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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


The sophisticated traveler

15 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detox and the death of Venus

13 Mar

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I ran into a friend of mine at a soiree about two weeks ago. It was a sit down dinner and while we all did the sitting down bit to perfection, the folds around the abdomen of some of my gender in attendance did not quite manage to sit down much, in a manner of speaking. We have made our respective contributions to the planet by creating life. The process has left its telltale signs on some of us, signs that even the magical Spanx (it is the ultimate corset) cannot suppress too well. Jogging, gym routines, dieting etc have the same impact on our midriff as the moon on the sea. Like the tides in the sea our abs expand and recede, but they never really go back to their prenatal state, sadly. I have always hailed Botticelli’s women for this very reason. Botticelli and other artists of his time considered a mildly protruding belly to be a sign of beauty and femininity. It is a pity therefore that we are born a few hundred years too late, in an era where women with androgynous bodies or body parts are considered beautiful. This is truly the death of Venus. That evening of the sit down dinner my friend S stood out from the rest of us by the sheer might of her sylphlike figure that seemed to have been poured into her McQueen dress. She looked slimmer and fresher than ever before and even as I felt happy for her, my happiness was accompanied by a sudden loss of appetite. I began to feel remorseful about the three samosas I had done justice to while watching the violence of Agnipath just a few weeks earlier. The samosas seemed to dance in front of my eyes and were soon joined by the dessert I had been tucking into every now and then at dinners and the many French fries and chicken nuggets I had been polishing off from my children’s plates at birthday parties. Rhonda Byrnes says that we only get fat because we have fat thoughts. I promise I had been having thin thoughts the whole time I was pigging out. Clearly The Secret is a load of BS for my thin thoughts have not served me too well in the past. Either that or my weighing scale has not read The Secret. Over dinner the same evening I decided to hold back a bit and eat smaller portions. However, two units of wine later I found myself relishing the soufflé’ followed by lamb chops with mash and eventually the dessert. Moral of the story: Never make promises to self and follow it up with wine. Anyway S is extremely generous and happily mailed the secret of her svelteness to me few desperate text messages from me later. It is called the Clean Diet and is a strict detox programme endorsed by many ‘thin and glowing’ people on it’s website. I promptly went through the ‘diet recipes’ and realized that a trip to Nature’s Basket was imminent.Part of the reason this detox program has aided weightloss for me is because the list of foods it recommends are so hard to find in India that just walking around the aisles in gourmet stores has toned my calves and burnt off some cellulite even before I could embark on the diet. There are things like Agave syrup, Chia, Kale, Quinoa and a few dozen other exotic ingredients in the Clean Diet plan that are very hard to pronounce correctly let alone find in stores. I did not find most of these ingredients and decided to use my own logic and get going with the diet anyhow. And I have. I can get by in the day on the smoothies and quinoa with meat or veggies but I am loath to eat the insipid pureed raw vegetables for dinner every night. With that kind of unappetizing pulp for dinner, one is likely to go off living, to say nothing of eating. But I did it. I ate that green paste that looks and tastes like cud, night after night and lo and behold, within 5 days I had dropped a kilo and half if not more. I would have lost more had the husband not returned from his trip and asked me to join him over dinner. Noticing that he had gained a little weight around his midriff I proudly found myself boasting about the virtues of this diet not missing to draw his attention to my newly acquired self-control and receded abs. The same night over dinner, I had to exercise self-restraint till I turned purple as I saw him generously tuck into pan-fried noodles while I sat there swallowing my own vegetable pulp. As soon as he left the table I helped myself to the noodles with the desperation of a person who had just been released from an Auschwitz concentration camp by some stroke of luck. Next day the same thing happened again. I realized that now I was eating more than ever before what with me eating my diet meals along with meals cooked for the husband. Since my will power is nothing much to write home about, I have stopped having meals with my husband or with my kids. I eat alone. The dog who usually sits at my feet when I dine has also deserted his favourite place next to my chair. Sometimes while he is eating his meal he turns back to look at me with an unmistaken look of pity mixed with admiration. As for me, I may feel bovine at times on account of the pureed greens I am resigned to consume over dinner, but better to feel bovine than look it. Si?

P.S I have made the mistake of interrupting my 21-day detox plan with a week’s interlude to stay with my food-loving Punjabi parents. My mother takes offense when I turn down food that is constantly sent my way. She imagines that I am looking frail. She tells me gulab jamuns and cakes are good for health as “sugar gives us energy”. And through emotional blackmail calorie rich food is finding its way back into my stomach. I am tempted to remind her of the time she was channeling her inner Twiggy way back in the 70s and 80s by giving up food altogether. But I don’t, for what chance does a flashback, logic or detoxing stand in the presence of a mother’s love? And so it is. I will have gained my weight back by the end of this week and all that penance of the previous week will have been wasted. But at least my mother will be happy.

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