A Thanjavur bobblehead doll

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Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.

Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.

The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on.

The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.

The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.

And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs. Continue reading

The recipe

todd-quackenbush-x5SRhkFajrA-unsplashRadha paced in front of the closed kitchen doors. She passed them and sniffed, she could make out the faint aroma of the dish wafting from the kitchen. Her mouth began to water and a smile played on her lips as she reminisced about the dish. She had set up the lunch table already. Everyone in the house was waiting eagerly for the meal. Radha was jumping up and down with anticipation. The kitchen doors were closed since the morning coffee. Any moment now her mother in law would open the kitchen doors and she would walk out holding her world-famous Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha swallowed as her mouth watered more. This year, somehow she would convince her mother in law to give her the recipe.

At long last, the doors opened, and her mother in law walked out, sweat gently dropping from her brow, her fingers stained with spices, a gentle smile playing on her radiant face. She looked like the goddess Annapurna herself come to serve her devotees. She was closely followed by Amba her faithful maid, who carried the large vessel filled with the aromatic Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha eagerly took in the aroma of the dish and almost joined get hands in prayer.

The table was laid and everyone was served. There was silence while everyone ate the dish. “Shanti, you have outdone yourself again. I am convinced when I die I will be sent to your kitchen, cause the door to heaven must be through there…” her father in law said licking his lips.

“Amma. Best. Dish. Ever.” her husband said licking every one of his fingers.

Her mother in law blushed and brushed their compliments aside. Radha was always surprised by her humility. Everyone knew she made the best Bisi Bele Bhath and yet she was always so humble about it. The rest of the meal was spent in silence as everyone licked their plates clean.

When they were cleaning away the dishes Radha finally mustered the courage to ask, “Amma, will you please teach me the recipe for the Bisi Bele Bhath?”

Her mother in law’s face changed, her smile dropped and her eyes hardened. She dropped the plate she had picked from the table, “No!” She said and walked back into the kitchen. Continue reading

The Polls

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A warm morning sun shone into the courtyard of the school. The tree that stood in the centre of the courtyard came to life with the cries of birds. Shiva sat in the shade of the tree, hard at work on a thick rope that he was tying into an elaborate knot. He had been up and working for a long while already. He had set up a stage that now stood beside the tree. He had brought out chairs from the classrooms in the school and placed them in neat rows in front of the stage. As the school peon, it was his duty to set up the booth on election day and the stage on the counting day. It was also his duty to prepare for the results. He inspected the knot that he had tied, he pulled on the rope to make sure it held in the correct manner. He tied the loose end of the rope to the tree and hid the other end in a nook behind the trunk of the tree. No one liked to think of the rope before the results were announced. He inspected the stage one last time and went outside the courtyard to smoke a bidi before the counting began.

As the sun climbed in the sky, the courtyard was slowly filled with the buzz of the villagers gathered there. They greeted each other and sat in small groups among the school chairs exchanging news and gossip. The women sat to the right though there was no rule that they had to. Their whispers were loud but quickly suppressed like a bee caught in a bell jar. The men gathered to the left of the stage, they greeted each other loudly at first. But their conversations grew quieter, like a bullfrog that had grown tired of its own mating call. The children ran around the playground that they were so familiar with. They found it funny that they had to visit the school on a holiday and the empty classrooms rang with their shouts and laughter. By the time the appointed hour arrived the whole village had gathered in the school courtyard. Continue reading

The Cyclone

Mr. Rao saw the first dark clouds gather on the horizon and the waves rise as if to lick them. He pulled the plastic chair close to the balcony. His knees groaned as he made to sit in the chair and he plonked into it. “The cyclone ‘ekla’ will make landfall around midnight. Evacuation efforts are underway and most people along the east coast are being evacuated to shelters…” the news presenter told Mr.Rao from the television. Mr. Rao looked at the watch still ticking away on the wall, it told him the time was around six in the evening. He looked back at the black clouds rolling on the horizon, “take your time…” he told the cyclone.

Mr. Rao chuckled when he saw the first lightning streak through the clouds. The doorbell rang again. Neighbours perhaps or some official trying to ensure everyone had been vacated. Mr. Rao ignored it. “The cyclone is the strongest one to be recorded in more than half a century…” the news presenter was saying. Good Mr.Rao thought. The electricity was cut and the TV feel silent. “Now it’s just you and me…” Mr. Roa said to the storm.

It thundered in response.

Mr. Rao sat starting at the approaching clouds, he just wished he had something to chew on like a gumdrop, but they were all the way in the kitchen and he couldn’t bring himself to go there. But then his bladder groaned in protest. He sat there debating the urgency of it, until he had to push himself out of the chair and waddled to the restroom, his knees groaning in protest. The worst thing about old age, and there are so many, Mr. Roa thought is the number of times you have to use the restroom.

Continue reading

The toxic straight male virus

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“Sir, there is another individual here to see you about Avalon. Claims his…um apparatus is in working order” Jeffrey, my butler, announced as he placed my nightcap on the coffee table.

I paused the TV for the first time that day. I was watching a rerun of one of the seasons of my TV show “Style fails for the straight males’ from what seemed like a lifetime ago. I liked this particular episode, I had done a brilliant makeover for a mid-west truck driver if I do say so myself. And he had had the audacity to tell me Pocket squares were not a necessity in his line of work. It was memories like these that made me think that perhaps the epidemic was justified. I am sure this truck driver was amongst the first wave of victims claimed by the virus.

“Ehm…ehm..” Jeffery cleared his throat. Being a man good old Jeff had also fallen victim to the TSM virus, but had somehow managed to maintain his will to clean up and look after me, which was all for the best. But it did make one wonder which way the butler swung in such matters, not that that was a question that could be discussed obviously. I had simply placed him in that esoteric basket of asexuality, shuddered at the thought of it and moved on. Continue reading

Control experiment

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She wakes up on a small mound of hay. She notices she is naked. Startled, she searches for her clothes. She is alone for now, in a small room.

She looks around, it is a strange room, the walls all look like they were moulded from one piece of a translucent plastic material. The ceiling looks like a lid, made from the same material. She walks around the room slowly with caution. The room is flooded in light, though she can’t see where it is coming from.  Just beside her hay, there is a large glass bottle hanging on the wall. It has a clear liquid in it, that can be sucked out of it from a steel dropper. Besides​ the bottle is a metal mesh cylinder, it is filled with a jelly-like substance, that is almost oozing out of the mesh, it has a strong artificial fruit smell, raspberry she guesses, she hates raspberries.

She walks to the other end of the plastic room. She can reach the other end in ten steps. She can cover the width of the room in five. She stifles a scream, though she doubts if anyone would hear her scream or care. No, she must not scream because she doesn’t want to give into the panic, she will not acknowledge the smallness of the space. On the other side is a small treadmill, it is built into the floor of the room. Beside it is a small steel commode. Everything is vigorously clean, sterile. She goes around the room several times, she touches everything, again and again, making sure it is solid. She keeps going around the room as if she walked long enough there would be more of it. After what seems like hours there isn’t any more of the room. She feels her breathing hasten, her blood is throbbing against her temple, her heart is beating in her ears, she cannot hold her panic anymore. “I am trapped,” she says to herself, “I am trapped…” as she runs around faster and faster she touches the hay, then the water bottle, then the treadmill, then the commode. Her vision blurs, hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. She wants to stop. Hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. This is making space seem smaller. Hay, bottle, treadmill, commode. She cannot stop. She slams against a wall and falls into the hay. Continue reading

You are late

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“Ah, why am I late? Well, in fact, there is a very interesting story behind that. But, do you think we have the time of that now? Oh, we do, is it? We have time for a long story, but we don’t have time for me being late by a few minutes, is it? Ok, I see how it is. Well fine, I will tell you the story.

Long, long ago before there was anything, Father time had just begun seeing Mother space. They had decided to go on a date that day. This was before they had moved in together and Father time still lived at his own place. Father time was very different then, not the busy, bossy, no-fun time we know now. He was young and relaxed. He had flowing black hair that needed a lot of care to style. And so by the time he took a nice long shower, styled his hair, picked out his outfit, and reached the venue of their date Mother space had been waiting for what seemed a very long time to her.

“You are late!” She shouted when she saw Father time. Continue reading

#celestialmetoo

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It was a moody Bangalore evening that could not decide if it felt too hot or too cold. I unzipped my jacket for the tenth time that evening as I approached the bar. I checked the location of my meeting again, it was supposed to be this bar. Maybe there was some mistake, I couldn’t imagine meeting my source in such a shady place. It wouldn’t be safe for her, I wasn’t even sure if it was safe for me.

“I am near the location, where are you?” I messaged her.

“I can see you. Please come inside…” her reply was prompt. I looked up at the windows of the bar lit with a dramatic blue colour, I couldn’t see anyone. Continue reading

The last wood nymph

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Yesterday, the last square kilometer of forest on the earth was destroyed, to build a mall. It was sad on several levels, we humans were no longer people of the earth, what we were going to be we still did not know, but we were no longer of the land. It was sad but few people lamented the loss of the last bit of forest. Several people were happy because the new mall would be air conditioned and would have a casino. I was the saddest person though, contrary to what Bhoomi believes. She feels an immense sadness wrapped in her loss, but I also feel responsible for her sadness, because maybe indirectly but I have been responsible for it. Bhoomi was a wood nymph. Sadly that sentence ‘she was’ is grammatically correct. She was a legend to me in the days when I was surveying the forest for my company. Continue reading

Halloween gone wrong…

“Tonight, some one is going to kill us. Pick us off one by one, when we least expect it, when we think we are safe in our cozy dorms, snuggled up to our furry feline friends; the killer is going to come unnoticed, sneak up on us and before our cats can even raise an alarm, bury a hatchet in our brain and watch in rapt fascination when tissues of grey matter squiggle out of the only deep opening in heads.” I said in a silent whisper, hoping that I sound menacing enough to scare the girls.

“Ahhhh” I hear two, satisfyingly, loud intake of breaths just as Fuschia, my Persian cat, snuggles up to me demanding a belly rub.

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“Jasmine, you can do better than that. Come on, this remotely sounding prophetic statement wouldn’t scare an 9 year old, forget 19 year olds.” Laura, my nemesis, spoke clearly exasperated by our incompetence to scare each other.

But then again, I knew she had it in for me. From her ordinary mousy brown hair to her spectacled black eyes; from her evident poo belly to her H&M’s clearance sale clothes; Laura was not the type who would be asked out on a date even if she were the last girl in the dorm. Continue reading

Daddy’s little girl…

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You lug yourself forward, it hurts in places you did not know existed, until now. You drag yourself ahead; your body is heavy, panting like a dog in a desert. You are all alone, but that is a relief. You don’t mind dragging yourself to the bed stand, you don’t mind using the dying strength in your arms to slowly lift your upper body, and plop it on the bed. You don’t mind being alone; in fact you are positively relieved in your solitude. Because the alternative, the alternative to being alone propels you into tears of dread, misery and frustration.

You know that for at least another three to four hours, you will be alone. That time would help you lick your wounds, huddled in the corner of your bed. But before that you need to check, check your body, check your bones, check your face. No cuts, no visible wounds, no broken bones; that is your first priority; because the last thing you want is for people to notice. Your abdomen screams in pain, so does your nine months old daughter, she screams in hunger. Your abdomen can wait maybe, but not your daughter.

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Mean Animals

“When I was a kid, I used to nag – a lot. I would go to my room, shut the door, often latch it from inside, and talk to the posters of animals in my room and nag some more. Yell out my side of the story, seek sympathy, say things out loud that hurt me. Talk about other the mean kids. Yell out bad words.”

Mom would barge in and say, “Keep the door open baby. Don’t latch it from inside.”

“But why mom?”

“Because kids shouldn’t be confined in their rooms all alone. That’s why. God forbid, if something goes wrong, we wouldn’t even come to know about it.”

“Okay. Fineee, mom!”

“And that happened every other day. Any time things went wrong, or upset me, I did the same thing; locked myself in and talked to these lifeless posters for hours and hours.  And it was not always just a one sided vent. These animals talked too. And I listened to them more than I listened to my best friend, or my teacher, or my own parents.  And this went on, say, till I was in my late teen years.”

“And then what happened?” asked the doctor.

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“Then it stopped. Obviously. I grew up.”

“But why is it the obvious, Sam?” Continue reading

Goodbye and all that “stuff”

I am shoving her suitcase in the car trunk and then shoving it further down between her other bags, is when she says, “what are you doing? Be gentle! This one’s fragile.”

“Yeah?” I say, “Unfortunately I am not your cabin crew … and put a fucking sticker on this thing. Make it bold.”

“I have put a sticker on it. And it is bold. Look,” she points.

“Well then make it more bolder. I can barely see it,” I say.

“There is no such thing as, “more bolder””, she corrects me.

“Well, there is now,” I say, “And sorry, I am not born or brought up or moving to America, unlike some other people. For me, more bolder means, more bolder, you get it? Something I can see or read from 20 mtrs away … And oh! Boulder also means something I want people to get smeared by, when they annoy me.”

“I am sure, you can read this from far. If only you want to,” she says.

“Nope! I can’t. I can’t read or write things. I am stupid. Okay?”

She breathes deeply. Looks away and looks back at me.

“Really? Right Now? God! You are such a jerk” she says, not loud enough for me to hear it but loud enough to grab my attention.

“I heard that!”

“Good. Coz I wanted you to!” She yells, walking towards the house and slams the door behind her.

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I stand there, staring at the open car door and appreciating a pigeon fidgeting with a dark spot on the windshield. His feathers are messed up. He is probably hungry too, but look at him; he is so calm and beautiful, he is not shouting at me, plus he is not even flying to a different country by himself. Even though he could – free of cost. This pigeon is a star! Continue reading

Murder is easy – A Sherlock Holmes mystery

“Murder is easy, as long as you don’t make it look like a murder.” He said. Using his left hand to scratch his crotch fervently, in a dog like frenzy when it’s trying to bury a bone.

“So, you mean that it’s easy to commit a murder as long as you make it look like an accident, suicide or illness.” I spoke, seriously concerned about his hygiene while he ardently moved on to scratch his butt cheeks now, a look of relief stole his face as his lips parted slightly in bliss. He then cleared his throat and spoke, “Took you long enough to catch up, detective.” He looked at me from head to toe, his expression, disdainful. As if his East London lodging was any better than my Irish accent.

“In that case, Mr. Holmes, if the death of Dr. Watson is not an accident; I’d be loathe to tell you this, but you would be considered the primary suspect. Because you were the last person to see him.” I said.

“Also, I am loathe to tell you, Detective, while I might be your primary suspect, I am also your greatest ally, because I am after all ‘the Sherlock Holmes’.” He said that while tipping his hat and awkwardly itching his long beard with his right hand. He coughed up something awful, a ball of mucus with traces of red and removed his tell tale hat that looked like it had tiny holes burrowed by very hungry mice.

“You see Detective….” he continued, looking at me and murmuring about my Irish origins. His scraggly beard more grey than black, moved with a life of its own, as though it housed its own eco system right there.

“Boyle…I am Detective Boyle.” I offered.

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“Yes Detective Boyle…A common Irish ancestry, I presume. You see Dr. Watson here had invited me over for tea this evening, while his wife Mary and their son has been visiting some old crone of an aunt in Watford. We had an hour-long tete-a-tete about this and that, in which he mentioned that just last week he had cleaned his shotgun. Therefore, I honestly don’t think he would feel the need to clean it again.”

Continue reading

The Guard

Twice already, the guard, against his will, has entertained the access requests of her new acquaintances – who reek of tobacco and sexual desperation – tonight.

Over the intercom, she sounds a bit woozy, and her lisp – that often titillates the guard – is fiddling with her diction, and cannibalising the words and turning them into a puzzle of some kind.

“But madam,” the guard says, faking a cordial tone and suppressing an urge of defiance, “he doesn’t have an ID proof on him.”
“That’s okay, I know him personally. Let him in,” she commands.
And he compels himself to say, “Alright. Could you please come downstairs and sign for him?”,
“Yes. I will!”

And the third time tonight, she is at the entrance gate, arching her body like a sloppy contortionist, to sign the register, and while doing so, the strap of her brassiere falls sideways, and the guard, in his full capacity, pretends to remain oblivious to the sexual tension that she has ignorantly weaved around him.

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While the visitor, who clearly doesn’t know her that well, is standing at a little distance; smoking a cigarette and impatiently waiting for certain events – that he looks assured of – to unfold.

And then they both hug, a cold detached side-hug, and walk in the direction of the window that opens to her bedroom on a floor above the ground.

The guard’s eyes follow them, till they mould into elongated shadows, that soon collapse into each other and becomes a distorted sketch of temporary tenderness. Continue reading

Hard candy for Diwali

I knew I was going to regret that day the minute I woke up. A strong cloud of foreboding hung over my head and after almost a year I found myself craving for a Chocolate Ganache. My stomach tore in desire as I searched my fridge for anything, anything fattening or gluttonous or sinful. All I found were bland protein breakfast bars.

I stuffed one in my mouth as tasteless flakes landed elegantly on my white tee.

How did I ever eat this shit for 365 days? I thought just as I kept stuffing not one, not two but three of those bars down my throat and simultaneously dusting off the big flakes off my clothes.

Bam, at the stroke of noon my mobile shrilled with Meghan Trainor singing that it was all about her base. The call was from Mummy. She demanded to know why I was not at her place helping her with the cooking and all the other shit that always needed to be done at family gatherings.

By the time she was done yelling at me, which was exactly 15 minutes, I was in a creased red chudidaar with a torn dupatta. I was hoping that I could cleverly conceal the tear if I wore the dupatta right, because my mother would lose a year off her life span if she happened to spot the tear.

Another fifteen minutes of almost empty roads, I entered my parent’s home. Some may call it a mansion; I called it the fancy house of terrors, mostly because my mother lived there. As I entered the drive way I saw a red Santro that belonged to my sister and her two kids. There was another that belonged to my widowed aunt and finally Munna uncle’s land rover, my mother’s younger brother.

I groaned, loud enough that the mansion’s new watchman jerked towards me, twisted his head and gave me the ‘Are you alright, lady?’ stare.

The living room smelled like a strange concoction of diya oil, motichor laddoos, marigold flowers and the stench of cigarettes. One sweep across the room and I took in my mother screaming at my twelve-year old niece to be nice to Munna uncle, my sister silently urging Mummy to leave her alone, my Father hollering at them to take their bickering elsewhere because Arnab was debating about the steel flyover, my six-year old nephew crashing into my pelvis, almost giving me a hernia and my aunt, who sat knitting sweaters in Bangalore with a glass of red wine.

In that instance I knew the reason for my daylong foreboding. It was this family, these people who I had managed to escape for past three years, while working abroad. With a sinking feeling I realised I was back where I started.

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My aunt exclaimed in delight the minute she saw me, “Chintu, kitni patli ho gayee hai? My god, oh how much weight have you lost?”

But no, no way can my mother have someone else say one nice word about me. Her psychosis doesn’t allow an entry into the house without guilt-tripping.

Continue reading

Radio

Some of my childhood memories are about dad being all weird and having a strange relationship with his radio.

We would flock out behind him every morning, pressed against his leg like clueless kittens and he would stare out of the window at nothing for a good fifteen minutes, sipping his own made tea and smoking his own rolled cigarette, as the BBC tune in the background reached its crescendo.radio

During the summer vacation hot afternoons, when we pretended to sleep, the radio would transition from the news updates to the early 70s songs and then back to the news again, but dad – on purpose – would skip the songs that we craved for so much and tune into the news stations and would listen to the same news over and over again.

In my infant years, I believed, dad was an encyclopaedia and knew everything, just by listening to the news from all over the world, but in my adolescent years, I was just confused about his behaviour and doubted his ability to retain information.

The first time I brought Sarah, my girlfriend then and my wife now, over to my place, she said, “What’s with your dad and his radio?”, and I couldn’t think of a good answer and sat next to her blinking. Continue reading

Come on Sarah!

Now that you had not seen this coming Sarah, it’s safer to assume, you are caught off-guard. Perfect. It’s time to put your training to use, and the training remember Sarah, as you have been told by Mr. Kyle repeatedly, is merely about strength, or agility, or tricks, it’s more about the awareness of your mind. So focus.

A man has broken into your house. You have heard the shattering of the window glass. It could be a wild animal too, but what if it is a man? An animal does not know you are home alone, a man does.

He knows you are alone and mom has said she will be late, so of course dad has a big enough window to go out and gamble. You be the secret keeper and don’t tell anyone, not even your brother Eddie when he comes back tomorrow, dad has told you and that’s fine. Let dad gamble. He is not an addict. Plus he is good at it. He is fine. You are fine. Everything is fine.

So come on now, do the thing where, facing downstairs, hands on railing, you hop down the stairs,  one at a time, when mom’s not watching, and it’s okay if it’s getting a lot harder now compared to how it felt a few years ago, because someone’s feet are getting longer every day.

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At fifteen, Sarah, you grow faster than ever. And people notice that sort of thing; “Hey! You are developing breasts!” Continue reading

What Else Do You See?

Saw him in a Jason Mask at the Halloween party last week, walked over and greeted, “Hi”, but there was no response. “So … ”, I said, from under my devil’s mask, my pitch trying to cut through the stereo woofing by the window, “I am Zach and you are?”

He walked away, out through the main door and disappeared somewhere near the driveway.

Called my girlfriend, “Sweetie, come over here”, she came close, half tipsy, breath smelling like vodka and cigarette, tail wagging like Catwoman, “Do you know who came to our party in a Jason Mask?”download

“In a what?”

“In a Jason Mask”

“What’s that? Are you drunk?”

“I am not drunk,” I said, pulled off my Devil’s mask and kept it on the corner table, “You are drunk … and Jason Mask is … have you not seen Friday the 13th?” Continue reading

Escape from midlife crises – A to-do guide for women & men

“Life is a prison”, now I didn’t say that. Someone did, someone completely inconsequential to this write up. That would explain why I don’t feel even a teeny bit of inclination to make you aware of his or her name.

But if life is a prison then mid-life is the Green mile. It is one those fancy semi colon tattoos that everyone is getting, as if “a down on his luck 40 year old” is even going to notice the tiny semi colon strategically placed near your wrist.

But your tattoo is not the reason for this write up. It is the prison of your mid – life and how to escape it.

Now, it is extremely critical to understand that mid-life crises differs from men to women. For example a woman, almost every single month gets minute mid life shocks when she starts PMSing. But for men it comes like a meteor falling over their head out of nowhere.midlife-crises-women

So, let me start with an escape route for women.

Ladies, believe me you have it easy.

You hit 36/37 or the 38 mark. You realize the kids are gone or almost vanishing, the husband doesn’t notice your new hair cut. Continue reading