Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Phoebe, Pint-sized pests, Pedophobia and Privacy (or the lack thereof)

Recently, I got an unexpected perk of living alone for nearly a month. By alone, I mean, just Phoebe and me. Phoebe, dear accidental reader, is my five-and-a-half year old baby, my pet Labrador Retriever. The world has never seen a more blissful, quiet and cuddly existence than Phoebe. And then there was me. The two of us, mother-and-daughter, all alone for nearly a month. Sigh..

Now, don’t get me wrong. Living alone comes with a great number of advantages. You can eat what you want, whenever you want, and, most importantly, no Mummy-insisting-on-eating-all-your-veggies-and-regular-meal-timings factor. However, as the cheesy overused line from Spiderman goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So obviously, I also had to start doing some things that I wouldn’t do in my wildest dreams under normal circumstances, like washing clothes, unclogging drains, cleaning the loo, etc. Yuck.

Dirty household chores aside, I came across an extremely unforeseen hurdle in my daily routine. You see, I had to take Phoebe for a walk thrice a day. Normally, when Mom’s around, she does the evening rounds, and I cheerfully settle for the morning and before-bedtime routine. I was fine with the walking-thrice-a day thing, and actually looked forward to it as a great chance to get some additional exercise. What I didn’t bargain for, was the unexpected and unwanted ‘human effect’ that came with these much dreaded evening walks (eventually).

A typical summer evening at my society involves an extremely occupied compound and an even higher noise level, with a perpetual risk of getting hit with a tennis ball somewhere on your person. Kids, ranging from the ages of two to twenty (sometimes even thirty, the ‘forever-young-wannabe-kids’, I call them) are all over the place. Woes betide you if you happen to come home on a bike at that time. A ball will invariably roll somewhere perilously close to your tyre, causing you to wobble and swerve, and more importantly, look like a fool in front of kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I revel in my solitude, most of the times. I prefer being left to my own devices, and some weird compensatory label like ‘Spooky Dog Lady’ would be most welcome. So long as people stay away. And kids of any shape and size do not figure in my list of ‘Things I Like’. It’s a mutual relationship. They don’t like me, and I don’t like them. And all is settled in that regard. And I have the same relationship with over-friendly young married women with toddlers. This particular species, for some inexplicable reason, seem to thing that they can be best friends with you (and simultaneously evaluate you as a potential free-of-cost baby sitter, no doubt. It’s a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way very early in life). And, alternately, their kids seem to think, through some sort of horrific classical conditioning, that all dogs are meant to be thrown stones at, and that you can feed them with thermocol and shoes.

Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of the population that I have to walk through in the evening involves the above two species. And there have been quite a few instances, in this short span of time, wherein I’ve wished for a meteor to come hit me, just to end my misery.

One day, during Phoebe’s before-bedtime walk, my boyfriend dropped by on his way back from work to chat. It was almost 11.30 pm, well past most people’s bedtimes. There we were, minding our own business and talking downstairs, when we were paid a visit by a lady, I would like to call ‘Hot Mama aka Disguised Gandhian Moral Police’. She and her son proceeded not only to unceremoniously interrupt a conversation, (C’mon, who the hell interrupts a young adult couple chatting at 11.30 in the night?) but the lady went on and on and on with how much she likes dogs and how adorable they are, for nearly 10 minutes. “Mujhe ichchha ho rahi hai, ki mai tumhare saath soo jaaun,” she tells Phoebe, at one point. Yes, she actually said that. And ignoring the obvious deadly plastic ‘Thank-you-but-please-go-away” smiles that my boyfriend and I went on flashing at her, she just wouldn’t stop with her endearments. Anyway, ten very long at painful minutes later, Hot Mama finally said Good Night and left. And, believe it or not, as a parting shot, the kid ran back, threw a stone at Phoebe and then ran back to Hot Mama. So much for early lessons in life.

With kids, there’s always a chance that you’ll get carried away. In my building, I once met this angelic little girl who called me ‘Didi’, and I melted. (It was so flattering, a kid calling me Didi. At the rare occasion that a kid actually addresses me, they usually call me ‘Aunty’, and repeatedly shatter my already damaged ego and self-image.) So this angelic little girl called me Didi, and showed some interest in Phoebe, without getting scared of her. How nice, I thought. The next time I met her, it was a good month or two later. She shadowed me while I was on my way back from my walk. “Didi, main Phoebe ko pakdu kya?” she asked, keenly eyeing Phoebe’s leash. Yeah, like I’ll let a 10 kg kid walk a 35 kg dog; a dog who finds it an immense pleasure to drag the walker around. Imagine the legal consequences it could have! So anyway, I politely refused. “Didi main Phoebe ko pakdu kya?” she repeated, at a slightly higher pitch. I muttered something, effectively negating the request again. Anyway, this girl accosted me on the stairs, (This is a daily ritual that I follow, on the footsteps of my mother. After Phoebe’s evening walk, we sit on the stairs for around 15 minutes.) , and then started playing with Phoebe’s leash (it was still attached to its owner.) she kept pulling at it and attempted tying it to the gate, another classic example of classical conditioning, no doubt. After failing in that endeavor, she started tugging at the tail. (A word of mention here, for the remarkable patience and total lack of attention that Phoebe pays to kids. She will NOT acknowledge them at any cost, regardless of the torture they inflict upon her to draw her attention.)
After 20-odd grueling minutes of complete ‘bheja fry’, I finally reached the end of my patience. I got up and announced that I’m going home. “Phoebe ko dinner khana hai,” I explained. Silly me. This kid was rapidly transforming from the angelic to the demonic before my eyes. “Didi main bhi aau?” she pleaded. Something immediately went ‘POP’ in my head, as I beheld Damien before me. “Nahi, Phoebe dinner akeli khaati hai”, was my very lame reply, as I proceeded to drag the controversial subject up the stairs. To my utter horror, Girl Damien began to follow me up the stairs too, chanting “Didi, main bhi aati hoon na”, as she slowly inched her way up to the third floor, where I live. By this time I was panicking. I fumbled with the house keys, and Girl Damien grabbed the door, chanting continuously. As a last attempt to get rid of the predicament I had cast upon myself, I told her, “Tum kal aana, aaj mere paas time nahi hai.” Her reply stunned me.
Aap mujhe kal bol rahe ho, lekin aapke paas kal kya, kabhi bhi time nahi hoga,” said this five-year old to me. Wow, I thought. Where else in the world would you hear a five-year old say that except in this country? “Jai Hind”, I told myself. And to the offending kid, who had suddenly transformed back from being Girl Damien to just another annoying kid looking for some ‘timepass’ in their summer vacations, I glared and said, “Tum abhi ghar jaao, nahi toh main tumhari mummy ko bata doongi ki tum mujhe tang kar rahe the.” She immediately disappeared. She still occasionally makes appearances when I’m downstairs, but the frequency has reduced dramatically.
So much for kids. Sue me for being a psycho.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kishy Kishy Bang Bang

In all the frivolities that I have been subjected to in my very limited professional career (and believe me, there have been a LOT of instances; I mean, what can you expect, when you’re a journalist, stuck in a marketing department, in an bureaucratic establishment which is, with all due respect, as stagnant as the Dead Sea.), I have encountered a lot of.. well.. interesting souls, with ideas that could be termed as earth(read: appetite) shattering. Among all these souls that I have had the misfortune of making acquaintances with, one will always find a place in my long-term memory. Let’s call him Mr. Pious-Dynamic. This particular gentleman, as the head of our department, is the supreme authority on all things under the sun, as far as he is concerned. Pious Dynamic is typically characterized by a saccharine sweet tone of voice and a limp-wristed demeanor that would typically offend devout Catholics or Republicans. Before making assumptions, please note that Pious is happily married with two, as he himself puts it ‘hot n happening daughters’. Wow, talk about progressiveness, and please ignore the Freudian undercurrents to that statement, if you must. Boney M probably envisioned Pious Dynamic, back in the 80’s, while coming up with the concept of Daddy Cool.
Well, Pious Dynamic aka Daddy Cool is an out and out family man. One day, the minute details of which are still vivid in my memory, he lovingly described his ‘hot n happening’ daughters, and how the elder one religiously woke up at 6 am to dress up and put on makeup, so that she could look ‘tip top’ when she went to college everyday. He further went on to describe, clearly overlooking the uniformly horrified look on the faces of his listeners, how his daughter Beloved never ate in front of anyone, and sometimes took a rickshaw ride just so that she could finish her ‘dabba’ out of the sights of inquisitive people (Yes, Pune colleges are infested with shady predators who look at pretty girls while they’re eating, and then stare at them with a judging look so that their poor victims are inflicted with a bad body-image for the rest of their lives).
Pious Dynamic’s magnanimity knows no boundaries. A person with true foresight, he saves every penny that he can amass out of his considerable remunerations, in order to secure his family’s future. So tied up he is in this endeavor, that he overlooks the petty things in life, and even sacrifices the paltry luxuries in life like investing in his own digital camera. The eternal socialist, he makes do with the ancient office-owned camera (the chief function of which is to supplement my feeble attempts at reporting) and carries it along for his family vacations, daughter’s birthday party, their dance classes, etc. True to his name, and displaying all traits of piety and humility, he never approaches me for the camera. He has found a fawning minion in our office, Mr. Swollen Tonsils, to run all his errands. Mr. Tonsils and Pious are as close as symbiotic bacteria and share the ‘sab kuchh apna hi hai’ attitude, which would’ve certainly brought tears of insuppressible pride to the eyes of any self-respecting modern Marxist.
Pious is also an epitome of how-to-respect-women. He belongs to the old school, where men never looked directly at the faces of the women they were addressing, unless they were family members. In accordance to that age-old custom, Pious hardly ever looks at the faces of his female subordinates. Instead, he very respectfully looks down at a certain area approximately a foot below the eye level of the female, and addresses the subject with lowered eyes. How archaically honorable of him.
Mr. Pious is also especially fond of certain good ol’ Indian elements in everyday life. However, he also loves to mix it up a bit with western banalities. Where on one hand, you will hear him address his or family with the occasional “Daahling”, you would also hear him pronounce the word ‘chic’ as ‘shik’ (just substitute the ‘t’ with a ‘k’ in the word ‘shit’ to say it like Pious). A certain instance stands out in my mind, where, while deciding the menu for a gathering, Pious pronounced ‘Quiche’ as ‘Kishy’. (Picture an over-indulgent aunt telling her young niece, “C’mon baby, now give me a nice kishy on the cheek.”). Then again, it’s a hard word to pronounce, no? Anyway, obviously uncomfortable with the word, Pious proposed the following, “Instead of the quiche, we can offer the guests Batata Wada or something, no?” he insisted. Yes indeed. Invite people to a swanky 5-star restaurant for a gourmet hi-tea, and offer them ‘assal’ Maharashtrian street food that you get on every street and every ‘galli’ for Rs. 5, including the complimentary fried green ‘mirchis’. What an idea, ‘sirji’.