Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mommies need appraisals too!

This weekend I caught up with a few of my ex-colleagues from one of the companies I had worked for in my corporate avatar, back before I gave it all up to be chief slave to the little tyrant who now rules my home (and my life ) with an iron fist. This particular group of colleagues had also grown to be good friends over the years but it had been a while since all of us had got a chance to meet and I was looking forward to catching up with them. I was therefore a little surprised when my initial excitement at seeing them all together was returned with wan smiles and terse ‘hellos’.

“We had our year-end appraisals today” they explained morosely “And now we need a stiff drink each to forget them quickly!”

It turned out that three out of the four friends I was meeting had been given a rather rough time during the appraisal by their immediate bosses and the fourth friend’s appraisal had been, in his own words, ‘too confusing to make any sense of’ and he had left the meeting with more than his fair share of existential angst!
“You’re so lucky you don’t have to go through these corporate feedback sessions anymore!” one of my friends exclaimed as we reminisced about one joint appraisal we had gone through years ago, when we were still mere rookies in the corporate world. I laughed in response and the moment was drowned in a fresh round of minty Caprioskas brought to the table, but the words came back to me hours later when I was back at home, ensconced in my daughter’s room as we built large teetering towers with blocks and shaped little red butterflies with blue dots out of Playdoh.

True I didn’t have any formal feedback sessions anymore, ever since I had swapped my demanding corporate job for my even more demanding role of mommy, but sometimes I felt I sure as hell needed them as much if not more than before!

Motherhood brings with it a barrage of advice and feedback, and it starts even before the star of the show, the baby, makes its first appearance. Right from the moment you break the ‘good news’, or, if you’re the reserved kind, from the moment the bump begins to show, everyone from your vegetable vendor to complete strangers you run into in the parking lot, consider it their moral obligation to offer nuggets of advice and wisdom. When the baby does arrive, the stream of advice flowing in multiplies manifold and swells incessantly until you’re ready to throw in the oars and make a mad swim for it. Most of the advice is well meaning and can even be helpful of course, but the sheer overload of information coming in can often be overwhelming for an unprepared first time mother. Over time you get used to it and you even begin to discern the good advice from the unnecessary stuff, but one thing remains constant: your new found status as mom ensures that the advice keeps flowing in thick and fast at every stage of your child’s growth.

Given that parenting is one role that doesn’t come with an instruction manual, I’ve often felt that sometimes it might help to get objective feedback on probably what is the most important role I will ever play in my life; that of shaping and nurturing another individual. And so I decided that I would put my business education and my corporate training of many years to good use and give myself a ‘mom-praisal’. My husband decided to play the part of objective third party since my boss was too young to conduct the appraisal and could not be trusted to not throw a tantrum or make ludicrous demands if things didn’t go her way, and we got started. I decided to give my mom-praisal the importance and structure it deserved and created a list of performance parameters against which I rated myself, borrowing generously from the many performance appraisals I had gone through in the corporate world. Here’s a quick peek at what my mom-praisal score card looked like:

1.Displaying a Sense of Urgency:
This is one area where I score hands down, even though it would not be entirely untrue to say that my performance on this parameter is driven more out of fear of failure than anything else. For my boss does not tolerate tardiness at any cost! From a dirty diaper to a demand for food, right from the early days of her birth, my daughter made it very clear that not displaying a sense of urgency when it came to her needs being met would mean retribution of the most severe kind: ear splitting shrieks and mutinous howls. Displaying a sense of urgency soon became second nature.

2.The ability to innovate and think out of the box:
Much as I’d like to gloss over my (many) shortcomings as a mom, this is one area where I’d have to admit defeat. For when it comes to parenting I’ve always found a sense of security in following the text book approach. Parenting tomes of all shapes and sizes occupy pride of place on every conceivable surface in our home now and everything ranging from a tantrum to a refusal to eat the midday snack sees me rushing to consult my trusty mommy manual. Definitely not an example of innovative thinking, though I must say I have invented a pretty nifty technique of speed reading my ‘What to Expect in the toddler years’ while simultaneously entertaining my daughter with a snazzy rendition of ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’. The husband however is one of those dads who can think out of the box and make it look as easy as shelling peas, so there is hope for me yet!

3.Monitoring and communicating progress frequently:
Another area where I can proudly pat myself on the back. Right from my bai, to my daughter’s playschool teacher, to the hapless husband, to anyone else who cares to listen, I make it a point to update everyone with any semblance of progress. Right from the first utterance of a new word or a particularly complex sentence construction, to a tantrum free day, to successful trysts with the potty, all progress is painstakingly monitored and communicated. The bulk of these communication updates happen with the husband who is given a blow by blow account as soon as he walks through the door. Yes, this is one area where I think I deserve a notable mention or perhaps even some mommy accolades for exceeding performance benchmarks. The husband doesn’t seem particularly pleased about it though!

4.The ability to manage stress with ease:
Now this is a tough one because I am one of those people who tend to get stressed easily. And while I make sure I don’t let my sky rocketing stress levels get to my daughter (mostly), I don’t exactly handle it with ease either. My way out of a stressful situation is usually to stuff myself silly with the most calorie laden food I can get my hands on. Like the time I binged on a pizza the first time my daughter fell ill. Or the walnut brownie with fudge overdose to help me cope with the first day of school and having to let my baby go into the care of strangers for two whole hours. Or the innumerable bars of chocolate to soothe my frayed nerves before her first solo stage performance. I’m getting stressed just recalling all of these instances! Think I’ll just take a quick nibble of some chocolate to help deal with the, er, hunger.

5.Do I strive for constant self development?
Now this is something I haven’t thought about for a while. I’m always thinking about ‘developing’ my daughter, of course. Developing gross and fine motor skills and physical balance and co-ordination are routine playground conversations with other mums. I make a sincere effort to foster a love for reading and am working at developing her socializing skills since she has been displaying marked signs of having inherited the anti social gene from her mother. I try and bring on the creativity by getting the husband to spend time with her while I re-read my book on ‘how to foster creativity in your child’. So yes, I get full marks for trying when it comes to developing my daughter. But me? I guess I never really thought about me. I suppose I’m in a happier place than I was before since my daughter took over my life. I’ve finally become patient and selfless, qualities I always admired in others and sorely lacked myself. I’ve learned to stop, slow down and relax. More importantly, I’ve finally got my priorities right and figured out the things that really matter to me, and that’s made me feel more settled. So yes I guess I have managed some self development without consciously striving for it.

I’ve decided to make my mom-praisal a regular feature to ensure that I don’t stagnate as a mother. Maybe, when my daughter is older she can take over the appraising bit and give me some feedback to make me a better parent. Until then, I will have to make honest and brutal self assessment work for me, I suppose. I have to admit though, that unlike the often dreary appraisals from my corporate past, doing my mom-praisal was kind of fun. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this time round I am hopelessly in love with my new boss!

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Break a leg!

Just popping in to tell you that my short story has appeared in the latest issue of Femina (the December 14 issue, with Asin on the cover)! I love Femina and I've been reading it since I was about nine (hi mom!). It started off as a covert love affair, with every new, minty fresh copy of Mummy's Femina as it used to be in those days, being surreptitiously smuggled into the loo where I'd spend a blissful twenty minutes or so lost between its covers, before my mom started hammering the door down. We lived in Moscow those days, in the erstwhile USSR, with trips to India being few and far between. Once every three months or so, we would get a goody bag of sorts from India, a tangible link to home, with VCR tapes of the latest Hindi movies, mangoes or sarson ka saag or kamal kakri depending on the season, various types of attas and pickles, copies of Champak and Tinkle and sometimes, Target for me and my sister, and a copy of Femina for my mom.

Safe from the ever alert eyes of my mother I would pore over every page of Femina, reading and re-reading articles that I particularly liked. The short stories often featured in it were a huge personal favorite and I still carry deep mental imprints of some of the stories that left a lasting impression, even though the paper clippings that I tried to preserve are long gone. So it was a huge honor when I got an e-mail from Femina asking me if I would like to contribute a short story for the magazine. Its a three part story titled 'Break a Leg' and it will appear in three consecutive issues of Femina starting with the Dec 14 one, so if you get a chance to read it, do please let me know what you think won't you?

In other news, my sister is down from the US for a couple of weeks and I've spent the last few days at my parents' gorging on my Mom's awesome Konkani dishes like batata song and matar chi amti and then spending the afternoons passed out in a food induced stupor, rousing myself only when Nikki, who is not one for afternoon naps, or really sleep of any kind, decided she would play 'horsey-horsey' with me as the horsey, or Red Indians and proceeded to send some eardrum splitting shrieks my way. My sister also got me a goody bag of a very different kind as a gift, and while this one didn't have the Tinkles and the Targets of yore, which I sometimes still miss, it did have a wonderful array of creams and lotions and body scrubs and what-have-you's which saw me spend the weekend steeped in Bath & Body Works bliss. And now its on to my favorite time of the year; family coming down from different parts of the globe, the festive season right around the corner, birthday and anniversary a few corners further down and then a big family wedding. This time I'm planning to go all out and introduce Nikki to Santa and his band of helpers. Rudolph is already a bit of a favorite in these parts ( I suspect it has something to do with the red nose). I'm getting us a tree and decorations and have plans for a traditional X-massy spread if I can manage it. Now all I need is a modern day, Johnny Depp look alike Santa to make the festive season really cheery. And you? How're you planning to ring the new year in?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

“Lingerie shopping is good for the soul”

Many years ago on an overcast Saturday afternoon, I found myself at one of those fancy foot spas that promise to take your worn-out, roughed-up, sandpaper-y feet and turn them all silken and velvety. I’d been gifted a voucher for the spa and since I was in the neighborhood for work anyway, I decided to squeeze in an hour of indulgent pampering before getting back to the grind. It had been a particularly trying week at work and I was glad to lose myself in the luxuriously plush surroundings of the spa for a while and switch off.

The interiors of the spa were divided into semi private enclosures which seated up to five women at a time and I found myself grouped with four other ladies, all engaged in an animated conversation. They got talking with me too as we waited for our respective therapists to show up and I discovered that they were sisters-in-law out for a weekend treat. During the course of the hour long ‘happy feet therapy’ as the spa manager put it, I got a fairly detailed look into the lives of the four ladies as they merrily chatted away. Apparently they were part of a large joint family which was strictly controlled by the father-in-law who ensured that he had a say in everything from the weekly menu to the household budget. With six growing children in the house, a busy kitchen to manage and a fairly hectic social schedule, life for the four ‘co-sisters’, as they referred to each other, was as full as it could possibly be and they often found that they had barely any time to spare for just themselves.

That’s when the eldest sister-in-law had come up with a brainwave; one that would allow the four ladies to step away from their roles as wives, mums and home makers for a bit and get some much needed me-time. Once in a while, whenever they could get a breather in their busy schedules, the ladies would head out together for an activity they all enjoyed: shopping, a trip to the spa or salon or just a relaxed meal at a restaurant. While the mother-in-law and their respective husbands were perfectly okay with this arrangement, the father-in-law didn’t particularly approve of what in his view were frivolous activities. And so, whenever time came for their occasional girls’ day out and they were questioned by the father-in-law, the ma-in-law would just inform him that they needed to go out for some ‘lingerie shopping’! That would naturally put an end to any further discussion and the ladies would enjoy their time off and get back to their routines, no questions asked!

“You know our father-in-law is actually a very nice person” the eldest sister-in-law who was seated right next to me confided “He is just a little old fashioned and given his age we don’t want to get into any direct confrontations with him. Our mother-in-law on the other hand is wonderfully supportive and luckily for us the four of us get along so famously that we have a readymade support system right at home. These occasional sessions really help us bond and rejuvenate and just forget the daily irritants of life for a while and we get back feeling so refreshed. Like I say, lingerie shopping is good for the soul!”

The ‘happy feet’ session ended soon after and bidding goodbye to the co-sisters, I tripped away on my barely recognizable, sparkling new feet, with these words ringing in my ears. In their own way, these four women had found a way to weave some fun into, what seemed to me, a fairly regimented life, by ensuring that they regularly took some time out for themselves. We’ve all read about the importance of ‘me-time’ but very few of us, yours truly included, actually make a conscious effort to make time for it. And yet I find that whenever I do make the effort and take some time out to ‘just be’, as a friend once put it, it makes a remarkable difference. I feel rejuvenated, more focused and often I find that this time helps me cope better with the day ahead.

And so for some time now, I have been making the effort to fit some ‘me-time’ into my routine as well. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant shopping trip or a trip to the spa; it could be as simple as getting some time to yourself in a busy day.
For one girl I know it is the half hour after the rushed morning routine has passed, and the husband and child have been packed off to office and school respectively. She brews herself some tea, puts her feet up and puts the rest of the world on hold for that half hour before heading to her own workplace. For another friend, a hot foot soak last thing at night is what helps her unwind.

I’ve been really lucky to have made some new ‘mommy friends’ since my daughter’s birth. Every once in a while, we leave our toddlers in the care of their baby sitters (dads!) and head off for a movie or brunch. And when the mommies or the baby sitters or both are not around, I like to get my alone time after everyone else in the house is either asleep or doing their own thing. I pull out my favorite treasure, a stash of much thumbed girlie magazines I’ve had since college and give myself up to an hour of bliss.

“Why are you reading that rubbish again?” asks the husband as he wanders past “Haven’t you given that stuff to the raddi chap yet?”

“No and I don’t intend to,” I reply, with (what I hope is) an enigmatic smile “because lingerie shopping is good for the soul!”

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Taking care of Mama

It was a misty, silvery Saturday morning; the kind where the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds and bathes the leaves with a mellow glow. Mama stood in the living room battling a familiar inner conflict: the thick sheaf of tempting Saturday newspapers and a mug of ginger chai or the little girl playing alone in her room? Mama always looked forward to her quiet Saturday mornings with the paper, but this Saturday was a little different. This Saturday Daddy had had to rush off for an urgent meeting at the office leaving behind a very upset little girl who always looked forward to her extended Saturday 'Daddy brunches', and a weary Mama. A massive volcanic eruption masquerading as a tantrum had followed Daddy's departure and now that the dust had finally settled, Mama was wary of provoking any further unrest. Besides the little girl seemed happy now and was even humming to herself...but then again she had looked so terribly forlorn when daddy left...

Just ten minutes. Mama promised herself. And then she would go and build towers with the little girl. And make little pink playdoh pigs with curly yellow tails.
She sank gratefully into the welcoming couch and gave herself up to the thick Saturday newspaper.

Not for long.

"Mama?" The little girl stood beside her with her basket of hair clips and rubber bands and a definitive gleam in her eye. "Your hair looking so funny. Room-it your pony's tail and Nikki make your hair pretty pretty just like Nikki."

"Okay" Mama said meekly. She knew better than to offer any resistance and she also did not think she had the capacity to weather another tantrum.

Besides there was the whole debacle of U didi. U didi who had sidled insidiously into the little girl's life, to help take care of her and who had left just as insidiously without so much as a by-your-leave a few months later. Now U didi hadn't been good at many things but if there was one thing she had been rather proficient at, it was making fancy hairstyles. While Mama had thus far considered it a major achievement to pin the little girl down for a few seconds while she hastily ran a comb through her hair and put a clip or two in place, U didi spent copious amounts of time creating elaborate hairstyles. Right from the simple 'fountain' on top of the little girl's head to hairstyles reminiscent of the fancy bouffants of Bollywood's leading ladies of yore, she attempted several hair-dos and managed to create outstanding results. It almost became a ritual of sorts; the little girl would sit patiently by the large French windows in the dining room while U didi wove her magic, and then much ooh-ing and aah-ing would happen over the little girl's latest hairstyle. And then U didi left one day taking her hair styling skills with her and breaking the little girl's heart. Overnight the little girl didn't want anything to do with her fancy hair clips and scrunchies and hair bands. She refused to entertain thoughts of having her hair styled into even a ponytail despite Mama's best efforts. Even combing her hair seemed to upset her. So when she began displaying an interest in combing Mama's hair instead, Mama was willing to do anything to help her get over that evil U didi who had left without a second thought for a little girl who had thought the world of her (curse her pointy little bouffant-ed head).

Besides after the initial few attempts at 'combing Mama's hair' which had comprised much jabbing and poking and shrieking of the anguished kind (by Mama), the little girl had managed to master the art of putting a comb to Mama's hair without irreparably damaging her scalp and Mama didn't really mind her hair being made 'pretty pretty' any more.

So when the little girl appeared beside her with her basket of trinkets, she obediently loosened the clasp that held her locks at the nape of her neck and settled down on the floor to make it easier for the little girl to wield her comb.

"Very good Mama! You're a good girl. Now I make you look pretty pretty okay?"

The little girl got to work in a determined sort of way and since she didn't seem too inclined for conversation, Mama decided to continue reading. After all this didn't really hamper the reading process at all. Actually, maybe this was a good thing, this obsession with combing Mama's hair. Maybe Mama could use this as an opportunity to stop cribbing about all the unread books piling up on the bedside table and actually get some reading done for a change! The little girl could comb away and Mama could read. Yes, it was brilliant! Mama was so happy she smiled a little smile to herself.

"Why you smiling Mama?"

"Because I'm reading."

"Now your eyes tired. You take some rest. Close your eyes."



"Okay. Sigh."

Mama let the newspaper drop to the floor wistfully and closed her eyes. So much for catching up on her reading. Now she'd have to sit here for God knows how long with her eyes closed till....actually it had been a while since she just sat with her eyes closed like this. It felt kind of good. Relaxing, in a meditative kind of way. Actually maybe this wasn't such a bad idea either. After all everyone was always telling her to take a chill pill and learn how to relax, and now that she thought about it, she was beginning to feel a little bit relaxed. Yes, Mama could get used to this. Just sitting here, no unnecessary thoughts crowding her mind, no talking...ahhh, bliss!

"Why you again and again smiling Mama?"

"Hmmm? Oh nothing, just feeling relaxed!"


Short pause.

"Okay Mama. Now you sing. Sing 'Aloo Kachaloo kahaan gaye the'. Start."

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An extract from ‘No Deadline For Love’ (Penguin Books India)

‘Whoa! What happened, Megha? You look like a fright!’ Vijay had looked a little startled when I’d bounded up to him and I didn’t blame him. I was having a bad hair day and all the running up and down the stairs hadn’t helped matters. It probably looked like a tornado was swirling around my head by now.
I hurriedly explained the situation to Vijay and he told me that I would find Yudi at the little coffee shop in the basement of the building that housed our office.
‘He’s gone there for his daily shot of caffeine,’ Vijay grinned. ‘That guy is a tea-totaler—he can’t stand the sight of tea and there isn’t any coffee served at these high tea sessions! Hey Megha, tell him I’m looking for him too, will you? Oh, and Megha?’
'Yeah?' I turned around just as I was rushing out of the cafeteria again.
‘Tie up your hair, will you? It’s kind of, you know, frizzy,’ Vijay said kindly and I smiled and continued on my way. A comment like that would have normally unleashed my temper but Vijay had said it so sweetly and in the most well intentioned way that it was impossible to get angry. Besides, he was right. I paused to glance in the mirror of the office elevator that was transporting me to the basement and cringed at the sight of my hair. It was in a particularly mutinous mood today and each strand had declared independence from gravity; any more frizz and I would look like I’d been electrocuted. I whipped out a hair band and quickly secured my hair into a tight knot at the nape of my neck. I normally avoided tying up my hair because everyone said pulled-back hair made me look very young and vulnerable, like a little lost soul. I had interpreted this to mean diffident and under-confident and had taken to wearing my hair loose most of the time. I was so used to it now that I felt strangely exposed with my hair pulled back, as though a crack had appeared in the facade of supreme self-confidence that I kept up most times as I lurked behind my gloriously swinging mane. Vile Varun could’ve probably eaten me alive if I’d walked into the appraisal with my hair tied back like this.
The lift lurched to a stop, jerking me out of my reverie, and I hurried along to the coffee shop, my eyes peeled for Yudi. A strong whiff of espresso hit me as soon as I swung the door open and I inhaled huge gulps of it, the familiar smell comforting me somewhat. The Beans Coffee Hut was a popular hangout for the office crowds that worked in GF as well as the surrounding area, and even though the food sucked and the coffee tasted like dishwater, nothing could compare with the fantastic juke box they had in the corner which churned out melodies from as far back as the ‘70s. The owner, Samarpreet, had some ‘connections’ in the Bollywood music industry through which he had acquired this treasure and he took loving care of it, servicing it personally every week and polishing it until it shone. I had spent many a post-work evening there in the reluctant company of Vijay, who was more of a rock music buff, listening to old Hindi film songs and melting my office-related woes away over some piping hot masala chai which was the one thing the Beans Coffee Hut did a reasonable job at dishing out.
I looked around and my heart sank suddenly as I spotted Yudi in a corner, partially obscured behind some potted greens. He was in the middle of an intense discussion with Priyanka who was looking at him devotedly, her hands clasped in front of her. My mind whizzed back to the thousands of times I had seen Yudi and Priyanka together—at work, in Goa, at the restaurant where I’d met Gautam. They were definitely a couple from the looks of it and if not that, they had to be interested in each other given the amount of time they spent together. Maybe Yudi had turned his cell off so they could be alone, I realized, as I remembered the 'not reachable' message on his cellphone. Maybe they wanted to celebrate Priyanka’s success in private and here I was all set to crash the party. Well, there was no going back now—I had no time to lose if that stimulus material was going to make the flight with Yudi. I took a deep breath and approached their table, suddenly feeling terribly self-conscious and acutely aware of my slightly dishevelled appearance. Priyanka could make me feel like a country bumpkin in severe need of a makeover on the best of days, and today was not one of my good days. The recent work overload had taken its toll and I was looking like a dehydrated raccoon with dark circles occupying prime space on my tired face. I had rushed to work that day in my raggedy old jeans and a faded tee, taking advantage of GF’s Friday dressing policy, because I was much more comfortable working in them than the formal work wear I normally donned.
‘Umm . . . Yudi?’ I said nervously, walking up to the table. ‘Can I talk to you for a minute, please?’

Read the rest here!

An extract from ‘No Deadline For Love’ by Manasi Vaidya, reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books India, exclusively for ‘The Punekar’.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh Bai!

A few weeks ago a visiting aunt who’s been living in the US for over the last twenty years dropped in for tea. As we chatted over some hot ginger chai and crisp samosas, my cook ventured into the living room to enquire if we’d like some more tea.

“Ah what a blessing it is to have domestic help!” my aunt sighed wistfully “Back home in Seattle we have to do everything ourselves and even getting someone to make a cup of tea for you is a luxury! You’re so lucky!”

I glanced warily at my cook who shot back a pleased smile and trotted off to the kitchen looking mighty chuffed. She had finally showed up for work that day after nearly a fortnight’s absence during the course of which she had been systematically dispatching members of her extended family to join the heavenly choir in the sky and subsequently taking leave as a result of the multiple illnesses, deaths and funerals in her family. The month before that it had been a mysterious illness that had afflicted her, before that she’d had a wedding in the family and before that the roof of her rented room had suddenly collapsed one fine night necessitating a week’s leave. Just that very morning, fed up with her litany of excuses (impressed as I admittedly was with her creativity at storytelling) I had threatened to give her the boot and she had miraculously chosen to turn up for work instead of attending her chachi’s mami’s first cousin’s husband’s funeral.

As my aunt went on about the luxury of having domestic help in India I found myself thinking about my unending bai woes over the last couple of years. Back when I was footloose and fancy free, or for that matter even after I had settled for matrimonial bliss and set up my own home, bais had never really figured on my list of worries. A spot of cooking and a dash of cleaning were good enough to fit the bill and on the many days that the bai didn’t show up for work I was only too happy to experiment with some cooking or try out the hip new eatery in town while adeptly ignoring the dust bunnies and the mountainous stack of laundry at home. We existed in blissful oblivion, the bai and I.

All that changed when my baby came into the picture and I began spending significantly longer stretches of time at home with her. All of a sudden managing the home front and ensuring that the domestic machinery was ship shape assumed utmost importance. Grabbing a masala chai and a brun maska on the go was no longer a viable option for breakfast when you had a baby demanding to be fed. Dust bunnies needed to be banished into oblivion and the pile of laundry (now multiplied manifold with baby in the picture) screamed for immediate attention. The bai suddenly became the fulcrum on which the domestic chakra needed to whir without a hitch. And not just any bai would do, it had to be one who was clean, sincere and efficient. And one who showed up for work.

I found myself floundering in the Bai Market as I desperately searched for such a domestic diva. It all began with the Great Bai Hunt, which required you to keep your eyes peeled and be on watchful alert when you were out and about. I found myself carefully assessing the various bais on display in my society. I drew up a list of parameters and must-haves against which I ranked them based on their appearance. Finally, satisfied that I had perfected the Great Bai Hunt to a finely honed art, I approached the top choice on my list of prospective bais with what I thought was a suitable job offer.

“I’m not a bai, I live here!” barked the lady in question turning a delicate shade of green and shooting me a poisonous look that turned my intestines into jelly. She marched off to another group of ladies nearby and began speaking to them in an aggrieved tone while simultaneously throwing more poisonous looks my way.

“Please find me a bai!” I whispered in desperation to the watchman as I sped to the safety of my apartment, deciding to abandon any further plans of the Great Bai Hunt.

The watchman rose to the occasion rather admirably and I soon found myself facing round two in acquiring a bai; the Bai Interview. Prospective candidates began streaming into my house in response to the job vacancy. The interview process itself was mercifully short. I would open the door to find myself being given the once over by a pair (or sometimes two) of beady, knowing eyes.

“What is the work? How much time? How many people? How much money?” the bai at the door would bark out the questions in a series of staccato bursts before shaking her head disdainfully and marching off.
Many bais came and went but no one seemed remotely interested in taking up the job. My confidence sank to an all time low and I began seriously doubting my ability to hire, let alone retain any help, when one fine day in response to my meek answers to the standard interview questions, a bai actually acquiesced to take up my offer.

“I will only work for two hours, accept X amount of money, take Sunday off and have two cups of tea with four teaspoons of sugar each, if you want me to work here” she declared walking in and looking around with an air of detached contempt.

“Fine, as long as you do the job well” I said meekly, too dispirited to negotiate.
“When can you start?”

And so began my tryst with round three, the most complicated round of them all: Hold On To Your Bai For Dear Life! For after months of painstaking training, supervising and offering a variety of retention incentives, just when you thought that things had finally fallen into place and when you least expected it, the bai would quit for the flimsiest of reasons and vanish into Bai Oblivion, setting into motion yet again the Great Bai Hunt for a new bai.

After many years of handling the process of searching for, hiring, training and losing bais, I have finally reached a happy place where it really doesn’t bother me anymore. Unlike old times when I would go through a despairing cycle of shock, anger, regret and what-ifs, the disappearance of a bai now merely gives me cause to shake my head with a reproachful tut-tut and with steely determination I venture forth yet again into the Bai Market. Of course there are stories (not mine, I seem to have been blessed with more than my fair share of bad maid karma) of the faithful retainer who’s been loyal to the same family for years at a stretch and I live in constant hope that I too will one day find such a domestic goddess. Until then though, I make do with what I have and keep a watchful eye on the clock every morning as I pass through the dreaded hour between 7.00 and 8.00am during which the course of my day will get decided; will the doorbell ring heralding the arrival of my bai or will it be the phone call instead informing me that Sopu Kaka’s maushi’s brother has had a heart attack and there will be no bai in the foreseeable future.
And when the bell does chime and the bai walks in and later as I sink with gratitude into my first cup of tea for the day, I realize that for better or for worse I am stuck with my bai, and all said and done having her around does take the bite out of daily domestic drudgery a fair bit. Here’s to all the bais (or the lack of them) in our lives then, all those formidable ladies who are a daily and integral part of our households and who still have the capability to make all the visitors from abroad go green with envy!

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The 'happy party'

So its been a while since I posted here last. Not counting the Punekar posts which were written some time back and which I decided to put up just to fill in the increasingly growing gap between posts. The last three months have been far from rosy and for a while I had just given up on everything, blogging included. It all started with P falling ill, followed in close succession by Nikki, which I blogged about here. Just when life seemed to be limping back to normal and things were getting back on track, Nikki fell ill again. Except that this time round it wasn't the routine fall ill- go to the doctor-take a dose of antibiotics jig that we had kind of gotten used to, given the number of times she's been unwell ever since she started playschool. No, what happened this time round made the whole go to the doctor- take antibiotics routine seem like a faraway, rosy dream. It was a complete nightmare from the word go, comprising a week's stay in the hospital, two days of which were spent in the ICU. My first and only visit to a hospital before this was when Nikki was born and that was something I had prepped for, for over a year. This time round it was unexpected and scarily so. Its been well over a month, nearly two, since this happened but even now just the thought of that hospital stay gives me nightmares. The only good thing that came of the entire episode, even though I wouldn't have thought such a thing possible at the time, was that the short, harrowing hospital stay helped me get a lot of things in perspective. They say illness always gives you a new, sometimes improved perspective on life. Very true in my case. This episode happened at a time when I certainly needed some perspective and I got it by the cartloads. And cliched as it may sound, I think somewhere it has left me a wiser person. I can handle any shit Mr Murphy (he seems rather fond of me) chooses to throw my way now. Having said that, an illness of this magnitude for Nikki is certainly not something I want to undergo ever again. I would much rather happily go under a truck. Even a multitude of trucks. Its one thing to be ill yourself or even watch another adult suffer. Its excruciatingly difficult when its your young child and its not something I think I have the fortitude to bear again. Food for thought that, considering I've always considered myself to be a rather strong person otherwise, but this episode left me shattered. For weeks after we'd got back home and even after Nikki was back to her usual naughty little chatterbox self, I was moping around wallowing in self pity, feeling quite fed up with life.

Life, meanwhile, went about her business with nary a care as she is wont to. The maid vanished into thin air a few days after we got back from the hospital without so much as a by-your-leave. The dhobi continued to delight with burnt shirts and mysteriously stained collars. The people who live on the floor right above us carried on with their all year round home renovation program which gives one the constant impression of living under either a bowling alley or a hammer wielder with a particularly nasty temper, or on some particularly good days, both. All delightful little reminders that the show must go on and you really have no choice but to pull up your socks and get on with it. And eventually, time will heal all wounds even if it doesn't necessarily erase all memories, and life will seem less miserable even with the bais who don't show up and the errant dhobis. (I draw the line at the people on top though, they really are a a royal pain.)

In other news, in all of this general chaos and turmoil, my beloved book was launched. I really couldn't give it the attention or the time it deserved, much less blog about it but I hope to be able to do that now. All in all, it has been around for a couple of months now and by the grace of God its doing well. The reviews have been very encouraging, its made it to the Landmark best-seller list two weeks in a row(Woo Hoo!) and readers have written in to me with very ego boosting kind of stuff which could have potentially gone to my head if it hadn't been for the able support of my family who've taken it upon themselves to keep me grounded.In their own special ways, of course. A couple of months ago when the book had just been launched, an impromptu get-together was organized at my aunt's home. "Read from the book!" someone shouted.
I blushingly obliged. Surrounded by a gaggle of aunts and cousins, heart thumping so hard in my mouth I could barely get the words out, I nervously read from what I hoped was one of the funnier bits in the book. A frozen silence ensued. Baffled looks were exchanged.
"Erm, are we supposed to laugh now? That was the funny bit was it?" inquired a bewildered voice.
Yep, don't think there's any danger of my developing a swollen head anytime soon. They help me stay grounded, my family, they do.

I was chatting with my mum on the phone about the last three months the other day and I told her I was fed up with all the worrying and the fretting and that 'the pity party was over'.
"What is a pity party Mama?" chirped an inquisitive little voice at my elbow.
"Umm, a pity party is when you're feeling sad Nikks. But Mama has decided not to feel sad anymore."
"So Mama will be happy now? Have a happy party?"
And a happy party it will be. Let the good times roll.