Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A quick tale 7

She would sit in front of the glass window for hours on end. Her breath misting the double-glazed panels. What else was there to do but watch passers-by? The husband would go for work early and would be away all day leaving her alone in this quiet house in a cold country far away from home.
She loved looking at the women on the road. Strutting purposefully in their pointed high-heels. She admired their grace, their confidence and their impossibly beautiful nails. Long and painted to match their clothes.
“How do they peel onions? Or scrub the burnt pans? Or rub oil on their hair?”, she asked him one day. “Oh, they never cook. They just buy something from the supermarket, heat it and eat. And have you seen their hair? Dry and dirty, I’m sure. They’re not cultured like our Indian women, you know”, he replied. She nodded in silence.

Friday, March 25, 2005


A scent, a hint,
a whiff, a sniff,
a smell, a spell…
everything reminds me of you.
I have an India-shaped hole in my stomach

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Goodbye and thanks for all the sambar*

(click on pic for recipe)

There are those whose memories are linked to sight and smell. Not me. My remembrance is curiously connected to my taste buds. A familiar taste often triggers a total recall. Like it happened the other day. I had made 'vengaya sambar' like I usually do and one sip was all it took to send me reeling back to my childhood. Back then, vengaya sambar was a rarity. A dish reserved for occasional Sundays or when we had guests over for dinner. We'd clamour for the tiny onions that swam in a sea of delicious lentil broth. It was strictly rationed and I'd tuck my share of onion away in one corner of my mouth and savour it at leisure.

I still remember the one time when I was 19, I was to come home after a 6-month long exchange program when mother asked me what I'd like for my welcome-home lunch. I replied without hesitation, "vengaya sambar". I only have to close my eyes and I can recall instantly the taste of tangy sambar as it slid down my parched throat reviving every taste bud in its path.

I'm not due back home for another 8 months. But I already know what I'm going to have for lunch that day.

*This is my tribute to one of Tamil cinema's best-loved heroes, Gemini Ganesan, who passed away yesterday. He used to be referred to as 'Sambar', much to his chagrin.

Friday, March 18, 2005

A quick tale 6

She could not believe this was happening to her. To her! The Champion of women’s rights, Feminist incarnate, Guardian angel of the downtrodden et cetra et cetra was now sitting before an elderly couple answering questions about her life. They were here to do a pre-selection. If they found her suitable, they would let her meet their son in the next round. And if their son gave her his approval, she would then become his bride.

She was doing the very thing she rebelled against all her life. Arranged marriage, breeding babies and getting trapped by duty were things she had scoffed at in her youth. But at 28, there wasn’t much room for idealism and she was beginning to doubt her convictions. Maybe marriage wasn’t such a bad thing. All her friends had done it, she reasoned.

Just then the old woman in front of her cleared her throat and asked in low voice, “er…do you get your periods every month?” Surely the lady wasn’t asking her about that. “Sorry?” said the girl. The might-be-mother-in-law repeated, “you know, your monthlies, do you get them regularly?” Our girl was stung. She thought for a moment and replied for all to hear, “Yes I do. I get my periods every month, without fail. And your son, what’s his sperm count?” Oddly enough, no one got the joke.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Do you know what it's like to have been out the whole day then come home, picked up the phone and dialled 1571 even before taking off your shoes, only to hear the robotic drone, "You've no messages. None. Nyet. Nada. Not one. Nahin. Non...."?
I know.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Married for 31 years, 2 months and 17 days
Six cups coffee a day, brewed everyday of marriage
Three meals a day,
At least two dishes cooked, each meal-time
One snack for every Sunday
Big basket of clothes ironed every Tuesday
Average 18 items of clothing washed per day
Three children
1 miscarriage
One mother-in-law suffered
900 sq metre of floor space mopped, once a day
One caesarean endured
3 chicken poxes, 2 measles, 2 fractures, 8 diarrhoeas, depression, conjunctivitis every summer, 1 tonsilitis and countless common colds and flues
1 job held for 29 years
6 hours slept every night
Sex tolerated every 2nd week
Religious rituals everyone of them, carried out
Not one of them, believed in
Lived 52 years and some
Died exhausted

Overheard, “At least she had the satisfaction of having lived for her family”

Consider this

In England, 'dinner' means 'lunch' and 'tea' means 'dinner'. And there I was telling my son's health visitor, 'Tea? What tea? I don't let my son have tea. He drinks milk'.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A quick tale 5

All manners

“Don’t slurp your food”
“Eat with your mouth shut”
"Remember, you're not the only one at this table"
“Don’t make a noise while chewing your food. Eat quietly”
The man she had married had all kinds of instructions for her. In the early days of her marriage, her eyes would well up. She was bitterly lonely in this new country with its short days and moonless nights and she hankered for a kind word, a smile, a shared joke. But all that was forthcoming from the husband was instructions on how to eat.

She tried changing the way she ate. She really did. Sitting in front of a mirror, she would scoop spoonfuls of rice from the plate and put it in her mouth. She would chew the food with her lips pursed. But it never worked. Halfway through the exercise, her lower jaw would drop involuntarily and she would find herself eating with her mouth open.

So she stopped eating dinner with her man, always finding some excuse not to. She would serve him food and watch him eat noiselessly with his mouth moving like a well-oiled machine. But after he went to bed, she would slip out to the kitchen, take the rice pot from the fridge, dig out a mound of rice, pour a generous helping of curd, mix it with her fingers, roll it into a ball and swallow it. The food would dribble down her elbow and she would lick her fingers as she ate. She didn’t care if it made a noise. His snores were sure to drown it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A quick tale 4

Impetuously yours

“So, are you an impetuous person?”, asked the boss.

'Impetuous? What on earth is impetuous?' she thought. 'Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be impetuous?' She had to answer quickly. She, who prided in her knowledge of English even though it was not her mother tongue, had majored in English literature and come to England on a scholarship, then met and married an Englishman, was now left wondering what it meant to be impetuous.

'Could it mean being impish? Or perhaps impressionable? No, it cannot be an ‘imp’ word' she reasoned. 'Something else, like say, ‘organised, efficient’ or even ‘meticulous’. Yes, impetuous meant being thorough and leaving nothing to chance, she concluded.

“Yes, Mr. Draper. You could say I am an impetuous person”, she replied.
Later that evening, she checked her well-worn copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and realised that she was not.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

For my son, aged 2 1/4 years

A Cradle Song
The angels are stooping
Above your bed;
They weary of trooping
With the whimpering dead.
God's laughing in Heaven
To see you so good;
The Sailing Seven are gay with His mood.
I sigh that kiss you,
For I must own
That I shall miss you
When you have grown.
-- William Butler Yeats