yet for a man sitting a few feet away from it to not realize it. An ageing olfactory system perhaps?

The windows had been opened to let the smoke out and our man quickly disappeared from the scene to get ready for the day. Seconds after he had shut himself away, the fire alarm of the apartment went off and the hotel staff started dropping by, one after another, to check if all was well with apartment #1102. I assured them that it was a minor incident, which it indeed was, and sent them back.

In the meanwhile the fire alarms in the entire hotel had gone off and I heard our family name announced on the PA system. “This is a false alarm from the Shroff family’s apartment on the 11th floor, there is no cause for panic. Please do not evacuate the building. There has been no real fire.”

Both Z and I were mortified by the pandemonium the burnt toast and someone’s poor cooking skills had created. “I am sure he is not having a bath but has locked himself up in there only to spare himself the embarrassment of having to explain to the hotel staff. And he has left us here to deal with it,” stated Z rolling her eyes (*).

While we were discussing this, someone started to knock fervently at our apartment door and I opened it to only to see four FDNY (Fire Department New York) men in overalls and water hoses at our doorstep. I had to sheepishly share the burnt toast story with them in exchange for a cold and sneering look back from the main chap. I threw in some humour too to lighten up the situation but I only got a condescending look back in return. I could be imagining this, but I think I saw them look at each other with a look that said “stupid Asian woman”.

They then insisted on inspecting the precinct thoroughly and left only after they were sure that there was no actual fire around. I found this strange because if there really was a fire in the apartment, why would I be hiding it? Ooh, or perhaps they thought I was a homicidal lunatic who was trying to kill somebody in the presence of my two innocent children. Whatever it was, I was relieved to have seen their backs and took another twenty minutes before I stepped downstairs to get away from the lingering smell of carbon and to organize breakfast for the girls. To my surprise, I saw the FDNY car parked right outside the hotel with the fire inspector and his flunks sitting in it and looking up at the hotel building as if in anticipation of something else going wrong. Talk about being paranoid!

When the husband finally came out of the bathroom, all fresh and crisp, he heard me narrate all that had taken place in his absence with such equanimity that it was almost poetic. It takes a real man to hear that he had contributed to a mini emergency situation that has commanded the attention of the fire department of the city and not get ruffled by it, like it was an everyday occurrence.

“Wasn’t this fun? Think of this as a part of the overall New York experience,” he told the girls sounding pleased with the proceedings of this morning  in a manner that would have you think that we had been a part of an amazing, once in a lifetime occurance.

“And you, I know this will be in your blog tomorrow,” he told me in a manner that suggested that he would not kill me if I wrote about it or that he had accepted that such reportage in my blog was fait accompli. He was right. This was fodder for my blog for sure. It was also fun to meet with the FDNY squad and have them suspiciously watch our flat from their car downstairs. We did get a taste of the real Gotham City. Although I do hope that next time we burn something in this city, Spiderman or Batman show up instead of crummy looking firemen in overalls.

**I am told this eye rolling at parents is a condition that sets in just as a kid is on the threshold of teenage and usually lasts for at least a decade.



About Ashley Madison, Tinder, illicit love and some more updates from New York

7 Jul
Extramarital Affairs

Ashely Madison, the app that promotes extramarital affairs

There is too much going on in NYC that I am surprised I find any time to write at all.

It is not uncommon to run into people one knows from Bombay when in London but there is little likelihood of that happening in New York City owing to its size and population. You can imagine how surprised I was when I heard someone call my name as I was walking down the 5th Avenue with the girls yesterday. Turns out, it was an old friend from India who moved to NYC several years ago and who lost touch with me and our other common friends after he got married to his Aussie wife, as it invariably happens. He suggested we meet for coffee one of these days and I politely agreed. Mere courtesies when we both know that neither of us was inclined to meet.

Then again, today as we were walking down the 5th Avenue (I am always walking down the 5th Avenue apparently), we ran into a couple from Bombay who is in an illicit relationship.  Their faces became flushed when they saw us but the lady put together a smile somehow as we greeted each other.

Have an affair by all means with anyone you like, but common sense demands that if you do not wish to be seen together, go take romantic walks in the discreet neighbourhoods of  New York and not on the 5th Avenue.

Speaking of affairs, our young New Yorker friend K informs us about an app called Ashley Madison that is all the rage in America. It is an app designed to help you have an extra-marital affair. I could not believe my ears when I heard this and downloaded the app out of sheer curiosity. Yes go ahead, judge me but let me continue with my story. The home page says, ‘Life is short, have an affair’. It also mentions phrases like ‘Affair guaranteed’ and  ‘Over 26,98,000 discreet members’.

This can happen only in America! An application that promotes and assists adultery and deceit and boasts about its membership. K is too young and unmarried to use this app and what he uses instead is Tinder. The husband informs me that Tinder is popular in India too but because I am eighty, I have never heard of it.

Tinder has photographs and states the likes, dislikes of single people from the area who are registered on it and helps you to “hook up” with them. K too put Tinder to good use and landed a few dates before his brother-in-law played the awe-inspiring prank of going into his account and ‘liking’ pictures of obese women twice his age. They all liked him back right away and started asking him out. This has led the poor chap to close his Tinder account.

We met another friend from Bombay who was passing through at one of the most opulent restaurants that I have been to in a while by the name of NoMad. Walking down the shabby and littered streets of Broadway and the 28th, you would never imagine that there was such a lavish gem tucked away inside one of the nondescript buildings of the hood, but then that is what Manhattan is all about.

The husband and I also ran into a couple we know from Bombay in the elevator of our hotel. We had similarly run into them on the Tabletop Mountain in South Africa a few years ago. This time we have decided to meet each other for dinner at Tao at the Meatpacking district in a few days. This is not going to be like the coffee my old friend and I did not intend to have with each other.

More posts from New York

7 Jul
The madness of Times Square

Times Square

I am the most tyrannical mother ever. I torment my children by dragging them with me to art galleries and museums sometimes when we travel. This has made my company less desirable as far as they are concerned. Not only has my effort to expose them to galleries across cities failed to whet their appetite for art and culture, it has in fact caused an aversion in them. They hear the word museum and become apoplectic and suddenly developing extra affinity for their father beg him to save them from my cultural onslaughts.

Unrelenting as I am in this regard, today I used a little bit of deception to bait them into accompanying the husband and yours truly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day. I tempted the child with the exhibition on Lost Civilizations and since Cleopatra and the pyramids intrigue her, our older one, finally acquiesced. R being five years younger only had one pressing concern as far as the Met was concerned, “Will John be allowed inside the museum? I am only coming if they allow him in,” she declared. John, if you please, is the name of her teddy bear and R is clearly very concerned about his intellectual development.

“What is the full form of Met?” enquired Z as we made our way towards the museum. I spelt it out. “What?!!!” she gasped sounding betrayed. “It is an ART museum? ART?? I told you I don’t want to see any art.”

I assured them that I would not make them see any art and would allow them to become the philistines they were well on their way to becoming. And so it is that two unhappy children came with us to see the marvelous exhibits from Ancient Egypt and Rome. Several mummies and artifacts later they both realized that it wasn’t such a bad deal overall.

The Met has also put together an exhibition of the portraits of the Altamira family made by the Spanish artist, Goya and it was a delight to see them all under one roof.

I announced to the troops that we were going to Goya next and was surprised to see Z very pleased with the suggestion. “Yippee, we are going to Goya,” she sang and the younger one, as always, joined her in the chorus.

When she saw me ask an attendant for directions to the room where his works were on display, she looked a bit alarmed. “So Goya is an artist?” she subdued her voice and her emotions and asked me.

“What did you think it was Z? You sounded so happy when I brought up his name.”

“I thought it was the name of a Japanese restaurant.”

Poor Goya! Must be turning in his grave. All his life’s work and to think that his name has been reduced to a Japanese restaurant?

“Well it is not and now please come with me Z, there is this picture of a boy in red with cats and magpies in it and the cat has a spooky look in its eyes which has confounded many….”

Z cut me off mid sentence with a ,”I don’t care what look a cat has in its eyes. I am in New York. I want to see so much and you are wasting my time by showing me paintings of cats. I am going with papa to the cafe to eat, you please enjoy your Goya by yourself.”

You can well imagine how that conversation ended. I however, was not too displeased at the prospect of enjoying Goya and then Modgliani by myself without the impatience of my younger children coming in the way.

We are such tourists! We took our kids to the Times Square in the evening. I find Times Square unbearably congested, dirty and terrifyingly touristy  but you should have looked at Z and R’s faces. Their jaws were on the floor with awe as they gawped at the humungous LCD billboards and the other drama on display, which included, among other things, couple of real naked women, painted with stars and stripes all over.

Times Square to me is what this city is all about – loud, exciting, flashy and larger than life. It is the very quintessence of American culture. The husband kept reminding me not to lose the kids in the sea of humanity at the square. As if.  Then there was the massive Toys R Us where I noticed only children of Indian and Chinese origin hungrily shopping away.

We told our children that they were only allowed to pick up something worth 5$s each. I may sound like a skin flint here but this I did only out of regard for their long term happiness.  Is in not awfully boring to have all your fantasies fulfilled that early in life? Bored kids become unhappy or bored adults. The kids don’t get it right now and think I am being parsimonious but they will (hopefully) thank me for it when they are older and don’t need to turn to drugs for excitement or fulfillment.

More later…

Posts from New York, New York

7 Jul

My two sated girls with their dollsNYC2NYC3


Today is the first day of our vacation in NYC. The word vacation has been derived from its Latin parent vacationem, something that Roman soldiers insisted on taking in the summer or whenever they were out of political favour. That word finds its origins in Vacare in Latin, which means or ‘to be empty’. You empty your schedule, empty your head and a few cases of vino.

Hence the word vacation means to empty oneself of chores and responsibility and to be joyfully unoccupied. By that logic I am clearly not on vacation regardless of what destination I might be traveling to because being with kids, getting them to bathe and brush to keep them from looking like urchins, packing and unpacking for them or cleaning up after them does not a vacation make.

If anything, being in Bombay is vacation for me because of my domestic help. “Think of it as cardio,” suggests from friend Kiran. But cardio is good for my body because, among other things, it improves blood circulation. Constantly running after my kids does not enable good circulation and if one goes by evidence, it is more in the region of blood pressure.

So here we are, my younger one and I, on this fine summer’s day, walking down the 5th Avenue, with its overwhelming high rises and ritzy shops. It is only ten am and as early birds, I am hoping to catch a worm or two at Saks. The older one, Z, is with her daddy at the Apple store and we have all promised to meet at the American Girl shop in an hour. An hour later, not much has been accomplished in spite of the pushy sales staff at the store. The child too is impatient because she never envisaged that her vacation would commence with a shopping stint with the mother at Saks. After London, everything suddenly seems cheaper in dollars and yet the constant hum of my baby asking “When will we go from here?” is preventing me from trying on the heap of clothes that I have chosen.

We then head towards the American Girl store. For the uninitiated ones among you, the American Girl is a doll store, which is more a cult than a mere shop that sells dolls. They sell not only dolls but also a lifestyle for the dolls. The American Girl store has a doll salon where you take your doll for coiffeuring and a doll hospital where, should you doll meet an accident and break a leg or two, she will be admitted and treated, put back together and returned to you with love on crutches or even on a wheelchair.

My children, who had carried their American girl dolls all the way from India, were delirious with excitement, running from one end of the store to the other, wanting to squeeze in everything the store offered in a single moment as if to make up for lost time. There were matching clothes to be bought that the girls could wear along with their respective dolls, ears to be pierced (not theirs, but the dolls’).

The first time that I had been to the American Girl store was when we were expecting our first baby and I had decided at that time that that if we had a girl, I would bring her to this store as soon as she is old enough to hold a doll. Not only did I get a girl, I got a bonus and had two. More than a decade later, as if in answer to my prayers I was swiping my credit card and walking out with two well groomed dolls names Rebecca and Sage and two little girls who could do with a bit of grooming themselves.

So coming back to NYC and Manhattan to be specific, exciting as this city is, after spending a few weeks in London, one has to recalibrate their sensibility to be able to appreciate it. The Egyptian cabbie, who drove us to our hotel from the airport, appropriately called New York City “a big mental hospital.”

Proud buildings with steely facades blocking out the sun, littered streets, people, some fashionable some grungy, in a frenzied rush to get to somewhere, cabbies too busy to stop and even pet dogs too busy to pee at the nearest lamp post, that is NYC for you. After cultured London, it almost seems like large containers full of people from across continents have arrived in the Americas for the first time and let loose on the streets of Manhattan. In that regard, it is somewhat like Bombay but I can shut myself out of the madness of that city. The madness of Manhattan is different, it has an invincible quality to it for it. It permeates the mind, the stone walls of the buildings and everything else and envelopes you.

As a city, NYC is exciting yes, but I need to tune out of the propriety and the sober charm of London, that throbs with life in its own way, to be able to truly appreciate the Big Apple the way Woody Allen does.

There are too many things we need to tick off our ‘rediscovering New York with kids’ list – museums, galleries, parks and restaurants before we head out of here, but the hardest thing for an outsider in New York, is knowing where to start. The ideal way to cover New York would be to drift aimlessly for days, but that is not an easy thing to do as a mother of two. Let’s see how the next few days pan out. Shall keep you posted.

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