Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Midlife Euphoria Day 30


After a certain age, one becomes quite impetuous while taking certain decisions. Basically, with the growing years you feel you have the maturity and knowhow of handling difficult situations. If children make similar choices, we are ready to pounce on them terming them irresponsible and wild.
Recently, we created such a situation for ourselves. We were to go for a wedding to Chandigarh. It was the peak of winter. On an impulse, we decided to drive to Naldehra in the hills—just a three hour drive from Chandigarh. We wanted to experience the real chilly weather of the hills and the snowfall if we were lucky enough. Everyone who heard us thought that we had lost it. Who in their right mind, at our age, would choose to go from Delhi’s cold weather to the freezing hills?

Though we have a little place in Mashobra, just a couple of kilometres from Naldhera, we opted to stay in a hotel. We did not want to get into the hassle of opening and running the house for just two or three days. According to the weather forecast, we would just about miss the snowfall as it was expected a day after our checkout from the hotel. We would have loved to have experienced the snowfall. I call myself a “weather good luck charm”, or WGLC for short. I told my husband not to worry, as with me around we’d surely see the snow during our stay!

We checked into the hotel, took a nice long walk in the evening going down-hill from the hotel which was perched up on a hill. We enjoyed a cosy dinner in the new hotel that had opened just a year back. The rooms were centrally heated, so we had a good rest at night.

The next day was a dream. It was nice and sunny with the right amount of chill expected on the hills. We were absolutely prepared for the weather, clothed in our thermals, woollen socks, trekking shoes, mufflers, gloves, scarves, caps and windcheaters. At our age, comfort precedes looking stylish—even for photographs. I say this, because we saw some young people in very inadequate clothing in the freezing weather, clicking pictures in their Sunday bests. Undoubtedly, they were shivering but their pictures were wow compared to ours, all bundled up in martial-type attire.

We went and played golf at the Naldehra golf course. It is a beautiful course with undulating terrain. It was, however, all brown as the grass burns in the winter. We still had a wonderful game. It was an exhilarating experience playing under the clear bright blue sky amidst the chilly winds. We then ate a hilly meal, consisting of chana madra, siddu, kaddu ka khatta and chha gosht.

We visited our house in Mashobra, met the staff there and kept a few things that we had brought along from Delhi which would be used in the summer, when we shift residence for a couple of months. So far, the trip was no less than a dream.

At night, we packed our bags all set to leave for Gurgaon in the morning. My husband was taking a dig at me, asking what had happened to my ‘WGLC magic.’ We were hoping for snow but where was it? I just said the night is still young, let’s see...

Clairvoyantly, it started to snow at around midnight. I was thrilled to bits when I said, “Didn’t I say?” with a gleam in my eye. The morning woke us with a lot of commotion outside. People were running in the corridors, and there was a lot of noise of children laughing and shouting. We looked out of the window and saw a glorious sight. The entire topography was covered with pristine white layers of snow. The trees, bushes, road, pavement, hills, garden and furniture were all covered with soft, white, cotton-like snow. It looked simply beautiful. We felt as if we were in the Swiss Alps. Everything looked clean and white, an image from a picture book.

It was still snowing when we emerged from our room and like all other tourists, took pictures and made soft flaky snowballs and threw them at each other. We had planned to stay a night halfway down our destination at Kandaghat, which was a couple of hours’ drive from Naldehra. Since my husband was the sole driver, we wanted to go at ease and break journey on our way back. We decided to enjoy the snowfall and leave in the afternoon.

Surprisingly, it was not very wet and the snow felt cold yet not slippery. We could walk around with our feet going in and out with ease. By now, the mountains nearby were also getting covered with a thin layer of snow. Everything looked brilliant and I thanked my good luck charm gift—becoming more and more convinced about my secret talent.

However, what proceeded next was quite unpredictable. The snow continued to fall. And it refused to stop. People started getting anxious, especially the ones like us who were to check out. News of people stranded on the highways started trickling in. It was the heaviest snowfall of the season.
We had a leisurely lunch, occupying a seat next to the window from where we could observe the falling snow. It looked lovely. We were enjoying watching the excitement of all the tourists, especially children who were throwing snowballs on each other and taking pictures in the most comical poses. Since we had a short journey, we didn’t pay much heed to the gossip around. We could leave at leisure.

Just when we were about to leave the restaurant to proceed for checkout, someone announced that the roads had all been blocked with snow and nobody could leave that day. On further enquiry, we realised that it was true and many people who were already on their way up or down were stranded on the highway. My good luck charm had overworked!

I recalled another time when we were at Barcelona some summers ago with a group of friends. Rain was a possibility but I had told a couple of them not to worry as they were with me—the ultimate weather good luck charm. Sure enough, it turned out to be a wonderful bright day the next morning. But slowly the morning sun had started to warm up and soon became almost brutal. It was a very hot day. Later, we learnt that it was one of the hottest days in Barcelona. I realised that my charm works but then it overworks, and I can’t do much about it. Nevertheless, the next day it rained in Barcelona when we were taking a flight out. The rain could not weigh down our day but the sun was a bit of a deterrent. I consoled myself with the thought that one can’t have one’s cake and eat it too.

Now that the roads were closed, we were in a fix. Nature is beautiful but can sometimes be unreasonable. We can plan as much as we want to, but are helpless before nature’s eccentricities. The next day was my daughter’s birthday and we had decided to be back for it. It seemed a remote possibility now, as the drive would be longer and more tedious the next day—if at all—as we would have to combat bad weather and snow along with a long distance.

The hotel was very comfortable but my worry now was that what if the electric supply gets affected? What will become of all of us? The hotel reassured us that they had enough backup generators, food supply, water and other amenities to last for a week. Once we were reassured, we were all set to enjoy the extra day that we would be spending snowbound.

The children kept calling us to find out if we were safe, warm and comfortable. They told us that we were most irresponsible, and at our age rational people visit seaside places like Goa to chill out in the winter instead of going to the hills to literally chill.

In reality, we were quite comfortable and were actually enjoying the wonderful weather. Yes, there was a bit of a concern about our homeward journey but in our midlife, we take things in our stride and deal with situations when we actually encounter them.

The day went off well. In the evening, the snow stopped falling. The roads started to get cleared by whatever means the state had. We were told that by morning the highway would be drivable, barring a few areas.

However, the next morning we were dismayed to hear that we could not get to the main road from the hotel as they had no means to clear the snow from their driveway, which was a steep 400 yards. This was ridiculous. Since it was the hotel’s first year, they had not experienced snow before and were incapable of clearing this unexpected heavy snowfall. My husband took the reins in his hand. Being a hotelier himself, his word carried weight. He asked the general manager to depute 7–8 well-built guys from the staff to shovel the snow manually and make way for the cars to leave the hotel. All of us could not be marooned in the hotel just for 400 yards of snow!

Lo and behold, by 11.30 am the snow had been shovelled making enough passage for cars to leave one by one. In the meantime, my husband had chalked out an alternative route from the travel desk, to reach our destination. A lot of people decided to follow us. For long journeys, we normally like to leave early in the morning to reach our destination at a decent hour. Starting at 11.30 am for a 10-hour long journey seemed a bit silly but we had little choice.

Unlike the regular highway, the new route was not only longer and unfamiliar but also single-laned and very meandering. Every time there was a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, we had to stop or reverse to let it pass. It was taking us much longer than usual.

The children were constantly on the phone, wanting to know how we were progressing. My daughter insisted that we spend the night on the way somewhere, and not try to be gallant by reaching her just because of her birthday. We also felt that we should stop somewhere and avoid driving at night. However, when we were half way down and hit the familiar route—on an impulse, we decided to carry on and surprise our daughter.

Soon, it was dark and my husband was quite exhausted by then. But now, we were just a couple of hours away from our destination. So we carried on.

Finally at around 10.30 at night after a gruelling 11 hour drive, we reached my daughter’s house and rang the doorbell. The gleeful look on her face obliterated all our discomfort and anxiety of the day. It was a priceless moment. She was thrilled but was showing her anger by telling us that we should behave our age, be more responsible and not try to be superhuman. We tried to look guilty and remorseful but felt happy deep down to have done what we did.

The concern of the kids shows that they care, which is a great feeling. When we advise or scold them, we want them to realise that it’s not because we are controlling or archaic but because we care and love them. They also lack the wisdom of years. I firmly believe that every year adds common sense and capability to deal with challenging circumstances. In this area, we are definitely ahead of them.
We have no regrets but a couple of happy pictures captured on our camera remind us of our great adventure. Given a chance, we may like to do something thrill-seeking another time.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Midlife Euphoria Day 29

Birth of a “Tiger Mom”

I never thought I would be writing this piece in Midlife Euphoria but here I am. My younger daughter had a baby girl eight months ago. All through her pregnancy, she was completely wrapped around her own physiological, emotional and biological changes, configuring each stage with a neurosurgeon’s precision. From drinking liquids, to giving up tea, coffee, exercising every day, popping vitamins and mineral pills without fail and hearing Mozart to calm frayed nerves—nothing was left out. We were all very impressed by her commitment but I could not ascertain any mommy-to-be intentions in her enthusiasm.

On mentioning it casually once, she remarked indifferently that this emergence of maternal instinct was a hype created by ridiculous mushy mothers who have nothing better to do. I smiled in my wisdom as before we became mothers, similar thoughts may have reined in our minds. In fact at my place of work, the new moms would discuss every lopsided smile, hiccup, throw up, poop (sic) of their bundle of joy with great ecstasy—much to our (the non-moms’) disgust.

But let a baby into your life … everything changes and the world revolves around that 6-pound, 20-inch or so piece of humanity that is placed in your arms. Inadvertently, I joined the mommy club once my daughter was born. It dawned upon me the day I got wrapped around an hour long discussion on the colour of my daughter’s poop (yuck!) with another fretful mom. A mom had arrived!

My daughter had her baby through a C-section. When the baby was placed in her arms, she showed little signs of elation. She was more concerned about the doctor’s guidelines about her health. One thing that stayed with her was that she must not pick up weight. Till she was recovering her own strength, she seemed pretty indifferent towards the baby. It was mostly me and her mother-in-law who were playing the surrogate mother, especially while in the hospital. Once at home when she was up and about, I remember telling her to pick up the baby. She snapped at me saying that the doctor had clearly said that she should not pick up weight. A baby’s weight is no weight. But to keep her humoured, I would pick up the baby and place her in her arms. A few days later, we were leaving the house for an hour or so to finish some mundane work. I was amazed at her reaction. She said, “You can’t leave me alone with her,” pointing to the baby.

But a slow transformation was taking place. She would be conscious of the baby’s every whimper, would worry if she slept or cried too much. Immediately, she was on a Mommy’s group on WhatsApp exchanging every small detail of consequence … like the colour of the poop, burps, hiccups, etc.

My elder daughter who has two boys aged 3 and 6 was her role model. Every information was sifted through her. She is a hands-on mom and has brought up the kids mostly on her own except for the first few months of help from parents, as she lives in the US with her husband.

Besides her, there were many other mentors for this mom. There was Google, Baby Center, YouTube, books. We made mistakes and learnt from them the hard way. But this generation doesn’t want to make mistakes. They have multiple channels of information guiding them step by step.

Yet, this new generation does not put down the grandma’s tested remedies to soothe the baby either. They listen patiently to parents and in-laws and let them try out age-old home cures like rubbing asafoetida on the stomach to relieve colic. Anything that brings relief to the baby is welcome as long as it in non-invasive and harmless.

Over the months, this cool mom started metamorphosing. She set up a conditioning routine for sleep time which consisted of reading a couple of books, singing a few songs and then playing soft Mozart which would enable her baby to sleep well. She learnt to swaddle, bathe and massage the baby like an expert.

She would take the baby away saying it’s her sleep time when she seemed happy playing around. Baby Center said that babies need a nap every two hours. We would protest but each time she would manage to put her down even though it was for 40 minutes. It seems that brain development is fastest when the baby sleeps. Babies must sleep for 14–16 hours. She ensured all was as per the book.

In retrospect, thanks to my elder daughter’s advice, the little baby is in bed latest by 7 pm leaving the grownups to have a sane conversation and a leisurely dinner—and also allowing the young parents to paint the town red in the evenings whenever required. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Since my daughter is a freelancer, she works from home in her bedroom next to the baby. She is busy on her computer and at the slightest sign of discomfort from the baby, she is besides her comforting her. The baby is stress-free as the mother is always around and the mother is happy as she gets her work done and can keep a hawk’s eye on the kid. A few times, she had to travel but she made it clear that she would be bringing her infant along. She has managed a flight and a train ride when the baby was just a few months old and a even couple of car journeys.

She refused to keep a birthing nurse, which is a norm many moms follow in urban Delhi. She likes to be a hands-on mom ensuring the best hygiene without being overly fastidious, as a bit of immunity has to be built. She has turned into quite a supermom.

The final test came when we took a short holiday to Sariska, a tiger reserve on the outskirts of Delhi. It is about three hours’ drive from where we live. We were four adults and an eight month old baby in the car. However, most of the car was filled with the baby’s baggage—her pram, her harness, baby bag, diaper bag, clothes bag, blankets and food bag. She was great all through the drive. When we reached our destination, ironically named Tiger’s Den, she was napping on my daughter’s lap. My daughter said that she would continue to sit with her for a while in the car while we take out the luggage and check in. My husband opened the windows so that fresh air could come in.

Before we could say Jack Robinson, a monkey jumped into the car where my daughter and baby were. My daughter’s first reaction was to turn her back towards the monkey to shield the baby and then jump out of the car with a piercing shriek. The monkey got terrified by the "tiger roar" and promptly jumped out of the car window. It was the scariest thing I have witnessed in a while. All was well, and that was when I realized that my daughter’s metamorphosis from a carefree young girl to a vigilant mom was complete—and that too, a tiger mom who would not leave any stone unturned to shield and protect her cub from any danger or stranger.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Midlife Euphoria Day 28

The Choppy Cruise

Organising an overseas trip with friends is always fun. 

However, a lot of team work is necessary. Air tickets need to be booked, hotels to be shortlisted, eating places, excursions, outings, shopping, leisure activities like swimming/massages, etc. to be delved into, keeping everyone’s interests in mind….. Then, finally reaching a consensus that meets everyone’s approval. It is a massive task.

We embarked on one such trip recently in a group of twenty. We are a group of like-minded people who have known each other for a considerable time and share great comfort levels. This outing to the exotic locale of Koh Samui in Thailand was announced six months in advance for everyone to keep themselves relatively free and to be able to plan the whole thing meticulously. Starting with a dozen people, it caught momentum and we were 22 on board before one could say Jack Robinson. 

We formed a group on WhatsApp and it was fun going through all the interesting posts before the trip. In fact, we looked forward to the various explorations and revelations about the place. There were inputs about the places to stay, theme dinners, dress codes, sightseeing, massage parlours and short excursions. With every communication, excitement was building. However, it was disconcerting when one couple had to drop out last minute due to health issues. Both of them would be deeply missed by the entire group as they were part the core group. Despite this, they were very much with us in spirit and participated actively in all our electronically triggered communications all though the trip.

Since we were all converging from different parts of the country, we got identical T-shirts to be worn at the start of the trip at the Delhi international airport. The idea was to locate each other easily at the airport. 

It is simply another matter that we got a lot of uncalled attention due to the coordinated Ts. As soon as I entered the airport with my husband, we chance met an acquaintance who quipped, “Aaahhha, same T-shirts….cool”. As we kept meeting others from the group, we became the focus of more attention. We were not a corporate group on an offsite, not an NGO out on a mission. Nor were we a group of teenagers out on a wild trip. We were just an odd group of seniors mighty thrilled with ourselves. People were offering to take pictures of us together.

We were the blue brigade out to take Koh Samui by storm.

Thailand is the place for massages. After checking in the hotel, we all made a beeline for any massage parlours that had a vacant spot. After a refreshing foot/body massage, we were all ready to paint the town red.

On our first night, we were treated to a wonderful beachside welcome dinner at our hotel, which had been meticulously planned by our group members. Since some of us are vegetarians, their food options were also kept in mind. In coastal resorts, seafood takes precedence over everything and can be a bit flustering for the pure veggies.

The theme for the evening was white and everyone turned up very sportingly like white swans. There was live music, a sumptuous buffet, very attentive staff exclusively for us and—not to forget—a very animated group of people. The evening was just right to kick-start the wonderful four days ahead.

In between the divine massages, we met at breakfast and coordinated the rest of the day. The first day was at a remote restaurant that had been rated best by TripAdvisor for home-cooked Thai food. It was a long drive taking us through the arresting town of Koh Samui. The well paved road was lined with the exotic tropical plants. The town depicted a lot of order and cleanliness. When we reached, the place looked charming besides the seashore.

However, the restaurant was not ready to receive a group of twenty boisterous people who were coveting immediate service. The owner, a stiff upper lip Brit, told us in no uncertain words that it would not be possible for the restaurant to accommodate us. We were devastated. We offered to wait and with great reluctance he let us “hang around”. The service left a lot to be desired and the owner’s attitude was distressing. The arrogant so-and-so instead of being apologetic was overtly insolent. The saving grace was the beautiful and gracious cook who explained to us that the food would be cooked from scratch and we would remember the meal forever. She looked wonderful and sounded convincing and we all flipped for her gentility. 

After a ridiculously long wait when we said we were hungry, our haughty host had the audacity to tell us that he had not put a morsel in his mouth since morning! Was that our problem? How unprofessional can one get! Finally, the food arrived and true to the words of the chef, it was simply out of the world. We all gorged on the long awaited freshly prepared feast. The discourteous gentleman turned turtle and was all smiles and hugs. He took lots of pictures with us and surprisingly even exchanged visiting cards with some of us. 

It was an interesting encounter with a reluctant hotelier, and taught us a few things about the human psyche. My take on this is that given the limited staff, he was very apprehensive about serving a large group of people who had come unannounced. Yet, he was reluctant to let go of a good business opportunity once he saw the potential. Hence, he was on the defensive from the beginning least things didn’t work out. When the outcome turned out better than expected, he was ecstatic and his frayed nerves were smoothened. He personally loosened up to have a really good time. This episode reinstated the expression “The sufferance of fruit is sweet.”

In life when we encounter stressing situations, we start building bridges and heave a sigh of relief once the task is over. A little anxiety is good for better performance but when the level increases, it can be detrimental as in the case above. This person needed to sort himself out.

The evenings were well planned and fun . We had dress codes like floral, aqua, and on our independence day, we all decided to go colourful to celebrate our national Independence Day. Everyone adhered to the colour codes, making each day notable. Later, it was fun watching the outcome captured on camera.

The days flew past in a haze of fun activities like shopping, swimming, eating and merrymaking. Each day was memorable and taught us lessons in bonding, caring, sharing and loving each other.
The last day, we all had planned to visit Koh Phangan Hat Rin beach. It is a popular destination at any time of the year, especially during the “full moon party” periods. It is a four and a half hour long cruise one way. Since this excursion was the grand finale of our memorable trip, a lot of effort had gone into planning it. We had booked for ourselves the entire luxury boat that could accommodate 40 people exclusively for us. The menu was selected fastidiously incorporating the best from everywhere. The silver lining was a couple of Indian dishes that were prepared separately and were being served on board. By now some of us were craving for our native cuisine.

When we started, the day was perfect—a little cloudy, making it cooler with a whisper of breeze. We were bowled over by our good fortune. It took us three and a half hours to reach the island of Koh Phangan. The white sand beach had a fabulous view. The mountains around were covered with thick captivating vegetation. There was a snorkelling bay and a tiny eatery serving basic food and luscious coconut water. We enjoyed snorkelling and watching the corals. The water was enchantingly warm and inviting. When we reached our ship after the swim, the spectacular lunch awaited us. We did full justice to the delectable delicacies as we were genuinely hungry after the water acrobatics.

Subsequently, we started our return voyage. Some went on top of the deck for a siesta; some lazed around enjoying the sea, clicking pictures. A couple of us immersed ourselves in a game of bridge. The ship was swaying with every wave and we all were having the time of our lives. Suddenly, a group member felt a bit under the weather. We were warned about sea sickness. Given the heat and humidity, we did not find it unusual. Suddenly, the sway of the ship became wider. We still did not pay much heed to it. In fact, we swayed on a little more with the rhythm. 

Those of us who were sitting inside the cabin due to the wind outside, engrossed in a game of cards were almost oblivious to what was going on outside. The sea had turned pretty rough and the ones sitting out were drenched completely because of the splash of water from the huge waves. By now, a couple of people were feeling nauseated. The crew members were running helter-skelter trying to placate panic-stricken members on board. Some of the adventurous types found a great opportunity to capture these rough moments on the high seas in their cameras. The crew dissuaded them vehemently, as falling overboard was a great possibility. When we were asked to wear our life jackets, the card players lifted their eyes from their game and realised the delicacy of the situation. By then, we could see the panic on the faces of the crew members and fully recognised the gravity of the situation. The sea was uneven and we were being hurled from one end to the other. The cutlery, crockery and glassware were sliding from one end to the other making an awful clamour. It was the Titanic replayed!

The serene ocean had turned into choppy waters, the cool sea breeze became infuriated, and the blue sky was overcast threatening torrential rain. The humungous waves conveyed the images of the tsunami. The stark white faces among us, including those of the crew members were doing no good to calm our frayed nerves. Even sipping a drop of water was aggravating the nausea. The lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” flashed in my mind. 

The crew was busy handling twenty shocked people, slipping, falling, and providing towels, puke bags and life jackets around. It reminded me of the tale of the “Old Man and the Sea”. By now, we all had grasped the severity of the situation and spontaneous chants of holy hymns started. Irrespective of any religious allegiance, we all bowed in front of the uncertainty of nature/God and prayed. 

Of course, there was some light hearted conversation to distract us. The blue brigade out to take Koh Samui by storm was actually caught in one! 

Someone asked if we were insured. Promptly, we learnt that each one of us was heavily insured. Thank God. But we instantly burst into laughter, because the insurance would have no meaning for us once we were gone. I realised the futility of all the arrangements we make while we are living. All these are meaningless once you stop existing. To add more to the fun we said that our kids would really benefit. The loss of two parents can change their fortune. They can squander the money or buy a small island/villa in Koh Samui to immortalise us forever. The future generations will of course not remember us but would enjoy exotic holidays. Does that make our sacrifice honourable? 

The grit and determination of our crew and the positive spirit of our fellow companions brought us out of this difficult two and half hour expedition. All our wants/needs were reduced to just putting our two feet on the ground. And when we finally set foot on land, it was no less than the feeling that Neil Armstrong would have had when he stepped on the moon. I have never been more gratified to walk on earth. These are things we take for granted but you realise their value once they are taken away.

On our return from the 'cruise', when we were given our pictures (clicked in the morning) artistically pasted on porcelain plates, we could barely recognise ourselves. What a transformation...from elegance to a complete shipwrecked look!

We missed seeing the sunset and the full moon but gained much more by prevailing over the ordeal together. Some of us had taken a great fancy to a particular design of butterflies and bought dresses. The plan was to wear them after the cruise. This was promptly discarded as no one was really up to it. Every time we would look at those clothes now, they would  remind us of the “butterflies” in our stomach on that fateful day. 

In retrospect it was a humbling experience and will keep us rooted forever, never taking nature for granted and having faith in ourselves and our friends.  

Another thing I realised was that till we were engaged in our card game, we were unaware of the chaos around us. But once we became cognizant, the normal reactions of panic followed including nausea and vomiting. For the same reason, people resort to prayers/loud chanting/meditation to keep from thinking of the looming threat. In grim situations, one can train oneself to be calm by involving in something pleasurable and absorbing. 

Secondly, the scrupulous preparation for the future is not as rewarding as living for the moment and enjoying the present. 

Some of us were too deadbeat to venture out that last evening but some brave hearts from our group went out merry making. 

The next day was the day to say adieu with a promise to live each day to the hilt and create wonderful memories that would stay with us forever.

I would like to end with a few lines from Doris Day’s famous song, which is the essence of this piece:

"Enjoy yourself…it’s later than you think,
Enjoy yourself…while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by as quickly as a wink,
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself it’s later than you think.”