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2020

The year started on a fun enough note. Had plenty of adored people around. There was music. There was dancing. There were hyper kids. Loads of alcohol flowing as well. And lights flashing…the whole shebang!

And then we crashed, bleary-eyed, into bed only to be woken up at what seemed like an ungodly hour but it was actually well past the crack of dawn. Bang into the new year I realized what a smartass a 10 year old can be.

I have…sigh…had a rather favorite coffee mug that’d been a part of my everyday routine for more than 6 years. It was nothing fancy. Just a bright yellow mug with Homer Simpson’s face on it, full of his usual goofiness. I’d bought it during my first ‘mom’s weekend away’ trip with the bestie and it was intended for Red. I don’t remember how it became mine, but it did. So the mug broke fairly early in the morning although after I’d bonded with it for what turned out to be the last time and I was more than a “bit miffed”. He-who-shall-not-be-named had butterfingers as usual and had broken the mug just near his feet while not having any slippers on (as usual). Shards were everywhere and Homer was irreparably broken.

After having realized there were no more storms to come, TO saw me sweeping up the broken pieces and looking sad while doing so. In expressing solidarity with his “favorite mother” he stood in attention, clicked his heels together, saluted and hummed a mournful tune. I have never been more caught between looking stern and controlling my laughter at the same time. Laughter won out. Kids..whaddya gonna do!

Speaking of…guess what the kid who kept whining during most of the train journey to my hometown say when I asked him to shush for what must have been the n(nth)th time? ” Oh! so uptight!!” I’m fairly sure I goggled at him while he cackled and ran away like the sprite that he is.

I’m not setting too many goals this year barring one- minimalism. Wherever possible. Wherever…and of course targets will be set to travel more, read more, do new things and make more good memories.

May 2020 find you all in more states of contentment and as little tumult as possible.

Cheers!

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image courtesy: gadgetfreeks.com
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Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia deserves its own post simply because of the history behind it and the fact that it’s still being built as I type this out.

To read more about the architect, Antoni Gaudi, click here. To know more about the basilica itself, click here.

For the rest, just keep scrolling to see some wide-angle images of the church.

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Bamboozled in Barcelona

I was robbed in Barcelona at the fag end of my stay there. It’s not that I hadn’t been warned. But the warnings had been expressly about being careful in crowded areas and essentially to be alert. But the universe sometimes has different plans for us despite everything.

Any woman will tell you that they are usually far warier than men when stepping out from home because women are more frequently on the radar of almost all sorts of miscreants. Keeping all the warnings in mind, I set out to explore Barcelona, alone for a bit and with my sister for the most part.

I can tell you what kind of a death grip I had on my phone. It was not only my lifeline back to home, it was my guide in a city where eloquent shrugs and rapid fire Spanish was the norm. My extent of Spanish was and still is restricted to salutations, please and thank you. Not much help when “grandpa” comes and robs you on the metro as I was soon to find out.

Even walking around a brand new city can be a bit daunting but I was so elated to take in the cool breeze, the lovely buildings and just the utter newness of everything that every day that passed without any incident led me to let my guard down a little bit more. And this is where the screw ups happen.

We are all more victims to our minds than the world around us. A “bad guy” typically needs to have a vicious air around him, it’s usually a man who is the perpetrator or essentially looks like trouble from the word go. People who look like they’d be more at home playing chess in Central Park and smiling kindly at kids aren’t the people you think about when mugging comes up.

Neither do you think that two innocuous looking women who insist very jovially that they are trying to get people to come to their flamenco show at the city’s square and are handing you roses because it’s a marketing gimmick, are either marking you out to their cohorts as an easy mark or will use the flowers as an excuse to come close to you and rob you blind.

If you really let your mind go there, paranoia will rule supreme. And it did for us, for a bit before our innate stubbornness reasserted itself and we said screw it! They’ve taken quite a bit from us; the peace of mind is ours to give away, or not.

Here is the thing- if you are traveling alone then be doubly cautious since the eager-beaver attitude you give off can make you stand out in a crowd. If you are traveling with a partner then you are slightly safer but the crooks work to divide and conquer. The safest bet seems to be to travel in a group because the more the people to manage, the lesser the variables in the control of the criminals.

So it boils down to common sense. Don’t do what I did and try and keep to this ready reckoner and trust your gut. It could mean the difference between being traumatized and hurt vs a safe and memorable trip for all the right reasons.

  • Don’t stop to click picturesque balconies and building facades so often that you might as well be wearing a neon sign that says “Fresh Off The Boat”. If you’re a clickomaniac like me, just control your impulses. Your internal camera (mind) sees way more things than that which you’ll end up posting on Instagram and Facebook.
  • Take a taxi when traveling with luggage that requires not only your focus but both your hands. Going through turnstiles at a Metro station and lugging your bags till the escalator or elevator is an inconvenience even if you’re built like He-Man.
  • Avoid interacting with strangers. You know where your important documents and articles are; no need to keep checking and rechecking just because a person with a kind smile tells you that you’ve been dropping euros like Hansel and Gretel did breadcrumbs. The kindness of strangers can be experienced in a setting more within your control. A bit of bird poop on your shoulder or bag isn’t going to derail your life especially if it prevents you from stopping in your tracks and lets another set the stage for a malicious act.
  • Avoid crowds as much as you can and do not be afraid to get in the face of people who seem to be pushing you or hemming you in. Seriously, think about it…who in their right mind wants to get into a cathedral at the speed of light. The structures have been there for centuries…5 more minutes aren’t going to make any difference.
  • Don’t make eye contact with strangers who come up to you. Just register who is around and the place where you are in, is it crowded, lonely and how close you are to a landmark and just keep walking. In a country known for their tourism, you aren’t the sole individual another can turn to for help.
  • Don’t overstuff your handbag or wallet. Keep it simple and neat and with everything within a fingers reach. If you have to stop to sort through your change and the notes, you are giving someone time to sneak up on you and part you from your money or any other important object from your bag.
  • Avoid areas which are lonely. There are optimum times to go sight seeing. Stick to those since those are also the times when the local authorities will be available to help you. Note: many smaller police stations are closed in Spain on weekends. It may make you go WTF but knowing that beforehand may mean the difference between wasting time waiting for a closed door to open and getting the right kind of help and in a timely manner.
  • Keep your country’s embassy’s address stored in your phone. You will need to go to them no matter how far away you are in order to get back home especially if your passport’s been whisked away.
  • Schengen visas are NOT going to be reissued by the country that issued them originally because those are the rules. You will need to either fly back to your home country or request the intervention of another country near by for asylum while you get a fresh visa issued. Keep in mind though, no country barring your own is obligated to let you enter. Don’t bother crying- if it’s not protocol, they don’t give a damn.
  • Do not attempt to evade immigration at airports by driving in or arriving by train to another country if your visa has been stolen. There is no guarantee that you may not be asked to show your papers. Failure to show your visa means deportation at best and a host of other issues at worst which may also include difficulty in getting a passport issued or even getting banned from international travel.
  • A visa is linked to the passport it is issued on. No passport, no visa. If a new passport is issued, its validity does not extend to the earlier visa. Again, don’t cry. It ain’t gonna help.

These and many many more things can help in preventing any loss or harm befalling you while traveling aboard but the people who carry them out aren’t doing this for a lark. It’s what they do. Their commitment to getting your money outweighs all moral dilemmas so try and not get stuck in the “why did this happen to me” rut.

If you aren’t physically hurt, thank your stars, take stock of the situation and immediately set about asking for help in cancelling anything that can be misused by others and then find a police station or a police officer and keep asking for help till they do what’s required or lead you to the people who can.

But don’t be too surprised if you get a blase kind of a response from the authorities. They will take their time to type out the report, they will listen to you impassively and then gesticulate widely with their hands and shrug their shoulders a whole lot but thay may not commiserate. They see it too often and are quite desensitized to the occurences. Keep a hold on your temper and just go through the essentials like filling out a police report and asking for copies in triplicate. You may be lucky enough to find a police officer who doesn’t say, “Doesn’t your embassy have a copier?” Your only job then is to get the stamped report in hand and move onto the next step- reissue of your passport.

I intend to go back to Spain. I don’t know when that will be but I will try and make it back. The place is gorgeous and I know I liked what I saw there. This experience was a wake-up call in many ways albeit one I could have done without. But we escaped without any scars and whatever hits our minds took, we will continue to recover from it. A little paranoia never hurt anyone while traveling. Go with the gut and be ruthless about your safety.

You can also check out these articles for the MOs used by the pickpockets.

Pigeon Poop Pickpocket in Marbella, Spain

https://www.worldnomads.com/travel-safety/europe/spain/barcelona-pickpocket-capital-of-the-world

Forewarned is forearmed. Truly.

Safe travels.

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A Weekend In The Balcony

When Red and I moved houses to where we currently live, the clincher wasn’t just the community living but also the view we’d get from our floor. It’s neither too high up, too far down and definitely doable whenever the elevators are out.

But the view is something that’s been rather remarkable over the years. For urbanites, seeing concrete jungles and cars bustling along the roads are the norm. For us, apart from the usual view of a city life, we get to see peacocks every now and then. We get to see the cityscape change in front of our eyes whenever new ground is laid for another building. We get to see cricket matches galore and also interact with the feathered ones that seem to love the aircon units we’ve so thoughtfully put up on our balconies.

And while the changing landscape doesn’t always spell progress all around, what with cutting of the trees, noise pollution, air pollution, ground water depletion…you name it and it’s happening as I type this out; but it’s happening right in front of our eyes. It’s a sense of comfort to be able to see the evolution of this city.

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Alexa…Get Me A Gun!

I got too busy catching up with my folks and forgot to publish this last night.

A little girl who’s become a part of our family of 3 was paying us a visit this evening. Needless to say with TO turning 10 and his cuteness factors dipping day by day; a chirping and twirling child always scores higher on the Awww scale. And they know it too!

TO was busy utilizing some unscheduled screen time when his little friend dropped by. After giving her some toys to play with, he snuck back to the living room to watch some inane crap that he’s very fond of these days.

When I asked for a quick sitrep, the little one promptly ratted him out and smugly waited till he came to play with her. Ah..girl power!

They played, they made a dinosaur park, fenced with dominoes and then they started tormenting my poor poor Alexa.

Now our Echo Dot’s a Gen One and getting on in the years. After going back and forth trying to decipher TO’s accent and then just going back to her factory settings, she now had to contend with understanding chipmunk. Because that’s how fast and perpetually talking 3 year old girls sound like.

Today Alexa had to shuffle between Baby Shark, Faded and Bulleya, which she kept interpreting as Imagine Demons’ Believer. After getting barked at by an increasingly annoyed munchkin and being spoken to by a giggling older child, Alexa gave up the ghost and just rebooted. That’s how she lets us know she’s not going to take our shit anymore!!

Soon after I was dropping a reluctant munchkin home. I’d already disappointed her by not forking over chips before dinner time and limiting the cookies to plain vanilla ones and nothing worth licking in leisure.

She was a bit miffed with me and to recover some ground with her I told her Red’s birthday was coming up and asked for gift ideas. She said, “Give him a gun. A big one.” Seeing my surprised face she added, “Give him some polos too. They come in green colors and they are nice to eat. Polos and guns are the best gift ever!”

There. It’s settled. Red’s going to have the oddest 40th birthday ever. Tons of polos and hopefully a gun. But maybe El Munchino isn’t too far off the mark. Look at Red instructing the flesh&blood in the fine art of aiming and shooting. Ah..out of the mouths of babes…

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Movie Review: Judgementall Hai Kya

Judgementall Hai Kya poster.jpg

Kangana Ranaut has been in the news for so many things in the recent past that any movie of hers is newsworthy mainly because of the gossip around the actor. Although, IMHO, she’s become typecast for her neuroses in the earlier movies; she still manages to deliver a believable performance as person who is psychotic and yet not entirely off her rocker.

Rajkummar Rao fits well into edgier characters as smoothly as he does the feel good ones. His turn in Stree vs ELKDTAL vs JHK are varied as they are well-etched and with their own distinctive feels. He is truly a good actor in every sense of the word. He belongs in each of the movies he does.

The disclaimer at the start of the movie is also something that’s commendable in a place like India where mental health issues are a huge taboo and a dirty secret that’s more liable to be swept under the rug than be tackled head on.

Onto the actual reviewing: The movie is engrossing but it’s no OFOTCN or Nobody’s Child. It is however, a thought provoking look at a life tinged by pain and feelings of not belonging anywhere and being heard by those who matter.

The direction is fairly taut with Kovelamudi dropping the ball only when Rao starts fessing up to all his crimes which were deemed as psychotic ramblings of a delusional woman. Kangana sometimes overdoes it with the wide-eyed stare of a person who lives in a parallel universe inside her own head. Sometimes the scariest people are the ones who remain calm on the surface but are churning with maladaptive thoughts and hallucinations inside; desperately hanging onto shreds of reality.

The ancillary characters mainly make up the comic element in the movie. Whether it’s a long-suffering, hoping-to-get-laid sort-of boyfriend, or the ineffectual, obese cop (Satish Kaushik) who perpetually keeps eating; adding to his weight and his inefficacy. Jimmy Shergill doesn’t add much to the movie; gravitas or otherwise. His cameo needed to be better fleshed out. And for God’s sake, why does Amyra Dastur get work? She makes very little impact. At least someone who could breathe some life into a role needs to be brought in. She fails to strike a chord with the audience at all. The opening sequence of the movie with the blood splatters, spills and the origami is actually more poignant than many things in the entire film.

In the end, Rajkummar Rao with his sociopathic turn and Kangana in her delusional avatar, carry the movie forward and take it a step in the right direction; making mental illness lose its stigma and helping people know that it’s *not* a dirty word.

Rating 3.5/5

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Retroblogging

I occasionally got back and read stuff I’d blogged about earlier. Sometimes I can see an evolution in the style of writing and at other times it seems either pedantic or boring. But this one is relevant even today, hence the repost. It was written 8.5 years ago on a day when I seemed to have been rather prolific or just didn’t want to actively parent and just hide away in my beanbag and keep blogging.

I was worried that I’ll be fanning my ignorance quite a bit by forgoing the newspapers altogether but a quick glance at them has assured me am not really missing much.

It’s not quite so much as news as an announcement of the end being near. Take a look all around- honor killings up, scams are in they heyday, political parties are the jokers with the Indian Government providing the 3 ring circus. What does get the space in the papers are announcements of the Fresh Faces in the city colleges where self-proclaimed celebs go and shake a leg and lecture impressionable young’uns on personality and grooming. While their grooming and personality (or lack thereof) is highly suspect or airbrushed for the print media 🙂

I sometimes read my papers a day late since my son loves to paper our house and Red always takes off with the Sport pages first thing in the morning. While gathering the papers from last night’s yay-ness I came across a news feature of a German porn star who died after her 6th boob job went bust! Literally and please don’t excuse the pun. Hmm…that did grab my attention because the girl in question really was just a girl and 23 years old.

Hell at 23 if a person can generate that kind of income, why not live it up? What good would 800 gms boobs (each 800 gms mind you) do to a person except make them more susceptible to gravity a WHOLE lot more? And now she’s dead. Fatal beauty anyone?

This isn’t a homily on the evils of x,y,z. It’s been so long since I read the papers and found something genuinely informative. And felt up to date on the happenings around me.

It’s either the verbal skirmishes between the politicos in A.P that make the front page or the Naxals or the scams…and honestly all they make me think of is that people are inept. They do just enough to show that they have Johnsons and then they back off.
I get it, the machinery moves slowly. But for everything? The people who have the most influence and the potential to actually act seem to be mainly posturing and and everything is just for show.

Want to get something done, throw down and the gauntlet and see where that takes you and stand your ground! Things aren’t that stable anyhow whether it’s in the state or the central government. Or for that matter for most things.

The last few ‘newsworthy’ things I remember reading about my city and state either involve political fluctuations, political gripes, suicides, dogs mauling infants, slums, citizens grievances against the local governing bodies. And the list bloody keeps going on and on.

And it’s the same thing the next day. It’s a template of sorts if you will.

Small wonder then that I play escapist and read the comics, smirk at page 3 and get right back to my books.

Cynical but it works.

 

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Conversations On A Monday Monday

I live with two people who want me in their space but refuse to let me breathe the way I want to. I like the windows open with loads of fresh air coming in. TO wants the inside of a freezer all around him and greedily watches the AC to see when it’ll be turned on. Red wants the AC switched off when I would rather have a slightly chillier atmosphere, leading to genuine chill emanating from me that ends up baffling him for some reason. Go figure.

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So I wake up this morning and do my usual stuff of opening the doors to the balcony, opening the windows; take a deep breath of air which hasn’t yet been saturated by exhaust and what not. This lasts all of 2 hours. When the offspring wakes up, he goes around closing the windows, drawing the shades and closing the blinds as well.

On being told to keep everything back the way it was, he starts objecting, “But Ayuuuuuuu”. Mondays are tough enough without another month and a half of holidays remaining. I tell him to give me my fresh air and ” GO BE A TROLL” in his own room with the curtains and windows closed!

11yo has a 'pot belly'

His response? A beaming smile. This is how monstrous ideas are formed…by loose lips of uncaffeinated mothers. Ye Gods!

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Book Review: The Bad Guys

The Bad Guys Book Trailer (Scholastic India) - YouTube

Good friends not only listen to you when you need to vent, go shopping with you, they also recommend books that make you laugh till you cry and till your offspring is rolling on the floor, clutching his stomach saying “Stop, stop..I’m going to barf if I keep laughing!”

Got introduced to this series by a good friend who was cleaning house before she migrated to a different continent. These books were intended for TO but I like reading all sorts of books and find that children’s books are a balm for a day when everything seems like of lopsided and heavy.

So we dipped a toe into The Bad Guys and liked it SO much that we plunged headfirst into it. Brought to life by Aaron Blabey, this series is so much more than just a kid’s book or an illustrated one. It’s hilarious, tres tongue-in-cheek and show’s a delightful level of snark in the author’s nature.

So if you have a child whining his head off about being “booooooooored”, then hand him this book and tell him to go whoop it up or do one better; read it to him/her and make a laugh-till-you-cry moment with Mr.Wolf, Mr.Shark, Mr.Snake and Mr.Piranha who are trying to make the world a little better than the rest of the maligned members of their ilk.

Cheers to your inner bookworm!

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PS: Thanks Nams for the book reco…my credit card doesn’t thank you but the ROLFing child totally does!

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The Road Not Taken

Note: This is hardly an original title but extremely apt nonetheless, especially for this particular post. Somehow this post was particularly difficult to write. The words didn’t flow the way they usually do and I’ve made more revisions than I’ve ever done before, left it cooling on the rack as it were till I decided to just get it done once and for all. Read on…

I’ve often touched upon the nomadic life I’d led as a child. It was never dull whatever else it may have been. It was hectic at times and sometimes trying but never dull. And in the process the one thing I always wondered about was whether putting down roots somewhere was really everything it was cracked up to be and if it was something I’d be able to aspire to one day. Because after 9 schools and 11 cities you really wonder at times where it’s all going.

There was a point of time when I thought I’d got it figured out. I was much younger but without the rose-tinted glasses. Work was shaping up, other aspects of life were also pretty much where they needed to be. And then they changed. Not entirely drastically but they changed and the path that was taken has led up to today. And it’s been a good one for the most part. But a part of me wondered about the shape of things had the divergence not occurred. The all too elusive what-ifs occasionally rear their head and you can’t help but extrapolate things and wonder if you’d have been able to follow the blueprint through and where that might have got you.

Now nostalgia is just fine on it’s own, indulged from a few hundred kilometers away but when you get down to brass tacks and walk in the same paths the younger you did, sometimes it’s just not the same at all. Imagine a place, a cafe if you will, was something you zoomed into regularly like it was home base. The food tasted great, the drinks even better and the time spent there was memorable. And then one day, you walk in there after a few years and it’s not really special anymore. It’s run-of-the-mill. The place isn’t run down or shady…it’s just not what you want anymore. The younger you sure, the older you…not so much. And that can be a slightly bittersweet realization for those of us who sometimes want to desperately hang onto the vision of something the way we remember it.

I remember visiting my college with my best friend a long while after we finished our graduation.While the original structure was still standing, the new extensions to the building made it look more like a transport hub than the college where I spent 3 very significant years of my life. And while I’m not opposed to change, there’s change and there’s CHANGE. And as we grow up and older, some changes are inevitable and often seem irrevocable.

Nostalgia works well for some time but the deeper you go into it at times you realize that you aren’t acknowledging the most often critical part of whole situation- that you’re the  one that’s changed the most. Older, maybe wiser, definitely healthier (we’re a body positive blog folks) and once you get to that point; at best nostalgia can be a joyful interlude but one best kept brief. Because there’s so much happening now! The future maybe unknown but the past is something we’ve already gone through. Reliving it or attempting to kind of seems like walking backwards to me. Best to grab onto whatever’s happening now and hang on for the ride.

Here endeth the lesson.