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Monday, December 07, 2009
(Images courtesy: prosportphotos.com)
What a fantastic run it turned out to be on Saturday. Eight miles of pure adrenaline rush. It was far from the flat course that I'd been training on. It was a terrain full of steep ups and slippery downs. There were interminable lengths where we were wading through waist-deep slush (think yellow coloured thick milkshake). There were stretches where the surface was so sticky that the shoes would get stuck at every step. It was like stomping through chewing gum. And then there were these massive puddles of knee-deep freezing cold water. The legs would burn and just as you'd managed to shake the water, you'd be plunged into an another one. It was massive fun.
It was the most alive I've felt in a long time. It was like a stinging slap to wake you up to the joys of life. I smiled and laughed through much of it. And it'd do it all again.
p.s. The photos don't quite convey the madness of it. My timing was far from what I'd hoped for. I completed the course in 1 hour 47 minutes.
Coming up, results from the challenge I'd set for you.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I am running 8 miles this Saturday in an off-road challenge. Details of which may be found here. If you are in the neighbourhood, please do come and say hello.
Now, here's your challenge.
Write about someone you are really thankful for for their presence in your life. Post your story in your blog and drop me a line. The 8 winning stories will get a mile dedicated to them on Saturday. I will take a photo at every mile and post it later on this blog.
While we're on the subject, thank you for reading my blog.
Deadline: Friday evening 10 pm GMT
p.s. No, I haven't forgotten results of the earlier letter writing contest. Actually, I have. Results soon!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
So I've gone ahead and started Running Ranis. A sisterhood for runners. A place where you can come for encouragement, advice or simply a kick up the rear. Send me something about your run - maybe a race you're planning to enter or a review of a training bra you've recently bought. If it is about running, then I want to hear about it. Send in your photos too. Send them all to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will upload them on the blog. Ready, steady, Ranis!
Friday, September 11, 2009
Did you even think back then that one day you would be celebrating your golden jubilee in a profession that you only took up as a consolatory choice?
But having resigned yourself to the choice, you threw yourself wholeheartedly into work. Sure you had your father and uncle before you to help get a head start in the profession. They were already established lawyers and you never had to struggle the way other newbies did. That said, how you took the baton and ran with it is entirely to your credit. You have never compromised on your integrity and you have worked tirelessly to get to where you are today. Even now, you rarely take a holiday and your spare hours are spent in the library reading up on legal matters.
I admit there were times when I wished you worked in an office like other fathers I knew. Those who worked fixed hours and took their families around the country on vacations on LTC. Granted that would have meant monthly paychecks and retirement at 60. And you could not have supported a large and rambling family the way you uncomplainingly did or carried on working for as long as you have. But working for someone else might have meant being with your wife and children more instead of putting in 14-hour work days all year round. Retirement might have meant taking time to enjoy your grandchildren instead of fitting them around client meetings and court hearings.
I see you bustling about in the mornings as you get ready for work. Answering phone calls, packing your briefcase, calling out to juniors, slipping on your black coat and rushing off to court because your case is about to be called. And deep down I know that you are never more happy than when you are working.
Fifty years in a career that you love and that has rewarded you in more ways than one can recount. And what's more, you aren't done yet.
Congratulations, Appa! We are immensely proud of you.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Here is the link to the article. With that I take a breather. I'm off to India for the summer and I will see you sometime soon. And yes, results for the 'Letter to your teen self' contest coming up soon.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
I am in mourning
For your face
The one I used to love
I am in mourning
For your face
The shining eyes
The happy teeth
The look that said
I am the world
And aren't you
Not to mention
I am in mourning
The sweet brown innocence
Of your skin
Your perfect nose
The shy smile
That lit you
Like a light.
I am in mourning
For a face
In its goodness
Makes but once
And sends it out
To spread great joy
Itself well pleased.
I am in mourning
For your beloved face
Oh, my pretty little
Brother. Genius. Child.
Sing to us. Dance.
Rest in peace.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Earlier I'd asked you to send me your letters to your teenage self and I've received some of the most wonderfully interesting responses. All of which may be read here.
I wish to make it a bit more interesting. I'd like to turn this into a competition.
Write the most compelling letter to your adolescent self and send it to me at email@example.com by the end of the month. My favourite letter will win a prize (which is yet to be decided). You could even send a picture of yourself as a teen, if you like. Or go anonymous, if you would rather.
Either way, get writing and I look forward to your letters. Thank you!
Yes, that's me as a 13-14 year old with Blogeswari by my side.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
But I need to do this for some reason other pure, personal motives. And I'm thinking of Projectwhy on this occasion.
Should I give it a go?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Yes, that's me as an 18-19 year old.
(Sticky post. Scroll down for newer ones. )
Monday, June 15, 2009
It was Sundar who first spotted them. Tiny black dots scurrying around in a frenzy on the kitchen floor. He blinked rapidly mistaking them for little squiggles that often swam before his eyes when they hadn't yet fully adjusted to the bright morning light. It was only when he got down on his hands and knees to inspect the purposefully moving dots that he realised what they were. He instinctively squashed a couple of ants under this thumb before he remembered how as a young boy, his grandmother would smack him on the back of his palm and tell him off for killing harmless insects. She would tell him how in his next birth, he would be born an ant and be crushed to death by a little boy. Sundar could not understand how he could come back as an ant when only two days ago she had warned him that he'd be born a sparrow who'd be stoned to death by a lad "just like him" But he never asked her about it because if he had, he'd get a clip around the ears and be told to stop being so 'wise'.
Sundar's mother however, had a different reasoning behind the ants' appearance. Whenever she spotted ant clusters around the house, she would be convinced that she had forgotten to honour one of her promises to the gods. And the ants were there to remind her of that. No crisis - however minor or major - around the household went without an appeal from Amma to her favourite god to resolve it. Like the time when Sundar came down with chicken pox two weeks before his board exams. And Amma stood in front of the framed picture of Pillayar which hung on their living room wall, with her palms folded and eyes closed. She made a deal with the Lord. You cure him and I will break a hundred coconuts in your temple by Friday. Or the time when Appa lost keys to the locker which had all their jewellery. A dozen coconuts promised. And eleven coconuts were cracked every Tuesday until Sundar's sister Sharadha's wedding was finalised - which took 62 weeks from start to finish, which made the local coconut vendor a very happy man. Once the ants had been sighted, Amma would do a quick inventory of the recent events to see if there had been any mishap. Even if she couldn't recall any dealings with the Lord, she would break a coconut anyway at the temple that very evening. It could be something that's completely slipped my mind, she would reason, why tempt fate? After all, it's just a coconut.
Sundar looked down at the ants crawling furiously over a spot of jam on the floor. He followed their trail all the way to the door. They'd built a nest in a corner of the doorway and were scurrying food back and forth. He couldn't just let them be. Janice would freak out if she came down and saw her kitchen invaded by an army of ants. Once when he'd picked up a piece of cake that he'd dropped on the ground, she'd been outraged. Do you know what kind of germs you could be tucking into right this very minute? she'd asked horrified as he chewed on it. Whatever it is, he'd replied between bites, it's quite delicious. He was then treated to a full list of illnesses he could contract if he continued with this rather despicable practice.
Sundar had to do something quick before she came down and created a scene. Wasn't salt supposed to act as a repellent? Or was it for snails? May be he should try sprinkling pepper on the nest. Perhaps vinegar would do the trick. Somehow he felt he was getting his household tips mixed up with recipe for a salad dressing. He was busy rummaging the cupboard that he barely noticed his wife standing behind him in silent horror. Don't worry, I'll have it sorted, he told her as he put his arms around her shoulder and gently led her away from the crime scene.
The temple was not on his way home. And he was not even sure if they would let him break coconuts inside. But when he told the Panditji that it was a thanks offering to the gods for helping him close a very important deal at work, the Panditji agreed. Sundar found a smooth piece of rock in the garden behind the temple and split the coconut in two in a single knock against the rock. He thrust a £5 note into the Panditji's hand, tucked the two halves of the coconuts into a plastic bag and felt absurdly happy driving home that evening.
Just one spray and the buggers are gone, announced Janice triumphantly waving a bottle of insecticide. Looking around Sundar realised that indeed the ants had vanished without a trace. What? he asked her, have they just run away or have they been killed? Killed obviously. So where are all the dead bodies? he wondered aloud, immediately wishing he had rephrased the sentence to make it sound less like a murder mystery. Well, Janice hesitated, may be they've run away somewhere to die. Yeah, he concluded, that explains it. But he wasn't convinced.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
On a related note, I have this little sister Blogeswari, who celebrates her birthday tomorrow. Happy birthday, thangachee!
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Here's two I grew earlier.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
We spent much of our growing years together. Our mothers were sisters and his family lived in the next street. We were almost the same age and went to the same school. I was taller than him but he started shaving long before I did. I introduced him to cigarettes and he would smuggle cold beer bottles to our terrace on warm summer nights. I don’t remember a day when Vaithi did not come by our house. He usually came straight from school and would stay back until late. He was a permanent fixture of my childhood and adolescence.
It must have been sometime after we left school that we started to drift apart. Vaithi went to Vellore to study engineering and I studied at our local arts college. He would come home during holidays but didn’t come by our house as often he used to. He had discovered books and movies and I had started to work at my father’s pharmacy during holidays. During the second year of college his father passed away and his whole family moved to Madras.
These days he lives in America doing something important in computers and I've remained in our hometown. So I was surprised to hear from him the other day. It seems he was here on vacation and wanted to know if he could visit me. “Ada, since when did you start seeking permission to come to our house?”, I told him over the phone.
He had put on weight since I last saw him and had started wearing glasses. “This is where we used to play cricket”, he said pointing the street corner out to his wife. “This is where we would sit and read our books in summer”, he said sliding on to the old swing which groaned under his unfamiliar weight. “And this is where I learnt to ride a bike. Ah, I can't tell you how many mangoes we've had from this tree. Still here…the old tree”, he said patting its trunk like it was an old dog.
“Yes, things don't change much around here'”, I said. Immediately annoyed at how defensive I sounded. “Shall we have lunch?” I asked wanting to change the topic. “Everything has been hygienically prepared. Even the water has been boiled twice and cooled. So you need not worry about an upset stomach. It must be very clean where you live. Not like how it is here...”, I said as we sat down to eat.
“Of course, of course...”, he said a little too quickly. But I noticed that he never touched the water and ate very little of the food. After lunch, our wives went into the kitchen to clear up and we stretched out in the front veranda. We talked about some of our old friends. He told me about his present life. I wanted to ask him a lot about his life abroad. But instead I let him do the talking.
“Do you know what happened to Sharada?”, he asked me eventually. His tone carefully casual. I shrugged my shoulder. It had to come up some time. “She now lives somewhere in Bombay or Delhi”, I said watching his face for any change of expression. “I see her mother at the temple sometimes”. His face did not betray any emotion.
"Hmm…two children, I think. Her husband’s a General Manager or something big in a multinational company."
We both grow silent for a long time.
Sharada was our junior in school. Dark with a slightly crooked nose. She looked a little bit like actress Sumalatha. But really, she just looked like herself. When we were in the 11th standard, Vaithi confessed to me that he wanted to marry her. Apparently, he had proposed to her during lunch period the previous day and she had accepted it. I could hardly believe my ears. For a long time I had set my eyes on Sharada and was going to propose to her myself. The bastard had beat me to it.
I asked him what he intended to do next without appearing to be too curious. It seems they were planning to get married in secret the following Sunday at a temple and wait until they were both 18 before running away from home. “Dei Vaithi”, I cautioned him, “all this is too much. You have to be careful. Otherwise…”
“Poda”, he cut me off, “nobody would know. In any case, we have to wait until we’re both majors. And that won’t be for another two years.”
It was easy for me to find Sharada’s father. He ran the mess opposite the Pillayar temple. That evening when I told him about his daughter’s plan for the following Sunday, he let me off without paying for my dosai and coffee. I don’t really know what happened to Sharada after that. But the next time I saw her was about 7 years later when she came to her mother’s house six months pregnant with her first child.
“We must leave before it gets too dark”, Vaithi said getting up, “we have a long journey back. And we have some last minute shopping to do.” He invited me to come visit him in America. And I told him that I’ve already started buying lottery tickets. Before he left that evening, he thrust 500 rupees in my hand. He said he had not had any time for gifts and that I should buy the children something with it. I gave it away it to an orphanage the next day.
Monday, May 04, 2009
(image courtesy - www.adelanwar.com)
I am ten years old and being sent away to spend my summer holidays with an aunt in Bombay. Somewhere in my luggage are 5 or 6 packets of Britania Milk Biscuits. My aunt has specifically requested for them. Milk Bikis are not yet available in Bombay and somehow Parle G is not quite the same. It's a long train journey and it takes all my will power to keep from me raiding the bag. But by the time we reach Pune, I can no longer resist the call of Milk Bikis. To hell with it, I think to myself, I'll just tell her the railway rats got it. I grab the bag I know contains the packets and plunge my hand into it. But inside I find a smaller cloth bag. And this one has its mouth sewn shut. The witch! I dare not rip the bag open because that would be a step too far. Instead I sulk to a corner seat and hope that I will at least get some crumbs.It's been two days since we arrived. The biscuits have disappeared into the kitchen. But I have a good idea where they may be kept hidden. The afternoons stretch interminably and there's only one thing to do. I wait until I hear the snores from the bedroom and tiptoe to the kitchen. The shelves are groaning under the weight of dalda tins and grime-stained plastic boxes. I feel like a child in a sweet shop. Heck, I am a child and so on. I must make a quick move. I wildly grab the first box I see. Some kind of flour speckled with scurrying insects. The next few boxes reveal a variety of wildlife with random cooking ingredients thrown in. But I strike lucky by the time I reach the top shelf. I cautionary shake of the box reveals an unmistakable thud-thud. I open to find a half-eaten pack of my beloved Milk Biscuits. I hear movement outside. I have to hurry. I snatch a couple of biscuits, shove them into my skirt pocket, replace the box and saunter out of the kitchen casually.
Just having a drink of water, I call out to no one in particular, and now going to the toilet. I bolt the toilet door secure and reach for my stash of booty. Tears spring to my eyes and I muffle the scream of joy that threatens to escape my mouth at the sight of the biscuits. I sink my teeth into a small corner. And in that instant, the rest of the world falls away. It's just me and the biscuit. I want to savour this experience for as long as possible. But someone outside is wondering what's taking me so long. Reluctantly, I shove the biscuits into my mouth, chomping on them as quickly as possible. It's all a bit too rushed for my liking. But I cannot risk being found out. Tomorrow afternoon, I promise myself, tomorrow.
On Murukku, Elandampazham, Milkmaid, Maggi & Idli
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
1. My name has always been no.1 in the school attendance register.
2. My name is usually the first on mobile phones. And I get a lot of calls from kids who happen to be playing with the mobile. Usually at 3 in the morning.
3. I share my birthday with my father.
4. I rarely wear anything blue.
5. I ran the London Marathon five years ago.
6. I get annoyed when people say they ran the Mumbai Marathon but omit to add that they ran the half-marathon distance.
7. Recently, I was surprised to learn that I am a shoe size bigger than I'd previously thought.
8. I have two sons. Both of them are boys.
9. I once auditioned for Countdown on Channel 4.
10. Routines tire me.
11. I had never ironed a shirt until I came to the UK.
12. I dreamt of my firstborn's name.
13. I am terribly ambitious.
14. Some days, for no apparent reason, I get a big buzz just waking up in the morning and then want to go climb Everest before breakfast.
15. I crib every single day about cooking.
16. If I could make one thing disappear from this world, it would be cooking.
17. I am a very slow reader.
18. I'm good with cryptic crosswords and positively brilliant with jumbled words.
19. I have two other names - Meenakshi and Rama.
20. I am very undecided when it comes to religion.
21. I absolutely hate travelling by bus in India.
22. I envy anyone who studied beyond the basic graduation. I never did.
23. I have worn my hair short for the best part of the last 20 years.
24. I have dimples on either cheek (on the face, since you ask).
25. If you gave me maa-ladoo, I will be your slave for life.
If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged.
Paati was a widow and she wore a widow's garb of pale pink cotton 9-yards saree. Her head was shaved and she wore no blouse. When she sat down, her pendulous breasts would rest on the folds of her stomach like a well-fed cat on his owner's lap on a Saturday afternoon. Snug, settled and unrushed.
I do not remember her face very well. But when I think of her, I can see her holding a large mould filled with murukku dough and squeezing it over a vat of boiling hot oil. She would then sit back and using the long end of an iron ladle move it around so that the murukku rounds didn't stick to each other or to the bottom of the pan as they tended to.
I think Murukku paati lived alone in a small room. I have vague recollections of being sent to fetch her once and I remember finding her hunched over a kerosene stove stirring something. Perhaps she really lived in a bustling joint family where three generations lived under one roof. But some how the image of her lonely self cooking a meal-for-one, seems to stick to my mind.
Paati passed away when I was about 10 or so after a brief battle with breast cancer. Someone said she must have developed cancer from inhaling wood smoke for all those years. We must've clicked our tongues in sympathy when we heard the news. Paavam paati, someone would have remarked, she made such wonderful murukkus. The mention of murukku would have prompted someone else to wonder who would take over from paati. And in all likelihood, conversation would have veered towards the direction of finding a worthy successor to paati.
I look up at the shelf with its murukku packet. I reach for it. It tastes stale. The crispiness has long given way to a soft sponginess which feels alien in a murukku. It eat it anyway. It seems such a shame to let it go waste.
On Elandampazham, Milkmaid, maggi & idli
Friday, April 17, 2009
1. I love the fact that I no longer need to appear civil in public. I can go to the supermarket looking like I've just spent an hour inside a tumble dryer along with bottles of jams and pickles and sauces and I'm likely to get sympathetic nods from fellow travellers.
2. I'm glad that I no longer need to bother with cosmetics or anti-ageing creams. The frowns that furrow my forehead and the bags that support my eyes cannot be undone by creams and potions created to ease lines caused by problems less vexing and milder than children.
3. Motherhood means that I no longer have to pretend to be well-read. I've dropped out of this rat race where people want to out-read others and clock up books in the same way as some of us clock up frown lines (read above). I'm no longer plagued by the fear that life being so short and all, I might never get to read all the books there are to be read and what with a book being published every other minute or so, I may never get to read enough unless I get started now or there will never be hope for me.
There are days when I couldn't be arsed to read. Because I'm so tired that my eyelids feel like they are cast out of lead. And it's fine.
4. I'm decidedly thrilled that as a mother, I'm no longer visible. Ads don't talk to me (unless they are for baby food or nappies or head lice shampoo). Fashion ignores me (who creates trendy clothes for plus-sized mothers-of-twos?). Songs don't appeal to me (yet another song about eternal love/maternal love/justplainlove? Yawn). TV tires me (where do I begin?). So basically, I'm unhinged and unobserved. I am not a demographic that interests anyone and I can wear my hair purple and roam around in kaftan for all I care. And no one would notice.
5. It's great that motherhood has drained me of all energy. I'm so tired, so tiringly tired. So tired of being so tired. So tired of being so tired of being tired. Most of the time. All of the time. Exhaustingly, achingly, overwhelmingly. Tired.
And then there are days like this morning. When I was being pinned to the mattress by two little bodies. And we are a jumble of flailing limbs and heads. We are suddenly cast adrift in the middle of Indian Ocean and we have to cling to each other for survival. We are in the middle of a snowstorm atop Mount Everest and we need each other to keep ourselves warm, alive. We are champion wrestlers in a tangle for an Olympic gold medal. We grapple and grasp. We toss about until we are worn out. And then my two boys sit on my stomach and bounce about announcing victory. I close my eyes, roll my head and pretend I'm dead. Knowing what happiness feels like.
p.s. Rules of the tag here. I hereby tag - Bhaamini (India), Prema (UK), Umm Oviya (Qatar), Deepa (US), Teesu (India) and anyone else who feels like it.
This is not the sort of dilemma you have in mind when you are filling in a job application. My application pack asked me questions about where I studied and what marks I got in my graduation. There was nothing about how I would handle a situation like this. But then of course, you cannot always prepare for every eventuality. Each day I come to work, I come in the secure knowledge that so many hundreds of lives depend on me. That if I mess up even the slightest, not carry out my checks thoroughly, not probe that little bit extra, there could be trouble ahead. But you don't always think about all this when you are at your job. Like when I'm on duty, checking passengers before they board, running the metal detector across their body, dabbing my hands all over their person (strictly for reasons of security) and poking suspicious bulges, just to be sure. I rarely make eye contact with the passengers as I go about my work. I just ask them to head this way, guiding them to a curtained area where I carry out my checks. I try to get it over and done with as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We both know why we are there and I try not to prolong the awkwardness. But at the same time I don't rush things and leave room for error.
But this morning, I was caught offguard when I saw my father-in-law standing in the queue for the security check. Why didn't she tell me about it? What do I do now? Quick! WHAT DO I DO? And before I knew it, he had moved up the queue and was standing right in front of me . Oh hello, how are you? Yes, the flight has been delayed. It should be leaving shortly. Yes, you are looking well too. No, no, I don't want to check you. Don't worry I won't be running my hands down your legs and poking it up your crotch. You may rest assured. I trust you packed your suitcase yourself. Great! Have a safe journey!
But finding out the song didn't actually make me go 'A-ha! I get it now'. I was further confounded with a series of even more perplexing questions. Beat what? Beat whom? Why beat? These mysteries have remained unresolved since and I suspect I will take them with me when I go. I don't wrestle with serious existential questions. My demands are far less exacting. I simply would like answers to great pop posers like 'Should I stay or should I go?', 'Do you really want to hurt me?' and 'Who let the dogs out?'.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
For a long time, the only pop musician I knew was Michael Jackson. Though I wasn't sure if he really sang in English as I could barely follow what little I heard of his songs. The husband recently told me that there were heated debates in his school over Jacko's gender. With over half of his class convinced that he was a woman!
Back then one of my uncles used to have LPs of Osibisa, ABBA and Boney M and he would play them on his record player and we would dance around feeling utterly cool. But once he got married and moved out, he took his player with him and we went back to listening to Sharon Prabhakar on Pop Time on Doordarshan. Some years later, we managed to get a few VHS tapes of Top of Pop shows recorded in Dubai. And I must have played until I knew every syllable by heart. During that time I felt, albeit briefly, invincible and absolutely on top of the charts.
Until one day a second cousin I had never met before landed from Delhi. My father, anxious to show off, told his niece that I listened to a lot of English music and encouraged her to talk to me about it. So, began this girl who couldn't have been more a than a couple of years my senior, what sort of music do you like? Pop? Rock? Metal? My jaw dropped. There were so many varieties of English music? How come no one ever told me about it? I decided to play it safe and told her instead that I listened to "just plain English songs". Fair to say that we didn't have much to say to each other the rest of the afternoon.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I go back to the food blogs and I see such a lot of quest for perfection. There is none of the burnt pans and runny cakes and stodgy upmas that plague my kitchen. Perhaps their food really does get served like that everyday. Even when when their mothers come around for lunch. Perhaps there will be a little assortment of kichchdis and pachchdis in delicate china bowls all seated carefully like school children arranged according to their height in class photographs. My mother would have a fit if I served her food like that. What's this? she would demand sneeringly, all fancy-pancy nonsense? Get me something real to eat. And I would oblige her willingly.
Browsing some of the popular food blogs, I am reminded of a friend's extremely pretty mother. So pretty in fact that she was a bit scary. There was none of the comforting folds of fat and rough-and-ready look that I had come to associate with mothers in general. This friend's mother was polished and positively gleaming. Nearly every other food blog I come across seems giddy with aspiration, worryingly flawless. I look and look for some signs of weakness, some small admission of a mishap, something familiar for me to hang my insecurity on. But all I get is gorgeous pictures of shiny stainless cups holding steaming hot payasam. Perhaps I should start stocking on coriander sprigs after all.
Please note: A delightful exception to this rule is my dear friend Shyam's food blog where she charts her culinary experiments (and the occasional disaster) with humour and honesty.
Monday, March 16, 2009
On our walk to school, she would sometimes tell us about her wayward sons, her deceased, alcoholic husband and on other occasions she would chat with other ayahs about her struggling milk business and its defaulting customers. It gave children like me a brief insight into the lives of those who worked for us. Those invisible cogs in the wheel who were only ever noticed in their absence.
She attended my wedding and she also came around to see my child when he was born. She was amused that the girl she had once walked to school was now a mother. I would go visit her in her tiny little house on my trips to Madras. She would still call me ‘our Abhi’. And I’d be touched by her easy assumption of propriety over me.
This morning, Appa told me that Nagmma Ayah (or 'School Ayah' as she was popularly known) had passed away. The last time I saw her, she was still accompanying children on their school run. In another life, one of those children would have been mine. And I too, like my mother and others like her, would have been assured that my son was in capable hands.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
For about 10 paise, you would get a paper coneful of sour-sticky, ripe berries sprinkled generously with salt and chilli powder. I never, ever bought a cone but sometimes, on rare occasions, a classmate would offer me a single pazham. I would grab it quickly before she had a chance to change her mind. And once in my hand, I would roll the fruit in my palm, fully aware of the rule I was about to break. What if they found out about it? Would the smells fade by the time I reached home? What if the fruit burst and the juices stained my white shirt? Would I be able to explain it without giving away too much? My mind would be in turmoil. But I would succumb to the temptation and pop the fruit into my mouth. I'd bite into its sumptuous flesh and savour its sharp sourness. In the following years, I have started eating watermelon and I make the most delicious falafels using sweet potatoes. But elendampazham? The aftertaste of guilt that lingered once the berry was gone was not very nice.
On Milkmaid, maggi
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
It cannot be easy being you. A follow-up act to your more devilishly charming, flamboyant older brother. Before you were born, I was convinced that no child could ever take the special place your brother had come to occupy in my life. I used to argue with your father you would always be a second-born. A runner-up. A bridesmaid (or a best-man, as you turned out to be). That you could never be the prized, cherished, celebrated apple of my eye that my firstborn child was. But how easily you tore down my flimsy little conviction. The minute I saw you, I knew I was gone. What was worse, I succumbed willingly.
My fears that you would be overshadowed by your brother have proven unfounded. Over the past year, you have come into your own as a person. Your brother demands and challenges our love and attention. You, on the other hand, are much more accepting of our distractions with him. It is almost as if you understand that he is used to being the star of the show for much of his life. That you want to let him have the limelight a little longer. And when you do that, in a clever, subversive way, you become the prized child. I guess that’s how it will always be. I will be torn between the two of you. Unable to decide which of my sons I favour more.
They say the world is made for a family of four – dining tables, cars, parents (one for each child). You were the last piece in our puzzle. Thank you for completing the picture.
Happy first birthday, Tikku!
(l-r) Tikku, Ammani, Jikku
Monday, March 02, 2009
When did it happen? How did we manage to gather so many things? Look, here's a gift you got me for my last birthday. I've barely opened it. The expiry date is still some months away. Don't throw that away just yet. And here's something else you bought me because it was winter and I'd gone out without a coat. It's okay, you had said, don't worry about the price. I just want you stay warm. The coat has still got the price tag on it. And do you remember who gave us this one? I think we should keep it in her memory. It seemed like such a nice gesture at the time. How come we never used it again? And look where this has been hiding all this while. I had looked all over the house and couldn't find it. In the end, I just ended up buying a new one. Do you think it still works? What about these two? It was your idea. I had protested against buying it. But you were convinced that we needed them at home. I can count the number of times you used it - once. And look at these. This is from ebay. This from a carboot sale. This from a charity shop. This from freecycle. This from godknowswhere. When did it happen? What was I thinking? When did it happen? How did we come to gather so many things? When did we let them own us?
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Word count: 55
Alright, so I don't look like my photo. The hair's different and the waist is not what it used to be. Okay, so the photo was taken when I was 16. Okay, okay, the girl in the photo is not exactly me.
She's my cousin. Your ad said you were handsome. Who was it describing?
This is one of my entries for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. My other entries are here. If you wish to enter the competition, details here. Hurry, deadline Sunday 8th Feb 2009.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Word count: 350
Mother with twin wailing babies.
Phone rings. She grabs a child, cradles phone receiver on crook of neck.
Good evening, madam.
Is that Mrs. Krishnan?
I’m calling from Eternal Insurance of…
Mother asleep on sofa. One baby asleep on chest. The other nestled in her arm.
Phone rings. Mother wakes up with a start. Feels around for the receiver.
She collapses back on sofa.
Mother is sitting on living room floor playing with kids. Phone rings.
Am I talking to Mrs. Krishnan?
Yes. Who’s calling?
Good evening, madam. I’m calling from Ignite Gas and Electricity company. Would you like to save on your gas and electricity bills every month?
Mrs. Krishnan, you can save nearly £500 every year by simply switching your service provider.
I don’t care.
Mrs. Krishnan, it’s me again…from Ignite…
Listen, you’re wasting your time…
Madam, please listen to me.
No…what’s your name?
What’s your Indian name?
Listen Sundar, I’ve no time for telemarketers. So stop calling me.
Mrs. Krishnan, are you also from India?
From one Indian to another, can I ask you a small favour?
Madam, I have an elderly grandmother at home and my wife’s pregnant. If I get your contract, I get a small commission. My mother has arthritis and it will go towards her knee operation.
Hmm…you get your commission…what do I get?
You get the best electricity and gas prices in the whole country. And we have capped our prices. So no increase for the next two years.
No, what else do I get?
You get excellent service including…
(interrupting) Sundar, did you say you have a grandmother?
My baby cries non-stop in the evenings…wind, I think. Can you find out from her if there’s a home remedy…call me tomorrow...same time.
Mother on the phone taking notes.
Powdered asafoetida? With honey? Mix the two and rub it around his tummy, is it? Okay, okay. Now, how do I transfer my account to you?
This is one of my entries to the flash drama contest, part of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Details here if you wish to take part. Deadline 8th Feb 2009.
Word count: 55
I watch you tuck into the lasagne noisily. It dribbles down your chin. You chew away. Mmm, you say approvingly. I don’t think you’d want to know the recipe. You scrape the bottom of the pan and empty it onto your plate. The dog will starve tonight. I can only feed one of you. Sadly.
I hunt every last one of them. It’s a surprise attack. I strike on a Tuesday morning. Not on a Sunday when they’d have expected me and gone into hiding. I watch their blood spill and feel proud. It’s a victory for humanity. My predatory instincts are on a high today. Another down. Bloody nits!
You’ve always hated them. So I don’t tell you where we’re going. You walk ahead of me. Your legs barely supporting your weight. You stop to catch your breath. You bump into trees. You don’t hear me calling out. I carry you inside. I lay you down on the table. It’ll be over soon. Sorry.
These are a few of my entries to the 55-word flash fiction contest, part of the Kala Ghoda Art Festival. Detail here if you wish to enter.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Don't get me wrong. I do not neglect my children. They are well-fed with home-cooked food, their bottoms are clean, their bed sheets are washed and changed fortnightly, their nails are clipped short, their heads free from head lice, they are read to every night, their wounds washed and bandaged, their fears soothed and calmed. In shorts, my children are cared for well by their parents. But I do these out of a sense of duty and not out of love as I have come to realise lately. And this is the hardest and most difficult realisation of them all. While I would readily accept a vagrant father, a virtually non-existent father and in instances, even an abusive father, it is the less-than perfect mother that I have trouble coming to terms with.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Oh, the ideas she had once upon a time! No TV till the child’s 10. Only organic food for life. Libraries not play stations. Reusable nappies. Baby Mozart on Wednesdays and Toddler yoga on Fridays. No Barbies and certainly no guns as toys. Fluent in three languages by the fifth birthday. No birthday parties with clowns. Private education with extra lessons for Maths and Science. Gap year in Congo. And so forth.
Today she stands in the toy store watching her daughter rolling on the floor. Kicking the display shelves, pulling her hair out and retching violently. All because her demand for a toy was turned down. Chee, chee, her mother disapproves rather loudly to no one in particular, what kind of a mother would let her daughter behave like this in public. She swings her handbag on her shoulder and struts out of the store purposefully. She turns a corner and waits for her child to emerge.
Monday, January 26, 2009
I confess, I have never had a pet and chances are, never will. So I do not know what it is like to have one. But I do have children and I have heard from pet-owning friends that the two are in many ways similar. Now, if I were to take my child out for a walk and if they ran riot, terrorizing innocent joggers by snarling at them, chasing them and almost knocking them to the ground, I wouldn't smile and say 'Oh, he's just being playful'. I wouldn't then tut-tut and make it seem like the person who stands terror-stricken in front of me was making a big deal out of a small innocent game my child was playing with them. I certainly wouldn't laugh at their reactions and belittle them.
Let's say, during our walk in the park, my son did his 'business' somewhere (for the record, my son wouldn't just do it anywhere. But this is hypothetical), I would take a plastic bag, gather his deposits and dispose it. I wouldn't leave it lying around for some poor old jogger to find it stuck to the bottom of her trainers.
I love my children. But if I find that they cannot behave in public - or indeed, they become a hazard to others - I wouldn't think twice about not taking them out. Once when my son was 2-years old, we bought him a harness. A sort of a restraint which we sometimes used for his own safety. I understand that dogs have something similar. I've heard it's called a leash. Use it.
The jogger you just said 'Oh, she's won't bite' to.
p.s. please could you scrape that thing off my trainers?
Cross posted at ammani.wordpress.com
Friday, January 23, 2009
She knew from the minute she opened her eyes that morning that today would be the day. Something about the way the sunlight distilled its way through the curtain and met her on her bed, told her that it had to be done then. Not later but now. She raised herself cautiously from bed as if the weight of the day's events were already pressing her down. As she readied herself, she rehearsed her lines. Would she reveal its entire history? However sparse her own knowledge of it was? Or would she simply let her daughter into the secret circle that she had been part of ever since she was a young woman? And let her daughter find out more about it if she wished to?
Her own experience had been all too brief. Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, her mother had called her to her room one day. The look on her mother's face told her that it was something important. Her mother simply handed it to her with no further explanation. She held it in her hands knowing better than to ask questions. She remembers the wrinkly surface and how she smiled when it crinkled in her hands. No, her mother had admonished her as she grabbed it away, someone might hear it. And that will be end of our secret.
Over the years she rarely brought it out. Allowing herself only the occasional glimpse. The only time she ever touched it was the day her mother died. And now it was time to pass it on. Her daughter had none of her reverence. She was curious about it. And wanted to know where it came from. And how long they had had it. She winced as her daughter carelessly waved it about. Be careful, she warned her daughter, it is rather delicate. It belonged to my great-great grandmother. Back in those days they used to hand it to shoppers free of charge for them to put their shopping in. Until the government made it illegal. My great-great grandmother however sneaked a few of them and when she died they found a small pile under her bed. Today barely a few hundred of these survive. Gently, it's quite old, you know. But her daughter was barely listening. She was tossing the plastic bag up in air and watching it cascade down gently.
This is a strange story. It leaves you wondering why. You will raise your brows, purse your lips and sometimes scratch your nose in puzzlement. As it happened to me. This could take some time. So why don’t you grab a seat and draw your chair close? I cannot raise my voice like I used to. And I don’t want you to interrupt me every now and then when you cannot hear a word or two. And I’d have to clear my throat and repeat what I just said. It will tire me, you understand.
This is about a certain young woman who went to the bank a while ago. She withdrew a large amount of money from her account. She did not meet the eyes of the cashier who seemed curious about her reasons for such a withdrawal. Hot outside, is it?, he asked in attempt to get a conversation going. His eyes were still looking down at the wad of cash he was counting. Mmmm, she answered. Summer is fast approaching, he tried one more time. Mmm, was all she would say.
Be careful, he said placing the thick bundles of money on the counter, it’s a large amount. I know, she replied before swiftly making her way out of the bank.
Then, she stopped at a large department store and loaded her shopping basket with milk and fruit and rice and bread. She even picked up a few bars of chocolate though she could not remember the last time she had had one. Her shopping done, she made her way to the till where she emptied her basket and went down to the other end to collect them and bag them as the till assistant handed them to her. She bagged all her purchase and when it was time for her to pay, she put her hand inside her voluminous bag and poked it around for her wallet. A minute or so after doing this, a frown now creasing her face, she peered into her bag. The lady at the counter was getting impatient as a queue was building up at the back. Sorry, she said to the staff and continued to search for her wallet. She now held her handbag upside down and watched bits and long-forgotten pieces of her life tumble out. An old lipstick, a business card, some coins, a half-read, dog-eared novel, a set of spare house keys. But no wallet.
I’m so, so sorry, she mumbled sounding increasingly flustered, can you put my shopping aside and I will come back and collect it later? I think…I think, I’ve been robbed. No sooner had she uttered these words than tongues started to click and necks were craned in an attempt to get a glimpse of the unfortunate victim of robbery. Presently, her bags were put aside and she left the department store with her head still buried in her handbag, ostensibly still looking for her missing wallet.
When she was safely away from the store, she stopped looking. She slung her bag on her shoulder, raised her head and with what appeared to be a skip in her step, she walked away. A couple of hours later, the shopping bags were moved from behind the till and its contents transferred back to the shelves. No one ever found a lost wallet and handed it to the security personnel at the store. That night the bank cashier briefly wondered about telling his wife about the large cash withdrawal made by a young woman. But he quickly abandoned the thought when he realised that his wife would want to know if the said woman was pretty and if he’d had any conversation with her. The next day the cashier didn’t turn up for work and a couple of days later he was reported missing.
There have been a few sightings of him since. Someone said they saw him on a crowded passenger train sharing a watermelon with a lady. Someone else reported seeing him in Kumbh mela. A third person was sure he had seen him begging at Tirupati. Of the woman, no one reported her missing. And no one has seen her since.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
A good many years ago, I made a work-related trip from Calcutta to Mumbai by train. It was a long, long, seemingly never-ending journey of some 36 hours which had been further complicated by a series of inexplicable delays. A friend/colleague was supposed to pick me up from VT station upon my arrival. So when the train finally pulled into VT, I could barely wait to get to the guest house, get cleaned up and call it a day. But when I got down from the compartment, I couldn’t see him. It was fairly late in the night and I knew he had been working long hours. So I just decided to wait a little longer to see if he’d turn up. Half-an-hour later, I was still waiting.
Now, I only had a landline contact number for my friend and when I rang the number, there was no answer. Wearily, I picked up my bags while trying to decide what to do next. Perhaps, I thought, my friend had fallen asleep while waiting for me. May be an announcement on the PA system would wake him up. So I made my way to the announcer’s cabin and explained my situation to him. He took one look at me and obliged straightaway. The announcement went out but thirty minutes on, there was still no sign of my friend. I trudged up the stairs to the announcer’s cabin one more time. Again, the announcement brought no result. The third time, I went up to the announcer. This time, I had an idea.
I figured the calls for my friend were getting lost amidst the regular announcements giving out details of train arrivals and departures. Perhaps I could make an announcement. In Tamil. Surely that would perk sleeping ears up? Luck must’ve been on my side that night because a couple of minutes later I was clearing my throat to make my first ever announcement on a PA system at VT station in Mumbai. Dei Sangar naye, I began desperately hoping that those around me didn’t follow Tamil and didn’t know that I had just called my friend a dog. I went on to give details of my whereabouts. I had just thanked the staff and got down to the main corridor of the station when I heard a familiar voice. Ei!, said Shankar, I’m so sorry I just fell asleep until I heard my name on the PA system.
Note: This and many other Mumbai-related thoughts came flooding to my mind when I watched Slumdog Millionaire on Friday.
Friday, January 09, 2009
It is not what you would call an epidemic. Its spread was neither wide nor rapid. It began gradually, quietly creeping on you when you were looking the other way. One Wednesday here. The following Sunday there. It was so random that if you weren't paying attention, you too would've attributed its occurrence to chance. Like Myria did, back in November one day as she was getting ready for work. I could have sworn, she thought to herself as she looked around the dining table, I left it here just a minute ago. And noting that she was already a few minutes behind schedule, Myria sighed and quickly ran upstairs to grab a different pair.
Later that morning, as Jem was walking his dog, he noticed a single glove nestled inside the barren limbs of a hedge. It was black and would fit snugly around a child's hand. He looked around to see if the other one was anywhere nearby (he had a little boy at home and times were tough). When he found none, Jem shrugged and walked on by. Two days later, Sanj was getting ready to go out with her friends. She usually kept a pair in the glove compartment of her car. Today however, one of them was missing. Her table was booked for 8 o'clock and her friends would already be there at the restaurant. She cursed rather loudly (which caused a nearby pedestrian to frown and mutter something about "manners these days") and rather than go inside to fetch another pair, Sanj clutched the freezing steering wheel with her bare hands (more cursing) and drove away. She was later seen picking up Omega 3 capsules which she thought would help improve her memory.
Before long, people were walking around with mismatched gloves. A green leather glove on the right hand and red woollen mittens on the left. Soon it became a rage. No self-respecting teen would be seen sporting two identical gloves. Even those who still had their unbroken pair, willingly mixed them up. And just as mysteriously as it'd started, the phenomenon died down one day when 6-year old Euan went to his garden shed and found a pile of single gloves. He called out to his mother but by the time she joined him, the heap had curiously vanished. That's why, Euan's mother said unnecessarily admonishing her son, I don't want you watching too much TV. There! I've been looking for this glove for so long.
By and by, lone gloves were being spotted everywhere. But no one recognised them as the lost glove and they were mistaken for their identical twin. People had no use for them now and they were left to fend for themselves. Which is where they remain to date. If you ever happen to spot a single glove in an unexpected place, pick it up. Reunite it with its partner. You have no idea what it'd mean to us.