Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Of Ka-kaas, bow-bows, miaow-maows and Phishees.

Day 6: London Zoo

We decided to take a cab to the London Zoo because it was steadily drizzling, and none of us felt up to our usual gymnastics on elevators and escalators with the stroller in tow. Besides, we wanted to remind ourselves of how the city above-ground looked like, because really, the bowels of the earth look very similar whichever country you go to. (It’s black and whizzes past.)

We were quite thrilled at how bad the traffic was (just like home!); and were further rewarded by glimpses of a lot of places we might’ve visited had we enough time.

Once we got there, I asked the lovely lady in a headscarf at the counter if the animals come out in the rain. She didn’t make any false promises but told us a lot of them had shelters you could see into. Well. That just had to be good enough for us. We consulted the map and decided to go into the aquarium first. I wondered aloud to Jeet if Mia would have fun, if she would connect the images of animals that she saw every day in her books with the real thing. Perhaps we shall roll an uncomprehending toddler from enclosure to enclosure, and eventually beat a hasty retreat after she gets fed up and cranky like she did at the museums. (Horrifying descriptions of which are coming up soon.)

“PHISHEEEE!!!” the words reverberated off the walls of the aquarium. “Phishy, phishy, phisheeee!” Several fish ceased operations and looked over their shoulders at the racket. I saw a distinct expression of alarm on a passing squid. There were about 30,000 different types of underwater animals and Mia greeted each individually.

The aquarium was a resounding hit; so we looked forward to how the petting zoo would be received. I had no intention of letting Mia touch any of the animals. (Little Mr. Snot-Boy had done enough to sabotage our trip, I didn’t need pig-induced allergies to aggravate matters.) Fortunately, she seemed to share my opinion; and examined the enormous, hairy pigs rooting around in their enclosure with a dispassionate eye. “Bow-bow.” She declared dismissively.

The goats were disappointing bow-bows too. The camels were, in her opinion, amusing bow-bows.

She firmly disagreed with me when I said the lovely Sumatran tigers were miaow-maows. “Bow-BOW!” she corrected me loudly. (We were not in the petting zoo anymore, in case you were worrying.)

Coming from the land of tigers, and thus an automatic tiger-expert; I struck up a knowledgeable conversation with the zoo-keeper in charge of the big cats. “Excuse me, do these tigers come from India?”
“No, these are Sumatran tigers, they’re smaller and more orange.”
Yes, exactly, I nodded sagely. “The tigers I see in India are much larger, and less orange. Well, I don’t exactly see any walking around you know…just national parks and places.”
She was the fresh-faced, blue-eyed kind of animal expert you always see on the discovery channel. I felt the need to impress. “So,” I narrowed my eyes shrewdly, “do you conduct any breeding programs?”
She enthusiastically explained the various programs they have undertaken. “But.” She continued, “we put them in different enclosures except when our female comes in season because they’re essentially solitary animals. Our male feels the need to keep trying, and our female gets very irritated.”
“Ah,” I said faintly, an appropriate response eluding me. I wondered whether the tigers enjoyed being gossiped about in this fashion, and hurried on to visit the aviary.

A cry of “ka-kaa”, “ka-kaa” would erupt from the stroller whenever we spotted a bird. Mia looked around the moist tropical domes with rapt attention, as ka-kaas danced across our path or flapped overhead.

Further on, the pygmy hippopotamus looked depressed as it inched along. I could empathize. Everyone peering at it and laughing about how fat and funny-looking it was. Mia looked confused and a little upset, like she didn’t know which of her four categories to slot it in. She had the same reaction for the gorilla, who was so human-looking that she probably wondered why the hairy guy was sitting in a tree, eating leaves.

We had had some trouble finding the gorilla enclosure, though we seemed to pass endless monkeys. (Finally some miaow-miaows in a sea of bow-bows, according to our young biologist.) We approached a group of young men in the khaki zoo uniform, who were standing around talking. “Could you please tell us how to get to the gorilla?” we asked desperately. One guy slapped another on the back, “Here he is!” he grinned.

“I mean the one in a cage.”

“This one just escaped!” Twinkling green eyes and a sense of humour. I resolved to be a zoo-whatsit in my next life. However, armed with directions (“It’s right there! You can't miss it...”) we had to satisfy ourselves with a much hairier specimen -- our last call before putting the zoo behind us to visit an old, old friend who lived in London.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Travels with Jeet and Mia -- III

Our recent travels, in no chronological order.

Day 1

The trip started off pretty badly with our neighbour’s snot-nosed boy coming over to wish Mia goodbye before we set off the next day. Very neighbourly and all, but when my daughter developed a veritable river of phlegm and an accompanying inability to sleep on the 10-hour flight to Heathrow airport; I could cheerfully have punched his mother for being so irresponsible.

We were jet-lagged, and run ragged from worry and Mia’s fretting; but we cheered up enough to admire the picture-perfect houses and spotlessly clean streets as we headed out from Heathrow in a cab. “Where are you from?” the friendly driver had asked me, as he helped us with our luggage. “Bangalore” I told him. “And that is in…?” "India." 

“India! Yes.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Travels with Jeet and Mia - II

Our recent travels, in no particular order.

Day 8

On our second day in New York, we were in the midst of doing the must-do things that tourists must do in New York. We had armed ourselves with an enormous red umbrella with the words Hotel Vetiver emblazoned across it, which was not embarrassing at all. I carried it because Jeet was in charge of carrying the stroller; baby et al; up and down steep, slippery and never-ending steps on the subways, and coaxing it to behave even on the flawless pavements we walked on those two weeks. In the wrong hands, the stroller often had a habit of planting both wheels in opposite directions, and obtusely refusing to budge, or at least in the direction intended. So I would shoulder the heavy baby bag, which I packed every morning with every conceivable thing Mia could need in the course of our perambulations – thermometer—check, 2 litres of water—check, eardrops and long abandoned teething ring, just in case she needed it atop the Empire State Building -- check and check. Later, after lugging this impossible bag around for about a week, I decided we would just have to be daredevils and lighten it by almost half its weight. The curious crick in my neck vanished. The umbrella, due to the drizzly weather in New York, stayed.
On Day 8, we had executed our daily, complicated manoeuvre of: First person swipe metro card, open emergency door for stroller, quick! push Mia through, (while the door alarm wailed), slam the door, second person swipe card, check if we had left anything behind the gates; and board our train. This was Mia’s moment of glory. She would sit in her stroller and smile and wave at the nearest fellow passenger, and persist until her target cracked a little smile. Often in our miles and miles of travel by the underground train in both London and New York, we would find the people seated opposite us first glance in her direction, then smile, then wave. If they guffawed I would quickly check to see what she was up to, and more often than not found her skirt over her head; her ultimate party trick.
Once we got off at our station, I turned to a passer-by to ask which exit to take for the Empire State Building. “Here, I’ll show you” another person going past offered. He took the detour to the lift for our convenience, and while we rode up he said, “I was born in Brooklyn, and I’m 53 years old now, but I’ve never gone to the top of the Empire State Building yet.”
He pointed it out to us in the pouring rain. We waved our thanks and I told him, “You really should go!” and off we went at a brisk trot, the spokes of the enormous umbrella poking every New Yorker within available distance.
I don’t know if it was because of the umbrella, but we totally missed the Empire State Building. After walking what seemed like a really long while we looked up.
“Oh good, it’s stopped raining!”
“Er…where did the building go?”
So I rolled up my umbrella, and leant on it thoughtfully; Jeet took off his glasses and wiped them in a contemplative manner, Mia affected her haughtiest expression and sucked on a finger ruminatively. We were distinguished visitors from overseas enjoying the New York sidewalk, not three clueless tourists who’d managed to lose the Empire State Building.
A middle-aged guy went jogging past. “Excuse me, my good man” I called out in my fruitiest voice. “Mayhaps you know where the Empire State building is?”
He looked at us like we were crazy.
He pointed back to a spot in the sky a 100 yards behind us. “It’s right there! You can’t miss it!”
“Apparently one can,” I gently corrected him. ”WE just did.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travels with Mia and Jeet.

An account of our recent travels, in no particular order.
Day 5
Back to London
The day we came back to London, we were locked out because it was the middle of the week and unlike us, some people had work! While Jeet jogged off to get the key from our host at work; Mia and I settled down to wait in the picturesque park just around the corner from their house in Chelsea.

At least I thought we would settle down in the park, a heartwarming tableau of a mother smiling serenely down at a peaceful, cooing baby in her stroller, surrounded by the flowers and sylvan green of the park. Aah, passers-by would think; how sacred and good the bond of mother and child! How peaceful it would be to just sit and watch them awhile...

 What transpires is always vastly different from the ideal. Mia set up a clamour that she wanted out of the stroller right then -- she had some sarcastic pigeons who needed to be taught a lesson. After some hurried negotiations, we agreed that she could chase them but only until the gravel path after which she would turn back. Sadly one and a half year olds are notoriously untrustworthy, and broke her word (“Baudeyee”) immediately.

The next 45 minutes was a regrettable loop of her running too far afield, and me, torn between our luggage near the entrance and my pigeon-chasing offspring, trying to catch up with her while keeping my eye on our suitcases. I wonder if onlookers who hadn’t noticed the bags thought it curious that I ran while I looked over my shoulder. If they did they made no comment, thinking it to be a sensitive issue. The moment I would catch up to Mia, and carry her back to the stroller she would let out a yell much like a factory siren announcing the call to work. Shattering the calm of the wet, weekday afternoon and shocking the other babes and mothers who, much to my envy, sat tranquilly feeding the birds or just concentrating on looking angelic. I could almost sense the other babies chortling about us behind their dimpled fists, (“Savages!”) as I trudged back with a yodelling Mia under my arm. However the moment she was back in the seat the pigeons would strut by her stroller in a most patronising manner; which would begin the whole cycle again. So I gave her, for the first time in her life, quite a LOT of chocolate and pigeons ceased to have the same power over her.
“ Cochleat” was the word of the week.

Jeet came back in 45 minutes; and everyone in that park drew a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Testing the waters

I had a satisfying conversation after a very long time with some people. I was so happy with the conversation in fact, that it set me thinking about everything that is wrong about MOST conversations I have (That’s me—the good things remind me of the bad things), and I realized that these conversation were less than satisfactory for any of many reasons.
No 1 on my hate list are people who can’t stop talking. Even when they stop to draw breath or shovel some food in their mouths, they’re planning what to say next, and will respond to your attempts at speech with a glassy stare. There are one or two people I’m particularly thinking of as I write this, pathological talkers who, to make matters worse, have nothing much to say.
No 2 on my hate list are people who make an effort to meet you only to stay bent over their phones while you talk to the top of their heads. If you reprimand them, they say something like “No more coffee for me, thanks!” and go back to their phones.

Pet peeve 3 are people who consider a conversation more like a swordfight than an amiable exchange of ideas. The thrust-parry-thrust of the verbal duel is so tiring in fact, that after a while you opt to retire very, very hurt; rather than dream up further insulting things to say to the person. Before the next encounter of course, you stock up on as much ammunition as possible; but oddly the insults fizzle out when you finally get to deliver them. “No, YOU”RE stupider!” or are so shockingly venomous that you regret it the moment they cross your lips. “Well I may be fat, but at least my mother loves me…sorry sorry SORRRYYYYYYY!”

I’m sure there are more, but I don’t really want to become like pet peeve No 1.