An ode to my odd sister

Happy Birthday, good ol’ Guds! It’s super cheesy to write a birthday blog and post it on social media but you leave me with no choice. I’m going to call you at midnight and you’ll be fast asleep with little or no enthusiasm for your big day. So I will to try again in the morning and as always you will be half-listening while the other half is scolding your daughter or instructing your maids. An email would be lying unread in your inbox long after your birthday has passed. With this, I hope you will take the time to read and remember. A little note for posterity.

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I have a confession to make. A few days before your big 40 I was talking to a friend about your upcoming birthday and I started crying. As I wiped my tear streaked face, I attempted to answer my baffled friend about why I was crying and I said “because she’s turning 40” and wailed some more while he looked wholly bewildered. He patiently said “ Don’t be silly. 40 is the new 30” and I said “ No it’s just that I don’t want her to grow old”.
So please, for my sanity, stay young forever.

It’s strange that a mature, composed, person like me is reduced to someone who cries quite stupidly when it comes to you. I remember when you had phoned me to tell me the joyous news that you’re pregnant and my first reaction was..to cry. Because I thought you were going to be sick, and would have to be hospitalized and worse I would have to share you with someone. And till date, Kavya and I fight for your attention.I have to concede defeat. Your early experience with a capricious younger sister meant you would ace at motherhood.

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All of us have had loved in our lives. The fortunate few have experienced the all-consuming love. Like mine for you. The kind of love that makes you cry and you’re not entirely sure why.
But we often make the mistake of not telling the people we love just how much we love them.
Definitely not in our family where it’s always known, understood, implied, but never said out loud. We’re the family of awkward side hugs, shy greetings and the stiff arm posing. But I’ll try to change that on the eve of your birthday even if you get extremely embarrassed tomorrow.

My weird but wonderful sister, you know you’re unique. You’re one of a kind and thank God for that. The world would be very chaotic if we had more like you. I thought I was the black sheep of the family but when we look at your haphazardness and the curious incapability of planning, listening or organizing, we wonder how you couldn’t be a type A like the rest of us. Before you jump to your defence might I remind you of :

– How you started riding the black scooter that Papa bought us and took me for a ride and declared confidently that you were an excellent rider only to be hit by a car a few seconds later.
– How you were thrown off the train to Goa because your ticket was actually booked for the previous day.
– How you were supposed to take a bus to Poona but ended up in a bus that goes to Latur. Poor Papa waited all night for you at the bus stop worrying.
– How you drive your car, talking one minute and cussing the next and just when I’m about to say something important you say BATTERY BATT.. and the line goes dead. I worry that your last words will be battery battery.
– When you promised to visit me in Hong Kong, booked your tickets and only a few days before the departure date realized that your passport had expired.
– More recently, you made me show you all kinds of exercises like planking, side planking, mountain climbing, Burpees etc with the desperate hope that you would take a video and get started on your fitness regime. All that sweat and tears were for nothing because as I am led to believe that you have just about started going for evening strolls around your building with a cell phone with low battery and an equally low will power. No sweat, there’s always tomorrow.

The list is endless . You’re a case study. But you’re the son that Papa never had. The glue that only a middle sister can be and Mummy’s FD i.e. Favourite Daughter.

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I miss you although I’m not sure what I miss exactly. I don’t remember the last time we had a long conversation without the constant questioning that only kids can come up with, the happy- to- be escaping- the- household- chores husband, the onslaught of domestic help and the perennial phone calls.
You try to see me every week via Face Time but between you and your daughter, the phone is passed so many times that I usually have a headache after hanging up.

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Truth be told, I don’t remember us ever having long conversations. You just always knew.

As I write this, I’m flooded with thoughts of you. Sometimes you can’t hold on to a thought or memory for too long because you might sink in it. You might fall into that vortex of memories and it takes a while to surface to reality again. But I’ll allow that today because I want to thank you.

– For supporting me through school. Even when you interrupted my classes to ask for water and other things that should have been packed by you. I got reprimanded by MY teacher for YOUR behavior.
– For not telling Mummy that I used to buy veg puffs in the canteen. Even though the price for that silence was the veg puff itself.
– For showing me off to your friends in school like a prized possession. I would be superbly off-key singing ‘Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket and save it for a rainy day”. Why would you ask me to sing? Was it some cruel joke?
– For trying to teach me Mathematics. Maths= Muddled brains. You would hit me but it didn’t hurt.
– For teaching me to ride a bike and a car and not yelling at my failure as I accelerated your car into a tree.
– For telling me about boys. Even when they sent hate mail to you for being the protective older sister.
– For waking up early for me. I would leave for the bus stop to catch the school bus while you were still sleeping in our room. When the bus would do a full circle and cross our house again, you would be waiting at the window so you could wave at me. It was our ritual for which I would fight for a seat on the right side of the bus.
– For staying up late for me.
– I owe you big time for the little lies you told our parents..
– For forgiving your thieving little sister. Sorry I stole money from you. I should have taken a few notes instead of the entire wad from under your mattress.
– For not telling me off when I acted like a whimpering younger sister who reluctantly left the room so your friends and you could discuss boys, Mills & Boon, Basic Instinct etc whatever.(see I was always eavesdropping)
– For taking the time off so you could accompany me for my MBA interview. Not to forget the super short pixie hair cut I got right before the interview. Really what were we thinking?
– For keeping my nicknames as your password.
– For humoring me during my awkward advertising days. At the start of my summer internship with an ad agency I would feel most lonely at lunch time. I wouldn’t have anything to eat or anyone to eat it with so I would call you at work and show up at your office which was mercifully next to mine. You’d ask me to sit in your chair while you ran around with a sense of purpose but not before ordering something from the canteen and a Tropicana juice. It meant I ate alone but knew you were close.
Thank you for being around.

So my endearingly irritating sister, Happy Birthday! Here’s to more madness, magic and memoirs.

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Sighing from the sidelines…

Hello lovely ladies,

I am a TV professional. When I say “I work in media” it usually elicits a desired response not just in the financial city of Hong Kong but in most parts of the world. At the risk of sounding lame, my work is a huge part of my identity and my self-esteem. I’m not proud of this admission but I can expand on it. I was average in studies, below average in sports and pretty much average all around. But all that changed when I entered the corporate world. This is where I excelled. I thrived on challenges. Finally there was something I was good at. There was no turning back.

I don’t have grandiose plans of success and if I were to be perfectly honest I’m still unsure about what I want to be at 50. A CEO? Maybe? Self-doubt rears his ugly head as I type this. It’s a tantalizing but distant possibility.

For my current role, I was one of the youngest candidates who was approached for this position. Others had been around the block but what I lacked in experience I made up with enthusiasm. But instead of patting myself on the back, I thanked God and my luck. Luck NOT talent.

Therein lies one of our biggest problems. While men can seem boastful about their success, most women suffer from an imposter syndrome. We’re reluctant to give ourselves credit where its due. We shyly brush aside compliments. We’re embarrassed when the accolades come our way. Why? I fail to understand. Isn’t it possible to feel proud and not arrogant?

Being a woman is hard work. The responsibilities of raising a child and running a household . The grooming despite the gruelling schedules. The balance sheets and balancing in heels, the monthly pains whilst politely ignoring the snide remarks about PMS’ing. We master the art of multi-tasking while attempting to look like a million bucks. Yet, the fairer sex is treated unfairly?

So, if no one else congratulates us can we, at the very least, celebrate us? Are we all in agreement that we shouldn’t be apologetic or seem undeserving of our success? Hurray!

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Dear alpha-male,

I like you. In fact, I’m a lot like you. I’m not a feminist and this isn’t meant to be a male bashing opportunity. Please don’t take it the wrong way because what I’m about to say is said with the nicest intention. I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend over the years. Something that I’ve been silently observing until now.

I’m concerned about your attitude. Things said in jest. The inappropriateness of the water-cooler conversation. The beer-banter and the irresponsible use of information.

Our jobs involve working and networking in equal measure and sometimes small talk turns to slander. Whispered conversations in conference rooms and long chats over cocktails, when you’ll drop your guards and your voices, touch my arm as if I was a confidante or co-conspirator. That’s when I am informed imprudently and almost unnecessarily about how a particular woman has risen to the top in questionable ways.

“ABC was promoted because she was close to the boss” or ” XYZ doesn’t have to worry about being made redundant because she’s a (the choicest sexual act)”. Comments made in churlish contempt.

From your reports it would seem the only way a woman could climb the ladder of success was, lad by lad.

The rumour mills are always churning. Producing idle gossip. Presented unsolicited.

Irrespective of age groups, countries and demographics, gossip is a universal problem. You’ll are well-educated , well-read, well-travelled and well-meaning guys in general and yet can’t comprehend that it’s not very macho to be so malicious. To belittle someone’s success on account of sexuality?!

NEWS FLASH: Men flirt with their bosses too!!! Over sports and single malt. On golf courses and in gentlemen clubs. I’ve been privy to many such wooing attempts when a guy sidled up to a more successful man who happens to be conversing with me and wanted to hog the attention. Said schmoozer then suggests stepping out for a cigarette. There is a perfunctory inquiry of whether I smoke and I decline as if it’s a personal failing.

Also, even if there is an element of truth and if two people did get involved in a sordid affair and broke the protocol, it doesn’t absolve the man either!

Men are neither innocent, gullible or victimized. They’re sexist, stupid with their locker-room humour and sometimes, quite simply, jealous.

Behind every successful man is a patient woman but behind every successful woman is a begrudging man.

Gentlemen, play fair. Be nice.

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The girl who needs a grocery buying guide

Something strange happened one weekend.
I woke up at 8am!
On weekends that’s considered as dawn.
Feeling bright and energetic I jumped out of bed without so much as a yawn.

The joy of a weekend is to have bit of a lie-in without the shrill of an alarm.
I made myself a cup of tea and enjoyed the morning calm.
Deciding to use this time productively I left to run a few errands.
Having ignored my house I decided to make amends.

I’m blessed to have a helper and a cook who are indispensable.
They’re my lifeline and like family. They’re loyal and competent.
By design or by habit the task of buying groceries is left in their trusted hands.
But seeing the supermarket I,spontaneously, thought of doing it myself, so in I went.

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My senses groggy. My voice disembodied. I walked down the aisles, slightly lost.
The fresh colours and smells of fruits is what I love the most.
Other shoppers included either very old people shuffling along,
Or early-risers, swimmers, hipsters tying up their dogs or parking their bike.
And of course super sporty Amazonian women returning from their run or hike.

I started adding tomatoes, blueberries etc in my trolley.
Whilst admiring their bodies fit for haute couture.
Making lists of what I’d like eat during the week and feeling jolly.
Buying vegetables is a bit like buying furniture, it’s very mature.

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I came home and dropped my bags on the floor.
The rumbling in my stomach was turning into a roar.
Tired but happy about the chores being completed.
Even if the money in my wallet had rapidly depleted.

The aforementioned cook and helper arrive.
What follows is a humiliating, dressing down that lasts half an hour.
My effort ignored, my morning turned sour.
The critical cook shreds me to pieces and exposes my inexperience.
So much so for my lets-do-this-grocery-shopping-more -often drive.

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She starts with ” if you buy vegetables, your bank balance will come down by half”.
Why I asked with trepidation masked by a loud laugh.
She bemoans the pitfalls of career women and lifestyles she deems wild.
Expecting a rebuke I braced myself like an erroneous child.

She said: Tomatoes from the fresh market are 14$. You paid 26$.
Oh is all I said and smiled sheepishly.
She said: Why did you buy an eggplant. We already had one.
I professed a false love for eggplant and contemplated an escape. Perhaps head to the gym for a run.

She said: Why did you buy three packets of Okra? Two are enough for you.
I shifted my weight from one foot to another. Feeling small and stupid. I still do.
What are these? She points to the small packets of green stuff I’d thrown in randomly.
Finally! I have an answer for this one. I glibly assured her it’s Coriander for chutney .
It’s Pudina (mint leaves) she says in a half mocking half disapproving tone.
My confidence quickly dissipating as she continued to drone.

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She then coaches me on cooking and domesticity and how it would make a man happy.
Here it comes, the ultimate blow.
Because of course not having a man is the all-time low.
At this point my helper, who’s always been in my corner, comes to my defense.
She pipes in saying my purchases are organic and therefore more healthy.

They’re imported from Australia or New Zealand she shouts over the hoovering.
Feeling bad for me as I’ve been put through the ringer.
So? I’m going to be boiling and cooking them anyway, dismisses my cook.
Unless you want to use these imported tomatoes for salads or sandwiches? She asks.
Part question, part threat. Not exactly the menu I had in mind. No, is all I could whimper.

Some might question my wisdom for tolerating a feisty cook bordering on insolence.
In a world full of robotic, indifferent people, she’s right and she cares.
I hang my head in shame. In silence.
My helper, gives me a reassuring smile, indicating what “I can say to save ya”.
How quickly success turns to failure.

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Role reversal

This September I was informed that I would be making my annual trip to Cannes via London. To meet the higher echelons in the head office. Seizing this opportunity I asked my parents if they would like to join me in London. My parents, and father in particular, has always had a deep-seated desire to visit London. The history and the availability of curry being the top two reasons. Vegetarians are very pragmatic about their holiday destinations.

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I warned them about the infamous English weather. But that was insignificant, as long as I was going to be in London it would be the best time to visit. Although I’ve visited London quite a few times, I’m by no means a local. But at 70 it’s more of an emotional support they seek rather than a physical or financial one. Sorry MasterCard.
Weather warnings forgotten, plans were made rapidly.

I trawled through my cupboards for winter wear for my mother. I bought age-appropriate sweaters and T-shirts for my father. After his retirement, his wardrobe is restricted to exercise clothes, traditional kurtas and a few (but not forgotten) safari suits. Adding to this neatly pressed, starched, and crisp pile of clothes were the T-shirts I’ve passed on to him. Gifts from business partners. So, he naively adversities Comedy Central or Radio One with clever by-lines and zany collegiate appeal!

We had swung into action. Shopping-check. Tickets-check. Hotel booking check. Visas-check. Forex- check. My family undeterred even as the rupee plummeted 1 GBP= 100 INR.

Packing-There were various facets to this packing, starting with food packing. Vegetarians are also a tad paranoid.
Surprisingly, they also packed tea bags! I pointed to them that we’re going to the land of tea lovers but they weren’t going to settle for Bergamot Earl Grey or a mild English Breakfast. They need a stronger brew, a proper builders tea.

Being a seasoned traveller, I shared my tips and checklist before they boarded their flight. Cross-body handbags, adapters, international roaming on their phones, to tag their luggage for easy identification etc. The trip hadn’t even started but I could feel the beginnings of anxiety.

So here we were, smiling and hugging at London Heathrow. We made our way to the waiting car as they relaxed and silently approved the perks of my business travel. The hotel apartment had proficiently kept a welcome message addressed to my father and he took out his little Nokia phone to capture the screen. He’s not on any social media so clearly this was for his own private memory.

After a power nap we made our way to Liberty and thus began a holiday full of discoveries. I saw a side to my father I didn’t know existed. After shopping we had almost joined the throngs of people on Oxford street but he wanted to retrace his steps so we could get a picture outside Liberty. I now know who to thank for my limitless capacity to pose for pictures.

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Over dinner, I realized that my mostly teetotaller father quite enjoys a glass of wine (or three). I was thrilled. I was having a larky dinner with my parents. I could show them new things whilst they happily embraced each experience. I felt a new emotion, a sense of wonder. You can spend your life with people, with the tinnitus of familiarity and then one day in a strange land, you see them in a new light.

As I gathered our coats and searched for our keys, I overheard my father tell my mom that they should go to a traditional British pub next door. Wow, will wonders ever cease?

The rest of the trip saw us trundling together. I was their map and their go-to App. All pre-holiday worries gone as they expertly hopped off and hopped on.

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One night, I had a severe stomach ache and had to wake my parents because I had stupidly forgotten my medicines.Except that incident the trip was a roaring success. Right through the seven days I had three overriding thoughts:

1) When your family is with you in a foreign land, it ceases to be one.

2) Your parents are perhaps cooler than you think or imagine.

3) The roles were reversed. When I visit them in India, I automatically lapse into the I’m-your-daughter-and-therefore-in-your-care mode.
Now, I was the parent. The one in control. The one in charge. Protecting them in the tube stations and from the marching pedestrians. Guarding them against pickpockets and the world at large.

The end of the holiday arrived all too quickly. I put them in a cab and off they went to Paris. Even though I’m not a mother, I felt a longing. As if I was seeing them off for a summer camp. Pushing these thoughts aside, I got into back- to- business avatar and returned to the apartment to finish my packing for Cannes.

There it lay , innocently, a small bag in my suitcase with some medicines and a handwritten note from my father describing the different uses and doses.

With tears stinging my eyes I realised, I was wrong. They’d been parents all along.

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The religious rookie

Yet another year of celebrating Diwali alone.
Hearing about the festivities back home I can’t help but feel forlorn.
Remembering the softly glowing lamps and fireworks dotting the night sky.
Feeling very feminine in our traditional clothes, I wonder why.
Boxes of calorie-laden sweets laid along with my favourite savouries.
Rooting for friends trying their luck at card parties.

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At dusk we used to gather for the Laxmi Puja as silence fell.
The money on the plate was for us, we could tell.
I’d help my father arrange the offerings of fruits and holy water.
The nip in the air heralding winter as the days got shorter.

Now in my apartment in Hong Kong feeling absurd and solitary.
Banishing all thoughts of being a little phoney.
I decided to venture into this uncharted territory.
Starting with an abridged version of praying to the goddess of wealth.
Not because I don’t need to pray for wealth, god-knows it’s quite the contrary.

I don’t go to temples. I don’t fast.
If there was a competition for devout, pious girls, I’d come last.
Keen on trying, yet, embarrassed of failing.
I told myself it would be smooth sailing.
The only one judging would be the lord himself,
So even if others accuse me of not being very traditional.
His love is thankfully unconditional.

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Dressed in my new Salwar Kameez I stood in front of my temple.
Nothing grand but a simple shelf of an IKEA cupboard.
I stood there in silence wondering what’s next?
No chants, verses that can roll off my lips.
I wondered if I should ring my mother for tips.

The self-recrimination! Stop worrying I wanted to shout.
Seeming inadequate and shallow, I urged myself to just pray.
The way I usually do. Have a conversation.
Pour your heart out. All the fears and the doubts.

But then this was no ordinary day, it was Diwali.
I was advised to search Youtube for artis.
That seems fake. It’s not a performance but a prayer.Don’t you agree?
So I lit some incense sticks which filled my apartment with their assuring scents.
Jasmine and Cinnamon, these were money well spent.
Sadly I can’t read Sanskrit and can’t carry a tune if my life depended on it.
I closed my eyes for the task and urged my mind to commit.

Om Jai Jagdish I started feebly, but at least I was trying.
The words flowing, like muscle memory, somewhat shakily I started to sing.
Maybe not in the correct order.
But miraculously one word followed the other.

My hands circling the small idols and some gold jewelry, my only treasure.
I could feel the Gods smiling. I had made the effort even if it was half-measure.
When I finished I could feel a presence and a sense of wonder.
I opened my eyes with a sense of disbelief to what had just transpired.
I felt calm, at peace and inspired.

We don’t need faith that binds us but blinds us.
To an extent that we forget to love, help and heal.
We lay too much importance on traditions and customs.
Instead let’s try to make someone smile and provide a meal.

Majority or minority. Sectarian conflicts. The constant strife.
Rioting over land to build a mosque or a temple.
Don’t all religions teach us to respect and be gentle?
God, in my expatriate experience, can have a space-saving shelf life.

Let’s keep it simple. To right the wrong.
End the evil in us and try something new.
Believe. Be good. Be true .

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I’m in a relationship!

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Now that I have your attention, let me explain..
The object of my affection is something really mundane.
It’s my apartment. Warm, bright and bathed in a yellow hue.
Everyone who’s walked in has unequivocally said..it’s so you!

My tumultuous affair started a few months ago.
Worth every bit of my time and pride for sure.
The minute I set my eyes, I was in love full throttle.
Not exactly a celebration but it did call for the opening of a champagne bottle.

It gives the solitude I seek, even though it overlooks a road.
I’ve spent several soporific Sundays being in a couch potato mode.
The calmness in my heart out-shouts everything else.
To curl up with a book or watch something on the TV that makes no sense.

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An open kitchen, a bar stocked with all the alcohol that can be had.
It would be the ultimate spinster pad.
A movie star living room and the room which inspired this writing, my study.
A monochromatic bathroom and a bedroom which is earthy.
Adding little touches to compensate for the minus.
A refuge or respite with something to do.
I often catch myself saying to no one in particular..I love you.

The house is always on my mind.
I walk in every evening and thank the god above for this find.
What can I do to make it better? Sometimes wishing I were a housewife.
Should I buy the wall art now or save it for later?
Let the space fill out naturally, let the walls chronicle my life.

Not willing to rest till it’s functional, tidy and shiny again.
Not a speck of dust. Clean, wash, wipe without complain.
Till I’m exhausted. Till I’m sane.

I wish we could love each other unconditionally like this.
Give every relationship all your love and attention. Be respectful and willing.
The only expectation is for you to welcome me, protect me and keep me safe.
When things don’t go as planned, the disappointment might be crippling.
Nonetheless I’d walk gratefully into your arms at the end of the day.
It’s bound by paperwork and lease terms but in my heart I’m here to stay.

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Table for one

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Those who bravely walk into restaurants and enjoy a meal alone.
Wouldn’t relate to this being lonely, moan.
If you, my dear reader, dread asking for a table for one.
Read on for it turned out to be fun!

Untidy and still in uniform ,I’d holler at my mom or sisters to give me company.
Don’t eat alone was my only rule.
They’d fill my plate with food and I’d fill them with stories from school.
In college, I’d head to my friend’s place after tuition. Hot summer afternoons in May.
Food was forgotten as we danced to Spice Girls and welcoming VJ Trey.

The hostel canteen was an escape.
The idiocy and the I Love You’s etched on wooden desks.
Cramming for an exam and buried in our book.
Students bonded over a common cause, change the unimaginative cook.

Rotis hardened like pappads and pappads softened with moisture like rotis.
The management found this canteen camaraderie incorrigible and naughty.
Food was barely touched as it was labelled by one and all as inedible.
We would find street vendors with food was more dependable.

On holidays, I’ve had solo lunches overlooking the Sydney harbour.
Quietly devoured croissants staring at the Eiffel tower.
But that was different with people milling around me.
Couples, friends and colleagues. Exchanging smiles, numbers and a story.

Travelling on business isn’t woefully lonely either.
Diaries pencilled with client lunches and dinners with friends.
When that isn’t an option, one can opt for room service luxury.
I had progressed to having breakfast alone.
Hiding behind a newspaper or busying myself with the blinking Blackberry.
Feeling very corporate, with my Earl Grey tea and eggs. I was finally on the mend.

But all that changed when I recently travelled on work to Tokyo.
No colleagues, clients or cronies to rely on. It was a dinner from hell!
Don’t worry I will tell you more…

It was a Friday evening and I didn’t want to be indoors.
Such a vibrant city and plenty to see.
Grabbing a map, I went exploring the hills of Roppongi.
Not believing my luck when I read about a vegetarian sushi bar, which I finally found.
I walked into this small, upscale, fine dining restaurant.
With its hushed tones and dim lights making me want to turn around.
Heels clicking across the floor, I chided myself for drawing attention by not changing my shoes.
God help me, my nightmare was coming true.

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Too dark to pull out a novel and no window seats to distract myself with the humdrum of city life.
Facing the inscrutable Japanese chef and glancing surreptitiously at the other couple.
Is it my imagination or was it disdain from his sophisticated wife?
Though tempted, I didn’t use my phone as an escort.
Having learned from bitter experience data roaming means trouble.

Being Friday night, my email alerts had ebbed.
Oh wait, here comes the chef with a basket of veggies and explains the menu.
Thankful for a chance at conversation I ordered a variety of rolls.
Having worked up an appetite I wolfed them down in ten minutes as if that was my goal!
It’s sushi, you can’t not eat it at one go, can you?

No flirty bartenders, no chatty waiters and no allies. That only happens in a movie.
Alas, my date with myself was far from groovy.
I sat there deliberately taking small sips of my non-alcoholic drink.
Wishing for a familiar face by my side.
In hindsight, a glass of wine would have calmed my nerves and I wouldn’t want to hide.

Minutes passed and I started to relax.
Looking around more confidently I made eye contact, not at all shy.
The 8-10 characters in an almost play-like setting, wore a similar expression.
A mixture of admiration and idle curiosity.
Focusing on me instead of their date, I wonder why?

Because I wasn’t togged up for dinner to remain unseen by their partners.
There was also, perhaps,envy.
To them I was bold and carefree so I reasoned it wasn’t pity.
Paying the bill, I smiled and promised to return the next time I’m here.
Feeling triumphant on conquering my fear.
And ready to soldier through others,I disappeared into the city.