Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Three flavours to put on your 'ice-cream-to-try-before-I-die' list: (I know it sounds cliched, but they are absolutely delectable, and just cannot be missed if you have the chance to try them)

1. Raspberry- white chocolate

2. Rum-raisin

3. Walnut butterscotch

I am so glad we don't live on ice cream, and that it isn't great for health. Because things that we survive on and those that are good for health just don't taste heavenly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gallivanting through Life

Today I did three things I've been wanting to do for a really long time, where 'long' is just a relative term, spread over different time spans. Chronologically, in the order of occurrence through the afternoon, after work:

1. I entered a whole new world in the National Geographic showroom. If you like dreaming and fantasizing, this is definitely one place to be in- walk through the dimly lit cavern decorated with pictures of birds and nature at their best, people from all around the world, books, magazines and antique furniture. How lovely some of those teak bookshelves were! If you like shopping for furniture and curiosities, this is the place for you, too- strictly, though, if you have deep pockets. Quite a bit of the stuff is from India and China. Old and strong, bringing forth reminiscences of an age that is only a textbook-revelation to us.

2. I tried the ice cream at New Zealand Natural. I chose the white chocolate and raspberry flavour, and it was heavenly.

3. I went home from office on a bus- a double decker bus. I've never been on a double-decker bus before, and sitting up there and surveying creation- or to put it more sensibly, traffic- was quite a new experience. (Can we leave out the bit where the novelty wore off and I actually got tired of the drive because it took me twice the time to get home? Of course, they say things are more pleasant to imagine than to actually experience, but you can't obviously believe everything just like that!)

And this is how, unexpectedly, life goes from monotonous to beautiful overnight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Slice of Normalcy

After weeks of confusion between days and nights, a semblance of normalcy returns to my life. I awake in the morning, and now, at seven in the evening, I can watch the golden folds in the sky as the sun goes home and a pale bluish white sky without character or identity takes its place. Soon enough, though, the stars will be out, and even as I write, the sky is turning a sinister grey, with a hint of pink pushing its way from goodness knows where.

The lights are coming on and the cars are jamming up at the traffic signals. Fleeing, returning home, going out to be beguiled at a mall, masquerading. Indian girls who have lived cloistered lives and been told what to wear and what to do all their lives see their first chance at 'freedom', if that is what it is to follow the pack, and do precisely what they have been forbidden to. Clothes grow skimpy, alcohol flows free, maybe even a smoke or two. The eyes betray anxiety, a keen hunger for adoration and worship, cowardly defiance, embarrassed guilt. A conscience can be a very uncomfortable thing to have, almost akin to a chronic disease. Fight it all you want, it always catches up with you. Metamorphose, and it will still remind you who you really are.

The children in the park are screaming in glee. Make-believe games and the assurance that someone else knows best (when you are too young to think for yourself or rebel, that is) keep them contented. The black dresses, holding hands on the train and nights at St. James' Power Station are still a long way off. The only outings they care for now are days on the island with their parents, flying kites on the open grass, the National Day celebrations- the age when a country is judged by its theme parks.

We hover on the bridge, trying to fit in somewhere. The cab driver is shocked at the rent we pay- it is much too high, he says- and we still splurge on bargains at the mall. Susceptible to temptations, earning our own living, doing our own cooking and cleaning, shopping for our groceries and vegetables- sometimes it's all just too hard to fathom. Where are we, now?

The sky is dark, and my body knows bedtime is approaching. My mind resists vehemently- but I try to make it see sense, because this is a hard-earned fortnight of normalcy, or a semblance of it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A ruined washing machine that rattles like a hundred drums can be mistaken for a National Day Parade- or an earthquake- by a hyperactive imagination.

Who ever imagined such crazy things?


It is a lazy Saturday afternoon, and when you wake up at a disgraceful one o'clock (allowing for the fact, though, that you went to bed only at five in the morning), it's too late for plans for a grand outing.

When it comes to spur-of-the-moment decisions for an evening out, and when most of the girls are lying exhausted in bed after night shifts, there is nothing much for two girls to do but go...shopping? Well, actually, this time I chose Chinatown because I like the atmosphere there. It is a flea market, a perennial bazaar, an exhibition of sorts- new people come and go all the time, but time stands still. You never know when you might come across something unexpected. This evening, for instance, as I stood amidst the rows of skirts and mannequins in an open shop that I'd visited quite a few times earlier, I noticed a sign I'd never seen earlier. 'Japanese Street', I learnt, was the name of the road that was packed with restaurants, shops and stalls selling clothes, semi-precious stones, knick-knacks you don't need but want, electronic items, jewellery and Buddhist artefacts. It is truly a slice of China, and somehow, you never can get tired of it. What I learnt from the sign, though, was that it was once home to coolie houses where innocent men led a life of struggle, and brothels where Japanese girls sold their dignity to help fund the war at home. Can human beings go any lower than this, forcing women to give up their honour to fuel the arrogant caprices of a group of powerful men? Now, though, the street prospers and flourishes with happy crowds of tourists and locals, the ghosts of the gory past dismissed, hopefully, for ever.

The prospect of an iced tea was rather tantalising after a walk through the narrow crowded streets, where for some reason, blonde heads come close to outnumbering the black- packs of tourists from all around the world descend here and gape and gawk at the various curiosities. You can't help but feel like a proud 'local' come there for a regular evening stroll (defining local- three or four trips to the streets should be good enough, where one shop can be very like the one next to it).

The most amusing part of the evening, though, was the 'drink' at a Thai food stall. We walked by the men sitting at the tables outside, talking over mugs of Heineken (and not Tiger beer, which is the main source of income at the stall round the corner from where we live), and asked for the day's special- Thai iced tea. The man at the counter gave us tea on the rocks- quite literally- in a Heineken mug. Derision evaporating (sorry, but I don't take very kindly to alcohol), I posed for a couple of pictures with the mug- stupid, but we were just fooling around. Too bad we lost the pictures due to a problem with the memory card in my roommate's camera.

It wasn't an extraordinary evening, it wasn't even worth writing about, but you know how things are, there are days when you have nothing to say and still end up saying it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

At Peace with Myself

Yet another trigger of memories.

On lonely nights, I am reminded of my first weeks in Singapore. In retrospect, ten months isn't long enough to get nostalgic, and rather illogical it is when you are still at the place you're getting nostalgic about. It's not the place, it's just the time, and why I cannot say, because these weeks are more enriching and fulfilling than the ones when I was a fresh import, first time away from home for an indefinitely long period. In a different country, for goodness' sake! How did I even imagine I'd survive?

Survive I did. I have paid a price in terms of forfeiting some of my fetish for solitude and loneliness, but I don't really mind, because I think I can return to what I was whenever I choose to. Independence is good when you use it prudently.

The fragrance of face wash, in this case, was the culprit. I bought this tube of Pond's face wash in my first month here, when we were still using soap and shampoo carted all the way from India, with neither enough confidence in nor enough money for 'imported' products. Those were the days when the only literature at home was the few women's magazines the landlady had left behind- glossy pages splashed across with slender women dressed in gowns and clothes that I do not have names for, the everpresent stories of splits and heartbreaks, recipes to cook creatures that I'd probably barely heard of.

Everything was new and exciting, and while the novelty has admittedly worn off and sometimes the long hours can seem interminable, I do not for a moment regret having chosen to come here- getting away from home for a spell can do you a great deal of good, and you can shape yourself, learn who you are, figure out what you want, without being bothered constantly by the 'helpful' opinions of the unknown people who live across the street and think they have a right to your life just because they have seen you walk to the bus-stop every morning for six long years.

I am alone, and I like it this way. This morning, for sure, I wouldn't exchange my solitude for anything in the world.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Inviting yourself to a bleak evening- this is how you do it

One of the downsides to work is the so-called team outings you are dragged into. I can't believe I got talked into attending one of these things- the surest recipe for a headache, especially when you've worked a night shift and slept only five hours (on an ordinary day, that should do well enough, but certainly not after a night of work, and particularly on a Saturday).

So it was that I ended up rubbing my temples at a karaoke night organised by a group of people who took possession of a community club theatre (I'm really not sure what influence they used there, what sort of strings they had to pull), and proceeded, with great gusto, to launch an attack on sane senses. Doing what you enjoy best without worrying about other people's opinions isn't wrong at all- but not when so many people's peace and patience are at stake. Imagine 40-something men and women on stage, pretending to sing karaoke, when for the lives of them they cannot sing a word in tune. Imagine, well, the screeching that a stick of chalk rubbed hard against a blackboard produces. That would describe some of the female voices there. Overdressed aunties were around in plenty, wearing ill-fitting clothes and probably all the make-up out of a vanity case. I am no authority when it comes to fashion, but I'll say sparkling blue eyeshadow on a brown-haired woman wearing bright yellow doesn't quite appeal to good taste. The singers- give me a word for people who think they sing, but actually don't- I'm not even going to try to describe the show of pretence and mimicry that followed. I'll be merciless here, because people who can't sing have no business clambering up on stage and performing in front of people they don't know and who don't care for them. Was there an unknown wager, an ultimatum they'd been given to sing or be guillotined? It's different when you're among a group of friends and are playing the fool, but the amount of attitude and seriousness they were pouring into these performances was absolutely ridiculous.

The audience comprised the families and colleagues of the performers- families present out of pompous confidence in their people's abilities, colleagues because they were too polite and cowardly to say no. I have never been so caustic earlier, but I can say that my Saturday was effectively ruined, and left me in no mood to read or write or do anything useful. Maybe I should just sleep the weariness away.

Note to self: Next time, speak up!

PS: I tried to write something else, a polite, decent, normal piece, but this was the only thing that would come out spontaneously. You see, I have had enough pretence for today. For ever. And if I sound more frustrated than normal, it is because I have to work on Sunday as well, which, of course, means no weekend. As always, who on earth invented money?!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Voices from the War

War, bloodshed, guns and anguish- it is difficult to believe something as ghastly could have taken place on an island as tranquil and lovely as Sentosa. Tranquil, that is, as it must have been between the end of the Second World War and the invasion of the island by commercial predators. Even now, though, there are large pockets on the island that do not swarm with pleasure-seeking multitudes (of which we were undeniably a part- even so), which do not seem to draw crowds with the tenacity of gift shops placed strategically at the exit of every major attraction- theatre, gallery, park.

Fort Siloso is a relatively quiet section of the island (or so it was yesterday, thanks maybe to the heavy rain that suddenly started to fall, dauting potential families of visitors, but not strong enough to prevent us from running across the road to the entrance), and we were taken to the buildings by a quaint green bus, reminiscent of the past century and its glories. Don't let the word 'Fort' mislead you as it did me- I'd expected a castle of sorts, huge intricate doors, gates and all, but it was more a military establishment. It was built by the British to defend Singapore and other Asian establishments from Japanese invasion, but that didn't deter Japan from capturing Singapore during WW II.

Now, as a tourist spot, Fort Siloso offers you enough glimpses of history to send shivers down your spine- pictures of emaciated soldiers, people ravaged by war and running helter-skelter to protect themselves from raids and firing, stern, cold men sitting across tables and signing treaties for control over people whom they could later kill and torture according to their whims. A cottage has been remodelled to depict the various sections on ships that carried soldiers to Singapore- the sleeping quarters, the kitchen, the laundry and the tailor's. Large fans sweep through the silent air in the room, their shadows falling eerily across the dimly-lit objects. As you step into the room, speakers play the voice of British generals shouting out orders mercilessly in harsh tones. You see the ingratiating smile on the face of the native tailor as he fits the Britisher, hoping, perhaps, for one kind word.

Large guns dot the hillside. How hard can it get to imagine ships wending their way into the harbour, spilling out tired, spent soldiers, or balls of fire being spouted out by the great guns and causing massive destruction to life and property? Through the rain, we got a spectacular glimpse of the harbour, the grey skies, the clouds hovering over the skyscrapers. The skies were menacingly grey as we looked up through the thick foliage, making our way to the Surrender Chambers. This is perhaps historically the most important part of the fort, featuring the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese: lifelike effigies of men at tables, working out (or destroying) the future of a people who had unwittingly been entrapped in the power struggles of two unconnected nations. Fort Siloso also served as a PoW camp after the British surrendered; imagine being isolated in dungeons on a secluded island, away from all civilisation and humanity, at the mercy of cruel men.

We peeked into a couple of underground chambers, but didn't go through the tunnels for lack of time- it was creepy and musty in there, with the doors open and the lizards crawling across the walls- you don't need high powers of imagination to think how it must have been back then, guns firing all around, never knowing when you'd be attacked. The fort indeed brings back to life the sounds and the sights of the war- the authoritarian voices, the stony eyes of murderers, the anguished cries of pain and separation, the mothers' wailing, the children's screaming- and the eternal question about the futility of it all, and why we still have so much faith in violence as the best solution to the problems of boundaries and territories. We're either incorrigible, or incredibly stupid, as opposed to all our claims of being the most intelligent species on the planet.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Japanese are a creative lot. And industrious. Have you ever seen all the emoticons they come up with? Samples soon.