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An English summer and the unbearable confusion of wanting to do too much

5 Jul

An English summer and the unbearable confusion of wanting to do too much

Posted by  on June 19, 2015

A setting for afternoon tea at the Ritz, London

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

So well, it is another glorious summer here in London, the English summer that so much ink has been expended on with consummate skill by writers far more gifted than me. Flowers of every conceivable hue are enthusiastically springing forth from the earth and unexpected places. There is something about London that tugs at me from all directions leaving me wanting to do far more than I can possibly manage within my waking hours here. As always I arrive in London with an entirely different set of intentions from the ones I end up living out.

The city is hosting some of the most enticing exhibits from the world of art, fashion and history. Mc Queen’s Savage Beauty at the V&A, the new Mummies at the British Museum, Surrealism & Beyond at the Tate Modern. World-class chefs are concocting meals that my palette can hardly wait to surrender to. The lush greens are beckoning me to take a walk and enjoy the coolest breeze that summer can bring. Charming high-tea evenings in Edwardian rooms invite me each time I walk down the beautifully time-warped lanes of Mayfair. Tony bars with their decorous air call out to me for a gin and tonic and British pubs urge me to let my hair down over Pimms, batter fried cod and chips. To compound my confusion, summer sales are upon us. Given that how formidable the Pound has become,  only a fool would miss a good summer bargain. All in all, London at this time of the year is a smorgasbord of all that is exciting, epicurean, eclectic and entertaining.

Exhibit at V&A Museum

And my children, well, they have their own agendas for the vacation that are collectively as far apart from mine as Usain Bolt is from the starting line halfway through a marathon. Z made me take her to the musical Wicked at the Apollo theatre the other day.  The husband had to travel on work unexpectedly and what was to be a bonding exercise between father and daughter turned out to be a theatre date between both my  girls and me, one that I got through only on the might of the cheap Pinot Grigio being served inside the theatre. Try sitting next to a seven-year-old and explaining a musical to them scene by scene and you will know why I needed the wine.

Besides, having exhausted my appetite for musicals a while back and irrespective of their grand production values, I cannot bear to sit through one any longer. I don’t see why somebody should have to sing along and say, “Oh my dear Galinda you are so beautiful, marry me” when the same can be stated quickly and simply without adding musical notes to it. In hindsight though, I am glad we went to the musical because those were the only two hours of our trip so far that my 12-year-old Z did not obsess over her pimples that have made a foray on her forehead.

Our younger one R wants to go to Peppa Pig world and the petting zoo and also paddle boating in Hyde Park. Call me heartless but the only thing I have managed  to accomplish with the kids so far, apart from the insufferable musical, was an edifying trip to the Science Museum. And a few trips to the sand pit in the park on their respective scooties, which incidentally is the most ingenious means of transport ever. I borrowed Z’s scooter the other day and rode is, much to her embarrassment and it was such a liberating experience. Apart from the fact that I did look like an oversized imbecile riding a child’s scooter, it was an overall pleasurable exercise. In fact I am keen to buy one for myself.

My children swear they will not acknowledge me publicly if they see me whizzing around on one. “How would you feel if nani starting riding on a scooter mom?” Z says to dissuade me from ordering one on Amazon. There are worse things that parents can embarrass their kids with than riding a scooter! I am determined to not let their inhibitions stop me from enjoying the few things my fragile joints will allow me to enjoy at my age.

Am headed to Scotland in two days. More from there.

The scooter

Flowers in bloom

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A summer in London and the unbearable confusion of wanting to do too many things

19 Jun
A setting for afternoon tea at the Ritz, London

A setting for an afternoon tea at the Ritz, London

It is a glorious summer here in London, the English summer that so much ink has been expended on with consummate skill by writers

far more gifted than me. Flowers of every conceivable hue are enthusiastically springing forth from the earth and unexpected places. There is something about London that tugs at me from all directions leaving me wanting to do far more than I can possibly manage within my waking hours here. As always I arrive in London with an entirely different set of intentions from the ones I end up living out.

The city is hosting some of the most enticing exhibits from the world of art, fashion and history. Mc Queen’s Savage Beauty at the V&A, the new Mummies at the British Museum, Surrealism & Beyond at the Tate Modern. World-class chefs are concocting meals that my palette can hardly wait to surrender to. The lush greens are beckoning me to take a walk and enjoy the coolest breeze that summer can bring. Charming high-tea evenings in Edwardian rooms invite me each time I walk down the beautifully time-warped lanes of Mayfair. Tony bars with their decorous air call out to me for a gin and tonic and British pubs urge me to let my hair down over Pimms, batter fried cod and chips. To compound my confusion, summer sales are upon us. Given that how formidable the Pound has become,  only a fool would miss a good summer bargain.

Exhibit at V&A Museum

Exhibit at V&A Museum

And my children, well, they have their own agendas for the vacation that are collectively as far apart from mine as Usain Bolt is from the starting line halfway through a marathon. Z made me take her to the musical Wicked at the Apollo theatre the other day.  The husband had to travel on work unexpectedly and what was to be a bonding exercise between father and daughter turned out to be a theatre date between both my  girls and me, one that I got through only on the might of the cheap Pinot Grigio being served inside the theatre. Try sitting next to a seven-year-old and explaining a musical to them scene by scene and you will know why I needed the wine.

Besides, having exhausted my appetite for musicals a while back and irrespective of their grand production values, I cannot bear to sit through one any longer. I don’t see why somebody should have to sing along and say, “Oh my dear Galinda you are so beautiful, marry me” when the same can be stated quickly and simply without adding musical notes to it. In hindsight though, I am glad we went to the musical because those were the only two hours of our trip so far that my twelve-year-old Z did not obsess over her pimples that have made a foray on her forehead.

Our younger one R wants to go to Peppa Pig world and the petting zoo and also paddle boating in Hyde Park. Call me heartless but the only thing I have managed  to accomplish with the kids so far, apart from the insufferable musical, was an edifying trip to the Science Museum. And a few trips to the sand pit in the park on their respective scooties, which incidentally is the most ingenious means of transport ever. I borrowed Z’s scooter the other day and rode is, much to her embarrassment and it was such a liberating experience. Apart from the fact that I did look like an oversized imbecile riding a child’s scooter, it was an overall pleasurable exercise. In fact I am keen to buy one for myself.

My children swear they will not acknowledge me publicly if they see me whizzing around on one. “How would you feel if nani starting riding on a scooter mom?” Z says to dissuade me from ordering one on Amazon. There are worse things that parents can embarrass their kids with than riding a scooter! I am determined to not let their inhibitions stop me from enjoying the few things my fragile joints will allow me to enjoy at my age.

Am headed to Scotland in two days. More from there.

The scooter

The scooter

Flowers in bloom

Flowers in bloom

Winter in London and other happy things

28 Dec

london5

My love affair with London continues. We are in the thick of winter, cold winds beat against the window of our room at night and it rains intermittently during the day adding a piercing chill to the air. Still my love for this city, if one can call it that, only grows. I hesitate from referring to London as a city because calling it a city somewhat diminishes its greatness, for London is a lot more than a city. You could say it is a confluence of many cities. Historically speaking too London is made up of two cities, the City of Westminster and City of London so I am not that off the mark.

So as I was saying there is no season in London that can reduce my love and admiration for it. This season, with all its festive atmosphere and spectacular Christmas decorations is no exception.  If anything, London is even more charming in winter what with its Christmas markets, ice skating rinks and poetically bare trees.

Winter in London

Winter in London

Hyde Park is freezing this time of the year, but it is not without cheer. One corner of the Park is hosting the annual winter wonderland. The Christmas market inside the wonderland has chalet style stalls that serve hot chocolate with marshmallows, chips with vinegar, bratwurst and crepes. There are shops selling handmade jewelry, jams and other Christmas fare and bars selling beer and mulled wine. Outside of the park, the  Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Regents Street and Bond Street would bedazzle even the most jaded among us.  What’s not to love about winter if it can be like this?

London1

I have never understood why people make a fuss about the English weather. I find their weather enticing. What an exciting past time it is to go to the weather app and look up the weather for the following day and then discuss it with your family to chalk out plans accordingly. You might argue that winter is winter is winter. But there is a 5 degree Celsius that feels like 5 degrees and there is one that feels like a minus 3 degrees. Then there is 2 degrees with sleet and there is 2 degrees with sunshine. But the best part is that none of them feel the same in England.

Much as I like winter, generally speaking, the one disadvantage it has over other seasons is that it takes me an hour to dress up the kids and myself and then another hour to find myself beneath all those clothes. Putting on and removing so many layers, several times a day is a cardiovascular exercise in itself. These dressing up rituals are routine for a person from Delhi but to a person from Bombay, it remains a challenge. What is even more inconvenient is that in many parts of the world, say Mongolia, one would get away with dressing in frumpy clothes underneath, but in London one feels the need to look presentable in the very least, if not fashionable when one is done removing the outer layers once inside a café, shop or restaurant. I can finally say that not having central heating in most parts of North India might not have been such a bad idea after all. You could be in your jammies under all those layers and nobody would have to know.

In spite of our best efforts to appear presentable, we have had our fashion police worthy moments during this trip. Just this evening the husband and I walked towards a restaurant at Notting Hill looking fairly ridiculous. Him in his Russian cossack hat looking like an oligarch and me looking like a Hamas recruit with my head and face covered up to my eyes in black.

On another note, you know what they say about weather doing strange things to people? I have realized that it is indeed true. While this cold December weather has turned me into a homebody of sorts, it has transmogrified the husband into a bonafide shopaholic. Over the past week that I have spent with him, he has amassed such an extensive winter wardrobe that one would think he is embarking on an Arctic expedition with Kate Moss no less.

Yesterday the kids and I watched him in action at Ellis Brigham, a specialized store that deals in ski and outdoor clothing. He wasn’t content with merely shopping a bag full of clothes at the store, I caught him browsing their website later in the night as well as a form of bedside reading.

Today he took the girls for an outing on the condition that they would be patient while he shopped at Barbour, another winter store. I excused myself and spent several hours browsing books at Waterstones thankfully because in my opinion, waiting while the woman shops is a man’s privilege and vice versa does not apply. The girls cribbed a great deal about how long their father took to pick his jackets at the store and how awfully bored they were sitting there waiting for him to find the right colour and the right fit.

Over the last two days some gloves have also been procured when there are already some pairs lying around in his suitcase.

I sincerely hope the man will be able to put his various Merino, Cashmere, leather and microfiber inners and outerwear to good use during his expedition with Kate Moss because god knows I do not have room for unnecessary things in our house in Bombay.

As for me, I am keeping my spirits high in spite of the ebb in my desire to shop with help from mulled wine. I love the concoction and cannot get enough of it. I start my day with coffee and a pain au raisin or scones, throw in some cheese in between the next coffee followed by some more cheese and then mulled wine. Who knows if fat is piling up beneath all those coats and puffer jackets  but it does not matter because tomorrow is another day. What kind of a day will it be, however, remains a question. Maybe I should consult the weather app for that.

London

Christmas Market, Hyde Park

On meeting Fareed Zakaria and surreal dreams of feral cats

15 Dec

Fareed Zakaria

My tryst with that brave cheetah that graced the roof of my jeep in Masai Mara two months ago has earned me some kind of undeserved fame in certain circles.

In more than a few dinner parties since my return from Kenya, I have been introduced at “that girl who was bold enough to eyeball a cheetah and chill in its company instead of ducking into the jeep like the rest of them….”

While my ‘sang froid’ is being spoken of in exalted terms, I shift from one foot to another and wonder if the intensity of that moment has failed to penetrate me. Since this kind of a conversation has taken place more than once in my presence, I have decided to take credit for both my bravado and good fortune in being within caressing distance of the cheetah, even though I feel the praise is largely undeserved.

Indeed it was a welcome although unanticipated event of my life, but I am fearless by nature and as such did not feel that I had made any significant contribution towards the overall drama of the moment. Which is the reason when a friend introduced me to eminent journalist and author Fareed Zakaria as the girl who was daring enough to be in close proximity with a cheetah in the Mara, I felt little embarrassed. Here was the much seen, much heard and much quoted Mr. Zakaria who the Esquire magazine called “the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation” and here was I, an intrepid tourist who was on the receiving end of a nonchalant cheetah’s time, presence and benevolence.

Perhaps out of politeness, Mr. Zakaria asked to be shown my photograph with the animal, which the husband hastened to produce from his phone with the same enthusiasm and pride that he would have showed off a picture of say Malala Yousafzai taking a shot in her head, had he witnessed the incident first hand with his camera. Mr. Zakaria marvels at the probability of something like this taking place etc before moving on to oblige me with a picture with him.

This encounter with the feral animal has penetrated into my subconscious to such an extent that I have even started to dream about cheetahs. Take for example, last night when I slept with my children on a mattress on the floor of their room, which is undergoing renovation. Having disposed off their old furniture only yesterday morning I decided to sleep with them to prove to them that sleeping on a mattress for a few days never killed anybody.

It was towards daybreak when I had a vivid dream in which I am napping in the green grass of Masai Mara for some crazy reason while the rest of my friends are perched comfortably on top of their jeeps. I am in deep sleep when a cheetah lands from nowhere and decides it wants to tousle my hair with its paws. Cheetah then proceeds not only to mess-up my blow dried hair but also starts to lick my arm. Even in my dream, I remember clearly the cheetah did not possess bad breath just as well as I remember feeling scared to death. My friends, instead of rescuing me, are taking my pictures because lately our lives are all about photo-ops.

cheetahpix

I ask the husband to save me because the cheetah’s nails are scratching my arm and my back as he continues to give me a shiatsu massage, but the man assures me of the animal’s honourable intentions. Next the cheetah is licking my face fondly and I am not sure what to make of it. Is it sampling its next meal or caressing it? I know my end is near when it plasters one big kiss on my lips. I am feeling gross and also terribly afraid when all of a sudden the cheetah retreats. I am too afraid to move but I slowly open my eyes, as if waking up from anesthesia, and what do I find but our nine-month-old ShihTzu pup Tiffany coming back towards me to have a go at my face. The dog has decided that since her masters have downgraded themselves to her level, she is free to romp around on their bed.

I am paralyzed with relief because the adrenalin in my blood is taking time to settle but through it all, I am laughing at the ridiculousness of my dream! Then I reach for my cheeks, yes they will need a lot of scrubbing today for I have been kissed by a cheetah that was a dog.

Tiffany

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

FDNY1

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…

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