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No Starbucks for my children till they are forty!

5 Mar
Loving and longing over coffee

Love and longing over coffee

I am at the Starbucks near my house. Although I don’t care much for the coffee here, this place has an agreeable vibe and I have found that with practice, it is not impossible to acquire taste for their awful brew.

I come to this cafe on days when I feel the need to lose context and be a stranger among strangers. There is something therapeutic about being around people who do not know you. This isn’t to say that I am a homicidal fugitive lurking around crowded places looking for safety in anonymity. Nor am I an abused wife (if anything) whose idea of breaking free is sit incognito behind dark Jacky O glasses and silently sip coffee in the neighbourhood cafe.

I feel drawn to such places because I love coffee and I love people watching and cafes beat any other public space when it comes to combining these two interests. Agreed this isn’t a talent that would look good on a resume’ but it cannot be denied that such a pastime does require a certain set of undefined skills.

The husband says that this just goes to show how acutely jobless I am, but great art has always had to put up with great criticism in its own time and so I take such remarks in my stride.

Be that as it may, you might agree with me that human beings are an incontrovertibly fascinating creation of nature and each person has is by himself/herself a story. I like to look at these people around me and imagine their stories.

For instance, there is a man of generous proportions sitting across from me right now and has ‘Ladies find me irresistible’ written boldly across his discoloured t-shirt. His hair is unkempt and his face unshaven. The physiognomy of this man reminds me of Ignatius, the slothful hero of A Confederacy of Dunces. If I was a mean person I would judge him for the generous, full fat, double whipped cream topping on his hot chocolate. But you all know by now that I do not have a mean cartilage in my body.

For now, I am shifting focus to what Irresistible boy’s life might be like. I can imagine him being a mamma’s boy, like Ignatius and I can imagine his Sindhi mother living by the slogan on her ‘baby’s’ t-shirt. She has probably never approved of any girl this man has fancied because he is clearly too perfect for anyone. Irresistible boy probably runs a business from home and it suits him just fine because this saves him the trouble of having to shave his face or look clean and presentable like other working class people who need to show up in an office.

I leave him to his hot chocolate and turn my attention towards this other couple that does not seem to belong to this neighbourhood. It is evident that they have chosen this particular hood for precisely that reason. The woman is wearing a red coloured blouse over skinny jeans but the word ‘skinny’ is in no way a reflection of her overall size. Her beau has removed one sandal from his food and is grinning at her while playing footsie from under the table. His hair is oily and overgrown and he is sporting a prominent moustache that conceals his upper lip but when he laughs, his pan-stained teeth take away the attention from it. He is looking at her lasciviously while his shoeless foot continues to busy itself under the table that is not large or low enough to conceal its private engagement with hers. She is smiling at him longingly and reciprocating his gesture with equal relish.  Call me judgmental if you will, but am compelled to deduce that their overall behaviour somehow bears witness to the illegitimacy of their relationship.

I am cringing and also feeling like an intruder and cannot bear to look in their direction anymore. If they were better dressed, would I still be cringing, I wonder. Are seemingly illegitimate couples in the throes of PDA more acceptable if they are cleaner looking, with better teeth and dressed in Prada or Savile Row tailoring?

I have repositioned my vision and am now looking at a large blonde woman who is finding herself a couch to sit on. She has enormous biceps and triceps that could easily make Salman Khan and Sunny Deol appear frail in comparison. Her arms are tattooed all over with what looks like angels and daggers that are adding to her formidable appearance. A puny man who is ordering their coffee in an American accent accompanies her. Perhaps bodybuilder lady is a personal trainer to a movie star. Or maybe she and puny guy are backpackers who are touring across the country. She looks like she must carry his backpack along with hers and is at no risk of being raped given her dimensions.

A senior actor in his late seventies has just walked in. He is taking slow measured steps to keep his balance as he walks towards the barista to order his coffee. Some people acknowledge his presence with a smile and he seems pleased that this much younger generation recognizes him.

A young couple sits at the far end of the long table where all nerds are seated with their laptops. I happen to be sitting on this table with my laptop as well. This boy and girl cannot be older than eighteen years and are visibly in the first flush of their love for each other. She has large kohl rimmed eyes and she is finding everything he says worthy of laughter. This couple can barely keep their hands off each other and there is nothing sneaky about their moves. On the contrary, in spite of their PDA, there is nothing cringe worthy about them. I am glancing in their direction now and then and I can see that they are playing the ‘who-will-blink-first’ game. A few seconds later, he has beaten her to it and she is somewhat pleased about it. He brings her iced-tea and now they are sharing the icy drink with two straws from the one glass.

A gaggle of ladies in afternoon jewels and sunglasses has just walked in, presumably after a kitty party in flowy georgette tops in bright colours with matching pop coloured lipsticks applied so liberally that they are compelled to keep their shades one throughout their post kitty coffee session.

This is a cue for me to leave the café.  Besides, the cacophony of the group is deafening the sound of my own thoughts, which is a sign that I must give my imagination a break and head home to my children.

As I head out I walk past a couple, the girl is in a school skirt and is fondly stroking the cheek of her boyfriend, also in a school uniform. I ought to be delighted to see love thrive all around me but I am walking away feeling a bit unsettled by the ages of the participants of this PDA (public display of affection, in case my mom is reading this) show.

I am also contemplating keeping cafes out of bounds for my children along with nightclubs and watering holes till they reach forty.

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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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