Chaos

It’s like living in a nebula. Everyday is a blur and everything moves at the speed of light. Skanda is 2 and she is excited. Excited about every morning, about eating fruit, about bubble baths, her blocks, going on bike rides, finding a rock, finding a stick, me sticking my tongue out at her, going to nursery, football, watering plants, reading books, turning on the light switch, combing her hair, eating a bee and so on. In this swirl, this tornado of a child, Mike and I are caught in the vortex and we’re going along for the ride.

I often wonder how I’ll remember these years. Will they all be a stack of sweet memories, the hard nights forgotten, the trying days as well? And I always come to the same answer – I will remember it as a whirlwind of life – truncated into a few short years where my baby girl’s entire universe was her mum and dad. There won’t be any nights or days, just a heady blend of time, a time when the three of us lived so close, so tight, so together that no matter where we went later on in life, an invisible thread would keep us linked, tied to each other. A thread that will come from the spool we are creating now.

Everything fades but I wish to keep this chaos inside me, to remind me of how much life courses through our veins, more so when we have children. Their blood gushing through our hearts and everything seems… more, as it should. So alive, so ready to feel everything, and so very excited!

Home

I spent the afternoon lying next to my sleeping daughter in my mother’s house. The fan was drowning out most of the traffic noise from 6 floors below and the gentle breath of my daughter was amplified because of how close I was to her.

I’ve not felt this safe or relaxed in quite a while.

After a discombobulated year struggling with my closest relationships, I went to therapy and it helped clear my mind. I am now trying to mend pieces of myself that I think need some help. And thereby, I am fixing relationships that I have had occasional trouble with. It is a relief to be here. Acknowledging this and trying to better myself has freed me from expecting another to do this for me. It’s been a weight off my shoulders and as I unfurrow my brow and brain, I feel a lightness. One that I had lost along the way. And the lightness allows me to tread softly. Everyday. Gentle steps. Fewer harsh words. An ease percolates.

An uneventful afternoon spent listening to the occasional faraway horn and the soft inhale/exhale of Skanda gave me a couple of hours worth of indelible rhythm. One that I hope I can march to for a while. Albeit softly.

Dinner for one

I have a favourite knife. It’s been with me since 2014. It’s a multipurpose chef’s knife and it replaced my cleaver that I had had since 1999. I should add that I’ve been cooking since I was 18. The first 3 years were because it was part of my hotel management course and food production was considered the most important subject. I am painfully competitive, so I did well in in school, though I didn’t enjoy the process. I think I was very young and weighed down by sexism (women should cook, men not so much – this was the late 90’s and I was far from a woke millennial) and it went against the whole tomboy baggage I had been dragging around for a few years.

I discarded that image soon after. It had run its course. But despite feeling more like ‘me’ and less like what I should seem to other people, I didn’t suddenly start to enjoy cooking . In fact, I took a break from it for about 8 years. Twice in between, though, it may seem like I tried to poison two boyfriends at separate occasions but it was just me attempting to cook them a meal after having entirely forgotten everything about the process.

The need to cook crept back up after I’d been living alone for a few years. First it started with a snack, then graduated to a foolproof stir fry and then a slightly tedious pot-roast and suddenly I was all about cooking dinner for myself every single night of the week. Sometimes I would have friends over but most times it was just me. I liked the effort I was suddenly putting into creating something I would enjoy like a regular sociopath, either in front of the tele or with a book.

The whole ‘cooking is therapeutic’ shtick became a big part of me. No cellphone, no chatting, no one to bug me or ask questions, some music in the background, maybe a glass of wine. It’s been my favourite wind down.

Michael, my partner, likes to cook as well. And he’s probably the only person I can work well with in a kitchen (no offence to Lalit Seth, the perfect kitchen partner 1999-2001). Mike works quickly and cleans up after himself. And because he’s married to me, I sometimes treat him like my sous chef and I’m certain he doesn’t like it but life’s tough and I’m sure he’ll survive.

I’ve never written about my love for my own food and I feel it’s time I waxed poetic about me. To me.

– I cook a few things and I cook them well.

– Yakhni pulao is tough to crack and I’ve cracked it every time

– I make an Icelandic salad that requires 33 ingredients and takes 90 minutes to make

– My Maggie is way better than your Maggie.

I now have a 1 year old daughter who I know, for sure, I am giving bad eating habits and expectations to. I want her to enjoy every meal and she’s been quite adamant to feed herself for about 2 months now. So I whip up pasta, stir fry veggie juliennes, masala khichri, spinach purée rice, stir fried tofu, aloo matar, quinoa noodles, vegetable cutlets, health bars with flaxseed, banana loaf, oatmeal cookies, I mean, you get the drift.

I hope she likes to cook when she’s older. We – as humans – have the ability to mix and match vegetables, spices, nuts, seeds, and meat to create delicious food that nourishes us! If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. It’s so much cooler than photosynthesis (I mean, photosynthesis is cool too but I’d probably get bored of it).

I’ve gone from cooking for just myself to cooking with Mike for the both of us and little Skanda. Every evening is a flurry of activity in the kitchen with salad, veggies, fish, rice, babyfood all getting done within a 45 minute window while the baby runs around throwing Lego pieces and wooden blocks in the hope that one of us will trip and crack our skulls.

And every night we fall into bed exhausted, knowing that we’ll do it all over again the next day.

What a privilege.

Marching to the beat of a drum

I’ve always run away from routine. The idea of knowing where I’m going to be the same time tomorrow sucked the fun out of daily adventure. I didn’t care if the next day or week was going to be worse than this day or week, as long as it was different.

After college and the drudgery of educational routine, I unknowingly put myself in situations (professional/personal) where every new day was going to be a surprise. Being in my 20’s really worked out well for this particular life choice. I changed jobs, I changed industries, I was in love quite often, heartbroken equally so. It was a rollercoaster and I never wanted to get off.

But since the past 11 months routine has become my security blanket. It’s something I clutch to with all my might and any disturbance to it rocks my world – but like the way an earthquake would. The rhythmic pace of shower, breakfast, coffee run, nap for the baby, work while the baby naps, lunch, bike ride, park/museum/swim class/music class, second nap/work and so on feels like the beat of a drum during a high school march past. It’s almost like if the drum keeps beating you will keep walking and vice versa.

Have I always unknowingly loved routine or is this a trap? An addiction that quietly, slyly – with it’s tentacles of prediction – makes you feel that you’re in control. And before you know it you’re wrapped up in the idea of being the master of your daily fate?

Maybe there is security in routine. And having a child makes you yearn for the predictable rather than the unknown. Yes, I want adventure but I also want to make sure my daughter eats her 4 meals a day. Fruit included.

Or maybe there’s a time for routine and a time for wanderlust (god I hate that word). And we need one to really appreciate the other. Yin yang, black white, light dark etc.

So I am embracing this routine and this steadiness in my life right now. And despite myself, quite enjoying it. It’s only year one of parenthood. I’m told the adventure never stops so I’m just going to roll with it.

That being said, every time I strap my daughter on to her bike seat – I don’t know where we’re headed. Are we going to the museum? The pool? Are we biking to the playground? How about lunch in the park? No one knows! No one can stop us! We’ll go where the wind takes us.

Cat & Mutton, falling in love, and a timeless market.

I fell in love at The Cat & Mutton, the almost 300-year-old pub at the north end of Broadway market. I didn’t know at the time that I was falling in love but it was happening. On a sunny day in July (August?) a few years ago my friend Meghna and I met another friend, Mike, for a drink. Mike had moved to London from Bombay to do his masters and I was taking a break from the BigSmoke and meeting all my friends, going to galleries and basically soaking in the city.

That was my first time at Broadway market on a Saturday – the one day of the week when the lane pops up like a foldable card and becomes a kaleidoscope of food, art+craft, people, buskers, coffee, babies in buggies, books, posters, drink, smells, colour, and everything else that defines a good weekend. The three of us got a bottle of white, then another, then another. And the day, as blurry as it became, remained incandescent – from that moment till now.

Some places have a way of imprinting themselves on you. It has to do with timing, mostly. And good weather. And whether or not you’re happy with yourself at that moment. All of these worked in my favour. And I fell in love with a place. And a boy.

Over the last 5 years I’ve hovered around Broadway market and watched it change, wondering if the gentrification – which I am very much part of – is worth talking about and criticizing. Regardless, I’ve never lived more than a kilometer or two away from the otherwise sleepy lane with a smattering of shops – chemist, butcher, fish monger, Whole Foods (not the Amazon chain but a couple of enterprising Turkish brothers who’ve nicked the name), bookstores, bakery, post office, Argentinian restaurant, Tapas bar, a greasy spoon, couple of pubs, smoked eel shop, haberdashery, and a hardware store . Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It is.

It’s been part of my run route, when early in the morning the only place open is the bakery. It’s where I run my errands, meet my friends, buy books. The park next to it is where my daughter plays now. Despite having fought long and hard with the idea of being a creature of habit, I guess I do like the rhythm and tempo of some places. And I keep coming back for more.

Permanence is for others, so when I move away from this city I know that I’ll be carrying this pocket of London with me forever. As a habit that eventually became an indelible memory.

Cosmic Girl

I always knew I wanted kids. But I always wanted kids later. Definitely not in my twenties. I was too busy setting the world on fire and not even thinking of tomorrow. Not in my early thirties because I had just met the man I was going to spend my life with. Mid thirties? I was getting married and traveling the world and moving countries and changing jobs and figuring life with Michael.

Skanda came along a few months before I turned 39.

25 minutes past midnight on the 1st of August 2018, after 26 long hours of labour, the midwives placed my newborn child on my chest. It took me a minute to actually look down at her because my whole world had spun around and I was reeling. I needed that minute.

I was never maternal. Kids didn’t catch my fancy. I didn’t coochie coo. I once told a three and a half year old girl that mermaids didn’t exist. She was wearing a t-shirt with a mermaid on it. Etc.

Skanda was a revelation. Still is. Everything they say about motherhood is true. Love like you’ve never felt before. Check. Makes you want to become a better person. Check. Life was empty before. Check. Level of joy unprecedented. Check. Want a better future. Check. Will eat less red meat. Check.

But what really blew me away was how much fun it was going to be. All of it. The routine, the nappy changes, mealtimes, never sleeping, constant stimulation – all of it – 9 times out of 10 is/has been fun.

So maybe I spent all my years denying myself this space that is motherhood? It seemed like such a chore. So much work. How could it possibly be enjoyable? And yet here I am – having the very best time of my life because I have this cosmic girl in my world and we hang out and do stuff and I watch her learn things and explore …. this universe. Her eyes when she focussed on a tree for the first time, her first laugh, the first time she recognised me, the first time she was thrilled at being flung up from my arms, the first time she experienced the ocean, the whale songs she sings in the shower, how she holds on to me at night, the first time she sat up, stood up, stood unassisted, ate her first food.. it’s endless. It will always be like this for me. I will always find joy in her and what she does.

I’m not saying she won’t be a slamming doors/talking back/eyerolling/muttering under her breath teenager – I’m saying despite all that I know I will see the magic in her eyes and all that she sees. It’s a trap. I am in it. And I’m ecstatic.

Maybe more so because I didn’t expect this ride to be so fun. What a privilege to have a part of the universe as yours for a little while. That’s what she is to me.

My cosmic girl.

From another galaxy.

My heart’s in zero gravity.

Always On The Run

It’s been a while since I wrote on here. I tried a few times and got fairly far but then decided to delete everything because every word I wrote reeked of effort. I spent the last 6 months toying with the idea of writing about Tuppy, my closest friend who I lost very unexpectedly last year. I wrote reams and reams about him, about us, and then decisively erased every letter. I’m not sure if I’ll every be able to write about him because he is not yet a memory. He’s still so real, his voice so audible that his loss hasn’t hit home in its entirety. And I will try to keep it like that as long as I can.

I started The City Story with him in January 2016. I couldn’t believe that I was getting to work with my best friend. We’d keep telling each other that. Can you believe it? This is actually happening? We’ve talked about this for over a decade! We threw these sentences at each other several times a week. I felt really lucky and very, very excited. Then, suddenly, in March he was gone. Just like that. Loss is the strangest thing I have had to deal with. Grief is a part of it but that gaping hole in the middle of my chest is real and constant.

I had started to run a few weeks before launching our start-up. Just a couple of kilometers a few times a week. Work was heavy and non-stop. I needed to clear my head and be away from everything a few times a week. Running helped. After losing Tuppy, I started to run a little bit more every week. It was the only time in the day that I couldn’t distract myself. My mind would be awash with his voice, his face, his usual corny lines, his ‘whatsup Jveece, what’s the plan?’. I’m not sure if this was therapeutic, but I didn’t stop running. In fact, I ran longer and faster as the weeks went by. And for months my mind swirled around random, unconnected thoughts of Tuppy. Did he suffer? What would he do with this current problem we’re facing at work? I should have bought him a pair of colorful socks when I last saw him, why didn’t I? If he visited me in London, where would I take him first?

The sadness ebbed away after about a year. I didn’t feel any concrete grief on my runs. I’d get home happy – feeling the endorphins as I should have. But I never once stopped thinking of Tuppy, the only difference is that I allowed my mind to wander as well. I now notice things around me. Like the lady near Bethnal Green taking photos of her two tiny daughters dressed up in their tutus. Or the old guy with an oversized jacket who stands at Broadway Market at 7 a.m and stretches out his hand so I can high five it. Or the really heavyset Italian guy who walk/runs with his equally massive pitbull on the canal. Or the really skinny old guy on London Fields who runs with his arms stretched out like a bird ready to fight. The coffee drinkers, the lady sweeping the square with about 5 dozen soft toys hanging from her mobile dustbin, the early office goers, the school kids on their scooters, the fish monger opening his awning and laying out fresh oysters. All these people and so many more have become part of my routine. If they’re in my mind and Tuppy is in my mind, then Tuppy probably knows them too. He shares this little world with them every time I set out for a run. And that is the reason why I’ll never stop running.

I never thought I would wax poetic about cardiovascular exercise. But here I am anyway. I am going to publish this post without re-reading or editing it because I am afraid I’ll delete it and not lift the curse I’ve put on myself. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

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My Favorite Friend

My entire childhood feels like a long, summer afternoon. From the time I was 7 or 8, the common theme in my life was bicycles, balmy afternoons, my younger brother Dhruv, and the anticipation of remarkable adventures on the horizon all the time. It’s strange how school didn’t dominate my life. I went to school, but it wasn’t the most important part of my day. That part was right after school and lunch, when Dhruv and I would be ready and waiting for the sun to dip a little bit, to allow us to get on our bikes and head out into the unknown.

We liked to believe it was the unknown, when in fact it was probably a playground, or a sports stadium, or a swimming pool, or a part of an airfield we were not supposed to be in but were very familiar with. We moved every year, so our friends kept changing, but our adventures were a constant. We were in Conoor one year, in separate schools, but spent most evenings discovering different parts of Gurkha Hill, riding horses, getting into fights with other kids and being chased by farmers. We were in Bamrauli another year, counting trains from our balcony on really hot afternoons, spending all weekend in the swimming pool, sneaking into a secluded part of the airfield through a hole in the barbwire. Then the three years in Assam felt endless. Rolling blackouts, decrepit playgrounds, floods, bug bites, busted kneecaps, stolen bikes, stitches on arms, legs and chins, roller-skating and misbehaving was our jam.

Our summer never ended (even when it did), because there was always something terribly exciting to do. New places to tackle and explore, schools to hate, conspiracies to hatch, and all our time to waste in the most glorious ways. We were always in the middle of nowhere, with mostly each other for company. It would have sucked if we didn’t get along. Which at times we didn’t; there were fights, some fierce and some not so fierce. We’ve punched each other, tried to stab each other with equipment from our geometry sets, and we’ve not spoken to each other for weeks. But that’s just a sibling hazard.

Even with a 4-year gap, Dhruv and I managed to have a few friends who crept into the overlapped section of the Venn diagram of our separate friends. I don’t know if this has been a deliberate decision on both our parts. To hang on to each other just a little bit more as we became adults and took off in different directions. I moved to London earlier this year and it took me 5 months to tell him that I miss him terribly. We don’t do emotions. I know he has my back and I have his, but there is rarely any need to let the other person know you care for them at all. I can count on my fingers the number of times I may told him I love him. I can say the same for him. I guess there is never any need to re-iterate what the other already knows. In fact, the aim is to constantly make fun/harangue/harass the sibling, especially if there’s an audience. If I can bring him to tears by incessantly annoying him, my day is made. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way.

He’s the link to my entire childhood. He was there for every second of it. We’ve seen each other grow up, make mistakes, learn from them, make some right decisions, make some terrible ones, been a one man cheer squad when no one else cared, never held back on calling the other one out, speared each other with the truth when neither needed to hear it, and knew what the other one was thinking without ever needing to ask. I always thought of him as my kid brother, and then a little while ago it hit me that we stopped having an age gap at some point. That we’ve been standing beside each other, shoulder to shoulder for a while. We still make secret pacts and hate the same people, and the endless summer afternoons we’ve had in our childhood are stretching well into our 30’s. I guess I’m just lucky to have Dhruv as a brother, because if we weren’t born as siblings, I’d have had to track him down and be lifelong friends with him. This has been way more convenient.

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Slacking, but not really

I slacked off on an email that I wanted to be junk, but it really wasn’t. WordPress mailed me 47 days ago, telling my that my domain was going to expire and I should pay up. I just ignored it because it was easier.

Also, somehow, I had managed to get Dhruv – my younger brother – to have his credit card details linked to this account. I have no idea how I scammed him all these years, but he was paying the renewal fee automatically for the past 4 years. Anyway, he changed his credit card, and the blog couldn’t automatically take his money. So obviously, to avoid the drudgery of being proactive, I ignored all the notifications. Then they took away the blog. So I panicked. And paid only 4 times the amount to have it back up. The whole process took 23 days. Serves me right.

I have barely written on the blog this year, but that’s because I am currently in the process of doing something very scary (for me). I have set up an enterprise, with three wonderful people who I am very lucky to have in my life, and we are working tirelessly on The City Story, which is a website that maps cities through stories (d’uh).

The City Story is my attempt to make cities (starting with Bombay and London) more familiar to people (living in or visiting the city). I spent my whole life moving houseS, changing schools, and never being familiar with a place. Bombay was the first city I could call my own, and I loved that. I knew all the shortcuts to places, I knew the best places to eat, I made friends who would be mine forever, and I felt like I belonged. Then, I upped and left, again. This time for a city that wasn’t very new to me, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to take a while to call London home.

In two months, when The City Story goes live, you can read all the stories that make both these fabulous giants of cities come to life. I’m equal parts excited and manic.

I will be more regular with writing here as well, because after the debacle of almost losing my blog, I realized how much I love it, and should check in every now and then.

Also, Dhruv, if you’re reading this – how about them credit card deets, eh?

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A short story about Anisa Nariman and bad beer.

The first time I met Anisa Nariman, we had a conversation about roofies. I can’t clearly recall how it got there, but she was disarmingly inappropriate and one thing lead to another, and in between all the dialogue there was a “Yeah you probably roofied yourself”. It was 2 A.M at a friend’s house where there was more Amarula than people. It was one of those nights that in retrospect make you wonder if there was an actual smoke machine on, or if it really was that hazy.

I met her again at our friend P.Singh’s wedding in Delhi, which was so much fun that by the end of day three I had tiny shards of glass embedded in the soles of my feet. Anisa proved to be unflinchingly fun yet again. Then there was another wedding, a trip to Bombay (she lives in Delhi) and we still didn’t get to know each other, but that was fine.

Last month she started to post these photographs of delicious looking food on her Facebook. I’ve been working from home or my studio and I am, at all times, starved. I knew she was a food critic, and I knew she was in New York for a bit, so I wrote to her to find out if she was doing a culinary course. She said no and that she was just eating all this food. The conversation then turned to the weather and I told her I couldn’t understand the cold in London. She said I had no idea about cold because she had been up in Wisconsin and had to get grade 5 thermals for herself. I didn’t even know there were grades. Then, a week later, I got a text from her saying that she’d messed up her flight and had somehow managed to land herself a 12 hour layover in London and wanted to know if I was free that day. I was and so I figured that I could show her around in the city. Then on Friday, she came over to my apartment and told me how terrible my directions were (which, to be honest, were pretty damn good. She met some information guy enroute who psyched her otherwise), we ate a croissant, I made some tea, she took a nap and then we were ready for a day about town.

London has this amazing ability to completely let you down on days you want it to behave. Not only was it enveloped in grey, there was also a steady annoying drizzle with a crisp, bone chilling wind. We took the bus to Borough market, which was great except for the bits where we chose to eat average food; Chinese for me and a pork sandwich for her. Nothing hit the spot, not even the free samples that we pecked at and then ran away from. I figured we deserved a beer so went to this massive beer store where I got thoroughly confused with all the brands and types of beer. So I got the one with the most interesting label that spelled ‘Very strong’. Anisa tried it, didn’t like it and decided to have the guy behind the counter help her out. He chose one for he and then slyly told her that it was much better than mine. What a dick.

Anyway, that beer was excruciatingly bad. It tasted like flowers in vinegar and since she was my guest, I swapped hers for mine. Then we stood at the corner of a street trying to finish our terrible beers. I told her that maybe we should skull it. I think I just wanted to use the word ‘skull’. So we tried to skull the beer by taking sips, which she pointed out and said was really lame. Then we decided to walk to the Tate, discussing, hysterically, how bad our sense of direction was. By now it was properly raining and she wrapped her scarf around her head. I didn’t. By the time we reached the Tate, my fringe looked like that of young girls in school who put a lot of oil on their heads everyday. Separated and greasy. The plan was to go to the washroom and put my head under the hand dryer but we got distracted. We bummed around from one room to the other, not paying detailed attention to anything in particular but stopping at whatever caught our eye.

We left the Tate confused about when Anisa had to leave. There was some talk about 8:30 p.m but I realized that it was her boarding time and not her flight time. With a couple more hours at hand, we headed home and then to a local restaurant called Trip Space. Everything after that was a blur. We got ourselves a drink, Michael, my husband called, I told him her flight details and he started to speak like Christopher Walken – “She. Has. To Leave. Now!! Juhi! She. Needs. To. Leave”. I didn’t get the big deal. I also didn’t get that I had grossly under-calculated the travel time to Heathrow. Michael walked in to Trip Space ten minutes later, made us get up, ran to get her bag from the apartment and reached the tube station before us. Anisa left and I felt he had over-reacted till I got a text from her and hour and a half later telling me that she just about made it. Then I felt irresponsible, but the feeling passed.

All’s well etc., right? I think so. It was a brilliant day with all sorts of things working against us. I was amazed that she wasn’t grumpy despite being jetlagged and kept her razor sharp wit intact. And I’m amazed that Michael continues to be nice to me despite the fact that my friends and I keep finding new ways to give him nose bleeds. Here’s to more badly scheduled flights.

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