Wednesday, December 29, 2010


This is post 365 - a pretty poor showing for a blog that's been around since before I turned 30. Maybe it's a sign that this is not sustainable. I am still pondering my decision. I won't go without saying goodbye though.

This between Christmas and New Year week we are just chilling at home and in the local area, playing silly games and running around with our son, eating chocolate and pizza, reading avidly and sleeping loads. It's the one week of the year when we get to unwind unwind rewind unwind. And so that is what we are doing, earnestly. You?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Memory Box 6: Christmas tree

We are not christian but so many of our friends and neighbours are that we celebrate with enthusiasm. The Fernandes's, the Kurien's, the Coehlo's, the Elley's, the Ghosh's. For many years of my Delhi childhood we go to midnight mass with my parents friends (more for the carols and a chance to stay up till past midnight in the warm company of friends on a cold Delhi winters) , we eat a jolly tasty Christmas day lunch and enjoy 'tasters' of christmas cake for weeks before and after. December is undoubtedly a fun month to be a child.

But of all the Christmas days of fun and food the memory most endearing is my very own Christmas tree. My ingenious mum has taken all the bangles off her wooden bangle stand and decorated it with cut green crepe paper, a star on top and a number of homemade decorations from my childhood and hers. On Christmas morning there is most certainly a present for me next to the tree. The tree is smaller and happily the present usually drwarfs it.

There is a picture of me and my christmas tree languishing somewhere in an album. In it I am around 6 years old and standing next to a wicked Christmas tree with a somewhat toothless grin.

I want to find that picture next time I go home. In the meanwhile, Merry Christmas world.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Fake Malayali

Ok so I'm not doing a travelogue because this place has been done and done again many times over by people far better equipped and verbose than I. Kerala. Where half my genetic material is from and a place I am sad to have ignored for most of my adult life. So this time we spent a week in Kerala, staying at a very beautiful hotel in Cochin, going to my hometown Palakkad briefly, attending a family wedding, visiting Guruvayoor to pray and offer in weight bananas and sugar equivalent to my beautiful son, spending a day on a houseboat in the stunning backwaters and attending the most beautiful temple festival in my uncle's home.

BTW I hate blogger with an amazing intensity as the bleedin pictures refuse to do as I command. So here are a few pictures from our trip which are all haphazard and incorrectly marked (and for once I am not to blame!)*:

The view from our hotel room in Cochin

'aaati' or 'aaaa' (aana) as my kid says

the very beautiful Guruvayoor

the stunning backwaters

the elephants decked in their finery at the temple festival

*(with a rubbish camera, whose lens has seen cleaner and child fingerprint free days)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Five XII

1. I wish I could say that it's the snow and freezing weather that's kept me from blogging, but really it's just sheer unadulterated laziness.

2. It is freezing though. And all I want for Christmas is to stay in doors and drink mugs of hot chocolate and watch mindless television. Chasing around after our very little person will have be taken in turns with V as I intend to come back to work in 2011 very relaxed and unwound.

3. I've been to India on holiday (one of my many reasons for not blogging is food, rest and laughter induced laziness). I shall not blog lengthily about this but over the break shall endeavour to post some pictures of our lovely break from the routine of work.

4. Here are 3 book recommendations for the holiday season: The Confession by John Grisham (whose last book was a terrible disappointment - this is a return to form); The Help by Kathryn Stockett (absolutely one of my favourite reads of this half of the year); Shadow Princess by Indu Sunderesan (the third in her series about the Mughals, after the Twentieth Wife and Feast of Roses, this book has taken it's time getting here but is absolutely worth the wait - read them in order if you can although it isn't necessary for the continuity of the storyline, just for the timeline of history). Beg/ borrow/ buy them, curl up with a blanket and/ or cup of something and enjoy the mind food.

5. To blog or not to blog, that is the question. In this already overgrown garden of cyberspace I am begining to feel quite weed-like, insignificant and in need of a good pulling out from the soil. I am going to mull this over and make a decision over the next 10 days or so.: to begin again elsewhere or resolve to re-discover my love for blogging my mundane life and what amuses it right here or to just stop completely. In the meanwhile I will blog regularly (everyday? with pictures?) for the next 10 days. I bet you don't trust me. Well, honestly, neither do I.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kitchen confidential – 5

Note: All this in the past but I feel compelled to finish this narration. Bear with me.

1. Wednesday has been terrifyingly disorganised. Instead of clothes shopping I spend the day signing in materials as they are delivered and packing enough stuff to make the move simple yet effective.

2. The Sahara like sand dune makes it impossible to even make a cup of tea. I resort to a walk to the mall for a cold sandwich. The old kitchen lies like an empty shell of itself in our living room blocking any TV viewing.

3. On Thursday we can only move in to the New Place after 4pm as they clean after the last guest checks out at noon. The New Place is in the serviced apartments across the courtyard from our building. We are given a choice of apartments by the kind lady who manages it – either the very large penthouse which is in shoddy condition after the last long term guest checks out today. Or a 2 bedroom place for the first 4 days and then a smaller 1 bed place for the next few days. Guess which option we took? Go on, guess?

4. So penthouse. Not so shoddy people. Utterly beautiful and about 5 times the size of our apartment. A huge entrance hallway. Two floors. 3 huge bedrooms. 4 bathrooms. A large eat in kitchen. A formal dining area in a glass conservatory with a table to dine 16. A huge double height formal living room with 3 walls of floor to ceiling glass. A smaller informal living room. And a terrace the size of my apartment. It needs its cable TV fixed and maybe some touch up painting but with 5 TV's to choose from and views to turn teh eyeballs square I am certainly not complaining.

5. My kid thinks he is in heaven. He comes in to the flat and runs around like a loon, giggling with joy after the cramped space he has had to contend with for a few days now. The main bedroom is big enough for a large bed, wardrobes, chest of drawers, his travel cot, a bench, an armchair and there is still enough space for him to run around in. Our bathroom has a bath and a shower, double sinks and enough space to fit 4 normal sized bathrooms in. If I were him I too would be thrilled with all this space to run around in, spread my toys in. Life is good when you are 1 and your biggest problem is where to stack your 10 blocks.

6. We do go home everyday to look at how much the sand dunes are shifting i.e. what if any progress is being made.

7. The old kitchen has been given away and the new kitchen arrives all wrapped in plastic. I can't envision what it will look like at the moment ( I can't see the kitchen for all the dust!), but I think that what we will end up with will be dramatically different from what we had. More different that we imagined when we began.

8. I spend Friday in the builders van being driven around outer London buying things like grout and tile adhesive besides going from showroom to showroom choosing the perfect tiles and the most gorgeous new wooden worktop in the history of worktops. I still have no new winter wardrobe. At this point however, I am too tired to care.

9. This very designer living is messing with my head. On the weekend we have friends come and marvel at the wonder that is our temporary living accommodation. We eat cold and late pizza and ooh and aah at the space in and the views from this amazing flat.

10. The builders work on Saturday and we can see how quickly it is coming together as the tiles go down, re-plastering begins and the first of the units is assembled. If it goes at this speed we should be back home by the end of this week. We should be thrilled right? Builders who are hardworking and committed to delivering on time - who has them? But the real question is not when will they finish? Or even, how amazing is my kitchen going to look? The real question my friends is this: How oh how will I ever adjust to my humble abode after this amazing place?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kitchen confidential - 4

1. I have a week off. When I applied for the week it was because I am in desperate need of winter additions to my wardrobe. Not because the kitchen was on the plan.

2. Coincidentally it has turned out that this IS the week the builders plan to start work. My intention has always been that I would take 1 day off is to give the builders the keys, show them where all the electric and water mains are, where the kettle, mugs, tea, coffee, sugar and milk are, and then leave.

3. I fully intend to go into central London and buy a new overcoat (winter is coming despite all my mental powers to avert its path) and some proper winter office clothes (I have been a bum in jeans too long)

4. Over the weekend of shoving all our furniture into the tiny room that doubles as guest room and kid’s room it has become apparent that living in the flat is going to be a chore while the work is continuing. Possible dust aside, it seems that we will have to confine all our activities to our bedroom. This is not much bigger than a postage stamp, especially now that kid's cot and playmat and all his toys also live in it.

5. We decide that it is worth our sanity to move out for a week. Of course it’s Monday morning by the time we come this decision.

6. So on this, the first day of my week of leave for relaxing and shopping, I am on the phone calling every estate agent and rental service apartment in the vicinity to see if anything at all affordable is available at such short notice.

7. Of course there isn’t. What’s affordable isn’t available and what’s available isn’t affordable. I begin to use contacts I have to suss out any deals. Monday has flashed by in the blink of an eye and I have not yet one new item in my winter wardrobe. And no place to move to. Damn.

8. It’s Tuesday. The builders are here. Today and tomorrow they will remove the kitchen, unit by unit, appliance by appliance and tile by tile. They will disconnect electric points, bring down walls and begin to put up new walls and re-plaster.

9. I spend the evening entertaining my son by showing him ducks and staying out of the house till bath and bed time. And then perched on some very dusty dining chairs late that evening, eating microwave dinners off our laps, we have a breakthrough for a place to stay. From Thursday.

10. When I said ‘possible dust’ (pt.4) I clearly had no idea. It’s like the Sahara in here. All that's missing is an oasis.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kitchen confidential - 3

1. Over the weekend, and a few days before even, we began to pack up our kitchen in preparation for what is no doubt going to be a star kitchen. IN fact it is not going to just be a start kitchen it is going to be THE star kitchen.

2. So we were given 3 cardboard boxes which fitted all the main big cooking utensils and some of the smaller knick knacks that we seem to have hajaar of.

3. Then we bought 4 plastic boxes and began to fill those up. They filled up fast what with plates, masalas, other kitchen crap. We stuffed the first one and it broke as we tried to move it. So we had to dump it in a corner (still stuffed) and cover it with a bedsheet. Lesson learnt was to spread out the heavy stuff, share and share alike.

4. Then we moved our sideboard out of the kitchen. Now this is a beautiful sideboard we bought a few months after we moved into this house. It has provided all the extra storage we have needed so far. I have no intention of getting rid of it. Where I shall keep it in this already cluttered house is altogether another matter.

5. The sideboard and most of the living room furniture has moved into the kids room. The kid has moved to our room. His toys and floor mats are spread out between both rooms. The sideboard has been stocked up with what we are likely to need as a functioning kitchen over the next few weeks. Cutlery, plastic utensils for us, ready food for kid.

6. The dining table and chairs have moved to in front of the TV as has the giant bookshelf. The bookshelf has been emptied and serves as part 2 of our makeshift kitchen with kettle and tea and coffee things for the workmen. TV in front of the dining table is kids dream come true as now he can watch M.I.C.K.E.Y while he chews on every meal....

7. The second bathroom has been cleaned and sterilised so that it can be used as a makeshift kitchen. This level of hygiene will have to be maintained as it is also what the builders will use for water for things like plaster beside using it as a loo.

8. Coffee table glass and other breakables have been balanced delicately on the spare bed.

9. Cooking has become thing of the past as all utensils have been packed. For now I am enjoying takeaways and home delivery but I can already see how much I miss the ritual of cooking and eating something I made most week evenings.

10. The kitchen hasn’t even started but already we are exhausted.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kitchen confidential - 2

1. My dream kitchen is IN the catalogue. I did not know it was my dream kitchen till I saw it. Also I am easily swayed by pretty pictures and the most impractical yet beautiful design. I am a marketers dream.

2. Turns out that that was my dream kitchen only in THAT dream. I turned the page and lo and behold another kitchen is calling out to me.

3. I am not going to be indecisive. I show V the shortlist of 2 from the catalogue. He points at the one he likes best, says we should ‘go for it’, and with his winning smile makes me think that it was all my bright idea to begin with. I love this man.

4. So I look some more and finally decide on which kitchen I want from the catalogue. Although I don’t want its appliances or tiles or worktop.

5. I want an American two door fridge freezer, a pull out larder, a wine cooling fridge thing and an island. Yes, an island. One of those big block things in the middle of the kitchen around which my many friends and family sit and sip wine while I cook Boeuf Bourguignon a la Nigella Lawson. An island with hidden storage and a genie/housekeeper that will bake us muffins and iron clothes.

6. My kitchen however, is not co-operating. It is too small and everything appliance wise will have to stay exactly where it was. No big fridge freezer for this home, no siree.

7. You know how people say ‘your eyes are bigger than your tum’? Well it turns out that my eyes are bigger than my kitchen. Waaay bigger. My real kitchen would fit on the island in the middle of that dream kitchen - such is the discrepancy between my mind’s eye and the real dimensions.

8. The sad reality is that I am the island in the kitchen. I will stand in the middle of the units and whirl about being the genie/ housekeeper who only whips up sad sandwiches.

9. Now that I have made my peace with the ‘no island’ part of the programme I am digging in in earnest to make sure that my chosen kitchen will suit our small flat, limited space and budget. Does such a creature exist?

10. I have decided on a kitchen with black units and oak worktops and Travatine wall and floor tiles. I have negotiated what I think is an expensive but fair deal with my builders to pull this one out, make a few structural alterations, fit the new kitchen, paint and clean up after themselves. Let the games begin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kitchen Confidential – 1

1. Being a maha-procrastinator it has taken 4 years of grumbling about the lack of space and general condition of the kitchen before I have bothered to do anything about it.
2. I know that builders are not to be plucked out of thin air. I have watched Rogue Traders you know.
3. So I have turned to the cyber world and a local group of people I mostly trust – mums in my area - to advise me on how to find builders.
4. Not long before there are plenty of recommendations; helpful mums writing in with anecdotes of who has done what for them, honest criticisms and plenty of advice on what to expect, especially with a small child in tow.
5. I go to see my neighbours efforts at re-doing their bathrooms which can now safely be called Glorious Wet Rooms Of Super Deluxe Hotel Standard. They designed it and then sourced the materials themselves. By learning how to do large chunks of it themselves, they only paid for part of the labour. My mad head nodding at their proud pronouncements only confirms (silently) that I will never be interested in DIY, I have not thought about the design and have no clue as to what I want beyond the all encompassing ‘I want a new kitchen’.
6. I get the feeling I am going to have to throw money at this. The design, the kitchen and builders. As I am certainly not talented nor inspired I have decided I want and need to be rich. Or miserly.
7. Most highly recommended builder in local area is called. He is part 1 of a duo (henceforth BP1). Part 2 (BP 2) is on holiday (probably with the oodles of money he has earned off other beleaguered mums looking for counter top space for sterilisers {!} like myself).
8. BP 1 comes to see us. Has an Italian name and accent to match. Brings a kitchen catalogue. Is upfront about the fact that he can get us a huge discount if we use this company and that he will make a good commission. But completely open to us choosing a kitchen from anywhere. Or even helping us design one ourselves - from scratch. As if.
9. The catalogue is thick and the colour pictures very enticing. I am imagining/ dreaming/ visualising how lovely my kitchen will look when all this crap is pulled out and replaced by one of the state of the art kitchens.
10. Of course I have not factored in the size of my kitchen or what a big hole this shall blow in the bank account. I am nothing if not a dreamer.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Five XI

1. If you live on a tropical island and / or it is sunny and balmy where you are look away now for there is more complaining to come. August was rubbish as far as summer went. Every time I exclaimed how lovely and sunny and bright the day was it would promptly turn cloudy and piss it down and turn windy and cold. Bleh! I am hoping for some lovely last of the summer sunshine from September though and so far it looks promising. As for now always talking about the weather like a British person I guess I am a reluctant convert. I understand the need to talk about it ALL.THE.TIME. because mainly it’s perpetually mucking with transport (come snow, hail, shine or rain) and everyone’s plans for everything from weekends to birthday celebrations or night’s out depend on the mood that has been set by the weather. As fodder for conversation it helps that some days (like Sunday past) we have all seasons in the 24 hours - that can keep our conversations going waaaay long!

2. There is a Tube strike (another thing mucking with the transport). Which means nothing if you work from home or walk to work or better still don’t work at all but instead meander to the park with a small child and his trike behind you. However if like me you do use the system, today’s breakdown could mean an hour and half of rubbish commuting packed into a bus of sweaty people instead of 2 zippy tube trains and a 20 minute journey. I think I shall have to leave right after lunch. No mean feat considering I got here only in time for mid-morning tea.

3. I’m not very keen on Twitter. So far none have really captured my imagination and made me come back for more. I really don’t care for the life minutiae of ‘standing at bus stop’, ‘ate undabhurji for breakfast’ variety of information, even (possibly especially) if I know you or of you as a blogger. But to be honest beside the blogs I read and their twitter feeds (that I glance at but largely ignore in fabour of the real mcCoy) I have not really explored the tweeting world. However this might be about to change as I have begun to follow a few tweets of humour that are perfect strangers to me. Following one particularly funny twitter feed at the mo: The Queen. Particularly funny if you follow the fascination of the British public with it's Royals.

4. We had a weekend in Zurich to see friends and their two boys and to bond with V’s brother who had flown to the city from Singapore on work. Kid and Uncle bonded instantly. Kid and other kids had a good time. Their house with its 4000sq ft and every toy imaginable was like landing head first in Hamleys. Kid was highly excited. Short but lovely weekend.

5. So the Indian High Commission tale finally finished. Only the week it finished I had to go abck on an unrelated matter. That was not fun except that some woman in the line started having a go at me because she thought I was jumping the line which was a huddle of people rather than a curving line. And when I apologised I could not help but add the words ‘don’t get all antsy lady’ to which her reply was ‘what is antsy? Are you abusing me? What it means? Tell me now’. Frazzled nerves at 7.15am are pleasant for no one.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 5: Drama of collection

“Be back at 3.30pm ok?” And with those parting word I had left the IHC.

It’s 3.30pm and with my little receipt slip I am back to collect the notarized documents. So are the other teeming masses, there to collect passports, surrender certificates, notarised documents, PIO cards and the little OIC booklets.

We are somehow all stuffed back into that dank little basement with it strip fluorescent lighting, sweating it out in our winter clothes with the warmth of humans stood too close together. My many friends (read story gatherers and fellow complaining parties) from the morning are back. We are standing at the same glass pane where this morning we jostled for the attention of the Two-in-the-power this morning. No one is here yet.

Suddenly the Two arrive and the Superior one yells at everyone to move back as the Officer is coming. Whaaaaa? I thought HE was the officer. Turns out he was the underling to the Officer. And anyway, move back where? The whole place is packed like a can of sardines and he and his precious Officer are behind a huge counter and glass pane barricade. So then he starts calling out random people’s names – again there is less than no point in having had a token of any kind as all this is random at best .

While I wait I realise that there is no fixed time for this to end and I have to make arrangements for V to pick the Kid up from day care. My phone battery is dying, the power lines inching away all day now. In a rush to get to the counter someone bumps my shoulder and the phone goes flying out of my hand, landing in numerous pieces on the floor. Kindly people scramble around till all the pieces are back together but to no avail – the phone refuses to be revived. I am near tears and exhausted to boot. Someone offers me his phone and I make hasty arrangements for the Kid to be collected and fed etc.

It turns out that over this lunch break no work has been done. The famous Two have merely piled all the papers into 3 piles, left them on the counter and retreated to a hasty lunch. Now as each person comes forward the Officer, a portly officious looking man in a blazer and moustache, looks back and forth between the photograph and the person and throws out remarks like, ‘this seems to be an old picture’ or ‘you don’t look the same’ or ‘ are you sure this is your picture?’ etc. Then he gets you to sign in his presence and signs them himself while the Two stamp the official stamp and say unhelpful things like ‘see madam, I told you bahut time nahin lagega’ (‘I told you it would not take a lot of time’ – he clearly has no watch) or’ Aaj to bahut fast hain sab’ (today everyone is very fast) or 'double work because of holiday you see'. Of course this is totally irrelevant and efficiency and any system are totally missing because there is no weight to the token receipts we got. The pile is at best random, at worst unfair. The Two just call out names as they see fit. After about half an hour of other people getting to go forward to be barked at my turn comes. I grin (barely) and bear it while the Officer tells me how different (i.e fat) I look compared to my passport picture. All signed and dusted I leave in a rush to go home. Never Again I hope.

Wishful Thinking I Realise.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


1. I feel Old.
2. I am 35.
3. The Birthday was on the 15th of July.
4. Too late to blog about it?
5. Did not even manage to stay awake till midnight - at least not midnight in London.
6. 9 years on, my folks still follow the born in India birthday by India time rule – so they wishes me at 7.30pm London time, midnight India time.
7. On the day, dropped my babyboy to nursery and went to work.
8. Where no one but two colleagues-turned-friends remembered it was my birthday.
9. This was good because otherwise I would have had to indulge in idle office chatter, eat an M&S cake, and become yet fatter.
10. I seemed to be in meetings all day. Boring boring boring.
11. Is it true what they say, about how your day goes is how your year goes?
12. I sincerely hope not. If it does then I am, as I say to babyboy, deep in the poo.
13. On the plus side I went out for lunch to Pizza Express
14. And with a coupon (age has made me miserly) spent next to nothing on a delicious pizza
15. My colleague-friends gave me (surreptitiously) a card, a bunch of cornflowers, a bracelet and a notepad for my desk.
16. Non-work people were fab. I had calls and texts all day.
17. And loads of Facebook messages (although some were from people who would normally not say anything so I think it might have been on autopilot, thereby discounted.)
18. All the technology made me feel wanted.
19. Went home and spent the evening like any other although V came home slightly earlier than normal.
20. And he bought a 1 kg tub of Zaza ice cream.
21. We are still trying to finish it.
22. All in all the quietest birthday ever. If you ignore the buzz of technology all around me.
23. Also slightly depressing.
24. On Friday I had a fabulous evening with my girls.
25. Got some smashing gifts: Plenty and a load of amazing necklaces.
26. Drinks at a noisy pub.
27. Followed by Chinese food at Phoenix Palace
28. Followed by walk down Marylebone High Street. Quiet at night. Best time for window shopping.
29. Subsequently realised this was for benefit of M who was leaving to go back to India in mere days and for Broom &TG to re-acquaint themselves with how quaint London can be.
30. Ended up at ice cream place in St. Christopher’s Place, chatting well into the night.
31. On Saturday evening V and I put babyboy to sleep, left our babysitter in charge and escaped to Soho.
32. Superb, proper grown-up evening of people gazing, chatting and delicious dinner at Koya to boot.
33. I feel loved.
34. I feel 35.
35. I feel Young.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 4: Lunch of sanity

What a morning it has been! My initial plan was to submit my documents by 10am and then wander over to Covent Garden and treat myself to a haircut and possibly a manicure and pedicure before lunching with shoefiend. Of course that plan has been unwittingly thwarted by dimwits in ties.

Instead I have had to call her from the crowded basement of the Indian High Commission, to shout over the hubbub of a thousand voices, to say that I will be late and who knows how long this could take. We have contemplated cancelling but it is so rare a day when we both have childcare somewhat sorted that it would be a shame to miss out a gander in the centre of town.

So after what seems like, and actually is, hours of my life drained away in the High Commission I am out and wandering up to Covent Garden in the last of the winter chill. There is still no discernable ash in my view although the sea of grey office workers out for their quick lunch look ashen enough. I’m early so I pop in to the Transport Museum and buy this Blue Plane for Kid who chewed it at a friend’s house. (Then again, he chews everything, so this is just me thinking this was cute. Or cuter than sachets of silica gel he keeps finding.)

We meet at the Covent Garden station. I can barely stand as I am exhausted from the physical exertion of the queue and the mental trauma of my experience so far. We retire to the ever faithful Wahaca, and over Margherita’s (decadent in the day on a working week, we know, but who are you? the Margherita police?) I attempt to make light of my morning. Not being able to laugh at some of the hell could turn me into a manic depressive. Luckily for me Shoefiend is an interactive audience, tut-tut-ing and laughing at all the right places. And then she goes on to match me by telling me funny anecdotes or bits from other rubbish service providers, all of which make me laugh and my misery seem shared. This is why I love her so.

After lunch we go and sit in a coffee shop and eat some decadent desserts to go with our cappuccinos. But no matter how much we laugh and how much better I feel I have that pebble-the-weight-of-dread rattling around in my stomach knowing I have to go back to collect my documents. Will it be all better?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Five X

1. This is a break in my mammoth saga of just one day at the IHC. It has been hard to write without saying horrid spiteful things and giving suggestion as to how they could change them (that’s the OCD in me). First, because even months later I nearly hyperventilate each time I begin to write the next part. And second, not many people seem to be reading it - although so many are happy to continue commenting on vapid writing and bad photography all over the Internet – see what this day has done to me? Turned me into a mean mean mean person, that’s what. Third, because its summer and oh Summer how do I count the ways in which I love you? The weather is too glorious to write about the depressing pit that that High Commission is and how humiliating they make Indian citizens feel. I have not abandoned the series, no sir I have not, but I need to get my blood pressure back down before I can attempt the other 2 parts (although one is quite amusing).

2. Talking of summer, these lovely long days of sunlit 10pm skies are just so soul reviving. Our routine has needed constant tweaking since I went back to work nearly 3 weeks ago. It seems to be settling down somewhat and with the Kid in bed by 7pm I have a lovely long evening of unwinding usually interspersed by laundry and dinner making before the zzz’s hit.

3. The long days also mean that I am reading a lot nowadays. And I have a book recommendation – Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig. The past year on maternity leave has slightly shrunk my world to mainly include baby related things. And although I have been reading voraciously even through this year it has been the combination of this book and the return to work that has once again engaged my mind with the bigger wider world. The book is an intersection of lives of the middle class and immigrant underclass of London. It shows the intersection of heart and practical need and how they don’t always find a happy medium, in even the most carefully laid plans. It looks at the lives of people trying to escape from different situations; a Russian Au Pair who goes missing, a Ukrainian girl sold into prostitution when she leaves her country to become a waitress in London, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker searching for a better life and his missing wife, a white South African looking for his path through teaching and an American woman escaping a failed engagement. All these people’s lives intersect with the main protagonist Polly Noble, a lawyer trying to juggle her life as a busy, single, working mum. Here is a better review than mine. What I took away from it is how insulated a life we live. How even our most basic givens are luxuries for other people and how often we are not mindful of the luck we have in the life we live. And while it would be lovely, on the basis of this book, to say something preachy like we must all do much more meaningful things with our lives, I won’t. Instead I would just say that this is a book worth reading because it has given me more interesting things about the world that I hadn't known or thought to think about. Things that influence how I live my own life and view those around me. I urge you to get a copy and read it.

4. Being back at work is somewhat surreal. Even 3 weeks in it is almost as if I never left. I’ve been thrown into the thick of things and with so many new colleagues and new work these are exciting, if slightly challenging times. I am enjoying the adult interaction and thinking about the needs of the world is a far change from thinking about what vegetables to mush up for the Kid’s next meal. The only negative bit really is the travel in the tube where I can almost see the infectious germs looking at me and laughing. I already had a 12 hour tummy bug which caused projectile vomiting as one of its nicer aspects and caused a day of sick leave to be taken. How much longer before I am dramatically ill I wonder?

5. We are off on a short break, away from the crowds of urban sprawl. Although we will have our laptop I will not blog or answer emails unless urgent. I also fully intend to ignore my phone (as far as possible). I know this seems anti-social but I seriously want some switched off time for us all and there is no way to do this but cut clear of the technology that hounds us day and night. I fully intend to lay in the grass with a glass of something nice, watch my son crawl through his pop-up tunnel and attempt to walk, eat simply, read voraciously and rest deeply. I hope the weather lasts. See you in a week or so people.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 3: Website? What website?

According to the Website (on which I am reliant because of course no one answers the phone or responds to the numerous messages I have left or responds to the e-mails I have sent) this is what I need to get my Power of Attorney attested:

‘The person needs to bring the documents in original along with a photocopy, valid passport and the requisite fees directly to the Consular Counter of the High Commission. In case of Power of Attorney a photograph (s) of the executant (s) is required. The executant is to sign the documents in the presence of the Consular Officer.’ Check check check and check.

Aha! Finally, I am at the counter being served, or not as it were. From what I have gathered so far this is the way it shall go. There are two men behind the counter. One of them takes the papers and then barks an order at the other, who is clearly his subordinate. The subordinate then meekly says “£whatever”, collects it and rings it into a cash register and produces a receipt. All this while the main dude, whom I assume is the aforementioned Consular Officer, is looking through the papers and either:
a) smirking
b) making weird jokes about names and places which make no sense
c) telling you which documents you have missing
d) all the above.

I have read the website so many times that the instructions are printed on the inside of my eyelids. But as he (and just then I nickname him SmirkMaster Go-Go) ruffles through my papers (and comments on how I do not look like my photograph) he says “where is a copy of your passport and UK visa page?”.

Now go back up to the first paragraph if you will, reproduced from the IHC website – does it mention anywhere that either a copy of my passport or my UK visa pages? It asks me to bring the documents (to be attested) with a photocopy (which I have), my valid passport (which I have) and the fees (which I have, exact change actually). If it does, in some secret language, please please do tell me.

Meanwhile, SmirkMaster Go-Go benevolently says ‘Madam, if you want this done today you need to go and photocopy passport first last pages and UK visa. I will hold papers, you go and come OK?’. So I leave him the papers, grab my token back, and race up the short flight of stairs where the Nepali doormen await the throngs of photocopying idiots with varying versions of the words, ‘worry not, go out, turn left, cross the road, go right and you will see photocopy place. You have your token, now run!’

So I run. No mean feat if you have ever seen me and know that I NEVER run. I turn left, cross the road, turn right in front of Somerset House and am quick walking wildly on the footpath looking for the photocopy place. I barely notice the many others like me, wandering around, clutching their sheaves of paper. About 8 shops down, just before the dirty entrance to the India club is a jewellery shop. Outside is a young-ish boy chanting ’Photocopy? Photocopy? Photocopy? Photocopy?’ Without thinking I turn into the shop.

It’s no jewellery shop this. I mean there is some jewellery, but like the amount I have at home, just spread thinly across one wall in a display case. It is instead a thin front for a heaving photocopy business, with 3 machines being run by the owner, his wife and some other relative. I recognise about 15 people from the token line, entry line and inside halls of the IHC. All here, in short lines, to photocopy documents that they forgot to carry or that the website ‘helpfully’ omitted to mention. I get in line. It moves quickly, the men who man the machines churning things out at supersonic speed. The owner’s wife tries to convince me to photocopy my entire passport ‘because you never know beta when you will need these pages’. I decline, makes sure she makes only one copy and that I have all my pages, original and copied. It is 48p for each photocopy. For 3 pages I leave £1.50 and run back to the consulate. Only later does it occur to me that I should have got 6p back. It was neither offered (nor was a receipt) and I was in such a hurry that I didn’t think about it. It may seem insignificant in amount but by volume this is huge. This is how the money is made. Work un-receipted, change unclaimed.

I push through the last of the crowd trying to enter the building and am let in by the guards. I then push my way through to near the front of the counter which now smells of exhausted tired and sweaty people. SmirkMaster Go-Go is grilling some other poor sod. I wave at him. He waves me to the front, smirks (naturally!) and takes my papers. Nods, and then ignores me and goes back to the other guy. 10 minutes later he says ‘Come back at 3.30 to collect’, throws the receipt at me and goes back to yelling at someone.

I walk out with the student who tells me this is his second time for the same documents (the first got lost in the post poor chap) and that when we come back it will take at least 2 hours to collect our papers. I gawk at this because I assume that they will have everything done and dusted and just hand back my papers in order. I had every intention of collecting my still tiny child from day care and feeding him an early supper. He assures me that this is the modus operandi and that it will ‘take time’. For what, I ask. He smiles and a very Indian way says ‘Just’ and crosses the road.

I am so tired that I want to sit by the statue of Nehru in that courtyard and weep.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 2: Token, what token?

There is only one token window for all 800 people in the snaking line. It is giving out tokens for each service that the High Commission provides, so you have to get to the window (shuffle shuffle shove shove) and then say what you want. Then the person of authority behind the window barks some questions at you and deeming your work fit for their attention hands you a numbered paper token differentiating your counter by colour.

It takes nearly 3 hours to get to the window. I ask for, am barked at and have now been given a pink token with number 86 on it. But wait, consular services only gives 50 tokens while all other tokens are given out in the hundreds. I immediately question the bobbing head behind the window only to be told that since yesterday was a holiday and so today they are doing ‘double work madam, so 100 tokens, you are very lucky’. Oh the largesse!

Once you have the token there is no line to join, just a rugby sized huddle of people outside the wood doors next to the token window. These doors are guarded by two Nepali gentlemen, suited and booted and surprisingly soft spoken yet firm in their decisions of how to manage the crowds. They are letting great swathes of people in every half hour based on the token numbers.

Now that I have a token I must wait patiently with the masses to get inside and present my case. I jostle for space in the rugby huddle. People are trying to get in by showing their tokens but covering the bit with the number with their thumbs. Others are using the ‘I want to use the loo’ tactic. But mainly everybody is standing around trying to be friendly yet becoming mildly aggressive if anyone gets inside on false pretences. Finally after an age and much shoving I get let inside with the 11.45 lot of people.

Inside it is nothing short of a fish market. There is a difference between this time and the last. Last time there were all the non-Indians applying for visas. Now visa services have been outsourced - probably somwhere that is airier and more organised - and now it is just the bursting Indian population that has multiplied itself to take up all that extra space they left behind. There is the usual counter ringed by a wood and glass frame (to keep us out and them safe)and rows of chairs affixed to the floor (which do not even accommodate half the number of people in here). There is an electronic board with each counter number, the service it provides and the token number being called forth. Of course having all this is not much use as the number of people far outstrips the seats. People are standing in packed sardine like fashion gasping for air and making tight clusters around each counter, totally ignoring the 'please move back' admonishments of the staff behind each counter. Move back? Where lady?

The Consular Services is Counter 1 and I am happy to see that they have reached token 80 by the time I am positioned near enough the counter, in a mass of people, complaining about the heat and lack of seating after hours of standing outside. The token numbers are speeding by and about 30 minutes after I step in token 86 comes up. I jostle my way to the counter only to see that token 74 is still at the window arguing with the 2 men sitting behind the glass. I find about 6 people behind this man, all with random token numbers, not so much in a line as a hovering cluster. So clearly token numbers are just that, random numbers, addressed in nowhere near the order in which they were given out.

So a further 20 minutes later, after an engaging conversation with a college student about how we shall be here all day all year all our lives, I shove my way past someone trying to sneak in with token number 90 (the cheek!). I have arrived at the very front, the background music of complaints becoming more faint with each passing minute. Little do I realise that life is about to become a lot worse.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day @ IHC: A play in 5 parts – Part 1: Ash clouds

It’s been a manic morning requiring precision planning for childcare followed by the mad sardine tangle of the Tube that I have become so unused to. My aim today is to get a Power of Attorney attested.

So here I am here at the Indian High Commission in Aldwych, London, standing in a snaking line of over 400 people at 7.45am. I am around 250 people along – a common line for people surrendering passports, applying for passports/ renewals/ Overseas Indian Citizenship/ Person of Indian Origin status and all other consular services.

The Indian love of paperwork dictates that every person in queue at the Indian High Commission have a file (or knapsack) overflowing with sheaf’s of paper. Documents and their photocopied triplets all to be chewed up by the Officialdom of Government. In front of me is an Aunty (whom am I kidding, I am an aunty but she is way older than me and that makes her my aunty) in her sneakers and polyester trousers, clutching her knapsack for dear life. She turns around almost the minute I join the line and begins a conversation which includes (but is not limited to) where are you from, what do you do, why are you here, where is your husband, was it a love marriage (I kid you not) - all rapid fired in about 3 minutes, the answers almost inconsequential. I am tired, most of my answers to her are lies and it’s not even 8am. I plug my ears with my ipod and tune her out.

The line moves so slowly that my chances of reaching that tiny window seem dimmer with each passing minute. My phone rings and I answer it to find my father-in-law calling from India. He says that the breaking news is that London airports are shut due to the ash and wants to know where his son (who will not answer his mobile in office and is not answering his landline) and grandson (who as yet has no phone) are. I assure him that son is at work, probably in a meeting and that the grandson is at daycare. I have not heard about any ash (but then I am cut off from the real world by concerns of the childrearing type, still in a slightly obsessed sleep deprived phase) so I ask him where the ash is coming from. This is the rest of our conversation (and please remember that it is on the phone while the other people jumping in are all in line with me):

30in2005: What ash? Where from? I don’t see any ash.
FIL: I have no idea. The news only says that there is ash coming to London and therefore all the airports are being shut.
30in2005: OK. But is it a fire or something? What sort of ash?
FIL: I don’t know; the news doesn’t say.
Aunty-in-front: It is coming from Scotland. SCOT-LAND. You know, in the north. Lots of ASH!!
Boy-behind-me (with own file of paper): Yes, from the North, you know. In the air you know. Much ash is covering London.

I look up and see the bluest clearest sky I have in days.

30in2005 to FIL (now pointedly ignoring Aunty and Boy by looking at own shoes): I don’t see anything. I am out at the moment. I will call you this evening.
FIL: Find out and don’t get stuck. Who knows they may shut down the Tube. And then baby will be stuck!!
30in2005: Tube was working fine when I came out this morning. Don’t worry I can always take a cab.
Aunty: Tube is working. I came by tube.
Boy: No problem with tube. Even all buses are running. Ash cannot touch the Tube. See I can show you the news on my iphone.
30in2005 to FIL: Can I call you back? Bye.

So two people whom I do not know, who can only hear one side of the conversation, who clearly were eavesdropping instead of minding their own business have given me the news that there is ‘ash’ over London, its coming from the North, possibly Scotland and that the journey home should be fine (in their opinion).

I ignore them, pretend like they never said anything and use every bit of self-restraint to not tell them to shut up. I pop my headphones back into my ears and continue the slow shuffle shuffle shove shove to the token window.