12 December 2007

Ten things

Ten things in the next decade?? In all her infinite wisdom, Madhu saw in me the prefect scapegoat. One who plans her life ten minutes at a time, had to make out a ten year plan. That somehow didn't seem very fair. Even people who are paid to plan stuff are given a reasonable five year framework. Ten years?? That seems so far away. Ten years ago I was in University,and looking back, the last ten years weren't exactly the stuff pipe dreams were made of. So are the next ten going to be based on pipe dreams too?? I hope not.

Theoritically, I want to travel far and wide, and see the world. I want to see Angkor Wat, I want to hike along the Great Wall of China, drive along the Silk Route, ponder about lost civilizations under the monoliths at Easter Island, contemplate evolution on the Galapagos Islands, go to the far north and watch the Aurora Borealis. I want to make journeys on famous trains. I'd love to travel from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express (hopefully without any fellow traveller getting done in during the trip), maybe cross the tundra on the Trans-Siberian railway... Somehow, I don't see these happening. With two toddlers in hand, and their supplies in tow, I'll settle for seeing Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, Sapporo and Hiroshima before I leave Japan! And perhaps on one of our trips to India, go to Hampi and see the ruins of the old Vijayanagara empire.

And while I'm at it, requalify and get a job to finance my travel plans. And since we're on the subject of requalifying, I plan to renew my HAM radio license sometime. Goodness, I've to study electronics again.

Did I mention my toddlers? I want to be a better mother to them and learn a lot more patience. I don't want to smile in sympathy and kinship next time I see another mother lose it completely when her kids have torn her nerves to shreds. And while I'm at it, maybe I'll be more patient with the other half of the equation when he's totally glued to a cricket match and refuses to even acknowledge my existance.

I want to make our home television free over the next decade. After two years with no telly, I think we're actually being a family and not beings idiots glued to the idiot box.

I HAVE to get in shape. Round is a shape too. Once I can find a babysitter for the little one, I want to devote a few hours a week to getting fit. I may not fit into the old jeans from college days, but I do want to drop a couple of sizes. Quite a few sizes.

I want to get me and my family more eco freindly and try to leave a smaller carbon footprint on the sands of time. Maybe my kids will pick up my eccentric genes and go in for causes like animal rights.

In the next decade, I'd like to learn 2 more languages. And maybe pass a few exams for Japanese.

I want to do something worthwhile with my life. I have a couple of causes in mind and want to work on them. But that might have to wait till my kids are older.

I want to convince the other half of the equation that we HAVE to get a pet.

And very paradoxically, I want to want less. Somewhere down the line I'd like to say I have no wants.

And very soon, sooner than a decade of course, I'd like to see what plans Golly, Denti, Axe and Namrata have for the next ten years of their lives.

21 November 2007

Hot Couture

It was time to go. I opened my closet, put on a sweater, fleece jacket, down coat, thick socks and put my boots out. Then it was the little one's turn. She was bundled up in a fleece layer, and then in a snowsuit. To that I added mitts, hat and extra socks. Finally, I put on a hat, scarf and my boots. Then the little one and I went down the stairs, towards the street to wait for the bus. The bus was exactly 2 minutes late.

As soon as the bus stopped, out jumped the older one, and we all ran back, up the stairs and into the house. And stood near the heater getting warm again, trying to bring sensation back into our frozen extremities.

And peel off and put away all those extra layers. This is the downside of winter. Out here, the wind blows in directly from Siberia (well almost), and every second the schoolbus is late, we're that much closer to becoming human popsicles. Today, I timed myself. I need 20 minutes to get myself and the baby dressed, to go downstairs for a minute or two, get the older one, and then 10 minutes to peel off and put away all the extra layers once indoors. And winter's just about getting started.

Winter ia a bit of a paradox. I hate having to wear layers and layers before it's safe to step outdoors. But then again, with all those layers, it's difficult to say where the blubber ends and the coat starts. Dull skies, and zero visibility are rather demotivating. And that weather is just perfect for a hot masala chai and bondas.

As I watch people amble past, I see a couple of gentlemen muffled very sensibly against the cold. And then one sees things that can chill one's blood. I see a woman walk nonchalantly by, wearing a MINISKIRT!!!! Brrrr.... just the thought of seeing one in this weather makes me shiver. All the way down from my outer jacket to inner coat to sweaters and thermals.

What is the Japanese woman's secret?? What is that keeps her warm in a miniskirt, while my smile freezes in place? Is it green tea? Is it something in their diet? Is it raw fish? Is it whale meat? Maybe whale blubber does provide insulation. Who ever heard of a whale dying of cold? (I somehow don't see that as a valid reason for whaling.)

Ah well, the bright side is that shorts and tee-shirts are just about 7 months away. Here's looking forward to getting dressed in lesser time. And then of course I'll probably start to crib about the heat and humdity. And Japanese women will walk around in mini(er)skirts.

Maybe they're too lazy to shop every time the seasons change. Maybe they are immune to the weather.

19 November 2007

All about Fall

Last year, I didn't get out all much during fall, and missed out on it all. This year, I was determined to see it all, and dragged the poor husband (PH) all around town, over hill and dale, so I could catch a glimpse of the prettiest places to view the autumn leaves.




Fall was lovely. We drove up Mt. Zao and saw the crater lake atop the mountain. We drove across Gassan, that great mountain that marks the boundaries of the Shonai valley. We drove down the Mogami river and around the gorge.

I simply loved the feiry orange, bright yellows and brilliant reds. I never tired of seeing shades of yellow, red and orange all over the place. Each time I saw the pretty colours, I had to stop and take pictures, much the PH's exasperation.

I'd not quite had my fill of the colours of the season.

I woke up this morning and saw.....




Fall is definitely over.

Out damn'd coat, out I say! Yet who would have thought the snow to have had so much cold in it?
(Did the dear departed bard roll over in his grave?)

09 November 2007

Multinational fast food franchises and mental defectives

You may accused me of being really annoyed or completely pissed off, and you wouldn't be far off the mark. Today I made a really stupid decision. Sometimes I never learn. I didn't feel like cooking, so I convinced the other half that we should get a pizza for dinner. Every time we decide on pizza, we run into a familiar argument. I love the pizza joint a few doors down the road, but OH swears by the merits of a multinational franchise (whose local outlet looks nothing like a rustic shack).

Then we got into our Abbot and Costello routine of who goes in to order. I lost that argument, went in, ordered our dinner, and almost ran out screaming in madness. Why, you ask? You shall be told.

I have this bad feeling that this place is either staffed by mental defectives, or they get very flustered when invaded by aliens. Or foreigners. And in I went into that pool of frothing insanity.

Multinational Pizza Franchise Sales Thing: Konichiwa, How may I help you?
Me: "One large cheese pizza please"
MPFST: "What kind of crust would you like?"
Me:"Pan"
MPFST: "And would you like anything to go with that?"
Me: "No thank you, that will be all."

And MPFST starts to ring up the order. And then starts the fun.

MPFST: "I'm sorry we're all out of pan crust in size L."
Me: " Alright, then let me have 2 of size M"
MPFST: "Both pan crusts?"

For some reason, I have this ridiculous tendency to make the same goofs over and over again. Somewhere deep down I believe that each time I go to get a multinational rustic house pizza, the staff would not exasperate me with their limited IQ. And instead of asking for 2 identical pizzas, I get creative.

Me: "One pan and one thin crust please."
MPFST: "Would you like any toppings?"

Toppings? That was a new one. Never in a year and a half were we asked if we wanted extra toppings. And I asked MPFST to read out the list of toppings. As the thing read out the list, I selected a few toppings.

MPFST: "So that'll be one ham and pepper pizza, pan crust, and one one bacon and mushroom pizza with a thin crust"
Me: "What?? No no... I want pepper as an extra topping on one pizza, and mushroom on the other."
MPFST very helpfully showed me the menu. And pointed out that they had a ham and pepper pizza and another pizza had a bacon and mushroom topping.

Me: "Never mind, just give me your regular cheese pizza."
MPFST: "You want only cheese on your pizza and want us to remove all the toppings?"
Me: "God give me the will power to desist from throttling this thing... Cancel my order please"

Me: "Let's start again. Give me 2 medium cheese pizzas, as they are on the menu, one with a pan and one with a thin crust. Please?"
MPFST: "Your order will be ready in twenty minutes."

That was rather painful. And then we got down to the brass tacks of the monetary exchange. She told me I what to pay, I paid her and then the worst part of the evening came up.

MPFST: "Here's your change. 6,200 yen."

I looked at my change. There were the exact number of coins, but just a 5,000 yen note. I gently pointed that out to MPFST.

Me: "My change is 6,000 yen right?"
MPFST: "Yes"
Me: "Er... you need to give me 6,000 yen."
MPFST: "Yes"
Me: "Er... there's just 5,000 yen here"
MPFST: "Yes"
Me: "And you owe me 6,000 yen"
MPFST: "Yes"
Me: "Please, God, don't let me lose it completely. Please don't let me throttle this life form that's bowing and smiling at me... "
Me: "Let's start again. You owe me 6,000 yen, and there's only 5,000 yen there"
MPFST: "Yes"
Me "Excuse me please, there has to be 6,000 there, and there's only 5,000 there. Please see if the figure on your cash register is the same as the amount that you're giving back to me?"
MPFST: "Yes"

And thankfully for my sanity checked the bill, checked what she was handing to me, and finally..

MPFST: "There should be another 1,000 here, right??"

Hallelujah, Glory be, Ishwaro rakshatu... and more on the same vein.

I finally walk back to where the OH and kids are waiting.

OH: "Why did it take you so long? How difficult is it to order pizza? You should have been out of there ages ago! What on earth were you doing?"

I wonder how Lorena Bobbit would have responded to that...

16 October 2007

Precious gifts

She looked at me with barely supressed tears in her eyes.

We were both, at that moment, looking at a gift she had given me six months ago. I could see that she could barely control her tears at just how much I'd cherished her lovely gift.

The day I turned 21 (and let's not go into just how long ago that was), my neighbour came over with a gift. She gave me a plant. A lovely little plant, in a decorative pot. She asked that I cherish it, and that it was a gift from her and her family.

I talked things over with the old man who helped around the garden at home. He said that the little plant wasn't too healthy, somewhat sparse and scrawny, and that it would need a lot of care and nourishment. I took it up as a challenge. I watered it everyday, manured it as per the old gardener's instructions, kept it in a nice part of the garden where it would get lots of light and air.

In six months it was three times as large. It was lush and healthy, but the old gardener and I thought that the leaves weren't growing very well. I bowed to the old man's judgement when he said it was probably a 'fancy hybrid', which was why the leaves weren't growing as well as they should.

In the meantime, the family next door had moved away to another neighbourhood, and contact was limited to the sporadic phone calls. Until the day the lady of the house happened to drive by her old home, and dropped in for a visit. We were catching up on all neighbourhood news, and I was waiting to show her just how much I'd cared for her gift.

I told her that I had a surprise and would she follow me outside, please?

I lead her to that sunny nook in the garden and told her to look. She was a little puzzled as she looked around trying to figure out what it was that she was that I wanted her to see.

Then it happened. I saw the light of recognition in her eyes. She remembered that really pretty terracotta pot. And then her eyes brimmed with tears. Her little plant was thrice as large as it had been six months ago, and had way more foliage.

She turned to me and said, "You know, I worked 10 years on that little plant before I gave it to you." Wow! That was really something, and in three months, I outdid what she'd achieved in ten years.

Then very gently, trying her best not to cry, she said, "Maybe I should've mentioned that it was a bonsai."

Startling revelations

You never know everything about anyone. Sad but true.

Last week, in a random conversation with my cousin Pt, the significant other made some rather startling revelations. Something that I never knew.

SO, Pt and I were discussing movies. Pt mentioned that she was a fan of Hayao Miyazaki. "Miya-something, who?" went SO. I very gently prompted him, "The guy who created 'Totoro'." After an awkward pause, he went, "Totoro, who?"

Pt and I stared. "My Neighbour Totoro? Tonari no Totoro? The animation film?"

Blank looks again. "Spirited Away??"

"Never heard of it." says SO, looking at me like I'm from another planet.

In his defense, he never knew until a couple of years ago, that the Little mermaid was not a happy story, unlike the way Disney told the tale. I'm married to the only person in Japan who doesn't know Totoro. And I plan to rectify that soon.

And before you jump to conclusions, he can unfold a protein better than anyone else. So there.

13 October 2007

Mission: Accomplished

It was a quiet afternoon. As I approached, kids in tow, I saw an elderly lady doing it. She was smooth, really smooth. She did it in one smooth move, no glitches.

I watched in awe. She must have been in her late sixties. And she didn't hesitate the way I would. She seemed to function on autopilot. This was bad. Why did I hesitate to grab the bull by the horns? What did I have to lose after all? (That, my dear readers, is a purely rhetorical question)

I furtively scanned the place. I was here well ahead of time, and the place was empty. I had a good five minute to go before there would be any witnesses to my attempt. Not that there was anything wrong with witnesses, but I didn't want anyone watching me do this. Not the first time at least.

I had my kids to think of. They were both with me, and the older one is at a very observant phase of life. What would she think if I was very obvious in what I was trying? Even worse, what if I failed?

'No,' I said to myself, 'I have to do this. It's now or never.'

With one last look around to ensure there were no witnesses I went to a relatively isolated area. I took a deep breath. I took the plunge.

I looked around. And I had done it. Flawlessly.

I called the better half.

BH: Hello.
Me: I did it! I finally did it!
BH: (slightly slow on the uptake) Huh? What?
Me: Take a guess. Take three guesses.
BH: (sounding distinctly worried) Do I want to know?
Me: I reverse parked. I reversed into a parking slot without mishaps. Perfectly in line.
BH: Cool!!!!!! Good work.
Me: Of course, there were no cars two lots on either side of where I parked. And three lots in the row in the front were empty too.

That's what baby steps are all about. One thing at a time. One small thing at a time.

And it's also the first time that I backed into a lot without hitting something.
I'm so proud of me!

A minor footnote.
I've only made two attempts before this. The first time I reverse parked, the car had a casual fling with a wall. Lots of hurt feelings as the wall didn't really seem to care that it hurt my poor car. The other time was when a really rude concrete pillar got in the way and refused to apologize.

03 October 2007

Lock?? I spit me of locking

I'm all for 'technology-for-all'.

These guys simply rock.

I salute their spirit.

28 September 2007

Pain in the... er...

Small things make me happy. One recent happy thing is that I found a pediatrician who understands English. Yippee. When we first got here, we found a very sweet English speaking pediatrician, but seh retired a few months ago, leaving us in the lurch. Looking for another one wasn't that easy. The list of doctors I had didn't have a single one who spoke or understood English.

One just can't afford to have a communication gap with a doctor. When we first got to Japan, it was cold. Very cold. At least we were. The temperature differerence between Singapore and Tsuruoka was some 30°C. To say that we were freezing would be an understatement. And every trip out of the guest house to get essentials like milk and bread would lead to major discussions on who's turn it was to brave the elements.

And wouldn't you believe it, I developed a rash. In... er... a very sensitive part of my anatomy. And in keeping with Murphy's laws, I picked a long weekend to come down with this. The offices were closed, our liaison was out of town and we were totally on our own. So first thing we did was look up the dictionary. We didn't find a word for rash. So we looked up 'boil' only to find that the dictionary only had listings for the verb, and not the noun. In desperation we ran down the list of words we thought we could use. So we finally got the Japanese words for skin, wound (yes, that's as close as a pocket dictionary lets you get), pain and medicine. Off went the better half, the little one, and yours truly to .... (fanfare please) the ER.

First thing we had to call a cab. Fortunately we could recite the address of the guest house, so we rattled it off, and a cab was soon there. Then we looked up hospital in the dictionary and told the driver where we needed to go. And got to the hospital, and the ER. That was the first battle won.

At ER there were forms miles long with pretty and not so pretty squiggles. So we kept saying "English" until someone managed to get us a form in English. We filled that out, and waited.. and crossed our fingers, toes, eyes... anything crossable. After waiting interminably for someone to acknowledge us, a nurse came up, took my blood pressure, and started talking to me. Actually she was talking AT me. A ten day crash course in Japanese had nowhere near prepared me for this. Once she was done, she bowed and waited. We stared at each other and said the one word that we knew for sure, "wakarimasen (I don't understand).

A and I looked at each other. Well, we thought, let's try telling her what the problem is. So we fired off all the words we'd memorized and gave her a very triumphant smile. And she looked totally blank. Then it hit us that there was this probability that she had no clue what we'd just said.

I mined writing. She smiled, and came back with a paper and pen. And then I drew out (what looked to me like) a human body, much to her amazement. I'll be darned if that didn't look more like the chalk outline from a homicide investigation. Sometimes, I wonder if she thought I'd knocked someone off. I pointed to that drawing and to then pointed to myself. And marked the spot with an "X". By this time she was trying desperately hard not to laugh.

And then, slowly, there was this growing crowd around me while I tried to explain what was wrong. And I had a suspicion that the nursing staff was trying desperately hard not to giggle. With mimes, drawings I think I managed to communicate what was wrong with me. And finally got to see a doctor... who didn't speak English.

After an examination, the doctor asked me to wait outside. Then he handed me a slip of paper with the words "Please Wait" painstakingly written on it. And wait I did for another hour. By this time I was starting to suspect the worst. Anyone who's watched lots of (desi) movies knows that if a doctor isn't talking to you, then something is seriously wrong. My imagination was on overdrive.

Finally my problems seemed that much closer to a solution. The staff at the ER had decided to page an English speaking doctor, get him to come to the hospital and see what was wrong. And finally, without resorting to any playacting or drawing, I spoke to someone who understood exactly what I said, who very reassuringly spoke to me in English, assured me that all was ok, and gave me a prescription. And thankfully didn't call the cops about a chalk outline.

One good thing came out of all this. The two of us started taking our Japanese lessons VERY seriously. After all, when in Rome..... know how to say that you have a whatever in your wherever.

25 September 2007

Thoughts on driving

I never realized that following the letter of the law exactly can drive my spouse nuts. All I need to do is get behind the wheel of our car.

When the speed limit says 30kmph, I do 30kmph. This is small town Japan after all. Little kids can run away when they see a car speeding towards them, but the sweet old lady of 99 doesn't stand a chance. So 30 it is.

Drive on an express highway at exactly the speed limit. So what if all other cars seem to be ignoring the speed limit.

Refuse to overtake the car in front of me. (The speed limit is 70kmph, I'm driving at 70kmph, the guy in front seems to be doing 70kmph, why should I follow the really bad example set by these dudes who are speeding?) Overtaking also means changing lanes. Too much trouble.

What is it about an European make of car that tends to let the nut behind the wheel delude himself into thinking he's Schumacher-ka-baap? Don't these prix realize there's no grand prize for being a pain?

Being first in line at the traffic light on a narrow road AND waiting to turn right. Too much pressure there. Japanese courtesy guarantees that no one's going to honk you out of your mind, but still... there's pressure.

I'd prefer to drive halfway around a parking lot, but I refuse to back up and park, or pull into a one-car space if I can avoid it. I need room. More room, less margin for errors.

Valet parking generates employment.

23 September 2007

Reading Katakana

Katakana... sometimes a boon, sometimes a bane.

It's a boon when we see something written in Katakana. First of all, we can read what's written. Since chances of it being an English word are reasonably decent, there is a chance that we can not only read, but also understand what is written.

The painful part is to decipher it. Easiest way is to read it aloud, repeat it a few times, now add the thick accent of a Japanese person saying an English (sounding) word, and chances are (50-50) that you'll get it. Some of the more common words written in Katakana are ra-ji-o (radio), oo-i-su-ki (whisky) and do-a (door). Some are uniquely abbreviated in a Japanese style like te-re-bi (television) or ra-ji-ka-se (radio-casette player). Some need more than a few repetitions to get right ke-ki (cake), ku-tsu-ki (cookie) or mi-ru-ku (milk).

The bane of Katakana is to read names written so. Ku-ri-shi-yu-na-n is fairly straightforward. But I raised a racket at the hospital when they gave me the medical report of someone called Ooideiya. No jokes there. That's how my name's written in the Latin alphabet. This is after getting totally massacred by entering it the hospital computers in Katakana. After a few of Aditi's teachers struggled with reading my name, they now call me Aditi-chan-no-mama (the mother of little Aditi). And there my poor mother thought she was doing me a favour by giving me (what she thought was) a short and sweet name.

The real fun starts with movie titles. We want to watch a movie today. And I open the local cinema's online listing, and start to decipher. The first thing to do is eliminate all movie titles written in totally in Kanji or Hiragana. If it's part Kanji part Katakana, I'd read the Katakana bit before discarding it as a potential choice.

Once I start reading the Katakana, I repeat the word aloud a few times to see if it sounds meaningful in English. One of the movies playing today is ハリー ポッターと不死鳥の騎士団. The Katakana part reads Ha-Ree-Po-Tsu-Ta. Say that a few times, and you realise that it sounds like 'Harry Potter' spoken in a thick Japanese accent. And Harry Potter it is. The Kanji part reads "With horseman group of immortal bird". I am not making this up. Copy and paste that into Babel Fish, and see for yourself.

Well, we've watched Harry Potter. So what else is playing, asks A? There's to-ra-n-su-fu-o-ma. Say it aloud. Read it out a few times. Sounds like 'Transformer', doesn't it? Yes, that's the listing for Transformers. And there's fu-a-n-ta-su-te-i-tsu-ku-fu-o, mi-su-po-ta and also ra-tsu-shi-yu-a-va-3.

The last one is fairly easy. Think back on on the sequels and trilogies all this year, and it's not too hard to read that as Rush Hour 3. A is not too keen on watching what he calls 'boring movies' like Miss Potter.

Anyone wants to guess what movie we've finally decided to watch??

21 September 2007

The phone rings (a true story)

0945 hours
First I swear a bit. What miserable life form would pick this time to call?? Just when I've sung lullabies and rocked the little one to sleep so I can get on with my day. Ah well, c'est la vie.

"Hello?" In Japan, if one answers hello, the calling party knows at once it's a foreigner. And more often than not, apologises and hangs up.
"Moshi moshi, a good day to you and all that. May I speak to Mr. Sato?"
"Sorry lady, but there's no Mr. Sato here."
"Is this the number .........?" and she rattles off my phone number.
"Well, that is the number, alright, but this is Mr. Krishnan's residence."
"That's alright, may I speak to Mr. Sato?"
"Lady, there is no Sato here, please check your records, this is not the number for Mr. Sato."
Some apologies. And she hangs up.

Keep in mind that these conversations are happening in rapid Japanese spoken at 2000 words per minute, and poor old moi responding at about 3 words a minute. And of course, everytime she pauses for breath, I ask her to repeat whatever she just said ever so slowly. And is smaller sentences, in easier words.

1005 hours
There goes the phone again.
Avani howls.
"Hello?"
"Moshi moshi, good morning and all that. It's me, that-ever-so-slightly-obstinate-person calling from your phone company. May I speak to Mr. Sato?"
For the love of God, "There's no one here who goes by the name of Mr. Sato. Could you please check your records?"
"But this is the number I have for Mr. Sato!"
"There is no Mr. Sato here. This is the residence of Mr. Krishnan."
After another flurry of apologies she hangs up again.

1030 hours
"Hello?"
"Moshi moshi, good morning and all that. Could I speak to Mr. Sato?"
I'd hoped against hope that the this lady would have acquired a modicum of common sense and figured out their records were wrong. I admire tenacity, but this is ridiculous. So I go,
"Could you please write down this name in the Romaji script?"
"Yes, of course. Could you spell it out for me?"
"K-R-I-S-H-N-A-N. Did you get that? Would you like me to repeat it?"
"No that's all right. Ku-ri-shu-nan. Is that right?"
"Perfectly right. This is the home of Mr. Krishnan. There is NO Mr. Sato here."
Phew... I think this ordeal is almost over. I thank too soon.
"Thank you so much. May I speak to Mr. Krishnan?"
"He's at work."
"May I speak to his wife?"
Who the &*%@ did she think was talking to her all this time??
"This is she."
"I want to speak to Mr. Sato."
After living in Japan for over a year, much as I try to emulate the exquisite Japanese courtesy, sometimes I lose my tenuous grip on my temper.
"THERE IS NO MR. SATO HERE? Can't you understand me?"
"Is this telephone number ..........?"
"Yes, this is that same telephone number. THERE IS NO ONE CALLED SATO IN THIS HOUSE."
"But this is the number I have for Mr. Sato."
I hang up.

And the phone rings again.
It's HER. I don't believe it. She's been sent by demons to torture me and not let my little one sleep.
My grip on civility is totally gone now. If she can be a pain, I can outdo her anytime.

I did what I should have done in the first place. I refused to speak any Japanese, or English. I spoke in Tamil, threw in some Hindi for good measure.

This time she hung up first.

And I took the phone off the hook.

And Mr. Sato, whoever you are, the phone company is trying to reach you desperately!
And you deserve to have your phone cut off and telephone services denied to you for the rest of your life.

Of facts and fiction

I love reading Perry Mason books. Earl Stanley Gardner's suave debonair lawyer is the cat's whiskers.

Half the time he has no case, keeps flummoxing the DA, untangles legal messes with the ease of a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat... I mean, it's all so unbelievably cool. Each time Perry Mason says, "Objection, your Honor. Objected to as incompetent, immaterial and irrelevant," I want to cheer.

Then there's movies.

"Milaad, Tazeerat-e-Hind dafa 302 ke tahat mulzim ko saza-e-maut diya jaaye."
For one thing that gives you an indication of just how many movies I might've watched.

You can almost picture (the usual suspects like) Sriram Lagoo, looking like a legal stalwart, standing there is those frumpy barrister robes and trying to look triumphant, smug and indignant at the same time.

That's somehow how I pictured court proceedings would run in real life. What do I know?

My best friend's wife is a lawyer, and on our last trip back home, A and I asked her whether people said all that in court. She gave us a look that almost said, 'Are you for real?' And proceeded to regale us with tales of what took place in the courts. In Bangalore at least.

Chaos reigns supreme. Prosecuting lawyer puts forth an argument. And (I quote exactly what she said, verbatim) "En saar... eneno helthare" (transliterates, Saar, what the heck is he saying?)

Whatever happened to "Objection, milaad!"

A stared. I stared too. Does nobody say Milaad anymore?? Doesn't the judge use his hammer to restore order in court? Has the motion picture industry lied to me all these years? I object.

Objection overruled.
Pardon me while I read some Perry Mason and restore some lost faith.

20 September 2007

The wheel weaves as the wheel wills

I spent 10 days in hospital, when the little one was born, and used that time to read the entire Wheel of Time series, from The Eye of the World to Knife of dreams.

And finally got the one gazillion twenty seven thousand four hundred and forty characters straight. Well, not really. But it does seem like that considering that I started reading the Wheel of Time series somewhere in college (yes, that long ago). Chronologically, I read the first 8 books over a decade ago, and the next three as they were released. And it's very understandable how easily one can loose the thread of the tale.

When the little one was born, I decided that that was the best time to catch up on all those eleven tomes, and make sense of it all. In an uninterrupted continuous session like that, I did manage to get the story straight, and all the different threads untangled.

And I waited for the final book of the series with a sigh of relief. I now knew exactly who was who, what was what character's point or problem in life.

And now I hear that the thread has been cut and the Creator has been woven out of the pattern.

RIP

17 September 2007

Of art and math; move over Leonardo

An acquaintance of ours, Mrs. Y, has been asking me for a while to conduct an "Understand India" session at one of the various organizations she's a patron of. Understand India? It sounded too broad a brief, and I agreed, without a single clue what I was going to do or talk about. My abysmal Japanese notwithstanding.

Once I was given the brief it didn't sound that bad. "Think of a typically Indian activity for kids, that is typically Indian." All right. That didn't sound too bad. But as D-day loomed, I hadn't thought of a single thing that was "typically Indian". Then I realised, that I'd comitted to this session on the same date Ganesha chaturthi, and inspired by that, I said I'd show kids about Rangoli. That was quite safe. No one in Tsuruoka, other than me of course, can tell good rangoli from a totally mediocre one. And it was as typically Indian as something I could think of. So I shot off an email to Mrs. Y about what I was planning to do, links to some sites about Rangoli, and some rangoli designs, and said that all I'd need was coloured chalk, and some rice flour or chalk powder.
My plan of action was very simple. Demonstrate a podi-rangoli, give the kids some patterns, let them draw some with chalk, and we wind up. I totally underestimated the center director, Ms J.

Come D-day, I drove to the center, and was welcomed by a bunch of totally enthusiastic kids. And Ms J was all smiles, and said that she'd organised everything needed for rangoli. Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside, and saw bags and bags of colours. No jokes, there were a dozen hues of coloured powder there. I was stumped. How??


I'd not counted on Ms J's utter resourcefulness. She did her own R and D about rangoli, and was wondering what could be used since traditional colours were not available in Japan. Apparently she was taking a walk by the beach when inspiration struck. She took half a dozen kids and seives to the beach, sifted a few bags of sand, and dyed them with printer ink. And these are wonderful colours she came up with. I was, and still am, amazed at her solution.
I showed the kids how to mark dots, a couple of samples, and once they coloured those, they went on to design, draw and decorate their own creations.













The kids all seemed to be having the time of their lives. And after a bit, the supervisors jumped in too. And the entire driveway was a riot of colour.






















Some kids started drawing rockets, etc. They gave free reign to their imagination, and kept drawing masterpiece after masterpiece.

But it wasn't all smooth sailing with art.

My art at least.

One kid said she wanted to colour this pattern. I was happy, and told her to go ahead. She was quite happy, and confided to me that she was very fond of mushrooms.
Sigh... and here I thought my diyas looked so pretty.


During the introduction, Mrs Y introduced India and Indians to the kids as mathematical geniuses. Genius?? Well, the kids started throwing numbers at me, asking to multiply them mentally. And these were numbers they could manage. All under 20. At this point, the imp in me took over, and I started demonstrating the finer points of vedic mathematics to these kids. Just a couple of 'sutras', but sutras that I was very very sure about. The very elementary simple ones. Soon I had kids writing numbers on the board, and writing out the answers before they could key in and get the answer from a calculator. God, that was some ego trip! The awe on the faces of the students, and teachers alike, had to be seen to be believed. So in this neck of the woods at least, we have kids thinking that Indians have a second brain for mathematics.

Thank goodness they didn't want to look at my marks cards.

14 September 2007

Of tragedies and fiction

What is it that would make a nice, jovial, funny person write a thoroughly depressing (my opinion at least) story?

If I wanted a story where the everyone (or the protagonist at least) lives through grief and finally kicks the bucket, I'd rather read some Russian stuff like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. So when a normally funny Mallu writes like a Russian, it makes one wonder.

Does it have anything to do with communist ideology? They have nothing else in common.

Sorry, Tys, but that one was too much to resist!

11 September 2007

Why?

Watching movies with a 4 year old is really trying.

Why??

Because of all the questions I have to answer. All questions are 'why?' questions.

The little one, and I too, have watched Mulan only about (according to Arun) 29,832 times over the last 2 years. She knows all the songs, knows all the characters, and even knows some of the dialogs.

So far so good?? Well, now lets get to the real fun.

Understand first that my daughter has recently grown into the "why?" stage. So as we watch, someone refers to the villain as 'Shan-Yu'. "Shan-Yu??" she asks in horror. "Shouldn't he have said 'Mr. Shan-Yu' or 'Shan-Yu-san'??" That shows how well we're drilled her in her P's and Q's.

Mulan cuts off her hair, and heads off to battle. "Why is she playing with a knife? Doesn't she know that it's dangerous?"

"Why is Mulan taking a bath at night? Won't she get a fever or catch a cold?"
"Why is Mulan going swimming at night?"
"Why did Capt. Lee take off his shirt?"

... and so on and so forth. Halfway through, my brain shut down, after thinking up easy-to-please answers.

After a while, answering these with "Why do you think that happened?" failed. Very miserably. The first time she looked at me and said, "I want amma to tell me why." When she saw that I took too long to think up an answer, she looked at me asked, "I think amma doesn't knows why." So much for being the all-knowing parent.

But it's my fault. I didn't see it coming. All the obvious signals went off a few months ago, and I ignored them. Recently we saw some shots from Superman Returns on telly, and she asked me, "Why is Superman wearing red undies over his pants?" Before I could recover from a choking fit, she answered, "Didn't his mummy teach him to wear it properly?"

Why me??

06 September 2007

The theory of kids

Theoretically, I should get up by 5am, and finish making breakfast, lunch, a different kid-friendly lunch box for school and get it all packed and ready by 7am.

The alarm goes off. Brrr.. I think to myself, 'it's colder than Siberia in here,' and I curl up for a few more minutes. Avani starts to whimper. I feed her and look at the time. Goodness me, it can't be 6:45 already!!!!! Run, run, run! or I'm never going to have time for my morning cuppa.

Theoretically, I wake Aditi at 7am, get her brush her teeth, eat her breakfast, have a shower and get dressed to go to school by 9:05. The bus comes to get her at 9:10. Theoretically, this gives her a lot of time. And she can linger over breakfast. No need to hurry.

Now it's time for negotiations:
'Oh heavens, look at the time! C'mon baby, wake up or you'll miss your bus.'
'No school. I don't want to go to school'
'You GOT to go to school. All your friends are going to be there. You got to go.'

By this time appa is late for work, and Aditi wants 5-huggy-and kissy. And once A has left the wailing starts. 'I want one more huggy-kissy'

This is usually a good time to observe this phenomenon of catastrophic proportions called 'the sympathetic detonation'. The first law of sympathetic detonation states that: 'for every wail from one kid there is an equal or greater wail from the next, and so on and so forth'. By this time the little one is howling her head off, and I'm ready to howl too.

By some miracle, the older one is washed, dressed, fed and I think to myself that I need to be a little more patient. After I've done her hair, she looks at the mirror. And starts crying. 'I don't want my hair done like this. I want it done the other way'. Another dose of sympathetic detonation. When cajolery fails, I resort to ultimatums. That's how I've fixed your hair today, and that's how it's going to be.

As we head down to go wait for the bus, she looks in her bag. 'Yellow?? I want the pink lunch box'... and cries a little. Sympathetic detonation again.

Second law of sympathetic detonation: 'once sympathetic detonation has occured, there're no laws that apply anymore. It rapidly dissolves into utter chaos, and its each woman for herself. The men are clueless, and will remain so'

Theoretically, now I can sit back and relax with the baby. Get her breakfast. Play with her a bit. Give her a leisurely massage and a bath. Rock her to sleep.

How I want to sit back, put my feet up, and take a few deep breaths. But the little one's breakfast can't wait. She's really hungry and is howling. By the time she's been fed, she's also broken enough records to qualify for the spitting olympics. Her spitting's getting more powerful, and I swear the radius of the mess has increased to over 4 feet.

And between keeping the baby amused and getting something done around the house, I also need to get lunch ready.

Theoretically, she sleeps.

Yeah, right!

Theoretically, I now have time to get the laundry done, and other assorted household chores.

Yeah, that too.

Theoretically, I'm done with all this by lunchtime. Then A and I can have a relaxed lunch, and after cleaning up, I have time for a power-nap before Aditi gets home from school.

Nap?? who napped? By the time the bus gets here, I just managed to catch up with my morning backlog!

Theoretically, Avani now has some lunch and amuses herself for a bit while I get a snack or something ready for Aditi when she gets back home.

"Why didn't you give me a cute lunch?"
"I don't want this for a snack. I won't eat that either"
"I want amma to go to Mysore"
"Waaaahhhhhhhh"
Sympathetic detonation occurs... again.

Theoretically, Aditi eats everything on her plate. And settles down to read, draw, play.

Hah!
Now let's talk about a very old game my grandmother taught me. It's called 'aadu-puli-aatam', the game of 'tigers and goats'. I've forgotten how it's played, but my kids have developed a whole new way of playing it. One takes the role of tiger, and the other plays the goat. The tiger attacks the goat without the least provocation. And the goat howls. I step in to intervene, and the tiger starts to roar... er .. howl.
Remember the second law of 'Sympathetic detonation'?


Theoretically, I get dinner ready on time, and we all sit down to dinner on time. We all eat dinner, Aditi does her nightly routine of brushing, changing, and is off to bed by 8pm. A and I get the kitchen cleaned, get Avani fed, and then have time to watch a movie, read a book, listen to some music. And then like the famous nursery rhyme, it's early to bed, early to rise.

Dinner table talk is reduced to eat what's on your plate and love it. The older one is washed, changed and brushed. And makes promises to be a good girl the next day, and tells me how she will be nice to the little baby, and asks me to tell her a bedtime story. I leave the little one with A, and we start our story. Halfway through she doesn't want me there anymore. "I want appa. I want amma to go to Mysore".... there we go. There's a change of guard, a little sympathetic detonation, A rocks the big one to sleep, and I try to get the little one to nap.

By the time both are asleep, A and I look at each other, look at the mess that is the kitchen, look at the disaster in the house, and consign it all to the blazes, and crash out.

Tomorrow is another day.

31 August 2007

A picture is worth a thousand words

We're all dressed up, with no place to go. I think this would be a good time to take a few pictures to send to family and friends. I mean, how often is that we're all looking un-scruffy, not unkempt??

I take out the camera, frame a shot to my satisfaction, twiddle with the settings, set it on continuous shooting, and click and click and click. After a few dozen shots, A switches places with me. He shoots a single picture and says "ok. We're all done!"

And then I start to download pics. There are lots of pics of A and the kids. I take my time, screen out the not so nice ones, mail out the good ones to family and friends.

And then the inevitable question comes along. "Hey, why aren't you in any of the pics?"

Hmm... I was the one shooting. That's why I'm not in any of the pictures.

It's time for the second inevitable question. "I thought Arun said he shot a few pictures too." Oh well, since you asked for it, I send out a nice blurred image that could be anything from my family to the yeti family.

On the other hand, maybe this is a good sulking point.
"I take such nice pics of you, and you can't get a single good shot me!! Least you can do is get me a surprise gift that I'm sure to like!"

I can see the possibilities there.

03 August 2007

Of gender, theology and preschoolers

Aditi asked Arun something, and he gave her a very asinine answer. Something on the lines of how Calvin's dad would have answered. I now understand why Calvin's dad is the way he is. Until now I never had to answer questions on life and the universe and everything in between from the perspective of a 4 year old.

Recently, I had a very enlightening conversation with my little one. It went something like this.

A : Amma, are you a girl?
Me: Er.. yes, I guess you could say that.
A : Is paati a girl too? Are both my paatis girls?
Me: Yes, smart girl.
A : And that means Appa, and my two grandfathers are boys.
Me: Hmm.. absolutely.
A : You know, S-chan*, Sh-chan, and K-chan are girls.
(* chan and kun are honorific titles used while addressing little girls and boys respectively)
A : And also, D-kun*, H-kun and Y-kun are boys.
Me: That's absolutely right. Smart girl.
A : Do you know how I know the difference?

Now, whether she knew the difference or not, I wasn't all that prepared to know that.

Me: Er... really??
A : Because they use the 'standing up' potty.

I was right, I was nowhere near ready for this.

A : Amma, the little baby uses a diaper. Then how can you tell whether it is a boy or a girl?

Hmmm... I fully sympathize with Calvin's dad at this point. I totally understand why he answers questions the way he does.

A : Amma, is God a boy or girl??
Me: Huh???
A : Does God use the standing potty or sitting potty.
Me: Ask Appa that. He's a scientist, you know. He knows ALL answers.

Anyone out there care to explain??

22 July 2007

I was right..

... about RAB.

And I kinda suspected that HP himself could be a horcrux.

Not bad... I finished the book in one 3 hour sitting.

Cool, isn't it??

16 July 2007

When the earth trembled

We were getting ready to go for a drive, when Arun goes, 'Can you feel the movement?'

Huh?? Of course I can. When the motor's running of course there's some shake in the car. A gave me an exasperated sigh, parked and turned off the engine. And I could still feel some movement. Oops. Another tremor.

We've been feeling tremors from the earthquake at Niigata for the better part of the day. Anything in the range of 6 or so, seems to be felt all the way north here. Niigata is a little too close for comfort (about 150 kms too close).

We're all OK. No damages in this part of the world.

And thanks to all you lovely people who called/mailed/messaged. We're all fine, and let's hope that the worst of the tremors are over.

To ease everyone's worries, 'Brunch was OK. The dal was bland, potato curry too hot, and the earthquake quite mild, thank you'.

09 July 2007

25 June 2007

Who on earth..

.. is Pratibha Patil? What obscure orifice of the thing called the Congress party did she crawl out of?

It goes without saying that I want Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to continue at the helm for another term. But who am I? I'm a voter, yes, but unfortunately a voter doesn't elect the president.

So what does that leave me with??? Mrs. Patil?? Who is she anyway, and what makes her eligible to helm a nation of a billion?

So let's all compromise, shall we? Shall we go with what the GreatBong says?? In his inimitable style, he compares the two prime contenders, and wonders if maybe we're overlooking the obvious choice. Read this one, folks.

At least you started this day with a hearty laugh!

24 June 2007

A stranger in a stranger land

Not being able to read Japanese, I am as good as illiterate. Never did this hit me so badly as this last week when the little one called for her health checkup.

First time I heard anything about it was when I was told by the translators' pool to show up at X place at Y time with Z things. Then I get a postcard from City Hall telling me to be in A place at Y time with Z things. Well, how am I to be in place A and X at the same time, pray? So its back to the translators' pool who said to get to X.

Clear as mud, what? Well, it's still just that. So I took the little one, and after a daunting search, found the right building. The search was daunting because I had the name of the building written down for me in Japanese script, and I was doing a case of character matching using my written instructions. Then once I decided that I was in the right place, I went in, found the right floor, room etc, and registered the little one who was probably equally bewildered. Then came the flood of important sounding of words.

Apparently this was where the 4-month-olds were having their health screening. Wasn't my kid 6-months old? Er, yes, but this is where I was told to come. More muttering between the staff there. But why didn't you get the 4th month screening done?? Hmm... let me see.. no one told me about it, could that possibly be the reason?? More agitated muttering... Alright, please come this way, and follow these instructions.

So far so good. My little one was pronounced all OK. That was wonderful. Then the health officer asks me, why haven't you given her these shots?

And there I was totally stumped. The last anyone explained to me, City Hall would tell me where and when to go for shots. So, no one told me anything about these shots. Apparently certain shots would be administered by City Hall and I had to arrange for the others. And the person-in-charge tells me, 'oh, here it is on this little book. See, here it clearly states all that.'

That was true. But I pulled out another instruction booklet given to me by City Hall. And I go, 'person-san, this one says (in English) that City Hall will inform me about the vaccinations.' And she looks at the other book (which is totally in Japanese) and goes, 'Ah, that one is outdated. See it clearly stated here (in Japanese) that you need to arrange for that yourself.'

Somehow I managed to drive back home without venting my frustration on any assorted automobiles, telephone or electric poles, got home and totally lost it. Poor A then called his office, asked them to sort out the mess, and ask that we be given updated information, and please be told what we need to do for the next 6 months.

Again, chaos. But City Hall sent you a card to be in place A, why were you at X?

Aaaaarghhhhhh... welcome to the bureaucratically induced insanity.

So the appointment is rescheduled, and I go to place A. And the doctor there helps me fill out a form all in Japanese, giving consent for my daughter to be vaccinated. I signed where I was told to, and sat back and relaxed.

Just before vaccination, forms were being scanned again. Then the person in charge goes, "Sumimasen, inkan arimasen ka?" (Excuse me, but don't you have a seal/chop?) "Arimasen, kochira wa sign shimashita." (No I don't, but I have signed here).

Then muttered discussions again. How I despise those!

Now this is a matter of security. Apparently signatures can be copied.

Well, that's true, but... hmm.. you know, seals can be stolen, replicated?

At the end of the day I had to have a seal to consent, and then some head honcho decided that my thumbprint would be a safer option than a signature. So I was helped to fill out another form. And as I put my thumb impression on that, I could remember scenes from banks back home, when the bank personnel would help illiterate clients write out forms etc, and they would put a thumb impression wherever a signature was needed.

I looked at the bunch of incomprehensible squiggles on the form that I had just signed, and thought: "My parents spend a healthy sum on my education, so I could put my thmub print on a form I don't understand that someone had to fill out for me?"

I finished the vaccination, strapped a totally annoyed baby into her carseat, and turned on some music. And then I suddenly heard "Ei dil, hai mushkil jeena yahan." That made my day. I relaxed, and sang along "zara hat ke, zara bach ke, yeh hai Japan meri jaan."

12 June 2007

Verbs and Preschoolers

Since we started to learn Japanese, we stuck with the simple present, present continuous and past tenses in daily conversations. Otherwise our bhejas would have been overloaded and fried to a crisp. With the imperatives, we stuck to the politest form. We figured that the politer we were, we could get away with abysmal vocabulary and grammar.

With Aditi being a fussy eater, a healthy part of mealtime conversation would go something like this...
Me: Aditi, eat your rice.
Aditi: No.
Me: Baby, have some rasam.
Aditi: No.
Me: Eat your vegetables.
Aditi: No.
Me: Aditi, would you like some curd?
Aditi: Yes.

Then she started school. And our Japanese vocabulary of negatives and verb forms grew in leaps in bounds. How?? We had a rule. She was not allowed to use the word "NO". As usual she turned out to be way smarter than us. Now mealtime conversations go something like:

Me: Aditi, Gohan tabette ne (eat your rice).
Aditi: Gohan tabe shinai (I won't eat my rice)
Me: Baby, have some rasam.
Aditi: Rasam wa iranai (I don't want rasam)
Me: Eat your vegetables.
Aditi: Yada (I don't want to)
Me: Aditi, would you like some curd?
Aditi: Yes (Yes)

Ergo, my vocabulary has increased. I can conjugate the verb taberu (to eat) fairly competently in all forms. And using that as a reference, work with other verbs. I can use many forms of negatives.

And my daughter still eats nothing but curds.

Sigh, maybe she photosynthesizes.

27 May 2007

A little post script

PS:
The geek list wouldn't be quite complete without this little confession added to it.

8. retail therapy means going to the electronics store and lusting at the new Mac desktops. Not just lusting, literally drooling over it.

Handbags? Shoes? Clothes?? Naah... iWant iMac.

Did I mention
9. Arun treated me to an iPod?

25 May 2007

Pirates 3

I booked tickets well in advance, best seat in the house and all that jazz, first day first show, and since we happen to have babysitting, no need to drag the kids around, and with all enthusiasm off we went to watch 'Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End'.

Arun and I are big fans of the Pirates franchise. Or rather, we were. We loved the first, thought the second was alright. The latest was weird to say the least.

Somehow the sequels just don't live up to the high standards I expected after Pirates 1. This one was even quite gross in bits. The story was like soup poured on an inverted plate; kept running around all over the place. Too many characters, plot lines, plots, loose ends.... and an ending that was left wide open for a sequel. Any number of sequels. Well, let's just say if Walt Disney was really interested in building up a Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, they could have gone for a mini series or something.

I'm definitely not going to add spoilers here, but like someone says of Capt. Jack Sparrow: "Is he making this up as he goes along?"

24 May 2007

What have I become?

After over a year in Japan am I the same person I used to be? Have I become someone else totally?

According to Hemu, I've changed. He thinks I'm a geek. Hemu defines geek as "someone who has abnormal love/interest in gadgets and technology, high IQ and good at math.. etc".

I'm quite flattered someone thinks I've got a high IQ. I have my doubts about the math bit.

So I asked Hemu to elucidate, and he brought forth this list.

I quote:
1. you dual boot
2. you hate windoze
3. you use bittorent
4. you have a mac
5. you worry about templates and fonts
6. you blog!!!
7. you have multiple blogs

Unquote.

Hmmm.. if that's the case, I'm now a (certified) geek. And proud if it too......

18 May 2007

No letters??

'R' was the only one who mailed me her address, and got me started on my (almost) New Year's resolution to start writing letters. And I must say my handwriting is getting better. Doesn't anyone else want a letter?

Where are all you letter-writers from days gone by?? Come on people, let's get started again!

And on a lighter note... Dear R, if you were to write which country the letter is to be delivered to, it might get to me earlier. I doubt average Joe postman knows where Tsuruoka is. Please mention Japan in your next letter....

However...

... on a more positive note, I can now write decently enough in Japanese to ask the lady sitting next to me in the PTA what the time is? Or is this meeting over yet?

If that's rude, and not quite done, I wonder how many degrees I need to bow to assure them I won't do that again?

Further adventures of a Gaijin in Shonai

What is it about the air in Shonai that seems to wash away my non-existent good sense?

First I (mis)volunteer as a something or the other to the school board. I found out that I am a Kanji. What the heck is a Kanji, you ask??

Hmmm let me see. Kanji is the name given to the Chinese characters used in Japanese writing. Kanji is also the name of traditional rice gruel. And according to Wikipedia it's also the name of a kind of shrub in Australia.

So which of that applies to me? None of the above, I guess. By some obscure logic, I'm the kind of Kanji that means classroom manager. I have enough trouble being a mom, and I'm a classroom manager?? God help us, why on earth am I paying exorbitant fees to the school if I am to be called a classroom manager? And I'm called Kanji-san.... Darned of that doesn't make me sound like 'respected rice gruel'.

Last week, a friend told us of a very interesting incident. Apparently, her nephew came out second best in a classroom disagreement. And one fine Sunday morning, the winner of said argument came over to his house with a battalion of family, bowed deeply and expressed a profound apology.

I thought that was carrying schoolroom politics a little too far.

Today the PTA called parents to school to observe our little ones in class. OK. Now, I thought, I finally can see for myself what Aditi does at school. Aditi always refuses to talk about school once she gets home.

When I got there, I saw kids running around, playing and generally having a good time in the school's indoor play area. And parents standing around in groups watching kids play. And there was the usual greet-and-bow-thingie going on. Once playtime was on in earnest the tone changed.

For example, Aditi got pushed by one little kid, and his mom came over to apologize, with a deep bow. Another kid hit his friend on the head, and his mom ran to that kid's mom and bowed in apology.

What the heck? People, this is nursery school... let the kids sort out their issues... or non-issues. Is this a school-playground or a corporate boardroom?? I'd rather the kids settled these issues themselves. I realise that in Japan, the sincerity of an apology depends on the depth of your bow, but this is a little ridiculous. Actually, this is absurd.

After Aditi came out second best in another little altercation, I told her to go to her sensei and settle matters. Not ask me to intervene. Call me an ignorant Gaijin, but I told the apologetic mother that it was not our problem. Of course, if she'd bowed any lower, she could have touched her knees with her nose. She could teach Sony Corp a thing or two.

What can I say about my schoolroom (mis)adventures in Japan? Looks like this is just the beginning. Just one month into Kindergarten, and I'm in deep... er... let's just say I have no clue what I'm upto. And in a few years time, Avani will get into kindergarten too, and hopefully by then I'll have developed some good sense. Or I'll be in a country where I don't need to bow to express my humility regarding my kid's conduct.

Hopefully, I won't be called Madame Rice Gruel ever again.

Banzai

05 May 2007

Spring is here, so they say

After a long winter, the sun decided to shine with a vengeance over the last few weeks. On selected days of course. The trees in the friendly neighbourhood park started to sprout pink buds, and one fine day, the park was covered by a canopy of white sakura, tinged with the faintest blush of pink.

I came home and declared 'Hanami 2007' open.

Whenever I heard or read about 'Hanami' (before I came to Japan), I always had this feeling that it was a big fuss about a few flowers. Last year, soon after we landed here, I saw sakura in bloom for the first time in my life, and i was awed. It had to be the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. But still, I thought it was a bit of a fuss. And I was busy, getting started with our life in Japan.

Winter here is long.... really long. Since we got here, we put away our warm clothes for all of 7 weeks. We got here in spring, and it rained almost all the time. July and August were unbelievably hot and humid, and come September, we started wearing warm clothes again. Then winter set in in earnest. And went on for just about forever. Then the snow melted, and one fine day, the cherry trees bloomed. And told me to dump the heavier jackets for now.

The sight of sakura trees in full bloom is incomparable. Just lush flowers, not a single green leaf to be seen on the trees. And after about a week, the flowers just wither away, and the trees are clothed in tender green leaves. And I know for sure the bad weather's gone. For now.

Everyday that the sky was clear, I bundled everyone out of the house, packed up whatever food was cooked, and lo.. picnic time! And after each picnic, a walk around the park, taking in the beauty of sakura in full bloom.

Of course, we didn't stop with sakura. We went to the nearby town of Yutagawa to watch the apricot blossoms, to Sakata to look at more sakura, and finally last week to Yunohama to see acres of tulip fields.


Tulips?? Yes, tulips... Tulips as far as the eye can see, in so many colours! Of course, there are lots of Japanese tourists in Amsterdam too, but trust me, I am still in the heart of good old Japan. And Arun decided to serenade me.

Earlier today a friend invited us out to a picnic. We are off to see more flowers tomorrow. And that too Mustard blooms!


Gawd, if Arun starts to sing again, I'll flip!!! Or I'll sing right back at him!

25 April 2007

Harmony, Disconcert, Depress

Once upon a time I loved to (attempt to) sing. Once I was in the zone, I could sing 'Memory' across a wide octave range. I could sing notes that hadn't been invented. I could sing along with the black keys, the white keys, and the cracks too, but I would sing, and in notes that had never been heard and never will be heard again. And I would sing at the top of my voice.

Earlier today, in Japanese class, sensei was photocopying a homework assignment for me. As I was packing up to leave, I heard a very familiar melody over the public address system. I started to hum along, and then began to sing softly to myself.
Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning

As I sang to myself, sensei asked with all concern, 'Onaka no itai desu ka?' (Is your tummy hurting?)

I told her I was singing... and I don't know who was was more mortified....

I surely am not winning a Grammy in a hurry....

American Idol, here I come!

21 April 2007

Tribulations of a stupid Gaijin

What is Gaijin?
Gaijin - short for Gaikokujin- noun- person from a foreign country.

What Gaijin are we talking about?
Gaijin referred to in headline - yours truly.

Why tribulaitons?
Because I was stupid.

Why was I stupid?
Because something got Lost in Translation.

Now that I've dispensed with the preliminaries, let me start my story.

A few weeks ago, there was the first PTA meeting at Aditi's new Kindergarten. At the PTA, the teacher asked for volunteers. Our translator explained that this was a call for (what I understood was) a homeroom mother kind of thing. And since there were no takers, I volunteered. That should have given me a clue, but like I mentioned before, there's this element of don't-think-just-leap somewhere in my mental make-up.

The first meeting of the homeroom volunteers was called today, and I went with a full dose of enthusiasm. When I walked into the school, there was this classroom readied for the meeting. And it was done up like a corporate boardroom. There was this square-shaped table arrangement, with each participant's place marked with a placard. There was an agenda in front of everyone, and tea and water. That still didn't ring any warning bells.

Next thing I know, speeches, and members started introducing themselves. Something didn't sound right at that point. Weren't we just required to state our names and leave it at that? Each person seemed to have so much to say about themselves. I was the third to speak, I just told the group my name, my daughter's name, what class she was in and sat down. And people were still looking at me, with expressions of "and what else?"

"What else?" That's it people, what else do you want? By then someone was kind enough to translate for me, and told me to talk about what I wanted to achieve as a member of the core committee??

And I started to think..... "Core committee ?? hmmm.. let's see now"... Just a minute! What "Core committee"? No one told me anything about any "core committee"... Isn't this just a meeting of homeroom parents??? For once I was totally speechless, and upheld my right to remain silent and not say anything, and just sat down.

Then the meeting started for real. The accountant (what the ^&*@ is an accountant doing in a PTA?) started reading out long long lists of numbers, that was last year's budget and balance sheet. Then she read out the current year's financial forecasts.

By this time I was fairly stumped. Something was not quite cricket here. And I wanted to know why x-thousands were being allocated for y-activity. That was apparently a no-no.

Then there were discussions about who will do what, for what school activity. Holy *&%#, My idea of school is that I pay fees so you keep my kid amused for a few hours a day! Why on earth am I doing all this? I decided on the easiest way out of the committee work. I offered to do the layout for the annual magazine. No interactions, no committees, nothing!

Then came the worst part. We were asked by the class teachers to plan a trip to the park (100 mts away from school) when every parent pulled out planners and organisers. It took them an hour to agree on a date. By this time, I'd totally lost it. I just told them to tell me when to show up, and where!

Fortunately for my sanity, Arun called. The baby was howling her head off. I apologised profoundly to the group, and ran out like my gluteus maximus was on fire!

Next meeting is a month from now, and I'm fully intend to fall sick a day before that :D

Ours is not to reason why,
Ours is but to listen and forget

(No PTA is going to kill me)

31 March 2007

A weird soul

So I find time to post something and I'm totally out of inspiration, and Axe, that jobless dude tagged me again (like a gazillion years ago). And right now I'm in a weird enough mood to actually respond to a tag like that!

What 6 things make me weird? Am I weird at all? Ah well... let's see...

1. When I'm down or off colour, my idea of getting back into the swing of things is to cook a really elaborate meal. And not eat it.....

2. I love pedicures. A pedicure is always the answer... no matter what the question.

3. I refuse to use leather so that I can hide my (lack of) taste in footwear... handbags too. Well, as a secondary thought, it's disgustingly politically correct to boot... and goes perfectly well with my current PFA, PETA and other assorted crusades.

4. I dislike having to use the same brand of shower gel/cream twice in a row. And yes, the brands are necessarily NOT tested on animals.

5. I can't desist from buying pans. A good saucepan is perfect retail therapy!

6. I do not like conversation while I'm having my morning cuppa. I despise any disturbances then. I'd rather forgo my tea if I can't have some in total peace and quiet. I also do not like anyone else using my favourite tea-mug.

That was rather tame, wasn't it? I always loved to think I was weirder than anyone else. Why conform? Darn... I really need to redo that list. I refuse to be that tame!

And I'll be weird(er) by not tagging anyone else..... so there!

And if you think you're weird, please go ahead and tag thyself!

23 March 2007

New Year Resolutions

It's March, you say? A little late in the year, you think? Ugadi does count as New Year... so there!

I'm sick of bills and letters to occupant in my mailbox. And I've cribbed about it before. So, here's my resolution. I'm going to write a letter a week from now on. Anyone friend that e-mails me their snail-mail address gets a letter.

Here's the catch. My mom taught Aditi the rudiments of composing a letter. So you'd get a note from her too. And do reply...

Let's revive a lost art.

Who's on first??

19 March 2007

A pink slip...

... for the weatherman.

All assorted weather widgets insist it's a cloudy day. And it's snowing... and I have a large laundry load including linens.

According to at least 4 different sources, it's between 8 and 12 degrees (in metric units, of course!).. and ranges between cloudy and partially cloudy. So is my window out into the world wrong?

Fire the man, I say... or I wonder if I could sue? Hmmm....

Better still get the weather guys to do my laundry....

Even better, get Arun take the afternoon off and look after the kids, and I go out and build a snowman. And then come home to hot masala tea and spicy, piping hot pakodas!!!

And I can hear the balloon of delusions popping :)

12 March 2007

Anything for a friend.....

Dear friend Axe is all jittery
He needs help in a hurry
His 'Sangeeth' is looming,
With no ideas blooming,
So lets put him out of his misery.

So all you stinking mutts
Get off your lazy butts
So lets start to think,
And get some pen and ink
And help Axe out of his rut.

So put it all down on paper,
before your thoughts start to taper
Send them to me,
The world shall see,
Your take on his wedding caper.

10 March 2007

A whole new ballgame

What is parenting all about?

An acceptable answer would be, 'It's an exercise by adults who think they are smart, trying to outsmart a kid who's way smarter than the parents think'. Plenty shmart....

This is the sporadically updated scoreboard of that game called parenting.

Set 1:
Parents want to communicate and at the same time do not want little ears listening. So parents think, lets communicate in a language the kid doesn't know. Parents decide to communicate in Hindi.
Score: Parents 1 : Kid 0

Set 2: Parents realise that kid picks up on key words in the conversation, and makes some sense of it.
Score: Parents 1 : Kid 1

Set 3: Parents start to spell out things.
Score: Parents 2 : Kid 1

Set 4: Kid starts to take guesses at what parents are spelling out. Gets some stuff right.
Score: Parents 2 : Kid 2

Set 5: Arun has a request. He yells out, "Neeche se D-I-A-P-E-R leke aana". Aditi leans close to me and whispers, "Appa diaper kondu vara sollara" (Appa asked you to get a diaper)

Game, Set and Match: Aditi.

Somehow, I don't see us winning this game... not now, not in the near future, not ever...

And i don't mind losing....

09 March 2007

Talk about lazy

A fridge that tosses chilled beer to you??

Now that it's been built, the perfect investor is probably way too lazy to write out the cheque!

08 March 2007

I love...

... Cooliris for Firefox.

And it works well with Windoze too.

Ah winter!

My first white winter, and I love it! Our little neck of the woods has turned into a winter fairyland. Think of the winter scene from the movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". This isn't too different from that. Just way prettier.


Around the time mommy left it started getting sunny, and last week I thought I'd create more closet space and put away my bulky down coat. After 2 weeks of incessant sunshine, I decided I could make do with layering and a fleece jacket.

Now the powers-that-be-in-charge-of-weather got a kick out of getting it to rain when they knew I wasn't carrying an umberella. No one told me that they had such a warped sense of humor. They waited for me to put away my bulky coat, and then decided to let it snow. Not just snow, but a foot and a half overnight.

I'm not complaining, but it's just that I don't care too much about the latest fragrance I'm sporting.... Eau de Mothballs

That picture in the middle is an abstract interpretation of a snowman. About 3ft high. My first attempt at (abstract) snow art. Move over, Picasso!

The end of an affair

All that bandwidth and no movie downloads; what a waste!

Thus spake well (un)known philosopher-in-training, Hemant D Galagali.

That, unfortunately, is what the blokes in charge out here are implementing these days.

Just about everyone I know in this neck of the woods (read all desis I know..) seem to have got ardent love letters from their ISPs asking them with all passion and romance to please remain faithful, and not download any output from the motion picture industry. I rejoiced that I hadn't received any love-letters. Unless someone told me otherwise, I intended to watch as many of the latest motion pictures as possible.

Then, one day, out of the blue.... the phone rang.

It was the dreaded pyaar-ka-sandesa, delivered over the phone.

Moral of the story:
Moral, what moral??

Just keep your nose clean. Cease and desist from nefarious activities.
If you want to watch a movie, wait for it to hit the local theater. If it doesn't, then too bad.

Ah well, now my entertainment totally depends on what DVDs my desi grocer in Tokyo sends over with my monthly orders, and on the largesse of li'l sister.

07 January 2007

Happy 2-007

(Sorry, but that was way too tough to resist.)

Have a wonderful year ahead.

Last year's been quite ... hectic.. for want of a better word...

First the crash course on Japanese in India, then back to Singy and get set for the move to Japan, moving to Japan and discovering a whole new way of life, getting used to the labyrinth that passes for bureaucracy, then there was all the excitement of getting ready for the second baby, more paperwork and communication issues at the hospital, starting to drive again after a hiatus of over a decade, getting my license, backing into assorted walls and pillars, then the big preparation to face the legendarily bad winters this neck of the woods is famous for and actually having the baby (little Avani, aka Boo) ...... Wow... has it been a busy year or what!

Now that I think about it, damn... we did get a lot done in the last one year! If I'd been given this list a year ago and been told that it was the PoA for the year ahead, I'd have totally freaked out!!

Its been a wonderful year, and now I'm looking forward to a slightly more relaxed year in the backwoods of Japan.

Akemashite Omedettou Gozaimasu!

(to those 'lost in translation', a 'Very Happy New Year to You')