1194572625I guess you could say that I’m not a happy traveler. I much prefer staying at home where there are no surprises to horrify me, especially at the end of a long day.

But it’s not to be, and travel I must.

To perform my music, to speak at conferences, to visit friends and to see family. I’m most often at hotels or airbnbs unless I’m with my son, whose house is not included in this tale.

So I’ve made a sort of check list of items I need to be sure of in strange and mysterious places before I;

  1. Sit on the potty
  2. Get into the shower
  3. Get into bed

The Potty
Make sure you know where the flush is located and how to operate it before you begin doing your job. It’s very irritating to have to hunt for it when you’re all done, ready run. Instead you end up in a blind panic with no one to call on for help, wishing you could say, ‘Mommy, I’m done.’

Find out in advance if it’s a flush you have to pull up or push down.

There are flushes with levers that you have to lightly bear down on, and will break off if you get aggressive.

Some are touch sensitive and you have to wave your hand in front, but it takes a few seconds before the mechanism kicks in, so you need to be patient and have a little faith that it’s going to work. I’m just saying, since I’ve taken my hand away before the sensor felt the heat or whatever, only to realize that I had to do it all over again. This is very frustrating.

Some flushes don’t need any help from you at all, and will gush forth right while you’re in the middle of something important. Very disconcerting. I’m always worried about backsplash.

My friend Linda Weinstein in New York has a toilet seat that looks like a pilot’s panel on an aircraft. It’s so sophisticated and cool and worldly that I’ve never summoned up the courage to ask how the bloody thing works. Her husband is Japanese and apparently it’s very common in Tokyo.

I just hold it in when I visit her.

The Shower
The number of times I’ve joyously flung all my clothes off in a hotel room and dashed into the shower to preempt the air conditioning from turning my delicates into ice cubes, only to find that I don’t know how to turn the shower on.

Everyone knows that you turn the dial to the left for hot water and to the right for cold, and somewhere in the middle is the ideal temperature for a luxurious shower, one where the water doesn’t run cold because posh hotels have limitless hot water.

But what happens when you’ve taken off your glasses, are technically naked and blind and faced with either a befuddling bunch of dials or buttons or levers?

You could jab frantically at anything and everything, screaming your head off, but that doesn’t really get you clean.

It’s a good idea to put aside your self image, your personal posh if you will, and humbly ask someone how things work while you still have your wits about you.

While you’re at it, check out how they’ve laid out the soap, shampoo and conditioner, maybe the hairdryer as well

The Bed
Find out how all the lights get turned off before you’ve gotten into your wispy (alternatively, wussy) night things.

I find that one’s self worth takes licking when you have to ask some young know-it-all how to switch off the lights, turn the TV on, what channels they provide, or where to find the key to the minibar (some hotels still lock them, defeating the very purpose of the spur-of-the-moment purchase), even if you’re respectable in a hotel-provided bathrobe.

Locate the hotel’s phone and place yours where you’re sure you can find it in the middle of the night.

Plot your path to the bathroom and make a few dry runs in the dark before falling asleep.
It’s no fun to sock it to a hard corner with your big toe while you’re desperately making a dash for the loo.

All in all, I much prefer to do my adventure travel on Discovery or Nat Geo, and like my own bed most of all.



Once the pain has passed

Some time ago I read a really nice article by Saritha Rai in the global edition of the NYT called ‘Hairdressers Fight Caste Prejudice With Upscale Salons.’

It talked about Bangalorean barbers who have shed caste and discrimination, poverty and illiteracy to drive around in Rolls Royces visiting salon after salon in their chain of salons, snipping here, colouring there and shaving elsewhere.

Not every barber in Bangalore obviously, mainly the lucky few who made it to Saritha’s story.

While I am delighted that everyone’s happy and looking good, making and spending lots of money (depending on whether they’re standing or sitting at the salon), I wish to register a complaint to the Association of Unisex Beauty Parlours, if such an organisation does indeed exist in Bangalore.

It is this: Men and women ought to be attended to separately. Not together. They should come together only after the tending and mending, so the best of the sexes can be shared.

Let me explain why.

I’ve been frequenting beauty parlours ever since I can remember. That’s a very long time ago, as you can no doubt tell by looking at my profile picture.

The mother, who was always protective when it came to my dignity, began taking me to these ‘women’s only’ places, almost as soon as I started sprouting, so that painful miracles or ‘grooming’ as she euphemistically called it, could take place.

Women would be plucked mercilessly to bifurcate unibrows or streamline their bushiness. Arms or legs would get ruthlessly waxed. Often both.

Common sounds in a women’s beauty parlour included, “yaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh,’ (threading the upperlip).  And ‘owwwwwwwwwwww,’ (waxing the under arm).  And ‘you *&^%*  $%#@*er’ and similarly unrepeatable epithets that grew louder and more colourful as the treatment of choice grew closer and closer to the more sensitive areas on a woman’s body, like if you were a swimmer for instance, which fortunately, I wasn’t.

The long and the short was that body parts on public display would get tortured and tormented in some fashion, depending on the body part and the prevailing mode of therapy (lasers hadn’t been invented in that ruder, rougher time of which I speak), so that the woman could come out of the cave looking nonchalant and beautiful, elegant and breezy, as if she was born that way.

Which brings me to my hairy tale.

Once upon a time there were men’s barbers and women’s beauty parlours. The twain did not meet. And that led to happy endings for all concerned. Things should have been left that way.

But just like Saritha’s barbers have evolved, my beauty parlour too has changed. And what used to be a safe sanctuary where a woman could let go of her inhibitions, her guard, and her not-so-pretty side for just a little while, as she got it together to face mankind, today, I see intruders.

Men getting their roots touched up. Their in-grown toenails yanked out. Their chests waxed. And so on, right next to where I’m getting a harmless blow-dry. That’s blow dry.

It is most unsettling and intrusive.

I think there are some places where men and women should not come together until the job’s all done.

The childbirth ward in a hospital is one.  The ordeal can put man off woman forever and that’s not so good for the rest of history.

The beauty parlour is another one.

For the same reason.


Not the sound of silence
Not the sound of silence

Tamil women are a loud lot. Tamil men are pretty loud too, but I think the women are louder.

I can say this with certainty because I have had intimate, excruciating contact with Tamil women since the second I was born.

Starting with the mother, moving along to the grandmother, then to assorted aunts (there were four of them, no uncles), and eventually maids, I have had to learn lessons on life and love at decibel levels that hovered around the 80 mark most of the time. It’s a miracle that I’m not stone cold deaf.

I’d like your permission to digress just a little, to make a point here.

It is said that people in very cold places like Alaska and Scandinavia have several hundred words to describe snow. It’s pretty obvious that nuance is needed to properly allude to either slush or sleet or freezing rain, as the case may be. Otherwise, what separates us from the polar bear?

It’s a bit like that for Tamil women.

Their lives are dominated by noise and sound.

It’s no surprise then, that Tamil is filled with many, many onomatopoeias describing noise. Not the sound of chickens (cluck-cluck) or cats purring (miao-miao), but actual words describing different types of bangs and crashes and thuds and of course, shouting.

  1. Damal, dumeel: The sound of pots and pans clattering to the floor. Or anything else.
  2. Dumma, dumma: The sound of a beating drum. Drummers are usually very annoyed when their art is described in this manner, which could be because it’s also the same onomatopoeia used to describe the sound of a hammer banging into resistance.
  3. Fadal, fadal: The sound of first the palm and then the back of the hand across someone’s face.
  4. Kiruke, kiruke: The irritating sound of something that has rusted and clearly needs oil, but is nevertheless being turned around and around relentlessly, hoping for a miracle. Could also be the sound rats would make in a metal bin that has been sealed shut.
  5. Kreech, kreech; The sound of young girls shrieking with laughter, getting louder and more hysterical by the minute, driving the listener insane.
  6. Koyan, koyan: The sound of whining. Usually small children, who can keep it up for a long time.
  7. Laboh, laboh: The sound of wailing. Not real, sorrowful wailing, but crying loudly for effect.
  8. Lottu, lottu: The sound of someone plodding along painfully, annoying the listener with their ponderous pace.
  9. Vaal, vaal: The sound of loud, angry yelling and arguing. The sound of no compromise.
  10. Veel, veel: The sound of loud squealing, possibly as a result of pain or perhaps insult.

Yes, there are several other onomatopoeic and repetitive words to describe all sorts of noises, but my head is already exploding with just the din of this prose.

To conclude, I’d like to offer a little wake-me-up advise to members of my family who may or may not be guilty of overdoing the racket.

The largest not-for-profit medical practice in the whole world is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Here’s what they have to say about decibel levels.

Safe range

30                    Whisper

60                    Normal conversation

78                    Washing machine

Risk range

80 to 90           Heavy city traffic, power lawn mower

90                    Motorcycle

100                  Hand drill

110                  Rock concert

Injury range

120                  Ambulance siren

Pain threshold

140                  Jet engine at takeoff

165                  12-guage shotgun blast

180                  Rocket launch