Friend. Lost.

Friend. Lost.

We met Jo six months ago on a trip to the UK. She was our host in Teign Valley, Devon. Today, when I got on Airbnb again to plan another trip, I suddenly remembered Jo and Lorenzo and their lovely cat Frodo. And felt a surge of shame at how I had never bothered to stay in touch.

I typed out a long, long email with abject apologies and a recipe for pulao that I had promised to share after spying some spices and long grained rice in her kitchen. After the message was sent, I made a startling discovery: that listing no longer exists.

I furiously googled ‘The Old Barn, Dry Lane, Teign Valley’ and came up with this Stags listing. The house had been put up for sale some time ago and for all I know, is already sold by now. That means Jo’s quaint, lovely barn-home is not just not on Airbnb, but is also no longer hers.

I remember the day we drove up Dry Lane, counting the houses after the Post Office and turning at the Church. It was late evening and the shadows were deepening. As we parked in the shared driveway, Jo came out of the house to welcome us in. She seemed a little apologetic about how small the house was and somewhat anxious about how we would react to it.

But to us, everything seemed delightful–the low roof held up by wooden beams, the narrow stairs we thumped up to our room on the first floor, the teeny, yet utterly cosy bedroom, the shelves and shelves of books Jo had lined up against the walls, and the lovely cats: Frodo the Golden and the shy tabby whose name I forget.

We seemed to hit it off really well and sat in her kitchen talking late into the night, swapping stories about everything from food fads in India and England to contract teaching in England, her years in South America, the problems faced by working mothers, and the twisted logic of picking up (biodegradable!) dog poop in plastic bags in the name of eco-sensitivity. Together, we pored over a map of Dartmoor National Park and Jo marked out for us the best route to take and the key zones to explore, given our limited time in the area.

There was a teary moment that night for me when Jo’s eight-year-old son Lorenzo brought out his piggybank of savings and offered it to us “for the elephants in India”.

“Come to India,” I told him, “The elephants would love to have you feed them the bananas!” And his face lit up at the prospect. I could see the pride in Jo’s face as she hugged him and later, she told us Lorenzo’s father was half-Pakistani and he was thus one-quarter Asian.

That night, I borrowed The Wind In The Willows from Jo’s shelf and read it through the night. I acquainted myself with Rat and Mole and Mr. Toad, their adventures on the River all the more real and delightful because I’d just walked by the Thames in Oxford a few days ago, along the very paths and under the same trees that they had lived out their fabled lives in.

The following day, our foray into Dartmoor, culminating with a hike up to Bellever Tor, was sheer delight, mainly because of the tips Jo had shared. We came home exhausted, yet exhilarated, only to find that things were in a bit of a tizzy. Lorenzo had had another nosebleed and Jo had gotten her mother to pick him up from school and she had an interview the following day for a teaching role that could be more permanent. “I hope I get it,” she said and we saw a flash of anxiety flit across her face.

To cheer her up, we made instant noodles out of the packets we’d brought with us from India and got her to taste some of it, while Lorenzo rested on the couch with tissues to mop up his nosebleeds. That was our last evening together. By the time we came downstairs the next day, she had left for her interview leaving behind a cheery little note. We made breakfast as Frodo looked on with interest, cleaned things up, and left her our card with our contact details on the dining table.

As we lugged our bags down the stairs, the driveway, and into the car, the cats followed us, as though to say goodbye, and I felt a little pang. “We’ll come back again,” SR said cheerfully, “We should explore Dartmoor so much more!”

Afterwards, she left us a review on our Airbnb profile:

It was an absolute pleasure to host Sreeram and Gowri. They were a delight to have around and two of the most considerate guests we’ve had to date. We enjoyed great conversation and a taster session of Indian (fast) food! I can’t recommend them highly enough, and only wish they could have stayed longer ūüôā

Today, as I sit here writing this, I am not even sure if Jo will see my Airbnb message. She is still registered as a host, so I hope she gets my message. But if she is no longer active, she may not see it at all. And with that, I would lose someone who could have been a friend.

We read so much about how travel expands our horizons and lets us meet new people and experience new things. But Jo was one of the few people I’ve met during our travels who wasn’t a caricature. She was¬†real–vulnerable, yet strong, an amazingly interesting person, and a very, very kind host.

I mentioned this in my message to her, the one I don’t know if she will ever see, and I will say it again: she and Lorenzo and Frodo will forever remain in our hearts and our prayers. I hope wherever she goes, she finds happiness.

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Memories in a chocolate box

Memories in a chocolate box

It’s Saturday morning and we’ve all woken up uncharacteristically early.

It’s all SR’s fault. He has woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and wants the entire household to follow suit. He takes first S and then B for a walk. He gives them their breakfast and gets them settled down. Then he finishes some stuff for work. And then starts sorting out a drawer full of old bills.

All before I’ve even finished my morning coffee.

I want to feel useful myself. So I look around for something easy to do. Clean the fans? But we have no step ladder. Laundry? Already done. Take the clothes for ironing? It’s too hot to get out – I can do that in the evening. Prep for lunch? I don’t even have an excuse for this one.

So I drift into the bedroom and pull open my accessories drawer. I’ve been meaning to sort things out here for ages. Now is as good a time as any.

One of my prized possessions is my earring box. It’s an old plastic Ferrero Rocher tray that I have repurposed to keep my earrings sorted into pairs. But over time, they’ve gotten all mixed up. I empty everything out on the bed and start sifting through. B jumps up at once–he loves everything shiny–and S follows suit. I tell B sternly not to put anything in his mouth and then cave and give him an old cloth purse to chew on. S, the angel child he is, needs no such sop. He watches with interest for a couple of minutes, then lies down on his side and drifts off happily. No doubt dreaming of chicken legs.

I set the earrings out in pairs and and all of a sudden, it’s like sifting through a box of old memories.

There are the long, glassy green drops with gold accents that ammai bought for me from someone at the bank. Turquoise blue raindrop-loops a friend got me from Amsterdam. A pair of flat, jimikki-shaped earrings with white stones–the first of many pairs that amma has gifted me over the years. Violet twine hoops that I bought from Brigade Road to replace a similar pair I’d lost on a flight back from Singapore. Every piece seems to trigger a memory, a reminder of happy times.

There are even four mismatched presses that hold the earrings in place. I keep them aside as backups, in case I lose the originals.

I’m nearly done putting everything in place, when I come across them. A pair of pink and silver studs that I have worn perhaps thrice in my life. It’s the very first present SR bought for me, over 9 years ago. It’s not the prettiest of earrings and I remember him telling me he’d bought them from a Coimbatore street-side vendor for thirty rupees when he went to write the CAT exam. They’ve been with me all these years, but I’ve seldom worn them because I have prettier, bigger, longer pink earrings. Multiple pairs, in fact.

They’re slightly dusty and I wipe them with a soft cloth. As I hold them in my palm, I realize they look just as good as new. The stones haven’t fallen off. The silver hasn’t blackened.¬†I’m suddenly reminded of all the good memories from our years together. The houses we’ve moved. The journeys we’ve taken. The food we’ve shared.

Like every other couple, we too have our share of ups and downs, disagreements and frustrations. But somehow, in the face of this little token from a long time ago, those seem small and unimportant.

I put them on, wondering if SR would notice or remember. I know it’s highly unlikely that he would–but I’ll still wear them through the day. As a reminder to be grateful for what we have, something precious not in value, but for what it stands for.

 

 

On living a more thoughtful life

On living a more thoughtful life

I have been interested in a sustainable, cruelty-free lifestyle long enough for me to be convinced that it is more than a passing fad. What started as idle curiosity turned rapidly into horror when I came across articles/initiatives that exposed the atrocities that go on silently around us. One was a Yourstory expose on the nightmarish practices of the dairy farming in India. The other was the Freagle project that focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating beagles extensively used in laboratory testing and then euthanized.

Both of these were happening right here, in India. Not somewhere halfway around the world like the sweatshops of China or Bangladesh or the refugees in the middle-east. I think that, to me, was what whipped the rose-coloured glasses right off my face.

Experiments with veganism

My first reaction was to have an impassioned outburst on Facebook and decide to turn vegan by the end of this year. I even joined a couple of vegan groups, talked to vegans, and started researching vegan alternatives to dairy. Since I was an eggetarian to begin with, I thought this would be easy.

It wasn’t.

We stopped consuming all “non-essential” dairy products right away; non-essential to us meant all the products we could live without. This list included butter, ghee, cheese, paneer, khoya, and – we thought – milk. We stopped getting our usual packet of Nandini milk at once and tried to switch to green tea. However, even after a month, our caffeine cravings did not go away. We started cheating by having “just one coffee” at cafes or in the office cafeteria. Vegan alternatives to milk that were available locally or online were made of soy, peanuts, or almonds, but they were far too expensive for us to try on a regular basis.¬†In our hearts, we knew this was not a change we could hold onto.

But waking up to a milk-free, and therefore, coffee-less morning every day ensured that I was constantly reading more on the subject. The more I read, the more I realized that my problem was not fundamentally with consuming animal products or eating meat. Feeling sorry for eating an animal is the adult version of feeling sorry for the deer that’s pounced upon by the cheetah. But what about the cheetah? Nature designed it as a carnivore and this is its only way of sustenance. It’s how the food chain works.

So what really was disturbing me? I asked myself – if I had a cow in my backyard who I looked after lovingly every day, would it bother me to take her milk, whatever is left over after her calf feeds? The answer was no. Would it bother me if the cow belonged to someone else, who treated her right, took care of her, and did not use her as a milk machine? The answer, again, was no.

That is when I realized that the mass-production of dairy, meat, and other animal products and the evil machinery that such industries run on was what was really disturbing me. This was a turning point in my journey.

In pursuit of a cruelty-free life

My focus turned then to what constitutes cruelty and the definition that made most sense was this: preventing an animal from leading a life that is not as close as possible to what nature intended is cruelty. The deer, up until the moment the cheetah springs on her, has led a normal life in her natural habitat. A cow grazing freely on grass and nursing her young is leading a normal domesticated life, even if she is being milked.

I do not think that the entire world turning vegetarian is a sustainable – or even a necessary – option. (Here is why). Free range farming and quick, painless slaughtering seem to me perfectly acceptable solutions. The problem today is the shocking increase in the careless and cruel mass-production of meat because of increasing consumption.

When I was in school, my non-vegetarian friends used to bring fish or meat for lunch once or twice a week – it was a special treat, a little luxury, and of course, an extra dose of protein. In fact, I remember just one classmate, the son of a very famous and successful cardiologist, bringing chicken fry and parottas for lunch every day, rousing amazement and envy in the others.¬†Fast-forward to today, when meat consumption has become extremely high in India (the trends are less easy to spot in the West). I have deliberately referred to a 2013 article here so as to avoid any bias emanating from the recent ‘beef ban’ crisis.

Cruelty-free farming practices is a novel concept for most of the world, with only Australia, New Zealand, and UK having made any kind of progress on this front. I found Compassion In World Farming to be a very enlightening and balanced source of information and action on the subject. This is an organization that was founded in 1967 by Peter and Anna Roberts, British farmers who became disturbed by the increasing disconnect between modern farming practices and the well-being of farm animals. According to their website, this is their goal:

By working in partnership with inspirational supporters, progressive policy makers and visionary companies, we are mobilising a movement for far reaching change in our farming that can feed the world and will improve the quality of life for billions of farm animals worldwide.

It is one that I agree with and one which has spurred me to choose free range, cruelty-free products in my everyday life.

From cosmetics to household cleaning products, cruelty is built into practically every lifestyle product we use today. While I have not managed to replace all of these,  I am constantly researching alternatives. Here is a list I have compiled and which I will keep adding to as I experiment with and review products.

Milk Рwe have switched to buying Europaea free range, grass fed farm milk, available online on Amazon and Bigbasket, and offline at Foodhall, VR Mall. We also like the fact that it is associated with the sustainability farming program Origin Green and takes measures towards sustainable farming practices. As this is a product imported from Ireland, it costs Rs.115/litre as opposed to about Rs.40/litre for Nandini.

Some more alternatives that seem to be available in Bangalore and which I am planning to explore include:

  • Vrindavan milk – I like their principle of ahimsa milk. According to their FAQs section,

Our cows are treated with love and care. We don’t stress them to produce more milk. We also maintain our cows even after their milking years are over to avoid cow slaughtering.

  • Indus milk¬†– They again mention that their desi zebu cows are free-grazing and the calves are allowed to feed first before milking happens.
  • The Right Moo – Free-range cows, although foreign breeds, and fed on organic grass.

Cosmetics – Apart from a few expensive niche brands, most cosmetics brands available in India have parent companies that test on animals somewhere in the world. Don’t be fooled by their corporate websites that say they are “against animal testing” or “we do not test our products on animals”. This could mean – as it does in heart-breakingly large number of cases – that they buy animal test reports from other agencies (essentially outsourcing this bit) or test the individual ingredients (not the ‘products’) on animals.

Look for the leaping bunny logo on the products or an explicit disclaimer that they do not test on animals on the product label before you buy. Brands I rely on are:

  • Lotus herbals
  • Biotique
  • Cholayil pharmaceuticals¬†(Medimix and Cuticura are their most famous brands)
  • Himalaya
  • Vicco¬†(I swear by their toothpaste – I’ve been using it for years!)
  • Plum Goodness (I’ve been using their day/night creams for over a year and they are fantastic. Not only cruelty-free, but also free of SLEs, parabens, and the like).
  • Arvind Laboratories (good old Eyetex and Dazzler, which have been around for years. I wrote to their corporate office and they have written back confirming that neither their products nor the ingredients are tested on animals.)
  • A2Naturals.in has a whole host of home and personal care products that are not mass-produced, cruelty-free, but not vegan.

Floor cleaner: We switched to Gou Ganga about a year ago and have never looked at any other cleaner since. The product has a mild fragrance and cleans our balcony (where our dogs pee, let me add) like a breeze.

Washing powder  РI have switched to natural soap nuts for my washing machine instead of using detergents that not only maybe tested on animals but which are also harmful to the environment. I was initially skeptical about whether these would get rid of the used smell on the clothes and boy, they have worked wonders! Highly recommended as they are also very, very cheap.

For those who prefer powders, here are some alternatives I found (not tried):

Both these websites also have a wide range of personal, pet, and garden care products that are chemicals-free, sustainable, and cruelty-free. Please research each before buying as I have not tried out all of them. For a list of brands that DO test on animals, see here.

A vision for 2017

The more obvious choices were made easily РSR exchanged his leather wallet for this cool, washable, durable canvas one from Wildcraft. But there are so many more changes to be made, from dish wash soap to cleaning liquids and I hope that by the end of this year, we will be able to reduce our cruelty footprint to nothing.

Have you thought about these issues? I’d love to know – do comment below. ūüôā

 

 

In which we get away to a spot not too far away

In which we get away to a spot not too far away

It is usually halfway into Saturday that the urge to escape, get away to someplace quiet, grips SR and me. We spend hours looking for places, changing our plans every few minutes from night drive to trek to lazy holiday resort to an Airbnb with a view. In most cases, we end up not going anywhere at all.

Recently, we discovered that we have a getaway that’s right here. A place that few others seem to visit. A place with water and a lovely view.

Our swimming pool on the roof.

It’s been open for over six months but shamefully, we’ve started using it only now. With the rains starting a little earlier than expected, Bangalore weather has become balmy again during the day, even if for only a few hours. That is the time we get the key and go upstairs to the pool.

We’ve never yet encountered anyone else at these times, and since it’s on the roof, there is a beautiful view of the cityscape all around. And complete privacy. I can’t swim but I love playing in the water – floating, staying underwater longer and longer, and working out inside the water (it burns more calories and reduces the risk of muscle injury too.)

We’ve resolved to spend at least an hour every weekend in the pool and make the most of it while we’re here.

Stories By The Road

Stories By The Road

There was a time when I used to dread my daily commute to work. I felt it was a drain on my time, precious hours spent doing nothing. But somewhere along the way, I made my peace with it. After all, the choice to live in a metro does come with its own share of compromises.

But this morning,¬†after over 6 years of negotiating Bangalore’s crazy traffic morning and evening, I discovered that I actually enjoy my commute.

It is time I get to spend away from distractions, alone with myself.¬†Some days, I put down a to-do list.¬†On others, I think up ideas for work. But most of the time, I look around me – at the people, the places I pass through. I take the same route every single day and some sights are so familiar, my eyes glaze over them. But any little change, any sight unseen as yet, makes me sit up and think – why the brown and grey dog who sleeps in front of the mall isn’t there today, a new billboard that’s come up near the flyover, a dum biryani shop that’s not open at its usual time…

Looking out of the cab window, I remember RL Stevenson’s poem¬†From A Railway Carriage.¬†Though the element of speed is missing (again, namma¬†trafficku!) the similarities are not lost on me.

Here is a cart run away in the road

Lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river:

Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Looking out of the cab window feels like looking through a bioscope. I see fascinating snatches of the lives of strangers and trees, but never the full picture. And as the cab moves on, I am left to imagine the story so far and what could lie ahead.

A little boy with a large, oddly-shaped piece of thermocol board, possibly from the¬†packaging of a washing machine or TV, waiting to cross the road. He tries once, twice, falls back, hops on one foot in impatience. A man on a scooter slows down for him and he runs lithely across, and in one swift motion, hits his friend on the head with the thermocol piece. The friend spins around and I see that he has his own weapon in hand, a 2-litre soft drink PET bottle.¬†And there by the roadside wages a war so ferocious, the earth shakes under the heroes’ feet.

On the steps in front of an appliance repair shop lie the Four Musketeers. Four brown dogs so identical, they must be from the same litter. Every day, they lie in a row, each one’s head resting against the next one’s bum. Four little curled-up balls, sticking together against the world.

A married couple in their thirties quarreling loudly. She says something to him and tuns away. I cannot make out the words, but I gather that it is a variation on “Go to hell!” As she walks away, he runs after her, swings her around and kisses¬†her on the cheek.¬†She is confused, embarrassed, delighted, all at the same time. As he grins at her cheekily and walks away, she shouts after him. Once again, I can make out that the words say “Go to hell!”. But this time, they mean something else.

A tenement of makeshift houses with roofs made of tin and tarpaulin. Men, women, children, goats, and dogs live together happily, tripping over each other, shouting across the walkways raucously. The women squat by the roadside, washing their clothes and chatting. An old man sleeps on a wooden plank supported on granite planks. A dog is stretched out near him. A toddler wearing no underwear stands near the dog, knocking him on the head with a plastic bottle. For a second, I wonder if it’s¬†safe.¬†What if the dog is hurt and he hurts the child? Before I can decide, the toddler stops. And the dog sits up and extends his paw towards him, as if to say, “Hey, why did you stop! Let’s play!”¬†and I realize they are brothers.

A banyan¬†tree near a temple, its branches spreading luxuriously, benevolently across the road. A makeshift bench beneath it, on which sit two old men in white shirts and mundus. One of them has a towel around his forehead. The other wears a turban.¬†One of them has no teeth, his cheeks are sunken. The other is weatherbeaten, his cheeks reddish brown from¬†too much sun. One’s moustaches are long and drooping, framing his lips on either side. The other¬†chews paan constantly. They sit there next to each other in companionable silence, two of a kind from afar. I wonder when I grow old, how many banyan trees there will be left in Bangalore.

A man near a petty shop urging a black and white dog to eat the dozen biscuits he has put down in front of her. The dog is clearly not hungry Рshe wags her tail happily and sits there, staring up at him. In an injured tone, he complains to his companions about her lack of gratitude.

Life, so beautiful, so magical, teeming all around me. And I marvel at what I would have missed if not for my daily commute.

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. ūüėõ

#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.

 

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The Warm Fuzzy Feeling Of Compliments

The best compliments I’ve received have been¬†the most unexpected.

Remarks that tell me something I didn’t know about myself. Or those that I’ve got when I least expected it. Or from people whom I’d never have imagined would observe something like that.

It’s a strange and delightful experience, completely different from when you dress well and you know it and someone tells you you’re well-dressed. Or you make a particularly good speech¬†and people clap you on the back and say “Good show!” These don’t warm the cockles of the heart in the same way. Because compliments¬†(like so many human interactions) work on our need for external validation and acceptance.

Sometime last year, we had my husband’s nephew and niece from the US staying with us. This visit was particularly memorable because they were the right age (10 and 14) and we had many interesting conversations during their week-long stay. While making a list of married couples they knew, our niece A2 left out¬†SR and me. When asked why, she said dismissively, “Oh, you and SR¬†maama don’t count. You’re always chilling and having fun!”

Needless to say, SR and I were delighted.

*

“Tell me something you haven’t told me before” is a game that SR and I often play on long drives and quiet evenings at home. The response can be¬†anything from a compliment to a confession, a long-forgotten memory or¬†a funny story¬†– it just has to be something as yet untold.¬†Our theory is that as long as we don’t run out of things to tell each other, we’ll probably stay married.

The last time we played this game, SR¬†told me, “You are a true liberal.”

Divorce, fidelity, having and raising children, vegetarianism, animal welfare, environment protection, cruelty-free living, good writing, filial duties – the list of topics on which I have strong views¬†is fairly long. So this remark quite surprised me. ¬†I then went and checked the definition of ‘liberal’ and found this:¬†liberal-meaning

Quite flattering, I must admit. Ever since then, I’ve tried to live up to that description.

*

Personal hygiene has never been an obsession with me. Important, yes, but not something that dictates¬†my everyday life. For instance,¬†I strongly, strongly believe in¬†washing your¬†privates after every time you pee/poop. Similarly, my dad had¬†taught us to always wash our feet before going to bed (because Nala’s downfall was brought about by Kali who entered his system through his unwashed heel).¬†But I pet my dogs and frequently forget to¬†wash my hands before I eat. Or if I find a stray hair in my food, I don’t retch and run from the table, but pick it out as a matter of course and continue eating.

I’ve never considered myself particularly neat or kempt. That’s why it surprised me when a colleague said one day that I always smell very nice. “It’s not deo or perfume,” she said, “but you just smell nice all the time.”

That’s a line I hug to myself every time I feel a little under-confident about the way I look. I firmly tell myself, “Well, at least, you¬†smell¬†nice.”

*

An after-effect of this rumination is¬†that I am trying to do an Uncle Fred and spread sweetness and light with my compliments.¬†The way I see it, you’ve already observed/thought of something nice – then why not let them know? At worst, they will be embarrassed. But at best, you could make their day.

So this weekend when I was trying out various clothes (and discarding them regretfully because I seem to have graduated from¬†size L but¬†my ego doesn’t allow me to pick up XL), I came across a lady who was trying on a very pretty anarkali dress. Her husband was making all the right noises of encouragement, but she seemed rather doubtful.

I thought it fit her beautifully, but instead of walking right past like I would have, I stopped and told her so. “Really? You think so?” she asked me eagerly.

“It’s perfect,” I told her and strode¬†away grinning because the two of them looked so delighted. Shoppers Stop¬†owes me one.

Hmm, perhaps I should be a professional complimentist (not complimenter, because it sounds so urgh).

Gowri N Kishore. Specialist in honest compliments, guaranteed to delight.

I could work for stores, helping customers make up their minds; in support groups with people recovering from addictions, self-image issues and other emotional disturbances (pro bono, of course); even with PR firms, putting valued guests in a good mood.

Not a bad prospect, actually.