November 25, 2015

The last illusion

I have witnessed this scene unfolding, maybe in a dream. 

I am seated in the front row of a crowded auditorium, wearing a warm pink pinafore, a ruddy tote slung over my right shoulder. I couldn't be more than fourteen or fifteen, my face has that flushed look most anxious teenagers have. I have fuchsia ribbons in my hair, and am wearing shoes to match. Even the spectacles that I keep adjusting over my nose time and again are tinted rose. I must be having a really bizarre fashion sense to dress up like that (but maybe that can be forgiven because I am dreaming.) The crowd is buzzing with the excitement one would normally see at a circus. But there are no animals around. The tent is illuminated with fairy lights, and clouds of glitter rise from the ground adding to the charm of the place.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. The show is about to commence," a woman on the stage announces. She is beautiful with flawless skin and an hour glass figure.
The show she is referring to is the magic show by renowned conjurer and illusionist, Efil Llasuskcuf. I know because I am a huge fan of his, just like all the other enthusiastic spectators in the audience.

I stare in awe at the shimmering tent, the glittering lights, the busy back stage, it all looks surreal---a scene from those picture books I loved as a child. It only makes me more eager to know what is in store. I take off my glasses for a while, the pressure has caused the skin on the bridge of my nose to pit. As I rub the depressed area with my fingers, I notice that the tent doesn't seem as attractive any more. It now seems to be made of dirty tarpaulin. The enthusiastic announcer is now retreating back stage with a scowl on his face. All of a sudden, she is looking rather overweight, not that beautiful at all. Perhaps her scowl put things in perspective, I think to myself. I adjust the ribbons in my hair. There are sullen adults all around me complaining of the dust. I see what they are saying. It is rather dusty, this place. Perhaps the dim lights did not allow me to notice the grime settled on the seats. I try to distract myself from worrying about my lovely dress getting dirty. Trying to catch the attention of the people around always helps. I check out the faces in the crowd. They too have come to watch the show, I guess. None of them look too pleased though. I try smiling at the plump woman sitting besides me.

"Nice day, isn't it?" I say, trying to start a conversation.

She nods but says nothing. I become a little conscious. I fidget with the glasses in my hands. She now looks at me, rather wistfully.

"I used to wear those," she says, a ghost of a smile emerging on her face. Then regaining her sombre expression, she continues, "a long time ago."

Clutching my glasses a little more tight, I decide not to talk to her any more. She seems disinterested. No one except me seems to be willing to share a smile. I am the only one eager to strike a conversation. The reluctance in her attitude disappoints me a little. I put on my glasses, and wait for the show to start. A little later, when I glance in her direction, I see her give me a big broad smile. I wave back.

Efil Llasuskcuf is greeted with a loud round of applause. He takes his position on the podium, and gets ready for his performance. I wonder if he requires any rehearsals at all. After all he must have performed a million times. People say his magic never gets rusty and that he never goes wrong. Each of his shows has a surprise element---he never announces his tricks before hand, I've heard. The anticipation of this much awaited feat makes adrenaline rush through my veins. I wonder what wondrous trick he is going to perform.

"Today, Mr Efil is going to treat you all to a special act. He has been bored of performing the usual rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick, and has decided to retire from the world of magic. Before leaving, he wants you to witness his last feat, a special magic before his final bow,"

There were mixed reactions from the audience. People were both happy and sad, happy because they were going to witness a never-before event in the history of magic, and sad because this was the last time they would be seeing Mr Efil perform. I adjust the spectacles on my nose. They help me see only the bright side---I feel lucky to be a part of this magnificent event.
Strangely, I cannot seem to ignore the gleam in his eyes. It seems a little diabolical, but I wave it off as my imagination.

E.L speaks, "What is about to unfurl is something much much bigger than my usual card tricks and vanishing illusions. It is going to affect one of you in a colossal way. It will expose your weakness, yet magnify your strength. It is going to bring about a permanent change. It will reveal ugly truths, but will also uncover beautiful lives."

Then looking around in the audience, he asks, "Volunteers anyone?"
I feel his gaze fall on me.

Before I can even respond, I feel my feet comply. They trot towards the podium. Something in my heart tells me that I am to be a part of this final act.

Hocus-pocus, Abracadabra, and POOF!!! 
A cloud of dust springs up from nowhere. There is something in my eye. I have to take off those rose tinted glasses to see clearly. 
CRUNCH! I hear a sound. I open my eyes only to see Efil Llasuskcuf crushing my glasses under his feet. He stomps on them until they turn to tiny sparkling pieces of pink dust. I see the dust and grime settling everywhere. He smiles at me. I know I am supposed to feel angry. How am I supposed to view the world without my rose tinted glasses? 

But to my surprise, I no longer care... 
I am not just a part of the final act. I am the final act.

Yes, I have witnessed this scene unfolding, maybe in a dream. 

Writer's note: Take a special moment, and read the name of the illusionist backwards. It would help splash a little more light on the post.

November 24, 2015

H for 'Hall of Fame v/s Hall of Shame'

I am sure every one of us can recall incidents that leave a strong impact on our lives. Sometimes, the smallest of things bring about a permanent change in our outlook, our personality. We might not realize it then, but years later when the haze of the past clears and that one incident comes shining through, you realize that it is responsible for making you the person you are today.

I remember one such incident from my primary school days. Yes, I know it is not really possible to have lucid memories from so far back then. But somehow this has managed to create a stamp ink memory which just refuses to go away. Our class teacher Ms Suzy was a pretty young thing; a heart shaped face, deep set eyes and a soft spoken personality that not just made her our favorite but also allowed us to take her for granted. She treated all the children with a warm maternal disposition, never once losing her temper on any child. Yet, there were these dare devils who loved trying her patience. They would get their uniforms dirty during sports class, splash ink all over their hands, color outside the lines in their drawing book, leave their class work incomplete, tear up pages from notebooks because they liked the sound of paper tearing, and create a ruckus in the class room (you get the drift, don't you?).

Now, it is with great embarrassment that I have to tell you that yours truly led this pack of hooligans.
Me and my cronies were always up to no good, troubling her with our shenanigans. Nothing she would say or do would cause us to behave. Hitherto, she had tried to distract us off our mischief with all the tricks in the book. But all in vain. We'd take pride in being the cause of her headache. We'd enjoy the surprise in her bewildered eyes every time she saw what we were up to. Troubling her had become a part of routine.

Until one day, Ms Suzy explained the concept of the two halls. We looked at her open mouthed as she divided one corner of the black board in two equal parts. On one side, she wrote the words, 'Hall of Fame', and the other was labelled 'Hall of Shame'. She explained that every time we did a good deed, our names would be included in the former list, and when we committed a shameful act, it would be mentioned in the latter group. She further elaborated that God too maintained similar lists for people. We stared at her in awe. We, kids at that impressionable age, were gullible enough to believe that Mr God was watching us trouble Ms Suzy and keeping tab. We instantly felt guilty over our actions.

On reaching home, I narrated this incident to my mother. I wanted to counter check if this was actually possible. Was there really such halls of fame and shame? My mother smiled. She was only too happy to play along. If sticking with Ms Suzy's story meant taming the brat I was, she would do it.

"Every time you refuse to eating your veggies, your name goes in the Hall of Shame," she said with a serious face.

I looked disdainfully at the salad in my plate.
"And if I eat it, will God add my name in the Hall of Fame?" I asked, slowly raising the fork to my mouth.

"Hmmm...only if you do all your home work on time and stop troubling Ms Suzy," my mother said, suppressing a giggle.

The next day, at school, I behaved like a prize student. I got mentioned only once in the Hall of Shame (for pulling Geeta's pigtails). But I was listed in the Hall of Fame during Arts class. I had drawn within the lines and not chewed off any crayon. I was happy. Ms Suzy looked pleased too.
Soon enough, the enthusiasm spread among all the kids. Each one of us strived to get our name listed in the Hall of Fame. Our uniforms no longer got dirty, our books were neat, and our class work was done on time. The mischief mongers would get into the Hall of Shame and become the laughing stock of the class. At the end of every month, Ms Suzy would award the student with the most mentions in the Hall of Fame with a bar of chocolate. Soon enough, the whole class became an example of exemplary behavior. Ms Suzy had managed to get the whole class in good conduct, without raising her voice. As usual, she had figured the best way out.

I recently met up with a couple of school friends over coffee. We spoke about old times, and Ms Suzy. The concept of the two halls had stayed with us all through our growing up years. We agreed that somewhere at a deeper sub conscious level, we still believe in it. We are no longer as gullible as we used to be. But it does help us stay in check. There is no Ms Suzy to chart out lists and mention names anymore. There are no class mates to tease and laugh at our embarrassed faces. There is no prize chocolate waiting for those of us on our best behavior. All we have now is a conscience that Ms Suzy helped to shape.

And as long as we know where we are going, we will find a road to take us there...

H for 'Hall of Fame v/s Hall of Shame' is the eighth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of write-up's by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject.

October 19, 2015

G for 'Gypsy'

Two tired hearts; yours and mine,
in wandering caravans traveling fine,
will leave for yet another town,
when the winds will change and the chips are down...

Two tired hearts; yours and mine,
in solitude will often pine,
a moment stolen from the past,
that will be cherished and made to last...

Two tired hearts; yours and mine,
will party hard over song and wine.
No cause for any feud or strife,
nor hope of meeting in another life...

Apologies for the long wait. I promise to be more regular in my postings from now on. This time, I decided to write in verse. Let's just say the situation demanded it ;)
G for 'Gypsy' is the seventh post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of write-up's by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject.

September 21, 2015

F for 'Flawed Fairy tales'

Honestly, narrowing down to one sole topic for the letter 'F' was one hell of a struggle. My mind was choc-blocked with ideas, and the creative needle swung from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other. To add to the horror, the family was also coming up with ridiculous suggestions and getting all hostile when I refused them. (I now know why Ch for 'Chunni Babu' had a drinking problem...sigh!).

A friend suggested I write about fairy tales.

"What's to write about them?" I snorted.

"Oh c'mon, don't be such a prude. Who doesn't love a good fairy tale?" she cooed.

"Err...ME!!" I wanted to say, but decided against it.
After all, it was just a matter of choice. The dreamer in her preferred to see the beauty. The skeptic in me was bound to spot the flaws.

Yes, you read it. I don't like fairy tales. I find them creepy.
Well, don't get me wrong. I grew up on my fair share of stories that started with Once-upon-a-time's and ended with happily-ever-after's, and like every other gullible brat believed in the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and all the glitter that wishing wells and magic far-away trees are made of.
I was in love with that ethereal world, the world of glass slippers, and fairy godmothers, of beautiful princesses and their charming princes. But then something changed. It's almost magical how life transforms you into a skeptic. There is no one moment or incident that you can point at and say 'Yeah, that's it. That was the point of no return. That's where I got disillusioned." It just happens slowly and gradually, and before you know it, Bam! You are there! Somewhat like a bar of Snickers a day and the end-of-the-month surprise on the weight scale. (You get the drift? Good! Let us not digress, please.)

So like I was saying, fairy tales are creepy. I can assure you almost every freaking fairy tale we have heard during our childhood has a twisted element to it, something that we failed to notice and which is subtly responsible for our distorted perceptions (on an individual and societal psyche basis.) Allow me to explain with examples.

Case 1---Imagine you are comfortably seated, hair tied neatly in a top knot pony tail, flipping through a magazine when some stranger comes behind you and tugs at your hair. What would you do? If you are a modern day woman and say anything short of  'turn around and smack him hard in his face' then, you either have a serious mental problem or are wearing a wig. I mean, do you know how much it hurts to have your hair tugged at; leave aside the effort to braid it, the fear of hair fall, the bad-hair days etc. Now imagine you standing on the terrace of a tower, and a stranger asking you to let down your tresses so that he can tug at them while you pull him up. So what if he is a Goddamn prince? He didn't care about Rapunzel (who might have died of a cervical fracture in the process--unless of course he was as light as a wisp) when he tugged at her golden braid. The poor princess (with the super strong neck) was meant to endure in silence. I an literally imagine her going 'Ow, Ow, Ow' as he convenienty used her hair as a rope-ladder to climb his way up.

Case 2---Who doesn't know Cinderella? How I hate this fairy tale. We seriously need to consider banning this one from story-hour time slots all over the world, kick it out of syllabus, thrash it, fling it out of the window, and make sure no child reads the traditional version ever. Every girl needs to know the meaning of self worth, and the sooner she realizes this the better, so that when she grows up to be a woman, she, like her favorite 'Disney' princess, can walk away with the guy who loves and respects her for who she is.
Every girl should hope for a love that does not need her to be decked up in a shimmering gown, diamond tiara and glass slippers, to fall in love. 
Sooner or later, we are bound to grow old and fat anyway--age, however, is a number that can change only appearances but not the heart. So if someone manages to fall for us in just a few hours of silent ballroom dancing---then we have something to worry about, don't we? Every kid reading 'Cinderella' should be told that compatibility is not judged on the basis of a few hours nor on good looks or financial status. So ideally, we ought to go out there in our rags, our dusty slippers...our simple yet clean pair of jeans and a tee thrown on top---sans makeup and jewellery and see who we can relate to in mental wavelength, kind spirit and honest attitude, instead of letting a rich dude (who has the audacity to call for a beauty pagent to select a partner for life) choose us like a piece of china in an antique showroom.
As for the original tale, it's unbelievable how the twit of a prince needs a glass slipper to recognize the love of his life. Yea, like no one else could have the same shoe size. Oh, and in case you going to fight me saying she produced the other slipper as evidence, then all I can say is that she's lucky there were no Christian Louboutin's around to emulate those custom made beauties (I'm talking of the glass slippers here, you perverts) back then. See, I told you. Flawed at so many levels.

One more creepy point worthy of mention is how almost every fairy tale has the female protagonist playing damsel in distress. She is either tortured, humiliated, put to sleep for a hundred years, abandoned into the forests, made to kiss a frog, or sent with a basket of fruit to her grandmother's house. Nobody asks her whether she is okay with being kissed (Remember, that was totally non consensual. What if sleeping beauty wanted to sleep longer? What if the prince suffered from halitosis and forgot to carry mints? What if she just didn't feel like it? But hey, wait a minute...we'd never know because she was never asked. We as kids were supposed to believe she woke up to the power of love from that kiss, and all was well once again. Happys endings, right? Wrong!!

That is not how it works in real life. A strange man you don't even know kissing you in your sleep is plain creepy. They just never told us.

On a somewhat related note, a girl kissing a frog and expecting him to be a prince is equally creepy. But let's stick to the point.
Notice how the female is always chosen to be portrayed as the hapless victim in most fairy tales. The prince got to kiss a sleeping princess who would be forever indebted him for saving her life. On the flip side, if the princess wanted to be the hero and restore a handsome prince to his original state, she was made to kiss a (*hold your breath---pun unintentional* ) FROG!
I am sure a lot of frogs got lucky thanks to this one.

That brings me smoothly to Case 3---Poor little Snow white, for instance, is another example. The seven little dwarfs she lived with had cute names but selfish hearts. (But see how cleverly their names proved to be a distraction.) Snow White didn't pay them any rent, but how can we overlook the fact that the dwarfs welcomed her in their house only after they learned that she could cook and clean beautifully? Apparently, the rule, 'In life, there are no free lunches' applies even in fairy tales.
Snow White stayed at home looking after the house, cooking meals, making beds, while the dwarfs mined for jewels all day. So what do you find wrong in this picture?
No? Can't you see it? Unfair distribution of work. Not once did the dwarves exchange responsibilities. Not once did anyone mention or ask Snow if she wanted to go mining while they cooked, cleaned and made the beds. She was given no choice, No! It must have been a 'cook or leave' scenario. She didn't have any option. She had to scrub the dishes till they shone.
Thinking back, perhaps it was a male chauvinistic attitude that people in the West possessed back then (Heck! The story was written somewhere in the 1930's, long before women's liberation.).
But if you are an Indian kid, you'd be still listening to the version of 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs' which has Snow White cooking 'Butter chicken & Round rotis' or 'Thayeer Sadham' (depending on whether she is North or South Indian) for those tired little gold diggers. Why? Because we in India like to keep our 'fairy tales' as close to reality as possible (not the other way around, mind ya).

But that aside, do not call this a feminist rant (or call it one, what-ever!) I feel for the poor dwarfs too. You all know how the story goes. Just when they begin to think they have found themselves a friend, the wicked step mother intervenes again. This is followed by the same old drill; apple, poison, slumber, prince and finally, the non-consensual (not again!) kiss. This is where I feel bad for the dwarves. Snow White, upon finding the prince, conveniently forgets these little friends, never as much to look at them again. Oh well, I know the animation shows a teary farewell with polite nods and friendly waves. But seriously, I think the reason people (especially women) in relationships hardly stay in touch with friends stems loosely from these fairy tales. I think I should cut Snow White some slack. They didn't have Facebook back then. Or else you would have seen her liking status messages Grumpy, Bashful, or Sleepy posted.

Case 4---Goldilocks. What about 'Goldilocks and the three bears'. This story takes 'creepy' to a whole new level. In times where we keep warning our kids against strangers, here is a pretty little girl entering an unknown house, eating porridge and sleeping in their bed. I mean how misleading would that be to a kid? Entering unfamiliar territory is no adventure, in fact far from it. What if the house belonged to Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper? What if that steaming hot porridge was bait? What if there was a serial killer waiting to saw Goldilocks in half as she dozed off comfortably in that bed after having consumed the spiked porridge? No, nobody tells your kid all this. As she listens attentively to how Goldilocks sneaked in and had an adventure of her life, there is a part of her that wants to have such an adventure too. I know because I have been there. Luckily, mine was a boring neighborhood. Nobody ate porridge.

Maybe I am over reacting. Perhaps you will call me a kill joy. Kids should grow up on a fair dose of magic and fairy dust. But times are unsafe, my friend. Besides, what good did these fairy tales do us anyway?
You keep chiding your kids from receiving gifts and sweets from strangers.  I read somewhere that a child was kidnapped from a department store. Cc tv footage showed a big bearded man in a Santa suit handing him candy which the child readily accepted. The weeping mother confessed that she had never suspected 'Santa'. Honestly, I find Easter egg hunts creepy for exactly the same reason. We keep instructing our children to stay away from objects lying around carelessly, and then we go ahead and organize treasure hunts in random parks where they are expected to look over, under, across and through all sorts of things to discover the carefully concealed goodies. I mean how strange is that, really. I was okay with the idea of a tooth fairy until 'Sharp objects' by Gillian Flynn happened. Now I think she (the tooth fairy) is creepy too.

Too much of a skeptic, you say?
Well, what to do, we are like that only...


F for 'Flawed Fairy tales' is the sixth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

September 17, 2015

Dear Vignaharta

What does one say to someone who already knows everything one wants to tell him?
Today, I will just bow my head before you and say 'Ganpati Bappa Moryaaaa!!!!':)

Your ever-demanding devotee,

September 11, 2015

E for 'Exercise and Excuses'

I met up with a friend the other day and noticed that she was looking positively happy and radiant. When I complimented her, she laughed and said that a lot of people were telling her that these days. She winked and said she had discovered a secret formula to stay fit. Before I could run off to the nearby chemist store to inquire whether such a wonder-drug had hit the market, she gushed that the formula involves *brace yourself for the surprise of all surprises* an early morning exercise session that spreads over 90 minutes after which she gulps down an odd orangish-green vegetable juice that helps her kick start her day. Such a let-down it was, I tell you. Why can't these pharmaceutical companies come up with something to replace exercise, I grumbled.

A little insight about the person you think you already know so much about, yours truly aka moi, I, like most people in the right frame of mind, hate early morning workouts. Truth be told, I just cannot relate to those creatures who disrupt their beauty sleep for a grilling session at the gym returning all stinky-sweaty and yet supposedly feeling 'as fresh as a daisy'. I mean c'mon, how can something as rigorous as that in the wee hours of the morning make you feel any better or happy(er)?
So when you tell me that you wake up at 5.00 am for an whole hour doing cardio, sit-ups and weights followed by a pilates class or some other calorie-burning, muscle-spraining torture that I find it inhuman to even mention, it's obvious that I will stare at you like you have bitten  by a rabid dog.

Yes, I know. I must practice what I preach. Like every good doctor, I too advice my patients to walk for half an hour at least five times a week. But hey, there is a difference. I never and I mean NEVER tell them to hit the gym at dawn. It's a free world though. So don't you dare go blaming me, no.
Besides I think every person is allowed to be a schmuck sometimes, and I have to admit I quite fit the bill when it comes to this. Nobody's perfect, eh?

So without further ado, let me make a list of all the excuses I have come up with to avoid exercising (be it early morning jogs, cardio, cycling, even yoga) in the past. Read at your own discretion.
  1. Psychosomatic: Pretend it is killing you softly but surely. Arms hurting, legs aching, eyes burning, muscle spraining, torticollis, vertigo. I once complained I felt a radiating pain in my right arm and managed to create quite a stir, especially when I said it had reached the jaw within seconds. Nobody spoke about gymming for a whole week after that. 
  2. This is more of a fooling-your-conscience trick. Become an illusionist and create an illusion of being perfectly healthy and don't need any exercise. Pro of the situation: Like a successful illusionist, you are able to bamboozle your audience. Con of the situation: You are your own audience. However, this trick only works if you can manage to drive away visions of pastries, butter chicken, aloo parathas and caramel custard that you consumed for dinner last night. It has worked wonders with me. I make a good audience who falls for this 'trick' every time. However, like every magic show, the magic is only temporary....until you realize that you got to 'die with a T' as an alternative to burning those calories off. I still can't decide which is worse. 
  3. Show everyone the unintelligent forward you just received from one of your talli friend, that says "Vodka is made from potatoes. Potatoes are vegetables. Vegetables are good for you." So join the dots and have another shot.
  4. Keep saying you feel lethargic all throughout the day. Combine it with psychosomatic complaints. But never mention you think it could be because of exercise. You don't want people to suspect you trying to ward it off. Been there done that, and it rolls out so beautifully you could cry (tears of pride at the discovery of a full proof plan).
  5. Walk around like a wraith all day. Maybe you can do a little zombie act. If someone asks you (which someone is bound to), smile wistfully and tell them it's probably because you not been sleeping well. Again, do not even  mention the torture they have foisted on you. Let them guess. It adds to their guilt.
  6. Google information about people who died of cardiac arrests from over-exertion. Then sigh and say 'Different people...different thresholds.' Proceed to act all weary and lie down for a while.
  7. If you are a woman, you can always pose to be a non-liberated doormat complaining how men just have it easy. Make up something to avoid the tread mill. Say it's 'that' time of the month. I know it sounds a bit old school. But so does menstrual exclusion. However, it still goes on doesn't it?
  8. If you are a man, you can take advantage of old-school logic as well (just to keep par with us women) and preen that you being the essential bread-winner of the family can't afford to waste time over your fitness. Let the woman of the house take care of that for you. (Psst! Make sure you don't mention the 'Happy hours' you indulge in while spouting this excuse.)  P.S: this one works best if you have always been a chauvinistic pig. 
  9. Complain that you cannot work out in a social set up like a gym because there are just too many people around. Say it makes you anxious. Joggers parks and walking tracks have the same effect. Isolated areas, however, pose an entirely different threat. This excuse manages to create a win-win situation for you either way. Yenjaay!!!
  10. This one is bound to guarantee 100% success. Form a 'no-exercise' club. Allow entry to only those gym-haters who are fatter and unhealthier than you. Then become the chairperson. Distribute pamphlets, lead rallies, call meetings. Scheme, plot, plan. Do not associate with those who exercise. Gossip (feel-good therapy) about how they manage to keep fit. Bitch that they just have too much time to engage in self care. Whatever you do, never encourage. Never get inspired by them. If you detect the faintest sign of motivation amongst any of the club members, throw them out. Clearly demarcate the fitness freaks from the lazy lumps. Make sure neither team crosses enemy lines. The fitness freaks are a minority anyway. Exclusion will coerce them into joining the other side...your side. If you can't join them, change them. That should be the mantra of your war strategy.
Needless to mention, one of these above excuses are bound to work for you. If however, they don't, then worry not. Contact me for other ideas. There is more where those gems are coming from.

Until then, amigos,
sleep and let sleep! *yawn*

 Writers note:  (Disclaimer: The above piece is written in jest and should be taken with a pinch of salt. The writer should not be held responsible for any human, animal, or feelings that might have been hurt in the process.)
E for 'Exercise and Excuses' is the fifth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

September 03, 2015

D for 'Dilemma'

Who do we listen to, the head or the heart?
is the colossal confusion that has been confounding mankind from even before 'What came first, the hen or the egg?'

The heart and the mind being constantly at war is a topic that has been exploited by all and sundry, so much that it does feel a tad bit juvenile (at the risk of it seeming common knowledge and overrated) to elaborate any further. Besides, it is a predicament that has no permanent solutions, at least none without the possibility of a regret some time in the future. However, what is surprising is that every time we are made to stand at similar crossroads, we are washed away by a pain anew. No amount of experience can ever ease the wretchedness of the damned Hobson's choice.
It can be assumed that it is our helplessness that makes us lament over this classical dilemma between the head and the heart. If we choose our mind, we fear it might lose our love to practicality. If we listen to our heart, we fear the risk of being a sentimental fool. Either way, we are constantly harrowed by the dread of making a wrong decision. We worry about consequences instead of celebrating our preferences. It's a constantly changing world, we sulk. How then can we trust our choice to remain constant?
Ohh, the dilemma! My head is hurting, my heart is aching...
Perhaps it's only human nature to keep complaining.
Perhaps it's only human nature to run away from confronting things we cannot change.

But how long really does one need to keep running when there is nowhere to hide?

 Writers note:  D for 'Dilemma' is the fourth post in the 'A-Z Series' of posts, a chain of articles written by me on topics starting with each alphabet of the English language. Read back and forth for the other posts, and please feel free to contribute your thoughts on the subject :)

August 30, 2015

Hunger in the times of TinyOwl

If thre is one trouble maker member in my whole extended family, it has to be my aunt Kanchan who we fondly call 'K Maasi'. I would not be exaggerating if I had to say she possessed the ‘Bambiligan’ gene .For those who haven’t got the gist of that concocted gene, it is a term that I have coined for K Maasi who possesses the innocence of doe-eyed Bambi and the notoriety of a bunch of hooligans, put together.
It is tough to say whether the havoc K Maasi wreaks is intentional or not. But trouble does follow her like a domesticated animal follows its master, rarely causing any distress to him/her but always managing to unnerve a poor unsuspecting victim in the process….in this case, mostly ME!

I can enumerate a million incidents (ranging from her bringing up unexpected matrimonial alliances to her talking nineteen-to-a-dozen which always leads her into saying what is not needed) when good old ‘Bambiligan’ K Maasi has pulled the carpet below my feet springing up the weirdest of surprises that I can never be prepared for. It is this trait of hers that has earned her the status of ‘Aunt Agatha’ (of Wooster fame) in the family thereby invariably making me head for the hills on announcement of her arrival. But like K Maasi light-heartedly says, “You can run but you cannot hide.” As for me, I can hardly ever run far enough.

The most recent incident that left a stamp ink memory happened around three months ago when  K Maasi decided to pay us a visit. My dad’s colleague along with his family had been invited over for a formal dinner at my home that evening. My mother and me were busy putting together a small spread when Maasi waltzed in and insisted on helping with it.
Knowing K Maasi's kitchen prowess, I stifled a tiny scream of protest. However, not wanting to offend her in any way, my mother reluctantly agreed.

“You go ahead and freshen up. I will take care of everything,” she instructed my mom with a gentle dismissal. Somehow the latter half of that statement caused more dread than relief in my heart which had suddenly turned tachycardic.

“Err...Are you sure, Ma?” I asked.
“Don’t worry beta. Kanchan will manage fine.”
My mother was showing a lot of faith in her sister’s culinary abilities today.  Later she told me the secret behind the sudden confidence---Almost everything was ready. The table just had to be laid. There was no scope for any kind of confusion. K Maasi was only too pleased to help and my mom had allowed her to feel important.

I was alone with Maasi in the kitchen now. She began to draw the lids from the various preparations and inhale the aroma wafting in the air above them with an air of urgency I couldn't really fathom.. I was all ready to accept a few compliments for the wonderful culinary extravaganza I had contributed to help making, when POOF! My bubble burst. K Maasi was wiggling her nose in distaste, her forehead showing vertical creases of disappointment.

“Err…is anything wrong, Maasi?” I asked.

“Shhh…” she silenced me. “Let me concentrate." 
Then biting the right corner of her lower lip, she exclaimed with a toss of her head, ”Salt! A little more salt in this!”

“But Maasi, shouldn’t we be tasting it first?” I suggested.

“I have been cooking for 25 years, darling. I’d know these dishes to perfection by their very aroma from miles away.” Then as if to appease me, she dipped in a spoon and tasted the ever so delectable Palak Paneer that my mom had cooked to perfection.
“There!! Didn’t I tell you? Go get the salt now,” she announced. I suspected the hot gravy had not even reached her taste buds yet.

Reluctantly I handed her the salt dispenser. I knew there was no hope now. K Maasi  was on an ego trip. She wanted to contribute and contribute she would. She proceeded to alter each and every dish with what she thought just a dash of pepper, a tinge of extra salt, a spoonful of sugar, a squeeze of a lemon and so on. I watched in horror but her confidence and enthusiasm could make a sous chef doubt his abilities. 

“Lets flambĂ© the caramel custard,” she rubbed her hands with scary enthusiasm..

“Noooooo,” I almost screamed.

It was just then that the door bell rang. K Maasi gave me a dejected look and went to answer it.

When mom entered the kitchen, there was hardly any time to tell her what had happened and explaining would have unsettled her. Besides I knew the trouble maker had only meant well. She always did. The guests would arrive any minute now.

I prayed to God for some miraculous intervention…something that would prove K Maasi to be a far better cook than we thought she was. Perhaps she had finally improved after all those culinary misfortunes we had been privy to in her past. Perhaps her husband was only joking when he had once narrated how even their neighbor’s hungry dog had refused to eat the food K Maasi cooked. Perhaps the guests would not notice the extra salt, pepper, sugar and whatever else she had kept adding.
Just then my dad entered the kitchen. He was looking rather glum. K Maasi scurried in right behind him.

“I’m sorry dear,” he said to my mom. “The Kumar’s had to cancel. Something unexpected came up and they had to leave for their hometown.”

I could not believe my ears. I almost jumped with joy. God had answered my prayers after all. That had been a narrow escape.

“Ohh. I was so looking forward to their visit,” said my mom dejectedly. Then glancing towards the kitchen, she continued with a crest fallen face, "Now all this food will go waste.”

I was still grinning ear to ear. The trouble maker was observing me beam with joy.

“What’s making you so happy?” she frowned. “We put in so much effort.”
Bambi's innocent face flashed before my eyes again. I went up to K Maasi and gave her a huge hug.
“Nobody’s effort has gone wasted. I am going to eat….eat it all,” I said with a mix of relief and regret in my voice...the former because we were saved from the humiliation in front of the Kumar's and the latter because I had impulsively promised to eat K Maasi's kitchen disaster.

“Too bad that the Kumars won't get to eat such scrumptious food,” chimed in Maasi only too happy to receive the hug from me. It was easy to tell that she had mistaken my relief for appreciation..

The trouble maker was clueless this time, clueless of what a mess she had whipped up…………..well, at least until dinner was served, and even though none of us could swallow even a bite of the food she had improvised, the memory of this incident leaves us in splits even today. We call it the 'luck by chance' event much to K Maasi's red face. The guests hadn't turned up and we had been saved the embarrassment. However, it was rather late and we were too tired to step out for dinner. As we scourged through the menu's of various restaurants for home delivery, we realized how frustrating it can get to get a simple meal delivered to your doorstep. After an endless call waiting and a couple of disconnections we finally managed to get our call through only to be told that the delivery could take some time due to lack of staff. The dinner finally landed up on our table an hour late by which time we were starving, half asleep, and ready to eat anything...all except K Aunty who on sniffing the food placed before her insisted that it required a dash of salt, a tinge of pepper, and a little modification that her 25 years of experience could take care of.

As I now recall the food fix that day, I wonder what a humiliating scene it would have created had the Kumars landed up for dinner. I did not have any plan B then, what was I thinking? But I believe in working on my flaws. I have now worked out a plan B for such 'kitchen crisis' management and sticky situations in the future---a pantry stocked with snacks and #TinyOwlApp on my phone.
From dosas to donuts, from pastas to parathas, from biryani to baingan bharta, Installing the TinyOwl App on your phone will make sure your choice of meal arrives at your door step. It makes the entire process of ordering food time conserving,  convenient and fun. All you need to do is tap (the App) and choose (from the options it provides). It is as easy as ordering a butler around, and guess what? This butler comes for free.
So the next time K Maasi experiments in the kitchen, I am going to sit back and just tap on an expert app with a minimal interface and order in from the city's best restaurants in and around the city.

In addition, TinyOwl allows both cash and card payments and also saves all your previous orders and addresses so that you don't have to type it every single time. It takes the entire responsibility of confirming your order with the restaurant and notifying you of the estimated delivery time. To sum up, this handy app reduces a lot of stress from your shoulders, especially in times of emergencies like K Maasi's cooking escapades or an unexpected visit from your friends on days you are just too bored to enter the kitchen or just too tired to step out. No more panic attacks. No more having to wait until you get connected to the restaurant, no more address mix-up's because the manager on the other end of the call is stone deaf, no more dialing numbers in the hope of getting through a busy line---now who wouldn't want a simple, easy to use, and most importantly, free-of-charge food ordering app that does all the irritating work for you?

So download now. Here are the Android and IOS links.You are now just a tap away from a scrumptious feast from your favorite restaurant.

Bring it on, K Maasi. I am fully armed for your next visit!

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