There is such a thing as a free lunch…

…a bad substandard one.

I was an NCC cadet in college. My dad was one too. He told us of stories in engineering colleges where hostel students enrolled themselves in NCC for the free and sumptuous breakfast after the Saturday parade. In my college, Saturday breakfasts came from our own canteen which was pretty good. So for a whole year, we had no real complaints about the food.

2nd year meant that we had to start going for camps where cadets would be selected and groomed to take part in the Republic Day Parade at New Delhi. That is the one thing every cadet aims for. Our first camp was held in the month of May at Wallajahpet, not far from Madras. We were supposed to stay at the government arts college there for 10 days (or was it 2 weeks? I forget). Accommodation for girls was arranged at the girls hostel there since the college was empty during the summer holidays. 25 girls from my college were given 2 tiny rooms to stay in. But the true horror was the state of the rooms and bathrooms there. We were told that it was a functional hostel where girls lived during the semester. But it was filthy, dusty and full of cobwebs. It took us about 2 hours to clean up both the rooms just to make them habitable. Of course, there were massive arguments about who got to sleep under the fan! I just decided to sleep in the corridor and stay away from a fan that only circulated the heat and body odour around the room.

Then came the horror of the toilets. Like all dormitories, the toilets were shared. I could be wrong but I think we were about a 100 odd girls sharing about 5-7 toilets and about the same number of bathrooms. There used to be fights over using them every morning. One had to always make sure that the person using the toilet/bathroom after them was someone from their own college so as to not relinquish control.

After these startling and exhausting adjustments, we sat down for our first lunch at the camp. After so many years, I distinctly remember how bad the food was. The rice was not clean & finding a worm was not surprising. Asking for it to be tasty was just too much. It was unappetizing and made us sick. I had carried a bunch of snacks from home. My staples were Marie biscuits and a few squeezy tubes of milkmaid. Many days, I would eat just that for lunch. There was a small shop inside the campus with a telephone. Their most attractive product was warm maaza. I used to down at least 2 a day. But nothing makes up for proper solid food especially when you’re involved in physical drill from 6 in the morning to 4 in the evening (again, it was a long time ago, so I don’t remember the exact schedule). One day, out of sheer exhaustion, I asked my parents to drive down to the camp with food from home, lots of it. My entire contingent sat in a circle, salivating in anticipation when the food was being opened. You had to be there to understand the meaning of the phrase, inhaled the food. I have never before or never again seen food disappear that fast. On the last day of camp, as a treat, we were served suspicious looking boiled eggs. The girls who ate them ended up with upset tummies.

In addition to the starvation, a lot of us ended up with acute urinary infection due to the poor sanitary conditions. When we complained about it to the camp commander, she ordered the toilets to be cleaned once at night too. I figured the cleaners came around 2 am to clean the toilet. So I’d set an alarm to wake up and use the toilets right after they were cleaned. I’d try not to use it again unless I really really had to.

When I read about children dying due to contaminated midday meals, I could truly imagine how deplorable their state was. We, students from good urban colleges, after endlessly protesting about the food and sanitation issues, just like our seniors did during their time, were able to change nothing. Nobody gave a damn. It was thought of as a part of roughing it out.

My heart bleeds for those children cos nothing is about to change. People are not going to stop sending their children to government schools. For many, it might be their only means to one meal a day.

I decided to quit NCC after that camp cos in spite of everyone saying that the camps got better after the first one, I was thoroughly disgusted and nothing was going to make me go back.

My heart bleeds cos I know that luxury may not be an option for these kids. No one is going to bat an eyelid at the sight of stones or worms in the rice. You simply throw them away and carry on eating.


Checking in

It’s that time of the year when I get all pensive and serious about life. My birthday’s around the corner and every year I start thinking about all the new things I want to do in life and the number of things that are still pending in my to do list.

If there’s one thing that 2013 has taught me, it is that life is unpredictable. All it takes is one moment for your life to turn upside down. The price I’ve paid to learn that lesson has been very high. While it scares me to think about tomorrow, it’s given me the clarity to not shy away from challenges. Sometimes the biggest challenge I face in my life is just myself. I’ve opened this page to write something so many times. I write 5 sentences and exit without saving anything cos I’m convinced that a. It’s not worth going through with b. No one’s really going to read this c. It’s not as flowery, insightful, interesting or beautiful as xyz’s blog. I always ignore that tiny inner voice that says that unless I go through with it and work on it, I’ll never know.

I need to push myself to make that tiny inner be heard louder and learn to trust it. I’m beginning to see that being a parent is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. I don’t know how the previous generations did it. My mom managed 2 kids and a job. My grandmother managed 4 of her own kids, about 10 of her nieces and nephews, a big joint family, a husband with a big ego and much more on limited resources. I have a maid, a cook and a doting husband. All I do is take care of my son and yet I’m exhausted on most days by 6. I realise that the exhaustion is more mental than physical. I know I’m never going to be as wonderful as my grandmother but I’m going to try. I’m going to stop being my own obstacle. One tiny step towards making myself happy. One tiny step towards being happy with myself.

What was I thinking

8 posts in 20 days. That is what I call hopeless stats. Epic fail!

This is how it all started. I woke up one day to realise that I had had no “me” space in a long long time. I had completely lost touch with so many things that I enjoyed doing. Like this blog for instance, was lying in a corner with absolutely no attention from me. I hadn’t clicked a picture in a very long time. I even had no clue when the subscription on my Flickr pro account ran out. I logged in one day and found out it had expired. It made me very sad. I wanted to do something about it. This putting up a post a day was an effort to reclaim something of what I felt I had lost. The few posts that I put up made me feel nice. Just when I was beginning to feel like I could finally write something again and make some sense of it, I lost the flow.

I tried to do too much at the same time. I was trying to regain my virtual life when my physical life it self was non-existant. Last couple of weeks have been very demanding both physically and emotionally. I have woken up almost everyday wishing I could go back to sleep for another few hours when I know I have to drag my feet and get going. Weekends haven’t exactly been very rejuvanating either. I have been staring at my computer screen so much that I even stopped lurking on Twitter over weekends. With what little enthusiasm I have left during weeknights and weekends, I have hung out with the husband and some friends and tried cooking something tad more interesting than my unexciting everyday cooking.

I now I have new found respect for working mothers. My mother used to wake up every morning, pack 4 dabbas, send 2 kids to school, pack off a husband to work and then leave to work. She always had the energy and time for everything we wanted. In fact, she even had time to do her own thing! One big difference is the fact that my mom had a job that was strictly 9 to 5 (at least when we were growing up). No one’s job is strictly 9 to 5 anymore. Even my mom’s job stopped being that when she decided to go for those promotions she missed out on when we were growing up. There are days when I feel like none of this worth it. Today is just one of them.

One missed!

After just 3 days of posting, I missed a day. In my defense, I don’t think it counts as one day missed as a bunch of us were in office up all night fighting a deadline. I went to sleep at 5.30 am. So technically my body clock is still stuck at yesterday! So refuse to count this as a slip.

In spite of the racing against time sort of deadline, yesterday was a fun day and this is why

  • it was my first ever night out at work!! I thought I was going to dead by the end of it, but surprisingly I was bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5 in the morning and could’ve gone on without sleep. I totally surprised myself.
  • Dal Kichchdi is my latest comfort food!  Its best eaten pipping hot with ghee and pappad. Sabari, a small joint at Santa Cruz makes the best Dal Kichchdi ever. Last night I finished almost an entire portion all by myself. Any more and I would’ve definitely slept off at the table.
  • Went home and woke up the husband who was fast asleep to show him the T-Shirt I had bought him from the InkFruit sale at work. They have a really funky T-Shirts. Must check it out if its your kind of style. These are some of my favourites.
  • Woke up this morning to find out that the husband had made some yummy Nutella and Peanut butter sandwich for breakfast!

So far, lack of sleep has not been an issue. So I hope to post once more today to make up for the missed day!

New Year Mania!

Its that time of the year again. Lists are being made, lots of reminiscing happening, resolutions are being dusted out and recycled, party plans being finalised and more than anything, renewed optimism about the year to come. I feel strangely detached.

Not that I’ve ever really made ‘New year’ plans. I’ve slept through most of them. Or at the most, woken up to reply to calls and messages at 12 and promptly gone back to sleep. But this year, the biggest bummer is that, I’m going to be working on the 1st. Something about some logistic issues or something equally bizzare that I didn’t bother to even pretend to understand. In spite of not having any party plans (no plans, actually), I feel very let down and cheated.

The peer pressure is getting to me. Just saying things like I’m going sleep through the new year and wake up to work the next morning or I don’t really care about the new year fuss, makes me feel pretty ancient. Maybe my new year resolution should be party more and feel young?

Ah, just forget it, I don’t really care and I’m going to sleep through it, yet again. Or maybe I should just accept the fact that my life is boring and watch Titanic for the umpteenth time. In Tamil, maybe, this time?


The old man

I’m in a mood to ramble. More than ever. 3rd post in a span of 5 hours? Never happened before. I was blog hopping and ended up reading this blog end to end. Some very very cool posts. This particular post reminded me something that happened to me once in Hyderabad.

I was living in Maradpally. As usual, took a cab home at around 8. Its a long drive home from office. So it was about 9ish when I got to Maradpally. I got off at the end of the lane cos I needed to pick up something from the supermarket. Hyderabad is a safe city. I’ve taken an auto back with Roomie at 2 in the morning and fought with the auto-driver over spiked auto meter, loudly at that. Its not something I’d ever dream of doing in Madras. In fact, I don’t think I’ve travelled in an auto past 9pm here. Getting back to the story, the road that led to my house from the supermarket was poorly lit as always. Under the lone streetlight on the narrow road, there was an abandoned TVS 50 and lying next to it was an old man. My first impulse was that there had been an accident. I slowly moved towards the man unsure of what to do really. But as I moved closer, I realised he was mumbling something undecipherable in a language I didn’t recognise. I stood right there for a full minute unsure of my next move. People kept going past us. A few gave me a second glance. More out of curiosity, I guess. Just as I unscrewing the cap of my water bottle to sprinkle some water on his face, another gentleman stopped. He seemed like my grandpa. Same kind eyes and laid back attire of going for a leisure evening walk. He looked at me questioningly and I shrugged saying I don’t know what happened to the old man. He moved closer and the stench of alcohol hit him. He signaled for me to move away and keep walking. ‘He just drunk,’ he said, very casually. I kept standing there cos he wasn’t exactly young and I wasn’t sure how he would lift the drunk man up. I didn’t feel right about leaving him alone.

In all this, the drunk old man woke up and tried to roll over and stand up. In this process, another bottle of alcohol rolled out of his pant pocket sounding wicked as it rolled over on the gravel. Even in his drunken stupor he felt about for his precious bottle and refused to be helped up without it. I still stood rooted to the same spot, in shock. The other gentleman kept signalling for me to leave and gave me an encouraging smile. I walked away, unable to grasp the gravity of what I just saw. People kept walking past, wrapped up in their world, refusing to help a man struggling with a stubborn drunk. Maybe this old man’s world was a small one too, just him and his bottle.

Toilet Chronicles

I have a phobia for public toilets. Not just using them, just even being around them. But you know life, especially mine. There are times when you just do not have a choice and will be forced to pee in the weirdest of public loos. This phenomenon has been haunting me from as early as my school days.

I studied in a school that was run by the Arya Samaj, hence very rooted in ‘culture.’ They were so obsessed with it that we had separate schools for boys and girls in most places. But the more recently started schools like mine had to be co-ed for a very basic simple reason – lack of space. The oldies on the board weren’t deterred by this. They put their creaky minds to work and figured out an ingenious solution. They decided to put boys and girls in class 8 and above in separate classrooms on separate floors. They then figured that we could still like talk to each other while walking from one class to another (rolling eyes). So they decided to go one step further and make two stairways, one for the girls and the other for the boys. Wow! But there was one faux pas. The girl’s toilet was near the boy’s staircase. So the only time the cute boys could be eyed is when you’re waiting in line to pee or when you’re drying your hands on your way out from the loo. Not pretty at all!

Then came college. I studied in a girl’s college. No problems of opposite sex at all there cos the only man in the compound was our super sexy grey haired chowkidar. But the row of toilets close to our block, for those one off urgent occasions, was the only one in the college with a big long mirror. Even if one wasn’t interested in using the mirror, just fighting the mob in front of it to access the toilet was a feat one had to master. My college also treated these loos with a lot of care. They were promptly locked everyday at the end of the day and only opened the next day at 7 in the morning. But I was one of those unfortunate people who reached college at 6 in the morning for almost a year cos of NCC practice. In the unfortunate event of having to use the loo in the morning, the only other option available was the security guards’ loo in the parking lot. For one, its extremely unclean, for another, it’s filled with cigarette butts and weird looking men looking harassed after their night shift. Talk about fate!

In Google, the toilets were extremely posh and the only thing one had to worry about was the gap in the wall between two toilets. It functioned solely on trust. But there’s no stopping anyone who’d want to peep from their toilet into yours or even pulling your leg, literally. But then, they were posh loos! And there were so many of them, that there was always the option of picking the loo which had no one in the adjacent one.

And then my current workplace kinda takes the cake! The office space is definitely not a big architect designed one. But the major faux pas here is the loo again. There’s one door that leads to the loo, both ladeej and gentz. The door opens into a narrow passage which has one door on the right and one at the far end. The door on the right opens into the men’s loo and the door on the far end leads to ladeej loo. There’s nothing more embarrassing or irritating than running into someone in that narrow passage that just about holds two people. Especially with the rains, the doors are all creaking and groaning every time they’re opened. Today, I was stuck in there with another guy who was yanking the door to his loo and I was yanking mine. If there ever was an awkward silence, this is it! I tell you 😦