Friday, October 31, 2008

Reunited - a drabble

Five years ago, my aunt-in-law had admired a jade plant of mine. “If you like it so much, you can have it”, I’d said.“Are you sure?”“Quite sure. I propagated it from a cutting for a friend, but she no longer seems to want it. You might as well have it.”
We moved soon after that. My jade plant moved with me. Got transplanted and stayed behind when I moved right back. Yesterday, visiting relatives, I saw a flourishing jade plant in the balcony. I barely recognized it as mine. It was nice being reunited after so many years.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Picture Perfect

Starting on Diwali lists– two weeks back.
Buying rangoli powder, diyas and Lakshmi-Ganesh idols– one week back.
Marigold torans on the doorway - three days back.
Rangolis and diyas at the entrance for five days. Children painting diyas everyday.
Freshly laundered curtains. New cushion covers. Plants brought indoors. Newly-ironed kurtas. Bridal Jewellery. New blouses. Firecrackers. Floating candles. Matchboxes. Fresh flowers. Sweets.
Striving for perfection. Snapping at everyone. Getting irritated.
Is it worth it? Maybe I should just let things be.
Soon I will forget it all. This picture is what I will remember.
Perhaps it is worth it after all.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.
Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

That small difference

The other day, my older one brought home a picture he had coloured at his Daycare Centre. He was extremely proud of it, and justly so- every bit of area had been coloured, with even strokes, and the crayon had strayed beyond the outline only a couple of times. He had obviously taken a lot of care over the painting, and it showed.
Normally, good worksheets go on the doors of the cupboards in his room, but since there is no space left on the doors, and this particular worksheet was more than just good, I slipped it under the glass top of the dining table.
The first day, he returned to admire the picture every fifteen minutes, and it gradually tapered down to two or three times a day.

The next Friday, he handed me another picture he had coloured. It was neatly done, but nothing spectacular. Though most of the area had been covered, the strokes were uneven, almost bordering on careless. The crayon had gone beyond the outline a couple of times, and he hadn’t reigned it in fast enough. It would have been good two months back, but was just a shade over acceptable after the effort of the previous week.
“How is it, Mamma?”
The look in his eyes was enough to melt the heart of even the most demanding mother, “It is nice. But……(last week’s was much better)…”
He didn’t wait for me to finish. “Then put it here, Mamma”, he said, pointing to the space next to the picture of the previous week.
“No darling. This is good, but it is not that good”, I tried to tell him, but he would not listen.
“This is good. Teacher said so. Put it here, please.” The please was a slight afterthought, but he had used the word without prompting. And he was clearly devastated that I did not on my own display the picture.
“Okay, but only this time. From now on, only something that is really good will go here”, I told him as I slipped the picture under the glass.
“But this is good”, he insisted, even though I knew that he had not done it with as much care as he had the previous one.

How do you explain to a not yet five year old that even though the result may look nearly the same, there is a huge difference between giving something your best, and giving something just enough. And how do you deal with him till he learns?

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diwali - a drabble

The preparations would start months in advance. Recipes culled out of women’s magazines, tried once, carefully hoarded.
Five sweets, three savouries. Coconut burfee and chaklis were all-time favourites. That pista halva made out of green peas sounded interesting. Semia-payasam or teratipal? Boondi ladoos were dicey – let’s not attempt it? Chocolate fudge or kaju katlis?
On Diwali day, the most perfect looking sweets would be carefully arranged on the best plates, covered with crocheted cloth, and taken around to the neighbours. An informal competition to see who is the best cook.

Can shop-bought sweets even in their attractive boxes ever compare?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 27, 2008

Naraka Chaturdashi - a drabble

At school we learnt that Diwali commemorated Rama’s victorious return to Ayodhya. But my father’s explanation about how the demons try to escape into our World, and need to be scared off with firecrackers at the crack of dawn appealed to me much more than did the re-enactment of an episode from the life of a then controversial God.

What did not appeal as much was the ritual bath before sunrise– why a dip in the Ganges when it was sound that scared them off?

My sons bathe when they please, and shoot down demons with plastic guns.
Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sand slips through like time....

My son loves playing in the dirt, and I always loved the contrast of textures - rough sand sticking to his smooth hands.
To bring out the texture, I converted it into a black and white image.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Festival of Colours?

Mounds and mounds of coloured power arranged in triangular heaps. Had I stumbled onto the wrong festival? Rangoli powder, it happens to be.
Rows and rows of paper lanterns, their long tails fluttering in the wind. Are they not too small to fit a light inside? Turns out these ‘candils’ are purely decorative.
Brightly painted diyas, some with wax, some not. Paper stars that can be kept up till Christmas. Delicate Chinese lanterns which can be brought indoors after Diwali. Yards and yards of colourful cloth.
The ‘Festival of Lights’ seems to have reinvented itself as the ‘Festival of Colours’.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 24, 2008


[This was written some months back - just decided to share it today.]

Between us hangs Silence. He wants me to apologise - I will not.

He yelled at me yesterday. Perhaps he was justified. "You are luckier than you deserve," I'd said, "lucky that I had put it away." He can’t stand sarcasm, he says.

I needn’t have been sarcastic, I admit it. But he was wrong too. Not because he yelled, but because he did so after I found something he had misplaced two months back.

If you can’t stand sarcasm, say so, but do it before I have wasted precious minutes looking for something that should never have got lost.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Imagination or Realism?

In my older son’s kindergarten classroom, two wires are strung diagonally across the room to display artworks of the kids. Normally, I only look for whatever my son has done, and maybe look at the ones on either side to see what the other kids are doing. But a couple of days back, I had time on my hands, so spent time examining every artwork as I would in a museum.
There were too distinct styles. Half the kids had drawn perfect landscapes, and had covered every inch of paper with colour, the other half had drawn and coloured random figures and the teacher had written short sentences next to each of them.

My son’s artwork (predictably) had a snake wanting to fight the lizard who intended eating the snake. It also had a snail that was planning to eat a rose plant, and a spider, a butterfly and what looked like a mountain range.

It was crudely drawn but the stories left me enthralled. As did many of the other stories that the children had told. A smart publisher could make an entire story book out of just those pictures.

But as I moved to the other side of the room, I saw beautifully coloured blue skies, trees that were green and not yellow, flowers that looked like picture book flowers are supposed to look. ‘Who do these kids draw and colour so well, when my son refuses to do so’, I thought to myself, before consciously banishing the thought as unworthy.

Gradually, a pattern started emerging – the kids in my son’s morning batch all drew pictures that told stories, the ones in the afternoon batch (where my son had been the previous year) created aesthetically appealing pictures.

My son was not colouring in the sky, because he had not been taught to – his teacher was too busy encouraging him to tell stories and recording them.

Suddenly, those perfect landscapes no longer seemed as perfect – they spoke not of artistic abilities, but of imagination being fettered by education. I would much rather my son’s imagination soar than that he produce copybook perfect pictures.

Imagination over Realism, any day, for me.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Multiple intellegences

The other day, I heard about a mother telling her son’s class teacher, “You do realise, don’t you that my son doesn’t really know his multiplication tables. He just multiplies them and gives you the answer.”
The story sounded too hilarious to be true, but given how rote learning is so deeply ingrained in our education system, I could well believe it. The mother learnt her multiplication tables by rote, and could only think her son was failing in that endeavour when she noticed him transcending it.

With kids two years apart in age, I see it all the time. Even now, my older son struggles to comprehend number values, but the younger one can happily count any number of anything (upto 21 – till yesterday, he hadn’t learnt to go beyond that). Does that make the younger one smarter than the older one – I think not, because when the older one was the same age as the younger one now is, he could put together six piece jigsaw puzzles – the younger one struggles with three piece ones.
At a little over two and a half years of age, both my sons could identify song from the opening riff and could effortlessly sing entire songs – I still cannot do either. That doesn’t make them ‘better’ than their mother – we are just differently talented.

When I first heard about Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, I was fascinated. But it is only now when I see my kids in action that I realise how much truth there is in the whole thing.

I have two wonderful kids. Everyone else has kids equally wonderful too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The second most photographed building in India. A masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Domes, spires, Corinthian columns and minarets – the best of Baroque, with a strong flavour Indo-Islamic elements. Buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass windows. Gargoyles, stone carvings of peacocks, monkeys and British lions. The statue of Progress atop the dome instantly recognizable.
Named after the reigning monarch in the Silver Jubilee year of her reign. If ever a landmark deserved to be called Victoria Terminus, it is this.
Instead, it is named for a Maratha warrior who traveled only on horseback.
Can history be changed by changing names?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

[Perhaps not immediately apparent, but this was written on the day when there was large scale violence in my city of adoption because a politician who is trying to make political capital by fanning parochial hatred was arrested by the police.
It is the same ideology that he swears by that led to Mumbai having a Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and two Chatrapati Shivaji Terminals (one each for the domestic and international airports).
When will we, as a nation, wake up and learn that none of this is material to the quality of our lives?]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Run with Wind in your hair

How soon one forgets what it is to run.

Not run to get someplace, definitely not running to catch a train.
Not run a race, competing with your friends, crying when someone else gets the medal.
Not run to keep fit – ‘fifteen minutes, 76 calories, that should take care of the glass of champagne I should not have had last night.’

Just running; for the sheer joy of running!

Children do it all the time – wind in their hair, smiles on the faces, sheer joy in every uncoordinated limb.
Does becoming an adult mean you have to forget childhood pleasures?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hibiscus close up

The stamens and pistil of the hibiscus has always fascinated me - finally managed to take a photograph that captured them at their best.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 18, 2008


“Do you have to play in dirt?”, I say. “Look at your clothes. Who is going to wash them, may I ask?”
“Mamma!”, says the younger one. Not yet three, he is old enough to answer questions; too young to understand sarcasm.
“I’ll take you to the mall. There is a sandpit there.”

“But I like this dirt”, he persists. “Try and see. You might like it too.”

That is my line. I cannot refuse.

The sand is cool to touch. Not rough at all. It feels great while slipping through your fingers.

Tomorrow, we are coming back for more.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 17, 2008

Karva Chaut - a Drabble

Women dressed in their bridal best, sitting in a circle, passing their plates around. A recording of the story of yet another devoted wife plays in the background. They try to concentrate on the story, like all good wives should, but all they can think off is the cup of tea they can drink once they are through with it.
Food comes only after the sighting of the moon, but it is the thirst that is the worst to bear. But one and all, they do it, cheerfully, for the sake of their husbands.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The one in the middle

The one in the middle. The spotlight is on her. She is in focus. All eyes are on her.

The one in the middle. She is in the prime of her beauty. One sister is withering under life’s treacherous uncertainties, the other is yet to blossom.

The one in the middle. She is beautiful. Every line is perfectly etched. Every hue well defined. If you want perfection, you don’t have to look much farther than her.

Why then has she turned her back on us? Why do her shoulders sag?

Happiness! Why does it elude her? Is perfection not enough?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Will anything change for her, can it?

Some years back, my mother had known this young lady as a carefree girl in a half-sari running around the market selling leafy vegetables. My mother loved the girl’s cheerful smile and ready wit, and whenever she needed greens, she made it a point to buy it from this particular girl.

Then, my mother got busy with other things, and when she returned to the market several months later, the girl had disappeared. If at all her absence registered, it must have been momentarily – after all, girls that age get married and move away all the time.

Then, my mother found the girl again- rather she found a sad young woman, who looked not unlike the cheerful girl that my mother had known. The girl had got married, got pregnant, had a child, and when she just couldn’t make ends meet, she was forced to go back to doing the only thing she knew – sell green vegetables.

Post marriage, nothing had really changed for her – she still had to sit on the hard stone pavement selling greens, she was still subject to the same business risks as she was before marriage, she still had to deal with the same irate customers that she had to earlier. The only thing that had really changed was that she had a baby to look after, and a cranky husband to manage.

Her smile had vanished. She no longer had anything to dream about.

Would anything really make a difference to her life? If someone lent her money, would she even want to expand her business, knowing she would have to repay the loan even if something went wrong? If someone sent her to trade school, would she even want to go knowing she may have to drop out anytime if she got pregnant or her child fell ill? Is there a way out for this girl? Would she ever be able to go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that she and her family would eat the following week? Would she ever be able to put enough aside to know that when her family falls ill, they can afford to consult a doctor?

Is there really a way out for this young lady?

Education, yes.
With education, her daughter can learn a trade, get a job and rise above poverty.
With education, she may learn how not to have more children, so she can give her child a better shot at happiness.

But a real change for her, in her generation? I would love to believe it is possible, but I am not sure how.

But then, she is one of the luckier ones. She has the capacity to earn money – for most of my nation’s poor, even that is but a dream.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of mad plants and Republicans

The younger one came to me the other day – “Mamma, look, this plant is mad.”
“Oh really, what did it do?”
“It’s leaves are pink.”

I didn’t know whether to be amused (at his attempts at classification), or impressed (at his observation skills), or just plain worried.
Worried? What on earth for? Why should anyone worry if a not yet three year old comes up with a cute statement like a plant being mad because it doesn’t have green leaves?

Woman at a US election rally – “I don’t trust Obama. He is an Arab.”
Senator McCain – “He is not an Arab. He is a decent family man.”

I can’t understand the good Senator’s response. He seems to imply that since Obama is a ‘decent, family man’ he cannot be an Arab. Does that mean Arabs are not ‘decent, family men’.
That really cannot be true. Even if the majority of them are not ‘decent, family men’ (which itself is disputable), is it even possible that no Arab is a ‘decent family man’ – none of them, not even one. Because if even one Arab is a ‘decent, family man’, Obama too could be an exception.
More likely ‘Arab’ is just a label for someone you cannot trust because they are intrinsically untrustworthy, and ‘decent, family man’ is one for a person you can trust with slight reservations.

The Republican party pitch scares me, because I have seen first hand the dangers of labelling people. Which is why my son’s statement scared me a bit.

How long before he carries labelling to the next level, and starts labelling people? Not just labelling them, but judging them on the basis of the labels he gives them.

Or am I just worrying needlessly? Maybe labelling people is a phase we all go through when we are different and grow out of. Maybe that is why politicians who label people are so dangerous – because they have the emotional maturity of a three year old.

Maybe I should just chill admire my son for his observation skills and the fluency with which he expresses himself, and not project my secret worries onto him. Despite calling a deviant plant ‘mad’ maybe he will grow up to be a non-judgemental person after all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't look a gift horse .....

Dussera/ Diwali gifts have started arriving. We got this beautiful gift hamper from one of hubby’s clients the other day.

Four bottles of Vodka (manufactured and marketed by said client), nestling prettily in a highly polished wicker basket. The arrangement was beautiful – the blue and gold bow-tie sported by the bottles perfectly complementing the colour scheme of the bottles, which in turn looked lovely reclining in the sea of blue and white thermacol balls. The whole arrangement topped off with a layer of transparent cellophane and a huge white plastic bow.
Aesthetically pleasing and time consuming, the package proved that though the company used their own products, they were willing to lavish care on putting it together just so.
A perfect Dussera/ Diwali gift?
Or, a time bomb?

Thermacol balls – totally bio-undegradable, likely to be consumed by young children.
Coloured thermacol balls – how likely that the dye used is non-toxic?
Plastic bows – durable, but cannot be reused. They would either be thrown into the dustbin as such or torn to shreds and then thrown. Either way, environmental menace
Cellophane cover – chosen precisely because it would not dissolve in water, or tear on casual touch
Name tag – made of re-cycled paper, it was the only thing that got some points for eco-friendliness

Time was when gifts came wrapped in wrapping paper. We would spend hours opening them carefully, so the paper could be carefully folded and re-used the next time a gift had to be given. Bows were ribbons made of satin or nylon that ended up on ponytails of children or dolls.
Was all that so bad it had to be replaced by this?
If I start covering the gifts I give in newspaper with images painted on them, would people think I am a green citizen, or that I am cheap?
And what if everyone started doing the same?

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Shopping List

Last night, the older one came up to me and said he wanted to be taken to the supermarket.
“And what do you intend doing at the supermarket?”, I asked.
“I need to buy several things”, he replied.
“Britania cake, Britania biscuit, Gems,…. and lots of other stuff.”
“Okay, we’ll take you to the supermarket tomorrow, but before we leave, you need to make a shopping list.”

This morning, immediately on waking up, the son reminded me of the shopping list. After brushing his teeth, and before even having breakfast, he sat down at the table, asked for a pencil, and asked me how a shopping list was made.”


The words had to be spelt out to him, and since he insisted on using ‘joined handwriting’, some of the formations had even to be demonstrated. But the important thing is that he made out a list entirely on his own, and wrote most of it out himself.
I remember writing a letter to my grandfather when I was eight. At the rate at which my son is going, he may well reach that milestone a couple of years earlier.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sow a seed

When my son first learnt about plants growing out of seeds, he was really excited. Our next Sunday afternoon ramble focused on seeds – he collected dozens of them, and we spend a few pleasant moments sorting out the seeds from the non-seeds. He was impatient to get home, and plant them, and it was all I could do to give them the customary soak for thirty minutes before he took them out of the water and carefully planted them in the pot I gave him.
Half an hour late, he was back, “Mamma, can I see the plant yet?”
He most reluctantly accepted my statement that it would take a little bit longer for the plant to come out, and one hour later, was back again. By the time the seeds started germinating, he had all but forgotten about them, and he did not track the growth of the plants with anywhere close to the enthusiasm as he would have displayed had they grown in ‘fast forward’ mode.
But seeds require time to germinate and grow, and plants need a gestation period before they flower and produce seeds of their own. Every gardener knows that, and accepting that is key to effective gardening.

Yesterday evening, my group of writer friends heard from an Art Gallery that we have been talking to for the last few months – the Gallery is going to display our Drabbles alongside the paintings that inspired them as a part of their autumn-winter display. The details were thrilling – they are going to unveil their new collection of paintings as a part of the celebrations to commemorate the switching on of Christmas lights in Cardiff town, and our Drabbles are going to be the cornerstone of their display. As I read the details – press releases, radio coverage, podcasts of authors reading out their works – I could barely conceal my excitement. This was what we have been dreaming of for years. To have it actually fructify into something tangible is almost unbelievable.
I wrote my first painting inspired short story when I was expecting my younger son. As a group we have been trying to sell this idea for over eighteen months now. We had hit upon the drabble format nearly six months back, and have been speaking to the Gallery we would now we working with since Summer. All this time, we hoped and dreamt it would lead to something, but somehow did not believe in that dream till it actually materialized.
Now, while we are talking websites, and logos and selection of the drabbles to be displayed, and whether or not we should include author pictures in the website, the sense of unreality has not totally left us.
The seed we planted all those months back is finally growing into a plant. Whether it actually bears fruits and produces seeds, or remains decorative remains to be seen. But the excitement is no less.

Life is a garden. You plant seeds, water them, tend to them, and essentially forget about them. If you are lucky, and shoots appear, and then fruits and seeds. If not, there are other seeds that you have planted in the garden, and you had fun gathering the seeds and planting them too.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Both my kids are convinced that they are doing their mother a great favour by allowing her to stuff food down their throats. That the food is palatable, nutritious, reasonably tasty and well presented means nothing to them - their mother wants them to eat, so to eat is to do her a favour.

Breakfast is always the worst meal of the day - the kids are cranky because they have been woken up from their sleep, they can sense that their mother is tense because she has half a dozen interlinked things to do, and that is one meal which has to be consumed 'now' rather than half an hour later.

And on Wednesday morning, things reached their nadir. Both the kids we eating reasonably well till I had to get up for a moment. When I returned less than thirty seconds later, the younger one just refused to open his mouth long enough for me to push anything in.
I tried coaxing him, no effect.
Tried reasoning with him, no effect.
Tried bribing him, no effect.
Tried threatening him, no effect.
Tried forcing him, no effect.

I finally gave up, fed the older one, dressed him and sent him off to school, before taking up Operation Breakfast Part Two. It was with an eerie sense of deja vous that I went through the motions of coaxing, reasoning, bribing and treatening him.

In the past, I have, at this stage emptied the contents of the breakfast bowl into the blender, and shoved the pureed contents down my son's throat. I stopped short of doing that this time. I told him that if he refused to eat, he was going to be sent to school on an empty stomach, and that his mother would remain mad at him till he ate his next meal. He was in the middle of a tearless tantrum when the school bus arrived, and the goodbye kiss I gave him was nothing short of perfunctary.

I was racked with guilt all day - how could I possibly have sent such a tiny kid so far away without adequate fuel in his tank?

My mother told me that kids could go hungry for a day or two and that I should not worry about it - I knew she was right, but that did not make things much better for me. She had never sent her kid to school on an empty stomach, how could she possibly know the guilt a mother is capable of feeling in such a situation?

A friend told me that as mothers our responsibility is not just to make sure our kid's tummies are full, but also to help them understand the need and importance of food. Dead right - that was what I was trying to teach him, wasn't it? I could not have put it better, but the guilt did not go away.

I was dreading the reaction I would get when I picked the kids up in the evening. But it was as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Both the kids were exactly as they are every other day. They proved a lot more mature than I can aspire to be at this moment.

And today? Today, the son ate his breakfast without a murmur. Could it be that he was hungry today, or was it because he realised what hunger felt like the previous day I sent him to school without food? Whatever the answer, I know exactly how I am going to deal with either kid the next time they fuss over having their meals.

Guilt, I now realise, really has no place in parenting. As long as you are doing your best, you really cannot do too much better.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What is good and what is evil?

On Dussera Day, while people prepare to burn effigies of Ravana to commorate the victory of good over evil, I can’t help wondering who decides what is good and what is evil.

We have been brought up to believe that the evil Ravana abducted the pure Sita Maiya, thereby forcing the noble Prince Rama to go to war against Lanka to rescue his beloved wife.

But is that where the story really begins? Doesn’t the story begin, as so many stories do, with a young girl meeting a handsome man and falling in love with him? When Princess Soorpanaka saw the young hunter in the forest, she did not know anything about him – all she knew was that she was physically attracted to him, and that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Soorpanaka did nothing wrong in proposing to Lakshman – she just did what any other high-spirited maiden would have done in her place. It was Lakshman who was in the wrong – he should have gently told her that he already had a wife at home, and was not interested in taking on another wife. Even if he was repulsed by her advances, there was absolutely no need for him to cut off her nose, either literally or metaphorically. Men, especially Kshatriya men, were supposed to protect women, not declare unprovoked war on them.

When a favourite sister comes to a brother with a broken heart and a story about mistreatment in the hands of the man she had fallen in love with, how else is the brother supposed to react? In seeking revenge, Ravana did no more or less than what any other brother would have done in his place. In fact, it could just as well be argued that he abducted Sita in order to force Rama to persuade his brother to take Soorpanaka as a mate.

During her year in captivity, Ravana never made any advances on Sita. By all accounts Sita was a very beautiful woman – any man would have wanted her as his wife. Had Ravana chosen impose himself on Sita, there was little she could have done to protect her chastity. He knew that and she did too, yet he waited for her to come to him willingly. Is that the behaviour of an evil man, or an honourable one?

How honourable was the conduct of Prince Rama during the Battle of Lanka? Ravana and Rama were fairly evenly matched during the battle – it was treachery and betrayal that tiled the contest in Prince Rama’s favour. Did Vibhishan join forces with Rama because he wanted to end the evil excesses of his brother, or did he do so because he wanted to usurp the throne for himself? Did the virtuous Prince Rama even try to ascertain the real motives of Vibhishan before joining forces with him?

Would not history have judged both Rama and Ravana quite differently had the other side claimed victory?

If Prince Rama was the epitome of virtue that he is made out to be, why did he kill Bali by putting an arrow through his back? The laws of Kshatriya warfare leave no room for ambiguity – you can only fight an opponent when he is face to face with you. Prince Rama did not do so. Worse, he tried to justify his action by saying that he was forced to commit a sin in order to end evil. Does any one person, even if the person is a God, decide what is evil and who needs to be terminated? Had it been Ravana who had killed Bali through stealth, it would have been taken as further proof of his evilness – since it was Prince Rama who did the dishonourable deed, it was justified and forgotten.

Some actions are unambiguous – they are either good or not good regardless of the context in which they took place – but many actions fall in the borderline of subjectivity. Depending on how you look at it, you can classify it as good or as evil.

What is good and what is evil? Who decides? Do you? Do I? Should anybody?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Durga’s Annual Homecoming

[this was written two years back, and is a story about relationships as much as it is a mythological tale]

Life on Mt. Kailash can drive anyone crazy. Cold winds lashing the house all day long making it impossible to go out. No neighbours to talk to, nothing to do except watch the kids grow up and if time permits, read the occasional books. Even though she adores her children, and loves tracking their every milestone, Durga is starved for intelligent adult company. She needs a break. She wants to get away from it all, if only for a few days.
Clearing up after her husband, putting up with his sullen silences, accepting the blame for everything that goes wrong in his life and taking out all her pent-up anger on her kids – that is what her life has been reduced to. Since the kids’ school will be having an autumn break soon, she decides to visit her mother for a few days.
So thrilled is she with her decision, she prepares Shiva’s favourite butter chicken for dinner, and hopes he’ll come home on time – food never tastes as good when re-heated in the microwave.
“Darling,” she purrs as he dips his succulent naan into the gravy, “I’ll be going to Mom’s place for a couple of days.”
“What!!!”, he splutters, and spends the next few minutes dislodging the piece of chicken he nearly choked on. “Why do you need to go now? Haven’t you just come back from a holiday there?”
“I last visited my mother nearly a year back. And I feel like eating fish curry and talking through the night with my mother.”
“Tell the cook to prepare fish for you. I hate fish, but I suppose I can put up with it once in a while.”
“The fish you get here is utter crap. Not like the sweet ilish maach of the Padma river,” she snaps. “And that is not even the point. I am starved for adult company here – I don’t have anyone to talk to.”
“What about me? I may not be you intellectual equal, but…”
“You?”, laughs Durga derisively. “You? Company? And when do you even get the time to talk to me, unless it is to ask me to stitch on the tiger fang buckle that got loose? As long as someone is clearing up after you and ministering to your every need, you wouldn’t even notice I am not around.”
“That is not true,” says Shiva coming up and giving her a hug. “You know I love you.”
“Love me?”, Durga sneers. “You don’t even have any time for me. Home is just the place you come to when you want to sleep. When was the last time you spent a weekend at home?”
“Durga, you know that this is a busy time of the year for me.”
“Every time seems to be a busy time for you. I thought you were a god. What use is it being a deity if you can’t even delegate? Let someone else listen to prayers and grant boons for a couple of days.”
“Durga, please listen…”
“I don’t want to listen. I’ve had enough. And in any case, I am not asking you to change – I know you will not. I am just saying that I am going to my mother’s place for a holiday.”
“Don’t you try and stop me, Shiva. You may be a great god, who everyone else is scared of, but don’t forget that I am a goddess and your equal. I will do just what I please.” Durga stamps out of the room, banging the door behind her, leaving Shiva with a rapidly cooling dinner and no clue as to how to handle the microwave cooker.
Durga is angry, but oddly triumphant, so doesn’t bother to bolt the door to her chambers. A few hours later, an oddly contrite Shiva crawls into the bed and lays something fragrant and slimy next to Durga’s inert form.
“Look Durga, see what I have got you,” he says. “A hundred and eight pink lotus flowers. I spent the last two hours hunting for them in the pond at Viakunt. You do like lotuses, don’t you?”, he adds almost timidly.
Durga is touched, but doesn’t want to give her husband the pleasure of knowing it. “You silly oaf. Look what you’ve done. Putting dripping wet stuff on the bed. And on my freshly laundered sheets at that. Who’s going to change the sheets, may I ask? As if I don’t have enough to do already. Men!”, she snorts, as she allows herself to be hugged.
“Durga, about this trip of yours,” begins Shiva timidly the next day, but is cut off in mid sentence by his wife.
“My trip is not subject to deliberation any more. We settled that last night,” says Durga emphatically. “I am leaving tomorrow and don’t you try and stop me.”
“I’m not trying to stop you. But can’t you put it off for a couple of weeks?”
“Whatever for,” snaps Durga. “What is going to crop up in my mundane existence to necessitate something like that? Are planning to come home on time for dinner the Thursday after next?”, she continues sarcastically.
“Please, Durga. We are in a mess, and only you can save us. The whole world needs you, Durga,” his eyes plead. “I need you.”
Despite herself, Durga is curious. “And what may that be?”, she asks.
“There is a demon, Mahishasura, who is creating havoc on Earth,” says Shiva. “He needs to be stopped.”
“So stop him. You have never cringed from violence in the past, have you? Why are you hesitating now?”
“That is exactly the point. I cannot. And none of the other gods or warriors can, either. This Mahishasura has been granted a boon that no man, god, beast or demon can kill him.”
“And no points for guessing who granted that boon,” snaps Durga. “Honestly, husband, I think half the problems in the world are created by you. If you were not so easily pleased, and if you used the few brains that you do possess, things would be so much less complicated.”
Shiva looks contrite. “You are right, dear wife,” he says. “But the fact still is that Mahishasura needs to be stopped.”
“You created the problem, you solve it,” says Durga. “Why should I forego my trip to my mother’s house because you are in a mess of your own making?”
“But only you can help me this time, Durga. Only you.”
“How so?”
“The boon says that ‘no man, god, beast or demon’ can kill Mahishasura. You are none of those. You are a Goddess – you can stop him.”
“I am just a harried mother, with nothing to do, and no time to do it in. What can I do?”
“Don’t belittle yourself, Durga. You may have chosen to become a mother, but you are one of the most skilled fighters around. All the Gods will lend you their best weapons. Mahishasura stands no chance against you.”
It takes a few minutes for what he is saying to sink in, then Durga pulls herself to her full height. “You are right, Shiva,” she says. “I can stop him, and I will. But I’ll not come home after the battle – I will go straight to my mother’s place after finishing him off.”
Durga, the manifestation of the Mother Goddess, does not see the incongruity of being, at the same time, the mother of all creation and the person chosen to destroy a demon. The way she looks at it, she is a mother, and the primary duty of a mother is to protect her offspring. If something threatens the well-being of her children, she needs to eliminate it, even if that thing is also of her own creation.
Mahishasura is a very good fighter, but he doesn’t stand a chance against Durga. Even on her own, she would have been a formidable opponent, but armed as she is with the best weapons in the possession of the entire Pantheon, there is no way anyone can even try to stand up to her.
Impatient though she is to get on with the job, she prolongs the battle, since she would rather not use weapons borrowed from others. But when she finds the battle dragging on, she sprouts four extra pairs of hands, and using all the weapons at the same time, pushes Mahishasura into a corner and drives her sphere into him.
Her pet lion pounces on Mahishasura’s buffalo, killing it at nearly the same instant that she finishes off Mahishasura.
Job done, Durga returns to her marital home only long enough to pick up her children, before going off to visit her mother.
It takes Durga five days to journey to her mother’s place. She can, perhaps, do it in less, but she needs the extra time to prepare herself. She knows that her mother doesn’t quite approve of Shiva, so she needs to internalise the act that she would have to put on to prove that her marriage is nothing if not perfect.
Her spirits lift as she nears her home – the place where she is at the same time the beloved daughter coming home after a long time, and the benevolent mother gracing her children’s houses with her auspicious presence. With an intuition that can only be called divine, her children seem to know that she is coming, and have made preparations.
Large and small. Ostentatious and simple. Traditional and trendy. Expensive and mean. There are idols of her in virtually every street corner. The mesmerising beat of the dakhi, the traditional drum, calls out to her and she enters each one of her likenesses, making them come alive with her presence.
For the next four days, she will be with her people – eating with them, singing and dancing with them, listening to their problems, accepting their thanks for favours granted, and even giggling and gossiping with them. For four days, she’ll happily forsake her sleep to devour the delicacies they prepare in her honour.
For four days, she will smile indulgently as her children walk miles to be catch a glimpse of her from as many pandals as possible – she will not spoil their fun by telling them that the spirit residing in each of the idols is the same. She will see the young children flirting mildly with people they have fancied for a year, but who they would not otherwise have been able to meet because of strict paternal supervision. She will admire the new clothes her children wear in her honour, and will check out the latest fashion trends so she can get her tailor to replicate them when she gets back home.
Her heart will overflow with love and affection during the aartis, when the heavy smell of camphor will mingle with the sound of mantras chanted to the beat of the dakhi to create an atmosphere which will cause goosebumps even on the arms of the unbeliever.
Durga is home with the millions who adore her, and she wishes she can stay forever. But she knows that Shiva cannot really get along without her, so after four days of revelry, she is impatient to get back.
Her children do not want to let her go, but reluctantly they do. The women smear themselves and her with vermilion, the time-honoured sign of matrimony, and extract a promise from her that she will return the following year. They weep while they take her idols to the river bank, and wail while immersing her idols in the river. But Durga’s eyes are dry – she has already detached herself from the Earth, and is mentally on Mount Kailash. She is wondering if her husband has remembered to feed that obnoxious pet snake that he insists on keeping wrapped around his neck.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kumari Puja - a Drabble

The pre-pubescent girl –a manifestation of the Divine Mother – serving her is worshipping the Goddess.
The Ashtami of Devi Navratra is her day.
Five giggling girls. Or seven. Or nine.
Dressed up in their festive best. Having their feet washed ceremoniously by the male householder. Seated on silken rugs. Fed first – before the token male child. Extra-sweet halwa. Fluffy puries straight from the pan.
She is sent off with gifts of flowers and money. To be forgotten till the next year.
One day in a year, the girl child gets to be a Goddess. Why should it not be everyday?

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A city unsafe

A couple of days back, 25-year old Soumya Vishwanathan, was found dead with a bullet in her head. That the T.V. journalist was killed in cold blood in the middle of the Capital city was was tragic enough, but what made it worse was the Chief Minister’s reaction to the tragedy – “All by herself till 3 am at night in a city where people should not be so adventurous.”
I cannot even start to make sense of the Chief Minister's remarks. Sowmya Vishwanathan was in a profession that required people to work erratic hours, and the hour at which she was returnign home was not an uncommon one for media professionals. Sowmya Vishwanathan had not been 'asking for trouble' by keeping erratic hours - if she was asking for trouble, it was by being a contciencious journalist and asking uncomfortable questions.
Rather than apologise for the breakdown in law and order in her state, the Chief Minister (a female herself) chose to cast aspersions on the character of a young professional about whom she knows practically nothing. Is a man asking for trouble when he returns home from work at 3 am? No, he is lauded for being a thorough professional who is willing to work long hours. Why then these double standards when it comes to women?
True, you rarely find women out on the streets of Delhi after dinnertime. In Mumbai, I have cheerfully taken the last train home, without stopping to think if it were safe to do so or not, but in Delhi the first time I asked someone to drop me off a two minute walk away from home was also the last time I did so. Six years back, it was apparently a cardinal sin for a single woman to be wandering around the streets of Delhi even at 10 pm. Judging by Shiela Dixit's reaction, it still is.
And I wonder why it is so – is the prevailing attitude present because the city is unsafe for women, or is the city unsafe for women because of the prevailing attitude that it is? And is there a solution, apart from the one where all working women just move out of the city?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Durga Puja - a Drabble

Streets blocked off to traffic. A sea of humanity. Step in and get carried along with the tide.
The city awash with illuminations. Whole stories retold in lights.
Pandals housing the ten-handed Goddess on every lane. Crude box like structures, or replicas of famous monuments.
The frenzied beat of the dakis. The sound of conch shells being blown. The benign face of the Goddess.
The tantalizing aroma of street-food. The smell of camphor and flowers. And sweaty arm-pits.
A quest to visit all the pandals. Conversations and contests on which were the best.
Four days of Durga Pujas in Calcutta.

Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Navratras - a Drabble

Graceful bodies dance in a circle. Dip and rise. Dip and rise. Swirl and dip and rise.
At the heart of the circle, a flickering oil lamp in an earthen pot - Garba, from garb, meaning womb. The Mother Goddess.
Round and round the dancers go. The tempo rises, the dancers keep up. The music reaches a crescendo. Bodies pirouette. Skirts twirl. The mirrors sewn onto skirts catch the light and reflect it back. The frenzy never ends.
Is it a celebration? Entertainment? Worship? Festival and Festivity are cousins.
The Navratras. Nine nights of non-stop dancing. Nine nights of worship.
Drabble (n) - an extremely short work exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is brevity and to test the author's ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in an extremely confined space.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 3, 2008

An angry mother crow

While sorting through my photographs today, I came across this picture that I took some months back.

A crow had made a nest outside my window, and when I tried to take a picture of its pretty greenish-blue eggs, the crow got really agitated and nearly pecked my eyes out.

No other bird has reacted as adversely to a real or a perceived threat - I've destroyed dozens of pigeon eggs, and the birds have just placidly picked up the remains of the nest and moved elsewhere. Ditoo with a sparrow nest in Delhi - when they found that my son and I were taking an unhealthy interest in the eggs, the bird moved the eggs elsewhere, but they were not willing to go to war with a human to protect their eggs.

Crows, are almost mammal-like in guarding their young. Why then do they get such bad press?

Is it our colour-conscious mentality asserting itself, I wonder.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gandhi and Children's T.V. serials

“Mamma, what do I watch? There is Ben 10 on Cartoon Network, but that is not allowed. Ninja Hatorri on Nick, but that is not allowed. Animax is not allowed. Can I watch Power Rangers on Jetix?”
“Jetix is not allowed either. What about Pogo? What is on Pogo?”
“Fighting wala serial – also not allowed. Mamma, please, please can I watch Power Rangers? I switched off the TV when Ben 10 came on Cartoon Network. Please can I watch Power Rangers S.P.D.?”
“Okay. You can watch Power Rangers. But only this time, and only because you were a good boy and turned off the T.V. when the serial that was not allowed came on.”

A one-off conversation? No way - variations of this take place every single day at home. More than half a dozen channels dedicated to children, but between 8 and 9 pm when the kids are allowed to watch T.V., you cannot find a single channel that broadcasts anything even reasonably appropriate for kids.
If it is not the Power Rangers bashing up their enemies, it is Ben 10 fighting with his. Animax always seems to have amine characters blowing up each other, and those dubbed Japanese serials on Nick don’t even have the minor saving grace of dialogues in English.
Brought up as they are on a staple diet of pure unadulterated violence passing itself off as entertainment, is it any wonder that ‘fighting’ seems to be the favourite pastime of today’s kids? Not fighting for a cause, or fighting with someone because they did something to annoy you – fighting as in the noun, “fighting karega?” -
Older brother to younger brother – “Fighting karega?”
Younger brother to older brother – “Haan!”
My boys dispense pushes, punches, and kicks the way I would hugs and kisses. Pulling each other’s hair and pinching each other is all in a day’s work. Declining to buy them guns doesn’t prevent them from playing with them – they just borrow spare guns from their friends.

Are these the values we want our children to grow up with? Sure, the T.V. serials always have the good guys bashing up the bad ones – we know that, but can children tell the difference? To them, the equation is simple – Spiderman is good, Spiderman bashes up the bad guys, therefore it is good to bash up the bad guys. And who is the bad guy – the kid you were playing with till a minute back becomes a bad guy the moment he refuses to let you hold his new battery operated gun, and he needs to be bashed up.

Today, while trying to explain the relevance of Gandhi-ji to our lives, I was repeatedly reminded of his famous words – “an eye for an eye, and the world would go blind.” I told the kids the story of how Gandhi-ji found them fighting with each other –

Gandhi-ji – “Why did you push your older brother?”
Younger brother – “Because he pushed me.”
Gandhi-ji – “And why did you push your younger brother?”
Older brother – “Because he pushed me first.”
Gandhi-ji – “When you push him, what happens? He pushes you back. And then you push him, and he pushes you again. And eventually who gets hurt? Both of you.”
Older brother – “So?”
Gandhi-ji – “So, when either of you pushes the other, and the other pushes back, both of you end up getting hurt. I am sure you do not like that at all. So, the next time someone pushes you, just say ‘I forgive you’, and walk away. Fighting is no fun unless the other person fights back, so after awhile, the other person stop bothering you. Why don’t you just try that and see?”

As a bedtime story, the kids loved it, but I am not at all sanguine about it making a significant different to the quantum or quality of the ‘fighting’ they do.

But if the T.V. Channels start applying some of Gandhi’s standards while selecting programmes for children, maybe we would gradually start seeing a change?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And, Eid Mubarak

This time of the year when Mumbai becomes a wonderland – Ganapathy, Ramadhan, Navratri, Diwali, Christmas- the festivals follow in quick succession. Sometimes, I wonder if the strings of fairy lights that form a canopy over the streets are even taken down between festivals. The way to tell them apart is from the colour of the flags that interspace rows of lights – orange for Ganapathy, green for Ramadhan, multi-coloured festoons for Navratri,
This year, I noticed there were far fewer green flags on public display than the previous year, but I really did not give too much thought to it. Today’s paper gave me the answer to my unformulated question – the All India Muslim Front had appealed to all Muslims to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr with austerity and to wear black bands or black caps to condemn the recent spate of bombings in the country.
One part of me rejoiced at the foresight of the leaders of the organisation – some Muslims are responsible for the bombings, so all Muslims are terrorists is the convenient opinion of most people in the country. What better way to prove to the country that the majority of Muslims shun violence than by toning down the celebrations of your most important festival?
As an individual, I am tired of having to continuously wonder where the next bomb blast is going to take place, to have my eyes constantly flitting about to locate potential bombs. But equally, I am tired of having an entire community being blamed for something perpetuated by a few individuals. I am proud of the Muslim leadership for demonstrating their true position in such a strong manner.
But, as a member of the majority community, I am also ashamed at demanding that the Muslims make this sacrifice to prove their non-violent credentials. Why should an eight-year old Muslim girl be deprived of a chance to show off her brand new lehanga to appease people who choose not to think for themselves? Why should a Muslim household not partake of a full Eid spread, merely because a country chooses to be moronic?
In the past, Ahmedabad had not, out of consideration for the people who lost so much during the Gujarat riots, toned down its festivities while celebrating Navratri. Civic and religious leaders had, in fact, justified the ostentatious celebrations by arguing that participating in the festivities would help the riot affected people heal faster.
Why then, should the Muslims have to tone down their celebrations to prove that they do not support the creed of violence?
The Muslims should not have to do it, but they are doing it, and I hope all Indians get the message they want sent out – that it is individuals who are responsible for the bombings, not the community as a whole.
By the same token, I wonder if any of the Hindu leaders would even consider asking Hindus to tone down Diwali celebrations to condemn the violence against Christian missionaries in the country.
Posted by Picasa


Related Posts with Thumbnails