Of Pop Culture And More

My husband argues with me perpetually. If you have followed my blog even once, you will notice it’s a recurring theme.

One of his pet peeves is that I limit screen time for the kids. He fears that at 5 and (just-turned) 4, they are not able to keep up with their peers. After all, a child who is unable to hold an informed opinion and keep up his or her end of the conversation when it comes to pop culture is destined to face severe social anxiousness when he or she grows up. As you may have realised, I don’t take much of what my husband says seriously, but this is a whole new level of nonsense. For one, socialising is the only aspect of their lives where my children are super-achievers. The second reason is because I have read about and experienced the effects of excessive screen-time. Not one to let go of a topic when he has sunk his teeth into it, my argumentative Indian insists that he grew up being fed on a steady diet of TV and I should just take a look at how well he turned out.

Ah well, he is a master of shooting himself in the foot because if I was wavering till then, I now had proof positive of the disastrous results.

Another reason he shouldn’t worry is because my kids are masters of all 50s – 80s pop culture. They may sing rather tunelessly themselves, but they have a good ear and can recognise the theme music of Superman, Ironman, Wonder Woman, Star Wars, He Man and Pink Panther as well as they can Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol and Frozen. Our son surprised us the other day. He heard some music that he has never heard before and piped up immediately – “Ah! That James person!”

It was indeed the James Bond theme music. My husband insists he has never introduced the secret agent to them, not even on the sly. He may have mentioned 007 in one of his  conversations and hummed the music, but we didn’t know that the kids were listening. Needless to say, my husband was now beaming at our son. My daughter may look exactly like him, but she is more like me when it comes to interests. She holds a passing interest in superheroes but it’s more just to play with her little brother. A spy would definitely never make the cut. On the other hand, I’m convinced that she will become the zookeeper or conservationist that I wanted to be, but didn’t. She looked confused and said, “Who?!” She looked at my husband looking like his heart would burst with pride and racked her brain to think of the most impressive person she had heard of. “Ah! I know! He’s Jane Goodall’s brother!”

Parenting #LikeABoss

I’m the disciplinarian of the family, there’s no doubt about it. My kids have been taught to answer the question – “Who’s the Boss?” with a prompt and loud – “Amma (mother)!!!”

I have had to take on this role partly because it suits my personality, but also because my husband doesn’t even attempt to job-share this particular position. He travels for up to two weeks every month, so I am always left holding the fort when it comes to school runs, medical checkups, and more. Even when at home physically and emotionally, he has almost always checked out mentally. Sometimes it’s because he is reading (always news or heavy non-fiction, which puzzles me because I only ever lose myself in imaginary worlds) and is incapable of multi-tasking. Often, it’s because he is working or taking work calls (this I can understand because I too don’t like to be disturbed when working – the difference is that I wait for the kids to go to bed and stay up late, sacrificing both sleep and personal interests to reach work deadlines). But most of the time, it is simply because he doesn’t think it is his any of business.

A recurring fight in our marriage involves what I see as lack of consideration. He only does things he is asked to do, or forced to do, after every possible hindrance to him actually doing it has been cleared. I want him to take the initiative and do things of his own accord. He can’t understand what I’m going on about. In his mind, I am the CEO of the house, while he is only the executive. A lowly one, at that. He looks to the top for directions, which he carries out, but with the usual employee dissatisfaction. So he is constantly negotiating a better deal, trying to claim overtime by inflating his billable hours and comparing his lot with other employees (in other households, thankfully! There are no other employees in this household :)).

Kids are smart. At 5 and 3, ours have already read and understood the power dynamics in the household. And they know that they don’t need to win over this menial employee. The other day, I overheard a negotiation between them.

“Please can we watch TV? Just one episode of Paw Patrol. Just 20 mins.”

“I need to check with Amma first.”

“No, no, you decide. You can decide for us.”

“OK then. Just 10 mins.”

“WE SAID 20!!! WE WANT 20!!!” Tantrums follow.

“YOU SAID I SHOULD DECIDE! I SAID 10!” My husband splutters in protest. In my room, from where I’m eavesdropping, I imagine him trying to hold his ground, looking around rather desperately for me to rescue him. More tantrums.

So ultimately, they compromised and watched TV for 45 minutes.

Now that would never have happened with me. Which is probably why they skip asking me altogether and go directly to the weakest link.

The other day, my daughter overheard us discuss the protests in Hong Kong. She asked me what protests are. I thought about it briefly and explained that sometimes there are people in charge of running a country and they want things to run or done in a certain way, but people living in that country may not be happy about it, so they make a fuss and show that they don’t agree with the rules. They are protesters and what they are doing is called protesting.

By this time, both kids had gathered around and were nodding very sagely. It was rather cute to see these two, politically-wise-beyond-their-years kids.

“What have you understood?” I asked them, very amused.

“It’s very easy to understand! We see it everyday!”

“Protests?!” I panicked, wondering where they had been wandering off to when they should have been on playdates.

“Yes! You are the boss. You are always telling Achan (father) what to do and how to do things, but he is always protesting because he doesn’t want to!”

I burst out laughing and looked around to see what my ‘protester’ had to say. He was reading the news and hadn’t heard a word. Ah well, there would be no outraged protests to that, thankfully!



Charlie: The Little Dictator

And so breaking news: Charlie is here to stay!

My husband tried but couldn’t resist the charms of a little dog with such a big personality.

Some people would say we got stuck with rather a bad deal. At 12, Charlie is well past his prime. He is active and excitable for now, but I know that old age problems could crop up at any moment.

He is far too tiny to be of any use as a watchdog. And in safe Hong Kong, I doubt we will ever need him to be either.

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He suffered an eye tear when he was a puppy and though it hasn’t affected his eyesight, it gives him a rather distorted look. When his eyes are open, he looks like he has a tear duct in the middle of his eye and when he sleeps, the red underlid droops out and he looks like his eyes are open and bloodshot.

And then, there is his smell. When we first got him home, he was flatulent. To put it mildly. Just as we settled to watch TV, he would launch a stealth stink bomb and within a matter of seconds, it would be man, woman and children down.  That has slowly been corrected with a better diet and a healthy dose of probiotics. There’s also his wet dog smell, but to be honest, with HK weather being as gloomy as it is currently, he can’t be blamed for smelling like a wet dog when he is one! And then there is his mouth. The less said the better. I have tried brushing his teeth, but it is going to need more than that and even regular scaling to remove the tartar that’s built up over the years. He might need a saw to cut through those disgusting mounds!

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All in all, some would say Charlie is not a prize catch. But when I see the unconditional love he gives me and my kids, the patience, consideration and selflessness that they are learning while caring for an eccentric old dog, I believe we have gained something priceless.

And so now, we’re scouting for names. Everyone has come up with ridiculous names that reflect how they see Charlie. My son wants to call him Mr Clock. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Perhaps, because when he runs after us, following us everywhere we move around the house, his paws make an annoying tick-tocky sort of noise. My daughter wants to call Bunny. Why? That’s a bit easier to guess. Each time when  Charlie sees us come home, he does a 20 minute bunny hop, totally not befitting his senior citizen status. My husband wants to call him Tiberius. Because he has boldly gone where no dog has gone before… Errr… I mean to my husband’s heart, of course! I want to call him Tyrion. It’s obvious. You should have GoT this! A short dog with a scar on his face.

Ah well, until we all agree, let’s just re-examine Charlie for now. Like his namesake, Charlie Chaplin, this one has a funny face, a ridiculous walk and makes us laugh without ever saying a word. He entered our world and took it over so smoothly! Hmmm.. I think he will remain Charlie, our little dictator.

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Barking Mad Dogs

I’m currently fostering a dog at our home. I say ‘I’ honestly because it’s only me involved with caring for him. My kids adore him, but they are too young to help and my husband has vowed not to be a part of my harebrained schemes, so is keeping his distance and trying desperately not to fall in love. I say ‘fostering’ rather dishonestly though. My kids and I know he isn’t going back to the shelter, but my husband, always deliciously vague and absent-minded, hasn’t realised that he has already overstayed his foster period!

A friend who was over at my place recently was in splits seeing me fuss over the dog. “You treat him like a human!!!”

Well, I do believe that dogs come so packed with personality and quirks that it’s hard to see them as anything but! They can’t speak Humanese but they know exactly how to communicate with us with their melting looks, raised heckles and out-of-control wagging.

My first dog, for instance, was a con artist. He was already old by the time I was able and responsible enough to be involved in taking care of him. And those who say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, hadn’t met Terry. From what I have heard, he began life as a fairly stupid dog – all brawn and little brain. But when he was 10, a routine cough turned into an infection and he burst a blood vessel in his ears and soon lost hearing. I believe that as one of his senses left him, he actually got gifted with sense. Terry milked his ‘no hearing’ to his advantage. He didn’t hear any instructions when convenient and for an old dog, we were always surprised by how quickly he moved to forbidden fruit! I think he had everyone fooled with his weak, doddering image. He didn’t fool me though. I think he chose to co-opt me into his con game, knowing that I was never going to rat him out. For instance, when the lift in the building stopped working, he would refuse to walk up the stairs. As a skinny seven-year old, I would him carry him up two floors, huffing and puffing all the way. As we neared the house, when I put him down, he would give himself a quick shake and step into his performer persona and then stumble and trip into the house, looking completely exhausted. Needless to say, he got fussed over!

William was completely different. He belonged to one of the richest families in Pune where he was fed organic, shredded chicken everyday. But he didn’t get any love or affection as the owners were always too busy in their own socialite world. William started coming to our colony, full of children willing to dote on him. After a few weeks, William decided to trade in the fancy diet for taking up permanent residence in the colony and in the hearts of 10 kids. He was a smart cookie. He worked out what he got fed at different houses and soon settled into his own routine. When he craved omelettes, he came to my house, on days when he just wanted milk and bread, he visited another house. Quite like a lover who had been cheated on once, William had a suspicious nature. If any of us ever touched another dog, he sniffed us jealously and turned his back to us and would refuse to come to our home even for food. Talk about (not) being in the doghouse!

Then there was Milo. Milo was thrown into our colony from the neighbouring slum settlement, when he was just a puppy. Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 1.07.16 PMAs he lay there, scared and whimpering, he quickly worked out that William was top dog and he would be wise to learn from him. He didn’t have William’s regal looks and upbringing and found it less easy to be accepted by the people of the colony, except for the most devoted dog-lovers. William accepted him as part of his pack, rather reluctantly, and barked out his commands to Milo who followed with unwavering devotion, the way only dogs can. Milo was a born and bred streetie and he had steel running through his muscles. As he grew bigger and stronger, Milo’s territorial instinct kicked in and he started ‘guarding’ our colony by chasing away milkmen and newspaper boys. The people of the colony objected and Milo was in danger of being put down. A few of us found a neighbour who owned a factory and convinced him that he needed a guard dog. Milo went to live there and very soon, he put William’s lessons to good use and became the leader of the pack there. When I visited him last, he was using his natural instincts and build to keep slum-dwellers from squatting on the factory premises. Divine or canine justice, I would think!

Some years ago, I adopted Barista from a coffee shop of the same name. Barista is more like a cafe frappe´, rather than a hot cappuccino. Always playing it cool, pretending he is so much more dignified than me. 420107_10152065088760611_710226222_nSo when I hug him and kiss him and roll on the floor with him, he endures these excesses of affection with stoic, suffering silence. Don’t let this fool you. Barista is and was insanely obsessed with me. If I ever left him alone at home, he would wreck it. I used to spend thousands of rupees Barista-proofing each rented apartment I moved into as I figured out how to deal with a dog who suffered acute separation anxiety when I wasn’t around and lip-curling contempt for me when I was! My favourite explanation of his split-personality-like behaviour came from a friend of mine. That was the time that a film called PK had released in India. It was about an alien lost in India who was desperate to get back home, but had lost the device he needed to communicate with his planet. This friend insisted that every time I left the house, Barista was wrecking it in his effort to find the device to get back home. Because with his no-bark, no-lick, no-expression policy, he was clearly not canine. Just a poor lost alien, desperate to escape a dangerously besotted human!

And now there’s Charlie. I have never been a small dog person. I like the beauty and magnificence of the bigger breeds. I picked Charlie up from the shelter because at a mere 7 kgs, I thought he would be easy to take care of. A good way to ease my kids and husband into the world of dog-caring. Turns out, I may have picked the I may have picked the smallest dog, but with the biggest personality. Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 1.07.44 PMCharlie has clearly never taken a look at the mirror because he believes that he is more bad-ass than any dog out there. Walking him is a nightmare because he tears down the street pulling someone 10 times his weight with ease. In the first two weeks of fostering him, I’ve signed up for a dog training course and am reading Cesar Millan’s books cover to cover, but nothing I’m doing seems to work. While I don’t mind the run around (I definitely could do with the workout!), I am really afraid of the fights he picks with other dogs. Thankfully, most of them ignore him because he looks like a slightly oversized rat. My first dog, Terry, was a bull terrier, supposedly called the gladiator of the canine species though I never saw any signs of it. Charlie, unfortunately seems to have taken on the gladiator persona. Ah well, I guess I may have to rename him when we formally adopt him. I’m thinking of Dufferus Maximus.


Thank you Netflix

Netflix is singlehandedly responsible for destroying hours of both productivity and much needed sleep with its ‘autoplay the next episode’ function. It forces you to watch even shows that you don’t particularly care for because you are just too lazy to pick up the remote and explore what else is on offer.

On one such night, I got trapped by ‘You’, a series about a charming stalker. The series began well enough. Though the said stalker jerked off into bushes, he seemed intelligent, passionate and discerning and he also helped his young neighbour escape an abusive potential step-father. All in all, a nice guy with an obsessive streak. Forgivable. But as the series went on, it got darker, more uncomfortable and very unrealistic. I continued to watch it though because I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the remote.

I took my kids and dog out for dinner the other day. They wanted to eat pasta and we passed by a newly opened Italian restaurant as we were out for an evening walk with the dog. The dinner began well enough. The manager seemed friendly, eager and was very warm to my kids. But then I started feeling uncomfortable. I answered a video call from my husband (who was travelling) and he stood there and peered over my shoulder. “Ah! That’s the father!” he remarked, standing there all the while while my kids jabbered away. At one point, I looked down at my dog and nearly jumped out of my skin because I saw him at my feet. He was trying to offer my dog a soft drink!!! I was really uncomfortable because he was well and truly in my personal space and he had entered it almost stealthily, without even the slightest whisper. The last thing that creeped me out was the way he spoke to my kids. My kids are friendly to a fault, even with strangers, and it seemed to me that they were rattling off too much information to this ‘uncle’ from the restaurant. I couldn’t get them to stop blabbering so I barked out orders about finishing food and not talking with their mouths full.

Through all of this, I kept telling myself that my overactive imagination was making me see a restaurant manager who was just eager to draw in a new customer as pathologically dangerous. I kept shushing the voice in my head and cursing Netflix for making me aware of stalkers and their wicked ways. Until, I called for the bill. My first instinct was to reach for my credit card, but Joe Goldberg of ‘You’ has taught me that revealing your name on the credit card opens you up to a whole world of cyber prying. And so, I paid by cash. As the change of $20 came back, I wondered whether to leave a tip, but I was determined to not be nicer than I felt and I quickly pocketed the note. And that’s when the charming persona that had been on display the entire evening changed. The manager stiffened, went back to the till and as I got up and said thank you, he cursorily muttered, “Good evening!” without meaning a word! So perhaps he was an overenthusiastic manager after all! Ah well! Netflix, you’re to blame for my stinginess!

PS: Dear reader, do stay on. Why don’t you autoplay onto the next post? 🙂

Mother’s Day



Mother’s Day hasn’t ever meant much to me. Growing up in India in the 80s, there was no concept of celebrating these so-called special days. It was only when the greeting card business took off that such days started being celebrated in India. I was in college by then and it never struck me to make or buy a card for my mother. I’m sure if I ever did, it would have been viewed with extreme suspicion.

Since there no fond memories attached to this day, I don’t particularly value the day even now, as a mother myself. Sure, I’m happy enough to get the cards they supposedly make for me while at playschool and kindergarten. After all, it’s just some sort of scribbling and splashing and it encourages their fine motor skills to hold a pen or paintbrush. But I am coldly practical, and I don’t fool myself that it means anything. At four and two, they are too little to know or care about anything that doesn’t involve them getting cake, toys or books.

This Mother’s Day though was particularly hard. My husband was travelling, as always. My helper, who lives with us, was enjoying a day off with her friends. I was happy for them both. My husband was being pampered thoroughly by his mother in India. (It’s never Mother’s Day in India, but Son’s Day 365 days in the year!) As for helpers in Hong Kong, they are entitled to just one day off in a week and I try not to ask my helper to rearrange her holiday schedule because that is the only day she gets to meet her friends. And on that particular day, my helper was celebrating her own birthday.

So I was at home with the two kids and they were getting on my nerves. They are going through a phase where they just can’t bear to share anything. They both want the same toy, the same book and even the same food. By the same food, I don’t mean they want to eat the same thing. But if one has something, the other must have it. That very piece. That very spoonful. Even if it is just to spit it out. I was fed up of mediating. I was fed up of offering them solutions. I ignored them and very soon there was pushing and shoving and one was bleeding from the nose, the other from the lip.

In complete rage, I marched them off to bed for an afternoon nap, punishing them with no lunch. And then I turned my fury to the phone and deleted every one of the 1000 ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ messages I had got that morning.

The kids got up in a while, hungry and repentant. I took them to meet a friend who had offered to keep them entertained for a while, if I needed a break. While they were still technically being ‘punished’, it didn’t feel like one because she had baked cupcakes by the time we got there! She has always been a ‘Child-Whisperer’ and this time, she worked her charm and got them calm and then allowed them to ice the cupcakes and decorate them with chocolate chips.

When we left, I was carrying back eight cupcakes, when the pestering started again. There was a constant barrage of “Can we have the cupcake now?” “Now?” “OK, now?” from both sides, peppered with pinches and pushes, as each one wanted to have the other’s share as well. I replied as patiently as I could with the blood pounding in my ears that they could have one each after dinner.

Dinner was at a new restaurant that was surprisingly empty on a Sunday evening. The waitress first got cards and colour pens and asked the kids to make me Mother’s Day cards. And then she announced that she was getting me free flow prosecco on the house to celebrate my special day.

Considerably soothed by the prosecco, I looked down at my kids and smiled lovingly at them. The restaurant was slowly filling up. As a few people sat down at the tables beside ours, they looked approvingly at my kids who were now furiously colouring what they claimed were flowers (I can safely bet that those varieties don’t exist even in the best botanical gardens!) My daughter noticed them and smiled back. My son who copies everything she does, smiled shyly at them too. Soon, my kids seemed to have acquired a band of admirers.

“Do they know you, Amma?” asked my daughter, surprised.

“No, darling.”

“Then why are they smiling at you?”

“They are smiling at you, darling. And your brother. Because they think you’re sweet. You’re being good, colouring so well and playing with each other so nicely.”

“And because we’re sharing?”

“Errr… Yes.” I didn’t know what exactly they were sharing but I didn’t want to lose an opportunity to reinforce the need to share.

Suddenly, my daughter slid off her seat and picked up the box of cupcakes and walked off. Her tail, my son, followed. I thought they had decided to ignore my instructions and just eat the cupcakes before dinner and I was getting ready to bark out an order, when I saw what they were up to.

“We made these cupcakes. Would you like some?” Without having got a taste themselves, my children were offering random strangers cupcakes. And surprised and charmed by the children, the random strangers accepted the cupcakes happily and ate them, cooing about how delicious they were.

As the box started getting empty, I braced myself for furious howling from my son and counter-screaming from my daughter. But when there was one last cupcake left and no other takers, my daughter settled down and told her little brother, “Let’s share this after dinner, ok, V?” He nodded happily.

I was left gob smacked. I’d got the best Mother’s Day gift ever!

The Reluctant Convert

There’s a huge divide in India right now. Those who support Prime Minister Narendra Modi and everything he and his government stands for, and those who hate him and all he touches. The former are derisively called ‘Bhakts’ (worshippers) by the latter and the latter are called libtards (liberal retards) by the former. For this post, I’m going to stick to calling them just that, though neither term reflects my opinion. There are a few in between these two positions who supported Modi because he seemed like the more incorruptible and capable candidate, though they did question his ideology and even his governance. And it’s these middle of the road walkers who this post is about.

In recent times, the middle grounders have lost their voice with the din of battle between the bhakts and the libtards. The bhakts have their army of goons who threaten anything from rape to death to those who disagree. The libtards aren’t winning the battle of hearts and minds either in their refusal to accept anyone who may have voted Modi as an example of a half decent human being and therefore, not worth acknowledging.

Recently though, there was an event which shocked even the most placid middle-grounder. Hafiz Junaid, a 16 year old student, was lynched by a mob after a dispute over a seat on a train and while being accused of being anti-national and eating beef. Mob fury has been on the rise since 2015 and has received only mild outrage but the gruesomeness of this attack, the heartbreaking image of the boy dying in his brother’s arms, angered Indians and the world, lay people and celebrities, pacifists and activists alike. And one film-maker was prompted into action. Saba Dewan called for a peaceful protest in Delhi, the nation’s capital. She created a Facebook event for the same and overnight, it became a nation-wide movement. Calls for #NotInMyName protests sprung up from every corner of the country and overseas too. And the middle-grounders participated.

I’m no activist. I am a well-entrenched middle grounder. But there are causes that I’m passionate about and even working on right now. And I’m also a student of digital marketing. It seems strange to study this case as a student of digital marketing. It was not for profit and the film-maker wasn’t looking for any personal gains through it. But it shows that social media can be used for social good – for a cause and purpose better and larger than posting pictures of a night out, documenting daily trivialities and even assuaging your own conscience with armchair activism. A call for action can and will be heeded, provided the content, delivery and distribution is powerful enough. With my mix of television anchoring, journalism, digital marketing and entrepreneurship experience, I hope I will play a small part in the greater good.




NOT ‘not my problem’

I remember walking into the local Chinese school where I taught, just a few days before Christmas in 2012. I was planning to teach the kids Christmas carols and was already humming happily. As the only Indian in the school, I was always treated nicely but distantly. I suppose my colleagues struggled with English and didn’t want to make the effort to converse.

That day was different. There was a group of four women sitting together and looking visibly pained. As I walked in with my cheery good mornings, they responded and then one hesitantly said, ” We hear bad rape in India. We sorry.” They were talking of course of the Nirbhaya case.

In that one second, I paled, retched, sobbed, fumed and cried all at once. There was no condescension in their voices, just genuine concern. And in that one second, the armour of ‘Not my problem!’ that I had built up my entire life, crumbled.

Growing up in India, we hear stories of violence, injustice and oppression against women every other day. As working adults abroad, when we read these same stories, they make us cringe, make us embarrassed and make us thankful to have left India. But deep down, they also make us feel guilty. Guilty that we aren’t able to help in any way.

I’m proud to know this incredible woman – Srishti Bakshi. She is an absolute inspiration.
She has been nominated as a Champion for Change 2017 under the Empower Women Initiative of United Nations Women. This September she begins a 260 day journey walking the entire length of India (3,800km!), campaigning to make India a safe and equal place for Women. She will be conducting workshops to empower women through financial and digital literacy.


Preparing for the long journey ahead

Srishti was an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) like me, with a high paying job in Hong Kong. It would have been easy for her to say ‘not my problem’ and turn a blind eye. But she didn’t.

I’m going to join Srishti in Project CrossBow. With two children under four, I won’t be able to join the actual walk, but I can participate virtually. Every step I take while here in Hong Kong gets counted on the CrossBow app and unlocks funds by corporate and philanthropic sponsors towards organisations in India, working to empower women.

To go from a one-woman walk to a nation-wide Modern Day Dandi March, CrossBow is going to need great virality and social media galvanisation. And that’s where my expertise as a digital marketer comes in. Because this is my fight. This is my movement. This IS my problem.



The Symbiotic Tai Tai Sisterhood

Tai Tai is a term that everyone who has lived in HK for a while is familiar with. It’s a local, slightly disparaging term for ladies who live a life of leisure thanks to their wealthy husbands. As happens often in a city of expats, the trailing spouses (in this post, I’m only talking of the women) don’t get jobs as easily and so decide to take some much needed time off work. In a new city, the most important thing is to build a new social circle and the first few years are spent in a flurry of socialising – leisurely lunches, bargain and brand hunting, foot massage with friends and wild weekends at Lan Kwai Fong. In a few years, those who have kids have found a great school-play date routine for them  and now start looking to reinvent themselves.

Most expat wives are lucky that they don’t need to work if they don’t want to. Though HK is an expensive city, expat packages are good for the most part. Some choose to switch careers completely and take up careers that can be taken up in most parts of the world – like teaching English as a foreign language. Others choose to go back to the same kind of work but find that they have lost the drive to compete and keep up with the long hours, so instead choose administrative and customer service roles. And then there’s a large majority who decide to follow their hearts and risk it all by turning entrepreneur. The fields are wide and varied. Some turn a hobby into a passion project into a niche business. Others import specialties from their home country or a country they have close ties with into HK. Others look around and look for specialised services that an ever changing expat population is always in need of. And yet others, make products and offer services that target children and turn sensible, practical women into quivering pieces of spending jelly, unable to resist their child’s tears, tantrums or what’s even worse, stoic sighs.

So what happens when a ‘tai tai’ sets up shop? She markets herself to the people she knows. The sisterhood is strong and so she gets a steady stream of customers. Very soon, one of them sets up shop as well. Now it’s her turn to lend support and so there is a solidarity buy. And thus, is born an intricate web of symbiotic sisterhood spending – a chain so complex that it boggles the mind of the most astute multi level marketer. Avon, Amway and Young Living could take a leaf out of the HK Tai Tai network. Even if a tai tai is in HK for a fleeting period of time, the bonds she makes here will last the test of time.

Husbands who are supportive of their wives’ entrepreneurial ventures watch with pride as they see stocks getting depleted fast or their wives accepting orders on the phone. Soon though, they wonder why it doesn’t reflect in the household income. So they helpfully sit down with their wives to help balance accounts at the end of the month. Most of them are finance whizzes with top jobs in leading banks (if in HK, you can throw a stone and hit an HSBCer). And yet, when face to face with the power of the tai tai network, they retire hurt and accept defeat. There’s no way they will ever be able to tally this phenomenon.

  • All views expressed here are personal and are not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings. My personal motto reads – Tai Tai and Proud!

Wearing a scarf I bought from a friend, carrying a clutch I bought from another friend and sporting a haircut given to me by yet another! My HK sisterhood!


Me and my girl gang!

Modern day Dandi March

Nowadays it’s fashionable to diss Mahatma Gandhi and his belief in a united India, dignity of labour and non-violence. And for sure, his political ideas were for a less complex world. But the master strategist that he was, I think he would have adapted. It sounds almost blasphemous to reduce the Father of the Nation to some sort of low level political opportunist. After all, he was an idealist, incorruptible and selfless. And they are seen as schmoozers, sly and selfish. They needn’t be. They are simply the people who devise plans to reach an end. The means is what makes them selfish or selfless, incorruptible or dubious.

Violence against women is perpetually in the news these days and the horrors of gang rape, dowry deaths, acid attacks and honour killings are too lurid and omnipresent to ignore any longer. It is a slap in the face of India and its claim to its modernity and progress. So how can we end this scourge of violence against women in India? By invoking the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in the nation that he helped bring to life.


I’m proud to be associating myself with Project CrossBow to raise my voice against this surge in crimes against women in India. You can too.

To read more and support the campaign, please visit https://milaap.org/fundraisers/AnitaforCrossBow?utm_source=email&utm_medium=fundraisers-title



India Darshan

I’m planning my annual pilgrimage to India. As usual, it includes five cities, one town and two villages spread over three states. And I’m doing this in less than 40 days, with two kids under four in tow.

Knowing the extent of planning it involves, I asked my husband which relatives he wants me to visit. He started by saying that I need visit only the few relatives above 80. Unless of course I was already visiting a city/town/village for another relative. Then courtesy demands that I visit the others close by too.

On last count, I’m visiting six of my mother-in-law’s siblings, one of my father-in-law’s, one grand aunt of my husband’s, three of his aunts by marriage, two of my father-in-law’s first cousins, one of my husband’s first cousins and of course, his brother and family.

This leg covers just one week of my journey, which is in Kerala. And since that is where I come from too, I have my own set of relatives to visit. Namely, my father’s three siblings, his aunt, two of his first cousins and his grandaunt. My mum is accompanying on my Kerala leg of my journey because I don’t speak the language and because I’m terrified of doing the long road journeys alone with my now potty-trained daughter and difficult to contain son. We will be visiting her cousin as well and another quasi uncle, who’s been a well-wisher of the family through difficult times.

Now this time, my husband decided to book the tickets for me. So inevitably, he didn’t listen to the instructions I gave him and got the dates wrong. He booked my tickets to India for a day later, return a day earlier and got my departure city wrong. As a result, I have fewer days in India than originally planned, more domestic flights to make and more road distances to cover (with the relative visit chart growing longer every day). Since I am flying in and out of the same city now, I decided to finish with all the visits and spend a long two week stretch with my in laws at the end.

In the last one week, I have found out distances between all cities, researched flight timings, spoken to drivers and painstakingly planned the whole trip down to the last detail. And because I am fair to a fault, I’ve made sure that I will spend as much time with my in-laws as I will with my parents. The plan is to finish the hectic schedule first and then relax at my in-laws’ place for two weeks before returning. Of course, this hectic schedule involves many visits in many cities to even more relatives and would require some sort of attention to comprehend.  I handed over my travel plan to my husband, not seeking approval, but more as a confirmation of my scheduling genius. My husband, impatient to the core, read the first three lines and said, “You don’t seem to be spending any time with my folks.”

If only someone could harness the wave of hot fury that lashed through me at that moment, I’m sure it would be enough to provide for the heating needs of all five cities, two villages and one town that I’m about to visit!!!



Big shoes to fill

My son is currently walking around in my shoes. I’m surprised that he is able to balance himself. I am the legendary Big Foot and my son is just a little bit longer than my shoes themselves.


He is 20 months old and I know that once we get back from our annual holiday, it will be time to start hunting for a kindergarten for him. I have already applied in three schools, which accept applications from birth. I’m one of the more relaxed HK mums. Most have filled in at least a dozen application forms right after conception and post them while they are recovering in the post-delivery ward. OK, I exaggerate. But you get the idea.

While I’m struggling to get back to work, I’ve taken up a part-time teaching assignment. I’m teaching creative coding to kids as young as five, teaching them to create simple animations on the iPad. Kids even younger learn how to animate popular nursery rhymes, the five year olds animate simple one line jokes. The problem is that the kids don’t follow the jokes and just aren’t interested in learning how to code. They have been allowed access to the iPad for an hour and they shake with excitement like junkies who’ve spotted their forbidden fix. Coding is going to be the language of the future, there is no doubt about that. But I wonder if there is really any need to give these young kids more screen time than they already have. But I suppose there’s a race on even to push kids into the rat race sooner and faster than anyone else.

I do worry about the expectations we heap on our children subconsciously. And then, I look at my little boy, walking around in oversized shoes. Maybe that’s why he’s already practising – because he knows he has big shoes to fill.

No longer middle class?

I went for a stand up show last night to watch an actor cum producer cum stand up comic who I’d interviewed years ago. I felt rather proud watching him in HK. As if me turning the spotlight on him 12 years ago is what really made him shine. Journalists in India often believe they are nothing short of God and I smiled down at KK like I had brought him to life. As I laughed a little extra hard at his jokes, as all proud mothers do, I found myself getting nostalgic about growing up as a middle class Indian through the 80s and 90s.

The jokes about deprivation drew the most heartfelt laughs. Everyone in the audience recalled how they all held onto a treasured gift from a foreign returned uncle,how the kids cherished the free bottles of shampoo and conditioner their fathers got back from business trips and how at a fine dining restaurant, one soup could be magically divided into as many members of the family as were present at the table.

Life is so much easier now. My house is filled with quirky curios that I have picked up on my many international vacations. Vacations, mind you, not company-paid work trips. As customer, I am queen of every luxury brand store should I choose to walk into it. I don’t, but that’s a different matter. And of course, I never carry back the hotel shampoo and conditioner because well, that’s so LS, isn’t it. Yes, deprivation is a thing of the past. Life is so much easier now. I just miss the days when it was simpler.