Thursday, August 10, 2017

The smell test

After I tucked Xena into her bed and said good night, I told her I was going for a shower.

"Okay, but come back after your shower and hug me, okay?"

So I went back to her room after my shower and hugged her. She was kinda awake.

"Mama, you smell so nice..."

"Hmmm... like a flower?" (My shower foam is lavender -- my favourite.)

"Noooooo... if you were a flower, bees would go into your nose!"

"Uhhh okay. Not a flower then..."

"Yep, not a flower. You smell like... uhh..." (thinking hard)

"What?"

"You smell very nice, like a... like a..." (thinking harder)

"Like a what, baby?"

"I know! Like... the opposite of a skunk!"

Touché.




Friday, August 04, 2017

The rolling stones

Two months ago, a friend added me to a very cool pebble-painting group whose main objective is to get kids away from electronics, and out and about in nature. It's become a big craze in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of the US, and something that tech-crazy kids of Singapore desperately need. It's like the analog version of Pokemon Go.

The rules are simple -- you paint pebbles and hide them around parks and playgrounds for other kids to find. What you find, you re-hide in another location. You post photos of what you paint, hide and find, and your personal hashtags at the back of the pebbles can help you trace where your artwork has travelled. Singapore may be a tiny island, but it sure is heartening to find in the west coast a pebble painted by a kid living in the east coast.

Xena and I already do a lot of art and craft and outdoorsy stuff, so this fitted right into our interests. However, I had no clue how obsessed she (and me; mainly me actually) would get.

Here are my top reasons for loving, loving, loving this new hobby:

1. It promotes creativity and resourcefulness. 
You can paint absolutely anything on the pebbles using any media you like. In the beginning, we had no suitable art supplies —just two bags of pebbles we had bought. Xena's water colours and finger paints turned out to be no good for painting on the surface of the pebbles. While I checked around to see what kind of paints and markers would be the best, we had to make do with whatever was at hand. So we used nail polish for colours, a correction pen for white and markers for outlines. Since I was really into nail art at one point, I do have some very funky colours and nail art tools. And I have to say they served us very well. And because the 'canvas' is so small, you don't need any real artistic skills. Anything you paint on a pebble will end up looking cute.

This entire batch was painted using nothing but nail polish and nail art tools.

At this point, I'm doing most of the painting, though Xena helps me do the base coats and paints some of the simpler designs after I do the outlines. 

Most of this is Xena's handiwork, with a little help from me.

2. It gets kids out and about. 
Xena and I often go for long walks to faraway parks and playgrounds. By the time we are done, she's often very tired and if we haven't taken her scooter along, I encounter some "carry me" whines. (Now, she may be super-light, but I ain't carrying a 6-year-old home.) However, since we started on this, I don't hear any complaints at all. Scooter or no scooter, she cheerfully ventures near and far in search of painted pebbles. And she goes to great lengths to find them.

We were pebble-hiding near the cable ski lagoon at the beach with a friend, when she borrowed his toy binoculars and said, "Mama, I'm looking hard for pebbles!"

3. It teaches kids to share. 
It's simple: paint --> hide and find -> re-hide. You can't hold on to the pebbles you find, no matter how pretty they are or how much you like them. You can keep them to admire for a day or two, but you gotta release them eventually for others to feel just as happy as you did when you found them. Xena gets this, and I sure am glad that she's able to let go of stuff this easily.

4. It's a cycle. 
If I had a penny for every piece of artwork that Xena handed to me that I actually kept, boy oh boy. Every term, her preschool also sends me every single drawing of hers, and some of them are, well, I have no idea what they are. On an average, I keep about one in twenty. The rest dutifully make their way to the recycle bin, mostly when she's asleep. It's true; kids are inherent hoarders. They get attached to the most random things -- leaves, twigs, candy wrappers, ribbons, pieces of blu tack (I kid you not), etc. What they'd want to do with these things is anybody's guess, but they do love them dearly. So you can only imagine how attached kids can get to a cute pebble with a cute mascot painted on it. Now imagine if you kept every pebble you painted and every pebble you found. That's a lot of stuff to keep in the house, and goes totally against our general KonMari philosophy. So I'm actually happy that the pebble artwork gets renewed and recycled without anyone having to throw anything away.

5. It teaches kids how to deal with disappointments.
This is my absolute favourite. This generation of kids rarely have to deal with failure and disappointment in their childhood. (That's why 'participation prizes' bug me. Why are we rewarding kids for just turning up?) My worry is that when they grow into (rather entitled) adults, they will not be able to cope with all the curveballs life is gonna throw at them. Rock-hunting is great for this reason -- you might spend an hour combing through a park and find ZERO pebbles and that's okay. And of course, there is always the heartbreaking possibility of your beautifully painted pebble being discovered by someone who doesn't know what it is; someone who just picks it up and keeps it, or worse, throws it into the bin. Oh, well.

6. It's 'reboot' time for me.
Viv has been insanely busy with cricket so our weeknight Netflix sessions start only around 10 pm after he gets back from training. I end up with some free time after putting Xena to bed, so I just sit down and paint the stuff that *I* want to paint, without getting distracted with phrases like "Mama, this fish looks angry. We need to change its mouth!" or "Mama, please draw a JigglyWigglypie [aka random cartoon character she learnt about from her classmates that I have no clue about and have to google to draw]." This 'me time' is really calming. I can literally tuck away all my other thoughts and just focus on the pebble I'm painting. And now I have armed myself with acrylic paints and better markers, so the pebbles are looking better too.

Here are some of our latest creations. Will update as we paint more!









Wednesday, August 02, 2017

One of a kind

Where possible, I try to sneak in a message about kindness and compassion to Xena.

The other day, we were waiting for the lift to get home after school. I had a splitting headache and she was insisting we take the stairs up.

"I'm not feeling very well, Xena. So let's take the lift today. We can take the stairs tomorrow. Or you go up the stairs and I'll take the lift and meet you upstairs."

"Nooooo... let's both take the stairs."

"That is not very kind, Xena. I'm not well, so you need to think about me too. Imagine if you were very sick and I said, 'Let's go climb a mountain right now.' Can I do that?

"No, Mama, you can't."

"That's right. Do you know why not?"

"Because there are no mountains here."




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The big bad word

Xena - Mama, do you know, some children in my class say some bad words...

Me - Oh yeah? Like what?

Xena - Like... the S word.

Me (alarm bells ringing inside my head but keeping a perfectly calm exterior) - What's the S word?

Xena - It's a bad word. We should not say it.

Me - Yes, but what's the word? What does the S stand for?

Xena (leaning closer and whispering) - Stupid.

Me - Hmmm yes, that's not a nice word. We should not use it.

Xena - There is another bad word they use...

Me - What's that?

Xena - It's very bad.

Me - What is it?

Xena - The F word.

Me (alarm bells going a bit bonkers, but still maintaining the calm exterior) - Oh. What does the F stand for?

Xena - I can't say it.

Me - But what's the word? You can tell me the word. That's not the same as using it.

Xena (whispers inaudibly) - F...

Me (horrified, thinking that I'd heard what I'd expected, but still wanting to confirm) - Sorry, what's that? I didn't hear it properly.

Xena (whispers very loudly) - FART.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Money's worth

Me - So Xena, when you're a teenager and you have long holidays, are you going to take up a job?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Where?

Xena - Where can I find a job?

Me - Well, you can work in a shop, or a restaurant, or a fast food place like McDonald's.

Xena - Okay. I can work at McDonald's.

Me - Okay.

Xena - Will you come to eat there when I'm working?

Me - You wouldn't want me to?

Xena - No, I want you to!

Me - Oh yeah?

Xena - Yeah. You should come.

Me - Really? Why?

Xena - Then I can serve you food. And I can also give you my salary. You can take it home first. Because I will only go home later.

Me - Oh. Wow. You will give me your salary?

Xena - Yes. You can give it to me later.

Me - Oh, I have to give it back to you later?

Xena - Yes.

Me - And what will you do with it?

Xena - I will buy something.

Me - Like what?

Xena - Like... if you are at NTUC (supermarket) buying something and you don't have enough money, I can pay for it.

Me - Oh. Really?

Xena - Yeah. 



Monday, July 03, 2017

In the pink

There are men and there are women. All men like women and all women like men. And oh, there are also the half&half -- the hijras. They are the 'abnormal ones'. They dress like women and they lust after men. And they clap their hands when they dance, and they sing in their hoarse voices and it's damn funny. 

This was the state of oblivion I was in, growing up in small towns in India in the 80s and 90s, under the influence of one too many Hindi movies that featured the hijras for 'comic relief'. And I laughed. Oh, how we all laughed. Such was the social conditioning. That was how we were.

Even at the age of 18, when I stepped foot in Singapore, I was quite clueless about the concept of gender and sexual orientation. I thought 'gay' was just another word for 'happy'. In fact, on day one, one of my seniors introduced himself to me as "Hi, I'm XYZ and I'm gay." while his friends guffawed in the background. And I was left wondering why this guy I had just met felt the compelling need to tell me that he was happy. Turns out he wasn't even gay. It was all a big joke.

Over the years, even though I was eventually introduced to the concept of what being gay was, it was still as a source of amusement. "That is so gay!" Someone would say and everyone would laugh.

I had a colleague who I'm pretty sure (now) was gay, but I had no idea back then. Whenever he'd go on a vacation, we'd tease him that he was going bride-hunting and when he'd return we'd ask him for pictures and stories of his bride-hunt. I feel SO ashamed now, just thinking of those days, us laughing around him, with zero consideration for what he must be feeling. It was all fun and jokes, wasn't it? Ha ha.

Except that it was not.

And I have only started to realise the gravity of the matter. My ignorance and insensitivity of those days leave me ashamed. Things like inequality and injustice are not to be laughed at. Discrimination is not funny. The only thing 'abnormal' about the hijras was that no one would give them a 'normal' job. And though the realisation came to me very very late, I need to make amends. I need to make sure the prejudices I grew up with do not spill over into Xena's childhood. I need to raise her to grow up with an open heart and mind, and a strong sense of equality for everyone.

And that was one of the big reasons why we took her to Pink Dot this year. Pink Dot is a social movement to garner acceptance for the LGBT people in Singapore. They have a gathering every year at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim park to raise awareness about LGBT issues and to spread the message of inclusiveness. (Speakers' Corner is the only area in Singapore where citizens and permanent residents of Singapore can hold demonstrations and speak freely on all most topics. After prior registration on a government website, of course. You can't do all this in any other part of Singapore. You'd be arrested in a heartbeat.)

Pink Dot is in its 9th year, but this year is different. Amendments made to the Public Order Act now prohibit foreigners from participating in assemblies and processions at the Speakers' Corner. Sponsorships from foreign companies for such events have also been restricted. This means that past sponsors, aka the big guys -- Facebook, Google, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg and Twitter can no longer show their support for Pink Dot. It was therefore, even more important that locals and local companies turned up to openly show their support this year. And how they did. A mind-boggling 120 local companies came forward as sponsors, and 20,000 participants, dressed in pink, gathered to show their support towards the freedom to love.

And we did too. The last two years, we showed our support by simply wearing pink on the day because Xena was too young to be taken to such a crowded and noisy place. But this year, we knew we could. We had to.

Since there were barricades all around Hong Lim Park and they were checking IDs and bags before letting people in, we had to stand in the queue for almost an hour before we got in. Thankfully, Xena didn't complain at all. Soon, we had joined the massive sea of pink. A friend was there and he introduced us to others who very kindly shared their picnic mat, snacks and drinks with us. They also thanked us and shook hands with Xena for turning up to show our support.




Last night, a friend sent me the post-event official Pink Dot video. This morning, three others sent it to me. Viv's friends and colleagues have been sending it to him. The reason? We are in it! Well, it's a blink-and-miss appearance, but yes, we are there at the 26-second mark. Xena tells me that even her teachers were talking about us being at Pink Dot with her.

It's a very powerful video. Check it out.


Of course, to Xena, Pink Dot 2017 was pretty much just a pink picnic in the park, but we had started talking about all this much before, so she has a fair idea. I'm glad that she thinks that it's okay for 'an uncle to love and marry an uncle' and 'an aunty to love and marry an aunty'.

Though she's too young for an in-depth understanding of what all this means, I'm glad the conversation has started early. And we will be taking it forward. The law will change some day, it surely will. And when that happens, I want all of us, especially Xena, to look back and see that we were on the right side. That we supported what we believed in, and we stood for equality for all. 



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mexican fiesta

"Excuse me, what is the recipe of your Michelada?"

My jaw dropped.

I couldn't believe what Viv had just asked the waiter.

We were at one of our favourite restaurants, and whenever we go there, Viv orders their speciality Michelada, a Mexican cocktail made of beer and magical spices and fairy dust and 384789572 other secret ingredients that no one knows, except for maybe the cocktail-making androids in their kitchen.

Not that we hadn't tried to look up the recipe on the net, but there were too many differing views on how to make the perfect Michelada. One actually suggested Maggi masala powder as a key ingredient! I kid you not.

So Viv, drunk on his Michelada I presume, decided to get it straight from the horse's mouth.

The very loyal employee of the restaurant hemmed and hawed and laughed nervously and moved along. However, the waiter at the adjacent table who had overheard our conversation came right over and casually told Viv the recipe.

I couldn't believe Viv had actually asked the waiter for the recipe!  I couldn't believe the waiter actually told him!

Anyway, we excitedly messaged the gang because we had decided that the theme for our next pot luck would be Mexican, and this fitted right in. Our last pot luck (themed comfort-food-that-must-also-have-the-acronym-PP) had been awesome and we had been considering making it a monthly thing, with a different cuisine/theme each time.

So last Saturday, we got together at Maya's place for our majestic Mexican fiesta! (I spared my friends from a Mexican dress code though, and I could literally hear the collective sighs of relief. Sigh.)

Viv and R immediately busied themselves with all kinds of permutations and combinations to achieve the perfect Michelada and after quite a few prototypes, finally tasted success -- quite literally. It was really good. Even a beer-hater like me didn't mind taking a few sips. 

Maya and Pizzadude made some killer jalapeno poppers, guacamole and salsa
(Okay, who replaced the cheese dip with the Tiger beer can for this photo??)
I made vegetarian quesadillas. 

Margaritas! No can do Mexican without margaritas!

Till the next one, cheers!




Monday, June 05, 2017

The spice girls

So Xena starts primary school in about six months and even though I have promised myself that I will not stress her about/towards academic excellence, I'm sure the desi parent in me might kick in at some point and I might go all ballistic with the 'follow-in-my-footsteps-carry-the-legacy-forward' attempts. (Though come to think of it, no one stressed me when I was a kid; I was just inherently into studies). Anyway, whether I go 'Y U no centum' on her about studies or not, I am aware that there are many other ways in which she can make me proud and carry my legacy forward.

Pani puri worship, for example.

Well, to be honest, my stomach isn't what it used to be when I used to live in India some two decades ago, and even now when I travel there, it is with much trepidation that I order roadside pani puri. And yet, during Xena's first trip to India, I offered her some. I believe it was one of those moments I could milk in a future interview.

"Tell us about a big risk you took."

"I offered my Singaporean 5-year-old roadside pani puri during her first visit to India."

"You're hired. When can you start?"

To be honest, I was a little relieved when she rejected the pani puri, just like she did all other food. But I knew that this girl was not made so much of sugar as she was of spice. In fact, long before she started on solids proper, she used to eat Haldiram's spicy aloo bhujia. It's another matter that she used to literally eat them piece by microscopic piece, and if heaven forbid she got a 'double', she'd shake it with all her might until she had successfully performed a Bheema-on-Jarasandha action.

Lately, I've been sneaking in a little spice into her food (chilli powder in paratha stuffing, tabasco sauce in pasta, pepper in fried rice, etc.) and she doesn't seem to mind. So I'm hopeful that one day she would be chomping on pani puris. If not the roadside kind, at least the made-by-mommy kind.

When my mom visited me last month, she brought for me a pack of ready-to-fry puris, half of which I used at our recent PP party. I wanted to consume the other half before it was ruined by Singapore's humidity, or a "very reliable" WhatsApp forward claiming that an HIV-positive factory worker in Ambala has injected these puris with his contaminated blood, or that Dr Ashok from AIIMS or Dr Richard from America (did you notice that these docs are SO famous they don't have or need last names?) has said that eating these will turn your hair purple.

So I invited a friend over one evening, and we decided to get high on pani puri. On the dinner menu was literally pani puri and nothing else. I'd made the pani just the way I like it ("Bhaiya, zara mirchi maarke banao" types), with green chillis blended into it.

I had, of course, made Xena a legit dinner and by the time she was done with it, we were done too, with nothing but a bowl of the pani remaining. I intended to slurp it up, of course. (What? You don't drink up every last drop of the pani in your bowl? Get out of my bar now!) But just then, the risk-taking interviewee in me woke up and I offered it to Xena instead.

Bear in mind that it was very, very spicy and I only offered it to her as a joke. In fact, she realised that. She laughed. I laughed too, and then told her that she just needed to try a little and if she didn't like it, she didn't have to have any more.

She took a few drops in her spoon, and placed her tongue on them. Fire! She coughed and immediately gulped down some water. She thought she was done. I thought she was done. However, within seconds, she wanted more. Soon, she was slurping it up. Keeping her water bottle very very close, but not yet willing to let go of the spicy pani.

I sat there and stared at her. To say that I was thrilled or proud would be an understatement.

I took a deep breath. All was well with the world.

The pani puri legacy SHALL be carried forward.





Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The perfect potluck

So my friend Pizzadude has got himself a cat. We decided to have a get-together at his place so the rest of us could be formally introduced to Ishta. (I'm still outraged, btw, that an avid F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fan like Pizzadude named his cat Ishta and not Smelly Cat.)

It was to be a potluck at his place and we were discussing the menu. Pizzadude suggested comfort food as the theme and offered to make his speciality dish - pesto pasta. I offered pani puri because my comfort food (and every other food) = pani puri. That's when I realised that both foods had PP as the acronym. So I suggested that Maya should also bring something with the acronym PP and she very sportingly agreed. (Yes, we are very random like that and very fortunate to be in a group where people are not only fine with the randomness, they actively participate in it.)

We got cracking. While she suggested sane choices such as pumpkin pie, pecan pie and puran poli, I couldn't think of anything at first, so I suggested poha pizza (on hindsight, YUCK!) and peela papad (duh!). But then eventually I did have some better ideas -- paneer pizza and paneer paratha. And then randomly I said, "perfect pongal!" Coincidentally, Maya's hubby was craving pongal and pickle, which is his comfort food. So we were all set with our PP-comfort-food themed menu.

For the drinks, I suggested the only PP drink I could think of -- pomegranate punch. My plan was just to add a bit of juice to a large amount of tequila a bit of tequila to a large amount of juice, but Pizzadude jazzed it up by adding pomegranate seeds and mint leaves. It was kickass.

And what a lovely evening we had. Ishta turned out to be this stunning black kitten with gorgeous eyes. We had only seen photos of him, so it was really nice to finally see him in person cat.

Ishta's pic added with permission from Pizzadude

The PP food was a big hit too. Multi-cuisine comfort food and the company of good friends -- what else can one ask for? Later, another random fact struck me. Our WhatsApp group is called Poorab-Pachhim because some of us live in the eastern part of Singapore and some in the west. PP!



To the Passionate Peeps Planning Perfect Potlucks using Pointless Party themes!




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What's in a name?

"Mama... Mama... Mama..."

It was one of those busy days where I couldn't listen to one more "Mama". (I'm trying to get Xena to stop looking for me for everything. Well, the inane stuff, at least. Sometimes I even get "Mama, can I go and pee?" I wonder what would happen if I said no.)

"Oops, you've reached the max limit of the number of times you can say 'Mama' in a day." I said.

She thought for a moment and readily agreed, "Oh okay."

Wow, that was easy.

I went back to whatever I was doing, while she got busy with her stuff.

In about 3 seconds, she spoke again.

"Mother..."

:|