Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Glided Cage


"I will never let you want for anything”,
He promised me on our wedding night.
He’s done his part.
     I have all I need.
          And more.

I’ve never repeated an outfit at a wedding.
My diamonds glitter brighter than my chandeliers
I have a driver who takes me where I want,
and a cook who knows all the family recipes.
I’ve not had to lift a finger except to check my manicure.

I have everything he wants me to have-
I even have his love.

    I don’t want any of it.
All I long for is to be me.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

I Like You

 It will not end well, they said. You are rich

she is not. She will marry you for your money.

I was besotted. I pursued her. She was not interested.

"Will you paint my front door", I asked. She agreed.

For the next week, she was with me everyday 

I’d pile her with food. She’d paint.

“I like you”, I finally confessed. “I like you too”, she replied.

“But not that way. There is too much I want to do.”

She won a scholarship and went off to study art

I still stand at the threshold, hoping she will return.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Not Summiting Bongir Fort

“I don’t think I can go on much longer”, my friend told me when we were halfway up the final ascent to the citadel of Bongir Fort. “You go on up. I will wait for you near the temple.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. If you aren’t going up, I am not either.” I shot back.

Predictably, it started off the familiar game of, “in that case, I’ll come with you”, and “absolutely not. Let’s turn back.” 

It is always that way. When you are with family or friends, you are constantly trying to out-guess the other person and doing what you think they would want you do to, instead of what you really want to do. While we stood on the rock surface and argued, the sun was getting hotter, and we were getting more and more drained.

“Listen, we have absolutely no idea how much further we have to go”, I said, trying to sound reasonable. “It may be just a few meters more, or it may be much longer. Let’s just turn back.”

“I tell you what, let’s go till that turn in the rock and decide”, she told me.

“No, let’s turn back”, I insisted. I knew my friend well. She wouldn’t have even suggested turning back, unless she just couldn’t go any further.

“I have come here when I was in school. You haven’t. You go up. I will wait.”

I tried reasoning with her. Told her that I had three reasons for suggesting we make the trip- I wanted to see the famous batholith of the Deccan, I wanted to hang out with my friend, and I wanted to see the view from the top. Achieving two was more than sufficient for me. But she was not convinced. We would have stood there arguing for the next hour, if we hadn’t sighted a family of three making a descent.

“How much further to the fort?”, she asked in Telugu.

Chala duram”, the lady replied. The two of them launched into a long discussion on how much “duram” the “chala duram” actually meant, but I was having none of it. I grabbed my friend by the arm and started walking down. “If she says ‘chala’, she means chala. We are not even attempting it.”

“But why don’t you go up. I will wait”, she began again, but this time she was speaking to a retreating back. I didn’t let up my pace, till we had climbed down 100 meters and reached a lily pond nestling in a small depression in the rock face. In admiring the stratifications in the rock face, and wondering if the lily plants had been introduced there, or if they had found their way there naturally, we forgot all about the citadel that we didn’t reach.

After talking about a hundred photographs, and giggling non stop for what seemed like forever, we made our way to the temple, and plonked ourselves in its shade. The granite rock rose in front of us. Shaped like a whale and much more massive, it towered over us. It did not require much imagination to picture the molten magma pushing its way up from the centre of the earth and solidifying into that gigantic egg shaped rock.

We pictured the awe our ancestors must have felt when they first stumbled on the batholith. We marveled the audacity of the builders who decided to perch a fort on top of the rock. We saluted the engineers who chose to construct over the rock, instead of blasting it as we now do.

As we marveled at the rock, we heard of group of women talking among themselves as they made the climb. They were beautiful in their multicoloured sarees, but when you pictured them against the backdrop of the rock face, you realized with a start exactly how massive the rock was.

At that moment, I truly appreciated the grandeur of the site. Had we climbed all the way to the top, we may not have stopped to rest where we did, and we may have missed out on what turned out to be the most memorable part of the experience.

That also encapsulated what 2020 has meant to me. This was the year before my 50th birthday, and there was a lot I intended to do this year. There were places I wanted to go, and things I wanted to experience. But the pandemic scuttled all those plans.

However, the year has also given me  a lot. It has given me time with my family. It has made me reevaluate the things that are important to me. It has taught me patience and gratitude. To accept and appreciate what I have today instead of seeking something I feel I must have. It taught me to let do, and let life take its course.

I may be back to Bongir to attempt another ascent. Or I may not. Either way, the awe I felt when I sat under the shade of the temple and stared at the rock face will not diminish. That will forever remain one of the moments when I witnessed eternity.

Monday, December 21, 2020

My Patti, my Role Model

 "You must be Shambu Mami's granddaughter. You look exactly like her", someone exclaimed when I was visiting my mother a couple of years back. It turned out that the lady had been my grandmother's neighbour, and had memories to share. Though I was touched that someone remembered Patti years after she had passed away, what gave me a greater thrill was realizing that I look like my favourite grandmother. Can there be any greater joy than that?

I always had a special bond with Patti. When I was three months old, my grandparents engaged a professional photographer to take photographs of me with all my relatives. Even in that photograph, I was cheerfully communicating with her. What we spoke about then, I don't remember, but I do remember most of the subsequent conversations we had. Each completely enriching.

Married in her early teens to a hot-heated scientist, she was a fiercely independent lady. Though she grew up speaking Tamil and Telugu, she easily picked up Hindi when her husband was posted in Bombay. English was harder, and when she found it difficult to converse with the wives of her husband's colleagues, she asked him to teach her the language. In his inevitable style, my grandfather thrust a copy of Shakespeare on her and told her she would pick up the language if she read it. Patti didn't fall for that trick, and she engaged a tutor to teach her English and gained fluency in just a few months.

Somewhere along the line, she got addicted to crime fiction and legal thrillers. While my grandfather was trying to get a teenage me to read Dickens and Shaw, she slipped me a Perry Mason and said I'd probably enjoy it more. I didn't, but I did learn that the purpose of reading need not be elucidation, it could be also be fun.

Patti hadn't studied beyond grade 5, but she made sure all three daughters completed their undergraduate studies before marriage. However, her one big regret was that she didn't encourage her daughters to get professionally qualified. She made amends by ensuring her granddaughter did not make the same mistake.

"No matter what anyone tells you", she told me the summer before she passed away, "do not even contemplate getting married before you are financially and emotionally independent." She had seen too many marriages fall apart, and didn't want her granddaughter staying in a bad marriage because she didn't have any other options. I didn't realize it then, but I now know how revolutionary that thought was.

A deeply spiritual person, Patti observed all the religious rituals she had been taught since birth. She, however, never forced her beliefs on anyone else. She was a staunch Hindu, but never missed the Novena at Mahim Church whenever she was in Bombay. She could hold her own in a discussion on the religious texts, and it was from her that I learn that one was perfectly justified in questioning the texts and seeking answers.

My grandfather was an Atheist, and I sometimes wonder how they lived together so harmoniously despite their fundamental differences. It was because of the deep respect they had for each other; neither ever sought to impose their will on the other.

Patti was the perfect wife and mother - she kept a beautiful house, served delicious meals and almost always had a few guests staying over. But she always made time for herself- Mondays were movie days, and she never missed her date with herself unless unavoidable. Today, we talk about self-care; long before the term was invented, she practiced it.

She cooked, she knitted, she sewed. The neatness of her stitches were legendary, and it is said that when she embroidered something, you couldn't make out which side was the front, and which was the reverse. Despite being the expert, she didn't mind asking her teenage granddaughter to explain a pattern to her when she couldn't quite follow the instructions. When I succeeded in figuring out the stitch, she was full of pride because her student had gone ahead of the master.

She was always impeccably turned out in her handloom sarees paired with white hakoba blouses. By observing how she dressed, I realized that style was far more important than fashion. That if one chooses the traditional, it remains timeless.

From Patti, I inherited the desire to learn and the willingness to fail. I learnt to be independent, and empathetic. Every girl needs a role model, and I am glad I found mine in my own family.

Friday, December 18, 2020


 We are taught to be silent; invisible.

“How does it matter who gets credit”,

we are told, “as long as the job gets done.”

And so, we soldier on. Doing things

while others stand up to make the speeches

and soak up the applause.

But it does matter. 

Credit, validation, acknowledgement.

All of it matters.

Maybe not to us, but to those

who come after us.  We owe it to them

to demonstrate it can be done. By us.

For too long have we shied away

from seeking our due. It is now time

to demand that we be seen.

- natasha

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Dreams of my own

 My sister. My clever sister.

The smartest in the school.

Perhaps in the whole mandal.

Everyone’s hopes are on her

She is the one who will study

She will do the family proud.

Nobody even notices me.

The tiny bougainvillea flower

Eclipsed by my magenta sister.

She has to succeed.

I have to make sure she does;

I am expendable.

When the well dries

I drop out of school 

To fetch water. She studies.

She will achieve success

The family will prosper.

They will no longer be poor.

But what of me?

Am I not allowed 

Dreams of my own?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

You want papers?


You want papers?

What papers?

The aunt who eased me out of my mother’s womb

as the candle spluttered and died in the wind; she

couldn’t read or write. She knows I was born

on the day of the heaviest rains.

That is my birth certificate.

Will that do?

No, I don’t know the day, 

or even the year when I was born.

It may have been fifteen years back, 

Or sixteen

Time has little meaning for us , you know.


Who are my parents, you ask?

That stone you see there? 

That’s not a stone. That is my mother.

My mother who died giving birth to me. 

My father, his father,

his father’s father, 

his father’s father’s father,

our fathers, all the way to the first man-

We were all born here.

We belong here.

Every stone in this valley is us.

You want papers?

Why do I need papers?

This is my legacy. 

These trees, these hills, these streams.

Every plant in the forest, every stone on the hills. 

It is mine.

I don’t need no papers

This is my land.

The land of my forefathers.

The land where we’ve always lived.

The land where my children,

and grandchildren and great grandchildren will be born

Everything you see around me is mine.

These are my papers.

You cannot displace me from my land.

Not even if you find bauxite under the ground

- natasha ramarathnam

[This poem was written during the protests against CAA+NRC. Indigenous tribals will be most affected by NRC.]


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