Monday, August 31, 2009

The Chimpanzee

  She would call her friend ‘Dinosaur’, and got called ‘Chimpanzee’.
“I want a picture of yours”, her friend had said. She’d obliged.
“How dare you”, her friend had said after taking a look at the picture. They had both collapsed into laughter.

Like so often happens, they drifted apart. Completely lost touch, till the Internet brought them together again.

“Do you remember that picture of a chimpanzee that you gave me when I asked for your photograph?”, her friend said twenty years later. “I still have it with me.”
Their laughter was audible over the miles.

Friends once. Friends forever.
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More on friends

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Colours - Chocolate

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.]


"No you may not." I rapped the fingers reaching for the brownies.
"This is for the guests. Now get out and stay out. Or I will just end
up in the loony bin."

Festivals were supposed to be fun. But not when you were
struggling to cope with three kids, and no help.

Why did I yell at them? Was it their fault that their father invited
his entire family home to dinner?

I carefully selected a brownie – not the teeny-weeny misshaped one, but the most perfect one I could find – and slipped it into my mouth.

I deserved it.

Image courtesy - en:User:Gdr

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Parent Teacher Meeting

I was half an hour early for the Parent Teacher Meeting of my five-year old, and even after going through his Progress Report and all the class-work and tests had more than enough time to eavesdrop on the conversations the other parents were having with the teacher and their children.

“Is this how you brush your teeth?”, demanded a mother of her son. “One hand should be in your mouth, you stupid boy, not sticking out like this. Do you brush your teeth with your hands like this?”
“How dare you give my daughter a ‘B’ in Maths?”, argued another. “She’s got 16 out of 20 in all her tests. She should get an A for it.”
“My grandson always spells all the words correctly at home. If he is making mistakes in class, it is because you pronounce words differently. She knows all the words.” The lady was so agitated, she could barely sit still during the entire conversation.
“My child always topped in class in her previous school. Are you sure you are giving her enough attention?”

I was almost ashamed at myself for not having any such grouses with the teacher. Her remarks, I thought, described my son exactly as I know him. And while I wasn’t happy with the Bs he’d got in Mathematics and Computers, I knew I would have graded him similarly had I been asked to do so.
Maybe I should just up and leave. I couldn’t bring myself to bargain with the teacher over my son’s grades, and yet that seemed to be what was required of me as a parent. I spent a few minutes trying to psyche myself into becoming a parent ambitious about her son’g grades, but the whole exercise seemed utterly futile – did the grades that my son received in the first half term of Grade 1 really matter in the larger scheme of things? Would be he required to submit those grades when he applied to Universities ten years down the line, and did I really want him to apply to Universities that may require him to do so?
I was clearly a misfit among all those competitive parents, but I knew I could not be otherwise.

“I have to tell you how much my son loves his school”, I told the teacher even as I was easing myself into the seat. “Of all the four classes he has been in, I’ve never seen him as happy ever before.”
“You don’t know how happy you have made me”, my son’s teacher said. “I was having a really bad day until now. But you have made me feel so good.”
“The credit is all yours”, I replied. “I can see how much my son has grown since coming here. And he couldn’t have done that unless you encouraged him.”
We spoke about this and that. About the areas where I had seen an improvement in my son, and the areas where he needed reinforcing. I shared my concerns about his short attention span and she assured me it was fine for his age. I came away feeling happy, because I knew exactly how my son was doing and where he should be going.

“It is so refreshing to have a parent like you”, she told me as I was leaving. “You aren’t over ambitious the way other parents are, and you don’t push your child like they do.”

She would never know how competitive I used to be. About how during the fist year or two I used to obsess if he did not attain every milestone in the shortest possible time. But then I realized that both my sons were unique individuals with their own special talents. They will not excel in everything they do, but neither should they be expected to.

And I wish more parents realize that before they inflict irreversible damage on their kids.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Sign?

Religious I am not, nor pretend to be, but I do believe in omens.
A group of people were taking their Ganapathi idol for visarjan yesterday. The music from the band accompanying the idol beckoned, and I took the kids down to see the procession.

“Mamma, I want prasad”, my older one whined. Many of the larger processions have a person sitting beside the idol giving out the candied sugar and peanuts that had been offered to the Ganapati.
“This one looks like a small Ganapathil”, I tried to reason with him. “They are not going to be giving out prasad.”

Since he couldn’t see the plate with the ceremonial offerings, my son didn’t insist on going to the idol, but I could see he was not too happy.

Then, out of the blue, a boy walked upto us and gave all three of us each of us a fistful of prasad. I could hardly believe my luck. Of all the people lined up to see the procession, what made him single out the three of us? Did he hear my son’s wish and decide to fulfill it?

As we walked back home – the older one munching the peanuts and candied sugar, the younger one guarding his in his fist – I couldn’t help wondering if it was a sign. Things haven’t exactly been going smoothly for us the last few months – maybe this is a sign that things are going to start looking up for all of us?

You don’t have to be religious to recognize an omen, do you?
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bio-drabble

Here's how I had described myself about a year back in a bio-drabble I had written for the Burrow -

What do you say about a 37-year old who likes to write?
That she is the mother of two preschoolers. Encyclopaedia. Disciplinarian. Football coach. Painter. Teacher. Security blanket.
That she was an investment banker, a management consultant, a microfinance specialist and is now with a children's charity.
That she is passionate about running, yoga, gardening, photography, photoshopping, blogging and knitting.
That she adores Cezanne, and loves da Vinci, Monet and Cartier-Besson.
That she loves reading historical dramas, thrillers, mysteries, and science-fiction, but writes only short stories.

A pomegranate has many seeds. Natasha likes to think of herself as one.



Much of it still holds, but like happens often enough, I have have outgrown the bio-drabble. But before sending it into retirement, I wanted to give it one last moment in the sun.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Step back for a moment

The older one was putting together six piece jigsaw puzzles long before his third birthday, and has now graduated to the 100+ piece ones. When he was younger, I used to give him verbal cues, but since he’s now started resenting that, I only occasionally and very discretely push forward or rotate the odd piece.

Yesterday, he did not want me to do even that, and all I could do was to watch from a distance of over five feet. He started working in chunks, as he often does, and pretty soon the 60-piece puzzle had been reduced to three stray pieces and two giant chunks positioned almost perfectly.

But try as he could, he could just not put those five pieces together. His grandmother tried to tell him to look at the main picture, but that he would not. If I as much as cleared my throat, I was asked to shut up with a glare. He spent more time trying to fit those three pieces into the puzzle than he did on putting the rest of it together.

With his frustration levels mounting, I could stand it no more. Pretending I wanted to give him a hug, I pulled him back, and forced him to look at the puzzle from my vantage position. He could see the pieces leap up and take their rightful place in the puzzle. Less than a minute later, he was listening to our applause, the finished piece next to him.


Sometimes all you need to do to make sense of life is to step back for a moment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Peepul - part II

A couple of months back, I wantonly lost the peepul I had been nurturing for months. I never really thought I could bear to put another plant in the beautiful ceramic pot I had got for it. But the empty pot with a gaping scar where the peepul should have been kept taunting me everytime I went to the balcony, and I realized if I ever wanted to bring a closure to that episode, I had to replace the plant I had lost.

Logic demanded that I get any plant by a peepul, but since when have I been accused of being logical? One of my other pots had a peepul – a peepul that had sprung up from nowhere (as peepuls always do), and which, in the absence of my tender loving care, had reached proportions not exactly befitting a bonsai pot. But transplant it into a bonsai pot, I insisted on doing. And if that was not punishment enough for the poor plant, I proceeded to hack off branches to bring the plant down to scale.

Why I was taking revenge on the poor plant, I do not know, but maybe I just needed to purge the distress I felt at arbitrarily losing the plant that had been a memorial to my father, and the only way I could was by inflicting my wrath on the defenseless plant.


For two months, the peepul remained bereft of leaves. I was sure the plant would not survive, but since the stem remained bendy, I let it stay in the pot. Then, one day, when I casually glanced in the general direction of the peepul, I caught a glimpse of green. Despite the trauma inflicted on it, despite being deprived of its food source for so many weeks, despite the neglect in watering, despite everything, the plant had proved to be a Survivor.

The peepul is far removed from what its predecessor was. I doubt if I can ever feel for it the kind of love I felt for the plant I had nurtured in memory of my father. But what I may never be able to give in affection, I will always make up for in admiration. The peepul symbolizes resilience - no matter how badly off you think you are, you can always spring back if you choose to. Just the sight of those tender green leaves against the starkness of the stem holds out the promise of hope.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Mosquito repellent cream

We'd bought a tube of mosquito repellent cream the other day.
“What is this?”, asked the ever curious three-year old.
“It is medicine to keep away the mosquitoes.”
“So when I rub it on the mosquitoes they wouldn’t bite anymore?”, he asked seriously.
And for the next few hours, he stood guard with the tube in his hand waiting for the mosquitoes to appear so he could rub the cream on them and make their teeth fall off.
We just didn’t have the heart to disillusion the poor kid.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Colours - Cyan

[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.]


She was five kilometers from her childhood home, a very short detour.

Her’s had been a glorious childhood spent in a rambling bungalow with secrets spilling out of every corner. The home she left at ten, and visited only in her memories.
When she first visited, she just wandered around, too scared to touch. Then she grew bolder, moved in again, befriended the friendly denizens. The stories she wove to keep the memories alive made her a successful author.
This was her first book tour. How fitting that she visit…

She let the moment pass.

Memories are best left alone.


_____
Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Glass bangles


Glass bangles are for little girls. A dozen tinkling on either arm as they play house house during the summer vacation.
Glass bangles are for teenage girls. Multicoloured ones that exactly match the colours of the swirling skirts they go dancing in.
Glass bangles are for the newly wed. The bright green glass loudly proclaiming the change in marital status.
Glass bangles are for pregnant women. Green and red ones that mark the third trimester, and are symbolically broken just before giving birth.

Glass bangles are not for older women! Who said so? Is vanity the prerogative only of the young?
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Two words that sound the same

When I was a little older than my kids now are, I loved trying to balance myself on the bricks that bordered the lawn and the flower beds. When I first started, I could barely go three bricks before losing my balance, but with practice, I learnt to walk the entire length of the driveway. It was something I never tired of in the five years that we lived in that house.
So when I encountered a similar brick border a few weeks back, I couldn’t resist having a go at it. The years have obviously given me a better sense of balance – after a few tries, I could do the entire length if I concentrated sufficiently on it.
“Gosh, sometimes you can be so childish”, someone exclaimed when it attempted it yet again.
“So what?”, I shot back. “If growing up means I have to give up these small pleasures, I’d rather remain a child forever.”

The word, however, continued to rankle. ‘Childish’ came loaded with so many negative connotations, I was not sure I wanted it describing something that had given me so much pleasure when I was a kid, and which continued to do so. And yet, it was the right word, wasn’t it?
Then I got it. Childish was not at the right word at all. Childish meant immature, juvenile. The word I was looking for was ‘Childlike’ – like a child .
Childlike harped back to simple, uncomplicated, not jaded – the words that perfectly expressed the glee I felt while balancing on those bricks.

When two words that sound so similar, and which are often (erroneously) used interchangeably, convey such different meanings, is it any wonder that adjectives are so popular?
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Caffein with a pinch of salt

When I went for my check-up, the doctor gave me a long list of foods that I should avoid to keep the hypothyroidism in check.
Most would be easy to do - broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower never rated very high on my list of favourites. Some like burgers, pizzas and puffs would require a little more effort but were foods that one should restrict in any case. And some like alcohol and carbonated drinks I rarely indulged in even before the illness.
Just one item made me stop on my tracks - caffeine. While I would like to deny I am a caffeine addict, I cannot survive without multiple mugs of coffee, especially when I am working to a tight deadline.
“What does avoid caffeine mean, doctor?” I could barely mask the worry in my voice.
“If you have one cup a day that is fine. If you have three to four cups a day, you have to cut down.”
“What about two cups?” I was clutching at straws, but the doctor just smiled and refused to be drawn into a discussion.

For three days, I restricted myself to a single cup of tea a day. But when I spoke to two people who I knew suffered from hypothyroidism, both were categorical that they had not heard of any such restriction.
“This is the first I have heard about it”, one said. “Though, I have on my own tried to restrict my caffeine intake to a couple of cups of coffee a day, and the occasional chai.”
We spoke about it for a bit, before she gave me her parting advice. “I think you can safely have a cup of tea and a cup of coffee. And a large pinch of salt for the doctor’s advice.”

That made sense, but I know that once I permit myself even one cup of coffee a day, I will gradually slide back to my old ways. Which I would rather not risk. So I am now permitting myself two cups of tea a day, but no more.

But the through of living the rest of my life without coffee is daunting. Does anyone know if there is any truth in the 'avoid caffeine if you have hypothyroidism' bit?
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Perfect Cuppa?

“I make lousy tea these days”, said my mother the other day. “I really can’t inflict my tea on anyone else.”
Not having tasted her tea for over a year, I really cannot comment on whether it is now as lousy as she claims, but her statement got us thinking on what really goes into making a good tea.
The tea I brew may not score very high either on a taste scale or on an authenticity scale, but it is as hot and as strong as tea can get without getting unhealthy.
Indians tend to boil the milk and water together, throw in tea leaves, and let it simmer on low heat for a few minutes. While that makes for a strong cuppa, the boiling draws out the harmful tannins, which reacts with the milk to form something mildly toxic.
The Brits put tea leaves in boiled water, and add milk only after staining the tea leaves out of the infusion. Too much hard work, if you ask me.
I compromise by boiling milk and water, then adding the tea leaves and letting it brew. Which makes for a tea that is not ‘lousy’, but isn’t ‘great’ either.

Which brings me to my original question. What is a good tea? Is it an absolute, or a variable? Most often, isn’t ‘good’ merely something you are used to or something you have pleasant memories of?
Isn’t it the same with anything – food, books, movies, clothes, vacation spots?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A new take on an old fable

The kids wanted a story featuring a crocodile, and feeling particularly unimaginative, I rehashed the story of the monkey and the crocodile. They chuckled when I told them about the monkey throwing apples into the crocodile’s mouth, loved the part where the unlikely pair become friends, and thought it was a great adventure when the monkey climbed onto the crocodile’s back to go to his home to play.
But when I got to the part where the crocodile confessed that he was actually trying to trick the monkey so he could feast on his heart, and the quick-witted monkey made him turn back by telling him that his heart was actually hidden at home, my five-year old got distinctly uneasy.
“The monkey was very bad”, he declared.
“Why do you say so?”, I asked.
“Because he lied to his friend the crocodile”, he said.
“But the crocodile was trying to eat him up. He lied only to save himself from the bad crocodile.”
“The crocodile was not bad. He did not eat the monkey. But the monkey lied to his friend.“

I tried telling him that the crocodile was no friend of the monkey, that he was trying to harm the person who had been nice to him, but the kid was just not convinced. He clung onto the fact that the monkey lied, and lying was bad. I could have told him that lying to save your life, or the life of someone else, was allowed. That if someone tried to cheat you, you could be excused for not playing by the rules of right and wrong. But I kept quiet because I was not sure if his mind was mature enough to grasp it.
What would you have done in my place?

Picture credit
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Freedom at a click

Normally, I am a touchy feely kind of person when it comes to buying books, but since I am fast running out of things to read, and am not allowed out, I decided to order a couple of books on-line. When I got the books, I found they had slipped a bookmark into the package - a nice colourful piece of card paper.

The design was attractive, and when I looked closer, I found it advertised a peer-to-peer online lending site called RangDe.org. It so happened that I was already aware of the organization, but even if I didn’t, the graphic was self-explanatory – a lady who looks not unlike any other not too well off lady in the country, dreaming of owning her own grocery stall. RangDe.org puts up profiles of micro-entrepreneurs on their site, which you can browse and choose the businesses you would like to lend to.

When the organization started about a year back, I had been rather skeptical about whether it would really work in the Indian context. We as a nation are used to giving unsecured soft loans to our domestic help, but would we make the leap and make a similar loan to a total stranger? Going by the success stories on the site, we seem to be doing just that. And the women have been regular in meeting their weekly repayment amount.

As for the bookmark as a marketing tool, the target audience was bang on. RangDe.org is an online lending site, and only people who are comfortable with online transactions would ever make loans to entrepreneurs through RangDe. Someone who has ordered a book online is a part of that audience. The copy too was perfect, with just the right amount of information to make you curious enough to investigate further.

How I wish more non-profit organization could get their communication as right as RangDe.org has done.
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Colours - Purple

[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.]


She pauses in front of the canvas. Something is not quite right, though she doesn’t know what. It is a perfect representation of the scene, but it doesn’t work.
A flash of insight! She blends brooding purple into the blue sky. Adds a touch of mystery to the rippling brook.
The landscape transforms from representative to inspired. You can almost make out the dragons crouching behind the menacing rocks. Strain your ears, and you can hear the knight galloping over the plain to rescue his maiden.

She stands back and smiles. If only it were as easy to transform life.

_____
Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

What is Freedom?

Independence Day, and newspapers and TV channels are full of people asking and answering the same question, “What does Independence mean to you?”

Putting aside the philosophical part of the question, what has Independence really meant to the average Indian? Sixty-two years is a really long time, and I really am not qualified to comment on how the nation has moved in that period, but I do know one area where the change has been apparent in just over a decade – essential services.

I remember a time, not too long ago, when being allotted a telephone connection was a big thing. You made an application for a land-line and forgot about it. You finally got your connection several months, or even years later, and even then, you could only use the telephone to make local calls. Even in upper middle class urban localities, there the average number of telephones per household was well below one.

And today? You can walk into a mobile showroom with the necessary documents and less than half and hour later walk out with a brand new SIM card. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, many more than one. Vegetable vendors use their mobile phones to take orders, bored housewives no longer block up the ‘family’ landline for hours on end, schools use them to pass on important messages to parents.

Not just telephony. The wait has reduced almost everywhere – it is easier to get a new cooking gas connection than to transfer an existing one, where you earlier had to book a car and wait months for it to be delivered, you can now walk into a car dealer showroom and drive out with your car.

Freedom means many things – to India, the greatest thing, perhaps, is freedom from waiting for things to happen.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Maiya aur Makhan-chor

[On Janmashtami Day, when Hindus all over the World celebrate the Birth of Lord Krishna, here's a story I wrote several years back on Mothers' Day.]


"Maiya", a high voice called, as a pair of pudgy arms wrapped themselves around the pretty lady sitting on the floor, churning butter.
Yashoda started. "Kannan, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that," she said as she scooped him up, placed him on her lap and buried her head in his soft curls.
"Kannan thought Maiya had seen Kannan."
"How could I have seen Kannan?" smiled Yashoda. "I am not a frog. I do not have eyes at the back of my head."
"But if Maiya does not have eyes at the back of her head, how does Maiya know when Kannan takes butter from your butter-pot?"
"My darling little Makhan-chor," smiled Yashoda, hugging her son tight and rocking him the way she had ever since he was a baby.

Her darling little Makhan-chor. Yashoda still couldn’t believe her luck sometimes. After so many barren years, she had even stopped yearning for a child, and to be blessed with a child, and that too, a child as endearing as Kannan! On dark stormy nights, she still had nightmares of waking up in the morning to find that her years with Kannan were just a dream after all. She'd wake up in cold sweat and rush to the cradle to check that her son was still there - he would always be sleeping peacefully with a beatific smile on his face, and not a care in the world. Many were the nights she spent sitting on the floor next to the cradle, her head leaning against the hard wooden pillar, just watching her son's chest heave in even breathing while he slept, and marveling at the smiles flitting across his face. He looked so innocent while he slept - with not a trace of mischief on his face. Could any of her neighbours ever accuse her sleeping baby of stealing into their kitchens and polishing off all the butter they had churned?
Even before he could crawl, her Kannan had learnt to push himself forward and knock over the pot in which she kept her butter. By the time he learnt to stand up with support, she was forced to start hanging her butter-pots from the top of a pillar well out of her son’s reach. With tottering steps, he started going into other's kitchens, and in no time at all, the entire village realised that no butter-pot was safe on the floor as long as Kannan was around. When all the women started hanging their butter pots out of reach, Kannan organised the neighbouring boys to form a human pyramid to reach the butter-pots. All Brindavan called Kannan ‘Makhan-chor’, butter-thief, but looking at him asleep, who would ever guess that? Her darling Kannan - even though she had not given birth to him, could any mother love her son more than she did, and was ever a child more worthy of a mother's love than Kannan was?

"Maiya," Kannan sounded troubled.
"Yes, Kannan," Yashoda's voice was as tender as the thoughts he had broken through.
"Maiya, why is Kannan dark-skinned?"
Thought not totally unexpected, she was quite unprepared for the question. "Because, because," she stammered, then gathering up courage, she finished strongly, "because you were born on a dark and stormy night, when thunderclouds covered the moon and the stars like a thick blanket."

How well she remembered that night. The eight day after the full moon in the month of Bhadrapadha. The moon would have risen in Rohini, but the clouds obscured the heavens, so there was nobody to see it. The night, as dark as the inside of a Cobra's belly. Flashes of lightning illuminating sheets of pouring rain. Thunderclaps masking Devika's screams during her arduous labour. It was deluge the likes of which nobody remembered, and it was that which allowed Nand to smuggle out the newborn Kannan before his uncle could kill him as he had done all his brothers.
Milk had surged into Yashoda's breasts the moment Kannan was placed in her arms, and when Surya, the Sun God peeped into her house the next morning, he saw a contented Yashoda cradling an infant who was nuzzling noisily at her breast. From that moment on, Kannan and Yashoda were inseparable.
What made a woman a mother? The act of giving birth, or loving and nurturing a helpless baby till he became a child? Yashoda pitied Devika, Kannan's birth-mother - she hadn't seen Kannan's first smile, or heard his first words. Her's were not the fingers that Kannan first grabbed at or her's the hand that held Kannan's own when he took his first unsteady steps.

"But Maiya," Kannan still sounded worried, "doesn't everyone know?"
"Know what, Kannan?"
"That Kannan is dark because Kannan was born on a rainy night?"
"Of course, they do," his mother reassured him.
"Then why do they sing -
'Nand gora, Yashoda gori,
Tum he kyon shyam shareer?
Nand is fair, Yashoda is fair,
Why are you dark-skinned?'
- to tease me?"

Yashoda looked at her beautiful son. Was this the time to tell him about the Prophecy relayed to his maternal uncle, the Evil King Kamsa -
'Kamsa, you are neither invincible nor immortal. The eighth child born to your sister will kill you.'
Was this the time to tell Kannan that his mother and father had been plucked out of their palace and thrown into the deepest dungeons. That each of Devika's children had been crushed to death by her brother in front of her eyes. Was this the time to tell Kannan that when his uncle heard that Devika's eighth born had been smuggled out of the dungeon, he'd ordered that all babies in the kingdom be poisoned. That all the babies died except Kannan who just turned the deepest shade of blue.

Yashoda's son was staring at her with imploring eyes, begging her to wish his worries away as she had always done. She knew she would have to tell him the truth someday to prepare him to meet his Destiny. But today was not that day.

"Saturn is the son of Surya- the Sun God and Chandini - the Moon Goddess," she heard herself saying. "Yet he is dark and both his parents are fair."
Her son's face lit up. "Maiya, Chandini is so pretty. Can Kannan have Chandini please?"
Yashoda poured some water into a bowl and placed it in the courtyard. Pointing to the reflection of the moon, she said, "There you are, Kannan. You can play with Chandini now, but make sure you do not spill the water or she will get upset and run away."
She watched indulgently as her son tipped the bowl this way and that, watching the moon change patterns. He dipped his podgy fingers in the water setting off pretty ripples, then dipped his hand into the bowl and came up with something.
"Maiya, Chandini is so pretty, Kannan is going to wear her in his hair."
Yashoda stared open-mouthed as a tiny crescent moon perched itself on Kannan's curly locks bathing his face in an ethereal light. Her son was more powerful than she had imagined. She couldn't put off telling him the truth much longer. Her maternal love did not want to accept it, but it was Childhood's End.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And Pigs Fly...

It was almost as though the H1N1 virus was waiting for the temperature to fall before packing it bags and catching a flight to India.
It was gentle rumblings that we have been hearing since June- of suspected carriers being quarantined at airports, of people testing positive for swine flu, of Pune being declared a pandemic state. But it was only after a 14-year old girl succumbed to the virus last Monday that we finally took note of swine flu in India.
As the number of confirmed cases mounted, the situation got totally out of hand. Only one government hospital in Bombay had the facilities to test for the virus, and there, confusion reigned (as expected, a skeptic would add). Medical workers and chemists started testing for the virus. People tried pressuring doctors to prescribe Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) as a precautionary measure. The number of casualties shot up from 1 to 12 in less than a week. Black-marketeering of masks began. Schools started sending back children with swine flu like symptoms. Parents couldn’t decide whether to send kids to school or not.

Then, pigs flew…
The government machinery swung into action. More testing centres were opened up. Private hospitals were directed to reserve isolation wards for swine flu patients. Stocks of Tamiflu were released even to non-government bodies, and doctors were advised to start the treatment on suspected cases even before swine flu was confirmed.
All schools were ordered closed for a week. Malls were asked to discourage shoppers by playing down annual sales. Multiplexes were ordered closed. Gyms and swimming pools were advised to shut down. Corporates were asked to cut down on official travel. People were discouraged from taking holidays.
Most importantly, information was made available. People realized that the situation was not yet out of control, and that we could perhaps last it out till the vaccine was made available to all.

Maybe some of the reactions are slightly extreme. But at a time like this, I would rather the government do too much than too little.

And while people would have normally resented having someone tell them to curtail their Ganapathi celebrations, I am sure they would now do so voluntarily since they know the dangers of crowded places. One does, however, feel slightly wistful when one sees the unsold idols of Bombay’s favourite God lining the streets waiting for customers who may never come.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My son, the Superhero



He hated the IV-line stuck up his arm. He refused to open his mouth to do anything but complain. Till I told him he was a Superhero, his arm a Power-arm with which he could chop up Evil. Then he wanted it to be joined to the bottle of IV-fluids, wanted to see the Power dripping through the tube into his veins.

Though we knew he was going to be sedated through it, we feared how he would react to the MRI experience. But when he was told that Evil was in that room, and that the world was counting on his to be brave, and defeat it, he was willing to give it a try even without the sedation. He got kitted up and very bravely entered the chamber, clutching the hastily drawn sketch of himself as the caped Superhero. We wasn’t able to stay in the MRI machine for more than a minute or two, but how many adults come out of that experience unscathed?

My son, the Superhero!
Even cartoons have their use.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Imagining India

‘Imagining India’ is a book I would never have picked up in the normal course of events. Not that I have anything against Nanadan Nilekeni himself. Just that, I am extremely wary of inflicting on myself a book that is likely to turn out to be a self-congratulatory account of events as interpreted by the ‘great man’. And a book that has as its cover a mug-shot of the man who describes himself as a ‘commentator’ appears to be just that.

Two random events conspired to make me buy the book. It was highly recommended by a colleague who mentioned how ‘awesome’ the book was at least twice every day. And I fell ill bang in the middle of a month when I had imposed a ‘no fiction unless interspaced by non-fiction’ ban on myself. If the book did speak about Pratham and Akshay Patra, two non-profits that I know do very good work, how bad could it be?

The book went with me to hospital, and by the time I finished the Preface, I knew that the only thing that would make me put the book down was sleep. What I liked most about the book was the undercurrent of cautious optimism. While most commentators tend to go overboard in either their praise or their censure, he admitted our shortcomings, and somehow managed to convert them into opportunities.

After reading the book, I found myself sliding back into the solutions mode that I thought I had left behind many years back. Yes, there is a lot wrong with and in India, but not all of it defies solutions. I know that I too am going to spend a lot of time ‘Imagining India’ in the next few weeks.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Will the good times take off?


Barely a week after my surgery, we were back in hospital. This time it was the (nearly) six-year old.
A niggling cough that nobody noticed because his younger brother had a full blown case of viral fever. A runny nose that meant nothing, because his nasal orifice has been running a marathon since the beginning of the monsoons. Fever that shot up with practically no notice. Febrile convulsions early in the morning, a rush to the emergency room.

Luckily my mother and father-in-law had come down to help during the surgery and recovery, so we were not short of helping hands as we had been the last time he had to be hospitalised. But since it is the third attack of convulsions in three years, the son needs to be put through a battery of tests to rule out epileptic convulsions.

The weekend I should have spent recuperating at home, was spent in hospital – I can only hope the lack of rest does not get to me later. The younger one is angsty because just when he got his mother back home, his best buddy disappeared. And of course, the older one doesn’t want to spend a day more in hospital, specially since the IV-line is on the hand he normally colours with.

But maybe, this is the end of the stream of bad luck. Maybe now the good times will take off like this plane I saw from the terrace of the hospital. I would like to hope so - after all, what have you left when you take away hope?
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Colours - Grey

[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.]

She glances at the framed photographs lining the corridor leading to her room. Rows and rows of young girls in grey pinafores stare back at her, unblinking.

Each face, a memory– some clear, most vague. That one wanted to be a doctor, this one a pilot. Those three couldn’t wait to get married, these two were all set to rebel. That had the determination to succeed, no matter what. This one was too talented for her own good.

Engineers? Activists? Journalists? Mothers?

Journeys undertaken? Dreams shattered?

She would love to know how all her girls turned out. Or would she?

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

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Heard around the forums...

And a friend of mine is without a laptop because her old one died on her. And another was mentioning that after months of hard work, she is finally bikini ready. Which led the first one to comment -

"So I was replying to Leanne's bikini comment over in her thread, and it occurred to me that if I bought a bikini for my laptop, it would not be lap(topless) anymore, but does that mean my laptop would work again?? I'm guessing not, but I'm pretty sure I would get a good giggle if I popped a bikini on the laptop, and they say laughter can be a cure for almost anything..... so even if if the bikini didn't fix said laptop, perhaps the laughter would?"

What would I do without my crazy bunch of Burrowers?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Back home, back home

Back home, even if not quite back in action. The doctors very colourfully described the surgery as ‘uneventful’ – a strangely comforting word to hear when you are coming out of the anesthesia. Remember very little of the surgery, of course, except the time when I came out of the anesthesia and found all sorts of people doing all sorts of post operative stuff to me in the OT.

Right now, I am so high on painkillers, the only pain I feel is what I remember when I see the six huge wounds on my hands, each corresponding to an attempt to drive the IV line into a vein.

The good thing about hospitals is that you get to read without distractions. More than enough time to finish off three books which I have been wanting to read for a long time, but putting off for a variety of reasons. Also managed to get through the entire pile of girly magazines at the nursing home, and am now an expert on the latest trends in women’s wear.

And barely 12 hours after the surgery, I discovered yet another reason to cheer. All the running and swimming and weight training I have been doing over the last two years has left me with muscles that are strong, even if they do not look as toned as I would like them to. Which means, the muscles started fighting back as soon as they could, and less than 24 hours after the start of the surgery, I was fully ambulatory. Had I been operated upon two years back, I am not sure if my recovery would have been as fast.

Four to six weeks of restrictions lie before me. And do keep me company during the time is the CD they presented me when I left – a video of the entire operation. What I am supposed to do with it, I have yet to figure out. Surely it could not be a ‘learn to do it yourself’ kit – after all, I don’t have any uteruses left to remove.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Public displays of affection

PMaybe I am just imagining it, but ever since the verdict on Section 377, the number of same sex couples in Bombay seems to have shot up dramatically.

When I drove through Bandra Reclamation the other day, I found that three out of ever four couples were same sex pairings. Since I haven’t been to the Reclamation for over five years, I could not tell if this is a recent phenomenon, or if the place had been catering to a niche clientele for awhile.

But there is definitely an increase in the number of men holding hands in public.

In a nation where public displays of affection are frowned upon, I wonder how long the honeymoon will be allowed to last, before same-sex couples are pushed underground too.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My favourite smell now has a name

The only smell that has always remained very high on my list of favourite smells is ‘the smell of warm earth after rain falls on it’.
In my more rational moments I have tried to reason it out – maybe I like the smell so much because it triggers off memories of ‘first showers’.
April showers in the small mining colony in Jharkhand, which brought down the temperature, and left behind carpets of tiny unripe mangoes for me to nibble. But I think not – when I replay the memories of April showers, I can see myself standing at the window watching the precipitation pelt the trees in the backyard, I can feel the cool breeze, hear the pitter patter of raindrops, but cannot smell it.
The first time I remember smelling the smell is in Calcutta – April showers that washed away the dust that had accumulated on the city, and left a cleaner, greener city behind. For the longest time, I even associated the smell with water hitting hot concrete, and remained unsure till I smelt the smell in a place that knew no concrete.

It is a wonderful smell, and I now know that it even has a name – Petrichor. Apparently the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soil and rocks, and released into the air during rain.

Strangely, or not so strangely, the smell is one of the most frequently cited ‘favourite smells’. I am not alone! What remains to be seen is how many of us would wear it as a perfume if they do manage to distill the smell and put it in a bottle. Speaking for myself, I would much rather use it as a room freshner than on myself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Homeless Snail

The other day, my son found a slug and insisted he wanted to take it home with him. I tied telling him how they would destroy all our plants, but he refused to budge.
“The poor snail is homeless”, he said. “We have to take care of it.”
A little bit of prodding revealed that he thought the slug was actually a snail that had lost its shell.
Once I found out, it was easy enough to talk him out of his charitable venture.

Homeless snails! What next?

.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hanging Ferns


Another of those plants that thrives in the humidity of Bombay. I made two attempts to cultivate ferns in Delhi, each more disastrous than the other.

While the plant just refused to take root in Delhi, I seem to have the opposite problem in Bombay. Not only do the roots take root, they push their way out of the drainage holes, gulp down huge quantities of humid, polluted air, and metamorphosise into foliage.

So I now have ferns growing from the top end of the basket, and ferns growing from bottom. And to be honest, the ones growing from the bottom are smaller, tidier and look much nicer.

The plant has overgrown its pot - water drains out immediately after being poured in. I absolutely have to transplant at least a part of the plant if I do not want it to suffocate. But, will the root-turned-shoot survive the transplantation? Only time will tell.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Colours - Gold

[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.]



Every girl dreams of her wedding day. Or wedding week, as it now has become. An outfit a day, sometimes two. Months of trousseau shopping in preparation.


Heavily embellished saris teamed with Swarovski encrusted corsets. Mermaid cut ghagharas, zardosi-work on dupattas. Antique weaves appliqu├ęd onto evening gowns. They are her’s, without asking.


There is not a single girl that doesn’t envy her. Of how she gets to don the latest fashions, even before they become the fashion.


But you know what? This mannequin would gladly live her life in rags, if she could just be a girl for a day.


_____
Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reasons to cheer

“Not seen you around for awhile”, commented yet another colleague.
“I haven’t been around”, I replied.
“Why? On leave”?”
“No! Not been well.” Since I knew I did not exactly have much choice on whether or not I wanted to go into details, I volunteered the much rehearsed summary without too much prodding.

“But you don’t look like you are going to go in for major surgery soon”, was the reaction when I finished.
“What do you mean? How am I supposed to look?”
“Well, you are supposed to ….. I mean, I would think you would look more ….”
“Ill?”
“No! You know, here you are smiling quite normally. I would have expected you to look more sad.”
“If by not smiling, I could get better faster, I would happily not smile”, I retorted. And meant it. Since there was nothing to be gained by keeping a long face, why bother keeping one?

On the way back home, I mulled over the several similar exchanges I had with various people. I had been smiling out of habit, but actually even in my current illness, I do have many reasons to smile.

If this problem is indeed congenital, as it very likely is, isn’t it good that it manifested itself now, and not ten years back. If 38 is too young an age for a hysterectomy, how much younger is 28! Now I do have my two lovely kids to keep me pepped up during the recovery stage.

Fibroids and/ or polyps are the most common reasons for vaginal bleeding. The routine sonography confirmed the diagnosis, and I was scheduled for a routine evacuation procedure. It was only because of the imagery conjured up by my precise description of the nature of the bleeding that the gynaecologist even though of asking me to get a colour Doppler test done. What if I hadn’t been so graphic in my description? What if the doctor hadn’t continued thinking about it after I had left the clinic? Wasn’t it pure good luck that the earlier procedure was called off on the nick of time?

During the ‘Great Flood’, as a friend christened the massive bleed that I had, I was lucky the clotting mechanism kicked in before too much damage could be done. Three months back, my platelet count had been at the lowest end of the accepted spectrum, which is why I had consciously included a lot of Vitamin K in the diet. Did that not come in useful?

My thyroid condition I was absolutely unaware of till it was discovered during a routine test prior to the operation. Apparently now I have to be on medication and suitably modify my diet- which I am more than willing to do. But had it not been for this illness, I would never even have known!

Sure, it would have been good if none of this had happened to me. But, given all that was wrong with my body, wasn’t it good that none of it was worse? I do have a lot more to be thankful for, than to be upset about. And there is every reason for me to continue to smile.

Cheers!
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