Monday, March 31, 2008

Walks Into The Room, Feels Like She Owns It

I’m not going to argue with this. Although I said at dinner in Chinatown on this very wet and windy Friday night that I would. But I’ve decided not to, because having had a whole weekend to think about it I really and truly believe that people's point of views are in the context of their lives and that sitting where I sit I don’t know where they are coming from and how their mind works. And that one shoe does not ever fit all. If it did we’d all have these bright pink sketchers and where would that get us, hunh?

Instead I’m going to encourage my gorgeous friend to rethink her position by telling my own story of weightloss yo-yo-ing. It was not until the summer that I turned 13 that my hormones and the rice I had suddenly began eating met, started dating and in that first flash of love decided to live together in my midriff. I spent all of my teen years watching my weight increase, the togetherness of the rice and hormones multiply over and over till they were all bred out like a pair of rabbits by the time I hit my twenties. It seemed like forever love, that no matter how hard I rebelled against was here to stay. All those years I was never really concerned about the weight because I could still walk, jump rope, enjoy games of volleyball, baseball and badminton, swim like a fish, dance like crazy. My parents often cautioned against the weight gain sighting medical reasons but all those attempts were half hearted compared to how much they told me how beautiful my face was and how being a good, kind, honest person far outweighed how I looked. And I know that because they believed what they said when they said it, that I too grew up in that knowledge, secure I was loved no matter what I weighed.

It was mainly because I managed everything my classmates managed that I never really ever found my weight a stumbling block enough to tackle with a punch in the tum. Although I was always conscious of my weight being greater than other people’s I usually chose to focus my attention on things that brought my interests to the fore, like reading, painting, writing, listening to music – all things that fuelled my holier than thou teen image. It was also incredibly easy to eat copious amounts of food that my mother slaved over: lasagna, kofta curry, shepards pie, goulash and fresh soups just a smattering of a diverse range adorning our dinner table nightly.

In my twenties I was all curves, the politer term for rolls of fat. I still rarely thought of myself as fat even though the scales and visual inspection of old photographs would confirm that I was. I felt the curves gave me weight (not only literally) in my pursuits and had not in any way hampered the life I sought for myself. I took what I had and worked with it instead of letting it work against me. It was not a small molehill, this keeping up my spirits while everyone around me dieted and primped themselves into model-like thin-ness. But I made peace with my weight quite young and enjoyed the liberating feeling not having to watch every morsel I put in my mouth. I had managed to make and keep friends over the years, each of whom saw beyond the fuller figure and loved me for who I was. I tried to lose a few kilos to look lovely at my wedding but that was all I lost, very few kilos. And in my wedding pictures, that day stored on film forever more, there is no svelte me, but there is certainly a happy me.

It’s after I came to London, more than 6 years ago now, that the weight really began to pile on. A combination of various things led to bigger heavier meals that no amount of walking to the tube was enough to suppress or undo. For the first time ever I felt unattractive and like a lump of lard. Slower and uneasy with my body – something that took me completely by surprise. My years of being in a good mental place were gone in what felt like an instant. It was with a heavy heart, and the realization that it would be tougher to lose it and get fitter now that I was in my 30’s, that I began to cloak myself in darker looser clothes. It took all V’s motivational power to get me to the gym but it was always with the idea of getting fit again. I joined knowing full well that I would never be thin but knowing that at my weight being unhealthy was a deadly downward spiral. I spent the first few months working on my stamina and then as I began to lose the weight I began to obsess. There were a few months in between last year where I was fretting about the actual kilos I lost on a daily basis, weighing myself to the point to obsession, eating ridiculously to change my weight by grams before my next self-imposed weigh in. A few months into this unhealthy obsession I just stopped. Like an a-ha moment, one morning as I climbed the locker room scales it hit me: it’s not the weight I wanted to lose, gram by slow gram. It’s the feeling I wanted to gain, of good health and robust-ness. Of feeling beautiful no matter what I weighed. My efforts at the gym in the past year and a half have not resulted in any major weight loss. I nearly weigh what I did when I got married but I am a hundredfold healthier. I can do the elliptical machine for 45 minutes, swim 45 laps, do an hour and half long indoor cycle class. Each without dropping dead in a faint. Or having a heart attack.

I won’t lie – I am thrilled that I did manage to lose some small iota of weight. I am more thrilled that I managed to stay motivated enough to see it through. I am thrilled that I have changed my life to be more conscious of what I eat and how much exercise I get. I am more thrilled that I have found will power that nobody imagined I had. But most of all I am thrilled that my body image is connected not only to what I weigh but to what I think of myself. I no longer cloak myself in black. I wear more make-up, bother with my hair, stand-up taller, walk with a confidence not built on how much I weigh but how I feel about myself as a person in this world. I know that even at this weight (which is by the way still much more than a normal person my height ways) I am a happy person and that being thinner would not make me happier. It would make me healthier but not happier.

And I guess what I am trying to say is this. No matter how hard you try and motivate yourself to lose that last 13 kilos, it’s not the 13 kilos you are trying to lose. It’s the perfect image of yourself that you are trying to seek. Unless you make peace with how you look for yourself no matter what the weight, it’ll be something else about yourself that you’ll want to change once those 13 kilos are off. If its inspiration you feel you need, the power to stay on the path then yes I do hope that your readers keep you motivated. But I hope you don’t obsess about every ounce on the scales. I hope you see what we all see. That beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and that really, the most important beholder is you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My every instinct

Arrived in Kolkata on Friday night, a flight delay made unecessarily irritating by an airlines lack of organisation or compassion. It was a past 9 pm drive home on empty roads, emptier than normal because of a Good Friday/ Holi holiday. Saturday was the same. Excellent chinese lunch at Bar-b-Que on Park Street and our car was one of a very few on the street. It was such a pleasant drive, even in 30+ degree weather, few people and empty roads, a rarity in Kolkata. It was a good day of chatting and bonding and catching up. The holiday ended too soon and I, stuffed with homemade dal-baadaam halwa, rasagulla's from Chitteranjan and kaju barfi from Gangaur was not in any way, shape or form ready to get on that plane and come home.

The flight home took everything out of me. Like every long flight I can remember its as if some god of aviation is watching down over me and saying' Aaaah putz on the radar'. Before Bloody Airlines (BA) could get it's act messed up there was the inefficient Kolkata pairport to contend with. Checked-in with surprising ease, my 25 kg suitcase trundled along the conveyor belt to its secret hold. That ease was the false security that should have tipped me off. Because then it was a half hour wait in line before the one Immigration official comes to his desk and begins the laborious process of checking 300+ people's passport/ visa details. Then it's another forty minute wait till Security gets its act together and begins to let us through. Unecessary waits, in lines of irate and sleepy passengers, between things, where there seems to be no good reason to make people wait other than the fact that it's so much more part of your job to TEXT AND USE YOUR MOBILE WHILE A PLANE LOAD OF PEOPLE HANG ABOUT IN A LINE. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BLEEDING NIGHT. IDIOTS. Finally, we are sitting in the lounge, reading, listening to ipods, munching on biscuits (mainly the myriad Bengali's in the room, all of whom seem to bring out a packet of bis-coot from knapsack on the dot at 3.30am) and trying to stay awake at this unearthly hour.

Bloody Airline tries to board us in an orderly row number fashion. But at 4.30am we are having none of it. Oversized hand baggage stuffed into overhead lockers, we are settling down to slumber as we take off and they are soon pushing a breakfast of chicken sausage or vegetarian (nobody knows what) on us. It's just gone 5am, it's pitch dark and I cannot belive anyone wants to eat. Yet they do. I don't, so I slip off my shoes and step into sleep.

Ony to be woken about 10 minutes later with loud wailing. A small child 4 rows ahead of me has taken it upon himself to entertain us all by crying. Loudly. For 3 straight hours. I kid you not. 3 hours later his lungs give in and he whimpers into sobbing silence. The sigh of relief in this airborne prison is audible. Every passenger shifts slightly preparing for another try at the sleeping-in-uncomfortable-positions game. We needn't have bothered. In 5 minutes flat a child 6 rows behind has begun his protest. Again with wails loud enough to shatter eardrums. For nearly 3 hours. After this it all became a blur. Another kid a bit further back picked up on the crying and joined in the part-EY. Original kid didn't want to be left out and awoke from his slumber to lend his powerful voice. So for the entire remainder of the trip it was a chorus that my ears are still ringing from. With no break whatsoever. LOUD and I mean LOUD crying from 3 small children is the way to travel 11odd hours. NOT.

Bloody Airlines tried to tempt us with some soggy cold sanwich and then with a hot meal of dry rice and smelly curry. The sound on my personal entertainment unit did not work and they had no seat/ advice or help to give me so in desperation to get away from the noise I wore the headphones and watched Chak De by reading the subtitles.

Landed in a small snow flake dance show. Very very very glad to see my boy V at the barriers. Hushed conversation in the car on the way home gave my ears some recovery time.

Don't get me wrong, I love kids, more specifically other people's kids, who can be returned with poopy diapers and crocodile tears. But what with the incessent wailing and slightly older kids 5 hour running around the aisles parties that made this 10+ hour flight seem like 100+ hours I think I have confirmed that when push comes to shove I lack the deep down maternal instinct. All I could could think was how much I wanted to get up and smack those kids and their parents. Thank god for the restraint that a seat belt provides.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Name-dropping Delhi

We all do it here in Delhi. The minute the cop at the traffic lights stops someone they are on their mobile phones, using connections, dropping names - anything to get out of this and any other minor tight spot. Sometimes its vanity, it sounds nice, like at a party - to see who knows who and how important it can make one sound. I have plenty to tell but this is not the time. Instead here is a funny titbit.

This is Tuesday morning. Nobody seems to be at work. They are either in their cars stopping traffic or in Khan Market spending their magic money. SilverLine is new to Khan Market. The original was the floor of someone's house near Bengali market where I have spent more of my youth than I care to admit or even really remember rifling through bags of lovely jewels. This is a far more sophisticated dive, drawers and showcases, all matched by higher prices. I am enticed by this chain of hollow silver beads and can't decide how many I should buy.

Two women are looking at the same drawer as me now. Silver rings of every shape and design.
Woman 1: This is nice nah?! (She has 2 rings on, one a hideous monstrosity, the other a delicate band)
Woman 2: I can't find anything yaar! (High pitched wail to accompany impatient tapping of her very high heels)
W1 adds 3 more rings to the same hand and admiringly says: What do you think if I get all of these? How nice it looks no if I wear all of these at once? (She can barely lift her hand with the weight of all that silver and stone). Gauri wears it like this.
W2: Your friend Gauri? From your colony? Akshat ki mom?
W1: Not that one yaar. My other friend Gauri, Gauri Khan, Shahrukh ki wife.

I bought a big ring with 4 turquoise stones in it. My mother thinks this is a passing phase in my new found taste for big bulky rings and that by the time I reach London I will be over it and never wear it again. It covers half my hand and weighs my finger down as I type this. I think I love it. I hope Gauri approves.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flyover Delhi

It's 7pm. After two days of traversing busy, dusty roads I am convinced that most delhi-ites have no real regard for their life my life. The traffic has terrified me all day, every day. Overtaking from everyside, leaving not nearly an inch on any side of our car at all times. It's all I can do to not sit in the centre of the back seat with my eyes shut and hands drawn into tight fists, listening to something calming on my ipod. Instead I am taking the high road (literally) and am sitting by the windows, eyes wide open, enjoying every minute of being here, even in the madness of the traffic.

Everyone seems to have a car, if not multiple cars. Such a change from when we first moved to this colony in a different decade and our family was one of the few ones with a car. The colony chowki-dar used to come on his nightly rounds with a stick and whistle, the two familiar sounds guaranteed in their loudness to show who was boss and assure even it's littlest residents that all was well and that he was guarding us and our property. He'd blow his whistle and tap the stick standing by our car a few extra times. Maybe he was only letting his friends, the thieves, know exactly where we had parked? Our car never got stolen so I guess he wasn't - it's just fun to re-live childhood conspiracy theories. Now life in this middle class colony is all gated and secured far more fastidiously. And the choice of car is mind boggling, even for a thief, with each family owning mutliple cars, each trying to outdo their neighbour with fancier bigger better. The sidewalks to my childhood bus stops are all covered in cars now and little kids seemingly get dropped to their school bus or even school in their cars. How the world has changed.

Delhi is covered in flyovers. They are everywhere. Like a well spread concrete maze. Almost all completed on time and changing the landscape of the city. And it's not just simple up-down flyovers but complicated clover leaf like permutations where each arm leads to a different place. Large multi-lane flyovers that have eased the journey out of congestion and into rash-ness. Cars flying across the hot tarmac, defying gravity, ignoring the signs, mileage limits and generally being lawless. Yet today I sat in gridlock at the top of a flyovers, proving that even these giants will not hold this surging economy in line.

I'm tired from the fullness of the day and the battles on the road. I need a shower to deal with the dust. But I think a plate of aloo tikki (with everything on it) will rejuvenate me a lot quicker.

Chowki-dar: Watch-man/ guard

Aloo tikki: Indian yummy snack made of potatoes and covered a in variety of sauces/ yogurt

Friday, March 14, 2008

Delhi the first

For once it was a relatively uneventful flight. The only points of drama were whether V's flight back from NYC would land on time and make the connection to our holiday flight smooth. It all went to plan thankfully. On the flight the only points of friction were the cardboard masquerading as food and the fact that they ran out of disembarkation cards after row 2. Which is understandable considering they clearly had no idea how many seats they (evil airline) have on the plane and what with ticket prices being so low they (still even airline) really don't care.

Sleep and some tired entertainment 8pointsomehours later we are on the ground at Delhi's International Airport. There is some serious refurbishment going on, masked only by flimsy tarpaulin that yells what a wonderful new airport it is going to be. The luggage takes an aeon to arrive, mine first and nearly 40 minutes and a hall full of irritable later V's.

Outside, there are my wonderful parents, arms open and smiles mixed with tears of joy. All the knee squashing, inedible food and irritable service is so worth it. I'm here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Super Saturday

One of the many gifts that London gives its natives and visitors are its numerous markets. This past Saturday I and two friends took shelter from the grey and brimming skies at Borough market. We chakkar-ed around the market once, the reconnaissance allowing us to prioritise what to eat and what to buy before committing ourselves to quickly.

The market has changed ever so slightly in the past few years going from downright farmer-like to upmarket tourist attraction in small increments. It remains an impressive market by any standards with fresh produce, meat, eggs and mountains of baked goods sitting proudly under the railway arches, oft alongside fresh eels, divine coffee, wheels of cheese and beers of the world. All food groups are available and the fair-trade, organic, paper & cloth bag toting public mill around amidst the picture snapping tourists.

We shared bratwurst in a bun from the German Deli, replete with sauerkraut and mustard and then a haddock fillet with chips from the takeaway Fish! counter. Armed with a pod of strawberries and some wholesome brownies I tagged myself into their plan and traversed the city to spend an afternoon with yet more friends. All impromptu muscling in – into which I was warmly welcomed. I suspect the brownies had something to do with it.

V joined in the festivities rather late in the day, after a Saturday at work. But just in time for a bit of that scrumptuous brownie and some ice cream. Out dinner plans changed and so we stuck around and after some debate we all decided to go to the famed Khan’s of Bayswater. This is a place V and I have talked about in awe-hushed tones ever since our first days in the UK, having been assured of its greatness by many an Indian friend in that first year of home-missing-ness. Somehow we never quite made it there having once abandoned a journey there for something else.

Khan’s is large and its light blue cloud infused walls and ceiling are propped up with fake palm tree columns. This delightful interior is spacious and bright and cheerful. We were seated quickly amidst the chattering crowds and with guidance from the regulars ordered quickly and magnanimously. It's Pakistani food in origin but the food crosses over into Indian a lot. Things of note on our table included a melt-in-the-mouth paneer kofta, a creamy butter chicken, well done keema matter and naans. The sheekh kebab (overcooked), aloo paratha (without aloo) and channa (judged against my own) left something to be desired but over all it was a super meal that completely lived up to our expectations.

Then V and I legged it to the home of other friends and ended up sitting and chatting and laughing till about 1.30am before heading home. The news and Law & Order to unwind and then a few pages of my book before blessed sleep. It was a super day. Nothing besides a few hours at Borough market was planned. Just goes to show that a day unplanned is often best.

And that brownies are one true gift.

Chakkar: to go around
Paneer kofta, butter chicken, keem matter, naans, sheekh kebab, aloo paratha, channa: All Indian dishes. Loosely: fried cottage cheese balls in gravy, chicken in tomato and cream sauce, mince meat and peas, bread baked in a tandoor, skewers of spiced mince, Indian bread stuffed with potatoes and chickpeas.

Borough market: 8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL (London Bridge tube station)
Khan’s: 13-15 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater, London W2 4UA

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Friday funnies

On the train this morning, for no very good reason, I was thinking about the advent of the world wide web and how that irrevocably changed our lives in how we communicate. So much so that when I, a child of the 70’s, went to work in my first office in the 90’s, there was no such thing as e-mail available to me. It was a while before it arrived and even more time before the speed of it became important in the workplace. Before, there was always time for coffee and samosas between sending faxes or typing out letters or making expensive calls to other offices. After, its been a rollercoster go go Go, faster, Faster, NOW.

But this post is not to whinge/ jump for joy about the advent of technology. It’s to relate a memory that made me smile this morning. It’s not my memory, it’s V’s, but the carriage from one person to another has only made it funnier.

The year was 1997 or 1998. E-mail had been around a couple of years. Everyone was an expert on everything to do with the Internet. All everyone talked about was the booming IT industry. Vuruld-vyd-vehb and its children were everywhere.

At work, a very young V and his equally young colleague are discussing how with their few years of work experience they could very easily get internet jobs.

Eavesdropping colleague immediately butts in: Does Internet have an office in Delhi?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Middle Age Mexican Wave

First, lets get the laughter out of the way. I may not look or sound it but in my youth (as it were) I was greatly taken by the Boy Bands - from the more respected Bee Gees to the more frivolous Wham, Aha, New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Boyzone, Take That - you name it and I listened to it. I didn't do groupie things like tattoo their names on my butt but I did get the odd poster to adorn my walls and I always listened to their music - on tapes, the radio, TV, CD's. I didn't join fan clubs and I mostly couldn't name every member or any of their details but if I heard a tune I could probably tell you the name of the band and possibly sing along with it, stumbling on no more than a few words.

As I grew older I was exposed to a greater range of tunes and genres of music than ever before, introduced to by friends, family and the movies. At the surface I liked to think that my ear became more discerning and my time more precious and therefore my devotion to boy bands matured into something more meaningful and age appropriate.

Clearly deep down I am still a ditzy teenager/ twenty something chick. Equally clearly my devotion has not waned in the very least. V-boy bought us tickets to watch Westlife perform live at the O2 arena last night, Saturday evening. It's his belated anniversary gift to me and even though he is not a fan AT ALL he came with me (and carried his FT just in case) and was as enthusiastic as I was excited - and that is a LOT. To think that all I got him were New York subway coin cufflinks.

I won't bore you with details as I guess this might be the time to say goodbye to those of you who feel we can no longer be friends because *gasp* "she likes boybands". Just to say that the arena was packed to the gills and that unlike popular lore about boy bands that states "they are appealing to young pubescent girls for emphasizing marketing and packaging over quality of music" it was full of middle aged women and men like ourselves swaying to every cutesy number one that Westlife have produced in this past 10 years. The O2 is undoubtedly a fantastic venue - neat, clean, well organised and arranged - a wonderful use of the white elephant that has hung around the Labour party's neck since the turn of the millenium. The sound sytem and acoustics were excellent, drowning out the cacofony of 25,000 tuneless fans in favour of one marvellous male vocal group. I had a stellar time; enjoyed the live band, the singing/ dancing extra's, the stage-lights-effects, the choreographed nature of boyband-ed-ness. I swayed and jumped with the crowds, clapped my hands raw, danced and sang till my feet ached and my voice turned hoarse. Our stand of middled age aunties and uncles mexican waved with as much enthusiasm as our flailing bodies and old knees allowed. I had an absolute ball. There is nothing quite like live performances and the enthusiasm that a crowd of fans brings.

I think it is OK to like Beethovan and the Beetles and Roxette and Ravi Shanker and boy bands galore and not be betraying anybody. I must admit that over the years and with many genres of music/ bands/ singers I've often joined the band wagon of acceptable/ esoteric/grown-up/ serious music more to be accepted into discussions/ friend circles than because I really liked something. Trance music and heavy metal being two case in points. Well no more. I am determined to stop being pretentious about my taste in music and will never again think of BOY BAND as two dirty words.

It's about 4am now and I am still so buzzed with the evening that I am sitting here and posting this while V watches India vs. Aus cricket. It's the very least I can do after I tortured him with my ear drum shattering singing.