Friday, July 27, 2007

Be an Onion

What is with this d*rn weather?

When I first came to England I could not fathom why the British continuously talked about the weather and drank so much tea. The tea bit made sense almost instantly as just having my hands around a cup of tea (that I didn't drink) made me feel warm and loved in the dark depths of that first winter. But the weather? Really? Where I come from the weather goes 4 ways, - extreme sweaty heat, thundering rain, foggy cold and a few spring-like weeks. Over here however there seemed to be a perpetual state of shades of cold and grey.

I learnt the British obsession with weather much like a game of russian roulette. A game at which my luck sucks big time. I’d look out the window on a purportedly spring day, see a sparkling blue sky, walk out in a t-shirt and thin jacket and whooosh, like a slap in the face I'd have to turn back and put on more appropriate outerwear. Or I'd wander out in the dead of winter in multiple heavy layers and promptly melt into a puddle on the overheated tube floor, leaving nothing behind but a soggy pile of overcoats, multiple pairs of socks and a bewildered compartment of tube passengers. Or better yet I would lug my heavy overcoats (yes, more than one) all over the countryside during the hottest summer days, murmurring like a mad woman, "Oooh, but the weather could change any time".

You see British people have got it down to a pat. They can smell the weather and dress appropriately. And more than anything they can layer. If I have learnt anything in my 5and1/2 years here, it is this: Layering is the art and purview of thin people. It's an undiscovered sport in my opinion, who can be the best onion, whose layers will be most most ingenious, accurate for any weather emergency and yet look as effortless/ fashionable as possible. The possible permutation combinations seem to stem from a range of gear, from the inside outwards: a warm layer, a nice-on-the-eyes-formal/casual-layer (often mutliple layers of nice), another warm layer (like a jumper/pullover/ sweater), a summer jacket or winter overcoat or a rain proof layer, a summer scarf, a wooley winter scarf, stockings or matching socks, a windcheater, an umbrella and of course the the obligatory watch, jewellery, handbag beside appropriate shoes. My entire wardrobe is smaller than this list.

I am a loser at this sport. I tried it in my first few years at it, more to cope with the weather than fashion trends. All I achieved was the now patented image of a waddling potato. I gave up pretty quickly and decided that I would brave the elements and adopt a two layer policy, one layer casual/formal layer and a coat/shawl of some kind. I suffer for my art.

This years brilliant weather (I say, dripping sarcasm) has meant that on any given day the temperature will fluctuate wildly, going from being warm-ish and sunny to being gale like in minutes. The rain pours down in bursts and then chinese-torture-drips till the cloud passes by. The sun sparkles against puffball clouds for a few minutes while the brisk wind whips around creating mini-tornadoes of discarded newspaper and sandwich wrappers. It's not pleasant. My plants seem to be the only happy recipients of the incessent rain. No matter how closely I follow the weather forecast and on how many channels and sites I turn for advice there is no escaping the madness of British weather. It is unpredictable beyond belief and I am consistently unprepared yet strangely beyond caring. There is no summer to speak of this year and I now completely understand the obsession with weather. I don't have the wardrobe for it, but I do understand it.

Sadly I am still more potato than onion.

P.S. No rude comments about onions being purple-red and smelly please. I happen to like onions, majestic in their royal skin, pleasant in their plumpness. And if I managed to dress in layers I'd use perfume.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cut it out

So the birthday was spent mainly in quiet contemplation. Really it was nothing more than the exhaustion and loneliness of a house used to having parents and a sibling suddenly emptying out. Yes, we have been sans any form of parent in our home since the end of last week and all the tiredness of being on the trot 24/7 with entertaining, cleaning, cooking and good behaviour, mostly, had taken its toll.

In the months running up to this birthday I have been giving serious thought to what I want this next year to look like. I am a great believer in resolutions and make then for New Years and once in a while on birthdays. The New Year ones are invariably to do with ‘don’t eat this, don’t eat that’. The birthday ones are a tad more soul searching and happiness seeking. This year I have made three large ones:

1. Last August, 48 weeks ago, a week after moving house, V and I joined the gym. Against my better judgement, I must add, as I have never ever stuck to any programme of exercise or diet for long. Somehow it has stuck. And we are here in week 49 with me weighing 10-12 kgs less than I did (depending on day and number of chocolate eaten) at start point. The gym going has dipped over the last two months with visitors and erratic schedules but we have kept at it fleetingly (read twice a week) and the grams seem to be creeping back on. Well, resolution no.1 is to cut out the flab. I am going to take this to a higher notch and am aiming to lose 15 kilos in the next 6 months. Yes, I am THAT fat.

2. In my youth I harboured misguided dreams of being a world class chef. Thankfully I came to my senses as I had neither the temperament nor talent for it. I also discovered I have the ambition of an overfull slug on a cauliflower. I do however enjoy cooking very much and feeding other people the leftovers of whatever I wolf down (see pt.1 for where this has got me). This interest in cooking led me to set up a failed blog with just one introductory post on it. And I am that lazy that I have not yet bothered to even delete said sad blog. Coming back to the point I have lost my cooking mojo. I am bored with everything we eat at home, even though we try and eat a different cuisine nearly everyday. I'm at the point where I never want to see another meal cooked by me as long as I live. That is how staid my repertoire has become. So this birthday I resolve to cut out the slackness and bringing back to life my interest in good food. So I shall buy one new cookbook a month and try and put that zing back into our meals and stomachs. And I will delete that horrid-haunting-me blog.

3. This third one is the biggie. I have come to the unhappy realization that pretty much my entire life it’s been all give give give and no take take take. My life is filled with people whom I think are my friends but who clearly view me as nothing but an acquaintance or a friend when in need.

What started this one was a memory of a conversation with a school classmate where she convinced me to come to her house to spend an afternoon as my house was too far away. I was an uncomfortable teenager and eager to please and be included in the hallowed circle of ‘friends’ and gave into silly requests like this not ever once questioning how the distance between our houses would change whether she came to mine or I to hers. I still remember my dad always uncomplainingly driving to pick me up from far flung corners of Delhi when no one would agree to come to where we lived in the sticks. Perhaps I was not a nice teenager and needed to make the extra effort to make any friends, but I highly doubt that. As I grew older and more confident the wheat fell away from the chaff and I found friends that didn’t care where I lived and seemed to like me for me. An adulthood of living in different cities has been blessed by technological advances like text and email. Life is all fast paced and yet nowadays I feel like a slow-fast motion film where I am standing on a train platform, quite still, and around me figures are blurred by the speed at which they move. Of course the sign around my neck says ‘Please like me’.

The move to this city five years ago left me all anxious about friendships – those left behind and the need for new ones in this city. Here I was, newly wed and now trying to forge friendships with a new world of people that had to like me. We slotted into various vapid social circles but I still needed proper friends, like fresh air, to breathe and help me find my place in this continuum. It is hard work, this making friends business and it’s not a skill that comes easily to me. I have worked at it with diligence. And hand on my heart I can say I have always been the better of two friends, loyal and trusting to a fault. I have carried pregnant women’s shopping, hosted dinners, lunches, brunches, teas, baked cakes, remembered birthdays, anniversaries, bought thoughtful gifts, called, texted, enquired and appropriately reacted to births and sickness, let my house be used like a dharamshala, lent my ears and shoulders to others woes, given asked advice on where to get groceries, where to live, how to find help etc. Well, I have been used one time too many. Probably because I try too hard and attempt to turn every person I meet from acquaintance to friend in 25 minutes. That is my downfall. And now I am rectifying it.

So this is my resolution. And you will not like it. But really I do not care. I am 32 and for once in my life I see clearly. I am done trying to be the good one and have everyone like me. This year it is all about me. I am cutting out the crap – people whom I have taken as friends over the years but clearly are not in it for anything other than selfish reasons. I am distinguishing between friends and acquaintances (page out of V’s book of life) and although for me this is a painfully hard task I am sure I will be the richer for it. I will not send you long emails telling you about my life and then smile at a one line reply. I will not stand somewhere and wait in pouring rain/ sweeping winds because you think its OK to be late. It is not. It is just plain simple disrespectful. I will not listen to lame excuses of why we cannot meet up. Or why my house is too far for you to come but yours is that tad closer. I will not invite you to my house again for a meal after having you round to mine a hundred times and not once being invited to yours. I will not remember birthdays/ anniversaries. Or rather I will remember but will not call/ email/ txt. More than anything I will no longer listen to your lame ass excuses. My life is as busy as yours - even if I do not have a child (which is just everyones excuse these days) - don't assume I have the time to fit you into my schedule - I too have a life. I will be ruthless and horrid and make you work to be my friend. Because, I agree with the darn ad, I am worth it.

I am in my 30’s for crying out loud and have discovered that there are friends to be had out there. Real people. Good people. Who want me for their friend as much as I them. The rest of the lot will slowly but surely be cut away. I say slowly because they won’t notice till they need something and turn to me. I won’t be there. And I won't feel guilty.

PS. Pt. 3 also counts for hundreds of thankless relatives. I will NOT call/ email because I have to. I will not buy you gifts you can then give away. I will not go out of my way to come see you. I’ve done it enough already. Now it’s your turn. Or not.

PPS. What I really did last birthday: Long overdue cleaning all day Saturday followed by trek across town for dinner of Indian-Chinese grub at my ever favourite Dalchini. Was woken by the endless texts and different sung versions of Happy Birthday of people not realizing it was 7.30am and that I was not quite awake. Did not get act together till way past mid-day and was being infuriatingly indecisive on picking lunch place. Finally chose Tayabs. And followed that up with going to buy part of fabulous birthday gift from V. More on that later.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Somewhere in the world it's already my birthday.

I suspect that at 7.30 London time my parents and Nik will call to wish me and sing loudly because it will turn to midnight in India and since that is where I was born it will rightly be my birthday.

Of course living here I will have to wait till midnight to release my inner child and celebrate wildly. Ha Bl**dy Ha. I will be asleep by 10. You see I am now THAT old....

Good night!

Friday, July 06, 2007


If you say the words ‘Julie Andrews’ to anyone in V’s family you will get instant breaking into song, undoubtedly one from either Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music. The DVD’s of both movies have been well worn out in every pod household within his family. And if you need any proof you have only to ask R, the youngest member of the family and our very adorable niece and she will gladly sing you a few bars of the song ‘Let’s go fly a kite’. Including, very clearly, with no stumbles or stutters, the line ‘Up through the atmosphere’, in very clear diction. She first sang it to me at age 3. And she has not a clue what ‘atmosphere’ is. That is how in love with Julie Andrews they are.

Armed with discounted mid-week tickets we took the in-laws to watch ‘Mary Poppins: the musical’ at the Prince Edwards Theatre in Soho. And for a weekday show beginning at 7.30 and expected to finish at 10.15, it was surprisingly full of children, almost 50% and all under the age of 8.

The show was spectacular and I would recommend it not only to visiting tourists but even adult Londoners, with not a moment of hesitation. The sets are truly spectacular and the singing/ acting super – the kids who played Jane and Michael especially. It closes in Jan 2008 and I suspect they will do a live televised audition on BBC for a new production of it in some future year like the hugely successful ones for the new ‘Sound of Music’ and ‘Joseph and his Technicolor Dream coat’.

The sets are intricate and fluid and with dramatic lighting perfectly depict the goings-on in the lives of the Banks household. The costumes and live orchestra add to the drama and much choreographed dancing, acrobatic flying across the stage and walking upside down with invisible-strings-suspending-Bert-from-falling-into-the-crowd contributed to the gasps and endless clapping. It was an excellent evening.

The best bit though was right at the end. When Mary Poppins is leaving because her work is done (an aside: ha ha blo**dy ha – is a women’s work ever done? – I love the fantasy land of musicals where everything is curable and done). Anyway, she says goodbye to Bert and then she kisses him, on the lips, a big old full on smackeroo. Just then, in the silence of the theatre, from just across the aisle from us, the voice of a child, “Eeeeeeewwwwwwww”.

From the mouths of babes eh!

Mary Poppins: Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton Street, London W1D 4HS. Tel: 08708509191

Monday, July 02, 2007

A not so sunny day

Went and tortured ourselves with the Deol family show ‘Apne’ over the weekend. What can I say, I am a sucker for cheap tickets and they were practically giving them away to entice people to the grand opening of the Vue cinema in the revamped Millennium Dome. I have to say I like weekends like this, busy and somewhat interesting, food for the brain and the blog. So many things to talk about – my views on the ugly-duckling-turned-swan-millennium-dome, the worst movie of the year and a restaurant turned good.

I’ll start with the worst, which was undoubtedly the movie. First glance of the movie appeared on that most Indian of channels that I relentlessly watch to keep me up to date on Hindi cinema – B4U. I ignored the song clip, flipping channels whenever it appeared, mainly because it had irritating Bobby Deol, flicking his irritating curly hair ponytail combined with the nauseatingly nasal voice of Himesh Reshammiya. Then Dharamender was given an award at the IIFA in UK’s own Oscar venue – Yorkshire. Sat and watched flashbacks of said awards on one of the Star channels with MIL - mainly for laughs and to feel smug about how OTT they could all get in, for crying out loud, Yorkshire. Anyway, Dharamender comes to collect award from Amitabh (a Sholay moment for the oldies). Dharamender begins on a long speech which segues into something long and boring – plugging his sons and forthcoming film. Brings out his sons, Sunny and Bobby, who hug him a few times, touch feet, make soppy speeches thanking their papaji and even cry crocodile tears. Then, cherry on icing on cake, they bring out the film’s director and make another speech about how this movie this is the perfect for his whole family to come together (note to self:where was Esha Deol?). More hugging, tears and about 4 hours later they get off the stage. About 5 hours too late.

Decided not to watch the movie under circumstances. Promptly ate my own words by booking tickets for movie thinking how smartly we would avoid the thunder showers all day Sunday. (Note to self: when will you learn girl, never to trust the weather forecast). The weather was alright, bright and breezy. The movie was awful, trite and ghastly. So ghastly in fact that the projector dude decided not to come back after the intermission. He had to be called back by enthusiastic members of crowd (certainly not V & me) to put on second half of movie. For 25 minutes of the intermission there was blessed relief, the ability to leave and get popcorn and fight the strong temptation to leave and never come back. Only V’s mum was all nostalgic about Dharam paaji and quite enjoying herself, so popcorn laden we came back. I played games on V’s phone the entire second half. I won’t even inflict the story on you lest you decide never to come back (although just the decision of going might have triggered that response). Let’s just say it’s a non-story about a father, his sons, the-not-so-sporting-sport of boxing, unnecessary angst, lots of crying, way too much hugging and god awful music. Enough, Sunny paaji, enough.

The Millennium Dome has bceome 'The O2'. It's within its many walls that the new Vue cinema is situated. The revamp is a revelation, one that made the searing pain from the movie dissipate quite quickly. In five years of London living my opinion on the Dome has never much fluctuated. It has always been a sitting duck, the butt of jokes in both political and public spheres. It’s nothing but a big circular low sitting tent that looks impaled into the ground by large yellow metal spokes. It was one of three things constructed to mark the turn of the millennium, the other two being the Ferris wheel London Eye and the no-longer-shaking Millennium Bridge across the Thames. It has never been used. Basically it has sat there right next to the North Greenwich station and collected dirt and nasty quips for lunch. Until now, 7andsome years later, when it has been redeveloped into something a bit more useful by moolah rich people. The central (literal and physical) space of the Dome is the O2 Arena, a high tech concert hosting space the likes of which South East London has never before had. To make it more exciting and appeal to a wider crowd they have created a boardwalk semi-circling the arena, all weather-proof under the Dome, hosting the Vue multiplex and string of restaurants. With its fake palm trees, wrought iron benches, quirky do-not-touch-guitars-on-museum-display and interactive games it’s all very shiny and new. I can already tell I’m going to be a regular. I’m magpie like that.

Exhausted from a morning of wandering around Greenwich village, alternately cringing at/ ignoring the movie and taking in all that shiny-ness we schlepped it to the TiffinBites in Canary Wharf’s Jubilee Place mall. I’m not a big fan of TiffinBites as the food the first few times we went there has always fallen below my fairly average expectations. As a result we stopped going completely and it’s been over 2 years since we upped our noses and walked off to the neighbouring winning Wagamama. This time too it was not our first choice but to be gentle on popcorn filled stomachs and for lack of another option we decided to consume something light. The fare on offer has increased dramatically and now includes loads of snack-type foods, chaat featuring prominently. So we had a dinner of chaat; aloo papdi, bhel puri and aloo tikki. All tasty though smothered in bilious green chutney and over-sweetened imli chutney. It was good but not great. I wish the green had been more real, less neon.

Minus the Deol debacle it was an average weekend. Whatever happened to summer?

TiffinBites: 22-23 Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf E14 5NY