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Be careful of the company you keep during COVID times

This article appeared in Gulf News on 18/7/2020)

The ‘friend’ rang me up for a chit-chat. We used to meet socially, and although she was not among my closest pals, she was part of the group of who I was a member, and we’d meet occasionally.

Like others living in Dubai, I too have a ‘social milieu’, a group of friends who I hang out with and meet for coffee or for dinner once in a way. Good company, but, barring a few, not people to whom you could open your heart.

Usually, this friend and I exchanged forwarded jokes on WhatsApp, and ‘liked’ each other’s’ pictures and messages on FB. It was rare that we actually talked to each other on the phone, but given the exceptional times we’re living in, and the extra hours we all tend to have, it seemed natural for her to call.

After the usual pleasantries, she started off: of how terrible things were in the world, of how the vaccine would take a couple of years to find, of how we can’t go out, can’t travel, etc, etc.

When I gently reminded her that things were not so bad, and 80 per cent of the people who caught the virus showed mild symptoms, and only 5 per cent developed death-threatening ones, she somehow convinced me that I was among that 5 per cent.

After a harrowing half-hour, I put the phone down, much worse for the call, a jiggling jelly of fear and negativity.

Have such a friend? I’m sure you do. These are the prophets of doom and gloom, the ones who can never see the positive in any situation. They are ubiquitous, such people.

They may be among your friends, they may be in your WhatsApp groups, or they may even be a close relative! Woe betide the individual with a spouse who’s the harbinger of bad tidings, and who seems to relish giving bad news. There’s no way to avoid such a person too, living under the same roof.The best you can do is to inject some positivity into their doomsday prophecies, or else, just turn a deaf ear.

The question is, why do people do this? I think the answer lies in wanting to project. In psychological terms, “projection refers to unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.” (Karen R. Koenig)

Projecting your fears and insecurities on another individual seems to lighten your burden. But hey, buddy, spare me! Find someone else to vent all your fears and frustration.

In contrast, there are some friends who make you happy and cheerful. They are not blasé about the seriousness of the present situation, nor do they underplay it. But they don’t keep harping on the number of dead, the high rate of infection, and the state of the world’s plummeting economy. Keep such friends close.

They talk about other things too, of books they’ve read and music they listen to, even some juicy gossip to brighten your day. Conversation is light and fresh, not deep and heavy.

A friend of mine on Twitter, who is an excellent photographer, always puts up pictures of the sun rising over an urban landscape, or flowers in bloom, or birds flitting around, usually with a happy caption. Such photos lift the heart and spirit. Needless to say, talking to her is also a pleasant interlude in an otherwise dull day.

These are, indeed, stressful times, but, as the old saying goes, ‘what can’t be cured must be endured.’ But at least learn to choose your friends wisely, the chirpy, happy ones, and keep the doomsayers and naysayers at bay.

Soon, this will all be over and we’ll look back on these times as either a blip or a learning curve in our lives. Keep smiling!

— Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer and author of the forthcoming book, “The Mother of all Parties”. Twitter: @paddersatdubai

Is the big fat wedding a thing of the past?

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Are we obsessed with the big fat wedding?Image Credit: Getty Images

This is an article of mine that was recently published in Gulf News. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know your thoughts.

Were you planning to get married this year? Or have you paid up for your son or daughter’s big fat destination wedding with all the bells and whistles?

Chances are that the wedding has either been cancelled, rescheduled or downsized, with something big planned for ‘when this is all over.’

All around the world, we hear the same story, of wedding vows postponed or extravagant weddings downsized. Simplicity is now the name of the game.Instead of an exuberant wedding, many cut to the chase and have a virtual wedding, with guests attending from round the world to shower their love and blessings, all on the small screen.

Along with the couple, so many others have been hit by this tidal wave, the entire flotsam and jetsam — wedding planners and providers, the dressmakers and caterers and florists and what-have-you.Even the band and trumpet players, beauticians and henna-painters. Suddenly, an entire industry has been disbanded overnight.

Perhaps, along with all the other long-lasting changes that this virus brings in its wake is the big fat wedding itself. There are weddings, and there are weddings.

Simplicity is the name of the game

The simple act of two people exchanging vows and promising to spend their lives together for better or for worse, has in recent years been transformed into a mass entertainment with all stops pulled out.That applies to both the well-heeled and the hoi polloi. Very rarely do you hear of a couple having a simple, quiet marriage with just family and close friends in attendance.

What naysayers had always warned about, to tone down the extravagance, has now been achieved almost overnight by a tiny, microscopic virus. Around the world, guest numbers have been drastically reduced.

Just as people are finally getting used to WFH, so too they’ll have a rethink about who to invite for their big day. The virus has made weddings a numbers game — limiting the number of guests.

Among all the jokes on corona going the rounds, the latest one is a video where some radio jockeys make a prank call pretending to be wedding event managers. It goes something like this:

‘Am I speaking to X?”

“Yes, I am X.”

‘We’re the event managers for your friend, Y’s wedding. We just want to inform you that your RAC is 55.1 per cent, and your wife’s 56.2 per cent.”

X is rightly confused, and asks what all this means. The prankster goes on to explain that RAC stands for Reservation Against Cancellation, and cheekily informs: ‘Now, if anyone cancels, your number will go up, and you may be one of the lucky 50 who can attend the wedding.’

X is naturally furious, and claims a friendship that goes back over two decades. The prankster goes on to say that if he pays a thousand rupees per family member, he’ll move his name up.

Heated words

Some heated words are spoken, where the guest states he won’t be attending the wedding and will save money on the gift, and is about to cut the line when the RJ reveals his identity and says it is just a prank.

Well, as the saying goes, there’s a grain of truth in every joke. The takeaway from all this is, try to maintain good relations with your friends and relatives or else you may not make it into the wedding list!

But is that big fat wedding, with all its razzle and dazzle, a thing of the past? Will we be telling future generations of those weddings of the glorious past, with thousands in attendance, the heaps of food, the entertainment, and the number of diamonds and emeralds sown on to the bride’s dress?

I sincerely hope not. I’m waiting to attend the next flashy wedding (if I’m lucky enough to be invited) or at least read about one in the papers. Long live glitzy weddings!

— Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer. Twitter: @paddersatdubai

Humour is the name of the game

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Yes, these are indeed hard times. No matter what we say, how we pretend that everything is OK, it just isn’t. We’re lucky, we console ourselves. We have food on the table, an air-conditioned home to keep away the summer heat, Netflix to watch, Zoom and GoogleMeet to chat with our family and friends…But hey, it’s just not the same!

When will we get back our beautiful, familiar world? When can we meet our friends without fear? When can we go to a barber shop or a beauty salon without covering ourselves like someone from outer space? When? When? When?

It is during these trying times that our books give us extra solace. Lockdown and WFH gives us time aplenty to read. Depending on our mood or our tastes, we may pick up light books with just a flimsy story-plot, or dark and serious books that make us think. 

But I need a bit of both — something light, but which also yields nuggets of wisdom. Not too light, but nothing that drags me down too. And most importantly, a book with a positive message, a cheesecake of a book. For this, Rachel Joyce is my go-to author.

                                                5309857

                                                            Rachel Joyce

So far, I’ve read three of her books: the iconic The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, followed by The Music Shop and then Perfect. I love her quirky characters, I love the Englishness of her books, and, most important, I love the positive vibes at the end of the tale.

I think reading humour helps in these depressive times. I honestly can’t think of anyone funnier than PG Wodehouse. He’s old-fashioned, yes, even archaic. I’m not sure if younger readers have even heard of him. But can you name any present-day writer who writes pure comedy like he does? Of course, there are plenty of brilliant authors who write comedy, but their comedy is also interlaced with darker elements; it may be a sci-fi with comic elements (like David Wong’s This Book is Full of Spiders),or even crime with humour, like the Baby Ganesh Agency books by Vaseem Khan. Or of course, Alexander McCall Smith.

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                                                        The inimitable PG Wodehouse

I love Amor Towles for his wry humor. (A Gentleman in Moscow is excruciatingly funny in places, but framed within a rather dark period in history). But I can’t think of anyone with the laugh-out-loud kind of humour of PG Wodehouse. If you can, do tell me, and I’ll make it a point to read him or her.

Well, on this note, I am signing off. And, although I am not putting myself on the same pedestal as these famous writers, can I give you a gentle reminder that my book, The Mother of all Parties, is also a comic romp through the incredible lives of Dubai’s nouveau riche. It’s available on all the Amazon platforms from July 10th,  (and as a hard copy too on Amazon.in) and I’d be honoured if you read it.

Until then, take time to laugh…

Padmini

 
 
 
 
 
The mother of all parties by [Padmini Sankar]
 
 

The mother of all parties Kindle Edition

  
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Language: English  

Keeping sane in these mad times

The Big C. undefined

Know what I’m talking about? Of course you do. It’s the Coronavirus, or, to use its shorter and sharper name, COVID-19. (Actually, the magnified image of it looks quite pretty, but it’s the deadliest thing going.)

Don’t ask me why it’s number 19. I’m sick and tired of all the scientific and non-scientific jargon, the half-assed cures suggested to keep the virus at bay ( chew four or fourteen cloves of garlic, take this or that homeopathic medicine, boil pomegranate skin in two glasses of water and drink the extract…). No one seems to be talking about anything else, and I’m sure you too are SICK AND TIRED of the whole darned thing!

No, this is not to trivialise the virus (better to err on the side of caution, better to be panicky and well-prepared, as this runt is little-known and mighty dangerous). But no one seems to be talking about anything else. Programs and shows have been cancelled. We’re even afraid of going to any large gatherings, and (bless me!), even spending time in a mall! Isn’t mall-crawling the last resort of the completely and utterly bored of the human species?

After being locked in for almost a week, I’d had enough! I told the better half that I’d go crazy if I didn’t see Sheikh Zayed road, didn’t whizz down it, didn’t have a bite of something that isn’t home-cooked. (You see how good I’ve been).

So that’s just what we did- virus be damned – zipped down SZR, and picked up a thaali at my favorite hole-in-the-corner restaurant.

There’s only so much you can do, so much you can restrain from, before you go mad.

What did you do, and how is Mr Vicious Virus treating you? Let me know….

Join me for dinner, Vikram Seth?

Remember that quiz, usually featured in popular magazines – who would you like to take out for dinner? There’s usually a set of four options, and the one you choose shows something of your personality.

Well, this is no quiz. There are, of course, many writers I’d like to take out for dinner – and many I wouldn’t too. No, not William Shakespeare. His puns and double entendres would perhaps be beyond me. So too Arundhati Roy, possibly because I think, despite being a brilliant writer, she’s so depressing.

No, the writer I’d like to take out should be fun, have a sense of humour, and also be famous. An added bonus would be if he understood my culture, and was from the subcontinent. And Vikram Seth fits the bill.

The Inimitable Vikram Seth

Come to think of it, why are all the famous Indian writers of international repute so darned serious and gloomy? Think of Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie… they’re all soooo serious (although Rushdie can be very funny too). But that’s just what I love about Vikram Seth- he’s both serious and funny, and this was borne out in his well-attended talk at the Sharjah Book festival a month or two ago.

Vikram would be my perfect choice as a dinner partner. First, he speaks a beautiful public-school English (he was educated at the Doon school) and is of my generation – perhaps a few years older, but still, someone who I can relate to. He gave many wonderful tips on writing a novel. The best one was, in his own words: “You have to be very very very very lazy to write a novel.” This perhaps contradicts received wisdom, but he goes on to explain that there’s a lot of thinking involved during the writing, and for hours and hours, maybe days together, he’d be lying around staring into space and just thinking.

Then there is the point of research – painstaking research. Vikram goes to the nitty-gritty, and no matter what kind of character he’s writing about, whether they are eighty-year-old grandmoms or teen girls, he does his research. And the best part of this is that, it never appears as stuffy ‘research’ in his books, but blends in with the story, setting, and theme.

So Vikram Seth, if you’re reading this, next time you’re around here in this part of the world, (i.e. Dubai), let me know…

And yes, I’m still waiting for A Suitable Girl.

All lives matter

Hello! Have any of you rescued an animal in distress? Well, just a few days ago, I was instrumental in rescuing a bird (I think a stork). This is a feel-good story, which I thought I’d share with you for the festive season. Read on…

The stork in happier days wading in the lake

It was not a pretty bird. Big, grey, with dull yellow eyes and a log, sharp beak, it lay by the side of the lake, evidently in pain, unable to move.

Someone walking by saw it, and gestured to the house-help in the garden nearby to do something about it. The house-help, a young woman in her mid-twenties, immediately came and carried the bird into the garden. This was a supremely brave thing to do, as the bird tried to viciously peck her with its beak. She threw a cloth over it and carried it gently and put it down on the lawn.

Her employers were away, so she quickly whatsapped her madam and asked what she should do.

This is where new-age technology came in. The lady (my neighbour) sent out an SOS on our Whatsapp group, asking someone to see the bird, and also see what they could do. And this is where I entered the picture.

The bird had a broken leg, and was lying on its side, its eyes closed. When I touched it, it opened one yellow eye and fluttered its wings. It may have been in great pain.The house-help brought some water for the bird, but its beak was clamped shut. It refused to drink.

In the meantime, the Whatsapp messages were piling up, about what to do and how to save the bird. Ants had begun crawling over the poor creature as it lay helplessly on its side, and we pushed them away with a piece of rag, all the while taking care not to get a vicious peck. Things were looking desperate. I called up a few vets, but they all said that they only treated cats and dogs. One of the vets helpfully suggested the Dubai Municipality number as the place to go.

The Dubai Municipality was my last resort. I called up, and a helpful voice put me on to the veterinary section. Through them, I was connected to the doctor who dealt with wild fowl. “Is this a wild bird? he asked me “We only deal with wild birds, and not the normal birds you see flying around.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “OK, send me a picture, on Whatsapp.” I sent him a picture as asked, and yes, indeed it was a wild bird indigenous to this region – and therefore something that should be saved.

I heard the golden words, “I’m on my way.”

Those of us who don’t believe in authorities, who think that bureaucracies are just bumbling bastions of red tape (I admit I was one of them) will be pleasantly surprised at the speed at which Dubai Municipality acted. The van came after an hour or so (dreadful traffic jams at this time) and the assistant gently lifted the bird. It was so weak by this time that it did not have the strength to peck, .

Assistant gently lifting the bird

‘Do you have a carton?” he asked. We hastily pulled out a carton, but it was too small for such a large bird. It finally was put at the back of the van, and was on its way!

Bird being placed in carton

Well, what are the lessons learnt? First, don’t ever despair, but keep trying. Second, don’t think authorities are your enemies or just a pack of corrupt bureaucracy – they do come to the rescue. And third and most important, all lives matter, including this creature’s who is so important for the ecosystem.

Well, this is a feel-good story, and the real hero (or heroine) is the house-help who so bravely lifted the bird and had the presence of mind to call her owner. Have you had a similar experience in rescuing an animal in distress? I’d love to hear from you if you have. Also, if there is an ornithologist reading this, please tell me if this bird is indeed a stork.

Have a great festive season!

Do judge a book by its cover

When was the last time you bought something that didnt look nice? Let’s say, a perfume or a box of chocolates that wasn’t packaged attractively? Unless it was heavily discounted, you probably wouldn’t have even looked at it.

Pouf- you’re a new woman/man

The fact remains that we DO judge by outward appearances. The packaging is important. And this is especially important in the world of books.

Unless we’ve heard of a great book, or unless it’s a well-known author, how you choose a book not only depends on the blurb, but also to a certain extent, the picture on the front cover.

Sometimes, of course, book covers are misleading. This is especially true of literary fiction written by women which have “tarted up” covers just so that people would buy them. This is doing a great disservice to women writers. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032619/how-tarted-up-book-covers-belittle-womens-fiction

For the most part, though, the average reader often buys a book based on that front cover. It has to not only have something to do with the book, but also be eye-catching. Take for instance Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series. Each of the book covers has a fashionably dressed woman and funky colours, just to show it’s a fun read.

Well, all those proverbs you learnt in school, about not judging a book by its cover and so on, applied to that earlier age when book covers had not become a selling point. Book cover designers are in high demand, and if they make a name for themselves, can demand thousands of $$$! And rightly so, as the right cover can often make or break a book, even in this age of the kindle.

What are some of the iconic book covers you remember? Is it Jaws by Peter Benchley, with the sinister shark at the bottom? Or the stark simplicity of the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird? The Harry Potter series have undergone many cover changes over the years, but the fantastical elements remain.

So the next time you buy or borrow a book, have a good, hard look at the cover. There is so much hard work and so much imagination that goes into that front cover. Chances are, you may pick it up based just on this one aspect!

How much is too much?

Hello friends,

As parents, partners, friends, lovers, employers or employees, we all sometimes don’t realize how much is too much. It’s a very fine line, and it depends on the person and the situation. And you know you’ve crossed it when you begin feeling cross with yourself, or feel that you’re taken for granted, not appreciated, or just plain pi**ed without really knowing the reason why.

Perhaps it’s easiest for parents to know when they’ve done too much. At one extreme, the result is a spoilt and pampered kid, but on a lesser note it is just a child who creates tantrums when they don’t get their way.

Between friends, the friendship won’t last long if one is taken for granted. Haven’t you had a so-called friend who you always have to call? It is you who always makes a program to meet up, you who does the listening all the time. Said friend does not budge or make any move, does not bother to ask you about your day, is so busy that he or she can’t even return your phone-calls. Sounds familiar? We’ve all gone through this, thinking someone’s our friend when they are the least interested in us. Remember friendship is a two-way street. When you realize you’ve done too much, it’s time to call it quits.

Perhaps the hardest is when you’ve done too much for a partner. How did you let this happen? We all know marriage is about give and take, but when one gives too much, after some time there’s a “give.” When the giver tries to equalize the balance, there is very often resistance from the taker. Who do you blame? You can’t really blame the giver. It’s sometimes the situation that makes one give more and the other take more. And I am no relationship counsellor to say what to do or what not to do. But sometimes a good fight (without fisticuffs) where both sides let off steam helps to clear the air. So do whatever it takes to restore the equilibrium.

Well, on this note, I’ll end with these words: You should get as much as you give. And it is only you who can decide how much is too much.

Adios until next time…

Not DIET and EXERCISE again!

There seem to be two perennial topics in every newspaper and magazine the world over. Diet and exercise.

Yes, yes, I know, these twin topics ARE important, and we all need to know what is the next unpronounceable super food that is essential for our survival. My vocabulary – and my BLD (an acronym for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, but also perhaps, ironically, a short form for BLOOD)- now encompasses foods my parents have never even heard of, least of all downed. Besides, the prohibitive costs would have made their practical minds think twice before spending precious paisa on these goods. Quinoa, chia seeds, kale, keto diet, clean eating, veganism … and the list goes on.

Exercise – how, what, when – is also another favorite staple. Is it best to exercise AM or PM? What kind of exercise is good for you? How long should you exercise? Is walking the best exercise? Does weight training keep your weight down? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

GIMME A BREAK! I want to be myself- extra rolls of flesh, downing forbidden foods, keeping late hours, exercising when I feel like it, pretending a stroll with the dog is enough for the day and I’ve done my thirty minutes of brisk walking…

Every time I read another article on what kind of food I should be eating or how much I should be exercising, I reach for a bag of chips and plonk myself down on my comfy sofa, article in hand, smiling villainously to myself and saying to the article- “So there! Preach away for all I care!”

Is this constant bombardment of good health articles a nefarious agenda to give all of us folks who just want to live our life the way we want to some kind of mental health problem? Nowadays, we have so many such issues like anorexia and bulimia and body shaming and so on.

Remember, the latest catchword is DIVERSITY. And yes, round is a shape, and potato chips is a food. So just let me be.

Something sad I want to share

Folks,

I’m taking a break from my usual kind of posts, as I’ve received some devastating news. I thought I’d share it with you, not because I’m asking for sympathy or because I want to create some drama, but I think many of you can identify with this.

In the Middle East, everyone relies heavily on house-help. If you can only count the number of maid agencies, you’ll be really surprised. Every morning, I see busloads of these women being dropped at different homes. Most of them help in cleaning the house, and perhaps some of them are baby sitters.

We may all well agree that our house-help is essential to the smooth running of our lives, whether you are a high-flying career-woman or a socialite or even a stay-at-home mom.There are terrible stories of how house-help are mistreated by their employers. or even the reverse, of maids from hell who wreak havoc in a household. But sometimes, if we are lucky, our house-help is not a mere “employee” but inextricably becomes a part of our lives, as good as a family member.

Well, I had a lovely lady working for me for almost fifteen years. I don’t want to call her a maid as she was more of a companion and a family member. Bobby is her name, although she has a much more difficult-to-pronounce real name, Bechni Devi. She came to me when I was working long long hours, and she was indeed like a godsend. She blended in with our household from day 1.

Bobby in her better days

Well, I grew old, and Bobby grew old along with me. In the last two years, she found she was tiring easily, so I had to call in for some extra help.

Then this March, after returning from her annual vacation, I saw that her health had badly deteriorated. She could barely climb the stairs now and spent most of the day lying in bed. She took the decision to return just a month after her return. By this time, she was in such a poor state that I had to arrange a wheelchair at the airport.

You may ask, why didn’t I take her to a doctor? Of course, I did. To three doctors, who couldn’t really diagnose what was wrong and gave her painkillers for joint pain.

With a heavy heart, I sent her back. The family took her to the best hospital in Delhi, The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and I’ve just got the devastating news that she has stage 4 cancer of the bone!

How did this happen? Someone who was hale and hearty not six months ago now diagnosed with advanced cancer? She had her medical checkups every year whenever she went on her annual leave. The doctors had given her a clean chit even as early as February of this year. She ate whatever we ate, and lived a comfortable life here- much more healthy and comfortable than what she would have had back home, living cheek-by-jowl with other family members.

Folks, sometimes there are no answers. Life is cruel. She is one of the finest human beings I know. She was not educated (in fact illiterate) but she had wisdom and good sense in plenty. She had weathered many ups and downs in her life, and wanted to spend time with her grandchildren when she returned home for good.

I don’t know what more to say, except that I hope through some miracle she gets better and responds to the treatment. Yes, miracles do happen and I hope against hope that she comes out on top.