Join me for dinner, Vikram Seth?

Remember that quiz, usually featured in popular magazines – who would you like to take out for dinner? There’s usually a set of four options, and the one you choose shows something of your personality.

Well, this is no quiz. There are, of course, many writers I’d like to take out for dinner – and many I wouldn’t too. No, not William Shakespeare. His puns and double entendres would perhaps be beyond me. So too Arundhati Roy, possibly because I think, despite being a brilliant writer, she’s so depressing.

No, the writer I’d like to take out should be fun, have a sense of humour, and also be famous. An added bonus would be if he understood my culture, and was from the subcontinent. And Vikram Seth fits the bill.

The Inimitable Vikram Seth

Come to think of it, why are all the famous Indian writers of international repute so darned serious and gloomy? Think of Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie… they’re all soooo serious (although Rushdie can be very funny too). But that’s just what I love about Vikram Seth- he’s both serious and funny, and this was borne out in his well-attended talk at the Sharjah Book festival a month or two ago.

Vikram would be my perfect choice as a dinner partner. First, he speaks a beautiful public-school English (he was educated at the Doon school) and is of my generation – perhaps a few years older, but still, someone who I can relate to. He gave many wonderful tips on writing a novel. The best one was, in his own words: “You have to be very very very very lazy to write a novel.” This perhaps contradicts received wisdom, but he goes on to explain that there’s a lot of thinking involved during the writing, and for hours and hours, maybe days together, he’d be lying around staring into space and just thinking.

Then there is the point of research – painstaking research. Vikram goes to the nitty-gritty, and no matter what kind of character he’s writing about, whether they are eighty-year-old grandmoms or teen girls, he does his research. And the best part of this is that, it never appears as stuffy ‘research’ in his books, but blends in with the story, setting, and theme.

So Vikram Seth, if you’re reading this, next time you’re around here in this part of the world, (i.e. Dubai), let me know…

And yes, I’m still waiting for A Suitable Girl.

All lives matter

Hello! Have any of you rescued an animal in distress? Well, just a few days ago, I was instrumental in rescuing a bird (I think a stork). This is a feel-good story, which I thought I’d share with you for the festive season. Read on…

The stork in happier days wading in the lake

It was not a pretty bird. Big, grey, with dull yellow eyes and a log, sharp beak, it lay by the side of the lake, evidently in pain, unable to move.

Someone walking by saw it, and gestured to the house-help in the garden nearby to do something about it. The house-help, a young woman in her mid-twenties, immediately came and carried the bird into the garden. This was a supremely brave thing to do, as the bird tried to viciously peck her with its beak. She threw a cloth over it and carried it gently and put it down on the lawn.

Her employers were away, so she quickly whatsapped her madam and asked what she should do.

This is where new-age technology came in. The lady (my neighbour) sent out an SOS on our Whatsapp group, asking someone to see the bird, and also see what they could do. And this is where I entered the picture.

The bird had a broken leg, and was lying on its side, its eyes closed. When I touched it, it opened one yellow eye and fluttered its wings. It may have been in great pain.The house-help brought some water for the bird, but its beak was clamped shut. It refused to drink.

In the meantime, the Whatsapp messages were piling up, about what to do and how to save the bird. Ants had begun crawling over the poor creature as it lay helplessly on its side, and we pushed them away with a piece of rag, all the while taking care not to get a vicious peck. Things were looking desperate. I called up a few vets, but they all said that they only treated cats and dogs. One of the vets helpfully suggested the Dubai Municipality number as the place to go.

The Dubai Municipality was my last resort. I called up, and a helpful voice put me on to the veterinary section. Through them, I was connected to the doctor who dealt with wild fowl. “Is this a wild bird? he asked me “We only deal with wild birds, and not the normal birds you see flying around.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “OK, send me a picture, on Whatsapp.” I sent him a picture as asked, and yes, indeed it was a wild bird indigenous to this region – and therefore something that should be saved.

I heard the golden words, “I’m on my way.”

Those of us who don’t believe in authorities, who think that bureaucracies are just bumbling bastions of red tape (I admit I was one of them) will be pleasantly surprised at the speed at which Dubai Municipality acted. The van came after an hour or so (dreadful traffic jams at this time) and the assistant gently lifted the bird. It was so weak by this time that it did not have the strength to peck, .

Assistant gently lifting the bird

‘Do you have a carton?” he asked. We hastily pulled out a carton, but it was too small for such a large bird. It finally was put at the back of the van, and was on its way!

Bird being placed in carton

Well, what are the lessons learnt? First, don’t ever despair, but keep trying. Second, don’t think authorities are your enemies or just a pack of corrupt bureaucracy – they do come to the rescue. And third and most important, all lives matter, including this creature’s who is so important for the ecosystem.

Well, this is a feel-good story, and the real hero (or heroine) is the house-help who so bravely lifted the bird and had the presence of mind to call her owner. Have you had a similar experience in rescuing an animal in distress? I’d love to hear from you if you have. Also, if there is an ornithologist reading this, please tell me if this bird is indeed a stork.

Have a great festive season!

Do judge a book by its cover

When was the last time you bought something that didnt look nice? Let’s say, a perfume or a box of chocolates that wasn’t packaged attractively? Unless it was heavily discounted, you probably wouldn’t have even looked at it.

Pouf- you’re a new woman/man

The fact remains that we DO judge by outward appearances. The packaging is important. And this is especially important in the world of books.

Unless we’ve heard of a great book, or unless it’s a well-known author, how you choose a book not only depends on the blurb, but also to a certain extent, the picture on the front cover.

Sometimes, of course, book covers are misleading. This is especially true of literary fiction written by women which have “tarted up” covers just so that people would buy them. This is doing a great disservice to women writers. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032619/how-tarted-up-book-covers-belittle-womens-fiction

For the most part, though, the average reader often buys a book based on that front cover. It has to not only have something to do with the book, but also be eye-catching. Take for instance Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series. Each of the book covers has a fashionably dressed woman and funky colours, just to show it’s a fun read.

Well, all those proverbs you learnt in school, about not judging a book by its cover and so on, applied to that earlier age when book covers had not become a selling point. Book cover designers are in high demand, and if they make a name for themselves, can demand thousands of $$$! And rightly so, as the right cover can often make or break a book, even in this age of the kindle.

What are some of the iconic book covers you remember? Is it Jaws by Peter Benchley, with the sinister shark at the bottom? Or the stark simplicity of the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird? The Harry Potter series have undergone many cover changes over the years, but the fantastical elements remain.

So the next time you buy or borrow a book, have a good, hard look at the cover. There is so much hard work and so much imagination that goes into that front cover. Chances are, you may pick it up based just on this one aspect!

How much is too much?

Hello friends,

As parents, partners, friends, lovers, employers or employees, we all sometimes don’t realize how much is too much. It’s a very fine line, and it depends on the person and the situation. And you know you’ve crossed it when you begin feeling cross with yourself, or feel that you’re taken for granted, not appreciated, or just plain pi**ed without really knowing the reason why.

Perhaps it’s easiest for parents to know when they’ve done too much. At one extreme, the result is a spoilt and pampered kid, but on a lesser note it is just a child who creates tantrums when they don’t get their way.

Between friends, the friendship won’t last long if one is taken for granted. Haven’t you had a so-called friend who you always have to call? It is you who always makes a program to meet up, you who does the listening all the time. Said friend does not budge or make any move, does not bother to ask you about your day, is so busy that he or she can’t even return your phone-calls. Sounds familiar? We’ve all gone through this, thinking someone’s our friend when they are the least interested in us. Remember friendship is a two-way street. When you realize you’ve done too much, it’s time to call it quits.

Perhaps the hardest is when you’ve done too much for a partner. How did you let this happen? We all know marriage is about give and take, but when one gives too much, after some time there’s a “give.” When the giver tries to equalize the balance, there is very often resistance from the taker. Who do you blame? You can’t really blame the giver. It’s sometimes the situation that makes one give more and the other take more. And I am no relationship counsellor to say what to do or what not to do. But sometimes a good fight (without fisticuffs) where both sides let off steam helps to clear the air. So do whatever it takes to restore the equilibrium.

Well, on this note, I’ll end with these words: You should get as much as you give. And it is only you who can decide how much is too much.

Adios until next time…

Not DIET and EXERCISE again!

There seem to be two perennial topics in every newspaper and magazine the world over. Diet and exercise.

Yes, yes, I know, these twin topics ARE important, and we all need to know what is the next unpronounceable super food that is essential for our survival. My vocabulary – and my BLD (an acronym for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, but also perhaps, ironically, a short form for BLOOD)- now encompasses foods my parents have never even heard of, least of all downed. Besides, the prohibitive costs would have made their practical minds think twice before spending precious paisa on these goods. Quinoa, chia seeds, kale, keto diet, clean eating, veganism … and the list goes on.

Exercise – how, what, when – is also another favorite staple. Is it best to exercise AM or PM? What kind of exercise is good for you? How long should you exercise? Is walking the best exercise? Does weight training keep your weight down? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

GIMME A BREAK! I want to be myself- extra rolls of flesh, downing forbidden foods, keeping late hours, exercising when I feel like it, pretending a stroll with the dog is enough for the day and I’ve done my thirty minutes of brisk walking…

Every time I read another article on what kind of food I should be eating or how much I should be exercising, I reach for a bag of chips and plonk myself down on my comfy sofa, article in hand, smiling villainously to myself and saying to the article- “So there! Preach away for all I care!”

Is this constant bombardment of good health articles a nefarious agenda to give all of us folks who just want to live our life the way we want to some kind of mental health problem? Nowadays, we have so many such issues like anorexia and bulimia and body shaming and so on.

Remember, the latest catchword is DIVERSITY. And yes, round is a shape, and potato chips is a food. So just let me be.

Something sad I want to share

Folks,

I’m taking a break from my usual kind of posts, as I’ve received some devastating news. I thought I’d share it with you, not because I’m asking for sympathy or because I want to create some drama, but I think many of you can identify with this.

In the Middle East, everyone relies heavily on house-help. If you can only count the number of maid agencies, you’ll be really surprised. Every morning, I see busloads of these women being dropped at different homes. Most of them help in cleaning the house, and perhaps some of them are baby sitters.

We may all well agree that our house-help is essential to the smooth running of our lives, whether you are a high-flying career-woman or a socialite or even a stay-at-home mom.There are terrible stories of how house-help are mistreated by their employers. or even the reverse, of maids from hell who wreak havoc in a household. But sometimes, if we are lucky, our house-help is not a mere “employee” but inextricably becomes a part of our lives, as good as a family member.

Well, I had a lovely lady working for me for almost fifteen years. I don’t want to call her a maid as she was more of a companion and a family member. Bobby is her name, although she has a much more difficult-to-pronounce real name, Bechni Devi. She came to me when I was working long long hours, and she was indeed like a godsend. She blended in with our household from day 1.

Bobby in her better days

Well, I grew old, and Bobby grew old along with me. In the last two years, she found she was tiring easily, so I had to call in for some extra help.

Then this March, after returning from her annual vacation, I saw that her health had badly deteriorated. She could barely climb the stairs now and spent most of the day lying in bed. She took the decision to return just a month after her return. By this time, she was in such a poor state that I had to arrange a wheelchair at the airport.

You may ask, why didn’t I take her to a doctor? Of course, I did. To three doctors, who couldn’t really diagnose what was wrong and gave her painkillers for joint pain.

With a heavy heart, I sent her back. The family took her to the best hospital in Delhi, The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and I’ve just got the devastating news that she has stage 4 cancer of the bone!

How did this happen? Someone who was hale and hearty not six months ago now diagnosed with advanced cancer? She had her medical checkups every year whenever she went on her annual leave. The doctors had given her a clean chit even as early as February of this year. She ate whatever we ate, and lived a comfortable life here- much more healthy and comfortable than what she would have had back home, living cheek-by-jowl with other family members.

Folks, sometimes there are no answers. Life is cruel. She is one of the finest human beings I know. She was not educated (in fact illiterate) but she had wisdom and good sense in plenty. She had weathered many ups and downs in her life, and wanted to spend time with her grandchildren when she returned home for good.

I don’t know what more to say, except that I hope through some miracle she gets better and responds to the treatment. Yes, miracles do happen and I hope against hope that she comes out on top.

Move over, Jumeira Jane – make way for New Dubai Nikita

Jumeira Janes

Every city has it’s equivalent of a Jumeira Jane. In Dubai, a Jumeira Jane is the typical well-heeled (usually Western) expat who drives an SUV, drops her kids at school and heads straight to the gym, and then spends the rest of the day attending coffee mornings and leisurely brunches. Jumeira is a coastal area in Dubai favoured by affluent expats, with villas in many architectural styles and hotels along the beachfront.

Jumeira villas

Now that Dubai has expanded, Jumeira is no longer the hottest residence. The new areas make up what is now called New Dubai, comprising low-lying residential areas surrounded by lakes, meadows or golf courses, as well as high-rise properties, some overlooking the Arabian Sea. The beautiful people have now made this their home.

Enter the new version of Jumeira Jane, New Dubai Nikita. She is gorgeous, always in designer clothes, brunching with her friends at the trendiest restaurants (always organic and gluten-free if you please), and throws the smartest parties. She can be of any nationality.

Know someone like this? I’m sure you can point out a few, or perhaps YOU are one.

But before you think I am passing judgment, let me add that this is stereotyping to the nth degree.

It is a total disservice to New Dubai Nikita to label her a fluff-head. This new brand of Dubai womanhood is not a woman who plays second fiddle. She may be the owner of her own successful business, or work on an equal footing with her tycoon husband; she may be a high-flying professional working in a large corporate, or in the educational or hospitality sector.

Or Nikita may not be any of these. She may be like the erstwhile Jumeira Jane. If her husband gives her platinum-edged credit cards, and if she wants to spend her time at hair or tanning saloons or make visits to the plastic surgeon for a nip n tuck, SO WHAT? That doesn’t make her a fluff-head.

Nikita can be either of these women and exciting and interesting in her own way.

New Dubai Nikita, three cheers for you! You are the new epitome of Dubai womanhood.

Businesswoman Nikita
Fashionista Nikita