Sunday, May 31, 2009

Colours - Yellow

[Every woman has a story. Every story has a colour. This is just one of them.

This is a work of fiction. The characters and situations are purely imaginary, and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental and unintended.]

The girl in a yellow A-line frock running towards the guava orchard. Her unruly hair flying behind her. The prim white rounded collar of her dress strangely complementing the flush on her cheeks.

She trips and falls. Picks herself up, starts running again. She knows better than to make a fuss.

She climbs the guava tree, perches herself on the thickest branch, chews an unripe fruit and makes believe she is a character in a book. She knows the branch may break, but what is one injury more or less when she is in paradise?

Sunshine- the girl in Yellow.

Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The coverted spot

Where else but in the Bombay local trains would people jostle, not for a place to sit, but for a better place to stand?

Despite the danger of being accidentally pushed out, the square foot near the entrance is the most coveted - it is, after all, the one place where the breeze hits you directly.

And what if the sun shines too brightly? Why, it is simplicity itself to pull back the latch and shut the door!

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Was it a question or a ploy?

While the younger one was busy gulping down mangos, the older one had weightier things on his mind -

“Why is a mango not called orange when it is orange in colour?”

To say I did not have an answer would be a bit of an understatement. “Because it is called a mango”, was the best I could come up with.

By the time he realised his question wasn’t going to get an answer, the younger one had polished off both their mangos.

Wonder if it was just a ploy to get out of eating a fruit he doesn’t like?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cockroach plant

‘Cockroach plant’, my three-year old calls it. And while I have not yet been able to figure out how he arrived at that name, he could not have chosen a more appropriate one.

That first day at the Nursery, a lady told me she was buying the ‘ajwain’ plant because the leaves when heated and held against the forehead help fight cough and cold in infants. I bought the larger pot rather than the smaller, because I thought it would get denuded in no time at all.

How wrong I was!

The plant is a survivor of there ever is one. Even the tiniest cutting when stuck into the soil puts out roots, and flourishes. Within a year, I was giving out baby plants to anyone who as much as commented on the plant, and now, there isn’t a single pot on my bedroom window that hasn’t been taken over by the plant.

Other plants sulk when pigeons peck at them- these take it as an opportunity to procreate. Unable to bear the strong aroma, birds drop the stalks they have bitten off, and new plants spring up where the stalks fall.

Cockroach plants indeed!!!
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

That perfect cuppa

Indian Railways’ ‘Chai garam chai’, with the earthy smell of the kullar.
Tea in styrofoam glasses, milky with a Milkmaidy taste.

Hot tea with a dash of lemon served in a government office in Orissa,
Earl Grey in a bone china cup at an upmarket coffee shop.

The camomile brew that passes for tea in the Americas,
The hot infusion with mint leaves we put together at a recent offsite.

Iced tea in a long glass with paper-umbrella.
Tea infused with ginger from the roadside stall.

The perfect cuppa is still elusive.
Maybe because so many are so near perfect.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Crossandra infundibuliformis

I am sure I can count on my fingers the number of times I have worn flowers in my hair. I am quite sure I have never worn the strings of jasmine, kanakambaram and marukozhundu so popular in the South.

But memories are a terrible thing.

The other day, I got thinking about my grandmother, and the little things we did together took on a terrible significance. I got thinking about how we would stroll through the flower market at Malleshwaram, commenting on how almost all the ladies wore the national tricolour in their hair.

I couldn’t help myself any more. The same weekend, I brought home a Crossandra plant.

Even though it was my other grandmother who’s wispy stands of hair were always loaded down with flowers, it is my favourite grandmother that I think of every morning when I see the orange-red kanakambaram flowers.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost in translation

“Do you play for Chelsea?”, asked the twelve-year old budding footballer.
“Yes, yes. Chelsea Football Club”, beamed the visitor, amazed that his club t-shirt was recognised in Dharavi.

“Which position did you play in for Chelsea?”, asked the boy, not knowing club t-shirts did not always have to be earned.
“Yes, Chelsea! Have you only heard the name, or have you watched us play?”

“Ever seen Chelsea play?”, I obligingly translated.
“Where does he think we are from?”, he shot back. “Everyone follows the Premier League?”

“He says, ‘who doesn’t adore Chelsea?’”, I said.
Some things are best left untranslated.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

One with the soul

It didn’t seem to be a shrine. There was no sign of candles, or incense, or floral offerings. If foreheads had pressed against the statue, seeking blessings, they had done so without leaving a trace.

Perhaps it was by accident that the statue landed up there. Maybe someone felt that placing the statue on a tree was more reverential than dumping it in the garbage bin.

In a few years, or a few dozen years, Mother Mary will be captured by the roots. She will become one with the living breathing entity. If the icon survives that long, that is.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sisters under the skin

“I just cannot get my son to eat properly”, she said. “I try to feed him vegetables, but all he wants is those things that come in packets.”“It is exactly the same with my kids”, I agreed. “Problem is, they watch too much TV, and want everything that is advertised.”“Don’t get me started on that”, she sighed. “They watch cartoons all day long. Who will do their homework for them?”

She is a resident of Asia’s largest slum. I am a graduate of Asia’s top b-school. But when it comes to parenting, we are sisters under the skin.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Stripped stripes

I was to meet someone to take him to one of our programmes. Though I described my distinctive Magic Bus T-shirt in detail, he wanted to be sure I too could find him. “I’m in a blue and white stripped shirt”, said he.

I knew he meant a shirt with stripes, not one that had been reduced to shreds, but I still spent a few pleasant moments wondering what might have caused the shirt to be torn off his body.

When I finally met him, with his shirt intact, it was quite an effort just to maintain a straight face.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where but in this city?

In search of authentic Marwari cruisine, the hubby and I trudged through crowded Kalbadevi in the hot May sun. The food was wow, but I enjoyed the sights almost as much.
Where else but in this city can you see a temple which houses a shop catering to a Muslim clintele on the ground floor?
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fusion food

Felt like having pasta, but just could not dredge up the energy to make it. Could have ordered it from my favourite take-away, but have resolved not to eat out more than two days a week.

Threw some frozen American corn into the idli batter, chopped up a few olives, grated a huge hunk of cheese, added oregano and freshly ground pepper, and topped each idli mould with a cheeky sprig of homegrown basil.

It was not quite pasta, but it satisfied my cravings. And it took no time at all to prepare.

Is the dislike for remaining in the kitchen any longer than absolutely necessary at the heart of fusion cooking?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Brother and sister, or just friends?

“You know something very funny, Mamma”, started the five-year old.
I mentally prepared myself for a session that could be funny, illuminating, slightly pointless or all three. “Yes?”
“You know, Dev’s Papa and Mamma are actually brother and sister”, he said in a conspiratory whisper.
“Really, and how do you know?”, I asked genuinely curious.
“They share the same surname”, he announced triumphantly.

I was left speechless. As I so often am.

And this time, I did not even try to correct him. “Maybe they just happen to have the same surname”, I suggested.

He agreed that it was possible.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Weird concoctions

I had a sore throat. I wanted tea. No, I needed tea. Cups after cups of it.

“Please make me another cup of tea”, I asked the person who had accompanied us.
“We’ve run out of milk”, he said. “It’ll take me time to get some. Is that okay?”
“Then make it without milk. Or sugar. What I really need is the hot infusion.”

The brew came in kettle with mismatched cups. I took a sip and went straight to heaven- he’d squeezed half a lemon and chucked in some mint leaves.

Hot iced tea!

Sometimes the weirdest concoctions work.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

India Ink

It all depends on the question you ask.
If you ask me which party I support, I would say 'none at all'.
If, instead, you ask me which party I would be least opposed to forming the Government, I would say 'the Congress'.

At least the party is secular, not openly castist, and has reasonably sound economic policies. If they suffer from not having a leader, so do all the other parties.

Which is why I am more than happy with the results of the General Elections. The people and parties I would have been scared to see in power will not in power, most of the parties that complicated mathematics have been eliminated, and it is most likely that one party would be in power for the next five years. Come to think of it, one could not have hoped for too much more.

After yesterday, I have developed a lot of respect for the Indian voter. Maybe only a disproportionatly small percentage of people who can vote actually do, but when the chips are down, they know what needs to be done.

Maybe now the markets will correct themselves, the economy will pick up, and there will be peace on earth!

I couldn't resist slipping the last bit in.
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

A crocodile on the bed

My three-year old claimed to have seen a crocodile on the bed next to him when he woke up.
“Was the crocodile awake or asleep?”, I asked.
“It had one eye open and one closed”, he replied, screwing up his eyes to show me how.
“But I can’t see any crocodile here”, I persisted. “Are you quite sure the crocodile was here?”
“Yes. The crocodile was here”, he insisted, patting his pillow to show we where it had been resting its head. “But now it has gone away.”
“Where has it gone?” I was warming up to the game.
“It has gone to the other room. And it is eating all the toys. All my toys. And my brother’s too.”
“That is very bad of the crocodile”, I played along. “Now, what do we do?”

“Let’s eat up the crocodile.”
“We can’t eat a crocodile. It is so big, and it may not even taste good.”

“Then let us eat the crocodile fruit!”
He meant a pineapple – according to the kids pineapples and crocodiles are the same because they have similar ‘thorns’.

I wonder if he made it all up as he went along, or if it has just been an elaborate way of saying he wanted pineapple for dessert? Knowing him, either is possible.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Somethings are fit only for the garbage dump

When was the last time you read a book so disappointing you had to physically suppress the urge to chuck it into a dumpster partially read? If you had asked me this question this weekend, my answer would have been– ‘NEVER!’

When a book fails to engage me, I normally just leave it unread, and perhaps give it another try a few months (or a few years) later.

Sometimes, I know I am never going to want to finish the book, in which case, I either dump it in a corner of my book cupboard, or try to pass it on to someone who I feel may be more receptive to what the author is trying to say.

But this week, I finally found a book that should never have been written, much less published. The cover of the book was attractive, the tagline which spoke about kurtas falling in love with jeans was intriguing - I picked up the book, because I did not think anyone could mess up a tongue-in-cheek take on life in JNU.

I should have been warned by the author’s status as a doctoral student at JNU – the book never made up its mind if it was a thesis, a story, or pure tripe. The brief flashes of mediocrity never lived up to the expectation they created – within a couple of paragraphs, they degenerated into a meaningless string of words. If ever a book should not have been written, it is this one.

Yesterday, when the noxious fumes of partially decomposed garbage assaulted my senses, I stared deep into the jaws of the dumpster- it seemed the perfect home for the book I had in my hands. That I did not calculate trajectories had more to do with a sprained wrist than to self control.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bringing work home

“What happened to that baby?”, my five-year old asked me this morning.
“Which baby?”, I asked.
“The baby you were telling Papa about”, he said. “That one which was locked up in a dark room by his mother.”

A few days back, I had been telling my husband about a baby that had been abandoned when the police raided his home and sealed it up. The kid was close to starvation and apparently looked like something out of a horror movie.

I hadn’t realised my kids were listening, and processing, and remembering. Must learn not to carry my work home.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Peepul

A few days after my father passed away, I’d transplanted a peepul sapling I found clinging to the wall of our house. Everyone predicted its immediate demise, but that plant had other plans and survived even though it never really looked too happy with the environment it had been forced into.
A couple of months later, when we moved to Bombay, the plant moved too. It barely survived the hot and thirsty journey, but once in Bombay, it thrived.
Two years after the move, the peepul was on its way to becoming a beautify bonsai. With a gently slanting trunk, and roots growing over a red laterite rock I had picked up in Goa years back, the plant was a treat for the eyes.

A couple of weekends back, I repotted the peepul in a smaller pot. Three days later, the pot was empty – those nasty pigeons had plucked the plant right out of the pot. I ran down, searched all over the grounds, but the plant was nowhere to be found.

For days afterwards, I remained despondent. To me, the plant was my father. Losing it in such a cruel way was like losing my father all over again. It was just not fair. Most people lose a parent once, but I had already lost my father twice – once to dementia, once when his heart stopped pumping. It was not fair that I had to lose him all over again.

Last night, I dreamt of my father taking my two sons swimming. I realised what I always knew- that my father is going to be with us as long as we remember him and love him. He is not in a plant, he is in our memories.

I still mourn the wanton end of what was on its way to becoming a living work of art. I still feel like learning to use an airgun just so I can shoot at the pigeons that infest my home. But I no longer feel as bereft as I did when I first saw the empty pot. Must learn not to get emotionally attached to my plants.

Picture taken when the plant was about a year old.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I am very small

“I am very small. I can’t eat this”, said the three-year old handing me a piece of idli.
“And what is the connection between your size, and not finishing dinner”, I asked.
“I am very small! How can I fit such a big piece in my small mouth?”

Less than half an hour later, he got into a convoluted argument with me.
“When that tiny piece of idli doesn’t fit into your mouth, how are you able to store so many big words there?”, I asked.
For perhaps the first time in his life, he did not have an answer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wit without Measure....

My sons gave me, as a Mothers’ Day gift, a pot with grass-like shoots.

“What seeds are these?”, I asked the teacher who had helped them.
“Wit!”, she replied.
“Yes, wit”, she clarified. Then added, “the children soaked it overnight, and planted it next day morning.”

It was much later that I realized she was merely mispronouncing the name of the cereal that forms my staple diet.

Wheat it was that they had planted. But how much better it would have been if it were really possible to grow Wit, and distribute it among certain people we cannot avoid.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Mother's Day...

She was dressed for work. The baby in her arms was barely a week old. They were on the local train at peak office hours. She knew how to handle the wailing child, but that special bond one expects was missing. She told me he was not hers, that he had been found abandoned and she was talking him to an orphanage.
He was beautiful. I saw my babies in him, longed to hug him, bring him home with me.
How any mother could have abandoned him, I could not understand. Still can’t.

Circumstance is a terrible thing, isn’t it?


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flowers have families too

“Why do you have so many chameli plants when you never pluck the flowers?”, my maid asked.
“What will I do with the plucked flowers?”, I replied. “I don’t have enough flowers for a veni, and in any case, don’t wear them.”
“But you could pluck them and keep them next to your bed, so you can smell them at night”, she persisted.

That I definitely could do. I remember plucking almost bloomed jasmine buds and placing them by the airconditioner- fragrance all night, and blooms the next morning.

But I would hate to take them away from their Family.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Why the Wind blows

“Why does the wind blow?”
I’d launched into an elaborate explanation before realising I was not too clear on the nuances myself. “Because Wind likes to fill his cheeks with air and blow it to tease you”, I’d concluded lamely.
“Elephants do that too”, supplied the five-year old. We let the matter rest.

Three days later-
“Why is there no wind today?”, asked the three-year old.
“Because Ganesha has a cold”, his brother replied.
“And what is the connection?”, I asked.
“His nose is blocked, so he cannot blow and there is no wind.” His shrug indicated, without words- “Dumbo!”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Asparagus densiflorus

Returning home one day, I saw a wagon-load of Asparagus densiflorus dumped in the pavement outside our building. A casualty of the annual landscaping, I could not bring myself to let them die.

They expressed their distaste for the painted KFC tubs that I had converted into pots by drying up, but I refused to give up on them. If what they craved was neglect, they got it- I watered them, but did little else.

They hated the monsoons, but thrived during winter. If the pigeons tried to convert them into nests, they fought back.

Last week they even flowered!!!

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Change ?

Did I vote last Thursday?
Short answer - No.
Real answer – I did not, because I could not. I had filled up the forms to get myself registered as a voter in Bombay, but my name never found its way into the voter’s list and I just did not have the bandwidth to run around the offices to get it inserted.
Will I vote next time round?
Definitely. My country deserves much more than sheer apathy.

I still think my vote is precious. Going by the number of fingers sporting the India Ink tattoos, almost all my colleagues think that way too. Why then did only slightly over 40% of the population of my city exercise their franchise?

Sure, many of the migratory workers would have gone on their annual pilgrimage to their respective ‘gaons’; a large chunk of the middle class would be taking advantage of the long summer holidays to avail their LTAs- none of them would be willing or able to air-dash to Bombay for a day to cast their vote.

But what about educated, newly enlightened upper middle class people who took to the streets with their hand crafted candles post 26/11? Could they not have left for their weekend break in Lonavala or Goa after exercising their franchise? When so many ‘people like them’ took the plunge this time round, could they not have supported their candidature by casting their vote?

“Be the change you want to see”, said the Father of the Nation. After our fantastic showing last Thursday, do we even have the right to call for change?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mamma, I am mad!!!!

“Mamma, I’m mad”, announced my three-year old.

Coming from him, I knew it could not be a simple statement of fact, or intent– there had to be a catch somewhere. But before I could probe further, he proceeded to explain what he had in mind.

“I’m mad. Now, can I have some salt?”

Flashback! All those dozens of times when he came to me demanding that I give him a spoonful of salt, and I responded, “Are you mad or what? Does anyone eat salt?”

After that bit of irrefutable logic, how could I resist giving him what he wanted?

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Color Purple

Though I have never been really been tempted to read the book, I have almost always been aware of Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, mainly because Woopie Goldberg’s first starring role was in the movie based on the book. Browsing at my favourite bookstore the other day, I chanced upon a recent reprint of the book, and bought it mainly because the cover was so attractive.

On the face of it, I should not have liked the book. Rape, incest, poverty, gender and racial discrimination – the book promised to be rather morbid. And though I keep trying to make myself read ‘good’ books on human suffering, I will not pretend I enjoy them.

But ‘The Color Purple’ was a happy exception to the rule. Celie suffers, but accepts her suffering to such an extent, she doesn’t go into the gory details. Her first letter to God talks about how he put his thing in her, and when she cried told her to, “better shut up and get used to it.” By the end she writes the second letter to God, the child is born, taken away, and her mother dead. No long morbid descriptions of her plight. Just an almost clinical letter to God, all the more effective because she seems almost detached while describing her predicament.

The entire book proceeds in the same manner. Jumps of a few months, or even a few years, accomplished effectively from one letter to the next. Celie’s silent acquisition to whatever is meted out to her morphing into a realisation that she is a person in her own right.

Gender roles gradually bend, everyone becomes a better person than (s)he started out as, almost everyone is victorious on their terms, reality is not compromised – The Color Purple is very much my kind of book. I am glad I picked it up. Judging a book by its covers is not always a bad thing.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Plagiarism - does anyone even accept copying as stealing?

I am probably the only Indian woman of my generation who’s teen years were totally bypassed by Mills and Boons (MB to all but the uninitiated). But even while my geeky nose was buried in Issac Asimov, I could not but be aware of the MB Universe that everyone else was a part of.
It was therefore with a smile of recognition that I read Niranjana Iyer’s blog post on India’s romance with MB. But the smile was replaced with a frown when I read a subsequent post of hers on how India’s ‘No. One Magazine’ plagiarised her work.

Damayanti Dutta, the Deputy Editor of India Today, in her blog on India Today dot In seemed to have exactly the same experiences and reactions to Mills and Boons as did Niranjana. Which is not surprising considering Niranjana spoke about the reactions of an entire generation of teens, not just her own.

What is surprising is the fact that Damayanti Dutta’s ideas flowed in exactly the same order as did Niranjana’s.

For instance, when Niranjana wrote - “Back in eighties/early nineties India, every girl I knew read (or had read) Mills and Boon romances. They were especially sought-after during boring college lectures–the books were small enough and bendy enough to slip comfortably into Samuelson’s Macroeconomics text, or P.L.Soni’s magnum opus on Inorganic Chemistry.” – she was talking about a universal experience.

But was it so universal that Damayanti Dutta could not be exactly parallel Niranjana’s paragraph construction when she wrote – “All the girls I knew back in the ’80s and ’90s—in school, in the neighbourhood—read (or flipped through relevant pages of) those Mills and Boon romances. We would narrate stories to each other, lend and share books, and fall asleep clutching an M&B. Not just that, those handy volumes were our best friend at all those sleep-inducing, yawn-invoking classes, slipping neatly inside a Resnick & Halliday physics tome or an A.L. Basham’s Wonder That Was India and enveloping us in a warm glow.”?

Niranjana thought that of the 3 billion copies shipped worldwide, at least one billion found their way to India. Damayanti Dutta has come up with very similar figures – she thinks that of the 300 crore books shipped out, one third made their way to India. Neither of them come up with any rationale to back up the number – what is the probability that two people come up with exactly the same number without following any particular paths of logical deduction?

There is no doubt that Damayanti Dutta was not just inspired by Niranjana’s piece, she cleverly reworded the entire piece and tried to pass it off as her own.

The question is what next? The least Niranjana can expect is a public apology, an acknowledgement of her piece, and a monetary compensation in lieu with whatever the India Today Group/ Damayanti Dutta has made out of plagiarising Niranjana’s work. But being an Indian, Damayanti Dutta is probably used to 'mugging' answers from guide books and passing it off as her own - she probably doesn't even realise that copying someone else's ideas is also stealing, even if she presents them in 'her own words'.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


"Charon taraf gopiyan, beech mein Kanhaiya.
Pretty maidens dancing all around Kanhaiya."

Long before he revealed himself to the world as a God, Kanhaiya was the flirtatious cowhand who had all the girls in Vrindavan dancing to his tune. Young or old, married or single– no female was immune to his impish charms. He hid their clothes while they were in the communal baths- but could anyone stay angry with him after he flashed that charming smile?

Spring turned to Summer. Kanhaiya the cowhand was forced to become the King of Dwarka. But his tunes continue to echo in Vrindavan.
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Friday, May 1, 2009

The Examination System

We were discussing education and the examination system in office yesterday.

“I really don’t care if my daughter gets 95% or 70%,” said the mother of a new teen, “as long as she gets the concepts right.”

“Why even 70%?”, challenged a colleague, “Isn’t it enough that she pass her exams, provided she gets the concepts right?”

In principle, he had a point. Grasping concepts and retaining knowledge should be the purpose of education, not clearing examinations. But, what does it say about an education system, if a student who understands the concepts gets less than 70% in the examinations?


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