Sunday, February 27, 2005

A quick tale 3

Mrs N

Everybody thought she was ready to die. After all, she had outlived her entire family. Lost her only daughter, aged 17, tragically to meningitis over a decade ago. Her husband had passed away quite suddenly last year from a heart attack. What did she have to live for? But at 56, Mrs N had so many things left to do.

Never - worn pants, cut her hair short, read an English novel, enjoyed sex, been told ‘I love you’, stayed late in bed, chatted with a stranger, wrote a cheque, drove a car, touched snow, tasted meat, screamed out loud, visited another country, learnt French, questioned God.

She died last Friday. Nobody asked her if she was ready for it.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

What's in a name? Everything

Working in advertising and TV has taught me the importance of naming. Give something (a product/tv show) the right name and half your job is done. This naming business is all the more critical when it comes to food. Take ‘vathal kuzhambu’ for instance. It is self-explanatory. I do not have to tell to you what goes in it. Or ‘Oothappam’. How is it cooked? Your pour (or ‘oothu’) the batter on the griddle hence the name. Anyway, the point is, while we have cracked this art of naming, the British have lost the plot.

Let’s take ‘sour cream’ for instance. Where I come from, if cream is sour, it has gone bad and not fit for consumption. Then why is its sourness not only proclaimed but also endorsed? Then there’s the worryingly named ‘rock cake’. I certainly won’t be testing my teeth on it. Or ‘bakewell tart’. I hope all the tarts are baked well and not just this one. What’s with ‘shortbread cake’? What is it short on? And have you heard of ‘spotted dick pudding’? Enough said.

Lentils and tamarind sauce soaked rice

It has been a good many years since that balmy December morning when I left the comforts of my parents’ home in Chennai for the untold horrors of Mumbai. I have since gone back to the city intermittently and each time I’ve felt more and more of an outsider. These days the city has become so alien to me that there are few things left for me to miss. Except its Sambar sadam (yes, capital ‘s’). A treat that deserves to be protected as a national treasure.

Nowhere in India, dare I say world, would you find sambar sadam that tastes quite as exquisite as it does in the restaurants of Chennai. In my early Mumbai days, I used to fly down to Chennai for weekends (on cheap Air India flights), head straight for Saravana Bhavan, down two portions of Sambar sadam and then proceed home. Such was the power it held over me. These days I have to rest content dreaming about steaming plates of Sambar sadam. But funny how it cheers me up like nothing ever can.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A quick tale 2


It was just a few hours since she had been married and the excitement from the wedding ceremony had given way to an exhausted lull. She was sitting in the marriage hall surrounded by her cousins and aunts. Her younger cousins were chatting away while the aunts were busy gossiping. Soon she would have to get ready for the evening reception. "So", began her athai (father's sister), "are you ready for tonight?". At this cue, the other women started shooing the kids away. This talk was not meant for their ears. The new bride lowered her eyes and pretended not to understand. "You know, it's going to be your first night. I am going to tell you something important" the older lady proceeded. So this is going to be sex education, the bride thought, bring it on.

"Do you know what happens on the first night?", another athai quizzed. The newly-wed, feeling utterly embarrassed, did not answer. She was thinking about that time, when she was nine, when an uncle put his hands up her skirt. And how this went on for months. She remembered the time when an old man pressed himself against her in a crowded bus. She recalled the day when the college peon had exposed himself to her at the college lab. She pushed the thoughts away, lowered her eyes and nodded as the aunt proceeded to give a graphic and crude version of what she was to expect on her wedding night. There were giggles and chuckles all around.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A quick tale

Food comforts

They had come to the country on temporary visas. But they both wanted to stay permanently. So when the government decided to make it tough for immigrants to settle down, they silently made their plans. They would become more British. She gradually stopped wearing salwar kameez. It was only trouser suits from now on. He would call his friends 'mates' and say 'cheers' instead of a 'thank you'.

They even stopped talking to the kids in their native tongue. They understood English better, they reasoned. Soon they were being invited to pub lunches and barbeques. Eventually, they applied for citizenship, took the nationality test and sang 'God save the Queen'. But some days they would eat curd rice and pickle with their hands. And no one mentioned it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The longest run

Those are images from last year's London Marathon which I ran in. I hope those taking part in next Sunday's Chennai Marathon will be inspired to put in their best performance. Good luck, people! And
here's something I wrote the day after completing the race.

26.2 miles - Monday, 19th April, 2004

My knee felt excruciatingly painful, my feet were screaming for help, I was drenched in sweat and tears...and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I ran in the London Marathon yesterday and I've never felt better than when I completed the 26.2 mile (42 km) course. My finish time was little away from what I'd hoped for but I'm not complaining.

It was heartening to see runners of all shapes, sizes and ages taking part in the challenge. A lady I overtook in mile 15 had had a kidney transplant and a gentleman I ran with for almost 18 miles was running in memory of his child who had passed away from leukaemia. There were plenty of eccentrics as well. There was the ‘toilet bowl’ man, a camel, a centipede, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Batman and Robin and several rhinos that added to what was already a wonderful celebration.

I had my name printed on my t-shirt and the crowds would chant it out screaming ‘Go girl, go!’. It was a fantastic atmosphere to run in with hordes cheering us all through the route. Pubs played music, bands entertained us, kids handed out sweets and everyone had a word of encouragement for the battered 34,000 runners pounding the mean streets of London yesterday.

Almost as if the skies didn't want to be left out of the carnival, they opened up. We were drenched in drizzle through out the course and as I came into the last 200 metres, there were blindingly sharp showers. I sprinted down the finish and as I crossed line, all I could say was 'Thank you, God! Thank you, God! Thank you, God!'

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Devil's dung

Asafoetida - not the most fragrant of spices in my cupboard. I was never a big fan until I realised that it helps relieve indigestion caused by strong, spicy food. It gets its name from two Latin words 'asa' meaning 'resin' and 'fetid' which means 'bad odour'. Doesn't do the poor spice any favours, does it?
In Tamil, it's called 'perungayam' which means 'big wound'. True, if you have ever had a huge helping of it to relieve a bad case of stomach gas and then doubled over in nausea caused by its foul smell and then hit your head against the sink tap while coming up causing a 'big wound'. Happened?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Curd no more

When I was a young girl, I used to beg my mother for some curd. You see, we were always served weak, watered down buttermilk and never soft, thick-set curd which was the exclusive preserve of my father. But sometimes, very rarely, my mother would relent and I would be given a spoon of curd which I was convinced was the very taste of heaven. Back then, ours was a large family with tight budgets and rigid hierarchies. Earning male members were at the top of this pecking order and us kids always brought up the rear. But we didn't complain. Some 'moar*' is better than no 'moar*'.

Things are different now. We live in a different country and in relative affluence. We no longer have to dilute our curd. We can choose between natural low fat and greek style. There are even flavoured versions of it - from rhubarb to valencia orange. So I can have a different taste of heaven every day. But some evenings, when we sit down for dinner, I water-down my curd making it buttermilk. My mother used to say you should never have thick curd at night. It doesn't digest well.

*buttermilk in tamil

And then something happened

For the last few days, I've been type-tied. A bad case of writer's block. There were several drafts but nothing published. Nothing seemed quite right. But that was until I came across this poem. So simple. Yet so vivid. I read it after a particularly busy morning. It was rushing about everywhere and when I sat down to read it, the style forced me to slow down. 'No, no', it seems to be saying, 'read, pause, read, now slowly'. Genius.

'Poem for Everyone'

I will present you
if you are patient and tender.

I will open drawers
that mostly stay closed
and bring out places and people and things
sounds and smells,
loves and frustrations,
hopes and sadnesses,
bits and pieces of three decades of life
that have been grabbed off
in chunks
and found lying in my hands.
they have eaten
their way into my memory,
carved their way into
my heart.
- you or i will never see them -
they are me.
if you regard them lightly,
deny that they are important
or worse, judge them
i will quietly, slowly,
begin to wrap them up,
in small pieces of velvet,
like worn silver and gold jewelry,
tuck them away
in a small wooden chest of drawers
and close.
-- John T. Wood
Takes your breathe away, doesn't it? Pass it on

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Message or medium?

Good ads are about simple ideas and this one does its job well. However, I wonder if they paid any royalties for use of the Mahatma's image to sell telecom services. More importantly, would he have approved?