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Monday, November 22, 2010

My Great Big Louis Vuitton Adventure

One evening my husband and I went to buy something from UB City. For those unfamiliar to Bangalore, UB City Mall is Bangalore's answer to L.A.'s Rodeo Drive and London's Bond Street. It houses big fashion names like Burberry, Stella McCartney, Lanvin, Salvatore Ferragama, Canali and some others. We were heading to the super elite Mont Blanc store, elegant as ever on the ground floor.

Now before you think we're one of those couples, let me clarify. We were going to Mont Blanc to get a refill which we hoped would not eat too much into our retirement fund. We popped in, chose the refill, enquired the cost, silently sighed with relief when we were told it was only Rs. 400 and after we got a bill in a fancy envelope for a skinny little refill we were on our way out.

Then something caught my eye.

The Louis Vuitton Store!

I had go in there, it was beckoning me. I was a moth to a flame. I was Gollum lusting after Frodo's ring. I was irresistibly drawn to the ever so familiar monogram and couldn't control myself. I told my husband I would meet him at the car and succumbed to the temptation.

And therein began my great big Louis Vuitton Adventure

I was immediately greeted by a smart young salesman, although he might be insulted by that description. He would probably prefer Sales Executive, that was far more dignified. He was a short and trim and about 28 years old, sharply dressed in an immaculate suit and understated tie.

"Good Evening Madam, how may I help you", he asked with a supercilious air.

"Oh no, nothing, I'm just looking around", I gushed awkwardly. Oh why did I decide to come in here, I thought to myself, this is so embarrassing. I should just go. This place is full of super expensive stuff. What on earth was I thinking.

As all these thoughts were going through my head, the little weasel said with barely hidden sarcasm, "Of Course".

Now that annoyed me. I knew I was out of my element, but he didn't have to insult me for stepping into these hallowed grounds. I put on my my most la-di-da, bordering on disdainful tone, "Actually, come to think of it  I am looking for something in particular."

"Yes Madam", his voice changing from condescension to potential respect.

"I'm attending an event shortly, and I need an evening bag, a clutch preferably, with shoes to match. Do you think you would have something along those lines?"

"I most certainly do", he replied. Now he was the one who was gushing. I was probably his first real customer of the day and it was eight in the evening. "But first, Madam, is this your first time to our store?"

"In Bangalore yes, but I am quite familiar with your stores in New York and Milan", I replied airily, fervently hoping he wouldn't ask me anything about them.

"I see. Well since this is your first time to our store here in UB City, would you mind if I showed you around?"

"Oh not at all"

"Certainly Madam, right this way.

He steered me to a section filled with wallets and ties.

"Here we have some of our smaller items. Our wallets are made of the finest quality leather. Would you like to see how soft it is?"

"Wow, that is extremely soft, what a treat to touch!" I replied gently running my hands over the wallet he had presented.

"Isn't it Madam", he countered, tickled to have received such a conducive response. He gestured over to the opposite counter. "And here we have some of our signature handbags. These are our traditional designs, the historic monogram and different styles of bags to suit varied tastes and preferences".

"Oh marvelous, simply marvelous. I've always been such a fan of the monogram"

Pleased as a pumpkin, he trotted down the corridor saying, "It's almost irreverent isn't it? A classic symbol of high fashion".

"Oh I couldn't have put it better myself", I remarked.

"And here you have the suitcases and luggage collection which was actually Louis Vuitton's primary focus originally".

"Oh is that so? I wasn't aware of that. Interesting", I remarked, appearing to be deeply consumed in his dialogue.

"Yes yes, very much. The pictures on the wall show some of the trunks that were specially made to order for some of the most famous names in the world. And this one here, is the trunk ordered by the Maharani of Jodhpur. You can see her name is engraved on the peice".

"You don't say!" I exclaimed incredulously. "The very same trunk used by Her Royal Highness herself".

"The very same", he replied proudly.

Feeling a giggle coming on, I had to turn away. Pretending to be a rich socialite was probably more fun than actually being one.

He wasn't finished. "Even today, Louis Vuitton takes orders for custom-made trunks but if this is not quite your style, we have a range of more modern luggage pieces as you can see here".

He waved his hand across beautiful suitcases, all arranged in height order with the monogram clearly recognizable on every one. I had seen those pieces dozens of times. Certainly not in real life of course. They were a common feature in movies, TV shows and magazines. The suitcases I was familiar with were slightly more battered, far more sturdy, bursting at the seams and usually just strewn around busy train stations.

"And finally here we have our collection of shoes, different styles for different tastes. Elegant and understated or youthful or trendy, we have it all".

"Oh extraordinary stuff - simply fabulous. Such a pleasure to see such beautifully made footwear. Even from a distance, you can make out the superior workmanship", I remarked, secretly observing that nothing looked youthful or trendy and whatever was elegant and understated was better described as old and boring.

We both stood in silence, I imagine he was allowing me to take a moment to fully admire the works of art.

"Now back to the evening bag. I think I have the perfect piece and I am sure you will just love it, it's young and hip and very much in vogue"

He took me over to a counter near the entrance of the store and indicated to the glass. Inside I saw the most grotesque and horrendous looking thing I had ever had the misfortune of setting eyes on. It was pink and furry with big shiny sequins and beads all over it. I honestly couldn't make out if it was a handbag or some discarded half eaten piece of cotton candy.

"Oh no no no" I shook my head laughing. "This is certainly not me, perhaps more like Paris Hilton's Chihuahua!".

He giggled conspiratorially, "I have to admit, its really not one of my favourites either". He glanced at a purse hanging on the wall. "Is this more to your liking?"

"Yes it is, let's have a look shall we?" I answered feigning interest.

As he handed it over he said, "This is one of our most timeless pieces. Wine red and perfectly crafted, it would suit almost any outfit, traditional or western. It is extremely popular as well. And the discrete placement of the monogram makes it a favourite with fashion divas".

It was so unbelievably ordinary. It was almost as if the designer was in a hurry and created the most normal looking purse he could think of. Was this really the best they had to offer?

"Its really pretty but a little too understated for me I think. Is there anything in between the pink nightmare and this?"

He looked around despondently, "No unfortunately not, these are the only evening bags we have"

"Alright, well I suppose it will do for now. Do you have shoes to match?" I asked, discretely rummaging through the purse to see the price. No luck!

"Yes we have a perfect match. Shall we head over to the footwear section?"

"Yes lets"

He reached out and picked out a pair of shoes. They were as plain as the purse. Nothing spectacular, just wine red leather with a very high heel.

"Here we are, as you can see it is perfectly crafted with the finest quality leather. And the color is identical to the purse".

"They're beautiful, extraordinary workmanship."

"Oh you have such a sharp eye Madam, would you like to try them on?"

"Yes very much". I tried on the shoes and began to walk. The heel was incredibly high and I felt the shoes slipping off as I walked. "I'm not sure if the size is right", I remarked.

"Oh its designed that way, so that the leather doesn't hurt the back of your heel as you walk", he replied with utmost confidence.

Wow! Now that was really absurd. In an effort to make shoes that don't hurt, they make shoes that don't fit.

"How thoughtful of the designer, " I declared. "And it is a perfect match to the handbag. How much for the set?"

"The shoes are Rs. 46,000 and the handbag is Rs. 65000", he responded informatively.

I almost tripped over my heels on hearing that. Good God! Over a lakh for such ordinariness? My cellphone broke the silence that ensued.   It was my husband, impatiently waiting in the car. "I'll be there in a minute", I told him grateful to have a reason to leave. This charade had gone on long enough.

"I must go now, my husband is waiting and he's getting quite impatient. We're having dinner in the plaza. What time do you close"

"Nine thirty", he replied disappointed. He really thought he was going to meet his monthly sales target with my single purchase.

"Oh we should be done by then. Is it alright if I come back then?"

"Of course Madam," he replied eagerly, "shall I keep these aside for you?"

"Oh yes, please do, I would be most disappointed if I came back and they were gone.

At that point our eyes met and it seemed like the heavens had opened up and knowledge was shining down on us. He knew that I knew that the handbag and shoes and almost everything else in the store would remain exactly where they were for the foreseeable future.

And I knew that he knew that there was no way I was ever coming back and even less of a chance that he was going to meet his sales target.

And off I went, he followed me to the door. We graciously said our goodbyes and thank you's and I exited through the monogramed doors. The security guard jumped up and saluted as I walked away.

The adventure was over.

I was relieved.

Not because I had successfully gotten away with the pretense of being a well-to-do socialite with money to burn. No, I was relieved because I had seen the fabulous Louis Vuitton store and I didn't like anything, I didn't want anything and I didn't feel bad that I couldn't afford anything.

I rejoined my husband in the car and and retrieved my most precious accessory, my darling little baby boy. He squealed as I hugged him and giggled as I tickled him. As we drove out of the mall, I reflected on what I had learned that day:

A pair of wine red Louis Vuitton Shoes - Rs. 46,000

A wine red Louis Vuitton Handbag - Rs. 65000

A happy drive home with my husband and son - PRICELESS.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Husband Training

Two days ago, my friend Pushpa called me sobbing her heart out.

"What happened?", I asked her deeply concerned. Pushpa was a very level headed woman and in all the years we knew each other, I had never seen her crying."Ravi is going for some adventure trip with his friends this Monday", she sobbed.

"He's taking a day off from work for an adventure trip? That too a Monday?", I asked incredulously.

"No no", she sniffled, "its Gandhi Jayanthi, its a holiday".

Now it all made sense. Ravi, the incessant workaholic who spent his evenings and weekends glued to his blackberry was spending this rare day off away from his wife and daughter. And Pushpa, full-time mother and wife would be spending the public holiday at home with her one-year old daughter performing such appealing tasks as diapers and potty and naps and feeds.
"Did he talk to you beforehand?", I asked.
"No, he just called and informed me about it. And when I protested, he said he never does this so I should be supportive. He said, if I wanted to do something like this, he would support me. So I threw a fit and we had a big fight!", she wailed.

I can imagine how the fight would have gone.

Ravi would have used the staple husband's argument: "My work is in office and your work is looking after the baby, we are both working and in fact, my work is tougher than yours. You get to sit and chill at home while I have to go and face the corporate jungle." Its remarkable how all husbands think this way, its almost as if they all attend some sort of secret cult ceremony in which their already feeble minds are brainwashed to the brink of such stupidity.

Pushpa of course would have used the staple housewife argument, "At least when you come home, you don't have work. My work is a 24/7 job which has no holidays!" Women of course don't need any sort of initiation into such kind of thinking. One month of nursing a new born with minimal sleep coupled with the neverending nappy changes and unforgiving colic is initiation enough.

Almost every couple I have met has faced this issue to some degree once a baby joined them, the degree depending on the type of couple. At one end of the spectrum is the Type A couple: Fiercely independent wife determined not to play the conventional role and grudgingly understanding husband who really has no choice but to understand. At the other end is Type B couple: Fiercely conventional husband who views parenting as primarily the wife's responsibility and weak wife who has reconciled herself to a life of full-time parenting..
Now I have to mention that there is a Type C. Fiercely uncoventional husband who wants to be more involved in fathering and insists on taking over all the parenting tasks once or twice a week. Personally I think such a dad falls into the "Gay but doesn't know it" category.

Now if every couple is going through this, why didn't our parents warn us beforehand? We all knew our lives were going to change after the baby but we never imagined we'd fight so much. Our parents probably never fought at all, because in their day, the dads did nothing and the mothers didn't know any better. Today's women do know better while our husbands have not really moved much on the evolution chart. Worse, their idea of the perfect wife is their mother!!

A week later, I called Pushpa to see how things were going. She sounded bright and cheerful, vastly different from our previous conversation.

"So how did your issues with Ravi turn out?", I asked her.

"Oh Ravi didn't go finally", she answered.

"How did you manage that?", I asked shocked.
"Simple, he was supposed to go on Monday, so on Saturday I took him up on his offer. Told him I was spending the day with my friends and left him at home with the baby all day. By the time I got home, the house was in complete shambles, the baby was howling, food was splattered on the walls and toys scattered everywhere. Ravi, still unshaven in his pyjamas had just one thing to say, "Point Taken", and handed me the baby. That was that, he slept in on Monday and we had a wonderful day together all three of us".

I guess there's one more type of couple. Type D: Smart and slick wife married to newly reborn husband who has realised that there is no job as tough as a full-time mother's.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going from New Mummy to Hot Mama

"I am soooooooooo fat. I just hate hate hate hate hate how I look. I hate to look at myself!!"  
Reading to my son - still can't believe my stomach was so big.

That was my journal entry on 30th October 2009 – just about a year ago. I was perhaps at my lowest, self esteem wise but at my highest, weight-wise, a miserable 72 kgs! I had just returned from a big fat Malayali wedding in the heart of the motherland with the grim realization that I didn’t look like a 29 year-old mother of an infant but rather the 45 year-old mother of a teenager who never failed to drown her sorrows in a delectable piece of chocolate cake!

I'm just bursting out of my t-shirt - Ugh!
Really, how could I let myself go like this? I thought back to the wedding and the dance we girls put on for the guests. All of us dressed like Kerela fisher women with skimpy blouses and saris tied up tight at the waist. How hot everyone looked, some of them mothers of three! Slim and trim as if they were in college and me hovering around looking like every one's middle-aged aunt. To make matters worse, someone decided it would be real nice to send videos of the dance to all the participants. Now it is a well known fact that the TV adds on at least five kilos but something told me that it was no TV illusion, just my pathetic head-in-the-sand consolation as I watched the action replay of my humiliation. And so as I unpacked all my over-sized kurtas and extra-large salwar kameezes I thought - "Good God, something must be done woman!"

And that's when the adventure began, the great big Battle of the Bulge. I got out my dusting cloth and retrieved our never-used treadmill from the years of dust that had found a secure home on it. I climbed out of bed at the crack of dawn - around 7:30 in the morning and began my routine. A thirty-minute brisk walk was all the time I had, my son Dhruv would need to be fed soon and no matter how much husbands want to help, they just cannot produce milk like we can. The last five minutes I broke into a jog and three minutes into it, I was ready to have a heart attack. Miraculously I survived and voila, I had worked-out!

Plump and round at my brother's wedding. That
choker just about fit.
For my diet, I decided against the "counting calories" approach. Number crunching was just about as painful as stomach crunching. I decided against going to a nutritionist who would reveal the unimaginable truth that cakes and desserts were in fact fattening. Instead I set two very simple rules for myself - No eating fatty food and no over-eating regular food.

By the end of day one, I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. My blood just boiled for chocolate. Chocolate cake, or chocolate pudding or chocolate ice-cream or just plain chocolate!!! Thankfully that morning I had given away all the sweet stuff to my maid (who always enjoyed my dieting spurts for obvious reasons) so no chocolate for me. By the end of day two, I desperately wanted to order a Cheese Burst Pizza from Dominoes. Fortunately being part of the plastic money generation, I had just thirty bucks in my wallet so no pizza for me. And on it went. Every day it was tougher to get on the treadmill and even tougher to follow my rules.
New figure, new haircut, new look!
And then two weeks later, the scale moved - I was lighter by one kilo. And that changed everything! Could it be that all this hard-work and sacrifice was actually working? I was so kicked, I was ready to get myself a hot little two piece and prance around the pool flaunting my imaginary flat stomach. Ok, not quite, but it motivated me enough to stay on the programme for another two weeks and by the end of November I was 69 kilos. I didn't look any different, my clothes didn't fit me better, no one noticed any change in my appearance but... I felt absolutely FANTASTIC! I was in it for the long haul.

It took me all of seven months. I followed my rules and exercise plan for seven months and on June 15th 2010, I was 54 kgs and I was finally slim, trim and a hot mama!

I wish I could say that it was as simple as that. But then I would be grossly understating the complexity of this battle.

First there were all the festivals. I had decided to diet through Diwali, Christmas and Easter. And each time everyone around me would say something like "Have this sweet, its so fabulous", or, "Sunehra you are really missing heaven on a plate", or, "come on, one little barfi isn't going to make a difference." I somehow resisted the impulse to profusely thank such kind well-wishers for their support as they presented all forms of temptation to me. I also managed to avoid telling them that they didn't have the faintest idea of how much of a difference one barfi would make. Instead I took the high road and blatantly lied. "No I'm so stuffed, I just couldn't eat another bite" was my most favoured response. 
I just love getting my picture taken now and my son is
a fantastic accessory.

Then there were the generous souls who hadn't seen me in a while and felt they needed to draw my attention to a reality they believed had eluded me - "My God Sunehra, you have put on so much weight!" Once again, I managed to resist the quick retort, "Really? Shucks that must be why none of my clothes are fitting me. I wish someone had told me sooner." Or the even more appropriate, "Yes I'm fat, but at least I can do something about it. You're ugly and there ain't nothing you can do about that". Those people didn't deserve a response at all, just a quiet shrug. But in my mind I was thinking, "Hang in there babe, in a few months you're going to be all skinny and then no one is ever going to say that to you again.
And then, there were the plateaus. There comes a time in every Bulge Battle, when the body has just had enough and the scale will not budge. Two weeks of strict dieting and grueling workouts will pass with no change on the scale. Thanks to google I learned this was normal and I just needed to change my workout. My trusted treadmill had done its job and could once again serve as a white elephant. I joined a neighbourhood gym with the goal of dropping  nine kilos and I wasn't going let anything stop me. The change in work-out helped almost immediately and I was back on my way again.
Today one year later, I have turned 30 and there's no looking back. My closet is full of strappy tops and halter dresses. My saris are either crepe or chiffon with barely-there blouse straps and my over-sized kurtas have been donated to charity. Though I wonder if they found any takers, haven't seen too many over-weight poor people in rags. My favourite line is that I spent my entire 20's looking like I was in my 30's. Now I look forward to spending my 30's looking like I'm in my 20's.