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Dear TV, I’m just not that into you (and I’m not sorry)

I don’t own a TV. Well, there is a flat screen television that came with our apartment but we have never bothered to switch it on. Along its edges hangs bunting with our little girl’s name on it, something children were being encouraged to make at one of her classmate’s birthday parties. This was before we moved, when Delhi wasn’t sure if it wanted to rain on a Toy Story themed party in a school-that-rents-out-space-for-birthdays. That was in August, barely weeks before the flight to a new life, or at least that’s what the postcard in my head said.

In 2011, while our girl was growing from the pea sized spec on the monitor in the ultra sound clinic to the thing with hands and feet I went everywhere with, I was glued to what had become urban India’s prime time fetish – Masterchef Australia. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was, but I was then a bloated vegetarian cow who wanted to eat a horse and the frenzy of the competitive kitchen coupled with all the food flying around was enough to satisfy all visual cravings. When the calf arrived and began moving her head around, I banned television in the house. People had to choose what they wanted more, baby gurgles or insipid television laughter, which was the enemy of my child’s brain and eyes according to an article that suggested no screen time of any sort (phone, television, tablets), till two years. I had liked television, sure, but I liked sleep more and after heading back to work in six months, anytime I had left was happily spent away from the box. This meant of course that I didn’t know Mad Men from The Good Wife and was none the worse for it. I caught up with and completed the former in entirety last December, in two weeks really. It brought back memories of student life – late night binge watching and days filled with remorse over approaching deadlines. Then I sulked for two days because it was all over. There was nothing to treat myself with when I’d been a good girl at work and all else.

I have little memory of television growing up. I know we had one, because there is a picture of me dancing in front of it with the late Shammi Kapoor’s face plastered on the screen. I’m wearing ghungroos, highly inappropriate for the sort of music I guess must have been playing. Then came boarding school for four years where I kept busy reading library books inside texts during study hours and spent the remainder bouncing ‘crazy’ balls off the boundary wall and into a stream that purportedly led to the lake below. My real television moment, that I have a recollection of, was as a teenager when we had moved to Delhi. It was with Blossom, the quirky teenager growing up in a house full of men – her divorced father and two older brothers. I couldn’t exactly relate to her but she made me smile, sometimes laugh, and that has been my checklist for a lot of programs and films thereon. Then came Friends, again not in tandem with how it was playing on Indian screens. I watched it much later in entirety with borrowed DVDs, followed by others like Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy, and more recently True Detective (Season 1 only please) and Narcos.

As fate would have it, my first job right out of college was in television production. Any starry-eyed ideas I may have held about the screen, which I didn’t to begin with, were lost in that time seeing the clockwork up close. It was days of hard labor, little rest and lots of sparks, the sort of thing that will outlive any human being’s enthusiasm for an adrenaline rush. I appreciated people who could make their lives in the field, but knew that it wasn’t for me, just as the act of putting my feet up and watching the telly for hours wasn’t for me when I had my mojo on. That perhaps made it easier to let it fade into the background, even more so with things like You Tube and now oh-how-I-love-you Netflix, which I would like to believe was built for mothers with little time and even less patience. Get-to-the-point is all that we wish for and get.

My parents speak of the early days when only one person in the neighborhood would have a television, and everyone would gather around to watch news or cricket or a sitcom. When cable television hit our shores it was often banned for children stuck with dreaded board exams in Grade 10 and 12. Looking back it feels like much ado about nothing. All the advertisements and shows with stories that didn’t go anywhere were better missed. But there were some gems, like detective Vyomkesh Bakshi, which thanks to You Tube we can enjoy today too. While stories still rule and make even people like me turn into nefarious gluttons once in a while, the television set itself is now discarded furniture. It’s there because no one will take it and because we think someday we might use it, which is never going to happen because we’ve lost that loving feelin’ and it’s not coming back.

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When I Grow Up…

ny cartoon

It is past 11:30pm, the room is dark from the curtains being drawn all the way to the end, the lights have been switched off for over half an hour, we’ve been silent all this time. And then she says this, without turning towards me.

“When I grow up, I want to be a journalist.”

Frankly, I’m surprised, and a little miffed. Ever since she learned the concept of growing-up-to-be-something, my now three year old girl has wanted to be a doctor. We have all played the hapless patient, had our blood tests done, received express instructions on when and how many medicines to take, even received change for the consultation fee. So we harbored dreams of Harvard educated at-home health care in our old age.

But it all ended last night.

“I want to be a journalist, like Baba.”

It wasn’t the worst thing she could have chosen. From one set of grandparents who had charmed her into following them into a medical calling, she was now leaning towards the other. No freebies to be had but surely we can live with that.

“Why do you want to be a journalist?”

I waited, while acknowledging (silently) that it was wonderful she had learned a new word, had pronounced it perfectly, was curious about things, was going to…

“Because then I will come on TV.”

No. No. No. No. No. No. NO.

This was all going downhill, and nearing midnight, which is never a good sign on weekdays.

“But you always wanted to be a doctor.”

“No! I want to be a journalist.”

Hello, I’m the adult here. I can win this.

“You can be what you want honey. No matter what you choose, you will have to study very hard for it.”

That settled it.

She was quiet after that, with dreams of TV stardom I presume. Meanwhile I wondered why she hadn’t taken a fancy to following in Mamma or Papa’s footsteps. Though she thinks adulthood is one giant party with free-flowing makeup and coffee or wine (depending on what Mamma is caught drinking), her ‘job’ choices so far are grandparent stamped.

Who can blame her. Mamma and Papa just go to ‘office’, take two whole paragraphs to explain what they ‘really’ do, are not ballet dancers and are never on TV.

Advantage: Toddler

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10 Things They Don’t Teach You in Pregnancy School

Knowledge sharing on Motherhood is unfairly tilted on the side of pregnancy-related information (maybe because there’s a giant woman on that side of the scale). Very little is said about what really goes on behind unbolted doors and open parking lots. Here’s my contribution to the What-To-Expect-When-The-Baby-Is-Outside-Your-Body section of the library.

1. There is no such thing as ‘private space’.

Prepare to be watched (touched, kissed even) while you’re trying to unload body junk in YOUR bathroom. No you cannot lock the door. Yes it’ll happen everyday.

2. Remember the days when you slept without a care in the world.

History, in this case, will not repeat itself. And there’s a new alarm to boot. Foot-in-mouth.

3. Put on your thinking caps, all the time.

You have to say something when your little girl points to a bra (or even what-lies-beneath) and asks “Mommy, what’s that?” Undergarment. Chest. In case you’re wondering.

4. Learn to say “Fudge”.

Its a 5 letter replacement for an oft needed 4 letter word.

5. Bid Adieu to Moaning Rights

Sex, at the odd chance that you get to indulge in it, must be carried out in stealth, like teenagers sneaking a smoke break. You could say there’s a unique adventure in that. Many wouldn’t agree. But you could say it.

6. Master the Deep Breath

Projectile Vomit on your face, Nosy Strangers telling you how to hold your baby, Chocolate hands on your linen pants. A deep breath tells you there’s a good life across the river.

7. Hide the Caffeine

If you love coffee (you don’t? seriously? let’s pretend this never happened) then you must consume it like sex (#5 above). A toddler will take to coffee like a cat jumping off the ledge chasing a pigeon. Them cuckoo. And with caffeine in their system, them the sort of young-wild-free you don’t want in your house. No Ma’am.

8. Watch the Baby Talk

Male colleagues, Twenty-something juniors, Unmarried friends might smile but frankly no one wants to hear what your little one said or did or ate or spilled. Everyday. That conversation is best had with always eager grandparents, the other parent of aforementioned baby and the baby.

9. Forget Television (or Beer/or Beer in front on the Television)

You can’t enforce No-TV rules and then put your feet up and watch Suits. If you must, there’s humping tigers on Discovery. And who needs television when life with a child resembles most features on ‘America’s Funniest Videos’. Go make your own TV. Better still, READ.

10. Get Flexible

You must have seen the cute little picture of a baby in a mother’s lap as she works from the comfort of her home.

And you thought, “Aww. I want that!”

Well, that picture is a lie.

Reality looks more like a toddler dancing in your lap pressing random keys on your laptop. As long as she doesn’t hit send, we’re safe. Learn magic maneuvers that involve arms (and legs) going around said toddler. Practice hard. Also, Proust must now be devoured under lamp-light after baby is asleep. So, (10a) Get a lamp.

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(P)sycho Funk

At the age of 14 when asked what I wanted to do in life I said “I want to be a Psychiatrist”. This got peals of laughter from adults, followed by a “But why?”.

“…because i’m intrigued by the human mind” (exact words). But to get to the psychiatric ward I would’ve had to spend 7 years in Med school. and I also realised that the human mind outside of a psychiatric facility was just as intriguing.

So instead I turned to the other great thing besides the human mind. Television.

Medical dramas have oft cast a spell on people. There was ER, Grey’s Anatomy, General Hospital etcetra. I never watched ER. Did catch a bit of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, enough to learn about the characters and wait for Patrick Dempsey to show up. I liked ‘Scrubs’, taking Laughter is the best medicine to its logical conclusion.

But there was a phase when I was addicted to the medical drama ‘House M.D.’ Whether it was because of the sardonic diagnostic medicine messiah Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie) or that there were too few main leads for it to turn into yet another Docs in love story (Olivia Wilde did her bit to heat it up), I’m not sure.

The difference with ‘House’ was that it was not about nicey-nice doctors playing God. It was about a quirky doctor and his team, neither of whom are cardboard characters. And showing how they diagnosed patients took precedence over scenes of people making out in the medicine cabinet.

I’m sure doctors who catch any of these shows probably find a thousand inaccuracies. The thing about ‘House’ was that it was all about solving the puzzle (since its diagnostic medicine). Every episode had a trend. First Dr. House had to be convinced enough to take up a case. He had to find it ‘intriguing’ (to use my word). Then began a series of brainstorming sessions with his team which always led to them being wrong initially. And as the patient’s condition deteriorated they tried this and that and finally put the pieces together and saved his/her life. I think only 1 patient died per season.

We always see doctors as extremely healthy people. On this show Dr. House has a limp and walks with a cane (in one of his legs the muscles died due to wrong diagnosis by those treating him. Catch the irony?). He’s always shown to be popping pain medication. Certainly not the picture of a perfect guy to treat anyone. And he usually doesn’t talk to patients or if he does says to their face “You’re dying” without emotion. He doesn’t wear a lab coat and is always proved right on the theory that everybody lies (especially patients about medical history). The moral of the whole thing being that this guy is whatever he may be but he saves lives all right.

Bottomline being I like this show. Whether watching ‘House’ makes up for my not having been to Med school is debatable. But the Psychiatry dream hasn’t died. Of course I’m not authorised to prescribe medicines. But there are enough wayward minds around me that whet my appetite for engaging with and finding a cure for insanity.