When the Times of India, Bangalore was celebrating their 25 years in the city, they asked many Bangaloreans to write about their perspective on Bangalore. The  perspective of Bangalore, I knew deeply was Anglophile Bangalore…so I plunged into writing the article with that slant. Couldn’t pretend I was equipped to write about the plurality of Bangalore or many other spheres, so stuck to the uni dimensional.

When we moved to Bangalore in the Seventies, the city was a haven for Anglophiles. Everyone around us spoke in English. From classmates, neighbors and domestic help to just about everybody on the street. As kids of mixed parentage, English was the only language we spoke at home….so this was indeed a welcome relief from the North. We settled in quickly, as kids do, and were soon chattering away- with our typical Bangalore accents. My mother, so taken by everyone’s familiarity with the language, would brag that even the milkman cheerily greets her, with a “Hello, Hello”. (It was only a few years later that she actually realized that it was “ haalu, haalu” that the poor man was saying, but had quickly switched to “hello” taken by my mother’s enthusiasm!).

Colonial influences were apparent everywhere. You only had to be at some of the Bangalore’s best known institutions-Victoria Hotel, The West End, The Bangalore Club , The BGC  and so many others to understand Banglore’s slant to it. Enough has been written about the Architecture, but the true spirit was found in the Bangalore equivalent of Jeeves. Smartly turned out in his white uniform, this stalwart could lay an immaculate table, and serve up a feast of Bakes, Roasts, Casseroles  and Stews, alongside Caramel custard, Trifle, Souffles and Bread & Butter pudding. Not to mention, a mean G&T on a Sunday afternoon. We were lucky to have a few of them in our life during our growing up years. Looking back now, I realize how each of the recipes, had their own little Bangalore twist. Caramel custard with elaichi, Irish Stew with coconut milk, Masala chops, Spicy Roasts and of course, the all time favorite Sago pudding which we kids called “Fish Eyes in Glue”!

Bangalore reveled in its past. Stick jaws, Lemon Drops and Bulls eyes from the school Tuck Shop to Hot Cross Buns and Plum Pudding from your local bakery. When western flavours hadn’t permeated into much of urban India, Russell market was selling Avocados, Broccoli, Celery, Passion fruit, Star-Apples and fresh herbs like Dil and Parsley. The festive season brought in Turkey, Duck and Smoked Ham with Ginger Cordials and well fortified Home made wines. The Only Place was serving Waffles for breakfast and the best done Steaks and Apple Pie, for as long as I can remember.

Our growing up years in the eighties and nineties saw Bangalore doing things in a style all of its own, this time with a lot more confidence. At a time when burgers and fast food crept slowly  into the rest of India, Bangaloreans were already well versed with the fare-  from our very own Casa Piccola, Ice & Spice and Indiana. Even today, ask any true Blue Bangalorean where he’d prefer his burger from and I’m sure it would make any multinational rethink their marketing strategies! When Draught Beer was introduced, Bangaloreans took it to a whole new level…and the Bangalore “pub” was born. “Garden” pubs mushroomed. Overnight, even open air places like Shyamparaksh on Infantry road were serving chilled beer alongside Paper Masala Dosa. Aunties in Kanchivaram sarees and 7- diamond nose rings sat with their younger jean clad counterparts, all enjoying a good swig. It was no big deal. That was vintage Bangalore.

The sense of open mindedness that prevailed was apparent. Dancing all night at The Blue Fox, Knock Out or Jiving to Shyam & The West Wind at Mandarin Room was common place. No Cindrella hours and certainly no narrow minded connotations associated with dancing or live bands. The arty side of Bangalore was real. Audiences devoured our very own home theatre groups like ART and BLT. Music festivals featuring Bangalore’s own talent were always a sell-out. Most importantly, it was the music not the hi tech that drew the crowds. And as life’s pace quickened, Bangalore still had something personal about it. In its own little way the sense of community prevailed. Where else could groups exhibit their talent (as they did at the Band Stand in Cubbon park over many Sundays) just for the love of music?

Today, Bangalore has come a full circle. I often feel like I’m slowly waking up from a deep slumber. When did it all change? The day flies by in a blur. Benchmarks have changed. Bollywood is in. The  Kurti is it. Hinglish , Kanglish and Vada Pav. Fake American twangs. Less time. More money. You know Bangalore is changing when my friend Prahlad Nanjappa, a self confessed Anglophile, has the title track from “Mungaru Male” as his hello tune. We “old” Bangaloreans crib a lot nowadays. We crib about the Glass and Steel. We crib about the traffic. We crib about the crowds. We crib about the curfew. We crib about the chaos.

But scratch a little deeper.  Where else could there be….Wine festivals in a Botanical Garden with swigs for free? Golden Rose smuggling beer out, way after curfew? Theatre platforms like Ranga Shankara brimming with talent and an  unparalleled bon homie? English films at Rex theatre with tickets and pop corn for just Rs 100. And so many more….Just open your eyes and look. Peel away the veneer. Call it Bengaluru or Bangalore. Who cares? My Bangalore still exists. Deeper than just a name.


Life. Scrabble. Bingo.

It’s holiday time and the mad rush of school days has eased up. I am lucky to find time to indulge in my favourite game-Scrabble. And when my Scrabble friends get busy with their own lives ( hint! hint!), I play online ( http://www.isc.ro) which is more often than not! My son joins me and we have a great time. You play one to one with people across the world. There is an overall rating and a time clock and score board to keep you in check.

But of late, I’ve been keeping a close watch on myself and my opponents. How we play, How we use our tiles, When we dwell on our move, When we panic etc etc ………the reactions at various stages of the game….Maybe it’s the effect of my favourite pastime ( the mind behind a move! ) coupled with my favourite game but the learnings for me as an individual have been simple and real and as a parent I hope next time I have to dish out truisms to my son, I can relate them right back to Scrabble.

Make the most of what you have . The 7 tiles that you pick up is like what life offers you. Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes your luck runs out. Dwell too long on your misfortune, you remain despondent most of the game. You rejoice too much, time will just pass you by. It’s the same thing in life….Making the most of what you have is crucial. Ever been stuck with AAEIOOU? It’s about either getting rid of the dead weight as fast as you can, or thinking laterally with what you can do to piggy back on that Z, J or Q double quick. Things do even out in the long run…it’s the law of probability, but the trick is to make the most of what you have right now.

Value has a time and place. How often we hold on to what we consider dear. Often the value is intrinsic. We count our assets celebrating the fact that we “own” it. But if this is not used at the right time or the right place, it can become a millstone around your neck. Ever tried to keep a Q waiting for the just the right move…only for the game to end with a minus 20 penalty? The more the value , more the pressure of using it smartly. Use it too soon, you kick yourself later. Use it too late, its value has gone.

Society’s best may not be the best for you. In Scrabble getting a word on a Triple Word score is often considered the ultimate. We all have a tendency to gravitate towards it seizing the opportunity. The thought of letting it go, binds us up tighter. In the bargain we get so overawed and have to settle for a lesser score …Perhaps time for us to breakaway from the stereotypes and forge new paths, irrespective of the rules society sets for us!

Never give up till the end. This is an overused line, I know…but it works….For eg. the other day I was sailing through a game, pretty confident that I had it in the bag. A good 80 point difference and plenty of time in hand. When suddenly, my opponent, played a bingo ( a 7 letter word), used up all her letters, got a 50 point bonus, counted  up my left over letters and left me stunned. Never  assume the outcome until the actual end. Fight till the bitter end….That’s certainly one thing that Scrabble has taught me.

It is the winning that counts. How often we parents console our kids with a “It’s not the winning but playing the game that counts.” But let someone try telling me this while I’m playing. You have a real life opponent , you have a competitive rating, you have a score and you have a timer ticking away every second. Winning does count. Perhaps it’s not the end all and the be all of the exercise but it sure is an important part. Ofcourse, being a good loser, a good sport and resilience are all secondary to the moment! So next time when my son loses a game, I’m going to bite my tongue and ditch my shallow consolation for a while. Wining was important to him at that point so why did I downplay it? If he had won, I wonder if my reaction would have been the same.

When the scales tilt, hold on. I notice this very often when I play. You’re cruising along doing pretty well, when suddenly the scales tilt. Fortunes change. You get a jolt. You start watching the timer. You start worrying. It’s coupled with a bad set of letters. A few bad moves….presto! the slide happens. You’ve allowed your mind to take over your game and before you know it, you’re history.

Sometimes, it’s not only about the score.This statement does seem to contradict an above one, but one of the most satisfying moves in Scrabble is to make an interesting word. A word not often used but demonstrates a combination of command of the language and lateral thinking. A word that brings a smile. A word that gets you a “wow”, is worth the points lost….that’s what differentiates one who only plays to win, and one who loves the game. We balance out  life when we do things for the soul as well …and not just for the pocket!

And as I go around propounding these great theories of life, my biggest lesson of all was when my son reprimanded  me during a game with a “ Mama, If you want to be a winner in life, you’d better stop that multitasking!”

Then and there my simultaneous chatting, surfing,mailing, blogging, phoning, scrabbling came to a grinding halt. And I wondered for a moment if this was a corner I just turned. Life’s lessons from a teenager? Why ever not?

Touché, my son. You sure scored a Bingo there.

April Fool

Yesterday, I woke up  and I blearily checked my phone. 12 missed calls from an unknown number. After cursing  every credit card company and home loan agent under my breath, I went about my usual morning chores. A few hours later, just before leaving for office, I checked my phone again. 8 missed calls from the same number. Curiosity got the better of me and all set to snarl at the person at the other end, I called back.

I got this pretty well spoken guy at the other end who greeted me with such enthusiasm. He told me he was from Coca Cola, Gurgaon  ( hmm!) and wanted me to conduct some research groups for college students ( double hmmm!) . He said that he was given my reference from someone in Coca Cola Bangalore. ( Ahah!) They wanted someone who could deal easily with College Students. And he felt I was the best choice. ( ahem ahem).

Discarding all logic, ( after all I dont conduct research groups, I dont know anyone in Coca Cola, Bangalore  and the last time I spoke to a college student, they looked  at me as if I was some freak from outerspace, called me Aunty and walked away!)…Ofcourse, by now my ego had taken over. Kinda preening myself while I modulated my voice on the phone, I asked him some “intelligent” questions and got completely carried away till he said something about my conducting groups for Britannia. Then the penny dropped. This was a joke. ( after all what was a Coke guy doing talking about Britannia…Smart me !). Yes, it had to be that mad Prithvi from Radio One who does this bakra act every morning……So, I quickly changed my tack and pretended it was so funny ( after all it would be aired on radio!!) and pretended to laugh and giggle and act very chatty! He strung me along for a while ( ah! ..what would everyone say when they heard me on radio…and me who had got the joke, and was so witty! Tra la la)…And just when I was really giving the Im- too-cool-for-Radio ones, the bubble burst……. Hahaha, Mala…so nice to hear you after 22 years! It was a classmate of mine from my MM S days in Mumbai.  Ravi…you got me there…and this one’s for you!

How we laughed. ( I had no other option!) He told me that he’s on a get back in touch spree and I’m the sixth class mate he’s called.  One,  I believe gave him his complete take on Mayawati ( thinking it was for an interview on elections) and another  bit the bait with all that she could help for this NGO who’s going to change the world ( ofcourse quickly telling him that her work only gives her little windows of opportunity to help the poor!! )

So this morning much inspired, and being April 1st, I got up, wrote out  a History Question paper, went into my son’s room and whispered to him that a friend (who is a very senior History teacher in his school) had  very kindly called and “shared ” some questions that were coming for the exam. My son looked at me bewildered and shocked. How could this teacher who is the straightest person we’ve ever met, stoop to this and how could his mother who is always extolling the virtues of being honest, be hand in glove with her? He quickly  ran through the questions which were so simple…When did India get Independance, Where is the Taj Mahal and other questions reeking of someone who doesnt know what the portions are….Until he came to ” Write the concept of April Fool’s day and tell your mother  she’s won this round!).  Gotcha!  He finally got me chasing me around the house. What a great way to start the day with a good laugh.

And this brings me back to all the silly little jokes that we used to play. They didn’t do any one any harm. They were simple. They usually ended up with both sides laughing. And the smile and the story usually lasted a whole day. Some for decades.Sometimes they back fired and you ended up being the fool…but what the hell…..And it also made me feel how serious all of us have become….Today, I just want to spend the whole day thinking about the funny jokes we played and got trapped into.

Im waiting now for 9 am for my maid to arrive. It’s April Fools day and shes always got a joke up her sleeve. I’m on guard. But I know she’ll  get me at the end. She always has for the past 15 years.

So Happy April Fool’s day to you. Happy smiling  when you reminisce. Or  create a new story to tell your kids. (Do let me know what happened!)

PS.  This is NOT to save the world, not to take away from the world’s problems, not to be frivilous, not to encourage ragging, not to encourage physical harm, definitely not to encourage sneaking answers before the exam…. Just to smile. Georgie, any more to the disclaimer? PS. I also dont know how April Fool’s day started and by whom..sorry.:). Do you?

I love the Recession.

There’s one word on everyone’s lips. RECESSION.

In the midst of downturn filled conversations, floods of recession related emails , loud arguments to prove who knows better and hushed whispers letting you into secrets of survival, I have to unabashedly admit, there are some wonderful things happening as a result of the recession. And I’m enjoying every moment of it.

But before I plunge into writing, let me make a few disclaimers since this is such a hot topic and most people know more about it than others!

1. This post doesn’t pretend to be an expert’s view on the economics of the recession, a marketers perspective and any view from any pundit (known, self appointed or otherwise!)

2. This is not based on any research, analyses or otherwise CYA data, but based on a sample size of 1. Yours truly.

Saturday evenings have never been better. I happen to live in the heart of town of my beloved and once “relaxed” city, Bangalore. Over the last few years, Everyone who’s Anyone and No one ( and his Mother, Father, Aunt and Cousin visiting from Batinda) , had all taken to converging on MG road on the weekend . The traffic was a snarling gnarling mess ( as if weekday traffic in Bangalore wasn’t bad enough!) , coupled with yelling families and revving cars shattering the peace and quiet of us poor residents…Stepping out for a dream Saturday evening would invariably end up being a nightmare. The sheer numbers, the traffic jams, the endless waiting at restaurants and the supercilious waiters . But suddenly, times they are a’changing. The weekend revelers are dwindling. Less people are spending a night out on the town. The roads closer home are becoming less congested. I can now actually get a parking place on Brigade Road without crossing my fingers, toes, eyes and invoking the Gods. I can walk into a restaurant unreserved. I’m greeted and treated like royalty. The happy hours time always extends to when you enter and guess what, your tip is always gratefully accepted.

Shopping has actually become fun. Shopping was an expedition with the malls packed like sardines….one had to push and shove one’s way around a store. Dare to stand still and you were sure to be swept along with the crowd. But today, my favorite pastime of window shopping is a pleasure and actual buying is a breeze. No queues . No waiting. No grabbing the last one off the shelf. And the icing on the cake for a compulsive bargainer like me is the omnipresent discounts ….. For years I’ve had to plead, beg, cajole, growl, threaten ( and whatever else I can do) just to get the satisfaction of a discount or a freebie but today, it’s there on a platter! ( The thrill of a freebie is another topic, another time!)

There’s also a new twist to love and friendship….I go for a walk every evening in Lalbagh and have noticed the increasing numbers of late…. more and more people are opting for a walk in the park or a gup shup on a bench. I just love that. What a wonderful way to test your feelings for someone….Devoid of all the trimmings and trappings that 5 star ambiences , liqueurs and exotic menus offer….stripped down bare to just the enjoyment of being together. A great test for many a love and many a friendship…. And a reality check to many others who can easily run out of conversation and common ground!

Parties are suddenly getting more fun and less stressful. Potluck and BYOB is in again. You can arrive in your “been seen many times before “ kurta and no one will care anymore. You can greet your hostess with a homemade bottle of pickle (remember you have more time on your hands now!) rather than that expensive wine. The one-upmanship of whose lavish spread is better, gets a thumbs down today and the simple fun of a Pictionary or Dumb Charades filled party has made a come-back. Give me a hearty laugh and a group of mad Pictionary-crazy friends any day to survive any downturn!

Creativity is at its peak. To retaining business, to winning business, to making do, to cutting down -The lateral thinking hats are on.. Everyone has to be creative to survive and the wackiness that is emerging is delightful……..Apart from George Bush, I dont think any event  has triggered so many jokes and cartoons and smiles.

I love the fact that I can happily use the Recession to battle Teenage Peer Pressure. Nike Shoes? No way…It’s recession time. Nintendo Wi? Got to be joking. It’s Recession Time, pal. Holiday at a resort…Think again buddy, It’s the R word…..So far it’s working and I aint complaining!

I love being able to once again enjoy the simple everyday pleasures of life……being able to sport a hairstyle that’s grown way out of the cut ,but who cares, happily wearing my outdated yet most comfortable outfit and rubber chappals when I go out, enjoying my  pirated DVDs instead of being cooped up in a Multiplex, slurpping  the cheapest Joy Icecream Orange bar and roadside Bhel puri instead of paying an arm and a leg for 5 star buffets, getting my daily exercise with a simple walk in the park and ditching the never used Gym Membership anyway, gorging on my homegrown mangoes instead of buying some expensive foreign fruit that has flooded the market, soaking in the colours of Bangalore in Spring instead of an elitist Art Show, enjoying a hot gossip with a friend and a good game of scrabble. Can I ask for more?

But most importantly, I love the fact that I don’t need to keep up with the Joneses. After all, didn’t they lose all their money in the recession?

Down with exam fever.

The midnight oil is burning. The alarm is set before dawn. The time table is pinned up. The calendar is blocked. The portions are marked out. The chapters are flagged. The previous years’ question papers filed. The TV  cut . Mobiles  unreachable.  Invitations discarded. Newspapers unread. Chores pushed under the carpet. And dark circles under the eyes have made their annual appearance.

It’s exam time in Bangalore.

And if you thought that any of the above pertained to ( what you imagine to be) tense, over worked children, think again! The tense ones are the mothers! ( and a few fathers, but most of them quickly bury themselves in work or start travelling,for meetings that are always a matter of life or death, strangely coincidentally )

For every self respecting mother  in town, life comes to a  grinding halt in March. Exams loom large over their otherwise well organised lives. The juggling ceases as a single minded objective takes over. While the kids have a good night’s sleep ( and believe me, most of them do, without a care in the world about their impending futures) , Mums in Bangalore get geared up for a  month of sleepless nights. All conversations start and end with the E word ( that is if anyone is allowed to even try to make conversation at that time).

The “Mums with a Mission” brigade has arrived. Every one of them  pushing their child into being a super achiever.

At this very moment, I have my 13 year old son lolling on the bed, going through the motions of studying Hindi. Strange noises of airplanes taking off and imaginary clanking of swords are interspersed with the  Hindi words.  I’m stationed in front – looking stern and dishing out threats abundantly ( which are deftly  avoided between the duels and aircraft combats). I’m bored. This sentinel duty is irritating the hell out of me. I’m feeling like a caged lion roaring at him with amazing regularity. No effect. It’s weighing me down. I escape to my blog. I need empathy. I need liberation. Help me.

I look back to when I was 13 and had exams. I can’t EVER remember my mother sitting with me while I was studying.  Or me ever dreaming of even asking her to stop what she’s doing and to come sit with me. We just did what we had to….Mind you,  this is not to glorify the past and make ourselves out to be these exemplary kids oozing with responsibility. We were just ordinary kids who lead pretty ordinary lives. Exams were one such ordinary chore that had to be done. But today exams have become an ordeal for us, Mums. And what’s with this ” Mama, sit with me while I study?” epidemic going around, I ask you.

Sure, our  mothers were equally concerned and involved. Probably more so. But their role during our exams was to  ensure that we got a never ending supply of goodies to munch on  while we toiled and there was no question of their world coming to a standstill. 

So when did this transition actually happen? Are we doing it the right way..or have we got it all wrong? Why is this driving us so crazy?

Have we brought this on ourselves? Sometimes I think  this whole drama and hoopla  around exams is our own creation. Maybe we are  more controlling and can not let go of our kids  to make their own mess . I mean, how bad can it be if they were not to be super stars in a middle school exam? Honestly, were each of us?  I think we can often be overinvolved  and unwittingly dilute their own sense of responsibility. A sense that should come from within and not drilled in by Mama. Or is it a deeper issue, which points to our own achievements rather than theirs?  Have I got it all mixed up and just reserve this psychobabble for talk shows while we have to do what we have to do?

Perhaps it’s the competition and our milling billions that have driven us to behave this way.   I’m guilty of using that justification all the time….and  I’m questioning myself right now too.  One day, I was holding my son’s report card  when another mother ( who I had never seen before in my life!) walked  straight up to me, and whisked the report card out of my hand to compare marks. I was too aghast to even react. ( Wish I  had reacted and ticked her off , in retrospect!). My son’s pathetic marks were equally important for her to judge her own son.

For a moment,  imagine a Bangalore where marks didn’t count at all….but knowledge did.  Would wandering in the garden, watching birds and insects get prirotityover grades? Would we  then channelize our energies into building a strong foundation  for our kids rather than intently calculating averages?  I wonder. Sounds perfect in theory and nothing wrong with that, but aren’t marks an indication of knowledge? And am I  being a trifle Utopian here- after who is going to gear them up for the future  walking in the garden collecting insects?

The flip side of it….Why blame ourselves? Perhaps it is just a current generation thing. It could be that our kids today are  fed on a buffet of instant gratification that has stunted their own attention span. Too many messages, too many distractions, too many things to do, too much of EVERYTHING. As a result, they flit through experiences at breakneck speed, withno depth and certainly no time to soak up anything, yet not wanting to miss out on anything at all. The same behavior is translated into their lessons. Observe an average 13 year old today. They can’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a stretch on anything. ( and I mean sit….concentration and associated mental activities stopped after the 4th minute). Don’t believe me….time it yourself. You time 15 minutes… get ready to celebrate. You have a super star. You cross 20 mins, get ready to witness a collapse!!

But what really drives us crazy at Exam time is the assumption that we are the custodian of all knowledge. And I truly believe this is the underlying cause of all our stress. Who on earth remembers Newtons laws of physics, Variable Valency and Classification of invertebrates, off hand? So for all the years that we’ve bragged about how well we did when we were their age, we are now under pressure to walk the talk. After all we are the role models, right…

So while your little one settles into bed with a warm glass of milk and a hug, you sneak out and quickly open up the text books and revise the portions. ( Now you know why the fathers have fled?!)

Any wonder then that the midnight oil is burning, the alarm set before dawn, the newspapers go unread and the dark circles have appeared.  You’re down with the exam fever.

So all the best, Mama. Just relax. Tuck your angel into bed. Open  up the vodka.

Cheers. You’re going to do just fine.

After all, wasn’t it you who topped the class?…;)

( PS. . My son seized the opportunity  of my distraction with  my blog and has made a quick getaway into the garden.)

When I grow up, I will be…..

Every child has a dream. A dream of growing up. A dream of becoming something. And every parent proudly preens him/ herself when they hear, “When I grow up, I will be…..a pilot, a doctor, a painter, an actor etc etc… ( depending on the flavour of the month). Haven’t we all said this, ourselves?

But how many of us have actually “become” what we dreamed about. Were those dreams too often dismissed as childish fantasies. Or did those dreams fade away while the reality of life took charge?

I look at so many of us in our 30’s and 40’s. Maybe it was because our generation was going through a change-a transition perhaps fueled by the mega transition that our country itself was experiencing. But choices were limited, as were our imagination and most careers were chosen from a practical sense. Right from our choice of educational streams- Arts/ Science/ Commerce and then Engineering/ Medicine/ CA/ Law/ MBA etc. This was often driven from what we did well in. Scored high in Maths, send her for Engineering. Very bright, send him for Medicine. Passion? Fascination? Forget it. All dismissed as hobby material. How many times, did we come across people during the Common Entrance Test where people tried for both Medicine an Engineering! Where did passion play a role there, I ask you?

Some of us had our careers all laid out in front of us, driven from family/ peer pressures and compulsions. Some of us who didn’t have “driven” parents followed the herd. And to be honest, many of us didn’t even have the mind set to explore deeper. ( I know I didn’t!) Matching a hobby with a career, didn’t even stand a chance of a discussion.

I look back at my own choice of career ( which I have to say is still in its ever evolving state…and probably will be till I’m too senile to think straight!) and I wonder at some of my choices, driven by the most frivolous factors. Just thinking about them embarrasses the hell out of me (I will spare you the gory details!)

Luckily, I stumbled upon a profession where I’ve done reasonably okay, and have had lots of fun. And I’m sure, so have many of my contemporaries and friends as well, in their chosen fields. Some, just basically conscientious people, have excelled and would have done so in any profession. Others chose paths that were comfortable and did well there too. Some chose what they did best and did well there too. Others meandered on and found their niche. While some just got used to what they were doing and settled into a zone. But all in all, well settled, well placed, enjoying the spoils of a better lifestyle and the trimmings that success offers.

But I have always marveled at the few lucky ones who single-mindedly knew which path they wanted to follow very early on in life. Most often arising from a passion (which in turn, often stemmed from a hobby or a fascination). My father, who lived, dreamed, breathed aeroplanes, even as a very young child went on with steely determination to become a fighter pilot, rejecting many an opportunity to study abroad and other sought after opportunities of those days. He used to always remark, “Because I couldn’t think of doing anything else…just flying.” A classmate of mine from school, was a natural actress back then, pursued her passion right through out as her career and has carved a niche for herself. She was lucky enough to find a life partner to share her interests and ideals but most importantly, today, she loves what she does.

 And for every one person who followed his dream, there were many many of us who didn’t dream……Did we allow compulsions to take precedence or was it that we didn’t have a single minded passion that we thought could be converted to a lifelong career?

I wonder at our education system. But more importantly I wonder at our own mind sets. I do hope that we will be able to break away from stereotypes when it comes to our children? I hope we will be able to encourage them to dream and dream really big. I hope we will be able to spot a fascination early on and guide them gently. I hope we will give them every opportunity to explore. But most importantly, I hope we are able to open our minds and allow them to break free. ( I think the younger generation is smarter and will probably do just what they want to anyway!)

The good thing is that we are changing…Just look around you today. Suddenly, you see more people (who seemed so well ensconced into their careers, most of them in their 30’s and 40’s ) chucking it all and going back to explore a latent talent or a hidden passion. Ready to start afresh. Maybe it’s about being young enough to start afresh but being old enough to be know your mind. Engineer turned Creative Director, Media Expert turned Photographer, Vet turned Advertising professional, Teacher turned Writer , Software Engineer turned Organic Farmer, Lawyer turned Travel Guide and so on. Fueled by a feverish hunger that becomes all consuming. Choices that could strip one of the lifestyle that a well oiled career offers. Choices that are fueled by the conviction in oneself and the courage to actually do something about it. Aptly summed up by a dear cousin who says “I’m an architect by profession but an illustrator by choice”. Kudos to them. I salute them for having the gumption to take that step and for telling the world, it’s not too late.

But this post is for all those who are caught between the two. Between the stability of life and the need to explore a dream. For all those who are wrestling between making a choice and maintaining status quo. For all those who, on one side, desperately want to fly free and yet hide behind every day compulsions and the practicalities of life. For all those who under confident of their talents and themselves and allow a fear of failure to come in the way of even beginning. For all those who worry about actually taking the first step towards waking up and living a dream.

For all those who are scared. Like me.

Which one are you?

Aliens in Bangalore?

I am going through a harrowing time in Bangalore. Have you ever noticed how our city is being invaded by strange creatures? Creatures with strange appendages. Creatures with strange ways. Creatures that have entered our offices, our parties, our streets. Who are they?  Aliens? All I know is that they are omnipresent and I’m beginning to feel that I’m the one from another planet. Let me tell you about them.

The First Group.  Categorized by the Appendages they sport and their behavior that begins the instant the appendage grows on. You find them walking purposefully towards you. Always talking at the top of their voice. You look around wondering who they are talking to. Oh yes! It’s you. You smile back at them. Eagerly plunge into the conversation. Trying to pick up a thread. They talk back loudly. You reply. They look you in the eye. Walk towards you. Keep talking. Louder. And then suddenly, they walk right past you.  You’re left far behind, bewildered. Your jaw drops open in indignation. The penny drops. They are the Aliens with strange appendages that are on their ears. Or wait, was it a deformed ear? Someone tells me they even have a blue tooth. A Blue Tooth?! In addition to their pearly whites??  Don’t believe me? Watch out for them at your next office conference. They are sure to make an appearance.

The Second group. The Two Thumbed Aliens. Typically this group sports an air of complete indifference to everyone around them. They look bored. They act bored. They all want to be someplace else. All the time. The air of boredom magically vanishes when their two thumbs starting jabbing away at their cell phones. This jabbing action is usually accompanied by a vague, wistful faraway look indicative of a heavy on-air romance going on or that they are the most popular creatures on the planet. This group suffers from speech deficiency and relies heavily on signals sent out by the thumbs (much like the bongo drums?). What baffles me is how they’ve managed to worm their way into the Telecom companies under the guise of “time pass for just 10ps”. Any wonder that this species have evolved Thumbs and regressed Tongues! Don’t believe me? Go to any youth hang out. They’ve invaded the place. With their thumbs doing the talking while wanting to be with someone else, somewhere else.

Enter the third group. I call them The Flashers. In this species, smaller is better (thankfully unlike our very own human counterparts!). They usually invade society gatherings. Their modus operandi is as follows: Wait for a circle of at least two or more smartly turned out men to join in.  Then wait for a woman to join in. Circle ready? That’s when they whip it out of their pockets. The animated discussions start. “Mine’s smaller than yours” and “Mine’s wider than yours” and “Mine can do a lot more than yours”. Mind you the aliens fail to realize that the women in the group get turned off and usually walk away pretty soon. Any wonder…. when all they have to show is Berries…and in a colour conscious country like ours, a Black one at that! Don’t believe me? Turn up at the next brewery sponsored party and watch the flashers in action!

Rest assured these Aliens don’t just take the form of Human Males. They transform themselves into elegant, well turned out women as well. Welcome, Group Four. Here they sprout Photo chromatic antlers. Functionally, they hold long locks up in a casually styled,’ I don’t care too much about my hair’ manner, making sure that every strand is held in place. Interestingly, these antlers even sport brand names like Gucci and Bvlgari. The moment they are up, the Alien immediately sends out a signal of “Been there, Done it”. Strangely, and contrary to popular belief these antlers never cover the eyes but miraculously remain in place, perched up atop a head of heavily coloured hair. (Which I have to admit never fails to contrast with my grey hair and my unprotected dark circles!). Don’t believe me? Get invited for that Sunday brunch by the pool and you’ll be sure to see the branded antlers in style.

I’m left with a heap of questions.

Am I the one being left behind here? Are we being invaded? Should I worry? Should I crawl under a rock and observe this invasion? Is there a mutation going on? Will my son transmutate into being an Alien too? How many years more of Humanhood does he have left in him? Should I join in?

Please tell me there’s no reason to flap. And all it is, is a symptom of a person in her 40’s, who uses a cell phone just to say hello, who doesn’t grow extra limbs, who prefers to talk than type, who definitely doesn’t stack emails in her pockets, who is too busy to look bored and too happy to be right here and not someplace else and who simply keeps the sun at bay with an unbranded squint.


It was a lazy, Sunday afternoon. The venue was my garden. I was doing a pilot for a pet project of mine, casually chatting with a few women on various subjects. When suddenly, a woman intrigued by my hand drawn poster, turned to me, with tears in her eyes and said. “I have everything a woman can ask for- a great family, a loving husband, plenty of money….. yet I feel completely lost. Who am I? Who is the real me? Life seems to be passing by and I have nothing to show as my own?”

An uncomfortable silence fell upon the group of women I was talking to. But her words struck a deep chord in my heart.

 I could relate to every word she said. I understood exactly what she meant. No, she wasn’t going through a mid-life crisis. No, she didn’t love or care for her family any less. No, she didn’t have the luxury of too much time on her hands to dwell on esoteric topics. No, she was certainly not being selfish and self- centred.

I knew exactly what she meant. I had done this journey over the years myself many times over. From being So and So’s daughter to being So and So’s wife to being So and So’s mother. And then one day I woke up and realised that the Mala I was, had been buried somewhere in the heap of life’s every day chores and existence.

A few moments after she had spoken these words, the cloud of awkwardness lifted. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed dramatically. The power of empathy took over. It took one women in the group to agree with her. Another told her story and a third joined in…..And like most women anywhere in the world, there was a flurry of animated exchanges that filled up the rest of the afternoon.

Three women from different backgrounds and different ages, all drawn together by a single common thread. In search of one’s identity.

It is difficult to pin point when the ‘identity’ moment strikes. For some, it strikes very early in life. For others, well into mid life. For some, the trigger is the juggling of different roles, for others the emptiness of having no role. For some, it lies dormant for years and may even never come to the fore, but for others a small spark can start the burning desire to discover one’s self. Sometimes a major upheaval can ignite it, sometimes the lack of one.

Ironically, my work is all about discovering and defining Brand Identities. I use the Brand Onion which is a model based on peeling away at various layers…from the outermost layers of symbols and behaviour ( which are often mistaken for the core), moving through layer by layer, traversing rituals, heroes, personalities and values. … to finally reveal the true essence of the brand. And yet in real life with people, how often we interpret what lies on the outside as the real inside! How many times have we allowed the visiting cards, the cars, the homes, the name, the clothes and all the many other superficial props to masquerade as the real person…and never really peel away the layers, even for our own selves ….never giving one a chance to discover the real core?

As one embarks on this journey of Self Identity, many questions come to mind, right from questioning its very purpose. Is it about doing something that you can own completely….Or is it about creating something on your own? Is it about the satisfaction of breaking status quo or is it something less disruptive? Is it about mental stimulation or is it about ego boosting? Is it about being acknowledged for your skills, or is it about going beyond the confines of your own comfort zone?

Maybe it’s a combination of it all….or maybe none of the above. Maybe it’s something simpler. Maybe it’s something deeper. I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s a journey well worth embarking on if you’re ready to enjoy the ride. And along with it will come some great scenery, some great moments, some great company and some great stories to tell when you wander through a garden on a Sunday afternoon.


I have long given up trying to argue with Georgie. He was determined to take me to this particular restaurant.  This was one place that didnt stint on anything., he said. Our friendship was like  that. Real. Complete.  We would have fun, he promised. Have an afternoon without a care in the world. Who cares that it costs more than anyone could imagine. Money doesnt play a role at all here, he said. Its about being special. It was about friendship.

I grumbled that it doesn’t matter who’s money it was. It was way over the top. We were such close  friends that even sitting at a Darshini down the road would be fun. But he was adamant. Ambiance did play a role. And he wanted to do this right. He won. ( but arguing is  what he does for a living, so I gave in).

And as noon struck on Sunday, we arrived at this delightful place. I immediately knew why he had chosen it. Unpretentious yet valuable. You needed to be with a particular type of friend to truly enjoy the place, he had said. I now understood. We settled in very easily, and were soon swilling Martinis ( shaken, stirred and whatever  else the hell they did to it) …. swiftly moving on to Champagne, Mimosas, Mojitos, Planters punch, Cosmpolitons, and sundry other cocktails ranging from shades of red, green, blue and white with pronunciations that even we didnt pretend we knew. . Someone even suggested a Pin Stripe that was giggled out of existence….and they didnt stop coming ….. ( In the meantime I have to confess,  we ran around  exploring the place, loudly commenting right down to the wooden potty seat covers  and sighed at the simple bunches of flowers on each table).  The richness yet studied casualness of the place was something I loved and he gloated over it, as  the person who has made the right choice.

It was an afternoon filled with happiness and laughter. There were 5 of us. All of us so comfortable with each other that  we could be ourselves.  ( The good , The bad and The ugly…The bald, The grey and The overweight). So comfortable, that we happily  mispronounced all the Mediterranean fare with complete irreverence and laughed about it. We  confessed  how at times weve always pretended we knew about something but actually had no idea. But this was one group were we could display our ignorance without trying to create  any illusions . We delighted  in ordering cocktails that were tongue twisters and laughed about not even knowing what the base was…. We indulged in the exotic without pretending to have a clue on the history of the dish. We threw the cushions aside  with gay abandon, flung our sandals off and happily sat cross legged on the mud benches. We went back for nth helpings without worrying about what someone would say. And as the afternoon progressed and evening came upon us, we had talked about almost everything under the sun, from the serious to the frivolous with equal ease. All interspersed  by enthusiastically joining the guitarist and  singers as they indulged us. We sang full throated and  pretty off key. Only reinforcing the quote that says “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them”.  We tossed away the mundane chores of our everyday lives, threw our heads back and guffawed. Revelled in just being .

It was special. . And as  we said good bye, we knew how lucky we were to have a friendship like this.

As the effect of the cocktails wore off  ( many many hours later, I have to admit) , many questions about friendship came to my mind.

What really makes two people friends ? Is it a common interest? Is it a value system?  Or is it just an unexplained  connection? We often talk about friendship that are made before we’ve moved into the pretentious world. Was it that we just took people at face value then and never delved too deep? Are those the only bonds that last longer, or do we just tend to romanticisethose friendships as reminiscent of ‘the good old days?’  The ones that last, really last, but to be honest , for every one solid friend, there are many that have just grown apart. And yet with some time and distance play no role. When you meet you can take up from where you left off.

The other day a colleague was bragging about the number of friends she has on Face Book. I asked her how many of these ” friends” does she really have  something in common with. How many of  them could  she make conversation with, that go beyond an update of ones life? How many of them can she  really ” talk” to ( let alone even place them)? And how many she can really take up from where she left off?   I think it was a reality check for her. And I wonder at this “friendship” collection that happens on the sites…..is it more about contact building?? Do we often confuse ‘friends’  with ‘acquaintances’? Or are they interchangeable? When does one leave one category and move into the other? Or are we just contented in our busy lives, to have plenty of acquaintances around us?

Do friendships have a time and a  place ? In a  few previous jobs, Ive  had very close ties with many colleagues. During that tenure we were all joined at the hip…. regular night outs and fun. But as you move out of that environment,  the bon homie suddenly dissipates into thin air….While I look back at the times with fondness,  I know only a few have transcended into being friends, even years later. How many times does a drinking buddy ( read confidante/ buddy/ bossom pal of that time )  working in the same organisation really mature into a deeper friendship? Or is it that some friendships  just need to be taken at face value  and as life goes by,  gets relegated to another entry on your mobile phone.

Maybe these reflections have been triggered by too much alcohol yesterday.  Or maybe just growing sentimental in my 40’s. But one thing Ive realised over the years, that it takes two hands to clap. How many of us actually invest in our friendships?  How many times have we really been there for a friend? How many times has it honestly been an unconditional, nothing in return, relationship? How many times have we  allowed the mundane to take precedence over being in touch and sharing?. How many times…..I can go on….. 

Think about it….when was the last time, you actually picked up that phone to say, hi to a friend.  Ditch the SMS, Ditch the email….Do it now. Who cares if theres a time difference and you wake up the other……The smile at the other end will be worth the effort! Believe me.

ps. If youve think Ive gone off the deep end and bored you to death, just blame Georgie. Im sure he’ll argue you out of it. ..;)

Boxed? or Foxed?

I told a friend of mine that I was planning to name my blog “Single40grey”. I was quite pleased with  the name I had conjured up. The three simple words when combined, mostly aptly described my current persona…and more importantly,  each of the  words had a deeper meaning for me.The reaction I got,  however, wasnt encouraging at all. His first reaction was ( hesitatingly said, I may add here) , ” Uh  um, dont you think that you should add a ‘happy’ or a ‘contented’ to reflect the real you. But what I think what he was actually trying to say was  ” What on earth are people going to think when they hear  Single 40 grey?? ”  After all, typically, the world would view  a “Single, 40, grey haired”  woman to lead a pretty lonesome, miserable life. The reactions, all dripping in pity, I assume, would go something like this, ‘ Its bad enough she’s so old,  she then goes and makes herself look older, and to top it all ( or any wonder that) shes left on the shelf.”

Anyway, I listened to his reaction, came home and immediately started my blog titled “single40grey’ with renewed determination that only comes when you have a point  to prove!

The conversation however  stuck in my head for several days after. It made me dwell on the fact , that as a society, how quick we are to slot people. Swiftly label them based on some preliminary information/ visual cues ( also called first impressions?!) or hearsay ( nice word for gossip) , and place them  into neatly labelled boxes. Water tight compartments , with no elbow room to deviate from the  behavior expected of that category. And certainly no inter connecting tunnels that allow for any kind of transition between the boxes. Needless to say, the option of choosing your own box just doesnt exist. Now this categorisation, I daresay, is no simple task. It is a complicated weaving together of the  clues,which are then interpreted simplistically but defintively.  All collected from a series of diagnostic tests- ranging from  blatant stares, keen listening to your every word to bluntly asked questions.

You only have to embark on the Great Indian Train Journey to experience the process of being  ” slotted.” You board. You gaze absently out of the window or try to bury your nose in a book. If you thought that was going to help you escape , you have another thing coming. Thirty seconds into the journey, your fellow passengers settle into sizing you up. What you’re wearing ( woman wearing track pants…hmm….slot slot) , What kind of baggage youre carrying ( after all a sleeping bag would certainly get you set  apart from the printed Bombay Dyeing bedsheet wallah on the next seat), the Colour of your skin ( quite fair, must be from north or the sheer excitement of a  foreigner travelling amongst them!!), your Hair style, ( bob cut! too liberated, must be of loose morals), your Accent when you make the fatal mistake of calling the chai wallah  ( “must be NRI” ) etc etc.  To be fair to all, there is nothing clandestine about these observations. (This is in great contrast to travelling on a British train where there are sly looks,  through newspapers seeking the same answers, to the same end.) Here, they are openly curious and very persistant  till satisfied.  ( Going to Cochin once, an elderly fellow traveller came and tapped me on my shoulder, late into the night . Mind you, he waited till my companion was away to gather up enough courage for this brave act. He told me he couldnt sleep at all because he couldnt figure out whether I was an Indian or a Foreigner and that if I could please tell him before he sleeps!  How could I not give in to this poor man’s disturbed soul and satify his curiosity so he could have a peaceful sleep! Never mind that the devil in me wanted to spin a yarn that would keep him awake all night!!)

As the miles are gobbled up  the Second Stage of the process begins. It usually starts with an innocent  , ” Where are you from? ” Aha…trapped ! If you happen to mention the place where you embarked from, and it doesnt strike them as your home town, the question is quickly translated  into, ” But actually, where are you from!” Gotcha. click . click. First big categorisation begins. After all a Gujju will be a Gujju,  irresective from where to where  hes travelling. Same way, the Mallu, the Kannadiga, the Punju. Your reply then gives license for the next tirade of questions to begin. These  usually include the most personal ones . ” Are you married?  ( please dont deviate from a simple yes. Single, Divorced, Widowed usually make your fellow passengars most awkward, especially if you’re of marriagble age, and then leads to intense speculation of Why Not?) . How many children? ( Please please make sure you have enough offspirng ….after all 2 years of marriage and no kids would be most innapropriate an answer. Leading inevitably to the next question, Why?) . Where do you work? ( God help you if you’ re a man who’s taken a decision to be at home while your wife has gone out to work! Wow….ready to open up a new box, are you?!) . What does your spouse ( read husband) do? ( Please include Industry, Company and Deisgnation here to avoid further probing) . Your  salary  and your bank balance are derived from here, so you need to be accurate!

After this very preliminary set of simple questions,  great relief descends upon both your fellow passengars ( so they can finally start the Labelling Process) and  upon you ( so you can actually get back to your book or the scenery). After that, you are pigeon- holed for the rest of the journey. Your travel companions can settle down with  a great sense of comfort knowing that the person sitting in the next seat has been boxed and they can then start on the next person. Ofcourse, if you do happen to get  into an unusual box, you become the object of keen interest, observation and speculation reflected in the stares ( discretely via the mirror/ or the dark shut window) and  the hoarse whispering ( which ensures that you can clearly hear every word,  just in case you have the urge to clarify).  

It also made me reflect on my own life .  Neither do I “actually” come from a particular State ( An “actually Im from India ”  is often read as being extra smart!) , Parentage ( a vague answer like  ” mixed” invariably leads to such severe probing that has many times tempted me  into complicating my roots and jumbling up my DNA with glee!), Religion ( always a shocker when you shrug off this question!) , your Husband ( the truth never fails to cause severe embarassment  with mumbles of apologies and swallowing of the tongue. I now stick to the vague ” no longer……….. ” which can be interpreted any which way and always results in an apology!), Family structure ( two sisters , one child, two dogs! Oh god, poor things!)and Occupation. ( Advertising people are always of loose morals, so I stick to Consultant hoping to gain some respectibility) . But I have to admit, I cant express  the immense pleasure I derive when I actually tell the truth. I can almost see the chaos of being placed and removed from a box with every answer. I love the muddle it causes and the unrest it spreads.

When I look back to when I was 13, I desperately wanted to be pigeon holed. It was always my parents fault. Couldnt they have just chosen a box?  But Life has taken its own twists and turns and ironically  as  Ive made my own choices, Ive ensured ( not by design ) that Ive distanced my chances of ever being slotted. Today as a secure happy adult, I can only say “Thank goodness” .

After all, I would never have had  the fun of “foxing’ people, nor would I experience the sense of exhilaration every time I escape a  “box.”

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