Happy birthday.

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I met her when she was 17. She was a free spirit. Lived one day at a time, never planned for tomorrow, loved unconditionally. For a regimented fool like me, she was a breath of fresh air, as though someone unlocked the dark dungeons of my heart, cleared the cobwebs and let sunlight stream in.

Fifteen years, marriage, two kids and innumerable ups and downs later, we still remain that intensely volatile couple, with emotions always at the surface. We love passionately and fight bitterly. So much has changed and yet, nothing has.

I can’t believe you’re 32, the mother of our two lovely children. I still see you as that girl in cotton world tees, faded denim, sneakers and that ridiculously heavy backpack filled with books and food, running to catch your bus back home. And as you made it on the bus, you’d fight your way to a window (injuring a few fellow passengers with that bag of yours), with a big grin on your face and wave to me.

Happy birthday Riddhi. You’ll always be 17 to me.

Introducing the board members of my future company.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to build and run my own company. Not just any company. A really large company with multiple business interests, shareholders, board meetings, strategic acquisitions, large campuses with multiple cafeterias, helipads, the works. While that remains a slightly distant dream, I think I’ve already identified the core members of my team. Together, they form the board of this behemoth. I’d like you to meet them.

Aanya :
CFO

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Being the eldest, she should ideally be the Chairman. However, Aanya decided very early in her life that she doesn’t want to be part of a company that is stupid enough to employ her siblings. She started off on her own and made her fortune in online fashion retail. The board soon realized that the financial aspects of the company cannot be left to the remaining jokers. So it pleaded her to come and set things in order. Inheriting an astute business mind from her father and being excellent in math, she sorted the messy accounts of the company and streamlined the finances in a matter of weeks since she took charge.

She can be spotted working in her office late at nights and has often been photographed rolling her eyes during board meetings when her siblings come up with harebrained ideas. She threatens to quit every week.

Ahaan :
Chairman of the board

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There was absolutely no contest when it came to choosing the chairman of the board. The board was looking for a man who swam above the turbulent waters of day to day company running. Someone who could think beyond the obvious. Someone who really didn’t bother with the small stuff. Ahaan can be spotted in most board meetings, staring out of the window with a rather blank expression on his face, chewing candy. In his first week as Chairman, he bought himself a private jet. He conducts most of his meetings on that jet, parked in the hangar and occasionally spends a night or two in it.

He is relentless, stubborn and has a very definitive vision for the company. He fears no one in the company. Except the COO.

Myrah :
COO

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Most people in the company don’t see Myrah. They hear the clackity-clack of her stilettos and run for cover. She is sharp, ruthless and terribly efficient. It takes some amount of authority to control a workforce the size of a small country. And she exudes authority. It also helps that she is the only one the Chairman is scared of.

Rumor has it that she took the company private jet on a joyride on the very first day that it arrived and got nail polish stains on the Chairman’s seat. All of it for the sole purpose of annoying Ahaan. She is most often spotted in her office, or so they say. No one really has the courage to peep in.

Agastya :
Visionary and Head of Future Strategies and Acquisitions

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Gus, everyone calls him Gus, was handpicked by the Chairman to be his CEO. He wanted someone a little chilled, unlike his two bullying sisters. The trouble was that the CEO was expected to conduct a ton of press conferences and interviews. At each of these press conferences, as soon as Gus would make an appearance, lady journalists would start to squeal, like groupies. The squeals would be so loud that no questions could ever be asked. A few of them have been known to faint on occasion. Gus would try and speak softly into the microphone, “Calm down ladies” and flash a dimpled grin. It only made matters worse.

So now he heads the future strategies division. His creative mind has ensured that the company only invests in businesses built on great design ideas. He can often be spotted eating with the staff at one of the common canteens, surrounded by a bunch of girls.

So here it is. My company isn’t up and running yet but my team is set. And it’s a formidable team, with each member bringing their own strengths to the table. In a few decades, they are going to be on the covers of Fortune and Forbes.

Insider tip : Invest early, this company is going to be huge.

Morning rituals.

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Everyone has a morning ritual. Some cultivate it carefully but for most, it’s a subconscious act. An act that begins your day with clarity, focuses your thoughts, channels your energy. It may be as simple as brewing your own coffee or packing lunch for your child, it may even be more elaborate like yoga or something as mundane as ironing your shirt or polishing your shoes. For some, mornings are spent in prayer, a time for reflection and devotion.

I have this terrible habit of over-sharing. So in that spirit, I’m going to let you all in to what my mornings are usually like.

I usually sleep with my little two year old daughter next to me. Both of us like our own space by the time we’ve fallen sleep but whenever I wake up, I find her clinging onto my forearm like a koala bear. I wake up and stare at her for a while, her eyes tightly shut, knowing morning is near. I brush away her hair, the softest ringlets of black with chestnut brown accents that one can ever lay eyes on. She squirms a little bit as I kiss her cheeks and forehead. I let her sleep in a little bit longer but then kiss her more frequently so that she wakes up with a smile. Once she’s up, the little dynamo can’t wait to get out of bed and run about. Out first stop is meeting Mommy and her little 6 month old brother, both of whom have been up for nearly an hour by now. Both the kids look at each other and smile, the little one squealing in delight after a tummy full of milk. This is when I make my great escape to the bathroom, while Mommy gets the elder one ready for playschool.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, much to the annoyance of my wife. But I’ve stopped caring about that and she’s kind of given up on my bathroom habits by now. I sit there, on my ceramic throne, reading. I’ve almost entirely given up reading the newspaper now. All the media that I consume is electronic. I rapidly read all the day’s news and then catch up on social media : Instagram, Twitter and if there’s time, Facebook. Most of the links shared by people and the ones that I’m interested in reading, get saved to Pocket. Finally, when it’s been a while and my feet are tingly and numb, I get off and head for the shower.

Most people at home tell me that I shower like a girl. Just because I shower at leisure doesn’t mean I’m frolicking in bubbles and rubbing myself with a loofah. The shower is where I focus. I go through the day’s schedule in my head, get ready for the surgeries lined up, go over some arguments I’ve had with the wife, think of witty retorts and sometimes even get carried away with melancholy. The last bit of the shower, I let the the water pound my face, think about my family, my kids and say thank you, to the universe for being so unnecessarily kind to me.

I get dressed, usually a crisp white shirt, occasionally blue (I love blue) and a pair of pants in varying shades, ranging from light gray to charcoal. I choose a tie, usually one in a sedate and saturated tone and occasionally playful like lime green or with polka dots. Set my hair with minimal product, it needs product because my hair is terribly ill behaved. And then, I head down for breakfast.

Breakfast is usually something simple. From poha to idlis, depending on the day and some fresh fruit. When I’m on a health kick, it’s usually oats or a simple egg white omelette. I usually like to make my coffee myself. Even if it is something as mechanical as a nespresso machine, popping in that little pod and watching the coffee pour out is a joy. When I’m not pressed for time, I use crushed beans (a blonde roast which isn’t weak) and a French press. I love the way the entire kitchen and the dining area fills with the smell of coffee. It transports you instantly to a happy place, wherever that may be for you. For me, it transports me mentally to Europe. I adjust my white cuffs and settle in to drink my coffee at leisure. The first sip electrifies my spine, it’s as though my nerves, congealed with lethargy after the night’s rest have suddenly come alive and are pulsating. It’s like drinking sunshine. I hate having to rush through my morning coffee and by the time I actually finish it, it’s usually cold. Since I try and limit myself to just one cup a day, I like to savor it. I’m not a great coffee connoisseur, I don’t know my beans or the roasts too well but I do get the romance behind it. And for me that’s important.

For some, it isn’t coffee, it’s tea. For most Indians actually, morning chai is a religion. That perfect blend of spice and sweet with just the right amount of milk. And it’s not even about the recipe, it’s about who brews it. Brew it for a little longer and it’s off, ruining the experience. For most Indian middle-aged couples, that morning cup of tea together is the most romantic time of day, despite no word being spoken, faces buried in newspapers.

Once breakfast is done, I shine my shoes and leave for work. If I’m in a rush, I use the good old ‘rush brush’ which is a bit like cheating but if I have time, I’ll go the whole hog with the wax and shine. If you’re a boarding school product like me, you’ll pride yourself on how well you can polish your shoes and will always believe that no one else can do it better.

So that’s my usual morning routine. And I cherish it. Someday, if I ever meet some of you, I’d be glad to make you a cup of coffee and sit across you for breakfast, without speaking much.

Do you have a morning ritual too? I’d love to hear about it. Till then, I hope your morning cup is filled with sunshine, just like mine.

(The picture above, is my cup of coffee this morning, a delightfully wholesome blonde roast, through the French press.
The French quote under it translates to “A mouthful of happiness”).

Meet the Züca Pro. The answer to all your packing dilemmas.

If there is one character trait that can be attributed to me without any debate whatsoever, it’s the fact that I buy awesome stuff which no one would even dream of buying. It’s usually something with a quirk, some brilliant design concept or something that appeals to my OCD-anal way of life.

I first came across the Züca Pro travel system In a YouTube video. The one I’ve shared above. I urge you all to view that before reading any further. I was mesmerized. Till I saw the video, packing for me was a chore, neatly arranging carefully folded shirts in a mundane boxy stroller. Bleh.

I was always a reasonably decent packer, a skill I honed during my boarding school days. And now, here came Züca, to take my packing skill to the next level. THE NEXT LEVEL.

Ok, I’ve got to admit, part of the reason I was sold to this Züca concept was the voice in that video. That voice. I swear if a girl stood in front of me with that voice and said “for your lotions and potions”, I’d embrace her in a suffocating bear-hug in a second.

Anyway, getting to the point, I have a weekend in Goa coming up, 3 nights, plus a couple of days in Mumbai. So that’s 5 nights in total. I thought why not test whether the Züca can actually deliver.

So this is what I could organize into a bag half the size of a regular stroller. Plus, the clothes are so well rolled and tightly packed that they won’t shuffle around in the bag, unlike a regular stroller.

Four collared shirts. Four polo collared t-shirts. Two round neck t-shirts. Two shorts. Two pairs of jeans. Two nightsuits. One pair of track pants. 6 pairs of underwear. 4 pairs of socks. One set of flip flops. One universal adaptor. A blackberry charger. An iPhone charger.
(I tend to over-pack but did I mention that it’s half the size of a regular stroller?)

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What’s hot about the Züca travel system :

1. It comes with 5 color coded, differently sized pouches. The green and orange are for underwear and socks. The blue is for shirts, tees, pajamas etc. You get two large red pouches for your trousers, jackets, shirts etc.

2. If you follow the packing instructions, things fit in like magic. Rolling the jeans, shirts and jackets keeps them crease free. Quite contrary to what I had imagined.

3. The structure is great. Not wobbly. Plus, it’s made of aircraft grade aluminium with a recessed handle/slot near the wheels, which makes it easier to put in the overhead bin of your aircraft. Also, the width is perfect for rolling it down the aisle of an aircraft. No more bumping around like a pinball machine. The top of the bag can support a very heavy man, in case you find yourself without a seat at the airport.

4. There are numerous zips and sleeves around the Züca for your magazines and other small items. It even boasts a wet pouch and a separate plastic pouch for your TSA approved toiletries. Plus, it has a cover in case you want to check it in, no scratches or scuffs on your bag.

5. The telescopic handle is really long. No more slouching and the bag-roll is very comfortable. Plus, the recessed polyurethane wheels are nice and silent offering a cushy ride.

Whats not hot about the Züca :

1. You just can’t dump stuff in. It has to be arranged neatly. So if you’re a bum, it’s not for you. (although, it isn’t cumbersome to pack and it is usually possible to pack quickly using Züca).

2. It’s a pain when you’ve finished packing everything and loaded up the Züca and then you realize that you’ve forgotten something. It’s torture to bring out all the pouches again.

3. You’d look ridiculous sitting on this bag.

4. The cover has no zips or sleeves. So if you wanted to slip in your iPad or magazine, you have to use the Züca without the cover.

5. People stare.

6. If the security guys ask you to open the bag, you’re gonna miss your flight. You’ll be too busy showing off the bag to all the awestruck security guards to notice that the flight has long gone.

7. It’s not an all-wheel-drive. Are those four-wheeled bags called all-wheel-drives anyway? Those are awesome too.

8. You’ll want to slap anyone that says “Can you just throw this in your bag?”

So, that’s it. That’s the Züca pro. It retails for around 300 USD. I think it’s worth it, do you?

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Have kid. Will travel.

If ever there’s one thing I’ve dreaded, it’s traveling with a kid. Mine or anybody else’s. I took a trip last year to Toronto and found myself sitting next to a lady and her 6 month old son. It didn’t go well. The kid cried for 8 hours straight, the mother was helpless, trying everything, from feeding to bouncing to distracting with toys. Nothing seemed to work. It took all my self control to not perform a vasectomy on my myself using those silly plastic airplane knives. That bad.

Fast forward to January 2012 and it was time to take a trip ourselves. We planned a trip to Dubai for my wife’s 30th birthday and we were taking our 7 month old daughter with us. Cold feet. Now, to be certain, our daughter is not a cranky kid by any means but she’s moody like me – She can snap if things don’t go her way (no paternity test required here). So, it was our turn now. Would we be the hapless parents trying to pacify our child or would we be the savvy, self assured, comfortable parents who know what to do? Time will tell of course. But to help anyone out there who’s probably trying to find tips on how to fly with a little kid, here are a few :

1. Priority :

Remember, the holiday should be centered around the kid. Choose a place the kid will enjoy. And if the kid is way too young (as in our case), choose a place that would be most convenient and also where the kid can observe and learn. We chose Dubai because of the relatively short flying time (approx 3 hours), making it a good trial run for trips in the future. Also, food and language aren’t a problem in Dubai so if you need something quickly, you aren’t lost in the woods.

2. Hotel and airline tickets :

Once you’re certain of the destination, it’s time to book the hotel and airline tickets.

For the airline, I would really suggest you step up, use all your miles (or savings) to fly business class. It’s really no fun camping out with an infant. Kiss your backpacking through Europe days goodbye. The reason I’m recommending business or first is that you’ll begin to appreciate more space once you have someone little with you. Also, the check-in lines are shorter, the immigration lines are shorter and you have more baggage allowance. If your kid cries and you can barely shift in your seat, it becomes really hard to nurse the child. So, if you need to, start saving up now.

Also, once the kid is asleep, maybe you can get a little massage in your seat or even enjoy a glass of wine. You’ll appreciate this more on the return leg of your journey.

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Don’t listen to anyone that says “Stay here, it’s in the heart of the city”. That’s all fine but try and stay in a hotel that’s self-sufficient. Like a resort. A place where you don’t need to leave the premises if you don’t want to. There should be plenty of stuff to do in house, so if you need to rush up to your room and put your kid to sleep or feed the kid or just take a breather yourself, it’s possible. Plus, I’ve noticed that the staff at resorts is way more accommodating than a city hotel. They’d be happy to microwave sipping cups, pull up a high chair or even babysit your kid for a little while till you finish your meal. We found a very kind sous chef who made wonderful khichdi (savory Indian cereal with rice and pulses) for my daughter.

The added advantage of staying in a resort is the presence of other families with kids. That increases the tolerance level of all concerned. Also, seeing other kids is a learning experience in itself, making new friends, seeing how to behave and importantly, how not to.

3. Packing :

Pack light. If ever there was a time to be frugal in what you take with you, this is it. (My wife ignores this rule. I’m saving up for my hernia surgery).

Packing for yourself :

Pack comfortable wear. You aren’t really going to be able to set the town on fire with an infant. In all probability, you’re going to have to finish dinner early and be up in your room by 10pm. So, it doesn’t make sense packing many pairs of party wear. What you do need is comfortable clothes to wear at the airport, and some back up casual clothes if your kid throws up / spits up on you during the trip. If you’re going to a resort, pack shorts, capri pants and plenty of t-shirts. No high heels; flip-flops and loafers will do just fine, without killing your heels or lower back in the bargain. Ever tried carrying an infant for a few hours through a mall wearing high heels? Not recommended.

For the baby :

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All the regular clothes plus some nice clothes when you take your kid out for dinner. Socks. Booties. Diapers. And don’t forget a small sweater or jacket in case it gets cold on the flight or during evenings in the resort. Baby swimwear or swimming diapers (swimmers) if your baby is too small.

Also, don’t forget other essentials like her diaper cream, baby food, plastic spoons, thermos for hot water, wipes (no place for cotton balls and top-tail bowls on a holiday). Also, disposable microwaveable sterilizing bags are a good thing to pack in case you want to sterilize their sippy cups or bottles (Medela). Don’t forget baby sunscreen (we used Coppertone water babies 50 SPF).

For her bath, we carried this green sponge makeshift tub. So that she doesn’t slip and slide around in the large tub. It’s pretty convenient and packs easily. Also, we carried a small travel set of her toiletries all well labelled by my wife. Don’t forget her little rubber ducky if she has one. My daughter was surprised the ducky showed up.

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Toys :

Some old faithfuls are a must. Seeing a toy they’re familiar with and one they like, goes a long way in making the baby feel comfortable in alien surroundings. Also, pack some new toys to surprise and distract the baby when she tires of the regular stuff.
Also, the airline will provide a few toys for the kiddo anyway so there will be no shortage of novelty.

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People underestimate the iPad. The iPad can be your lifesaver. Load it up with a few Baby Einstein videos or cartoons and you’ve got a kid who’ll stay quiet for a period upto half an hour or more. Also, if you’ve got an older kid, fruit ninja and angry birds will ensure you get some rest on the flight. If you’ve got more than one kid, invest in an earphone splitter – no fights over sharing the iPad.

4. At the airport :

Be calm. If you’re flying business class or above, checking-in, security, boarding is usually a breeze. If you’re flying coach, duties must be split. One parent is in charge of the kid, showing her/him around (making ooooh sounds helps… eg : Ooooh, look Myrah, a trolley. Ooooh, look, a poster). The other parent has to be ridiculously efficient, filling forms, loading bags, pushing carts, taking care of passports
etc. It’s handy to jot down passport numbers and expiration dates on a separate piece of paper or in the Notes app of your iPhone. Much more convenient than clumsily shuffling passports while standing in a queue.

5. Settling into the aircraft :

If you’re with a kid, you’ll probably board first. That’s always a good thing for several reasons. The most important being, you’re not hassled to settle down quickly. You have time to pick out the toys, iPad, sippy cup, blankie etc from your bag before putting it up in the overhead compartment. Also, the stewardess can come and help you figure out the stupid extension belt for the baby. It’s not rocket science but it’s clunky and badly designed. All in all, pretty useless technology.

6. Take off and Landing :

Most parents fear this. And rightly so, as the change in cabin pressure can cause earache which can be pretty annoying and scary for the little one. The best way to avoid it is to ensure that the baby is feeding during these two events. If your baby is breast fed, hold out feeding her while the plane is taxiing because she may finish just before take off and that defeats the purpose.

We had many people advising us to use some sort of medication during the flight. It’s an antihistaminic + decongestant. It must help but we didn’t try it. We were able to time the feeds well and our baby took it excellently on the way there. On the way back, our daughter was a little cranky and cried for a few minutes before take off. This might have something to do with the fact that it was a late night flight and I had given her a few licks of my Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream in the lounge (The crash following a sugar rush is not fun. Avoid the ice cream). We, however, had purchased the medicine and carried it with us just to be on the safe side, never ended up using it.

7. Sleep :

By sleep, I mean baby’s sleep. Forget about your sleep. Maybe I’m exaggerating, you may be able to nod off for a few minutes at a time.

If you’ve booked a separate seat for your infant, make sure you carry your car seat with you so you can plonk the kid in and don’t have to carry him/her for the entire duration. We didn’t, because we have a very stubborn girl who hates the car seat. She wants to be up and about, part of the action.

What helps though is carrying a feeding pillow / boppy. If that’s too bulky, buy an inflatable feeding pillow like us. It’s not as comfy but cuts down the bulk.

If however, you’re traveling coach or have the option of a bassinet, it solves a lot of your sleeping problems.

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8. Feeding on the plane :

If your baby is bottle fed, it’s not so much of a problem. Breast feeding can be tricky though. However, you get these amazing ‘feeding covers’ which are like small smocks, you put it over your head and the baby can be hidden underneath, no wardrobe malfunctions. Slurpy noises however are not muffled and the only remedy for that is swallowing your embarrassment. It also helps if you wear a front-opening shirt or easy access to the food source (boobs).

9. Eating airline food :

Why would you want to?

But, if you must, you need to have a loving husband. If the baby is asleep on your lap, there’s no way you can access your food tray. Make sure your tray also goes on your husband’s table and he feeds you lovingly by hand. It’s a little clumsy but it’s also romantic (romance shall end here for the rest of the holiday). You’ll find yourself giggling stupidly when the baby shuffles a bit when you bite into something crunchy.

10. Stroller :

If you have a slightly older child, carry a lightweight umbrella stroller (MacLaren). It’s easy to fold and easier to stow away. If you’re traveling with an infant, like us, carry the entire car-seat stroller shebang (ours is Graco). You can use the car seat If you’ve bought an extra seat for your kid.

You can take the stroller all the way up to the aircraft where they’ll check it in. Make sure that you have tags on both the car seat and the stroller and that both tags are stamped by security, or they’ll send you back. Also, it’s wise to ask them where you can pick up your stroller after you land. Some airlines will give it you just outside the aircraft but most of the times, it’ll come along with your checked in bags. (We had to collect it from another carousel, so it’s better you make sure).

Even if your kid hates the stroller, it’s wise to carry one. It acts as a wonderful carrier for the diaper bag, purse, murse or any shopping bags.

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11. Rocking the boat :

Before we left for our holiday, my wife and I decided that we weren’t going to rock the boat. No introducing new foods, changing schedules etc for the kiddo. However, since we came here, we’ve thrown caution to the wind and now my little daughter has tasted orange juice, tea, mango pudding, baked ginger cake, yoghurt and some cheeses. The one-eye-clenched-recoil that she does when she takes her first sip of orange juice is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, followed immediately later by a forward leap for some more.

So I urge you to go forth and rock that little boat. Your baby will learn something new and in a place which will make it a wonderful memory. My parents did it with us and I’m doing it for my daughter.

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12. The swan song :

Plan one event that you’ll never forget. Something to make the entire trip unforgettable. Something that your baby will remember (in our case, see photos of) for years to come.

We swam with dolphins. It was exhilarating. And our daughter loved it.

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I’m no expert but this is a new Father’s perspective. I’m sure my wife would have plenty to add and so would you, dear reader. I will be more than happy to receive more suggestions in the comments section.

Do you travel with your kids a lot? Where have you been that’s been the most fun? And what advise do you have for a novice like me?

Myrah and the 30 year old apple.

For most of the people reading this blog, you probably already know that I have a 3 month old daughter. For those of you who didn’t know, well, take this as an announcement.

The last three months have been a blast. Excluding the first two weeks, which was paranoia at it’s very best. Once we got settled in, all three of us, the ride’s been fortunately smooth. Basically, it’s about accepting the fact that “She is a baby, she IS GOING to cry.”

It’s something new everyday. She’ll babble in her sleep, squeal in delight, flip over, give you the biggest smiles, just win your heart over day after day. There is no greater feeling than seeing your daughter recognizing you and give you her best, biggest toothless grin. In my daughter’s case, when she smiles wide, her eyes crinkle up, as though there’s only room for only one of them to be open at one time.

Coming to the point, the other day, I walked into my Mum’s room (Grandma was babysitting), and I see my daughter playing with this plastic Apple. It’s not a great, sophisticated toy. It’s made by fisher-price and it rocks on it’s base when you knock it around. There’s probably a small bell inside which tinkles on being moved. So all in all, it’s just an apple with a bell. No biggie.

The only thing is, it’s MY Apple. My parents bought it for me when I was a newborn. And then, as with everything in my house, it’s been safely hoarded preserved for almost 30 years. It was so surprising to see my daughter play with it. Knocking it around, staring at it wide-eyed, chuckling, having a conversation with a bright red plastic apple. It was heart-warming. It’s true when they say that the best toys are the simplest ones. It’ll be so cute if she grows up to be one of those kids that throws away the toy and plays with the box.

I give my Mum such a hard time about her wanting to preserve old, useless things. I sure am glad she kept the apple though.

Moral of the story, Grandma knows best.

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Airports : a holiday destination in themselves

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I don’t get to travel a lot in my field of work, except when I’m on holiday. I’ve always enjoyed being at an airport, as a kid, it was seeing all the planes, which if I’m honest is still fun for me. But as I’ve grown up, airports fascinate me for many reasons, not just for the planes.

So I’m on holiday currently, visiting Toronto and Boston. I flew British Airways via Heathrow and to my delight, I had a four hour layover at London. Since I’m traveling alone this time (hate it, never like traveling without my wife), I got to indulge in my airport self-entertainment wholeheartedly.

So the reasons why I like hanging out at airports are –

1. The planes

First and foremost, it’s the airplanes. I love sitting and staring at them. Taking off, landing. I prefer watching planes land, it’s like a massive steel apartment building falling from the sky. Watching the plane approach the strip, make last minute adjustments and then when the wheels hit the tarmac, I wait for the plume of black smoke. What an adrenaline rush it must be for the pilots!

2. Food

Whenever I travel abroad and meet friends or family, they insist that we try “good” food at “good” restaurants. I can’t really satisfy my cravings for trashy junk food. So, when I’m alone at an airport, I can go nuts. If you’re ever passing through an airport and come across a chubby Indian gleefully tucking into a burger king meal, that would be me.

3. The bookshops

Undoubtedly my favorite activity. Yes yes, we have bookshops back home but the lure of airport bookshops is irresistible. I don’t end up buying paperbacks, it’s usually a foreign edition of GQ or Vogue or Esquire. In short, classy literature.

Also, my wife loves the airport bookshops as well. But for entirely different reasons. She’s not interested in the books or the magazines. She usually ends up buying silly unnecessary candy near the cashier. She’ll be like “I’m telling you, you don’t get these sour skittles ANYWHERE”, or something like “Oooh…I’m buying these orange tic-tacs for my mum”. Anyway, the candy usually finds it’s way to the bottom of her mega-bag, only to resurface years later during some boring sight-seeing trip on some other vacation. And then she’ll gloat “And to think, you weren’t going to let me buy these skittles, who’s loving them now?”. Honey, I’d be loving the skittles if you didn’t keep trying to pass me all the disgusting watermelon flavored ones no one likes.

4. The other shops

My favorite shops are the ones where they try to sell you stuff you never needed till you saw it. Products like an alarm clock that jumps off the bedside table and runs away (genius), tempur-pedic neck pillows, weird space-age universal chargers, wireless cellphone chargers, headphones of all shapes and sizes and even disposable underwear (yes, you read correctly).

There’s also all the perfume stalls (makes me sneeze, so I stay away) and the duty free booze (usually to pick up single malt for home, after the cursory “Dad, Which one should I buy?” phone call).

5. The people

Oh how I love to stare. I love people-watching. What they’re wearing, who’s listening to music, who uses a Mac, who’s a PC guy, what earphones they’re using etc. You can tell a lot about a person by how they conduct themselves at an airport.

I’m always envious of people who manage to travel gracefully. There are a few in every flight. They’ll be dressed so well, not a crease on their button down blue shirt, impeccably well fitting jeans and beautifully polished shoes. These are the ones that never carry any hand luggage, all they have is a neatly folded NewYorker in their hands (pretentious pricks). I wish I could travel like that. When these seasoned, slick travelers stroll past me down the aisle, I’m the guy who’s usually trying to straighten my completely accidental bed-head hairstyle and scrape off dried spit from my cheek. I feel fat.

So on this flight to London I just took, there was this lady in her fifties, she was really fit (didn’t look a day over forty), who was wearing a white knit turtleneck and beige pants. She was carrying this wonderful tan soft leather bag by Tod’s and loafers also probably by Tod’s (it’s my story, I’m going to promote the brands I love. Deal with it). When she got off the plane, she looked like she stepped off a spa. No sign of that 9 hour flight fatigue, no curry stain on her white turtleneck. There’s a special place in hell reserved for such people.

There are so many more reasons but I think you get the gist. This is why sometimes I wish I was a busy businessman who had to travel a lot for work. I envy my friends who do, though they seem to hate it. I guess not everyone wants to be like Clooney in ‘Up in the air’.

So what kind of a traveler are you? Do you love or loathe airports?

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Maqbool Fida Husain. And me.

He spelled my name correctly

He spelled my name correctly

I was always fascinated by Genius. Growing up, I had tons of books. But my most favourite books remained the ones on the great minds and artists of the past. I could spend hours reading about Leonardo, Galileo, Michelangelo, Marie Curie and even people as recent as Einstein and Vikram Sarabhai. I was not really fascinated by what they had achieved, I was more interested in their character traits. What made Genius?

As a young boy, I secretly wished I would grow up to be one. If anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to say ‘Genius’ but fearing ridicule, I’d end up saying that I wanted to be a scientist and invent things. If asked what things, I’d just say ‘things’ with a little more emphasis.

I must have been all of 5 or 6 when I first heard about M. F. Husain. He was the Indian answer to the international art community, hailed as the Picasso of India. I was mesmerized by the fact that people were willing to pay lakhs of rupees (a lot at that time) for his art. I would draw often as a kid and when I’d sketch something, I’d look at it and wonder why someone would bother paying me for my scribble. It was my introduction to the world of purchased culture.

When I was 7, we were returning home from a trip to the Rishivalley school. We were scouting boarding schools for my brother and me (we eventually went to Scindia) and had a small stopover at Hyderabad airport. In the waiting lounge, I spotted a lean man, dressed in a kurta pyjama, with a massive paintbrush in his hand. His hair and beard were silvery gray and he was surrounded by some very rich looking aunties. I couldn’t believe it was M. F. Husain.

I was never a shy kid. I borrowed a visiting card from my Dad and headed toward MF for his autograph. Without a hint of decency (forgive me, I was 7), I barged into their conversation and asked MF for his autograph. A little startled at a 7 year old asking for his autograph, he asked me if I knew who he was and what he did. Perhaps he thought I was sent over by my parents to get his autograph (truth be told, my parents didn’t really give a damn about celebrity autographs). I told him – “You’re MF Husain. And you paint horses very well”. His face broke into a big smile and instead of an autograph, he drew two horses on the back of the visiting card and signed it with the date. My parents couldn’t believe it, they asked me to keep it very carefully.
I think I may have left that visiting card on the flight.

MF was known to gift away his art, much to the chagrin of his paying collectors. I had a friend in school who was the son a very big industrialist. He boasted often that walls of his house were painted by MF. Apparently they owned many art galleries and MF was a personal friend.

I always kept abreast with what MF was doing. If there was an article in the papers about him, I’d try and read it, even if it was a silly page 3 mention. I even forgave him his silly Madhuri Dixit obsession and the subsequent Gaja Gamini. After all, all great artists were eccentric, and MF had cultivated his eccentricity very well. He was frequently in well-tailored Hermes suits with no footwear and a large paintbrush in his hand (a baton). If MF wanted to make a movie, how was it different from Karl Lagerfeld designing a cellphone? Art transcends canvas.

The next time I met MF was more than a decade later, when I was 19. I was returning home from med school and it was late. As I drove into my lane, I saw MF exiting the building next to mine, again with another rich looking aunty. He looked the same as he did more than 10 years ago. This time I wanted his autograph for keeps. I parked my car in a hurry, ran in to get a piece of paper and a marker. I had sketched a few days back, some silly collage about studying long nights, with a mug of coffee, thick textbooks, the clock, the phone and my desk lamp. It wasn’t anything special. It was laying on my table with a permanent marker, so I grabbed it and ran down. Luckily, he was still there. I told him that I’d been a fan for many years and would be honoured if he’d sign my work. He gladly agreed and was mildly surprised when I asked him to sign on the back (stupid of me, as I can never get it framed now). He even bothered to spell my name correctly.

Then came the crazy years. Some of his paintings were unearthed where he had drawn the Hindu Goddesses, Durga and Saraswati, naked. Clad only by sky, according to him. To be honest, I didn’t really see it as a sexual thing or as a particularly offensive event. Plus, they were drawn in the ’70s. As I draw occasionally as well, I tend to be more forgiving to artists who push boundaries, I tend to offer a greater license in my mind for their freedom of expression. I’ve seen much worse. I’ve been to Khajuraho and it’s practically a porn film carved into stone.

But I can also understand why it offended people. We were living in particularly flammable times. Religious tolerance was at an all time low, all over the world. MF being a Muslim, Hindus did not take kindly to him drawing our Goddesses this way, artistic license be damned. People said, if Islam could be so intolerant, he did not deserve any cultural flexibility from our end. Vandalism followed. His house, workshops, galleries were destroyed, death threats were issued. Something I didn’t condone. One may disagree with what he painted but this was India. I feared that we were becoming a Hindu Pakistan.

People often argue with me “Do you think he had the courage to draw the prophet nude? He’d have been massacred long ago”. I could never conjure up an answer. Partly because I think it’s true. Look what happened to that dutch cartoonist, he lives each day looking over his shoulder.

What I really disagreed with was how he jumped his bail and ran away to Qatar. He should’ve stayed in India, appeared in court and defended his right to draw. He could’ve explained that he didn’t mean to cheapen the Goddesses’ image, he may have tried to show them as starkly beautiful women, but somewhere, the message got muddied. And maybe he could have even apologized for hurting people’s sentiments.

He accepted Qatari citizenship, lived in self-imposed exile and died recently in London.

Inspite of all of this, I do not believe that he was unpatriotic. I do not believe that he was ‘intentionally’ disrespectful toward Hinduism. He took great liberty with his art and was careless (not arrogant, he was never arrogant) to not anticipate the emotional damage his art could have caused. I’m sure he didn’t do it for publicity, he had enough of that.

I know many are delighted by his death but there is still that pesky 7 year old who yet remembers the dignity with which he was treated, he may have lost that visiting card but he still remembers the horses.

Maqbool Fida Husain, may you rest in peace.

Stupid of me not to let him sign the front.

Stupid of me not to let him sign the front.

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Drops from heaven.

I was never an athletic kid. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being outdoors, it’s that I didn’t want to be chained to a set of rules that governed a particular sport. I wanted to sit and daydream. I liked being indoors, drawing, reading, looking out the window. And the view from the window is never better than when it rains.

My love affair with the rains started a little late in life. When I was 16 or 17, when I was in my first year of med school. Being in a boarding school in the north of India, as a kid, I missed out on the crazy monsoon common to the west of India, where I live.

The first year of medical school was a crazy time for me. The syllabus was huge and time was at a premium. Our finals were in July, coinciding with the fury of the monsoon. The exam schedule was relentless, no breaks between exams. I used to start studying at 9 in the morning and typically, my day ended at 3am the next morning. There were times when I’d be frustrated, the brain would refuse to soak in anymore information and slowly start to delete whatever I had uploaded in the recent past. My brain can be a real pest sometimes.

In those days, window air conditioners were the norm, you know the ones with their metallic square butts hanging outside the window. So, when it started to rain, there would be this lovely splattering sound you could hear, like you were sleeping under a tin roof. For some reason, I found that noise very calming. Almost as though the rain arrived to purge the fatigue from my mind. I’d lean back in my chair, close my eyes, take in the sound and be refreshed in a matter of minutes. The perpetual smell of coffee in the room, the cold temperature of the AC, fat medical books and the sound of rain, my own little world of happiness.

And the rain had an uncanny sense of when I needed it. Days when I was most frustrated, I’d hear the pitter-patter and smile to myself. Days when I feared the worst at an exam, it would start raining, reassuring me that it would all be ok. And it always worked. Days when it rained, I found myself more motivated to do well, more aggressive in my answers, more imaginative in my essays. It became the Robin to my Batman. If it rained, you couldn’t beat me. Period. I was like a med school Michael Schumacher. Yes, I live in my own little mental happy place.

More than all the selfish reasons for which I love the monsoon, there are quite a few others as well. I love how an overcast sky makes even a small Indian town feel like London.

I love how all the plants in the garden look freshly scrubbed. I live in a dusty town and the leaves are usually covered with a thin layer of dust. The monsoon washes it all away, revealing all shades of green. On our porch, we lower the old school bamboo curtains, drinking masala tea in the evenings. You feel like you’re holidaying at a hill station.

For most of my teenage years, I lived at my grandmother’s house. A specialty of hers during summer and the monsoon is lightly roasted groundnut. Then, ideally, when they’re still warm, crack them open and munch on the peanuts within. Juicy with a slightly charcoal-y flavour. Team that with a tall glass of chilled Rose sherbet with a little squeeze of lemon. Perfect.

Have you ever tried the Alphonso? It’s the King of mangoes, actually, the King of all fruit. Beautifully golden, packed with flavour. It’s like an explosion of India in your mouth. The only problem with monsoon is that it signals the death of the alphonso. I know people who actually get upset at the first rains because it is a sign that the supply of their favourite fruit has now dried up.

We have frangipani trees all over our gardens at home. It drizzled a little last night and already the trees look more alive. The flowers look so fresh.

I always try and get a few of the season’s first raindrops on me and on the people I love. Hoping that it brings them and me good luck for the rest of the year.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that now you shall also look at rain as the harbinger of all things good in your life. And I hope that you shall also try to get a few drops of the first rain on yourself and your loved ones. God bless.

View from my kitchen

View from my kitchen

Rose sherbet with a hint of lemon

Rose sherbet with a hint of lemon

Lightly roasted groundnut

Lightly roasted groundnut

The King of fruit. The Alphonso.

The King of fruit. The Alphonso.

The sun breaking through...

The sun breaking through…

Bamboo curtains

Bamboo curtains

Frangipani

Frangipani

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Some food photos from Paris

All this blogging about food made me dig up some of my pictures from our trip to Paris.

The picture of the bottle of water is from the cafe in the Versailles palace. This sparkling water is ‘Chateldon’ and if you look closely, has the image of the Sun on the bottle cap. That’s because, King Louis XIV, drank only this water, which came from the mountains in the volcanic Auvergne region of France. As regards the taste, well, it was carbonated water after all. Though it did seem smoother than Perrier or San Pellegrino, maybe it was just psychological.

The dessert is also from the cafe at Versailles. Fresh berries, full of tang, offset by the rich, creamy custard.

If ever in Paris, you have to eat the roadside crepes. With or without nutella, it will make you want to dance. We satisfied our crepe craving when we visited the Sacre Coeur, in the lovely Montmartre district. Hot crepes on a cold and windy evening.

It is a joy to watch Parisians shop for groceries. They tend not to buy from large supermarkets. Most Parisians are loyal to a their vendors. This ensures that they get the best produce. Watching them buy fruit by the roadside, feeling for the softness of the pears, smelling the apples, checking their ripeness is a joy.

Also, if you’re on a diet, try to keep your eyes closed while walking around. You’ll pass by a patisserie more often than not and their meticulously baked croissants, bread, pastries are sure to lure you in. Closing your eyes may not help because the smell of freshly baked bread is quite irresistible.

Also, I’ve always had avocado in a salad or as guacamole. This is the first time I had guacamole as dinner by itself. Surgically cut into perfect halves, with the pit removed, you drizzle some olive oil over the avocado, scoop out the innards with a spoon and let it melt in your mouth. Tastes like butter.

Oh oh, I’m hungry now.

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I'm a Gynecologist by profession but an artist at heart. Forever trying to bridge the gap between Art and Science. I love good design, good food and open minds. I hope you enjoy my blog.

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