Finding cues from books to keep calm and carry on

Bookstore in Berlin

On a miraculous note, I have finished reading all the four books that I started reading in the last two months. I call it a miracle because believe it or not, there are 6-7 books on my kindle which I started reading but couldn’t go on. For varied reasons. And then I would give up reading for a while, keep scourging listicles to find a book which will help me get back on track and feel disconcerted all the while because I did not have a book to go back to. Working full time and raising a child leaves very less time to read (or even to take a shower for that matter), but escaping my own life and joining someone else through the books makes it rather bearable to live through the mundane necessities of life. We are so small in this whole universe, that our joys and sorrows, difficulties and breakthroughs are all insignificant and should not be taken too seriously.

Four years back when I was in Paris, I went to Lyon to spend two days with a business associate and his family consisting of his wife and three kids. His youngest daughter Lily (who was 6) and I became very attached. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I cant speak French, but sometimes you don’t need words to feel close to each other. I hadn’t seen her since then. When we were going to Berlin for our annual international meeting, I was going to see her father. I took a little gift for Lily and wondered if she would remember me.

We were in for a rude shock when we saw Lily with her father in Berlin and he told us that his wife had committed suicide a week back. 10 year old Lily accompanied him as there was no one to take care of her at home. I knew her mother, such a warm gentle person. But she suffered from depression for several years and couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the inevitable had happened.  She fought the demons in her head for 20 years, but refused to accept medication. As it often happens in situations like these, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything comforting. We hugged each other and said that we are very sorry to hear that.

I couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the evening or night. A book came to my rescue. While in Berlin, I wanted to read something about the city and I had Stasiland by Anna Funder. I escaped into that book, The Berlin wall and the attempts to flee, atrocities committed by the Secret police – the Stasi, incessant spying by the East German government on the citizens and so on. Suddenly the bleaker world that I was reading about made my real world seem more cheerful. And the words, how they comfort a soul when troubled. Look at this from the book “I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Or this : “We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips into the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators, fight for it.” These are the words that will save the world, one person at a time.

Next day, Lily and I then went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the Secret police of East Germany. We saw a lot of stuff that was described in the book Stasiland. Two people who didn’t speak a common language trapezed through the museums and streets of Berlin, trying to understand the people and the history of the city. Then we sat at a cafe and did what Berliners do. Lunch on salad and sandwiches and some hot chocolate before the whirlwind of 4 days of constant meetings sucked me in. I don’t know what Lily thinks of her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t know what fears I have about Arjun growing up in this world. We don’t have a common language to communicate. But there on that afternoon, we sat besides each other and knew that it will all be okay. In the long run, everything is always okay.

My best friend and I always used to believe in this theory of people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. You may not know it at that time, but each person who comes into contact with you leaves a part of them with you. Changes your perspective about something in some way that you didn’t know existed before. So I always believe if anyone asks you if you want to meet for a cup of coffee, say yes. And make the time for it. Something will conspire in that conversation, in that chance meeting and it will give you the energy, the zeal to carry on.

Akshay and I completed 6 years of being married yesterday. We have our good days and the bad days. There are days when I think how awesome he is and the 31 year old me can fall in love with him all over again had we met right now for the first time. And then of course there are days when everything seems to be pointless. Sleeping it out without saying any unnecessarily harsh things to each other works. And as Ann Patchett’s friend asks her in her book  ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, –

“Does your husband make you a better person?” My answer to this question has been an unfailing yes. And that is all that matters.

IMG_7136Cheers!

Rutvika

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

thanksgiving-2015

Thanksgiving in San Francisco. 2015.

Last Thanksgiving was a first of many things for me. The first time I ate turkey, celebrated Thanksgiving, Arjun – my little baby boy’s first US trip, the first time Arjun and I took a 24 hour flight just by ourselves, meeting my baby brother (he’s 25, but for me he is still a baby!) since he went to the US to study, winning money at a poker game, a miraculous reflex catching Arjun mid-air when he fell off a high table, another night when he rolled under the bed and my heart skipping a beat when we couldn’t see him for a second, eating ice cream on a cold windy Californian day, drinking beer in a park, listening to Thanksgiving speeches where my young brothers-in-law morbidly thanked the turkey for dying so we could feast on him, 80 year old grandmother feeling thankful about being able to travel to US from India, the first time Arjun and Sara- my baby niece played and fought with each other, and the first time my heart felt thankful for the days of our lives that are filled with family and food.

There’s a lot to be thankful about. I agree that the world is full of mishaps, there are too many wrong-doings and doers which can be agitating, difficulties big and small interlacing the fabric of life. But the fact that we are here, you and I, physically healthy and mentally fit, thats enough reason to be thankful about.

We are teaching Arjun to say thank you when someone does something nice for him. He has taken it very seriously. Each time, he extends his hand, tilts his head to one side, smiles and says Thank you. Thank you grandma for the delicious breakfast, thank you dad for wrapping me in two towels after the bath so I don’t feel cold, thank you grandpa for letting me pluck flowers from the plant (and his grandpa thanks him for not plucking the buds yet to bloom), thank you momma for reading that Peppa Pig book for the 5th time in the last 2 hours. He even goes on to say thank you to the flowers for blooming, Lata Mangeshkar for singing his favourite songs and for his stuffed toy Bobo for pooping in the toilet! Kids, I tell you, they can warm even the coldest hearts. And patiently take soft toys and plastic fishes to the toilet so they can pee and poop.

I am going to see my cousin after a long time today, and spend hours chatting with her. Followed by 2 weddings in two days and a getting some shopping done for a big fat family wedding next weekend. Hope you all have a great weekend too, whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving. I am sending some gratitude your way for reading these posts and for dropping in some kind words. And to the cosmos for showing me the light when it gets dark.

Say a thank you to someone for me, will you?

The road less travelled

Rutvika on a scooter

Riding a scooter on the pot-holed Mumbai roads

Like any other teenager, I was very excited to learn to drive. Two months before turning 18, I got the learners licence. And there it began. Countless number of hours spent behind the wheel, trying to look at the road, keep the car steady and simultaneously change the gear depending on the speed. We had Maruti Omni then, that famous kidnap car from Bollywood movies. It had no bonnet and the driver sat exactly on top of the front wheels. I loved that car, it was easier for me to gauge the vehicles in front of me and I believed that it is responsibility of other drivers to not come and bump me from the rear end, which was very long considering that it was a van type of a car.

I took insane hours of lessons to learn driving. First it was the motor training school. The driving school cars have two sets of brakes and clutch etc. So driving that car during those lessons was a breeze. I only had to control the steering wheel and go left or right when and as the teacher said. And perhaps brake as an afterthought because it was he who actually controlled the car. During the driving exam, two months later, all they asked us to do was start the engine and drive 20 feet in a straight line. Even an eight year old can do it, and needless to say I passed the exam and got the driving license.

I was elated. Little did I know that driving a training school car and an actual car are entirely different things.

The first day in our car, the Maruti Omni, the engine stalled every single time I tried to change the gear from first to second. Or if someone was crossing the road and I stopped, I could never get back in motion without the engine shutting down. It was almost as if it was dissuading me from driving. But I was persistent. Rather my dad was persistent and persuasive . He spent several weekend mornings taking me out to drive and it always ended with me crying on the way back and not talking to him for the rest of the day because A) humiliation and B) realisation that I still can’t drive. Every time I had to change the gear I had to look down at the stick shaft and wonder where 1-2-3-4 is. And every-time I pressed the clutch, the car jumped in terror.

After several weeks of this ritual, my dad hired another guy to teach me to drive our own car, one Mr.Godbole. He was a patient man, and after two more months and a several thousand rupee fee, I could finally drive. My heart still pounded wildly every time I was in the drivers seat and I sat as if ready to jump out any minute if something went wrong. Nevertheless, I ferried my family to and fro from short distances and once even drove 2 hours to Esselworld through murderous traffic. That was the high point of my driving stint.

For years before that I was riding my cycle to school and already knew how to balance a two wheeler. The lovely little Scooty Pep came easily to me and and I would vroom through the streets of my suburban Mumbai. Even now, I put my baby in the baby carrier and off we go to the park on the Honda Activa. So I have some traffic sense, right?!

But the car. That’s a different story.

About six months after I learnt to drive, my father replaced the van with the smaller Maruti 800 so that I can drive it easily.

My cousin and I drove to the movie theatre one night and while coming back, at a right turn to get on to a flyover, the car stalled. I couldn’t get the car to turn on and move forward. Traffic started piling up behind me and people started honking. I got very nervous. I revved the engine, kept my foot on the clutch and willed it to move forward. In all this commotion I forgot to look on my right and an oncoming truck hit the bonnet of my car and drove away without a pause. The bonnet opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, we banged our heads against the roof of the car but thankfully we were alive and mostly unhurt. We silently drove back home, now wondering about how to tell this to dad. Short tempered that he was, he was also very scared for the safety of his children. And the extra expenditure to get the car fixed. All in all, it was a terrible situation.

We went home, and told my mom about what happened. She has always been the cushion between dad and us. We use her a medium to tell things to dad when we lack the guts. All of us went to sleep and the next morning she told dad.

He immediately went down to the parking lot, examined the car and came up seething and obviously quite upset. For the next 2 hours (or was it 10?), I was grilled about how the accident really happened and how was I so stupid to drive this way etc. Regular stuff which parents say to their kids.

But again I was terribly upset. A) because of humiliation and B) realisation that I can’t really drive. The angsty teenager that I was, I vowed never to drive dad’s car again.

The car was fixed and we used it for a couple years more, but I never got behind the drivers seat again.

My husband now wants me to learn to drive again.

I say, ‘not today’. And tomorrow never comes.

Faithfully,

Rutvika

An extended version of this post appeared on DirtyandThirty.com

Travelling with a baby – Dehradun Mussourie

Thankfully for us, baby boy Arjun loves travelling. His first trip was to Jaipur when he was 6 months old , and he was still breastfed. We nursed everywhere, the sweltering Jaipur heat of June did not deter us from going anywhere. Anytime he was hungry/ thirst/ cranky/ bored/ sleepy, we would find a quiet little corner and nursed. He was a happy camper.

Then when he was 10 months old, we went to California. Just little baby and me. It was a long journey, 28 hours since we left home before we reached Akshay’s aunt’s house in San Jose. I was slightly nervous before going, all alone on such a long journey. All three of us were supposed to go together, but Akshay couldn’t make it due to some work commitment. I wanted to go. And we did. The saving grace was that Arjun was still nursing. I did not have to carry any bottles or formula, no sterilisation and hence less luggage. With just 14 kgs in the suitcase, a baby backpack with essential things for the travel and my baby wear with Arjun in it, we were set. I must have nursed him 20 times in 28 hours. Whenevr he started crying, I would feed him. It worked like magic, let me tell you. When we were getting down, a woman seated further back said that she did not know a baby was on board! Woohoo, we were that good. Did not give any non-baby people on board to complain about a shrieking, kicking baby.

Then just a month later we went to Kerela, all of us. Arjun’s grandparents, uncle, aunt and an year older cousin Sara. There, the kids discovered the joy of swimming or rather splashing in a pool and then in the ocean near Varkala.  I realised that babies are happiest outdoors. Perhaps because mom and dad are giving them full attention. Not working, not reading, not cooking. Just paying attention to them, and they seem to thrive on it.

When Arjun turned a year old, the very next day he stopped breastfeeding. I could do nothing to convince him to end his feeding strike and soon I realised he had said bye-bye to this one year BF journey forever. I was shattered, but more about that some other time. The conclusion : He was a toddler now and did not want momma’s milk. He was better off with spicy dosas and roti-sabzi and dal-rice. Well, so be it.

Now when we were going to Dehradun-Mussourie in mid-April, our biggest concern was to keep him well fed and hydrated in the trip. His stomach is tiny and he has several little meals every day, almost as if all of his waking hours we are either giving him something to eat or thinking of what he could eat next. But he surprised us. Ate anything we gave him. Started with KFC chicken popcorn, bhindi sabzi in the Jet Airways flight, different types of pastries at clock tower Dehradun, maggi and momos at Gucchu-paani, roasted corn and boiled eggs in Mussourie mall road, spicy dumplings at Kalsang, the chocolate milkshake at Chic’s and of-course the delectable Fortune savoy breakfast spread. He literally ate everything from all the road-side cafes and survived well. (Touchwood 🙂 ).

My wonderful friends from Chef At Large FB group helped me with everything that we should and could do and eat in Dehradun and Mussourie and you can read about it here.

Dehradun

Dehradun was super hot, but this place called Robbers Cave or Gucchu paani (top-left), stole our heart. The locals say it doesnt have the charisma it used to earlier, but we loved walking through the water filled cave. Then we went to Mindrolling monastery and the cool and peacefully calm monastery felt as if we had been transorted to another era altogether. Bottom right is the Tapkeshwar temple, where there is a continuous stream of water trickling down on the shivling. Pretty interesting. And bottom left, a few people were playing this game outside the moastery. Anyone knows what it is?

Mussourie

On the other hand, Mussourie was cool and so gorgeous! We stayed at Hotel Fortune Savoy, and it has the most scenic layout. (bottom right). The Kalsang in Mussourie mall road offers some of the best dumplings and noodles and baby boy and us gorged on some super spicy momos in garlic gravy. These prams or strollers are available for rent on the mall road and it saved us a lotof backache. Up and down the street, for 100 rupees an hour. And then there were the hand-drawn cycle rickshaws which navigate the narrow streets and hordes of tourists.

Landour, some 1000 ft above Mussourie, is quaint little town. Dotted with boarding schools and a handful shops, it is less touristy and greener than Mussourie. The highlight was a newly opened pub and cafe ‘The Stray Dog’.

The Stray Dog Landour.jpg

The Stray Dog Pub and Cafe, Landour

You will not believe when I tell you that in Mussourie and Dehradun we landed up in bakeries run by Le Cordon Bleu graduates. Totally coincidental. we had no idea about the LCB connection till we went into the bakeries. Needless to say, they were quite wesome.

 

Bake Masters Dehradun

Bake Masters in Dehradun by Namanraj Singh Jolly from LCB Australia

landour Bakehouse

Landour Bakehouse by Veena Picardo from Mumbai

All in all, it was a wonderful albeit tiring trip. I read somewhere – ‘Vacation with a toddler is not a vacation, just a change of location’. Couldnt agree more. Most of the time we were running around Arjun, worrying about what to feed him next and stopping him from pulling and pushing random stuff. But he is quite a cooperative baby. And is always open to new things.

I would love to hear any recommendtions about places to travel with kids. And to-dos and dont’s. Drop me a line 🙂

Arjun in back babywear

Have fun and cheers!

Rutvika

Saat Samundar Paar, here we go!

Arjun eating momma

When a boy wants to eat momma, he will do it 😀

My boy is 10 months old now. Which means officially he is outside me for longer than he was inside me. Which means his four little bunny rabbit teeth have long replaced that toothless gummy smile. It also means that as he relies more and more on solid food than mother’s milk for his nutrition, he will be less dependent on me. As a corollary I get more freedom. But I cannot continue to flatter myself with the thought that he can’t live without me. He can. For hours at a stretch.

Soon that day is not far when baby boy might want to independently do stuff with his dad. Just the boys. “Purush-purush” as my brother used to say, which means ‘men only’ in Marathi. There was a period from age 3 to age 13 when my brother was so attached to our dad that he wouldn’t care if he woke up and mom wasn’t around for an entire day. They would go for drives, lunch and movie dates, shopping – all on their own. Purush-purush. Of course the next 10 years till he left home to study MBA were filled with ‘I-hate-dad phase’ to the extent that he would do everything possible to piss him off. Sometimes even just for the sake of it. And my poor mom had to constantly play referee. Without taking sides.

So I am prepared that my baby and husband will team up against me and my feminine shenanigans.

But for now he is my baby kangaroo. And I am going to take this little chipmunk across the seven oceans , all the way to California, all by myself.

When we made the travel plan and booked tickets to go visit family in San Jose for thanksgiving, it was for the three of us. But Akshay, my husband, can’t make it due to unavoidable work commitment. Now I have (or had) two choices. Cancel the trip and keep thinking forever that we could have done it, just the two of us. Or simply pack up our shit and go. I chose the latter.

So here we are, this mom and son duo, all set to take the 24 hour international flight to the other side of the world, in less than three weeks.

It would be an understatement to say that I am not scared of the flight, of the jet lag, of baby not feeling well or of a thousand other things going wrong. What if I don’t get the bassinet seat in the flight? What if he decides to not sit still even for a minute? Will he eat whatever I carry for him? Will he nurse during take off and landing to avoid his ears getting clogged? Will Arjun miss his dad and grandparents? He will meet a dozen new people in a week, will he be okay with that? Will they like him? Oh, it’s a wreck in my head.

But I guess the only way to find out is by doing it. Exactly 2 years back when I was preparing to go to Paris for Le Cordon Bleu, I was similarly quite nervous. But it turned out fine. Danielle my hostess tremendously helped me throughout my 5 weeks there and plus I knew if something goes wrong, Akshay will be there in the minimum amount of time it takes to travel. And it is the case even now. So I guess we will be fine.

I have always been a big-family sort of a person. I love and cherish all of my cousins, uncles, aunts, and now my teenage sister and brothers-in-law, and in-law set of uncles and aunts. And a whole load of grandparents. I have fond memories of going to different relative’s houses with my dad and mom and I want baby Arjun to have these too. The added benefit is the Californian family has a dog and a cat. Arjun is going to be thrilled.

So all I need to do now is stop worrying and start planning.

Have any of you travelled with a baby? Or noted anything particular about long travel? Any tips, pointers dos and dont’s will be highly appreciated.

xoxo,

Mama bear

Rutvika