...and then

Monday, 29 March 2010

For a very special boy

Dear M,

Because you are six months old you have no idea who your parents are. As you grow up, you'll turn one of the two ways.
1) You'll spend the rest of your life wishing and praying fervently to god (yes, you will believe, because your mother will make sure) to give you a set of parents that are normal. My advice is don't wish too much for it. To your regret and utter disappointment it just might come true.
2)Or you'll strut around so bloody proud of your parents, of yourself and of the values that you've been given, that you'll probably live with them for the rest of their lives. In which case, I'll personally chase you out when you are 21.

Let me tell you a little about your father.
He is living proof of the fact that you can undo what parents do to you and become someone you want to be. So, if it ever happens that you think your parents screwed you up, please think again or I'll slap some sense into you.
Your father has a generous heart, a kind soul and on the days you think he is cruel, you will be bang on. He believes, sometimes, you need to be cruel to be kind. Trust him, whatever he's doing he's doing because he sees the outcome; because he has mastered his ego and inherent pettiness that human beings possess and has applied reason.
If you ever find yourself in a position where you feel you can't talk to someone, force yourself to go to him. He will listen to you, without judgement. At least apparent judgement. He will listen to you, try and understand you and then tell you that you're a complete idiot if that's what you've been. But if you haven't been an ass, he'll fight with you for you till his last breath.
Believe every word he utters in seriousness. He never ever says anything he doesn't mean. And laugh at yourself when he cracks jokes at you. Nothing is above a good joke, for him, thank God.
I am pretty sure your dad doesn't see people as men or women, first. He sees them as friends if they are that. Both get his respect if they deserve it. And his coolness when they don't. Similarly, age, position in life, money, are not reasons for him to respect others. And having any less of those are no reasons for him to excuse anything they've done.
Your father is mostly crazy. But he is also one of the strongest men I know. Lean on him. And when he's old and cranky and I am not around to tell him what a nutter he is, lend him your shoulder.

And what do I say about your mother?
I think she was born a mother. I have never seen a woman who lights up like she does. And I don't mean she smokes. A phone call from someone who mattered, a drink, a film, a photograph, a candle, a pair of earrings -- anything can make this gorgeous woman blaze like a brilliant summer sun.
When you grow up and tell her to stop being a child, you won't be wrong. Because that's something she doesn't know she is, thank god. There is so much of the child in her and as you grow older and meet more people you'll know how important it is to retain that. And you'll love your mum for it.
If you ever suspect, and I challenge you that you won't, that she's digging her heels in and not going to budge, you're probably right. You'll never see her being stubborn; she has a very quiet way of doing that. But when she does, you can threaten to main yourself and gouge your eyes out with an icecream scoop and the only thing that will happen is you, er, being maim and blind.
Remember to get her gifts, especially the ones you make. She's such a sentimentalist. But try and push her around and you'll have to come to my place to spend the night because she will ask you to sleep on the verandah.
She's the kindest, softest friend I have and if you turn out to be a good egg, believe me it will so much her doing.


This letter is to the lovely boy who just added to an already love family that I spoke about in this post.

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A readymade family

It rarely happens in my life that two people who I love are married to each other, unless it is someone in my family. So I consider myself extremely lucky to have as friends a wonderful couple who have been married to each other for 10 years. I will not mention their names here for many reasons although I am sure they wouldn't mind for the most bit.

Being a mother to two children, I am beginning to understand why a lot of people don't want kids. I also get why many do. And I also understand that some people are totally okay with not having kids even though they want them.

My friends just had their adoption go through and brought home a gorgeous little boy. Something in my stomach is dying to break free and put his name down here to tell him how special he is but I can't. Privacy is sacred.

Adoption is a hugely sensitive issue in more ways than one. No one wants to think that they can't have kids. No one (I know) wants other people to think that they are being 'charitable' by adopting a child. No one wants to surprise themselves and find that they can't actually love their adopted child when she acts out or displays traits that neither of the parents think they have.

I have always wanted to adopt a child. I went as far as deciding I'd be a single mum putting the adoption process in motion before I married. I could never tell why it is that I wanted to adopt but I knew I did. Is that okay? I realised it is not. One needs to know exactly why they want to adopt. And unless the answer is clear, it would be the wrong thing to do.

I know people believe that one shouldn't adopt as charity. I agree, but only if the prospective adoptive parent is going to treat the child like it should be grateful. But if a person is capable of love then I don't see anything wrong with a person adopting because they want to give an unfortunate child a life of love and security. Adopting a child is a fantastic way of rehabilitating it, providing it with food, shelter, education, opportunities but most of all, love.

At last count, there we 12 million abandoned children in India and if reports are to be believed a horrific 90 per cent of this number was girls. And take a wild guess at how many adoptions happened last year. Go on. Less than 4000. Can anyone explain those two trends?

I am a relatively new mother, both  my kids are under two years of age. And I've spoken to many, many mothers recently and almost all have said they were hoping to have a girl when they were pregnant. I have a few friends who have opted to adopt and have all ticked as their gender preference, girls. Maybe I am living in a pretty little well that's urban India, maybe all these girls that are being abandoned are coming from rural areas. But can someone explain why this dichotomy exists? Why am I meeting women who actively want daughters and at the same time 90 per cent of all those kids abandoned are girls?

Have any of you been to an orphanage? I went before I was a mother. I don't think I want to go back as one. I don't think I can look at all those mad monkeys there and wonder how they're smiling like diamonds even though they have no families to call their own. I don't want to see little babies rocking themselves to sleep. I don't want to see a baby cry and cry and cry and it be attended only when the poor overworked attendant can.

I am still considering adoption but I don't know when. I need enough money first and then I need to know that my existing family and I will accept the new child as our own. 

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Sunday, 28 March 2010

And that's how we did it.

An enterprising woman in my apartment got us all to participate in the earth hour last night. 

And it was such good fun. We switched everything off, the moon was gorgeous, it was warm and the gusty wind was hot but togetherness, icecream and tambola right there in the front yard made up for absolutely any discomfort. It feels nice to know that we contributed in some way. Even though as Indians we are consistently and continually careful of how much electricity we use up. 


When the sun sets

Who is it that ranges, occasionally,
The quiet distances of my mind
Reminding me of songs I'd rather forget,
Of a yellow rose that fell me
Of that first year of deceit -
Yours and mine?

Who is it that sweetly stabs
My eyelids awake
So that I walk-wake-live-die
Till I see a skewed sunrise
And dyslexically construe
Today for tomorrow or 

Yesterday for another life?

- Me


Saturday, 27 March 2010

More money than sense

Being a journalist is not easy on my pocket. Bad enough they pay my tribe badly, even though for most of relevant history, people couldn't dream of beginning their day without a newspaper. We should have just gone on strike long ago and said the IT guys are coming, so start paying us well or go find your own news. But because most of us have a social conscience and an ego the height of Burj Khalifa, we still continue to wear the badge of news hunters, gatherers and providers (even though increasingly, journalism is hardly that anymore) first and a tax payer later.

These days, I go out to many events that I shouldn't be going to because of the simple reason that I am vain and believe I should dress nicely when I go out to meet people and perhaps network with them. In my carefree,  worse-paid days in India, I used to not care a bit about being badly dressed. But 30 did something to me and if I step out, I gotta have nice things on me. I don't know why.

As I've left behind the inverted snobbery I used to indulge in where I'll deliberately dress bad and look down upon the well-heeled, I feel the need to own a few good pieces that will hold me in good stead these days when I go out on events.

And this post is not about those pieces.

This post is about a little advice I'd like to dish out for whoever is listening or cares. You see, most of these events I've been to astound me with their clutches of similarity.  Almost always I can look at a woman and say what bag she'll be carrying, what perfume she's doused in or whose watch she's wearing.

Older women will invariably wear Dior, more so if they're Indian. Omani women are a little difficult to figure out fragrancewise because a lot of them carry a hint of the frankincense that some of them use at home. But my guess is a preference of Givenchy, Boucheron and some Dior. The younger women, across race, I've discovered, are usually bathed in Davidoff's Cool Water Woman. I am SO tired of that scent, it's not funny. The Lebanese/Egyptian/Moroccan women tend to lean towards Gucci some, especially Envy. Or something just as aqua smelling.

The shoes, strangely, are something a lot of women this part of the world give little importance to. Sure, they've gotta be nice. But it doesn't have to be designer. Maybe it's because it all disappears under the abaya or if they're Indian, the sari, I can't tell for sure, but the shoes almost always are unbrandable.

Which brings me to watches. Omega, Omega, Omega. The grossly underrated Raymond Weil has some really nice pieces but Omega it is on most the wrists of most women I see at these dos. But if they aren't the corporate type big, flashy Guccis, very imaginative DKNYs and Tag Heuer are de rigueur.

Honestly. It may sound like generalising to you but you'd be very  hardpressed to find something that doesn't fit this profile. The rest that goes with this image are: A French manicure and pedicure, rebonded-straight hair (which for the life of me I cannot understand or appreciate because I love curly hair), a BB or iPhone.

And all of it is so boringly predictable it makes me want to yank my nails out from their beds without anaesthesia and get salt sprinkled on the bare wounds. Really, isn't there a strong case for originality already out there?

For example, I've never seen a woman wear a Hublot. I love those things. Even though some of it has gold in it. Agreed they're mostly made for men and agreed I'd have to spend 7 years working 48 hours a day and not spending a baiza of my salary to afford one of those. But hey, almost all things meant for men look really nice on us. And not all women are paid like journalists, correct? There are some women there who can afford them.

Speaking of affording, I keep wondering why people seem to have more money than sense. If I see one more really ugly Louis Vuitton bag, I am going to make it my life's mission to meet the head of LVMH (the handbag section) and dance naked in front of them to My amma say you love me, your Papa say you love me, Love me Love me, till they admit that every time someone buys one of their bags, they fall over laughing because their joke of selling seriously ugly bags at prices for which you can buy an African village is really working.

Seriously. Who they hell comes up with those terrible designs? And if the colours and structures weren't bad enough, they go and splash the entire thing with their logo. Why is it cool to flaunt LV in sequins and why is it not cool to show off Naidu Hall? If you really like designer handbags and insist that the only way you'll get value out if it is by spending what is one month's pay for me, then what's stopping you from going for a Marc by Marc Jacobs, or a Marni. They do it SO much better than LV and in such subtle style.

While we are on the subject, can the dissenters point out the good in LV, please? Just so that I am better informed when I  meet the handbag section guy.

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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thank you, Policemen

So after a week of obsessing over how to get the working girls to get out of my face in a very official and permanent manner, I decided it was best if I came up with creative solutions to the problem. They're back, by the way, and while they aren't at my gate, they're close enough for me to be (a) mistaken for a hooker, (b) for one of the kids to be abducted (c) for my guests to be embarrassed yet again.

The ROP will do nothing, as I have witnessed. So I take matters into my own hands. Day 1 when they were back, I walked around sneakily and when they weren't looking jumped at them with a camera. I then proceeded to take some pictures in quick succession. In five minutes, they disappeared. These are two of them.

The started walking away and I kept clicking. If they were legit tourists they'd slap me no? They didn't do anything, they just ran into their building (below).

Yesterday, they were there again and I'd just come back from work. Not a good time at all, you agree? I walked up to them and told them they had to come with me. They asked why, I said this was a really dangerous place and if they were waiting for friends they better wait inside the lobby of our building so they won't get molested. They refused. I said no, no, come, come. I went as far as pulling on one's arm. They fled. I must admit, I found the silliness of this rather giggleworthy. Effective, all the same.

Today, if they are there, I am going to stand in front of them and pretend to call the police.

More suggestions on how I can handle this in creative ways, please

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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

So bloody pissed off.

I was just thinking things will be okay for a while and there those women are again today. Not at my apartment building perhaps, but pretty darned right next to it!

I took some pictures and they fled. Tomorrow I am going threaten them with the police. I need suggestions on what more I can do.

I am pissed off as fucking hell.

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Thursday, 18 March 2010

A night at the police station.

I thought long and hard about this post. Whether I should do it or not, even how. But in the end, it became something that I just had to write about or it would take something away from me.

Two nights ago I did something that I wouldn't have expected of myself. I took the side of organised, well-placed, safe society and its inhabitants over the fringe-dwellers, those who risk more than a limb or two for their existence.

This post may meander but I plan to have it flow in two ways. The first part most my readers can respond to, and I hope you will, the second part might only interest my Oman readers (if there are any apart from my mother).

I live in a pretty decent area. Some might, and have, called it upscale even. Till a few years ago, it was entirely residential but as with most things in Oman these days, it's become a hot mix of commercial and the residential. It's been done so peacefully that most residents haven't had a problem yet. The apartment building next to mine used to be a regular residential place till someone took it over and made it a serviced apartments kind of place.

The first few months there was a stream of very busy people, mostly airline crew going and coming at all hours of the day. These days, the building hosts a bunch of far-eastern women. Easily called Chinese here by everyone, these girls are women of the night.

Prostitution, as far as I am concerned, is perfectly okay. I feel bad when exploitation is part of the deal but prostitution has its place in society and sex workers are doing many of us favours inadvertently by keeping the perv-on-street count low.

But when those women leave their building and boundaries and decide to make the gate of my house their pick-up point, I am little uncomfortable. And when they decide to haggle, hail and harass their customers two feet away (literally) from where my child or the children of my neighbours are playing, then you know, I have  a HUGE problem.

For many reasons.
Firstly, you never know what kind of people these women attract. This part of the region is known for its men having a propensity for young children -- boys, girls, doesn't matter. Paedophiles aren't exactly rare. Even if it weren't just paeds, there are kids of all ages who play there every evening. Some very lovely children between the ages of 1 and 17. If these women are going to hail their customers right there in front of where I stay, then the kids who play there at all hours of the evening from about 5:30 to 8:30, are at danger.

If these women came out by about 9 at night, I'd have stopped with feeling uncomfortable, I'd have told them to stick to their building and leave ours alone Life would have gone one. But they come out by 6:30. So when I returned from work one day and saw them blocking the entrance to my building with their haggling and kids looking on from two feet away, I had enough.

Secondly, we have those parking bar thingies that you need a remote control for when you come in from the outside to keep visitors' vehicles out. So when guests come they either park outside the building or have to wait for us to open those things for them. Many times when our guests are single men, there's at least three women heading towards them offering their services. It is an extremely embarrassing, even offensive, situation for many of our guests.

Third, when I wait outside my gate for a cab, I get opening bids, if not straight out invitations. I don't dress like a hooker, (at least not on regular days :p) I always have a book or a folder or an organiser in my hands  so I look like I am going to work, and I almost never hail anyone but taxis. After the first couple of times when I was shocked, it became really uncomfortable and annoying to be slowed down for and to be thought of as potential paid sex person. Playing dress-up slut is nice but otherwise, being mistaken for a streetwalker gets uncomfortable.

So I, who has always been sympathetic to the cause of sex workers, decided to do something about it. I warned them if they didn't clear out I'd call the police on them. They told me okay, no problem. But in about 15 minutes they were back and all I kept thinking was about was my lovely little daughter being carted off and done unspeakable things to. I maybe overreacting but can you tell me with assurance that someone who happens to stop by for the sex workers and likes kids will not be tempted? It's not so far cry, is it?

Prostitution, like in many other countries, is illegal in Oman. But just as it is everywhere else, most authorities turn a blind eye to it because it meets many needs, including those of the large number of migrant labour who work and live alone, as well as tourism demands.

I called the police, who came in 15 minutes. And asked me to come meet them at the gate. They asked me what the problem was. It annoyed me a little to see that they sent two young boys who looked like they were out past their bed time but, hey, whatever. They at least had uniforms on.

I explained the problem to them. Thankfully, a neighbour was walking past to visit a friend and watch Chennai Kings in action over a drink and he stopped by very kindly to ask me what the problem was. He, my god, speaks fluent, fluent Arabic and was more than glad that I had set the ball rolling. He explained the entire problem to them.

Here's where things get really, really annoying. They're worse than some of the police in India. They said okay, "we're going to hang around and see if any of those girls are about. You keep a watch and call me if they are." I couldn't understand why I would do their job for them. But oh well. I didn't have to, luckily, because within 10 minutes of their patrolling they called me saying they'd picked up a girl and would I come and identify her.

I went down and yes, she was one of them. She, of course, absolutely refused and said she was waiting for her friend. Sigh, yes. After a little confusing chit chat they asked me to go in to the station and give in a written complaint.

I went. I waited an hour, intermittently asking them why they weren't taking my complaint down. I had left my kids back home after a long day and missed being with them. I saw a couple of Pakistani guys being brought in handcuffed, as well as ankle-cuffed (?). Nothing prepares you for seeing that sight in real life. I keep thinking we are all so desensitised because of what we see on television. But to see a free man in a free world being bound like that was like a kick in my stomach. I watched another man being hauled in for selling pirated CDs. All this while the woman they picked up was moved into the cell and about 20 condoms confiscated from her bag.

I must say till they gently took her to the cell, she was completely chilled out and flitting about smiling and flirting with the cops. But it broke my heart when I saw her first -- when she was picked up and put in the back of the police car. She had a slightly hunted look, which disappeared by the time we got to the station, though. And I kept wondering at her circumstance -- so far away from her country, from a family I am sure she has, cursing most men she sleeps with, having to do this to earn a living. My conscience wasn't at peace. My brain, however, justified my action saying if she and her friends hadn't crossed over to your territory, the place where you and your family have the right to feel safe, and at the risk of sounding prissy, respectable, then this wouldn't have happened. She crosses the line and you give up your bleeding-heart argument.

But I digress. A few neighbours got to know and joined me at the police station to give the complaint some backing, because hey, it's everyone's problem right. All of them had been thinking about doing something about it but hadn't got around. I watched, I observed and I realised this woman was going to go scott free. Which was okay with me but I was hoping she'd be let off with a warning that the next time she or her friends are seen around my building there will be trouble for her.

I'll tell you why I thought that. You've all been in sex ed classes in school right? When the condoms were fished out, that's how all the cops reacted, like a bunch of acne-prone teenagers (which they probably were) in a sex-education class -- giggly, nudging each other and then guffawing. They kept taking calls from their mummies waiting to tuck them in, ordering dinner or making plans for the weekend, I don't know what the hell they were up to, but they did everything but give me a feeling that this thing that I was spending precious time over was going to be taken care of.

Finally, I had had enough and went looking for the captain or whoever the boss around there was. I found and told him I'd been waiting over an hour, I have little babies at home and very  harassed parents as well, can I please make my complaint and leave? I think babies did the trick and soon some machinery moved and I was sitting in a blue chair in front of a very sleepy guy (again just out of high school) while he asked me for 1356th time what the issue was. I told him, he took three minutes over each sentence and finally had a report.

We left.

I got a call the next day from a cop who spoke fluent English (I've got to start taking lessons in spoken Arabic). He asked me to come in that afternoon. I went in, he gave me a big hi five and everything. Instead of a formal how're you to which they don't expect an answer, this guy said 'how you doin'?' A little off-putting but never mind. He also had small hands. I know. I am judgmental like that.

So he sat me down and asked me what the problem was. I said well, there's not much, just that I am not a big fan of putting my kids at the risk of being molested or kidnapped, nor do I enjoy being mistaken for a hooker, also there is the small matter of guests getting totally freaked out because of the soliciting.

He said yes yes, of course, you work for so and so paper. I saw a picture with your big boss and that really big pop star. I was so impressed, I will take your boss's picture out and put mine in ha ha. I say okay, knock  yourself out, but can we just come back to the problem?

So he says oh yeah. See, people like her keep other crime away, and she's not committing a crime by flirting with someone on the street. (!!) We don't have evidence. I say okay, 20 fancy condoms not enough? No, it's not a crime to carry condoms. Agreed. So please withdraw your complaint and we'll scare them so that they don't do it again. Otherwise, find out the details of the owner of the building, through him we can get to her sponsors and figure it out. When I realised where this was coming from -- sponsor's a big guy with wasta -- I saw no point in letting her languish in lock-up and withdrew my complaint on the condition that I get a signed letter saying she or her friends wouldn't hang around my building. I got that.

The past two days, things look clean. The next time it happens, I am going after this with a much more prepared approach.

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Saturday, 13 March 2010


I know I am supposed to do my second post in the Faking It series but that's taking longer than necessary. So Excuse me, my thirsting millions.
Meanwhile, I love tags. So much that I just lifted a tag off here and am doing it because I am so secretive and I feel too exposed if I say anything about myself without a reason and this tag is such a wonderful way to express myself without feeling like I want attention and without revealing any details. :D
Kidding. I love tags and this is the latest one doing rounds. Or I am just catching on late. Also, long ago, someone had tagged me but as I didn't check my comments section for the longest time I didn't realise I had been tagged and didn't do the tag. So this is atonement for that. And for losing that reader.
SO, the tag.
Reveal 7 random things about yourself.
Here are the rules of the tag.
1) You have to tag 7 people.
2) You have to link their pages in  your tag post
3) You  have to leave a comment in their comments section telling them they've been tagged.
4) You have to say who tagged you. 

Here I am.
1) I adore sharpeners
2) I always knew I would have one divorce in my kitty.
3) I am a competent palmist -- if you believe in that sort of thing.
4) I used to get along excellently with men. Now, I don't get them. These days I much prefer the company of women friends.
5) I didn't like children till I was about 25.
6) I own yellow shoes.
7) I can never maintain a manicure.

I tag Judy, Goofy Mama, Mumbai Diva, Mitra, The Analyst, ThoughtEngine, Abhipraya


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Faking it right

You can fake big breasts, a degree, a marriage. You can even fake a job. The one thing you cannot fake is sophistication. For that you've got to be born with both sets of grandparents - okay, maybe one set will do these days -- who knew the word and breathed the virtue. If you weren't genetically blessed, then you've got to have been born into money so they could send you off to finishing school. No? Okay, then you've got to have spent your entire existence reading boring worthy books and taking mind-journeys, devouring every bit of culture in your city with an appetite that will do the a black hole proud. You have to have read Ms Manners and tended well your very dog-eared Wren & Martin (remember, the devil is in the details). Above and beyond, at the very least, you have to be bathing, brushing and generally staying clean everyday. No one wants filthy sophistry.

If you've done none of the above, I am afraid you are an IT guy, a Malayalee or live in Surat (leave right now you if you are all three. Not even I can help). If not, suck it up, because that is the only course of existence left to you. But if you meet part of the requirement (not the bathing bit only) and find that you have often felt the need to be smooth, a little more evolved and impressive, I urge you to find a way to do the rest of the above list.

Time not allowing any of it, however, I suggest you read what I have to say and etch it into the skin of your inner leg or laser-stamp it into the appropriate area of your brain. Just so you don't have to scramble to your phone or computer every time you need to look something up. Anyone can be a fake, but being a good fake needs some work and me.

Here are four situations I think you are likely to encounter if you are running with a tony pack and want to be with it. There are riders, naturally, but mostly, you should be able to get by on what is here without losing your really fun, shallow friends.

At a wine tasting session
Ideal conditions
  • A wine tasting session that's done as a part of a promotion of a new wine. 
  • Most other guests are at a tasting the first time, at the most, third time.
  • A room with bad acoustics and ventilation
There are a few things you are bound to know beforehand. For example: Is it local wine or something with a huge carbon footprint. Who's leading the tasting. What kind of a crowd is likely to be there. 
Once you've filed this away, head to the tasting in something suitably wishy-washy -- think misty grey, partly diaphanous things coupled with carefully mismatched accessories, if you are a woman. If you're a man, go with a stubble, a nicely cut linen something. (Please do this in style. I won't be held responsible for anyone refusing you entry.) Find a table, look through all the literature you've been given. I can assure you'll find all your cues right here. I must warn you, these pointers are the bare minimum.

Wine: Ideally, the Wine Guy will take you through at least three wines, a smattering of cheeses and if you're lucky he'll throw some prunes at you when you fall asleep. All you need to do is pick up on the words in the literature.  
Does it say the sauvignon blanc is fruity and new? Then be sure to swirl the glass, take a deep whiff, look a little doubtful and then say, "You know, I think I can taste a hint of green apple in this." Throw in a few other words like "crisp", "young" and "reminds me of a rain-drenched morning in the hills" and you'll almost always get away with it, trust me. It helps greatly if you don't take really large swigs of the stuff and start hitting on the Wine Guy.
For the reds, look for legs after you swirl the glass. Here's how:
1) Swirl holding stem and without spilling any on friend/date/ table cloth. 
2) Hold it up to the light, gently mar that high brow with a frown and look like you've seen light. Or legs.
At least pretend. This works for both wines but I am just telling you different ways to fake things. The more the number of legs, the better the wine (the jury is still out on this, more or less - some say it's just physics, others say definite quality). This should let you faff about how the wine feels on your tongue. Legs? Oh yeah, it's those little streaks left on the glass after you swirl it. 
Pairing: If the Wine Guy's going to get all friendly and gently encourage you to suggest a cheese, remember just one rule for the whites. No, two actually. The first -- say goat cheese; it goes with almost ANY white wine. If you want to sound a little less earthy, say Gruyere. That too is strongly enough flavoured to merit a pairing with most whites. And if you can say Indian curry with a red wine, the Wine Guy is going to go on bended knee with a ring and a proposal, no matter if you are man or woman.
Prunes and other dried things: You can pop as many prunes and olives you like. No one's counting or watching.
Remember: An acidic fruit (no citrus) is your key to impressing whoever you are doing this for.  (Yeah, I know. As if you'd read a lesson on faking it, if you were studying to be a sommelier.) Just don't say jackfruit. If for no other reason but that the Wine Guy probably feels better about himself when you sound bat-shit crazy.You can stick with the "reds go with red meat" bit but it's so retro. Say something completely unexpected for a red wine pairing; you'll have them eating out of your hands for the rest of the evening.
Don't fake it
  • At a session where the guests are sommeliers.
  • At a whisky tasting session

Next: How to pretend you really got that play your arty girlfriend dragged you to. 

As promised...

Posting my pictures.

My flower pins. My surme daani. Clarins Wonderlength Mascara

My current second favourite. I have one in grey which I think my daughter ate. Otherwise I used to talk dirty to it in Spanish when I was alone.

My latest miracle cure. Superb toner. Also Clinique lipstick in Paprika and L'Oreal Glamshine.

You guys have seen this one before.

Foundation that I rarely use. Eye shadows in gold, green and sienna.

Clinique blush on and eye shadow palette by Nivea.

Another picture of the gold, green and bronze.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Why I will never own any land, buy a house or save any money

I absolutely adore beauty products.

Little pots of swirly, nummy-looking cremes that I first want to eat and then put on my skin. Sleekly packaged bottles of potions that don't need to try hard at all to make me pick them up. Little rectangles and squares of colour that I can paint my face with. Lipsticks, don't get me started on them. I love all of it.

Where I'd readily disbelieve Mathew if he told me that the Sun actually is the centre of the solar system, I don't bat an eyelid when a sparkly blue bottle of The Lovely New Thing From Oh'Real promises to make my skin look like it's just been polished with gold dust. Yessiree, you should see my face when I am in the makeup/beauty section. It wears an expression that is a mixture of ecstacy, complete and utter concentration in case I miss out on one little totally incomprehensible ingredient in the toner, and absolute faith that, because the liquid inside is water-like and the blue is just the right blue, plus the school-project-star label says 'new formula', I will outshine the Muscat sun tomorrow morning. And you all know how bright the sun here in the Arabian gulf is.

In the past, I've had a stock of at least three brands of cleansers and toners, at one single time. Hey, one promised to be gentle on sensitive skin, and then when I went back to the supermarket another promised to have AHAs* and one set was from when I decided for the upteenth time that I would take care of my naturally good skin by being true to the beauty experts' mantra -- cleanse, tone, moisturise twice a day. What's a girl to do?

I've owned green eye shadow, 'pearl', dark grey, gold too. Green eye pencil, various blue ones, grey, silver, copper, gold, brown also. I tend to be boring with only lipsticks -- nudes, and dazzling pinks or crushed berry tones. I've owned creme blush, powder blush, compact blush, gel blush, mineral blush. Mascara -- lengthening, thickening, non-clumping, non-smudging, lash-nourishing. Many compacts (I currently own four. Yes, I overdo life like that), many kohl pencils and absolutely no nailpolishes.

After all my trying and applying -- here are my make up essentials. A bloody good compact, (skip the base if your skin is blemish free and even toned), mascara, my surma and/or kohl pencil if not good old ayurvedic kajal, and lipstick for the day. Depending on my mood and clothing I add or subtract from this list.

For example, today, I wore a classic combination. White linen fitted shirt with dark blue jeans. I initially thought it was a great outfit to wear my yellow shoes with. So I threw on a nice faux gold chainlink necklace, tiny gold earrings, got mascaraed, added some blush and crush-berried my lips. Then I changed my mind and went with black balerina flats (I've been wearing balerina flats for nearly five years now, and they always look good. Fashion pundits can kill themselves) a gun metal bag and replaced the very Beyonce-like necklace with a flower pin. I have five flower pins (yes, you finally got it right, I don't do anything in moderation) in varying designs and colours. And felt like the prettiest woman in a 4-km radius.

I often wonder at my gullibility where beauty products are concerned. My mum makes do with a minimum of products. Cleanser, toner, moisturiser. Not for her are age defying cremes and capsules stuffed with the regenerative bile of a blue arrow frog from South America that only reproduces every four years under a tree that flowers only every six blue moons. You get the idea no? She uses make up and very well, I might add. At 51, she's still a lovely woman. And she buys all her stuff in moderation.

So I often wonder where this insane addiction comes from. I ruled out genetics some time ago. I even ruled out insidious, sneaky adertising brainwashing of the perfect face everywhere we turn. I was only left with something that I keep coming back to time and again -- that however different we may think we are, essentially most of us are wired in similar ways at core of it all. Wait, before I say this, let me wear my flak jacket (in scarlet, if you really want to know) -- Women are wired to like makeup. Makeup products, makeup tricks, makeup lessons, even  make up lives.

That does not mean that that is all they can like or talk about or be knowledgeable about. But fact of the matter is you don't see men queueing up at the beauty section in Lifestyle or whathaveyou, being chatty with the heavily made up, really pushy girl behind the counter and offering her his wrist so he can see if green makes his eyes look browner or if a peach blush works better on his stubble than pink. Women, then, are wired alike in their femininity. (This reminds of another issue I want to write about. Soon, that.)

Our individual dreams and desires might differ but our drives are the same, our pain and joys are the same. So whether you like it or not, women don't wear make up because they are expected to. And wearing no make up doesn't make you more woman or less. Same as wearing make up doesn't make you more woman. Women wear make up because centuries and centuries of women trying to attract their mates have resulted in women being wired to look their best, even if they believe it is for themselves, as I do. (I like seeing a pretty face in the mirror before I go out, so sue me. I don't do it for anyone else.)

Tomorrow, I'll post pictures of my lipstick, my flower pins and my nice pots of eye shadow and slightly dodgy pot of Olay night creme. I tried to post them now but that means taking pictures in the light and both my babies are asleep. Unless you wish me sleepless nights, you should just read this post and go to bed and then come back tomorrow for the pictures.

*AHA: Google it. Some pretend-naturally-occuring chemical that will give you skin like Kate Hudson. Or something.

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Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Dragon Slain?

Another one for my Muscat readers.

Send some love to Omantel for the Dragon, folks. I just emailed them requesting an unblock. Can I urge you to do the same?

Update: Muscat Confidential is back after 12 hours of internet censorship. Yay.

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

A sad story

My driving instructor is crazy.

He tells me stories that will probably get me into trouble one day if I don't firmly tell him that I don't want to know. He yells at Asian women through his window who, for a fraction of a second, veer to our side of the road. ("Eh, ni hao, wrong side!") He claims to have downed a full bottle of vodka (which, he says, has "no smell") and then about 6 pints of beer before he drove off to drop friends home. He also claims he fought with a police man and beat him up ("I took hat off an throw it on tree. Yaaa. Very angry. He told you go to jail you.") He hasn't drunk in seven years because his wife hasn't been out of the country for that long.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing about him is what came through in one of our conversations during one lesson. We were just heading out of my apartment building and he asks me if "that really fat woman" was my housemaid. I tell him no, she's not, offended that he found fat funny. He says, "Good otherwise she box you and do no work. You will be scared to tell her what to do." I was alarmed enough to not look at the side mirrors when I changed lanes.

He asked me what my help was like and I told him she was small and pretty quiet. So he says, "Ah, that's good. Then you can beat her and make her do work." I thought he was joking but he went on for a bit after that and I realised he was dead serious.

I went home that day and asked my  help if it was true that Omanis beat their domestic help up to get work done. She said a lot of them do. And a lot of them don't. But it isn't unheard of.

It was sad day for me that day. A few days later, I asked a woman at my office if she had had an experience like that because before she found work here, she used to be a housemaid. She said she had been beaten, starved, refused phone calls and sometimes even water and treatment when the family believed they needed to punish a  misdemeanour.

When she saw I was distressed, she said, "Don't worry. We got our own back. We spat in the food, we beat the children when their parents weren't watching, we stole money because they never know how much money they keep. We even brought in men to the house every once in a while. Local calls were not documented so we made lots of calls to friends." While I liked their spirit, I was appalled at some things like beating the children and bringing men into the house when their employer was out. Imagine the kind of trouble she would get into if he decided to have his fun, tie her up and make away with things in the house. And the children, I have no idea how to react to that.

But I remember now that it's not just the Omanis or Arabs who beat their domestic help up. Nagu, my deceased help in India, bless her soul, had a Punjabi employer who used to beat her up. My various colleagues back in India used to tell me stories of neighbours, friends (yes), acquaintances all beating their help up to punish or get their work done.

What is it that you achieve with a beating that you can't by words? A scolding almost always works.
It breaks my heart to imagine what these women go through after having left loved ones back home to come here and work for as little as USD115 or thereabouts which is minimum wage that the Indian government has set for domestic workers in the Middle East.

Apparently, Sri Lankans, Filipinas and Indonesians come for even less.

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Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Way of Tea, or more commonly, the Japanese tea ceremony is an art. I got lucky enough to get a live demonstration by a very unassuming Japanese ambassador's (to Oman) wife, Mrs Yoshiko Morimoto, last morning at the ambassador's residence.

She's a lovely woman with excellently styled salt-and-pepper hair. Her smile is lovely, her eyes delicate, warm and she wore a kimono that I would easily give up a month of chocolate for.

"The tea ceremony is something young girls learn before marriage along with ikebana. It is a traditional ceremony that involves many rules.Everything about it has to be elegant without being ostentatious and always has to reflect humility and grace," she told me.

In a lovely alfresco setting where everything was laid out for her, she demonstrated the highly ritualised routine. Here are pictures.

 Agree about the kimono?

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Monday, 1 March 2010

Unofficial, unscientific (but important)

Survery of thievery in Muscat, Oman. So my non-Muscat readers, do excuse me and wait for later today when I post another smashing edition of "life and times".

Till then, all of you who live in Muscat but haven't already gone over to Suburban's blog and read her latest, do so now and do the needful.

Wishing you all weather devoid of hail, massive rain, tsunami-like alerts.

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