Sunday, February 28, 2010

Indus Ladies- Woman's Day Contest

I got an e-mail from IndusLadies telling me that my entry The Tale of Two Women has made it to the Top Ten in their International Woman's Day Contest.

To say that I am thrilled is a bit of an understatement, but Vasanti is such a compelling story, I am not too surprised. The post is dedicated to her, and to the smile that never leaves her face- not even when she is nursing facial injuries incurred while playing rugby.

The Big One

[Nature has never failed to awaken in me simultaneously the almost contradictory feelings of insignificance and utter grandeur. Though I have never surfed, this drabble is a tribute to that feeling]

I study the water, see the wave coming even before it has formed. It will be a big one, I brace myself for it. Foot firmly on board, knees bent, body pressing forward as I have been doing for years. I have placed myself in the prefect spot. The wave forms under my board, carries me up to its crest. I ride the wave, hold myself up as long as possible. The wave comes crashing down, brings me down with it.

I am insignificant compared to the might of the Ocean. It embraces me, I am a part of it.

A drabble a day, everyday, on the many aspects of Love, in the Valentine Feature at the Burrow.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A nation of entrepreneurs

The other day, I met someone from London who told me that Indians are by nature entrepreneurial. I rejected that observation outright- I grew up in a nation where a government job was the ultimate prize in life, and grew into a nation where a job with an MNC is the most coveted employment opportunity.
Then I looked around. Saw this boy sitting on the rubble of a road being dug up for repairs and selling vegetables.
Could it happen anywhere but in India?

I guess we are a nation of entrepreneurs.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 26, 2010

Our own uniqueness

I was speaking to the mother of my older one's best friend the other day, and happened to mention that my son had told me that she had lovely, curly hair.
"It's not exactly curly", she clarified. "It is fizzly."
"That may be so", I replied. "But my son definitely thinks it is curly and pretty."
"Bless him", she said. "Tell him, he's made my day. But I wish I could believe it is anything other than plain fizzly."

There was clearly a disconnect. She's didn't seem to think much of her hair, but my son thought otherwise. I was wondering how it could be so, when I realised that I shared the same slightly ambivalent relationship with my hair.

I've got wavy hair. Not gently undulating waves, or bouncy on your face waves. Just plain unruly waves, which never seem to know how to behave. There are days when I try to tame it into submission with gels and hair grips, and there are days when I just run my fingers through wet hair and allow it do to just what it wants. Regardless of what I do, the result is not much different. How my hair looks on a given day has no relationship to the amount of time I put into it. I know I have decent hair - it is thick and soft - but because it doesn't measure up to what I want it to be, I am not as fond of it as I should be.

And I am definitely not the only one. Practically nobody I know accepts their hair for what it is - they are constantly trying to straighten it, or curl it. They blow dry their hair every day for purely cosmetic reasons, and smother it with gell and serums. Many of them are far more succuessful than I am (or maybe they just put in more effort), but they end up looking like clones of each other.


My son who has not yet internalised the current perceptions of female beauty thinks my 'unruly' hair, and his friend's mother's 'fizzly' hair are beautiful. Why then should we think otherwise? Why do we try so hard to be like everyone else, when each of us is unique in our own way? Why do we need others to tell us what our self-image should be?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Freedom from Expectations

I was always brilliant in Maths. While others struggled with the subject, it came almost intuitively to me. Careless mistakes ensured that I rarely maxed the subject in the exams, but I couldn’t care less because I was too busy seeking out new problems to solve. Maths, to me, was not the burden that it seems to be for most people- it was a living breathing entity, one that I was completely in love with and couldn’t do without.
I was also quite a bit of a snob. For a very long time, I recognized only two categories of people- those who were good in Maths and those who were not. And I felt no need to waste my time on the latter category, because I felt they lacked even basic intelligence.

I started playing number games with my son long before his first birthday. While other mothers sang lullabies, I chanted series of prime and ordinal numbers. While feeding him, I would place the bites in numerical patters, and constantly change the pattern as the number diminished.
I was looking for that one sign that would show me he was gifted, and while waiting, I continued stimulating his mathematical side as best as I could. But that spark I was looking for remained elusive. If anything, he was a little behind his peers. While his classmates were counting in decreasing in order, he struggled with the normal counting up. Even though I did not want to admit it even to myself, he relied on pure guesswork to answer even basic questions of what comes before or after a number.
To say that I was disappointed in my son, could qualify as candidate for the understatement of the decade. I couldn’t understand how ‘my’ son could be so poor in subject which I considered the very basic test of intelligence.
I blamed myself- maybe there was something I should have done to boost my son’s numerical skills that I totally missed out on. I blamed my son- if even with a teacher as good as me, he could fare so poorly in Maths, there must be something dreadfully lacking in him. I even blamed fate- was it not ironical that all those dumb mothers had kids who were better in Maths than a brilliant person like me who put in so much effort.
But no amount of apportioning blame could take away from the fact that my son was far from gifted numerically, and that bugged the hell out of me. Without Maths, what could my son aspire to do? Wouldn’t most doors be banged shut on his face if he lacked that basic knowledge?

I was disappointed beyond belief. But gradually I came to accept that my son would never be my intellectual equal as far as numerical abilities were concerned. Once I accepted that, I started noticing other things.

My son could use words in ways I never thought possible for a child of his age. When he was in a mood, he could draw beautifully. He loved running. And he had a well honed sense of humour. He may not be gifted numerically, but his other gifts more than made up. He may not become a scientist, an engineer or a chartered accountant, but I realised that there are many other avenues open for him.
With acceptance, I also started noticing other things about my son. He is compassionate and generous. He is loving and loyal to his friends. He goes out of his way to take care of babies and baby animals. He is a much better human being than I have ever been. Should any mother ask for more?
It was only when I freed myself from the arbitrary expectations I had from my son that I could see him for the wonderful person he is. And I am glad I did.
Though I do wish he were a little better at Maths!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Public display of flesh

Backless cholis, off-shoulder dresses. Strappy tops with straps slipping off, mini skirts ending inches above mid-thigh. Plunging necklines reaching almost to the belly button, slits ending at the belt.
A cocktail party? A lounge bar? The Oscars? No! The Annual Concert of my son's pre-school.

One would have thought the mothers and other assorted female relatives would have gone there to cheer the kids performing on stage, but it seemed like most of them were actually there to show off their designer togs.

Was the conspicocous display of flesh incongruous and in bad taste? I definitely thought so. Call me old fashioned if you like, but I think there are places where you can flash skin and places where you should not, and a School Concert is definitely not a place where you should.

But even more than the attire being inappropriate for the situation was the fact that most of the women just did not have the figures to carry it off. Except a few, the women were all grossly overweight, and what we were subject to was a public display of adipose struggling to burst out of skin. There were backs so fat you could not even make out the shoulder blades. There were wobbly arms thicker than my legs, there were stomachs that looked several months pregnant. In their place, I would have tried to conceal the extra folds I was carrying around with me- I really don't know what they hoped to achieve by squeezing them into clothes that only accentuated parts that were best left hidden.

While I personally stay away from clothes cut too low or too high, or too tight, I love women who can carry off revealing numbers. But for that, you need a good body- not a size zero one, but a toned one. What women achieve by flaunting clothes that only draw attention to features best left hidden I will never understand!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heart Work

I love the Friday Challenges that Jan comes up with. This week, she asked us to spend time on our heart work. To quote - "Think what (your heart work) might be - what is it you are scared of approaching - what is it that you would be working feverishly on if you knew your time on the planet was limited (and it is dear readers, it is!)". Her challenge was two fold - to determine what our heart work is, and to make it a priority in our lives.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a finger in several pies. There are so many books I want to read; so many books that are waiting to be written. I have running related goals, and adventure desires. There are places I want to visit, things I want to experience. I would love to have more time for my garden, and for photography. I am passionate about all of them, and I would love to be able to devote time to any of them.

But if I knew I had only limited time on the planet, the only thing I would rush to do is to spend more time with my kids. I would try to compress a lifetime of loving into the few days I have. I would get less irritated with them, and would excuse more of their shortcomings. I would be less of a parent, and more of an grandparent- tell less, indulge more. I would probably also write notes to them that they can read when they are old enough to understand and need them. And I would definitely read 'The Little Prince' with them, so when they are old enough to understand, they understand what I was trying to tell them.

But do I really need to be told I have limited time on earth before I do all that? As a parent, I have to lay down certain rules and make sure they are followed, but can't I show them a lot more love than I do now. I love them, and they know I love them, but am I hugging them as much as I could? Do I tell them, and tell them again and again, that I love them unconditionally, and will always do so? Do I tell them without being asked that I am their friend and that I will always be their friend?

I started last night. Normally, I use the time when they are watching TV to catch up on housework. Yesterday, I went across and hugged them both. "Are you leaving for office now?", the younger one asked. "No darling, I'm not going anywhere now", I assured them. But I was ashamed- ashamed that they associate a hug with parting, when it should be something they take as their due.

A couple of minutes later, they came across and hugged me. I almost asked them if they wanted something, but bit my tongue so the question would not slip out. If I could hug them without reason, why could they not do the same?

I can't find my dog-eared copy of 'The Little Prince' - I know I did not lend it to anyone, but it probably got lost in one of our moves. I'll pick up a copy of the book tomorrow, and start reading it with them. If nothing else, they are going to like the pictures!

Thank you, Jan, for making me think of my heart work.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Tale of Two Women

I was tagged by Dipali to participate in the Indusladies International Women's Day Blog Contest. This is my entry, though I am yet to make up my mind if it should be tagged under 'Women's Education' or 'Relationship Issues' - I think the former.
Though the name has been changed to protect privacy, I know both these women, and the stories are my interpretation of their life story....

The Tale of Two Women

This is the story of two women. Two women who share the same name, but have little else in common.

Vasanti and I were in school together. We lost touch soon after we graduated, but a series of coincidences got us back in touch. Vasanti is 38-year old mother of two. A former relationship manager with a commercial bank, she married a b-school classmate, but chose to stay at home when she had a child 8 years back. She’s pretty, articulate, and has a figure that any woman would kill for. Her husband dotes on her, and she has two maids and a chauffeur to take care of her every need.

The situation of the other Vasanti couldn’t be more different. The third of five daughters of illiterate construction workers, her childhood was spent baby sitting her sisters, and the children of her sisters. She grew up on the rubble heaps piled outside construction sites, and hadn’t held a pencil or a piece of chalk till an NGO persuaded her parents to let them enroll her in a municipal school at the age of 9. She caught up very fast, and ten years later, is enrolled in a B.Com. course, and dreams of becoming a lawyer.

When people talk about Obama as having triumphed against all odds, I mentally picture Vasanti. She may not have made it to the White House, but her victory is no less significant than that of the American President. From a legacy of illiteracy to working towards a college degree. From being the daughter of a daily wage earner to having dreams of a professional career. Resisting marriage, taking on social norms, working towards a dream that only she could see- if that is not triumph against odds, what is?

If the second Vasanti’s story can serve as an inspiration for all women, the story of the first Vasanti is the polar opposite. She had it all – a privileged background, a good technical education, a career people aspire to- and she threw it all up to stay at home. Now, I don’t have anything against stay-at-home mothers – I have been one myself for three years, and respect any woman who can make the rather difficult choice - but I do believe that the decision should be one you take yourself, not one that is forced on you. My classmate, Vasanti, quit her job because her husband informed her that only one of them could work, and since his career was more important, she should leave hers.
She has all the material comforts that any woman could want, and yet is tremendously unhappy because she was forced into a situation that she never liked.

Two Vasantis. Two women from very different backgrounds. Two people who would have been expected to have very different futures.
Two people in different situations- one is in control of her destiny, the other is merely existing from day to day. Which is what one would have expected given how they started out.
Except, the one who should have been in control is not, and the one who should have been merely surviving is living.

They may share the same name. But what is different is their attitude towards determining their destiny. And in the ultimate analysis, that is the only thing that really matters.

To be eligible to participate, I have to tag three women. There seems to be nothing in the rules that specifies that the women should all be Indian, so I am tagging three women who I am sure can give their own perspective on things - Ron, Manasi and my dear blogging buddy Jan who though not from India will definitely have something interesting to say.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cafe Conversations

…and then he turned around and said….
… never understood what she sees in…
… think? If I ask for a raise, will my boss….
…the SoB had the gall to tell me he was f***ing her, but she didn’t mean anything…
…have it with a straw? All my friend mommys let them…
…beautiful girl like her, why would she even look at someone like….
…so wonderful. Why are all the guys worth dating married?...
…stop looking at my legs and concentrate on…
For a barista, every table is a novel. The café is actually a library of unfinished books.


A drabble a day, everyday, on the many aspects of Love, in the Valentine Feature at the Burrow.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cat on the temple wall

Though both my children love kittens, I am not exactly a cat person. But this cat posing regally outside a temple demanded that it be photographed.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 19, 2010

I didn't get any chocolate

The large slab of chocolate I knew I had stored in the fridge had shrunk to half its size (I blamed a monster, but knew it was really the hubby), and when I divided it, both kids got much less chocolate than they normally did.
“Is that all?”, the four year old asked.
“At least you’ve three pieces”, I replied. “I didn’t get any.” I pretended to be upset.
“Take this”, he said thrusting a piece of chocolate into my mouth.
“Thank you so much, my darling”, I said, giving him a hug. “I don’t really want it. You have it.”
“No, you should have this”, he insisted, and didn’t leave till I took a tiny bite.

There are times when he exasperates me. Times when he makes me wonder what I did wrong to produce someone as obstinate as he. Times when I despair of ever getting him to do what I think is right.
But when he does something like this, my heart melts. I know that as long as I give him all the love he deserves, he will grow-up to be a decent human being. And in the ultimate analysis, isn't that the only thing that really matters?

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I choose to trust him....

A friend and I had gone to pick up our respective kids from a school function the other day. Traffic was particularly bad, and what should have been a one hour drive stretched into nearly three. We were exhausted by the time we got home, and all I wanted to do was to have a cold bath and stumble into bed.
“How much?”, I asked the cab driver, as we tumbled out.
“300 rupees”, he informed me.
“Do you have change for 500?”, I asked proffering a note of that denomination.
He checked in his wallet before informing me he did not. I looked at my friend, but she didn’t have. We pooled our money together, and found we had 280 rupees between us.
“Let’s give him that”, my friend suggested, but I overruled her.
“That’s not fair. He’s earned the money, how can we shortchange him?”
“But he is the one who should have change”, she insisted.
“He should. But he could as well expect us to have it”, I countered.
“Are you sure you don’t have change for 500”, I asked him. “Check again, because we don’t have enough money.”
“I don’t have change”, he insisted. “You are the first people I picked up today. I don’t carry so much money around with me all the time.”

It was leading to an impasse, and since I was reluctant to pay him less than his due, there was only one way out of the situation. I decided to trust him!
I held out the 500 rupee note. “Here, take this”, I said. “When you get change, give it back to me.”
“But..”, he began, but I cut him short. “I’m leaving for office now, but if you leave the change with the guard, he’ll give it to me.” I gave him my apartment number and got out.

“Are you mad?” My friend pounced on me the moment he was out of earshot. “You know you will never see that 200 rupees, don’t you?”
“I’m sure he’ll pay me back”, I replied. “By nature, human beings are honest. He knows I trust him, and will repay the trust.”
“In your idealistic world, maybe. But things don’t work in quite that manner in the real world”, she informed me.
“Maybe”, I shrugged. “I am sure he will pay me back. But even if he doesn’t, the money means more to him than to me.” Which was true. The money would have got me one and a half Mc Donalds Happy Meals; he would have had a sumptuous dinner for eight days on the sum.
“If you are feeling so benevolent, why don’t you donate the money to a charity?”, she asked, but I refused to rise to the bait.
“I choose to trust him. There is nothing else to it.”

For me, that was all there was to it. I believe in the intrinsic honesty of people, and was willing to risk a sum that I was prepared to lose. What would have been harder to lose was my faith in human nature.
What if he doesn’t return the money, I asked myself. Would I then lose faith in human beings?
No, I told myself. Even if he didn’t return the money, I should not lose faith in the entire race- one individual doesn’t represent the entire race, does he?

Five minutes later, when I came out of the building, after dropping my son off at Daycare, I saw the cab driver waiting for me with the correct change. Our eyes met for an instant, but that was enough to convey everything. The man hadn’t even thought about betraying my trust, because I had trusted him even though there was every reason for me not to.

I got my money back, but what came with it was far more precious- a vindication of my belief in the inherent goodness of people. And that was worth risking far more than the one and a half Happy Meals that I did risk for it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I am too old

Have never played football in my life, but that doesn't deter me from kicking a ball around with my kids when they ask me to. Today was one of those days- the older one decided that football was the best way to beat the boredom of waiting for the school bus to come, and even though I was dressed for work, I joined him in an imprompto game of who can kick the ball the most.

It was hard to tell which of us was enjoying the session more, and pretty soon, the younger one and his friend joined in too. There were a few others who were also waiting for their respective school buses to pick them up, but we were having too much fun to really pay much attention to any of them.

Almost too soon, the school bus arrived, putting an end to the game. On the way home, another mother caught up with me. "It is so wonderful when you have children early", she said. "You have the stamina to keep up with your kids. I have never been able to play football with my son."
"Why, how old are you?", I asked. I know her son is older than mine, but I always thought she was about my age.
"I was 28 when I had my child", she replied.
I did the maths in my head- not only had she been four years younger than me when she had her first child, she was a year or two younger than me.
"You are in your mid-thirties", I told her. "Definitely young enough to play football, if your son lets you."
"How can I play football?" Her voice was wistful. "What will people think?"

I really had nothing to say to her. Had I told her I was older than her, it would only have made her feel worse, so I kept quiet.

I can only feel sorry for a person who seems to define herself by what she cannot do!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 15, 2010

Five young people

Five young people at a fashionable restaurant with plans to bring in Valentine’s Day together! She was looking forward to her weekend with her boyfriend- would he propose on Valentine’s Day? He had just got a promotion at the bulge bracket investment bank where he was working. His sister was thrilled that her big brother had driven down to celebrate his promotion with her. Her friend returned early from her sister’s engagement so she could bring in Valentine’s Day with her friends.
Five young people. Well educated, smart, vivacious. Happy. Would they have laughed so hard if they knew there was a bomb ticking in a bag under their table?

"The blast at a packed restaurant in the western city of Pune left nine dead, including one foreigner", said a newspaper report. Can words ever communicate the real loss?

Five lives cut short in their prime. Four families that will never be able to come to terms with the tragedy. Another city that has lost its innocence.

Is the purpose of terrorism to kill, or to ensure that those who survive live in fear?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Honeymoon in Salzburg

If money were no object, we would have spent our honeymoon in Salzburg. Unfortunately, money was an object. We ended up in Matheran for a weekend.
We hummed Mozart while exploring the town. Let maska pao and chai substitute for Sachertorte and Viennese coffee. We were in heaven- we didn’t need Austria to get us there.

For our Silver Anniversary, I could finally afford Austria. In the land of Amadeus, Sachertorte and Maria von Trapp we never left each other, even for a moment.
Cancer may have claimed you seven years back, but you enjoyed Salzburg as much as I.

A drabble a day, everyday, on the many aspects of Love, in the Valentine Feature at the Burrow.

The photograph is courtesy my friend, Anurag Chatrath

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hollywood in Bollowood country

Indians are passionate about movies, and you find Bollywood stars staring at you from the most unexpected places.

But what you do not expect to find are cardboard cutouts of Hollowood stars gracing the front of a roadside barber shop.

Is my surprise an example of stereotyping? Just because the people likely to patronise the establishment are unlikely to be fluent in English doesn't necessarily mean they can't be passionate about Hollywood movies, does it?
Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 12, 2010

Those 'What If' moments

Walking home the other day, I faced a huge dilemma when it came to crossing the road.
On one hand, there was the subway. A fairly serviceable subway. Not a five-star subway, but definitely not one of those dimly lit, scary places that double up as public urinals. I use the subway often, and have never been disappointed with it.
On the other hand was the option of joining the crowd gathering at the side of the road, waiting for the slight lull in traffic that would enable to run across. Even if there wasn’t a break in traffic, I knew they people would weave their way through the gaps, forcing the vehicular traffic to stop till they got across.
There was every reason for me to join the crowd- crossing the road directly would be a lot faster than using the subway, and given the number of people waiting to get across, there was no danger of being hit by a passing vehicle. I was grossly tempted to choose that option- at the end of a long day, why invest the effort of climbing down a flight of stairs and climbing up another. Though an arterial road, the traffic was crawling, so I wouldn’t even have to feel guilty about holding someone up for a few seconds.
I made up my mind to cross the road directly, but found I could not bring myself to do so. I used the subway.

Now, if it was a book, one of two things would have happened. Either something horrible would have happened to the people crossing the road- perhaps a driver pressing the accelerator by mistake instead of the brake and leaving a few broken limbs in its wake. Or, something equally horrible would have happened to me in the subway- mugged by a drunk perhaps.
But, since it was not a book, neither happened. I got to the other side safely, as did all the people who chose not to use the subway. End of story!

Not really. Ever since that day, I have been thinking about all the ‘What If’ moments that do not get recorded because the two streams converge without anything substantial having happened. And what about the big ‘What Ifs’? Those momentous decisions that lead you down two very different paths. Do those paths also converge eventually? Will we ever know?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Award Day -- The Circle of Friends

My blogger friend, Patricia Stoltey, passed on this wonderful Circle of Friends Award to me last month. I was quite overwhelmed by the Award, because I am greatly in awe of Patricia and of how she manages to do so many things so well at the same time, while still remaining such a wonderful and interesting person. Coming from her, the Award really means a lot to me.

According to the rules, I must pass the Award along to five blogging friends. To me, choosing who to pass an award to and who not to pass an award to is one of the hardest decisions to make. I have met so many people in blogosphere, who have very unobstructively become a part of my life. To cull that list to just five is a very hard thing to do, which is perhaps why I have been putting off passing on the Award for over two weeks.

Though I have finally narrowed the list down to five people, I want all my blogging friends not on the list to realise that I do appreciate them a lot.

I hereby pass on the Circle of Friends Award to -
Hart Johnson of Confessions of a Watery Tart - though strictly not a blogging friend (we met long before I even though of starting a blog), she's my Thursday Twin and if I leave her out, I may as well not go through this exercise.
Jan Morrison of Crazy Jane - from posting pictures of her dollies, to giving discourses on Buddhist Paramitas, to getting people walking through her Friday Challenges, Jan is a delight to have around. We vibe so well, I am pretty sure we were related in a past life.
Dipali of Of This and That - no list of my blogging friends would be complete without Dipali. She doesn't blog often (and has been blogging very infrequently the last few months because of health reasons), but she never fails to leave comments on my blog, and is a really wonderful person.
Donna B of Mystical Journeys - I met Donna only a couple of weeks back, but we've been through very similar journeys. If shared experiences make you friends, Donna is mine.
Faith Pray of Sacred Dirt - I met Faith (and yes, she does insist that is her real name) less than a week back, but it took me only two blog posts to realise she was a kindred soul. Not yet a friend, but someone I think will soon become one.

So there it is, five people who I resonate with them on a personal level, and am proud to call my friends. I do hope you visit these blogs and find some new friends here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Jan Morrison at Crazy Jane has started what she calls the Friday Challenge. Every Friday, she's going to challenge her readers to do something different. Last Friday's Challenge was a walking quest - in her own imitable style, she asked us to "Get off ...(our)... duffs and walk somewhere", and bring something back to share (or not).
Since the world is round, and I am almost at the other end of it, I read about her challenge only on Saturday. Which was good, because though I walk a lot every day, it is only on Saturdays that I am not focussed on getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time.

I hoped to find something new, something that challenged me. I even kept my camera at home, because I wanted to savour the experience of discovery without being constrained to view it from behind the lens.

I took a few roads that I had never taken before, but did not find anything that I hadn't seen before. But, what I did find was a government school that had just gotten over. What I saw were mothers and children. What I saw were children in uniforms. What I saw was one child being taken home on a bicycle by her grandfather.

I saw girls getting an education. I saw communities that would be transformed by the educated girls. I saw the future of my country. I saw the future of the world.
More than anything else, I saw smiles and hope. Could anyone ask for anything else?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Can anything be more magical than a box of crayons? You have only to slide it open, for creations real and imaginary to tumble forth.

Fish with multicoloured scales swimming in invisible ponds. Astronauts taking a walk among the planets. Rainbows dashing across the sky, finding a home in a pot of gold. Bright yellow suns with smiley faces lighting up hilly landscapes. Lions with spiky hair posing beneath apple trees. Fire-breathing dragons protecting beautiful maidens.

Don’t be taken in by its size- the entire universe is contained in a box of crayons. It needs only imagination to release it.


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, February 8, 2010

Save Our Tigers

When I got notifications informing me that six of my friends had joined a group called Stripey the Cub, I had to investigate. Stripey the Cub sounded like a cartoon character, and I couldn't believe there was a cartoon character that I was unaware of.

Turned out Stripey the Cub was a two-month old abandoned tiger cub, who had turned spokesperson for the Save our Tigers movement. At one time, tigers roamed freely in our national parks, today, it is estimated that no more than 1,411 tigers remain in the wild.

When I was a teenager, there used to be newspaper reports on entire villages in the Sundarbans populated by women and children widowed and orphaned by the Royal Bengal Tigers. We do seem to have got our revenge on them- when we spent a weekend in Siriska a few years back, we were told that not a single tiger remained in the national park. The tiger is a beautiful animal- something has to be done to Save our Tigers.

I joined up at the Save our Tigers website, but there doesn't seem to be very much anyone can do to save the animals. As long as there is a demand for products made from tigers, as long as the people paid to protect our tigers are in collusion with the poachers, as long as we indiscriminately encroach upon their habitat, they will continue to diminish in number.

Speak out, create awareness, join the movement - is what the website urges us to do. I am more than happy to do that. The tiger must be protected. The tiger must be saved.

But how?

Last week, there was an article in the paper on how two abandoned panther cubs had been found outside Bombay.
After hearing the story, my older one asked, "Where is their Mamma?"
"Their Mamma is missing."
"And what about their Papa?"
"They don't have a Papa."
"Their Papa is dead?"
"Do they live close by, or in some other country?"
"They live near Bombay."
"Then let us bring them here and keep them at home. If their Mamma is missing and their Papa is dead, they will be very sad. If we bring them here, they will be happy."

Maybe we should just leave it to the children to sort out the mess that their parents create. They have something we seem to have lost touch with- compassion.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dream Woman

Last year, the online version of the Burrow was a couple of months old when we decided to do the Valentine feature. And it was a dream come true for a self confessed scheduling nerd like me - 27 days (not including the special feature on Valentine's Day), nine of us. Three drabbles per person was the simple solution. But some of us wanted to drabble to images used by other people, so we came up with 'if two drabbles share one image, each drabble counts as half' solution. There were special requests for particular days, and I remember the entire database being uploaded before the end of the month.
This year couldn't have been more different. One is taking a work-related sabbatical, another has a thesis to present. A third had a close friend's wedding to plan. Which left six of us - not a bad number to start with, except for the fact that one was not intending to do more than one drabble, and another only offered to fill up the gaps.
In the last week of January, one of us had to bow out because of family emergencies, and the weekend before the project was to go live, another had her gall bladder removed.

But the four of us managed to divide the month among ourselves, and though all the drabbles haven't been written yet, we are going ahead with the project. After all, it is now a tradition, and traditions cannot be tampered with.

Here's a drabble that came out earlier this week-

I could drown in her limpid eyes; spend a lifetime caressing her lustrous hair. If I shut my eyes, I can feel the softness of her palms; her lips pressed against mine.

Biker chick or lovelorn housewife. Emotional dancer or proud queen. She never fails to fascinate.

She dances for me; flirts with me. She sings songs of longing; gives me looks filled with meaning.

She comes to me every night when I insert the DVD of her latest blockbuster in my player.

She is mine. I couldn’t ask for anything more. How now can I settle for anything less?

A drabble a day, everyday, on the many aspects of Love, in the Valentine Feature at the Burrow.

Image - detail from the film poster of Jodhaa Akbar.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Only we think others need us

A little over six months back, when I was told that I would have to undergo a hystrectomy, all the doctors I met vyed with each other to inform me in the hushed tones that one would normally reserve for a funeral, that I was "too young for a hysterectomy." None of them really elaborated on what they meant, and since I beleived that doctors don't make emotional statements in a professional context, I kept believing that they were holding something back. And that frustrated me.

While waiting for the attendent to take a blood sample for my routine pre-operative tests, the doctor had asked me why I was there. When I told him that I was going to undergo a hystrectomy, he said exactly what everyone else had told me before, "but you are too young for a hystrectomy".
"That is what everyone says", I burst out in exasparation. "But nobody tells me why it is so. Are there likely to be any medical complications because I have to have the operation at this age?"
Frankly, I did not expect an answer. When my gynecologist, who I trusted because he had respect for my intellegence, didn't give me a straight answer, why should this person who was a relative stranger?
I was in for a surprise. Not only did he reassure me that my fears were unjustified, and that there were no special complications with having the surgery 'so early', he even explained why it was that doctors reacted the way they did. "You sould realise that no surgeon likes removing organs", he told me. "They resist it as long as they can, and when it is the uterus of a woman still in child bearing age, they feel rather guilty about it."
"Besides", he had added, "you don't look 38 - you look much younger."

I have been asked to get my thyroid levels checked every six months, and though the path lab is a little out of the way, I couldn't even think of going anywhere else. There was a different, much younger man sitting on the doctor's chair. He looked competant enough, but where was my doctor? I glanced up, and found a framed photograph of his on the wall.
"Is that your father?", I ventured tentatively- the resemblance was striking.
"Yes", he paused, then continued. "He passed away in November."
"I'm sorry", I said. Two words that could mean everything or nothing. Then realising how inadequate it was, added, "he was a wonderful person. I will never forget him. I am truely sorry."
His eyes glistened with tears. Mine did too. There was really nothing left to say.

The man had touched my life, but I may never have leant of his passing had I given into laziness and got the test done in a place closer home. I wonder how many other such people there are - people I assume are around, but who have actually passed on?

A little over six months back, when I met him last, he had told me not to worry too much about my surgery. "What is the point of worrying?", he'd asked me. "The worst thing that can happen to you is death. And that is inevitable. What is the point of worrying?"
"I'm not scared of dying", I assured him. "But I have two really young children who need me. I don't want to die just yet, because I am not sure if they can manage without me."
"People always manage", he assured me. "It is only we who think other people need us."

I am not sure if he was right. I may not need him the way his family would, but I will definitely miss him.

Friday, February 5, 2010


When my Dutch friend, Joris, asked me if I had a photograph of slums with skyscrapers in the background, my immediate response was "No way."

On principle, I never take pictures of poverty. Of enterprise, yes. Of people laughing, definitely. But of poverty itself, no, unless the poverty is so stark as to be almost hopeless.

But Joris is a friend who I hate to refuse. And he needed the photograph for a magazine cover that he was designing, and the idea of shooting a picture on commission excited me. What clinched it was the fact that the theme of the magazine was going to be "Inequities", and inequities is not quite the same as poverty.

Joris sent me a whole list of specifications - landscape format, clutter-free area on the top and bottom to accommodate text, an attractive visual element on the left half - and surprisingly, I discovered the perfect location within two days of looking for something suitable. A location that I must have passed at least a 100 times in the last three years, but which I never noticed till I looked for it.

This is not the photograph he chose, though I like it best of the lot.

And what I like best about the entire series is the irony the contrast represents. The shanties came up to house the people who serve the residents of the skyscrapers. But to those residents, the shanties (and their residents) and all but invisible. Can there be any greater contrast than that?
Posted by Picasa

Fantasy and Reality

When I saw this lady waiting for a bus, I couldn't but get out of the cab and walk back to take this picture.
The Little Mermaid paid a heavy price to become human. Wonder if the Bollywood superstar in mermaid garb realises that at some level, because of which she is reaching out to touch the real women?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What makes a book good?

To say I was disappointed with Chetan Bhagat's "Two States- the story of my marriage" is to put it mildly. The book had the potential to be really good, but Bhagat, I felt, had squandered the opportunity and had produced something very pedestrian. Most of the people I interacted with agreed with my assessment.

But everyone else seems to disagree. On the train, the other day, I counted six women reading - four of them were reading 'the' book. And they were a mixed bunch - a fifty-ish lady in a stark cotton saree, a girl either in, or fresh out of college, a thirty something professional in an Indian outfit, a thirty something professional in a Western outfit. They pretty much covered the entire gamut of 'types' of people on the train, and they were all reading the same book!

The same thing repeated itself the next day, and the next. In an entire week of observation, I did not ever find at least one lady on the train reading the book- often there were several. If that is not fame, what is?

People like me who are fastidious about what they read; who want a good story well told; who want believable characters and not cardboard cut outs; who want situations they can relate to and not steriotypes - people like me feel let down by the book. But the people who do not normally read, seem to love the book.

Which leads me to question what makes a good author. Is it someone who writes a book that book lovers cherish, or is it someone who gets people reading. Chetan Bhagat does have a management degree in marketing - perhaps he deliberately writes the kind of cliche ridden books that he does write, because the mass market is his target market.

Does popularity excuse a book not being 'good'?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My favourite photograph of me

I was flipping through some really old photographs the other day, and came across this picture of mine. The picture is undated, but from the furniture I can make out that it was definitely taken before my sixth birthday.

I've always loved this photograph for a variety of reasons. As a photographer, I love the composition. As someone who never remembers a time when her favourite passtime was anything but burying her nose in a book, the subject appeals to me. And as a person, I love that I look so pretty in the picture.

This is the first time I looked at the picture in years, and I now have an additional reason for this to feature in my list of all time favourite photographs- in the picture, I am the splitting image of my older son (or should I say he is the splitting image of me at that age?).

All his life, everyone has insisted that my older one resembles his father- I was the only one who ever thought he looked a little like me. This photograph is proof that he is as much my son as he is his father's!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February Valentine Project

In November 2008, we launched the website of the Burrow, and described ourselves thus -
In 2005, a random handful of internet users discovered that they shared a common interest: writing. The bunch began to frequent a virtual place called Café Steinbeck, where they presented and discussed poetry and short prose. The Café was closed when its administrator grew worried about the safety of the texts with regard to copyright infringement; the patrons, however, stayed in touch. Aside from their individual projects, these writers now team up as The Burrow for projects combining artwork with text, in which they express regionally and socially disparate, unique views on a shared topic. This website is their showcase.

We are now in our 16th month, and despite real life trying its best to derail us, our collaborations are still going strong. And we have already established traditions - the second February Valentine feature kicked off yesterday, with this drabble -

When I impulsively suggest going out for dinner, I find she has already researched restaurants. I decide on holiday destinations, she meticulously plans the trip. I love chopping vegetables, grating cheese and kneading dough, she enjoys putting elaborate meals together. She buys things for the house, I vacuum and dust and keep the house tidy. She needs me to help her locate her misplaced earrings, I cannot put my cuff-links on without her help.

My wife of thirty-five years! She completes my life. Without her, there is just half of me.

Without me, is there also only half of her?

A drabble a day, everyday, on the many aspects of Love, in the Valentine Feature at the Burrow.

Image - Half a Heart
Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who is the Winner?

You couldn’t help but notice the School Sports Captain at my older one’s Sports Day. There was something almost magnetic about his smile and the way he carried himself. His wild mop of curly hair was not unlike that of my younger one, and I did wonder for a moment if my son would grow up to be as charismatic as him. As an athlete, he was clearly superior to the rest of the kids in his class, and you could only stand and stare while he blazed down the track.
He crossed me in a blur and his timing would definitely have been a meet record, if the races were being timed. When he had nearly reached the finish line, he looked back, so how far ahead of the rest he was, and slowed down to a walk. He did the last few meters so slowly, a boy who was far behind him, almost caught up with him.
“That’s not very sportsmanlike.” The remark slipped out unconsciously. In my moral code, you always give it your best – you don’t slow down just because you can afford to do so.

In all the clapping and cheering that accompanies any Sports Day, I soon forgot about the boy. Then I saw him again. The last race of the day was a relay race of the senior class, and he was naturally running the last leg for his team. Though he was the third to get the baton, he soon narrowed the gap and shot into the lead. Watching him was sheer pleasure, but a few meters from the finish line, he did it again. He looked back, saw his lead and slowed down to a walk. Once again, I was disappointed. Why did a boy so obviously talented shy away from giving his best?
While I was thinking about the champion, the last runner passed by. He had been the last to receive the baton, and his speed, or lack of it, had only increased the gap between him and the team that came third. The race was over by the time he passed by, but he didn’t change his speed. At what was his top speed, he ran down the track, and slowed down only after crossing the finish line. I gave him a standing ovation for the last 10 meters – the race was over, there were no honours left to gather, and yet he gave the race his best- one had to applaud his spirit.

On the way back home I asked my husband which of the two boys he wished his sons would grow to resemble. To my surprise, he chose the Sports Captain. Talent and individual brilliance, he told me, mattered more than doing your best. While I don’t deny that I would, as a parent, love to see my sons on the victory podium with medals around their neck, I think there is more to life than just talent. The boy who didn’t let up, has already learnt one of the most important lessons in life – that you have to press on regardless of what life throws at you. He’ll succeed where it matters most – in life.
And the other one? He’s brilliant and talented, but I wonder how he will react when he encounters a serious challenge for the first time. Maybe he will find hidden reserves of strength- I definitely hope so.

Obviously there are no right answers and no wrong answers. But I would still like to know what you think. Of the two, which would you want as your son? Who do you think is the real winner?
Posted by Picasa


Related Posts with Thumbnails