Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As dear as it gets

Once upon a time, when my dad was still working, I heard him use a term very often while explaining the union unrest in his company. It was about the ‘Dearness Allowance’ being increased or decreased and sometimes frozen (!). I don’t exactly know what it meant, but it sounded good, and I filed it away somewhere..

Recently, the term found a definition for me when I read this in a pocket sized Don’ts for Husbands, 1913, bought on a whim at Crossword the last time the husband and I went out for retail therapy (Don’ts for Wives was out of print, which was the only reason it wasn’t bought)

Pg 14, para three of the book states:

Don’t think that if you married merely to get an unpaid housekeeper, that position is going to satisfy your wife. She could have obtained a good salary as professional housekeeper to any other man if she had wanted to: she married for other reasons.

Not bad for 1913, I thought.

I know many single men who would pay to keep their house in order. On the other hand, there are women who could do with house managers. Fortunately the universe plots so that opposites attract, else most marriages would either be totally competitive or a total mess.

Even so, I think men have a pretty good deal with marriage (even if they are paying EMIs). Women, on the other hand now do two jobs and get paid for one.

Which is when it struck me that all efficient wives should demand a dearness allowance from their husbands. If you do money, job, social graces, aesthetics, food, and children (whenever they appear) with equal finesse, why not make a career out of it?

So I told the husband I wanted to be paid for the following:

For giving him a wardrobe makeover and being his in-house style consultant.

For handling reply-all family correspondence.

For not maxing out his credit card, and for always refusing expensive presents and opting for practical ones.

For turning a gaming parlour into a home.

For replacing Pronto’s in his life with a wholesome three-course lunch.

For introducing him to the fine joys of vegetables.

For being his driver for most social outings.

For replenishing all that rapidly extinguishes in the refrigerator, the grocery cupboard, the toiletry cupboard, miscellanous.

For fixing nonworking plug points, taps, sinks, DVD players, lamps et al.

For replacing sulky maid with smiley maid.

For replacing smiley maid with another smiley maid when we moved house.

For mysterious piles of ironed shirts and trousers appearing in the wardrobe.

For finding his favourite white shirt and his socks.

For subtracting purple stain from aforementioned white shirt.

For relieving him of a quack doctor who fed him animal doses.

For watching movies full of people killing people, blowing up cars, and jumping off choppers with him.

For being a sounding board for what he is currently doing on his PS3 game—how many cars and establishments he has blown up, people he has chain-sawed, guns he has bought, respect points he has earned.

For sensing when is not a good day to talk and giving him space.

Into that heaven of freedom, dear husbands, give us this day our dearness allowance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last man standing

A friend of mine, a universally acknowledged alpha male said to another about a brunch invitation recently. “I’ll be there by 1 pm. By 1.15 pm, I will be the most drunk person around. Count on that…”

It was meant to sound cool. It was meant to get eyes widened. It was meant to get us all competitive.

Another was bragging about his brush with a dangerously bizarre game called Last Man Standing at a farewell bash recently. It seems a few of them decided to do a tequila marathon. The person who was still standing at the end of it won. “We targeted twenty shots each. By the end of it, I was so blown….I thought I was going to die,” he said, with much bravado.

Smart observation that. I wouldn’t think 20 tequila shots would leave you with enough perception of death.

One Mr. Jim Beam cribbed about how he went to this PR-led free booze do recently and how the cheap stuff was so awful that he and his friends had to go someplace else to wash it off and dilute it with the good stuff.

At my sangeet, there were at least three women who spent more time throwing up in the loo than breaking it down on the dance floor. When one was told to get something to eat so she’d feel better, she said, “I don’t do food. I’ll have another shot.”

I feel very old fashioned when I hear stuff like this.

A certain Mr. Partyholic once bragged to me, “You have no idea what I used to be. I was the guy who got the party started long after the party was over. I was the after-party guy..”

I was supposed to be impressed. I wasn’t. Although it sounds like a career—get a bunch of wasted people on any given night, and get them even more wasted. So when people compare notes, they can say, “I passed out at 4 am. How long did you last?”

I must imagine we live in terribly difficult times.

Here’s my theory, however far-fetched it might sound. Most men and women drink and/or smoke because they don’t know what to do with their bodies in a social scenario. The drink and the cigarette serve as props. It gives them something to do, it makes them look less clumsy or gauche. It talks their face away.

Which is why when people notice me, they usually say, “What, no glass? Or, “Don’t smoke?” Strangers proffer additional wisdom. “Health or religion?”

I feel like saying health is my religion, but I’d rather not waste humour on someone who is not quite there, so I smile cheekily.

I learnt the importance of props while being a production person in a theatre group. Seems when people are just standing together and talking, it looks weird—so you give them a book, a scarf, a jacket, a phone, a cigarette, a glass—something they can play with.

Have you noticed soaps on TV and how something seems amiss (apart from logic) when a family just gathers in a semi-circle and talks. They have no props!

As for me, I found my prop. I play with my locks. It keeps me engaged and looking interested for as long as I want to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Once upon a TV

I abhor television. Okay, it’s out there, and I’m feeling better already. More than I hate what’s on it, I detest the fact that it is the nucleus around which most households are built. “Where should we keep the TV?” is always the question. It is never “To have or not to have?”

Unless resisted with all one’s might, the television becomes the defacto shrine in every home. When I lived with my parents, the one thing that made me break into hives was to find them entranced by a dumb screen when I walked into their home. When I excitedly shared what happened in the day with my brother, all I heard was a grunt.

In the hostels where I spent a good six years, the TV room was where losers or women in nighties hung out, and I didn’t want to be caught dead there. So I survived the soap bug, even though I must admit, Ridge Forrester’s sex life did catch my fancy every once in a while.

A friend of mine watches cartoons for a living —his job is to make kids eat better by choosing the right cartoons on his TV network for their lunch hour—apparently the more they liked the cartoon, the better they ate. Eh? Is that how it works?

My childhood was less complicated. We ate because we were hungry. Our mothers had trouble keeping us from food, not feeding us. The TV entered our house when I was nearly 15, and tired of peeping into strangers’ windows to see what they were so mesmerised by. I wouldn’t say it changed our lives.

Even now, it will not kill me if the nine odd minutes I spend in a day in front of the telly (a low attention span is one of my other disorders) were also to disappear—very rarely am I taken in by what’s on it, except when Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson are practising their culinary seductions or Seinfeld is on yet another rerun.

When I first stepped into the husband’s (then the boyfriend) apartment, I was appalled to find that the television was the single largest living thing in the room— all action was designed around it. The other room was not inhabited, save for a few cartons and a mirror.

When we moved house recently, my only condition was—no TV in the living room. He looked distraught. I then sold him the idea of a room exclusively for entertainment, so I would never have to go there (mostly), or pretend it didn’t exist.

He bit that and it’s turned out to be a win-win. I never have to walk into a house and be greeted by a TV. He never has to ask if the TV is bothering me (my answer will always be a yes).

So I now have the rest of the house and he has the room with the TV and all the electronic goodies. He has never been happier. Plus, we now invite each other to dates in our respective zones and it feels like we are in courtship all over again!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Addicted to shop

A friend of mine buys new shoe cupboards every year. It’s not that the old ones are battered. Just that the shoes don’t fit in anymore—she has bought several new pairs.

Another friend buys books she has no place to keep. A third has been shopping incessantly since she moved to Hong Kong, two months ago. I figured the shopping would have stopped by now, but it continues unabated. The last I heard from her, which was two days ago, she was on another shopping marathon. She had just picked up formal wear from Club Monaco, Zara and Mossino Dutti, summer dresses from Mango and bags from Nine West. And was going back for more.

It’s an affliction. Men watch TV. Women shop. Greater the churn, more the screen time or more the shopping, as the case may be.

I have been there. Sales were an excuse to buy three where you would have bought one. The fact remained that there were serious afterthoughts about two of the three the very next day. Six months down, one is still unworn. Your 50% off is more like 40% gone.

Now, I feel like a bit of a weirdo. Malls make me sick. They have taken away whatever iota of craving I ever had for shopping. Duty-frees make me want to never travel again. Sales give me a rash. I am impervious to all those scrumptious breakfasts thrown in at pre-sale dos of fancy stores. May be I am a corner-shop girl and this retail overdose tires me. Or I am just in a philanthropic mode, having decided not to buy anything for myself for the rest of the year.

On that rare occasion where I actually set out shopping, I play a little game. If I fancy something in a shop, I never buy it at first sight. (It’s like meeting that perfect guy and not kissing him on the first date.) I go home, sleep over it, and if I want it just as bad the next day, I trudge back and buy it. Usually, I never want anything so bad— the game works.

So I get by, while people around me max out their credit cards, and are sucked into the compound interest pool.

For my wedding, the mother told me—buy whatever you want. It’s on me. I chose one saree. She said, “One? What will people say? Buy at least four!” I settled on two. Five more were thrust upon me by others. They are all silently waiting in my trunk.

Meanwhile, friends from Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong beckon, “Come here for a holiday. It’s great for shopping!” My point is, why go on a holiday and then feel sick?

It isn’t ironical that my soon-to-be-adopted cats are called Mango and Zara. I figured, if I have Mango and Zara at home, I will never have the urge to go out and buy them.

It’s twisted, I know, but I have a feeling I may be right.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Packers and movers

Strange things are unearthed when you move house. (Assuming of course, that you actually end up unpacking all the cartons) Appliances that are largely obsolete, because you never had that perfect party to use your ‘ice-cream maker’, and now, you are in a “I- don’t-want-to-do-any-work-that’s-not-absolutely-necessary mode.” Sweaters you would never be caught dead wearing. Oversized jackets. Gifts you once unwrapped and quickly wrapped them back because they were so not you. A steamer you once bought for daily cleansing, but never used, because it was too much infrastructure to deal with at the end of a hard day. A hookah that looked good when you inherited it, but is now totally out-of-place with where you are. An inflatable chair that was a hand-me-down from your brother. Letters, cards, pictures of ex-boyfriends. Music they recorded for you. Printouts of a story you wrote many moons ago and are now ashamed of. Pictures with random people you’ve forgotten the existence of or don’t really care for.

Moving house is either about addition or subtraction. A friend of mine who recently moved from a one bedroom to a two bedroom was wailing for two weeks about how there’s so much space to fill up, and despite using all their furniture, they still had space, so they went out and bought more.

I have never understood this. First we complain about the space crunch. Then, we finally have space, we are so intimidated by it that we quickly go and fill it up.

Subtraction on the other hand is really a lightener, a mood elevator in more ways than one. To me, moving has always been an excuse to reorganize and then give away. Clothes, shoes, curtains, lamps, kitchen stuff, knick-knacks, knick-knacks and more knick-knacks, tax papers, work papers, insurance papers, car papers, home papers, just-any-paper. The shredding (papers) and the giving away (things) is the fun part. Imagine giving away all the aforementioned items and not having to deal with them ever again. I would pay for that! I think all of us will be happier if we open cartons with more frequency, whether we move or not.

But if you are, like my husband, the type that never opens mysterious cartons except at gun point, and then shudders to find phones that were drowned in champagne (whatever!), sunglasses that would work on a retro night at a pinch, floppy disk sets, PC games and VCRs. May be I have had a good effect on him— he was ready to give it all away. Of course, only after I assured him that only when you give stuff can you make room for new stuff in your life. His eyes brightened at the thought of all the new gizmos he could buy.

When the new maid (who spends more time on her cell phone than me) commented that we had too much stuff for two people, it was a wake up call for me. So now, we have two huge cartons of stuff we are happy not to need, but someone else could still find use for. Of course, our respective mothers have messed us up so much that we that we did save up some of the cartons. I am also guilty of hoarding most of the bubble wrap I inherited. But I am getting there!