Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I was distraught and sensed myself to be in the verge of a nervous breakdown. I had no clue how to handle this situation. My heart was thumping loud, my palms sweaty, and my poor addled brain was sending distress signals in as many ways as it could. DD was screaming loudly and trying to kick herself free. Tears were streaming down her soft cheeks. My heart was almost breaking and I decided I couldn’t watch this anymore. I held DD close to myself, in an attempt to assure her that I am with her through this. That only made her more miserable – she looked at me with pleading eyes as if to ask me how I could be so unconcerned at her agony. Would she ever trust me again? A sudden thought came to my mind – I could pick her up and try to run away from this place now. It may not be easy, but I could try. And then I thought of the consequences – and I resigned myself to sitting here. Both DD and I had to live through this. There was no way out – no escape.

Ten minutes later, I got off the chair, holding my whimpering daughter close to my chest. My knees felt weak with relief. All this while, I was so angry with this man and now, when I looked at him, I felt sorry for him. The poor guy gave me a weak smile – he looked like he had been hit by a truck. For the amount of pressure that he had been subjected to, he had done an admirably good job. Small, soft, dark tresses lay scattered all around the chair and some of it was stuck on my clothes too. I felt too tired even to shake them off – I was so embarrassed now that I just wanted to get out. I quickly thanked the guy and walked off to the counter to pay the bill for my daughter’s first hair-cut.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Being "Secretary"

Almost 2 years back, DH and I moved in to our newly built apartment, still smelling fresh of cement, paint and varnish. We were kind of proud of our nest, for it had been a one-year project for us that dominated most of our discussions and almost all our weekends. I was into the third trimester of pregnancy when we finally moved into the place, in spite of neighbors and friends cautioning us not to move houses during pregnancy (based on local popular belief that it is not good for the mom and baby). We were very sure we wanted to move, because of many reasons including space and the difficulty in moving post-baby (eeksss.. can’t imagine it) but the most important reason was that we wanted our little one to come home to this place from hospital.

The week before we moved in, we attended the meeting to form our building’s residents association, convened by our builder. When we went, we didn’t expect it to be anything more than a get-together. We had seen and heard of many apartment associations with bitter in-fights and wrangling over operational issues and water shortage solutions. Some of these battle tales would be enough to put Indian tribes to shame. But our new building had only 7 apartments, and we thought things should be pretty smooth. And they were, I should say, a bit too smooth for good. When we went into the meeting, an animated debate was on and we could sense heat in the air.
The builder was trying to have a President, a Secretary and a treasurer elected for the building… and no one wanted to take any of these posts. Each owner was listing out the top 10 reasons why he or she could not take up the post.
4 of the owners said they were going to let out their apartments, and hence could not do much because of their physical absence. That seemed genuine, although that was also debated on. The other 2 also explained to all of us why they could not take anything up. DH quickly gave me an accusing glare – I had pulled him out of a Sunday afternoon nap into this! When it came to our turn, we explained our situation - A working couple, expecting a baby in 2 months. How could anyone dream of us taking up something?

But the Gods were not so merciful. All that the builder wanted to do was to form the association and wash his hands off. So the discussion went on and on.. until we (THEY) decided that the 3 families of owners who will continue to reside in the apartment, should take up the 3 posts. Apartment 7’s owner, being an elderly lady, jumped on to the President’s post, as that is the least demanding of the three. Apt 5 (working lady, with 2 kids and husband in the US) and Apt 6 (yours truly) looked at each other. She had despair in her eyes and said she was okay for either post, thereby giving me the choice (Ha ha!). We had lost a lot of peace and a neat amount of our own money when DH was the “Treasurer” of our previous building. Fresh from that memory, we decided we would take up the “Secretary” post. When we were asked whose name to put in, DH innocently volunteered my name since the President and Treasurer were ladies too. He's a Houdini when it comes to things like this.

And so I started my term as Secretary of the building. It was after we moved in that I realized the complexity of life as the Secretary. The Secretary was the jack-of-all-trades for the building, always expected to be on-call for crisis, complaints and general cribs. I, who have a tough time maintaining my personal documents, had to take charge of and maintain the building’s key documents including all those pertaining to the stand-by generator and intercom. My intercom would ring day in and day out – once it would be the security agency wanting to see me, another time it would be the corporation guy calling to collect tax. And then the apartment’s cleaning lady would show up at my door to complain that she was underpaid. I managed all this for a while since I was on maternity leave, waiting for my baby to be born.

And then, 5 days after due-date, after I had answered umpteen phone calls from friends and relatives calling to find out if I had gone to hospital, DD made her entry into this world. During the first few days of parenthood, I was struggling to get into some kind of routine and mainly, get some sleep in between her endless feed and nappy times. I would spend an hour crooning to DD, putting her to sleep, and heave a sigh of relief and lie down beside her. Exactly 5 mts later, when I would have just started sailing into dream world, the intercom would ring and the watchman would announce that there was no water in the sump and we would need to order water from outside. The ringing of the intercom would invariably wake DD up, leaving me fuming with anger and helplessness. To cut the long story short, I had some highly stressful moments that even made me rue the day we decided to move into our apartment.

Things have become better in the last 1.5 years. One of myTreasurer's employees (she runs her consulting firm) doubles up as the “Manager” for our building. I only need to provide the guidance. The initial teething problems of the building have also reduced.
I still have strange issues to deal with, like this one. (Detour warning)
The Treasurer lady’s son has this penchant for rare pets. One day he decided he wanted to have a hen for a pet. And he brought in this beautiful spotted hen and let it romp around in the landscaped lawn and garden in our apartment’s common area. You can imagine the amount of furore it caused. There were murmurs and complaints from all over the place and I dutifully passed them on to the Treasurer, looking as objective and impersonal as I could. She said she did not have the courage to break her son’s heart. So I let the matter rest for a while. A few days later, things reached melting point when the restless hen clawed away at another neighbour’s new Toyota Corolla, resulting in visible scratches. The owner of the car was screaming murder (understandably) – the Treasurer saw sense and decided to deport the offending fowl to Pondicherry, her native place. She also agreed to compensate the damage to the car. Peace prevailed.

Many a time, the pressure of being a working mom with a toddler, and the additional burden of secretary-ship of a building gets to me. But one thing I cannot dispute is that this role has provided me with a perspective that I don’t get as part of my normal work or life. Just like being a parent has taught me so many things, including patience and humility. Many experiences that I would not have had and people I would not have met came my way – the fuming tenant unhappy with the money paid on building maintenance, the slimy-looking corporation tax-inspector expecting bribe, the inebriated owner of a security agency promising excellent services, and most of the residents who do not even bother to enquire, as long as everything is fine. Stuck that I am with this, I am now consoling myself saying that this is a way to connect to the real world and learn a thing or two from there :-)

Monday, April 02, 2007

These are a few of my favorite things

Recently, I spent 10 days at my hometown, Trivandrum (Kerala), with my father who was recovering from a sudden illness. And then I realized that in the last decade or so, this was the first time I was there for 10 days at a strerch! The city had changed, but then the changes were not so drastic or jerky to make me feel out of place. The “spirit” of the place remains untouched, for better and for worse. Although Trivandrum is officially a “city”, when I compare it to Chennai, I still feel very much that it is a big town. The roads that used to appear normal-sized 10 years back, now appear to be small by-lanes to me.

My absence has also endeared me to certain aspects of the place, which I hold close to my heart and sorely miss in Chennai.

- I’ll begin with the obvious - the climate. The summer in Trivandrum lasts for 2-3 months. The remaining part of the year is real “cool” in all senses. And the air feels fresher and cleaner as you breathe it in.

-The water – absolutely wonderful, sweet-tasting water and an abundant supply of it (as of today, but soon this state of affairs might be obsolete). The greenery – soothing to the eye and the mind

- Playing “pallankuzhi” (I have no clue what this translates to in English – it is an ancient game, similar to a board game) and having nice little chats with my “thathi” (Paternal grandmother) where she would update me on all the “agraharam” gossip and more. Thathi is this virtual database, who knows all details and family history of most of the local population, including the date, month and star under which they were born. She never fails to amaze me with her memory. What is interesting is that whenever she narrates a recent event in any family, she also provides a historical perspective and analysis – she is almost like NDTV 24 X 7 that way:-)

- The small establishments inside Trivandrum’s Fort area, which sell yummy home-made delicacies at a very affordable rate. If I could, I would bring that entire stretch of "Puthen Street" and other “mamis” to Chennai. Chennai does have its share of these, but nothing will compare to the “sevai and puliseri”, "veppila-katti" and other such typical Palakkad/Kerala stuff these mamis dish out

- The lovely mix of Malayalam and Tamil that is spoken in and around my place. Actually it is neither pure Tamil (what on earth is that?), nor Malayalam, but that hybrid is my mother tongue – the language I think in. It is so musical (ok..ok… I am biased and unashamedly so) and I can smell traces of it even in parts per million ratio. For example, I was once looking for a place to rent in Chennai and a broker took me to this elderly gentleman who had an apartment to rent. The moment that person started speaking (in English, mind you), I knew that he was a one of my kind – a Tamil Brahmin who had some Kerala connection. At the end of the visit, I asked him about this and he said that although he had not been there for the last 30 years, his mother’s roots were in Kerala. I am kind of proud of this ability of mine to sniff it out :-)

-The ubiquitous “bakeries” that sell hot puffs, cutlets, fresh baked bread and what not. I remember visiting my mother’s office in Statue Junction during vacations and going out with her to Santha Bakery for evening snacks. I can still feel the freshness of the butter buns and coconut pastry she used to get me. Chennai doesn’t have so much of bakeries and the quality is also sadly missing

- When I was a teenager, a shopping expedition meant a trip to the local “fancy store”. Some of these fancy stores would stock up all the accessories and trinkets a girl could ever dream of – matching clips, lip color, eye liners and what not. We girls used to enter these stores as a bevy and give the poor sales guy a tough time – and in the end, buy one teeny-weeny hairclip, and then haggle for it!. When I first landed in Chennai, I was actually searching for “Fancy stores” for the first few months. Yes, Chennai has high-end cosmetic chains like “Health and Glow” but I can’t tell you how I miss the fancy stores. It’s the difference between the mom-and-pop grocery stores and Walmart :-)

-The sheer aesthetics and craftsmanship of the buildings (houses) and the woodwork – even if you look at apartment complexes, the kind of finish that I see back home is totally missing in Chennai. As for the carpentry work, nothing I have seen in Chennai, branded or otherwise, can come close to some of the regular and not-so-expensive stuff done by the local carpenters in Kerala. It puzzles me, actually!

- Temples in Kerala, the cleanliness and the piety in the atmosphere. Most of these temples have their strict routines in terms of pujas and abhishekams, the rigour of which added to the aura of the temple. I feel that the discipline in these temples emphasises the godliness and enhances the experience of the devotee who goes to the temple. I don't know of temples in Kerala that have separate queues based on how much money one can pay to see the God - And having been brought up there, I still cannot accept this practice.

Having said all this, there are also a few peeves and pet-hates that I have about Trivandrum. But I think that should go into a separate post some other day since I don’t want to spoil the sweetness of this one.