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Voicing Silence 7

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A quick tale 202

Unfinished business

Behind the sofa in the living room, where it was too dark for anyone to notice, the half-read books of the neighbourhood were having their annual general meeting. There were Tolstoys, Murakamis, Pamuks, Joyces and quite a few management books whose authors’ names are irrelevant to this story. As with each year, War & Peace opened the day’s proceedings. In his welcome address, he regaled the conference with his favourite anecdote about a young girl who used to read War & Peace to her bedridden grandfather every day. And with each page, her grandfather’s health improved until one day, somewhere near the last chapter, she skipped a page. And her grandfather passed away that very afternoon.

The delegates clapped appreciatively and soon dispersed to attend the various workshops being conducted throughout the day. There was ‘A book is forever, not just for Christmas’ where several books that had been gifted through the holidays aired their angst at the disservice done to them. There was ‘Never been touched’ where books that had never been pried open by eager hands cried their hearts out. The ‘I’m an autobiography, get me out of here’ section was buzzing with books that held the lives of people famous and infamous but had languished for want of readers who looked beyond the photographs. And then there was the hugely popular ‘Borrowed and never browsed’ section which attracted loads of dissatisfied books from the local library who spoke of readers who had not taken the time to plod through the plot and instead picked up a movie version of the book.

The organisers had thoughtfully arranged for grooming sessions where the books could have their dog ears straightened and the coffee stains paled. But by evening, as hard-covers dusted off their jackets and as paperbacks slid bookmarks back in their midst and everyone had vented their hatred of the Harry Potter series (of course, they weren't jealous!), a sense of gloom had descended. The books sulked back into the shelves and bedside tables they came from. Tonight, they vowed, they will make extra effort and refuse to be shut when their reader fell asleep with the pages agape. No, they will not be quietened down until they have been read through. The end.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A quick tale 201


And so, I find myself closeted inside the toilet of a running train. With a rare moment to speculate. All around me, graffiti has been scratched out on the walls. There is quite a lot of female anatomy with the parts helpfully marked out. There are some male organs scratched out as well. I was also informed that S loves BC, that K is a whore and that GH is a homo. Someone calling himself J had advertised for ‘performance enhancing medicines’ adding his mobile number for anyone interested in his offer. I finish my business, wash my hands and somehow feel compelled to add my own thoughts to this myriad of beliefs, opinions and statements. I find a ball point pen in my handbag and stand there wondering what to say. I cannot recall any witty limericks or riddles. I have few secrets that I’d like to share with my fellow passengers who may use this toilet. As for drawing the female anatomy, my own reference doesn’t serve me very well. Finally, I settle for a single word. I mark out 'STRIFE' in an empty corner. I lean back to admire my work. Oddly satisfied and feeling decidedly better, I dust my hands and deposit the pen back in my bag. As I settle down next to the husband, he looks up at me as if to wonder what took me so long. I sigh gently and look outside at the passing landscape.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday Poem

Missing things by Vernon Scannell who passed away last week

I'm very old and breathless, tired and lame,
and soon I'll be no more to anyone
than the slowly fading trochee of my name
and shadow of my presence: I'll be gone.
Already I begin to miss the things
I'll leave behind, like this calm evening sun
which seems to smile at how the blackbird sings.

There's something valedictory in the way
my books gaze down on me from where they stand
in disciplined disorder and display
the same goodwill that well-wishers on land
convey to troops who sail away to where
great danger waits. These books will miss the hand
that turned the pages with devoted care.

And there are also places that I miss:
those Paris streets and bars I can't forget,
the scent of caporal and wine and piss;
the pubs in Soho where the poets met;
the Yorkshire moors and Dorset's pebbly coast,
black Leeds, where I was taught love's alphabet,
and this small house that I shall miss the most.

I've lived here for so long it seems to be
a part of what I am, yet I'm aware
that when I've gone it won't remember me
and I, of course, will neither know nor care
since, like the stone of which the house is made,
I'll feel no more than it does light and air.
Then why so sad? And just a bit afraid?


poem courtesy Review, Saturday Guardian

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bees to buzz no more

I could go on for a while. There's still PC bullies, hyper-sensitive Muslims quick to be offended by any reference to the one on whom peace may upon be, extra-hyper-sensitive secularists who rush to the rescue of quickly-offended Muslims in order to prove their secular credentials, language boors, facebook, myspace, shopping, cooking, Saravana Bhavan portion-size, arranged-vs-love marriage debate, any vacuum cleaner other than Dyson...see? I could have any entire apiary in my head. But I will desist. I risk becoming the driver who complained about other road-users while determinedly driving on the wrong side of the road. Perhaps I'm the one with the chip on my shoulder. Anyway, thank you all for having engaged with me. It was great fun. A new series will follow shortly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 10

Accent Police

I speak with an accent, I admit. So do you. So does she. And him. And them. And everyone we know. Can we really speak without an accent? And sound neutral? The thing is, we never notice how we speak until it sounds different from others in a given context. I don't know how you would classify my accent. Indian, I guess. So when I'm in India, I sound like everybody else. But here, I often have trouble getting myself understood, especially over the phone. So I deliberately soften the consonants and skim over the words.

Wait, I'm coming to the point. It is this. Why do so many people - especially Indians - have a problem when other Indians sound different from how they think they should speak? Why do we come down so heavily on others whom we claim to speak with a 'false accent'? I know I have this habit of mimicking others without realising it. I used to use a lot of 'achhas' and 'haans' when I was living in a place where that was how people spoke. Now, I've gradually worn down that habit. So if we subconsciously or even deliberately pick up accents so as not sound too different from others, what's so wrong about that? Also, please tell me what's so virtuous about saying things like 'I still speak with an Indian accent despite having lived abroad for 10 years'?

A bee in my bonnet 9

Model behaviour

Is it just me that finds it funny when models refer to what they do as 'work'? Does posing and pouting really count as 'work'?

Monday, November 19, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 8

Lest we forget their meaningless titles...

A few days ago I came across article in a website about former Miss World Aishwarya Rai doing something utterly insignificant like taking a dump or something. A most crucial thing to be informed of I imagine, to the watchers of former Miss World Aishwarya Rai. I don't know much about the day-to-day happenings in the life of former Miss World Aishwarya Rai except that she is married to Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan. I have seen wedding photographs of former Miss World Aishwarya Rai and Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan. They make a lovely couple. This former Miss World Aishwarya Rai and Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan, don't you think?

Friday, November 16, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 7


The other day I walked into the ladies shower room at our local swimming pool and found two middle aged women having a shower. It's an open shower room with no cubicles. The two women who were both naked (as one should be under a shower) seemed to be deep in discussion. I kept my one-piece costume on (as I usually do) and went to the far shower in the room. I winced involuntarily as a hot jet stream hit prickled my back. The women turned to me and said something about the water temperature. I looked down at the floor, mumbled a response and quickly shuffled outside to the changing rooms.

The incident really got me thinking. Why was I so embarrassed when they were the ones who didn't have any clothes on? Was it due to years and years of 'shame, shame, puppy shame'? If so, surely I should realise by now that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about one's body. I know a lot of other women who would have reacted the same way as me in a similar situation. Why are we so bothered by the sight of our naked selves? My little boy has no problem walking around the house in the buff. We too must've been like that as kids. When did it change? And why do we think it's so wrong? Is this an Indian women thing? Why do we go all 'chee-chee' at the first sign of nudity? Is it because we believe in the superiority of keeping one's modesty? Or is it simply because we dare not take our clothes off? And really, are we just jealous of those that do, even if it is only in a public shower room?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 6


Particularly, modern free verse. You know, kind where they don't rhyme. The kind where I run out of time (rhyme-time, get it?). The ones that look like someone can't. punctuate and .
just broke up sentence. Because.
I don't get it. To be fair, I tried. I subscribed to an e-newsletter (minstrels, since you ask) and I often read the footnotes before reading the poem. And again, to be fair, there were some real gems in it. I also come across some good free verse scattered among blogs and I love the insight they offer with such an economy of words. However, they are few and far between. Consider this one, for instance.

Caramel America
Partisan interloper rebuts
Pause, briefly
A fond farewell.

What do you think of it? Do you like the eerie mysticism? Or the powerful imagery it evokes? Or the subtle commentary on modern life that it makes? Well, if you get something - anything out of it, good for you. Because, I just picked out those lines from a random scan of today's Guardian and strung them together. And sometimes, when I read such random acts of 'poetry', it gets me angry. I feel I'm being mocked. Perhaps, that's the intention. In which case, why doesn't someone come out and say 'gotcha! you pretentious piece of poetry-lover!'?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you are saying. That it's poetry and there are no rules in poetry etc. But hand-on-heart, tell me, who are you kidding? Isn't most of this modern verse thing just rubbish really?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 5

Mani Rathnam

What's all this talk about Mani Rathnam being India's best director and so on? Honestly, when was the man's last good movie? Nayagan? Mouna Ragam? I admit, I liked Alaipayuthe in parts but then you don't look at a child and say how gorgeous are the toes while determinedly ignoring the warts on the face. I could barely sit through Dil Se. And as for Guru, let's not go there, shall we? Like the kind and like-minded husband pointed out, two hits and fifteen flops don't make a master. They only serve to make the good ones seem like anomalies in an otherwise extraordinarily dull career. And yet the man enjoys much popularity and a haloed status among movie goers. He is beyond criticism and his movies are analysed within a breadth of their rather flimsy life. How did he get there? How did he come to enjoy a status that sees stars queueing outside his door for a reportedly pittance of a fee despite his string of flops? How come he commands such a long leash from his audience who don't accord other film-makers the same privilege?

Mani has been clever in shrouding his projects in secrecy and staying away from the media glare. These have always added to a sense of intrigue that precedes the release of his movies. But none of that hype can take away from an otherwise mediocre product. I feel somewhere along the way Mani started believing in all the hoopla surrounding him and succumbed to it. He started taking himself too seriously and began sketching a canvas that was way beyond what his limited talents could handle. He offers such simplistic solutions to end communal riots and ethnic conflicts that beggar belief. And as for his attempts at biopics, he doesn't have the balls to go all the way and seems to find curious comfort in elaborate disclaimers at the start of the movie. This is the point in my rant when I say that I'm not a movie critic or an expert and just a regular enthusiast. But why bother? You probably know that already.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 4

On photography

I have a problem with photography. With photography as an art, to be precise. I just can't seem to be able to take it seriously (even if it's not exactly gagging for my approval). You see, to me it just seems...how shall I put it? Too easy. I mean, where's the effort involved in putting together a piece of art? I was watching a documentary on photography a few days ago and it showed the brilliant photographer Henri Cartier Bresson at work. He walks around with his little Leica hidden behind him and when he sees his perfect composition coming together, he whips out his camera and goes 'click!, click!'. C'est tout! (as he may have exclaimed). That's it? No agonizing over the canvas? No tossing and turning over the inability to find the perfect 'blue'? No spending months and years observing a landscape in changing light? None of that suffering and just a few clicks? Which leads me to wonder if the superiority of an art is directly proportional to the sufferance of the artist? I don't know. It just seems as if photography, at least to me, is not as substantial an art as say painting is. There's no bulk to it, if you know what I mean. Convince me otherwise, won't you?

p.s. also, will someone please tell me who clicked the Tantex hoarding in Vyasarpadi?

Friday, November 09, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 3

The C word

Indian culture. What is it to you? To me, it seems like a convenient and rather hazy area that covers everything from dress code to Bollywood to wedding ceremonies to prime time tv soaps. When I posed this question to an ancient uncle of mine once, he told me that it's the practices that have been followed for centuries by our ancestors. So I asked him if practised long enough, would watching Pepsi Uma on Sun TV become a pillar of Indian culture some day? He didn't answer me but looked at my mother to suggest that she had better get me married soon. So this is what I'd like you to tell me. I don't care for academic definitions. But what's your understanding of culture? Specifically, Indian culture?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 2

On Travelling

The other day I heard someone say '...because travel expands horizons'. And I desperately wanted to ask 'really?'. I would've liked to know how travelling economy class, staying in budget hotels, complaining about local food/mosquitoes/toilets and having your photo clicked in front of the Eiffel Tower contributes to widening of perspective. The previous sentence is not to suggest that if you travelled business and stayed at star hotels you'd be any wiser. But I just don't get the wisdom that one is supposed to draw from having a few more stamps on your passport.

And as Indians we seem particularly fond of showing off how many places we've been to around the world. You need to look no further than any of the social networking sites to see desis posing in front of Statue of Liberty/Sydney Opera House/second-hand Toyota car in their profile photo. The inference that one intends for others to draw is clear. Look at me, I'm widely travelled and therefore I must be better than you. Sure, it is fun going to a new place and seeing new people. But is travelling anything more than that? Especially in this day and age when we seek to replicate the same atmosphere as home wherever we go. With holiday companies offering customers masal vadai and tea in Swiss Alps and some airlines offering Jain cuisine. Why is it any better than staying at home and watching the same on telly? Some of the most interesting people I know have never left their hometowns. In fact, they don't even have a passport. And some of the most peripatetic people I know are none the wiser for it. So why are so many benefits attributed to travelling the world? What's your take on it?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A bee in my bonnet

On Reading

Yesterday I finished reading a most riveting book (more of that another time). And it got me thinking. Not the content of the book itself. But the whole thing about reading. And why it's considered such a superior thing to do. We talk of bookworms in such warm and affectionate terms. Like somehow reading a Danielle Steele is a noble thing to do. Whereas those addicted to telly are reviled in the most derogatory terms. Why is one a better hobby than the other?

So often I come across people who love to show off how much they've read. A person's worth is judged by the books that line his bookshelf - even if half of them have never been thumbed past the first few pages. Then there's the more dangerous association we regularly make. Between reading and intelligence. Is one because of the other? Is one due to the other? If so, how? Is there any tangible evidence to show that reading makes a better person? That devouring fiction will somehow endow the reader with wisdom (I use the term very loosely here, but you get the drift)? So why this snobbery when it comes to books? Your thoughts in the comment box please!

The Marathon Mummy

"...giving birth was tougher than a marathon", says this year's New York marathon winner Paula Radcliffe. We agree!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dina Rabinovitch

I started reading Dina Rabinovitch's column in The Guardian supplement G2 a couple of years ago when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She used to write every other Wednesday about her experience with unflinching honesty. Sometimes I'd have to put the paper down, look away and skip a few lines when I returned to her piece. Over the next few months, I became familiar with her 3-year old son Elon, her surgeon Dr Dubaisi and her large brood including several step children. She wrote candidly about her efforts to get her son to understand why she could no longer breast feed him (he was 2 1/2 already!), what it was like to lose clumps of hair following chemo and the experience of seeing a flat chest where once there used to be boob. And this morning I woke up to a G2 dedicating their cover article to Dina following her demise yesterday. She was only 44.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

24 hour no more

Sorry to've kept you waiting for so long. I seem to've lost steam with this one. I'd like to write something long, detailed and pointless. That means this challenge will have to be put aside for a while. Thanks everyone for participating. It was much fun.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

24-hour challenge - 7

It's avataram again. With his time-travelling Pallava monarch that was a definite favourite among the last lot.

Today's theme is 'curdle'. A slight difference this time being, you have until 0800 GMT Monday morning to post your entries. Look forward to reading your stories. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

24-hour challenge - 6

The last couple of days have been quite mad around here. Hence the delay in announcing the next challenge. From the previous lot, I really liked avataram's hilarious short about Tachcholi Othenan although it was posted past the deadline (do I recognise the style from somewhere?).

Let's try something different today. Your story should include the words (phrase?) 'niggling fear' - in that order and not 'niggling' and 'fear'.

You have until 1800 hrs GMT tomorrow to post your story in the comment box. Look forward to it!

p.s. Thank you all for wishing the little 'un on his big day.

Happy Birthday, Shoefiend!

To a dear friend and a wonderful writer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The 24-hour challenge - 5

Apologies for posting the next challenge much later than I'd promised to. I really like both alien and shruthi's entries.

Now for the next challenge. The theme for today is 'jet lag'. You have until 20:15 GMT Monday evening to come up with a story. Please keep it short and post it in the comment box. Thank you!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The 24-hour challenge - 4

What a fantastic response! Thank you all for posting your stories. Alien, rupa and neha's entries caught my eye. But the runaway favourite was Aliskandar's short.

Today's theme is 'credit card'. You have until 14.30 GMT tomorrow to come up with a story and post it in the comment box. Good luck!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The 24-hour challenge - 3

I was bowled over by neha's brilliant short. This neha is apparently not the hugely-talented nehavish as I'd assumed. Who then?

Today's theme is 'cough syrup'. The time now is 13.40 GMT and you have until the same time tomorrow to come up with a story. Keep it short and post it in the comment box. Keep them coming!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The 24-hour challenge - 2

I really liked faitoo's odd little story to yesterday's challenge. Today's theme is 'socks'.

The time now is 16.10 GMT and you have a day to come up with a story. Please keep it short and post it in the comment box. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The 24-hour challenge

Sorry for the delay in starting this competition. The idea is simple. You have 24 hours to come up with a story based on a given theme or an opening line.

Today's theme is 'curry'. Please post your short story in the comment box. The time now is 15.30 GMT and you have the next 24 hours in which to come up with a story. Happy writing!

Monday, October 08, 2007


Yesterday I found a cigarette carton in a recycling bin. I wonder if the smoker swallowed the cigarette fumes instead of letting it out into the air.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reflections on seeing a paati

Today I saw a photo of my mother's mother for perhaps the first time in my life. She has been dead for a long long time and my own information about her is rather sketchy. All I know is that she passed away when my mother was 4 years old. My mother used to say that she left home after having made paruppu thogayal for dinner. And never returned alive. When I was young I was never curious about my maternal grandmother. And rarely asked my mother about her. Even if I had, what could my mother have told me? She was a mere child when she was bereaved.

So much so, I'm not even sure what my grandmother's real name is. Ramalakshmi, I think. Or is it Nagalakshmi? And yet, when I saw her photo today, I couldn't take my eyes of her. I wish I knew more about this young woman sitting next to her newly-wed husband. She must have been no more than 16 or 17 in that photo. And already her shoulders were rounded and her eyes lined with fatigue. Did she have a premonition of the short life ahead of her? The five children she would bear in quick succession and leave behind soon thereafter? She's not even smiling in the photo. Did someone tell her that it is not proper to smile at a stranger behind the camera? Or was it the weight of her husband's hand on her shoulder that made it difficult for her to relax and smile? By contrast, her husband, my grandfather, is a strapping, handsome young man in his early twenties with much to look forward to. I've heard a lot about his intelligence, his supposed brilliance as an academician. His legions of students who, almost 30 years since his demise, still talk about him with great awe. No achievement on that side of my family, particularly academic, goes without being credited to the grandfather's genes. Two generations down the line, the man's presence still looms large. And yet, so little of his wife is known.

I go back to look at her photo and I'm drawn to her face. It is deeply moving to think that I'm her direct descendant. Perhaps I inherited some of her traits. Her love for sweets. Her tendency to put on weight. Her stubborn nature. I will never know. And I will never be able to tell my children about it. But for now, I gather my son and show him the picture. This was my paati, I tell him. He seems vaguely interested and then runs away to play with his cars. But someday I will tell him that she had five children and that the last meal she cooked was a thogayal.

The 24 hour challenge

This should be tricky. But here's the idea first. You have to come up with a story in a day's time. I'll give you the theme or the opening line to a story. And you post your entry in the next 24 hours. I'll try to pose a new challenge every other day. And the most profilic and the most creative writer will be judged winner at the end of the month. A couple things to bear in mind. Please keep your stories short and please post them in the comment box. All clear? Good, we'll get rolling in the next few days.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A quick tale 200

Suniti said...

Wow! That was a great Ammani.

September 25, 2007 10:20 PM

Janaki said...

Why do all your stories haveto end like this always?

September 25, 2007 10:53 PM

Singer the minger said...

This reminds me of a short story by Sujatha. I think you are running out of ideas.

September 26, 2007 1:12 AM

Juvinile said...

Congrats on the 200 ammani. Uve dunnit in style.

September 26, 2007 5:50 AM

Pesidunit said...

[…]'ammani posts her 200th quick tale'[…]

September 26, 2007 8:07 AM

Blogeswari said...

Ada thoo! Idhu oru kadai. Idhukku ivlo comment! Kizhinjidu po!

September 26, 2007 12:45 PM

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September 26, 2007 2:56 PM

Anonymous said...

What is the point? I think this blog is highly over-rated. I prefer Nilu anyday. Where is theothernilu?

September 26, 2007 10:45 PM

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A quick tale 199

This is him

This is him. It was taken in 1984. When he was applying for a passport. The office was going to send him to a conference in Paris in a couple of months and he needed a passport pretty soon. He went to have his photo clicked on a Tuesday morning. I asked him if he could wait until the following day as everyone knows Tuesdays are not auspicious. He chided me for being so superstitious and left for the studio. The photographer told him that he should be wearing something dark coloured and so he rushed home to change. He's wearing a deep blue coloured shirt but you wouldn't know that because it's a black and white photo. It cost him 20 rupees for 6 copies and an extra 4 rupees for the negative. I laughed when I first saw the photo because he looked so grim in it. As if the doctor had just delivered some very bad news. He was annoyed when he saw me laughing and told me that only fools grin stupidly at a camera. We stuck 4 copies onto the application form and enclosed a loose copy with it. I don't know where the negative went. But I've kept the 6th copy in my mani-purse.

He was diagnosed last June and they said that he was already in stage 3. He passed away in August. At least he didn't suffer for long. Sometimes when I open my purse to pay the milkman or the vegetable vendor, I wonder if I will only remember him as the man with the severe expression from that photo. Of course I won't. I have wonderful memories from all those years together. Some of the best ones were never captured on camera.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A quick tale 198

Brindavan Express

There’s something wrong with her, I thought to myself as the elderly woman strode past me for the tenth time in the last five minutes. I watched her as she walked down the length of our train carriage. She reached the far end, turned around and started to come back. She must be 60 or 70, cannot tell for sure. She was one of those people who seemed to have been old for a really long time. Tight grey curls that had escaped the tiny grasp of a pony tail framed her evenly lined face. She wore a bright green saree and a matching blouse and appeared well-cared for. She was the kind of woman you would expect to bore you with details of her senior bank manager-son, her government-employee daughter-in-law, 16-year old grandson Rahul or Ajay who was studying hard to get in to a professional degree course and her 12-year old grand-daughter who had just become ‘a woman’. Except she did none of these. Her eyes looked vacant and she kept mumbling furiously as she marched up and down the train carriage purposefully.

Brindavan Express leaves Chennai at 7 am on weekday and stops at several small towns before reaching Bangalore just past noon. It’s favoured by city-dwellers who work in small outposts. Today was no exception and our carriage was packed with office-goers on their way to work. And they all seemed determined to ignore the oddly-behaved elderly woman in their midst. After watching her for another 20 minutes or so, and noticing no change in her behaviour, I decided to do something. Amma! I called out to her. She walked on by without registering my call. I followed her as I tried to get her attention. I was right behind her and when we reached the end of the carriage, she turned around and came face-to-face with me. She looked straight past me. Are you with someone, amma?, I asked. She didn’t seem to hear me. Amma? I repeated. Is your family with you? Son? Daughter? Somebody? She reacted with the same vacant expression. And I noticed something akin to panic flit past her eyes. I was keen to avoid a showdown so I let her pass.

By now, I had the attention of the entire carriage. Did anyone see her come with somebody? I asked out aloud. A few heads shook no. I went around asking the same question. And no one had seen her being accompanied by family. I spent the next half-an-hour walking along the train asking others if they were missing an elderly co-passenger. I returned to my carriage with a plan. I found out that the next big station was Katpadi Junction. I’m going to hand her over to the station master, I said out aloud to those in my carriage, and he should be able to do the needful. No one seemed to care what happened to her. They busied themselves with magazines, happy to have her taken off their hands.

At Katpadi, I alighted first and gently helped her get off the train. She didn’t resist and held on tightly to me like a child in a fairground. The station master’s office was a dark room with a fan whirring noisily somewhere in the ceiling. I explained the situation to him and he listened to me patiently. They had another case like this last month at Vyasarpadi, he told me, the family didn’t want to take care of the old man any more, so they let him wander. But what can we do? Anyway, leave her here. The lady constable has gone for her lunch break. Once she comes back, I’ll ask her to do something.

I was told that they would arrange for the old woman to be taken to Chennai where they would lodge a complaint in the missing people’s registry. If no one came forward to claim her in 30 days, she would be sent to some mental-health institution. I looked up at her still clinging to me like a little girl. I’m sorry, Amma, I said to her quietly, I cannot take care of you any more. This is probably better for you than living with us.

I heard the train whistle going up. I prised her fingers open and freed my arm. I started to run without turning back. Tears were flowing freely as I boarded the train. We should reach Bangalore in 3 hours’ time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In The Night Garden

It's official. We are addicted to this eerily surreal and refreshingly ridiculous offering from Cbeebies - yes, the same house of art that brought us such classics as Teletubbies and the unforgettable Balamory. Presenting In The Night Garden. Featuring Ickle-pickle, Upsy-daisy, Topplyboo, Ninkynonk, Pinkyponks, Ponty-pines and the slightly suggestively named Maka-Pakka. Please do not adjust your sets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This being the flavour of the month....

School Chale Hum!

Caught my eye

A couple of lovely posts that deserve a wider audience. One, in which Madura goes shopping (warning: adult content). And two, in which Ahiri urges the little 'uns to cover the planet with their footprints.

First day

The boy went in to school without so much as a look in our direction. We kept waving. In case he did.

Thanks so much Archana, Shyam, Shoefiend, a4isms, SS, Deepa, G3, Bubby, Naga Mama, WA and all others for writing in wishing the little one luck.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

For a son about to start school

Next week this time, it will be chaos around the house. Your dad and I will be running helter-skelter trying to get you ready in time for your first day at school. Like parents around the country, Appa and I will be making sure that your uniform are ironed, your lunch box packed, your shoes polished, your hair combed, your teeth brushed...my head swirls even as I think of all the chores to be done. And there are all the instructions we need to give you. Raise your hand when you need to use the toilet. Finish all your lunch. Don't play rough in the playground. Listen to what your teacher says. Don't talk during class...but despite all my worries, I'm excited for you. I don't see it as the end of a carefree chapter as much as the beginning of a significant period of your life.

Soon your days will be dictated by the school calendar. And you will settle into a comfortable routine of school days and weekends. Your vocabulary will swell and you will make new friends. You will learn to read and to write. You will be embarrassed of me and Appa and banish us from talking to your friends. For our part, we will dread going to the PTA meetings and we will pray that your teacher will have nothing to complain about your behaviour. There will be PE injuries and head lice to contend with. Lunch menus to think of. Summer uniforms to sort out. Holiday camps to enrol to...

But somewhere amidst the chaos of such tumultous change, I will miss our time together. All these years when I didn't have to share your days with the school. When I could let you stay awake and watch TV and not worry that you will wake up late for school the next morning. When we could go on a holiday in May because we felt like it. Or ride the local train on a Tuesday morning on a whim. I will miss you, kutty-ma.

And it's not going to be easy for us watching you go through the school gate for the first time. But we will walk away knowing that our little one is in safe hands. And will be running home to us in just over six hours' time.

Monday, August 27, 2007


This morning I was wondering what it is about the idli that I dislike it so much. Is it the endless rounds of preparation? Soaking, grinding, fermenting and THEN cooking? Or is it the idli's inherent frailty as a dish to stand on its own? Its constant dependency on something more pungent to support it? Or is it the idli's inoffensive, non-threatening, bland nature that it's suitable only for those under 2 or anyone recovering from a particularly unpleasant illness? I don't know. All I know is that I have never taken a liking to the steamed rice cake - the English description doesn't quite fit, does it? A bit like Pattu mami in pant-shirt, not right at all!

And there's more. Idlis are fussy old things. No ordinary pans would do. It'd have to be a special perforated idli plate. And it has to be cooked only for so long. Any more or any less and it's a toss up between rock and raw batter for breakfast. Idlis remind me of that ugly cousin who insisted that the girl he marry meet a 101 conditions. You just want to ask him to shove it and get on with it!

And it doesn't stop there. There's this whole side-business of chutnies and sambar to accompany the idli. After all, you can't serve the idli on its own!

Yet, there I was on the first morning of a bank holiday weekend, soaking three portions of idli rice to one of whole ulutham paruppu. Adding a teaspoon of vendayam. Returning in the evening to grind them to a smooth, lump-free batter. Seasoning with salt and tucking the half-full pot into a corner in the boiler room. Waking up in the middle of the night to see if there was enough room in the pot for the batter when it doubles in volume. And wondering, not for the first time, why I even got started.

I'll spare you the rest of the agonising steps in this recipe. The end result was less than fluffy and would rate about 6 on a Saravana Bhavan idli scale. Still, when we stuffed our faces with idlis and molagapodi and washed it down with a glass of buttermilk, I sensed smug satisfaction spread all over my being. For a brief while, I felt like an ideal wife. One who feeds her family idli for breakfast, not dried cereal or worse, bread! I felt one with all my sisters back in India and elsewhere who follow the idli ritual every week. It was an inexplicably deep connection. I even resolved to ask my idli-making friends for tips on how to better the batter.

I would be lying if I said that I dislike the idli less now. My distaste for it remains just as strong. But an idli every six months or so shouldn't hurt. Unless I dropped it accidentally on my foot and broke it - the foot, not the idli.

cross posted at chaipani

Friday, August 24, 2007

A quick tale 197

Libra 23 Sept-23 Oct

Since you no longer tell me about it. I have started reading your daily horoscope to find out how your day was.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A quick tale 196

An empty shell

Her aunt Rukmini had been specially summoned for the occasion. She has an auspicious touch, grandmother had insisted. Everything she's involved in, ends well. Gomathy herself had woken up early that morning. Earlier than usual, having been unable to sleep much of the previous night. Which is why, she would remark many years later pointing the photo to her grand daughter, I have those dark circles under my eyes. She couldn't tell her grand child about how Rukmini athai had smeared a good half-a-tub of kohl under her eyes in the name of warding off evil. And how she had run quietly to the bathroom to wipe it away. And how, because there was so much of it, she didn't manage to take it all off. Her grandchildren grew up in a world vastly different from her own and they would laugh at her old stories.

Gomathy had chosen her mother's deep blue silk saree and a matching blouse to go with it for the day. But someone had suggested that it would make her appear dark in the photograph. And everyone knew that nobody wanted a dark bride. So a pale orange chiffon saree that belonged to a neighbour had been picked instead. Gomathy's mother oiled and plaited her long hair, smoothing its wavy curls as she ran the comb down its length. She then tied a yellow ribbon at the end. Gomathy winced as her mother tugged out a few strands from the back of her head to hook a long string of jasmine flowers. Finally, her mother had taken her aside and dabbed a generous portion of Cuticura talcum powder on her face. Gomathy could still recall the sticky sweet smell of talcum powder as it mingled with the sweat from her mother's arm as she lifted it to use to the powder puff. A big round pottu, like a fullstop smack in the middle of her forehead, completed her make-up.

They had paraded, all four of them (three was an inauspicious number) - her parents, aunt and herself - to the most prominent studio in town. She was made to stand against the backdrop of a cloth curtain which had the image of a lush waterfall painted on it. The photographer had propped a papier-mache pillar which came up to her waist, for her to lean against. She rested her arm on it as if it were a short friend. The photographer then adjusted the lights in his studio this way and that way and she struggled to keep her eyes open as bright light beamed straight at her. Twice she batted her eyes just as the camera clicked and the photographer chided her for doing so. The third time her eyes leapt open, more in anxiety than anything else. It made her look surprised as if she had not been expecting to be photographed in that studio.

In the following months, the photo would be circulated among families with eligible young men. It would catch the eye of 24-year old government employee Jagannathan who thought Gomathy resembled a frightened doe. They would be marrried five months after the photo was taken. And it would recede to the far corners of Gomathy's trunk where it would lie undisturbed for several years.

This afternoon, Gomathy's 11-year old grand-daughter Lavanya was visiting her and she had wanted some old family photos for a school summer project. As Gomathy picked up the photo, she noticed how it had lost a lot of its detail, much like her memory. The waterfall in the background was barely distinct and the pillar by her side looked faintly ridiculous. Almost all the people associated with the photo were now dead and gone. Her time would come soon. And when she left, she would take with her the last remaining memories attached to the photo. Leaving behind the empty shell of an image. Here, said Gomathy handing the crispy thin photo to her grandchild, you can have this one. It's just an old photo of mine.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Be a soldier

I don't know what purpose war serves. I certainly don't know what the outcome of Kargil war was. But this post by Blogeswari who happened to be in Ladakh at the time of the war is a moving read. Even if the video is somewhat gushingly sentimental.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A quick tale 195

Coffee Malli

"Just one muzham, amma. You will be my first boni this morning, amma. "

"Such nice mallis! How much is one muzham?...That's too much! I don't know how people can afford flowers at such such rates! It's not as if people have jasmine growing in their gardens. Coming to think of it, who lives in a house with a garden these days? Not like in my time in Madurai, where we used to have seven beautiful malli creepers in our garden. Appa would make me and my sister water them every evening. I remember Amma used to deposit coffee powder from the previous day's filter at its roots. And Akka used to call it coffee malli. Not jaadi malli.

You know, our mallis were the most fragrant in our neighbourhood. Pankajam maami from two doors down the road would send her grand daughter on Thursdays with a small bowl to pick up the flowers. Amma would be furious. Tell your grandmother that there are mallis in the flower market as well, she would tell the little girl, before plucking out a few bruised ones from the creeper. And in summer! Aha! The creepers would be bent double under the weight of its flowers. Like a woman pregnant with twins at the end of her term! You should never count the buds, Amma used to say. They can hear you and they wither out. Every evening, she would pluck them and tie them into a dense garland using vaazhai naar. She would cut them into two equal halfs for akka and me to wear on our hair. We always fought over who had the longer share of the malli garland. Appa didn't like us wearing it long so that it fell in the front of our face. Like cheap filmstars, he would say. So we would wear it across the back of our head, pinned on either side. What? I told you...Five rupees for a muzham is too much...I can only pay you three. No? Four rupees fifty paisa is still too much. Three rupees or nothing. No, not even four rupees. Okay, okay. Fine then. Find somebody else. "

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I'm bored

Cannot remember the last time I read something on a blog that had me all abuzz. May be I'm not looking in the right places. All the blog aggregators (is that the right word?) seem to favour the tired old familiar few. So I'm turning to you. Please post link to a post which inspired you. Or atleast made you pause before you resumed sipping your coffee. It can be from any blog. Yours. Your best friend's. The dog's. Just drop the link in the comment box. And while you're at it, include while you love it. Thank you.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A quick tale 194

We were awkward at first but soon we were talking

How is it? she asks me. What? I demand even though I know exactly what she is referring to. Living abroad. What's it like? she asks again. She's always been like this. Wanting to know everything about you. There's a child like curiousity about her. That you almost forgive the intrusive nature of her questions. She hasn't changed much in the 17 years since I saw her last. Yes, there's the grey hair and the roundness that comes with motherhood. But other than that, she still reminds me of the best friend she once was to me. Which is probably why I spotted her straightaway at the airport yesterday. She had come to receive her brother and I was arriving on my biennial visit to my homeland. We were awkward at first but soon we were talking as if there had just been one long gap in our conversation.

I had married straight after college and had not really bothered to stay in touch with friends. Not even my best friend. So we had a lot to catch up. She suggested that we meet today. I stir my coffee and look up at her. She's still waiting for me to answer. Do I tell her about the crippling loneliness? Or the rounds of failed IVF? Do I tell about the fear the grips me whenever the phone goes off in the middle of the night? Do I confide in her my almost constant worry about aged parents left behind? I lower my eyes and watch the coffee swirl. It's good, I tell her. Life is good. I can feel the warmth of her envy as I lift my cup to my lips. I take a satisfactory sip.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thank you!

LAFTI would like to thank Janani Srinivasan (Canada) & Fatima Hyde (of Fashion Creaters, Bangalore) for their generous donations.
Thank you very much!

Cult of Bad Mama

Sticky post. Please scroll down for update on Virtual Coffee Mornings


Don't get me wrong. I don't object to motherhood per se. I certainly don't have a problem with all-sacrificing, 100% unadulterated love-incarnate, earth mother type motherhood either. My struggle is that that is the only kind of mothers I ever read about. The ones who spend their waking hours worrying about little Johnny's milk intolerance and blogging about how much poo little Sweety has deposited. I mean, where are all the real mothers? The ones who plonk their little ones in front of the telly so they may check out ex-boyfriends on orkut? The kind that sedate their non-coughing infant with Benadryl so that they can watch Sivaji in peace? The sort that secretly dream about adoption so that they don't have to go through morning-bloody-sickness again?

This is the blog for the less-than angelic mothers. The ones like me. Share your sordid stories here. The ones that are frowned upon elsewhere. Pour them out here. You are human after all. If you wish to remain anonymous, drop me a line at ammania@gmail and I will publish it for you. Come on, ladies. Join the cult. Yummy-mummies not allowed.

cross-posted at http://cultofbadmama.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Update

Dear All

It's been a week since the drive to raise funds for LAFTI was launched. I'm touched by your generosity. When I last spoke to LAFTI, they were not sure how much donations had been received. But promised to keep me posted as and when the cheques come through. The drive is by no means over. And you are always welcome to remember LAFTI whenever you have something to spare. Please make your donations to

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD to the Credit of Krishnammal Jegannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559.

If you wish to send cheques, please draw them in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to:
Vinoba Ashram
Nagapattinam district
Tamil Nadu
PINCODE 611 105
You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

Thank you!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 7

Story time

Use this image to tell me a story. Keep it short and please post it in the comment box. And don't forget to drop those coins in your coffee mug.

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD to the Credit of Krishnammal Jegannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559. If you wish to send cheques, please draw them in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to: LAFTI
Vinoba Ashram
Nagapattinam district
Tamil Nadu
PINCODE 611 105

You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

This is part of a series of contests I 'm hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next few days.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 6


How many words can you do with the following set of letters. Which one's the longest?
You can only use each letter once.


Please post your answers in the comment box. And don't forget to drop those coins in your coffee mug.To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jegannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559

If you wish to send cheques, please draw them in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to:
Vinoba Ashram
Nagapattinam district
Tamil Nadu
PINCODE 611 105
You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

This is part of a series of contests I 'm hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 5

A more regular quiz. Thanks, Chen for the questions.

1. Who read the Tamil News bulletin in All India Radio on 15th Aug1947 about India getting independence?

2. Microsoft was in bad shape in 1986. Bill Gates offered a stake inMS to another IT Company, which refused. Which company was that?

3. Who was the first person to make a film on Mahatma Gandhi? (No, it's not Richard Attenborough)

4. This company's share price was traded at Rs. 50,000.00 in BombayStock Exchange in 1865, a record that has not yet been broken. Which company are we talking about?

5. The Chola King Rajendra Chola is also known as 'kadaram kondan'-meaning he won over the city of Kadaram. What is this city called now? (this is googlable. So don't)

6. "It gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars wouldbe scratching their head." - Who said this about what?

7. Name the actor who acted in all three first talkie movies in Hindi,Tamil and Telugu.

8. Identify the groom

9. And one for the one I missed last time. Which blogger signs WA?

Post your answers in the comment box. And don't forget to drop those coins in your coffee mug.

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.
Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, IndiaSwift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559

If you wish to send cheques, please draw them in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to:
Vinoba Ashram,
Nagapattinam district,
Tamil Nadu.
PINCODE 611 105
You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

This is part of a series of contests I 'm hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

Contact Details for Lafti

Hello again
Many of you have written to me wondering what the postal address is for you to send cheques to. Please draw your cheques in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to:

Vinoba Ashram,
Nagapattinam district,
Tamil Nadu.
PINCODE 611 105

You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

Please note that Tamil is their preferred language of communication. Emails are responded to within a day or two. Thank you for your generosity!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meet Gambaloo!

Result from Contest 1

The boy has spoken. A name's chosen. Meet Gambaloo. Thank you Lightrain for suggesting it. Exceptional fame and unforseen fortunes await you. Thanks all for participating.

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 4


A more general quiz will follow. But for the moment, test your knowledge of desi blogs.

1. Which blogger is affectionately referred to as 'The King'?

2. Whose tagline is 'Cooking with consciousness'?

3. Identify this lady blogger.

4. Whose blog was awarded the Best Topical Indiblog at the Indibloggies 2005?

5. What is Nilu's alter ego called?

6. Who are the founders of Desipundit?

7. Who refers to her children as the Brat and the Bean?

8. What major change happened in one of India's top blogs on the 15th of February 2007?

9. What is common to mumbaigirl, shoefiend, 30in2005 and Neha Vishwanathan?

10. Identify the blogger whose journey went - Tamirabharani to Thames via Cooum.

Post your answers in the comment box. And don't forget to drop those coins in your coffee mug.

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India.

Here are their bank details.
Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559

This is part of a series of contests I 'm hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

LAFTI - contact details


Many of you have written to me wondering what other form of payments LAFTI will accept. Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to that. I have reccomended paypal but they seem unsure how to set it up. You can contact them directly at:

Phone: 0091 4366-275443 and 275540.
E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

Please note that Tamil is their preferred language of communication and email responses are usually delayed by a day or two.

Thank you for your generosity.

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 3


You are stuck on a sinking boat. Along with Rajinikanth, Shahrukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar. But there's only one lifejacket.

Kanna, this lifejacket is mine. Why? Why? Why? you ask. Because I am the one and only superstar and if I die whose cut outs will my fans worship, I say? he demands and with a flick of his hair, he salutes everyone goodbye and is about to slip into the lifejacket. But Shahrukh stops him in his path. N-n-n-no, Rajini-saar, he argues, the lifejacket should be mine. I am afterall the overactor of them all. If I die, Kaun Banega Crorepati?

But just as Shahrukh is about to grab the lifejacket from Rajini, a twirling cricket bat stops them both. Nahin, cries a pre-pubescent voice, this lifejacket belongs to me. I'm the last remaining cricketing hero of this nation, says Sachin, if I die, what will happen to all my sponsors? Soon, a tussle breaks out among the three of them. Now it's your turn to argue why the lifejacket should be yours. Make it quick, because water is seeping into your boat and you don't have long to go.

But who wins the lifejacket? Winner announced in a couple of days.

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank

Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559

This is part of a series of contests I 'm hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 2

Rajini wants Punch Dialaak

In his next film Vinnveli - The Space, Rajini is born into a poor family and studies under the starlit sky. He grows up fascinated with space and one day, while on a holiday in Morocco, he comes across a poster from NASA asking for astronauts. Rajini breaks a coconaut in nearby Egypt's famous Pillayar Kovil and goes to America to become astronaut. But very bad American conspiracy against Indian people denies Rajini his chance in space.

Flying back to India, Rajini notices vast expanse of mountainous uninhabited territory and he decides to stop there for some rest and recovery. So he asks the pilot to drop him off at the nearest mountain top. When he steps off the plane, he is stunned by the sight that confronts him. Cages upon cages packed with writhing, struggling human beings. Rajini realises that this is another of America's plan for global domination. America has been enticing bright and famous people of other countries with offers of space travel, rounding them off and putting them in prison in that remote territory. How can Rajini allow a travesty of such monumental proportions to carry on? Rajini bristles in righteous indignation and a cunning plan forms in his mind. How he takes on the might of America single-handedly and restores peace and intelligence in the the world forms the rest of the story.

So what do you have to do? Suggest good punch dialogues that Rajini will utter in the course of Vinnveli - The Space. The winner will be announced on this blog in a couple of days' time. Go on, get started. Oru daravai sonna...

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan
AccountNumber : SB 5559

This is part of a series of contests I will be hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

Virtual Coffee Mornings - Contest 1

Teddy No Name

Meet Teddy. He has two eyes, two large ears, a few paint stains, some dirt from being played roughly with. But no name. And he is looking to you to suggest one. The sillier the better. This contest will be open for one day only. So send your entry straightaway by posting it in the comment box. The best one will be chosen by Jikku, the boy and announced on this blog. Now, can you really resist that?

To participate, all you need to do is place a coffee mug (preferably clean) next to your computer. And once you have entered a contest, drop some small change into it. At the end of the week, collect the coins (hopefully some notes too) and send them to LAFTI in India. Here are their bank details.

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank

Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India

Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD

To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan

AccountNumber : SB 5559

This is the first in the series of contests I will be hosting to raise funds for LAFTI. The organisation will help women buy seeds so they may cultivate their lands within the next 10 days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Virtual Coffee Mornings in aid of Lafti

Krishnammal, a wonderful woman who runs Lafti, has helped secure close to 1061 acres to landless women in India. She has now asked me and others for help with seeds for the women to sow in their lands. The rains are very nearly there and the lands need to be cultivated in less than 10 days. I need your support in helping them.

Here's what I propose to do. Virtual Coffee Mornings. It's really quite simple. To participate, you need to place a little coffee mug next to your computer. Every day for the next week or so, I'll be posting various little contests. And each time you take part, you drop some small change into the mug. And at the end of the week, you count it all up and send it to Krishnammal in India. Their bank details are

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jegannathan
Account Number : SB 5559

You could send your cheques, drawn in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan to:

Vinoba Ashram
Nagapattinam district
Tamil Nadu.
PINCODE 611 105.

You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

Krishnammal's extraordinary life story can be found here. Details of the organisation she helps run can be found here.

Why not hold your own Coffee Mornings on your blog? If you do, then please alert me at ammania@gmail.com so I may link to you. Thank you.



A most inspiring lady. I got an email from her today asking for help. Not for her. But for some other women. Who need money to buy seeds. The rains have come but they have nothing to sow on their lands. Would you help me? she pleads. She shouldn't be pleading. She's very old and worked very hard for much of her life for others. I have some friends, I told her. May be together, we can do something. But there's only 10 days before they have to start cultivation, she stresses. I'll see what we can do, I say.

The cost of seeds per acre is Rs.500/- (10 Euros). With a 100 Euros, 10 landless women will be benefited. Any contribution, however small, will be most welcome. The bank details are

Name of the Bank : Federal Bank
Address : Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, India
Swift Code : FDRL – INBB – IBD
To the Credit of Krishnammal Jagannathan
Account Number : SB 5559

If you wish to send cheques, please draw them in favour of Krishnammal Jegannathan and send them to:


Vinoba Ashram


Nagapattinam district

Tamil Nadu


PINCODE 611 105

You may reach them at 00914366-275443 and 275540. E-mail: laftitngsm@yahoo.co.in

Krishnammal's story is here. Details of the organisation she runs can be found here.

p.s. I will soon be running a fundraising effort of some sort. Once I figure out what. Meanwhile, if you have an idea, then please write to me at ammania@gmail.com Thank you!

New kid on the blog


Memories of food


We had Maggi for dinner last night. I bet every Indian of a certain generation (ahem!) has a Maggi story to tell. It could be about a cousin who loved to eat raw Maggi or that cute child next door who resembled the Maggi girl from that 2-minute noodles advert. I remember when it was first launched in India. We were all given free samples at school and I brought mine home (my brother had eaten his share raw during lunch break). My mother demanded if it was vegetarian. If I was sure, absolutely, 100% certain and only after I had sworn on my sister’s life (better hers than mine!) she let it inside the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, the pack was opened, examined, its contents sniffed, inspected, held up against the sunlight and even passed through the x-ray machine. Finally, when it had cleared all of Pattu maami's stringent and demanding tests satisfactorily, the green signal was given. There was a tremendous sense of occasion as we watched Gomathy mami heat up a vaanali, pour a generous ladle of oil and throw in some mustard seeds, ulutham paruppu and kariveppilai. A minute later, finely chopped onions were added and sautéed. She poured some water, covered the pot and let it come to a boil. She paused for a moment debating whether or not to touch the offending noodles with her bare hands. She closed her eyes and sought pardon from the gods for what she was about to do. Then slid her hands inside the pack, brought out the brittle noodles and dropped them gingerly into the pot. You’d have thought we were at a Michael Jackson concert the way we jostled for a vantage point from which to view the noodles being cooked. They squiggled and wriggled and swam in the sauce. I was no longer sure that it wasn’t meat and looked at my sister on whose life I had sworn that it was vegetarian. She was alive and that could only mean I was right. I was relieved and returned my attention to where the action was.

Gomathy mami had turned off the hob and had spooned out the noodles into our quiveringly held plates. I scooped a spoonful and stuck a slippery eel of a noodle cluster into my mouth. The strings of noodles dangling outside my mouth were expertly sucked in. And this soon caught on as we each picked up a noodle strand and vacuumed them in. Gomathy mami and the rest of the household watched on with horrified fascination. How does it taste? Is it soft to the bite? What does it feel like as it worms its way down your throat? they demanded to know. But our vocabulary was not yet fully developed to descibe the wonders of instant noodles. So we nodded our heads and said that it was delicious.

Soon thereafter Maggi became a regular in the household and a few years later, I started cooking it myself. Often making inspired variations. Like adding a spoonful of sambar or eating it with mango pickle. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it flopped miserably. But for the first time, I found confidence in my cooking and realised that I wasn’t fussy when it came to food and was willing to try different combinations.

Last night’s dinner was delicious. Perhaps it was the addition of tender vegetables to the usual. Perhaps it was the Maggi stories we were sharing across the table. I cannot tell.

Cross-posted here

Friday, July 06, 2007

Collectibles 3

Next lot! As ever, I ask a question and you post your answer in the comment box. Try and keep them honest.

3. Which item of your household do you misplace most often and swear to remember where you put them the next time?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Collectibles 2

My question and your honest answer. We collect them.

2. When was the last time you said to yourself 'God, I'm turning into my parent!'.

Please post answers in the comment box. Thank you!

A quick tale 193

My aunt has diabetes

You see, that's the trouble with people you know slightly. Those you know well, you can sit and talk for hours. And those who are strangers, you can ignore completely. But those inbetween, the ones you sort-of know, as a passing acquaintance, they are the ones who are most difficult to handle. And I was stuck with one such on a train journey.

She was my aunt's neighbour and I had met her a couple of times before. Very very briefly. But no sooner had I settled down in my seat than she started wondering aloud where she knew me from. Once we had established our route to acquaintanceship, we then carried on talking about our mutual link. My aunt. After I had told her about my aunt's recent widowhood (at which she tutted duly) and her ongoing struggle with diabetes and weight (more tutting), there was little to do. So I asked her about her family and if she had any aunts that I may have lived next door to. Now there was even less to discuss. We fell into a merciful though somewhat awkward silence.

Later when she bought coffee from the vendor, she offered to buy me a cup. I said I didn't drink tea or coffee. And when I brought out my lunch packet, I offered to share it with her. It appeared she had already had her lunch. More silence ensued during which I wondered what to talk about next. I asked her if she had seen the latest blockbuster movie. It seems she didn't watch movies. She wondered if I listened to classical music. Only movie songs, I replied. After enquiring about interests in cricket and politics, I realised we had exhausted all possible topics of civil conversation. Religion was too personal and I didn't know her well enough to enquire if she had any illnesses she would like to discuss.

Our ordeal came to an end when the train reached its destination half-an-hour later. Finally, as we got off the train, I insisted that we stay in touch. I gave her my number and she duly took it down. My number had an extra '0' in it and she jotted it on piece of scrap paper.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Absurbia 3

Dog in the cricket ground
God doing the ticket rounds
Man is not allowed.
But you've let a dog. Into the cricket ground.

Nonsense, I know. Post your silly version in the comment box. Anything goes, really.
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Sunday, July 01, 2007

A quick tale 192

When something bright caught his eye

This is the story of a man who is out one morning on a leisurely jog. Now, at first glance he is not the sort of man who is likely to be out jogging. Or indeed the second or the third glance. Which is why, the man is out-of-breath five or six minutes into his jog and he leans against a pillar to regain his breath. Which is when it catches his eye. Something small and shiny and no bigger than a coin. Which indeed it was. A 5p coin. His lucky penny. With somewhat considerable effort, the man bends down and picked the coin up. This is a sign, he's convinced. Why else would it reveal itself to him? There must be a reason why he stopped mid-jog at that precise spot. And that reason is nestled in his plump palm. May be the coin meant that he would bag the order that was pending for a month. Perhaps that bargain plasma tv that he was bidding for on ebay would be his. His mind is buzzing with possibilities when it occurs to him that he was already quite lucky. A wonderful family, two holidays a year, regular pay rises, a mortgage that will be paid off in 6 short years. In fact, except for a mild case of alopecia and that bit of extra weight he was carrying around his stomach, he has very few complaints. The man hated it when such perfectly reasonable thoughts interrupt his mild euphoria (he was the kind of person who, for no apparent reason, remembered dying children in Darfur while watching Lewis Hamilton celebrate at the podium). So with a sigh the man tosses the coin back into dusty sidewalk. For someone less lucky to find it. He just hopes they weren't bidding for the same plasma tv.


Yet another new series! Here's how this one works. I ask a question and you write in with your honest answer. And we make a collection of it. May be even move it to its own blog. Okay, here goes.

1. When do you go, 'How many times have I told him/her? When will this man/woman ever learn?'

Friday, June 29, 2007

A quick tale 191

This morning at breakfast

You will not believe it, but she has been thinking about it since Tuesday evening. In fact, shortly before you came home from work that day and just after the kids had finished their homework, she went into the kitchen to soak the lentils. And just after the dinner table was cleared, she had second thoughts about the amount of rice in the mixture and added quarter-of-a-cup more. The next morning, she went in to see if the pulses had soaked though and as soon as you were out of the house, she drained the water and ground the lentils and rice to a soft paste. This was not easy as the blade in the grinder had gone blunt. So she poured the batter back into a pot and unscrewed the blade from the grinder and replaced it with the spare one. This time the batter turned out smooth with no lumps or bumps. Satisfied with the result, she left the pot in the far corner of the kitchen to ferment.

This morning, she woke up 20 minutes before her usual time to get the accompanying chutneys ready for breakfast. The results are there in front of you. Steaming hot and straight off the pan. You wolf it down as you skim through the newspaper. I know you're pre-occupied with that client meeting this morning. But before you go, tell her that it was really nice. She will probably dismiss it with a wave of a hand. But after you're gone, she'll break into a smile. Brighter than the morning sun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A quick tale 190

When you started eyeing her bags

Can you keep an eye on my bags while I nip to the loo?, she asks you as she squiggles her way across the crowded compartment. You have barely known each other for ten minutes. You helped her haul her luggage into the train compartment. She thanked you and then settled into her seat across from you. She asked you where you were headed and then confirmed that that was her destination as well. That's how far your acquaintance has been with this woman. And now she wants you to look after her bag. You've got that kind of a face. One that readily evokes trust in people. In the past you have been given house keys by your neighbours and been asked to water the plants or to feed the budgies while they were away on holiday. The plants always died and the budgies invariably 'eaten' by cats. And some odd trinket from here and there went missing. Which of course, no one really noticed.

The woman has been gone for less than a minute when you start surveying her bags. From where you are sitting, you can only see them partially. There are three bags in varying sizes. The large one is tucked way back under the seat and the two smaller ones sit flanked on either side. Your eye falls on the small red bag on the right. It looks promising. The bulge in the middle seems to suggest that it contains something of worth. Perhaps a gift. May be something electronic. You only have to pretend to drop something on the floor and grab the bag as you gather your stuff. It will be over in a blink and no one will suspect anything. The question then is, what will you do with it? You cannot jump out of a running train. But if you wait till the next station, you risk running into the owner. The down side to the plan is that there's every chance that the contents will turn out to be a dud. What if the bag contains besan ladoo or something? You'd have risked life and limb for flour balls.

While such conflicting thoughts criss-cross your mind, the lady returns from the loo. She thanks you for safe-guarding her possessions and proceeds to settle down in her seat. And that's when it hits you. It has nothing to do with trust. Your abject inability to carry out a simple theft could well have been tattooed on your face. Presently, she bends down, reaches for the red bag and asks you if you'd like something to eat. You politely refuse her offer and watch her as she opens the bag and bring out a box full of ladoos.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Absurbia 2

A story in 3 acts

At first,
Dirty shoes
Clean carpet.

And then,
Dirty carpet
Clean shoes.

But finally,
Dirty carpet
Dirty shoes.

Write your own absurbious entry based on the photo above. Caption, poem, story, recipe...anything goes. Post it in the comment box. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


dead bird in the garden
bed gird on the bar den
ban turd in durban
bad turn in turban

Perhaps another new series. Send me your take on the photo above. Anything goes. Just post it in the comment box. Thanks!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is this a tale?

Perhaps a new series
- a

In my bag. Two ball-point pens. A greeting card with no message written on it. Instructions for an mp3 player. Four CDs. Bills from lunch time. Parking permit to the gym. A notepad with phone numbers but no names. A slew of business cards. Hairbrush. A jingle of keys. Anti-histamine tablets. Lipstick past its expiry date. Two chewing gums. Train ticket from last Saturday. Sanitary napkin. And a mobile phone. With a missed call. From you.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Not another quick tale

I don't know why I was thinking about you today. Your birthday is only in November. And that day is not until August. It must be because of the song I was listening to. Not the one with your name. But the one that we used to sing together. The one that you would sing hopelessly off-key. The one I teased you so badly about. And that was not the only thing I used to tease you about. The way you used to stutter mildly before each sentence. The way you scratched your head often. The way your hair curled into tight rings. Just about everything was a reason to taunt.

How could I forget that day when we went to the beach and I demanded that you return the dress you were wearing because it belonged to me? Yes, right then and there. I wanted my dress back. And yet, you kept your head about you. You just ignored me like you always did. And that infuriated me even more. I tugged and pulled at the dress. You continued to ignore me. How I tortured you! That I was only 8 or 9 years old then was no excuse. Looking back I'm shocked at how my behaviour was allowed to go on.

Luckily, you didn't have to suffer me for too long. And after a couple of years with us, you went back to living with your parents - my aunt and uncle - in that remote northern town. And we met only during holidays. Until that year, when we were both 16 years old. I still remember being woken up in the middle of the night and being asked to pray. You had contracted meningitis and were in a critical condition in the hospital. And collective prayers alone could save you. Sadly that was not enough and you succumbed to the disease. After that, whenever I saw your mother, I was weighed down with inexplicable guilt. She would see me and burst into tears. You too would have been going to college. You too would have started working. And like my mother, she too would have been looking out for a suitable groom for her daughter. I was a constant reminder of the life that her daughter was so cruelly denied.

But the real reason I'm writing to you is because I'm a mother now and I fear for my child. You know what they say about the sins of the parents coming back to haunt their kids. And I often worry that there's a bully waiting to get my son.

I know I didn't say it when it mattered. But I'm saying it now. I'm sorry for what I did. I really am.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A quick tale 189

When your lower lip was quivering.

No, don't. I didn't know how to say it over the phone. But now you're here, sitting in front of me, looking into your coffee mug, and wiping your tears, pretending as if dust has fallen into your eyes. I get the feeling that I have to say it now or I will never get a chance. You see, you called me up this afternoon and asked me if we could meet. We don't know each other that well and frankly, I was surprised to hear from you. I wanted to excuse myself but your voice sounded distraught and I heard myself agreeing.

I look at you, sitting across from me and I don't like the way things are looking. I get the feeling that you're just about confide in me. No, please don't. Your lower lip is quivering. I know you're just going over the words in your mind. Rehearsing your secret. Soon, you will blurt it out. Something from a dark past. May be something sexual. Perhaps something that happened to you as a kid. I can feel it. You're just about to burden me with your secret. Something I can then never get rid of. I will immediately become a member of your close circle. And you will expect me to tell you all that is troubling my heart. All my embarrassing illnesses.

What I'm about to say may shock you, you begin. Oh dear. Thankfully, my phone goes off. It's my office. They want me back urgently regarding a report that is due on Friday. I get up, my coffee barely sipped. I have to go, I tell you. Disappointment spills out of your eyes. I grab your hands and promise to call later. As I walk away, I look back at you. I'm sorry, I say. Even if you can't hear it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A quick tale 188

One day on the train to Bangalore

She must be no older than 18. Or 20, at the most. Her eyes are slumped into a hollow, her cheeks tired and shallow. The child on her waist is perhaps too wasted to even cry. You spot her in the far corner as she makes her way across the train carriage holding her hand out for some spare change. You can never decide whether or not to tip beggars. Sometimes you feel guilty and drop a few coins into the outstretched palm and quickly look away. On other days you remember the article in India Today that talked about organised criminal networks behind the begging mafia. You look up at her and note that she is fast approaching you. You don't have long to make up your mind. She could be your daughter. Heck, she could have been you but for a quirk of fate. But then again, she is young, she is able-bodied. Surely, she could find some respectable work. Or perhaps, she is forced into begging by her drunkard husband. Who may beat her tonight if she doesn't bring home enough. So then, why doesn't she leave him and fend for herself? Surely, it cannot be worse than suffering an abusive husband. But if she did, she would become poor and destitute. At least now, she has a man to call her own.

She is standing in front of you now. Her palm upturned. Pleading with you to find a few coins in your pocket. You don't raise your eyes. Your nose is buried in the book in your hand. The man next to you drops some small change. You hear them clink as she moves away. You feel a pair of eyes boring into you. As if to say, how heartless can you be? I'm a kind and generous person, you want to scream. You should see me when elderly beggars approac. But instead, you immerse yourself in the pages. You wish the novel was deeply engrossing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A quick tale 187

Same song

I had forgotten all about 'us'. The heady giddiness of our love. And all that. Until this morning when I heard 'our' song. A song we had simply claimed ours because it suited our mood, our season. I marvelled at how dramatic we had been in our proclamations. I wondered, just fleetingly, if you ever heard the song and remembered me. May be as you tuned the radio on your way to work one morning. As the last strains of the song seeped in, do you pause before you start the car? Do you raise your eyebrows like you used to and shake your head as you recalled those days? Do you close your eyes, rest your head on the steering wheel and wonder, just briefly, where I might be? Or if I have tuned into the same station, perhaps?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A quick tale 186

When her steely resolve melted

She can remember the last time it happened. 20th August 2001. It was exactly two days before she found out about calories and suchlike. Ever since she learnt that she would have to powerwalk for 35 minutes to burn the calories from one vadai, she hasn't touched one. Of course, she has the odd bite (more like a smidgen of a crumb of a bite) every now and then. But straightaway she would start to walk furiously until she was satisfied that the offending crumb had been sweated off. And her body had been restored to its pre-vadai caloric state.

That was until today when she visited her sister-in-law who, as it often happens in stories likes this, was frying masal vadais for tiffin. Go on, have one, urged the sister-in-law, as she placed a plate of deliciously golden vadais in front of her. You can always exercise later, she suggested. Under such compulsion, our lady's steely resolve melted and she found herself biting into a vadai. It was as if the years of denial had finally taken their toll and the floodgates burst open. Before she knew it, she was having a second, a third, a fourth...she had cleaned out a plateful of vadais. Two thousand eight hundred calories in all! She would have to run for seven hours non-stop to burn off all the calories. And that was never going to happen. She thought about it for a moment, let out a long burp, patted her stomach and asked her host if she had some sambar to wash down the vadais.