Thursday, April 28, 2005

A quick tale 15

He seemed a pleasant enough chap. No hair sticking out of his ears or warts on nose. He had clipped his nails short and seemed to be interested in what she was saying. They spoke for some half-an-hour. Mostly about their lives, careers and hobbies. Then they agreed to get married.

Later, his father called up and said in a soft voice that her father would bear the wedding costs. And furnish the house the newly-weds were going to be living in. Her family agreed it was a fair demand. After all, she was 27, a mere graduate and wore glasses.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A quick tale 14

They sent their son to an engineering college. Paid a hefty donation to get him a seat. It was an investment for their future, they believed. 'He would get a good job and take care of us when we are old', they told themselves. The daughter got married right after school.

The son studied well, went to a far away land to study some more, got a job there, gained recognition, built a house, became rich and called his parents every Sunday at 10 o' clock.
The daughter lived in the next street and bought them medicines to control their blood pressure.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A quick tale 13

Her knees were wide open, legs splayed and she had lain like this for nearly 4 hours. This morning she woke up with a slight discomfort that had gradually grown into a steady pain. She told her mother about it who then called an autorickshaw* (‘free for delivery trips to the hospital’ it said at the back) and took her to the hospital. There, a nurse shaved her pubic hair, stripped her bare and gave her something that covered only her front. She was then led into a room where there were several other women dressed like her. All of them were screaming. The nurse pointed out a hard bed for her to lie on and scream.

The pain was now coming fast and frequent, starting from the back and spreading all the way down her legs. It seized her body leaving her paralysed for several seconds.
‘Mmmmaaa…’, she moaned.
‘Shhh…don’t scream. Put your energy into pushing’, said the nurse in an unsympathetic voice.

She grunted and tried to push like the nurse had said.
‘Look at her shitting herself. I said push, not shit’, admonished the nurse cleaning up the bed.
Another spasm was coming, she could feel it. It felt like being poked in her most private parts with a red hot iron.

‘Aaaaahh, Muruga**…can’t bear it, sister….it's so painful’, she cried.
‘Well, you should’ve thought about it when you slept with him’, came the reply. Everyone giggled.

After an hour that lasted a decade, she was engulfed in a wave of pain that crushed her very bones. It was the worst yet and she felt something sliding out of her. Like a fleshy mango being squeezed out of its skin. And in an instant, it was all over.
‘Look, it’s a girl’, said the nurse cleaning the bloody, wet bundle.
This time she wept out loud.

*three-wheeled motorised rickshaw
**Hindu God

Sunday, April 17, 2005

My Day of glory, one year on

It is one year since I ran the London Marathon. It was the most moving, exhilarating, exhausting and above all, humbling experience of my life. An emphatic triumph of human spirit. My prayers and good wishes are with the 34,000 runners today who are about to undertake a life-affirming journey. Good luck, y'all. Rise again.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
you may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

-from 'Still I rise' by Maya Angelou

For my experience, please go to

Friday, April 15, 2005

A quick tale 12

She grew up speaking a language that had special words for pickled lime peels and clotted rice morsels. It was rich, lusty, pungent and full-bodied. Her teachers taught her to love it. It was the language of Gods, they told her. She secretly believed it was the language they made love in.

So when there came a time for her pack her bags and follow her husband to a new land, she wrapped her mother tongue in a tiny velvet pouch and took it with her. But there, where they spoke in a floating, mild tongue, her sumptuous syllables suffered. Over the years, her edges started to wear thin and her little velvet pouch waned. Some days, she even forgot words in her native tongue. But at nights, when her head slumped on the pillow, she wept tears of sorrow. And they were always in the language of Gods.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The sweet taste of memory

When we were growing up, we used to have something called ‘chocolate’. Except that it was not. It was hard-boiled toffee, I later learnt. The real stuff, the one made of cocoa, those were referred to as ‘Cadburys’. And this we saw rarely of. Anyway, into our world of limited choice came a rare treat courtesy of a peripatetic sailor uncle. One day, he came home with a packet of crisp, golden, feather-light ‘sweets’. We didn’t have a name for it and so came to refer to it as ‘foreign chocolate’ (what else!). Foreign was a country outside India and chocolate was anything sweet. These tiny balls of heaven were strictly rationed and we’d carry our share to school in the top rack of our two-tier tiffin box.

Years later, as I was browsing through the aisles of an impersonal supermarket in a ‘developed’ country, I chanced upon a carton that had pictures of honey-coloured globes. The box read ‘Breakfast Boulders’ and I knew I had to get it. I ripped open the pack as soon as we got home and when the first of those boulders melted in my mouth, a mystery was laid to rest. I called my sister the following day and told her that I had found ‘foreign chocolate’. She understood instantly. “How does it taste?”, she asked. “Just like it did when I was 11 and you were 9, all those years ago”, I replied.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A quick tale 11

A very brief affair

As love affairs go, hers was a fleeting experience. He was a boy who lived across the street. She was standing at her doorstep waiting for a friend to arrive. He caught her eye and smiled. She smiled back. He asked her for her name. She replied. And the school she went to. She answered. Her aunt appeared on the scene and the following week, she was sent packing away to her grandmother’s house in a nearby town.

Some months later, she was married to an army man who was on vacation. Many years later, she sat listening to the priest who performed her husband’s funeral rites. He was telling her that she had to lead an austere widow’s life from then on. She found herself wondering what it would have been like if she had married the boy from across the street. A boy whose name she never asked.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A quick tale 10


They weighed the luggage one more time. '39.5 kgs' read the scales. "Perfect", said the husband. It was just under the 40 kilo-luggage-weight limit imposed by the airlines. "Have you taken everything? Is there anything left behind?", asked the mother-in-law.

So many thing, she wanted to say. Mother, father, grandmother, sunshine, curd rice, late mornings, lazy afternoons, pointless giggles, best friends, former lovers...

"In which case", she replied,"I'll take 1/2 a kilo of sambar powder. The ones we get in the US are just not good enough."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


“Walk with your head bowed”
“Sleep with your legs together”
“Don’t leave your hair loose. Tie it”
“You really should start wearing long skirts now. You’re a big girl”
“No, no, you cannot cut your hair. I don’t care what your friends do”
“It’s dark now. You can’t go out alone.”
“If the man touched you, just ignore it. You cannot be reacting to everything, you know”
“Shh…don’t tell your father about it. He’ll say you invited it upon yourself”
“What’s wrong with this boy? Why won’t you marry him?”
“What do you mean you don’t like him? If I had spoken like that to my dad…”
“Let the men eat first”
“Women are born to suffer”
“If you can’t bear this pain, how are you going to have babies?”
“So, when are you going to make us grandparents?”
“My God, you look so much like your mother!”

A quick tale 9

Everything about her had had to change after marriage. Her routine (she had to be up at 5.30), what she wore (no more jeans), hairstyle (“Oil your hair, plait them and wear flowers. You’re married now”, reminded the mother-in-law) and even what she saw on TV. The other day she innocently remarked how good-looking Aamir Khan was and it was met with a stern rebuke from the in-laws and a snide remark from the husband.

She clung to the one thing familiar – her name. She refused to add her husband’s name to her own. Everyone else seemed happy doing it but for her it meant something final. Which is why she wept when she received a birthday card from her mother. It had her name tagged to her husband’s. It was like looking at a scarred face in the mirror and not recognising it as one’s own.

Guest blog by Chinna Ammani

Here’s an interesting write-up by Chinna Ammani on stereotypical portrayals in Indian adverts. The opinion expressed is strong and the language uncompromising. Read at your own peril!-a

The Aiyaiyo Syndrome

These days I do what is called as a shooting supervision. When ads are filmed (with lip sync) in Tamizh, my job is to teach models their lines and rehearse with them. Most of them are from Mumbai and are non-Tamilians. So when they have to do a line in Tamil, for example "Adanaaladan Dettol ubayogikaren" (And that's why I use Dettol) , they invariably say "Aadanaladaanu naanu Detttaalu ubayogikkareanu" (Something hideous). Their exaggerated delivery of our supposed accent is all thanks to Hindi actor Mehmood. My blood pressure rises and I yell "DO NOT DO A MEHMOOD HERE. WE DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT".

Though their voice is dubbed later with a Tamil voice-over, I ensure that they pronounce it the non-Mehmood way. Mehmood has done this major damage to us South Indians by doing films like Padosan! Feel like sueing Lucky Ali, since his father is dead.

Saw a commerical for Alpenliebe toffees recently. The father in the ad is "Souuuueeth" Indian and is therefore dressed in a dhoti and is shown wearing a 'vibuthi pattai'* on his forehead. His son asks him "Appaaaa paaisaaa Alpenleibe kiliyee" in a Mehmoodish way. When will these ad guys ever learn? I wish I could put up a poster out there saying 'WE DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT!'

I was at a shoot for a headache balm the other day. It features a domestic help in a South Indian family. He is aged 28, wears a lungi and an Alen Solly full-sleeve shirt tucked in!!! And there's of course, the ubiquitous 'vibhuti pattai'. I protested and told them "No, this is not the way velakkarans (servants) dress" even though it was not my job to 'style' them. The assistant director replied "No No.. please don't change the dress . The costumes have been finalized after research(!) and umpteen pre-production meetings with the agency, client etc!

God please spare us!

* sacred ash usually smeared on forehead

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A treat

It was my birthday yesterday. Some people would have baked a cake. I made thayir vadai. Guardians of Indian Culture would no doubt approve.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A quick tale 8

Less is more

It was too late now. Her aunt was already staring at the picture.
“And where was this taken?”, asked the aunt.
“That…um, that was taken at our local swimming pool”
“And is that you in that swimming dress?”, the older woman pressed.
Her niece nodded. The aunt continued to stare at the picture for a few more seconds before saying, “I always wanted to wear a swimming dress. It must feel so free when you wear it. Does it?”
She wanted to reply ‘Yes, more than anything else, it felt so free. For once I was not ashamed of my body, my breasts, my thighs, my legs. Yes, it felt so good to show my God-given body without guilt.’ But she simply nodded.
The aunt sighed and smoothed her sari.

Friday, April 01, 2005


What a sad person she had become. Writing for strangers and delighting in their response. Losing touch with real life. Seeking solace in an imagined world. Hiding behind an alias. Shunning the sun. Warming to a neon hue.
Turn it off, girl. Say goodbye. You have no new messages. Smell your child or something.