Saturday, March 26, 2011

Small talk, big deal

There is a secret to surviving in every city. (Yes, coming up is a great piece of advice about global living from the girl who has lived in 4 cities all her life, including the current one.) In Bangalore, the mantra for content survival is compromise, referred to fondly by its citizens as "adjust maadi". A 2-hour traffic jam.. adjust maadi, some idiot's phone rings in the theatre.. adjust maadi, auto guy demands double rate.. adjust maadi, load shedding during a cricket match.. swalpa adjust maadi. You get the drift. Compromise is the name of the game. Once you learn to lower your expectations, forgive and forget, the city is actually pleasant to live in. Especially for a non-partying, nerdy person like me.

People mind their own business and except scary lechers, strangers don't even make eye contact. I spent 2 years going to work in a cab with the same bunch of my colleagues, but I barely knew them, except for some titbits like who read which part of the paper, how girls take longer to get ready on Fridays and things like that. But of course, that is more a result of my excellent skills of observation rather than any effort at socializing. In London though, the secret to survival lies in the opposite direction.

In just a few months into my foray of living in London, I have learnt that the art of small talk is terribly essential. People are unnecessarily polite, people look up and smile and expect conversation from you. It's not fine to keep to yourself. Go on and talk and people will be interested.

The three most common conversational pick-up lines are
1. Weather related. Eg. "Nice/gloomy weather, isn't it?"
2. Weekend related. Eg. "How was the weekend? / Anything exciting planned for the weekend?"
3. Welfare related. Eg. "How are you doing?/ You alright?"

I find the third one the toughest, because I just can't get away by replying "Not bad", which I usually do. It seems like people want to know why I don't feel any better. Is there anything wrong? How are you really feeling, girl? And on the other side of the dialogue, I have forcibly started asking people how they are and I find it extremely difficult to feign interest as they delve into a 5-minute soliloquy about their pleasant bus ride in the morning or their annoying co-passenger on the tube. Sometimes, it is just too much detail. "You alright?" is worse.. somehow. That question almost demands a justification to why I am not cheerful enough. Most of the times, the true reason is the weather, which gets us to the first line of questioning.

An average Londoner is stereotypically associated with an obsession with weather. And it's couldn't be more accurate. Unfortunately though, I'm getting there myself. Given that the temperature has a mind of it's own and the weathermen seem to have no clue how to go about their jobs, it is a topic on everyone's mind. You can almost sense the population turning out dark and brooding on a gloomy day. Lets just say that during winters, I look up to check if I can see any dementors hovering over the city. So I understand the obsession. And I'm mostly prepared for this line of discussion.

Of course, there are exceptions to this "small talk" rule. On the trains for example, no one acknowledge another's presence. I spend more time staring at the "Clearpill" ad than studying my fellow commuters, let alone meet their glance and feel awkward. It really is an odd anomaly to an otherwise talkative community. But it is just one of the very few. Grocery shops, beauty salons, bar counters, elevators, restrooms, gyms and the parks are full of people who want to talk. They want to know you better.

I found it very tiresome initially, but I'm getting into the groove these days. And I fell pretty proud of myself when I initiate small talk myself. If only more people spoke about cricket, I'd be doing much better. But that's a subject for another post.

My next focus on fitting in better is saying "Bless you!" when someone around me sneezes. That's a tricky one, trust me!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Italian bad job

My parents weren't exceptional in parenting. There, I said it. And I don't think it is a crime to say it aloud. They didn't have too much parental experience in my early years, so I suppose it was justified. I can remember a variety of events in my childhood where I think they could have done a better job. Despite all of that, here I am.. a model daughter and citizen, hmmph!

In hindsight, I especially found their modes of rewarding my good behaviour very funny. When I scored 95% in the 7th board (!!) exams, my parents decided it was a big enough occasion to take my cousin, my sister and me to watch Titanic at Urvashi theatre. And for some reason, we got to watch the full blown adult version. Watching Kate Winslet lie naked for a portrait before they made steamy, hand-printy love in a car wasn't by itself a bad experience. But watching that sitting between my parents in a dark movie hall was torturous for the 11-year old in me. My dad's head was down, trying to dig out the best looking popcorn, while my mom was just staring at the screen, shaking her head in disapproval. I shrunk in my seat, cringing, hoping that we wouldn't talk about this after the movie.

And we didn't. But the ensuing discussion on the ride back home was so artificial and pointless, it was worse. It was more than evident to us kids that the grown-ups were making every effort to ignore the elephant in the back seat. It ended with all of us agreeing that English movies were bad in general and definitely not worth watching at a cinema hall. Why don't we just wait for Star Movies next Christmas? Aargh! I made up my mind never to inform my folks of any academic achievements henceforth.

I did however tell them about a certain literary award I got when I was 12 or 13. This was when Pizza Corner and Pizza Hut were taking over sub-metros like Bangalore and I so wanted to have a pizza! While it seemed that my friends and their families had long accepted this culinary delight as a thing of their own, my family were slightly less enthused. I insisted that my creative writing skills deserved a pizza dinner for the family and they grudgingly agreed. Off we went - my parents, my sister, an aunt and an uncle with me of course - to get some pizza. On the way to Pizza Corner (which was more popular than Pizza Hut then) we passed by a few famous South Indian restaurants and my parents tempted me, but I remained resolute. I wanted Pizza.

The six of us were seated at a fairly large table at the centre of the place and given menus. I couldn't decide what I wanted, there was so much choice even for veggies! My aunt and uncle were the first to put their menus down. As strict vegetarians they wouldn't dare eat at a place that also served pork. My 18-year old sister gave up next and declared that there was nothing non-fatty available. And my parents gave up soon after, claiming that they couldn't find anything appetizing, but I should feel free to go ahead and order what I wanted. It was my treat after all! I could sense disgust, indifference and sympathy from the others on the table. But I wanted my pizza.

I still remember the confusion on the waiter's face when the six of us asked for 6 glasses of water and one small pizza. "What else? Anything else?", he asked. "Are you sure?", he confirmed. I had sunk below the table by then. And then it arrived, my first pizza ever! I ate in silence, regretting ever wanting it, as I felt every other diner looking at my table. I despised the rich kids, their cool parents and their pizza eating habits. And I wanted some coke, but I was too embarrassed to ask for it. This charade went on till I gulped the last piece of onion and washed it down with tepid water. We paid our bill and left. Quite a parade it was.

We crossed the road to the South Indian place everyone else wanted to go to originally. We got the table with a window view on the first floor. I refused to talk to any of them, but just sulked at the window looking down at the pizza place. I don't know what my parents had against pizza, maybe they thought it was too expensive. But still, that was no way of rewarding me, I thought. At the core of it all, I realised I had wanted a family dinner, having something new that I had discovered, while being at the centre of attention. Instead, I had my backs turned while the rest of them were eating the usual idli-vada-dosa cheerfully.

I didn't have pizza for a while after that, not by choice. I remember my next time was with friends, when I had earned my own money. And that, felt good.

I wonder what sort of mistake I will make when I am in that position. But that stage of my life is years away.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

I feel list-y today...

.. and hence, here is a list of my top 5 branded products that I use everyday.

1. My Philips GoGear music player - Before you read any further, you should possibly know this about me. I'm not really someone you might call a late or even a very late technology follower. When I find something good and like it, I stick to it. Even if there are trendier, better looking and more effective products in the market. (Shrik, you should know that this doesn't apply only to technology). It is not my fault if the world raced 6 years ahead of me. Not my loss. Anyhoo, I love my Philips GoGear music player. It is sleek, heavy (so I notice when I drop it, which I do sometimes, or often), and simple to use. A lot of people have seen it around me and thought it was a cigarette lighter (giving me a pseud impression) and of course no one would ever want to steal it! For the benefit of kids born in the 90's, let me clarify that this is an alternative to the iPod.. yes such a thing exists. Given that mine is only about 4 years old, I wish it a long musical life ahead with me!

2. My Titan (Infosys) watch - I have owned 3 watches all my life. The first was my mother's old one, my second was a bright blue Fastrack watch I won for a debate at JNC's cultural fest (sigh!) and my current one is from my sister. When her company, Infy, turned 25 years old, I think, they gave out mega-sized t-shirts and watches to every employee. My sister decided that a girl couldn't possibly wear such an ugly, bulky watch and gave it to me. I have obsessed over it for 7 years! I love it. And I recently found out that there others like me, people who are buying this old watch over the internet for some good money, so yay! It will watch me grow up for several more years, I hope.

3. Himalaya Kajal - Like most of you know, I'm not a girly girl. Make up has challenged me and I am not ashamed to say that I have lost, repeatedly. I believe the trigger point was during the wedding when I spent good money and 4 hours at a salon to end up looking like an ogre. Yes, an ogre. But recently, I discovered the magic of kajal. Simple and inexpensive to use, it makes me look like I have taken a tiny bit of effort to look better and it genuinely cools my eyes! Sometimes it makes me look scary too. Seriously, no downside so far.

4. Google Reader - The ultimate innocent fraxing tool at office. It lets me read a host of blogs, sites as soon as they are updated. It introduces me to diverse sources of entertainment and makes me seem smarter, all while looking serious and official at the same time. Thank you Google!

5. My Puma bag - My favourite accessory. It has carried my soiled clothes, my secrets, my gifts, my letters, my weight, my dreams, my books, my baggage.. and the list is endless. On my loneliest days, it has been my date on planned picnics, shelter when it rains, secret keeper when I need to hide things. Did I mention that I love my bag? Unfortunately, I couldn't bring it to London because of a last minute zipper issue. And I miss it! But we shall re-unite for many more years to come. I know that!

So there it is, my everyday branded sweethearts.
And condolences to Jockey, you just missed the cut.

Monday, June 07, 2010

New leaf, yet again

I can’t believe its mid-2010 already. Didn’t we just celebrate new years? Didn’t I just get married? Didn’t I just start working? I give it some leeway and life just slips away. Milestones have come and gone and the months have rolled by. It’s just so unfair!

Today, I hit the pause button. I took a step back and thought of what I’ve really done in the last year. I’m so ashamed. I have written a sum total aggregate of 3 not-so-great blog posts in a whole year. No, no excuses to this. Coincidentally, I have also read exactly 3 books in the same period. I added one new blog to my Reader list. Sigh! In all this while, I visited just one new country and took one vacation to Pondicherry. I haven’t made any new friends. I gained one size and got a new haircut. And all this at a time when it’s never been more optimal for me to live the way I want. There is no more parental pressure, I have constant (and enthusiastic) company in the best boyfriend ever, I earn a lot of money and there are friends living all around me. A perfect time, wasted.

I would have wanted to read more. And by read, I don’t mean study, which I’ve been doing a lot. I want to pick up more books, follow more blogs, read more opinions. Isn’t that the best way to start writing again? Aaargh, I hope it’s not too late to start over. I want to go places. Weekend trips outside the city, work/non-work trips outside the country and discover more places within Bangalore. I want to play more badminton, TT and basketball. I want to run longer and faster, do a marathon. I want to watch more movies. I want to paint a wall in my house. I want to get some pots and get my hands dirty, in an attempt to make my balcony greener. I want to buy some interesting furniture. I really have to buy some make-up. (I’m 23 and I have never owned any lipstick). I want to sing more often, when I’m sober. I want to try more meat. I want to wear skirts more often. I want to do something charitable. I want to listen to music that I haven’t tried before. I want to meet new people, attend more quizzes. I want to cycle to work one day. I want to be able to do push ups. I want to cook a good meal for a bunch of friends. So much to do!

I can’t believe I let an entire year slip away, doing none of this. Sheesh! Ashamed I tell ya! But this ends here, now.

I’m putting up a list of thing I will do from now on. It’s out for you to see, so please hold me accountable.

By June 30, 2010 I will – Take Shrik to CTR, Malleshwaram and take a walk around Sankey tank, watch at least 3 popular movies that everyone seems to have watched, buy some make-up, start a book and update my mp3 player

By July 31, 2010 I will – Cycle to office on a pleasant day, buy some plants and start my own garden, get some nails and hang up pictures at home, blog more often, start using the make up

By Oct 30, 2010 I will – Get fitter and lose one size, paint a wall, cook a dinner from scratch for a bunch of people

By Dec 31, 2010 I will – Visit one new foreign country, visit Goa, run a mini-marathon, get a voter’s ID.

Hmm. Sounds good? Make sure I do this!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's the beach

There is something about going to the beach that I love.

The waves come at me incessantly. Never ending, never slowing its pace. I can relive my past standing there and I can foresee my future. What can it possibly be other than more waves? Some huge, some beautiful and some that are deceptively harmless. It's always the same rhythm, the same feeling. Eternally. Some waves approach me looking quite ferocious, but they still die at my feet. Some wash away my wounds or sea shells that I had held on to. Some bring me more goodies, sometimes others' filth too. Some shock me, but I always get over them. There is no time to waste, there are always more waves to counter. They thrill me, scare me and amaze me.

And when I walk away and pat myself dry, I always find strains of sand left behind. Sand that has crept into my hair unnoticed. Sand remains in my pockets, in the folds of my clothes, between my toes. It takes several washes to get rid off. And even when I do, it always feels like there is more lurking where I didn't check. The remnants of a good time, I don't always want to let it go.

There are two ways of enjoying the beach experience. I always first sit at a distance and watch the water. That seems pleasant enough, safe too. But then, there comes a time when I can't resist it further, I need to step in. There is just no other way.

How can I possibly get bored of the beach? The titillating view of the horizon, the certainty of the shore, the occasional dolphins and the endless feeling that I own the world?

How can I possibly get tired of life? I should step in and get my feet wet. I need to let the endless challenges and experiences splash at me, let life's sense of timing humble me. I want to collect my memories, but let them wash away when they have to. There are always more sea shells in the water. And then I can marvel at the gravity that gets me back to my feet when I think I can swim past the tide.

There is something about living this life that I love.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The good times

Remember when you were 7 and splashed some paint on a huge piece of paper and cliamed it to be a masterpiece? Your mom put it up on the fridge and foresaw pure talent in you, while your sister guffawed and said you'd be useless? But you didn't care.. You continued to paint and finally became an excel sheet mugging analyst. No, didn't happen to you? What about the time you made a complicated sand castle on your annual beach vacation and your dad claimed you'd be an architect some day and you persevered from then on, only to grow up to sell diapers in Bihar? That didn't happen either? Lucky, you!

Well, it didnt happen to me either. But the reason behind that isn't that i followed my dreams and became what I wanted. It's because I never quite figured out what i was good at. I could sing a bit (until my sis shouted at me to stop), I could dance quite some (but my mom convinced me that's no future to pursue), I could write (but I give it up in breaks), I could play quite a few sports (but I succumb under the slightest pressure), I could speak (didn't get me anywhere other than a few GDs), but I didnt have any real talent. And so I followed my true calling.. and became a fin ghissu. I can still tally any balance sheet, given a few free hours!

But the point behind all this rambling, is that I don't remember a single memory of accomplishment from my childhood. This might be because my parents were slightly cynical about most things. But still, I can't remember a single instance of my folks nodding their head, their lips drawn in and patting me on my back.

Until recently..

It was a few weeks ago, when I stood back and stared at my achievement, amazed at the time, patience and energy that had gone into it. Awed by own sense of judgement and the symmetry with which everything had fallen into place and blended so well. I looked up at my partner in crime and I could see he shared the feeling too. We had done it. Our Channa Masala was perfect. True, that night we felt too tired after that effort to make rotis, so we stored the dish overnight and we pushed ourselves to make some rotis the nexy day. But still, it was fantastic. Over time, several other scapegoats have tried our cooking.. family, friends, innocent batchmates, scared juniors. I couldn't really read through all their contrived facial expressions, but I'll take them as compliments. Thank you, every one of you. Please feel free to take your seat while you applaud!

Ah, when your chapati comes up to a perfect *cough* oval *cough*, when your curry turns deep red, when your idlis don't stick to your fingers, when your chutney doesn't lack taste.. Pure bliss. It makes me so proud that I even cry sometimes, but that's only when I chop onions. And when we sit down for dinner at the end of it all, we tell ourselves that we might still be hungry after the meal, but so what! It's still our meal. It's made out of the tomatoes we squished with our own hands, the salt we sprinkled with our very own fingers, spices sent across by our own mothers. It's still our meal.

Life, as always, throws the most pleasant surprises, when you least expect it.
That's why it's called a surprise, by the way.

Note to reader: Do not consider the text above as an invitation to dine at our place. We're not into that kind of socialising.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What I need

Today was one of those days when I've looked long and hard at my computer screen, the political map of Europe on my notice board, the tree outside my window, a boring company's annual report and the TV screen. I alternated between all of these to ensure no one at office would think I'm sleeping with my eyes open. The conclusion? I need a vacation.

The past 6 months of my life have been ridiculous. I had to handle myself acting nuts about getting married to the love of my life. So many stupid decisions, harsh words, regrets. I ensured in every way possible not to enjoy the wedding, my parents helped me along the way. After that, when I heard office junta speculating about my impending drop in interest at work due to the change in my marital status, I overworked to prove them wrong. I went to work 3 days after the wedding. I went to London for a month and worked an average 15 hours a day. Additionally, I somehow lost control of myself. I ate and fed my boyfriend (yes, I still call him my boyfriend) quite a few low quality meals. We ate a lot more junk, I stopped working out, I returned my bike to my parents, I called up fewer friends. I haven't even been able to finish reading a book and of course, I don't write any more. I just don't write.

It's not that I'm unhappy. I love my new life.. It's fantastic, I've never felt better. But with the change, I gave up everything good about my pre-marriage life too. (When I feel guilty about having a piece of chocolate, I know I've been a slob.)

I need a change, I need a vacation. I need to be around people, in a different place. And I want to play mafia. I want to ride down a scenic highway, I want to have road-side tea. I want my phone to be unreachable, my blackberry to be untouched. I want to scream out bollywood songs, while I'm riding a bike real fast. I want to get drenched in the rain. I need a vacation.

Next post, immediately after I return.