Thursday, December 28, 2006

Are we there yet?

Finally. We’re here. The end of another year. And like a bunch of avaricious relatives around the death bed of an uncle no one ever spoke of when alive, we all gather as he breathes his last to reminisce and commiserate. For who thinks of a year when it is a breathing, living thing running swiftly from day to week to month? Who cheers for it from the sidelines half way through the race? No, we all ignore it until it begins it's last leg limping towards the finish line.

These last few days of a year are always a confusing time for me. Should I start my healthy living regime now or stuff as many brownies in to my mouth as it will possibly allow ? Should I take my complete inertia to write as natural year end laziness or a premonition of a whole year of blank notebook pages? Should my good intentions kick in now or can I afford to wait for a few more days?

I also hate all the ‘best of’ lists. They only make me feel inadequate – the books I haven’t read, the movies I haven’t seen, the exhibitions I never got tickets for, the plays and musicals I missed and the bands I never heard of. It makes me realise how much I’ve missed out on and wonder exactly what I was doing instead (and if I can’t remember then I was either doing some pretty boring things this year or was very drunk).

Well anyhow, the year is almost done and there’s no changing it. And looking back (come on, did you really think I was going to abstain from my retrospective look at a year spent living under a rock? Don’t worry I won’t go in to any details) there’s little I would change. There have been some fabulous holidays, good movies, great books and one very uncharacteristic job quit.

That’s about all I can manage for now. It’s hard typing when one hand is entirely devoted to stuffing divine pieces of chocolate heaven in to my mouth.

If I don't see you all again, Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

8 years on

Once upon a time, she knew exactly where he was if given a day and time. Mondays at 4pm - remedial classes. Thursdays at 7:30pm - adipradakshinam around the shrine of his namesake Subramanian. Sundays at 11:00am - he would be hand fed Molagu Kozhambu by his mother, struggling to keep his eyes open after a soporific oil bath. And every day at 9:00pm he would wait for her near the tank on the terrace. ‘What are you doing now?’ she wondered sighing as she called out her son’s name. A roundel of molagu kozhambu clutched in her lined palm.

(Today's 100)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What's young speak for ageing bat?

Remember those wonderful heady days of being a self-absorbed youth? When you didn’t care about the environment until the cute guy from Greenpeace came to hand out leaflets in your college? When you thought nothing of going to Parry’s Corner on your rickety moped at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Madras Summer’s day just so you could get t-shirts for your departments march drill on sports day? Even though you knew the BBA girls would turn up in shorter than short skirts with perky balloons and body parts and win the trophy. Remember when you cared enough to wax your legs in school, even though the only men on the premises were the near blind pot bellied watchman, the crotchety man in admin and canteen uncle? Remember what it felt like when you could still turn heads on the road?

I’m suffering from the early onset of ageing. I know, I know. It sounds implausible that at 26 I’ve suddenly become a relic from the Pliocene era. But this fossilisation hasn’t happened over night you know. Oh no. I’ve caught myself doing certain things more appropriate for an OAP for a while now.

Every time young girls in derriere grazing mini skirts and hot pants board a bus or train, giggling and texting one another I’m the first one to shake my head in disapproval (140 to Heathrow regular Doris is usually quick to join in, but she’s been in a neck brace for a while now). I’m only concerned for them of course. Frost bitten bums have never been particularly attractive to the opposite (and in some cases same) sex.

My once enviable knowledge of hip music (is hip still a socially acceptable word?) has also plummeted. Kooks were what we used to call crazy people back in the day. And the last time I checked, Arctic Monkeys were what oxygen deprived explorers mistook one another for on first arriving in those cold climes.

I always carry a sweater with me in case it suddenly gets cold. I only get my hair done once every six months. I have started to make my own kitchen cleaning solution (equal parts water and vinegar for those that are interested. Works like a dream). I bake cakes on birthdays and anniversaries. I plan menus for the week ahead, so that when I do grocery shopping I know exactly what I need. I DO GROCERY SHOPPING.

One would think that with all these signs I would have figured out much earlier that I was headed for premature hip replacement surgery. My only excuse is that I have also been blessed with mental faculties of an 80 year old. It takes me a while.

It struck home though when my husband came home last night. He opened a large bag and took out two bottles of Beaujolais and a Chablis.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“New Year gifts for the team from clients”

“What? Wine? No dried fruits like last year?” I whined.

And there you have it ladies and gentleman. Final proof that I should be put in a home with lavender walls and made to share a room with someone called Rose who thinks Thatcher is still Prime Minister. I actually wanted almonds instead of a nice red. I’m an ageing squirrel.

So today morning I said enough is enough! I will recapture my lost years! I will seize the moment! Etc etc. While having an affair with a younger person was ruled out (I might get thrown in jail given the age group I would have to prey on to have a suitably Stella getting groove back moment) I decided I would use the only weapons available to me. My shoes. Why, what did you think I was going to use?

So before I set off to complete a few errands I put on some eye liner and slid in to my red heels (I was also wearing clothes, just in case the above sentence makes it sound like that’s all I had on) and set out in search of my twenties.


In case you’re wondering I didn’t find them. They certainly were not at the post office, newsagent or hidden under the sack of basmati rice I bought at Tesco. I did however discover the biting cold. And remember what I said about frostbitten bums not being very attractive? Well frost bitten toes aren’t that hot either.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An intruder

Winter crept in to our home last night. Did I forget to shut a window? Was the front door unlocked? Or did she break in, sliding a thin icy finger through the key hole, turning it this way and that before a tell-tale click let her in? I could hear her wandering about rattling windows and banging doors shut. I was too scared to come out and ask her to leave. Like a squatter she crouches in a corner, trying to be invisible. But the chill in the air and drops of water on the window panes give her away.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Today's 100

Can you hear them too? The ants. They march single file inside my ear. Their army surplus boots going crunchcrunchcrunch. A marauding column of arthropods heading towards my neo cortex. In search of what though? Will they each carry away a tiny crumb of grey matter? In the morning will I not know who I am? As the cold sun trickles in will I realise I can no longer use my arms and legs? Will I lie paralysed in bed as the ants march away with tiny pieces of my life? The can of Flit at arms length but unreachable.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Soaked in rain and dried by the sun. A buttress to the slender, curved backs of lovers as they sigh against you, leaning away from the world’s prying eyes. A refuge to those that seek to escape the heat, wrapping themselves in the sparse folds of your cool shadow. The faithful walk by whispering, singing and pleading. My hand brushes against your ancient soul. Tracing the chiselled lettering I push my finger in to the tiny canals carved in your body. Vowels and consonants. Su. Na. It.
I wonder what you have seen - mutely witnessing the passage of time.

(Today's 100 words. Inspired by this.)

Friday, December 15, 2006


From my table I can see a grey blue sky with no clouds to distinguish it from the grey blue sky across the street. Damn cloning. Slats are missing from the weathered wooden fence that guards the compound. Yesterday, a fat black and white squeezed itself through the gap and meowed at me. Begging to be let inside. I should inform the factotum. We don’t want riff raff in here. Sloping roof tops, television aerials and chimneys that are no longer in use are in profusion. The bush I pluck yellow flowers from and lay at God’s feet is bare.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

2 minutes.

Twice a month, seeking lips and probing hands come visiting. Impatient. Greedy. Without grace. Clothes are divested of. Her kaftan removed in one fluid motion that ensures it is never inside out. Else she will struggle when they are done - head tunnelling in sleeve and arms flopping about. Everything happens according to plan. Cursory touches and the inevitable thrust. She shields her eyes as the light comes on. Her legs automatically lift. Coaxing creation. Flabby cranes on a construction sight where nothing is ever built. She studies her worn toe rings. 15 years and she still lives in hope.

(Tooday's 100 words)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

a hundred words

In an attempt to get myself to write every day and not capitulate to the call of the duvet and comfort of a book I am going to follow this idea and write exactly 100 words of anything every day.

Today's 100

Her fingers were numb. She couldn’t wait to finish the dishes and watch the DVD. The familiar cadences of her mother tongue would envelope her like a shawl knit with comforting words. She rubbed the SV etched on the surface of a tumbler. “So when you lend sugar to neighbours they’ll know which vessel to return.” Amma had explained.

But that never happened here. There was no milk man, iron man or call of ‘Post!’. No flower seller beseeching her to buy an extra strand of malli. She was alone and cold with nothing but an imaginary shawl for comfort.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why do I even bother

This Sunday I was at our local Waterstone's browsing through row upon rown of 3 for 2 offers and Richard and Judy Book Club Reads when it occured to me to enquire about a certain book I had recently read and wanted to buy. So I went up to the counter and found myself facing the kind of gel-haired, multi pierced, Nuts reading youth that seem to have taken over the retail industry. I should have known how things were going to turn out and left then. But I didn't.

Me: Do you have The Collected Stories of Colette?

Gel-head: Is that Tony?

Me (feeling a little guilty for having had such mean thoughts about a hearing impaired person) No no COLETTE not Tony

Gel-head (who by now thinks I'm the slow witted one) NO I M-E-A-N-T T-0-N-I C-O-L-E-T-T-E

Me (back to feeling morally superior) No just Colette.

Gel-head: Let me check. How'd you spell that?

Me: C-O-L-E-T-T-E

Gel head: I don't think there's anyone like that

(So what now I'm imagining books by non-existant writers?)

Me: Can you check anyway please?

Gel-head: Whatever

So Gel-head spends about twelve minutes searching for Colette on the database. I'm sure it was hard locating the alphabets on the keyboard what with all that Gel seeping from his hair in to his brain and clogging it.

Gel-head: You sure it's not Toni Colette?

Me (gritting teeth) Positive

Gel-head suddenly gets up and wanders to the blonde girl at the next counter to chat her up and tickle her.

Gel-head (suddenly realising I'm still standing there) Yeah. Sorry. Nothin like that.

Me: Thank you

Gel-head: If you want I'll check for Toni Colette. That's probably who you want anyway innit?

This young man ranks second in my list of useless book shop staff. The first place is occuppied by a dread-locked lady of indeterminate age at W.H Smith, Kings Cross Station who informed me that no such publication entitled The New Yorker existed. May be it is just me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Home is where the incense burns

The other day I was walking home when the sharp combination of mustard seeds, gingelly oil and tamarind stopped me in my tracks. Veththa kozhambu was bubbling away in someone’s kitchen and I couldn’t help but envy the recipient. There's nothing quite like vengaya veththa kozhambu and sutta appalam to thaw a wintery soul.

Many months ago, Sunil at Balancing Life had written a post on the science of smell and how our noses function. I must admit, I needed to read a few things twice over to understand them but the post made me think about something else – the emotions that a scent can evoke.

There’s something nostalgic about certain smells. The brow furrowing whiff of sour curd always brings back memories of wooden classroom benches, stainless steel lunch dabbas and secret exchanges of curd rice and vadu maanga for chapathi and kurma. Anais-Anais conjures up my mother in pearl encrusted green organza and the memory of being six and watching her in this ethereal oufit is part of the reason why the scent remains a personal favourite. A freshly opened bar of Cinthol always takes me back to the hot summers of my childhood and waiting for the thanni lorry.

Every morning I wake up in a foreign country that perhaps will never be home. But when I open my canister of carefully rationed Leo coffee powder the strong aroma reminds me only of Madras. And if I close my eyes, I am there.

Amma’s home is the smell of rose petals in an urli, bodhi sattva incense, withering parijatham and malli. Ripe mangoes in season and water infused with vetiver roots in summer. Coriander, curry leaves and Sabena. These smells mingle to produce a bouquet that can perhaps never be replicated, and even if it were only two people would want a bottle of it – my sister and myself.

I’ve done my best to recreate the smell of home in my small corner of London. Every trip to Madras sees me return with ridiculous quantities of Auroville incense sticks and Giri Trading’s annual stock of sambrani. I go overboard though, and it’s not uncommon to see my husband red eyed and spluttering as he drinks his morning chai, enveloped in a white gauzy aromatic mist.But I can’t help myself. The scented candles and incense you get in London do not remind me of my home but of Laura Ingall Wilder and her little house on the prairie. Sweet Potato Pie, Washed Linen and Spiced Cranberry say Thanksgiving not Thai Poosam.

A few weeks ago I was at The Pier – a store with an impressive range of some very bizarre candles. Coastal Winds and Tamarind Raspberry were just two of what seemed to be many questionable combinations. But then as I billed my Ginger tea and green mango pillar candles I realised that perhaps to someone out there these smells were reminiscent of a sweet distant memory of their own.

As I write this, patchouli and the citric smell of orange juice tickle my nose. I realise I am creating a smell unique to my own home and perhaps that is the first step to feeling at home.