5 aspects of my life that top the gratitude chart in 2016

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December seems to be vanishing into thin air just the way I had imagined. I can already visualize 2017 hiding around the block ready to jump out and startle me. Year-ends make me nervous and excited at the same time. I wait with child-like enthusiasm for the New Year to begin but there's also an unmistakable feeling of anxiousness, like butterflies in the stomach. On the one hand, it's a fresh slate, a chance to start anew. On the other hand, I'm apprehensive about any new challenges that may be in store for me.

Perhaps, it's the sign of the Universe that asks us to be in the moment and leave our baggage behind as we surge ahead.

As I look back on 2016, my heart is filled with gratitude towards the five major aspects of my life that bring me so much joy. And, today seems to be an opportune day to write that gratitude list because today I complete 6 years of blogging. It seems rather strange (but true) that I've hardly celebrated this day on my blog despite this space holding a special place in my life.

It makes sense to start my gratitude list with this aspect of my life.

1. Blogging and BAR: I've come a long way from my first tentative post on this space on the 24th of December 2010. Since then, my relationship with blogging has seen a lot of ups, downs, and long periods of inactivity but somehow we have survived it all.

Blogging largely thrives on self-motivation and discipline but it also needs external impetus from time to time. While I struggled with the former, Bar-A-Thon in August this year provided the much need external push and with that, I seemed to regain my passion for blogging. That's when I decided to put a stamp of seriousness by purchasing a custom domain for the blog. A formal space for myself in the wide world of the web is a motivation for me to blog more and write better.

That brings to the second aspect, the BAR. Before you let your imagination run wild and think of me as an alcoholic thanking my vital dose of inspiration, let me tell you this is a blogging group (although this can be fairly addictive too) I'm talking about. I re-joined BAR (Blog-a-Rhythm), a vibrant group of bloggers on Facebook after the Bar-a-thon in August this year. I was a part of the group earlier too but opted out of it because I wasn't blogging regularly at that point of time. There's a right time for everything in life. I've begun to believe in this adage more and more as I started to fit myself into a blogging/writing groove this year.

So, why a group and why BAR?

A blogging group can be an effective catalyst for a blogger's growth and success. As writers, it might suffice that we write to satisfy our passion but as bloggers, we love an audience.If you have been in the blogging space for a while, you would know that building a healthy readership takes a while but with the right network, one can really speed up the process.

Also, the life of writers/bloggers can get lonely at times and like in any other creative field,  is fraught with self-doubts, anxieties, and performance lows. We too need people who can step up and say, "hey, you know what? It's normal to feel like this. You'll be OK and we're here for you." And, while these words can come from people who are not writers, it makes a world of difference when it's your tribe that roots for you because that also makes you feel accepted and included in the league.

BAR provides this and much more. It has a great mix of experienced and new writers who are excellent in their craft. The camaraderie we share is infectious and a lot of fun too. It's heartwarming to see the experienced ones readily extend their support to others. There's a wealth of knowledge shared both in terms of technical as well as blogging skills.

2. Work: I have held part-time writing jobs ever since R began playschool. I can safely attribute my work opportunities to having a blog. My first ever stint in web content writing and then later technical writing is all thanks to Aparna who was confident that I'd deliver the goods.

While I was content and happy to be putting my time to good use and also earn a little (quite literally) money, I was thrilled when, towards the end of February this year, Shailaja called me to discuss the position of a writer with a popular parenting website where she's the editor.

The work I do here is close to my heart and I love the work culture. We are a lean but passionate and energetic team. Each one of us strives to learn and contribute towards a collective goal. Indeed, I feel thankful to be a part of a set-up that gives me a creative free hand while gently nudging me to do better than my previous best.

3. Family: Every phone call with my Amma and sister ends on a wistful note of how much nicer it would have been if I were living closer to them! While there isn't much I can do about the geographical distance, I'm grateful for the fact that they are just a phone call and a flight's distance away. I'll always cherish the moments we spend together each year. I also ring in the New Year with my family in a spiritual manner each year since the past few years and I'm grateful to be able to continue the tradition so far.

This year was special as R stayed away from us for the first time and chose to spend some extra quality time with my parents and sister. He and S always got along well and it's heartwarming to see the sibling bond grow thicker and sweeter with each passing year.

I'm thankful to be married into a family who gives me a lot of space, freedom, love and takes pride in my achievements. I've to mention how the husband is the rock pillar in my life. He believes in my abilities perhaps more than I do myself. It's encouraging to have someone who doesn't tire of repeating his five-point mantra. Even as I pause and hesitate at every point, he pushes me gently ahead and reinforces my own confidence. For every doubt in my mind (and, there are always many) about whether I should take the step forward, I only have to look in his direction and the doubts are dismissed with a wave of the hand. With such a person by my side, I know that I must give myself a chance and persevere no matter what the outcome might be.

4. My readers: While 6 years is a long time to be in the blogging community, I have been slow to build a steady and strong readership base for my blog. I partly attribute it to my own nature that inhibits me from networking and publicizing this space as much I should be. Secondly, the blog world was a more private space when I began, so I'm still coming to terms with the current trend and hope to adapt myself better with time. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that so many people from my circle read my blog.

I recently nominated myself for the Orange Flower Awards initiated by Women's Web. The final nominees and winners for the various categories are to be partly decided by a set of esteemed jury members and partly through popular voting. I announced my nominations and called out to my readers on my Facebook page to vote for me tentatively without any expectation. It was then I realized how much I had undermined my own writing and this space. I was overwhelmed with the number of friends, family, and even distant acquaintances who reached out to say that they read my blog and voted for me. Some even went as far as trying multiple times to vote since the voting site underwent technical glitches and couldn't register their votes.

I extend my warm and humble thanks to each one of you. You perhaps silently follow my blog but you all mean a whole lot to me because I know whatever I write holds more meaning now.

5. A social community: However much I spend time online, I need my offline social engagement too. The apartment where I stay is a fairly new one and it has taken a while for all of us to mingle and come together as a single unit. This year was particularly a memorable one as we celebrated every festival with gusto and enthusiasm. As someone who takes a while to make new friends, I was glad to find like-minded company. Together, we let our hair down during the various celebrations. These are memorable memories for me.


It's been a pleasure to fill out this post of gratitude and I hope the New Year ushers in peace and happiness for all of us.

And, if you've been reading this far, a big thank you! See you all in 2017.


To a boy who turned seven

Dear R,

The days stretch on but the years fly past. This is what comes to my mind when I see you, my little boy, who's not so little anymore. You turned seven last month. In so many ways, you are growing to be an independent person and need me less and less. When and how did the baby and toddler I knew morph into this mini-adult who talks nineteen to the dozen and is already a treasure trove of trivia?

"Amma, please don't do it for me. I can do it by myself"  
I get to hear this all the time. And, the pride on your face is unmistakable, to know that you are capable of doing all that I would do for you until not very long ago. Yes, this also means you get to hear a lot of follow-up questions like, "did you clean your ear lobes, or did you flush and remember to wash your hands?" and a whole set of sundry instructions such as to use the stairs while going down to play and to come back at a particular time. Talking of time, you now know to read the clock but you have no sense of how the time is running out before we have to push you out of the doors for school because you take your own sweet time to get started.

You like to roleplay and often pretend to be on stage, performing an act, perhaps a magic show or a pilot addressing your passengers. Be it recitation or narration, you do it with passion. I realize you love to be in command. Yet, you more or less tend to follow your friends at playtime and get overpowered by them. It makes me sad to hear how you get bullied at times but I know you'll learn, in time, how to assess your friends and to assert yourself.

Even though you are our flesh and blood, you are different from us: more vocal, confident and sure of your choices. It could be the exposure and the generation gap. You are doing well at school and are amongst the popular kids too. Your teachers tell me how you love to fill in for a free period by telling the class stories you picked up by reading or even just randomly. Would I think of you as a show-off? Perhaps, not but I can say you're not shy about showing what you know. Understand that that can be a great trait if laced with empathy.

Which strangely brings me to my pet peeve (or one of the few?) about you. Your favourite word these days is "I know". And, that puts me off many a time. It seems as though you cannot accept or are afraid of accepting that you don't know. I want you to know that it's OK to not know at all times and the worst habit one could develop is a defiance to learning and remaining smug with half-baked knowledge.

While you like to chatter away without restraint, you can be perfectly silent and on your own too. While, in the past, the silence would invariably mean mischief, it now usually means you have slunk away with my phone to watch origami videos or are reading a book. Oh, well, I'm not really complaining here.

I had read about how the sevens can be the best phase of parenting and I'm inclined to agree. It feels wonderful to hold meaningful conversations (mostly) with you and have you notice something new about my dress or cooking. You still enjoy and allow me to cuddle and smother you with kisses and I'm savouring these because I know the time is not too far when you will resist. I love our bedtime ritual for that's when you become my baby again. Amidst admonishes to settle down and lullabies, we snuggle and whisper secrets. In that angelic moment, before you drift asleep, I find that vulnerable child I want to crush under my insurmountable love.

I often wonder how do I bracket myself as a parent, a mother. I do not gush about motherhood, nor am I the fun parent likes to do a craft activity or play with you in the playground. I'm often rule-oriented and perhaps restrict more than I indulge. Yet, I want you to know that I enjoy my time with you in my own way as I've always since your birth. I do hope when you look back at these days from your childhood, you find memories to smile about.

- Your loving Amma


When paints and pens blended at the #BergerXP Indiblogger meet

When I first saw the invite for the #BergerXP Indiblogger meet, I chuckled to myself. As someone as art challenged as I'm, it felt a bit weird to attend a meet that was associated with painting. Of course, I reasoned, this was wall painting and not the canvas kind. Plus, I was being invited as someone who blogs not paints.

This was going to be my first Indiblogger meet. I was excited even though I had no clue what to expect. I was jittery too since walking into a room full of strangers isn't exactly my cup of tea. However, the last part wasn't a valid concern because it turned out that a lot of bloggers I knew had signed up for the event. Technically, I was going to be meeting them for the first time as well but I had known them for long enough through their blogs and the prospect sealed the plan for me; this was surely going to be a memorable event!

Perhaps, I spoke too soon. For, life managed to insert a spoke in the wheel at the last minute. Ok, don't groan. I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say that after a nail-biting scene of "will I make it or not", I was relieved to sit in the cab that would take me from my end of the city to The Lalit, the venue of the event. Yes, I hear you sigh in relief. I did too, that day. Battling the famous Bangalore traffic, I landed up almost an hour late, right in time for lunch!

And, boy, was I glad to see my blogging group munching there and happily chattering away? You bet! We hit off right away and caught up with pleasantries and some more over bites of bland paneer, face-saving gravies, and finally, a couple of good desserts. Like a bunch of teenagers, we giggled over the selfies and groupies and entered the room set up for the event. The crowd seemed pleased to see our anchor for the day, Anoop. I was to soon realize why as he steered the show naturally with his hs infectious energy and humour.

Kartik pitched in with his zen-like moves to shake us off from the lunch induced lethargy. We replicated the moves clumsily but the trick worked. Next, we were made to skittle around with inflated balloons tied to one leg with a loose thread. The idea was to safeguard your own balloon while you went about bursting the ones tied to others' legs. The madness and laughter that ensued ensured we were alert enough when Mr. Chandranath Banerjee, the Service head of Berger Express Painting, took center stage.

Mr. Banerjee briefed us about the features of the express painting solution by Berger Paints India, the advantages it scored over the competitor brands, and the benefits it brought to the end consumer. Painting the house always brings in unpleasant memories of the dust flying around in the house, the chaos and mess caused by the displacement of furniture and functioning of the house. Not to mention the back-breaking after-work of cleaning and tidying up. If you're finicky about routine and cleanliness like me, you might want to schedule re-painting your home for the distant future. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that BergerXP (Express Painting) takes these concerns by the horns and offers an unbelievable solution.

  • The painting is done by certified painters who use sophisticated tools to paint minimizing the total time taken by almost 40-50%. 
  • The cutting-edge vacuum suction-enabled sanding machines keep your house dust-free and give a smoother and better finish.
  • The tools like sanding machine, auto roller, and airless paint srayer used for the process ensure that there's no paint spillage over your prized possession even as the professional experts do an excellent end-to-end job of covering your furniture with plastic sheets and readying the room after the work. We were shown short video clips of how the job is done and testimonies from satisfied customers

But, the icing on the cake is the fact that all these extra benefits come at no extra charge to the customer! Unbelievable, right? The reason is that more than 50% of the painting cost is taken up by the charges paid for the manual labour involved and since this innovative solution cuts down the efforts with automotive tools, the overall cost is off-set. The fact that the company has chosen to let the end-consumer benefit from the cost-effectiveness shows its sincerity towards its loyal customers. I must say, I was impressed.

Mr. Banerjee patiently and satisfactorily answered all the queries we had. I gleaned useful bits of information such as even if I have just a room or a wall to be re-painted, choosing Express Painting by Berger will be cost-effective for me. Also that, it would be better to paint the entire surface as opposed to choosing to do a spot-touch up for better aesthetics.

All through the presentation, we were encouraged to keep tweeting out the information. The more creative we could get with the tweets the better, we were told, since there were exciting gifts to be won. There was more to the fun part. The crowd got divided into six teams and each of us had two tasks to be accomplished. The first was to sandpaper a block of wood to make it smooth and free of any uneven patches. The second was to choose from a given set of themes and paint a canvas using the ready paints, stainers, and brushes. Both the activities freaked me out. Getting soaked with all the dust that will fly off during the first wasn't really my idea of fun and how could I possibly contribute to the second: someone whose paintings can be compared to a toddler's scribblings?

Armed with masks, and head covers our team set off on task number one. And,how wrong I was! I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We kept pulling each other's legs, laughed till our sides ached while also warding off distractors from the other teams. We completed the given task much within the stipulated time although the results of the competition were yet unknown. In the meantime, we readied ourselves for the painting activity. Our team lead, Madhumita, had a clear vision regarding the theme and approach. We called ourselves "Paint my love" and chose to depict a picture about the need to save our environment. Apart from handing out the right brush and appropriate colours to the more capable members of the team, I helpfully kept out of their way.

Post a short coffee/tea break, we came back to a wind-up session that included announcing the results of the above tasks. The judges combined the results of both the activities and awarded two prizes. We were thrilled to discover that our team won the runners-up place. We signed off with yet another rib-tickling game of playing the mannequin that had us taking our favourite pose and standing still for one whole minute. Phew! never did a minute felt that long. We struggled to not burst into laughter what with all the funny poses people chose for themselves.

Smiles on our faces intact, we left saying our goodbyes, already looking forward to the next Indiblogger meet. I, for one, have decided to be a regular at these.


Maid for each other: is it a myth?

I slide open the kitchen drawer. The metal clanks as I hurriedly look for the steel lid to cover the soaked lentils ready to be cooked inside the cooker. As I pull out the specific lid, I'm disgusted with how the edges still bear the food stains from the previous day. I quickly reach for a cleaner one, place the dirty one on the clean counter like a carefully collected crime evidence; my mind picturing myself giving an earful to the errant maid.

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This is not unusual. I regularly collect such proofs of disinterest and lack of sincerity on the part of my domestic helper. It happens, not too rarely, that I stand shoulder to shoulder with a friendly spider that's crawling rapidly down in its intricately woven web right above my desk in the study. I frequently notice effects of neglect on the corners and wall edges; like the fall colours, they go from a clean white to yellow to finally a dull brown. Only that these are rather ugly and not even half as romantic as fall colours. Even as I repeat the warnings to the lady responsible and vow to myself to replace her at the first chance or even pray she quits of her own, I know I'm blessed to have her as my maid. Sounds strange? Allow me to explain.

I live in an apartment complex. And, with that, I'm also a part of the ladies WhatsApp group. It's like that freebie that no one wants but still accepts because maybe someday you might put it to use. To be honest, for all its faults, the group is the most resourceful unit you can have when it comes to a crisis situation. A crisis could be anything: from a last-minute sourcing of a porcupine costume for your nursery going kid to getting candidates for a vacant position in your company; the group rises to the occasion almost always. Well, I digress. The point is a crisis situation concerning maids can be only one: they not turning up for work. This is when I'm truly thankful for the group because I usually find a substitute within minutes of posting the distress Ad for one.

Those were the days when anger against my own maid was fresh and I was looking for an opportunity to replace her. Contrary to being upset on being ditched at the last minute, I took it as an opportunity to find possible replacements. And, therein began my journey of eating humble pie.

Once a maid duly sent in by my thoughtful neighbour sauntered inside. She towered over me, her hefty figure adding to her menacing attitude. Even as I meekly laid out the work for her, she stated pointedly, "you have four balconies!" "Err..yes," said I, unsure. Would she rather have me detach them from the rest of the house? I wondered. I was glad to see the back of her as she finished the work, in a seemingly patronizing manner, for that day.

Another time, I encountered a middle-aged professional who seemed to know exactly how this entire business of being a house-help worked. I couldn't decide if her pan-stained teeth worried me more or her off-handed approach to the work. "Hand me the mop broom" she demanded. "Oh, we don't use a broom for mopping in my house. Here take the cloth," I offered. "What, no broom?!" I don't work with cloth. My back aches!," she glowered. I respectfully ushered her out and shut the door tight behind her.

In yet another instance, a pleasant looking person turned up to fit into my maid's shoes for a day. She seemed affable to talk to too. And, wonders of wonder, she even got my approval in the quality department. I was beyond myself with joy at having found a perfect maid and mustered up all my hiring skills. I enumerated the work while she smiled benignly. As soon as I finished, she put on an air of supreme importance and announced,

"3.5k per month ma, non-negotiable. Just vessels, sweeping and mopping; dusting maybe once a week. Also, I don't clean bathrooms."
Did she just think I had a money tree growing in my backyard? Hell, I don't even own a garden!

This is when my maid's good qualities took gigantic proportions to put me to shame. How could I think of replacing her? At least, she doesn't talk back, hasn't asked for a raise in the last one and half years, and even agrees to work on her faults when pointed out. Yes, perhaps we are also made for each other.

Do you have that perfect maid?

A re-cap of a lovely month

The blank page in front stares at me unkindly. The words swirl around the head not wanting to flow cohesively onto the paper. The house is silent and the only sound seems to cut into the stillness is the drone of the borewell machine in the nearby empty ground outside. My mind is in a rewind mode, replaying scenes from the past few weeks. As I make myself my morning cup of coffee, I'm acutely aware of how everything seems shrunk. It's back to the three in the household. Every single mundane task is laced with this-time-last-week recalls. The wistfulness wraps around me like a thick cloak: an inexplicable inertia and I pull it towards myself tighter like one would a warm shrug against the cold wind. The fragrant vapour from my brew warms me up; a smile creeps up at the freshly-minted memories.

November just flew by and how! Birthdays, outings, surprises, parents' stay, some more family visiting; our house and hearts were full. So many precious moments had been filed away in the recesses of the mind. A part of me rightfully fears the loss of these as life speeds on the tracks of the usual day-to-day existence. Yet, another part of me acknowledges that memories never die; they could fade or get infused with newer fragrances. The frames in my head slide forward and backward, not following the chronology of events and I sit down to relive them and capture them all like the falling rain.

The house had echoed with political arguments with the husband and Appa on either side of the debate. The news on Tele played side accompaniments to the sometimes serious sometimes comical jugalbandi between the son-in-law and father-in-law. Amma and I would weigh in occasionally but mostly just roll our eyes at the duo and carry on with our own topics of discussions. We had more important issues to sort out like what to cook for  the morrow or if there's enough food for the night or should we buy the pink saree or the grey one and such like. I was grateful for the extra pair of hands in the kitchen even as I felt guilty for letting her shoulder the housework. Yet, I knew I couldn't do it all what with my work calendar also brimming over.

R turned 7 and we celebrated it in one of the most satisfying ways. This time, the husband and I were not keen on having a typical birthday party. Since the grandparents were around, we felt a more intimate family celebration would make more sense. As though the universe agreed too, in a last minute plan, R's soul-twin that came from my sister's womb decided to pay us a visit just to be together on his birthday. I immediately conspired to keep it as a surprise for R. How the surprise revealed itself is a story for another day. Suffice to say that the plan was a total hit and the kids had a blast together. To top it, my favourite cousin, R's doting uncle was visiting for a couple of days the same week and the entire house was just bubbling with all the happiness and excitement. 

We took our first ever trip together with parents to the beautiful Wayanad. The drive got a little tedious but we compensated it for not cramming too many activities during our stay. We seem to be enjoying these "do-nothing" holidays. The unhurried schedule coupled with freedom from housework sets the mood for fun things. It helps us to bond with R better. It was a rewound to the childhood of the 90s, unblemished from the disturbances of smartphones and the online vortex. The sated feeling after several rounds of UNO and carrom, the squabbles over half-red strikes, benevolence showered on the kid by the indulgent grandma, the sadistic pleasure of owning better cards than your neighbour, these little moments added up to an unmatched personal treasure. 

I was away from this space for almost the entire month and had just a fleeting presence on the social media too. Did I miss it? To be honest, apart from a low gnawing sense that perhaps I ought to be more regular in writing, I never wanted it any other way. My life had felt so full that there was no space for anything else.

How have you all been? Did anyone miss me at all?