Saturday, October 31, 2009

Remembering Indira Priyadarshini

Today, 25 years earlier started off as just another day, with just a tiny difference. India was playing a cricket match against Pakistan, so more people were turned into the TV and radio than was normally the case. Our geography teacher was droning about the continental drift when someone rushed into the room with news – Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister had been shot at and was battling for life at a government hospital. Any sensible person would have sent all the children home, but not our principle. He insisted on keeping the school open till the government confirmed the news, which it did not do till many hours after she had passed away.

Rumours kept trickling in. It was suspected that she had been shot at by two Sikhs, members of a then hostile community, easily identifiable by the characteristic turbans they all wore.

Even a thirteen year old me knew the consequences of not nipping that piece of news in the bud, but how can a government deny something it never declared in the first place.

By the time school got over at the scheduled time, the riots had started. Since our school bus was owned and driven by members of the Sikh community, the service was abruptly cancelled, and we were left to fend for ourselves. We took turns to use the school phone to call home, and even after many false tries was not able to do so. I knew my mother would eventually call my father to tell him I had not arrived, and that he would come to school to fetch me, but I also knew that could take a few hours. With many others, I settled myself to wait.

“Anybody here living in Gariahat?”, the watchman shouted.
“I live close to Gariahat!” I jumped up.
“These two men say they will take you till Gariahat”, the watchman informed. “Do you want to go with them.”
The men were total strangers to me and to everyone else, but without a second through, I climbed on to their motorbike.
“I live a little beyond Gariahat”, I told them when we were half-way home. “But you can drop me off there, and I will walk the rest of the way home.”
“Not a problem”, the man replied. “We’ll drop you home.”

They did, and my mother was so relived to see me, she didn’t even ask how I had come till I volunteered the information. After my father got home, we discussed the incident, and concluded that the men were not exactly good Samaritans- they had picked me up because they knew the chances of their motorcycle being attacked was much less when they had a child in a school uniform with them.

Thinking back, I shudder at my foolishness. When the city was up in flames, would not the prudent thing have been to wait for my father, even if it took time before he got to school. Had a mob set on me, would the men have offered me any protection. They were not even going all the way home – did I seriously think I could safely walk a couple of miles in a riot torn city all on my own?
They could have also been kidnappers, child molesters, rapists or anything else. But my life had been so sheltered I had not even considered any of those things.
Today, if my sons' school bus is a couple of minutes late, the call from their Daycare sets off a domino reaction of panic. I have the school bus conductor's phone number on speed dial, and still worry. How did people cope all those years back? Especially without mobile phones?

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi
(19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984)
Requiescat in pace

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cafe Valentine

"Mamma, why is he biting her?", the three-year old's voice cut through the chatter at the café.
"He is not biting, Stupid. He is kissing her", declared the five-year old.
"Nobody kisses like that. Mamma, isn't he biting her?"
"They are kissing, baby", I whispered, embarrassed.

"But why is he eating her mouth?"
"Because he loves her!" When had my son become such a Know-it-all?
"I love you, Mamma, can I eat your mouth?"

People didn't even pretend not to stare as I dragged the kids away.

I am never, NEVER, N-E-V-E-R taking them to a café on Valentine's Day.

Hallow's Eve

Since I have another, more topical, post scheduled for tomorrow, on the Eve of Halloween, here is the drabble I wrote for the Halloween feature of the Burrow.

"Mamma, today is Halloween."
"We don't do Halloween in India."
"Why not?"
"Because it is not an Indian festival. Don't we have enough festivals of our own?"
"But all my friends celebrate Halloween."
"Name three."
"Ben 10. Tom and Jerry. Richie Rich. Batman. Spiderman. Everyone."
"They are not your friends. They are cartoon characters. Your real friends don't celebrate Halloween."
"Please, Mamma. Please let us celebrate Halloween. Please, please, pretty please."
"Well okay then. But no jack-o-lanterns for you. No pumpkins in the market, and even if there were any, I don't know how to carve them."
"Live bats then?"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Accountant God

“Mamma, do you know God has a big piece of paper, and when someone is good or bad, he writes it down?” Since my nearly six year old and I had been discussing Superman, I never quite understood where this one came from.
“Who told you?”, was all I could ask.
“Someone”, he answered. “And if I am very bad, God will make me a girl.”

If I wasn’t wild enough with my son being taught that God is an Accountant, this obvious gender bias got we wilder still. “And what about girls who are naughty?”, I challenged, rather pointlessly.
Pat came the answer. “If girls are naughty, God will make them boys.” Things were not as bad as I had presumed – at least, God was just an Accountant, not a chauvinistic one.

“But who told you that God writes down things on paper?”, I persisted. Till I knew where the idea came from, I did not want to undermine someone’s authority by dismissing it outright. “Was it your teacher?”
“No, I figured it out myself.” He was clearly bluffing. “Why, isn’t it true?”

“Not really.” I was trying my best to be diplomatic. “There may be a god who writes things down on paper, but I know only the god who is everyone’s friend regardless of whether they have been naughty or nice.”
“But if God is going to be my friend even if I am naughty, why should I be good?”
“You have to be good, because it is good to be good. If you are naughty, you will make me very sad, but that doesn’t mean I stop being your friend.”

The theology was getting too complicated for my son, so he changed the subject. “Mamma, what happens when that other god runs out of paper? Where does he write things down?”

As we veered off into a discussion on stationery shops, I was happy to have got the Accountant God out of his mind. If I ever find out who filled his mind with those ideas, I will have something to say to them. In a secular nation, why can't people leave the task of imparting theology lessons to the parents?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Say Cheese

They say a model has to be in love with the photographer for him/her to be able to shoot a truly memorable picture. Any wonder, therefore, that my most flattering photographs have all been shot by my older one.

He is immensely talented, I always told myself, because he could grasp the nuances of portrait photography better than many people of an older generation.

But now it turns out that when he is not smashing the lens of my trusty Canon A-540, the younger one takes rather good photographs himself. Not only is this photograph more flattering than any other that has been clicked in the recent past, it also captures perfectly a mood that I get into very infrequently, but which I cherish whenever I do.

Artistically near perfect, I am sure I could not have done better had I tried. And the kid is three months short of his fourth birthday!

While the proud mother in me would love to believe that it is my kids that are super talented, I know that is not really the case. The proliferation of digital cameras has reduced the variable cost of photography to such an extent, the hobby has not become accessible to everyone. I don't cringe, as my parents must have, when my sons take multiple photographs of everyday objects. And practice does make perfect.

Wouldn't it be great if everyone could perfect all their skills as easily. Or would that make life too boring?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lesson of the Shark

[My nearly six-year old dictated this story to me the other day, and the Proud Mamma had to share it. If the sentence construction is at times awkward, it is because he's directly translating from Hindi.]

The Lesson of the Shark
by The Storyteller

One day, Raghav was walking in the jungle.
Then Aditya came and said to Raghav, “Why you are walking in the jungle? What you are finding in the jungle?”
Then Raghav said, “I am looking for animals.”
Then Aditya said, “Why? If they bite us?”
Then Raghav said, “Don’t be scared of the animals.”
Then they found two lions. That two lions was good. So in one lion Raghav sat and Aditya sat on the other lion. Then the four of them went to the Juhu beach. Then they jumped in the water. Then they were going inside the water. Then they found one shark and Aditya was very scared of the shark. Then Raghav pulled the shark’s fin. Then the shark ran away.
Then Raghav said, “Aditya, this is the lesson of the shark.”
And the lion was seeing Aditya and Raghav swimming in the water and they all four had lots of fun.
The End

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grammer Police

After struggling with the Laws of of English Grammar for several years, in the Seventh Grade, I finally declared war on the Prophets Wrenn and Martin. Which explains why I never quite got down to mastering the difference between a simple clause and a compound one, and have remained ever ignorant about participles, subjects and conjugates (even thinking of these words is like walking through minefields in the memory).

Which is why, I was really happy to receive these 31 very simple rules that I had to follow to ensure that everything I churned out was grammatically correct.

1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. One should NEVER generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

19. The passive voice is to be ignored.

20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

25. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can
use it correctly.

26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

29. Who needs rhetorical questions?

30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

And the last one...

31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Which of these rules do you always follow. Which ones do you never follow?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Colours - Terracotta

[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 photograph only sets the tone for the colour]

“Impossible! You must have imagined it”, her mother said when she first told her.
“You must have led him on”, her mother accused, when she proved what was being done to her.
“Learn to bear it”, her mother advised. “I put up with so much for your sake.”
“He is your father”, her mother said. “He has the right to do anything to you.”
“Don’t you dare”, her mother thundered when she threatened to tell all.

Her baby- the baby her mother now passed off as her own. Will she ever know if he is her brother or her son?

Drabble(n) - an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Golden Couple

We had gone to University together, then drifted apart as mere acquaintances often do. A decade later, we found each other on Facebook, and spent a few days discovering what the other had become. I really don’t know what he made of the person I am, but to me, he was one half of a perfect couple. Two good-looking, much in love people, each doing very well professionally. The photographs he posted on Facebook were almost idyllic– a tall, dark, even if not quite handsome man and his pretty, chirpy, well-dressed wife enjoying each other’s company in the most idyllic holiday spots.
They brought in the New Year in Bali. Went to Italy a few weeks later Spring. Summer was spent in the chill of an Australian winter. Hong Kong was where they celebrated five years of married life. To someone who hasn’t been to the movie theater in nearly six years, their life was something almost out of the world.

“Tanu and I spent the weekend working out ‘What If’ scenarios”, he once wrote as his status message a few months back, “and in the best scenario, we still got together. Pretty good going that.” I used to be addicted to constructing ‘What If’ scenarios, but every time I indulged myself, I emerged as someone quite different. Oh that someone be so satisfied with life as to land up just where they are!
“Tanu has left me and gone to live with God”, he wrote on Facebook on Monday. I read it, but the implication didn’t register till an hour later. It was not a sudden whim that had carted his wife off to the feet of a Guru, she had really and truly left the world. There are hundreds of messages of condolence on his Facebook page, his wife continues to grin impishly from her profile picture. But the Golden Couple is no more.
I left my condolences with the rest of the wreathes. But really all I wanted to do was scream ‘why?’
Had she been suffering for long? Did both of them know her end was near? Did all that love come because they knew they had to live a lifetime in a few years?
Or was her death sudden? A Love Story brought abruptly to an end Eric Segal could have scripted?

“Counting the minutes till Tanu lands back in Bangkok”, he’d written about a month back. “Too many minutes!” At that time, it seemed almost impossibly romantic that someone think that after five years of marriage- had I encountered the line in a book, I would probably have sniggered. Now I wonder if that was just his anguish at having a few precious moments snatched away from him.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Glass bangles


Chudiyan pehenke ghar mein baith. Wear bangles and sit at home”, is the worst insult that a certain breed of female activists can throw at men they are particularly contemptuous of. The humble glass bangles that are meant to grace slender wrists are often thrust upon men who have failed to perform their public duty.
Effeminate associations may have inadvertently rubbed off on bangles, but someone evidently forgot to keep the men informed. The most knowledgeable bangle sellers seem all to be men, and many of them don’t seem averse to picking up a dozen tinkling circles for their women.
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pirates on the Literary Seas

When JK Rowling visited India a few years back, she had pirated copies of the Harry Potter books thrust at her by eager hawkers. Last year, Jeffery Archer said that the most reliable indicator of a best-seller list in India was the number of traffic lights at which the book was hawked.

Book piracy is a very visible, very well organised industry in India. Few people even think there could be something wrong about depriving an author of her royalty, and I know people who rather proudly state that they have bought only pirated copies of books. There was a reason for it. A paperback which costs a mere $ 5.99 in the United States, when converted into local currency costs more than a pair of unbranded jeans, or a first class rail pass for three months. There was a reason for people to go in for pirated books. Books by Indian authors were similarly priced, and therefore either unread, or read in pirated copies.

Chetan Bhagat tried to change the rules of the game. His first book was priced at less than half the then accepted price of books by Indian authors. Though it was not as cheap as pirated books, the price point, as much as the merit of the book, ensured that it was a runaway bestseller. That he became the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history was as much attributable to the pricing strategy as it was to the fact that he correctly read the pulse of the youth and gave them exactly the kind of stories they wanted to read.

His latest book was out ten days back, and pirated copies are already available on the footpath outside my office. The rack rate of the book is Rs. 90, unless you are good at bargaining, the pirated copy costs Rs. 65. An hour before I saw the pirated copy, I ordered the book online for Rs. 63!

And yet, piracy continues!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Deepavali - Festival of Earthen Lamps

Flames dancing on the tips of earthen lamps. Diyas, or deeps. Deep, which gave the festival the name it is no longer known by– Deepavali.

Time was when cotton wicks soaked in vegetable oil threw the brightest light around. When a row of lighted lamps would catch the eye of even the most harried Goddess doing her rounds of the earth.

They still do. Incandescent bulbs may dispel the gloom much better, but earthen lamps still have a special charm which a LED tea-light can never match. And getting blown out in the breeze is only a part of it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Halloween Feature

Halloween Drabbles from around the World, exclusively at the Burrow.

Pumpkin patches and bats. Witches on brooms flying past.
Candle twinkling inside a carved pumpkin. Kids creating quite a din.
Windows orange, purple and black. That time again is back.

Kids in costumes looking dandy. Bags full of lolly and candy.
Skeletons in the cupboard leaping out. ‘Enough’, we all shout.
Sights of trickery everywhere is seen. After all, it is Halloween.

All over town the ghosts roam. For just one day, the earth is their home.
The night before All Saint’s Day. Tomorrow, all will be gay.
Pulling off the Halloween feature was quite a feat. Trick or Treat?

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Dry-fruits Vendor

I see this gentleman almost everyday while rushing off to work. His is always the only shop that is open at that time of the morning, and though I have never seen a single customer stop by that early, he is always open.
Sometimes I wonder if he opens early so he can savour the newspaper before the customers start coming in. Or does he read the newspaper merely to pass time?
Whatever the reason for his opening so early, it is always a pleasure to see one bit of perfection in the chaos of the railway station!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colours - Silver

[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 photograph only sets the tone for the colour]

A chubby kid I was, a perfectly normal adult I am. I fill my jeans, my waist doesn’t blend into an anonymous line, my bras have something to contain. I eat normal, healthy meals, I exercise because I like to. I indulge in the occasional chocolate without feeling guilty about it. When my jeans become too tight, I control the sugar and up the exercise till they start feeling comfortable again.

I am perfectly happy as I am. Why then do people try to make me feel so inadequate? Should a person look like a person, or like a mannequin?

Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shubha Deepawali

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A couple of photographs taken at the local market during the week long build up to Diwali, the Festival of Lights. More, many, many more, yet to come (that is a promise, and a threat).....

Happy Diwali, everyone.

Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, roams the Earth on Diwali evening, and enters all the houses that have been lit up with oil lamps to welcome her. Some people draw (or stick) her footprints at the entrance to their house to make sure she comes, and brings prosperity and happiness with her.

Diwali is when traditional businessmen open their new account books, after seeking the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi. Since Ganesha is the Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, he is also worshipped with Lakshmi on Diwali, to ensure that any new enterprise undertaken during the year is a fruitful one.
Clay idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh being sold in their polythene wrappings.

Traditionally, oil lamps were lit on Diwali, but increasingly, people have started decorating their houses with these colourful cloth and paper lanterns.

Diwali is the time to splurge, and each of these women is in search of a bargain! Plastic toy guns are perennial favourites with the kids (though mothers like me are worried their kids may decide to chew the ammunition).

Diwali related drabbles from last year -
Festival of Colours
Naraka Chaturdashi
Diwali Sweets
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Investing in traditions

"Diwali is next Saturday?", asked the older one. "when we are going to paint the diyas?"

Growing up, the smell of my mother making sweets and savouries marked the build-up to the festival. In my house we paint diyas.

Two years back, I'd bought a stack of the earthern lamps for the kids to paint. It was an inexpensive way of keeping them occupied, and the were thrilled when their lamps were lit on Diwali. Painting diyas has now become a family tradition.

Traditions! They give so much pleasure. Why then are we so unwilling to invest in creating them?

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Transportation woes no more?

Living in India, as I do, climate change is a politically charged subject. The position of my country is clear – we were not responsible for creating this mess, you were. So do not now turn around and tell me not to add to the mess, because I will do so unless you either compensate me for the mess you have created, or you enable me to get to where I want to get without the attendant mess.

Fundamentally, I do not disapprove of the stand. Some nations have got to a point where they can afford greener technology by largely ignoring the environmental impact of their actions. They do, now, have a moral obligation to help other nations get to that point too. But for nations like mine to downplay their responsibility is downright shortsighted.

Just because some nations have taken a particular (environmentally destructive) route to development doesn’t mean there is no other. Two decades back, it was the aspiration of every middle class Indian to own a family car. Today, income levels have gone up to an extent where the same individuals have a car each- and no roads to drive them in.

As a nation, we should be looking at improving public transportation, so people are encouraged to keep their cars at home. Instead, we create the world’s cheapest car, so more people can afford to purchase four wheels and an exhaust pipe that further adds to the carbon emission levels.

Pedestrian walkways, an integrated transportation system, telecommuting, shifting business districts to reduce travel time. You don’t have to be an urban planner to know the solution to the woes that assail the larger Indian cities. Implementing them would require political will, but would also substantially improve the quality of life of every citizen of urban India. And reduce carbon emission in the bargain.

Wouldn’t it be more productive for the Powers that Are to start working on some of these issues, rather than just haranguing the ‘richer’ nations to pay a debt which they barely acknowledge?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Passing on the Heart of a Dragon Award

On October 2 (the birth anniversary of one of the greatest men of the last centry), the wonderful Patricia Stoltey passsed on the Heart of a Dragon Award to me. The Heart of a Dragon Award is a very special award for the blogger who inspires you and/or others to go above and beyond or the blogger who helps keep us all connected. Patricia, I can't thank you enough for the award, and for your wonderful words, which continue to echo in my ears.

But much as I was touched by the award, it also put me in a bit of a soup. There are a number of blogs I eagerly look forward to reading every morning, but strictly speaking, awards other than the Heart of a Dragon Award would be appropriate for them. And yet, realistically speaking, I am never going to get any of the awards that I would like to pass on to them, so maybe I should pass this Award onto my favourite blogs.

After nearly two weeks of soul searching, I finally, decided to pass the Award along to the blogs and the bloggers who I feel genuinely deserve the Heart of a Dragon Award.

1. Galen Kindley of Imagineering Fiction - he goes out of his way to find and share interesting information. Few people can be as generous as he is.

2. Elizabeth Spann Craig of Mystery Writing is Murder - a full-time mother and a writer, she is currently full time into into promoting her latest book. Every post on her blog is a masterpiece, and yet she always finds time to leave a comment on your blog. Wish I could be like her.

3. Elspeth Antonelli of It's a Mystery - her posts are highly engaging, and she always finds time to leave a comment or two. The warmth of her personality keeps people connected.

4. On a Quirky Quest with Lady Fi - Fiona lives a lovely life in one of the prettiest parts of the world, and through her blog shares that world with all of us. Thank you for letting me into a whole new world.

Thank you, ladies and the solitary gentleman. Now you know the amount of pleasure you bring into my life!

Here are the rules :

1. Post the award on your site with a link to the person who gave it to you.
2. Pass it on to the blogger(s) who inspire you and list why they are receiving the award.
3. Post a comment on their blog.

Thank you again, Patricia. And Galen, Elizabeth, Elspeth and Fiona, I hope you accept the Award and pass it on.

Capsicum frutescens

For various reasons, I have been grossly neglecting my plants the last couple of months. Which is why I noticed the chili plant that had sprung up in one of my pots only after it threw up its distinctive white flower a couple of weeks back.

I thought no more of it, till I saw the gentle swelling that indic.ated successful pollination. The tiny green chilli is growing bigger every day, and if the birds don’t get at it, I would be able to put it into a dish by weekend.

But would I want to? A handful of chillis cost less than a tiny bar of chocolate, and I use so little of it in my normal cooking, I end up throwing out dried out chillis every few weeks. I would love the idea of eating a chilli from my own garden, but wouldn’t it make much more sense to let it mature, and plant the seeds, and hope for many more plants?

After all, if a seed that came from nowhere grows up to bear fruits, how many more could be nurtured by seeds that are lovingly cultivated?
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Promises and Prizes

Before I stand up and state my views on Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, I have to admit that I have never quite been taken in by him. My sympathies have always been more Democratic than Republican, and after eight years of Dubya Bush, I would definitely not have wanted another Republican in the White House, but Obama, I could never bring myself to trust. Sure he moved crowds the way a Hillary Clinton could not even start to do, but it was precisely what made me mistrust him. Swooning crowds are all very well in a rock concert, but on the campaign trail? I bought his personal messages of Hope and Change, but was never convinced he had a clue to actualizing either. His months in the White House haven't really gone too far in making me change my opinion, and I am still at the 'lets wait and watch phase'.

Which is why I was pretty shocked to hear that the Committee had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama. I am not saying that I can think of a dozen people who deserve the Prize more than he did, because I can't think of even one name off-hand. But I do know that he hasn't done anything yet that merits awarding the Prize to him. Seven years later (or even five), he could possibly have been a candidate, not yet. What if he sends his troops into Afghanistan next year in an undeclared war, or into Argentina- will the Prize then be revoked? And what if he completes his term, or two, in office without making any substantial difference - can a Prize awarded for promise be revoked if the promise fails to materialize as most promises do?

Nobody would be happier than me, if during his tenure(s) Obama proves that awarding the Prize to him was emminently justified- after all, as the President of the most powerful nation in the world, his capacity to do good is unmatched by anyone else. But to have awarded the Prize to him now, is, I feel, entirely premature.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Speading sweetness

“I love Diwali, because during Diwali my mother makes karanji and ladoo and sells it in packets. With that money, we get new clothes and good food. That is why I love Diwail.” The ten year old girl’s eyes were gleaming as she spoke about her favourite festival. She had two neat plaits hanging down her back. Her clothes were spotlessly clean. Only the battered slippers gave her away as coming from a family that was surviving somewhere just above the poverty line.

Diwali means many things to many people.  Firecrackers, new clothes, sweets, lights, holidays, sales, family, fun. I know most people in India, regardless of their religion, look forward to the festival. But never before did I realize that many people look forward to the festival, because it gives them a chance to augment their family income.

Though neither a good cook, nor a cheerful one, I always try to make at least one sweet at home during Diwali. Coming from a family of good cooks, I lived under delusion that slaving over a hot fire was one way of demonstrating affection.  On the few years when I was forced to get shop bought sweets, they never seemed to mean as good as the home made ones, even if they tasted much better.

This year on, I am not going to attempt making any sweets at home. Enabling a family to celebrate a festival with greater gusto carries more significance than any self congratulatory things I may attempt.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Drabble - Maroon

[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 photograph only sets the tone for the colour

He flung his arm on the seat behind her. It barely grazed her shoulder, but she was acutely conscious of him.

He’d made his move. She had to make hers.

Should she ignore it? Pretend she didn’t understand what he meant?
Should she respond, as her body was crying out at her to do?

He was a friend. Could they remain friends if she responded?
But every inch of her wanted him. Wanted him badly.

Whatever she did, could things remain the same? Why did relationships have to be so complicated?

She stared out of the window. Reached a decision….

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not a full-time mother

“Listen, babies, Mamma is really sorry she snapped at you. She’s been up since sunrise and is extremely tired.” It had been a hard day at work, I’d been forced to take a really crowded train to get back home on time to fetch the kids, and the one thing I did not want was for the kids to be getting into each other’s hair. I had yelled at them, taken away their television viewing privileges and had then proceeded to feel guilty about venting my frustration on the kids.
“But why are you so tired? Are all Mammas tired?”
“I am tired because I work hard at home, and also have a full time job. But Mammas who don’t go to office are slightly less tired because they can rest in the afternoon.”
“Then why do you go to office?” They didn’t mean it to sound that way, but the way I heard it was “If you don’t go to work, you would be a nicer Mamma.”

If I hadn’t been feeling guilty enough for snapping at the kids, I felt even more guilty about not being home for them. My organization made a difference to the lives of over fifty thousand children from marginalized background, but were those kids more important than my own? By allowing my work to drain me emotionally, wasn’t I shortchanging the two children who I brought into the world? Shouldn’t I be giving my best to my two children, rather than to the kids of strangers? Maybe I should give up the full-time job I took up only this year, and go back to being a full time mother?

I thought all that, and came very close to putting in my papers. Then sanity prevailed.

Was I cut out to be a full-time mother? When I was not working, was I necessarily a more chilled out mom to my kids? Had I never snapped at the kids even when I did not have the excuse of the daily commute? However much I loved being called that, could I survive with ‘Mamma’ being my sole identity?

The answer to all those questions was no. There are people who born to be mothers. Much as I respect them, I am not one of them. I have always expected my kids to behave as I wanted them to, and have been disappointed when they did not. At some levels, being a mother, and nothing else, was a frustrating experience for me, and my kids were the nature target of my frustration.

Working full-time has made me a less demanding mother. While I do snap at my kids occasionally, I no longer seek perfection in them, and am, therefore, much more satisfied with them.

The decision to go back to work full time wasn’t a question of neglecting my children. It was quite simply something I owned myself, and my family.

He ran upto me and flung his arms around me. “Mamma, I love you.”

Why had I even had the doubts that I did have?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ambitious girls....

You can barely make out the tagline of the hoarding, but I'll read it out, "Ambitious girls always lose their virginity".

The first time I saw it, I was alone in the car, and was pretty sure I had misread it. Surely nobody could make a statement like that, and get away with it. Even if people did feel that way, would they dare proclaim it in bold letters? In a country where mobs disrupted the screening of 'Fire', a sensitively made movie about a lesbian relationship, and forced the movie to be withdrawn  from theaters, would anybody risk making a proclamation like that in public?

And what a stupid, sexist statement! What did the ambitions or lack of it of any girl have to do with her virginity. Even if the brilliant brain that came up with the idea meant to imply that ambitious girls slept their way to the top, what was the connection between that and virginity? Isn't virginity something that you can lose only once?

In fact, I could perhaps argue the reverse. An unambitious girl is more likely to get married before an ambitious one, and assuming sex follows marriage may well lose her virginity before her ambitious sister.

Whichever way I look at it, the tagline just doesn't make sense. And what makes even less sense is the fact that nobody else seems to have found it as offensive as I do.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pyrrhic victory

I’d just got onto the treadmill the other day, when a ‘gentleman’ entered the gym, found all the cardio machines taken, and commented loud enough for me to hear, “The non serious people shouldn’t be allowed into the gym when we men are training.”
What he meant to say was that it would be considerate of the stay-at-home wives and mothers to go to the gym after the office goers were done. But neither in words, nor in tone did he say that.
Since his statement did not have the intended effect of making me get off while stammering aplogies to him, he parked himself on a bench and proceeded to glare at me till the person next to me was done with his treadmill.

I try very hard not to get into unnecessary scraps (much better to pick my battles, I have now realized), but this man really put me off. Not only was he stereotyping, he was stereotyping on multiple levels. Female, therefore not working – sure, more than 90% of the women in my building don’t work despite being professionally qualified, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that every female is a stay-at-home mom or wife. But it was the ‘non serious’ bit that really got to me – what about me suggested that I was not as aware of my fitness levels as he was? In fact, if I went by all the extra tyres he was carrying around his tummy, he worked out far less than I did.

His entire attitude towards me was absolutely condescending, and I was still seething when he claimed the treadmill next to mine. When he glared at me before starting off, something snapped.
“So you think women are not serious about fitness, do you? How about a challenge? You pick the speed, and let’s see which of us runs longer.”
He should have known better than to take it up, but after making his position clear, he couldn’t back away from the challenge either. He started off at 12 kmph, and I followed. It was faster, much faster than I normally run – to be honest, I hadn’t expected him to pick such a high speed – but I had too much at stake to think about it.
One minute later, both of us were panting. Half a minute after that, he seemed ready to collapse. Fifteen seconds after that, he gave up. I drawing on the last reserves of my strength, but continued for a minute longer, before nonchalantly giving him a grin, and reducing my speed to a light jog.

I had won! A personal victory and a blow against gender stereotyping.

But at what cost? Muscles I had forgotten existed ached for two days after that. Now I know what the term pyrrhic victory means!

Will I do it again? Undoubtedly! The one thing I cannot stand is stereotyping.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Turning Turtle

The other day, a wildlife photographer was telling me about how the sex of certain species of sea turtles is determined by the temperature of the water where the eggs incubate. ‘Hot gals, cool guys’ is how she described it. Normally, I would have dismissed it as urban legend, but she hadn’t just heard about it. She, and a dozen others, had actually randomly divided turtle eggs into two groups, which had then been kept at different temperatures- not even one egg had hatched differently from expected.
It flew in the face of all the genetics I had been taught in school, and which I learnt subsequently. The sex of any living organism is determined by the sex chromosomes, which are decided at the time fertilization. How then could the conditions under which the embroy fertilizes have any implications on the sex of the turtle?

I tried using the Internet to find out why it happened, but all I found were articles corraborating the phenomenon. Finally, I came up with a theoryof my own. Maybe male turtles have three sex chromosomes instead of two - XXY. All turtles start off male, but heat kills off the weaker Y chromosome, so female turtles with two X chromosomes hatch from eggs incubated at higher temperatures. Scientifically, it is as plausible an explanation as any other, and I am sticking to it till someone comes up with something more convincing.

Which brings me to the point of the entire post. Anyone who frequents my blog knows how much I love drabbles and drabbling. Normally, my drabbles almost write themselves. But while working on the story for this Sunday, something strange happened. My character refused to behave herself - she was determined to drag the story to something much longer than 100 words, and did. Since I have been attempting to do something longer for a long time, I am not complaining.

But I wonder if it is normal? When I created my character, she was supposed to be a drabble, but she seems to have taken over and done just what she wants. Does that happen, and when it does happen, how do you cope? Is there some way you can continue to exercise control the way nature does with turtles?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


 Just last week, I was bragging about how my First Grader maxed two dictation tests in a row. When I saw the words on this week’s list, I was pretty sure he would not be able to spell even one of them right.

Electricity, dugout, canoe, vehicle, aircraft, biplane, underground. No points for guessing they are doing ‘The History of Travel’ in Social Studies. One word seemed not to belong to the set – photograph. I checked again. The word was not photograph, it was pantograph. Pantograph? Did my son really know what it meant? I cannot be accused of having either a bad vocabulary or of being weak in general knowledge- if I had not encountered the word before, could my son really know what it was?
Since I was too proud to ask my son, I googled the word. A pantograph is a mechanical linkage device used for copying drawings. Very interesting, but I just couldn’t see the connection between a pantograph and transportation. Swallowing my pride, I asked my son what it meant. Something to do with trains, I gathered. Back to goggle – ‘pantograph’ and ‘ train’ told me that a pantograph was device that collects electric current from overhead lines for electric trains and trams.
I leant something new, but is there any point in the school teaching that to my not yet six year old? Aren’t concepts more important than names? Can’t the time my son spends in learning names of people, places and things that mean next to nothing to him be better utilized in teaching him something more concrete?
I have no issues with the teacher describing a pantograph to the kids, but is there any point in making them learn the word? And in learning to spell it? Wouldn’t it make a little more sense in getting kids to learn words that would help them to start reading independently?
Or maybe I am missing something here?!

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Hospital Books

I got thinking about my hospital stays, and realized that each one of them is indelibly associated with the book(s) I read while on the hospital bed.

The first time I was admitted to hospital during my adult life was six years back, when I was expecting my first child. My contractions had been rather strong when I was admitted into the labour ward, so I was pretty sure I would finish the book I had taken with me only at home with my baby. The book was Colleen McCullough’s 'The Thorn Birds’, and my labour dragged on so long that not only did I finish the book, I had even to make the hubby get me another book to see me through the second day.
The book he brought me, in his eternal wisdom, was Sophie’s  World – “I don’t know how the book is , but it is think, so you will not be bothering me again for awhile”. I read all my favourite parts in hospital, and strangely, haven’t returned to that book since. But I am not sure if the book counts as a ‘hospital book’, because I had read it more than once before and did not finish it in hospital.

My second child popped out as soon as I got myself admitted into the nursing home, so my next hospital stint was when I was admitted to hospital because of my falling platelet levels. I knew I had only to last out my malaria, for the levels to pick up, but since the doctor insisted I be admitted, I was. Two books went to hospital with me – Joane Harris’ ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘Sister of my Heart’. The first I liked a lot, but try as I did, I have just not succeeded in re-reading the book, despite more than one attempt. Chitra Divakaruni left me strangely dissatisfied. The book had everything that should have gripped me – a setting I knew and loved, characters and situations that I could relate to, and enough reasonable twists and turns to keep one happy – but it never quite lived up to the potential it showed. Perhaps that is the reason that remains the only one of her books that I have ever read.

When I was admitted for my hysterectomy a little over two months back, I took along Nandan Nilakeni’s ‘Imagining India’. It was just the kind of book I would avoid if I could think of an excuse to do so, which is why I put myself in a situation where I had no choice but to read the book. The book gripped me from the first page, and by the evening of my first day in hospital, I had asked the hubby to bring along more books for me to read. The second day, I galloped through ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ and Malcom Gladwell's ‘The Tipping Point’, and liked both of them (Perhaps the critic in me was removed along with my uterus – I have liked most of the books I have read in the last two months).  All three are books I know I will re-read, if only in parts.

I wonder if I am the only one who associates books with particular periods of my life, or if it is a universal phenomenon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Colours - Beige

[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 photograph only sets the tone for the colour]

Beige pants. White tank top. Designer shades. In advertising or media.
Beige pants. T-shirt with ripped sleeves. Sneakers. Student.
Beige pants. Navy blazer. Structured silk scarf. Travel agent.
Beige pants. Heavily embroidered ethnic top. Diamond studs. Long, straight hair. Account executive.
Beige pants. Flowery shirt. Faux pearls. Secretary.
Beige pants. Formal black shirt. Black strappy sandals. Banker or financial consultant.
Beige pants. Handloom shirt. Floaters. Print journalist or social worker.
Beige pants. Pink ruffled shirt. Silver gladiator shoes. Call centre executive
Beige pants. Polo necked t-shirt. Sensible shoes. Teacher.
Same beige pants. Different woman. Is it people watching? Or stereotyping?

Drabble(n) -
an extremely short work of fiction exactly one hundred words in length.
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Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Small Town Girl

This is the quasi-autobiographical story that I wrote four years back, and which was recently published in 'Chicken Soup for the Indian Teenage Soul'

The Small Town Girl

She was the small town new girl in her posh all-girls’ school. Gawky; unsophisticated; perpetually ill at ease among her more worldly classmates.

For twelve years, she’d loved watching the children’s movies screened biannually at her local community centre – it was only after moving to the big city that she realised people had something called televisions and could watch sitcoms at home every day. The other girls laughed at her because she had never heard of “I Love Lucy” or “Top of the Pops”. They wondered which burrow she had been hiding in when she admitted she’d never seen a Bollywood movie. And they thought she was a freak for not caring which sexy actress the current heartthrob was dating.

Infact, she did not even seem to know what dating involved – to her, boys were the people she raced bicycles with, not creatures she gossiped about. While her classmates had been experimenting with make-up and clothes, she’d been climbing guava trees, chasing dragonflies, and reading books - not the fashionable Mills & Boons romances, but outdated stuff like Jane Austen, Conan Doyle and P.G.Wodehouse.

She was the freak, and she knew it. She excelled in studies, but her classmates teased her because one or the other of them beat her in all subjects except Geography, Science and Mathematics. Her teachers loved her, but she hated herself for being different. She thought she could win her classmates over by doing better then them in class, but the better she did, the more she was teased and the more she was teased, the more she withdrew into herself. That was her only defence – erecting a protective barrier of shyness and stuttering around her.

She was a swift runner, and everyone wanted her on their team, but they selected her so grudgingly, she felt she had to burst her lungs out in gratitude to them for bestowing that mark of approval on her. Her paintings were good, but never good enough to be pinned to the classroom wall. Her needlework was neat, but never as good as the professionally done embroidery her classmates turned in. No matter how hard she tried, she was never good enough, and she knew herself for the inferior creature that she was.

They were putting up Cinderella that year, and when the class was told that they would all have to be on stage, she resigned herself for the part of the footman who carried the glass shoe from house to house. Her classmates, however, had other plans for her –

“We just need to find one Ugly Sister,” said one. “Or m-maybe, if o-one h-has a s-st-tutt-tter, we d-don’t even n-need t-two,” added another.

But she knew that her acting skills were inadequate to enact even that part.

Like all the others, she was forced to audition for the title role. She could empathise with the girl who was forced to become the perennial misfit, and amidst general twittering, read Cinderella’s lines in her scared, faltering manner.

She was the perfect Cinderella, and when she smiled at the Prince while he bestowed a kiss on the hand she proffered him, she brought the house down. The red velvet curtain swung open and shut seven times while she came back for encores.

She was a Star.

Her stammer was a thing of the past.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The forgotten hero

Technically, I should have mentioned it yesterday, but I am participating in the NaBloWriMo blogging challenge. Participants agree to write one blog post per day (on our own blogs) during the month of October.

What's so great, you may ask. I have been blogging every day since I started the blog in July last year. And if I did not miss a single day even when there was nobody reading my blog, which should I miss a day now?

No reason to miss a day, but perhaps this is the time to get some structure into my blog, so I don't have a week of rants, followed by a week of kids, and another of drabbles. Right now, I am too tired to think of the structure that I am going to get in, but there will be one by the weekend - I promise.

Meanwhile, here is my post for the day-

One hundred and forty years after he was born, two years after the United Nations declared that his birthday would be celebrated as International Day of Non-violence, how many people in his country of birth even remember Mahatma Gandhi?

My nearly six year old knows that America was discovered by Amerigo Vespucci, and Australia by Captain James Cooke. He knows that John Dunlop was a veterinary doctor, and he has heard of James Stevenson. But while he can identify photographs of Gandhi, he has no idea who he was or what he stood for.

Practically every Indian pays token obeisance to the Father of the Nation- his picture even adorns the largest denomination currency notes - but few people know, or care to know what the man actually stood for.

Gandhi stood for equality. Gandhi stood for humanity. Gandhi stood for truth and justice.

Gandhi did not use force to press his demands, he forced people to listen to his demands by appealing to their good sense and humanity.

Albert Einstein said of him - "Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth". Perhaps, it is because we cannot comprehend what the man stood for, that we choose to ignore him ideals completely.

He was relevant in his time. He is equally relevant today. And he will continue to be relavant till his ideals are adopted universally, when the necessity of relevance itself will be lost.

The time to imbibe his humanity and his compassion is now. The world cannot wait.

Last year's post on Gandhi - here

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken flavoured vegetarian Soup

That's me with my first 'writer's' cheque. Well, technically, I published two articles in a magazine when I was in school, but this is the first cheque I have got since turning adult the year the Berlin Wall came down. Technically too, this the cheque, though mine, is not in my name. But that is a whole long story......

In June last year, a schoolmate I had recently discovered caught me on g-chat “I am one story short in ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Teenagers’ Soul’. Can you write something, do you think?

The brief was uninspiring, but I was willing to have a go at it. As I racked my brains to think of something appropriate, I remembered a short story I had written many years back. “Small Town Girl” had been  a semi-autobiographical attempt at flash fiction.

I thought I could tidy it up a bit, but my friend – the editor of the series - thought it was perfect as it was. Within an hour, she had e-mailed me the terms and conditions of my work appearing in print (Rs. 500 for the piece, all rights to rest with me).  While I am no fan of the Chicken Soup series (or most other self help books), I cant’ deny I was excited about the idea of seeing my work in print.

I had been given to understand that the book would be out in two months, but when I heard nothing for four months, I asked my friend about it. The publishing house that had rights to the Chicken Soup series in India, she told me, had been taken over by another. They were in the process of renewing her contract, and we would hear from them shortly.

The shortly stretched into a few months. In the meantime, I my friend told me all about how well ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul’ was doing. It was in its third print run, was being translated into several Indian languages, and they were in talks with a theater company into adapting some stories for the stage. I was naturally happy for my friend, but wondered how any of it really applied to me or my solitary contribution to the series.

Then, in the last week of April, we heard from the editor (my friend). In a mail addressed to everyone (not even bcc-ed), she sent a singularly one-sided revised contract  that we were supposed to send back to her immediately.

The revised contract spoke about surrendering translation rights, e-book , graphic novel and multimedia rights, even adaptation rights. All for the same token amount of Rs. 500.

To say that the contract whipped up a storm is to put it mildly. Everytime I logged on, my mailbox was stuffed with messages from the contributors, the editor and the representative of the publishing company. Accusations, counter accusations, threats, insults, insinuations, sarcasm – all were traded in equal measure.

Meanwhile, the legal brain in me had been more worried about the indemnities and warranties clause, and having got permission to amend those, I had signed the contract and was ready to send it off.

However, in solidarity with the rest of the contributors, most of whom had a greater creative/ professional axe to grind than me, I held off sending the contract till the issue was sorted out. It wasn’t, and with a dozen others, I withdrew my piece from the compilation.

One of us blogged about it, but before I could dredge up the enthusiasm to do so, the CEO of the publishing house called me, and spoke to me for over an hour. It was nice talking to a rational human being, who realized the absurdity of sticking to the previous payment, when so many more "rights" were being asked for. After a lot of negotiation, the publishing house came back with an amended offer – the initial payment was doubled, and a system of further payments was drawn up which would be linked to sales.  They even expressed the willingness to amend or totally remove the legal clauses that I objected to.

By that time, the entire episode had so frustrated me, I wanted to opt out. The only reason I didn’t was because after the effort that the CEO had made, it seemed somehow underhand to withdraw.

But I did make a point. Since all along I had been insisting that it was the approach that I objected to and not the money, I insisted on the cheque being made out to my favourite charity.

Fifteen months after the start of the episode, the cheque finally arrived!

I am now officially a published author. And one charity is Rs. 1,000 richer, with the promise of more, if the book does well.

The bad news? The 'friend' I discovered quite by accident, is now an ex-friend. I've even been knocked off her Facebook list - now, isn't that tragic !


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