When life’s gone to the dogs…

When life’s gone to the dogs…

Living with dogs has many perks but it is not without its hairy moments. In this post, I’ve put together a bunch of observations about life with mutts that are only too familiar to pet parents. Non-pet parents, don’t be scared away – for all of these, dogs are the only creatures that will love you more than everybody else in your life put together; the only creatures who will be overjoyed to see you get back home after 10 minutes outside.

So, here goes.

#1 It’s called FURniture for a reason.

As new pet parents, all the literature we’d read online said dogs shed ‘seasonally’ and we naively interpreted that to mean once, perhaps twice, a year. But when you have multiple dogs whose shedding cycles are not in sync, it’s a different story. Every visible surface at home is permanently covered in a light dusting of fur. There’s always fur in the food -you just pick it out without batting an eyelid and continue to chomp down. You buy a gorgeous sofa, but keep it covered under an old bed sheet. Vacuuming becomes a hobby. You get the drift.

#2 Hair today. Still here tomorrow.

Anything you wear will be covered in dog hair. You can buy sticky rolls or rubber gloves or brushes or wet towels to try and get them off, but few things can be as stubborn as a strand of hair that means to stay.

A resourceful friend once suggested that we wear only clothes that match the colour of our dog’s fur so that the hair doesn’t show. Great suggestion – only, we have two dogs: one is black & white; the other is golden brown. Between the two of them, they cover the entire spectrum of fur colours and the fur always shows. Personally, I have given up the battle for a long time now. I wear fur as an accessory now.

#3 Squeamishness will be a thing of the past.

For starters, you will have to scoop poop twice a day. Though this is still a chore that SR and I keep bouncing off to each other, we’ve come a long way from the people who used to make disgusted faces. Now, we check the poop for consistency, colour, and to find out just what S has chomped down the previous day.  Normal dogs sniff things to explore them – S chews them. And if you try to take anything out of his mouth, he will swallow it at double speed. So far, we’ve found bits of a Nataraj pencil, pieces of a rubber toy, string, and cardboard in his poop, and S looks none the worse for the wear.

S also has motion sickness but we don’t want that to stop us from taking him out because once he’s back on level ground, he’s ridiculously happy to run around and explore. So the backseat of our car is covered with a plastic sheet on which we lay an old blanket to mop up the sick. We did try giving him vet-recommended sedatives to calm him down – during that drive, he vomited six times, four more than usual.

And this is not to mention when the poop gets stuck to their bottom and refuses to fall off and you have to run to find a tissue and get it out. Also times when they fall sick after eating too much of anything, excitement drooling, when they splash through pee and bring it in the house…let’s just say hand sanitizer, vinegar spritz, and disinfectant will become your best friends.

#4 Doggy grub will be better than yours.

There have been many, many days when SR and I were too zoned out to move but we still dragged ourselves to the kitchen to fix a meal for the mutts. On truly lazy days, it’s just kibble, but on the best days, it is a biryani of rice cooked with eggs, chicken, carrots and peas and flavoured with pepper, turmeric, and coconut oil. My mom often asks us why we don’t just eat a portion of this because it sure as hell sounds more nutritious than the junk or takeout we eat. But as we are vegetarian, this involves cooking the chicken separately and that’s just too much work. 😛

#5 Losing the battle of responsible parenting.

Every month or so, we are overcome by fits of conscientiousness and remark on what poor pet parents we make. We are not regular with walks (also because the boys are pretty lazy too and prefer to run around inside the house), nor are we regular with their training (most of what the boys have learned were taught to them when they were puppies.) Wracked by guilt, we make resolutions to shake things up and stick to a proper routine, starting tomorrow, no today, no, right away.

And then S will trot over and snuggle up between us and B will drape himself over our feet and the whole setup will feel so cosy and aww-some that we’ll just switch to Comedy Central and vegetate for hours.

#6 The vicious cycle of shopping for dog toys.

No new beginning in life, be it a starting a journal or joining a gym or having a baby, is complete without going out to shop for some ‘essentials’ and coming back with bags full of quirky stationery or light and breathable (read, far too expensive) gym clothes or a pram that resembles a high-powered self-sustaining life mobile.

In the case of pet parents, I think we just never outgrow this phase. We keep buying dog toys and chews and treats in the hope that they will bring lasting and meaningful joy to our dogs. The fact remains that treats are crunched up in a matter of seconds and toys are abandoned in days. But that is not to say that B and S don’t have lasting and meaningful joy – they do. They get it from old socks, twigs, plastic bottles, and the ring of doorbells when we get back home.

I could go on and on about living with dogs but I will save the rest of it for another post. Right now, I have to switch back to office mail and pretend to be hard at work, even if it’s Friday afternoon.

Sigh.

 

Travel Travails

Travel Travails

Imagine that you live in a remote suburb of Trivandrum.

For all practical purposes, it is in the middle of nowhere. There is no bus stop and no self-respecting auto driver will go there. You have to walk 1.5 kilometers south west to reach the nearest bus stop, from where you have a direct bus to college at 8:40 am. If you miss that, you will have to get on a series of buses, clinging on for dear life on the foot board. So the direct Veekkay bus is your lifeline.

One Monday, you are late. Despite having jogged all the way, you miss the bus by a wide margin. On Tuesday, you leave the house ten minutes early, determined to get the bus; but just as you reach halfway, you remember you have left your purse behind and rush back. You locate the purse in a jiffy but find it empty; you bang on the bathroom door, where amma has conveniently disappeared, and obtain the necessary cash. By the time you get out, you are no longer early (to say the least). You run all the way with your satchel bouncing up and down, sporadically smacking your bottom whenever it feels you are slowing down. You reach the bus stop just in time…to see the bus gliding away like a swan.

On Wednesday, you get out of your house twenty minutes early, after carefully checking that you have all the necessary cash and assignments in submittable condition, and walk at a leisurely pace to the bus stop. You can’t help feeling a teeny bit smug because you just know in your bones that today is your day. But just as you pass Bhagat Singh lane, you run into a family friend who insists on inquiring after the welfare of all your family members and describing his son’s many coups at a hair oil company in Chicken, Alaska. After ten minutes of looking pointedly at your watch and shuffling from foot to foot, you give up all hope and stand there resigned to your fate.

On Thursday, you leave forty minutes early so as to allow time for unexpected delays. But no obstacles come your way and you reach the bus stop at 8:25am. At least four buses going in your direction pass that way, but you smirk at them, secure in the knowledge that the Veekkay bus that will drop you off right in front of the college gates is coming up. 8:40am comes and goes…then 9. A bald man at the bus stop informs you that the bus you are waiting for has had a puncture and is in the workshop. You fling yourself on the dusty ground and weep.

On Friday, you leave the house at dawn, much to the annoyance of everybody else in the house. Miraculously, you get the bus. Your joy knows no bounds, as you hand a coin to the conductor and say triumphantly, “One ticket to Pappanamcode!”

He gives you an irritated look and says, “Didn’t you read the board before getting in? The route has been changed…this bus now goes to Museum.”

[I came across this piece on my old blog. It was written based on real life incidents in March 2006, in the days before Uber. I tend to dislike most of what I’ve written in the past, but this was an exception.]

 

Where angels fear to tread…

Where angels fear to tread…

“Look at this lunch box!” SR exclaims.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, pointedly ignoring the smudges of Vim around its edges.

“This is intolerable. You have to tell Vasantha to wash the dishes properly,” he complains.

I agree meekly, the very thought making my stomach churn. I have tried giving her constructive feedback only once before. It did not go well.

“Vasantha,” I had said naively, “You haven’t cleaned the bedroom properly – just look at the quantity of dust under the cot!”

Her eyes widened. Without a word, she turned around, got the mop and duster and barged into the bedroom. (SR, who was changing, yelped and rushed for cover.) She lifted the mattress and tried moving the cot onto its side single-handedly.

“What are you doing? Let me help…” I tried to intervene.

“Vendamma, venda… naane panren…” she wouldn’t let me.

In the next one hour, she tipped most of our furniture onto its side, raised a perfect hell storm of dust, emptied buckets and buckets of water onto the bathroom floor, and scrubbed all the kitchen utensils we had, including three sets of unpacked dinnerware we had got as a wedding gift. She spurned every offer of help.

All the while, she muttered steadily under her breath. Every now and then, we would hear snatches of how it wouldn’t matter even if she worked herself to death, because no one – not even the man she had been looking after for thirty years – would care, and how she would probably collapse on her way down to the car porch. SR and I sat mortified in the living room.

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I was young then, foolish.

All night, I lie awake, trying to frame diplomatic ways of presenting the matter. The following morning, as we are having coffee, I mutter nervously under my breath,

“Vasantha, this here lunch box, you see… perhaps you could oblige me by looking at it? If you don’t mind, could you please consider…”

The doorbell rings. I quail in my seat. SR looks exasperated.

Vasantha enters. She is a small, dark woman with the long, mournful face of a Basset hound.  A couple of months ago, while we were taking a long break, I told her she needn’t come to work for two weeks; essentially, paid leave. She looked as though I had given her a very poor quote for both her kidneys.

Today, she handed me a packet of sweets and said sorrowfully, “En payyanukku kalyanam fix aaydchu!” My son’s wedding has been fixed.

“Oh… er, very nice.” I say. She smiles sadly and disappears into the kitchen.

SR hisses, “That’s no excuse! She has been doing a half-baked job for months now! You tell her to do her work properly – show her who’s boss!”

“Okay!”

I settle into the living room couch, pretending to look busy while glancing surreptitiously at her every few minutes. I am waiting for an opportune moment. She swishes the dust from one corner of the room to the other. Half of it rises and settles back down. She ignores it – along with the cobwebs dangling just before her eyes. I debate whether I should draw her attention to it; then decide against it. Focus, I tell myself firmly. Focus on one thing.

A few minutes later, I hear the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen. I summon up courage, walk up to her holding out the offending lunch box, clear my throat and begin,

“Vasantha… this… this lunch box…  if you look at its rim, you can see…”

She turns around then, wringing her hands and nearly weeping, a picture of abject misery.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, distracted.

She looks as though she can hardly speak. Her lips tremble.

I imagine a death in the family. Cancer. Bankruptcy.

“Tell me, whatever it is!” I urge her.

She gathers courage and says, “Vim kaaliyayduthumma…”

We are out of Vim.

I say desperately, “No, no… I have an extra bar!”

I search for it frantically. As each second passes, Vasantha seems to shrink. I finally find it and thrust it into her hand in relief. “Please don’t cry!” I nearly add.

She smiles weakly and gets back to work.

I am shaken, reminded once again of the Bedroom Dusting Fiasco of 2011.

I return to the living room.

“Did you tell her?” SR asks suspiciously.

“Yes, the problem will be solved.” I say with dignity.

I plan to wash it myself, later.

In sickness and in health(?)

It was the day of our wedding and SR had just tied the thaali around my neck. We gazed at each other – me adoringly, he bleary-eyed and sweaty. The first thing he said was,

“Can you ask Amma to get me some Crocin? I have a terrible headache.”

Yes, I love you too.

For the next 15 minutes, while he was repeating mantras with the vadhyar, I desperately tried to catch the eye of one of our many aunts or cousins, even while getting up and prostrating myself on the ground (in a nine-yard saree to boot!) for what seemed like a hundred times. Someone finally got him the pills and water and he managed to make it through the rest of the ceremony, by which time my neck was aching under the weight of all the garlands.

During the family get-together in the evening, while our relatives sang and danced and tried to make fun of us, we sat exhausted and brain-dead, joining in more out of politeness than anything else. To commemorate the occasion, SR’s sister and cousins decorated our bedroom. On the dresser, they left two sets of presents – a box of perfumes, and a box of medicines – along with a note:

“Perfumes or medicines? Make your choice! :)”

Needless to say, we picked the medicines and fell asleep at once. So much for the hype about “first nights” – to this day, when we watch a movie scene involving a first night, we look at each other and snort derisively.

The next morning, SR woke up with a raging fever and spots all over his body. That’s right – chicken pox.

We were both quarantined (in case I was also infected) for three weeks. Confined to a single room and bland food without salt and spices, scratching ourselves with neem leaves and alternating between sniping at each other and apologizing tearfully.

Two weeks later, when SR had recovered, I came down with it, and spent another two weeks in quarantine. SR escaped the second quarantine because his chances of getting it again were slim. And of course, there was no honeymoon.

That set the tone of our marriage. Headaches, backaches, flu, sinusitis, tummy upset, asthma… you name it, we’ve had it!

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I was at a medical store the other day,

“1 strip Pudin Hara. 15 regular Crocin. 15 Crocin Pain. 1 Volini cream. 1 Volini spray big. Vicks ke goli and 1 Dragon roll-on.”

When he gave me a “So much, madam?” look, I tried to save face,

“We are athletes – we just ran a marathon. That’s why.”

He looked doubtfully at our rotund figures, but refrained from commenting.

The biggest challenge we face is that each of us deals differently with sickness. SR likes to be coddled and made a fuss of if he is feeling down. But I like to be left alone to curl up and die. We used to drive each other crazy in the beginning.

When I try to sleep quietly in the dark, his worried face would appear at the door,

“Do you want anything?”

“No.”

“A hot water bottle? Green tea?”

“No, no.”

“How about some medicine? Will sitting up help?”

“No, just leave me alone!”

He would go away in a huff.

The opposite would happen when he fell sick. He would lie groaning in the hall, making outlandish requests every few minutes.

“Can you bring me some water? Yes, I know I said I didn’t want any, but now I do… if you must make such a fuss, don’t bother.. I don’t want anything now… alright then, give me the water…”

“Can you put some Volini on my back? Not there, a little to the right.. a tad bit to the left… Yes, yes, you got it… no, go up, yes, up… now a little down towards the spine… where the hell are you rubbing? That’s not the spot at all!”

“Turn off the light and put on the music… oh, anything you like.. no, no, not that… not that one either, can’t you put on something soothing and quiet? No, meditation music is not soothing or quiet.”

And so on and so forth.

Over the years, we’ve learned to manage this better. It is based on the principle that a sick person cannot be a ministering angel and offer sympathy. So we fall sick one at a time.

“I feel sniffly – I think I will come down with a cold today” SR would warn me as soon as he woke up.

“I ate from a shifty-looking place near the bus stand. So I may have indigestion later.” I would call from the office to give him a heads-up.

This way, we set clear expectations and give each other ample time to plan ahead. So, if SR sounds the warning, I try to keep the rest of the day free to look after him. And if I sound the warning, he makes plans to stay far away. So far, this has worked pretty well.

Thus, we continue to have and to hold each other – for better or worse, in sickness and in health(?)

Excuses, excuses!

So I leave a to-do list for SR this morning. Most of the items on it have been pending for ages, and I threaten him with tight spots, hot water, fire & brimstone, so on and so forth before I leave for work. When he comes to pick me up in the evening, he makes no attempt to ingratiate himself. I assume that the most of the work has been accomplished.

“Did you give the clothes for ironing?”

“No – I wasn’t sure if one of your tops should be ironed. So I thought I’d check with you before giving it.”

“You could have given the rest of the clothes – we have hundreds of them piled up!”

“I don’t want to make multiple trips there.”

“Why didn’t you just call me and check?”

“Because I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“Huh! So did you call the carpenter?”

“Yes, but he didn’t answer the phone.”

“Well, did you leave a message asking him to call back?”

“No. I don’t think he can read or write.”

“Ok-aaay! What about the electrician?”

“I don’t think he can read or write either.”

“No – did you call him?”

“Yes. He’ll come over.”

“When?”

“On Sunday, after he goes to church.”

“Church? I thought the electrician’s name was Krishnan!”

“It is. Don’t be so narrow-minded.”

“Whaaa…? “

“What does it matter what his name is? This is supposed to be a secular country – he can call himself whatever he wants and worship any god he likes. Neither you nor the government has any right to dictate terms-“

“Okay, okay! Let him go to church. <whew!> Did you pack away the golu bommais? I don’t want them getting dusty or broken.”

“Today is Tuesday – it’s not auspicious to pack away idols of deities on Tuesdays.”

“What a load of tosh! Says who?”

“Your mom.”

“Erm, okay. Did you at least pay the phone bill?”

“No point. We are 2 months overdue. They’ve disconnected the line.”

“And you are just sitting there?”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Go over there and get it fixed!”

“Go over where?”

“I don’t know! The BSNL office?”

“And where would that be?”

“You are the husband – you figure it out!”

“Sure, I will. Eventually.”

“!!!”

“But I did get the cable fixed.”

“Our cable had problems? What was wrong with it?”

“There was an audio lag on Star Sports – it was really screwing up the match telecast.”

“Awesome. That was the most important thing on my list – I would have killed you if you hadn’t done that.”

“Thanks love.”

*

I am assuming that spending 8 hours a day to think of excuses to not do things must be exhausting. Clearly, it impairs your ability to appreciate sarcasm.

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