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Showing posts from January, 2008

Why there will be no Pongal this Pongal and other inconsequential stuff

I didn't know I could, professor Richard Dawkins' wife told him when he asked her why she never expressed her reservations to some of the religious stuff taught to her at her Catholic school. Reading it, I sort of felt someone had articulated what I could never find words for. All those times I fretted and fumed in the kitchen cooking to appease some God whose existence I had never dared question and whose punitive powers I had always dreaded. All those rituals I had endured to evoke the supernatural beings in heaven to bless me with tons of fortunes and 99 more sons. And every time, I wish I had asked why. I wish I had questioned more. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with those who accept these rituals but why did I have to follow suit? Who says you need to wake up at 4 in the morning and cook Pongal and vadai and payasam and avial when all you want to do is curl up and go back to sleep? Who comes up with these menus? What'd happen if I simply refused to? What t…

A quick tale 206


I don’t know how it is where you work. But in my office, whenever it’s a colleague’s birthday, someone brings a card around and we all sign it. And today, it’s the big boss’s big day. Someone had bought an appropriately big card for us to sign. It reached my desk and after a quick glance at what the others had written – ranging from the splendidly mundane ‘Happy birthday’ to the supremely poetic ‘Roses are red, Violets are blue, What have we done, To deserve a boss like you?’ – I composed my birthday greeting. It wasn’t going to be anything fancy. I just scribbled ‘Have a wonderful year ahead! Love,’ and signed below it.

Hang on a sec, did I just write ‘love’? I rushed after the boss’ secretary and almost grabbed the card from her hands. I quickly struck out ‘love’ and handed it back to her. What was I thinking signing off like that? Why couldn’t it have been just my name? Or a polite ‘regards’ or ‘sincerely’ or even a vaguely distant ‘best wishes’? Why did I have to go and pick ‘…

A quick tale 205

Story half-told

Did you know that prisoners serving life sentence are not given a mirror because they could commit suicide with it? No, she didn’t know either. Until she read about it in a short story recently. It really got her thinking. In the house where she grew up, there was no full-length mirror until 1970. She was already 20 years old by then and had outgrown the adolescent curiosity to see herself as others saw her.

All those years ago, there was only a small square mirror that hung in a dark verandah. The mirror bounced off light from the bulb that hung across the wall thus casting a shadow on the reflection. You had to lift the square frame off the wall and hold it at an angle if you wanted to know if you’d shaved properly or if the maii in the right eye was smudged slightly. This was a trick that only residents in that rambling household knew. And visitors often asked others to check if the pottu was in the centre of the forehead or if the face powder was still a bit patchy.


A quick tale 204

Two of a kind

“And how did you lose him?”, asked the officer. She was stunned in grief and barely heard his question. After about a minute, he prompted her once again. This time she let out a long sigh, kept her eyes lowered and began telling him how.

“We went in together for our weekly wash. It was a Monday and we recognised several other regulars. The mood was upbeat as always and we quite looked forward to a warm, swirling good time. No sooner had we settled down than the door was shut. Soon the water started seeping in and everyone went quiet with excitement. Gradually, the water level started to rise. Any minute now, I heard him say and in an instant, we were being tossed about in a deafening whoosh. The water seemed cooler than the usual 40 degrees. I was later informed by someone that it’s all part of the new eco-drive which recommended lowering water temperatures. As we tumbled about gaily in the company of other couples, I had little idea that this would be our last few minutes…

A quick tale 203


I can see the entrance from where I’m standing. A deep red door with the number 88 painted on it. When I spoke to them, I was told that it would all be over in less than an hour. Less than 60 minutes to clean up years of junk! They must know what they are talking about. Otherwise they would not be in such high demand (or indeed charge so much!). My colleague Maria had hers done just last month and she tells me that she feels lighter than ever! My appointment is due in the next 15 minutes and I had better start making my way if I don’t want to be late. But somehow my legs feel leaden and each step is a drag. After all, I know the risks and I have read through their contract and all its 45 pages of fine print before agreeing to the procedure. I know that I will no longer be able to recall the name of that Japanese exchange student who stayed with us for a month. Or the way to my hostel from the university gate. Or the recipe for besan wadi. But these are the precise details I wa…