Monday, December 6, 2010

Laurel or Hardy?

Personally, I have nothing against Laurel, you see. I would be the first one to admit that he was one of the best comedians of his time and more than a match for Hardy. Who, in their right minds, could contest the fact that this ‘thin and chubby’ duo was a riot on the screen? But behind the laughing eyes and waddling legs, did Hardy hide a truckload of hurt? Did anyone ever stop to think how the fashionably-thin Laurel might have made our flabby Hardy feel?

You may think that I am crying wolf when there isn’t even a trace of a puppy around but trust me, I have my reasons. As a fellow chubster (just because MS Word underlines this word in red doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, ok?), I feel like I can speak for all the Hardys of this world and tell you that it is a major pain in the you-know-what to be constantly surrounded by thin people.

I am not saying that thin people are bad. Definitely not. They may very well have a small golden heart inside their very petite bodies. It is just that, unwittingly, by their mere presence, they give us chubsters a huge complex and as God knows, we can very well do without anything huge, if you can catch my drift.

Take my case, for example. I happen to live in a town where all the women enjoy eating air for the main course and delight in drinking water for dessert at every meal. If it were up to them, without any qualms, they will rewrite the secret code to open Aladdin’s treasure caves to say ‘LETTUCE’ and then what will happen to poor Aladdin?

Now as one who salivates over a bowl of rasam rice for breakfast, I fail to understand how soy nuts can be appealing to anyone first thing in the morning. Fine, as long as you are at it, why not eat a nice cup of those soy nuts? Why count them every morning to eat exactly 6? And if you eat 8 instead of 6 one morning by mistake, is that any reason to call poison control? Seriously, if you are planning to relocate to my town for any reason and your daily lunch/dinner menu does not include a bowl of colorful leaves, do reconsider. You will thank me later and I will tell you why.

When I first moved into this town, I mistook all the inhabitants to be refugees from Somalia. It was an honest mistake really. I had never before seen anyone else walking around with bones jutting out of the skin like that. My heart bled for their misfortune and determined to do my part as a Good Samaritan, I hosted many parties in the hope of feeding my neighbors and friends with my no fat-spared cooking. But my plan was a big, fat flop. It was the same story at each party. One look at the long row of my wickedly tempting food trays, these folks would whip up their calculators and get busy. The minute the calorie count crossed zero, they would pretend that the food was e-coli infected and happily go back to their air and water diet.

So I gave up and switched to Plan B. If the town wouldn’t fatten up, then I would have to slim down, I thought. After all, I didn’t want to be the only Hardy in this town of Laurels. So I stocked my fridge with leaves and soups of all color. I even went out and got Quinoa. I was that desperate. Since that took care of the eating part of the Plan B, I next set out to buy a treadmill. Of course there is a gym less than a mile from my place but I didn’t want to take any chances, you see.

The shiny Nordic Track was finally hauled up the stairs and just as I got ready to jump on it and puff my way to health, I realized that something was missing. Ah, of course! What could motivate me more than a nice big TV mounted on the wall just across from my new machine? I know that my husband granted this wish of mine and installed a TV on that wall only because he was convinced of the sensibility of my plan and definitely not because he wanted to stop my nagging. Not at all!

Anyway, to make a very long story short(is it too late??), Plan B turned out to be an even bigger flop than Plan A. To say that the sensible diet plan was a complete disaster would be the understatement of the year. For every spoonful of the nasty Quinoa that I ate, I compensated by attacking the white rice with vengeance. For every green leaf that I had to push down my throat, I rewarded myself with a bowl of home-made spicy potato fries. For every cup of sugarless tea that I had to drink, I thumbed my nose at it with 2 glasses of kheer. Sigh, sigh…….......

With regards to the exercise equipment, it wasn’t a total waste after all. I am using the handle bars to organize and hang my thupattas these days so that is something, right? And about the TV, I realized that I liked watching it better from the bed anyway.

I have learned to forgive myself these days. Just like some people enjoy their air and water diet, I am fated to go through life as a Hardy. Philosophically speaking, some things are simply not in our control. As the French would say "Que sera sera".

So what are you? A Laurel or a Hardy?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Am I smarter than my 4th grader??

I know that I should be grateful about this. After all, bribing government officials in India is no joke. It is an expensive business for anyone and more so for the middle class. Looking at the historic, exorbitant rates of bribery, I am positive that nothing less than utter desperation or blinding love could have pushed my middle class parents to do it and I am leaning towards desperation in this case.

I have no proof but my gut feeling says that my parents coughed up big money all those years ago to pay off the Education board of India to let me graduate from College.

Why do I suspect foul-play in my education? Many reasons really but when the first time I held my daughter's homework folder and my stomach involuntarily heaved in protest, I knew something was fishy. Forgive me for asking, but shouldn’t I be able to do a fourth grader’s homework with my eyes/ears/mouth closed given that I am a college graduate? Well, I can't, hence the allegation against my parents.

Here is a small sample of the problems that I commonly face on the homework front.

Math – Nothing gets my tear glands working faster than fractions, especially the word problems. The other evening, I was faced with my daughter’s wide, adoring eyes and the following problem.

A first grade class took a poll to find out their favorite ice cream. 1/4 chose chocolate, 1/4 chose vanilla and 1/2 chose strawberry. 2 kids are lactose intolerant and can't eat ice cream. If there are 22 kids in the class, how many kids liked each flavor?

If you ask me, can they not have a glass of lemonade each and be happy? Huh? Is Ice cream really necessary for the happiness of first graders? Somehow my daughter was not convinced with this argument of mine.

My evening’s homework woes will, by no means, end so quickly. Usually, right about this time a missile of a different sort like the following will attack me:

The entire third grade class is going to the zoo. There are 3 buses for the field trip. Each bus has the same number of kids. If there are 90 kids in the third grade, how many are on each bus?

Helllllllloooooo…..? What is wrong with the society today? If every parent took the responsibility of driving his or her own children to field trips, I wouldn’t have to sit and bite my cuticles off over the bus situation now, would I?

An important point to observe here is that I am very easily persuaded to double or triple the monthly allowance in lieu of escaping to the powder room in the evenings to avoid any contact whatsoever with Mathematics and yes, my daughter is very much aware of this weakness of mine.

Science – In the name of all that is sane in this world, why would I want to know Earth’s distance from the Sun? I am not planning to go there now, am I? Duh!

Grammar – Now, I know I have heard of irregular bowels but what is this ‘Irregular Verb’? And wait; aren’t pronouns, proper nouns, prepositions, helping verbs and conjunctions banned from the language dictionary yet? Have mercy, lord! I thought I had learned all there was to learn about grammar from Professor Higgins’s (My Fair Lady by George Bernard Shaw) teachings “In Hartford, Hertford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen.” Obviously, I have miles to go before I can even think about resting. (Sigh, sigh…..)

Social Studies – Okay, I know that the big, bad English people came a long time back to America to shoo away the natives and set up colonies. Hey, I watched Disney’s Pocahontas too, you know. But come on, how much information can you absorb from a cartoon movie? Is it my fault that Disney forgot to include important details of the Civil war and Declaration of Independence in its movie? Talk about irresponsibility!

Anyway, there it is finally. My homework woes for all the world to see. So knowing what you know about me now, would you call me smarter than my 4th grader? Before you answer, please do keep in mind that I hold a college degree from a very reputable educational institution. That has got to count for something, right?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Deepawali - A Memoir

“Can you come here for a minute? Check and tell me if the dough needs to be a little softer. All the children love thenkuzhal only when it is crispy. Should I add a little bit more butter to it? ” My mom shouted to be heard over the noise of television from the living room. Looking at her bulging vocal chords, you would think that my aunt was standing a good 200 feet away in our neighbor’s yard but she was only standing 2 feet from my mom busy grinding the soaked rice and urad dal in the grinder. If the batter doesn’t ferment well overnight, the Idlis won’t come out good. And we have had Idlis for Deepawali morning breakfast for as long as I can remember. I could hear my Dad and Uncle animatedly arguing over the different possible outcomes of that day’s long awaited cricket match between India and Pakistan. Their voices were just as loud as the heated literary debate on television that was part of a special series of programs for Deepawali next day.

“Hold that thought. I want to add a bit of water to the Idli batter first before I get distracted again. If I take my eyes off for a second, I am liable to forget it. You know how forgetful I am getting to be these days.” My aunt fretted over the grinder some more before turning to my mother. Pinching the dough with her fingers, she nodded her head. “Yes, add a stick of butter to it and may be some more cumin seeds too. “ Watching my mom follow my aunt’s advice, I peeked in to the several big stockpots lined up at the southern wall of the room. So many sweets and snacks! The colorful line-up could bring a saint to his knees and I was only 9. Grabbing a fistful of murukku and thattai, I quickly stepped out of the kitchen before my mom or my aunt caught me. When the kitchen smells of sugar, cardamom, cumin, butter and deep fried oil, you can tell that Deepawali is here.

Grabbing the only empty chair in the living room, I settled down to enjoy the snacks and the debate on television. At least I tried to. It is not easy to follow the TV program when your many cousins and aunts and uncles are all gathered around you engaged in various spirited conversations. Giving up on TV, I turned my attention to my sister and 2 cousins playing cards on the floor. “You are a cheat. I saw you signaling to her. You let her know what your trump is, didn’t you? I will never play with you again.” My 12 year old cousin stomped out of the room. All eyes turned towards me. They wanted to know if I would fill in for my cousin at the game. Well, why not? With so much drama going on in the living room, who needs TV? Sitting cross legged on the floor, I picked up the cards and looked at the big grandfather clock on the wall. Another hour, at least, before we would all be called in for dinner. Just the thought of the slowly roasted potato curry and onion lentil sambar simmering on the kitchen stove even as we played cards, had me wetting my lips in anticipation. Onion sambar and potato curry are a delicacy any day but somehow they assume incredible taste and flavor during Deepawali. As my mind wandered to the big suitcase full of firecrackers in the bedroom that all of us were looking forward to getting our hands on early next morning, I knew very well that very soon I would have to viciously fight for second helpings be it for sparklers or potato curry as was the norm in all large families. Glancing around at the noisy room around me, I knew that I wouldn’t have it any other way.


That was a nostalgic recollection of the night before Deepawali when I was about 9. I find it curious that I am unable to remember the color or pattern of the new clothes that were bought for Deepawali that year but somehow can clearly recollect the mixed voices of the many people sitting around me as well as almost smell the onion sambar and potato curry wafting from the kitchen that night. Goes to show that Deepawali is much more than fancy clothes, magical firecrackers and fattening sweets. It is an opportunity to make big and small memories with our loved ones. It is the only gift that matters.

Happy Deepawali everyone!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Would you rather I ‘ewewewew….uhuhuhuh…..awawawawa’ ed?

Few things in life have left me this stumped. I am not usually so easily ruffled but the incident from last week has left me questioning my own ability to face the many curve balls that life tends to throw at us.

My kids and I went for a routine dental cleaning appointment last week. It all started out uneventfully with me exchanging the usual string of meaningless pleasantries with the receptionist at the front desk. Before I could finish enquiring after her hairdresser’s new neighbor from Bimini, we were herded in to a private room to meet a person that I have come to greatly admire. Our oral hygienist! Usually I can get away with colorfully exaggerating the truth with anyone. Well, almost anyone because this guy is very hard to fool. He can take one quick peek at my teeth and know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God. All it takes is one little disapproving shake of his head to make me feel very small and that, my friends, is no ordinary feat considering the fact that I look like the poster child of ‘chubby cheeks’. Two minutes of facing him, his folded hands and narrowed eyes, I am usually ready to confess my sins, both real and imaginary.

As my kids were the first ones to be attended to, I was politely asked to step outside the room and wait. This meant that I had at least 30 minutes of free time sitting on a couch waiting for my turn. I decided not to be frivolous and spend the whole time admiring the many shiny models of fake white teeth artfully spread around the room. It is not that I wasn’t entertained by those perfectly sculpted white teeth but you have to admit that if you have seen one set of teeth, you have seen them all. Anyway, unwilling to waste those precious minutes, I got busy indulging a great passion of mine.

There sitting in the middle of my dentist’s office, to the utmost horror of my children, I cleared my voice and started practicing a carnatic composition in ‘Punnagavarali’ ragam that I had recently learned. I am positive that I heard whimpering noises from behind the closed doors of the room but I chose to ignore it as always.

I confess, I do have this nasty habit of breaking out into song in public places with a blatant disregard to the sensibilities of those around me and I guess waving fingers in public by way of putting ‘talam’ doesn’t help my image either. Ok, so I have very little talent but honestly, does it justify my kids’ behavior? Every time I step out of my home and open my mouth, my children publicly disown me these days. Is that any way to treat the one that lugged you around for 9 months in a very small pouch inside of her? Is fairness just a fairytale, I ask you.

Call me the Queen of digression today. I haven’t even come to the point yet. At last my turn came to go in and see the oral hygienist. I went through the routine motions of pleading guilty to not flossing every night and eating sweets regularly before going to bed. This confession left me feeling cleansed so much so that I ended the session profusely thanking him for absolving my sins. In walked the Dentist now for one last check up of my teeth before I would be let out. I obliged her and dutifully lay down on the dentist chair courageously looking up at a light that could very well be Sun’s evil twin. So there I was, with my mouth stretched wide open so my dentist could quickly look in and pronounce me healthy until next visit and what did she do? Deciding to take a break right at that time, she relaxed, put her feet up and started sharing the happy memories of her recent vacation with me.

Please don’t get me wrong. I love my dentist. She is as awesome as awesome can be. It is just that I wanted to get out of that office before the combined sound of three growling stomachs got public attention. In a few more minutes, I knew that we had to start shouting to be heard over all that growling. As the clock continued to tick away with the dentist showing no sign of stopping, I decided to help speed things up. Angling my head towards her face all the while nodding enthusiastically to her remarks, I stretched my mouth open even wider (if that is possible) and put on the most pitiful look I could manage. My idea helped but only for a second. She came out of her happy memories long enough to stuff two pieces of big, thick rubber pads in between my teeth to help keep my jaws open and frozen in position.

And that is when I faced the toughest challenge of my life. The curiosity bug apparently bit my dentist when I had turned away for a second because now suddenly she wanted to know all about my family’s last vacation – our destination, transportation preferences, favorite cuisines, tolerance to sunburn and even more. Hmmmm.....wait a second! Wasn’t she the one that just put a rubber gadget between my teeth so I couldn’t move my jaws? Wasn’t it obvious that I was in no position to answer even nature’s call at that very moment let alone her questions? Did she know a secret way to talk with one’s mouth wide open? Did I not look pathetic enough lying on the table with my mouth stretched open trying to howl the answers to her questions? For that matter, did my ‘Ewewewew......uhuhuhuh....awawawawa’ really answer her questions? It just goes to show that one can never be prepared for everything in life.

Got any interesting dentist stories to share?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Refund Rantings!

I have had it. The time has finally come to take a stand in this matter. Enough is enough. I don’t see why I should be stuck with a defective product. Am I not entitled to some customer satisfaction? Is it so unreasonable for me to demand a full refund for something that I am not happy with? Ok, so I don’t have a receipt to show as proof of purchase to the store. Big deal! Well, come to think of it, I don’t even have a store to take it back to but that is hardly the point.

Be honest and answer these for me. What would you do if you buy a product that falls apart at your first touch? Will you not be outraged? Will you not march straight back to the store and scream for a refund? Yes, I am mad as hell but once you know my reasons, you will understand why. I am not given to such angry outbursts often. Folks usually find me patient and mild-mannered. But in the past few months, my patience has been wearing thin and for a good reason.

I am in my thirties, look the picture of health on the outside and put together like a very cheap and tacky Burma Bazaar watch on the inside. If it is not my gallbladder, then you can be assured that it will be my foot. Fix the foot and watch my shoulder tendon snap. Heal the shoulder just in time to hear my voice croak. Treat the voice only to have the doctor pronounce my knee cap ‘inflamed’. Do you know how tiring it is to keep a mental list of all the failed parts of my body? And that is why a big whiteboard is hanging on my kitchen wall now so I can save my voice and report my daily health failings to my family. Mm/dd/yy – problem part –symptoms is the format that I am using these days.

I have a nagging suspicion that God outsourced the manufacturing of my body parts to China. Why? Because the way I am falling apart like a wet sand castle at the beach characterizes all the items sold in ‘Dollar’ stores across the United States with a stamp ‘Made in China’. Or maybe He entered into a secret partnership with the giant pharmaceutical industry with a promise to manufacture 'me' who will help drive their stock prices up by using every medicine that passes through their factory floor. Either way, I smell a stinking conspiracy here.

Call it paranoia but recently I have started noticing that every time my husband looks at my father, there is an unspoken admiration in his eyes that seems to say ‘How did you know when to unload her onto my head?' Mind you, there is no malice, only an acknowledgment laced with awe for my father’s timely great escape.

Yesterday, I heard my husband pleading on the phone with an insurance agent to allow him to buy additional insurance for me. Poor guy! I really do feel for him. He is so traumatized watching me disintegrate right in front of his eyes that he has 911 stored on his speed dial. And of course, all credit goes to his unique begging skills for securing fully approved credit accounts with all the local hospitals where the lovely staff insist on buying us all little trinkets during each of my visit. Their love and affection for us come as no surprise to me. After all, they do owe me big for the generous bonus they get every year.

Coming back to the point, I refuse to take this injustice lying down anymore. I hereby file an official complaint against God for manufacturing me with so many defective parts and demand a full refund from Him. Did I hear you ask 'What refund?'. Well, all I want in way of a refund, is for Him to take out all the substandard parts and put back limbs, bones and muscles that actually function according to specification. All I want is to not fall apart like a Lego tower carelessly built by a 2 year old. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hell on Earth!

Yesterday a friend, after sharing his family‘s last vacation experience on bungee jumping and para-sailing with us, wanted to know if we would be interested in joining them on a trip to the local amusement park soon. The silence that followed his suggestion was deafening.

To tell you the truth, his suggestion was not without merit. Schools are out for the summer and to parents like me, this means loud music pumping out of some media all day long, loud feet pounding up and down the stairs at all hours and loud voices demanding food and entertainment at all times. Insanity is an inevitable by-product of long summer vacations so letting our kids loose in the outdoors for a few hours was not at all a bad idea. It might just help us to survive this summer. Except for the fact that I would rather be gagged, tied up in front of a TV and forced to watch soap-operas all day long than to ever set foot inside an amusement park again.

Why? Because amusement parks are anything but amusing. They are torture chambers ideally suited for convicts on death row. Acres of land filled with deadly, long, sinuous contraptions that are built to toss, spin, squeeze and knock the life out of any poor soul that has the misfortune of getting trapped in them. Roller coaster rides are my idea of Hell on Earth.

I still remember my first time riding a Ferris wheel. I screamed so loud that they stopped the ride after a couple of spins to let me off before resuming. Stopping a ride in the middle was unheard of. My folks, very proudly, credited it to my screaming skills.

Screaming, if you didn’t already know, is an excellent voice exercise. It clears the cobwebs in your throat, so to speak. Young singers everywhere, aspiring for a career in music, would beg to take lessons from me if they ever overheard the lullabies I sing for my children every night. If you don’t believe me, ask my husband. He proudly declares that I am the only one in our species that can bring King Kong to his knees simply by singing ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby’. Of course, it must only be a coincidence that the minute I clear my throat and get ready to start, my children squeeze their eyes shut and pass out cold. And what is up with all the neighborhood dogs always starting their nightly chorus exactly at the same time? Seriously!

Come to think of it, screaming was not the only thing that I did when I was busy holding on for dear life up in a ride. Every time I was sent rocketing through the air, spinning and tossing in a roller coaster ride, I had a profound spiritual experience. What solid earth refused to imbibe in me, those roller coaster rides managed to do. Screaming and puking my guts out while suspended in the air, I was enlightened by the realization that God is our savior and that He will come faster to save those that have no shame. Therefore abandoning my ego, I always sought his protection and sang His hymns (yes, while on the ride) loud enough to reach Kailas without Skype. Even today, I am unsure as to why folks tripped over each other to move back and make way for me every time after I got off those rides.

Coming back to yesterday, in the silence that followed our friend’s invitation, my family turned such hostile eyes on me that I was forced to explain the depth of my feelings for amusement parks to this friend. I never meant it as an insult when I told him that I would rather sleep on the floor of a dark, wet cave with a dozen snakes slithering next to me but, unfortunately, he seemed to take it so.

Anyway, my husband and I agree that if we were to ever find ourselves stranded, wet and hungry, in a colony of aliens where the only residing human was this friend, it would still be totally unwise to knock on his door.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ouch…I just fell off my moral high horse! And it hurts.

I always knew he was clever but I never realized just how much. I had no clue that he was capable of such devious plotting. I concede that I wrote a few articles here at his expense. Okay, so I pulled his leg a few times publicly and enjoyed it too but for a spouse of 16 years, couldn’t he just take it in his stride? Was this action really necessary? Could you, in all honesty, justify it?

Let me be frank here. I didn’t see it coming at all. Not until it fell into my lap. I never once heard him say anything like ‘If I go down, I am taking you down with me.’ No such hints were dropped in my presence. He kept it under tight wraps till that day just so he could catch me off guard. According to him, it was a ‘surprise’ for me! Yeah, right… I am buying it. It wasn’t enough that he ended up an addict. He had to now go and make me one too.

Guess what my husband got me for my birthday last month? A Droid phone with 24/7 internet access, that’s what. How LOW can he get? Has he no shame?

Before this gift, I was having such a splendid time looking down my nose at the Droid phone addiction of the world at large, feeling superior about my self-control and strutting around with a smug smile plastered on my face. Riding high on a moral high horse was my specialty then. These days I can’t even crawl on the back of a moral pig.

Upon accepting his gift, I first gave him a look that was sure to wither a healthy young plant, then pulled up a chair and got busy. Obviously, there was no time to waste with a whole new world to explore at my fingertips. Several You Tube videos were beckoning me with the promise of entertainment, a built-in voice recorder was begging me to play with it and a digital camera was tempting me to click the ‘Kodak moments’ of life away. With these, also came a plethora of free applications that offered to keep track of my grocery lists, calorie intake, frequency of burping, pulse rate, dry cleaning schedule and cooking recipes. Oh, get this. I even found a free app to download a special pink calendar to keep track of my menstrual cycle with all its lovely details. Can’t believe it? Well, if I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it either. It is a miracle indeed.

If God had ever marked both this phone and the fruit from the tree of knowledge as forbidden in the Garden of Eden, guess what Adam and Eve would have chosen? Could you really blame them? Even Satan would bow low in submission to such devilry.

So now I have officially joined the ranks of the many whose lives are inexplicably tied to their phones. Do the phone companies realize that they are creating monsters around the world?

Yesterday evening, I looked up for a minute from my Droid phone only to find my husband and daughter sprawled over the couch across from me with their eyes locked onto their respective phones. Just weeks ago, stumbling upon a scene like this would have led me to launch one of my well-rehearsed lectures on the ill effects of technology addiction and ways to develop self-control. Now, all I can do is heave a sigh of resignation and get back to my game.

You have got to hand it to my husband. He really did kill 2 birds with one stone here. He got me (my friends insist) a great gift while at the same time, silencing my protests and lectures about his phone addiction effectively. Obviously the man is devious!

If you are sitting there mentally congratulating my husband on his clever mind, hear this too. Now that he has taken care of his problem (me)once and for all, guess what he got me for our anniversary last week? A pillow from Costco!

Makes me think that my Droid phone isn't so bad after all.

-Meena Sankaran

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chardonnay, Merlot or Zinfandel?

I am always amused at the way people react when I tell them that I had, at one point, worked for a winery. While one person wants to pull up a chair next to me with the intent of discussing the merits of Pinot Noir and Port into the next decade, another takes a few steps back in aversion.

When it comes to wine, people invariably fall under one of the two following categories. Those that

1. Love wine
2. are ignorant about the beverage but predisposed to hate it on principle

Wine connoisseurs, who lead this list, are an intimidating bunch. Trust me for I worked with a whole nest of them at one point in my life. If you can’t look fashionably drunk and be able to engage in an hour-long animated discussion of wine, food and cheese pairings in their company, you better pray for the ground to open up under your feet and spare you the embarrassment.

Don’t know whether Cheddar or Provolone cheese goes down well with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? Unsure of the year the grapes were harvested after the first sip from a bottle of Chardonnay? Unable to decide if a chunk of Swiss dark chocolate or a box of sweet raspberries compliments a white Zinfandel better? Well, I am no magician but try this. Hold out your hand and introduce yourself - ‘Just arrived from the next Galaxy, name is Idiot.’ It might just get you out of a tight corner or two.

For every winatic (wine+lunatic, if you must know) that is out there, there is another one like me. We are the self-righteous moralists who consider any little human indulgence a step up in the path paved to Hell. So what if doctors insist that a glass of red wine a day keeps the heart pumping away? Who cares if wine has only one third of the alcohol content as a bottle of Bud? Big deal! To a conservative, logic is the first cousin to ignorance which is why the word ‘wine’ is only slightly below ‘blasphemy’ and ‘Tiger Woods’ on my no-no vocabulary list.

So why did I take up a job in a winery? Two reasons really! 1) The way I figured, how much sin can one commit crunching numbers, even in a winery? 2) How else can I see Lucy goofing around in a wooden vat stomping grapes?

Imagine my shock upon entering the first wine-making facility only to find big, giant stainless steel Vats with long winding tubes leading to rows of oak barrels as far as eyes could see! Where was the big wide wooden Vat in which women in bare feet were busily stomping the grapes? What kind of a set-up was this anyway and where the heck was Lucille Ball? Boo to industrialization! I was a heartbeat away from resigning that day.

But having decided to stay, I had no choice but to accept the benevolence of my employer 3 times a year - six bottles of prime wine each year at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don't think my co-workers appreciated my sobbing hysterically each time a HR person walked into my cubicle with my seasonal gift. Obviously bursting out in tears while accepting a gift was not a common custom amongst them. But as the years rolled by, I did learn to show some appreciation. If my effort at peeling my lips wide enough to show at least six teeth as a show of appreciation was misconstrued as an allergic reaction to a Botox injection, I really couldn’t help it.

There is a bright side to this story. Staring at the rows of Chardonnay, Merlot and Zinfandel stacked in my garage one day, I realized that I didn’t have to buy a housewarming gift for at least another decade. An even curious observation was our new and improved relationship with our neighbors who apparently realized that Asians weren’t such bad neighbors after all.

-Meena Sankaran

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Do you ti-ting, chi-ching or di-ding?

Ti-ting, Ti-ting, Ti-ting.............

That was my husband playing with his Droid again. These days if it is not ‘Ti-ting’, then it is either ‘chi-ching’ or ‘di-ding’ around our house. Just between you and me, I like ‘chi-ching’ better than the others.

He had downloaded yet another application for his phone earlier today. And was every bit as enthralled as when he downloaded the other gazillion ones like the leveler app, the compass app and many more. How do I know? He was not being subtle by any calculation. His dimples had deepened considerably for you to miss it and I had to threaten ‘Quinoa’ for dinner before he would clip his phone to his shirt and go in for a shave.

This brand new app is nothing short of a miracle, I am told. With its help, you can use your phone to scan the bar code of any item and find out 1) where they are sold and 2) where you can go to buy it cheap. A tool that facilitates and encourages cheapness? What was the developer thinking? Dangling this in front of Asians is like dunking in a honey tub and standing in front of a bee-hive. Do they realize the serious repercussions this could have on this nation’s business landscape? I am willing to bet my gallbladder that Wal-Mart is, even as I write, planning a class action suit against Asians for loss of business and is naming this app developer as a co-defendant. Who could blame them? Really!

Coming back to ‘Ti-ting’, this morning I watched my husband walk around the house looking for items with a bar code to test his new, ingenious application. Seeing him step into the powder room, my curiosity was piqued. I followed just in time to see him frantically grab the tooth paste, mouthwash, lipstick, soap scum remover, scrub pads and a doormat to scan. Ti-ting, ti-ting, ti-ting, ti-ting, ti-ting and ti-ting. While I stood there watching him with my mouth hanging open in disbelief, he proudly declared the names of all the stores that carry them and their selling price.

I find myself in a dilemma. Should I sue the pants off these Droid application developers or would it be more prudent to have my husband checked into a reputed Droid rehab program? Heard of any decent programs for Droid addiction lately?

In the meantime, I concede that there is one advantage to owning a Droid. Ever since my husband brought this phone home, I have had to dim the lights around the house thereby saving huge on the electricity bill. Who needs lights when he is glowing bright enough to light up 10 Christmas trees like the one in front of Macy’s store in Union Square?

-Meena Sankaran

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How do you measure love? In grams, gallons or bytes?

If you believe in reincarnation, then you should know that my father is a reincarnation of the famous English poet and philosopher Thomas Gray. My sisters and I will swear on this for we were the only lucky ones privy to our dad’s profound philosophical insights.

As children, we grew up on quotations from Thomas Gray’s poem ‘Elegy written in a Country Churchyard’. The following lines from this poem were discussed so extensively, so often that if I were to wake up from a coma with amnesia a few years from now, I will still recite them without missing a beat.

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Can you think of a better way to teach your children the futility of joining the maddening rat race called life? Dad enriched our childhoods further with acute philosophical observations like ‘Beauty is only skin deep’ every time he caught one of us standing in front of the mirror unashamedly admiring our own reflections, questions like ‘Were we born into this world with the comforts of a fan and a fridge?’ whenever we whined incessantly about the power outages and the unbearable heat of Chennai. It was only natural that we nicknamed him ‘Mr. Gray’.

Now the point of this whole big introduction is to show you that I come from very good erudite stock. Those who believe in the laws of genetics would naturally assume that I would be, at least a little bit, philosophically inclined.

If you had bet your house on that, all I can say is 'oops'. I am afraid you are about to join the ranks of the homeless. Just like weight loss, philosophy eludes me. But determined to thumb my nose at fate and get the hang of this profound thinking business, I had been picking my brain lately about something that I can think profoundly about. I never had this much trouble even when raising toddlers. After hours of exhaustive brain picking, I came up with a question that might convince you that I am my father’s daughter.

How do you measure love? In grams, gallons or bytes?

The commercial on TV that claims ‘some things are priceless but for everything else, there is Master Card’ is based on the assumption that love is not measurable. I can put a big hole in that theory and for this I have my kids to thank for.

Both my kids love me just as much as I love them. I know this because I can measure their love quite easily.

I can measure my youngest child’s love by how many kisses she blows my way every day. The daily count starts in the morning. On her way to the bus stop each morning, she stops after every few steps to turn around and blow kisses to me. It doesn’t bother her that the bus is fully loaded and the driver, parents at the bus stop, the kids aboard the bus are all impatiently waiting for her to hurry and board so they can be on their way. She doesn’t let a little pressure like that deprive me of my daily love dose and always takes the time to blow my quota of kisses before boarding. At last count, she topped her own record with a round 100 kisses a day. Now anything less than 80, I feel unloved.

My eldest child is unique in many ways and all the more so in her expression of her love. She pats my head to show her support and rubs my head in a circular motion to show her affection. Please be sure to note the difference here. To pat is to console while to rub is to love. The more she loves, the harder she rubs. On days when her love for me peaks, I worry a little about premature balding. For now I am using a special herbal hair oil treatment for damage control. The day when all that rubbing leaves behind a hint of a bald spot, I will have to gently redirect her loving hands to rub my arms. Who knows? I might even save some money on salon waxing!

So how do you measure love?

-Meena Sankaran

Friday, March 12, 2010

No more Uncle Sam? Hallelujah!

I heard my husband walk through the front door calling my name over and over bursting with joy. One look at his face and I was ready to drop down on my knees and thank President Obama. Hallelujah! We got tax-exemption. I was sure of it. What else could have put that goofy grin on his face? Joy so pure and unadulterated on someone’s face can only mean a few things:

• You just received a notice in the mail from the IRS offering you full tax-exemption for life
• You struck oil in your backyard and now have to fight off the Sheikhs of the Middle East for your market share (or)
• You won a 50 million dollar lottery and Uncle Sam was kind enough to say ‘Never mind my share, you get to keep it all’.

Every year around this time in March, I find myself plagued by nightmares where I am running breathlessly through the dark and shady alleys of a city with Uncle Sam hard at my heels screaming hideously ‘Pay up, pay up, pay up’. I wake up drenched in sweat with eyes darting around in terror expecting to see an IRS agent cackling down at me with an audit notice flapping in his arm.

Obviously I wanted tax exemption more than anything else. Duh!

It turns out that that wasn’t the reason for the face-splitting grin on my husband’s face after all. His cell phone was dead. As in dead as a doornail.

Not a moment too soon according to my husband. It might sound callous to you but he had been waiting a long time for its death. Don’t get me wrong, he loved his cell phone. Such was his love that had I not stopped him, he would have called the governor and demanded a full State mourning and funeral befitting a fallen hero.

He did love his cell phone. It is just that he loved the new Droid phone on the market even more. All of Richmond knew that he had been secretly eyeing the Droid phone for a while now when he thought no one was looking. Did he really think that no one would notice those long sighs, vacant dreamy looks and the slight drool on the corner of his mouth? I knew and I sympathized with him. It must be really hard to be a gadget-junkie and not be able to play with the newest, shiniest and beautiful gadget out there.

All he needed was a valid excuse to go shopping for this new toy. The only excuse that didn’t bring truckloads of guilt with it was if the existing phone should die. And now finally it is dead and gone. Once I managed to calm him down and stop the hyperventilation, he was busy calling his friends to convey the good news after which he proceeded, in a frenzy, to check the websites for deals, do price comparisons and analyze the available accessories.

Today he is the proud owner of not one but two Droid phones thanks to the popular BOGOF sales technique. No happier man ever walked this earth.

If you are driving in our neighborhood and happen to catch a glimpse of another driver directing his Droid’s voice activated GPS to ‘Find Wal-Mart’ or ‘Find Chuck E Cheese’, be sure to honk and say hi to my husband.

-Meena Sankaran

Friday, February 5, 2010

What did Humpty Dumpty have that I don't?

If I weren’t in so much pain, I would howl in indignity. How dare they! I am quite thoroughly insulted and rightfully so.

Let me ask you something. When Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, didn’t ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men’ try their best to put him back together? Did the King summon the Palace janitor and order him to patch Humpty Dumpty together with Gorilla super glue? Of course not! The entire kingdom marched to save him. They failed but that is neither here nor there. I am sure Humpty’s soul rests in peace today knowing that he died with his dignity intact. So why, I ask you, don’t I rate the same courtesy?

No, I have no head injuries. I am quite sure that I have no concussion. But I do have 4 holes in my stomach. And that, my friends, is the source of my ever-rising irritation.

If you read my ‘New Year’s Resolution’ post, you would know that weight loss has always been the elusive pot of gold at the end of my rainbow. So you can understand my reaction when my doctor told me last week that my gallbladder had to be surgically removed. Ok, so I needn’t have squealed with glee and grabbed the ‘doc’ to waltz in the 4x4 examination room but hey, is it my fault I didn’t know that gallbladder is a teeny tiny sac the size of my palm? Isn’t it just my luck that the one part that I can afford to lose happens to weigh under a pound or so? Why couldn’t it weigh, say, 20 pounds? Chop, chop and I would have been 20 pounds lighter today. I give up now. When the many forces of the universe at large conspire to keep you (there is only one way to say it) chubby, what’s a girl to do?

Coming back to why I feel insulted, guess what the great doctors at the hospital did? You can’t guess, I bet. After yanking my gallbladder out, you would think that they would have the courtesy to stitch me back together, wouldn’t you? A few simply sewn stitches (I am not asking for French knots here, mind you) that I can show my husband to justify the enormous bill that is coming our way. For thousands of dollars, they could not bother to leave behind some eensy weensy sutures?

An even bigger dilemma is this. What do I say to all those friends who have cooked their hearts out for my family this week when they ask ‘When are you going back to get your stitches out?’ How do I tell them that I don’t need to go back? How do I tell them that the doctors actually slapped some ‘derma glue’ on me and sent me home? Glue, for god’s sakes! How insulting, really! What did Humpty Dumpty have that I don’t, I ask you.

Until I am strong enough to get up and stomp my feet around to vent this anger, this post will have to do.

-Meena Sankaran

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Need help feeding your chickens?

A friend recently invited me to join her on a trip to Europe. Knowing me, she should not have bothered. I think twice before venturing on a trip to our backyard. It is true. I like traveling almost as much as I like scrubbing a toilet bowl.

I need more scientific data to prove it but I am convinced that an aversion to travel must be a medical sickness. Why else would the thought of going to sun-drenched beaches and other exotic destinations put me under a self-induced coma? What else would explain my need to pretend hearing loss whenever the term ‘vacation’ is mentioned? If my considering a visit to Paris on par with a visit to the Dentist not sick, I don’t know what is. I do hope that someone will hurry and publish a paper soon about this new disorder/syndrome ‘travelophobia’ to give my theory validity and save me from the many murderous looks around the house.

That being said, I do have some good news. I have stumbled on to a place that I might just like to visit. I know that a lot of my friends and family have already been there. They must have fallen in love with it because all of them have pitched tents and settled very comfortably over there.

What is most noteworthy about this place is that it seems to entice folks from all walks of life to try their hands at agriculture.

Welcome to Farmville! At Farmville, anyone can be a farmer and you better believe it. A friend of mine who has earned a well-deserved reputation for bringing home a bag full of rotten tomatoes from her grocery trip without fail every week is now growing a field full of healthy big, red tomatoes in Farmville. A cousin who has never owned a pet in her life is now caring for a cage full of chickens in her farm. I am forever hearing stories about lost sheep or calf that wander in to people’ farms looking for a new home. Talk about a mobile petting zoo!

What actually pushed me over the brink of uncertainty and to seriously consider overcoming my travel phobia to visit this place is the way this place seems to inspire generosity and samaritan values in people. Are you sick or on vacation? Are you worried that your crops will shrink and wither away in your absence? Quit worrying. A few good neighbors in Farmville will drop in and fertilize your crops out of the goodness of their hearts. Need to go out of town for a few days? Count on any inhabitant of Farmville to come feed your hungry chickens. Found a lost baby calf on your farm? Be at peace knowing that you will get it adopted in this beloved city in no time at all. Such generosity is mind boggling and can only be inspired in Farmville!

Got to go now and dust off my suitcases to get ready for our family vacation to Farmville! Hold on, my Facebook friends and cousins with puny crops, hungry chickens and lost animals! Help is on the way. Who knows? I may end up buying the farm south of yours and pitch a tent there myself.

-Meena Sankaran

PS: To all those non-Facebook users who look lost after reading my post like the poor animals on Farmville, here is a little explanation. Farmville is a game application on Facebook that keeps folks around the world busy 24/7.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year Resolution

Just four days in to the New Year, I am already wary of wishing anyone a ‘Happy New Year’ anymore. Not that I have anything against passing around some cheer and goodwill. Usually I am all for it. But due to some mysterious phenomenon, the birth of a New Year seems to whet folks’ curiosity and after returning my New Year wishes, they invariably want to know what my New Year resolutions are. Their happiness and health somehow seem tied to finding out the status of my prior years’ resolutions too. The conversation that follows this line of inquiry is, to put it mildly, quite embarrassing.

You see, I have the same single resolution each year. There hasn’t been any change to it over the past few years. I am steady and reliable that way. My modest resolution for every New Year is to lose enough weight to be able to recognize the image in the mirror. That is a perfectly plausible resolution, if you ask me. I am not aiming for world peace here, am I? Forget about fitting back into the wedding clothes. Forget about making the ‘Economy’ class seat in an airplane look roomier. All I want is to buy one dress each year that is not labeled ‘Jumbo’ size.

Let me tell you why weight loss beats all my other resolutions to the door each year. It does get a little annoying after a while to be singled out in a crowd and complimented on your chubby cheeks in social gatherings. Also, I don’t particularly care to have my cheeks pinched to see if they are as soft and round as the babies who model for baby food commercials on TV. Really! But my indignant scowls almost always go unnoticed so I have finally come up with an ingenious, if temporary, solution for this problem. I don’t knock on the door of a party without first sucking my cheeks in and holding them in to form artificial dimples. Lucky for me it fools them every single time.

I don’t know about you but I take my New Year resolution very seriously. Every January 1st, I go and enroll myself in the nearest fitness center. Then, I go out shopping and spend a week browsing the stores looking for a dashing new gym outfit. That being done, I sweat another week trying to find a water bottle that matches my new outfit. After all, there is no point looking shabby when you take an important step in your life. While at the store, I let the store clerk convince me that my feet have outgrown last year’s shoes so then I go home as the proud owner of a new pair of latest technology shoes that is said to melt pounds even while I am sleeping. You have to admit that I can use some extra help here.

I usually pack a lot of enthusiasm into my first few weeks at the Gym. This year, I got a head start by signing up for the gym membership the week before Christmas. The novelty of the new shiny machines keeps me going back. Every Cardio machine is tested and tried but the weight machines intimidate me so much so that I pretend an acute aversion to those monsters and dismiss them as unworthy of my attention. I compensate for this cowardice by walking around the living room couch 3 times a day with a 5 pound potato bag from the pantry. Do not underestimate your potatoes for they can muscle up your arms in no time. Every time I cross the bathroom to pick up a load of dirty laundry, I catch myself looking in the mirror, stretching my arm, straining to see the as yet invisible biceps and triceps. I have a hunch that I will watch those muscles bulge in just another week.

On top of puffing my way to health, every January, I also try to learn to eat all things that taste like sawdust. You may know these as ‘healthy’ food. It takes a lot of inner strength to sit in front of a plate of sickly-looking leaves that is termed ‘salad’ and not gag. It takes even more to push it down your throat. Determination, they say, is the key to stay on a healthy diet. And I have no shame in admitting that I have the determination of a dead earthworm. If you ask me, you have to be critically insane to choose a bowl of oatmeal or a salad over a bowl of hot steamed white rice and a cup of spicy sauteed vegetables.

And there lies the secret to my failed New Year resolutions. But this year I am determined to let this farce play out at least until end of February before I shelve it to be pulled out and reused next year.

Happy New Year to all of you. May the New Year bring good health and laughter to you and all your dear ones.

-Meena Sankaran