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Voicing Silence 7

Monday, December 22, 2008

A quick tale 220

Everyday Christmas

The Santa sitting next to the till looked cute. His head bobbed whenever a customer placed their shopping bag on the counter. Shop, shop, he seemed to say, shop till you drop. Is that for sale?, she asked of the shop assistant. Sorry, that’s just for display. There are others in aisle number...18.

The Santa doll would look good on her golu steps. He would sit next to Chettiar and Chettichi dolls. Sort of like a strange cross-cultural exchange in the toy world. The two bulls which she inherited from her mother would go on either end of the step. She wondered if she could get her mother-in-law to ship Lakshmi-Saraswathi dolls. They would have to be packed well though. Otherwise they would end up with chipped noses. And no matter how mach PVC glue you applied, it would never quite look the same. There’s still time for all that, she thought, it’s only December yet. There’s almost 10 months between now and Navarathri.

Soon it will be Pongal. Then Maha Sivarathri. In April, it will be Rama Navami followed by Varusha Pirappu. And come June, there will be one festival after another. Janmashtami, Varalakshmi Nonbu, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Navarathri and soon thereafter, Deepavali. In between, there will be an assortment of smaller family occasions like birthdays and anniversaries to mark and celebrate. But it is always a good idea, she decided, to keep her eyes peeled for valuable additions to her doll collection.

Merry Christmas, wished the sales assistant, handing her the shopping bag. And to you too, she replied looking up at the Santa one more time. He didn’t seem so cheerful now. Paavam, she thought, just one festival every year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A quick tale 219

Ananya, Arushi, Advait, Ankit, Aryan

In class she was C. Geetha. There were two other other girls with the same name. R. Geetha and L. Geetha (whom she recently discovered on Facebook. Only now she was Geetha L Narayan). It would annoy her immensely whenever her name was called out and several heads turned to answer. It was back in school that she resolved never to answer when she heard her name but instead to wait until she was tapped on the shoulder. A habit which continues to date despite the fact that she is the only Geetha in her household.

It’s funny how she now has her own house and family. Just recently she was still her father’s daughter. A third daughter born after much beseeching to the gods for a male offspring. Even as a child she knew what an intense disappointment she was to her parents. Why else would they give her a name that was as commonplace as salt? In fact, she was uncannily right. Because it was not her parents who chose her name. They were still blaming the gods for not paying heed to their prayers and had completely forgotten to pick a name for the newborn. So much so that for months, she remained nameless. Some would call her ‘baby’, some others ‘ponnu’. Until one afternoon in her ninth month when a grand aunt who was visiting them from Bangalore, was playing with her and offered her a bunch of keys to rattle around. The little one clutched the keys firmly in her plump grasp and shook it this way and that way. Its clinking shiny metal kept her amused all afternoon.

Soon it was time for the aunt to leave and she needed her keys back. Papa, she gently demanded of the child, key-thaa...The little one shook her head and turned her face away. The elderly lady persisted in her appeal. Key-thaa, baby! Key-thaa, please! But no amount of pleading could get her to change the infant’s mind. Finally, some one had to prise the chubby fingers open to release the keys. The grand aunt missed her train that evening but the little one had gained a name. Key-thaa which later in the school register became Geetha.

Now, sitting in a far away country, 7-months pregnant with her first child, Geetha goes through Maneka Gandhi’s Book of Hindu names. Abha (glow), Aabharana (jewel), Aardharshini (idealistic), Aadhya (first power), Aadita (from the beginning)…so many fantastic names to choose from. She decides she will have at least half-a-dozen children. Each with a memorable name, unique like no other.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A very tempting resignation letter

I, So-and-so, do hereby resign from my post as mother, food provider, eternal comforter, lost sock finder, homework helper, nappy changer, 2 am feeder, bed time story reader, Boochandi monster fighter and from my countless other avatars. I also surrender my title of ‘Best Mummy in the World’ which was so graciously handed to me this morning after a particularly hideous tantrum from my part.

My reasons of resignation are various. But the chief among them is my desperate need to regain what remains of my earlier life before the onslaught of children. It was a life filled with deliciously slothful behaviour. I could have leisurely lie-ins on Sunday mornings. I could leave home at a moment’s notice without having to pack for an apocalypse. I could hold long conversations on economics without regular and frequent interruptions from a child demanding to know if he could have credit crunch for pudding. In short, it was a golden period. And I want it back.

I am deeply aware that I have been very blessed to have been accorded my role – twice over. However, I think I’m undeserving of such goodness. I am an extremely selfish person who needs her 8 hours of undisturbed sleep and one who worries about her brain turning to mush from too much nappy changing (what do you know? the human body works in mysterious ways). I crave a role beyond that of a mother. And now that I have completed my biological task, please may I be allowed to diversify?

I take this opportunity to thank the two most important people who have made my time as a mother memorable. It was mostly fun but god, was it boring! Thank you little people for enduring me. You deserve better.

Sincerely

So-and-so

p.s. The next incumbent to the post is hereby notified that we are running low on milk and the nail cutter is missing.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Write with me

Following on from my earlier attempts at understanding poetry, I've decided to try my hand at writing them (ha!). Please join me in my pitiful attempts at rhyme and meter and all that.

Today Jikku's year 1 class had a visitor - a poet called Coral Rumble (I like her already!). And here's an exercise she devised to write poetry.

POEM POT EXERCISE
  1. Take one poem-making kit (a pot, lined A4, plain A4, scissors and a pen)
  2. Fold the plain paper 4 times, creating 16 rectangles.
  3. Cut along the lines until you have 16 slips of paper.
  4. Decide on a subject you would really like to write a poem about, and write all your ideas - words, lines, phrases, similes - on the slips of paper. Use a new slip of paper for every idea and collect them all in your pot.
  5. When your pot is full, empty out your ideas and treat the slips of paper like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Put your ideas in the order you'd like them to appear in your poem. Play around with the pieces until you are happy with your ordering.
  6. Take the lined piece of paper and, taking each idea in order, expand your words, phrases etc into complete lines.
  7. Check to see if you need to add or take away words so that the lines link.
    There you have it - your very own poem!

Share your poems in the comment box and I might just be tempted to show you mine.

Thank you!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A quick tale 218

Cutcheri at 8

Jayalakshmi decided that she would sing Shanmugapriya for her ragam-thaanam-pallavi. It was sashti –the sixth day from Amavasai and Lord Murugan would approve of her choice of ragam.

Sa..ree…ga…maa…

Jayalakshmi sang the notes in the ragam, her voice echoing around the tiny bathroom. It was a miracle that her voice still retained its youthful ring. She sounded only mildly different from how she did 33 years ago when she gave her first kutcheri. Today people queued up to listen to Jayalakshmi Nagarajan. But how many days had she spent singing to the reflection in the bathroom mirror and wishing that the echo she heard was the resounding applause of her audience.

…saa…nee…dha…pa…

She let the notes slide into each other luxuriously as easily as if they had been greased with rich coconut oil. One did not get to her level by pure chance. It was all hardwork and struggle all the way. She has earned every bit of fame that she now wore so proudly around her shoulders. There was a time when her husband was the biggest hurdle in her path.

Chee! Why do you want to go and show off in public like that? He once demanded of her.

But, it’s only my music…that I want to share…she had protested meekly.

Why this whorish need for attention? He had barked and she had gone silent for years after that. But in June1992, he had suffered a minor stroke from which he never really recovered. He dribbled all the time and his speech was slurred. He quickly lost his teeth and almost overnight all his hair fell out. It was around that time that Jaya got a call from the trustee of the local pillayar temple one day. He had asked her if she would like to be one of the singers during the year’s Vinayaka Chaturthi celebrations. He had demanded a immediate response as he had to give the flyers out for printing. She had said yes without thinking.

On the day of the kutcheri, she had pretended to go to the temple for an abishekam. Her sons were grown and were no longer interested in what she was upto as long as she had cooked their dinner. She hurried out of the house, only pausing at the doorstep to announce to nobody in particular, “I’m going to the temple. I should be home quite late. Dinner is in the kitchen…”

If you had seen her scurrying out of the house, dressed in an arakku-maroon silk saree that evening, you would have thought she was hurrying for a clandestine meeting. Soon she was being approached by others in the local town. There was going to be a Mariyamman kovil kumbabishekam. Would she be able to sing at the festival? The local girls’ school was organising a music competition. Would she be interested in judging it and giving away prizes? Sakthi-Saradha Sabha was going to hold a 10-day celebration to mark their 50th anniversary. Would she like to be among those performing at the event?

She cannot now remember how it happened. But one fine day, she just stopped hiding. She waited for her husband to ask her about the kutcheris. But he never confronted her and she never bothered to explain. She however overheard him telling his sister about “the changed ways of his family members”. But by then she no longer cared for his opinion. Plus, it was not as if she neglected them. She made sure they got their idlis and dosais on time and only then, did she really step out of the house.

This evening’s kutcheri was in Trichy and Jayalakshmi would have to leave home soon if she had to be there on time. The car would be here any moment. As Jayalakshmi readied herself briskly, she caught sight of her husband lying limply in his ease chair in the corner of his room. His dribble had wet the top of his vest. She wiped his chin with a cotton towel and held his face in one hand.

“I’ll go and come back, okay? I’ve told Geetha to give you your dinner at 7 o’ clock. Don’t wait for me, I’ll be quite late returning.”

She turned and left his room not waiting for him to respond. A car was waiting for her at the entrance when she reached there. Jaya settled into the seat, closed her eyes and brought her hands together in a prayer. Muruga…she called out softly as her head sank into the head-rest. They should be in Trichy in 3 hours' time.

~@~

For you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lost in Post - Mumbai Mail

This time share your thoughts on the past few days' events in Mumbai. Write a letter to anyone - go anonymous if you wish - and send it to me at ammania@gmail.com

Your letters will be published at Lost in Post.

Thank you!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Remembering Mumbai

Anyone who has ever been to the city has a story to tell. An aunt who visited Mumbai just once sometime in the 80s, still talks about how her two word Hindi vocabulary of 'aage' (straight/further) and 'oopar' (up) quickly dwindled to just one during an autorickshaw ride. And how it left her directing the driver to go up-up-up to her sister's house.

An aunt-in-law who visited us when we were there couldn't understand how they managed to build the buildings so tall and conceal all the wiring inside the walls.

My mother still recalls the time she shopped for vaazha-thandu in Matunga for varalakshmi nonbu one year. And how she brought it all back to Andheri alongside fisherwomen with their baskets of the day's catch.

I have a sister who is living there and one day some years ago, she lost the keys to her apartment. It was fairly late in the night and she went straight to the first policeman she saw to ask for help. Together they combed the suburb for a locksmith and when they found one, an hour or so later, they brought him back to help her open the door. When she offered to reimburse the kind policeman for his time, he refused her offer and said that he had only helped a 'sister' and how could he accept money in return?

I lived there for a few years. And have my share of Mumbai stories. Tonight I remember every one of them. It's like remembering all the good times when a favourite aunt passes away. Somehow, the second time around the jokes seem funnier. And tears more poignant. May be because you know that what is gone is gone forever.

Take care, Mumbai.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Please suggest...

I read this post with mounting anger. I wish to do something - don't know what though. I want to act quickly before my anger turns cold. What can I do to help?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Memories of food - Milkmaid


There are few things that taste as good in real life as they do in nostalgia. Reminiscing about food somehow has the strange effect of cancelling out such pointless concerns as calorie counts and hygiene issues that often plague real life savouring experiences. However, there are a couple of exceptions that almost always taste as good in real life as they do when dreaming about them in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon budget presentation. One of them is masal vadai. There has never been an occasion when the experience of sinking my teeth into one has been anything other than exceptionally joyous. The second exception to this rule is condensed milk. Or to give it its brand-turned-generic name – Milkmaid.

Growing up, we rarely had any tinned food. Milkmaid was perhaps the only ingredient that came in a tin. And the opening of one such tin was a ceremony deserving of its own Olympics. First, there would be a crowbar with large piece of smooth stone on one end and a stubborn tin on the other. The stone would pound away leaving several craters on the tin lid. Then a knife would be procured in an attempt to pry it open. And after much wrestling, the tin – now sadly resembling a teenager’s acne-ridden skin – would be leaking its sticky sweet condensed milk. A dash would be made to gather its nectar in a bowl before it fell to the ground and was wasted. Finally, the tin would be held upside down for a very long time – sometimes hours even – so that every last drop of its contents was harvested. This inaugural drama would only make Milkmaid – like its eponymous maid who plays hard-to-get - even more desirable.

Anyone who has ever had a slim thread of condensed milk poured onto their palms from a heavily pierced tin of Milkmaid would know exactly in their heart what heaven tastes like. It is liquid bliss. And as a child, I would yearn months and months for this all-too-rare treat. Although Milkmaid was an essential ingredient in payasam, it would have to be a very special occasion for the payasam to earn its Milkmaid. With the result that it would sometime be just once-a-year that I could have it piled onto my palm and lick it clean before it slithered down my elbow. And there was never enough of it. And what will we add to the payasam? would be the constant retort whenever I asked for more.

Why payasam when milkmaid would have done admirably well on its own as a sweet? I’ve often wondered. And it remains a mystery to-date. Wouldn’t serving us cups of milkmaid done the job just as beautifully? What was the need to cook it and distress it out of shape? So much so that there would rarely be any trace of Milkmaid’s original rich, gooey sweetness in the payasam I would get to eat afterwards. There would be far too many things vying for my attention – wispy cardamom and saintly saffron among others demanding my consideration. That the pale Milkmaid, the lifeblood of this creation, the matriarch of this dish would sadly go unacknowledged, forgotten.

And so to redress years of injustice, this Deepavali, I served up something special. Something pure, something raw. Little thimbles of paradise. Milkmaid. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Cynics would suggest that I was just plain lazy to dress it up as a halwa or a kheer. But what do they know? They can go to hell. Me? I’ve tasted heaven.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A quick tale 217

Shop in the time of credit crunch

Who are all these people, you wonder one day as you sit in a cafĂ© sipping a warm mug of hot chocolate and watching pedestrians on the road. Why are they walking around with pendulous shopping bags? you ponder. What is inside those bags? It is not summer and it is months before Christmas. And if newspapers are to be believed, we are in the middle of a credit-crunch (you, like most others don’t wish to be bothered by the economic-minutiae but generally assume that it means tighter purse strings). Which brings you back to your question - who are all these shoppers?

You sip your tepid chocolate. Perhaps this woman here is celebrating the 5th anniversary of her graduation and has decided to gift herself a unicycle which is now flat-packed and she has to assemble it all herself. Perhaps that man over there has suddenly felt the urge to spend a ridiculous amount of money on vast quantities of shower gel and enamel paint. May be this young lady here has just found out that her account has been wrongly credited with a fortune and wants to blow it all up on vitamin supplements and hot-cross buns.

You take another sip of your room-temperature chocolate. Perhaps it is none of these. Perhaps there is a perfectly good explanation for shoppers being out on a Tuesday afternoon. But you’ll never find out what it is. It’s nearly time for you to go back to work and your drink has gone cold.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sun, Raj, Jaya, Makkal, Win, Podhigai

Blogeswari has a hilarious quiz going on here. This is strictly for the tamil channel viewers. So be warned.

Enjoy thangamani!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In praise of...8

Cooking from instinct

That's the trouble with recipes. They can never tell you everything. And that's also the reason why some of the best cooks I know never refer to a recipe that's been written down. I cannot imagine Pattu mami taking her eyes of the kothavarangai paruppu usili for one moment for a quick glance into her cook book to clarify how much kariveppilai to add to the pan. I agree, if you're baking something, you need to get your measurements right. And a recipe is a great aide-memoire in that regard. But a good recipe does not a good cook make.

I've seen aunts of mine ask Gomathy mami how she made the perfect mullu-murukku. They'd never ask her how long she soaked this or how many portions of that she added. More crucially, they'd want to know where she bought her butter from. They'd watch her as she squeezed the dough ribbons from the mould into boiling hot oil. They'd go away admiring her absolute mastery of the skill and be inspired to try something of their own. Watching, observing and then improvising. A recipe is a good indicator of the direction you need to take. Where you arrive, is entirely upto you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Water drowns noise

I don't know you. But I've met you before. I recognised you the minute your ugly desi eyes clapped on to my body this morning when I stepped into the swimming pool. You kept staring at me as I showered and slipped into the tepid waters of the swimming pool. I felt a shiver going up my spine. No, the water was fine. But it was the thought of you still watching me unblinking half-a-pool away. As I continued doing my laps, I sensed your eyes boring into me - stripping away every last shred of confidence I had. Reducing me to the traumatised 12-year old who had been felt up on a PTC bus. The bewildered 10-year old who watched as a familiar stranger put his hand up her skirt. The terrified 17-year old who had her breasts pinched by an auto rickshaw driver. I was no longer the 30-something mother of two who somehow had deluded herself that her child-bearing hips and layers of fat would immunise her against lecherous stares and ugly gropes. How wrong I was!

Each time I came up for air, I caught sight of you. Your eyes still fixated on me. To my horror, I saw you move a lane closer to me. I swam a lane away. You moved into the bubble pool looking down on the larger pool. I had no where to go. I wanted to yell and shout. I didn't even manage to confront you. Instead I swam and swam. Raging and whimpering silently. Wishing you a hundred misfortunes on your way out. I waited until you were well gone before I emerged from the pool. I showered, changed and rushed home. Where I knew I would be safe.

From the shameless plug dept


A feature on me under the 'One To Watch' section of 4Talent magazine - a bi-annual publication from Channel 4.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A cracker for Deepavali

With Deepavali just round the corner, I thought it'd be a good idea to spare a thought (and some change) to those who are perhaps not as fortunate as you and me.

So here's the idea. I have two fundraising initiatives. Take part in either (or both) and then send a donation off to your favourite charity. Mine is Projectwhy and I would greatly appreciate if you could send your contributions to the same.

Now for the fundraisers:

1. Life Updated. All you have to do is take an old picture of you from your past (don't matter how long ago) and recreate the photo. If it's a photo from your teen-years, even better! Strike the same pose as in the old photo and then post the old and recent photos side-by-side. Once you've done that, send a contribution to your chosen charity.

and/or

2. Never tried kale : For those of you who are not keen on sharing your photos, here's an alternative. A week long attempt at trying something new every day. And then blogging about it. It doesn't have to be anything dramatic. It could be something as simple as trying a new vegetable or sleeping on a different side of the bed or reading a new author or attempting the crossword. Who know? You just might discover how much you love kale! And at the end of the week (or during or before), send your donation off to a charity of your choice.

Please send me a link to ammania@gmail.com or leave a comment.

Thank you and happy Deepavali!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I'm sorry I haven't a bloody clue 2

I do not know how to correctly use the phrase 'benefit of doubt' (or is it 'the benefit...' or 'benefit of the...'?).

I also don't know what paradigm means. But I use it anyway.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm sorry I haven't a bloody clue

This whole blogging business can be quite grim. Constantly having to appear knowledgable about everything from Bob Dylan to Bruce Willis is rather exhausting. Hence this new series. Where I parade my ignorance. Join me if you can. Let's show off our not-knowingness. Revel in it. Celebrate it even. But certainly not be ashamed of it.

Here's the my first.

I have honestly no clue what investment bankers do. They are fabulously rich and all that. But what exactly do they do during office hours?

Ha! Great to get that off the chest. Next!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Six Already!


It definitely wasn't love at first sight for me. There was none of the maternal gushing that is usually associated with such moments. I thought you were quite red and wrinkly and now that you were out, I simply wanted to go to sleep. The first few months of your life were tumultous for us and looking back, I remember very little from that period. Perhaps I just wanted to block it all out.


You were a needy child who left me utterly exhausted most of the time. I couldn't wait to get away from you and gather what little was left of my earlier life. Back then, I saw you as someone who changed my life irrevocably - and not necessarily in a good way. Added to that was the pressure of having to enjoy motherhood constantly. When all I wanted was to bottle motherhood and throw it somewhere deep into the Atlantic. Frankly, I didn't know how on earth I was going to continue being a mother for the rest of my life.

But gradually, without my ever noticing it, things started to change. You began to communicate and what a difference that made! By the time you were three, you had come into your own as a person and for the first time, I was able to enjoy your company. I saw you as an individual - a bright, funny and extraordinarily generous little person. And despite continued mealtime struggles, how I've come to love you!

I now realise that the years are sliding by quickly. I see your clothes, I note the size on your trainers and they tell me that you're not the toddler I still think of you as. But when did that happen? And how did I miss those years? Soon, you won't be needing your old mother to comfort you when your graze your knee. Or bite your tongue. Or lose your car. And when that happens, guess who'll be wishing she was needed more?

Happy 6th birthday, Jikku! What a blessing you are.

love,

Amma

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A quick tale 216

A little girl like you

Remember when you were young and your mother used to give you a rupee and ask you to buy cashew nuts from the corner store? The payasam would be ready. The cardamoms would have been pounded. The ghee would be smoking in a small pan on the stove. Hurry, she would urge you, Appa is about to sit down for lunch. I can't make him wait for the payasam. And you would run down to the store, slide the coin across the counter and ask Chettiar for cashew nuts. He would take the coin, slip it into his cash box and nod to the errand boy to carry out the task. The boy would tip a handful of cashews onto the scales, weigh them under the watchful eyes of his employer, wrap them in a newspaper cone and tie them with a small string of coir.

No sooner had you turned the corner, than the string would come undone. You would slip a few of the buttery nuts into your palm. And toss them all straight into your mouth. Then it'd become a struggle to finish them without a trace before you reached home. Amma would have been waiting impatiently. You'd wipe your mouth with the back of your palm and hand over the hastily re-wrapped bundle to her. You'd smile when you heard her complain how much Chettiar charged for such a small handful of nuts. You thought you'd pulled the wool over her eyes. But you forgot, she too was a little girl once. And she remembers well what the little ones get up to.

A quick tale 215

345 friends and counting

She does not know how the other woman managed it. She had only been in office since Monday and already she was calling Vasant 'Vasu', going out for coffee with Sri (Sridhar, until yesterday) and was telling Sue (Sumana) how lovely her new hairstyle was. Heck the two women had only met 72 hours ago!

She wonders how the new arrival had so seamlessly enmeshed herself into the complex jigsaw of office life while she had been working at the same place since February 2002. And to date had not snared a single invitation for coffee and on most days, ate lunch on her own. She must try harder, she resolves. She would remember birthdays, throw dinner parties and be whole lot more gregarious. For a start, she signs up to facebook and pokes her boss.

A quick tale 214

Bully

She sits here on her sofa, this 29-year old mother-of-one, about to tell her son off for leaving muddy footprints all over the floor. She is looking down on her stained carpet with mounting horror. How many times does she have to tell him to leave his shoes outside? Has she not told him a million times already? Does she have to write a note and hang it around his neck so he'd remember it next time? Like her father would threaten to do every time she failed to do something he'd asked her to. Funny how she is thinking about her father's threats. From all those years ago. When she was a little girl who was easily bullied. Here she is, a grown woman looking, sitting, raging in the middle of her living room and still remembering empty threats from a lifetime ago. She sighs and gets up to clean the stains. She decides to give her son one more chance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A very public attempt 5

At Understanding Poetry

I've run out of steam on this series. I leave you with this one. My nearly-six year old's gift to his father on his birthday.

I know. It runs in the family.



Friday, October 03, 2008

A very public attempt 4

At Understanding Poetry


When I was younger poetry was easy to identify. It was something that rhymed and had been written by someone long dead. Then I stumbled upon free verse. Everything changed.

I give you a sample. It's really nice. But why is it poetry? And why isn't it just broken up lines? As ever, resist googling for the poet.

Drawing the Line

What could be simpler than this?
To distinguish past from future,
old from new.

To turn the year like a page,
rediscover our taste for happy endings,
our need for regret.

“You have to draw the line somewhere”
you say.

But always the hand trembles,
the eye fails,
and the heart cannot keep
its memories straight.

Life, like poetry,
is never drawn to scale.

How strange that the shortest distance between two points
should be our most fundamental of separations –

the line,
that can both emphasise and cancel –

so that you draw a margin on the blank page
not only to underline the emptiness,
but also to make it yours.

We exist in a world of shapes and parallels,
imagining lines everywhere –
stencils of states we partition our maps with,
checkerboards of calendars,
and the diagonal of God,
dividing eternity from oblivion –

we are like children
cutting their food into squares,
inventing definition
to make the world easier.

You could say this is make-believe:
that the border between what was and what will be
is too absently crossed;
that the songbirds cannot tell night from day,
past from possibility.

Yet how could we live
without the parentheses of beginning and end?
How could we hope
without Time’s punctuation?

We exist in the hair’s-breadth
of the immediate,
creasing the stationery of our years
with birth, death and festival
to mark our place in it.

Let it be so:
to believe in the trivial
is to have a faith
that cannot be shaken.

Let us celebrate this day
not in the illusion that things will change,
or that the spilling over of time’s circle
means something,

but in the knowledge
that this day is special
because we share it
with each other.


Your turn.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tere mere sapne...

It seems silly. To have something called 'our song'. We're not that kind of people. Not you, not me. Still, you know this one is special. And I don't have to tell you why. Happy birthday!



p.s. sorry I'm two days late.

A very public attempt 3

At Understanding Poetry

I loved Tulips. You do not need to know about the tragic life of Plath to be moved by it. It is not decorous. It is not trying too hard. There is an honesty in the poet's 'voice' and the words just fall gracefully in place.



Which brings me to my next offering. Try this one.

Being Boring
If you ask me 'What's new?', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion-I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.
- Wendy Cope

I bet most of you would have liked it. But it may not be in the realms of grand, classical poetry for some. Why? Because its subject matter is not some obscure thought but the crushingly mundane? Which leads me to wonder if can you write about dog shit and still call it poetry.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A very public attempt 2

At Understanding Poetry

After all that, I'm stil nowhere close to understanding the lines quoted earlier. Perhaps it is not meant to be understood. Perhaps I'm taking a fork to my dosai. Perhaps it need to be savoured and experienced. Perhaps I just need to try harder. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

Now, the whole point of these posts is to try and get to grips with a form of literature that I struggle with. So please do not attribute motives where no other exists.

And so we persist. Read the following lines and tell me what you see in them. Yes, I have quoted selectively but it is a good indicator (at least to me) of the rest of it. As ever, please do not google for the poet.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.


Over to you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A very public attempt...

At Understanding Poetry

I know very little about poetry. But I have been trying to understand the form. Some poems I get. Most I don’t. I often resort to what the others have said about the piece before making up my own mind. So much so, I no longer know what I instinctively feel about a piece. The next few posts will attempt to strip away with the noise and simply listen to my own senses. And you’re welcome to join in.

This is what we will do. I will post a piece of poetry without revealing who wrote it. Please resist temptation to google for the poet’s name and comment what you think of it. And let’s compare notes.

Here’s the first…

And Madonna, she still has not showed

We see this empty cage now corrode

Where her cape of the stage once flowed

The fiddler, he now steps on the road

He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed

On the back of the fish-trucks that loads

While my conscience explodes.


What do you think? Befuddling rhyming nonsense? Or some deep, deep philosophy?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In praise of...7

Audio Books

We discovered audio books at our local library quite by chance last year. The boy had yet to start reading on his own. And we were unable to spend hours reading to him as he wanted us to. Enter audio books. The minute we slipped the CD into the player, he was hooked. Stories of Daisy, Horrid Henry and Adventures of Thomas the Tank Engine kept him rooted to the spot. Something none of us had ever managed to do. Soon, audio books became a staple on our library borrowing list. We've picked up a few gems along the way. Don't take you elephant to the school is fantastic listen. We've played it so many times, it has even inspired us to try our hand at writing silly verse. And when in doubt over gift ideas, we buy an audio book. Always works a treat.

These days the boy can read fluently. Still he'd happily listen to Miranda Richardson tell him about the time Horrid Henry robbed a bank. She does the Henry voice way better than I ever can.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Brilliant-er and brilliant-er

It seems churlish not to pass on the honours that others have been so kindly handed to me. Including ones which I missed the first time around. Thanks, Umm & Priya.


So here goes. A few blogposts which are think are quite extraordinary.


1. Neha's ode to paavakkai

2. Sharanya's Valentine to her city

3. Varali on Havaldar Biglu Singh

4. Dr. Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey's valuable insights on a recent excavation

5. 30in2005 talks about walking into a room and owning it

6. Lalita's delicious little poem

7. And Dubious Moves' moving tribute to his (?!) late friend

Friday, September 12, 2008

A quick tale 213

A mild annoyance

If you asked her what it was about him that irritated her, depending on the time of the day and what she had for breakfast, she would have an answer for you. The way his nose is, she would say some days. Nose is…you would prompt her to elaborate. The way his nose simply is, she would explain but not really explaining. Sometimes she would talk about the way he held his head. And how much it annoyed her to see it. On other days it would be the stubble on his chin. Or the way his slipper flapped as he walked. Or the intolerably infuriating way in which his hair was parted. You don't have to see him or even notice him, you know, someone once remarked. But I've tried so hard to ignore him, she replied annoyed at the suggestion it was she who was seeking him out, but he keeps coming in my way. I see him at the bus stop on my way to work and he's still sitting there on my way back. He even shops at the same supermarket as me. And worse, at the same time. You should see the things he buys…maddening!

Which was why she was surprised when he wasn't there that Monday evening as she piled her shopping trolley with groceries for the week. And he wasn't there at the bus stop the following morning. And not there to infuriate her that evening either. Was it possible that he'd taken ill? she wondered. Not that she was concerned about the welfare of a stranger. What did she care what happened to him. But when he hadn't made an appearance by Thursday, she wondered about alerting someone. But who? The police? And what would she tell them? That the man who used to sit at the bus stop no longer sat there? There had to be a simpler explanation, she reckoned. Perhaps he'd bought a car. Or changed his office. But something told her that it wasn't the case. She was irritated that he would get her so worried and just when she was about to give up, he came back. She overheard him telling someone over the phone that he'd gone home to visit his mother. He really should learn to speak softly in public and not holler for all to hear. How uncouth!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In praise of...6

Upma


Last night's dinner was semiya upma. As we tucked into its whispy thin strands, I was reminded of Mammooty's dialogue in the opening scene of Azhagan in which he is addressing an audience. He begins his speech likening himself to upma. Having grabbed the audience's attention, he goes on to explain how the original speaker had fallen ill and how he had been asked to take his place as a last-minute replacement. Much like the upma which fills in quite readily, the place of a main meal at a short notice.

I'm partial to semiya upma. Only because I cannot make arisi upma quite as well as Pattu maami and my ravai upma always ends up stodgy. The mother-in-law's semiya upma is legendary and a trick I learnt from her is to add a generous spoon of nei just as you're about to switch off. Then there's the weird creature - bread upma. Waste of two perfectly good ideas. And always ends up resembling something the cow dropped. I'd rather eat my own head than eat a plate of bread upma.

The wonderful thing about upma is that it needs little preparation. It's fuss-free. No-soaking-grinding-fermenting nonsense. It's a bit like having a friend knock on your door one Thursday evening and dropping in unannounced for a cuppa. You could easily put together a delicious upma with the basics in your larder. It could be leathery-soggy or breadcrumb-ly and still quite delicious.

I don't know what we're going to have for dinner tonight. But there's a good chance that it will be be something hot and easy. A bit like Mammooty, I guess.

Award and all

These two bloggers have very generously given me an award (sheesh! comme je blush!). Very touched and that means I'm obliged to pass it on. There's plenty of blogs that I think are brilliant. Some of which are on the side bar. Many that aren't.
If you're already up there, consider yourself A Brilliant Blog. If you aren't, what's an award really?

ETA: How could I have missed this one from an old friend? So sorry and most thanks, kanmani!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not your 9 o' clock news

Unimportant, uncritical things that happened today.



I turned on the tap and water flowed.

The book opened.

So did the door.

Dinner happened.




What's your news?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Look who's home!

...and look what he's been upto!

Thanks to all the thathas and paatis and mama and mami and chithi and chithappa and athai and athimber and kutties and pilots and co-pilots and airhostesses and stewards and passengers and ground staff and man who switched on his mobile phone and other kind strangers...thanks for taking such good care of my little one and thanks for bringing him home safely.

In praise of...5

In praise of Michael Johnson
How can anyone so talented be so likeable? And so eloquent? And articulate? And humble but not in a false way? And handsome? And in a very disturbing way, normal?
If you'd been watching BBC's coverage of the Olympics, you couldn't have missed the fantastic Michael Johnson. A supreme athlete who never once failed a doping test, Johnson's record in the 100mts* was long regarded as unbreakable. Until a Jamaican stepped into the scene. When asked how he felt about his record being broken by Usain Bolt, the supreme Johnson quipped (and I paraphrase), 'Records are not like kids. You can't hold on to them forever. Plus, it's not as if I woke up every morning to maintain my record. Once I set it, my job was pretty much done.' Like I said before, too normal no?
*correction: it was his 200 mts record that remained unchallenged for a long time

In praise of...4

In praise of swimming

I swim three times a week - some 30 laps of a 30 metre pool. I've stuck to this routine for the past year. I went swimming until two days before my second one was born. And was back in the water about 3 weeks later. I see the same set of people nearly every time I enter the pool - Mrs. Amazon, Hippo, Johnny English, Jalkrida, Mouseface and Doggy-paddle. I rarely exchange more than a nod and a smile with these people. It's almost as if we all want to be left alone. I enjoy the solitude that water offers. There's no visual distraction. There is no temptation to bring in an ipod. There's just the water and you battling submersion. One, two and up for a breath. One, two and up for a breath.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A quick tale 212

The reluctant one

She sees the guests off and close the door behind them. She turns around and imagine the house through their eyes. Did they notice the clean carpets? The colour coded cushions and curtains? Did they note the fresh flowers in the vase? And the garden with its lush, trimmed lawn? She hopes they remarked on the small kitchen garden. And didn't find the air freshener in the toilet overwhelming. She remembered to smooth the bed covers and plump the pillows before they arrived. And if they had snooped into her medicine cabinet, they wouldn't have found anything to suggest embarrassing illnesses. Her mirrors were wiped clean, her bins emptied and her newspapers folded, their corners aligned. Bet on the drive back home, they talked about how well-maintained the house was. And what a great job she was doing of keeping it. Good thing is they'd never know that she’d burnt the toast this morning, filled the dying shampoo bottle with water, hid rotting fruit in the fridge, mixed coloured clothes with the whites in the washing machine and stashed away spices in the cupboard that were so past their expiry date that they rightfully belong to the government. Not her fires were extinguished. At heart, she was still an anarchist.

A quick tale 211

Best forgotten

I cannot live without you, she used to say. I swear I will die, she would threaten over the phone, if you don't come here in the next half and hour. And he would drop whatever he was doing to rush to her side. And today, they stand smiling politely at each other. He asking her about her well being and she noting how beautiful his daughter was. Each inviting the other to come home for dinner in a distant and comfortably vague future. And each hoping desperately that the other didn't remember their heady days of romance oh-so-long ago.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In praise of...3

The Olympics

There’s something about the sight of an athlete on a podium, face lit with joy at having claimed what is perhaps the most coveted piece of metal on the planet, eyes pricking in tears as his/her national flag is raised to the strains of a national anthem, that always has me reaching for the tissue. Isn’t it great that the Olympics which is arguably the best celebration of human endeavour on earth and an event that glorifies nationalistic pride also contradictingly enough, evokes emotions that are common to all of us? Isn’t it great that I can partake in Phelps’ incredible gold haul and in a strange way, be happy to witness such superb athleticism without ever once letting his nationality bother me? Do you find yourself rooting for the Gambia or the Eritrea only because, who knows, they may not even have live coverage in those countries and if you don’t, who will? I love the Olympics and what it does to us as a collective population while reinforcing national identity. It’s a shame that it will all be over too soon. And the wars we had briefly forgotten will resume from exactly where they were left.

In praise of... 2

Yngling

I have little idea about this sport except that it involves sailing in a small sailboat. I first heard of yngling when team GB won a gold last Olympics. Since then this Chinese-sounding sport has made an appropriate quadrennial comeback at this year’s Olympics. Which makes me wonder how one finds out if one’s good at yngling? How does a parent identify their child’s talent for this rather obscure and spectator-unfriendly sport? Does the bulb go off when a parent sees their child float a paper boat in a puddle with great skill? Do they then start taking their child for yngling lessons at the local water sport centre?

But isn’t it great that the Olympics gives a platform for these neglected sports and gives its practitioners a chance to shine in glory? Although I suspect that the chances of winning gold in yngling or slalom canoe (in which fewer countries presumably participate) is significantly more than taking home the swimming gold. Still, I love the fact that so much of TV time is dedicated to sport such as fencing. The rules of which remain a great mystery to me. Anyway, I got to catch the quarter finals of archery. I may not get another chance for the next four years.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lost in Post

To a son who is on his first trip alone


Can one die of pride? I don't know. But your father and I came pretty close to that when we waved you goodbye at the airport a few days ago. You were a right trooper with a little canvas bag of documents around your shoulder and a bright green cap on your head. You cheerfully waved us goodbye, clutched your grandfather's hand and led him through the security check-ins. Leaving your poor parents to blink away our tears.

I understand that you are having a wonderful time back in India. Did you see the pictures that hang on the walls of your grandfather's house? Did you recognise the young girl that your mother once was? Did you visit all the places of my youth? I wish I was there with you to share some of your experiences. But I'm glad we found the courage to let you go on your own.

In just over a week's time, you will be back with us. This time you will have traveled across the world by yourself. I don't know of many 5-year olds who would have done that and still not make a big deal of it. And that just makes me feel proud. Dead proud.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In praise of...

A new series. I feel that I don't praise the things I like nearly as much as I put down those I don't. This is an attempt to acknowledge the unsung. Please feel free to sing praises of your own. Here's my first.

In praise of mother-toddler screenings

I've lost count of the number of movies I've missed watching in theatres over the past few years. The reason is really quite simple. I don't like to take my little one to movies that are not meant for him. And it's too much hassle arranging for child care if I have to go on my own. So I simply wait till it's out on DVD. On the only occasion in the last six years when I've been to watch a Hindi movie in a movie hall with a friend, there were kids running up and down the aisle much to the irritation of other movie-goers.

So what's the solution if you want to watch a movie and can't find someone to look after the little ones and don't wish to subject them to 3-hours of Salman Khan? Get yourself a ticket to a Mother-toddler screening. A novel idea that I only recently came across at our local cinema. These are special screenings - usually on weekday mornings - where mothers with young children under the age of 3 can come along to watch a film meant for adults. This means you get the chance to watch a movie without having to worry about tut-tutting couples in the front row when your little one starts to holler because "it gone so dark now" and wonders "when will it all be over?" two minutes into the movie.

Sure, the movies they screen wouldn't be something too violent or sexually explicit. And that rules out most popular movies. But still, it gives parents a chance to enjoy a movie on the big screen in a child-friendly environment. I'll raise my popcorn tub to that.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Memories of food – Modak

It was the first time I was away from home on my birthday. I had been working the whole day and for some reason that I cannot now remember, I had not spoken to my parents since morning. As I made my way home that evening, I stopped by at a phone booth and called them. I wished my father a happy birthday and he greeted me back – we share a birthday. We chitchatted for few more minutes and then I hung up. I had never felt worse as I made my way up the third floor to the small flat which I shared with two other girls. One of the few people I knew in the apartment block was a Marathi family who lived on the ground floor. On my way home, sometimes I used to stop by and play with their little two-year old. Soon I was being invited for a cup of tea and poha. And I before I knew it, I was picking up fruit and veg for them when I did my shopping. Their door was always left open and the fruits gave me the perfect pretext to drop by their place.

On that particular birthday however, I didn't feel like socialising much and wanted to slip away as quietly as possible. But the elderly grandmother who saw me pass by, rushed to the door and enquired after me. I told her that it was my birthday and feigning fatigue, I made my way to the flat. No sooner had I shut the door behind me than there was a knock. The grandmother stood there holding an ever-silver tiffin box. It's Modak, she said offering it to me, you told me it was your birthday. It was the first bit of celebration I'd had all day. And I didn't need any other.

A quick tale 210

Something to talk about

I walk few paces behind you. Anyone who sees me will think of me as a dutiful wife following her husband. I quicken my stride. We're now walking side by side. Our shoulders graze. But our rhythm is all upset. I lift my leg before you and drop it to sync with you. Left, right, left, right. Like soldiers marching in tandem. I wonder briefly about grabbing your hand. We could swing it up down, up down. We could even hum a tune. If we were children, we would have added a hop. We would have looked like a jaunty pair. But we're adults. A married couple. We're taught to worry about what people say. And what the neighbours think. I cross my arm across my body. Taking it away as far from you as possible. I don't want them to get the wrong impression. We have children to think of. I don't want aunties to wonder if I'm still attracted to you. And I certainly don't want any gossip about possible romance between us.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A quick tale 209

This product and others like this one

This product was not tested on animals, read the label on the face cream she was holding. She felt good just holding it. Good holding the box that held the cream that was not tested on animals. Though she didn’t know how animals would look with face cream on them. Probably no different to how they looked without face cream. Fewer wrinkles, may be. But then, you would have to get real close to see that the difference. And you wouldn’t want to do that to an orang-utan. Or a rhinoceros. And definitely not a giraffe. As giraffes are reputed to suffer from real bad halitosis. Though that remains to be confirmed. And will remain a rumour as long as no one ever gets close enough to smell its breath. And if they did they may also notice that the giraffe has fewer lines around the eye. In which case it would be safe to conclude that the giraffe has had a couple of smears of face cream tested on it. Which may be good news for the face cream as it then proves that the cream works. But bad news for the giraffe which may not have a say in the brand it prefers. But that is only for animal rights activists to comment upon. And not for ordinary consumers like herself who simply had a few minutes to spare during a Thursday lunchtime and chose to saunter into a shop flogging face cream that had not been tested on animals.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Afternoon

If I made a list of things I miss about India, the weather would certainly not feature in it. I never loved the raw red heat of Chennai summers and now that I’m away, I miss it even less. But yet the other day, when I was talking to family back in India and I heard them complain about the ruthless afternoon sun, I realised in a bittersweet way, that it was indeed the sensation of a summer afternoon I missed most. Crisply dried laundry, lone trickle of sweat down the back, drowsy long afternoons. And this week’s Saturday poem from the Guardian captures it effortlessly well.

Afternoon

-MR Peacocke

The wool rolls down. The needless droop

A spider at the corner pane

Schemes for a pittance line by line.

The dull doves in the neighbouring wood

Call Could you do Do do You could.

A wakeless lull that's less than sleep

Brims in her eyes and palms and lap.

Something is finished. Nothing's done.

A lapse, a loss, a truce, a peace.

One lacewing trembles at the netted glass.

~

Here’s what I want from you. Your memories of summer afternoons. Be it a photo, a poem, a story or anything that to you typifies the blessed dullness of a scorching mid-day in May.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 4

Yes, it was too late to have someone over. And yes, we would do just fine on our own. After repeated reassurances from the husband, the matter of having family over was finally laid to rest and we set about tackling other practical issues. Like packing a suitcase for the hospital. Like arranging for childcare for the firstborn while we were at the hospital. Like buying baby-stuff. When I went in for the 38th week check up, I was told that the baby's head had 'engaged' and that I was officially full-term. I was ready to deliver any day now. I must mention the wonderful support we had from neighbours and friends (many of whom I met through this blog - you know who you are - take a bow) who were ready to drop in at an hour's notice to help out. Though we had gone over all the arrangements, it could still all go completely pear-shaped. It was the unpredictability of the whole situation including that of the outcome, that was utterly unnerving.

Yes, I'd had a baby before and this was my second innings, but there was no guarantee that things would go as well as it had the first time. Didn't someone say that no two pregnancies are alike? Does it mean this delivery would be harder than the first? Did the midwife give me all the pain relief options? Did you watch that show on BBC Three the other day about someone having a baby? I don't remember it being that painful the first time around. Is there something I'm forgetting? What if it's a c-section? Doesn't recovery take longer and isn't it more painful? Oh god, what have I got myself into?

38 weeks and 1 day - At around 5 pm I decide that it's a good time to start stocking the fridge with pre-prepared meals. So the husband and I stand in the kitchen for about 3 hours cooking and freezing enough dal and sambar and curry to last us a week. That night as I hit the sack I ask the husband if there's enough petrol in his car if we needed to go to the hospital later.

38 weeks and 2 days - I'm up earlier than usual. I ring my mother and tell her that I had a strange feeling about the day. She panics but puts on a brave front (bless her!). She suggests I drink plenty of fluids and go back to bed. Later that morning, I pack the husband and son off, make myself a spot of early lunch, send an email off to a friend about how I thought today might be the day, draw myself a hot bath and then settle down for a nap. At around 1.40 pm, my eyes fly wide open. I check the time in the clock by the bedside. I know right then that the time had come.

I get dressed, come downstairs, ring the husband and ask him to come home. I have my second contraction. They are coming in 25 minutes apart. I call the hospital and inform them of this development. They ask me to ring them when I was having them a bit more frequently. The school was next. Could they please have my son ready at the school office for my husband to pick him up? And why hasn't my husband come home yet? The neighbour who was supposed to care for my son has already left work. So I try her mobile which goes unanswered. She must be on her way home. I leave a message asking her to get in touch with me straightaway. Outside a storm is on its way. I hope it doesn't make driving conditions difficult for us.

It's 2.30 pm, the contractions are coming in way too quickly and I know that we have to rush. As luck would have it, every single traffic light turns to red and we approach it. I grip my husband's so hard, I nearly break his fist (he claims later). But out of respect for my situation, he doesn't complain of the pain. We reach the hospital at 3 pm and I'm barely able to walk. The husband dashes out to fetch a wheelchair. Unable to sit in the car, I start making my way out to the birth centre. I collapse on the ground and am heaved onto the wheelchair by strangers. The contractions are coming in 2 minutes apart.

I reach the birth centre and flop onto a bean bag. The midwives are brilliant in there. I know straightaway that things are going to be alright. It's 4.10 pm and I am beyond exhaustion. But from somewhere deep within I summon this fiendish strength. And with one mighty heave, I push out a tiny little bundle. I'd had just 2.5 hours of labour.

The rest of the procedure is pretty usual. And I'm back home the very next day.

Some 6 weeks later, I have no regrets about our decision to not seek help from our families. It has, by no means been easy going. I have sorely missed being pampered and being fussed over. I cannot even begin to compare the unbridled joyous celebrations that accompanied the birth of my first son with the muted merriment that greeted the arrival of our second. But on the plus side, I have been able to relax and enjoy my time with the newborn without a cloud of anxiety hanging over me all the time. Even small things like breast feeding the baby where I want to in house without having to go into a secluded corner because there are others in the room, have helped greatly. Of course, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the brilliantly supportive husband. I know how lucky I am and what a gem he is! By and large, it has been a much more enjoyable experience this time. And that alone is worth all the sacrifices.


(only just begun)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 3

Now, where was I? Yes, we were about to tell our families that we would take care of the delivery matters ourselves without seeking help from them. And when we did, I was surprised by the ease with which the news went down with them. It was an anti-climax. Do whatever you think will work, said my father. Alright then, said my father-in-law, you have our blessings. What? I wanted to ask. Are you not going to listen to my list of reasons? My lengthy rant about why I would want things done my way and so on? Oh well, I thought to myself, if you are really fine with it, then it's all sorted.

But as the months progressed and the families realised that we were serious about doing it all on our own, it became a bit more difficult to convince them. My mother-in-law took it particularly hard. Time and again she offered to come and help us. I don't know about you but I find it awkward to turn down offers of help. Like I'm somehow ungrateful and unappreciative of the person's generosity. And to have to do it repeatedly was not easy. There was the added feeling of guilt at not letting her spend time with her son and grandchild. It's just that I didn't think that the fragile and fortunately, good relationship I enjoy with my in-laws would survive the stress brought on by a new born child.

It's a scenario I've seen repeated once too often. Mothers and daughters falling out during the period immediately following childbirth. Really, could I hold my temper and not lose my cool with my mum-in-law? I didn't think I could. And so the last few months of my pregnancy were spent trying to reassure families back in India that we could manage on our own. Our families weren't entirely convinced that we could pull it off. Someone who was going to be visiting us was asked to submit a 'field report' on his return to India. Had we cracked under the pressure? Was the strain starting to show yet? I must admit that some of their misgivings did worry me. But the rock that is my husband was more than convinced that we would fine. But as we grew closer to the due date, I started to panic. Was it too late to call someone over from India?

(to be continued...)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma - 2

My mother has always expressed her reservation about going abroad to help someone during delivery. Even if that someone happens to be her own children. While I respected her view, I couldn't help wondering why she was so averse to the idea. When other mothers seemed perfectly happy tending to their grandchildren and helping their daughters during the early months of the baby, why was my mother not keen on it at all? I suspect that her judgment on this issue was coloured by her dislike of her sisters-in-law (who did it all the time) and also with mild envy that she would never be called upon to do a service like they were. Well, little did she know!

Now, I knew from previous experience that childbirth is a time of great stress. I had my first son in India and it was an overwhelming experience. A combination of sleepless nights, turbulent hormones, physical and emotional exhaustion and the constant, stifling attention of family left me feeling utterly frustrated. I had had a perfectly normal pregnancy leading to a 'textbook' delivery. I had had a 4-hour labour (very rare in a first baby, apparently) and the baby was as normal as could be. And yet, all I ever heard was an exhaustive list of do's and don'ts that was designed to scare the toughest among us. Let alone a first-time mum. Not one smidgen of it was reassuring or calming. It was almost all bollocks in a well-meaning tone.

I knew from the outset that I had no chance of having it my way. Because I was up against the culture behemoth. The constant line I heard was that this was how things had always been done. After all, did they not raise us and countless other children this way? Frankly, what chances did I have against practices that went back hundreds of years (allegedly)? It reminded me of a story about a priest who used to go around a village performing ceremonies. An apprentice used to tag along with him in the hope of learning from the master. One day, when the priest had gone to a house to perform a ceremony, there happened to be a black cat in the house that kept running back and forth. The priest, being a superstitious bloke, ordered the cat to be tied to a pillar before he began performing the rituals. The apprentice made a note of it and years later, when he started practicing, refused to perform rituals unless there was a cat tied to a pillar!

When I had my baby, nearly everyone in the vicinity had an opinion on what was good and what certainly must be avoided. Don't go near this. Don't ever do that. Beware of this. God forbid should you ever do that. Yes, yes, I know they had my best interest at heart. But boy, was it relentless! To be fair, I tried to listen to every bit of advice that was thrown my way. Quite simply because it was hard to dodge them. And even harder to reason with. It was much easier to simply submit to it. But after about a month, I'd had enough. I hated the whole thing. And I swore to myself that if there was going to be another child, I would try and have it my way.

So this time, even before we'd picked up the phone to call India with news of the impending new arrival, the husband and I had made our minds up. We were going to manage things on our own. The fact that my mother's health wouldn't permit her to travel or to be of assistance to us made it an obvious decision. But how would the family react?

(to be continued...)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dial 911 for Amma

There was a time, some years ago, when nearly every other month would see some aunt or the other jetting off to the US to assist their daughter during childbirth. The process would start with announcement of the good news followed by frenzied months of preparation. It would kick off with applications for passport and visa. Every new development would be discussed, debated, put to vote and finally taken a decision on. If there was a small item in the Hindu on page 14 about restrictions to the number of visas being given out that particular month, favourite gods would be invoked, sacrifices promised and fasts undertaken in order that such a decision not affect the concerned family member's application.

An auspicious day would be chosen and packing for the trip would commence. Sarees would be chosen, suitcases dusted off, woolens borrowed and dry-cleaned. Contents of the suitcase would be constantly rearranged like a loose-limbed jigsaw puzzle. Half a kilo of thuvaram paruppu would take the place of a sentimental maroon saree when a casual mention during weekly phone calls to the US would reveal that dal prices had risen sharply in the preceding months. There would be the mandatory horror story narrated by another US-returnee who would recall how a ghastly black customs officer refused to let a pack of rasam-podi enter the hallowed grounds of America. And as the big day drew close, the pace would be stepped up. Like a bee hive, the would-be passenger's house would buzz with activity surrounding the trip. Finer aspects of the visit would be nailed in place, numerous rehearsals of the procedure - from check-in to immigration - carried out, farewells would be bid and just as you begin to wonder if they would ever leave, they would. Over the next months, we would hear all about trips to Niagara falls, dollar conversion rates, massive supermarkets, twin SUVs at the garage and 5-bedroom suburban houses. Some years later, when the cousin was having another child, the whole procedure (with the exception of passport application) would be repeated all over again.

Sometimes I wondered why the aunts and uncles were never invited to visit their children at times other than during child birth. Did my cousins not think their parents (particularly the girls') deserved a holiday in the land of milk and honey? And why did the aunts and uncles, despite whispered stories of endlessly lonely days stuck in the house with an infant while the parents went out to work, always seem eager to jump on the next flight westward? Is it because this would be their only chance of visiting the promised land? And a rare opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren?

Such were the thoughts crossing my mind when I called my parents in India last year to tell them that there was to be an addition to our family.

(to be continued...)

Must read

A wonderfully honest post.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Just a walk in the park


Good luck to all those running today's London Marathon. I use this opportunity for my shameless annual plug. My own moment of fame when I ran the 26.2 mile/42 km course 4 years ago. It feels like yesterday, in fact it still hurts. Here are some images.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Soundtrack of the moment



I absolutely love this song. It was used brilliantly some years ago in the excellent (though ridiculously titled) C4 documentary 'The boy whose skin fell off'. And now it's been used in the latest Cadbury's commercial. What's your soundtrack of the moment?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Penmani and other things

A couple of new and interesting questions are up on Penmani that you might have an opinion on.

And I'll be announcing a new participatory exercise soon. It should keep the blog ticking over nicely while I get some semblance of normalcy back into our chaotic existence now. So watch out for that.

Also, please join me in wishing my dear friend Anouradha Bakshi a wonderful birthday today. Happy Birthday, Anou!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Saturday Poem

Still taking questions for Penmanis. Please send them in to ammania@gmail.com. Thank you!
-a

The Woman who Worries Herself to Death

by Kathryn Simmonds
She wasn't robbed or raped or made a scapegoat of,
she didn't take ill-fated flights on shaky planes and

no one splashed her house in paint. Kids with hoods
and sovereign rings and hates left her alone. That twinge

she sometimes felt was just a twinge. Her fillings didn't leak.
At office dos she danced and no one laughed.

Her children didn't have disorders, fail exams, take smack.
Her husband didn't love his secretary
or get the sack. But, if you saw her fidgeting
towards the dawn, her breathing playing tricks,
a thousand what ifs snaking in a queue, you'd feel for her,
you'd wish she had something to pin her torment to.

Courtesy: The Guardian

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thank you

...for all your wonderful wishes. Is it me or can anyone else smell a wet nappy?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Say hello to...

...little Tikku, younger brother to Jikku (aha! you thought the names couldn't get sillier). Born March 10, 2008. Both mother and newborn are doing well. Now, if you will excuse us for a little while...

Monday, March 10, 2008

A quick tale 210

Concerns

My son says that his friend would look after Jimmy. Which friend? I ask. A college friend, you don't know him, he replies. That's true. I don't know many of his college friends. But my son has promised me that Jimmy will be well cared for by the friend. I hope the friend – what is his name? I enquire. Ramanathan, he says. But I thought he mentioned Srinivasan early on. My memory must be playing tricks on me. Anyway, I hope the friend remembers to take Jimmy for walks every day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. The vet said that apart from a slight liver engorgement, Jimmy is in good condition for a dog his age. He is coming up to 78 in human years, would you believe it! We're about the same age and he is in a much better shape than I am. My diabetes and arthritis are worse than ever.

After my husband passed away in 2004, I became even more reliant on Jimmy for company. I didn't want to move in with my son but my fall last month has left with no choice but to pack my bags. My younger grandchild is asthmatic and her mother reckons dog hair might aggravate her condition. That's why I couldn't take Jimmy with me when I moved.

Where does Ramanathan live? I ask. Who? my son wonders. Ramanathan, you know your friend who now has Jimmy…where does he live? Ah, him, very far away. About 3 hours' drive from here. Are there vets nearby? Jimmy is due for his monthly check up on the 25th, I remind him. It's not a village, you know, he sighs. There are supermarkets and restaurants and internet cafes and schools and hospitals and I'm sure, vets where he lives. But how would I know about it? I've no clue where his friend lives. I wonder if I should ask him if Ramanathan is a vegetarian. Because Jimmy eats meat three times a week and I don't want him to miss his treats. But I'm sure my son would have told his friend that. Does Ramanathan live in a flat? I ask. Because Jimmy needs some space to run around. He's never been a dog to sit still or sleep all day. My son doesn't answer. His back is turned to me. So I ask him once again. No, he replies. Ramanathan lives in a large, towering bungalow with a 50 feet garden at the back. Jimmy would like that.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Penmanis!

Ladies and laydaas! I often have a lot of burning questions and issues (okay, some rather dull and pedestrian stuff as well) that I would like to have opinions on. Most of them relate to women. So I thought, why not start a separate blog dedicated to asking questions and uncovering answers, however uncomfortable? So that's what I've done here.

Remember the 'the bee in my bonnet' series? And how much fun it was? Why not run it along similar lines? If you wish to contribute, then please let me know by writing to me at ammania@gmail.com

The way it will work is we pose a statement or a question relating to women - like for instance, "why do even so-called feminists feel the need to go on ridiculous diets?" and invite responses. All set? Let's get going!

update: First posts up! Check this out

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Mother's Day Letters - Final Call

Send your letters to ammania@gmail.com marking Mother's Day in the subject line. Word limit: 200 words.

Further details may be found here. All letters will be published on Lost in Post on Sunday, 2nd March 2008. Thank you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Triolets - top three and then some

Well over 30 entries for this competition. Ranging from dead pets to murderous lovers. Favourite themes seemed to be ruminations on nature and lovers.

I strongly suggest that you go here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here to read all the entries. Please also read the comment section in each post as some entries are in there as well. Finally, it'll be nice if you can pick your favourites. Please mention the ones you liked in the comment section.

Thank you for taking part. Here are my winners.


Third place

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

- Shoefiend

Why? I like the silliness of this triolet. And how the last two lines, when repeated, take on a dark turn.

Second place

The Good

Mummy, I will return.

But let me leave now.

Of course I'm your only son.

But let me leave now.

I should step out and learn.

I beg you, please allow.

Mummy, I will return.

But let me leave now.

-Vatsap

Why? There’s a desperation that comes across when the last two lines are repeated. It goes from being just a refrain. Also, use of the childhood word ‘mummy’ (and not mum or amma) suggests that the person pleading has reverted to the earlier adult-child relationship. Nice!

Top Dog

A TV show is boring, let me bring

A little variety to the room

No. no. let the phone sing

A TV show is boring, let me bring

You a hat, shoes and bling.

Let's go out, in the car – vroom

A TV show is boring, let me bring

A little variety to the room

-Ravages/CC

Why? I like how line 1 flows into line 2 and again smoothly flows into line 5. It hardly feels like repetition. You can almost hear the clink as a charmer goes to work.

Quite liked these too….

You did not woo me

You did not woo me

With pretty words and flowers

You just let me be:

You did not woo me

You just talked to me

Of all you thought, for hours.

You did not woo me

With pretty words and flowers.

-Unmana Datta

The Bad

Yes, I killed your cat;

never liked it anyway.

It was ugly, it was fat.

Yes, I killed your cat.

Why did it enter my flat?

Thought it could get away?

Yes, I killed your cat;

never liked it anyway.

-Vatsap


Writing triolets is good fun

So I am trying to write one too

I hope I come up with a decent one

Writing triolets is good fun

I am glad that I am almost done

I just have to repeat line one and two

Writing triolets is good fun

So I am trying to write one too

- Divya Iyer

Triolets 7

Okay, time's up. Here's the final instalment of triolets. My top three announced shortly. Come back soon!

-a

Daily Walk

I walk every day,
To keep myself healthy and fit,
I don't ever miss a day,
I walk everyday,
If I do miss a day,
My daily glass of milk is forfiet,
I walk everyday,
To keep myself healthy and fit.

-Abha Venu

Entry fee: I always give up my seat for old women or pregnant women in the bus.


Absence

Brew the Bru
Oh, instant coffee it is
While I stir stories for you
Brew the bru
While I try to convince you
Of my absence that is
Brew the Bru
Oh, instant coffee it is

-Kshama Anand

Entry fee: Gave something to eat to an old lady, donated some money.

Corn Chilli Bisque

Corn Chilli Bisque-
Hot, sumptuous!
It's about lunch time!
Corn Chilli Bisque-
With a hint of fresh lime,
Piquant, scrumptious!
Corn Chilli Bisque-
Hot, sumptuous!

-Sumithra Bhakthavatsalam

Entry fee: I hand-painted a get-well card for an ailing teacher of mine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Triolets - two days to go

Not long left for you to send in your triolets. Top three announced on Friday.

Check out the entries so far here, here, here and here. Details of the competition may be found here.

Good luck! Now for the latest entry.

----------

For every single day

For every single day
Today, tomorrow, and after:
Till we grow old and gray…
For every single day
As long as we both may
Live: may there be joy and laughter
For every single day
Today, tomorrow, and after.

You did not woo me

You did not woo me
With pretty words and flowers
You just let me be:
You did not woo me
You just talked to me
Of all you thought, for hours.
You did not woo me
With pretty words and flowers.

-Unmana Datta

Entry fee: I'll give the son of my domestic help notebooks/paper/pens for his schoolwork.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An Imperfect Business

It's not easy or fun. And it often leaves you feeling miserably lonely. But we all fool ourselves into saying how much we love it. Being a mother is probably the toughest and the least rewarding job on earth. And yet so many of us choose it.

This Sunday is Mother's day (at least in the UK). And this is what I'd like you to do. Write a letter to a mother. Yours, your child's, your partner's, Bharat mata...any mother. Telling her something that'll make her happy. Send a photo, if you wish. Or go anonymous. Please stick to a 200 word limit, marking 'Mother's Day' in the subject line. Send your letter to ammania@gmail.com

All letters will be published on Lost in Post on Sunday, 2nd March 2008. Thank you.

Edited to add: After some thought, I've decided to rephrase my request for letters to mothers. I realise that it'd be much better if you wrote a letter to your child's mother. That is you, if you are woman. And your partner, if you're a man. And if you don't have children, then you could write a letter to your own mother or to anyone else you consider deserving of being celebrated on Mother's day.

I figured there's enough pressure on mothers to be these perfect people. After all, we live in an age of supernannies and their ilk telling us off for not doing a good job. I often feel like I don't come up to scratch when it comes to raising my child. And god knows, I could do with a pat on the back for what I do manage. Even if it's just from me.

So mothers, write a letter to yourself expressing your appreciation for a job well done. And if you're still not convinced about it, then just have a look at those stretch marks. Now get writing!

Triolet - final call

The challenge is almost up. You've only got till Thursday to send in your triolet. My top three will be announced this Friday.

For inspiration, please go here, here, here and here. Details of the competition may be found here.

Good luck!

A2Z

I rarely do tags. But there's a reason for taking up Sur's tag. As you'll soon discover.

A -Available?
For what though?

B-Best friend:
What? Just one?

C-Cake or Pie?
Pie

D-Drink of choice:
8 glasses a day. Not counting tea or coffee.

E-Essential thing used everyday:
Can't think of one. Which means it's not really essential, is it?

F-Favourite colour:
Earth tones. Hardly any blues in my wardrobe, coming to think of it.

G-Gummi bears or worms:
Neither. Ever since I discovered that it has gelatin, I've gone off the chewy stuff.

H-Hometown:
'How many roads have I wandered?
None and each my own.

Behind me the bridges have crumbled.
Where then will I call my home?'

(from a song, obviously!)

I-Indulgence:
Not nearly enough.

J-January or February:
September

K-Kids and names:
Jikku

L-Life:
is fun

M-Marriage date:
Today! No, really! 25 Feb(Aha! Now you know the reason)

N-Number of siblings:
Two. One of them's over there on the sidebar. The other, older sibling sensibly refrains from blogging. Though his wife does leave the occasional comment.

O-Oranges or apples:
Both

P-Phobias:
Jumping off heights.

Q-Quote:
Something I read yesterday which I liked. It's by some actor called Ben Miller. He says 'Watching my wife give birth has taught me that pain is all relative. She was having contractions without pain relief. She gripped my hand and I honestly thought she was going to crush my knuckles into fine dust. I wanted to say, 'You're really hurting me' but felt it was inappropriate.'

R-Reason to smile:
Plenty

S-Season:
Autumn

T-Tag three people:
You, you and you over there!

U-Unknown fact about me:
I wear a size 6 shoe. But sometimes a size 5 1/2 will do too. But never 5

V-Vegetable you do not like:
None

W-Worst habit:
Irritability, impatience, easily bored

X-Xrays you have had:
Can't recall

Y-Your favorite food:
Anything, really. But milagu kuzhambu is high up there (you can tell, I'm getting bored now)

Z-Zodiac:
Aries

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Announcement

I will be announcing a new exercise which involves your participation soon. Watch this space.
-a

A quick tale 209

Lament

God knows what I’m doing here, standing in the middle of the bedroom like this! If I had it my way, it’d have been so different. None of this drama and certainly not this violence! I’m a peace-lover and you know it. You’ve seen me for so long. Tell me, have I ever lost my cool? Even under the most extreme provocations, I’ve been level-headed all throughout. Like when he hit me when I was six months pregnant over some minor misdemeanour on my part. You saw how I handled that situation. And that incident when my parents lost the plot when I told them that I was going to marry him inspite of everything. Again, you were witness to my grace under fire. And if you cast your mind way back to when I was first introduced to you as a 11-year old who’d just broken her mother’s prized antique vase, you remember how calmly I’d gathered all the shards and presented them to my mother with much apologies as her ‘former vase’.

Now, after one episode after another of presenting me as the cool-headed one who always had her wits about her, how could he make me do something so uncharacteristic as to shoot my husband? I bet, in the coming chapters he’ll say something like ‘momentary madness’ or ‘years of pent up frustration that was uncorked in an unguarded moment’. These writers will think of some clever turn of phrase to justify my actions and you will put down this book never having noticed any aberration in my character. Oh well, there’s not much I can do now. My revolver is loaded (God! Quelle drama!) and the lever is cocked. I make my way across the dark bedroom. I find him asleep in bed and smoothly place the barrel against him temple…