Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Missing my main lady

I can almost imagine what it must be like for a farmer to watch his parched lands broken into cracks by the unflinchingly harsh sun. Through the months of March till the beginning of June, the sun is relentless. It the worst time of the year to get to know me. I am usually listless, nasty and downright moody. More than permissible levels. and I drink... through the summer... anything liquid... water, chilled buttermilk, cold coffee, and lots of beer. its the only way i can keep sane.

This summer has been different from the last few in a lot of ways. To begin with, it almost reduces me to tears every time I remember that Renuka, my faithful cook for the last 5 years has left me. She had to relocate to her native place to take better care of her alcoholic husband who put the entire burden of earning on her. She has almost 10 people to care for including her husband, 2 children from his deceased first wife and two of her own. the princely sum she was earning in the city working as a cook in as many as 4 houses was proving to be too less because of sky rocketing rents and costs of urban living. She had no option but to go back to the village where she has property and can therefore live rent free. She hugged me and said if she can come back she would first come to me. But her sobs were reserved for Sage. She wept into his fur, holding his head and kissing him. Renuka was irritated when we brought home a dog. within a few weeks, she was inseperable. Calling him her Sona baba, she would cuddle Sage and feed him morsels from her breakfast. Even giving him fruit and allowing him to rob potatoes from the vegetable stand. She would become a wall between him and me when I was annoyed with Sage and wanted to punish him. She made his jowar rotis and hand fed him on the days I left home for work really early. 

Most importantly, for the control freak that I am, it was a tough decision to give up the kitchen and its daily shenanigans to someone else. In a years time, Renuka would be the only one who sometimes knew how much rice we needed for the month! I relaxed a bit and gave over the daily running of the kitchen to her. She would keep track of groceries, vegetables and even stopped asking me what to cook each day. once a week the fridge would be cleaned and bottles washed and dried. In short, she sort of made her place indispensable. the only thing that remained status quo was her cooking. She made excellent rotis, and dal, idlies and podi and araichavitta sambhar and baghara rice... everything else was a hit or miss. some days i would grin and bear. some days smilingly tell her that the food was terrible. but her smiling demeanour and genuine love when she said "madam garam garam paratha kha lo" or "khana ready hai, please kha kar jayiye" was enough for me. And she was regular. No french leave for her. She would plan a twice a year week long trip to bombay to her sister's house and let me know well in advance. i would be annoyed, but by the time she was back, i would want to hug her!

In short, Renuka was too good to be true. the only thing that saddened me was her personal life. With a good for nothing husband, and sons who showed all signs of going the same route, she was the main earning member of a 10 person household which included daughter's in law and grandkids at the ripe age of 40. but she would always be hopeful of the future being good once her sons were done with college and started earning. So when she told me she was unsure of returning, or even if she did, it would be atleast 4 months, I could not say or do anything but to wish her well. tell her to forget about the dues she owed me and thank her for her love and food. 

When she sobbed into a bewildered Sage's fur, her only question was who will make his roti and feed him now?

I struggled for a month. With a long staying guest and amma being here, the mornings at home are once again stressful and chaotic. Amma tries to help. making sage's rotis, chipping in to help with cooking lunch or dinner. But I am impatient, and fastidious and want things done a certain way at a certain pace. So i prefer to do things myself. by 10 a.m i am crankier than the most terrible summer...

My maid stepped in and asked to do the cooking for the extra pay. I was more than happy because she is an excellent cook! We are still grappling with the timings and her getting overwhelmed at times with all the washing and swabbing in addition to the cooking.

I am missing the value Renuka added to my life... and I know that it was just not the cooking... it was everything else she brought with it..

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Goa Vacation

The last week of March, we went on a family vacation. I have taken ages to write this, because I have mostly abandoned this blog. However, I needed to write down all that happened. Particularly because of the following reasons
  1. I was very happy with our vacation
  2. I wanted to share the experience with the meager readers of this blog
  3. wanted to share some do's and don’ts about traveling with a pet because that is still a rarity in India
We made plans to go to Goa. The reasons were many. Firstly, the humans wanted to go there. Secondly, it is one of the most pet friendly places in India.

The only part that worried me was the fact that goa would be like a furnace in the end of March. But we countered that by picking an air conditioned resort which was bang on the beach and meant we would have nice sea breeze the whole day.

I mentioned on the pet sitter’s forum, that a friendly dog was half the battle won while traveling. I said this because of a few reasons. One being, that a friendly dog is welcome almost anywhere. If I would have collected 10 bucks every time someone stopped to pet Sage or called him cute, we could have stayed an extra night!

Let me add well behaved to the list. We ensured right from the time Sage was a puppy, that people didn’t pet him till he was calmly seated. So despite meeting several strangers everyday, he knows that no matter how excited he is, he will have to sit still till they can pet Sage. No one wants to make friends with a dog that is over excited or aggressive. When people realise the dog is friendly and harmless, they lighten up and allow him into places like shopping arcades too where an ill behaved pet would hardly be welcome.

While we haven’t taught Sage any tricks like bring and fetch, roll over or even the basic handshake, he knows to sit and stay still when we are in public. It has held all of us in good stead and ensured we can travel with him and not be embarrassed or inconvenienced.

On our way back to Hyderabad, we decided to stop over at Bijapur. This is a small town and had hardly any hotels to speak of, leave alone a pet friendly one. We called a place, one day ahead of our journey to get accommodation, clearly mentioning we had a dog. We were assured we could bring the dog but Murphy’s Law was at work and when we did land up, after a tiring hot day in the car, with a tired and hungry Sage, they suddenly refused to give us a room. It was past 8 p.m and we had few options. After K spoke with them (politely) and said we had only made the drive because of their reassurance, also promising that he was a well behaved dog, they relented and let us stay. All the while during the discussion, Sage patiently waited on the leash with me outside the reception, but within sight of the manager. I doubt he would have allowed us to stay if he was acting like a crazy dog.

Most highway dhabas allow people to bring their pets. Except places like kamat and stuff. What we do in that case is, request for the food to be carried outside and eat near the car/ in the garden if they have one/ ask them to set up a table for us outside. They have the right to property and only a polite request has some chance of being obliged to. At a dhaba too, we ensure the dog is leashed and sits at our feet, not running around mad.

The most important thing while traveling with a pet is to know if he/ she can travel. Sage has been car sick from the time he was a puppy. All my dreams of vacationing with him crashed at that point. Even a trip to the vet would make him empty his intestines on the floor or seat of my car. For a full year, on the advice of the vet, we continued to take him around on short drives, in the city. To friends homes, the in laws place, to the market, etc. the first thing was to make this a routine, to make the dog comfortable with getting in and sitting in the car so that at some point he would be ready to go a longer distance. It is much more difficult to travel with a pet which has travel anxiety and has never sat in a vehicle.

Pet parents wanting to travel, try lounging with your pet in the car while it is parked for a few days, gradually take them on really short drives, increasing time and distance slowly. If your pet cannot adjust, it is better for everyone to leave him/ her at home or with someone instead of ruining everyone’s holiday.


Some pointers to other pet parents who would like to consider traveling with their pets. 

Pick a pet friendly destination / place to stay. Do your research, make enough calls, speak to the people and tell them if your pet has special needs. It should have enough space to exercise your pet and should not be very complicated to approach or navigate. So no heavily decorated place, no place that is above the 5th floor and no place that does not have a yard / garden or at least easy access to the road outside so we can walk Sage.

Pick a mode of transport that the pet is used to and comfortable with. We took Him by road (hired an Innova) and gave Him the middle seat. We also broke the roughly 700 km journey into two days. Covering about 600 kms the first day and the rest on the second. We ideally like to complete about 70-75% of the distance on day one and do the rest on the second day after a good night's rest. 

Carry enough towels and bed sheets (to line the seats and floor of the car, incase your pet gets sick), newspaper.

Carry food, bowls, water, glucose powder and stop every 3-4 hours for a vanilla ice-cream treat as well as loo breaks. We don’t feed Him till we stop for the night because Him have terrible motion sickness. That has not stopped us from doing road trips with Sage. We have figured out a way to combat it. Firstly, we start early in the morning, lets say by 5 a.m and stop about 5-6 pm in the evening. Him do not feel hungry till about 10 a.m which means we would have already covered 5 hours of driving by then. We give Him an anti vomit tablet an hour before we begin to help Sage. Stop for loo breaks, keep Him hydrated with water and give Him glucose powder every 30 minutes or so. Every 3-4 hours, we give Him a small cup of vanilla ice-cream. This is sufficient nourishment for Him till we reach. After the first hour, he figures out the routine, slump off on the seat and sleep.

The goa drive was a bit hard on him (as compared to Bangalore – Coorg last year). He vomited a few times, mostly bile. But once cleaned up, he was fine and good to go.

A word to pet parents, this is the stuff that works for us. We have been doing this after speaking to our veterinarian. In fact the glucose and ice-cream thing is based on her advice. Please check with your vet before you travel anywhere.

Once we reach our destination for the day, we wash him with a wet towel so he feels fresh, give him lots of water and feed him the amount he would eat for one meal. We do not try to over feed him just because we starved him through the day. We ensure we sleep early so the dog too can catch up on his sleep and recover.

At the destination:

We keep him leashed till;
He gets familiar with the place (usually one day)
People / staff of the place get familiar with Sage
There are other guests and if we are in public places like restaurants and shopping areas.

At the hotel / place we are staying at, I spread my own double bed sheet on the bed over the hotel provided linen to prevent / minimize damage.
While most hotels specifically mention that the pets are not to be allowed on the furniture and beds, we all know how much dogs love to leap onto said bed and furniture. While Sage does not sleep on the bed, he likes to climb on for some cuddling or play time. Most hotel linen is white and its best to carry some thick heavy duty stuff which will prevent damage and embarrassment.

Carry emergency medication for basic stuff and be in touch with your vet incase your pet needs anything.

I continue with his regular daily routine even when on holiday. So while I crib about waking up before sunrise on a holiday, it keeps the dog sane that he can still have his walk / meals / playtime as usual even though the location and people have changed.

At meal times, check if the pet can be taken into the restaurant and sit in an area where he/she will be comfortable. For instance, in Goa, we sat in places which were not bang in the middle of the restaurant, but on the side, so Sage had enough space to sprawl on the floor and didn’t come in the way of other guests.

Politeness and smiles go a long way in opening doors to people traveling with pets. We always called ahead at restaurants to check if we could take the dog and kept him leashed till they said it was ok to let him off.

Carry food, water, bowls and paper towels everywhere, preferably in a bag. So when the dog embarrassingly pooped in the sand in middle of a beach shack, I just cleaned up and walked on. We asked for ice cubes to cool the water for him and gave Sage his own food to prevent him from begging at the table (failing miserably, he is a sorry little beggar)

If people stop by to make friends with / pet Sage, we always make sure he is sitting and calm before they can do that. We also tell them specifically where they can touch him for the first time (usually the back or his ears) so the dog is not startled. We also repeat the key word “friend so he knows they are friends.

Some don’ts while traveling with a pet

Do not overfeed or drug your pet with tranquilizers or sedatives. If your pet is car sick he will repeatedly vomit if he has undigested food in the tummy. This is just a very unpleasant experience for everyone involved. Many people told me they give sedatives and mild tranquilizers to their pets. I discussed this with the vet who cautioned us against doping him (thank god!). I much prefer to talk to Sage, make him comfortable, and stroke his body while he sleeps.

Do not force your pet onto people anywhere. Most people are generally wary of an animal they don’t know and will be scared. This is natural. Do not take offense.

Do not leave your pet unattended no matter how friendly he/she is. He is one of the friendliest dogs around. Our dog loves it when people stop to pet/ talk to him. Yet I or K constantly has an eye on Sage. We do not allow people however friendly to lead him away from us and never ever leave him unattended especially when there are kids around. The problem is, they are new to Sage, and there is no telling how he may react. There could be a tone of voice or a gesture or a sudden movement which annoys the dog. Or they could do something to tease Sage. Or may just have a juicy piece of food on their plate that looks appealing. It’s better to be a little cautious than have unexpected behavior from anyone. In case there is a misbehavior, the pet always takes the blame and that can be avoided if the human is somewhere around.

Do not feed your pet strange food or something he / she is not used to eating. For the simple reason that Him don’t want to make them sick and ruin your holiday.

Do not exert your pet unnecessarily. We ensured he stayed in the air-conditioned room for the hottest part of the day and got his regular siesta. Walks on the beach were always early morning and evening after sundown. If we were going to a restaurant close by, we would walk; else we took the car everywhere we thought we couldn’t walk comfortably.

The resort we stayed at in Goa

They are very pet friendly, allow the pet in the lounge and restaurant provided it is well behaved and doesn’t bother other guests

Pet Friendly Cafes / restaurants

Coorg Pet Friendly Homestay