Almost 3!

Baby M is not a baby anymore! I really should start using his real name now, given that our identity is not such a big secret (with the link to my other blog). So well, Mihir turns three next Tuesday and I simply cannot get over the fact that my baby’s a big boy already! Imagine, he’ll be starting big school this June! I was going through my blog this past hour and it feels so wonderful to read the little I’ve written about him, that I’m feeling very guilty to have missed recording all the little joys from his entire third year here. So, much that I hate writing bullet point posts, here’s a quick recap of the year gone by.

  • This year, like the two that came before, has been all about Mihir! Funny that I wished for a little girl all my life, but this little boy I wouldn’t exchange for a thousand little girls! Talking nineteen to the dozen, making up his own outrageous stories, asking me to read the same book every single day, singing nursery rhymes or reciting alphabets and numbers all day long, running all the way to the neighbourhood park in the evening, insisting on kissing my nose and giving me a hug each time I make a sad face, he’s the joy and pride of my life as I’m sure he’ll always be!
  • Mihir has enjoyed every bit of his nursery school this year. Barring the first week when he cried a little, he’s gone happy, smiling and literally running and jumping to school every single day. It helps that the school is less than a minute’s walk from our place. And it’s just so wonderful to see his happy face when he comes out with his friends everyday, proudly showing off the ‘two-two stars’ on his hands, a pat on the back from his teachers for something nice he did that day!
  • And then there’s the wonderful friends he and I have made at his school – our mom’s group is the closest I’ve come to making real friends and enjoying girly stuff after college. We stay back to chat after we drop the kids at school every single day, exchanging notes on everything under the sun and ribbing each other like anything, meet up regularly for extended gab-and-hog sessions, take the kids to the park or go shopping or walking together, even babysit each other’s kids at times. Such fun! Most importantly, everyone in the group is chilled out, not quick to take offence unlike others I’ve been unfortunate enough to encounter in the past.
  • The domestic help situation at home has finally settled down, touchwood. Talk to any Mumbai mom, and she’ll tell you what a blessing that is. My new help is mature, sincere, polite and reliable. She cooks reasonably well and has struck up a good relationship with Mihir. And wonder of wonders, she never ever takes an unscheduled holiday. What can I say, simply, touchwood again!
  • It’s such a blessing to have your parents live in the same city as you. The husband and I have our weekly off on Saturday nights when we drop off Mihir at his fan club a.k.a. grandparents’ place and go watch a movie or meet friends for dinner. Sunday morning, we have a leisurely breakfast and then go and pick him up by which time I am feeling totally refreshed and ready to cope with Mihir’s boundless energy all over again!
  • We have stayed true to our resolution of exploring India with little Mihir – lots of fun trips this year – Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa and weekend getaways to Alibag and Harihareshwar. Coming up next is a short trip to Matheran with my parents and a longer one in the summer, probably somewhere in the North.
  • Last but not the least, Little Readers’ Nook! We have over 35 members now with some exciting corporate tie-ups in the offing. Of course, I have made hardly anything in terms of money and very likely never will, but in terms of an experience, it’s been the richest ever. The sense of accomplishment that comes from setting up your own venture from scratch, doing every little thing yourself is amazing – traveling all over Mumbai on the hunt for good books, putting the themes together, coming up with interesting activities to go with the themes, trying out everything with Mihir first, watching him blossom into the best Little Reader ever, explaining your concept to strangers, meeting some wonderful like-minded parents – it’s just like watching your baby grow up, only more fun, and dare I say, more hard work!

So that was the year gone by for me. There have been some small low points of course, but when I look back, I can remember only the good things, so that’s good, right?

P.S. Coming up soon – Mihir’s 3rd birthday party on 5th March. We’ve booked an open air bus from Mumbai’s famous double decker fleet and will be taking his friends on a joyride along Mumbai’s coastline. Return gifts will be Tulika books. And the neighbourhood balloonwala will decorate the open deck with bunches of gas balloons. My secret dream has always been to set free a huge bunch of those balloons à la Rajesh Khanna in Anand – let’s hope the kids will leave a bunch for me to set free!

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The joys of Indian life – for babies!

“Rolly polly, up, up up!”, a chubby three year old sings, while her  cousin,  a cute little two year old, chortles with glee and a ten-month old Baby M watches them intently, fascinated. He kicks his legs wildly in protest at being held. So what if he can’t walk yet? His friends are running around playing and of course he must join them!

The girls are our neighbors at my parents’ home in Mumbai. Everyday, morning, afternoon and evening, the three get together in the building compound to ‘play’.  Whoever gets down first calls out to the rest until the entire building knows the gang is getting together again! Sometimes a little boy from across the street joins in as well. The older ones sing songs or tell stories (picked up at playschool), while Baby M is usually content to simply watch them, that’s when he’s not looking at the crows and butterflies, trying to grab at flowers and leaves and staring at the neighborhood cat! Sometimes he’ll laugh out aloud or try to imitate the funny sounds his friends make, more often he simply kicks his legs in delight at their antics.

In the morning, when Aaji sets out on her daily rounds of the market and sundry other chores, Baby M sees her pick up her purse and gets all excited. It’s time to go out! Aaji tries in vain to slip out unnoticed, but the ever-alert Baby M lets out a loud wail until she picks him up and takes him out. Perched on Aaji’s shoulder, Baby M roams the lanes of our sleepy suburb, visiting the bank, the fruit seller, the local library, even the school for physically challenged children where Aaji volunteers her time every week.

Every evening, when Aai shuts down her laptop for the day,  she gets herself and Baby M ready and mom and son head out, to the park, to the local bookstore to browse books for Aai, to pick up Aaji from her yoga class or to the market to hunt for some elusive ingredient for Aai’s recipe-of-the-day.

And at night, when Ajoba comes home, Baby M leaps into his arms before he enters the house and demands to be taken out for a walk or a ride in the car. Weekends, he travels to South Bombay to visit his cousin, just a year older to him, or north to the suburb where his paternal grandparents, uncle, cousin and many more of our relatives live.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts to pamper him, cousins and neighbors his own age to play with,  older cousins to teach him new tricks, the household help, the driver and  the watchman to entertain him when everyone else is busy, traveling by bus, train and rickshaws, a fruit seller gifting him an orange just because he seemed so fascinated with the color, random girls on the road pinching his cheeks and going ‘so cute!’ at him, the lights of Diwali, band-baaja of Ganpati and kites of Sankrant – could a baby’s life get any richer?

When Baby M first arrived in India, he’d look at a gathering of  two or more people and burst into tears. Guests at home, burst into tears. Enter a strange home, more tears. A stranger picking him up, loud wails and shrieks! Today, he throws himself at anyone who’s standing at the door. An unfamiliar uncle picks him up and all he notices is the pen sticking out of the uncle’s shirt pocket. He’s traveled to Khandala, Pune, Delhi, Agra and Indore over the past couple of months without showing a hint of stranger anxiety.

“Rolly polly, down, down, down!”, Baby M’s friend ends her song and I watch him laugh aloud, my heart bursting with happiness. The decision to move back home never seemed wiser!

Am I really happy? – 1

Yes, such weighty matters have been crossing my normally carefree mind quite often lately. Perhaps this is exactly how twenty-somethings are supposed to react to their approaching thirties? In that case, it’s nice to know I am sticking to the script, thank you very much! But if you ask me, I blame our generation’s favorite obsession – facebook – instead.

Last week, a couple we know from our college days posted pictures of their Memorial Day weekend camping trip. Two dozen bright smiling faces, all seemingly ecstatic in each other’s company. How nice! Except that I don’t have that big a group of friends, forget going on a camping trip with them, I thought wistfully.

‘My husband’s joining an elite leadership grooming program in XYZ bluechip MNC!’, someone I barely knew in college wrote in yesterday. And proceeded to post pictures of her swanky new BMW a few minutes later. Hmmph!

And then I came across another long-lost friend. With a happy-family-portrait (handsome husband, lovely wife, cherubic kid and gorgeous mansion in the background) as her profile picture. Now this was the last straw!

Was everyone I knew becoming rich, successful, pretty and popular overnight? Why this sudden rush to buy houses and BMWs and announce pregnancies? Was I getting left behind somehow?

Now regular readers of this blog would (hopefully) agree I am not usually this jealous, insecure or petty. But its tough to think rationally (and nicely) all the time. So rather than mope around or dismiss my feelings and pretend I’m above it all, I thought I’d sit down and analyze a few things instead. Find out if I am really happy. And if there are things I could do to be happier?

On second thoughts, I don’t think true happiness can be relative anyhow. The momentary flash of joy that comes with a diamond ring or that long sought-after promotion perhaps. But not the real sort of happiness that one feels from deep within. And I always thought I was happy that way. So why am I panicking now?

But more on that later…

P.S. In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you friends – how happy do you think you really are? Do you feel envious of others at times? Go on, be honest. I promise not to judge!

P.P.S. Why do people feel compelled to share every detail of their life on facebook do you think? Everything from ‘I got a fantastic review at work yesterday’ to ‘my husband was mean to me last night’? Someone let me in on the secret please!

Where my legs declare a strike on me!

It’s official. My legs and I are not friends anymore. This is how it happened. Our friends, S and A, and the husband and I went biking the Lehigh Gorge trail at Jim Thorpe, PA yesterday.

“25 miles of pure nature, including small waterfalls, and continuous views of the Lehigh River. Make sure to bring your camera, lunch, and plenty of water for this exciting journey!” – the trail description read.

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Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that we sort of missed the 25 miles part, concentrating on the waterfalls and nature bit instead. And how I wish they had mentioned bringing along a signed, sealed contract with our legs rather than the camera – I promise not to declare a strike mid-way down the trail, I promise not to go to sleep in the middle of nowhere etc.

So there we were, starting out bright and early at around 3 PM. The shuttle service that took us to the top of the trail was very reassuring – you should be back in about 3 hours, it’s an easy downhill ride. Plus it’s almost summer, daylight is till 8 o’clock, we told ourselves. How late can we possibly get?

The first 5 miles were just as beautiful as we had imagined them to be. Pure unadulterated nature – a playful river on one side, cascading waterfalls every few minutes on the other, chirping birds, a cool breeze – heaven!

Except that the easy downhill trail we were promised never materialized! And then the legs decided to make themselves heard.

My legs (grumbling): We are being ignored, you take us for granted, we protest this shoddy treatment!

Me (slightly alarmed): Err, no, no, what are you talking about? I love you, truly!

My legs (angrily): So when was the last time you gave us some exercise? And now you want us to carry you 25 miles – no way!

Me (totally alarmed now): Please, let’s go home and discuss this, okay?

Right leg (fierce and determined): No! We are tired of your false promises. We demand a break now! I am going off to sleep – bye!

Left leg (after a while): Wait, I’m coming too. Bye, JnM!

So there we were, four tired souls and a pair of legs on strike, somewhere mid-way along the 25 mile trail and with twilight fast approaching. There was no cellphone reception, no helplines, not a soul in sight and no access to a motorable road or civilization except at the end of the trail!

So what happened next? Please don’t ask, I don’t want to think about it ever. If I am writing this post, we must have come home, right? Right!

P.S. God bless the park ranger who found us, 3 miles short of the trailhead, and gave us a ride to the parking lot. I would have gone down on my knees to thank her except for those stupid legs, remember?

India Trip – 1

So finally I am back, again! And as promised, I’ll start with a roundup of our (now not-so) recent India trip. There’s so much to write though that I thought I’ll do it in episodes, to keep things short and interesting.

So let me start with the highlight of my trip – attending my childhood friend A’s engagement ceremony the very day I landed in Mumbai. Living in the US, I have missed many such weddings and social occasions in the past two years. Add to it the fact that A actually postponed her engagement by a day so I could make it – her boyfriend was keen on Valentine’s day and she had to really push him to agree for the 15th – and I was naturally ecstatic!

A has been my best friend since we were toddlers. We were neighbors and our moms were best friends. So with both our dads working abroad, our families spent almost every evening together. Our home was on the ground floor, A’s on the third. Be it A’s mom, V mavshi, coming home from work or A and her brother coming home from school, a trip to the third floor hardly ever happened without a longish stop on the ground floor!

The two moms went for walks and vegetable shopping in the evening, while A and I played outside or chatted and giggled behind closed doors in our teenage years, struggling to get rid of A’s pesky younger brother as we got older. We watched our evening television together and the night meal was usually shared as well, to the delight of the bai who cooked in both homes!

This cosy semi-family unit was shockingly shattered one day when V mavshi was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away soon after. We were all heartbroken but A took it the worst. Sadly, our friendship too did not survive this loss.

We were both sixteen then and about to enter college. We made new friends in college and got busy with our new lives. Not that it had to, but something changed in our friendship that year. It’s hard to say what and I’ve been struggling with the why for many years now but from ‘best friends’ we turned into ‘good friends’ and later, just occasional acquaintances.

The change was hard for me to accept. I was never a gregarious person – I’ve always had just one or two close friends at any point of time and for many years, A and I were so close that I had no need for anyone else. She was like the sister I never had and people often mistook us for twins when we were out together.

I could see A withdraw into a shell after her mother’s death. In many ways, this was perfectly understandable and I tried my best to support her in those difficult times. But gradually I got the impression she resented my efforts to get close to her again. She had made new friends in college and she very obviously preferred their company to mine. I tried discussing it with her, but her response was always the same bland – no, nothing of that sort, you are imagining things. I had no choice but to let go after a point.

Was I not a good enough friend to A in her time of need? I struggled to answer this question for years. Perhaps not. Or maybe I really was imagining things. Did we simply drift apart? My hunch is this – my mother and I reminded A of those good old times when all of us had so much fun together and she wanted to stay away from those bitter-sweet memories and therefore, us.

I had accepted that I might never get to know the real reason. But I was pleasantly surprised when A got in touch with me last year. She called, wrote a pretty emotional email and generally behaved as if we had never drifted apart! And then the engagement invite. Which was just a day before when I was scheduled to land in Mumbai.

‘I really want to come’, I said. ‘Yes, you should be there’, she insisted. ‘But my tickets are booked, they cannot be changed!’ ‘No problem, we’ll get engaged on the 15th instead!’ ‘Really, can you do that? But isn’t your boyfriend keen on V day?’ ‘I’ll manage him, don’t you worry’, A grinned! Needless to say, I was thrilled!

And that is how I managed to attend my childhood friend A’s engagement on the morning of 15th February, only a few hours after I landed in Mumbai. The ceremony was lovely, A looked radiant, she squealed and ran to me as soon as she spotted me – I couldn’t have been happier. It was a perfect start to my India vacation!

Say it with flowers!

Nothing brightens up a room better than a bunch of colorful flowers, I have always believed. And no gift gladdens my heart more than a surprise bouquet thrust into my hands!

So the husband, after almost four years of marriage, is finally learning. Here’s the welcome home gift he got for me a couple of days after we were back in New York.

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The husband simply warmed my heart!

Then last week, our office participated in the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days campaign. And I, as usual, forgot to order our daffodils. As I had forgotten last year. When a kind elderly colleague saw my crestfallen face and insisted I keep his daffodil plant.

This year, anticipating my forgetfulness perhaps, he had ordered two. And left one by my desk with a lovely little note explaining the gift.

‘Please don’t!’, I protested, ‘You got me one last time too!’

‘Let’s make it a tradition then, shall we? I’ll get you one next year as well!’

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So that, my friends, is my dear little daffodil plant!

And finally there is this dear old lady in our office who’s off on a long leave,  recuperating after multiple knee and hip operations. In the midst of all that excitement and pain, she took time out to send daffodils to all of us who’d sent over a get-well-soon basket to her home last month.

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It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, the secret to making others happy?

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Now if only we’d remember to do it everyday!