Monday, December 29, 2008

tata bye bye see you

I keep changing my header picture hoping it will inspire me to blog. But nada. I think I'm bored of this blog. Of the name, the layout, everything.

All those who think moving to a new space will help, say aye. Those who don't think it will change anything, and that I should shut up and get over myself, keep it to yourself.
So long 2008.
See you in 2009. Or not.

Monday, December 22, 2008

We two Ours 18

A friend recently sent me an email with the subject line. “And you thought one was bad.” The mail contained a link to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from Arkansas. Loving couple, realtors and parents to 17 children. That’s right — 17. As in a prime number following 16. As in a number following 16. As in Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer. I almost fell off my chair when a clip from a previous interview showed the couple tell their children (and millions of other Americans) that they were expecting Duggar 18 in 2009. I watched with mounting disbelief as the show host interviewed the couple and their brood of seven girls and 10 boys, asking them if they had picked a name for the next addition to their clan.
Jim Bob struck me as a little smug, as only a man who has successfully sown his seed 18 times can be. But it was Michelle who caught my attention. For a woman who had spent the better part of over two decades either pregnant, giving birth or getting pregnant, Michelle seemed worryingly cheerful. Chipper even. “Why would anyone in their right mind have so many kids?” I thought as I forwarded the link to friends. “They’re nuts,” I told myself. “And she needs a haircut.” After all, it’s one thing to find yourself pregnant with triplets, quadruplets or sextuplets, but it’s quite another to churn out kids like they’re going out of style along with pleather leggings and then say it’s God’s will. Seventeen kids in 20-odd years seem less ‘a blessing from up above’ and more ‘what happens when well functioning reproductive organs are put to use repeatedly sans contraception’. Now some might say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ After all, the world record for the most number of children is at 69. The mother of all these kids was the first of two wives of Feodor Vassilyev, a peasant from Shuya, 150 miles east of Moscow. In 27 confinements, this nameless woman gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. How interesting that while Daddy’s name has survived all these years, all we know of the poor woman was that she was Biwi no 1. Closer home, our own grandparents effortlessly spawned offspring in the double digits. Again, it looks like the ladies had little to do but grin and bear it. As one friend’s grandmother succinctly put it, “He would come home from work and we would do it. And then I would be pregnant.” Nine times. In our ‘We two Ours one’ world, we tell ourselves that we place the limit at one or two children because we can give them more attention. While that may be true to some extent, I also think it’s because we can’t be bothered to have more kids. Children are expensive, time consuming and want to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants just when they’re going to announce the winner of American Idol. So, if it’s alright for some of us to decide to have none, one or two children, shouldn’t it be okay for others to have as many as they want? Is it alright to use words like crazy and sex-starved when discussing people with large families? Are they selfish for burdening an already crowded planet with more children? Is it fair to question their choices or ask them to consider adoption instead? I’m torn between filing the Duggars under ‘C for crazy’ and ‘N for it’s none of your business’. But maybe if people are putting their lives on TV shows and in the pages of a book, I can question their decisions. 17 Kids & Counting! premiered on TLC (The Learning Channel) in October 2008 while The Duggars. 20 and counting is in a good bookstore near you. ‘...and counting’ — That means there could be more on the way.

This piece appeared here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

6am


Her favourite time of the day. Her husband is still asleep, soaking his pillow with drool. The new neighbours upstairs have not started moving their furniture around, trying to find the perfect spot for their Poang chair. The house is dark, quiet and the heating comes on with a reassuring hum. She makes herself the first coffee of the day and sits down on the battered red sofa, tucking her feet beneath her, letting her mind inhale the silence.

At first, she is not quite sure she even heard anything. She ignores it, but then it comes again. A shrill scream for help. And another. And another. A woman. The word beats against the double glazing repeatedly, begging to be let in.

She cannot move. She knows she should do something. But what? Wake up her husband? Open the doors and look outside? Call the police? What could it be? A mugger? A chain snatcher? Marital discord? A... rapist?

What could she possibly do? The woman outside is getting angry now, as though she knows people are sitting inside their homes on their battered red sofas, sipping cold coffee, pretending like they don't know what to do. Pretending they cannot hear. Her calls for help are longer, coarser, louder. And then her voice breaks. It is tired. Or she knows no one is going to come.

The light comes on. Her husband walks in, rubbing his crusty eyes.

'How long have you been sitting here?'

'I don't know.'

'What were you doing?'

'Listening.'

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Between your legs the whistle blows

Everyone loves to give advice. EVERYONE. In Mumbai, our bai used to tell me on how to make sambar, ignoring the fact that she was Maharashtrian and I was a south Indian. The lady at the salon, who wields that little spool of thread, likes to tell me how to shape my eyebrows (and, that it’s not a sin to wax certain areas). My husband likes to tell me how to arrange the contents of our fridge and dishwasher. Get knocked up and the advice increases proportionately to the size of your stomach. So you can just imagine how much advice a woman carrying sextuplets gets in her ninth month. So when I ‘fell pregnant’ as one friend said, as though my bump was some kind ebola virus I had caught, everyone had some words of wisdom to pass on to me.
“Listen to only good things. It will make the baby happy.” “Don’t watch violent films.” “Listen to shlokas.” “Don’t watch English films or listen to English music.” “Don’t walk so fast.” “Don’t walk at all.” “Don’t wear jeans.” “Don’t cut your hair when you’re pregnant.” And after the baby was out, of course there was more to come. “Only breast feed.” “Don’t look nice so soon after the delivery. People will cast an evil eye.” “Don’t drink cold water. The baby will catch a cold.” “Don’t keep carrying him all the time” some say before scooping my wailing son into their arms. But the best advice I received was just a few hours after my baby was born. There I was, lying in bed. Sore, bewildered and wondering if they administered nitrous oxide post delivery. Wondering when I could get up to pee, what was for lunch and why on earth there were so many people in a room the size of a supply cupboard. And then, in breezed a family friend. Let’s call her Aunty X. Aunty X is lovely. She brought me fresh snacks every week when I was pregnant. She made me kozhakattais and seedai. She was responsible for about three kilos I gained in my last trimester.
So Aunty X cooed at the baby before, snapping “Keep your legs together.” I raised my head a fraction of an inch and gave her an uncertain look. Surely it was too late for that? I mean that advice would have been fine before I got pregnant, but what was the use of keeping my legs together now? “Keep your legs together, or all the air will enter your body. Through down there.” she whispered. All the air? So my vagina in addition to being a human Suez Canal was now a vacuum pump? Aunty X spotted the bewildered look on my face. “I know what I’m talking about. Keep your legs together now or else you’ll be sorry later. You’ll be full of wind and air and then there’ll be whistling.” Whistling? As in the ‘put your lips together and blow’ kind? Aunty X lowered her voice conspiratorially “Whistling…down there. When you sit down you’ll hear this ‘feeeeeeeee’ sound. Now be a good girl and put your legs together. Have you fed the baby?” Of course, being the good Indian girl I am, I listened to her and did as I was told. Now I wish I hadn’t. I should have let all the wind in and taught myself to whistle show tunes. My home could do with some extra income in these credit crunching times and I’m sure Evita could have used me in their chorus line.


****

This piece appeared here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

in april

'you have too sunny a disposition to write fiction'

oh well. that explains everything.

Monday, November 17, 2008

'No. This just won't do' she thinks as she scans the room.
She doesn't want her thinking that the house is a mess. That the newspaper is always left lying next to the bed, its sheets tangled in passionate embrace with her bra. That the grout in the bathroom hasn't been dealt with in weeks. No, months. Years, if she's totally honest. But who is these days?
She can just imagine her finger gliding across the mantelpiece, leaving behind a clear pathway banked on either side by dust. She can see her peeking in to the kitchen cabinets and the fridge, her well-trained eye noting items well past their expiry date. She just knows she is going to look at the drain hole in the shower and grimace at the quagmire of soap scum and hair.
'No, it just wouldn't do' she thinks and sets about cleaning up. First impressions are everything she decides as she wipes down countertops, sweeps the pine floor and fishes out her push up from the sports section.
As she plumps the last cushion, the doorbell rings. Just in time.
She opens the door, a smile on her face.
'You must be Ilia. Would you like to start cleaning up the kitchen first?'

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's amazing how easy it is for a 28 year old woman to hide behind a 5 month old baby

So here it is, I've been a mother for 5 months now and I'm already using the baby as an excuse. Who am I kidding, I've been using this baby as an excuse even before he was born. Even before he was conceived. My son is the reason I'm always tired. Though of course my mother (who returns home next week) is at the moment his primary care giver with me filling in the evening entertainment slot. My son is the reason I feel irritable and happy at the same time. He's the reason why I reach for that second hobnob. And the third. And the fourth. And then finish the entire pack. He's the reason, I tell myself I haven't written anything in the last six months (and let's be honest, posts on the state of post breastfeeding nipples and my own version of rock-a-bye baby don't count).

I tell myself that I will write when the writing comes. As though the writing will arrive unannounced in a snazzy suit one evening carrying my favourite flowers with a smiley greeting of "So shall we begin?"

I tell myself that I've been through a lot I deserve this time to do nothing, watch Oprah and read new age novels about American women who spend a year discovering themselves through meditation and tagliatelle.

I tell myself a lot of other crazy things too - like I'll write again when I've lost my baby weight... let's be really, really honest, that could take a lot lot longer.

So why I am not writing? I'm afraid to... a possible interest in my half finished manuscript was later rejected by a publisher. Of course, rejection is to be expected and it would have been very presumptuous of me to presume that I would never have to face that. But it's hard to get over... and it's hard to want to get over it. It's easier to stay scared. It's easier to not write anything. It's easier to not have to think about writing.

I'm not writing because I tell myself I don't know where to start. All my characters seem distant. All my stories seem limp and insipid. My old writing seems stilted.

I'm not writing because it's easier to just load another round of laundry, do another round of dishes or take the garbage out.
I'm not writing because it's just easier to blame the baby.

Monday, October 27, 2008

a song for deepavali

not really...but here goes anyway...

rock-a-bye baby drooling on my shoulder
when did you get to weigh as much as a boulder?
when your drool breaks my shoulder will too
rock-a-bye baby i'd like a new pair of shoes.

Happy Deepavali every one!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

28

Belongs to a decade that no longer allows you the privilege of individual candles, each representing a year. Unless she gets a really large cake. One that she will have to bake herself. And that just means more birthday cake for breakfast, late afternoon and midnight snacks for a week. 28 is also not a 'special' year like 18, 30 or 60, so no joint numeral candles. Instead she has to pick out the numbers separately. There is a 0,1,2,3,4,5,6 7 and a 9. But no 8. She stands before the rack of wax numbers, conflicted. A year up or a year down? Or just a 2? Or no candles at all? Or should she get the lotus that blooms and blares out Happy Birthday on the banjo? Perhaps the universe is telling her not to expect much from this year. That it's going to be another hazy 365 days that she will look back on a few years from now and not be able to remember much from. Why celebrate it at all then? Why bother bringing in another 12 months of bland work days, weekends cleaning the fridge and restocking it, taking bags of plastic bottles and newspapers to the recycling plant and looking for strands of white hair? She would skip 28 she decided. Yes, that was it. 28 was not going to exist. She slips the red candle in to her shopping basket and heads to the till. Her melting birthday gift to herself would be another heady year of 21.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Maybe this will get me writing again

Mslexia Women's Short Story Competition 2009


Judge: Helen Simpson

1st Prize £2,000
plus a one-week writing retreat* at Chawton House Library (accommodation only) and a day with a Virago editor**
2nd prize £500
3rd prize £250
3 other finalists will win £100 each
All winning stories will be published in Mslexia magazine and they will also be read by Carole Blake from Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.
Closing date: 23 JANUARY 2009

For more details, go here

Friday, October 10, 2008

Garden shed here I come...

So our home has been taken over by the boot and his things. Any more additions (and by that I mean the boot's things, not another boot) and the sherpa and I will have to move in to the garden.

Interior design forecast for 08-09 is bright, quirky accessories....





the baby is optional...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

questions motherhood makes you ask

* when did i last wash my hair?
*did i brush my teeth this morning?
* is that the boot's snot?
* do they make post pregnancy bras with built in iron girders for support?
*if breast feeding burns calories can i eat all the chocolate hob nobs i want? no? why not?
*how many crying babies does it take to make you wish you'd taken a vow of celibacy? (Now this I know the answer to!)
*When will the baby wake up and can I make it to Fuerta Ventura by then?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The series in developing baby's intelligence

Instruction manual for a musical, Made in China mobile.

"We are sure that all toys made by us will cause somewhat elicitation for the exploitation of baby's capacity.You will find that your baby is more clever and cute"

Indeed.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

So my 8 months of 'maternity leave' draws to an end. Tomorrow I return to London with the Boot. It's been a wonderful stay and as much as I look forward to going back to London, I'll miss Madras. Thanks to all my friends who cheered me up and took me out to lunch when I was feeling blue, who chauffeured me around town when I was fat and couldn't move, to the aunties who made me besan ladoos and payasam and contributed to the fat and to the wonderful Madras that helped me sweat the weight away... and most of all thanks to Amma and Appa who helped put the Boot to sleep, changed nappies, sang him silly family songs, found everything he did wonderful and fascinating when I was too tired to and generally took him off my hands whenever I felt an aneurysm coming on.

See you all next year!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

just to clarify things...

breast feeding is NOT the most satisfying thing i have ever done. it's pretty boring, sometimes painful, my butt cheeks fall asleep and the entire process makes me feel like a very large, unattractive jersey cow. now, eating an entire packet of chocolate digestive biscuits by myself... that's pretty satisfying.

cut grass and kutchi ice

when i'm in london i miss everything madras...the sun, family, friends, vazhaithandu, clothes drying on a line in our kollapakkam, milk cookers that stand in as roosters with their early morning screechy cock-a-doodle whistles, bad tv, the thwack of newspapers hitting the floor as delivery boys do the rounds, the reassuring thud of the nightwatchman's stick as it hits the neighbouring compound walls.

that i've been in madras for the better part of the year and i miss london. the sherpa, the quiet, my blue elephant and mouse, bad tv (i missed an entire season of big brother gasp!!!), my desk, the fat squirrels in the garden, that lovely blue the sky is in summer..and my home. my desk, the very uncomfortable couch and the fireplace with the brass frame thingy that keeps falling off...




i'll be back in london in less than a month. and i'll probably be wishing i had a milk cooker.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

happy birthday to madras

So, some very cool people are getting together and celebrating 369 years of the city with photowalks, photography exhibitions, open mic sessions and much more. Head over to Chandroo's site for more details about events, venues and timings. I've had to skip all the photowalks Chandroo and gang have organised these last seven months due to a)morning sickness b)laziness and c) my inability to photograph anything without i)red eyes b) being off centre... I will definitely be there at the sessions at Vanilla which is so close to home that I can jump over a compound wall and be there... the rest of you who are free from caterwauling babes have no excuse. See you there!

Monday, August 04, 2008

the writing is on the wall

 



(Woodlands Hotel Wall. Reads: Dogs, do not urinate here)
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 27, 2008

long distance drishti*

'You look terrible...look at those dark circles under your eyes. You were fine till yesterday... Ssss... your forehead is so hot. It's all kannu*... what else can it be? You were glowing I say... everyone has been saying that. Why, even your Chitti in Delhi saw those pictures you sent her and went on and on about how healthy you looked. I'll tell Anbu to buy a big pooshnikkai in the evening. "

'Yes, yes you're right' she agrees nodding her head in agreement 'It's all kannu'. And eight appams, four kozhakattais and three mullu murukku. And two servings of arisi uppuma.



*drishti,kannu - evil eye

Monday, July 21, 2008

look in to my eyes...and made up rhymes...

Can I hire this guy to hypnotize the baby to sleep? My own beseeching requests seem rather ineffectual...



Apart from not knowing how many days old the baby is (Nurse: How old is the baby? Me: I think about 40 days... could be 50... Amma, how old is the baby?)my other failings as a new parent include not remembering a single song or nursery rhyme. I refuse to Google for them, since I'm sure they'll come back to me at some point of time, and so till then I make them up...

Incy wincy spider climbing up the spout
down came the rain and washed away his brussel sprouts...

Hush now baby don't you cry
mommy's going to buy you A Pocket Full of Rye
and if that pocketful of rye isn't funny
daddy's going to buy you From here to Eternity
And if that movie doesn't end quick
Mommy's going to buy you Moby Dick

and in other news... Aardvarks spotted on Old McDonald's farm... what noise do Aardvarks make anyway...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

long before that pregnant dude on Oprah

Shyam has passed on the Page 123 tag to me, so here goes.

These are the rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

The book: The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik. (Read a review here)

The extract:
'I am Sumedha, a Pujari from Pratishthana,' he said.
Simantini noticed he was tall with fine wavy hair falling on his shoulders. His shoulders were broad and he was thin, with sunken cheeks and full lips.
'And hers?'

Monday, June 30, 2008

midnight cowgirl and my last post about 2am feeds

things to do at 2am when feeding a very small creature

a kegel exercises (read importance of kegel exercises here)

b wonder which phillip treacy hat shape one's chewed nipples most resemble. i'm inclined to go with no 3 at the moment (if i had a glue gun, some sequins and feathers on hand i'd even make a phillip treacy hat out of my nipples. (no reason why one can't be fashionable post delivery. also i promise this is the last time you'll be reading the word nipple on this blog.)





c more kegel exercises (i cannot stress the importance of this)

d try to remember all the lyrics of certain annoying ad jingles then desperately try to forget them.




e some more kegels (ignore this at your own peril)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

end of an era, etc

After almost three decades subscription to The Hindu was cancelled in our home. The Times of India now lands on the floor of our veranda with a resounding 'thwack'.

**

After two months of ignoring it I looked through the pages of my notebook, filled with poor handwriting and attempts at doodles ('Yenna, nee periya DaVinci-nu neneppa?' Appa once asked before I snatched the book away). Attempts at writing did not progress much beyond a Pillayar suzhi. But surely that counts?

***

Sunday, June 22, 2008

definition

Kegel exercise: Contracting and relaxing of pelvic floor muscles with the aim of fortifying muscle tone and hopefully forever closing the portal door to Dimension X through which small creatures with viciously sharp gums escape and terrorise women at 2 am.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Wanted

Detachable fake smile that emits tinkling laugh to mask grinding of teeth noise. To be worn when certain Mamis remember former lactating breasts that were as abundant as the Niagara Falls and then add 'tsk tsk paal porale unakku' (milk not enough for you.)

ps. thanks to everyone for their wishes! Boot and Shoefiend doing rather well.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Shoefiend Productions presents "Well, it sure felt like a bowling ball"

Born to the Shoefiend and Sherpa on 28th May 2008 at 6am a baby boy weighing 3.4kg, known henceforth to the readers of this blog as The Boot.

Friday, May 23, 2008

my favourite quote of the week

"Ovaries - I thought one had 700, like caviar"

From this article

Thursday, May 22, 2008

interpret please/Spring Summer trends for CMs

I'm in London. It's 2046 but I'm still 27(aren't dreams great?) I'm heading out to a friend's place for dinner and want to stop off somewhere and buy a bottle of wine. So I stop at a reasonably nice looking place and step in. Except when I step inside I'm in Moore Market. I figure, what the hell, there could be a wine shop in here somewhere. So I'm walking a long and sure enough there is a wine shop. So I open the door and find myself in what eerily looks like a large version of the cages they keep the chickens in at Lucky Chickens. Except the cage/wine shop is filled with students and they're all listening to Karunanidhi teach them calculus. Karunanidhi is wearing a red and white polka dot lungi, cut baniyan, trade mark glasses and rakish neckerchief.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

may maadham



slivers of darboos (watermelon), chunks of kirni (I don't know what it's called in English)liberally showered with sugar and left to chill in the fridge, mangoes - to be bitten in to skin and all every night juice trickling down chins and throats staining dresses and pillows, mangoes to be beaten in to milkshakes, mangoes to be made in to avakkai, mavudu and thokku, guavas, long, skinny, curly cucumbers, yelaneer, neer mor white like sea foam lapping against small floating islands of coriander, ginger and tiny black mustard seeds, panagham sweet dark and mysterious, water infused with vetiver roots left in an earthen pot, eau de cologne (yooodecalaan), sunday afternoon naps that often start mid morning, air heavy with heat, humidity and the hope that summer will not last forever.

(In response to this)

Friday, May 09, 2008

this weekend...

I saw a promo for Pangea Day on Star World today and was intrigued enough to google it.

Pangea Day is on May 10, and is a four hour long event where 24 short films will be broadcast globally at main locations of Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro, in addition to being screened on TV and available online!

Head to the website for more info!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mr. Burns

That’s not his real name. She feels awful, christening him after a skinny, yellow hued, millionaire misanthrope from a cartoon. But it is the first thing that pops in to her head when she sees him near the broken bench taking small, measured steps. His skin a patchwork of brown, beige, pink and white each piece irregular and seamlessly merging with the next forming a quilt that is neither comforting nor welcoming. Even the baseball cap, shirt, trousers and sandals he wears look like they have melted. He scouts the area before settling down on a low wall, his body fitting snuggly in to its graceful, curved surface. He opens a greasy newspaper parcel and proceeds to eat some sort of mixed rice. Finished, he wipes his hands carelessly on his shirt, opens out the paper and proceeds to read it. He looks cool and relaxed unlike the other park loafers whose bare brown bodies look like parched river beds, irrigated only by small rivulets of sweat that dry up as soon as they appear. Perhaps Mr. Burns is used to the heat.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

heat and dust





she sits there and watches the grimy fan blades sluggishly displace the air and is reminded of those afternoons when the power would fail plunging the airless box that was vi c in to darkness forcing them to squint at the tattered maps bala miss used to teach them about the south westerly monsoons, arctic flora and fauna and the himalayas aware of the faint injustice of it all that lingered in the room along with the smell of kurma and sour curd rice unaware of irony

Sunday, April 27, 2008

amateurs

The park is full of them. Amateur photographers, lovers, plant waterers, walkers… the stone paved walkways and cracked benches are filled with dilettantes.

The camera phone appears to have opened the artistic third eye of almost everyone who can afford to own one. In the park, foliage is a favoured subject. I can understand that, the only other subject available in such abundance is necking lovers and surreptitiously taking pictures of them can only land one in hospital or a ditch. So every day, as I huff and puff my way through one more lap around the central green I see someone taking a picture of a leaf. Yes, just the one. Close up. Portrait. From a distance they look like plant therapists (or plant sniffers… does such a fetish exist?), examining their subject from all angles, murmuring to themselves. And then they look around, ensuring there’s no one there to catch them. Taking a picture. Of a leaf. Ha. But they forgot about me. I stealthily creep up on them and just as they click I emit a dry snort. The shoulders jerk, the hands tremble and the head snaps back. Deer caught in headlight eyes meet my amused gaze and a wan smile is offered.

Necking lovers seem to have discovered the delights of the camera phone too (though not in a way that could make them famous on hotdesiaunties.net) But years of having one’s picture taken at Shakti Studio on Luz Corner seems to have influenced our shutter bugs. So we have the surly faced artiste and a slightly nervous looking subject. The artiste insists subject find a suitable background to pose against. Since they’re in a park the usual choice is a group of trees (The bamboo shoots I find add a touch of Oriental exotic to the finished piece) or a bench surrounded by trees. Subject positions him/herself amidst shrubbery and stretches mouth in to a smile, eyes darting around in search of Gomathi Mami who would like nothing more than to tell their Amma what her precious off spring is up to in the name of Maths coaching class. Of course, this hurts the sensitivities of the artiste’s tender soul and forces him/her to goad the loved one in to doing better. “To the left, head down, open your eyes a little wider, don’t show all your teeth when you smile, push the hair away from your eyes, look happier, no no not so many teeth, pah! You’re so useless. Chee this picture is uvack, I will take another one. This time, hold that flower in your hand.”

And then there are the sad sacks. They like to secretly take pictures of Cuticura-dusted-tire-ridden Mamis too engrossed in conversations about Salman Khan’s prowess in bed to notice. If it’s a Friday and the Mami’s are walking around Kapaleeshwarar (no doubt still thinking about Salman) these photographers turn to the next best subject they have.
Themselves.

Of course, yours truly fancies herself a dab hand at photography too. I’m just smart enough to restrict my photographic adventures to our backyard..


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

home coming





Indra sighed and walked away from the watchman and his snoring symphony over to the compound wall which had served as chair, ladder and look out point all through her childhood. It was hiding behind this wall she observed Chandru Mama at No 52 embrace the maid Selvi, as she hung clothes out to dry. It was on this wall she stood every summer (till Amma decided she was too old to be climbing walls) and flung stones at the Xavier’s mango tree, always missing the succulent fruits swollen with ripeness. When the neighbourhood descended in to power cut induced darkness Indra and her sister would rush out with a stumpy white candle each and light them along the wall, plunging their fingers in to the warm pooling wax as though sealing secret missives to far off kingdoms. Indra hoisted herself up on to the walls rough ledge and stared at the emptiness around her.
“It’s just a house Indra. Land, bricks and cement” her husband Madhav snapped when he found her going through an old photo album once the demolition date was set. “I don’t see what’s so terrible. You and your sister are each getting a flat, same size, same everything. What’s to cry about?”
Indra shook her head and wiped away the tears falling on old black and white picture of her family. She was standing on the bonnet of Appa’s Ambassador car, dressed as Gandhi for a fancy dress competition. How could she explain it to him? The house was a part of her: a repository of memories, secrets and dreams. There was the backyard tap she had hit her head on and needed sixteen stitches for. The bathroom she locked her grandmother in for a whole day when she shouted at Indra for disturbing her prayers. The hall cabinet where the cane that came out afterwards was placed alongside a corpulent laughing Buddha, porcelain dolls and the Johnson’s baby cream applied to the red welts that pushed their way up across her back. Her bedroom with its candy coloured walls and Formica cupboard covered in Mandrake stickers covered with posters of matinee idols. The living room with its wicker sofa set and mismatched cushions Indra curled up on each morning to drink Complan; and as she grew older Amma’s thick brown coffee. The giant rosewood swing she would push as Amma lay down and rested her legs swollen with arthritis. The uneven terrace floor she paced as she read history notes and clandestine, sulphurous love letters from the boy in Chemistry lab. The unused storage room that became a bedroom for those four days every month when the women were barred from using the rest of the house. She had slept, cried, trembled and laughed over its every square inch. How would Madhav understand when her own family didn’t? And they were the reason she felt the way she did.(clumsy)

It all started after Indra’s sister was born. Indra’s excitement on the day Amma and Appa brought home her newborn sister was short lived. Within the hour Appa shouted at her for not holding the baby properly, and inaugurated what would be years of fault finding and punishment. It was after her sister’s arrival that the canings began. Perhaps Appa wanted to beat out each and every one of Indra’s shortcomings, things he had always been aware of, but were now more obvious next to the perfection of her sister. The look in her father’s eyes when they gazed at her sister: the joy, pride, the love - he never looked at Indra like that. When he deigned to look at Indra his eyes would become slits of suspicion. With his coconut oiled thick hair, stocky body and fondness for bland food, Indra knew her willowy frame, stubborn curls and ability to eat pickle neat were looked upon with distrust. Indra was nothing like her father, or as she had often heard him say, ‘like anyone in his family’. Amma had none of Appa’s anger, but harboured something far worse - indifference. She had turned her back on Indra and looked to her second-born and garden - tender, young things that she could not be blamed for. They had kicked Indra out of their cosy inner circle and she found comfort in the house. Its seepage stained walls listened tirelessly to her, absorbing her hopes and dreams till they were saturated. Indra often caught a flash of jealousy in her sister’s face – as though she were envious of Indra’s freedom and the lack of expectation others had of her. Her sister was stuck in the coconut oil scented ring of their parent’s love and Indra appropriated the last bastion of refuge – the house - for herself.

Indra fanned herself with the embroidered edges of her sari. The sun was right over her head and she felt herself melting like her old wax candles. Indra smiled as she remembered the day she had married Madhav. She had leaned against this wall and wept as her life was loaded in to the new Maruti Appa had bought them. Her mother murmured a few harried words to her, distracted by the list of important things left to do: there were shiny new silver containers to distribute to the closest of family and friends, red and green blouse pieces to be given to the second tier of acquaintances, jewellery to be transferred to the bank locker and sacks of coconuts to give away. Appa had come up to Madhav with a distraught look on his face that bordered on pity and held his hand.
“She’s a very spoilt girl - don’t mind if she does something wrong.”
It was a tried and tested line, uttered on every wedding day real and celluloid for generations. It was at that moment Indra realised she was not crying at the thought of leaving her parents and sister. After all, they would have to visit each other. It was the sorrow of saying goodbye to her home. It was the knowledge that from that day onwards she would wake up in another room in another house, without the nagachampas to greet her. The familiar call of Shivaraman the vegetable vendor, the shrill whistle of their milk cooker, the suprabatham cassette that always jumped at the third stanza – none of them would make their way to her ears. Her tongue and hand would have to be retrained to recite and write out a new address. A new identity.
It had not been easy in Madhav’s house. It was her mother-in-law’s domain and had been for over thirty years. The oppressive dark brown cabinets, red velvet sofas and mottled mosaic floor depressed Indra and the more her mother-in-law clung to her power the guiltier Indra felt about denying her sister their home. Indra felt she should apologise, make things right and decided to bring the matter up on the occasion of the first Deepavali after her marriage to Madhav. Tradition dictated that Indra and Madhav celebrated it at her home. Or rather at her ‘parent’s home’ as her mother-in-law insisted she call it.

Amma as usual had been busy in the kitchen preparing lunch and distributing sweets and festival bonuses to servants, milkmen and cable boys, mindful as always of the social order and doling out her largesse accordingly. Appa and Madhav sat before the television watching an endless stream of movie songs and bad interviews with actresses who giggled and hair flicked more than they spoke. It was an easy way out of having to engage in the guarded, uncomfortable small talk that men related as they were, were forced to make. Indra and her sister were dispatched to give sweets to their neighbours and receive blessings from those Amma deemed worthy of doling them out.
“Don’t go to Neela’s house. She doesn’t have any children.” Amma instructed, as though the functioning of their reproductive organs could in some way be affected by another woman’s failed uterus. But they knew better than to argue and ducked as they passed Neela’s house. As they walked back from Chandru Mama’s house (where Indra had longed to ask after Selvi), adjusting their dazzling saris of copper sulphate blue and guava pink, Indra cleared her throat and began.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” She began as the customary Deepavali drizzle sent all the children scurrying inside, leaving behind a mound of sodden empty firecracker boxes.
“Hmm. Tell me”
“I just wanted to say… well you know… it’s just that…”
“Indra please walk a little faster, I don’t want to get wet. Plus, there’s a Surya interview on TV at 11:00.”
Indra decided to talk to her sister after lunch. But Amma and Appa had made it unnecessary by announcing they were selling the house to developers who would build a set of luxury apartments. Apart from a considerable amount of money, they were receiving three flats – one for them, one for Indra and one for her sister. After lunch she and Madhav who was overjoyed at his good luck: a car and half a property from his father-in-law, left.

*

Trailing her fingers along the walls cracked face Indra walked to far end of the compound where the old garden shed stood. Indra rested the palm of her hand against its weather beaten door and pushed. It was always the stubborn one. The carpenter had taken the wrong measurements, and once it was up Appa refused to pay for it to be taken down and re-cut. After three hard shoves the door groaned open. Indra stepped in to its dark confines and the smell of rotting terracotta planters, monsoon soaked walls and rusty gardening tools shrouded her.

Indra sat down on a pile of ancient fertiliser bags. She hadn’t been here since she was thirteen and had failed a science mid-term. Fearing Appa’s wrath and the sting of his worn wooden cane she had come to the shed straight after school and hid beneath a sheet of tarpaulin. She only planned to stay for an hour to calm down and prepare for the inevitable. But after cycling home in the afternoon sun the cool, dampness of the shed put her to sleep. It was a stinging slap and her mother’s high-pitched cry of ‘Thank God!’ that woke her up. Amma wept dramatically while Appa looked on somewhat relieved, but angry. They had taken her inside where she was bathed in hot water and lovingly fed by Amma before sent to Appa and his cane. For some reason, the punishment that night was worse than usual – perhaps rage at the fact they had found her. Indra came down with a delirious fever, slipping in and out of consciousness for a week.

Indra picked up a broken pot and brushed the mud clinging to its base. The incident was over twelve years ago but she could remember it so clearly. Her cowering body, the manic almost otherworldly look on Appa’s face, the grunts that punctuated the rhythmic fall of the cane, the change in schools so that no one asked awkward questions. The family meeting where matters were discussed behind closed doors and after which it was referred to as ‘the accident’ – as though Indra had repeatedly fallen on her father’s cane out of clumsiness. It was the last time Indra was punished. The cane and the incident were dispatched to a place no one could see or speak of it. It was the family’s way of dealing with things. What they didn’t like they hid from sight or got married off.

Indra slid down and sat on the dank floor. They had shut her out once before, but she had been able to seek refuge in the warm embrace of her home. And now they had taken that away from her too. She curled her legs beneath her body, rested her head on the lumpy sacks of manure and closed her eyes. There was only one place left for her. Her family would know where to look.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

home coming - i


(Don't know how I feel about this story anymore... )



Indra surveyed the remains of what was once her home. The compound wall, covered in the swirls and arcs of paan sprayed graffiti and creaking front gate stood bereft without the house they were meant to protect. Unlike some of the other gates on the road that had flowers, ‘Oms’ and a heavy bosomed apsara worked in to the design, the black iron grills of their gate were thick, jail-like bars. Appa insisted that the severe design would deter thieves, trespassers and unwanted incense stick and sanitary napkin peddlers from entering the premises. Amma had hankered after an arched multicoloured entrance depicting a pot bellied Ganesha, his mouse and plates laden with sweets and fruit. But Appa vetoed the idea.
“That’s like telling thieves – Come right in sir! No obstacles for you here, Ganesha will let you right in.”
Of course, they all knew the real reason Appa said no was that novelty gates cost a fortune. Amma quietly acquiesced but never missed an opportunity to grumble about Appa’s tightfistedness behind his back. Every time Amma pushed open their gate, or passed their neighbour’s 12 foot, gilt-edged gothic monstrosity (a bit much for the modest 60’s bungalow it guarded), she would narrow her eyes and curse Appa. The fact that their gate was easily and constantly nudged open by itinerant cows attracted by the sight of the lush green leaves in Amma’s garden and did nothing in reducing the number of sales people and their persistent mid afternoon bell ringing made it even worse.

Indra rubbed her fingers against the gate’s ineffective latch before pushing the doors wide open. She raised her fingers to her nose and inhaled the sharp smell of rusted iron as she walked up to where the front door had once stood. Indra bent down to unstrap her sandals, but stopped herself when she realised there was no longer any need for that. There was no intricate, powdery white kolam; borders edged in red to leap over. No terracotta coloured floor tiles swabbed twice a day with hot water and salt, no faded rug to protect from mud. There was nothing. Even the rubble had been cleared away.
“It’s too big for just the two of us now that you and your sister have gone.” Amma said. “What will Appa and I do in such a big house? If we had a son then he and his family would stay with us. But we aren’t so fortunate. Do you know, just the other day in Madipakkam an old couple were strangled by their own watchman? It’s not safe anymore- it’s kali yuga after all.” Amma had recently taken to blaming everything – water shortages, the scantily clad women who danced in film songs, the price of onions – on this final, sin infested age of man that they were said to be living in. “Don’t worry. You and your sister will each get a flat. 3000 square feet with a veranda, kitchen-come-dining, everything. You can even choose the bathroom tiles,” she added as though that would make everything all right.

Indra looked back at the street she had grown up on. The mid afternoon June sun had evacuated it of the children, stray dogs and mobile ironing stand that usually staked claim to various segments of its tree lined length. Everyone was hiding behind ephemeral shields of sleep; the iron man and dogs curled up beneath the shade of his stand, the more fortunate spread out beneath fans or soothed by the cool whisper of split-level air conditioners. The construction workers who lived on the grounds of her old home were the worst off; makeshift cardboard and palm leaf shacks were all they could afford. Yet even they slept; legs poking out of gaping doorways like burnt match sticks. The afternoon silence was interrupted every four seconds by the security guard who sat snoring on a rickety green chair placed under the palm tree’s meagre shade. It was the only tree left standing; the red and white hibiscus bushes, jasmine vines and the yellow nagachampa were all hacked down before the demolition.

Indra stood before the watchman and felt a familiar angry depression swell up inside her. How could Amma let them do this? She had called those plants her children; named, fed, groomed and sung songs to them. Indra remembered how Amma hated plucking the flowers, sucking her breath in sharply every time she snapped a tender green stalk, as though she shared their pain.
‘Eh! Don’t smell them’ Amma would admonish Indra and her sister when they helped her gather flowers as children. ‘God should be allowed the pleasure of their fragrance first.’
The nagachampa had always been Indra’s favourite. Its branches caressed the balcony adjoining her bedroom on the second floor and for as long as she could remember it was their deep, intoxicating fragrance that lulled her to sleep every night and that she woke up to each morning. She was always aware of the sin involved in inhaling their sweet scent before the flowers were strung in to garlands for God, but would rationalise that short of breathing there was little else she could do. Now, apart for the single coconut tree the compound was stripped bare of greenery.
“Don’t worry. We are leaving the coconut tree, madam” the site manager had simpered “We are calling the building Palm Haven after all, how can we cut it down?”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

fear of

She is scared.

That before her breasts sag, before invisible crows place their feet in the wet cement that is her skin, before the first touch of grey settles in her hair, before she is need of a cataract operation, before she becomes the ‘one’ in the one in two women over fifty who get osteoperosis, before she officially becomes an Aunty to the twenty something who uses words like ‘tony’ in place of ‘posh’ (what on earth is wrong with posh?) before all these inevitabilities.

She is scared her hands will be the first to go.

Veined, mottled, worn, callused.

Old.

She cannot say for sure when the slow growing seeds of this phobia were planted, but she has hazy recollections of her great grandmother’s hands. Frail, white to the point of ghostly, covered in veins blue like the tributaries of a river, malleable. When pinched the skin would bunch together like a small ball of aata for a few seconds before deflating and joining the rest of her hand. She tells her therapist about this. But he rubbishes her theory and mumbles something about her mother. According to him everything is about her mother. She checks the diplomas on his wall one day when he is out attending to a phone call. He has obtained it through correspondence.

Her mother does not give her phobia any credence.

‘You’re just lazy. You don’t want to do anything, you don’t want to learn to cook or do needlework. Lazy. And you’re using some phobia-shobia nonsense as an excuse. So unfriendly also you have become, refusing to shake hands with Verma Uncle’s boy who came last week.’

The ‘boy’ was forty years old and had been digging his nose till the introductions were complete. How could she allow her carefully preserved hands to touch such a thing? God knows where else it had been.

‘And look how many creams you use. God gave us hands to do work, not to cover in expensive creams and gloves. How will I ever get you married if you are like this? Refusing to learn to cook and arrange flowers? Who will want you?’

She watched a show about a handicapped man with no arms who used his feet for everything. Driving, eating, cooking, dressing his children. His paintings sell for thousands. Inspired, she tried to do the same (trying not to think too much about how he cleaned himself after his morning crap)

‘What is wrong with you?’ her mother screams after an attempted coffee mug lift with her feet. ‘God has given you two good arms and hands and you are doing this? Chee chee! Why God, why did I have to get a daughter like this?’

She gives her seventy year old uncle a foot shake. A bad idea. Already gripped by senility he was under the impression she was trying to kick him. Silly old man. Why would she do that?

She goes without a fuss. It is all very quiet and dignified. Not at all like in the movies where a van comes and ugly men in white uniforms strap you to the stretcher and carry you away kicking and screaming. Oh no. Of course she was somewhat startled to see her therapist at the front door on a Sunday evening. But she didn’t see why she shouldn’t go with him. He had seemed so reasonable. Other than the little pin prick in her arm, the whole evening was very pleasant.

She isn’t exactly sure why she is here now. But she likes it. The room is clean, she is fed and bathed. And they give her gloves when she paints. Of course none of her paintings sell for thousands, but her mother always takes one home after her weekly visit. She is not over her phobia of ageing hands. But she can pick up a pencil with her toes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

tis the season

 



for vadu maanga!
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thwack

She watches him swab the floor of the house. Tall, slender and long limbed he might have been a ballet dancer in another life. Or, from the way he scuttles across the floor with his rag and bucket of soap water - a spider. He calls her papa. She is thirty and has two children. But then her mother 'is the only Amma of the house'. She has nightmares that she is fifty and still called papa, a member of the coterie of women with silly names – Birdie Athai, Papa Chitti, Hyma Mami. (the last name always making her blush). She has tried to get him to call her Akka. But he will not. ‘No, you will always be papa to me’ he says with an almost toothless smile and cackle. Sitting on the divan she watches him go by with his grey rag and imagines his spidery limbs fractured beneath her slippered foot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

this morning

The roads are blocked and traffic has been diverted to make way for His monstrous vehicle. My chariot is neither redolent with flowers nor pulled by devotees. It is yellow and black and manned by khaki clad Shekhar. He navigates his auto through the tiny back alleys that lead up to Mundakanniamman Koil with an ease and agility that belies the three wheelers rounded frame. I am reminded of a plump classmate whose chubbiness never came in the way when she danced. Perhaps it was her extra weight that added grace and to her movements. The elderly, women and children line the streets. The nightgown has usurped the nylon sari as the stay at home uniform of the middle classes. A neck hole, two arm holes, a zipper and a hem is all it takes to turn yards of floral fabric in to shapeless thing called a garment. A beating drum turns my attention to the man they have come to see – the utsavar of a nearby Ramar koil is doing the rounds.

Mundakanniaman’s darbar is full, her famous large rounded eyes glare at the throng of devotees who have come to beg for her favour. Under the shade of a large tree naagars of varying shapes and sizes fashioned out of black stone are anointed in a sticky mixture of milk, kunkumam and manjal. Coloured string, letters and other missives hang off the branches of the tree. A cat laps at a pool of milk, its pink tongue lost in the murky liquid that has pooled at the feet of two intertwined stone snakes. The gathering’s attention is suddenly diverted as Rama’s utsavar pauses outside the temple doors. All that can be seen from where I stand is His gleaming silver bow. It is as though we are all at some sort of heavenly red carpet event where fans fawning over one celebrity are suddenly sidetracked by the dazzling appearance of another. Guiltily they look away from the Utsavar and return their adoring gazes to Amman’s feet. Perhaps they are afraid to look in to her eyes.

It never ceases to amaze me how much these narrow streets contain: overflowing dustbins, Honda City’s that stick out and yet seem at ease parked outside a store that makes dance costumes and a dreadlocked man who looks stoned. Amma points out the tailor who used to make blouses for her in college ‘For Rs. 1.50’ and the crumbling old flat she lived in for a year after my grandfather retired.

Appar Swamy Koil is deserted in comparison. ‘You should come here during Pradosham’ Amma says as she notes my eyes sweeping the forlorn courtyard, her voice a tad defensive. I have been here once before I tell Amma on an equally deserted day for a friend’s Veena recital. I remember sitting with her family, teacher and Nandi for forty minutes as she fumbled her way through Rara Venu Gopala and other songs. Inside a young mother lights earthen lamps before Durga, the latter’s features eroded by time. She tries to control her daughter - a small bundle of powder, cheap silk and saamandhi.

I wonder what her mother is praying for.

Friday, March 14, 2008

question

What is the English word for nappasai?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Women's Poetry Competition

Mslexia has announced its annual Women's Poetry Competition. This year's entries will be judged by Carol Ann Duffy. Poems may be in any style, of any length, on any subject. Sequences will be judged as separate poems.

Prizes

1st Prize £1000

2nd prize £500

3rd prize £250

22 other finalists will win £25 each and all winning poems will be published in Mslexia. There's an entry fee of £5 that allows you to enter up to three poems.

Closing date: 25 APRIL 2008

Poems from women of any nationality from any country will be accepted.

For more details of rules, eligibility etc click here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

rationing

Nagalakshmi lowered herself on to the cracked red oxide floor and stretched her legs out before her. She leaned against the rusting iron frame of the bed and slid a hand in to the dusty space that lay beneath, searching for the small jar of Tiger Balm. She found it behind the rear leg of the bed, slowly pulled it out and unscrewed the shiny hexagonal lid inscribed with foreign lettering. It was a daily ritual; one of many minutiae of her life that was dragged out for as long as possible to fill up the seemingly eternal hours after lunch and before nightfall. Nagalakshmi inhaled the familiar, overpowering smell that emanated from what was left of the stiff orange balm that clung to the glass walls of the jar. Her finger scavenged about inside the jar before extricating a tiny pea sized dollop which she split in to two smidgens and rubbed in to the sagging skin that covered her knees.
The balm was a precious commodity. But unlike the small box of saffron that sat on the top most shelf of Nagalakshmi’s kitchen and came down only important festival’s it was a daily treat.
Both were gifts from Nagalakshmi’s niece as was the cordless telephone and microwave. The girl was a thoughtful child, always bringing her a little something when she returned from abroad. The phone was useful (though initially on noticing the absence of coiled wire Nagalakshmi thought it was broken) but the microwave scared her. It flashed and groaned loudly and needed special vessels. And what use did she have for it anyway? Her one ring stove took care of all her cooking needs. But she kept it all the same, storing surplus provisions in it and using the top as a makeshift shelf for her prayer books. When her niece visited, Nagalakshmi was careful to empty out the microwave of grains and pulses and clean it.
“It’s so very useful” Nagalakshmi would tell her “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Yes, her niece was always bringing her useful gifts. Mostly. But she didn’t visit as often as she used to, so it was important that perishables were made to last for as long as possible.

It would be another six months before her niece arrived. Nagalakshmi leaned against the cot and reached for the tiger balm again. Her knees still hurt. She looked inside the jar at the meagre remnants and satisfied herself by deeply inhaling its scent instead.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

indha vaaram!

30 vagai...

kurma
idli
podimaas
payasam
poli
kozhakattai
dosai
kalandha sadam
kesari
vaththal
thideer samaiyal

pala vagai...

vaandhi
bedhi

Sunday, March 02, 2008

meanwhile

They formed a formidable fortress around me the day after my wedding; an impenetrable and inescapable wall of silk saris, diamonds and withering jasmine. The women of the family — aunts, sisters, cousins and friends had cornered me with an expectant look on their faces. I had been forewarned of this: the not so subtle interrogation about the night before by those who had suffered a similar fate. Apparently, these mouths that fluently and piously intoned the Lalitha Sahasranamam were also capable of spouting SJ Suryah style dialogues. I cringed, waiting for the first missile.

“When are you opening your gifts?”

Eh? Gifts? Clearly, materialistic pleasures had gained the hierarchical upper hand that day, and so, without further ado we all sat down to an afternoon of present opening with all the restraint of a post birthday five year old high on a sugar rush.

With the wedding season and summer heat looming large, the invitations have been piling up at home and there’s nothing I like more than perusing and passing judgement on these increasingly tome like missives (we received one the other day with pops up and seven inserts. The only thing missing was a musical greeting). I’m particularly interested in those lines inserted that deal with the receiving of gifts, presentations and good old fashioned cash. These insertions vary from the direct and slightly rude ‘No gifts and presents’ to the more polite ‘Please gift the couple with your blessings alone’ to the somewhat ambiguous ‘Grace the occasion with your presence only’. Why do people do this? And, more importantly, are we expected to respect the wishes of our hosts and turn up empty handed, hearts full of love and blessings or should we arrive armed with the mandatory vanilla envelope?

Those who decide to follow a hosts instructions and turn up sans gift often run embarrassing risks. There’s nothing worse than showing up empty handed at a wedding reception and finding a long line of guests ready to shower the couple with their blessings and a deluxe casserole set. Except perhaps finding out that the bride has lost ten pounds since you last saw her, a time frame during which you’ve had triplets and discovered the benefits of eating brownies for breakfast.

I believe gifts serve a purpose. They help bridge the awkward transition from saying ‘Congratulations’ and complimenting the bride’s svelte appearance through gritted teeth to being asked to pose for a photograph. Always wait to be asked. Without something tackily wrapped in shiny reflective paper to hand over, one can end up looking like a cheapskate who just wants their photo taken before running off to eat. Secondly, gifts also help you stand out in an ocean of guests. For example, ten rupees in the envelope the wedding invite came in tags one as a miser. Or recently divorced from Heather Mills McCartney.

I’ve often wondered why some families have a ‘no gifts’ policy. It can’t be that they eschew materialism and are all for a more ascetic approach to life, other wise they’d encourage their children to elope and have register marriages instead of the multi crore shenanigans weddings are today. I think it’s all an attempt to sidestep vicious bad gift karma. Think about it, we’re all guilty of having palmed off coconut Ganpathis and novelty singing trout to newly weds. And in order for the universe to remain in a state of equilibrium its only fair that this behaviour comes back to bite us in our backsides in the form of alarm clocks cleverly disguised as footballs or — what an idea — vases in the form of flowers!

Of course, every now and then there’s a wedding invitation that takes your breath away, and it’s not just because of their innovative use of glitter and Lord Ganpathi. A few years ago, a friends friend sent out invitations to her nuptials with a little card inserted that said (and I summarize) ‘As we are young and irresponsible, please don’t gift us things for our new home. We’re likely to break, lose or never use them. Instead, money (preferably cash) will help us start our lives on happy, solvent note.’ While some gasped and shook their heads in despair before putting back the Mickey Mouse photo frame they had hoped to palm off, I couldn’t help but marvel at the couple’s cheek.

I’m all for gifts — good, bad and tacky. They provide hours of fun to those opening them, help build up an ample arsenal of gifts to throw at other hapless couples and most important of all, they keep at bay your Aunt’s nosey questions about how many moles your other half has. And I don’t mean of the rodent kind.

(This piece appeared in today's edition of the NewIndPress Sunday magazine)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

she wonders 2

The villi (they are all villis, no villains) has lied to an old friend of hers who happens to be a married man, that she has blood cancer. The man marries her. Apparently he feels sorry for her. Fake blood cancer lady has a kalla kadhalan. When wife no 1 realises second wife has no cancer she tries to prove this. However blood cancer lady is romba ushaar and so suddenly claims her blood cancer has been cured and then proceeds to fake a pregnancy, thereby managing to maintain a hold over man. When wife 1 realises pregnancy is fake and finds proof of this, fake blood cancer and fake pregnancy lady fakes a miscarriage! And so on and so forth.. why wife 1 did not say tata to husband when he came home with fake blood cancer wife remains a mystery. Perhaps that is the tamizh kalacharam every one is talking about.

She wonders

Do schools still have Moral Science lessons? Is there still a Music hour? Are children forced to learn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram and write essays on Cleanliness is next to Godliness? Do canteens still sell vegetable puffs and bread channa so greasy the oil soaks right through the paper plate? Are uniforms still as unattractive as they were all those years ago? Is there still English I and English II? Do class seven students reading the unabridged version of Twelfth Night still giggle when Lady Olivia falls in love with Cesario? Do Book Depot Aunties still insist on being called Ma’am even though they don’t teach? Did teachers still yank at long oiled braids when homework hasn’t been done? Does ‘Fingers on your lips’ still echo through cobwebbed corridors? Do knees still carry the imprint of sand and gravel stone? Do dispensary sanitary napkins still look like balls of cotton wrapped in gauze? Do fingers still carry the stains of Royal Blue ink? Are Schaeffer pens still waved imperiously in the faces of Reynold bearing mortals? Do March Past and Mass Drill still strike terror in the hearts of the fairest of the fair? Do students still cheer as half days are announced when school correspondent’s die? Do notebooks still slide surreptitiously in to bags as the clock hands inch towards the end of a day? Is chapathi kurma still looked at longingly by children who are sent idli molagapodi?
Do all these things seem wonderful only because they are all so long ago in the past?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

sunday afternoons are for tags

Or at least that's what I tell myself before doing this tag, surnotes has handed over. Also, I have twenty minutes to go before bugging Amma for some more coffee.


A -Available?
For?

B-Best friend:
Don’t have just one

C-Cake or Pie?
I’m greedy, so both

D-Drink of choice:
Leo Coffee

E-Essential thing used everyday:
Soap

F-Favourite colour:
Maroon

G-Gummi bears or worms:
Gummi bears. The yellow ones

H-Hometown:
Madras

I-Indulgence:
Blank note books

J-January or February:
February. One month closer to summer

K-Kids and names:
Undecided

L-Life:
??

M-Marriage date:
June 7th

N-Number of siblings:
1

O-Oranges or apples:
Oranges

P-Phobias:
Heights

Q-Quote:
Unquote?

R-Reason to smile:
Creature Comforts

S-Season:
Autumn. Crisp, fresh and filled with some of my favourite colours.

T-Tag three people:
Whoever wants to take this up?

U-Unknown fact about me:
I used to have a blanket addiction as a child

V-Vegetable you do not like:
I am very

W-Worst habit:
Hair fiddler

X-x-rays you have had:
Chest?

Y-Your favorite food:
Vengaya aracha vitta sambhar, urulaikizhangu curry, avakkai sadam suttai appalam

Z-Zodiac:
Libra

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Kamala"

See, there she is, at my daughter’s wedding. No, no not that one, this one. Dressed in the magenta sari. One side border. Was so friendly with everyone, even Periamma who is so hard to please had something nice to say about her. She seemed like such a nice girl you know. No trace of the arrogance and conceit that they later said she possessed. Or - and I tell you this only because I know you won’t tell anyone else – an abnormal sexual appetite. Who could tell by looking at her? Can you imagine? In a girl from such a good family too. But of course, one never knows what truth there is in rumours like this. People are always making things up. I am only telling you what I have heard. Her poor parents. 100 sovereigns gold! Even her anklets. Chitti says that that is why the marriage didn’t last…tying Goddess Lakshmi to one’s feet like that. The catering bill itself was Rs. 3 lakhs and her bridal makeup Rs. 40,000. She’s not the most photogenic girl as you can see. See, there she is at the reception. All that money spent and she was back in her parent’s home in two years. They say he came home one day and found all sorts of dirty things on the computer – pictures and all. Chee chee. And she would talk for long hours on the phone with his friends when he wasn’t there. But who knows the truth? I remember that even as a little boy he was prone to telling tales. Anyway he was the one who wanted the divorce. I met her mother at Swamiji’s Ashram a few months ago. Poor woman had become half of what she used to be. And who can blame her? She pretended like she hadn’t seen me, perhaps she felt bad, seeing that I’m related to him. But why should she feel bad? So I went right up to her and said hello. She was very vague, said the girl was in Bangalore working for a software company. Have another bonda. And some chutney. I didn’t tell Mami he had already remarried. She might feel bad. I’m sure the girl will get married again soon. And why not… so common these days. Best let her choose though. I called up his mother. She’s my cousin on my father's side. Well she listens to everything I had to say and then tells me ‘I don’t ever want to hear her name mentioned again’! Imagine! As though she couldn’t say that before I told her everything. Don’t mention her name! As though that will cancel out two years of marriage and erase the girl's very existence. But see, here she is in my daughter’s wedding album. Whether I say her name or not.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Telling tale

My companions giggled nervously as we approached The Music Academy. Its parking lot, usually overflowing with vehicles and people on performance evenings wore an uncharacteristically forlorn look. And we weren’t even that early for Attakalari’s evening performance of Purushartha, a multimedia dance production described as ‘a unique blend of Indian movement idioms and Japanese digital and sonic arts’. Where was the city’s enthusiastic dance audience? Did they know something we didn’t? As we handed over our tickets and stepped inside the auditorium, we looked around trying to see how many seats were filling up. ‘Give it another ten minutes’ a friend said, so we turned our attention to the performance bills that had been thrust in to our hands at the entrance. We needn’t have worried, for by 7:30 the lower circle of the hall was almost full, the air alive with the buzz of pre-performance anticipation, air kisses and ‘excuse me’s as tardy rasikas trod on feet.

Roughly translated in to ‘the meaning of being’, the hour long production explored the Hindu concept of ‘the objectives of human life – dharma, artha, kama and moksha’ through Attakalari’s unique blend of kalaripayattu, yoga, bharatanatyam mudras and other contemporary dance forms. Not that I would have necessarily known this had I not read about the show before hand. For though based on an ancient concept this Indo-Japanese venture made no obvious references to the underlying philosophy at all. Instead, Jayachandran Palazhy, Artistic Director and Choreographer and Kunihiko Matsuo, Music Director and Interactive Technology Director presented an abstract work, set against stark, often bewildering visuals and set to contemporary Japanese noise music.

‘Are those sperm?’ a friend whispered in to my ear at one point when the stark white background on to which everything from geometric shapes to mysterious blue ripples and scenes from popular cinema (Thillana Mohanambal? Helen!) to shots of desolate bus stops and even the performers on stage, was covered with small, wiggling commas. ‘Do you have any theories?’ another whispered ‘Mine have all been shot to pieces’. The guessing games soon came to an end though, as we became mesmerised by the dancers and their lithe, agile bodies that leapt and rolled across the stage. The female dancers, some so slender they looked like they might snap in half picked up their muscular male counterparts with effortless ease, wrapping them around their slender frames like pythons before setting them down again. In their minimalist white layered tunics the dancer’s were hypnotic. It didn’t really matter if they were telling a tale or not though some of the themes such as love, lust, separation and meditation were more apparent than others. The music ranged from a topsy turvy countdown to chants to strange high pitched noises. If anyone hoped for a finale that revealed some hidden secret or inner meaning, they were in for a disappointment as the show ended with an abrupt ‘Stop’ and lights out.

If Attakalari’s Purushartha was stark, abstract and at times puzzling then Anusham’s production Ganga was a dazzling 180 degree turn. Choreographed by L Narendrakumar the sixty minute performance staged at Bharath Kalachar was back by popular demand, and it was easy to see why the production was so successful with audiences.
A riot of colour, Ganga was a joyous and exuberant mix of bharatanatyam, folk dance, music and storytelling. The dance drama was a montage of life along the banks of the holy river, the festivals celebrated in her honour, Buddha’s enlightenment and scenes from the life of Shankara and Kabir. A sprightly boatman acted as narrator and led the audience by the hand from one enactment to another, singing and dancing along the way.

My favourite piece was the reenactment of Lord Shiva’s taming of the mighty river. The battle between the haughty Ganga - four dancers dressed in shimmering sequined shades of blue - and Lord Shiva was a thrill to watch, and even though I knew that the outcome was inevitable I couldn’t help but secretly root for the river to put a dampener on Shiva’s plans. Unlike the rest of the audience, perhaps too mature to openly ‘ooh and aah’, two little girls dressed in their best pavadai sattais sitting in the row before me had no compunction in showing their admiration. Completely enthralled by the costumes, smoke effects and infectious music they were on the edge of their seats for most of the performance. But no one could contain their admiration at the finale and Periyathambi of Koothu-p-pattarai’s acro-asanas.

It would be impossible and wrong to compare the two performances, as both were so varied in style, content and theme. While Purushartha let the audience interpret the piece for themselves, Ganga used more traditional storytelling techniques that left no room for doubt. What was common to both though was their ability to keep their audiences transfixed throughout and talking long after the curtains had come down.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thirunelveli halwa for my Valentine

Everyone's writing triolets at Ammani's, so I thought I'd join in. Mine, is quite bad, and the triolet took a turn for the worse when I couldn't think of many things that rhymed with halwa. Oh well. Happy Valentine's!

I made you Thirunelveli halwa
On our last Valentine
Singing songs from Jalwa
I made you Thirunelveli halwa
While you were out bonking Alpa
So I added a pint of turpentine
I made you Thirunelveli halwa
On our last Valentine

Thursday, February 07, 2008

yes yes of course

She wished she wasn’t so nice. Why was she so nice? From where did this need to please arise from? Good girl. If you’re a good girl I’ll give you this chocolate. This new dress, this new jewellery set, a good name in the family. The last was the most useless of all things she had been offered in return for her goodness. She hated the way her head nodded involuntarily in agreement to every request, statement and command. Of course I’ll make bajjis for everyone. Yes, yes I agree, she shouldn’t be wearing such revealing clothes at her age. She was a cow she decided. A boom boom maadu that shook its gaily painted horns at one and all.
She envied the women in the mega serials she watched every evening. Not the stupid innocent daughter-in-laws, fat and well fed on curd rice and naiveté, draped in printed nylon saris and round bindis who got duped and tricked by everyone. Oh no. While others tsked and gasped at their machinations, she secretly cheered on the mother-in-laws, sister-in laws and mistresses. The villis. The vamps. She yearned to be more like them in their garish embroidered saris, matching jewellery sets, barely there blouses and bindis that spread across their foreheads like poisonous trees. Yes yes, poison your husband. Push your sister over the edge of the balcony. Steal that baby. She spent her afternoons formulating cutting, witty repartees that she would throw in the faces of those who mocked her. She had plotted ways of wreaking revenge on the Periamma who called her fat and the cousin who won over others with her charming ways and flouncy hair. Yes, today would be the day she broke free of her need to please. She would do as she liked. She would leave her hair open after 6 in the evening, not wear a petticoat beneath her nightie and insist on having onion sambhar next ammavasya. Yes, as soon as she finished her niece’s science project she would learn to say no.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Food for arthropods, protective shields that ward off the evil eye, welcome mats or road side art?


They are often the first sounds of the day. Under the jamun coloured sky a gate opens, groaning and creaking, protesting at being woken up so early in the morning, Water is splashed from a chipped plastic bucket, not poured, not sprinkled but splashed. Handfuls scooped out and flung against the dusty earth before one’s home. And then a silence, punctuated by the shuffle of feet and the occasional jin-chuk of anklet bells. The length of this silence varies. It depends on the mood of anklet wearer, what day of the week it is, what month it is, auspiciousness levels and whether kaavi is to be added or not. During certain months, a subtle, unspoken rivalry comes in to play. Designs become more elaborate. Arabesques, curlicued flowers and chariots spill out on to the street. Adept hands turn bland rice powder in to menageries bursting with peacocks, butterflies, elephants and leaping fish. Without measuring aids pullis are spaced with military precision and then looped and joined together in an elaborate version of connect the dots. Like imperious rulers ordering about their court artisans, some women stand guard urging the hand that creates to go further, try harder and be more imaginative as though their glory is somehow reflected in these creations. But unlike monuments dedicated to lovers, portraits and poetry that are preserved for posterity, these works of art are ephemeral and will not live to see the next day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Floating Lord




We enter through the gate opposite Leo Coffee, insignificant in the surge of arms, legs and braided hair that whip the face if one gets too close. I stumble through the small opening in the wall and all I can see are people. Pressed against one another, buying and selling packets of puffed rice, scolding children, acting truant, laughing, chatting, glaring and protesting. I frequently look up in to the grape black night sky for respite before training my eyes on the moving swirl of humanity. We edge close to the wall, my mother holding my hand as though I am 7 and not 27. But I do not resent this, I am grateful for her fingers entwined around mine, aware that if I let go I might get swallowed by a mouth that might spit me out in some unrecognizable form. We reach the wall and look down the steps that lead to the edge of the tank. Every square inch is occupied by a sari, dhoti, paavadai or trouser clad bottom. Large, small, sagging and compact. Callipygous.

We crane our necks and look around the tank and spot an unoccupied section of steps. It is not too far a away and we are soon over the wall, pulling articles of clothing that have ridden up back in to place. Carefully we make our way to the last and broadest step and begin the walk around the tank. Along the way, female hands steady us and voices shout out warnings ‘Be careful’. Another voice, male and angry shouts out ‘Make way’! We look over our shoulders. A long line of men pulling a thick rope march towards us. Behind them, their Lord slowly bobs up and down on the surface of the water. He is seated majestically on a covered float that is draped with lights, flowers and bare-chested men who are singing His praises. We scuttle up the stairs and stand at an appreciative distance, letting Him pass by before we resume our journey to the vacant steps.

By the time we reach our destination, the Lord has navigated to the other side of the tank. We settle down and wait for our paths to cross again, passing the time by pointing out landmarks, catching up on street gossip and nudging each other slyly when women in particularly interesting blouses with windows, doors and skylights walk by.

The tank serves many purposes. Home to a flock of geese (ducks?) and schools of fish that fight over the puffed rice some throw. A messenger carrying people’s desires, prayers and hopes in the form of lamps set afloat on its rippling skin. A gigantic foot sauna to those who dip their feet in and disturbingly, a source of drinking water to others who greedily drink from it.

While many are there to seek the Lord’s blessings, some appear to have come for an evening out. Women’s faces scrubbed with turmeric shine resplendently and take on an other worldly glow under the lights. Some children are dressed in their best attire. Twins in identical clothes that perhaps still smell of air conditioned shops while there is more than one man who has brought out his sandal wood coloured silk kurta. Some of course haven’t bothered to dress for the occasion, like the group of children still wearing crumpled school uniforms with tattered ribbons in their hair. They cling to the striped walls like baby monkeys shouting out to one another, lost in their own make believe world.

We wait for the float to pass us by once more, and this time study Him closely. Bejeweled and loftily carrying his vel, surrounded by admirers, fish and ducks (geese?), the floating Lord meets our gaze before moving on. It is my first time theppam and I wonder whether the divinity radiates from the Lord outwards and bathes the audience or comes from within the people and shines on to him.

(probably couldn't find it, because I misspelled it :P) (callipygous:Having beautifully proportioned buttocks)

Monday, January 28, 2008

afternoon in the park

The woman wears a lime green sari and a scowl that suits her acidic six yard garb. There is a whiff of Cinthol in the air as Nylex Nalini passes by. Does she bathe before coming to the park? Is each lap a sacred perambulation around a garbha griha *of bamboo trees, sleeping men and young lovers who spend more time texting one another than touching? She remembers a friend of Amma's, a woman who would go marching up to these tanned Laila-Majnus and ask them in a loud grating voice if they knew how hard their parents worked to educate them and why they were wasting their youth on love. Yet another woman marches past. Her curly hair tamed in to a tight braid, dupatta starched and pinned in a ‘V’ – a look more suited for a school girl rather than on a woman of 50. ish. In their uniformly baggy shorts, soft veshtis* and tired looking Tommy t shirts the men rarely attract her attention. Except one. He wears his Jockey boxers as shorts and struts about. She wants to tell him what they are meant for, but is scared he will say ‘I know’.

* garbha griha - womb chamber in a temple
* veshti - dhoti

Thursday, January 24, 2008

afternoons

The two boys cycle up and down the street, the smaller of the two sitting pillion. He clings to the larger boys back like a small monkey, his eyelids scrunched together to keep out the intrusive afternoon sun that knocks with a hot, insistent hand. After a few lazy laps the smaller one begins to whine and complain. It’s his chance he insists, his turn to navigate their ship. The larger boy ignores him, choosing instead to introduce a swaying motion to his pedaling so that the cycle careens, left right left right. The smaller boy is silenced temporarily; distracted by this new trick but soon starts up again. His pleas get louder, a tinge of annoyance and anger slipping in to the occasional ‘Anna’, picking at the striped back before him and flailing his legs out in petulance. The larger boy finally relents and gets off. He watches silently as his friend struggles on to the cycle with shorter chubbier legs. After a few slips and slides, the small boy sits triumphantly on his throne and beckons the other to sit astride with a jerk of his head. The older boy looks at him a moment before throwing back a careless ‘tsk’ and walking away.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It was a dark stormy night...

My favourite Peanuts strips were the ones where Snoopy banged away at his typewriter sitting on top of his little red dog house. His stories always started with 'It was a dark stormy night and suddenly...'

Well if you've managed to go beyond that first line, take a look at this. Or, if flash fiction is more your thing, check out this. Actually, just check out the entire site. I wish I was in Bombay.

(Link via Spaniard)

Save Dedalus Books

Dear book-lover

The Arts Council UK is poised to disinvest from DEDALUS BOOKS – a successful, 25-year-old independent literary publisher.
Dedalus pride themselves on taking on good writing that slips through the cracks of conservative corporate publishing.
Disinvestment will put Dedalus out of business.

If a petition can help, please sign it:
http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/dont-let-dedalus-die.html

(Link via email from my former writing instructor)