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I am to parenting what Kim Kardashian is to modesty

8 Nov

wine

You would think that as your kids grow older you would get better at handling them. You would think that the old proverb about practice making perfect might begin to apply to your life at some point. Turns out, it isn’t so.

I am not getting better at very many things with time and figuring out my children seems to top the list. Cooking and husband being next. But let’s stick with parenting, since after my last book that documents my thoughts, experiences and blunders as a mother, I seem to have become an authority on parenting. Incidentally, it was titled Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother (plug alert:available on Amazon etc).Many publications have written to me over the past few months asking me to do columns on parenting for them. It takes much mustering up of candour on my part to inform them that I am no expert on child rearing and sorry to disappoint them but if they only flipped through my book they would know that I am to parenting what Rosie O’ Donnel is to Size 0 or Kim Kardarshian to modesty.

My older one is on the cusp of her teenage and in chronological years is 12 going on Rottweiler.  Her bedroom looks like a pawn shop with an assortment of strange, miscellaneous objects strewn over and under hear bed and more bizarre items tucked inside the drawers and cabinets.

She prefers her own company or that of her books and the mirror to human beings and as I have stated before her mother, from being the pivot of her existence has gone on to become something to be embarrassed about. This is fait accompli and I accept it with as much equanimity as is possible of me.

She has opinions now and most of them are the opposite of mine. The clothes I choose for her are “grandmotherly” and “laughing-stock material”, the books I like are “too retro”, the movies and TV shows I recommend are “childish and uninteresting” and the places I want to visit with her she would “rather sit in my room than go there”. She wants to ace in her studies and as admirable as her self-motivation is it is accompanied with high degree of stress, the victims of which are other unsuspecting household members. I have now started keeping industrial strength Kali Phos (a homeopathic remedy known for its calming effect) at home to keep all of us in a Zen like state to be able to cope with routine teenage onslaughts.

Most of our conversations end with me resigning to my fate or her storming out in tears and slamming the door of her room. The one thing that I have learnt with time is to keep it anodyne by discussing the weather, the dogs and our money plant. Those kind of things save the day.

My younger one is seven now and cannot understand why her once tolerable older sister has become an angsty, impudent, snarky stranger whose longest conversation with her in the past one year has been, “Get out of my room.” 

So perplexed and hurt is the little one by the pre-teen’s constant snubs that she has a dramatic outburst at least once every few days. Who do you think is at the receiving end of her paroxysm of tears and rage? Not the hormonal child sitting locked up inside her room, not the father in the office, not the sleep dogs under the bed or the maids in the kitchen. The beneficiary of her grievances and her turmoil is her mother as it turns out. Lucky me.

The little one’s histrionics are usually accompanied by sharp dialogues, which seem almost too clever for a child her age. Yesterday I got told that I loved her older sister, her father, the maids, the dogs and even the gold-fish in the house more than I loved her. Today during another outburst she asked me why I could not treat her at least as well as I treated the goldfish, who was allowed to swim and play by itself without having someone shout at her all the time.

In the denouement of this drama, after much persuasion, the child gave the waterworks a break and announced her new decision to me. “I am moving to another country, far away from you and the gold-fish and every mean person in this building. I am moving to California.”

The older sister could not show any restraint and rolled with laughter at the gold-fish example followed by this California announcement, much to the little one’s annoyance and then she added insult to injury by informing her that California wasn’t a country. Some serious amount of crying and door slamming followed this exchange. The situation resolved itself by my loading my gun and pulling the trigger on myself. Ha, if only. I had to turn to Kali Phos 6x as always, five times the usual dose does the trick for me.

And then people ask me if I am writing my next book yet.

Online bookstores, it isn’t you, it’s me

8 Sep

Hatchards, London

The past few years I have bought more books on Kindle and Amazon than I have from a book store. As much as I loved the feel of a real book, when an e-book was merely a click away, it was a temptation hard to pass up.

I took care of my need to physically hold a book too by joining the legions of Flipkart and Amazon lovers and soon began to order discounted books that arrived at my doorstep in corrugated boxes the very next day. It all seemed so thrilling, almost like some book loving deity had deemed that people who liked reading finally deserved to experience instant gratification too.

As I went about adding books to my cart and book shelves, I got a little greedy along the way and began to order far too many pending reads at one click. This did not necessarily translate into me reading more but it did mean that my bookshelves began to overflow and I had to create space for my books in less decorous places such as the powder room and bathroom. Agreed the print size was less than satisfactory at times and eyes approaching middle age must value big font size over most other parameters that go into the making of a good book, but I was willing to take my chances at that price.

While I had reservations about Kindle to begin with, given how attached I was to the concept of physical books that had to be smelt and felt, I succumbed eventually because it made night-time reading possible for me. Kindle helped me to hide under the covers roshni deta bajaj ad style and engage in this offbeat style of bedside reading, because some of us are married to people with rice paper eyelids, who get disturbed by the slightest light in the room.

When I traveled outside of India and discovered new books by local authors in stores such as Waterstones, Hatchards and Kinokuniya (the latter two are book stores after my own heart) I promptly checked the local Amazon prices and triumphantly ordered them online too. This went on for a while until one day, I realized that most other people at these stores were also doing the same thing and walking away without buying hardly anything at all. It hardly felt fair that we were squatting on their carpets, leaning against their walls, sitting on their sofas and browsing through their books only to callously give business to online stores.

Hatchards

Back in Bombay, Danai, a much-loved book store in my neighbourhood had already shut shop and given way to a garish jewellery store that I resentfully turned my nose at each time I drove past it. But such developments sadly were a hallmark of our consumerist times and there was little one could do about it. As much as I was blaming the generation of snapchatters and instagrammers for not reading enough, it occurred to me that I too was complicit in the death of bookstores and maybe I could do something about this after all. Dania was gone but one had to ensure Kitab Khana and Crossword were spared a similar fate.

I write this post as a reformed woman who has been buying books at book stores both in India and abroad (ignoring the exchange rate) with full gusto. The thrill of taking a book home, one that I have just fallen in love with after reading its first page, far outmatched the thrill of receiving it at the hands of a delivery boy. Online book stores, lets part as friends, it was good while it lasted. I may still have to turn to you in moments of desperation and I need you to know you were great.

It isn’t you, it’s me.

Kitab Khana, Bombay

On ticking the Northern Lights off my bucket list and other stories from Lapland

17 Aug

This article appeared in the March 2015 issue of Hi Blitz

So overcome was I with anxiety tinged with just a bit of superstition, that in the days that followed my decision to travel to Lapland, I was afraid to reveal to my friends that my real purpose of heading towards the Arctic Circle was to see the Northern Lights. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for people ravenous with wanderlust like me, to have undertaken this journey to Finland under inclement conditions only to come back with post cards of the Aurora Borealis instead of real memories or pictures of the dancing lights. And I was reluctant to jinx my chance of seeing the Northern Lights by announcing it to the world.

We flew from Mumbai to Istanbul or Turkish Airlines and then onwards to Rovaneimi in Lapland, the northernmost end of Finland.

The wintery white landscape that sparkled like diamond dust beneath the starlit skies was enough to imbue our weary senses with a feverish thrill as our plane touched the snowy tarmac, a little after nightfall.

Little did we know that what awaited us over the next four sleep deprived days would alter our perception of life, beauty, nature and paradise forever because never before had one imagined a land so pristinely beautiful that it almost seemed otherworldly.

Santa's Village, Rovaneimi

Santa’s Village, Rovaneimi

After checking into our unpronounceable hotel Pohjanhovi we were driven in wi-fi enabled buses in the dark of the night (read 8pm) to the Sky hotel, one of Finland’s best dining destinations. Not only was I floored by the unexpectedly appetizing food served indoors at the restaurant but also by my own ability to stare at the star spangled sky atop a freezing al fresco terrace layered heavily with snow. This was done with help from a cup of brandy and constant movement of arms and feet resembling a Michael Jackson performance, to keep ones blood from freezing over.

The thing that struck me most of the landscape of Rovaniemi was that one had to pass through what seemed like a heavy forest smothered with powdery snow, to get to most attractions, making the overall experience even more romantic, by day as well as by night when the light of the moon wrapped Lapland in a veil of eerie yet calming darkness.

We traveled northwards and about an hour outside of Rovaniemi après dinner looking for the Northern Lights with a prayer on our lips and sleep deprivation in our eyes. My gut told me that after yearning to see the Northern Lights since the past twenty years of my life, it would hardly seem fair if I saw them this easily on my first night in Lapland. Sadly, my gut proved right and we headed back way past midnight feeling like war criminals made to stay awake as part of confessional exercise referred to as torture in certain communities.

The frozen Baltic cruise

The frozen Bothnia cruise

On our first morning in Finland and thereafter, we woke up at the crack of dawn, at 9.15 am each morning.  On our first day there we were herded in a bus to the Baltic seas, two hours outside of the city for the icebreaker cruise aboard a vessel called Sampo.

Operational since the early Sixties, Sampo ploughed open the frozen seas of Finland for trade vessels for 25 years before ending up as a tourist attraction. The colossal clash between the massive bulk of steel and the thick coat of ice is an extreme experience in its own right. What’s more is that you can spend an entire day clicking photographs of the white frozen beyond that will look no different than the white wall of your bedroom on your return to Bombay. But what can match the fabulous meals aboard the vessel, the icy winds outside it and the shards of ice below it as the mighty Sampo cruises along the frozen Bothnia Sea?

Here again, I said a little prayer for Mr. Remy Martin courtesy whom, most of us were kept alive on the deck of the boat.

Later, we were allowed to disembark in the middle of the frozen sea to take a plunge into the waters but only after slipping into a hideously fat rubber suit built to keep you warm and alive inside the waters. Since I am not tethered by vanity as such, I volunteered with a few others to look like the Teletubbies in those fat suits and floated about in the frozen waters till I could take it no more.

At night we were driven through the thick snow coated forest to an unbearably charming venue called the Be

Come snow or cyclone, we never stop posing.

Come snow or cyclone, we never stop posing.

ar’s Den, about 30 km out of the city. Numerous heads of state and other dignitaries have been hosted at Bear’s Den and I could see why the Fins were so proud of this beautiful lodge tucked away in the middle of nowhere.

This visit to Bear’s Den however, wasn’t for the faint hearted as it included an opportunity to partake in a traditional Finnish custom of allowing your body to get heated up in a sauna and then running out into the cold in swim suits and diving straight into the frozen river in front of the lodge.

We saw it, we saw it: The surreal Northern Lights,

We saw them, we saw them: The surreal Northern Lights,

This is something I would have happily ventured into if I was mature and brave or young and stupid; but since I am neither, my self preservation instinct stood firmly between me and this masochistic exercise and I happily cheered for the fearless among my group.
We kept looking towards the firmament for a sign of the Aurora Borealis but it was snowing heavily and there was no chance of seeing the lights in an overcast sky. On our way back to the hotel we were shown a DVD about the Aurora Borealis and we all came to the conclusion that if we did not spot the real thing, we could still claim that we saw the Northern Lights in Finland. We would, of course, leave out the finer details of where and how we saw them.

Our third day in Rovaneimi was spent zipping around on snowmobiles over the frozen Kemijoki River and enjoying reindeer paella and potato gratin by the bonfire. In the evening we descended upon the Arctic Ice Hotel, which as the name suggests has been chiseled entirely out of ice.

Not that one needed another reminder of the cold when one is in fact gallantly holidaying across the Arctic Circle, but one could not leave without taking a tour of this ephemeral architectural marvel. I walked through cavernous passages, chapels and rooms impeccably carved out of ice and drank what was served to me out of glasses made of guess what? Ice!

Realizing that I had a better chance at staying warm if I exited from the Ice hotel, I let some Finlandia vodka roll off my palette and headed towards the snowy, moon lit landscape outside only to discover that the Aurora Borealis was making an appearance yonder, towards the Northern horizon. I gasped with disbelief when I spotted the green hues dancing across the lower horizon and before I knew it the entire group had converged outside to aah and ooh at the dramatic skies above.

This also called for another celebratory round of vodka shots, of course, for everyone who had witnessed this rare phenomenon.

Huskies

Huskies

Our last day in Lapland was the kind of day that makes you thank the universe for your very existence. It was one of the most magical days that I have witnessed in my life where fresh snow, Santa Claus, husky and reindeer rides, berry juice and tea by the bonfire all came together to add to our bien etre’.

A short visit to Santa’ village in the morning ended up being an afternoon that we did not want to let go of as we meandered about in the powdery snow that fell generously from the skies. This village headquarters Santa Claus’s office where he meets and greets visitors from across the world and where sounds of Christmas Carols gently punctuate the air all through the year. This was also where we were treated to a gourmet Lappish meal inside Santamous restaurant. We sent postcards to our children from the post office next to Santa’s office and in our bid keep the child alive in all of us, eagerly clicked pictures with him. We also clicked pictures against the imaginary Arctic Circle line that passes through Santa’s village itself.

Paradise found

Paradise found

Later sitting in a sledge being driven by a pack of blue and brown-eyed huskies, we traversed through the curves and bends of a snow-laden tracks flanked by pine trees drenched in polar white snow. In that moment I felt that I was in the land of Narnia. This was the incandescent fairyland of happiness and wonders, where reindeers ran about, unafraid and where man not only respected nature, but also in fact, partnered with it.

The Shamans, who were the earliest inhabitants of this land, believed that everything had a soul. Thus, rocks and trees, foxes and reindeer, the Northern Lights in the sky and the knife in the reindeer herder’s hand all carry knowledge and wisdom within. Spirits are present in everything, wherever one wanders.

Santa & Me

Santa & Me

Could I ever leave such a mystical place and happily go back to the dirt and grime of the concrete jungle that is Mumbai? Let me put it this way, when our flight to Istanbul nearly got cancelled the next day, I wasn’t complaining. I was happy at the prospect of having to spend yet another day in this veritable winter’s wonderland, storm or no storm.

2015-01-28 13.05.422015-01-28 14.58.46

INFORMATION FOR THE BOX:

Our trip was organized by Yogi Shah of Villa Escape, Mumbai

There is enough vegetarian food to be had in Finland if you travel with Villa Escape. They make special provisions for it.

Dressing: Most Indians balk at the idea of being in sub zero climes but if one is better prepared to deal with snow, one can experience spring even in midst of a harsh winter. On a less philosophical note, four layers are all you need to keep you from turning into a frostbitten ghost of yourself. At least one merino inner layer, from head to toe, followed by some cotton layers and sealed with at least one snow proof outer layer, ideally with down filling is what will keep you protected.

Hotels: Hotel Santa and Hotel Pohjanhovi

Wifi: Practically every closed space in Lapland has free wifi including buses, restaurants, shopping malls and Santa’s village.

Interview with Shunali Khullar Shroff, author of Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother and a signed copy giveaway

14 Apr

Kiran Manral

Shunali and I go back a long way, in fact so long back is the way that memory mists over, and if I dare reveal when exactly that was, we both risk the real and tangible danger of carbon dating selves. Anyway, as life and things have an unfortunate tendency to do, we lost touch completely with each other and reconnected only recently thanks to that very wonderful malaise of the modern day social media, namely twitter.

shunali

When Shunali told me she was writing a book, a while ago, I was most delighted because not only is she one of the few writers who can hold a sentence, and hold it well, but because she also has a delightful turn of phrase and sense of that elusive drollness that is sadly lacking in most writing these days.

As for her book, I would be unfairly biased if I said anything…

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On Zermatt and its quaint, snow covered charm

18 Feb

On Zermatt and its quaint, snow covered charm

Zermatt

We arrive at the tiny Zermatt station and the person at the ticket window there refunds my money and issues me a family pass without any hesitation. In return all I have to do is to fill up a small little form. I am so impressed that I am tempted to take his picture and Tweet it to my followers in India, but I let the feeling pass on account of no free wifi. I danke the man gratefully and step outside, luggage and kids in tow. The sun in Zermatt is strong and the air piercingly fresh, so fresh that my Indian lungs are feeling overwhelmed. Only electric cars and horse carriages are allowed to ply in this village since 1947 and Hotel Zermatterhoff has sent one such horse carriage for us. The kids are ravenous and spotting a Coop supermarket, begin to make their demands. “I am hungry,” wails the younger one. “Please buy me chocolate my tummy is hurting with hunger mamma.” Melodrama runs high in my side of the family and the younger one has inherited these genes in plenty. I leave them waiting by th2014-03-22 17.57.14

2014-03-23 11.12.46e horse carriage and dash in and out of Coop in record five minutes with a bag full of healthy options, much to my children’s dismay.

We are driven down Bahnostrasse (main street), a narrow strip of tiny shops and restaurants and we arrive at Hotel Zermatterhoff. I realize that this distance could have been covered on foot in the same amount of time but then I would have deprived two little girls a chance to feel like Cinderellas, in their own words. Going by the number of ski gear and luxury watch shops along this tiny strip, one could decidedly come to the conclusion that the people of this quintessential Alpine village only need skis and expensive watches in order to survive. St Moritz, from what I can remember, was no different in this regard. There are more watch stores in Switzerland than supermarkets. There’s got to be a limit to obsession with time.

The Swiss clearly thrive on their great outdoors, their peculiar tasting cheese and being on time with the help of branded watches. Of course this leaves them with no time to be effusive or interesting.

I can almost picture a Swiss mother telling her son in German, “Hermann, Bitte bringen US Brot und Käse nach dem Skifahren. Vergessen Sie nicht, Papa und mir eine Hublot und Audemars Piguet bringen.”

“Das letzte Mal, dass du mich Rolex Oyster Perpetual, und ich musste es tragen zu stoppen, weil Maria, unsere Putzfrau trägt es auch.”

I agree with you, it sounds like the mother is planning to viciously murder her husband with her son’s help, but then that is German for you. What she is trying to say instead goes something like this, “Hermann, on your way back from the ski slopes can you please bring us some bread and cheese for dinner. Oh and don’t forget to pick up a Hublot and a jewelled Audemars Piguet for dad and me while you are at it.

Last time you got me that Rolex Oyster Perpetual and I had to stop wearing it because Maria, our cleaning lady wears it too.”

I am pleased to note that the staff at the Zermatterhoff hotel is exceptionally accommodating and courteous and when they fuss over you, they do not give you the impression that they are doing this for gratuity. We are led to our spacious (by European standards) rooms on the top most floor of the hotel. It is only when we walk into the attached balcony that we truly absorb the beauty of this Alpine paradise.

There are tumbledown wooden Valais homes smattered all the way upto the far away slopes and behind them the legendary Matterhorn at 4478 m above sea level.

Towering over the entire landscape in all its snow-covered splendour the Matterhorn commands awe. In days to come, I realize that the Matterhorn glacier changes its hue through the day, stark white in the afternoon, golden yellow in the evening, red at sunset and a frosty blue at night. This explains the obsession of the people of Zermatt with painting and clicking pictures of this peak. Almost everywhere you go in the town you spot a framed picture or a painting of the Matterhorn. As you walk around the cobbled lanes of Zermatt, you will often hear the words, “Look, that is the Matterhorn.”

I too am so inspired by this glacier that I am contemplating putting together a book called 20,000 different ways to look at the Matterhorn and still work up the excitement.

As the sun begins to set, these chalets glow like lanterns against the snow making the vista take on a dreamlike quality.  the chalets at varied heights stacked up in between our hotel and the mountains behind and after dark this scene takes on a magical quality against the midnights skies. There is something about the view that makes my nerves quiver with admiration.

The clamour of the church bells from the church next door from our hotel can be heard on the hour, every hour. My older one begins to complain about it and for the first time in the day, I lose my cool. “You have no appreciation for history. You just want shopping malls!!” I say making a conscious effort to sound condescending. “Why do you have to lecture me about everything. Just because you like these old old cities and churches that cannot stop ringing does not mean that we have to like it,” she challenges me.

I put this back talk to pre-teen behaviour.

Zermatt has two other famous excursion mountains apart from the Matterhorn, Gornegrat and Rothorn.

We find a sunlit table in one of the restaurants in Bahnostrasse and sate our ravenous selves with fondue followed by glace (ice cream).

This village of Zermatt may be tiny but it is not lacking in charm or elderly couples, evidently. That’s right, this place is an extension of my train as there are no young people in sight, only pet dogs and their advanced-in-age owners in expensive furs. So where are all the young people, I wonder. Perhaps they’re all doing their compulsory military service in the Swiss army. Or they could be on the ski slopes.

The next morning, for the price of a human kidney, we buy our passes to take the ski lifts along with the kids and their instructor Luca. Unlike last year, this year I am not going to be able to attempt skiing on account of a terrible leg spasm which I have had since a week now, because I am eighty years old apparently.

Luca tells me the weather forecast for the rest of the week is sunny. This bit of information dampens my mood right away because when you pay for snow you should get fresh snow.

Up on the slopes, I sit like a mountain goat, watching the world ski past me while all I do to entertain myself is to eat potato rosti and take selfies. When I go to the Sunnegga cafe to buy us some water, I discover that wine and water cost about the same. Under such circumstances, it would be sacrilegious to buy water. More importantly, one cannot overlook the fact that fruit provides more vitamins to the body than water and I need vitamins to survive the dry air, the harsh sun and my general joblessness 8000 Ft above sea level.

The cafe where I sat all day waiting for an epiphany

Given that water is selling for 6 Francs a bottle up here, if I decide to give it all up one day and move to the mountains to find my inner self, I could move to the Swiss Alps and look at working part time as a water bearer.

Even though it is only their first day on the skis after a gap of a year, my children are doing well with their lessons and have moved to the higher slopes with Luca in no time. This means I am left behind to listen to profoundly moving lyrics of songs blaring on the speakers at the first level.

“Who do you think you are?

Running around leaving scars?

You’ll catch a cold

From the ice inside your soul.”

My own soul is catching a cold from listening to these words. I decide to bring my laptop along the next day to occupy myself more usefully.

The next morning, I feel like a nerd when I realize that I am the only person boarding the ski lifts with a laptop instead of skis. But if Hemingway were here, wouldn’t he do the same, I console myself.

Up on the summit, I make friends with an immensely likeable girl from New York who was raised in Bombay and now lives in Manhattan with her husband and kids. The world is small indeed for we realize that we dislike the same people in Bombay. She also loves Adele. This in itself is reason enough to take to each other and we decide to meet with our respective families for dinner. The husband has finally reached Zermatt and much as I am looking forward to his company, I am stressing because I will have to plan itineraries for three children now.

Two monkeys on the slopes

The slopes are ideal for skiing but the heat is unbearable for the sun only gets harsher. I check the weather forecast a dozen times a day in the hope that snow conditions will show up, but to no avail. I feel cheated because if I wanted so much sun, day after day, I would have stayed back in Bombay or gone to Dubai. Luca does not get our fascination with cold weather and snow. He is planning to go to Kerala later this year to soak in the sun. “Imagine if you go to Kerala but it is raining all the time and you cannot go to the beaches. This is the same for us. It is just too sunny here. I want my money back,” I tell him.

Evert night we meet up with our new friends at a restaurant or their chalet while our kids play with theirs. It is working out really well really except that we are all having to wake up at 7.00 am daily to be able to make it to the slopes before it gets too hot. This holiday is feeling like a boot camp and I am getting just a bit tired of getting my children ready in several layers each morning and tending to their dry and sun burnt skin through the day. Every time I see them on the slopes after they have finished a round, like an orderly, I run to hydrate them with water and apply more sun block and lip balm on their chapping lips. The husband is also taking ski lessons, he seems to have a natural flair for it. This means I will have to continue to be miserable all by myself. But misery loves food and I am making so many quick trips to the self service cafe that I am on the verge of sending a friend request on Facebook to the girl behind the till who flashes her familiar smile at me now every time I show up with a tray.

2014-03-22 17.57.14

Our instructor is an erudite man and wonderful company. Being Italian, he is also very patient with my children. The older one is committed to following instructions from Luca but I am told that my younger one stops mid slope to dig out gummy bears from her pocket to mix them up with the fresh snow before throwing them back into her mouth. “It’s okay, she is cute, I don’t mind at all” he reassures me.

Since the milk of humanity is flowing so generously in his veins, I am tempted to ask him to keep the children with him for the entire week, till we reach the end of their lessons and his patience. Or he could keep them for longer and I could collect them in Kerela in a few months.

We are headed to Gonnorhea Gornergrat the next day, which is 12200 ft above sea level, to try out new pistes for the kids and new cafes for me. The train that takes us to the top chugs along the most picturesque landscape that I have ever seen, but it fails to inspire my children who are begging for my phone to play games on!

Luca takes the kids for their ski lessons right away and I carry on in the Gornegrat Bahn till the very last stop. When I step out of the train I see an incomparable, indescribable view that makes me want to fall on my knees to thank the universe for keeping me alive to show me such a sight and the Swiss for making provisions to arrive at such a destination without having to physically scale those mountains. Nothing can beat the feeling of standing on top of Europe with a panoramic view of  29 spellbinding Alpine peaks and Japanese tourists around you.

2014-03-20 15.05.03

When I am done taking selfies and sipping hot chocolate I join the kids who are all set to go sledging with me.

Since the husband is busy with his ski lessons, we hire only two sledges. My younger one, who has found her soul mate in Luca, chooses to go sit on his sledge with him and my older one reluctantly sits on the sledge with me.

The slope is steep and bumpy with sharp turns. Luca and my younger one race ahead of us while the older one and I barely manage to keep ourselves from falling off the mountain. We have to adjust our body weight while turning along the curves and my constant instructions manage to confuse and scare the poor child. “Turn to the left or we are going to fall off the edge, turn to the right now, or we are going to bang into the sides……” I go on. The frail creature is bobbing her head from right to left and doing her best to follow my instructions.

The child is sitting in the front and I put both my legs up to go full throttle and before we know it, our sledge has gone off kilter and crashed into the metal pole along the sledging slope. Crash, bang and two bodies go flying off the track and land in piles of snow.

. “Are you alright?” I yell. “Is your nose broken?” Fortunately, the child is wearing a helmet and has survived the fall without any major casualty but she is awfully mad at me. “I can’t believe that my own mother tried to kill me today,” she says hysterically. I am the kind of person who tends to laugh when I am in a state of shock. This of course, does not go down too well with those expecting sympathy. So I continue to lie there, submerged in the snow, my leg is hurting and my arm is numb but I am laughing much to my daughter’s annoyance.

When I finally manage extricating my body from the snow and drag myself to the sledge, the child refuses to sit on it and insists on walking all the way down instead. But the slope is too steep to walk and while we are negotiating, I let go of our sledge because I am a sophisticated person who cannot talk without moving both her hands. Now the sledge is speeding down on its own and the two of us running behind it in what could only be a scene from Mr Bean. The only way to get down now is to slide on our derrieres and that is exactly what we do. Two perfect fools, chasing a sledge on their asses.

As I go to bed that night, I come to the following conclusions:

1.I am less than average at skiing (based on my past experience).

2.I am terrible at sledging (based on my present experience).

3. I am going to stick to walking. That should keep me and other people around me out of harms way.

I realize that walking around in my carefully co-coordinated ski clothes might boost my self-esteem, which, unlike my physical body, is at a very low altitude right now, from watching eighty somethings ski and trek while I sit around like an invalid all day.

The next day, the husband and I hire walking poles to walk around and it has finally begun to snow. The train takes us all the way up to Gornegrat and we walk down snow laden inclines to the Igloo Dorf.

Igloo Dorf

The most amazing sight awaits us at the Igloo where eighties music is playing, skiers are sipping beers outside with snow falling all around them. We sit on stools covered with sheepskin and sip hot wine. The igloo also has bedrooms with a bed, an armchair and side tables carved of ice. I cannot imagine spending a night in such a place under any circumstances but after returning to the oppressive heat of Bombay, I have often fantasized about owning such a bed.

On our way back we stop by for crepes at a roadside stall where for the price of Beluga caviar we buy ourselves apple cinnamon crepes. This is Zermatt for you, where street food costs almost as much as a meal at The Ritz!

It is snowing heavily and the children want to make a snowman. Their father wants to make the most of this romantic weather and finish off some work on his laptop and  I have to do the one thing I dread most – PACK. Later that night, I find the younger one silently crying herself to sleep. “Are you missing Luca,” I ask her. She is too embarrassed to admit. “We will come again and you can meet him then,” I reassure her. “But why are you telling me all this when I am not even crying or missing him” she says with a forced smile.

“If you like, I can ask Luca to meet us for lunch tomorrow before we catch the train to Zurich,” I offer.

“I don’t mind,” she says coyly.

Next day over breakfast she tells me, “Remember I told you I don’t mind last night.”

I nod.

“So is he coming to see us for lunch?”

“He cannot baby as today is his day off,” I tell her.

With a sigh, she digs into her bowl of cereal and continues to eat but her mind is in other places.

The older one and I exchange a smile.

Back in India, Luca and the little one are exchanging voice messages on whatsapp. God bless their founders, for she is too young to be heartbroken.

Two bored kids and one beautiful train journey through Switzerland

18 Feb

Two bored kids and one beautiful train journey through Switzerland

train8

St Niklaus

The children and I are on our way to the airport to catch a flight to Zurich. We have decided to be there at least three hours before departure to be able to take a tour of the newly inaugurated GVK (Mumbai International Airport).

We walk to the Swissair counter, which is fairly deserted at the moment, and we are possibly the first ones to check-in. “You need to hurry up and get to your departure gate as the flight is closing,” the gentleman at the counter warns me. “Whaaaa…t?” I say incredulously. “We are early, what do you mean the flight is closing?”

“Ma’am you are really late. The flight departs in 45 minutes, I only let you check-in because you are traveling with young kids,” he informs me generously.

This should give you an idea that I am a foggy brained person, who gets by in life purely by chance and because of consideration or pity shown towards me because of my “young children”. God bless them.

On the plane, I can hear the conversations between parents and children in on the seats across from me and I am pleased to bits with the realization that there are other politically incorrect parents like me on this planet. I used to think my own style of parenting had glaring flaws in it but the other parents on the plane are threatening to lock up their children or leave them behind on the plane. I am realizing that I am not the psychopathic tyrant my kids make me out to be but an all loving, all forgiving Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music type of mum. I am hoping the mother on the seat behind us continues to admonish her daughter audibly enough for my kids to hear it but she disappoints me by passing out on her seat even before the seatbelt sign is off. It is late in the night and before I know it I am the only dingbat fighting sleep just so I can lose myself vicariously to Downton Abbey on the monitor in front of me.

I stay up all night watching Season 4 of the British drama and by the time our flight lands at Zurich airport the next morning, I find that I have developed a British accent, clipped tones and all. I am also peppering my sentences with old Scottish expressions almost involuntarily along with “Oh golly” and “Dear me!”

Incidentally, the husband is supposed to fly in from Singapore and receive me at Zurich airport, mostly because he thinks I will lose his kids somewhere between Zurich airport and Zurich railway station, both of which are across the road from each other.

The reason we planned this holiday was to be able to spend quality time with each other, far from the sweating crowd of Bombay and the reason we chose Switzerland, in spite of the cold, is because of my love for the mountains. It is the month of March when my children get ten days off from school and after being seduced by the compelling charms of the Alpine slopes the previous year, we have decided to head to the Swiss mountains yet again.

We are to change two trains to get to Zermatt over a five-hour journey. Mr Perfectly Organized aka the husband has already bought online tickets for our onward journey. Not that buying tickets in advance was even required given that the population of this country is only 7.9 million. But we like to err on the side of caution and so we have purchased full fare, non-refundable tickets for the whole family in a single swipe.

The only fly in the ointment is that he has made all these arrangements for two days later than my actual flight arrival schedule, due to some mix-up for which I am partly responsible. Now I have to cover this daunting distance between Zurich and Zermatt with two large bags and kids in tow all by myself. I know, I make it sound like I am a participating cyclist in the Tour de France but I call this situation daunting, not on account of the distance between the two cities but because of my physical proximity to my two unbridled children during this journey. Add to that my inability to multitask and the occasional attention deficit disorder symptoms and you can comprehend the reason the husband is nervous about me chaperoning our children all by myself.

Be that as it may, here I am, buying all of us tickets for a small fortune that can see a family of six through school in a third world country, the exact kind from where Brad and Angelina adopt their children.

Minutes later we are dashing off to look for our platform, which is at the far end and I am concerned that we might miss the train. One crazy lady with two large suitcases and frenzied kids  is seen running up and down Zurich Hauptbhanhofs, Europe’s busiest railway station and then, after identifying the train, finally flinging her kids and luggage into it with Olympic zeal.

The train leaves Zurich almost reluctantly while I sit there catching my breath, congratulating myself on crossing the first hurdle without any visible casualties. The kids are digging into a bag of crisps and I turn my attention to the landscape outside. Everything that I can see feels uninspiring at first. Factory units and industrial looking landscape, pass us by for a few miles and then the train chugs slowly into beautiful Bern.  I greedily take in whatever I can see of Bern from my window…the stunning lakes, cathedrals with gothic spires and unusually narrow and quaint cobbled lanes. It is a picture postcard city all right. I feel a pastoral delight as I look out of the window, nose to glass, and observe the tiny villages with their miniature chalets and churches that appear every now and then on the landscape. I wonder about the simple lives of the inhabitants of these villages comprising of no more than six to eight families. I think about just how awfully healthy yet dull I might have been had fate allotted me such a life.

I take a break from gasping in awe at the sights that are quickly passing us by to look at the faces of my two uninspired children. Rarely will you have seen such bored expressions on a human face. “Don’t look so bored girls, look outside,” I suggest. My suggestion is met with a request for the ipad from the younger one. Thankfully I am not of a highly introspective disposition or the fact that I have spawned kids who are so epically disinterested in nature might’ve bothered me a great deal.

I take a short walk towards the cafe on the train and cannot help but notice that most passengers on this journey are senior citizens. My being there with my children has probably brought the average age down to 75, but other than us, there are no young people in sight. We could have been shooting a Swiss version of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on that train, for all one knew. Except that elderly British women tend to be haughty and rude apart from being plump and/or buxom while the Swiss ones look lean, fit, benevolent and a trifle bored.

stalden

Leaving Bern and Brig behind, we change our train at Visp where quite a few ski enthusiasts and snow boarders board the next train with us. Z and R are exhausted from boredom and bickering now. The train chugs along, towards steeper inclines.

The journey upwards is awe-inspiring even though it is incomplete without chloroform, which I wish I had with me to temporarily sedate the girls, to afford my elderly co-passengers and myself some peace. But in spite of the high decibel conversations followed by disagreements between them, I am getting by on account of the white wonderland scenery around me.

babies2

Ticket inspectors appear quite frequently on Swiss trains and spotting one approach in our direction, I dive into my oversized hobo to dig my carnet to show to the portly man. The gentleman punches our tickets tells me in an concerned manner that I might have been better off had I made the annual Swiss Rail family card instead. “You would have saved a lot of money and also got discount for your family on the ski lifts,” he informs me in a thick German accent. This is because we are in the German speaking part of this country. I tell the kind man in tragic tones, that the gentleman at the ticket window in Zurich did not inform me about any such pass thereby depriving some little boy in Cambodia of education. He empathizes with me and then as a token of his kindness and commiseration he scribbles all over my tickets in German. “I haf ritten here to refunt your money and make you das family pass zat is only half price. Show zis at  Zermatt station, I cannot promise zey vill agree but you must try,” he suggests sincerely. I am so moved by the gesture and his overall avuncular impression that I want to give him a tight hug. I cannot imagine this happening to me anywhere else in the world other than Switzerland and yes, Japan.

Imagine doing that when breathtaking views are passing you by

Like a lazy caterpillar our red train is negotiating around white snow capped slopes dotted with lonesome snow covered chalets and winter-withered trees. An inexplicable feeling of bien-etre’ surges through me. I begin to feel healthier and more cheerful merely by looking at the mountains and can hardly wait for the train to arrive at our destination just so I can step outside and inhale the crisp mountain air.

On taking selfies with a cheetah and Narendra Modi

20 Oct

Feel awful that am resuming my blog after such a long and deplorable interlude. A lot has happened over the past month ranging between the surreal, the bizarre and the predictably normal. But a packed schedule and a writer’s block the size of T-Rex have prevented me from looking my laptop in the eye.

Let me take you through the highlights of my month in the next few blogs anyhow, under the overarching presumption that you are “that” interested in my life.

I took a few days off to go on a safari at the Masai Mara, Kenya with the husband and some friends and returned with not just packets of Kenyan coffee but also a bunch of selfies with a cheetah who decided to spring himself over the roof of our jeep. It was truly a blood-of-the-Punjab moment with the cheetah spread languorously in the backdrop and me posing away for the camera, throwing caution to the wind.

Cheetah Selfie

My friend sitting next to me in the jeep too joined me in this endeavour and touching up her lip gloss made herself sufficiently presentable for the camera. Half a dozen selfies later realization dawned upon me that I must look unrecognizable with my aviators and hat in the photos. This was promptly rectified by way of me removing the accoutrements and adjusting my hair etc for a fresh set of pictures while the spotted chap waited around patiently in the backdrop. (P.s: The Cheetah will make for a very good husband one day.) Friends in the other jeep, parked not far from ours, congratulated me later for my courage and my overall intrepid stance concerning the cheetah. Truth be told, the Masai assisting our jeep had assured me that the slinky chap wasn’t particularly hungry for human flesh with so many zebras and wilder beasts around and it was unlikely that he would make a meal of me.

I returned from the trip only to find that my mother had gone and tattooed herself in my absence. This discovery shocked me more than the cheetah materializing on the jeep perhaps. If you knew my mother, you would logically conclude that a tattoo was the furthest thing from her mind. All I can say after seeing her tattooed butterflies is that you can spend nine months growing inside of somebody and another eighteen years growing around them and still not know them. (P.s: This isn’t to imply that I am 18.)

Anyhow, my daughters think that their nani is really cool to be inking herself at her age. The siblings have been found discussing in hushed tones that their own mother lacks spunk and a youthful spirit.

Little do they know that I save my spunk for more meaningful occasions such as the one that presented itself to me this very afternoon.  It so turned out that my friends received a call today informing her that PM Narendra Modi was rallying in our neighbourhood and in a moment of incredible idiocy I agreed to accompany them to the rally. They wanted pictures with him but I could not see that happening with ease.

We spotted the vehicle on top of which NaMo was perched and waving away at the crowd on the streets. In spite of his bhakts and the police bandobast, he could not help but notice three Ray Ban donning groupies wave at him and smiling uncertainly he waved back at us. When my friend requested him for a picture he considered the matter for a few seconds and finally consented, telling the cops to let us climb into his truck. “Do you want to take a selfie?” he asked me as he saw me flip the camera around. “Yes Mr. Modi, that would be nice,” I said beaming back at the Prime Minister of India. I had already taken a selfie with a cheetah and now I was taking one with a lion. This was a moment to be remembered.

“Isn’t he a rockstar?” a young woman from his team asked rhetorically. If you consider it, did any other PM before Narendra Modi manage to become such a phenomenon in such a short time? I could never imagine wanting to click a selfie with Manmohan Jee. In fact, the last time I displayed this “groupie-like” behaviour was when I came across Enrique Iglesias in the ITC hotel when I was still in my twenties.

So back on the truck Mr. Modi seemed a little subdued. The charisma one reads about and witnesses on television was conspicuously dormant. This disappointed me but I blamed the oppressive heat of the afternoon for it. My friends spoke to him, lavishing compliments and much praise, but he stood there tepidly, somewhat smiling but mostly just bored.

As we walked back towards our car the three of us discussed that even though this man looked like NaMo he lacked the confidence, the personality and the unmistakable presence that the PM commanded. On our way home we Googled Modi’s pictures and compared that to this gentleman’s and realize that we have been had. This person was not our iconic PM but his body double.

I cringed and laughed simultaneously as I recalled our one sided conversation and the insipid personality of the fake Mr. Modi. I wondered if the rest of them knew any better and were just playing along… the BJP flag bearing junta, the industrialist’s wife on the truck, the cops?

This incident amused the husband no end and he smugly informed me that the PM was campaigning for the state assembly elections in Thane at the same time that we were taking selfies with his doppelganger in Khar. The girls also had a good laugh at my expense.

My friend, his hardcore supporter, justified his using a body double by saying, “I think it was an ingenious idea to find a look alike to campaign for himself instead of a poster or cut out. Narendra Modi is such a genius.”

Good logic. How could I argue with that? Besides, I like Mr Modi enough to hold something like this against him.

My friend Tina and Narendra Modi (?)

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