A comedy of condolences PLUS Guide to offer your sympathies

When somebody passes away and you don’t know what to say to a grieving family member, the best thing to do is to say nothing. Or, if you must say something, then stick to cliches like, “I am sorry for your loss.” Never offer to help if you don’t mean it.

It’s been a month and I am still struggling to come to terms with my loss. On d-day some of your messages and calls sent me into a complete tizzy. Especially, messages like these:

“I just heard some bad news. Is it true?”

I was so tempted to say, ” No no, we are just playing a prank like Ross in
Friends.Please don’t mind it!!” I mean how insensitive can you be calling up the bereaved to “confirm” the news? Try calling somebody else who is close to the family please.

“How? When?”

Day two is not a good time to ask for for details. Whether it was a sudden demise or a terminal illness that someone finally succumbed to, this text message is just not done!

The UCM

The unidentifiable condolence message or UCM as I call it is one of the worst
things. This is just a message from a number that the person can’t identify because they have never interacted before. If you just send a message on WhatsApp with your condolences, how do you expect the person to know who you are?

The first name condolence message is just as bad as the UCM! What are the odds that there may be more than one Padma or Priya or Krishnan in the family! So if you sign off your message with a first name, chances are the family member may not be able to recognise you.

But some of you who are not comfortable with texting may choose to call. So
before you pick the phone and call someone, here are some basic things to keep in mind at a time like this if you don’t want to come across as an insensitive jerk:

Try to figure out who you are speaking to first
Someone asked me whether my dad attended the funeral and I was shocked. When I said dad was the one who passed away, he realised that he was speaking to the daughter!

Don’t be the 6.00 am rooster!
Even if the family is awake, they have a million things to attend to. So call at a decent hour.

Don’t insist on speaking to every member of the family. You have called to offer condolences. Maybe some family member has spoken to you and said another can’t come on the line, then it is time to hang up.

Please don’t say and “What else?”
This is not your regular social call. If you can’t console or offer any help,
keep it brief.

First of all, how do you know that you are close to the family and should offer
your condolences? If you need to know what to do and have not been in touch with the members of the family then wonder no more: You are not close enough no matter how close a blood relation.

Here are the degrees of separation (or closeness depending on how you see it):

1. You are part of the same WhatsApp or Faceebook group.
Please stick to your message on the group and do not message personally unless you know how to offer support.

2. You don’t have the phone number of even one family member
In such a case, if you have are a relative or have been close at some point then you are probably sensitive enough to know what to say. If not, don’t even call.

3. You are a part of the extended family but…
If you need to introduce yourself at a time like this, then save your call for much later. D-day is not a good time to keep anyone’s phone engaged by a lengthy introduction.

4. You are a friend or acquaintance
Call or message only if you can help or genuinely, don’t say or do anything that you think you need to do “just for formality”.

If you are in your 30s or older, chances are that you are going to meet someone who has lost a dear one. Whether the person is a colleague, friend, neighbour or relative, please be sensitive to their loss.

Don’t at any point make it about you. People often say things like, “You didn’t tell me…” Or, “Why didn’t you say anything before?” Or worse like, “I knew a doctor who could have helped..”

This is not the time! The spotlight is not on you. It is on the grieving person.

If you have any doubts on how to offer your sympathies, leave your question in the comments below.

Beauty and the Beast: Tale as old as time…Not exactly a review :-)

While watching Belle and the beast, I felt my fractured heart splinter into a million pieces and then slowly come back together in a shifting kaleidoscope till everything righted itself. What can I say except that it was so worth the wait. It is a sensory extravaganza and every little detail that has gone into the movie enhances the grandeur.

From the costumes to the expressions on the teapot, you will marvel at the finesse and be touched by the elegance. Belle’s enchanting yellow-gold gown and all the costumes got me googling and it is no surprise the kind of detailing and commitment to the costume and accessories is what makes it stand out. If you want to read about it, click here.

Lumiere and Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts have been “animated” yes, but they are more alive than many of us. I salute the artistry and the vision of team Beauty and the Beast. The song where Lumiere invites Belle to be their guest deserves a separate Oscar of its own. It is incredibly moving and a visual treat like no other. The age old waltz will cast a spell on you and the magic will never fail to move you.

One can’t exactly call it a children’s movie because I don’t know whether kids can fully wrap their head around the idea of an ideal love story. The movie plays to every fantasy every bookworm ever nurtured about romance. And if every hero needs a great villain, this Gaston is as vain and as vile as they come. What a performance! Watch it with your girl friends and oooh and aaah over the spectacular spread. As I saw the beast turn into Prince Charming, I couldn’t help remember Shrek and the transformation of a different sort. I realise all over again why that love story is so much more relevant and why little girls need to snap out of the Disney princess’ fantasy. But, for every girl/woman who was in love with the idea of being in love this tale is way to relive those moments 🙂

Dear Zindagi – Conversations with Jehangir Khan (A movie review with spoilers that you will not hate me for)

Just as SRK crooned “Kathai aakhon wali…” which is one of his favourite songs, you will want to serenade him as you fall in love with the brown eyed King all over again. Along the way, you also swoon over the yummilicious Kunal Kapoor and have a girl crush on chocolate lover boy Ali Zafar.

Can’t wait for Gauri Shinde to direct a romantic movie! I know we have grown up on Yash Chopra, but watching Gauri Shinde’s take makes you realise the stark difference. While, a transparent, chiffon clad woman under a waterfall, may be the ultimate male fantasy, that is certainly not how a woman wants to be romanced. And no, it is not about her being a woman, Zoya Akhtar and Farah Khan continue to pander to the male fantasy. I laud Gauri for being able to speak a feminine language in romance and relationships. The most empowering scene in the movie is one in which Kunal Kapoor asks Alia Bhat whether she has anything else to say and she says no and bye and walks away. Even the lip lock with Ali Zafar is the tender kinda toe curling, bend the knee kiss which is seldom (if at all) seen in Bollywood.

But, all this is just a minuscule part of the attraction of Dear Zindagi.  I love the way it is mounted. The scale is just right. While I overheard a lot of people talk (crib) about the pace of the movie, I disagree. It is laid back but not plodding. You don’t need to soak it in. It doesn’t grab you by the gut or put you through an emotional roller coaster. The narrative is so graceful and sensitive and the high points are devoid of unnecessary frills with very real dialogues. It doesn’t pack a punch, it gently nudges your core and moves you without shaking you up too bad. This despite it being all about the conversations between a disturbed young lady and her therapist.

Dear Zindagi ticks all the boxes for me. Here’s why.

  1. The sets are gorgeous. From the nameplate of Jehangir Khan’s House to the kitchen at Rumi’s, every element is chosen by someone who clearly loves their job. If you are looking for inspiring home decor, this is it. You will just as easily be enamoured by the outdoors.
  2. SRKs’s look at styling is simply superb. The shock of black hair and gray at the temples and in the fuzz is just right. I love his shirts and the little nuances like Alia in the same style outfit towards the end.
  3. Sarcasm and a sense of humour makes a rare appearance in Hindi cinema. Only one film old and ready to take a dig at her first movie – way to go girl! Lot’sa people cracked up at the Lebanese joke while some found it in poor taste and were offended. But hey that’s what happens in the real world and laughing about it is the way to go. Touchy much? Thin line between sensitivity and touchy and the movie doesn’t even stray across the border.
  4. Alia Bhatt! There will not be a dry eye in the theatre when she is bawling her lungs out. I am an SRK fan, but this is Alia’s movie all the way!! And that is a saying a lot.
  5. High five to Gauri for not making a hotch potch of it as she touches upon so many sensitive topics without hitting a raw nerve. Really, you should be watching it to know about this one.
  6. It is like overhearing real people talking and not knowing what to do. Sometimes you want to reach out, sometimes you want to fade away into the background. The skype texting scene by Alia is one that will remind you of countless WhatsApp type and delete moments.
  7. Soul food! Ditch all the chicken soup books and whatever self help books are your fix and just get some wholesome entertainment for the same price.

 

The list will keep getting longer, the more I recollect, but I want you to watch it and come back and tell me more. Till then, I hope you are able to sing love you Zindagi if not today, then some day!

Tinder Chronicles: Part 2 >> For 35+ women in India

Day 2: So I dashed off the first day’s account to YKA and they said that some parts were judgemental and condescending. So I went right back and created my account all over again.

For the uninitiated, here’s what Tinder does: It shows you a pic and a bio (that’s what they call a description) that a person has filled. Based on that, you have a choice to “like” i.e. swipe right or say “nope” i.e. swipe left. You also get to “super like” i.e. swipe up for about 3 profiles (with a free subscription). As I said earlier, it was too overwhelming to dismiss or like a profile and I sat for 5 minutes without doing anything.

There might be those who don’t judge others on Tinder based on their picture or description, but that does lead one to wonder what they might be thinking while swiping. I was genuinely bewildered by the whole judgemental bit. Then I realised that she probably hadn’t used the app.

Given the nature of the app, I wonder how un-judgemental is a person while swiping left and right…I mean you look at a pic for heaven’s sake or a coupla lines to know whether you like the person and sometimes unmatch within the first 2 minutes of talking to a person just coz you don’t hit it off right away.

The important thing here is that you can never know who liked your profile until you like them back. Then you are a “match”. Tinder shows people who you have matched with and you can then chat within the app. The moment a person unmatches you, the entire chat history vanishes unlike a WhatsApp or FB where the chat history remains even if you block the person’s number or profile.

Tinder is the much vaunted, last bastion of hope when you are trying to find people to date, but many women at my age (35+) are horribly judgemental (if you want to call it that) about “the kind of people” you would find of Tinder. This without even getting on the app. I was among those who are quick to dismiss it as a piece of fluff, a frivolity that is meant for creepy men and in turn women who like creepy men (just a thought).

So once I took the plunge, I was so surprised at the civil nature of the conversations that I promptly chronicled it.

And yes, the gender ratio being horribly skewed, many men have told me about how they swipe right for every profile. So it is surprising how they don’t put much of an effort into making their own pics or bios stand out so more women swipe right. But, as the YKA people rightly said that is just my perception 🙂 Day 2 was a revelation in profiles and bios (that is still going to be a separate listicle). But, yes the civil conversations continued. As I suspected most of them were married or separated but not legally single.

So it got me thinking how telling people not to be judgemental is a load of crap. Everyone is constantly evaluating others and trying to figure out whether or not they “match”. Given Tinder’s rep as a hook-up app, so far I was only glad that my filtration technique was somehow superior and that I did not attract any sleaze because I consciously filtered it out.

Day 3 to Day 5 pretty much continued in the same vein

Day 6 I felt I found one person who I could connect with off the app.

Day 7 I decided to delete my account and uninstall the app. Before leaving, I said bye to all the people I spoke to on Tinder.

Top of the list: Book Guy

He said Hello and Hi. I said Hola and Namaste. What followed can only be described as a series of mini trips down memory lane: recalling a much cherished character, throwing in a favourite author, it went on like that… He brought back so many memories of so many lovely books and suggested a few new ones. Reminded me of the ones I had yet to read. Then the “talk” veered to movies and songs. Just like a lovely listicle that these Web sites get right sometimes. It was a nostalgic trip to the world of dreams. Nothing about who we are or what we do. Just about the things we read, watch and listen. I thought he was like a dolphin reaching the surface every now and then before diving back. He said he was not as agile and likened himself to a whale. Little did I expect that an interesting, articulate and well read guy would be on Tinder of all places. Thanks whoever you are for making my week long sojourn such a pleasant one.

Guy 2: The “tharki buddha”

There is a gentleman I will remember with a smile forever and follow on twitter forever. For someone who tweets racy stuff and calls himself a tharki buddha, he was sweet and patient and ever so chivalrous. I will remember him for the cute giphys and the smart-alecky comebacks.

Guy 3: Sweet “Mikesh” like kid (Permanent roommates anyone?)

The one emotion that I never thought I would experience on Tinder is tenderness. There was a sweet guy who sent me flowers and said all these cheesy things and asked whether it was too corny…I am smiling as I write this and hope he finds his someone special. (I know it is not me, Don’t ask me how I know 🙂 He seemed genuine but hey I was only there for 7 days.

Guy 4: My Tinder bud 🙂

There is one guy who was my Tinder bud. I told him he was totally friendzoned and he was completely ok with it. Our first conversation was the least congenial one. I was snappy, he was irritated. He asked me whether I was this sweet all the time, I asked him whether he was this sarcy. It was a brutal conversation and after that we settled into this mode where I would talk about my Tinder experiences with him and he would be my guide. I told him that everybody wanted to know where I lived and he said it was ok to reveal the general area and nobody would stalk me unless I gave my mailing address 🙂 He is one guy I am tempted to stay in touch with off Tinder as well coz I know he is super chilled out.

One of the coolest things that happened due to Tinder is that I realised how strong my instincts are. With some people, you get that creepy vibe right off the profile pic. But all the loneliness would get to me at some point for sure. So I logged off. I wish all you Tinderites well!

 

Worst hook up line ever! (Sleaze alert!)

A warning. You need to be 18+ to read this short story. I leave it to you to decide whether it is true or a scene from one of my books. Writing so many parallelly and yet to publish even one 😐

Just-been-introduced guy at a pub: Can I kiss you?

Me: No!

Guy (Kiss attempt 2): I want to kiss you…Can I?

Me: Noo..It’s just too soon (yeah worst No ever!)

Guy steals a couple of kisses.

Kiss attempt 5: I kiss back. Feel nothing. Guy declares it is awesome and also describes other stuff he would like to do.

Kiss attempt 6: I go with it wondering what was so awesome.

Still nothing! But then I am a forever kinda girl and he is a fling kinda guy! As if he is reading my mind, he declares, “I don’t hump and dump!”

I barely manage to control my laughter 🙂

What Southwest Airlines did for a passenger reminded me of this…

So this story about how Southwest airlines turned a plane around for a mother to be able to meet her son in hospital has gone viral. It is a reminder of how even giant corporations can have a heart if the people who work there have the freedom to show they care. The reason we don’t hear such stories more often is because many ’employees’ feel like they are part of a machine and not allowed to have any personal opinion. Any deviation from the norm (even a slight one) becomes a case for ‘Let me ask the manager.’ It is difficult to express care and concern in such an environment, which is why the Southwest airlines story is remarkable. It reminded me of a flight I had taken years ago. I was distraught and worried about my mother.

This was in September 2001. The 9/11 attacks had happened the day before I went to Igatpuri to learn Vipasana meditation. I never heard any news after the attacks for the next 10 days because you have to take a vow of silence and stay away from books, TV, cellphones, just about everything during the course. Plus I did not have a cell phone at the time.

When I came back home on September 23rd, the first thing I heard was that my grandmother passed away and that my mom was in Coimbatore.

So on September 24th, 2001, I flew from Bombay to Coimbatore on an Air India flight. I was trying hard not to cry. A fellow passenger who had lost her father was sitting beside me and she was in bad shape as well. But, what was remarkable about the whole journey was this steward who kept trying to lift our spirits. He didn’t have a clue about what was going on. He just saw me in a state and asked what I needed from time to time. To my wan ‘nothings’ and ‘no, thank yous’, he always responded with a ‘How about some tea?’ or something which always got a dull ‘Ok.’He got me freshly brewed tea and a few things I am sure are not even allowed in economy. And at the end of the flight he gave me an entire bag of candy, which was a good thing because it made me smile and made my young cousins who came to receive me very happy.

I wish I had the presence of mind to note his name. I never forgot the incident and have often talked about it during customer service training sessions or even as an example of a random act of kindness. It was not as grand as Southwest’s gesture, but it was one man who changed one frown upside down one day.

Wherever you are, if you flew the afternoon flight that day in September, thank you.