Friday, November 26, 2010

Saving The Aunties

Being called 'Mom' is way better than being called an 'Aunty'. In fact Mom is as positive a moniker as Aunty is a negative one. While Mom conjures up images of loveable, respectworthy, and nice, Aunty brings to mind a plump, interfering and obnoxious figure. This is mailny because (Indian) films and ads portray the Aunty as a crude, criticising or match-making busybody. So much so that, the Indian habit of showing respect by using the A word has turned into one of disrespect. So my shock at being called Aunty is not age-related, but image-related

One of the biggest compliments I got as a teacher was when a sixth standard student accidentally referred to me as Mamma. It was as if an honour had been bestowed. Whereas being called Aunty, leaves one cold. The other day I read a post by a young lady that did some aunty-bashing.The writer assumes that an aunty assumes that a young person is arrogant, perverse and slutty if she speaks English, goes to work and has male friends home to fix the taps. This is probably how all youngsters typecast Aunties. I think of each Aunty in my acquaintance, and try to check her against the prototype given above. None matches. It's too bad that we cannot live up to the expectations.

Now is when I express my apology to all the women that I called Aunty for the last twenty years and all the men that I called Uncle, too. And a word to youngsters: Wipe that smile off your face; youll be there before you know it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Priceless Surprises

In life, as in art, surprises break the tedious lack of variety. If it weren’t for them we’d chaff under the boredom of routine. Surprises are nice when they are pleasant, like when a tail end not-so-great batsman scores a century for your team - leaving you thrilled or when you find an old student’s comment on your post and feel a warm glow in your cardiac area. They can be overwhelming, as when your present student gifts you a Chanel perfume or when you find a 10 KD note tucked away in an old handbag.

Some surprises are so predictable. Don’t you feel distinctly unexcited on being given a cake again for your birthday just like last year……… and every other year? It’s like a poet put it, “Poor, dear, silly Spring, preparing her annual surprise!” It is strange because the absence of the cake might just leave you disappointed. The mind is a strange thing. It craves novelty – at least mine does. Which is why I feel at loss when asked what I’d like as a gift. How would I know? However I do prefer being asked rather than be given some electronic gadget over which I have to feign excitement. (I think I should correct and say that the female mind is a strange thing.)

The element of surprise and creativity are great in a marriage. It isn’t only the love notes in the lunchbox variety. As the couple settle into familiarity that borders on routine or contempt(can’t say which is worse), the ability to surprise (still) with a teasing smile or even a rare flare of temper can make some waves that offer respite from a deadly inertia. Opening the door to find your not-hirsute-anymore husband do a dance step for you might seem silly, but the shared humor and memory could be a strong building block.

Of course, there are the nasty ones too – like when a married, 26 year old girl addresses you as ‘Aunty’ and you turn around to see who the aging person is and then realize it is you yourself – that’s a nasty surprise, a terrible shock actually. The only consolation is that she calls your husband ‘Uncle’.

Now you know what trigered this post. Humph

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Driver

“My father was from Punjab and my mother is from Himachal Pradesh”, he said in surprisingly good English. “I respect people from Kerala,” he continued, when he found that I was from there. “They are very united; they and the people of Goa and the Bengalis. You know? In Kerala there is 100% graduation,” he said, and I was too tired to correct him …… on all counts. I had nothing to offer to return the compliment. I mused that the only good I knew about contemporary Pakistan was the cricketers and Mr. Sania Mirza – both whose virtues are dubious, come to think of it.

The previous night’s lateness and the comfort of the AC made me drowsy. But the frequent warning e mail forwards about taxi drivers drugging women commuters with chemicals in the air freshener kept me awake. And this guy was a Pakistani. Copies of his work permit, ID card and pages of his passport were displayed down the back of the front seat. ‘Feroze’, I read and the photo of a much better dressed, much younger Feroze stared back at me.

“Our teacher insisted on our writing within the four lines and my writing was very neat. Aaj to bacche log sab computer mein hi likhte hain,” this he said when he learned that I taught English. “You know these British people don’t know English grammar they speak English like a Mumbai fellow speaks Hindi. One my customer, a British fellow, said Whoshe – no verb ‘is’!” - That really impressed me, I mean how many people remember that is is a verb? And how many notice its absence? I had kept my responses to the minimum, he being Pakistani and all.

A month ago I had asked everyone I knew to arrange an Indian driver to take me halfway across the country to my new work place. I remember with shudders the two previous drivers, both Malayalees, who left me stranded in no-taxi-land. Yet when I got this new driver, my nerves shrieked on learning he was a Paki. It took days for me to not feel uneasy in his vehicle.

Now I rely on his promptness, appreciate his silence when he knows I prefer it and listen to his occasional opinions in the haven of his taxi as we speed across the desert heat - an Indian and a Pakistani, shelving a history of mistrust and animosity.

Before I got out at my door, Feroze gave me an AC mechanic’s card – “My friend,” he explained, “ Sab cheez – AC, fridge, washing machine - sab repair karega. Madam, aapko chaahiye tho telephone karo.” And then he added, “Pakistani hein, lekin achha aadmi hein.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Puzzle d

I am happy am I ?

Thursday, September 16, 2010



I remember fondly our first treadmill which was kept in the bedroom. After inspiring an inaugural trot it never troubled anyone in the family. It lent itself to holding drying towels and doubled as a shoe rack. We even felt sorry to give it away to a friend who was diagnosed with cholesterol.

Then we welcomed diabetes home to stay and the doc shook his head, gravely predicting doom unless we exercised more. Walking was recommended. The desert climate being what it is, none of us wanted to expose ourselves to being baked, frozen or liberally dusted. That’s when Treadmill II entered our home and our lives. It took its ugly place in the sitting room, facing the TV. This one was swanky with a veritable dashboard and dials to indicate the user’s pulse rate, speed, distance run and calories burned. By now the children had grown to become figure conscious, calorie-counting individuals. So the device got used frequently. But it wasn’t the adults (who needed it) that were using it. Our initial enthusiasm waned – not very surprising- that. But sporadically Guilt would needle us out of comfort.

The treadmill is a dreadful thing to me because of the sheer boredom during its use. Many methods were suggested to overcome this. Someone said reading was good, but it only left me off balance as I tried to turn pages or got lost in a book. ( The manufacturers would do well to design a page-turner fixed to it. ) My son was all for listening to music on an MP3, while treading. He even loaded some of my favourite songs. But I hate noises invading the free spaces of my ears and then taking over my brain. I guess I am not an earphone person. Whatever the method, I could not stop myself from counting while walking. I’d count in 2’s, then in 10’s or 20’s; I’d count the seconds or the distance units or the calories till the numbers crushed my head and still I wouldn’t…. couldn’t stop. 25 steps meant one cal and that took 20 secs if the speed was at 5. I’d close my eyes and the numbers danced against my eyelids and the steps sounded an unceasing, strident chant – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10; …1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,20……….. The terror cannot be described. After such a deadly onslaught of digits, I’d escape from the monster and avoid it like a society lady avoids her worst rival…. until Guilt intervened to bridge the chasm again.

That’s why I loved being in India. One sweats so much; simply existing burns calories and every morning a walk to 2 or 3 temples keeps you fit and well informed of all the gossip and in touch with the neighbours;………. ah yes in touch with your soul too. So returning to the daunting presence of the treadmill was far from pleasant. My husband listens to the Suprabhathams while on the treadmill, but I’d hate to associate the lovely prayers with something so hateful. Watching TV from the TM, you have to step up the volume to nuisance proportions. But one day I watched a Funny Home Video show while walking and I’d finally found the ideal walk/count-forgetter. You don’t need to follow the script and so the TV can be on mute even. And despite the silliness, you laugh over people tumbling off sleds, babies making faces, dogs clowning about……… the end of an episode you find you’ve laughed through 1 ½ kms and 100cals.

Yesterday there were three back-to-back episodes that I walked through…… which is why I’m nursing the blisters under my feet.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Quick' And 'Easy' Cookies

My culinary skills are restricted to south Indian meals. When the occasion demands I do attempt vadas and neyyappams with some success. Baking is a world I’d not ventured into much, due to the initial enthusiasm getting doused by trays of burnt offerings. I stayed content and passive, blaming my oven’s inability to regulate temperature.

The interest was rekindled with my impending trip to India. I wanted to bake something for my children who live there. My mother used to bake a variety of goodies for me when I was young and the guilt at my own laziness impelled me. Armed with the results of my search for quick and easy cookies, I got ready after many days of putting off. The raw materials were all there except for brown sugar which a commenter claimed gave the cookies their chewy scrumptiousness. I have a thing with recipes, I never stick to them. So I decided that caramel would be a good sub.

A small problem arose when I started beating the caramel into the butter. The entire thing solidified into a rock island in the moat of melted fat. Why hadn’t I thought of this simple phenomenon of physics.. or is it chemistry? My electric mixer, in a coma ever since it was given to me as a wedding present, came out of its dusty box and then began its battle with the rock. Apart from splattering oil all over the kitchen counter, it made no dent in the solid mass that mocked our efforts. A weaker spirit would have dumped the entire stuff into the garbage at that point.

Pushing aside despair, I boiled water in a pan and placed the bowl of indomitable geographical formation in it and stirred and stirred and stirred. Which was actually impossible because the caramel had coated the insides of the bowl and the spoon. Meanwhile the presence of egg in the mixture posed the danger of turning into a sweet scramble. I played with the thought of going at it with a hammer and chisel, but the bowl being glass deterred me. Meanwhile my arms and fingers hurt with the unaccustomed exercise. So I went for the electric mixer again. Only, the cord wasn’t long enough. I then searched for an extension cord among the never–used tools and equipment and got the mixer going. By now I was surprised by my own tenacity to subdue the rock. Until then I’d never really understood the concept of climbing a mountain because it is there. With me, the mixer and heat, I felt I could coax the stubborn thing into submission. Don’t ask me how long it took or how much fuel I spent, but slowly the glacier began to melt and turn into a beautiful creamy consistency. My delight was tinged with dismay to find that now the sauce like substance had begun to thicken into a puddinglike form while the lumps of caramel persisted. I added water, which is probably a sin among bakers’ cults, and continued beating till I got tired of it. I stirred in the dry ingredients just like the recipe said. The dough was supposed to be dropped on to the tray by spoonfuls. That was not possible, now that it was too solid. So I made it into balls and baked them. If they burnt as usual, I knew I’d kill myself.

I'd have put up a pic of the result of my efforts if I knew how to. I even took a photo with my new digi cam :D [What kills me is the thought that someone searching the web for a Q&E cookie recipe will land on this blogpost :)] Anyway the cookies looked great since the chocolate chips melted and gave it a marble appearance - though that was never intended. They were like marble not only in appearance; but then what are teeth for? All these melt-in-the-mouth food weaken the pearly whites I tell you. Eating a cookie brought back memories of a childhood toffee called kamarkatt which defied dental power.

Of course the kitchen counter and stove and the walls are splattered with food, the cord of the mixer got burnt on the stove, the beaters are broken and the gas is over, but I did have an adventure &good fun. Besides I’ve invented the world’s first Caramel Chip Cookies!

I think.

Don’t tell me such cookies already exist. And please don't tell me caramel chips are available in packets................

Post script: I got brown sugar and baked another batch. They are all packed in my box and tonight I leave for India where I haven't got net access. So good bye and good health until Sept.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Id Lee

Some things/people that have merit are ignored. They miss the applause and the honors and remain unknown, unsung. In fact very often many that get the kudos don’t really deserve them. A lot of self- promotion is required in order to be considered for awards and recognition. A person who finds joy in doing what he does well won’t need a citation to feel thrilled. It is the duty of the award givers to notice excellence and honor it.

That is why I feel guilty. I committed gross neglect by making a list of Woman –friendly items, without including the Idlee. This food item is one of the greatest inventions to help….South Indian womankind despite its yodellike/Chinese-sounding name.

Its virtues are many. Cooked in steam and done in five minutes, 16-20 at a time, it is a quick-cooking, low fat marvel. It also contains enough proteins and just enough carbohydrates to keep one healthy and fit. It can be had steaming or not so hot with a variety of accompaniments. It can be recycled into various forms as well.

Having said all that, I remember the time I hated Idlees. My mother would make dosas just for me on Idlee days. Then marriage happened and guess what the staple breakfast was at my husband’s home…..Yes. And then children happened, by which time I’d got less stupid and at an early age I trained the kids to relish the Idlee. Ever since she has been a dear friend. So now life is good. With an Ultra grinder and frequently replenished store of sambar and podi, what’s there to worry?

So here is my Ode to the Idlee:

She lies in repose, a pillow fluffy
Her contours like a young girl's cheek
Unkissed, blushing, soft and rosy
That's Idlee - most modest and meek.

She may seem quiet, humble and shy,
Not glamorous like rolls or cheese
But her appearance doth belie
A wholesome nature, sans grease

She's good for the lazy and busy
She's good for the fitness freak
She's even good for the toothless
So three cheers for the Idlee!

I even have a cute joke in honour of this heroine:

An Iyer and a Britishman were travelling together. The train left Central at 8 pm and at 7 am it was at Vijayawada.
The Britishman had a sumptuous breakfast served by a butler in livery , but the Iyer opened the top box of his 4-compartment steelcarriage and ate two idlis.

Lunch at Waltair station (as Visakhapatnam was then called), was a heavy meal served to the Britishman by the Railway Refreshment stall, but the Iyer only opened the second box of his tiffin carriage, pulled out 4 idlis and ate them with relish. The Britishman was curious as to what was happening, but being a Britishmam, kept his upper lip stiff. But when the scene repeated during dinner at Berhampur, he could no longer contain himself, and enquired, " Sir, what are those white things you have been eating all along? "
The Iyer said, " Sir, these are called intelligence tablets. We South Indians can live on them for days together. "
Britishman: " But how do you make them ? ".
The Iyer described the raw materials, and processes.
Britishman : " Can you please give me a couple?-- you need not give them free. I'll be happy to pay whatever price you quote. "
The Iyer thought and said," Actually I have only three more of them left for breakfast but since I am going to my relative's place, I can spare them for you. But they will cost you 20rupees each ".

The Britishmam paid up immediately, happy that he was so lucky. Next morning at Howrah station as they were about to part ways, he asked, "But tell me sir, are you sure you have told me the entire process without leaving out any details?" . Iyer said "Yes, I told you all details".

Britishman, "Then why are those damn intelligence tablets so costly?" The Iyer said, “See, you took 3 last night and already they started working!"

Thursday, April 22, 2010


There was a time when ………

……. tuition was for duffers
……. couples got married to become husband and wife
... couples got married
……. kids had two parents
……. people were scoffed for saying that we would buy water in the future
…….no one believed that technology would facilitate seeing the speaker on the other
end of a telephone
…….. parents were not afraid of their children
……… a chocolate was a treat
………. soap was not called ‘bathing bar’
………. terrible accidents/ disasters happened to unknown strangers
……… a hand sanitizer was not necessary
……… children played cards or carroms on holidays for fun
……… children played for fun
……….passengers talked and shared food on a train
……….passengers looked at each other on a train
……….Kerala was cooler than Madras
……….brinjals were innocent
……….an ambassador was a car
……….'damn' & 'sexy’ were bad words


Monday, April 12, 2010

'Wearing A Work Of Art'

I am a great fan of the sari. As a child I watched, fascinated as my mother or aunts draped, pleated, tucked and pinned away at theirs. Those days it was a pleasant pastime to drape a cloth over my shoulder like a pallu and keep patting it into place just like the pretty ladies of the house. This love turned sour during my college years as the sari was made compulsory by that esteemed institution. Enforcement can make one hate the pleasantest of things. If aerated drinks were made compulsory, we’d all insist on water. But I must thank my alma mater for teaching me to wear a sari to perfection within minutes.

The dresscode in our school offers ample liberty in the absence of one. Thankfully, teachers are a sensible lot and never turn up in beach or party wear. Through the years, users of the sari on a daily basis in the school dwindled to two – the principal and yours truly.

The grievances against the sari are many; the sheer difficulty in wearing it, the impossible mission of walking in one and the paraphernalia of matching clothing required, the lurking suspicion of loose ends and unintentionally revealed skin (deliberately uncovered skin needs to seen) are nothing compared to the task of keeping them starched and ironed . In spite of these horrors, I love donning saris, crisp cottons in summer and pure silk in winter. It is the concept of the blouse that I find encumbering (is there such a word?) It must have been an evil tailor who made that item of clothing a must, like The Joker releasing contaminated cosmetics in Gotham City.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a book on saris is doing the rounds

I hope it will not meet the fate of Loose Cannon’s …er… sorry Shashi Tharoor’s take on the matter. The furore among the females that it aroused forced the poor man to offer an explanation. [ I wonder why Taroor does not join Bollywood as an actor. He looks pretty enough and it wouldn’t be hard to pack on some packs.] I sympathise with him though; most of what he says is misconstrued and he gets pounced upon. And like him, I feel it wouldn't be too much to do for the Indian woman to wear saris oftener.

During my trip to China, I wore salwars and was the only one in the entire population to do so. Of course, I did stand out like a sore thumb (thumb is actually quite a good comparison), but I got to be a minor celebrity, with the Chinese wanting to get photographed with me, feeling my plaited hair, aaahing at my nose stud and ooohing at my bindi. I wish I'd packed some saris.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Little hands
Clutch my finger
As I lead through safe pathways

Little hands
Tug at my fingers
To lead in untrod ways

Little hands
With time
They lose
Their trusting touch on mine.

Little hands
Now grown
quite big
Pointing far away

Those fingers long
They grab and pull
I cannot but relent
And enter that heart,
That lovely heart
That's taken mine away

(I found this among stuff written long back)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yellow, Yellow, Dirty Fellow

It is often said that, No news is Good news. Such a situation, in this age of communication, seldom happens. The converse is however, true: Good news is No news. The dailies, periodicals and broadcasting media thrive on bad news – bombs, scams, scandals, crime, crises are all magnets for eyeballs. Election time brings a televised crossfire of mudslinging between rivals which is a little more dense than at other times. The entertainment pages are rife with scoops about celebrity couples headed for splitsville and who is jumping into whose bed. The readers’ interest fades when an affair ends in marriage, only to revive at hints of brewing trouble. I am reminded of the delightful Oscar Wilde who wrote, "I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It's very romantic to be in love but there's nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one might be accepted! One usually is I believe. Then the whole excitement is over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”

The lively portions of history books are the war periods. Peaceful reigns are boring with wells getting dug, roads being made or irrigation canals being built.

Bad news is sensational. The detailed report of the TISS rape victim in the TOI brought forth a volley of protest from the public. The editor’s half hearted apology, defending the tabloid's deliberate attempt to ‘create awareness’ through explicit description of the victim’s experience sounded hollow. The real purpose of the item was served – the spate of protest was proof enough. What is strange is that the conclusion of such cases seldom see the light of day. What happened to the culprits? Well, who has the patience to follow the course of (in)action? Public memory is short-lived anyway and other sensational happenings distract them.

Anybody can capitalize on the public’s appetite for the unworthy it seems; you have iplplayer-fake/real bloggers providing the inside commentary on the titillating itsies and bitsies about players, managers, owners and glamour girls at the ipl circus. The idea apparently changed their life, going by the thousands of comments that the webpage attracted.

The interest in the negative, morbid as it may seem, is quite natural, for nothing can equal it in terms of shock/ excitement value.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Heroes don't have to be those in the limelight. Like Nnuli the petite, topless, don't-even-know-how-many-years-old relic who swept our largish compound. Her four foot figure beside the gate, with her broom over her shoulder was what one saw while stepping out of the house. This never failed to elicit utterances of irritation from the conservative individuals that considered the broom an inauspicious sight. My mother would beg Nnnooli, in vain, to lose the broom when people set out. Nnooli would then declare that her broom was an instrument that kept places clean and nothing could be more auspicious than that. I suspect she deliberately took her stance by the gate with her broom at exactly the time when people entered or exited or perhaps the broom had simply become a part of her anatomy.

The only clothing that this pint sized woman wore was a yellowing white cloth around her waist, it covered her from waist to calf. Her polished brown skin was always clean while her graying hair was ever rough and unkempt. During the monsoons when she hugged her slight body against the cold, I'd risked suggesting that she wear a blouse only to receive her angry protest against modern styles which she believed were uncalled for. So you can imagine what she thought about footwear. Happiness, to her, was a basin of gruel from rice harvested in the family fields and pieces of dry fish to go with it. She lamented the lack of both since the fields had long since changed ownership and fish was taboo in our household. Of course she could have lived in her own house, across the road and eaten what she wanted, if her drunkard and insane son, Ayyappan, hadn't beaten her out of it.

Ayyappan beat not only his mother, but also his wife and infant daughter. But to Nnnooli he was her dearest son. Whatever she got, she gave him until my mother started a post office account in her name. Nnnooli did have another son, Koran who had run away to Malaaya several decades before. The story goes that he had sent her a letter from there. Unable to read, she had given it to her then master to read it and it just got lost. The master's flippancy did not anger her, nor did the tragedy of a long lost son defeat her. She simply believed that he would come one day and when her property was divided among her children, she insisted that a share be retained for Koran too.

Nnnooli's sparse attire was not because of shortage. Her wooden box, which she cleaned regularly and scattered with naphthalene balls, was full of new mundus, thorthus and veshtis. These she wore when she went to Tirunnavaya every full moon day of Karkkidakam to perform the rites for departed souls. Once my parents and I took her to the Guruvayur temple about 2 hours from our place and she got lost in the crowd. Our search was futile and we were desperate. We had no idea if she had money on her, besides she was illiterate. The police was informed. We returned home, not knowing what to tell her crazy son. And who should be waiting at the gate with her broom, but the delightedly smiling little old Innooli! We hugged her in relief while she proudly related how she had asked her way around, hopped into a bus, demanded the conductor to take her to Valancherry even without payment.

I loved to watch her work, eat or bathe, and sometimes would ask her to sing her old songs. With a laugh she would favour me with the tuneless strains of quaint songs of bygone days, the words strange to my young ears. Occasionally she spoke of her husband Krishnan whom she had married as a child, loved much and lost. She reminisced about Krishnan's mother and her patient efforts with the playful child that Nnooli was. She would intersperse her chatter with imitations of people, including me. Whenever I left home to hostel or later work and even later to my husband's place, she would have one request - naphthalene balls for her wooden box. She once asked me for a nose stud and I got her one with a red stone. She didn't have a piercing. But the day she got it, it shone bright on her reddened nose. Apparently she had pierced her own nose with the stem of the stud! The nose ring and a gold chain on her bare bosom made her even more beautiful.

Nnooli was ageless, but as the years flew by, she began to get disoriented. Her sweeping went on the whole day. She would rescatter the leaves that she had just swept and sweep them all over again. She would shake her broom at the drumstick tree for shedding its leaves and shout loud curses at it. She had a store of the choicest bad words for the hapless fauna that my poor mother had to hear through the day. She would scold the weeds that she pulled out, daring them to reappear at their own peril. She ignored my mother's entreaties to her to have her meals on time . Her work had become her life, her eyes recognised the soil and the grass and the dry leaves. And when she looked at us or her family, it was as if we were strangers.

It got so bad that the broom had to be wrenched out of her hands and she was taken to her own house. Without her work, Nnooli's life probably had no meaning. She ate less and less each day. Her body that had never had an ounce of extra flesh became thinner than ever. That was her condition when I arrived home for the holidays. I went to her house and she lay there like a child, a white cloth around her waist, the nose stud and gold chain sparkling against her burnished brown skin. Ayyapan's wife told me that Nnooli kept talking solely about my brother, me and my parents. I sat by her and she was calling out our names, but she looked at me with unknowing eyes. They told her who I was but it made no difference. I realised that for, her Anu Thambratty was some one else who had watched her eat and requested songs and got her naphthalene balls.

That evening she died. My mother gave the post office savings which Nnooli had instructed be used for her funeral. Of course there was much more remaining for her children to share as always.

I don't know why I think of Nnooli as a hero. I don't know if this post has done justice to her .

I look at the compound of the house and see it overrun with weeds and scattered with dry leaves as if they too missed Nnooli's scolding endearments

Monday, March 8, 2010

Heroes 1

A composition on ‘a person you admire’ was one of my favourite assignments whenever I got a substitution period in school. Despite the staleness of the topic, I felt it would help students to think beyond themselves and get a perspective on admirable qualities, besides finding a role model that they could want to follow. I’m sure the students considered me a spoil sport, depriving them of a free period to play x and zero or pen fights or chat.. All of them invariably chose Gandhi or their mother or Mother Teresa. Not that these great people were less than admirable, but the choice seemed so much like Priyanka Chopra’s inability to find any other hero.

For a long time my hero was Helen Keller. Her tenacity despite multiple disabilities amazed me. Her exhortation ‘Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow,’ always inspired me. And this was coming from a person who never saw a face, sunshine or shadow. Maybe Keller appealed to me because from childhood I had been infinitely grateful for my eyesight. My prayer for myself to God has always been to retain my vision, for when I’m old and have throat cancer or some such horrid disease, I’ll be able to read books and forget the pain.

Years later I happened to watch The Miracle Worker , the story of Ann Sullivan, Keller’s teacher, and I found another hero. This woman was just twenty when she was appointed to teach Keller, who at that time not only suffered physical challenges, but was also wild and given to terrible tantrums. The education of the disabled being in its infancy, Sullivan devised her own method of correlating sensations to words written on the palm and the vibration of the vocal chords. Keller’s mind opened to language with the gush of water on her one hand and w-a-t-e-r spelled out on her other one. Ann Sullivan was as relentless a teacher as Helen Keller was a tireless student. Sullivan showed me the true purpose of a teacher.

Of course, Gandhi, you are the greatest for me; but then today is woman’s day and all….....

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Be Nice To Momma

There are some things that never should have been invented. No, not firearms or even the atom bomb for they are not used on a daily basis. The deadly creations that drive mothers like me to frustration are right there in your home, used everyday.

The most exasperating is the MP3 with ear phones. Once the child is plugged shut, he gets impervious to anything, especially entreaties and even shouts to bathe or have meals. And if it is to clean his room I suspect he deliberately plays deaf. No mother can rest assured that her offspring won’t be in an accident with his ears stuffed and not hearing vehicles.

Cargoes irritate me no end. Washing an ordinary pair of trousers itself is a pain, what with four pockets to go through. So cargoes with their numerous pockets is pain multiplied. Besides it is an argument initiator- you, trying to make the child realize how sloppy he looks while he, insisting that comfortable is cool.

Cool is a nice word but there are some words whose inventors must be struck dead. I hate ‘whatever’ ‘Yeah Right’ and of course the four letter ones that I find so disgusting. I also dislike the use of other bad words which has become so common. Sarcasm (whatever, yeah Raait) becomes insulting when it is cliched and devoid of humour and vehemence (four lettered) is uncalled for. If these were used infrequently and appropriately, they might be really expressive and meaningful.

So children, chuck those earphones, dump those cargoes and scrub that dirt off your mouth. Be nice to mama

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

His Roses Bloom For Me

I look at the man in the driver's seat beside me, remembering the first time we met at our wedding. Not having seen or talked, let alone written to each other,there wasn't a shadow of romance between the two of us. We were strangers.

I had watched my parents share their interest in literature, art and philosophy. They talked to each other all the time . Discussions on the Bhagavad Geetha to Bertrand Russel enlivened their conversations. They were very much in love. I never heard my father utter a harsh word. He complimented Amma on her cooking, embroidery...on just being her. While for Amma, my father was her life. So I entered marriage with my own preconceived notions of sharing and loving.

The man I married never read anything but the newspaper and office reports. He did have a colourful vocabulary that he used to describe drivers who blocked his path. He ate the food that I dished out in silence except when it did NOT appeal to his taste buds. He too may have had notions of a happy marriage that I couldn't live up to. I have had my days of rage. Besides, I disliked wifely 'duties' of housekeeping while he hated my whistling.

My husband never gave me roses or discussed poetry. But he admired my abilities and encouraged me to take up challenges - whether it was speaking at seminars or organising events. I grew to respect his judgment and strength. He never talked about kindness, but showed it in the most unexpected moments. He may never admit it, but I realise that he needs me and hates my absence. He worries about me when I am on my own (though I can take care of myself) and takes pains to prevent hassles. I have to drop hints the entire month before my birthday, but I know that he believes I was born for him!

Marriage, I'd been told, is all about give and take. That always sounded nice and balanced. Experience taught me that it was anything but. For sometimes you give more and at others you get more. Who knows, maybe the sum total is a neat tally. But then who is keeping accounts? And who cares? Because by then one realises that often giving is as enjoyable as receiving.

Bringing up our children drew us even closer. I wonder if any other couple enjoyed their children as we did. I watched him saying no to their requests sometimes and showering them with tenderness at others. The laughter and pain that we shared over and with them bound us as one. Of course there have been times when the bond was stretched, but we always snapped back together to find understanding and mutual respect.

Two decades have gone by all too fast. Now our children are away and come to us during vacations. New faces people their world. We have only each other most of the time. He comes home to me with a happy smile and my heart sings too. He still watches TV shows or studies management journals, while I do crosswords or read. There still isn't much conversation or discussion; only the unspoken warmth - probably the same that my parents expressed. When we go out, he still cusses other drivers. I don't flinch anymore. I look at the man in the driver's seat beside me and I wonder, when did I fall in love with him?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Past Imperfect

As a child I….

…….imagined that 4 had married 5, and 6 was their baby.

……..thought the meaning of yellow was ‘beautiful’.

..…….believed that Anon was a person.

…….yearned to wear out my hawai chappals and Natraj pencils to stubs instead of losing them always.

…….dreaded that my father had a secret family stowed away somewhere.

….. made up my mind to work in a chocolate factory when I grew up.

...…wondered why God wouldn’t or couldn’t speak.

..... loved to play in the servant’s quarters with her children.

……couldn’t understand why I didn’t speak Hindi though I was a Hindu.

…… drew horizontal strokes in a drawing class which earned me a big cross and a bigger zero. My art teacher, Mrs. Daniel, didn’t know that I had tried to draw the wind.
It still hurts.

.... hated the story of the ant and the grass-hopper.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Caveman Logic

It sounded cute when Sehwag said that he supported the Srilankan team, because the team he sided with always lost. He said that it was a superstition. It isn’t just Sehwag. Inexplicable notions prevail in a twilight zone even in the midst of enlightened humanity, surprising as it is in this age of logic. Hotels in the most technologically sophisticated cities don’t have a 13th floor. Blind beliefs are said to have originated in an era when man was utterly under the control of nature. What he couldn’t explain, he attributed to divine forces. Perhaps coincidence froze such superstitions into facts. In which case the people of today shouldn’t be superstitious at all. We all know that isn’t the case. So there is, probably, a fascination in our nature for the mysterious and fantastic.

Beliefs that defy reason are cute, like Sehwag’s or sinister or downright irritating. The most irritating are forwards that tell you not to break the chain of time-wasting, useless, communication. The more victims you palm off the inconvenience on, the more good fortune you will gift yourself. Even more annoying are the threatening ones that damn you with horrors unless you follow the orders. The worst is when senders who never drop a line otherwise pass the buck to you. Yes, all one has to do is hit delete, but then you know……… So I forward these mails to my children and their expired accounts AND to the sender ;) Fortunately my children aren’t as vicious as I am.

It is strange though, that life offers some strange experiences. Once on a Board exam day the bulb went out when I switched it on as soon as I woke up. Then the lamp went out when I lit it. While setting out from home who should be in the lift but Mr. Iyer from the 8th floor ( Malayalees see a solitary, male Tamil brahmin as a portend to trouble). I knew that these were not signs, I merely noticed them. That day it happened that the school bus driver who took me and the candidates to the exam centre took a wrong turn and we lost our way. It was an hour of desperate phone calls and anxiety. We finally reached the centre after the exam had started, the staff there were good enough to hurry the students through the formalities and herd them to their seats. I know it is only coincidence. I’d said hi to a lone Mr. Iyer a hundred times, light bulbs blowing a fuse and a cold wick are common too. So there is no need to see a paranormal meaning in the occurance. In fact, it was one of those students who topped the subject that year!

Superstitions are followed all over the world. The Chinese have theirs about certain numbers, the Irish have their four-leaf clover, the Americans spit on their baseball bats. New ones that appeal to youngsters are still cropping up. Sportsmen, actors, clowns, tycoons, all have their good luck rituals. And I have my lucky pen.