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 – she 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. 😛

#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.

Bringing up Buttons

Bringing up Buttons

I am a crazy dog lady, but have rarely felt able to talk about life as a pet parent. But a chat with a friend made me realize that what I have to say might actually be useful to other pet parents and perhaps even encourage someone to take that step and adopt a dog. So, here goes.

We have two dogs – Buttons (25 months old) and Scooby (17 months old); Both male; Both Indies; Both adorable, yet crazy in their own ways. Today’s post is about Buttons. I have written about him before – how he had been tied up in a garbage bag and dumped by the roadside, how he came to us when he was just 2 weeks old, how we foolishly gave him away a few months later, and the battles we had to fight to get him back again.

Life isn’t easy for first-time pet parents – I keep reading complaints about the poop and the pee and the chewing. But all of these are issues that can be solved with discipline and commitment. We have gone through all of these with Buttons and have come out more or less undamaged (not counting the number of cables, doormats, wall paint and  sofa armrests that have borne the brunt of his assault). However, there are bigger, longer lasting issues, the solution to which could just be a compromise or a change in lifestyle or our own attitude to the problem.

Buttons is different from any dog we’ve known (I’m saying this after accounting for any bias I would have as his mom). He is extremely crafty, not just clever, like dogs usually are – you can see the wheels turning in his head when he is considering his next move. He stalks like a wild animal – absolutely silent tread, fluid movements, alert to the tiniest of noises within a one-kilometre radius… As a handsome dog, he attracts attention wherever he goes and stories about him always elicit laughter and cries of “Aww”. But life with him is not all sunshine and roses.  SR and I have jokingly told each other that Buttons is a special needs child – but in my mind, I know this  is actually true.

The same things that make him such an interesting little fellow also make him very difficult to handle. Take for instance, his alert-dog nature. He is very good as a guard dog, but he is also a major barker. Anything from the sound of the BBMP garbage truck to footsteps in the corridor to a calling bell ringing in the next block will set him off on a volley of barks. Biggest and worst fear – the metallic clang of gas cylinders.

Most dogs are peaceful, if not friendly, by nature. Mine isn’t. He doesn’t like anyone approaching the house, be it a guest or a delivery boy. He is a ladies’ man – he loves my mom, SR’s mom, and a couple of my friends who have stayed over. But he doesn’t take too kindly to strange men. Our erstwhile cook of eight months kept trying to make friends with him, offering tidbits of paneer and roti and veggies. Sir Barkalot would coolly accept the offering and then start snarling at the poor man!

Another  thing about him is that he cannot be motivated or trained using food, treats, praise, or toys: these simply do not interest him. When he does something, he does it for the fun of it, because he wants to solve the puzzle or do the activity. His favourite game is Tug, but unfortunately, he takes it very, very seriously – if he loses, he will keep bringing his rope toy or Kong to us for another round; if you let him win just to end the game, he gets pissed off; so you have to keep playing till you tire out and lose the game for real.

Did I mention he hates walks? Yep, that’s right. Every time we bring the harness out, he runs and hides under a sofa. It’s only when we totally ignore him and put the harness on Scooby instead that he decides he would like a walk himself. Funnily enough, once he is out, he really enjoys exploring and sniffing around at the exciting smells in the parking lot. Hates the lift, especially the whoosh sound it makes as the doors close- so god forbid it pings on the floor he is on when he is in the corridor!

He gets bored if you give him the same food for more than 3-4 days, even if it’s chicken and rice, and would rather go hungry than eat boring stuff. Yet, he is extremely protective of his food and has to be left in a room by himself while he eats. You can touch his bowl only after he has walked away from it.

He loves us to bits. but doesn’t know how to show it by cuddling or licking or kissing like Scooby does. However, he will always lie down in the room that we are in, so that he can keep an eye on us. He is fiercely loyal and protective of me – if I am ill and don’t stir out of bed for a whole day, he stays by my side the whole time, not eating, not drinking. Yet, this is the same guy who’s bitten me thrice, because I couldn’t anticipate and handle his reaction the right way. (In case anyone’s wondering, we have taken help for his behaviour issues from the eminent Sindhoor Pangal and what I have described is the new and improved version of Buttons. Go figure!)

I just scrolled up and read everything I have written so far, and I realize I’ve made him sound like an absolute nightmare. That is as far from the truth as is possible.

To earn the love of a dog is very easy – but to earn the trust of a suspicious and fearful one is not. Despite the times of anger and frustration, we cannot imagine life without our boy. He means everything in the world. When he trots over and puts his head in our lap or licks our hand, when he hears something that worries him and presses close to us, when he runs into SR’s arms and asks to be picked up, when he climbs into bed and shares a pillow with me even for a few minutes…those are the precious moments that make it all worth it.

I dedicate this post to all the parents of special needs fur kids out there, who face rejection and struggles every day but love them just the same. Our world would be colourless without them.

A Random Act of Kindness

I was walking home from work. The evening traffic was heavy, vehicles rushing past raising dust, behind the wheels, people in a mad rush to get back home.

That is when I saw her, across the road, a tiny figure, slightly bewildered, trying to weave her way through the traffic, taking a few steps forward, then stepping back hurriedly as the cars rushed forward without slowing.

My heart in my throat, I watched her. I wanted to rush forward and pick her up in my arms, but that was just crazy. I’d have only scared her away. The very last thing I wanted to do.

Life as a street dog in India is not easy. Far from it actually. The dogs on our streets live on leftovers they dig up from garbage dumps. They are shooed away by everyone-street hawkers, pedestrians, policemen… Many are injured in hit-and-run accidents, which, if they survive, leave them disabled and even worse off than before…

She managed to cross the road and instinctively, came over to me, as though she had sensed my eyes on her. I bent down and patted her head. She was small, with droopy ears, the softest fur and warm, chocolate eyes. She must have been just over a year old, but her hanging teats betrayed the fact that she had already had puppies. Luckily, she had been spayed afterwards, something I could make out from the tell-tale notch on her ear.

She stood there quietly, letting me stroke her head and tickle her ears. When I took my hand away for an instant, she looked up at once, and I could tell she was hungry. I searched my bag for biscuits or anything else to eat, but found nothing. There were only a few hardware stores nearby and I would have to walk a little ahead to buy her biscuits.

“Come baby…” I told her, and tried to get her to walk with me. But she didn’t want to. Sensing that I had nothing on hand, she started to walk away.

I didn’t want to send her away without getting her something, anything, to eat. But I could think of nothing. In desperation, just to keep her by my side a little longer, I started petting her again, and she stopped. But I could sense her getting impatient.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”
I turned around. It was one of my colleagues, whom I knew, lived in the area. I heaved a sigh of relief.

“Ankur, I want to feed this girl, but if I leave her here to go get something, she will run away. Can you go and get me some biscuits while I hold her here? I think there’s a store down the street.”

“Sure,” he said and walked off.
To my surprise, he came back just a minute later, a stranger with him. The man walked to me and said “You wanted biscuits, right? Here you go” and handed me a packet of biscuits.

“Thanks!” I tore the packet open and started feeding an excited Boo Boo (as I had mentally named her) She ate the entire packet while I spoke to Ankur about how he could help street dogs just by putting out water, feeding them a few times a week, and by just stopping and helping if he ever saw a dog in distress.

When Boo Boo was done, she licked my hand gratefully and walked away. We watched her go, hoping fervently that she would be alright. Please be okay, I whispered in my head.

Happy. Healthy. Safe.
That’s my mantra. That’s what I wish for, for every street dog I meet.

“Please thank your friend,” I told Ankur as we said goodbye.

“My friend?”

“Yes, the guy who got us those biscuits… wait, isn’t he your friend?”

“No! I thought he was someone you knew!” Ankur said, surprised.

We were speechless.
Who was that Good Samaritan who had appeared in the nick of time with a packet of glucose biscuits? Had he bought it to feed her himself? Or had he just sized up the situation and acted? I don’t know.

This happened a few weeks ago. Since then, I see Boo Boo regularly and we have even fed her a couple of times. But to this day, I don’t know that man was. In fact, I don’t even remember his face.

But that day, when I went home, I felt that the world wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps there were more people like him, people who would lay out an old gunny bag for a street dog to sleep on or put out a bowl of water for the birds or rescue a puppy from a gutter.

May their tribe increase.

Happiness is…

I was just talking to my brother on the phone. “I am feeling really happy today, da,” I told him, “Because I got so much work done. Not office stuff, but a lot of things I’d been meaning to do around the house.” I was taken aback by his response.

“You’re turning into Amma!”

“Wha-?”

“Yes. For me, a good day is a day spent doing nothing. But for her, a good day is one that is productive.” he chuckled.

That got me thinking. Am I really turning into my mother? At one time, many years ago, such a thought would have disturbed me. But today, it doesn’t. I am a little surprised, a little bemused, and a little glad. Amma is a very smart, disciplined woman, who gets a ton of things done with hardly any fuss, and if any of her prowess has rubbed off on me, I am just grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was complaining to her about all the things that I needed to get done, she listened sympathetically at first. But then said, “Look,  none of these things are going to happen on their own… you need to get up and do them.” 

Today, I had a heavy brunch today and lazed around watching TV till about 4.30. While watching Sex and the City II for the twelfth time, I started thinking. “It’s already 4.30pm. We haven’t done anything much since morning. In a couple of hours, it will be dark. We will start talking about what to do for dinner, and eventually eat something. And then, the day would be over. A holiday wasted. Tomorrow, I will wake up just in time for the puja eduppu, and rush to office regretting all these wasted hours…”

This train of thought was making me feel depressed already!

That’s when I remembered what Amma had said. If I didn’t get up that instant and start doing the stuff I wanted to do, then all my gloomy predictions would come true, and I would have nobody else to blame. Without over-analyzing things, I got off my ass and started.

As of 12 midnight, I have managed to do the following, with a bit of help from SR:

  1. Vacuum the entire house
  2. Do a load of laundry, fold the dry clothes and put them back in the wardrobe
  3. Scrub and clean the kitchen counter tops and stove
  4. Clean both bathrooms, including the wash basins and toilet bowls
  5. Clean window sills, the top of my fridge and cupboards, and other nooks I tend to miss during my regular cleaning rounds
  6. Declutter our study table and TV stand, which were groaning under the weight of bills, cables, magazines, and a ton of unwanted things
  7. Sort and clear out the plastic covers we have at home
  8. hange the bed linen in the guest bedroom
  9. Take Butto for a longish walk
  10. Order groceries and veggies for the next 2 weeks

And now, I have managed to blog about everything I accomplished while listening to Kishore da.

Just reading this list makes me feel absurdly pleased. On another day, when I am feeling lethargic, I’d like to read this post again and feel motivated to get up and act.

Happiness is…

Source; Chris Piascik @ chrispiascik.com