Brrrrrbie! Who’s afraid of the big-boobed bimbette? (Not me!)

When our second daughter, The Diva, was born, nobody told us we’d signed a five-year contract with Barbie.

Her older sister wore jeans and dresses with equal disinterest, had imaginary tea-parties and F1 races with equal enthusiasm and loved football as much as TV musicals.

We were not prepared for the Pink Revolution.

Ballerina pumps, shiny hand-bags, tights, a princess’ dowry in plastic jewellery, silver tiaras with flashing rubies (that crumbled like lazy metaphors into dangerous shards), fairy wings, ALL IN PINK! Even a love for daredevil Kick Buttowski necessitated a PINK Barbie Skateboard.

Early on we decided not to be judgmental about this idiocy. It wasn’t an ideology thing. We were too fatigued for complicated negotiation and harboured a firm optimism that eventually she’d ‘grow out of it’. We played along.

I’d fake enthusiasm at Hamleys. ‘Wow, sure, let’s go see all the Barbies!’ We’d walk, hand in hand, mother dressed in the colours of mud with her sparkling, flittering, girl child; past the big haired, big headed, big boobed plastic bimbos, physiologically incapable of balancing on their two miniature feet if the Blue Fairy turned them into Real Girls.

LBD Barbie though is fascinating with her bondage-bandage ‘collector’ status: something noir, evil and creepy. I imagined 50 year old men creeping in, in the minutes before closing time, grabbing a couple of the purple lipped, blue lidded plastic girls, skulking to the counter and taking their dolls home in brown paper bags to do things to them that you wouldn’t even dare to Google.

Glittery 5yo: “Mommy can I have that one in the black dress?”

Me, surfacing from deep dark thoughts: “AAAAAAAA! NOOOOOO….”

Shocked look from the 5 yo.

Calmer, me: “Sorry, no, love.”

Glittery 5yo: “Please, can I have the one who is a vet?”

Me: “Ok.”

We’d get home, brushing away plastic-crumbs of the vet bag, the pink brush and other detritus that shoddy manufacturing destined our recent purchase to end up as. The older Barbies would regard the new one with knowing disdain, their naked bodies, shampoo-damaged hair and pen-lined faces watching, waiting for New Barbie to turn into them.

I’d watch. Anthropologist like. Looking for patterns.

You see, my little sister had loved Barbies to distraction. (This was when a Barbie was made of soft plastic, with bendable limbs, gorgeous ‘skin’ and she cost a calculable percentage of our dad’s salary.) I couldn’t be bothered. I had a rare black Barbie with large coca-cola eyes and gorgeous hair that was cut short and eventually turned platinum. I only remember having the mildest interest in her when my sister coerced my mother into buying a set of dresses for our two Barbies. I arranged a photo shoot. My black Barbie with her short hair looked fantastic in her white wedding dress. The pictures were developed, blurry and I lost the will to play.

Eventually my brothers learned about Sati in school and I’m afraid my Barbie, with no name (and no husband to speak of, cos we only had the one Ken) was sacrificed in a home-made fire in the garden, against her will and much to my mother’s deep consternation. Some days, I wonder if I could tell that story with a Joan of Arc lens but that’s not the way it happened. And somehow, it seemed apt for patriarchal-society-approved-Barbie.

The politicization of Barbie happened earlier than you’d think. There were small stories, renegade for the time. This was the first ‘adult’ as ‘doll’ toy in our memory. I remember my aunt telling my mum she was uncomfortable with the way Barbie was built. She didn’t want her daughters thinking that that was an ideal body. “Look at those boobs,” she said, “they’re not normal.” My mother, being my mother, shrugged. “I don’t think it will make a big difference as long as you don’t make a big deal about it.”

We’re all in our thirties now, the cousins and I, and my mum was right. No one’s been hurt. Except Barbie.

I’ve resisted the temptation to spy on the Diva when she played with her dolls. I knew there is lots of conversation and moving them about and bringing in props but it is very much ‘her’ private time. She used to retreat to a corner of her bedroom and conduct her rituals like a small Goddess playing with Life.

‘What do the Barbies talk about?’ I asked her one day. The Diva shrugged, “Well, you know that one who is bald and has a weird face?” (To me they all do, but I nodded.) “She talks about her injuries a lot.” Really?! “Yes, you know they’re not really talking though, Ma.” Yes, of course, I wanted to say, it’s ME who is NUTS here. I may have panicked a little at that moment.

But one day, when she was 6, the Diva learned to read properly. The next day she went to her big sisters’ bookshelf and pulled out a Geronimo Stilton. She quickly graduated to Enid Blyton, the Molly Moon Series, abridged classics.

The unplayed-with Barbies now lie in a box, like pop-references, past their time of relevance. Despite their lack of impact in our lives, I’m still undecided if I should pass them on or just bloody throw them away.

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This appeared as a blog on iDiva: http://idiva.com/opinion-iparenting/girls-and-barbie/22570

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Gender neutrality begins at home

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?” my dad is driving me to school, for once I’m not surrounded by my army of siblings and this is rare stuff, he and I having a chat.

I must be about 9. I think about my answer. While my mother is my buddy, my friend, my sister, my dad is my hero. All I want to do is impress him. “Maybe a doctor”, I shrug, the lie making it easier to sound throwaway… “or…” I am tentative, “an airhostess.”

“Why do you want to be an airhostess?” he asks. I don’t have to think about this. “Because I like planes and airports. And I like seeing new places.” My dad grins to himself. “Nothing wrong with being an airhostess. It’s very hard work. But, you could be a pilot you know.” “There are girl pilots?!” “Sure. Not many, but there are. What does being a girl have to do with it, anyway? You could do anything you want to. You could be the captain of a ship.” “Do you know any girl captains?” I ask him. “No,” my father says, smiling at me, “But you could be the first.”

I didn’t grow to be either a pilot or a captain. But I grew up knowing my father, that big, hairy man who could cook as well as he could drive, whose voice could sing as beautifully as inspire fear in the hearts of those who angered him, who carried his babies as gently as he once did a sick man, down a rope ladder, down the side of a ship in a stormy port believed that I could do what I chose. My gender was incidental.

My mother, the official fuse-changer and plug fixer in the house, believed in this as well. Your gender could not dictate the life-choices you made.

And it was easy to put into practice once my own children arrived. Our eldest girl, a practical, playful, clever thing who wore trousers and boots and had spiky hair and loved watching football as much as she loved animated musicals. Our second girl brought more pink and glitter and Barbies into our lives than we ever imagined possible, but we let her be and sure enough, she learned to read and soon books usurped Barbie. Both now talk of the boys of 1Direction with as much enthusiasm as they discuss cars or MasterChef.

When #3, the surprise child turned up, and he was a boy, a close friend exclaimed, “OMG, what will they do with a boy?!” This was a completely valid reaction. I am good with little girls. They flock to me and I to them and we have amazing, hilarious times together. I was always wary of little boys with their pushing and their momentum and their sudden bursting into loud screaming tears like big old ninnies.

Our little man is quite the same. He is given to pushing occasionally and we now have a fleet of plastic and metal automobiles in all sizes. He will run like a Spartan, in his diaper, wielding a plastic bat in an alarming (and annoying) display of testosterone and when I tell him off, he will bawl like a big old ninny.

But then he’s got this other side to him; spending baby-hours (20 mins sometimes) at his elder sisters’ plastic kitchen cooking up all sorts of delicious imaginary things that he will bring us to taste, pleased if we say ‘ummm’ and struck with the giggles when we squeal ‘yuck! It’s disgusting!’ And he has a baby, a beat up, baby doll who is his ‘boy’ and he is the baby’s daddy. He’ll feed his baby, sing him to sleep and carry him around when he’s doing things.

However, when this 2 yo little man walks out of the house carrying his doll, it’s been quite the sociological eye opener. The same mothers who encourage their girls to be ‘tomboys’ and ‘equal’ to anything ‘a boy can do’ look alarmed, embarrassed… ‘Is that your big sister’s doll?’ No it’s his. ‘You bought him a doll?’ Well… ‘He plays with dolls?’ Yes! Yes he does. They nod and smile. They’re want to agree but…

Think about it: who would win in a match between a Daddy’s Girl and a Mama’s Boy? How do you fit a ‘lil mama’ and a ‘big daddy’ into the same pigeon hole? And if you did have to hand them out amongst the kids, could not every child get an equal share of frogs, snails, puppy dog tails, sugar, spice and all things nice?

These little innocent playful clichés we inherit as rhymes and fairy tales and gentle teasing from the elders are innocuous until they manifest into the real world. The trouble is, gender stereotyping is not a complete fabrication. I’m of my mother’s opinion when she said that gender roles, ideally, are placed to help people know their place in the ‘team’, but it does depend on awareness that everyone in the team is expected to pull their weight. So I’m happy to be a (mostly) SAHM while my husband is the chief bread-winner. But it’s also reassuring for the children to know that daddy will cook them dinner and step up to the bedtime routine if mummy has to work. And amongst our friends, there are dads who work from home while mum goes to an office.

The subtle sexism inherent in gender-neutral discussions is super ironic. The sub-text seems to be, bring your girls up gender-neutral, because it will make them brave and fight for their rights and empower them. But your boy must be a man from the time he’s a little baby or else you will not have done right by him. After all, it’s a man’s world, yes?

Maybe. But maybe not. You’ll have to drum up an inordinate, almost foolhardy optimism about the society you live in to have the courage to bring up your boy truly gender neutral. You will literally have to be the change you wish to see. At our sports class, the excellent teacher often pits the boys against the girls. It is an even match. And the victory-taunting of both genders is equally relentless but good-natured. The boys are never shamed by having being beaten by the girls. And the girls accept defeat with great swagger and calls for a re-match. There are no boys and girls, only winners and ‘LOOOOOSERRRRS!’

If I put blinkers on, and look at my immediate surroundings, even in silly, gender-deficit ridden India, I am pretty pleased with what I see. Young fiction is filled with brave, strong, gentle girls and brave, strong, gentle boys, children’s film and television celebrates gender equitability and our peers are raising an army of young humans who respect each other, regardless of gender. There’s every reason in the world to believe these children will grow up to continue treating each other as equals.

As my little boy ran around, two toenails on each foot painted to match his big sisters’, complimenting my 8 year old daughter’s ‘top’ then shooting her with his cricket-bat ‘gun’, my 12 year old daughter asked me for a ladder and electric tape to fix the light in her room.

After I zapped the gun into a guitar (with magic!) and gave my 12yo a lecture on safety, I sat down and allowed myself a self-congratulatory moment. My daddy here and my mama, probably changing fuses in heaven now, would be very, very proud.  

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“Having it All” – thanks, I’ll pass.

 

I’ve had It All, once or twice. It nearly killed me.

27, I’d had a beautiful baby, hosted and programmed a late night new-music radio show, wrote a high-profile newspaper column on a radical thing – motherhood in your twenties, was fresh out of an appearance as a travel show host and was having a series of good hair days. Life was so great I was too embarrassed to wear my Superman t-shirt because I thought it would look like I was showing off.

Then it started to unravel. Leaving a deserted office building and driving back alone post midnight began to freak me out. The inability to do the show live plus a change in programming strategy at the station (play ‘Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice’, to be precise) took the joy out of that. The novelty of dredging out my personal misadventures for public amusement began to wear thin and I began to lose faith in my own writing. The baby was getting older and needed more from me. Chafing, bitter and miserable, I settled for ‘some’, rather than ‘all’.

Somewhere down the line, I realized, the secret was, if it took a village to raise a child, it took an army to Have It All. You had to manage cooks, drivers, nannies, daycare, cleaners in addition to school and work.

I had another bash at it. I hired a nanny, managed two credible part-time jobs, tennis lessons, yoga, two kids, a schedule full of activities. I zipped around, flashing eyes and floating hair, festooned with laptop, skate bags, racquets, baskets full of baguettes and celery, juggling balls of fire in the air for all to see.

People began asking if I was tired. A neighbour checked with my mother, very discreetly, if it was chemotherapy that made me lose all the weight. I was incredulous. Could they not see I was having it all?

Like big neon earrings, leg warmers and quarter pound caviar tins, having-it-all is such an eighties’ concept. A time when big gas guzzling cars weren’t seen as a giant fuck-you to the environment or you believed in the Big Red Button that would end the Cold War in a hot flash or that the fall of the Berlin Wall would make it all ok. An innocent, naïve time.

I remember the cover of a book in my mother’s shelf – a woman, big blonde hair, blurbs indicating she had a man, a plan, a golden tan and … “She’s having it ALL” it said. But even though irony was still a glint in America’s eye, I remember thinking, ‘are they making fun of her?’

Everyone, but especially women with children, must remind themselves, first, that no one has defined what Having It All is. Even if life was less like a box of chocolates and more like a buffet, you know that some bits are better than others. And in the unlikely event every item on the buffet table was  supernegativecalorificmoleculargastromonicespealidocious… you’d still need to be wearing elasticated pants.

There is also the more difficult question. When on earth did it become your democratic right to expect to even come within sniffing distance of Having It All? Who do you know who is having it all? I can only think of Angelina Jolie.  Even Brad Pitt has dandruff and the ghost of Jennifer Aniston to deal with.

This New York Magazine piece http://nymag.com/news/features/retro-wife-2013-3/ uses the words ‘feminist’, ‘having it all’ and ‘stay home’ in the lead blurb. As a stay at home mum (with a blog! Watch you don’t stub your foot on the concrete cliché), I try to keep on top of the all the stay-at-home-mum propaganda. Briefly, it’s an interview written by a working mother with a woman who decided to stay home with her kids and it references Slaughter and Mayer. It quite definitely does not conclude that anyone, (apart from Beyonce) not even the rather patronizingly labeled ‘Retro Wife’, is having it all.

I am certainly not having it all. I watch my contemporaries, once all at the same starting block. We were celebrated for being brilliant, funny and ahead of the curve. Then I had children and got left behind in the fog of flexi-time employment aka Making the Most out of Naptime.

A few years ago it seemed like I’d made the wrong choice. But, all close to 40 now, none of us are millionaires, some of us are struggling with IVF treatments, some of us are divorced, most of us are just biting the bullet on the doldrum years and trying to find flattering reading glasses.

The truth is we’ve made ourselves bloody unhappy in this pursuit of Having It All. The ghosts of our working mothers or our stay at home mothers, whisper on our shoulders, ‘you can do more’. The talking heads glorify the slinky post-partums and the multi-para CEOs. Even my (female) gynaec used to be nicer to me when I walked in for my pregnancy check-ups with a laptop than with a book.

The fact is, many women of my generation are just exhausted with constantly having to justify our decisions. We find ourselves apologetic for having had children and taking pleasure in them, we’re told not to talk too much about our kids at work for fear of sounding unprofessional, we’re encouraged to find Our Own Identities. And if we didn’t have kids, then we better make sure we’re businessy-blue-arsed-flies-having-funFUNfun.

Thing is, some of us like being the person waiting for the school bus when the sweaty, exhausted little people come home. Some of us like pottering around the house in the quiet of the morning. Some of us are happy with our chug-a-lug careers that pay the bills and make Sundays different from the rest of the week. We’re beginning to realize that Having It All usually ends up with biting off more than you can chew.

We’re not having it all, but it’s more than enough.

The laundry and dinner prep is done. I’ve done a little research for a tiny project I’m working on.

I’m going to make myself a cup of tea now, sit in my pyjamas and be grateful.

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My Bandra: Public Displays of Musicality!

 

(from 2009)

I’d like to believe that Bandra has the highest density of musical instruments per sq km than any other place in Mumbai. When we moved back here, I remember being kept up long into the night by the beating of a ‘ghoomat’ and the relentless strumming of an old guitar as our drunk neighbours sang the moon away. Willy-nilly, I learnt a lot of old classics from Minglya and his sodden minstrels… “if ayeeeda hammah… aye’d hammer in duh mornin… aye’d hammer in duh eeeeeevenin… all over dis land…’

Bandra homes always had a few instruments thrown around; a dusty piano, ivories yellowing, the routine of the cranky, eccentric tuner coming in once in a while clicking his tongue at your neglect of the instrument. Generations of guitars, some held together with masking tape, some newer, maybe an electric… And then the odd wind instrument here, a violin there and often, the ubiquitous ‘ghoomat’.

I was soon to learn that traditionally, all maca-powows descend into community harmonizing. I always like to tell people that when I went to Xavier’s one of ‘my groups’ sat near the girls’ toilets. This is true. What I failed to add was that this group always had at least two guitars and they were constantly singing, learning riffs and chords off one another. Admittedly, I was always slightly embarrassed by these public displays of musicality (PDMs). Like jiving, I thought it was ‘sooo mac’. Like jiving, I wish I’d been more mature and learned some when I was young.

A couple of my siblings taught themselves to play guitar a few years ago. They inspired my 8 year old who takes her guitar once a week to the YMCA from whose windows you hear the sweetest discordant meld of hesitant ‘Casio’ picking and tender baby fingers, still getting bruised by copper guitar strings.  

In these last two weeks, I’ve been to two Bandra parties that have ended in much music. Friends came round and took turns playing and singing; Pink Floyd, Bengali and French love songs and some really bawdy home-grown choruses. Then, at a close friend’s home, a world class musician, Sanjay Divecha, still unsung, played the guitar like we’ve never heard before. Something shifted in the ether. And we fell in heavy, heart-breaking love with Bandra again.

If you can play, please take your guitar out in public and bring music to your neighbours. I want to see some PDM’s… all over dis land men!

 
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Why houses are like lovers…

The closest I’ve come to a string of broken relationships is house-hunting.

I married my first boyfriend 15 years ago but my earnest face, love for intimate details and restraint with gossip means that people who are breaking up, moving on or not, often ask me for advice. (I also love giving advice.)

I’ve moved residence 10 times in 9 years as an adult and at least 6 times as a child. The approximate 20 houses you must view (probably higher) before you decide on the one you rent, means I’ve evaluated at least 320 houses as potentials. Sieving out the absolute no-nos, at a low estimate of 10%, I’ve seriously considered 32 houses as permanent homes. The headboard on your bed is probably not big enough for that many notches. (Or maybe it is, you want to talk about it? You know who’ll listen.)

Stripes earned. I’ve been around the block, your block, my block, every block, only literally. So I refer to my house-hunting experience if you want advice on love.

Here’s why houses are like lovers (and not just because after you’ve decided to take the plunge, your new neighbours are a like a Pandora’s box of in-laws either.)

Some houses are just out of your league. You know this the minute you set eyes on them. You have no idea how your paths crossed, because you weren’t looking to set yourself up for disappointment. And yet you linger over the high ceilings, or glorious balconies, a room with a real view. The house stands there, not even noticing you. You know you should walk away, but you can’t help it. You walk into the kitchen, see vintage floor tiles. You look at yourself in the bathroom mirror, the setting sun lights your face up like you’re in the movies. You do the maths. You do the maths again. Then you do the maths one more time. You give up. You still think about it sometimes. What it would have been like, another time, another place. Then you shake the thought out of your head. You saved yourself from being run into the ground trying to keep up.

Some houses are out and out compromises. You’re tired, low-self-esteemy, you’ve looked and looked and begun to believe the problem is YOU, you’re too picky, your list is too specific. And so you meet the caravan in Canterbury with rooted plumbing (thank god) and think, okay. I’ll make it work. You make a list of the good stuff: easy to heat (it’s so small), Shetland pony outside, it’ll be a hilarious story one day. And it is because the pony bites, gets an erection every time a car passes and the landlady comes in and smokes all your cigarettes because the caravan is warmer than her house.

Then there are the houses you make an effort for, knowing if you change them here, smooth the rough edges there… (yes, ladies, see, this metaphor works! Want to talk about it?) And you put your all into it: a mirrorball and spotlight in the bathroom, fill the kitchen with herbs in pots, install new windows and hang windchimes where a sliver of ocean breeze comes to breathe its last. You hold your breath. It’s beautiful. And then it all starts to fall apart. You try to nurse your house back to health. But it’s true character shows through. The weak structure, the crumbly façade, the years of neglect that are now your problem. Exhausted, you walk away.

Not all houses are right for you but when you’re willing to overlook some pretty big things because ‘it just feels right’ then you know you’re taking the big leap.  The kitchen is too small, the bathrooms are fiddly, but you can imagine what life would be like here. I’ll write at this window. I’ll put a bench here for when my best friend comes to tea. I can cordon this area off when the playdate-brigade arrives. Despite yourself, you find yourself making plans. And then they call you to tell you the deal is off. You’re shocked. But but… it was going so well.

You lick your wounds each time it happens. Make yourself feel better by thinking of all the things that wouldn’t have worked out in the long run. Avoid looking at the building as you drive down the street. And then they may call and say it’s on again. You don’t have a plan B. So you move in. But you know it’ll never be the same.

My mother would walk into a new place and ‘feel’ it. She said she could tell if someone had been happy in a house or not. Even if they hadn’t, if she liked the house, she would have us all move in. People could, she said, ‘put love into the walls’. Looking for a flat early in our marriage, we walked into a dark hall, a couple on the verge of divorce, whose business had failed, were pushing packing materials around in a bitter silence. As we walked into the sun dappled kitchen, we looked at each other and decided wordlessly. This is where we would live. And we did! At the end of two happy verging on hilarious years, we prepared to leave. I sat in the hall, my first baby a secret still in my belly. A gay couple walked in to view the house. “Were you happy here?” one of them asked. “Yes!” I said, smiling at him. I wanted to tell him, ‘You will be too! I guarantee it!’. After all, we’d spent two years, with friends and family, ‘putting love into the walls.”

Which is why when you find your dream house, chances are, you won’t know it until you’ve spent a few years in it. You’ll have seen it in the morning, waking up, motes dancing in the cotton-curtain-filtered dawn light. You’ve seen it bedraggled and leaky and mouldy, giving up the fight against the Bombay monsoon. You’ve decked it up for parties, washed the kids’ arts off the walls, you know how long it takes for the water to come out of the tap at ‘peak hour’, you jiggle the main lock like a secret handshake, you have a nap-map, you watch a tree grow past your window…

Over the years, the bad times and the good times are inextricably linked with the houses you lived in. Where your babies were conceived, the first big party you threw, where you slept the night your mother died…

Time passes. It needs refurbishment, it needs work but you’re willing to do what it takes because houses are not homes until you’ve put your heart into them, put love into the walls.

It’s time to leave the one I live in now. I’m preparing for a long goodbye. 

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“Life is Life, I Am Because of You” by Amin Sheikh

Amin Sheikh

Amin Sheikh

Putting names and histories to the homeless, poor, begging children you see on the streets is not something you do. The scores of nomadic tribes, five year olds carrying babies, seven year olds beating three year olds, ten year olds sharing out scraps of food, all identical with their child-sized bodies with ancient eyes and hungry bellies. They come and go, each in their uniform of city grime and clothes that don’t remember their colour, hair bleached by the sun.

There are the ‘locals’. You see them everyday. You may have the one favourite, you may break your own rules and ask his or her name. You may scold them for not going to school. But you’ve lived too long in this city to know that making any more emotional contact is detrimental to your wellbeing. So you buy them a packet of biscuits or give them something small and walk off, praying an agnostic prayer, trying not to think about how you cannot make a difference.

Amin Sheikh’s book is about people who do make a difference. And it is about people who have helped him make a difference.

It’s hard to imagine a five year old runaway, living on the streets of his beloved Bombay, in stations, and trains and under bridges, protecting his little sister from all the horrors and harm that befall these butterflies of the concrete jungle.

Written simply and without artifice, he tells a gripping, gritty but hopeful story. From working in a tea stall as a tiny little boy, bearing beatings, sexual abuse and hunger, from returning to his home and running away again and again, he traces a well-worn, harsh path that leaves him unbelievably worldly wise at the grand old age of 7.

Fr Placid of Snehasadan

Fr Placid of Snehasadan

He is gathered into the bosom of the wonderful Snehasadan, an institution that fosters these children, rehabilitates and educates them and then makes a consistent effort to send them back to their families or out into the world equipped to make a living for themselves. When he runs away from Snehasadan, Fr Placido looks for him for days and takes him back and tells this ‘bhagoda’ that he must never ever run away again. And he doesn’t. He starts a business, he learns to drive, he finds work, he buys his mother a house, he travels to Barcelona, he becomes a man.

I have met Amin once or twice at my friend Vibha’s home. His wide smile and happy disposition are no hint of the rich, colourful, cruel and wonderful lives he has lived. The ‘many Amins’. His book reveals his innate courage, honesty and desire to turn his dreams into reality through sheer hard work and the love and trust of people, including Vibha’s neighbour Eustace in whose home he grows from from ‘Man Friday’ to ‘son’.

The story is fascinating but it is the everyday wisdom gleaned from being so dangerously vulnerable to a world that you are invisible in that is what draws you in. He watches the Bombay riots, the aftermath of the bombings, the lines drawn between Hindu and Muslim, he watches those lines disappear again, his friends get married, his sister becomes a nurse, incomplete circles draw to their inevitable conclusions.Amin typed out the entire book in all caps and then edited it with Vibha and her husband Dilip’s help. The book is interspersed with beautiful photographs of smiling faces at Snehasadan and poignant illustrations by Aina Pongiluppi Gomila. It is self-published.

Amin knows “Life and dreams walk together when you work for them”. After years of pounding the streets, selling newspapers, studying, living on cups of tea, he started a newspaper business that earned him enough money to learn to drive. He also runs Sneha Travels and dreams of creating a library with a café called Bombay To Barcelona.

Amin Sheikh’s “Life is life, I am because of you” made me smile and gasp in horror and fret and cry. It makes me feel less hopeless about the children I see on the street. Most dangerously, it makes me believe I could do something for them too.

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Because Sophiya introduced me to Thorton’s Fudge

(Part of a series on international restaurants for the Asian Age, this is one of my favourite memories of Sophiya Haque who I worked with as producer and writer in Channel V. Much more beautiful in real life than on TV, she was crazy, talented, eccentric, moody, intense, lovely and full of dreams, both everyday and ordinary.
God speed you wonderful thing… Gone too soon.)

Thornton’s – all over the UK

Once upon a time in music television, late, into a shoot, an evil, ogre gave a short, chubby elf one million things to do. After a few hours, the elf gave everyone five and sat down feeling very sad. A very beautiful VJ Sophiya, loped over on her long legs to the very sad elf and said, ‘Open your mouth, short, chubby elf’. The elf, used to doing what she was told, opened wide – and Sophiya popped a small square piece of heaven in – ‘What is it?’ the elf asked, happy tears welling. ‘It’s Thornton’s whisky fudge, shortie! Brilliant no? Here, have the rest of the box.’ Three pieces left. But the gratitude I felt – uhh, the elf felt.

Thornton’s is not a restaurant – they’re chocolatiers with outlets all over the UK. In Scotland, the main town’s ‘big mall’ (a little village, our Scotland) had a wonderful Thornton’s nook where we would pay our weekly homage – chocolate sometimes, or fudge or an ice-cream ostensibly for little A – who once tripped, fell flat on her face but held her ice-cream upright, still good for eating.

They do all sorts of stuff – for young diabetics and old, for ‘seduction’, for presents and they have a wonderful selection of sweeties and treats for kids. Like the strawberry pig! Their fudge and toffee is supposed to be the best in the world – vanilla, chocolate and of course, the whiskey fudge – it turns for a second to gold crumbs in your mouth before the rich, complex, warm flavours coat your tastebuds.

If you’re heading that way, please check out thorntons.co.uk, locate a store and buy something for someone you’d like to make very, very happy. As for the elf, she decided that night that life was too short to work at a dumb job without access to fudge. She quit. And she got real fit.

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