Category Archives: General

List-less and free.

Do you know anybody that writes lists? Are you one of them yourself? No piece of paper is left alone when some folks are around. Every blank scrap of paper, backs of receipts, margins of notebooks.. they all serve as a canvas for this obsession. I was one of them myself, until recently. The fridge door would be plastered with at least two full-sized sheets of paper, one filled with my tiny writing. The second was the list-in-waiting, very important, placed there because I hated searching for a piece of paper when I had a list to create. As you are probably thinking, this wasn’t just a habit. It was a disease.

I’ve always scribbled stuff down that needed my attention. I started way back when I was still in school. At the time, it was just one of those things that seemed grown-up and cool to do. Also, I simply loved post-its. One of my happy childhood struggles was always: “Do I hoard all these little impossibly cute post-its or do I succumb to the urge of filling them with lists and more lists?” Really. I think there are still little stacks of post-its back home in India, decades old, that I never wrote in. I wonder what pressing reminders lived in those early lists, but draw a blank. They probably would make me wince slightly were I to look at them today, and I wish I could see those little snippets of my then-young-can’t-wait-to-grow-up-self. (What was I thinking?!)

Post-wedding, living what might be finally called a “grown-up” life, my lists contained gems like “soak the beans”, “buy dishwashing fluid”, “reply to that email”. These were not the lists of my childhood, which existed entirely to satisfy my need to scribble on brightly colored tiny paper. These were a different animal, daily reminders of things I needed to do that multiplied magically when I did attend to them. The small surge of achievement I felt when I scratched off an item, quelled the moment I remembered the two more that I needed to do next.

A while ago, I finally understood that list-making was just making me feel inadequate. They made my life seem like a never-ending sequence of chores. It was a remnant of a childhood habit that persisted and never went away. Life is hardly the stuff of our “best” memories, our “best” vacations, our “grandest” successes. More frequently, it is a daily and gentle accumulation of mundane acts and exchanges that connect us to people and to our selves, as we all muddle about in our little corners of this big sandbox. Now that I have stopped plastering the fridge with my lists, two good things have happened. 1. Bits of paper and lovingly collected magnets don’t crash to the floor a few times every week. 2. The dishwasher is never without it’s soap, chores still magically manage to get done, I potter about the house in relative peace, and our home hums along daily. Nothing has been burnt, forgotten, neglected or destroyed by my discarding this old habit, but I am a happier person by it. Whatever feeling of liberation I had hoped to achieve by writing to-do notes like a maniac (and checking them off, of course), I actually ended up achieving them all when I threw the lists away.

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Hummus

Hummus

 Two days ago, the H and I stood undecided at Meijer. We wanted to get hummus, and were spoiled for choice. Stay with the tried-and-tested original? Roasted red pepper? Spinach-artichoke? Garlic? Cilantro? There were all calling to me, these neat little round tubs of delicious. It was a mundane conversation we have had many times in the past, little decisions of little consequence.

If you’ve been to a Meijer before, you know that there’s always a staff member who stands by the doors chiming “Welcome to Meijer” to every single customer who walks in. It is an exhausting way to earn a living. The lady who had greeted us earlier, walked over and smiled “Don’t you know how to make hummus?” in halting English. I wasn’t sure what to say for a second. Was she asking me why I had to buy something that can be made at home? Why would she discourage a purchase from the store, anyway? She was a tiny little thing, more than a head shorter than myself and simply dwarfed by the husband, and stood there with a tiny smile on her face. I told her I knew how to prepare it, but didn’t do so usually. She smiled wider this time and asked, “Could you tell me how to make it? It has chickpeas, no?” I gave her a quick rundown of the recipe. She had questions about the ingredients, how expensive they were, where would we find them in the store… The H stood by patiently.

When we were done, she remarked “I’ve always seen the hummus by this cooler. I’ve never bought it because it’s so expensive, but have always been curious how it is.” Once again, I didn’t know what to say. I pointed out that there was a promotion on it where you get two for the price of one today, and that’s why the H and I were trying to choose. The smile on that woman’s face! She grinned like a child, and told me she would pick two boxes on her way home today, for the first time. I melted a little.

All the way home, I couldn’t wipe the tiny smile off my face. I saw that she had really meant “Do you know how to make hummus?” What significance that one word has. It was a sobering reminder of the world being much bigger than this little bubble the H and I live in. How thoughtlessly we go through the daily motions of our lives, for the most part doing what we desire… while there’s a woman watching us a few feet away, who has looked at a humble package of $3.99 hummus many times and desisted buying it.

This little exchange was a valuable reminder of many things for the H and I that day. At the end of her shift, I hope that she spent a happy few minutes trying to choose what to get just like the H and I did hours earlier. And I hope it didn’t disappoint! 

 

Caesars.

I urge any of you reading this who love me even a little bit: Get me a puppy(I am looking at you, H)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved dogs. I’ve basked in borrowed pride when I was told the stories of my father caring for both a cat and a dog decades earlier. Growing up, I’ve wanted to bring home every puppy I saw on the streets. That this never happened, not once, didn’t deter me one bit. I still look at every pup I see, homeless or not, with a slight wistfulness and wish that I could take it home.

The first dog about whom I heard a bunch of stories was of course, Caesar the first. This was the stray that dad picked up somewhere. Caesar would apparently eat curd rice (he’s definitely not the first Indian dog to do so). He would leave our home when he pleased to loiter about and return when he was hungry. He would run behind my dad every time dad left. He slept in dad’s bed. Hearing many stories about this dog fondly recollected, made a big impression on me. We had a bunch of dogs after that. As a child, I remember Lassie, who gave us five puppies (two were given to the postman and two for us. My brother (I think?) named them Caesar (the second) and Brutus.) The fifth pup I really wanted to keep also, but here my parents drew the line. I had even named him “Roger”, in my optimism that having him named would mean I get to keep him. The gardener took Roger home. Later, we had Caesar the third. I really wanted to name this one “Alex” or “Max”. I remember a pure white puppy with no tail, Simba, that was with us for a very short while. My insistence on these Western names came from my then-preoccupation with Enid Blyton novels (where a Roger always showed up, seems like). I suspect Alex/Max were inspired by some books as well but I do not remember which. Either ways, our gardener (and grandfather-figure to me that I’ve written about previously), Perumal thatha, couldn’t say “Alex” OR “Max” at all. I tried to to teach him these names, but “Alec” and “Mac” were the most he could pronounce in this strange new language. It must have been no small torture to him, having a bossy little girl asking him to repeat “Alex” over and over again. He humored me for a while, but in the end I gave up in the end and we named this puppy Caesar as well. This was also when I realised that every dog we have from now on would be named Caesar.

Cheechu

This Caesar was a little dynamo. He was a scrawny little thing but had a massive amount of energy. His favorite activity involved running circles around me, on our patio, at great speed until I couldn’t follow him with my eyes any more. The little idiot would run and run until he collapsed, exhausted and jubilant, at my feet, waiting to be congratulated. You couldn’t help but be totally conquered by this mad abandon. This absolute and complete surrender. I loved him to bits, and have never experienced such a display of exuberance before or after. When you have a dog, even returning home from the store becomes a matter of great celebration. You are welcomed with such joy, homecomings are never the same after that. He loved grapes, and I would sneak out routinely, feeding him sweet, cold grapes.

My grandmother was scared of dogs. But that changed one night, during Diwali. He was terrified that night, with all the fireworks and noise and smoke around him. He crept underneath chairs and would lie there, trembling, not eating, not moving. None of us knew what to do, and really, there isn’t any way you can muffle the noise that happens during the week of Diwali. Suddenly, he shot up and ran to where my grandmom was seated, and hid under her chair. She was mostly blind by this time, but could tell that there was a scared dog at her feet. She bent down and reached out to him and patted his head. I will confess that though he had never hurt any of us, I was afraid for her that moment. I didn’t know how he might react to her, shaken as he was. But he let her pat him awkwardly for a few moments and she relaxed around him. Perhaps he relaxed too. From that day on, she lost her fear of dogs and would pet him happily every now and then, calling his name again and again. Somehow, he had managed to win over someone with decades of fear for dogs.

It’s more than a decade since this memory. And now we have yet another Caesar. Cheechu. This one was brought home one day by my cousin, a tiny little fawn colored pariah dog that has won my mother’s heart the same way his predecessor won her mother’s heart. He’s five years old now, a strapping dog that hates being left alone, that bristles at the mere sight of someone outside our gates, that goes mad with joy when he sees us all. He’s a beauty.

 

Cheechu
Posing

Sitting here in my apartment in the US, I wish for a dog sometimes. If I do get one, I know that it will be a much different experience from the many dogs I have known back home in India. I don’t know the first thing about caring for one, here, alone. Especially without Perumal thatha who could only say Caesar. But dogs once loved leave a very strong imprint behind. Perhaps the H, who has never had a dog (nor wants one, in honesty) and I will get to share this experience in our future someday.

Love, actually. Not really.

It’s been 11 years since this movie premiered, and it still shows up on almost every search for “romantic comedies”. I’ve watched it a few times, the first being many many years ago. I loved it. From Hugh Grant’s mildly-confused-all-the-time Prime Minister to Colin Firth’s it-is-painful-for-me-to-speak author. What can I say? A tiny part of my brain stops working when I hear tall British men talk.  It’s been a weakness for so long now that both me and the H are resigned to it’s presence in our future.

I was trying to convince the H to watch it with me a while ago. Predictably, he wasn’t too keen on it. Aaaand predictably, we found ourselves on the couch with the movie running a short while later. He tried, he did. But there are a few things a man can’t do for you no matter what, and this was one of them. We had to stop watching. Alone later, I decided to revisit this old love of mine. Only to discover: L.A. has gone the same way in my life as have the Backstreet Boys (I knew all their lyrics at one long-ago-far-away point of my life).

I was more than a little shocked watching it now. A bumbling Prime Minister who falls for his voluptuous housekeeper. A brokenhearted author who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper the exact moment she strips down to jump into a lake to and reveals a tattoo on a dimpled back. They don’t even speak the same language. A young man who has hardly spoken to his best friend’s bride, but is besotted with her. The single office worker, who again has not exchanged one meaningful word with her gorgeous colleague, but everyone (including him) knows of her deep burning love for him.  Weirdly enough,  the movie is most successful when it toes the line on what will soon become an infidelity, causing the end of a long marriage. This is also the part of the movie that introduced me to Joni Mitchell, and is my the only takeaway from the movie worth anything.

Sometimes, it’s not too much fun to outgrow things we truly liked at an earlier point. When that shift happens, I find myself disliking those things with almost the same fervor as I had while loving them. Which eventually also passes, and turns into a casual indifference. With Love, Actually, it feels like an era has ended. I will never enjoy a romantic comedy again. (Cue for the H to celebrate).

 

Offense

Today I saw a poster on FB that read “Stop being offended by what someone to you, by that FB post, by a piece of art, by people displaying their affection. Be offended by war, poverty, injustice.” These words reminded me of a blogger, someone whose posts I read sporadically. Her blog has its fair share of loyal readers, who would cheer it on and comment on her posts. A while ago, she announced the “end” of said blog with a long rant that went on about how she was not interested in sharing her thoughts on this platform anymore because people were not commenting/responding to what she wrote. She took deep offense at their silence, and decided to stop writing once the validation ended.

I feel two ways about this. One, I certainly understand. In fact, I’d written in an earlier post myself on this very blog that I would love to read comments if my readers felt something resonate. Who doesn’t like a word of feedback, or a signal that something that we have done has been noticed? Who wouldn’t like a little nod of acknowledgement or involvement? But slowly, I found my opinion changing. I realized this a while into beginning this little blog of mine: I enjoy this a lot more when I don’t spare a thought to you, my reader. It is exhausting to write with even an abstract, faceless reader in mind. Now I just write when the fancy strikes me, and I say what I please. A part of me wishes I could just pass on this (unsolicited) opinion to the bitter blogger I mentioned earlier, but few things are more unwelcome as unsolicited advice.

But back to the poster. I have come to believe that the world is too big, and too deeply screwed up, for any one person to make any significant difference in the mess we find ourselves in worldwide. Being angered at the injustices that riddle our world is an impotent act at best, and forgotten the moment our phones beep with a new notification. We are enmeshed in the little details of our own lives, not caring about much else outside of that little orbit.

Yesterday, the H and I purchased a loveseat. It had been an exhausting few days for us, and we really just wanted to get it over with. Purchase made, paid for, truck rented, packed couch hauled upstairs. We had some scary moments with trying to move it upstairs, and I realized I am not cut out for moving giant couches as part of a two-person team. He left to return the truck before our 75 minute rental ran out, and I proceeded to tear open the packaging. You know what is coming, don’t you? Wrong couch. This one was bigger (we had assumed it was well-padded to protect while moving) and a more expensive model and we weren’t even sure it would fit in the space we had kept aside for it. It was not a fun half hour for me to sit stewing about in the house with a too-large couch on my floor and the H away. We go back to the store, and while they acknowledge their mistake, they would like us to pay more for the couch or bring it back to replace it (at our own cost). My indignation boiled over, predictably. In all likelihood we will keep the bigger model. We might pay more for it as well.

The H had to endure a long angry speech from me about the injustice of it all. And about how annoyed I was about the whole thing. About how it’s not our fault. I ended with the announcement that after this whole sorry mess is sorted out, I will be sending a strongly worded email to this store describing just how dissatisfied I am with their service. For the entire duration of this tirade, the H heard me out with a patient look on his face. While he agreed with every word, he didn’t want me to write any email to the store, and ended with saying that either ways, we get a good couch, but my email might cost someone their job, or some pay, or whatever. And we didn’t need that. That stopped me. What with my struggles to find a good job, I would never want to be the reason for someone else to worry about theirs.

Reason came flooding back, along with the realization that I had been railing and ranting over a very first world problem. He went back to work leaving me with the couch and the half-torn plastic packaging all over the living room. An hour later I saw that post about offense. It was the final piece of context I needed to just stop stewing about it. So now, with my new-found wisdom (ha!), I just need to figure out how to fit this couch in our room. Problems problems.

Money money money

Have you whittled away an entire afternoon just by hopping links on the internet? I have happily spent this entire Friday afternoon doing just that, while waiting for the (hopefully) fun evening ahead of me tonight. (It’s Friday!). I just read an article on WordPress about some guys tips to save money. I don’t even remember exactly how I ended up on his page, and something I read there earlier seemed promising and I liked the way he wrote. So after an approving initial impression, I started on this list.

First tip. Look for change in every change dispenser you see. Second tip. Look for metal and scrap to recycle. Tip three. Look for cans to return to recycling facilities in your state. Tip four. Look for change in parking lots of busy malls.. I don’t think I could’ve stopped reading this even if I wanted to. Was he kidding? No. He concluded by saying he has saved tons of money by following exactly these tips (and a few more) for decades. Decades. I am still wondering if the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek or if this guy was earnest. Finding out would mean reading this list again, something I do not wish to do. There is a tiny part of me that feels bad about this whole thing though. I don’t even know where you’d have to go to return those soda cans at a recycling facility, to collect the five or ten cents you get. I haven’t even remotely considered doing that for any reason, even for recycling purposes. And change to me is just a nuisance that weighs down my wallet, not a source of newfound income.

A while ago, I found out that I wasn’t chosen to interview for a job I really hoped to get. It was not a good feeling. I spent a while being sad and angry about it. Angry about visa restrictions, mostly, but that is a post for another day if I ever write about it. Reading this possibly funny, or perhaps serious article makes me feel fortunate for the many things that I do have. The two of us are still a single-income family for the moment, but we are a happy two, and we don’t look for change on the street. For this, I am glad.

Neighbors

This evening we visited a family that has lived here almost as long as we have. It was all quaintly old-fashioned. My dad called them in advance, checked if they are free, mentioned that I am in town, we just want to say hello. My parents have a firm sense of propriety about these things and as a kid, I hated the very idea of visiting someone and making small talk (or watching someone else make it). I  would wriggle out of as many of these as I could, but there were always some visits more important, that required the presence of the entire family. So we’d march out, one sulking kid in tow. Sometimes walking to see neighbors; and sometimes in a car to visit relatives. I was evenly prejudiced against all this.

A couple days ago, my mother mentioned that she would like to see the C’s. I found myself agreeing.This evening at their home, I found that suddenly I was making small talk having a conversation on one of these visits, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Now I see that there is a pleasure to be had in conversing with someone you’ve known since you were born, whom your parents have known since before you were born. It is a comfortable and assured friendship that carries no fuss to it. Such friends do not hold grudges that it’s been more than a few weeks since we’ve talked, or keep any sort of count about such things. They welcomed us into their home with warmth and I finally understood why my parents enjoy this.

We are lucky to have many such neighbors like this, and many more relatives. Last night I was the recipient of another such neighbor’s generosity. I see them take happiness in simply talking to others, and I find myself sharing the same. I have many friends myself, but you begin to discover that you won’t carry them all into your latter twenties, or thirties, and so on. This is a shrinking set of people, and the ones that survive all these decades are the ones that need little explanation, who become friends like the kind my parents have.

I’ve read somewhere that one of the hallmarks of being in your thirties is that you will begin to understand, and empathize with, your parents more. With this evening, I’ve got a head start on this!