Tag Archives: photography

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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My dark fascination with death.

I have always been fascinated by death. I don’t really know when it started, this pre-occupation with mortality. The earliest I remember being seduced by the thought of death was in the mid-eighties. Indira Gandhi had just been assassinated by her own bodyguards and the assassin had been sentenced to death. By hanging.

Being all of four, I didn’t really know what hanging meant. I asked my Dad and he explained. Me being curious, I asked for all the gory details. He told me how they would get a last meal, be taken to the gallows after midnight, their face covered in a black cloth, hiding their pale, bloodless, fear-ridden face. The lever was yanked by the hangman and the body would plunge. The eyes would be pushed out of the sockets and the man would lose control of his bladder and wet himself. Maybe my Dad didn’t go into so much detail but he was pretty elaborate. He was shocked the next day when I drew a picture of a man hung by the neck, eyes bulging and pee running down one leg.

I was mesmerized. Not at the thought of someone dying or justice being done. I was fascinated with the image of a man knowing he was going to die and not being able to do anything about it. The concept of a last meal, ‘Who would want to eat anything?’, I thought. I wondered about the mother and the family of the guy about to be hanged. What must go through their minds? Would they close their eyes and imagine the pain? Would they dream about the cold, shivering face of their son or brother? Would they wish that they could hold his hand through this ordeal, this journey into the unknown? Would they silently pray and pretend that the journey would be peaceful, knowing in their hearts, that it would be anything but?

Much later, I would renew my interest in Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when I visited Delhi and went to Indira Gandhi’s house, now a museum. They’ve displayed the saree which she wore when she was shot, the bullet holes clearly visible. Goosebumps.

Over the years, this death obsession has come and gone. If I come across something gruesome, it usually haunts me for days. I try and imagine myself in that position. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber, there was a picture in India Today of the moment just before the bomb went off. Rajiv had a smile on his face, bending down to greet the person touching his feet. I would pretend to be Rajiv in my mind, bend over and imagine how it would feel to have my head blown off.

If by now, you think I’m some sort of weirdo, you would not be entirely wrong.

In our second year of medical school, we had forensic medicine as a subject. This entailed us having to attend post-mortems for two weeks. Post-mortems are depressing, and stinky. Really stinky. My friends and I used to douse a handkerchief with a perfume one of us used to carry (Boss by Hugo Boss) and hold it to our noses. I still can’t use that perfume to this day, takes me back to the autopsy room. In related news, if anyone wants that bottle of Hugo Boss, it’s yours.

One day, we were in the autopsy room and there was a body of a lady who had just been burned to death by her in-laws because her parents didn’t meet their dowry demands. Her time of death was 11am and here we were, at 1pm, staring at her body. All I could think of was that, 2 hours ago, this lady was screaming away. Crying in pain. When the autopsy commenced, they opened up her stomach to collect the stomach contents and half digested bhindi (okra) flowed out. The doctor conducting the autopsy casually spouted “Oh look, her lunch.” I almost lost mine.

As a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, I was posted at a peripheral hospital, where we lost a patient to postpartum haemorrhage. I knew that patient, followed her for more than 6 months, we had a relationship. There was no indication beforehand that she’d land up with such a complication, no effort was spared in her resuscitation. She just bled away. On being informed of her death, her husband didn’t know how to react. He said “But she was fine this morning, she made lunch for me, didn’t have any problems… How did this happen?” Medically, it’s hard to explain that sometimes, shit happens. Sometimes, you’re just destined to be a statistic, against all odds. Looking at that clammy, ashen body, suturing the wound of this now dead lady, I couldn’t think. I was imagining what her last moments must have been like. Slowly, the lights fading.

There would be many such times when I’d go back into this death spiral. But, a few stand out.

Recently, on the 26th of November 2008, Mumbai was attacked by Islamic extremists. It was shockingly close to home. So many people that we knew were at the Taj or the Oberoi hotels. Some of them we knew very well, one in particular. This upstanding gentleman was on his way to the airport when he was called back by his friend to meet up at ‘Tiffin’, the upmarket restaurant at the Oberoi. Apparently, he sought his counsel for some business affair. He was one of the persons herded up by the militants and hauled up 20 flights of stairs and then shot. They were all made to stand against a wall and were fired upon. The friend who called him there, survived, by pretending to be dead for 4 days, ignoring the decomposing smell of his friend’s body and those of 20 others next to him. I always imagine that they never really would’ve thought they’d die. Something would happen, some rescue, maybe an elaborate prank. After all, who ever imagines their death at the hands of terrorists, taking a bullet to the face?

Do you guys remember that Nina Ricci perfume ad? The one with the gorgeous russian supermodel, Ruslana? The one featuring pink apples? Ruslana committed suicide in 2008 and is now the subject of a documentary. I read an article in Newsweek about it recently. Ruslana killed herself by jumping off her balcony. The funny thing is, she didn’t just take a step off her balcony. Her body was found 8.5 meters away from the building edge. She didn’t just jump off, she ran and leaped off, almost soared. Flew to her death. No traces of alcohol or drugs were found in her blood or urine. Insane.

Is it wrong that this fascinates me? Does it reflect an inner fear or some forgotten emotional trauma? Am I wrong? Do I need help? I’ve never felt the need to get myself assessed because of this. The fascination has never escalated beyond the point where I felt the need to do something stupid.

Till the time there is death I guess, there will always be death voyeurs. I’m not a death voyeur but I certainly won’t turn my back on a gruesome scene. I have this incessant need to know everything about it. What they felt, I’ll never know. But, I’ll keep imagining it.

Ruslana, the russian supermodel

Indira Gandhi

The Taj attacked.

Ugly legs, a man’s crotch and a lovely blue jacket : The hazards of reading People magazine at work.

For some reason, the clinic was exceptionally light today. Just a small trickle of patients compared to the daily deluge. I don’t know whether it was the Royal wedding that kept people away, it couldn’t be, I’d like to believe it was the heat.

So anyway, I just received the latest People magazine, so I thought I’d flip through a few pages. And before you wonder, I DON’T subscribe to people magazine, it must be one of the girls in the house.

As I’m flipping around, I catch a glimpse of Rani Mukherjee’s legs. Fat and blotchy with ugly knees (it’s all about the knees for me). For people not familiar with bollywood stars, she’s as big as they come. And after seeing her legs, I mean that literally.

Then, I come face to face with a male underwear ad. To all advertising gurus out there, seeing a picture of another man’s sock-enhanced crotch isn’t going to make me run out and buy a pair. Maybe if you had an in-built iPod, I’d think about it.

As I flip some more, I come across a picture of Sonam Kapoor, she’s the daughter of Anil Kapoor, the hairy ‘Mill-a-naaaaiiiirrr’ guy from Slumdog. I confess, I haven’t seen any of her movies, nada. But I’ve sort of become a fan ever since I saw her taking the mickey out her colleagues on a certain talk show. Plus, I believe she has a very avant garde style of dressing. Very Valentino meets McQueen. Look at her in the picture below, who’d wear ridiculously puffed sleeves like that? She has fashion courage. And now, my respect.

Then I come across this lovely blue jacket in raw silk. It’s been designed by Masaba Gupta, the love child of Vivian Richards and Neena Gupta. It’s very well fitted. Plus, I’m pretty partial to anything raw silk, especially trousers. If I had to design something for my wife, it would be a white, completely beaded, chinese collared shirt, with 3/4th sleeves, very structured and rigid, ending at the waist. The trousers would be straight legged in gold raw silk, ending at the ankles. Sky high heels of course. The thing is, those clothes would end up spending more time on the floor of the bedroom than on my wife. 😉

Blimey! (In the royal wedding spirit, I shall use english exclamations), this blog entry started off as vaguely mean and condescending and has ended on a mildly horny note. Oh well.

Horrible, splotchy, knobby knees

Horrible, splotchy, knobby knees

I didnt subscribe to see this.

I didnt subscribe to see this.

Avant garde

Avant garde

Killing time

Killing time

Blue, raw silk jacket by Masaba Gupta

Blue, raw silk jacket by Masaba Gupta

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