Saturday, December 31, 2011

Not-a-year-end Blog

I did contemplate doing a real year-end blog this year. After all, isn't every blogger expected to?

In the last three years of my blog-land existence, I have done my share of year-end retrospectives. But I don't think it is right to pass judgement on the year past or term it 'good', 'disastrous', etc. Nor is it a great idea to expect the coming year to be outstanding.

Some people need a New Year to make resolutions. It's a fashion to say later, 'I have broken all my resolutions for this year.' So be it.

I don't like the idea of pining hopes on a fresh, young year and putting so much pressure on it.

It's not fair to expect that something new is going to happen to us in the coming year.

After all, isn't the New Year just another set of days, weeks and months?

The year ain't going to make our days beautiful - we are.

The whole New Year thing is way over-rated, don't you think?

Yeah, I know. Knowledge that cometh of growing old and all that.

Or wisdom that cometh from hoping too much and seeing those hopes come to nothing.

Whatever, as they say.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Character portrait (1)

You can hear him before you see him. Very often, from miles away.

His talk is sprinkled with laughter.

He is fluent in more than four Indian languages, a fact he demonstrates at every opportunity.

When he speaks on phone, his hand rests on his belt-buckle that is invisible somewhere below the wide tummy spilling all over it.

He flirts easily, casually, oblivious of others, giving no more importance to his words than they deserve. He likes to believe his listeners are fascinated by him. He is not particular about the object of his interest, anyone would do.

He is darker than an average Indian, with a face that could be termed attractive from a certain angle. Perhaps during his younger, thinner days, he was the heart-throb of many.

From every cell of his being emanate the desire to hear people praise him. His jokes put stand-up comedians to shame and the audience tire of stretching their lips into smileys. Yet, his overall pleasantness does invoke frequent compliments.

He never gets bored of his own talk. Perhaps his job is to blame.

If there is bad news to be delivered, he wraps it in sugar and honey, and tries to say everything but the news to be conveyed. He believes he is the only one who can handle disturbing news, everyone else is a weakling.

He never keeps his word.

He is never on time.

Drink, smoke and paan are his weaknesses, and he is specific about the brand of each.

His down-to-earth attitude itself has a pomposity to it.

His job is only a distraction, a means to fill his bank account. He does not understand 'office time' or the concept of working 8-9 hours per day.

To him, day and night hold no meaning, and he disregards the fact that others have routines to follow.

He believes that any inconvenience caused to people who serve him can be covered with money.

He considers himself welcome everywhere. If he shows kindness to someone, he expects them to be obliged to him for life, and to show their obligation and gratitude every time they meet him.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The suicidal buzz

6-year-old: "There is a mosquito near my ear."
Me: "Do you hear it buzzing?"

"Yes. Why does it make that sound?"
"I don't know. Some insects are like that. Noisy at work." ('Like some people', I added to myself.)

"Doesn't it know this sound is going to make someone slam it between their palms and kill it??"

So very profound, that thought. Perhaps he doesn't realise it yet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every once in a while

Sometimes I miss going out to work.

I could do without office politics, of course, or a grumpy boss breathing down my neck, or the tension of a tight deadline.

When I work from home, I don't need to convince anyone why spending time with my son is more important or why I need to be home when it gets dark. I don't have the pain of daily commuting or spending hours in the heat and dust. I don't have to make hollow-sounding excuses or endure raised eyebrows when I plead for a day's leave.

Working from home means I can take afternoon naps and make tea when I want to. I like the convenience of doing laundry at my convenience. I can laze the whole day or watch a movie, and finish my work at night. I can juggle my job and chores and interests.

Apart from the fact that everyone automatically assumes you 'do nothing all day', working from home is the best thing for a person like me.

But... every once in a while, I remember the coffee machine, the gossips, the ambience, the laughter, the email chains, the bright lights, a good word from a colleague, and interesting people.

Every once in a while I feel lonely sitting alone punching my keyboard and having to step over to Twitter or Facebook to seek company.

Every once in a while, I miss going out to work.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


That sinking feeling, 
That familiar territory. 
You think you're climbing, 
Look again - aren't you sliding?
The same old turn in the road, 
The same old nasty curve-
Alas! It is time...
For history to repeat.

Friday, December 2, 2011

'I first'

It must have been my 32nd or 33rd week of pregnancy. I experienced a fleeting pain in lower abdomen, very like the pangs that people with gastric complaints are familiar with. On a normal day I would have dismissed it, but this was the time you took every little sign given by the body seriously. The next morning, the pain not having abated, I decided to consult my gynaecologist.

There were many patients waiting at the hospital. I was restless, uncomfortable and worried, but the difficulty was not severe enough to make me barge into the Emergency or to the Doctor's room. I must have waited for three quarters of an hour for the patients who came first to finish their consultation. The girl whose turn came right before mine was at ease, chatting (in Malayalam) and laughing with her parents and brother, that I ventured to ask her, "Can I go in before you? I am in pain...Vedana aayittu vannatha..."

The girl, without a moment's hesitation, snapped, "No. I am in pain, too."

Shocked and distressed, I said "OK" and sat down. When her turn came, she went in followed by her family, as my wait continued for another 15 or 20 torturous minutes. When they came out, the brother whispered to me as he passed, "Sorry." I went in, almost collapsed, and the Doc started me on IV, but that's a different story.

Why the girl responded as she did remains a mystery to me, but of course she was entitled to it. In fact, the hospital followed an ancient 'First Come' system without any intervention from anyone (no token or registration, relying only on people's good sense) that some people who came late just walked in, ignoring the others.

Maybe the girl was tired of waiting. Maybe she really had some difficulty. Maybe she thought I just made up the story about the pain.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I did it!

It can't be explained, it has to be experienced.

Have you seen a more well-behaved & disciplined graph?!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

With much love...

"Amme, I don't want to finish my breakfast. I have stomach pain."

"I should go to play now. If I go out and play, my stomach will bounce - like this," demonstrating how it will bounce, "and the pain will go away."

"No, no, no. I know very well about stomach pain. I used to have a lot of nasty stomach pains when I was little. If you go out to play, your tummy will bounce and you will throw up. So you should lie down and take rest. Now go, take rest. Go, go."

"I think my stomach pain is gone now."
"Very good. Go finish your breakfast."

My clever and intelligent son turned six today

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

15 Days of NaNoWriMo

At the very outset, this post would not have seen the light of day if my NaNoWriMo track record were poor. Today, as the fifteenth day of NaNoWriMo comes to a close, my word count graph has kissed the day's target of 25,000 words.

I thought NaNoWriMo (or NaNo, as it is fondly called) was only about writing a novel in one month. I couldn't have been more wrong. It's a whole bunch of things altogether, and not all of them related to writing.

It's about getting obsessed with your story. It's about finding reasons not to do other things so that we can write. It's about connecting with other writers, hearing about their efforts and speaking about our own. It is about watching our story develop at a pace we would never achieve otherwise. It is about twitchy fingers and pounding hearts. It is about ignoring everyone and everything else. It is about thinking about your plot or fine-tuning dialogs, even when you are talking to others. It is about numbers - number of words per day, number of words to go, number of days to go.

Different people have different ways of NaNo-ing. Whether they are working on an already-begun novel, or writing a new one, or finishing a couple of novellas or short stories, it all boils down to one goal - 50K words in a month.

All the people who start NaNo do not necessarily complete it. The initial enthusiasm fades, or life intervenes in more ways than one, or ideas refuse to flow, or priorities change. If a day or two of writing is lost, especially when you are exactly on schedule as prescribed by NaNo, it becomes very difficult to catch up. But as NaNo-ers constantly comfort each other, whatever you achieve in this month is better than not writing at all !

Unless you do a complete and detailed planning (and in some cases even if you do it), the characters and the plot have a way of getting ahead of you, and totally surprising you. You follow right behind them, sometimes getting lost and sometimes finding your way.

The build-up to NaNoWriMo is exhausting. You suffer from trepidation, anxiety, and a very complicated sickness called struggling-to-contain-the-words. You are allowed to start writing only on Nov 1, so whatever comes to mind before that has to be safely stored in mind or jotted in vague terms, ready to be documented at the stroke of midnight.

Since so much is stored before it starts, the first week of 1667 words per day seems like a piece of cake. But by the second week, you begin to look up the word count every half-second and groan - "What?! Another 800 words before I can sleep??"

Having a group to share the joys and sorrows with is absolutely essential. No, it is not that we all are going to collaborate and write one novel together or anything. Most often we don't even know what the others are writing. But at some point we would need motivation, inspiration and encouragement from those who really understand our plight.

Fatigue sets in about ten days into dedicated NaNo. Wrists begin to complain, head begins to grumble and sometimes thoughts flow faster than we can type, vanishing before we grab them. The result? - a quickly-framed sentence with words missing in it. Unless we are ahead by a few thousand words, luxuries like films, friends, outing, parties et al are better avoided as they would eat into our precious writing time.

In a typical NaNo-er attitude, I look up at this blog and tell myself, "Wow, 500-odd words. I wish I could add this to my novel. Today's effort would have been partially done."

But no, I need to go and tackle the 1700 words for today...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


We were watching a Malayalam movie.
A baby was abandoned following a fight. For about half an hour the story focussed on the rowdy who tried to take care of the baby along with the girl who found him.

My six-year-old son was sitting with his cousin, watching the movie with his mouth open. I was nearby, often walking to the kitchen and back. Suddenly my son crawled into my lap and put his head on my shoulder.
"Are you sleepy?" I said.
He whispered, "Let's go to the other room."

When we went there, he told me that he felt like crying when he saw the baby's plight. I hugged him and said "it's okay, I felt the same. Just as everyone laughs aloud when they see a joke, they feel sad when they see emotional scenes but it is just that people try to hide their tears."

"I don't know," I said.

We didn't go back to watch the film, it was time to sleep.

As usual my thoughts went back... to an old Boss of mine who once asked me, "Do you cry when you watch films?"
Of course there is only one correct answer. "No Sir," I said. And of course it was a lie.
"I do," he said. "Emotional scenes always make me cry."

I was shocked. How can anyone in their right minds admit that they cry while watching a film!

But then I was younger, and I have learnt a lot of things since. I have also, in the intervening years, noticed that when people walk to the next room in the middle of a movie, or take a drink, or talk about irrelevant things, or shake their knees as if they are bored, it just means that they hate the tears that are pricking their eyes and want to escape rather than let anyone see it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why I decided to NaNoWriMo

One month ago, I didn't know I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year.

Then one day three weeks ago, I decided I would. It was only a question of choosing one story from the two outlines in mind.

For a person who took two years to write 50K (I love repeating this every now and then), NaNoWriMo is going to be a real challenge. But then, for my first book, much of the thinking was done between the writing. The plot and the storyline were very vague when I started, and today it looks nothing like what I imagined in '09. I took long breaks intentionally and otherwise, that helped me improve the flow and reduce the rewriting effort.

Thinking out the entire flow beforehand is definitely good, which is the best thing I see about NaNoWriMo. Today I have a fair enough idea of the story I am going to write. That part of the homework seems to be fairly done.

I would not have decided to attempt NaNoWriMo this year had I not confidence that I have enough material to fill in the 50K. I have heard others say they 'wrote 50K with no plan, even though much of it was crap'. I don't think I can write 50K of crap in 30 days. I'm not that good.

Much has been said about the pros and cons of NaNoWriMo novel-writing. I would not dwell on those. I believe the quality of the MS that emerges at the end of the month depends on the effort put in before it begins.

As far as I am concerned, NaNoWriMo is just an excuse to keep me from procrastinating. There are always other things to do whenever I begin writing. This exercise probably would keep me in Focus. It should, given that I have announced from the rooftop about my participation, and people are bound to ask.

I am not quite used to the concept of 'writing without thinking or editing', the idea being the thinking should happen before November and the editing after November. The very thought gives me the jitters.

There's a lot of "Make sure you do this before you start" guides on the Web. I try to keep away from them - coz they intimidate me. But I still take a peek - what if I overlook some vital preparatory activity and get stuck in the middle of the writing?

Then I tell myself, even if I reach only 30K, I would still have achieved 30K. I will be closer to the end than if I never participated.

Preparation for NaNoWriMo is not only about planning and plotting the story or developing characters or jotting down notes. It also means we're going to give less of our time & attention to other things in life - family, job, medicines, food, hobbies, friends,... I did some planning on that front too - trying to do some things in advance, identifying the days on which I will not be able to work as much as required, allotting time for daily chores, etc.

Bangalore boasts of unexpected & unscheduled (as well as scheduled) power supply failures during the day. Being a so-very-Bangalorean, I am prepared for such interruptions to my daily dose of 1667 words.

That's all there is to it. The rest of the stuff I hear about writers surviving on coffee and chocolate for one month - I have no clue on those yet. When (and if) I do figure that out, I still will be going for tea, not coffee.

As to what happens after NaNoWriMo, who can tell? Maybe I will continue to work on the story. Maybe I will abandon it and start something new. Whatever happens, I am sure the effort will not be wasted.
It will be another lesson learnt.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Parenting dilemma

"Wow, you got A+ in this paper!"
"Is that good?"

"Oh, it's wonderful. It means you know the subject very well."
"What about these two?"

"Let's see now...This is a 'B' and this is a 'C'."
"Is that bad?"

"No... it just means you know it alright, but if we work on it a bit more, we can make it A and A+."
"So, B and C are bad, and A and A+ are good?"

"No, not at all. All these grades are good. A+, A, B and C. All are good grades."
"But will you be upset if I get B for this next time?"

How do I explain to him that I want to appreciate his good grades, but that doesn't mean I worry about the low grades? 
How do I make him understand that the grades are only feedback from the teacher to the parents?
How do I make him understand that everything is not about 'good' or 'bad', and most of the things in life lie somewhere between the two?

* * * 

"Aren't you my dearest child!"
"What about R and N?"

"Yes, I love them too."
"But R is your most favourite, right?"

"No, nothing like that. You three are like my own children. But of course you are my actual son, R's and N's  Mothers will protect and help them more than I do, so when you need me I will be the one who helps you, *blah blah blah*... why don't you go to sleep?"

How do I explain to him that all his friends are like my own children but there is something about him that makes him special to me?
That I sometimes praise the other children because I want to make them feel comfortable?
How do I make him understand that people can love many people in different ways - and it is not just about 'like' or 'dislike', there are things in between the two?
How do I make him understand that if there is such a list of loved ones, he would definitely top my list, but that does not mean I dislike the rest?

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I had been warned before I went. But I was unprepared for what I saw.

I glanced at her and looked away, pretending to be talking to someone else, so that she would not see the shock in my eyes.
God knows how many times she must have seen it - and how it must have scared her.
She had deteriorated so much in the few months since I last saw her.
Last time, I thought she was just skin and bones. Now it seems like she was much healthier then.

She sat up to talk to us. I could not allow my eyes to stay on her face for long... I was afraid I would not be able to hide the disbelief, the pain, the memory - the memory of her ten years ago at a wedding, her face healthy and glowing and bright with happiness.
Who would have known.

We talked, smiled, enquired generally about each other. I kept skipping over topics, almost with no break. Silence could be dangerous, silence could bring back unpleasant thoughts. The distraction might do her good.

If the sight terrified me so, how much more would it be for her - to feel every day, the fear, the knowledge, the dread of the inevitable.

She went back to bed because she was tired. I said it was okay, she didn't have to get up when we left.

I try to keep it away but the thought continues to return to mind.
It is only a matter of time...

Thursday, October 6, 2011


"Do you know today is your cousin's birthday?"
"How old is he?"

"And next month I will be six."

"Yes, so how much older is he than you? How do you do that math?"
"Ten plus six?"

"No, that is not correct. It is not addition."
"I don't know."

"Okay, let me put it this way. Your brother is ten, you are six. You need to find the difference between the two. What is the difference between ten and six?"
"Oh the difference between ten and six! Got it."

"Tell me."
"Ten is BIGGGGGGGG and six is small."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My time will come...

I am a responsible citizen,
I oppose Child Labour.

But I will protect Children
After I eradicate poverty.

I will take care of Poor
After I combat illiteracy.

How can I battle illiteracy, When 
Women are being harassed?

The women can of course wait, cos
I am off to curb Corruption.

I am against Corruption, but
Who will rid the world of Terrorism?

I am against Governments-
They never get anything done.

I am against Protests:
They only waste my time.

I am against Gandhians,
I only follow Gandhi.

I am against my People.
But I am for the Country.

I am against Politicians.
But I won't join Politics.

I uphold Democracy.
But I will never Vote.

I don't believe in Causes.
I am my own Cause.

I raise the Tricolour, within
My indoor sanctuary.

I will lie in zombie, forever
And raise my finger at you.

I will wait to act...
Till my Time will come.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The contest for the laziest on the Planet

We Malayalis pride ourselves that we're the laziest race on the Planet.

As far as we could get away with it, we would avoid work. "Why put off till tomorrow what we can place on someone else' head today?" is our motto.

This particular trait is rubbed into us from early childhood, as we watch our elders devise methods to skip work. The whole educational and employment systems are ridden with loopholes to help us escape. In college, students discuss which is the best day to go on strike. The day with the toughest sessional exams scheduled gets the vote. Not to mention there was no valid reason to go on strike at all.

Recently I had a debate with a friend on which of us is the lazier. The contest ended in draw because both were too lazy to argue for ourselves.

In Kerala, I resigned myself to my fate as a lazy Malayali, much higher in stature to all other peoples of Earth. But Bangalore opened my eyes. Wide.

The auto-drivers in Bangalore sit at their driving seats all day if possible, as if they get paid for sitting idle. If by chance a pedestrian requests a ride, the rates per kilometre skyrocket, till the poor guy decides to walk all the way rather than have his throat cut. The autowallah continues to idle, relieved that the disturbance is gone.

The guy who 'apparently' washes cars vanishes with the car keys once every week. When he returns them, he wears a sparkling smile as if to say, 'the innards of the car are gleaming as much as my smile'. You tip him generously only to find within minutes that the car doors were not even opened that day.

The gardener and the garden are strangers. He waters the plants once in a hundred years or so, holding the water hose as if it is guillotine. The tender plants collapse under his murderous touch and never rise again. When he was called in for re-potting, the plants did not survive another day.

The part-time maid has more visitors every week than all the residents of this apartment and the next put together, and she cannot come to work when she is suffering from their visits.

One should learn punctuality (among other things) from house painters, but only in the evening. At five on the dot, the paint brushes drop from their hands, even if the window requires just two more strokes.

None of these people in the examples above, I should stress, are Malayalis. Nor have they ever been to Kerala. (In case some of you Kerala 'lovers' want to accuse them or their great-grandfathers of breathing the Kerala air sometime in their life.)

My intention, with this blog post, is to warn other Malayalis that we no longer own the pedestal of Laziness: we are not the laziest race on the Planet. Be ashamed! We have tough competition and if we aren't trying hard enough, others would snatch the trophy away from us.

The contest is on. Are you ready to oust Malayalis as the laziest species on the Planet?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Sharing part of a recent conversation with a friend. I found the thought beautiful.

Yes, I am worried too. 
They used to worry me a great deal earlier. 
And I used to do nothing but worry. 

But there is something we can do.
We can convert our concerns into action items...

I found out that when I put my worry into words like you did, 
Share it with everyone and then all of us get behind the goal,
It somehow works out.

As long as we are thinking and not giving up, things will happen.
We need to have a clear goal, believe in it and 
do everything possible towards it.
That always works for me.

When I give up, nothing can save me.
If I don't do anything and worry, nothing can save me.
If I don't have a clear goal and try to do a lot, I achieve nothing.

Sometimes my ego gets the better of me
And convinces me that my success is because of ME.
My greatness, my exceptional luck.
Then I get stuck where I was. 

When I give up that thought, things start moving.
Whenever I set goals, take action and believe in them,
It works like magic.

Maybe that is GOD...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Skating teacher

"Amme, can I watch my football CD?"
"Of course. Here it is. Chelsea Golden Goals DVD. You know, you should eat your food and be healthy if you want to learn football."
"But I already know football."

"Yes, but don't you want to be strong and healthy like these players? Don't you want to be a footballer player?"

"Oh. Then what will you be doing?"
"I will be a skating teacher."

When I posted this story in Facebook, a friend shared his own funny conversation involving his son. I would love it if you could also share your own experiences with children.
Please post a story or link here!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Week in Tweets

Do hop over to Eisley's blog where she is running this awesome series of posts called "The Indie Bound series". Heh heh, you spotted me there? Yes, I too have contributed to it, offering my strings of wisdom to unsuspecting readers. You can read it here. There are more blog posts in the pipeline, and Eisley introduces one indie author a day. Here is Eisley's tweet on the subject.

The little blue picture you see on the left is her new  Middle Grade Fantasy "Born to be a Dragon", the first of the Dragons Forever series. You absolutely should check out the book. My son and I finished reading it together and you should have seen his face when it was over. He is already asking for the next book, though he calls Deglan as 'Dlagan' and Lord Edric as Lord Eric. Book 2 promises more adventures for Deglan and Meia, and I am not quite sure who is awaiting it more eagerly - my son or I?

Meanwhile, all's been generally quite normal & quiet on the Home Front, (though 'Normal', 'Quiet' etc. are very relative things). The five-year-old's educational journey progresses minute by minute. I happened to tweet a couple of the gems that came out of his education. I thought it is easier to re-post them here rather than narrate the entire Mahabharat.

Posting tweets idea courtesy @vadakkus

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aren't we all hypocrites?

I know I am. Not always. Maybe.

I pretend to treat everyone as equal, but expect them to keep their place.

I say 'This is awesome' when I actually mean, 'This looks quite ordinary, but it will be unkind of me to say so.'

I say 'You've done a good job' when what I actually want to say is, 'It could have been better but it is not for me to point out your flaws.'

I say 'You've done the right thing' when I think 'I wish you had done something else.'

When my son asks me, 'Why didn't you let them do that?' I am such a coward to admit, 'They annoy me and I don't want them to do that.'

I say 'It looked excellent' when I mean 'I am sorry I did not get time to look at it.'

I say 'Everything's great,' because I don't want to tell them how awful it actually is.

This doesn't mean that whenever I say something is good, I don't mean it. There are times when I say 'it is awesome' and I mean 'it is awesome.' It's all very complicated.

When I see kids declare on their profiles, "I hate hypocrites" I want to laugh. And I want to tell them, "You don't know who a hypocrite is. We all are. If you hate hypocrites, there won't be anyone left to love."

But I don't because they will find it out. Sooner or later. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nasty (and then some) thoughts for the day

1. I wish Rain and Sun would not play hide and seek with each other on days that Moms have to take their kids outside, away from home, without an umbrella, without an auto in sight, on the highway, without a roof or a tree nearby to keep the child's head out of rain.

2. I wish the auto driver bloke, who tried to take advantage of the fact that I had a child with me and it was drizzling rather well with a heavy likelihood of pouring plenty of cats and dogs, would have sat at dinner tonight and said to himself, "Had I agreed to take that wet woman and child for twenty rupees less, I would have at least that money in hand." Yes, friends, I cursed him in my mind after the incident that he sits in that greedy seat of his, and gets no further trips that day.

3. I hope the family with the black car, whose child is in Kindergarten, and their driver would have a delightful week ahead of them for being kind enough to offer lift to the wet woman and child who were perfect strangers to them.

4. I wish the traffic police would come up with a foolproof strategy that requires auto drivers to start their meter and charge the passengers only the amount displayed on it, without demanding a fortune as if the responsibility of bad roads lies with the passengers.

5. I hope my little one has a blessed and happy life, and that no one exploits his innocence, for saying to me today: "Amme, because you were frustrated over not getting an auto, I prayed to Ambotti and see, Ambotti has sent an auto to us."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


"Children are so unpredictable." I've lost count of the number of times I have heard (and used) this statement. I suppose that is because our 'predictions' are based on adult standards, and not children's. If we are able to keep our grown-up madnessses and irregularities aside, and raise our expectations to their level, we would discover that their actions and reactions are quite simple and straightforward! True, as a parent, that is one of the most difficult things to do.

Take the example of my friend, who decided to teach her daughter verb conjugation. The little one was often confused between 'want' and 'wants'. After explaining the theory, they played a game where the little girl has to complete her Mom's sentence.
It went like this.

Mom: "I..."
Daughter: "...want a toy!"

Mom: "Good. My friend..."
Daughter: "mmm... wants chocolates!"

Mom: "Excellent. You're picking up very fast. Grandma..."
Daughter: "...wants to see me!"

Mom: "Mamma and Dadda..."
Daughter: "mmm... want... a baby!"

Mom: "Wha-???!!"


My son is probably one of the best examples of an 'unpredictable' child. My blood pressure would shoot, my cheeks burn and I will be ready to explode when I know he is going to misbehave, only to discover that my heart had gone into overdrive pumping all that blood in vain. He would be 'unpredictably decent' (as per my standards) that day. 

Like the day his friend from next door, C, came to our house. I called my son to me while the little girl was watching TV. Knowing the tiffs between the two, I warned him not to start one, and to let her watch whatever she was watching. He said: "No. I will go and change the channel. I want to watch Cartoon Network." (She was watching Pogo, I think.)

I was sure within three and a half minutes, the girl would cry and run off to her home. I delivered a quick lecture on behaving, good manners and such, which he gave scant attention to. I sighed and resigned myself to what would follow, as he went to her.

As I watched in surprise, he went near her, took the TV remote and asked gently, "C, can I change the channel? We can watch Tom and Jerry in Cartoon Network."

As my jaw dropped, the little girl nodded and said, "Yes."


Writing was not an area my son was keen on. He admitted very frankly to me that he preferred playing or drawing or watching TV to writing. But his teacher says he needs "more writing practice" so what am I to do?
I ask him, don't you want to read?
He says, No. It's okay. I don't want to learn to read.
So I resign myself to the situation: I will have to fight with him whenever I have to make him write.

One day we were at our seats, finishing one activity for school. He had to write 2 lines about his friend. I asked him what he wanted to write and helped him with the spelling. There was a knock on the door and it was the very friend whom we were writing about.

"We were writing about you," I said to him.
My son showed the book to the friend, who is a few months older than him. The friend looked at it and slowly read aloud: "he - is - my - best - friend."

I was delighted and praised him for reading it so well. My son burst into sobs and said he wanted to "learn to read fast too". Surprised, I suggested gently that trying to write and read a little every day might be a good idea.

There is nothing more to be said, except that these days when he gets back from school and after 'play-time' with friends, he comes home, takes out a notebook and starts writing words, sometimes asking me how to spell them, sometimes not.

As a parent, every day is a surprise. Every day is unpredictable. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Friendship Phenomenon

If God had wanted man to have a hyperactive social life, he would have created virtual Social Networking when He created mankind, don't you think?
Yes, I thought so too.

Granted, when He started there might not have been enough people around to create a 'network'. He did spread the seeds of socialising enough to make us "Social Animals", but the Social Beasts and Monsters we turned out to be in a few thousand years of existence must have been a real shocker to Him.

Yeah, I'm talking about you, Facebook. What beasts you are turning us into! What monsters you are pulling out of the deepest and darkest corners of our hearts. What weird beings you are awakening from their safe slumber inside our minds.

We meet a lot of people in life, right from the womb. There are some who accompany us in our journey through life. With some, we're expected to part ways and move on after a while. Now imagine the whole lot of people we've known over the years sitting in our living room, staring at us? Intimidating. And what if they all start chattering?

Some people in life are meant to be kept at a distance. To their credit, many of them know where they should stand. But some don't.

Till a short while ago, I was naïve enough to think that after I find a few close, old friends, there was nothing much to do on Facebook. Maybe we'll just keep each other updated on our progress in life, I thought. I never realised this 'making friends' thing was an outward bound spiral that had no end.

Doubt not, I am an active Facebooker. But there are things that make me squirm in my seat. Like, the people who stare at me from the right frame, whom Facebook claims are people I must know. Common friends: three thousand and twenty five. I am just saying. Yes, I know them. But I tell myself, let them send *me* a Friendship request first, then I will accept. Nothing is going to make me send one to them.

Then there are Walls. What happens on the Walls do not really stay on these walls. Cold wars originate because of these public writings on the Wall.
Because one of them forgot to add an 'LOL' or a smiley to the end of their comment.
Because some thought they were still buddies they were twenty years ago and can still pat the other on the back and say nasty jokes aloud.
Because they thought the owner of the Wall can take a light joke in the right spirit.
Because someone forgot to respond to a comment on their status update.
Because someone posted a picture of you in your high school and tagged you without permission.

I know what makes me uneasy, and why. I also know that it is not going to stop me from visiting Facebook. I also know such a thing either doesn't exist, or don't have much significance in a place like Twitter. And I also know that when such things happen I will close my eyes and pretend it never happened.

After all, if the bus stop is too far and there is no auto available, you gotta walk all the way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

To Anna or not to Anna

We human beings are in general an uncertain lot. We do not know what we want at any point in time. We only believe 'this' is what we want.

We believe that there are two sides to any situation. We also say that instead of looking at the situation in question we should be looking at situations that have even greater importance.

We have an opinion on everything we know about. We have even more opinions on things we know nothing about.

We say that we should not talk, but act. But we talk and debate and argue about it - of all places in virtual networks where we cannot even see who we are talking to.

We say it is our decision, we are not influenced by anyone. But if someone stands before us and delivers an impressive speech we follow him eyes shut.

We hate bad men and bad circumstances. We want to wipe them off the face of the Earth. But when we are face-to-face with them we react just as a billion others would.

We expect people to practice what they preach. Even when we know that every juncture, every situation, every act makes people change, daily, and no one is today who they were yesterday.

We say History repeats, but when it does, we forget that we are not the people that History had seen the last time it visited.

We claim that we are not influenced by the 'results', what matters is only the action and the intention behind the action. But when the most vocal part of the group rises in our defence, we are tempted to believe that is the actual result.

We believe we are a very mature lot. Nonetheless when we get to be part of a child's adventure we rush headlong into it without thinking.

We like to convince ourselves that facts like age, caste, or dress do not define a man. Yet when the man rises above us, we make discreet observations on his age, caste, dress, shoes and the company he keeps.

We human beings are an eternally confused and unthinking lot...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Independence Day: a tribute

In memory of...
The blood that was shed,
Men and women who gave up lives,
The selfless fight they led -
The fiery Saffron flutters in the wind.

In memory of...
An old man, a faithful son,
The path he firmly held, and
The Peace that finally won -
The proud White flutters in the wind.

In memory of...
The ravaged Motherland
Her edges trimmed, eternal hurt;
Destined to bow to a cruel hand -
The bold Green flutters in the wind.

In memory of...
A dreaded, forgotten past:
Honour, respect for lives lost,
Eyes forward and face upwards -
The elegant Tricolour flutters in the wind.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

100% literacy rate

I don't know how many times in a day I encounter the phrase about "Kerala's 100% literacy rate" - Malayalis on Facebook, Twitter and blogs constantly throw this around, especially when the topic is on how 'uneducated' we are or how 'unbecoming' our actions are.

As far as I understand,
Kerala achieved 100% literacy in 1991 - that was a long time ago. The numbers slipped over the years, the people forgot what they learned because they never used it since, new generations did not (or were unable to) show interest in learning, and many children continue to drop out of schools or fail to make their appearance at all.
But, yes, Kerala still holds the highest literacy rate in India (94.59%).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mobile phones are personal

... as personal as a personal diary. Or if possible more personal than one.
Only a person who uses it for personal purposes truly understands the personal nature of the personal mobile phone.

I hope the message has been properly rubbed in. The truth is that many of us do not appreciate that another's handset is not for us to explore.

A couple of months ago, a boy who sat next to me at a wedding, a total stranger, held out his hand for my handset: "Can I see it?". Too surprised to say a word, I handed it to him. He turned it this way and that, quickly figured out how to unlock it, and started hunting for games. Gosh. It was awkward, to say the least. The moment you unlock my phone you are hit with a number of reminders and notifications and such luxuries that I need to survive. I would not want my vulnerabilities so displayed in the open. No one would. Not to speak of the state secrets I carry within the gadget. He was clearly used to playing games in great many types of devices and knew exactly how to locate them. Luckily for me, his grandmother noticed him fiddling with it and told him to return it.

I remember being curious about handsets when they first hit the market. At the time, people used them only for making / receiving calls (true to the name 'phones'). It was okay to be curious about a new handset and probably look at one. As soon as SMS-ing became a craze, looking at others' new handsets meant running into messages you should not be seeing.

Little boys these days have learnt to play games in their parents' high-end devices, and have discovered that every new handset contains a better and more thrilling game than in the previous model. They know more about mobiles (as they used to, once upon a time, about cars) than their parents do (they sure know how to embarrass us in public with those model numbers and mobile jargon) and believe it their right to borrow from adults and play, showing off their game-finding skills to their peers.

I do not know how long I can hold on to this belief that little five-year-olds should not borrow their parents' phones or anyone else' phones to play, even when they become six-year-olds or ten-year-olds.

For the time being, I declare that mobile handsets are the owners' personal property and it is as unique as the person's Unique Identity, and borrowing it even 'just to see it' is not recommended.

Of course, all this opinion may change in a few months...weeks...days? I have seen my son eye my phone when I leave it unattended on the table...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Save the Tris!

I am afraid I would some day lose all these precious pieces of paper. So I decided to scan them and store them in a place where they would remain moisture-free and moth-uneaten for years - my blog. If ever goes out of fashion, there may still be servers I could move these to.

I don't think I have seen a better or healthier looking Earth. I really must thank his Art teacher at school - because till last year he did not show too much inclination towards drawing or painting. Apparently the teacher is introducing them to a lot of things in this World and teaching them to observe. The brown scribble on the right, next to the tree, is a lion. To see a close up of one of those fierce lions that roam the neighbourhood, please see the last picture in this blogpost. 

If any of those bad guys (who cut trees) sees the above picture ("save the tris"), I am sure they would not cut any more trees in their life. That's a happy butterfly next to the tree.

Lion - close up, in his drawing board.

Artist: My five-and-a-half year old son
(Pic-1 drawn with suggestions from his Dad. Others are completely his own creation.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Out in the open!

Active twitter users in this part of the world would recall an incident that happened about two months ago. A huge twitter wave rose in favour of a Mumbai-based woman whose desparate tweet (observed five days after she posted it) sparked the fear that something bad may have befallen her or her family. Indian Twitterers used every tool in their power to get more information about her, resulting in one of them arriving at her doorstep in a few hours, along with the police (and perhaps the media). She was safe, and the story about the origin of the tweet turned out to be too personal to be discussed in public.

It was not tough to locate her. Her Twitter was linked to her blog. On searching her name, Google helpfully brought up her Facebook account, among several others with the same name. But it was easy enough to figure out which was she. Her complete postal address was available. Her previous tweets revealed the name of her lawyer. In short, a lot of information on her was splashed on the Internet, most of it by herself. Her name and address were posted over and over on Twitter by new people joining the tide of concerned well-wishers. Some of them removed the tweets afterwards, some didn't. A few days after the incident, her Twitter account was deleted.

In this particular case (even though it is debatable), the information was used for a cause that everyone believed to be noble. But isn't it as easy for someone with criminal intentions to gather our information, to locate us and arrive at our doorstep? With the boom of social networks, everyone leaves information about themselves lying around. If you want to know where someone is at the moment, check their Twitter Timeline. The chances are high that they are 'the mayors of a certain location on foursquare' or 'at the airport' or 'at the cinema' or 'doing shopping with XYZ at the Mall' at the moment. If you want to know their past, check their Facebook 'Info' and the entire history is spilled out for all to see.

Sounds far-fetched and paranoid? Have you checked how much of your details (past, present and future) are easily accessible to the public?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Women and the art of Listening

Women have sensitive and keen ears. They don't have to look around to know that their fiancé or husband is approaching. A short beep of the horn that totally skipped the ears of everyone else present, the gentle whirrr of the engine as his car glides down the drive, the sound of him pulling the hand-brake, the unique sound of his bike, a short step as he comes up the stairs, or a distant cough - she would hear it even when she is engrossed in her favourite TV program, teaching the children or absorbed in anything else.

Mothers have sensitive and keen ears. She is attentive to the smallest argument involving her baby even if it happens two floors below her house, she does not miss to hear a scuffle when her child is playing outside, she has enhanced senses to hear his distant voice calling her. She is ready to throw herself out the balcony at the slightest sound of her child's sob. She strains her ears to the sound of his play and laughter even when she's working.

Daughters have sensitive and keen ears. When her parents are ill, her ears will be tuned to a sound from their room. When she is behaving against their wishes, her ears act as the sentry who warns her they are approaching.

Women have very sensitive and keen ears.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My son's first ever short story

Oh he tells great many stories, the limits of his imagination lie somewhere across the boundaries of this Universe. But this is the first time he ever wrote a story. I was working at my computer as he composed this, and he asked me how to spell 'walking', and whether 'was' was spelled with 'w' or 'v'. A few minutes later, he showed me the result.

one rat was walking. the at (that) time olso(also) cat cem (came) and the cat et(ate) the rat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The irony of human life...

Every other day in the newspapers we read about breakthrough researches in medicine, of finding cure for chronic illnesses, of methods to prolong life and retain youth. Human life, it would appear, is very precious.

In the same paper, pages 1 to 3 would be splashed with news that disturbs us no end: a child stepping on a live wire lying on the street on a rainy day, a wall collapsing on an old woman, a boy lost in the drains. Incidents (tantamount to murder?) that reek of carelessness, insensitivity, disregard for human life: the very same precious life we were talking about prolonging and preserving. Someone might have noticed the wire lying loose, the dangerous wall, the open drain. No one did anything because it wasn't their responsibility. Or because they didn't know who could help. Or because they thought they'll do it tomorrow.

It depicts the clear distinction that intelligent people have known for centuries: between the group of people targeted in the health pages and those generally featured in the accident columns.

Between those lines lies the irony of human life.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When I had eyes...

There was red on the sidewalk:
They told me it was paint.
A little girl on her way to school
Had spilled it on the ground.
I pointed to the middle of the road,
To broken pieces of glass.
A toy must have been thrown outside,
and a car run over it.
That smashed tiffin box of a little kid?
I looked up, they were glum.
My dad was carried away
His arms and legs were torn.
Wailing white vehicles, flashing
red lights; weeping around.
It's all part of the drama, they said,
We enact in our lives.
Why is there a crowd? I asked,
They came to see the fun.
Can I see my Dad again?
My tears gave no reply.
When I was born I had eyes
I grew up to be blind.
Little kids I played with,
Each became one of them.
I closed my ears to the distant sounds
And heard nothing, no more.
The smells I lost over the years
when I became a woman.
They told me it was part of it,
The price of growing up.
The child was dead: and never shall rise,
A victim of mercy killing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What in the World is this First Draft!

For a writer - or should I say a new writer, an aspiring writer, whatever - the very first dream, as soon as a brilliant thought hits her mind, is - I should get this piece of brilliance written down and published! More often than not, the dream does not go much farther, not immediately. Reaching the top of the best-seller list, Hollywood adaptation of the book et al are too far in the pipeline of her mind. I just wanna get this darn thing published. I just want some publisher to be impressed by it, if possible bowled over by it.

When she starts writing, as the little idea explodes into pages and pages of narrative, and more pages and pages of more narrative and dialogues and situations and plots and twists, the dream starts evolving, at an exponential pace. What if... what if my book is really good? Like mind-blowingly good? What if within no time the whole country, nay, the whole world is talking about it? What if the people I used to ogle at and admire, suddenly call me up and say, "Hey I read your amazing book!"? What if... the book falls into the hands of this world-class director/producer and he thinks, "What a wonderful, new, original story!" What if...

Then she suddenly pops out of dreaming and stares at the words she has written. Closing in on 2000 words. 2000 darn words. What is generally the size of a full-fledged novel? 100K words? At least something greater than 50K? How many more miles would she have to go before she gets there? Quit dreaming, stupid woman, she says and gets back to frantic typing, plotting, creating. At least let me plod on and reach my First Draft. Then I will dream away for a month. So there!

From then on, every time she begins to day-dream about the Hollywood producer, her very pragmatic heart would gently pull her back in. First draft, my dear, first draft. Get to it. Focus. Without a completed story, how can you even dream of Hollywood?

So she continues to write, relentlessly for days and nights - feeling guilty whenever she leaves her seat to attend to her family or to get a cup of tea, her mind spinning words when she's not writing - and the word count climbs slowly, steadily. Through days of frustration, writer's block, exhaustion, demotivation, desolation and discouragement, and though vague, feeble and rare moments of hope and exhilaration, the struggle continues... as she keeps her eyes focussed on the distant, elusive goal - The First Draft.

One day, weeks and months and, in some cases, years after she set out on the journey, she suddenly notices that the entire stream of her thoughts has been copied down, the gaps connected, the scenes more or less described, the characters developed, and the plot jotted down as clearly as possible. There is scope for improvement, definitely, there are huge chunks of text that need to be enhanced or removed, but... Is this it? Is this the First Draft? Is it the moment I was waiting for? 

The skeleton is complete, but there are still ambiguities and deficiencies. One entire paragraph in page number 149 has to be changed from 'telling' to 'showing'. One chapter needs to be ripped apart and a fresh one written. The dialogues sound as though they were written by a six year old. There are modifications - many. Almost every second sentence in every page may need to be changed. Every time she reads it she knows it can be enhanced, elaborated or trimmed. But that is part of the Editing, right? How does one know? How does one decide where the First Draft ends and the Editing begins?

As a short story writer, I found that attaining the First Draft - and knowing it - was easy. As soon as the cloud of a story was emptied from my mind to paper or MS Word, the First Draft was ready. I could also judge the extent to which I should edit or polish, and the areas I should improve so that the end product was ready to be read. Novels are a different story altogether. Keeping the whole sequence in mind is like juggling twenty five glasses. As an author, you're seated inside the story, not viewing it from the outside like a normal reader. You tend to miss things. You lack a fresh perspective even when you come back to it after a long break.

In December 2010, I finished connecting the dots of a novel that had taken shape in my mind a few years ago as a short story. However, it was a starving and under-nourished skeleton of a novel - I was not sure if it was ready to be called a First Draft. I did not think it was a First Draft yet - and it was not even 40K. People would degrade it as a 'novella'. But I knew there were elaborations, descriptions and explanations that could add another 20K(ish) to it. It was not the size that bothered me though it did a bit. The content had to be complete and satisfactory - in my eyes. I gave it two weeks and went back to it from the start, adding flesh to it.

As much as I wanted to call it a First Draft and 'celebrate' albeit alone, I did not feel I was there yet. So I trudged on, expanding the areas where I had left single lines stating what happens next, noting areas that need to be further edited, improving dialogues and so on. To cut it short, I am now at the end of what I call the first round of editing. And yes, it has begun to look satisfactory at places, murky at some others, and there's 'scope for improvement' elsewhere.

I think the 'First Draft' is an entity that cannot be defined - it lies in the eyes of the writer. It is she who decides her First Draft - is it just a plain linear narrative of the events and plot with no elaborations, or a readable, understandable version that connects the gaps but need to be edited, or a series of scenes that need to be organised, or a completed novel that has only typos and grammatical errors to be corrected.

The fact is that it does not even matter. The writer does not need to 'define' what a First Draft means to her. She just needs to keep writing, and writing and writing, her eyes steadfast on the goal - the undefined First Draft.
When she reaches there, she would know.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The One Thing*

Strange how things happen right in front of your eyes and you don't notice until others start pointing.

The water level must have been rising for some time now. I noticed the crowd leaning against the railing and idly wondered what they were up to. It was then that I saw. The water was looking different, higher, rough and agitated, and lashing against itself.

The people seemed disinterested: they were observing it and making comments as if it did not concern them at all, casually standing with one foot on the lowest rung, a picture of relaxation. Within no time, the water would be kissing their feet. But there was no anxiety in anyone's faces except mine. I watched them as I walked swiftly to my room. On one hand, their unconcern could mean good news - maybe they knew something I didn't. On the other, it could mean they were not yet aware - if it were possible! - of the extent of the danger.

There were familiar faces in the crowd. Faces from my past. I hesitated, wondering if I should stop and talk to them, or at least wave to them. I had passed through the periphery of their vision, but time had erased the familiarity from their minds and the memory from the corners of their eyes. They would not recognise me unless they looked right into my face.

I opened my door. There could not be another room as untidy. Clothes tossed on the bed, shirts and kurtis hanging from nails on the wall, books carelessly stacked on the shelf, paper and writing pads scattered on the table, dirt on the floor. Through the open back door I could see water lapping against the wall as it rose. We were going to be stranded somewhere. I began rummaging through the things on my table. 

The water reached my door. In a few minutes, it would be inside and soon up to my neck. I would have to join the others and see if there was a plan. My hands rested on my notebook, the one in which I scribbled my thoughts, my stories, my writings. I picked it up. I need to write, wherever I am.

I waited a moment for the water to enter my room. When it wet my floor, I would return to the others. To my surprise, it never came in. The water had started receding, as swiftly as it came. As it went back to its normal level, I was still clutching my notebook to my chest.

I would not be able to take anything with me where I go. But if I am given a chance, if I am given ten minutes to pick up one thing along, I would perhaps seek nothing more than my notebook.

*Title inspired by the blog Do you know who you are?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Woods of South India

Bollywood. When the name was born, it was adored, loved and cuddled by everyone, just as any other eagerly-awaited, answer-to-all-problems new-born would be. As it grew, it proved itself to be interesting, funny, lively and full of mischief. Over time, it became renowned for its uniqueness: unique in being the only name in the world that was derived from its Holly original.

For some, the name signified their starstruck admiration and appreciation of Hollywood. For others, it was like raising their most meaningful finger at the Hollyer-than-thou Hollywood.

As years passed, the name caught on, mainly because of its convenience - rather than as a word pregnant with meaning - especially considering that its alternative was "Hindi Fillum Indaashtry."

Today 'Bollywood' - the name and the entity it stands for - has become so popular that even Hollywood celebrities (are said to) recognise (and revere) it.
Which is all very good.

Now, isn't it stretching things a bit tooooooooo far, far beyond Kanyakumari, when the South in turn adapts from Bollywood (which is already an adapted-to-boredom version), not just once, but four times over, and names themselves Kollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood and - hold your breath - Sandalwood.
And we complain incessantly about lack of originality.

For the uninitiated, the K- and M- versions stand for the languages they are based in, namely, Kannada and Malayalam. (Mollywood? Mollywood? For crying out loud!)

Because both Telugu and Tamil begin with 'T', some one who deserves to be bestowed the National award for creativity, suggested the brilliant new name, Sandalwood. (Deafening applause). To this day I don't know which is which. Nor do I care, but I digress.

What are we supposed to make of a statement like this?
"After her debut in Mollywood, she moved on to try her luck in Tollywood and is today the reigning princess of Kollywood and Sandalwood."


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

There's no such thing as Liberation

We take too many things for granted - even when we know we're taking them for granted. We assume the next two days we're going to work on this project or that, finish this chore or the other, take our children to the park or the zoo. It takes only the suggestion of an illness to topple that confidence, to bring to surface the terrifying certainty that the next two days we're going to be invalid and all our beautiful 'well-laid' plans gone down the drain. No words can explain the emotion if that invalidity is expected to stretch for a lifetime.

We're constantly bound to our plans... or they are bound to us. We're also bound to a lot of other commitments, people, places and things. Some of them cast their chains upon us. Some too tight. Some too rigid. Some too powerful.

When we say Liberation - Women's Liberation and such - we are talking about breaking these chains. The people, specifically, that bind.

Imagine for a moment (if you could) that we have broken free from the first level of oppression. Imagine that we are beyond female infanticide, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and such atrocities that question human rights and dignity. Imagine that the world has been cleansed of these crimes.

Assume there is no man or woman to stop you from anything. As a woman you're free to walk, to roam, to fly, to rule, to manage, to lead, to learn, to do (almost) anything a man does, and more.

How long do you think you'll do it? Let's face it. After a while, as the novelty wears out, you'll be pulled back. Your home, your family, your husband, your child - they are the branches of the tree that's you. A woman can't really imagine herself without them. Without them she is a bare trunk, with amputated limbs. Without them, she is an empty, troubled piece of nothingness. They're forever bound to her, as she is to them. They are her responsibilities that she believes cannot go on without her.

Even if there is no one to harass her after dark, she wants to come home early.
Even if the maid cleans up and cooks every day, she wants to oversee the activities.
Even if the sick and old in the family can manage themselves, she wants to make sure they are warm and comfortable.
Even if she gives no damn about the society, she wants to make sure no one speaks ill about her and her family.
Even if no one cares whether she is around or not, she wants to make sure everything is just as it should be.
Not for anyone else. But for herself.

Even if there is a robust support system on which she could lean as she pursues her dreams and aspirations, there is still a magnet drawing her back. Sometimes it is called guilt. Sometimes it is called love. Sometimes it is called responsibility. Sometimes it is called belonging. Sometimes it is called the sense of ownership. Sometimes it is called struggle.

We're in a prison within ourselves. True Liberation means breaking free from the chains, from the wall we've built around us: Freedom from everything that makes us Women. Everything that signifies the essence of being a Woman.

And believe me, none of us want that kind of Liberation.

Therefore Ladies, please go back to your seats and carry on with your lives. 

There is no Liberation happening here. Today or ever.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Art of tackling the vivaha sadya

Seriously. It is an art, that most people master by the time they are seventy or something. Some exceptional folk become experts much before that, but for many, it is like appreciating paintings - we love paintings but we don't know enough to pass an intelligent opinion on them. Such is the case with the Malayali vivaha sadya: We love them and claim that the payasams are the only reason we attend weddings, but we do not know how to tackle it. 

If you are not a Malayali, even a lifetime would not be enough to master the art of devouring the sadya, unless you're determined and dedicated. I remember a few bewildered Kannadiga friends at a Malayali wedding (about fifteen years ago, in Thiruvananthapuram) seated before their untouched sadya, holding a lemon and whispering to me, "What are we supposed to do with this?"

Let me start at the very beginning. The vivaha sadya begins where scene-2 depicted in this post, ends. The art of pushing through and snatching the vacant seats is one of the first lessons of vivaha sadya. Even the biggest hall in the history of Malayali weddings are not equipped to handle the rush. Many disappointed faces can be seen exiting the hall, after their futile search for a chair, hoping for better luck next time. After all, experience is everything. They position themselves by the entrance, ready to burst in when the doors open for the next sitting.

The lucky ones (and you can tell by their broad smiles, as they adjust their deranged sarees or crumbled shirts) wait in their seats at the table. (They are the ones who undoubtedly always win the musical chair competitions across the world.) The caterers quickly place banana leaves before them.

Once you are seated, you are allowed a few micro-seconds to look around to see if you recognise someone and wave at them before turning back to your banana leaf. In the next few fleeting minutes, a number of men (women haven't yet ventured into this area, I presume, but I may be wrong) pass before you, plopping different pickles, upperis, thorans, kichadi, pachadi, aviyal, pappadam onto your banana leaf. You do nothing but wait. You can sample the curries or take a bite into the pappadam while you wait. But realise, the waiting is essential.

Next comes the rice. You sit forward. Your patience is about to be rewarded. You are ready to start the race, err, I mean, the rice. As soon as the rice falls on your banana leaf, you make a partition at the middle. Close on the heals of the rice, come the parippu and the ghee. This part is important: don't look up from your rice unless it is to see how close the next server is, and what he is bringing.

You have to concentrate on mixing the rice, parippu and ghee with pappadam and sending it on its way down your throat. However, your concentration must not be such that you do not notice the caterers passing before you. You should keep gesturing 'yes' or 'no' otherwise you will find sambar dropped on top of your rice - and you had not even asked for it. It may also happen that the payasam will pass by because you didn't say 'yes'. If you are relatively inexperienced, you would not know what it is that they bring. You would not get time to ask what it is, receive a reply, ponder over it and then say 'yes.' Such delays and light conversation are not welcomed (by the servers). The knowledge comes over time, so 'wait, suffer and learn' are the only things to be done.

The payasam comes in between. If you know the course of the sadya very well, you can tell exactly the minute at which it will be brought, and you will be ready with a gap in your rice to receive it. The different payasams (there may be two or three) also come together with half a minute between them. The more the number of payasams, the more prosperous are the hosts. There was a time I thought the payasams signified the end of the sadya and was surprised when more rice was plopped on top of my double payasam mix. (That sadya was a disaster I would rather not remember.)

You should also gulp down the water in the plastic cup quickly because then you can ask for the payasam or moru or rasam in it, if you like. You can ask for all of them in the cup, except that you don't get three cups, so the gulping down must happen fast, as soon as each arrives. If by mistake your plastic cup falls on the floor, you are doomed. It is not likely you will get another one.

It is important to keep up with the others. When the sadya is over (the signal being the folding of the banana leaf), people from one end start rising. You really don't want to be found sitting alone slurping your payasam, when the next set barges in for their food. So you see, even though you are absorbed in your food, you also pay close attention to the servers, the (eating) status of the others and the general atmosphere in the hall. 

It is very difficult to come out of a wedding sadya without showing traces of it in your dress/saree/shirt. But again, with experience, you will learn to dodge the right way at the right places at the right times, and come through with your clothes stainless.

Everything about tackling the sadya lies in precision and rapidness, which, as I mentioned, come only with experience. 

As for the lemon mentioned above, I suspect it symbolises (among other things) the fact that life most often gives you lemons, and it is all up to you what you choose to do with it. Some people take it home and make lemonade, some make lemon rice, some throw it away when they leave the marriage hall, some say 'no' when they are offered the lemon. Think and act responsibly where the lemon is concerned.

Any mistakes in the above narration may be attributed to my lack of expertise, even after years of attending vivaha sadyas.

As I said, it might take a lifetime...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jack and Jill...

5-yr-old: "What was that song I heard in TV?"
Mom: "Jack and Jill?"

"Yes, sing it for me."
"Have you forgotten? You must have learned it in school last year or the year before that."

"Sing it for me."
"Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after."

"What does that mean, 'broke his crown'?"
"He must have hit his head or something."

"And Jill?"
"She fell down too."

"They must have been real small kids, right?"
"Why so?"

"They should have known they are not supposed to go up the hill to get water."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When you say corruption ... you mean

... the kind of money people like Kalmadi tried to get away with?

... the kind of money some others really managed to stack their bank accounts with?

... the notes we offer to the official at the RTO office to ensure our driving licence comes through without any hitch? The amount we hand over to the driving school so that they nudge the RTO official to 'do the needful'?

... the hundred rupee note that we surreptitiously slip into the hands of the traffic cop to avoid a speeding ticket?

... the teacher who leaks the question paper so that her son can be the class topper?

... the appointment people have with their doctor at his house, to get special care during the surgery the next day?

... the phone call to a friend working in the school to guarantee your child gets admission without an interview?

... the man at work cleaning the house whispering to another, "that's enough scrubbing, no one's watching anyway"?

... the call to your doctor friend to get preference over the 20 waiting patients?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Flowing with the current

All of a sudden you notice the current. It was always there, of course.

You had been floating downstream. You thought it was the wind that carried your sail. If, indeed, you thought at all.

That you are picking up pace was not cause for alarm. Not yet.
You hear a low rumble. Yes, you are seeing new things and hearing new sounds now.

The rumble seems quite far away. But you know it is important.

The tree trunks leaning across the river... were they always there?

Suddenly you're afraid. What does the sound mean? You stop breathing and prick your ears. The roar is approaching. Are you heading to the top of a waterfall? You look back. Were all those tree trunks important? Were they the ones you should have clutched when there was still time, when they were within reach?
There are no more trees ahead. There is not even a straw to grab.

The current has become quite strong.

You did not seek the shore when you could. You did not reach out for the trunks when you could.

The roar ahead could be anything.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ten Days in Navi Mumbai - Lonavala

Humidity is the ruling emotion of Mumbai, Old and New. I had so forgotten how unimaginably exasperating it could get. The fact is that when you're in Bangalore, try as you might you would not recall the exact nature of Mumbai's (or, for that matter, Kerala's) humidity. I did carry enough summer clothes with me but I discovered I was ill-equipped to battle the weather.

The difference between Bangalore's summer and Mumbai's is that in Bangalore's dry heat you wish to cover yourself when you go out so that the sun doesn't get to burn your skin. In Mumbai the more you cover yourself, the more you sweat, and the more times you yearn for a bath or a gulp of water. One has to keep this fact in mind when choosing the wardrobe for the trip.

Every evening between eight and nine o'clock the door bell would ring twice. First comes the ironwallah, then the man who sold eggs. The ironwallah keeps an account on each house, and the payment is done at the end of every month. The clothes he takes away one night would be returned the next. The system seemed so different from Bangalore: our local ironwallah makes his appearance in the morning once or twice a week, or whenever it is convenient for him, and vanishes with the clothes, sometimes for two-three days at a time. The payment is made when he returns them, pressed and folded. By that time, naturally, he and I would have forgotten how many pieces of clothing were given.

Lonavala, off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, about midway between Mumbai and Pune, is one of the places that people from these busy cities throng during weekends. The best thing about Lonavala is, in my opinion, its distance from Navi Mumbai: you reach before you can say 'Lonavala'. Well, almost. 

 Lonavala - 'Lion Point' as per the signpost and 'Tiger Point' as per the locals

We joined the bandwagon one Saturday morning and drove to Lonavala. There was a food court on the highway where we stopped for breakfast. It was 9AM and the breakfast flock was out in full capacity. The counters were crowded and one had to squeeze in if one's desire for food had to be conveyed. It was not the people who came first that were first served, it was the ones who had the knack of squeezing through and making themselves heard. People did not wait for others to finish their order before speaking, and there was no queue. Only the loudest and swiftest would survive. 

There was not a single chair free. When one of us went to place the order, the others kept an eye on the chairs that were falling vacant and pounced on them. After all, we had to sit down and have our food. Somehow.

I cannot let the food court pass without a brief mention of the mistake I made of visiting the public toilet near the food court. Suffice to say that cleanliness and hygiene are some of the important lessons that are missing from our schools.

Lonavala was pleasant, and we had a good stay at a resort that had enough space for kids to play and a swimming pool where they could splash all evening. My son lost his footing twice inside the pool and swallowed a little water, which, over the next few days, became the hot story he would narrate to everyone he met. There were a few places of interest around Lonavala and Khandala, though the waterfalls had all dried up and we could only see some rocks. We returned the next day, after purchasing Lonavala chikkis and other varieties of sweets that Lonavala is famous for.

We could not put our finger on who/what the culprit was, though we leaned heavily towards Lonavala and the food we had on our way back - especially at a small hotel with the enticing name of Cochin Café or something. One day after we returned, two members of the gang fell sick, throwing up continuously and complaining of stomach pain. My five-year-old was one of them, though he responded immediately to medicines and was okay after a few harrowing hours. The other person was not so lucky and had to be hospitalised. 

Once the ordeal was over, it was time to pack up and return home. If the flight were not delayed by 30 minutes, we might never have made it - the evening rush hour caught us off-guard.

Bangalore welcomed us with a cool, relieving drizzle, showing no trace of summer. The landing was slightly unsteady and delayed due to thundershower. The five-year-old was eager to catch up with his friends, many of whom would return after vacation only much later.

The holiday was over and we were home.