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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


No Starbucks for my children till they are forty!

5 Mar
Loving and longing over coffee

Love and longing over coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Love in the time of Kindergarten

7 Feb
Never too young to love

Never too young to love

It is our five-year-old daughter’s sports day. Even though it is a 9 am kick off, and even though I am not a morning person, I have made an effort to dress presentably so as to make a right impression on the teachers. Since our younger one is new to this school I am also interacting with most other mums from my little one’s class for the first time.

In my older one’s school, I am the mother who is always showing up in an attire that can, at best be described as ‘grungy meets sporty meets out-of-bed’. Something tells me I need to present myself differently now to look like a ‘professional’ mother, which explains why I am dressed like one of the women from Mad Men.

I have an overall ‘good mother from the 60s’ vibe going on about me and I am feeling that I have become a ‘new and improved’ mother just by dressing the part. It is true one does need to dress the part to be taken seriously.

It is also true that the real reason people plan a second child is to be able to set right all that they have learnt at the expense of the first child.

We have arrived in an entourage to watch the child participate in her races and to cheer for her. The grandmothers are dressed identically in manner of chiffon and pearl clad ladies going to polo matches.

The husband is busying himself with his camera, walking from one end of the ground to the other in manner of paparazzi sneakily chasing after a celebrity.

One of the class mothers is regaling me with anecdotes from the classroom. Her son has told her that he fancies my five-year-old and would ideally like her to be his girlfriend. At this stage I am tickled by this information. Surely kindergarten is no age to take these things seriously. The mother is telling me that her son says that he is going to take a month to make up his mind about this matter. Turns out, there is a proverbial fly in the ointment in the shape of his best friend from the same class who likes my little one too. A man’s got to choose honour over love and this boy has made his choice. He needs a month to realign his feelings and then he will let his friend know that he has decided to forsake his love for their friendship.

This is getting complicated. “Two boys are interested in my baby? They’re so young, she is so young” I exclaim before drawing the lady’s attention to other crucial matters such as, “She has lost four front teeth. There are gaps in her smile. She is taller than them.” I feel shallow and fatuous even as I say this.

“How does that matter?” she laughs amiably. “She is taller than them, but they do not care about all this, they find her very cute.”

“She is the new girl in class, I suppose that makes her the belle de jour,” I offer modestly.

I am laughing now. This conversation is surreal. It feels like I have suddenly fast-forwarded my life and am living out a sequence that belongs in the distant future.

I waste no time in relaying this conversation to the family on our drive back home. I am amused, our older one is amused, and the grannies are amused…but the father of the child? He isn’t amused at all. He is frowning and telling me that I cannot have such a casual approach towards such matters. We are all suppressing our giggles and trying to dignify his possessive reaction with silence.

As far as I am concerned, the star of the story is this honourable boy and I would not mind such a gentleman in our child’s “distant” future. I am also wondering how this baby of the house, who sucks on her finger at night, who likes to be carried in my arms till the washroom in the morning, is somebody’s object de amour.

Be as it may, I have a fairly good report on her from her teachers. They think her to be a bright, sober and quietly responsible child. They ought to be shown a home video of hers one day soon, and their facial expressions must be captured on camera after they are done watching. They ought to be told that she recently yelled at me and through her slight lisp asked me something that left me bereft of speech. “Mamma, this morning you called me a badly behaved child who never listens, in the afternoon you kissed me and told me I am the cutest. Can you please decide what I am because how I can be both?”

A month has passed since her sports day and I am busying myself with preparations for her Winter Wonderland birthday party. Closer to the date when I ring the class mothers to invite them with their children to her party, another mum tells me that she overheard her son tell his older cousins during the holidays that he was in love with this tall new girl in class. She believes she heard him take my younger one’s name. When the child discovered that his mother had been privy to his declaration of love, he begged her not to repeat this to his father. The mother is amused. I am trying to feel amused. I am failing just a bit this time.

Are five/six-year olds capable to feeling anything of this nature? When we were kids such feelings did not even begin to stir inside us until we were at least halfway through middle school. But times, they are a changing.

Back at school, a fortunate stroke of serendipity has landed the boy on the same table as my little one.

When she comes home from school, she tells me about all the mischief the boy is up to, at school – “He hid my things.”

“Look he made a paper bracelet for me.”

“He switched out plates during lunch when I was not looking.”

“He pinched me very badly today, look at the back of my hand, you can see the marks.”

I go to school to fetch her, his mother is telling me he has told her how he feels about her just the day before. “Whaaaaaat?,” I gasp. I think I am about to get a wheeze. I think I need smelling salts. Mother! I need my mother!

I try not to look perturbed and smiling half-heartedly ask the boy’s mother about what my baby’s reaction was to this confession of love. She tells me that her son was too embarrassed to wait for her response and he told her that he just ran away after telling her about his feelings.

He is a terribly cute child with crazy hair and large mischievous eyes that slant just a bit at the corners.

But I am worried all the same for my baby is still a baby.

He sees me chatting with his mum and runs up to me and asks me coyly if he can come home with my little one. “She told me she has marble flooring at home, can I come to see it please?” he adds innocently as he scratches his head with one hand and adjusts his track pants with the other. In spite of my concerns, I am unable to say no to such cuteness.

On the drive back home, they both discuss the make of our car and he asks her if she has any toy cars at home. She tells him she has one that she will be happy to share with him. If I did not know better, this would be another normal conversation between two friends.

When I enter the house, there is a pleasant surprise for us in store. The husband is home early to spend time with his children before he takes off on a work related trip the same evening. He does a double take when he sees us. My older one, who is fully looped into the story, is cracking up. “Papa, I brought my second best friend home from school,” chirps my small wonder. In a sudden burst of affection, papa is kissing her and carrying her in his arms indulgently. She reciprocates his cuddles while the boy is waiting patiently for this circus to be over.

Before she is taken in for her bath she thoughtfully pulls out some gender neutral clothes from her wardrobe for her “2nd best friend”. He rejects her choices because “there is pink colour in the checks and the elephant on the t-shirt with a pink ribbon on its tail is a girl elephant.”

Before he leaves for the day, the two of them discuss their mutual love for the all boy band One Direction. They do not know the name of even one track that they like from One Direction albums, but they have older siblings and they are in a hurry to sound grown up.

A few days have passed and there has been no mention of the boy. Then one day my small wonder tells me that he pulled her chair when she was about to sit on it but she figured he was up to some mischief. “Mamma, I did not fall down, I get upped when I saw he was behind my chair,” she tells me before adding, “But when he went to the toilet and came back, I pulled his chair and he fell down. I did it one more time actually and both times he felled.” The child is very pleased with herself.

Today as I tuck her into bed she tells me that another boy from the class has been twisting her arm. “But I twist his arm right back and his arm is paining when I do that but he is preetending it is not hurting,” I am told. She is a fighter, this child of mine and I ought to be proud of it. “But what will you do if he hurts you badly?” I ask.

“I will tell the teacher,” she says simply.

“What if the teacher has stepped out of the classroom baby? Then will you tell the boy?” I persist.

She laughs, her sweet baby laugh and says, “Yes I will. You know when we have our break and I go to the swings to play and other children are sitting on them, he whispers into their ears and tells them that he will give them a lollipop if they vacate the swing for me. Then he tells me to swing on it for as long as I like. He does this everyday, you know mamma.”

“Actually he never gives them lollipops but they are little children from nursery so they believe him every time.” I can tell she is impressed by this gesture of his.

We are lying in bed, the lights are out, but I can hear her smile as she talks about him.

As she falls asleep in my arms, I smile too. For now, I am glad that someone in the school is constantly looking out for my baby.






Gorillas, Oscar Wilde and a pint of Guinness in Dublin

2 Jul Rooftop view from the Guinness storehouse

From the moment we arrived in Dublin last week, I was struggling to like it. The first aspect of my struggle was that, as always, I was unwilling to leave London. The second aspect was that I had been given a rather dull picture of Ireland and warned that I should brace myself for a week of blah-ness.

It was late evening when we landed but the sun shone bright and I could not help but notice rows of dismal looking brown bricked houses with spartan facades along the streets, as we were being driven to our hotel.

The scene changed, albeit only momentarily, as majestic Medieval churches rose over the nondescript buildings every now and then. Closer to the city centre, the shades of brown and gray had not gotten any better but the sight of people in grunge clothing enjoying their beers outside the ubiquitous Irish pubs lifted my spirits.

It was only when we entered the city centre that the most dramatic visual comprising mostly of Gothic and Medieval structures unfolded in front of our eyes. There wasn’t much life on the roads and one could easily be led to believe that one had time traveled into the 12th Century BC or some such. Europe is full of Gothic and Medieval architecture but nowhere does it come together in as compelling a fashion as it does in Dublin. But that said, the rest of the city is lackluster and unlike any European capital that I have been to in its abjectness.

Everything in Dublin seems basic and functional: the shops, the restaurants, and the vehicles. There are no elaborate window displays outside stores, neither fashionable shops nor any luxury brands in sight and most people dress up like they pick up their clothes at a thrift shop.

However, the few people one interacted with in the three days that we were there, one could not help but notice was the people seemed happy even though they did not possess any obvious labels of success or wealth.

We took our children for a walk through at the Vikings museum that took us back into the Viking times in Ireland from c 800 AD to c 1150 AD. The exhibition was brought to life with the help of detailed sets made to look like Viking streets, their homes, their slave markets, their arms and armours, their runes and most interestingly their costumes that both my kids tried out enthusiastically.

I digress when I say this but I am certain that my father, if he reads this post, will surely lament about the fact that I have not given my kids an insight into the ancient Indian civilizations. The problem with India is that it makes it difficult for children to revisit history. We all know about the state of our museums but that is a topic for another post.

As far as I was concerned, our visit to Europe’s largest zoo, also in Dublin, was insufferable for the most part. After going through so many zoos courtesy my children, I have lost my appetite for wild life and done with my quota for zoos for this lifetime in the very least. The gorillas however, were a delight to watch and we spent a long time simply observing their human like behaviour.

The famous Temple Bar was buzzing with tourists like us who had also brought their children along. I must mention here that the Irish take their children to pubs, which are not considered to be merely watering holes, as in India, but are more like large family rooms where people chat loudly, drink and get merry (not drunk) while their children are served soft drinks and root beer with fish and chips.

We saw the Dublin castle and churches too but I don’t think I should spend more time writing out stuff that the Lonely Planet does a better job of than me.

I do, however, want to write about my visit to the Writer’s museum in Dublin. The writers featured in the Museum are those who have made an important contribution to Irish or international literature or, on a local level, to the literature of Dublin. Needless to say, the museum is home to portraits, manuscripts, personal memorabilia and photographs and lesser known details from the lives of writers like Jonathon Swift, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett to name a few. This had to be the most rewarding part of my trip to Ireland and being in that environment, surrounded by portraits and busts of these literary greats made me suddenly feel enormously grateful to country. Among other things, I was surprised to learn that most of these writers featured at the museum had graduated from the Trinity College, Dublin. The quiet café’ housed inside the museum was, for want of a better phrase and just because I do not want to let go of the obvious pun, the icing on the cake. I ended my visit there over ‘breakfast tea’ (as opposed to English breakfast tea) and a fantastic coffee cake.

The sublime, as expected, was followed by the ridiculous when I joined the husband for a walk around the iconic Guinness Storehouse.

The view from the topmost floor, the highest in Dublin, was amazing, but my first pint ever of the dark and creamy beer, fresh from the source, was amazing by notches. From that height Dublin continued to seem gray and industrial, in spite of the bright sun that shone generously over it. Perhaps another pint or two of Guinness would have made a difference to the eyes of the beholder.

But two drunken parents around a good nine-year-old kid and a frisky four-year-old toddler do not a good example make. Dublin could wait.

P.S: My next post is about Galway and talks about how I fell in love with Ireland.

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