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Voicing Silence 7

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Seems like yesterday

It's been five years since I ran the London Marathon. It's something I never fail to bring up, even in a casual conversation which might go like this.

You: Nice day, isn't it?
Me: Yes, a most pleasant day to go running.
You: Yes, did you hear about what happened to that ship that was attacked by pirates?
Me: Pirates? Bet they never go running.
You: They threatened to kill all on board if they weren't paid a ransom.
Me: And if they are killed, they can certainly never go running. Did I tell you about the time I ran the London Marathon and someone came dressed as a pirate?
As you probably guessed, I'm darned proud of having run the 26.2 mile course. Here are some pics. (Rest assured I will do the same year after year. Write about my day of glory that is, not run)




Wednesday, April 22, 2009

25 Random things about me

It's one of those tags that never came my way. Still, here goes.

1. My name has always been no.1 in the school attendance register.
2. My name is usually the first on mobile phones. And I get a lot of calls from kids who happen to be playing with the mobile. Usually at 3 in the morning.
3. I share my birthday with my father.
4. I rarely wear anything blue.
5. I ran the London Marathon five years ago.
6. I get annoyed when people say they ran the Mumbai Marathon but omit to add that they ran the half-marathon distance.
7. Recently, I was surprised to learn that I am a shoe size bigger than I'd previously thought.
8. I have two sons. Both of them are boys.
9. I once auditioned for Countdown on Channel 4.
10. Routines tire me.
11. I had never ironed a shirt until I came to the UK.
12. I dreamt of my firstborn's name.
13. I am terribly ambitious.
14. Some days, for no apparent reason, I get a big buzz just waking up in the morning and then want to go climb Everest before breakfast.
15. I crib every single day about cooking.
16. If I could make one thing disappear from this world, it would be cooking.
17. I am a very slow reader.
18. I'm good with cryptic crosswords and positively brilliant with jumbled words.
19. I have two other names - Meenakshi and Rama.
20. I am very undecided when it comes to religion.
21. I absolutely hate travelling by bus in India.
22. I envy anyone who studied beyond the basic graduation. I never did.
23. I have worn my hair short for the best part of the last 20 years.
24. I have dimples on either cheek (on the face, since you ask).
25. If you gave me maa-ladoo, I will be your slave for life.

If you are reading this, consider yourself tagged.

Memories of food - Murukku & a Paati who made them

I don't know what made me think of her. It is quite possible that it was the sight of the still half-full packet of murukku on the top shelf that triggered the memory. Long before Grand Sweets and Snacks took over the murukkus of the world, there was murukku paati. I don't think she had ever been murukku-young girl or murukku-lady before she became the grandmother who squeezed out the best murukkus out of the mould. She was nobody's grandmother in particular and yet everyone in the neighbourhood called her paati.

Paati was a widow and she wore a widow's garb of pale pink cotton 9-yards saree. Her head was shaved and she wore no blouse. When she sat down, her pendulous breasts would rest on the folds of her stomach like a well-fed cat on his owner's lap on a Saturday afternoon. Snug, settled and unrushed.

I do not remember her face very well. But when I think of her, I can see her holding a large mould filled with murukku dough and squeezing it over a vat of boiling hot oil. She would then sit back and using the long end of an iron ladle move it around so that the murukku rounds didn't stick to each other or to the bottom of the pan as they tended to.

I think Murukku paati lived alone in a small room. I have vague recollections of being sent to fetch her once and I remember finding her hunched over a kerosene stove stirring something. Perhaps she really lived in a bustling joint family where three generations lived under one roof. But some how the image of her lonely self cooking a meal-for-one, seems to stick to my mind.

Paati passed away when I was about 10 or so after a brief battle with breast cancer. Someone said she must have developed cancer from inhaling wood smoke for all those years. We must've clicked our tongues in sympathy when we heard the news. Paavam paati, someone would have remarked, she made such wonderful murukkus. The mention of murukku would have prompted someone else to wonder who would take over from paati. And in all likelihood, conversation would have veered towards the direction of finding a worthy successor to paati.

I look up at the shelf with its murukku packet. I reach for it. It tastes stale. The crispiness has long given way to a soft sponginess which feels alien in a murukku. It eat it anyway. It seems such a shame to let it go waste.

On Elandampazham, Milkmaid, maggi & idli

Origami Abhirami


I want to spend an afternoon with a few friends folding paper. Hands up if you are interested.
p.s. Ahiri, there will be a place marked for you on the table. In case you wish to join us.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Around The World - A Tag

I look around me. There's torn paper all over the floor waiting to be tidied up. There's also a sinkful of dirty dishes to be washed. Lunch to be cooked, nappies to be changed. I have yet to glance at the day's newspaper and my cup of tea has grown a thin layer of cream on top. But I want to sit here and sink further into the sofa. I don't want to disturb the chaos. I no longer wish order around my household. I'm still in my pyjamas as I settle down to respond to a tag from the wonderful Sur (I'm still waiting for your phone call). I'm supposed to write five things I love about being a mother.



1. I love the fact that I no longer need to appear civil in public. I can go to the supermarket looking like I've just spent an hour inside a tumble dryer along with bottles of jams and pickles and sauces and I'm likely to get sympathetic nods from fellow travellers.

2. I'm glad that I no longer need to bother with cosmetics or anti-ageing creams. The frowns that furrow my forehead and the bags that support my eyes cannot be undone by creams and potions created to ease lines caused by problems less vexing and milder than children.

3. Motherhood means that I no longer have to pretend to be well-read. I've dropped out of this rat race where people want to out-read others and clock up books in the same way as some of us clock up frown lines (read above). I'm no longer plagued by the fear that life being so short and all, I might never get to read all the books there are to be read and what with a book being published every other minute or so, I may never get to read enough unless I get started now or there will never be hope for me.

There are days when I couldn't be arsed to read. Because I'm so tired that my eyelids feel like they are cast out of lead. And it's fine.

4. I'm decidedly thrilled that as a mother, I'm no longer visible. Ads don't talk to me (unless they are for baby food or nappies or head lice shampoo). Fashion ignores me (who creates trendy clothes for plus-sized mothers-of-twos?). Songs don't appeal to me (yet another song about eternal love/maternal love/justplainlove? Yawn). TV tires me (where do I begin?). So basically, I'm unhinged and unobserved. I am not a demographic that interests anyone and I can wear my hair purple and roam around in kaftan for all I care. And no one would notice.

5. It's great that motherhood has drained me of all energy. I'm so tired, so tiringly tired. So tired of being so tired. So tired of being so tired of being tired. Most of the time. All of the time. Exhaustingly, achingly, overwhelmingly. Tired.

And then there are days like this morning. When I was being pinned to the mattress by two little bodies. And we are a jumble of flailing limbs and heads. We are suddenly cast adrift in the middle of Indian Ocean and we have to cling to each other for survival. We are in the middle of a snowstorm atop Mount Everest and we need each other to keep ourselves warm, alive. We are champion wrestlers in a tangle for an Olympic gold medal. We grapple and grasp. We toss about until we are worn out. And then my two boys sit on my stomach and bounce about announcing victory. I close my eyes, roll my head and pretend I'm dead. Knowing what happiness feels like.

p.s. Rules of the tag here. I hereby tag - Bhaamini (India), Prema (UK), Umm Oviya (Qatar), Deepa (US), Teesu (India) and anyone else who feels like it.

A quick tale 226

The alternative is unthinkable

This is not the sort of dilemma you have in mind when you are filling in a job application. My application pack asked me questions about where I studied and what marks I got in my graduation. There was nothing about how I would handle a situation like this. But then of course, you cannot always prepare for every eventuality. Each day I come to work, I come in the secure knowledge that so many hundreds of lives depend on me. That if I mess up even the slightest, not carry out my checks thoroughly, not probe that little bit extra, there could be trouble ahead. But you don't always think about all this when you are at your job. Like when I'm on duty, checking passengers before they board, running the metal detector across their body, dabbing my hands all over their person (strictly for reasons of security) and poking suspicious bulges, just to be sure. I rarely make eye contact with the passengers as I go about my work. I just ask them to head this way, guiding them to a curtained area where I carry out my checks. I try to get it over and done with as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We both know why we are there and I try not to prolong the awkwardness. But at the same time I don't rush things and leave room for error.

But this morning, I was caught offguard when I saw my father-in-law standing in the queue for the security check. Why didn't she tell me about it? What do I do now? Quick! WHAT DO I DO? And before I knew it, he had moved up the queue and was standing right in front of me . Oh hello, how are you? Yes, the flight has been delayed. It should be leaving shortly. Yes, you are looking well too. No, no, I don't want to check you. Don't worry I won't be running my hands down your legs and poking it up your crotch. You may rest assured. I trust you packed your suitcase yourself. Great! Have a safe journey!

Rock, Hard Rock and Me 2

When I was in the 6th standard or so, I saw my school seniors practising a dance routine. The tune was catchy and I wanted to know more. But when I drew close to the stage, I realised with shock that the chorus sounded distinctly like 'Peede...peede'. Why would anyone choose a song with abusive words in them? And worse, they were going to dance to it? With teachers watching and parents cheering on? Didn't these girls have no shame? Don't they risk being called peedais themselves? But I kept my anxiety to myself and it wasn't until much later that I learnt that the song was actually 'Beat it'.

But finding out the song didn't actually make me go 'A-ha! I get it now'. I was further confounded with a series of even more perplexing questions. Beat what? Beat whom? Why beat? These mysteries have remained unresolved since and I suspect I will take them with me when I go. I don't wrestle with serious existential questions. My demands are far less exacting. I simply would like answers to great pop posers like 'Should I stay or should I go?', 'Do you really want to hurt me?' and 'Who let the dogs out?'.

(more later)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rock, Hard Rock and Me

I envy anyone who knows their pop from their rock from their jazz. I positively glow with jealousy whenever I hear someone say how they grew up listening to Joan Baez or Bob Dylan. Me, I have not a chance in hell when it comes to English music of any genre. I wouldn't know Bob Dylan if he fell on me and broke my neck (that I wouldn't be alive to recognise him as such is immaterial here). When I was young, only the seriously hip and the ones who had sold their soul to the devil listened to English music.

For a long time, the only pop musician I knew was Michael Jackson. Though I wasn't sure if he really sang in English as I could barely follow what little I heard of his songs. The husband recently told me that there were heated debates in his school over Jacko's gender. With over half of his class convinced that he was a woman!

Back then one of my uncles used to have LPs of Osibisa, ABBA and Boney M and he would play them on his record player and we would dance around feeling utterly cool. But once he got married and moved out, he took his player with him and we went back to listening to Sharon Prabhakar on Pop Time on Doordarshan. Some years later, we managed to get a few VHS tapes of Top of Pop shows recorded in Dubai. And I must have played until I knew every syllable by heart. During that time I felt, albeit briefly, invincible and absolutely on top of the charts.

Until one day a second cousin I had never met before landed from Delhi. My father, anxious to show off, told his niece that I listened to a lot of English music and encouraged her to talk to me about it. So, began this girl who couldn't have been more a than a couple of years my senior, what sort of music do you like? Pop? Rock? Metal? My jaw dropped. There were so many varieties of English music? How come no one ever told me about it? I decided to play it safe and told her instead that I listened to "just plain English songs". Fair to say that we didn't have much to say to each other the rest of the afternoon.

(more later)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is it just me...

...or does any one else find the new Persil 'What's a mum?' advert irritating?

I guess Persil would never notice the loss of a potential customer.

Food for thought

I love a good food blog. I love spending hours looking at all the wonderful pictures, so painstaking in their effort that it hurts to think that these bloggers are doing it for no reason other than the love of it. There's a variety of recipes, all presented ever so professionally. A drizzle here, a coriander sprig artfully tucked there. They also makes me acutely aware of my shortcomings. Admittedly, I had my own food blog for a while before I surrendered to my incompetence. For I can never, in a million years do dainty drizzles. Unless I happen to spill some by mistake. My food is chaotic. Served in mismatched bowls. With not a napkin in sight. At home we eat food with our hands, often messily. And when it's good, we lick, slurp and devour it with abandon. With an energy best left for the passions of reunited young lovers who have been apart for a year.

I go back to the food blogs and I see such a lot of quest for perfection. There is none of the burnt pans and runny cakes and stodgy upmas that plague my kitchen. Perhaps their food really does get served like that everyday. Even when when their mothers come around for lunch. Perhaps there will be a little assortment of kichchdis and pachchdis in delicate china bowls all seated carefully like school children arranged according to their height in class photographs. My mother would have a fit if I served her food like that. What's this? she would demand sneeringly, all fancy-pancy nonsense? Get me something real to eat. And I would oblige her willingly.

Browsing some of the popular food blogs, I am reminded of a friend's extremely pretty mother. So pretty in fact that she was a bit scary. There was none of the comforting folds of fat and rough-and-ready look that I had come to associate with mothers in general. This friend's mother was polished and positively gleaming. Nearly every other food blog I come across seems giddy with aspiration, worryingly flawless. I look and look for some signs of weakness, some small admission of a mishap, something familiar for me to hang my insecurity on. But all I get is gorgeous pictures of shiny stainless cups holding steaming hot payasam. Perhaps I should start stocking on coriander sprigs after all.

Please note: A delightful exception to this rule is my dear friend Shyam's food blog where she charts her culinary experiments (and the occasional disaster) with humour and honesty.