Wednesday, January 29, 2014

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So we received this booklet in the mail from the government, titled 'Raising readers for life'. It had tips on how to encourage kids to read, and some sample stories to read with your child. Xena started flipping through it and came to a page with a picture of Humpty Dumpty. The interesting shape of his head, coupled with the cracked skull, immediately caught her attention.

She asked me who it was. I was torn. Humpty Dumpty's is not a happy story. I have never told Xena any story that has a sad ending. All the stories I make up or read to her have a happy ending with a nice moral of the story (and a bonus), such as how one should help their friends (and not reject food), or how one should be safe on the roads (and not reject food) or how one should keep their hands clean (and not reject food), or how one should say 'please' and 'thank you' (and not reject food). I was wondering if she was ready for a story where all the king's men and all the king's horses were unable to help poor HD and had to leave him in that very distressed state. I was also very sure she'd ask me why they didn't try scotch tape. (It is her firm belief that her mommy is a magician who can fix anything with scotch tape.)

The tragedy in the story of HD is not even a hidden one, such as the story of Jack and Jill, which is really about the beheading of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette's, and 'Ring around the rosy', which is really about people dying of the plague. HD's story is in-your-face tragic. His cracked skull is out there, staring at you. So was Xena, staring at me, waiting for me to tell her the story of Humpty Dumpty. I stared right back at her. Was she old enough? Was the time right to stop being overprotective and tell her about the harsh realities of life?

In the end, I did what every mature and sensible parent would do.

Lied my ass off.

When Viv came home from office, she was all ready, excited to tell him the new story she had heard today. And this is how it went. (It was all in Hindi, but I have translated it into English.)

Viv - What did you do today?
Xena - Mommy and I read the story of Humpty Dumpty!
Me - Do you want to tell Poppy the story of Humpty Dumpty?
Xena - Yes! There was a Humpty Dumpty... He wanted to sit on the wall...
Me - And then?
Xena - And then his mommy said, "You can sit on the wall but you have to hold it tightly with both hands."
Me - Then?
Xena - He sat there for a while, and then released one hand...
Me - What happened then?
Xena - He fell down from the wall and bumped his head... and got hurt... and it was very painful... and his mommy took him to the doctor.
Me - Then?
Xena - The doctor fixed his bump... and gave him some medicine...
Me - And...?
Xena - And told him to listen to his mommy...
Me - And then?
Xena - Humpty told his mommy that he would hold the wall... and the swing... tightly with both hands... Then he would not fall and he would not bump his head! End of story!
Me - Very good!
Viv - Errr....

PS: If you really want to know who (or rather, what) Humpty Dumpty really was, click here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Bollywood bug

So we spotted a very very very large moth that had somehow entered our dining room and deposited itself on the wall. Xena was super excited to see what she called "the beeeeg butterfly", so I took her closer for a better look. Suddenly, without any sort of warning whatsoever, it flew off straight at us and all hell broke loose and mother and daughter ran helter-skelter, screaming their lungs out. After it was gone, I turned to look at Xena, who was undergoing uncontrollable giggles to have seen me in such a state of indignity. I, on the other hand, started singing in my head to lower my heart rate and calm myself down. And the first song that came to my mind was the song Mahi Ve from Kaante, particularly these lines - "MOTH se darr nahin lagta humko, sirf tumse judaai ka darr hai."

Yep, you can take the bug off my walls, but you can't take the Bollywood bug off me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

It's a sign

I'm a huge fan of the signs found inside the lifts of big shopping malls. They are always handy when you're rushing to a movie and you enter the mall with no idea whatsoever about where the theatre is. Instead of spending precious seconds/minutes (that are threatening to come between you and the trailers) to find the mall directory, you just rush into the nearest lift and there you have it - the sign that tells you which button to press to go the theatre.

I'm also a huge fan of Singapore's free public library system, and am a regular at the Marine Parade public library. I may not have used it much in my pre-Xena days, but it's such a blessing now. Raising a TV-free and iPad-free child means that you need books - lots and lots of books. Books that you can simply return when you're done, instead of buying and hoarding them. Books that you can simply borrow again if your child suddenly misses them and wants them back (happens a lot more than I'd expected!). I make a visit to the library every fortnight and come back armed with about a dozen books.

The Marine Parade library is a relatively small one, with just one lift catering to the four floors. There's a sign outside the lift telling you which level has which type of books, but it is often blocked by the hordes of people waiting to get into the solitary tiny lift. Since I'm a regular and I only go to the children's section at the moment, I know where my destination is. But I have often noticed that many people rush into the lift without noticing the sign outside, and then looking a bit lost inside as to which button to press. It does not help that one of the buttons, the one between levels 1 and 2, simply says 'M'. (I believe it's some kind of 'Middle floor', constructed later to hold books for young people.)

I wondered how cool it would be if just like the shopping malls, the library lift also had a sign inside. So on a whim, I went to the main library's website and wrote in my tiny suggestion to install a sign inside the lift as well. I wrote to the very generic email address they have under 'Contact us', not really expecting anything. Instantly, I received an automated email to tell me that they would respond to me within three working days.

I'd sent my email on 15th January at 9:16 am and on the same day at 10:24 am, I received a reply... from a person! Wow. Of course, he only told me that they would share my feedback with the library manager. So that was that. Honestly, I didn't have any other expectations. I was just thrilled that there was a human being behind the generic email address! I didn't have any high hopes of my tiny piece of feedback making it anywhere. The library surely had more important matters to discuss in its meetings, such as 'Oh no! This generation does not read!', or 'We started lending DVDs to make more people come to the library and be exposed to books, and now they're only borrowing the DVDs!', or 'Should we tear the library down and build yet another shopping mall?' Even if my input made its way into the AOB section of their meetings under 'Extremely trivial matters', they would probably have to consult the other 25 branches to see if they all agreed. What if some of the libraries didn't have the space in their lifts for the sign because of all the posters? Would they dare to be inconsistent?

Clearly, I was thinking too much. So I stopped thinking.

And that's when they bowled me over.

On 16th January, at 10:18 am (just over 24 hours of receiving my feedback), they wrote to me, "We are pleased to inform you that the Library Manager at the Marine Parade Public Library has taken on board your suggestion and will be installing the signage on the inside of the lift. Thank you very much for your good idea."

Wow. Gotta love Singapore. :)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Random review: Dedh Ishqiya

So Raja Sen of Rediff, who used to be my favorite movie reviewer once upon a time (until he gave Oye Lucky Lucky Oye 5 stars, making me lose 3 (or was it 38737589234?) precious hours of my life that I will never get back), gave Dedh Ishqiya 5 stars, which made me very very suspicious. After all, I had not even liked the prequel Ishqiya too much. However, I googled 'Dedh Ishqiya movie review' and every single review was positive, if not glowing. I'd also been dying to watch a decent movie in the theatre since the disastrous Shuddh Desi Romance, which incidentally had also got good reviews, but was a total waste of my Xena-free time. Honestly, if I'm going to be away from her, I'd rather it be for a very very good reason, such as a very very good movie in the theatre.

Anyway, so there we were, my friend N and me, in City Square Mall after a sumptuous lunch at Apollo Banana Leaf restaurant. Yes, we braved Little India on a Sunday (I'm sure you guys read about the lovely riot that happened there a few Sundays ago.) because both N and I wanted to watch the movie in a Golden Village theatre rather than the desi Jade theatre which is a pain in every which way possible, and the only central Golden Village playing the movie was in City Square Mall. We reached the theatre at 1:39 pm, for the 1:40 pm show, phew! Missing the trailers would have broken both our hearts.

Speaking of trailers, they only showed two - Jai Ho and Gunday - both exceptionally loud trailers, which only worries me. If the trailers are this loud, lord save our ears in the movies. Not that I intend to watch either of them. Tabu totally put me off with her "Mera bhai aayega" act (seriously Tabu? That's what you've been reduced to?) and Gunday didn't appeal to me as much I'd thought it would after watching Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh on Koffee with Karan. Did you watch that episode? It's hilarious. Watch it. NAO.

There was also the mandatory Ricola ad, regarded by many, including me, as the worst of Singaporean advertising. But what made me really proud of Singapore was the ad on safe sanitation and world toilet day. Yes, there is such a day and Singapore is the one that started it and even got the UN to adopt it to promote safe sanitation across the world.

Oh my goodness, I just realised I'm already four paragraphs down and nowhere near talking about the movie that this post is supposedly about. So here goes. Disclaimer 1 - There might be spoilers ahead, so don't read if you're going to watch the movie. Disclaimer 2 - Don't go by my review at all, I have the weirdest taste in Hindi movies.

So Dedh Ishqiya follows the lives of Khalu and Babban, with new love interests, though I wonder what happened to Vidya Balan's character. Wasn't she with Babban at the end of Ishqiya? Or maybe I'd dozed off and missed the real ending. Anyway, the plot of Dedh Ishqiya is actually quite good, and most certainly better developed than the prequel. What I liked the most about the movie were the crisp dialogues and humour, and some very good acting by Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi and Vijay Raaz. Some of the scenes, especially those involving Arshad Warsi, were really funny and had me in splits. I'm so heartbroken at the thought that Munnabhai 3 may never happen.

However, overall the story didn't quite cut it for me. For one, I felt a bit confused about the time the story was set in. On one hand, we had nawabs, begums, shaayars, mushairas, and even a swayamwar thrown in, and yet on the other hand, Babban was hell bent on promoting the iPhone 5. Another issue I had was the age difference between Para and Khalu. In the present, while there were clearly a few decades between them, the flashback (by the way, was it really necessary to show that they had shared some history?) showed them to be almost of the same age. It was also relatively easy to guess that Para had orchestrated her own kidnapping, taking away some of the suspense.

Madhuri Dixit, touted to be absolutely scintillating at Begum Para in all the reviews, kind of disappointed me. For one, she was surrounded by much better actors like Naseerudddin Shah, Vijay Raaz and Arshad Warsi. Also, I expected her entry scene to blow me away. Sure, she is still gorgeous at 46 and was dressed to the nines, but there was something about her face that was very... off. N and I were trying to figure out if it was age, bad make-up or simply Botox? I think she looks so much better on television. Anyway, I thought her acting was alright, but nothing out of the ordinary. She was ably supported by the beautiful Huma Qureshi as Muniya. There were quite a few scenes between them, and in fact, at one point N suspected that Para and Muniya were lovers! I briefly entertained that thought (especially during the scene with their dancing sillhouettes) before dismissing it. One, she did seem to enjoy the younger Khalu's attentions. Two, she did seem disappointed that her husband was not into women. And three, I don't think Madhuri would be that open to playing a lesbian. Later, when we found out that the nawab had been gay, I burst out laughing in my head. That would be something - a gay nawab-and-begum couple! Or maybe she was bisexual. I don't know. The movie didn't really leave the question lingering. Maybe it should have.

I also felt that the pace of the movie was kind of slow. Sure, much of it was about slow, poetic romance, but still, some parts were just too slow for my liking. In spite of the slow pace, the story itself started out well, but seemed very randomly put together towards the end. I actually went "huh?" when Italwi suddenly jumped out from the goods train with a big gun and started randomly shooting. If that was the 'twist' in the story that the reviewers were raving about, it was a very meh-inducing one. And what was with the inspector 'John Vijay'? I wasn't sure if his sudden and random inclusion was inspired by Mohanlal in Company, or for comic relief (it wasn't funny).

Respect to Naseeruddin Shah for being the most senior actor (he's 63!) and yet being the one who got beaten up the most in the movie. When and where possible, everyone took a whack at him. But he did look very regal in the nawabi outfits, though I wish the song he sang at the mushaira had been sung by someone else. The late Jagjit Singh would have really nailed it.

Lastly, I was SO thankful the movie had subtitles. I have an interest in Urdu and understand a bit of Urdu shayari too, but many of the shers and dialogues would have just swooshed over my head if not for the subtitles!

Overall, the movie is all right and worth a one-time watch. Arshad Warsi fans should definitely not miss it.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Keep cool (and eat pani puri)

Last week, something very unusual happened in Singapore.

It got cold.


At night we had the fan speed at 1, and had a quilt on instead of the usual thin blanket. It had rained and rained and rained as it does during December and January, but never before in Singapore had I felt this cold. Or this excited. It seemed like - and not in the ominous Game of Thrones kind of way - winter was coming.

Well, of course it wasn't. The next day, the sun was up and shining merrily and then it rained again and then it was sunny again, and so on. Oh well.

Singapore may be my favourite country in the world to live in, but there are certain things about India that I do miss very much. The top three being family, winter and my all time favourite food in the whole wide world - roadside pani puri. And it just struck me that I do still get to enjoy the first two - when the family visits, or when I travel to a cold country (or when the Singapore weather goes bonkers like it did last week). But the last one... sigh... I highly doubt that roadside pani puri can or will ever be what it is, outside of India.

One of my favourite pani puri moments was back when I was a kid and my cousin (and arch nemesis in those days) challenged me to eat 50 pani puris. After a rather full lunch. It was just too easy. As he reluctantly handed me the 10-rupee note for the lost bet, I had a smashing punchline for him, "Pani puri ke liye jagah pet mein nahin, dil mein chahiye." (It doesn't translate well, but here it is anyway: You don't need space in your stomach for pani puri, you need space in your heart.) Honestly, I used to eat so much pani puri that my mom used to joke that I have pani puri ka pani in my veins instead of blood. At my wedding, I wanted the main course to be pani puri. It did feature in the menu, but most tragically my wedding sari weighed me down during the race to the stall and it all disappeared before I got there.

Sometimes I wonder when Xena's health will stabilise and I will take her to India and let her try pani puri.

Some day, we surely will. During winter.

And we will huddle by the roadside and have a pani puri eating competition. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Plan view

I just got back from a new year's party and before I hit the bed, I want to make this official. All the things I plan to do in the new year. My new year resolutions. It is a very general list, applicable to almost everyone, but it's these simple things that can sometimes be so hard to adhere to that you need to sign and stamp it on the first day of the year itself.

De-LTF. Like mad.
Viv and I plan to lose some serious weight this year. Not off our bodies, but off our home. We have lived here for about 6 years now and accumulated a lot of LTF stuff. LTF as in 'Lie There Forever'. I had posted about LTF here, but here's a refresher. It's basically all the stuff that you never use and it just takes up space because it lies there forever. We have some simple rules. The first round is for each person to throw/donate their own LTF stuff. The key is to keep only the stuff you need or use. Anything you don't use or have not needed in the last one year, goes. If you look at something and hesitate, it goes. Next is to ask each other key questions such as, "What on earth is this??" or "Whose is this?" or "Is this yours?" or "Oh my goodness, this is still here??" or "What do you intend to do with this?" If a satisfactory reply is not received, the questioning party has the freedom to dispose of the item in question. The plan is to declutter our home, create more space, make it neater and more organised. And keep it that way. I have had enough of articles that assure me that we have a kid and so it's okay that our home is messy, etc. etc. Please. I shall not kid myself anymore. My kid is not the one making the mess. If anything, my kid is a pro at tidying up. The mess is all Viv and me. There is simply no excuse.

Cook better, look better.
Last year, a friend of mine mentioned this app called MyFitnessPal, which has been a total eye-opener. Viv and I generally eat healthy home-cooked food, and are moderately active too, so it was a shock to me when I found out the caloric content of the some of the foods we eat, especially when we eat out. Basically, one meal at a restaurant can take up almost your entire day's caloric needs. Whoa. That is scary. Add to it the extra salt and fat and MSG found in such meals. Ugh. All this while I'd always had 'be fit' as my perennial resolution, but I had never looked too closely at what I was eating. But now I have realised that you can exercise all you want and you can be as fit as you want, but you still need to watch what you're eating. The plan for 2014 is to be more conscious when cooking, e.g. tone down the salt and sugar, ketchup and sauces, and make sure our intake of fruits, vegetables and water is sufficient. We are adventurous about food, so we might not be cutting down on the meals we eat outside, but we will surely be more conscious of the quantities we eat. A 1000-calorie meal is a no-no-no.

Be more organised
I might be good at organising events, but Viv is most definitely better at being organised himself. In the coming year, I want to be more like him in this regard. I want to know where my things are, especially my keys and my phone and my bus card. I want to do my accounts properly like he does. I want to have a system for everything. A system that works. In other words, I guess I want to be like... Singapore!

Be curious and learn
Recently, we went to the River Safari and as I watched the animals in fascination, I learnt a lot (e.g. how to tell the difference between a crocodile, an alligator and a ghariyal), had several questions in mind (e.g. I saw a signboard describing mammals and wondered what was the correct use of the word 'suckle' - do young mammals suckle their mothers, or do the mothers suckle the young?). I was filled with curiosity and excitement about learning new things and finding out the answers to the questions in my head. I came home, googled for an hour and got all my answers. As well as a sense of fulfillment. Many times, I come across a new word in the newspaper, an interesting reference in a movie, a phrase that sounds like it might have a fascinating origin. Most of the time, I forget about them. In 2014, I plan to pick up such things, follow through, learn more, and try to better understand them. Unless it's politics or the stock market. Those I will joyfully skip.

More outings and gatherings
Since Xena goes to the hospital a lot (something that I hope changes for the better in 2014), it is hard to catch a window period when she's well and can go for an outing. I can't remember the number of times I have cancelled a play date, a picnic, waterplay or an outing because she fell sick or was hospitalised. Even her docs say that until she starts eating and her lungs get bigger and stronger, there is not much I can do, but this year, I will keep a sharp eye out for those gaps between her sickness bouts, and I will make the most of them by organising as many outings and gatherings as I can.

Me-time and me-things
Since Xena was born, I have focused all of my time on her, and even when I did have some me-time to do me-things, I have felt slight pangs of guilt. I know I shouldn't, but I did. In 2014, I intend to shrug off that guilt and do some things just by myself and for myself and my own sanity, be it going shoe-shopping when she's at school, or taking up offers from family and friends to babysit Xena while Viv and I catch a movie in the theatre, or simply watching something on YouTube (we have unsubscribed from all TV channels) when Xena naps. I am aware that this might be the first thing to get sacrificed in the tug of war for time, but I will try my best to catch that episode of Koffee with Karan or that trailer of that horrible new Hindi movie that I'm never going to watch.

In the new year, I want to sing more, Skype more, sew more and, this is a very important one -- blog more.

What do you plan to do in 2014? :)