Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holidays in 2011

Yes, 2011. Most of 2012 was spent in Chennai, being pregnant. But 2011 was a dream year in terms of holidays. Here we go... 

January - A weekend in Bombay where my Israel holiday was finalized

February - Weekend in Tirupati, where Button had his second 'mottai' and another holiday in Pondy (we stayed in Hotel Annamalai, which features in 'Talash' in the scene where Aamir rides the elevator with Kareena). 

March - Holiday in Israel, a dream come true in many ways. I traveled with a friend and sans family. After 2 years of being a SAHM, it was liberating. A thought that life does exist beyond the family unit. 

April - On a whim, went to Hyd for a weekend to visit my cousin and my friends there.

May - My most luxurious holiday ever in a Private Pool Villa at Orange County. Can't wait to go there again. 

June - Tea time in Munnar. Was a Club Mahindra holiday in a private cottage. 

July, August, September - This was a 'drought' quarter! We did some day trip to Mahabalipuram, Kalpakkam and some temple visits. Also Button had started 'big school' and we were busy settling him in and preparing for various school events. 

October - The tide turned with a holiday to Trivandrum. We had a blast meeting the husband's cousin's family and taking Button on his first zoo trip. 

November - Another 'girls' only trip with 2 super-fun friends of mine... this time to Kolkata and Dhaka! We had an awesome time shopping crazily and eating all kinds of street food. 

December - In the first week of December, I went to Bangalore to attend the wedding of my friend. Met up with my B-school gang after ages and oh, what a memorable time we had! 
And to top off the year, went to Goa with my 'soul gang' and had an awesome time in every way! 

While going off on a whim is going to be tougher with a young baby AND a school going child, I do live in hope! Like my dear travel companion says "I live for traveling"! Here's to wanderlust. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guiding the world - Memories of being a Girl Guide

When I was at school in Kalpakkam, only a few things found acceptance in the community of scientists and engineers. Topping the list was of course academics. Only centums and IIT ranks passed muster. In a distant second place was expertise in Carnatic music (even Bharatnatyam had some purists thumbing their nose). Just crossing over to the list of 'acceptables' was a foray into Guiding (the female version of Scouting). Those in sports did not do well in acads was a popular theory, and therefore sports was not a favored hobby at all. In this township lived a NCC cadet, who's regret in life to date is to not have pursued her career choice of entering the army (my mom). She made sure that I joined Baden Powell's movement as early as in class 4 as a 'Bulbul'. I then progressed to being a 'Girl Guide' from class VI onwards. 

Being a Girl Guide meant staying back after school once a week. It involved classes on knots & lashes, on camping, first aid, spotting wildlife, cooking without utensils, learning special songs and dances, chants and rituals as well as doing community service (extra man/woman/child power during events like thee midhi, carnivals, political visits, inter-school events etc.). Belonging to the movement meant 'March Past' practice as a troop and having a chance to participate in the locally prestigious R Day parade. We had annual camps at school every year and I have a strong memory of waking up with a toothpaste moustache for being far too rigid and demanding! Brings you down to earth a notch or two, eh?

R Day parade '97
A matter of pride was to be made 'Patrol Leader' and 'command' 6 or 7 others. Needless to say, Class VIII has memories of working hard to be made a patrol leader. The school level (Pratham, Dwitiya and Tritiya Sopan) exams were always a given and not difficult at all, but Kalpakkam is an acads driven environment. So even these exams led to a flurry of 'studying' and mugging up random facts like Baden Powell's b'day (22nd Feb, 1857) or the the year scouting movement started in India (1909) or the 3 tenets of the Scouting Motto (Be Prepared - Morally Straight, Physically Strong, Mentally Awake). The final two levels were/are a different game altogether. 'Rajya Sarkar' is a state level certification where your skills are tested by external Guide and Scout Captains. My RS camp was held at Avadi, Chennai. I wasn't part of the same patrol as my fellow competitors from Kalpakkam and was a bit worried (my constant battle with performance pressure!) I did well enough to be placed a joint first with my closest competitor and best 'guide' friend (Vaiju). 

Jabalpur All India Rally
The last level (Rastrapathi) President's badge is the pinnacle of Guiding. In my class XII, a month before the dreaded Boards was announced the camp for Rashtrapathi. The Rashtrapathi camp is a randomly occurring event, sometimes twice in the same year, sometimes once in 2 years. I promised my dad that I would feature in the top 5 if he let me go (he barely heard me), I promised that I'd do well in my Boards (he refused to believe me) and finally, my mom and dad had a royal humdinger of an argument and my dad reluctantly agreed to let me go. The camp was a tough one. Many tricky questions, mostly Hindi conversations (while I studied at a KV and was super-proficient in Hindi, spoken Hindi remained a difficult deal until much later) and cold Delhi weather (at Nizamuddin) and North-Indian boys (a species from another planet wearing cool sweaters, singing DDLJ songs and effortlessly walking up to us to converse, unlike any of the boys back home!). Many nights of studying, project work and practising knots till my fingers bled led to being placed first again in the camp (another joint first with a girl from a KV in Chandigarh). Thanks to my first, I was invited to receive the award from the President (Shankar Dayal Sharma) the next year (again, my dad declined to send me) and was selected for the R-Day parade (I couldn't participate thanks to being in college by then). 
Best Outgoing Guide '97

What did the Guiding movement give me? Several memories for starters. Many good friends. An extra-curricular activity that involved some physical effort. Dedication (waking up for ‘March Past practice’ or Gandhi Jayanti all-faith prayer etc.). Independence (staying overnight at my own school for camps at first, and then the out-of-school camps). Some skills (rusty they may be, but I can still tie some basic knots well enough, and spout random facts to impress my son!) Most of all, a belief that ‘being prepared’ isn’t prepared enough (how much I practise it is another matter altogether!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories

(Albin - left extreme) Much after we finished school
Christmas always brings to mind my first 'Christian' friend - Albin John. Am not even in regular contact with him anymore, but I ALWAYS think of him every Christmas  It was in Class 4 or 5 that I realized that there are multiple Gods and that my 'best' friend prayed to someone called Jesus. On Christmas, his parents would invite some other friends and me for cake (s) and treats. That was the routine EVERY christmas until class X, when we discovered finally that he was a boy and me a girl, and of course we all know that "ek jawaan ladka aur ek jawaan ladki kabhi dost nahin ban sakte"! (multiplied many times by number of girls and boys who used to go for the Xmas party).

(Jayanti - right extreme) On my first trip to a mall - Alsa mall 
Fast forward to college. I was in a girls college. In my second year, I was introduced for the first time to a "Christma-ChristChild" game. Basically a Secret Santa game. For fifteen days leading to the Christmas holidays, we gave our Christchild(s) tasks to do, silly instructions like plaiting one's hair or buying a samosa for the entire gang, and small gifts like pens and chocolates until the day of the big reveal. My christchild 'Jayanthi Dhanraj' was also my christma, and what's more, shares her b'day with Albin! She was my second Christian friend - one I remember with great fondness for instilling in me a certain respect for good appearances no matter what the circumstance, expressing love for my sister (the way she did with hers) and a certain modicum of street-smartness (though am still quite naive in many ways).

Christmas Tree 2012
The next wave of Christmas celebrations was only after Button turned 3 and demanded a Christmas tree. So Baby Jesus and his story was finally read by me and told in an easy-to-comprehend story to Button. Of course, he called himself Baby Jesus for sometime and me Mother Meera :) Funnily, my son is really scared of mascots of any kind and that includes Santa. Last year, we were at Park Sheraton having coffee on Christmas eve. They had done up their entire lobby to reflect the festive season. Predictably a Santa ho-hoed his way with chocolates and stockings towards Button. It was quite amusing to see his reaction - he howled and screamed and ran AWAY from Santa. Quite a contrary reaction compared to all other kids there who gravitated towards Santa. Of course, this had quite an impact on the Lobby Manager who gave Button a special hamper with lots of extra chocolate and apologized to us for scaring our kid.

This year's Santa story. Last night I told Button how Santa comes in through the chimney. He insisted on covering the chimney with a newspaper until I showed him pics on real chimneys (Thank you Google images). Next, he said being in India, Santa would not be able to come at midnight, but would come early in the morning (Button is also a bit scared of the dark). But his enthusiasm in the morning to see his presents under the tree almost made a Santa believer out of me. The joys of a festival are most reflected in a child's eyes. No wonder I am gravitating towards multiple rituals to give Button (and now Twinkle) some childhood memories. Next year, I plan to get into some craft activities too(although I am clumsy as hell and have no creative bone in my body). All to give Button a set of memories of things he did with his mom as a child. Child is the father of man, eh?

Special mention this year to online friends (Marathon Bloggers, Blogfriends) for Santas for me. Loving the spirit.

Merry Xmas readers! May the bearded red man bring sackfuls of gifts, good health, cheer and fun times in the year to come. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bucket List - 10 things for me to work towards

As part of the Marathon Blogging, I am having a go at (my) 10 things to do before I die. Will visit it every year.

Borrowed picture from Google Images
Ps: I have always believed (superstitiously) that if I said something it wouldn't work out or not become true. Overcoming this irrational thought took most of today :) But I guess its time for change. Inspired by the Delhi junta clamoring for change, I decided to let go and pen down my list. Still not listing a couple of thoughts too close to my heart. Have fun reading.

1. Visit 75 countries in my life. I will settle for 50. Have visited 5 so far (not counting India). In my childhood and youth, I wanted to marry someone who loved travel. I was thrilled to see my husband onto his third passport when I got engaged. Discovered the boredom of 'official' travel only later! Luckily, it doesn't figure in my lexicon yet. I still thoroughly enjoy even flying domestic (cattle class, yes!) Some places that are a MUST in this list - Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Artic/Antartica, China, Fiji, NZ, Cuba and Iran.

2. Derive satisfaction at work. Although simply put, it has a multitude of complexities such as identifying a line of work that I'd enjoy, putting in a few years or decade plus work in the chosen field, deriving power in the organization, earning some moolah (at least enough to pay for my online shopping) and finally, being able to achieve a work-life balance that works for me.

3. Lose weight. Again, easily written, harder achieved. But hope springs eternal in the human breast! So here's to a brand new (old) resolution in 2012 :D

4. Own a Burberry bag, a pair of Louboutin heels (but doubt if I'd find my size), an Hermes scarf and a Vertu phone. Oh, and a Merc. And def solitaire earrings. Sometime.

5. Be able to support 5 children. Their education. Their marriage. Their life. Support monetarily and emotionally.

6. Bungee jump. And jump off a plane. And scuba dive. No, am not an adventure or adrenaline junkie. But I just want to do these things. For myself.

7. Be wooed and charmed by the husband all my life. With pretty gifts, and flowers, and poems, and romantic dinners, impulsive holidays and expensive chocolates. I don't believe in taking the relationship for granted, although we were introduced through the traditional arranged marriage route. We live life once, and it is important to be happy in your love life and to make efforts to keep things fresh and fun all through.

8. Learn dancing. Pref with my partner. A dance like Salsa or Jive. (I've already learnt a bit in my pre-married days, and had my share of fun then!) But want to dance, and OFTEN with the husband. Pref at least once a month. In a nice club. Wearing nice clothes. And drinking nice wine.

9. Visit the North-Eastern part of the country. Pref with a female friend (the one I am thinking about knows I am thinking of her!). Pref backpacking. For 3 - 4 weeks, maybe 6 (although I doubt if she'd be able to get out of her commitments, and me out of mine, but you can wish for it right? And try your best to do it, right?)

10. Learn a language well enough to speak fluently. I veered towards German earlier. But maybe Chinese would be a good idea too. Or Arabic (really love the sound of Arabic, and being called 'Habiba'!)

And although it is not a thing-to-do, I'd like to be more assertive with non-family, less assertive with family, more organized with my life, work on MY life goals sincerely without getting distracted by the children. I'd like to learn to be less guilty, more happy and in general not regret what-could've-been.

Finally, I'd like my children to -
a) Learn a language - read, write, speak well.
b) Play an instrument - at mastery level, good enough to perform
c) Be engaged in a sport - interested enough to wake up at 4 for practice.
And be a tiger mom when it comes to that. I need to work on my dedication levels to ensure their dedication for them.

Now to start filling the bucket :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chennai Quirks

It has been 2 years since I started living in Chennai. I speak Tamil (my native tongue) but have never really lived in the city. Several 'adjustments' had to be made... here are some reflections on some of the peculiarities of this city I've been calling home now.

Domestic Staff: I start with this as the help here behave so differently from any of the other cities I've lived in, and I've lived in a few - B'lore, Kolkata, Bombay. The labor class here is pampered by the Govt (Madam or Sir doesn't matter) with freebies like TV, cellphone, laptops and what-have-you. Also thanks to Sun TV and all other channels having significant penetration, the living standards are significantly better than comparable segments in most other cities. Free education coupled with mushrooming colleges all over the state has resulted in the younger generation becoming educated, and pursuing other lines of employment. What's more, the export processing industry in Chennai has resulted in even the uneducated younger generation opting to sew buttons or iron T-shirts the whole day, at really low pays (compared to domestic staff salaries) for the 'prestige' of working for a private 'company' rather than in a house.
Net result = settling for incompetent work, bad professional behavior and high salaries. I guess we have to go through this before a certain modicum of professionalism sets in. I've had reasonably good staff partly due to luck and partly due to 'accepting' the really low standards!

Color me Pink: Please don't get offended, but the fashion sense on the road has to be seen to be believed. Irrespective of skin tone or height or girth or weather, the colors are mind-boggling and sometimes a strain on the eye. Candy pink (mithai pink as it is called here), magenta, neon yellow, fluorescent green, bright violet, leaf green and shiny red are standard fare here :) You gotto give it to the man-on-the-street if he steps out for work in a pink shirt and yellow trousers. Rocking... gangnam style!

Movie mania: Vijay is an actor whose  movies get a super-big opening, also Ajith, and Suriya, and Kamal and Rajini of course... you get the drift. Almost all movies open big, with fanfare, big audio launches, huge garlands and billboards for the opening Friday. I hope Rajini's next releases before I leave the city. I remember watching 'Padaiyappa' on the premiere night before release and my mom almost being mobbed for suggesting that the 125 litres of milk poured on the billboard be donated to an orphanage instead! Living opposite AVM studios gives me a peek of the fan-mania quite often!

Auto'ban': If there is anyone I despise (judgmentally) from the bottom of my heart, its the average Chennai auto driver. No, I don't give them a chance. I yell and begin cursing before they do. Try my best to avoid the auto as much as I can, but if I HAVE to hire one, I cringe and mentally retreat even before they start talking. All the horror stories about Chennai autos are true. Don't use one if you can help it. Fastrack cabs are much better.

Parenting styles: Disclaimer - Observations on parenting are based solely on my interactions with Button's classmates' parents and my neighbours. In general, there is high emphasis in Chennai on learning the native language and on independence. In Bombay, the kids of Button's age I knew could converse in English from the age of 2, knew random facts about many things, were already brand conscious, could distinguish Lifestyle from Shopper's Stop et al. Kids in Chennai on the other hand, are significantly more independent from a younger age - can eat, drink, clean up from the age of 2 upwards and speak fluently in their native tongue. Most watch age inappropriate Tamil movies, and are street smart, much more than the kids I know in Bombay. Also, the parents are heavily into promoting academics. It will be interesting to see how these differences pan out in the coming years.

Eating fads: Its amusing to see how the TV channels promote one eating fad after another - first it was vallaarai juice (a bitter green vile tasting juice) to promote blood circulation, then hibiscus flower juice for improving your heart, then coconut flower for improved digestion! Best place to check out these health fads? In the neighborhood park at 6.30 a.m. post morning walk.

Liquor shops: All liquor shops are TASMAC shops, Govt. controlled. You can only see lungi clad men queuing up evening after evening, with nary a woman at any shop. The ubiquitous 'Chettinad Chicken' and 'Thalappukattu Biriyani' shops can be seen in the vicinity. When Button was being taught the difference between diurnal and nocturnal, he said "Amma, the shop with the kingfisher painted on it at the corner is nocturnal, it only opens in the night. And it is only for uncles. Aunties cannot go there" :) How I crave for a decent Bacardi breezer or wine here. Sigh!

Other general observations include the high-beam lights within the city as if streetlights are invisible, buses that has so many people hanging on the footboards that the entire bus is tilted sideways, a general tendency to mix so many English words in Tamil that the language itself has changed beyond redemption (Ex. Naa veetukku VAAPAS porache ACCIDENT paarthaen. or BORE intha TV CHANNEL. Ellame TIMEPASS SERIALS thaan.  or SORRY MADAM MISTAKE aayi pochu.CELLPHONE NUMBER WRONGs DIAL pannitaen). Gold fetish, mall crawls and general
higher-than-average medical knowledge are some of the other visible differences.

All in all, a quixotic mix, a lovely city albeit a little loud and retaining its quintessential 'tamness' despite becoming significantly more cosmopolitan. Do I like it? Nodding my head 'aamaam' 'Yes I say'!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Every woman's right... and every man's fear!

 I ran. Fast. Out of breath. Lungs bursting. Legs hitting the earth. I thudded up the path, around the corner, right up the stairs and reached the door. I flung it open and .....

.... and flung myself on the bed, heaving loud sobs. Dry racking coughs followed. How was it possible? Could I've believed that such a thing was possible? But I'd seen them. Together. My best friend. And my fiance. Together. Laughing. Smiling at a private joke. Walking out together. 

Was she really my best friend? I had confided in her. Shared every dream. Confided my fears. How could she've done it? And that too with him - my fiance? 

My fiance - he'd known me since childhood, and my best friend too, but eventually fallen in love with me.  I had imagined painting my life in rainbow colors with him. How could he do this then? 

The rational part of me tried to get me to take a step back - analyze the reasons for her going with him, but emotions won. 

I was furious. She shouldn't have, I shouldn't have told her. 

I called my fiance. Yelled at him for double-crossing me. 

I called my friend. Yelled at her for cheating on me. 

I fell into an exhausted sleep. Dreaming of how my best friend had taken my fiance to the couturier and shown him my wedding dress to let him buy a matching turban for his sherwani. And of my plans to murder her... and him over it. 

And my best friend and fiance met for a coffee and laughed at how angry I always got before my monthly cycle. Laughed at how they had to put up with it month after month. Some women indeed. Hmph! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Room" - Emma Donoghue: A book worth reading

I recently read a book called "Room" by Emma Donoghue. The story is simple. A woman is kidnapped and imprisoned in a room by a pervert. She has a son in that room. When the son turns 5, they escape and begin to live life outside. Khatam!

But oh! how evocative the book is! The author has narrated the story from the perspective of Jack, the 5 year old. His entire life has been in the "Room". He describes his life as a happy one, where he sleeps in the Wardrobe, does Phys Ed on the Rug and with the Chair. He doesn't know of life outside, and his structured existence in the Room is a happy one, where his Ma is with him ALWAYS and engages him mentally and physically. He is creative, makes toys out of tins and toilet rolls and is happy. But Ma? Ma is certainly not happy, struggles with her knowledge of the outside world and the deep despair the room holds for her. But she is a great mother... the "mere paas maa hai" variety. She ensures that Jack learns to read and write, play, eat as well as they could and be physically and mentally occupied. She never really shows her despair, until a certain incident occurs. 

Once they escape, the tables turn. Ma is certainly thrilled, but disgusted by the media interest and public speculation. As for Jack, everything outside is strange and new to him. He doesn't quite understand social niceties or the ways of the world - after all, all his life it consisted of only 2 other people, his Ma and Old Nick (the kidnapper). Some of his observations are funny, poignant and makes us question ourselves. In one instance, he notices the private parts of his cousin and reaches out to touch it. His aunt brushes his arm away, admonishes him, saying it is "private", then reaches out to wash the child herself. He wonders "if she touches it, why is it private?". Innocent questions about boundaries! Several such questions on white lies, parenting struggles, relationships and even billing systems in shops arise, each making us chuckle initially, building into questions and decisions on better parenting in our heads. In the end the reader is left wondering whether Jack was indeed better off in the Room or is the Outside world a good place for him? 

The book is evocative, with a narrative that borders on the chilling (after all it is based on the famous Fritzl case). The reason the book resonates is the narrative through the eyes of a child, which is sometimes naive and innocent, and sometimes wise beyond his years. The plight is something one would not wish on one's most hated enemies, but the reality of such situations fills the reader with horror, even after their escape and their attempts to adjust to the real world. 

'Hope springs eternal in the human breast' is the truest adage of all.  After reading the book, I was touched, horror-struck, moved and tearful. But most of all, I realized (again) that parenting is not about buying out the entire Hamleys store for my son, but quality time AND quantity time doing different things with him (and the infant daughter!) Imagination doesn't have to stem from expensive items, just a plant and cup of water, or 100 pieces of cereal, or toilet rolls would do. And finally, that I would do just about anything (like the Ma in the book) to keep my son safe and happy. Knowingly or otherwise, we all set aside our disappointments and fears to help our children grow and thrive, irrespective of constraints. That holds true for all of us, isn't it? 

Verdict: Strongly recommended. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Singapore Sojourn III: Zara hatke things to-do

Prologue: This part focuses on some things off the regular Patel-list which we enjoyed lots and would do several of them again when it is the younger one’s turn to experience S’pore.

Port of Lost Wonder, Splash Zones – Zoo, Jurong

The POLW in Sentosa is a MUST visit if your kids love water. What’s cool about this place is that adults don’t have anything to do, except become and behave like kids themselves.  POLW is probably the number 1 place we’d visit the next time. Button had such a blast and the husband (P) loved it too. We visited POLW after Universal when Button was on the verge of a meltdown. What an effect the place had on him! We were hot and hungry and I needed some much needed alone time, not to mention a clean loo. POLW? 100% on all counts! There is a small shop where you can buy souvenirs and even swimming trunks et al.

The splash zone is basically water play. The entire area has a cork-like feel on the floor (but absorbs the water) and is super colorful. There are different types of water play from water guns, water slides, water sprinklers and best of all a giant pirate themed slide where water fills up in a cauldron that splashes down on kids when it is full. It is accompanied by a bell ringing that rises in pitch and pace as water fills up, so kids know when to run and position themselves underneath (or away, like in Button’s case!) so they can get splashed to their heart’s content. What better way to have a big blue whale of a time? The loos are designed cleverly too. The doors have two hinges – one at child level and one at adult level. So if an adult uses the loo, she has to lock the door at waist level AND shoulder level, whereas for the kid, only at waist level, so the mom can keep an eye.

There are activities to do too – bird shows, puppet shows etc. Also a fun place to have a picnic with grass and trees in one corner with loungers. Button raced away to a bed after he was done with his French fries and splashing and insisted on a nap! Have to mention that the food place is also amongst the cleanest and best in Sentosa. Recommend the iced lemon tea there. Only check the timings before you go, the last entry is at 4.00 p.m., any later and you don’t get admission, though you can splash around until 6.00 p.m.

Similar splash zones are there in the Zoo and Jurong too. If Sentosa is not on your agenda, the at least try these (Button enjoyed all 3, but POLW most of all). The actual water play is pretty similar, but what sets POLW apart is the other stuff and its location. It is at the sea and you get glimpses of the sea, and can enjoy the sea breeze as well. Also, the Ben & Jerrys at the splash zone in the zoo has (vegetarian) cheese sandwiches, but not a patch compared to the variety at POLW.

Supermarkets & Malls
Most people who travel from India go to Mustafa in Little India, which is a sight by itself. I recommend going to Mustafa in the middle of the night, when traffic is a bit lower. What is nicer is the Orchard Road malls. If your little one is into retail (grocery) therapy like mine is, then head out to Carrefour or similar. Button loved the multiple varieties of Oreos, cereal, jams and enjoyed checking out the non-veg pickles (some of the creatures are pickled intact! To me it felt like I was walking in the biology lab at school). We bought Milo cereal which is yummy. Also try the Milo tetrapak milk if your child enjoys chocolate milk. I had lots of the milk through my stay and loved being a child licking the milk moustache. Some malls have lovely play areas. Many offer cheaper clothing options in open stores. Button loved eating muffins at Starbucks. There are make-a-teddy workshops that a friend recommended to me. Mentioning it here – we didn’t do it, but you can check it out if you have time.

A note of caution - with the recent FDI sector opening up, mall-crawls may not be a big deal anymore.

Listed below are some fun things that we had planned, but did not do for lack of time or energy!

Singapore fire stations open to children almost every Saturday. I recommend (on the basis of extensive research) going to the Central fire station (and nearby Civil Defense gallery). Call ahead and check when they open.

Marina Barrage (
A barrage built over the Marina channel to convert sea water to fresh water. Again, suitable for water play for slightly older kids. Picnic spot, if you want to get a picnic basket.

East Coast Park & West Coast Park
Good for just running around, flying kites and riding a bicycle. There are small playgrounds in both, with the standard playground attractions – swings, slides, some climbing frames.

Nature attractions
Check out any or all of these if your kid(s) enjoys animals.

The live Turtle and Tortoise farm ( Be warned that this place has only turtles and tortoises.

The Animal Farm – where you can feed animals. You can buy the animal food at the premises itself. (

Also a crocodile park and other parks that you can visit, but am running out of patience now, so I stop! 

On a final note, if you are a book lover like my son is, you may want to invest in this little book, which is a great way to prepare your kid on what to expect. Also to recap and revisit the sights once you are back. I bought it in a store at Suntec mall I think. In the same mall is also a shop which sells ONLY jigsaw puzzles. Worth a dekko. 

For everything else, is a great bet. Bon Voyage! 

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Blast from the Past: My B School years

I was tempted to blog about my childhood in Kalpakkam and its innocence, and then dismissed the idea (I anyway blog about my kids, and their innocence.. why more?!)

I wondered if I should blog about a holiday.... yet again? That idea met with an early end too.

Memories of food I'd tasted in Israel and Scotland and Bangladesh? Nah! That isn't a blast from the past... I will probably walk down that road again.

My married life? Hey, its still a journey that is lovely and continuing and satisfying and exciting!

Then what? A thought occurred to me... what about my days in B School? I haven't blogged about that period. Not because it is a state secret, just never got around to doing it. It is that phase of my life where I tasted utter freedom, complete recklessness, abysmal despair, sleepless nights, yielded to temptation, resisted temptation, let go of ideals, formed new ones, hated my parents, loved my parents, then hated them again, and loved them all over, flirted with atheism... tried my first whiskey and loved it, my first prawn and hated it, my first cigarette and felt guilty about it... but most importantly, learnt to believe in the power of judgement. The power of youth and the beginning of adulthood.

X pressions 2001
When I joined B school in 2000, I was surprised by almost everything. Although brought up to embrace every situation whole-heartedly, I got a severe culture shock. I was brought up in Kalpakkam, a small township, much like a larger version of a fauji cantonment. I excelled in most extra-curricular activities, was the blue-eyed girl of my school and home and did well at academics too. In my undergrad days in a small girls college, I continued to be a star. The then, B School happened!

B-school is a great leveler! You realize you may be a star, but there are several brighter stars in the galaxy and several less luminous ones too. I heard my first hindi gaali there (my first Tamil one too!) and actually heard the "f" word being used for the first time (yeah, I was THAT sheltered). Although I had lived in a hostel before, it wasn't a place where men could freely walk in and out, or little green b@stards either( in-house reference to the horrible green insects that infests east India in July-Aug, also called LGBs!) I learnt that merely reading your text-books isn't enough, it is practical application that is important (learnt it even better during my corporate stint!). Learnt to use the computer and the magic of email and chat rooms. In 2000, 'Hotmail' was a big deal... remember? And an email host called 'mailcity', I think. Was totally stunned by how easily couples formed, loved, fought, broke-up and made up!

Made some of my dearest friends there. There is something about living with a bunch of dynamic young men and women that lets you be friends in spite of several philosophical differences. Also the struggle and reward of hard work. The pleasure of impromptu trips. The sin of midnight maggi. The walks in the rain. The dance parties (my first dance of course, though clubbing remained my second fave activity to do during weekends for the next 5 years!)

It took me several years after B school to realize what was the greatest learning from those years... apart from learning to sow my wild oats... it was not merely the freedom (I always had it), it was the ability to take a call, make a judgment and most importantly believe in the power of your own conviction.

My first b school b'day cake

With friends at Konark
My first Fab India purchase, and my first year room 
On a dare!
Fancy dressing!
Giving in to being the guinea pig!

Like Bryan Adams sang, "Those were the best days of my life". :) 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Singapore Soujourn II: Must-see Tourist spots

Prologue: This part will focus on touristy attractions and our experiences there. Some information on timings and other details may be given.

Warning: Long Read!

Singapore Zoo (

If you are visiting from India, then plan to spend a whole day at the zoo with your family. Not only is the range mind-boggling, but the seeming ease with which crowds are managed and animals are showcased leaves one wondering why as a country of a billion with such diverse wildlife, we can’t manage one half decent zoo?! The website offers an opportunity to eat breakfast with Orangutans, but if you are seeking full paisa vasool, skip it. Button had the opportunity to watch the Orangutans swing away to glory as he ate his lunch, their enclosure is nearby anyway.

We used the excellent metro and bus connections to reach the zoo at about 9.30. Had a blast until closure going from animal to animal and returning to enjoy the ones we LOVED. (For button, the lions, I loved the giraffe and the husband the monitor lizard..ugh!) I recommend the Park Hopper pass which allows you to explore the Zoo, the Night Safari and the Jurong Bird Park beating the (sometimes) LONG queues for tickets. Be sure to ask for maps at the entrance.

Hookah or Bottle?!

Apart from the animals, there are lovely shows. We watched the Elephant show and thoroughly enjoyed Ganpati bappa spraying us with water. Lunch for vegetarians could be difficult (the restaurant prata set is “yuck” according to Button, and I concur). Lovely lovely fruit platter though. For a pregnant and hot me, the fruits were even tastier than for others. (Don’t tell, but I ate 2 platters AND a prata set). Lots of cooling options in terms of drinks. Check out the bottle in the pic for a cool drink you can buy in a cooler bottle that Button insisted we wash and bring back home. 

I recommend the tram for the post lunch languid period. Just a hint of breeze and a bit of sitting down does wonders to get your energy back. Of course, carry lots of water and use the clean loos. J Another thing that caught my eye was the abundance of dustbins all over the zoo. And Indians CAN behave themselves (contrary to what one may believe) Most of the Indians took pains to throw their trash into the trash cans. Even nicer was the nod to recycling… as you walk out of the zoo after a tiring but lovely day, you can choose to return your map to be recycled (hear the trees cheering?). I recommend skipping the gift shop, unless you like the regular touristy keepsakes.

A minute before he slept!
Heading from the zoo to the safari with a 4 year old could be a bit too much (as we found out). In fact unless you’ve bought the park-hopper, I’d recommend skipping the night safari, especially if you are on a short holiday and/or a tight budget and/or travelling with a 3yrs or younger child. The shops that line the entrance of the night safari may excite older kids, especially the spooky shop which has several glow-in-the-dark items from full skeletons to small spider key chains. The safari opens only at 7 in the evening with usually LONG lines. The show is similar to the ones at the zoo, only the large tourist groups hog most good seats. And the actual experience after an entire day at the zoo becomes too animal-y. What was Button’s reaction? He slept a minute into the tram ride! Soundly. Through the LONG journey to ECP at the other end of S’pore.

Jurong Bird Park (
A lovely experience. Again marketed brilliantly. Knowing that most visitors would’ve visited the zoo and night safari before the bird park, Jurong has been designed so colorfully that it is indeed refreshing. The repetition factor of same elements of map, tram, shows etc. gets subsumed by the sheer brilliance of rainbow colors. Don’t miss photo ops at the entrance with the lovely parrot family (macaques, lovebirds and many others) and the opportunity to feed loris (lovebirds) at the lori feeding station. I personally LOVED the owl exhibit (always have loved them, and the snowy owl – Harry Potter factor). Button enjoyed feeding the birds and bravely walked with us through the ‘birds of prey’ exhibit (boys will be boys!). The veg options here are slightly tastier, but the souvenir shop significantly better.

Sentosa Island
There are several attractions in Sentosa that could keep you occupied for days on end. A 2 day trip to Sentosa (overnight there) would be sufficient to cover most of the key spots, provided your travel partner and you are able to agree on the key spots :) 

The Jellyfish Exhibit
I highly recommend the Underwater World, yes, even over Universal(though that may win favor due to better marketing and character based rides). Button had a big blast at the Underwater with touch-pool exhibits and the travelator through the water tunnel.  We were reminded that he is indeed a small kid when he burst out crying seeing sharks swim all around him in the tunnel! Cute J He refused to touch the sting ray until (ugh) I had to brave my fears and touch them myself. Child IS the father of man… I hopefully will not cringe the next time I have to do it!

The dolphin show is a MUST.  They invite a member of the audience to participate in a sea-lion interactive act. Me being an enthu-cutlet, put up my hand and to my horror I was called. Now, before I tell you how scary it was, I must confess that am not very touchy-feely with animals of any sort. No dogs, cats or furry creatures, no snakes or any slimy creature, no turtle or any hard backed ones, not even fish really call for a petting session. In fact I don’t particularly ask to even hold human babies! That is as touchy as I am (though am constantly up for a hug or cuddles or hand-holding the husband!) So with a sinking feeling, again to let my son know how brave I am (umm) and how one should not let go of any opportunity (what opportunity, yikes!) I bravely walked up to the sea lion. To my horror, the act in the show consists of massaging the sea lion. Praying that the sea lion did not knock me into the pool behind, infested with dolphins, I tentatively touched the sea lion. It refused to do its trick until I gave up and massaged it thoroughly in disgust. Yes, I scrubbed my hands raw and sanitized it with an entire bottle before I even drank a can of Coke!

At a Souvenir shop in Universal
If your kid is like mine, skip it. He refused to sit in ANY ride except the MILDEST ones – Madagascar and Desert Safari. He clung to me even in the non-rocking seats of the 4D Shrek show. Refused to go on any other ride. Howled through the Spielberg Movie experience and beamed when we walked out 3 hours after we walked in! We wasted a ton of money on those tickets. We splurged on express passes, which I recommend with small children as queues ARE quite long. For braver small kids, the Jurassic park rides and Transponders show may also be VFM. My son refused to even go near the lion (Alex) mascot! And this is despite his being able to mouth EVERY line of all 3 Madagascar movies. For veg food, in the ‘Mummy’ section, a decent Indian meal is available in the food area near the Safari. Loved the opportunity to browse in the souvenir shops… an art almost perfected, not at the level of Disneyland, where I yielded and splurged madly, but almost!

Cable Car, Butterfly Park and others

Angry Birds 'golu'
The cable car ride is a lovely experience. Time it around sunset, so you get to see the views in daylight one way and the lights on the return. Button loved looking at large cruise ships from up above as well as “flying” over S’pore (the cars are glass all around). The Angry Birds display in the shop at the last stop on the Cable Car ride is worth a dekho. The starbucks outside the boarding point for the cable car has wonderful blueberry-raisin muffins. Amongst the best I’ve tasted. 

The last Butterfly standing!
The Butterfly park should be visited only in the mornings – afternoon. We went in at 5.30 p.m. and the butterflies, tired of flitting around, had already retired for the night… we ended up paying about 30 Sing dollars for some dried insect displays. Otherwise, the Merlion statue and beach are worth visiting if you have time. There were multiple other attractions like a war memorial, museum and laser shows which we were sure Button would not enjoy and therefore skipped. 

We stayed at the Movenpick, which was reasonably good. The buses in Sentosa take you all over provided you know how to read a map and bus routes. We encountered multiple tourists who would stop and ask us how to get from points A to B, when route maps are put up in every bus stop!

The concluding post will come up shortly on some off-the-beaten track things to do with kids and some more impressions of the city. And what we missed out and why!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Singapore Sojourn – I: My Impressions of the City

Singapore Sojourn – I: My Impressions of the City

Prologue: A 3 part series on my recent trip to Singapore. The series will focus on my personal experiences and things to do with a 4 year old boy as well.

To celebrate Button’s 4th b’day and to try foreign shores before Twinkle arrived, we planned a trip to Singapore in May this year for a week. We stayed with our friends for a week (yes, there are friends like these even in today’s time and age!) and needless to say had a blast. The entire trip was planned with Button in mind, his eating and sleep schedule, things that would interest him and finally, a couple of shopping points for me to buy a few items that I wanted.

Koi Pond - Changi
We flew Air India (I do not recommend the airline). The turbulence, terrible service and mosquitoes ensured that we had no peace until we landed. Changi airport was a whiff of fresh air in multiple ways. Button loved the travelator and insisted on his dad running beside him as he whizzed past! The loos of course need a special mention. As a 5 month pregnant woman, loos are almost as important as food and vitamins! You can imagine after umm.. holding on for over 8 hours (since I left home), the airport loos were not just good, but clean enough to eat off. I must say that the state of most loos, including the zoo and sentosa island loos were almost as good. Button especially loved the koi ponds and I strongly recommend spending some time exploring the place. 

Our friends were waiting to receive us. As luck would have it, our cab driver was Chinese and spoke NO English. Our friends had recently moved in and were not fully clued into their neighborhood. Button and I of course enjoyed the neighborhood darshan till we figured our way out. The area (East Coast Parkway) area (and possibly most of Singapore) is actually pretty easy to figure out with clear signages and grid construction. ECP area is lovely with the condos having several easily accessible shopping and eating areas, and lovely play areas for kids. Needless to say Button was what in Tamizh we refer to as “avutthu vitta kazhudai” (A donkey let loose).

Play area IKEA
Our first stop the very next afternoon was IKEA. I recommend the play area in IKEA for kids between 3 and 8. They have a huge ball pit, a movie area, several slides and climbing apparatus. They have several trained staff overlooking the rambunctious kids. What’s wonderful (for hygiene OCDing parents like me) is that they store away the footwear of the child, put on a plastic apron over the clothes and sanitize the child’s hands before the kid enters. What’s wonderful also (for over-imaginative, safety OCDind parents like my husband) is that they do not let the parents enter, they also take (mandatorily) a phone number for the parents (and do call them) and only have a specific number of kids in the play area at any given time! My husband and I had a wonderful time browsing and shopping. Button had a blast playing in the ball pit, after a while he missed us and got the attendant to call P. He came with us in the second half of our expedition (and seems to have inherited the retail browsing gene from me).

We ate out… lots of Indian places (of course), but sadly not many local Veg options, except if you choose Indian again of course. I enjoyed walking across the road with a shopping cart, buying stuff and walking back again. I was struck by how healthy Singaporeans are (barely saw anyone even in size L, let alone XL and XXL! What a contrast from my year in NJ!) I realized that Singaporeans walk SO MUCH every day, from home to bus stop, to metro stations, to shopping malls, inside shopping malls… no wonder they do not put on weight.

I also enjoyed crossing the roads… no don’t laugh… after Chennai, where I have the unenviable nightmarish job of needing to cross the busy busy Arcot Road to hail an auto to drop my son off to school, it was a pleasure skipping across the road with him and watching ALL vehicles halt. I felt like God, did it many times to feel good! Also, any cab you want you can hail, and go a few metres or a few hundred kilometers, no questions asked, as long as you pay the fare. And there is the meter. I know Bombayites will laugh at this, but hey, try living in Chennai AND talking to an Auto driver EVERY SINGLE effing day.

Offered a seat
Button and I had a blast vying for the ‘upstairs driver seat’ in the double-decker buses. No matter how old I am, the pleasure of rushing to the front of the upstairs portion of a double decker bus will never abate. The bus stops are clean (of course) but what is cooler are iPhone apps that give you info on when the next preferred bus would arrive at your stop. I tested the app (what did you expect?) and the systematic part of me did cartwheels when the bus arrived on DOT, each time, every time. Magic I tell you, sheer magic.

Courtesy courtesy courtesy
The railway stations are certainly cleaner than their ‘western’ counterparts in the US or UK, but definitely crowded in peak time. People are so courteous that I felt terrible if I even laughed too loudly. My son was thrilled that everytime he entered a train, somebody would give him a seat even if the train was packed. He began to believe he was important and we were amused when he asked someone to vacate their seat in a ride at Universal J Its surreal to see 4 year olds there walk through the Metro turnstile swiping their cards like an adult and boarding the train. What’s more, their well behaved ways actually is cute and makes you wonder what is it their parents feed them. Actually, the entire city thrives on courtesy. When there are posters advocating courteous behavior on buses and metros, you know it has seeped into the collective and individual conscious of the denizens of S'pore. 

The zoo, Sentosa and other experiences follow in the next two parts.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Buttonisms: Rich Boy Poor Boy & other Stories

Prologue: Button’s development as a 4 year old has been fascinating. Especially now that he is the older brother to little Twinkle. He has blossomed to being a court jester, an entertainer par excellence, however ONLY reserved for those closest to him. Otherwise, there is a Great Wall of Shyness around him, which hopefully will melt away as he gets older. In my endeavor to build some pensieves of Button’s wonderful repartees, I list some below. Smile away!

As a mom I sometimes take the easy way out and occasionally (read every alternate day!) threaten Button with withdrawal of privileges (his dearer-than-life McQueen dinky cars collection) as a consequence to unacceptable behavior. I warn him twice and then when he is ready to misbehave the third time my dialogue usually is “Button, I am warning you for the third time. If you do not listen, I will give away the McQueen vehicles to a poor child. You are too spoilt, hence this behavior”.

A couple of days ago, I was just about to get to the third warning when his lovely voice pipes up “Amma, if you give my McQueen vehicles to a poor child, the poor boy will be a rich boy and I will be a poor boy”

Can’t help being amused eh? Needless to say, threats are not going to work much in this household again. Just when I thought I had a parenting style that works, there it flies out of the window again. Constantly innovating to keep ahead of Button!

Button’s latest fancy is ‘Dora the Explorer’. I had the occasion to observe him defending his choice to a friend of his at a b’day party. The friend said “Only girls watch Dora the Explorer. You should not watch Dora. You should watch Chhota Bheem and Doraemon”.

I was beaming with pride when Button said “I love Dora. I like it. Why should I not watch it? My amma says Dora is fun.”

The joy of hearing the conviction in his voice put a spring in my step. If there are two things I’d like to inculcate in my son, it is belief in his judgment and to be well mannered. And it seems like some seeds have been sown somewhere!

When I went to the hospital to deliver Twinkle, in a small voice he asked me “Amma will it hurt you?”

I said “It will Button, but the Doctors will give me some medicine to make it better and I will soon call you to let you know when you can visit your baby brother or sister.”

He gave me lots of grief with his reply “Amma, I ONLY want a baby sister. If it is a baby brother, let us give him to someone else”

You can imagine how hard I prayed through the 14 hour labour to have a girl! And well, Twinkle is now his favorite person in the world, even usurping his beloved dad! I think a separate post on their bonding is worth it!

P (the husband) and I were putting away the liquor bottles at home (my parents were going to shift in a few days later!) In passing, I remarked to Button (who was being a little helper), “Button, one day you are going to grow up, go clubbing and drinking with your girlfriend”.

Pat comes the reply “When will I grow up amma?”

Never my son, not if I can help it J But I better get used to the fact that you ARE growing up!

Gearing up for Ganpati bappa’s arrival a few months ago, I was in quiz mode.
“Button, which ummachi (God) has an elephant head?”

And Button replied “Lightning McQueen”

Stumped! Yes, we love McQueen like God! Listening Disney?

A last one for the road….
We were driving past P’s college one day (IIT Madras) and I pointed it out to him (as I had the past several times). Asked him, “Button, what is the name of appa’s college?”

I was greeted by silence. So I prompted him…”I…I….I”

And came the reply “iPhone?”

And another one bites the dust Steve Jobs, are you grinning?