21 November 2016

Renovation 2016

I had been struggling with the clutter in my home for 12.5 years. It was causing a lot of depression to me as I am a tidiness freak by nature. It was causing a lot of stress in our family life too. From what seemed to be a lonely battle to me I finally figured that I needed some expert help in this matter. Though we had had some furniture done over the years, the interior was of an inorganic nature. The fact that I'm a compulsive shopper, and hubby is a hoarder, did not help. After the advent of my daughter, the clutter seemed to multiply exponentially! Not only did one tend to go crazy while shopping for little girls, the gifts she received and the various project work she accomplished in school, that we proudly displayed, the various toys, sports paraphernalia and cosmetic jewelry/accessories that had piled up, was mind blowing.

So we decided to at least do our daughter's room such that there would be a place for everything and her things would stop encroaching precious space in all the rooms. We also wanted to redo the bathrooms as they had become really tacky. Thus began a very logical and down-scaled renovation project- not because of budget constraint but because we were not planning to move out of our home while it was ongoing. Ambitious indeed! As it took off, we realized that there is so much more that can be done to the interior in a much more organic way. According to our decorator, the design of our apartment was faultless, but the space management (storage) left a lot to be desired. Add to that hubby's caveat that there should be no tod-phod and breaking of society rules in our quest for utopia. What followed was an exercise in superb execution of a renovation disguised as a major re-haul of our apartment, and lives :-)

What started off as a tiny project soon snowballed into a tornado. Though we decided to retain most of the current furniture and furnishings, we redid the tiles in the living room, kitchen and one bedroom. This was because the tiles provided by the builder had started to swell and break in some places. The tiles in the bathroom were literally glued on top of older ones after polishing them. This saved us the labor and cost of prying the older tiles off and risking water leakage into the flat below. We revisited the awning in the terrace and installed ones for windows too - to provide better protection against rains and counter the pigeon menace. Thus, fabrication work piled up. We got rid of some space-hogging furniture and got foldable sofa-cum-beds. The terrace underwent the most transformation - its now a lounge for guests over tea or drinks or reading lounge for us. Just a swap of the 2 sofas in the living room has given a transformative effect to the living room. White color on all walls has considerably increased the space and light in each room making the entire house look bigger and brighter. Lofts in the kitchen and one bedroom made a lot of clutter disappear. Better use of window ledges has added more room and storage. Better lighting and improved design of plug points, switch boards etc. has made life so much more enlightened.

As to the clutter, we have given away so much stuff that was not serving any purpose except to add to our cleaning and maintenance efforts. An old bed and almirah, TONs of clothes, utensils, bedsheets, blankets, bathroom stuff, mirrors, and about 25 kgs of books! No wonder the house feels lighter too :-)

Here, I'd like to add a few words complimenting our decorator. She is a gem and so different from other interior decorators in the market. For one, she is not out to make a quick buck, she is plenty loaded herself. She is in the business only to satisfy her creative urges. And boy, is she good at her job?! She has a highly efficient and eccentric team for more than 10 years. Despite this, she haggles over every little screw with carpenter, cost of paint and labor of tiling with the painter and mason respectively and got me hefty discounts on furnishings(curtains, upholstery, wallpaper) through her contacts. She ensures that every bit of ply, laminate, granite and cement is used judiciously. And coordinating the time and efforts of the carpenter, mason, painter, fabricator, electrician, and us,  so no one's time is wasted and work finishes at a fast pace, is an art she has got down pat. She is a whirlwind in action.

The cleanup after all the major work was a royal pain. No amount of wiping, scrubbing, dusting seemed to get the grime off the cupboards, furniture and the air we breathed. After multiple cleanings and vacuuming over weeks, now the house sparkles like a diamond.

Needless to say, even with a few things such as adding a good artwork to our living room and a suitable wallpaper to my daughter's room pending - everyone who visits the home is super-impressed. She has taught us that interior is not about throwing money on false ceilings, wood, marble or imported vases, paintings. It is a whole new way of organizing, make things more functional as well as being aesthetic. Other takeways for us were of course, buy/hoard less - donate more, do your bit to cleaning and tidying everyday so giant pile-ups can be avoided in future. And the biggest one is that I now know someone whom I can contact in the event of any future home-related emergency!

18 November 2016

The fault in our stars

I read the book by this name recently. The story is about young (teenage) survivors of cancer who live constantly in fear of a relapse and with a reduced quality of life. The protagonist is a 16-year old girl and its about her life, love, friendship, obsession.

The book brings home the bitter truth of how many cancer sufferers there are in the world and how they are forced to "exist" because their loved ones do not want them to die. They become fertile grounds for experimental drugs and newfangled treatments in futile attempts to extend their lives. And these lives go unaccounted for, and unmourned. Being cancer patients is what their life was all about. No one remembers what they were really like; that they too are intelligent, passionate human beings capable of having a sense of humor.

If the patients are young people, then they have similar wants as a teenager - want to go on dates, fall in love, hang out with friends, dress up, travel etc. Not being able to enjoy all this is tragic;  death is preferable. Instead they are forced to live a "meaningful" life in the short time they have, plan which clothes they will be buried in and worry about what their folks will write in their eulogies (which most people worry about only after sixty).

Some hard-hitting excerpts from the book that left a lasting impact-

1) She seemed to be mostly a professionally sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died, they'd have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I'd ever done was  Have Cancer.

2) ...because I guess her brain cancer was of the variety that makes you not you before it makes you not alive.

3) People talk about the courage of cancer patients, and I do not deny that courage. I had been poked and stabbed and poisoned for years, and still I trod on. But make no mistake, in that moment, I would have been very, very happy to die.

4) Never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves" Easy enough to say when you are a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of faults to be found in our stars.

5) Sleeping with the BiPAP all night made my lungs feel almost normal, although, then again, I did not really remember lung normality.

6) You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.

7) That was the worst part about having cancer, sometimes: The physical evidence of disease separates you from other people.

8) ...would there be enough living people to remember all the dead people? Sure, anyone can name fourteen dead people. But we are disorganized mourners, so a lot of people end up remembering Shakespeare, and no one ends up remembering the person he wrote the Fifty-fifth sonnet about.

9) The real heroes anyway aren't the people DOING things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn't actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn't get smallpox.

10) You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.

01 September 2016

Are you a good judge of character?

Have been spending a couple of days at my mom's this week. While chit-chatting, the subject arose on how some folks are notoriously bad judge of characters despite being intelligent overall. People say that good judgement comes with age and experience. But frankly, good judgement requires some specific traits without which no matter what age you reach, you can never master it.

A humble and open approach to life is essential. Having a little bit of emotional intelligence helps. Once you are free of preconceived notions and willing to give another person the benefit of doubt, you usually arrive at a pretty accurate summation. Ego and prejudice blind one to the hidden agenda and fickleness of people. Once you are free of those, then you are under no obligation to like someone because they were nice to you or paid you handsome compliments. Emotional intelligence makes you aware of your own emotions and where your blind spots are. One needs to be careful of those - e.g. some people tend to automatically like soft-spoken, sweet talking individuals. Whereas I am always suspicious of such even-tempered souls - for no one in this world can be untouched by emotion. And emotions bring a roller coaster of reactions, expressions, mood swings. If someone manages to look composed all the time, they have mastered the art of camouflaging their emotions well. And who knows what else they can hide well.

You may ask why is good judgement required - time anyway shows true colors of everyone. While this is true, if you can know someone well without the luxury of time you can make some quick decisions. You have to work with so many folks - maids, nannies, drivers, employees, would-be spouse, partner etc. Everyone will reach the finish line sooner or later, but do you want to race or slow-walk? 

14 May 2016

Singapore May 2016 travelogue

With the Singapore dollar at ₹50, it's not a trip for the tight-fisted or the faint hearted !

Decided to go with another family(neighbours) as our kids are close friends of each other. Figured kids are most cooperative when they have companions they are comfortable with, and boy, it worked ! The other family had one 6 yr old and one 15 yr old. So all ages were represented :-) The teenager sometimes babysat the kiddos which left us adults to enjoy on our own.

Coming back to the planning, we did not go for group or package tour as we wanted to go at our own pace. Booked the flight tickets back in Jan, got a good deal with JetAirways - direct flight from Mumbai of 5 hr 45 mins. It required travel from Pune-Mumbai bringing travel time to total of 12-13 hrs one way due to 3 hr check in for international flight.
Next was hotel bookings. Debated on hotel vs service apt vs Airbnb. All cost the same bomb. Booked for 3 nights in Sentosa and 3 in Singapore at separate hotels. Did not wish to stay at one place in Singapore and travel back and forth to Sentosa with kids. Turned out to be another good decision.

Travel was smooth except that the immigration at Mumbai airport took much longer than expected. Had booked 2 cabs to Mumbai airport and then a single one from Changi airport to Sentosa. The latter was a good 45 min drive but the cab was a merc and so quite comfortable! Hotel at Sentosa was luxurious with a huge balcony. But the dinner was super-expensive and we were too tired to head out for other options at that time.

Had booked 5-out-of-top-12 + Universal studios on Viator app in advance of the trip. Plan was to cover S.E.A Aquarium, cable car ride and the show "Wings of Time" on first day. Headed out of hotel at 10:30(got delayed due to jet lag) and had breakfast at one of the (cheaper)eateries on the way. Realised we needed to convert vouchers to physical tickets so the men made a detour for that first. Till then we girls sweated it out in the resorts world - did I mention the weather is 3 times more humid than Mumbai? By the time we entered aquarium it was noon (need I say the kids were cranky?)

The Aquarium experience was cool (pun intended!) Nicely air conditioned, laid out in semi darkness so the sea creatures were highlighted in their dazzling glory. There were creatures around, above and even below you, separated by glass partitions. Had a pizza lunch (only thing available at 3:30) which was hugely liked by kids, veggies as well as non-veggies. The dinner and lunch had set us back by quite a lot by now. Next was the cable car ride with beautiful aerial views of the city. Made it to the 'Wings of Time' show at 7:45 just in time. Had stopped for ice cream etc. as the humidity was exhausting. The show is overhyped and too short for the effort we put into reaching the venue but was made quite creatively with laser beams. Had dinner at good old MacD and headed home.

Second day was Universal Studios. Again, could not head out before 9:30 am (kids slow you down) Had a hearty breakfast of eggs and then entered the Studios around 10:30. Must say we made good progress - by 7:45 had covered the entire area. Kids had fun time obviously, it being their first such experience. Little one enjoyed a couple of roller coasters too. The Transformers ride is supposed to be the main attraction, indeed there was an hour long queue! But frankly, for me at least, it did not impress much. The guys and teenager did the cyclotron galactica ride which is scary, turns you upside down at least thrice in 38 secs. A very satisfying day followed by Malaysian street food for dinner.

Third day was travel to Singapore, check in at hotel and cab to Jurong bird park. The bird park experience was nice but it was sweltering hot that day as if it was going to rain. The 2 bird shows warmed up my little one to birds FINALLY (she has had an irrational fear of birds). Apparently, a parrot saying 'I love you' did the trick (now why had I not thought of it earlier?) Needless to say it made our day, month, year😍 Next was night safari followed by 'Creatures of the night' show. Again a great success with kiddo. Dinner at the food court and back home.

Day 4 was planned in a relaxed manner. Slept in, spent time in the pool at the hotel, had lunch and then headed out to Chinatown. Had planned to avail of MRT (metro service) so took a day pass and commuted by foot and metro. Shopped at Chinatown and got quite good souvenirs but it was raining heavily by the time we finished. Had to abort and take a coffee break. Then off to the Singapore flyer. Had to wait until they resumed services post the rain. We got an entire cube to ourselves and cracked jokes, snapped pics while the kids went a little crazy. Thank God we had the cube to ourselves! Ice cream time and then hailed cabs to MRT station. Thai food at the mall and then walked back home tired with the weather changes and all the walking. Oh yes, our cabbie misheard us and took us somewhere else and we somehow got onto the right station whereas the other family managed to lose their day pass and had to buy new ones. A slightly adventurous day !

Day 5 plan was Science centre, Mer lion park & Gardens by the bay. A very ambitious plan in hindsight. Long ride to Jurong East and then a long walk to Science centre. IMAX movie experience for the kids, followed by kidsStop and then the actual science centre tour. Could not finish it as had to have lunch and head for Merlion park. Another long metro ride and walk to the park. But it was worth it. Clicked lot of photos during the sunset and rested a bit. Then a mad rush to catch the last show at Gardens by the bay. Beautiful tulips and breathtakingly lit gardens. Dinner at food court of the famous Marina Bay Sands - what a HUGE place, walked and walked inside it to find the food court. Last meal was good- seafood dumplings, Indian food at long last for the veggies, pizza for kids and frozen yogurt. And we were done!

Last day was travel back to Pune, smooth overall. Got a foot n leg massage for free at Changi airport that wiped out all the aches and pains of past few days. What an end to an excellent vacation!

A wonderful holiday made memorable by the company of like-minded people who were not scared to splurge a bit, take it easy when required and cracked jokes to keep up flagging spirits. And Singapore is a happening place with lots to do. Couldn't try out the casinos this time as it was a kiddie trip but maybe next time!

08 November 2015

Death. Grief. Religion. Destiny.

Last few weeks were the toughest of my life and also the most enlightening ones. As they say, tough times are there to make you stronger and wiser.

I lost my father despite a valiant battle with cancer. It's been a couple of weeks and I can finally bring myself to pen something about the tragedy. This post is not about the poignant memories of my father, or how much he will be missed...those are too personal to share. This post is about sharing my learning from the entire experience.

1) Success cannot come through sheer effort... There IS something called Destiny after all.
The family and my dad fought so hard to get him out of the hospital post his surgery. He had been given 100% chances of survival. He had a couple of major setbacks and had to be in the ICU twice to recover. But he came through and actually got a discharge from the hospital after 4 long weeks. We were all so happy, so were he and the grandkids, who met him after an entire month. But he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest when his nicotine-saturated lungs finally gave up. Fate had intervened - to what end is still up for grabs....but it just wasn't meant to be.

2) Suffering, illness, treatment all are difficult...yet not without hope. But death is so final. The counter stops at that moment. No matter how much you try you cannot rewind the clock. You cannot take back what you last said or wish you had said something else. Hope is no longer your friend....acceptance is. Yet death is the end of physical suffering.

3) You get acquainted most closely with religion when someone close dies. The funeral, the rites of passage for the body and the soul, the poojas, the shantis, the condolence calls & visits, everything proclaims loudly what religion you belong to. I am not bashing it; infact I learned a lot about Hinduism during this time. It is not only about giving moksha to the dead, but setting the living free of some inauspicious vibes too.

4) The first 13 days are relentless for the living relatives. You are bombarded with calls, messages, visits to condole your loss. There is no time to grieve amongst these and the arrangements for the various rituals - perhaps that is the whole idea. The first 13 days are solely to restore the soul to its rightful destination and the relatives can grieve later. The idea is to accept that the departed is well...gone...and you need to let him/her go with dignity. There is no option but to go with the flow mechanically.

5) Class and character of a person is seen in the way he/she remembers the dead or grieves  or consoles. Some are just so shallow and hypocritical.

6) Your physical being is so transient. Your possessions or investments are not the real legacy, the memories and your protegees(children) are the true legacy you give back to this world. Invest more time in nuturing them than running after career, status, beauty, money....

7) God truly works in mysterious ways. There was a huge disappointment and anger initially. But gradually the acceptance and introspection brought only gratitude. There is nothing that my father had not seen. This last year was filled with happiness for him. He got the best care and most devoted attention from all his loved ones in his last days. He was actually in a happy frame of mind when he passed away. That was God's way of stopping his counter.

24 October 2015

Light after a month of darkness!

The intercom rang at my place. "Mummy, I am missing Aajoba!" wailed my daughter. Alarmed at her obvious distress and tears, I asked hurriedly "What happened?" "I miss grandpa and grandma. When will I get to see them?" sobbed my little one. "You will see them soon", I reassured her. Later I came to know that she got emotional after seeing her friend playing in the park with her grandfather and hence the distress call.

My dad (her Aajoba) has been in the hospital for last 4 weeks recovering from laryngectomy for throat cancer. Out of those 4 weeks he was in the ICU for a good 14 days struggling to draw enough oxygen into his body. Various health complications contributed to his extended stay in the ICU.

Harrowing, dark times for the entire family. During surgery, my dad's voice-box had to be removed due to which he could not speak. As a result, one of the family has been with him everyday of these 4 weeks - my mom, brother, sis-in-law, my hubby or myself. Kids are not allowed in hospital, never mind the ICU, so the kids have not seen their grandparents in a month now. Dad not being able to communicate, or eat/drink, meant there were very few visitors or other helpers.

Keeping up the morale for the kids, and stamina for the daily running of the home and work, was a juggling act for us all. I thought I had gotten away with it since my daughter did not seem overtly disturbed by our constant visits to the hospital or extended phone calls. But yesterday's call brought home the reality that children are sensitive to every minute change in the environment. They absorb everything and keep processing it in the background until one day the dam bursts.

The surgery wound took a long time to heal in my dad's case. The secretions from the wound escaped into his lungs and caused severe breathing complications for him. He had a couple of setbacks while recovering, infact he was on ventilator for a few days. All this almost collapsed my mother's health. However, she has rallied beautifully and has managed to withstand it all stoically.

Not being able to eat solids had made dad weak and he could barely sit up most of the days. It's been painful to watch one's parent so helpless and in pain. He kept asking for water and his beloved tea. Of course, he cannot ingest anything orally yet, but they kept him hydrated and fed though a pipe that goes through his nose into his oesophagus. I've had him shaved, rubbed his back which ached from all the lying down, wet his parched lips to give him the satisfaction of tasting water, wiped perspiration from his brow as he struggled to sit or walk, held his hand when he wrote on the slate (his way of communicating these last few weeks) that he is scared. I have gone over his daily vital stats with a fine tooth comb and grilled the doctors on his condition. Reminded me of all he had done for me when I was a child. How life comes a full circle!

Testing times test your mettle, they test the limits of your faith and strength of your relationships. Relationships are so fragile yet so resilient. A small diagnosis in a family member's life has such a cascading effect on all people connected to the family. Both my daughter and nephew's other grandmothers had to pitch in for babysitting so we could focus on the hospital duty. Colleagues at work had to take a share of our responsibilities, maids at home were diligent enough to never miss a day so we are not inconvenienced and neighbours took my daughter to her weekend class. But the most support and humanity came from the hospital staff - the nurses, mamas and mavshis who clean and provide for the patient day after day despite their rants and crankiness and still spare a kind word for the hapless relatives.

My dad gets discharged today. For him the wanvaas finally ends today. He will be able to take things orally soon and even speak with a device! These have been times of learning, introspection and gratitude.....

26 June 2015

Are you strong and independent? That's why you are not pampered!

Came across a cartoon that had a girl/woman saying to herself "Wish there was someone to pamper me!" and in the other panel, she suddenly has an epiphany and says "It doesn't matter as I am a strong and independent woman."

It got me to think that there are always people who we think are blessed or lucky as they always get taken care of in life by someone or the other - be it by parents, spouse, relatives, children, employees etc. And then there are others (like me) who have to work for every little thing in life- nothing happens on its own or by luck or someone's favors. There is a saying - if you want something, ask or demand. But people who are strong are so used to being the one who is asked for help, support etc. that they forget to ask others around them for help. They are habituated to reach inside their reserves of strength and resilience to always find a way out of a difficulty.

In order to be pampered, you have to be weak or show weakness or seek support. That is why infants, toddlers and kids are pampered so much. They lack independence. Though some children have this quality right from childhood and they are burdened with taking care of others around them all their lives.

Both - being pampered, and being strong & independent, have their pros and cons. With the former, you get taken care of but then there is always an obligation. Sooner or later there comes a payback time as there are no free lunches in this world. There is a lot of maintenance of relationships to be done as you need to ensure that people around you are committed to taking care of you! With the latter, you trudge through most of your life carrying the burdens of others and not having anyone to vent out to. There is less fun and more discipline and frugality. A strong person never gets asked "How are you coping?" even though their challenge is very much visible to others. Its automatically assumed that he/she will cope well(so unfair!) No fuss is ever made of their plight, whereas a weaker one's plight is a source of much concern of all. But the benefits are you never have to depend on anyone, you are not obligated to anyone and are master of your life. Also, there is so much gratitude around you that you feel blessed eventually.

So do I still miss being pampered?! Oh yes, who doesn't?! So I act the weakling sometimes and get my share of pampering :-)