What I miss the most about Ganpati

He has gone, and has left behind a deep sense of emptiness. As a true blood Mumbaikar of 30 years, I have amalgamated the celebratory culture and spirit of the city. How will I not?

For eleven days, the nondescript residential society where I live transformed into a glittering performance arena.  The cars lining both sides of the main road in the society made way for a huge mandap. At the far end, in an enclosure, sat the reigning deity in whose honour, the performances were offered.  Each day of the festival was a bonanza waiting to be unwrapped, and you could not miss the heightened anticipation in the Lord’s merciful eyes.

The loudspeaker, every now and then, interrupted Salman Khan’s aaj doob jaun teri aankhon ke ocean mein, to urge residents to come down from their homes to grab the best seats in the house.

On day one, when the curtains went up to Lata Mangeshkar’s signature “Sukh karta, dukh harta”, piety hung heavily in the air. The fleeting solemnity was soon replaced by thumping music that announced the start of the revelry. As always, the itinerary started with performances by children. Cute little cherubs were shoved onto the stage by eager beavers in the guise of parents. Watching the performers, who have barely transitioned from monosyllables, mouth precocious patriotic spiel, was moving – to the mother, who stood in the corner of the stage, dabbing her tears of joy. Fathers had been strictly instructed to wield the camera.

The high point of the festivity was when not one, but a dozen Sri Devis descended on the stage holding up their right arms to mere haathon mein nau nau choodiyan. I recognised the aunty in the flaming red ghagra. Every morning, without fail, she sprinkles me with water as I step out under the plants in her balcony to make my way to the car.  That evening had the largest turnout of spectators. Seats were taken early, leaving the rest to take vantage positions from where they stood and watched the greatest show on earth.

Next to arrive on the stage were all the bathroom singers of the society. Each year, this is their day of reckoning. I could now put a face to the mein zindagi ka saath nibha tha chalagaya, that makes me rush through my shower each morning. One after the other, they belted out their favourite numbers. Since the occasion was religious (you forgot?), the audience refrained from cursing out aloud. After all, isn’t tolerance one of Lord Ganesha’s virtues? He leads by example. He hears more than double the decibel we hear, given the size of his ears, and yet, he tolerates.

The 11-day festivity had something for everyone. A case in point is the “thread the needle” contest. The bunch of senior citizens who claims all the benches in the garden in the evenings was enticed by the promise of gifts to participate. They sat on chairs, their eyes peering through spectacles, their fingers barely able to hold the thread and needle in place. The organisers of the contest stood over them cheering vociferously, and then a prize was announced for the one who brought the thread the closest to the needle.  Camouflaged sadism. I was beaming because the winner was my mother-in-law.

The Healthy Baby Contest was a private affair that had been given a public platform. All eyes were on the mothers holding the flailing limbs. Wails resounded in the mandap, as the judges (the friendly neighbourhood lawyer, doctor, and teacher) made the delicate decision. It’s always a make or break situation for them – neighbourly courtesies and civility from the next day onwards hinge precariously on the judgements they proclaim that evening. Many friendships have been sacrificed at the altar of the healthy baby contest at Ganpati mandaps.

On the eve of his departure, was the grand finale. An event that the Lord had been waiting for with bated breath – the Fashion show and the accompanying swag. This year, the theme was “Jodi No. 1.”  It was for couples to take part. It was for couples above 40 years of age. The toe-tapping Jalwa from Fashion boomed in the background as the couples stepped onto the make-shift ramp. The first man and woman were residents of the flat above mine. They were renowned for not paying their society dues since the last five years. I did not clap for them.

On the evening of the 11th day, the Lord was bid farewell. He was paraded haltingly. The two-minute distance from the mandap to the main gate was covered in 2 hours to the accompaniment of the zingat song and the likes of tera dhyan kidhar hai, yeh tera hero idhar hai. Frenzied dancers surrounded him. It was almost as if the cavalcade was making one last-ditch attempt to impress him with their talent, just in case he had missed the point in the last eleven days.

And then at the final adieu was the promise of more…pudhchya varshi laukar ya!

It’s two days since he has left. The society is steeped in stony silence. We go about our sad lives, grieving the return to mediocrity. The dancers have shed off their talent, and stuffed it up in the attic. The bathroom singers are back.

pic courtesy: Google images

When books sorted us


img_0372The long-pending task of sorting out our bookshelf turned into a therapy session of sorts, where instead of my husband (a process-driven, task-oriented man) and me (haphazard and always wearing my heart on my sleeve), sorting out the books, the books sorted us.

The morning cuppa this Sunday is a little different from the other Sundays’. We are not looking out of the window, or reading out the news headlines from behind the newspapers. We are both looking at the expansive 20-foot long bookshelf that runs along the longest wall of our living room.

The bookshelf was introduced to the family five years ago after a long and tedious discussion with a carpenter whose first and lasting impression of us was of a crazy couple fussing over a row of wooden planks. When the bookshelf was new and untouched, we spent hours deciding which books go where. We lovingly stacked them by titles and by genres. The paperbacked ones were distinctly placed away from the hard-bounds. Friends, such as Shakespeare and Shaw were a shelf above the nodding acquaintances – Saki, Gabriel Garcia Marquee.  Bringing up the rear were the strangers – soon to be friends.  We had painstakingly created labels for quick reference. I stand corrected – my husband had painstakingly created the labels on his laptop, printed them on coloured labels and stuck them neatly on the shelves. He ensured that the books were stacked in the ascending order of the height of their spines. As someone has said, “A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped to the foot.”

When the benevolent carpenter, who had come over to collect the balance payment, offered to help by picking up a random stack of books from the floor and pushing them into the first available free plank, he invited the wrath of my husband, and left home murmuring under his breath.

“You should not have shouted at him,” I said. “It was so rude.”

“I don’t care,” hubby said, pulling down the sinfully placed stack.

Since then, several books have been pulled out, new books have been wedged into the spaces in between. Many books, for lack of space, have been lying stacked on their sides, one on top of the other. Knick-knacks and souvenirs from our numerous travels have been pushed along the ledge of the planks. In short, the bookshelf was a total mess.

Right after tea, we get started. I start first, by pulling out the books from here and there.  Hubby has gone in to the study to fetch his laptop. When he returns, he is furious.

“Wait! Wait!” he yells. Let’s follow a pattern.”

Patterns are his thing, the lack of them, mine. The past twenty-five years of our married life were spent in patterning our future along a severe timeline. On the achievement of every goal, there was another one taking shape in the horizon. There was always something to work towards, to look forward to. I loved the dizzying frenzy of moving from one milestone to another. A couple on the go – that’s what we were known as in our social circles.  If you thought life was all about work and no play, you have another think coming! Our annual vacations were plenty and not too far apart. It was all planned to happen – two overseas vacations, two domestic. To everyone’s awe and envy, we stuck to the routine for years.

Until a few years ago, when my soul demanded a slowdown. I could not continue to live against my grain anymore. I was getting tired of the time-bound routines. The patterned life knocked the wind out of me.  Hubby slowly got accustomed to my disdain for routine. He slackened a bit on the planning and the patterning. But, when it became cumbersome for him, we decided to do things differently in our own spaces. He did his thing, and I mine. Often, we did the same things, differently. I began to live in the moment, and he happily planned his moment.

So, it is no surprise to either of us that today while he pores over his MS Excel sheet to understand the category of books on the shelves, I sit cross-legged in the middle of the piles of books and begin flipping pages. My pleasure comes from simply being in the midst of mellifluous words and provocative imagery. The books sit around me each vying for my attention.  Mocking Bird sits atop an Ignited Mind, while Sapiens shares floor space with Growing Up Bin Laden.  I open Wuthering Heights to a random page: “He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine.”

I look up from the page, and turn my dreamy eyes on my husband. His spectacles are perched on his nose and his fingers tap away on the keyboard of his laptop. Obviously, he is oblivious to the magic around him. But I do know that he is an ardent book lover, much more than I am.

“Listen,” I say.

I read out to him the passage from Wuthering Heights. I have his complete attention.

“Wow!” he says before returning his gaze to the screen in front of him.

A few minutes later, he says, “Listen to this.”

I look up from the book in my hand.  His laptop is placed on the floor away from him. A book has taken its place on his lap. He chuckles as he reads out.

 “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”

For the next ten minutes, Yuval Noah Harari sits in the midst of our ponderous discussion on his acclaimed opus – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

Soon, the scene in our living room has a makeover. Hubby sits with his back against the bookshelf, flipping through a book. I sit beside him, in the exact same manner, thumbing through a book. The only thing that punctuates the silence is one of us reading out a piece from the book in our hands. Or, when he lovingly asks, “some wine?”

By the time morning morphs into noon and after, we have met the very-tongue-in-cheek Jerry Pinto, the indefatigable P.G. Wodehouse, and the erudite Ram Charan.  Erma Bombeck keeps us in splits with her misadventures. Before we know it, we are as full-spirited as the full-bodied Shiraz we have not yet opened, and our bookshelf is bare.

Such is the magic spun by books – two distinctly disparate individuals could find intense commonality. In the words of Joyce Carol Oates, “reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.

We cast a glance at the books sprawled around us, and burst out laughing.  Within half an hour, the books are back on the shelves – some on their sides, others pushed into place in random order. The short ones and the tall ones stand next to each other in asymmetrical beauty. The knick-knacks hold the unruly books in place.

As I close the book on a wonderful day, there is only wish in my heart – May our shelves always overflow with books!

Pic courtesy: Google images





Schadenfreude – owner’s fall. Neighbour’s glee.

Tharoor has hit the head of the nail, verbatim. This time, his weapon of dissertation is Schadenfreude. Schadenfreude was born in Germany – the country of pinpoint precision. Schaden means damage or harm. Freude means joy or pleasure. Harm-Pleasure.  It means the malicious pleasure we derive from the bad things that happen to others, after they have caused us harm. Tharoor introduced us to the word while expressing his support to Chidambaram in his little escapade.

Tharoor’s usage has only helped to showcase the wide spread prevalence of Schadenfreude in Indian politics. Indian politics is a business that thrives on Schadenfreude.

Tamil Nadu’s political circus performers are known to trapeze back and forth on the swings of revenge.  When the reigning chief ministers, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha took turns at being the ringmasters, they let loose their Schadenfreude. When Jayalalitha was queen, she summoned Karunanidhi literally by the scruff of his collar and banished him to imprisonment. He languished there, plotting his move.  Har raat ki subah hoti hai, he kept chanting to himself (of course, in the Tamizh version). And rightly, when Amma’s term ended, and Karunanidhi took the reins in his restless hands, he pulled the shots. Amma went to prison to contemplate on her revenge. Schadenfreude with a Tamizh makkal twist!

Schadenfreude has also been the winning formula for celluloid blockbusters of the ‘70s.

It is the same Schadenfreude that was the single biggest contributor to the path breaking success of Bollywood’s legendary Sholay. Had Gabbar not nursed his Schadenfreude when in prison, he would not have demanded Thakur’s haath the instant he was released. And then Thakur would not have crafted the rest of the narrative with Jai and Veeru, and given us a devilish feast that we gorge on over and over again.

Wikipedia, the global guru, says: Schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone’s misfortune, it evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail. This emotion is displayed more in children than adults; however, adults also experience Schadenfreude, though generally concealed.

I contest the last line of the Wikipedia definition. Adults generally conceal their Schadenfreude orientations? No. it’s blatant, out there for everyone to see it.

When Chidambaram was in control, he hammered Amit Shah. Amit Shah, bid his time, all the time, building on the propensity of his Schadenfreude. And when the time was ripe, he struck, and how. Now, many in the Congress, who knew the inside story are on cloud 9, their Schadenfreude dancing merrily.

Turned on its head, Schadenfreude becomes even more relatable, as envy.  It is the reason we are unhappy when good things happen to others.  Dost first aajaaye toh zyada dukh hota hai, said one of Raju Hirani’s 3 idiots. Nothing can be closer to the truth.

Owner’s fall. Neighbour’s glee.

Why this kolaveri di?

There’s psychological research that has discovered three driving forces behind Schadenfreude: aggression, rivalry, and justice. Underlining all three is the sense of low self-esteem. The level of self-esteem influences the frequency and intensity of Schadenfreude.  Someone with low self-esteem is insecure and anyone more successful poses a threat to them. Seeing this successful person fall, can be extremely comforting.

Another dimension is when you are not alone in your troubles. Aha, the comfort in numbers. Well, knowing that your neighbour is worse off is not such an unpleasant thing, after all.

Of the three forces, I find justice to be more amusing. When something bad happens to someone who has hurt us, we look heavenward and say, “divine justice”. In truth, it’s our Schadenfreude doing a quick victory jig.

As Julie Mulhern quotes in The Deep End, “(About a woman’s funeral) Do you remember the part in The Wizard of Oz when the witch is dead and the Munchkins start singing? Think that kind of happiness. I swear every woman there was ready to break into song. Maybe a few of the men, too.”

The Japanese have a saying: “The misfortune of others tastes like honey.” The French speak of joie maligne, a diabolical delight in other people’s suffering.

According to a report in The Guardian, a study in Würzburg in Germany carried out in 2015 found that football fans smiled more quickly and broadly when their rival team missed a penalty, than when their own team scored. “To see others suffer does one good,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “This is a hard saying, but a mighty, human, all-too-human principle.”

The British claimed that there is no English word for Schadenfreude because that feeling does not exist amongst them. How wrong. Here’s evidence. “For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” proclaimed Mr Bennet in that most quintessentially English of novels, Pride and Prejudice.

As a race, humans enjoy the failures of others. It’s a human thing. As someone has said, Schadenfreude is wickedly nutritious.  It is the sweet joys of Schadenfreude that bind society together.

When we could not find a name for it in the Queen’s language, we turned to Schadenfreude, er…, to Tharoor.


pic courtesy: India Today images

The fault in our stars

Elections are underway across the country, and it is this time when larger-than-life celebrities descend from their celluloid screens onto political arenas.

As a nation, we breathe movies, we talk movies, we dance movies, we sing movies. Unemployment climbs to staggering heights, yet movie halls brim with die-hard fans.  Movies are to us what oxygen is to our bloodstream. Movies and politics are two sides of the same theatre in India. At curtain call, both put up an extravaganza of selling dreams.

Therefore, even our political canvas has a huge influence from the movies. The south of India has a reputation for making its celluloid heroes step right out of the screen and into the legislative assembly. We have this furtive hope in our hearts that a man who can say “poda rascala” and shoot down enemies by flicking a cigarette at them will deliver us from poverty, unemployment and debt. Years ago, M G Ramachandran ruled Tamil-speaking hearts through his histrionics on screen and continued to do so off-screen as the matinee-idol-turned Chief Minister. He took under his tutelage his romantic angle from the movies, Jayalalitha, who until recently reigned as the queen of Tamil Nadu politics.

Govinda, the boy from Virar, a distant suburb of Mumbai, danced his way into the hearts of his fans, and soon nursed political ambitions, alongside his disco dancer peer, Mithun Chakraborty. While Mithun became a Rajya Sabha member, Govinda contested on a Congress ticket and won by a decent margin. But, when his regular absence from Parliament kicked up a storm, he quit. His grouse: as if winning was not enough, they now want me to attend Parliament! His taunt, tujhe mirchi lagi toh mein kya karoon, boomeranged badly.

Much before him, Sunil Dutt, a veteran actor, debuted in politics and proved himself to be a good son of Mother India. From holding the position of Sheriff of Bombay in 1981, to joining the Congress party in 1984, he went on to become in 2004, India’s Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, a post he held until his death. He worked hard for the cause of the slum dwellers.

Not one to be left behind, the angry young man of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, aspired to spread his magic in the world of politics, and contested from Allahabad, and went on to a big win against stalwart Bahuguna. Soon enough, he called it quits when the Bofors issue threatened to put up a Deewar between him and his stellar movie reputation.

When it comes to elections, we Indians are known to carry our hearts on our sleeves. History is witness to the scripting of blockbusters off-screen as well.

Hema Malini, draped in her exquisite handlooms, prancing in the fields of Mathura, has a strong chance of reaping in the votes. Farmers, parched for a spark of excitement in life, find it too-good-to-be true to have the nation’s dream girl ride into their backyards atop a tractor. Going by the whopping win she had the last time, she Kent go wrong this time.

The newest entrant this year is the Rangeela girl – Urmila Matondkar.  “I am no longer Masoom,” screams her new persona as she smiles down from the front pages of tabloids that announce her acquisition of a Congress ticket. She is the party’s new hope in the North Mumbai constituency, where its image has been fading steadily.

In the past few years, the BJP has been consistently wooing celebrities into its ranks. At its Sampark se samarthan campaign recently, it extended invites to Madhuri Dixit and Lata Mangeshkar. While the former, although still striving to make an impressionable comeback to stardom, nay nay-ed the offer, the latter cooed a polite no.

Shotgun Sinha’s dalliance with politics has been quite steady now. Accustomed to moving from one production house to the other in the movie industry, he broke his allegiance with the BJP, and now espouses the cause of the Congress party, but not before he unKhamoshed and let out a spiel of fury aimed at his earlier home – the BJP.

While it’s obvious that film stars have a big fan following which results into big votes, do they make good politicians when elected?  Firstly, do they attend parliamentary activities? Do they ask appropriate questions or even take part in debates? Try as much as I want to, I find it impossible to imagine Hema Malini engage in discussions revolving around…aagh…the imagination refuses to budge any more. Does Urmila realise that smiling cutely does not resolve empowerment issues?

Jaya Prada, now a seasoned two-termer, is dipping her dainty toes in the BJP waters. Earlier she was a Samajwadi Party member, and now she shares star power in BJP along with Paresh Rawal and Hema Malini.  Latest news has it that Paresh Rawal has drawn the curtains on his political career. Perhaps, he realises the hera pheri here is a different monkey business. Even then, this time around, the BJP is flapping the most multi-starred banner.

The strategy is crystal clear. Party bigwigs know that celebrities are nothing more than big crowd pullers. If they can perform at weddings, why can’t they at the country’s biggest circus??

In the end, for the voters, elections offer three things: entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. What we forget is that unlike a three-hour escapade, this one’s an enduring sufferance.

Under the spell of mommy power

One day, mommy power stopped working. Just like that. In an instant.

The CT scan report in my hand quivered. But that was not why I could not re-read it for the third time. Tear-brimmed eyes don’t read well.

My 24 year-old son’s report screamed CANCER.

In the minutes that ticked by, I realised that it was possible to be dead, and still exist. And it was exactly at this moment that I could feel the slow but sure waning of mommy power.

This very mommy power that was unashamedly deserting me when I needed it the most, had been an elixir during my son’s growing up years.

There was never a time when I could not dive into the abundant repertoire of mommy power and emerge with an antidote to all my darling son’s tribulations.

Mom, my head is aching.

Mom, my tooth’s gone!

Mom, they won’t let me play.

Mom, I can’t sleep.

Mom, hold my hand, the pain will go.


A simple sneeze, or an unusual sounding sniff would have been enough for my antenna to go up and alert the mommy power.

A certain kind of look or even the slightest quiver in his voice over the phone, would send me on an exploratory journey for the cause.  And soon enough I would have a remedy.

But now, all of a sudden, I was stripped.  Powerless.  Helpless.

What could mommy power do in the face of an aggressive spread that challenged the very notion of time?

I held onto the last few strands of the power that were slipping through my fingers, and I turned to my son.

“We will deal with this,” I said.

Days turned into months as he lay on the hospital bed, and a flaming orange solution spread through him. Tufts of hair lay on the pillow long after he had got out of bed. His beautiful fingernails turned blackish, not very different from the colour of the fear that followed me every minute.

Yet, strangely, I was spending the best possible time with him. We were playing chess, words-building. We binged watched movies and shows. We read together. We laughed a lot. We looked up recipes and had the time of our lives in the kitchen.

At other times, we sat together, held hands and talked about our fears. As he spoke, and I listened, or as I spoke and he listened, I felt the slow homecoming of the mommy power.

The power that came back was very different from the earlier version. It turned me towards another power. A power beyond every other. I found solace and courage in prayer. The new mommy power taught me the humility of acceptance.  It smoothed off the sharp edges of my fear, and I became calm and collected.

A renewed energy of faith and trust coursed through my veins. My son sensed it, and appreciated it. To my supreme happiness, I saw the same feelings mirrored in him.

Mommy power was back, and how!

At the hospital, a couple of rooms away, a young lady was undergoing chemotherapy for a similar type of cancer. Our situations brought the families together, and we bonded well during the five months. Mother to a four-year old son, she would often be overwhelmed by anxiety and fear.

But on her good days, she would speak with a sense of affirmation. “I am going to be alright for the sake of my son.”

“I want my son to know in his grown-up years that his mom is a fighter.”

“I have promised my son to take him all over the world, and I will.”

Her latest scan is encouraging.

If this is not mommy power, then I don’t know what is.

Back to our lives, my mommy power in its new avatar is doing me good.  It is definitely doing well for my son.

“Keep the faith,” the power says to my grateful heart.








The Bond with Ruskin

Ruskin BondThe right birthday present in a set of inimitable books

“Please, no sarees,” Amma says emphatically as she adroitly pours the coffee back and forth in the tumbler until a nice froth evolves.

It is Sunday morning, a week ahead of her 77th birthday. My Sunday mornings typically start with a trip to Amma’s house, across the landing, for filter coffee. Incidentally, coffee at Amma’s is an institution, as it is in most thoroughbred Tamilian families. The aroma of fresh decoction wafts through pairs of thick doors to tickle my sleepy nostrils.

“No sarees please,” she repeats, fully aware that the first time she said so, my focus was on the coffee.

I don’t respond yet. Not because I am still focussed on the coffee, but because, seriously, I have run out of gift ideas. This mother-daughter duo has been gorging on Bengal tants and tangails for several years now. And the acquisition of these sarees is no longer a once-in-the-year phenomenon. All that glitters, including gold, is not our poison either.

Two things that we find excruciatingly painful to decline are books and the mountains. And, if we can have both of these at the same time, we are in our little piece of heaven. While Appa spends his days tinkering with Silicon Valley’s gifts to the world, Amma sits by the window in her favourite upright chair with her feet placed on a pouffe made specifically for the purpose. Every now and then she raises her head from the page she’s reading and stares out of the window – a habit that resonates with most readers. Oftentimes, the poignancy of a word or two is so powerful that you have to look away to recover.

Somewhere between sipping coffee and turning a page, age stealthily crept up on her. Well, that’s not true, but how I wish it were. In Amma’s case, age descended upon her in a ruthless onslaught. Using an armoury of arthritis, sciatica, vertigo, hearing loss, hypertension and dental problems, age took over in a fell swoop. Pain became an unwanted companion, rendering her fit to travel to the mountains only through Nat Geo and Discovery channels.

Books have remained loyal, even though it takes exceedingly long before she turns a page.

Amma’s ‘no-saree’ injunction is a no-brainer. She is pointedly asking for books as her 77th birthday gift. No it’s not as easy as you think it is. What book do you get one who reads Tamil and English almost at the same pace, has more books than clothes on her shelves and yet-to-be-unpacked cardboard boxes?

Appa’s enthusiastic suggestion, ‘Kindle!’, is maliciously turned down with a whittling stare from Amma.

In a flash, my mind replays the image of a cheerful man of ruddy complexion, bespectacled, and bent over a book in a bookshop nestled in the middle of a typical hill station market road. Mussoorie and Ruskin Bond are synonyms. Just as mountains and books are for some of us.

Swiftly, everything begins to fall in place. I know Amma is a big fan of Bond. I can’t think of anyone I know who isn’t it, child and adult alike. I also know that Amma has read and probably owns several of his books. Still, I am confident I will find something the gentleman of the hills has penned that she doesn’t have. Thus begins the exploration on Amazon.

The books arrive a couple of days before her birthday. It is agonising to withhold the surprise from her. Two mornings later, at the crack of dawn, Amma sits joyously holding the books in her trembling hands.

The first book is bound in textured finish of an alluring pistachio colour with a rose etched on it. A Little Book of Happiness is really little in contrast with the imposing Himalayas – Adventures, Meditations, Life.

Ruskin Bond owns the mountains, as much as he owns the hearts of their simple folk. His pithy observations of the routine things in life are his masterstrokes. A Little Book of Happiness is a lovely anthology that brings together pearls of wisdom – his and those of thinkers he admires. “Why be happy and how, and why not to worry if you think you are not. Why it is easy to be happy, and how you can miss happiness even if it stands before you. How a bird can fill you with joy and how a stranger’s smile can soothe you. Why happiness may not even be the word for what we really need.”

The second book is a comprehensive volume with over 50 essays on the mighty and tranquil Himalayas, bringing together a dazzling range of voices – among others, Fa-Hsien, Pundit Nain Singh, Heinrich Harrer, Fanny Parkes, Dharamvir Bharati, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Rahul Sankrityayan, Amitav Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Frank Smythe, Paul Brunton, Edmund Hillary, Mark Twain, Sarat Chandra Das, Dom Moraes, Manjushree Thapa – and the two editors themselves (Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale) – in an unparalleled panorama.

Amma’s emotions swing like the ascents and descents captured in the book. She holds the books to her heart and looks up at me through tear-rimmed eyes.

These two Ruskin Bond books are ‘adult’ books that trigger pure child-like emotions of glee and joy. That’s our Bond for you. The octogenarian can touch the heart of a 77-year-old and make her rejoice like a child, age crumbling at her feet.

On my visit in the evening, I am greeted by the two books lying on the centre table, now lovingly encased in transparent jackets. Cover credits: Appa.

“Open, open,” Amma urges. I open one of the books to the first page. Written on the top of the page in shaky black ink are the date and my name.

Is this my gift to Amma or hers to me? I am still choking.

Meanwhile, far away up in the mountains, as the moon hangs out of his window, a little man smiles in his sleep for the two happy hearts that flutter in eternal gratitude.  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-bond-with-ruskin/article19699275.ece

Unbinding the bindi, and giving it a new spot …The Hindu, April 9, 2017

The dot that encompasses within it a whole range of messages and meanings, seems set to write a fresh story each day

Had Elizabeth Gilbert visited Tamil Nadu’s capital during the Chennai city phase of her ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ quest, her word for the city would have been ‘bindi’, or ‘pottu’ in local lingo. Indeed, generations of venerable values and touchy traditions jostle for space in the bright red circle that fetters womanhood in this part of the world.

It sits in austere fortitude on a woman’s forehead. A warning to ward off every conceivable evil. A good omen for the entire household this dot was. Equally ominous was its absence. Conspicuous, with a foreboding of dark shadows. The red dot played myriad roles – chaperone, caste flag, religious icon… If the red dot was absent from its established position in the middle of the forehead at the time of the evening lighting of the sacred lamp, almost the entire household would launch itself into a harangue.

An alarm would go off. Frantic cries would echo.

“Why is your forehead blank?” would be followed by an admonition on how bad a portent it was for the entire family. “Only widows have a blank forehead,” the rant would continue. To worsen things, there came the wringer, “Is the household in mourning or what?”

Usually, it would be the women in a sprawling household, other than the unmarked one, who raise such a hue and cry. Because the men were lords of few words. At times like these, even wordless. They glared at the colourless forehead, grunted in disapproval, stared accusingly at the other women lurking in the shadows for having allowed such a mishap to occur, and walked off in the assurance that the message had been duly conveyed.

In all this commotion, no one noticed the full bow-shaped lips that quivered in fright or the doe eyes that glistened with guilt. Even the shapely eyebrow that arched every once in a while in mockery of the things people said went unnoticed. The bindi stole the show always. Even in its absence.

The red dot screamed ‘Stop’. Thoughts, ideas, naughty and otherwise, genuflected before the ruling red dot. Arrest! it seemed to say.

The cross-over

All that was before the attraversiamo, as Ms. Gilbert would have said. Today, young Chennai has crossed over. A blank slate is what the new forehead looks like. To write a fresh new story every single day. To define life on personal terms. Free thinking flows across the uninterrupted broadened mind as it does through the city’s temple-bordered lanes.

Ample bare foreheads are seen everywhere — at bulging bus stops, inside the cool interiors of towering glass facades that hold bright engineering minds, in homes adorned by intricate rice flour designs at the doorstep.

In place of the timid, shackled countenances stand bright bursts of confidence, eyes sparkling with life and lips pursed in steely determination. The TamBram forehead attracts no more attention than any other.

So, has the red dot been dispatched disgracefully? Quite the contrary. It holds a more enhanced place of pride today. Because now the red dot is there by choice. And neither is it always red nor always round.

It is a choice. Where there is choice, can freedom be far behind? The choice ranges from special occasions, special attire, to expression of special moods. The choice has helped the bindi evolve from the mundane vermilion powder to a coloured liquid in a slim bottle to shapely velvet cut-offs on a sticker that can be stuck to the forehead in a blink and can be peeled off just as quickly, unlike its former self that always left behind tell-tale scars from the past.

Chennai today boasts of bespoke bindis that reflect the creative streak in the artsy wearer and etches a special image of class in a city that is often touted as a cultural citadel of the country. Colour-coordinating the bindi with the rest of the attire is not uncommon, shaking the bedrock of the ethos of the erstwhile red pottu.

Style statement. That’s what the bindi lends the forehead. As styles change so do the bindi’s shape, colour and size. In the world of fashion, no style is also a style. So too with the bindi.

The bindi is no longer short for ‘binding’. But a colour and a shape that can be moved around as freely as the salty breeze blowing over the Marina Beach.

Agreed that Incredible India without the red dot would be bland. But that would not make India any less incredible, would it?

An empty nester’s saga

Motherhood throws surprises at every turn. A friend ripened in experience, once told me jokingly, “motherhood is a journey of never ending discoveries.”

Nowadays are times when I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a week since the night my only child turned and waved to me before the airport doors slid shut.  He shot one last glance at me, forcing his pursed lips to smile. I saw he was battling with an inexplicable emotion.  I craned my neck to watch through misty eyes as he got sucked into the whirlpool of travellers.  All alone, he got done with each step of the airport processes, and with each step he moved farther from me.

I had six months to get ready for this moment. I thought I would do well. But nothing readies you for the sorrow of parting. The grit and determination I had built block upon block crumbled like a pile of ash as held me in a tight embrace and whispered in my ear, “take care Mom”.

From the time the letter announcing his admission into his dream institute arrived to the frenzied days of making packing lists and shopping trips, my emotions turned turbulent. There were enough sessions of laughter, irritation, and of course the unannounced downpour of tears. During these months I tried being a stay-at-home-mom for a while, but to everyone’s chagrin I failed miserably to keep ‘smother’ at bay from ‘mother’.

When hubby and I returned home from the airport in the wee hours, a gush of vacuum gripped my core. I could feel hubby too falter in his step. We exchanged glances and reassuring smiles and pretended to get busy about preparing to sleep.

We lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. He broke the silence first. “It’s going to be alright,” he said almost to himself.

“It’s going to be alright, but it will never be the same again,” I replied softly.

And that’s the essence of it all.

We will be alright. Eventually we will get occupied in the business of living. But, nothing will be the same again.  And, it is this that the heart laments.

The age-old resistance to change was rearing its ugly head again. Suddenly my boy is on his own to make a life for himself. It’s the starting of a new phase. The old ways will give way to new. No more of those evenings of chatter and banter. No more bickering over late nights…no more this…no more that.

His room is too tidy for comfort.  I long to see the mess on his table and clothes piling up on his study chair. My eyes long to see him sprawled on his bed, his eyes devouring a book.  I long for those weekend afternoons when we would remain at the table long after the lunch plates had dried, as he regaled us with his office stories.


Memories are God’s gift. And like the powers that be, they are omnipresent.

In the last week I made a pact with myself.  While I would allow myself to fondly recall the growing up years of my boy, I shall not lament. The sadder I will be, the worse he would feel, I chide myself. Instead I envelope myself in the pride of being a mother to a young man who has set afoot on a journey of self-discovery.

In a note to me before he left, my son wished for me to be happy and to lead the life I want. He wished for me to excel in my career and spend time pursuing my passion. He wished that his father and I would spend time together doing the things we love doing. “Without guilt”, he had added. This is my mission. Children are constantly beseeched to make their parents proud. As a parent, I want to return the favour. I want to continue to lead a life of productivity and positivity. I want to be able to tick off the items on my bucket list. I want to continue doing the things that make me happy. I want to lead by example so that when technology brings the chatter and banter back every evening, I want my son to feel the excitement in my life, just as I feel the excitement in his.

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I want my son to know that it’s ok to be homesick at times. I want him to know that he can let his guard down every once in a while and tell me that he misses me, and I will not melt into a pool of tears and book a seat on the next flight.  If I want to make it easy for him, I have to be happy.

I am going to show him how he and I can be truly happy, so what if we are under a different sky.



To whom ought I submit?

To a heart that yearns for the call of the mountains. To a heart that beat wildly at the first mention of the life beyond the mundane. To a heart that was poised to take the greatest leap of faith.

Or to filial affliction. To voices of deep concern. To faces worn by distress. Doubtful ifs and buts are already snuffing out the dying embers of joy.

My heart weakens and crumbles in submission to the latter. I relentlessly dig the grave – to put my feeble heart to rest.  After several enduring hours the pit is still not deep enough. I squeeze my heart, heartlessly folding in its flapping wings. I stuff it into the pit and hurriedly start shovelling the mud over my wailing heart.

Alas, it won’t stay.

What’s cooking?

What’s cooking?

The first night without my cook seems daunting. She’s going to be gone for a week. I walk around to the stakeholders at home. What shall I make for dinner? is my intermittent injection to return-home-from-work conversations.

“Anything” is never an apt answer to this question and never will be. In fact it is the best provocation for a war of words when accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder. For reasons yet unknown the response is doubly exasperating when mouthed by the male of the species.

In a classic of turn of events no war ensues this evening. Instead, a spirit of culinary bonhomie whisks our appetite for one another. Let’s make something together we chorus.

The library shelf is flung open and recipe books are dug out from behind the self-development repertoire. The chefs comprise two of us on the wrong side of 40 and one on the wronged side of 20. We strive to keep our discussions as succulent as those on Master Chef. From deep inside the Matt in us springs alive. When enthusiasm boils over adequately we march to the place of action each clear about their area of operation.

The kitchen is abuzz. Cabinet doors swing open and shut. The fridge heaves a sigh of relief as several residents are evicted giving her breathing space. Jars pop open, pots and pans clank in anticipation.

For that one hour in the kitchen our lives blend into a healthy fulfilling smoothie.  We waltz to a gastronomic background score. The whistling cooker, the spluttering sesame, the sizzling jacketed baby potatoes, the beeping microwave, the bout of sneezing and coughing when the chilli flakes burn to death in hot oil. The sharp aroma of chilli vinegar adds the right amount of zing to the evening. The gentle brush of the elbows, a quick hug and peck when the simmering gravy acquires the colour and texture as described in the recipe. A spoonful of this and a spoonful of that lovingly make their way to my mouth for an expert opinion. The flavours burst on my tongue. My eyes close. I am locking the moment for life.

The otherwise reticent young man chats away as he lovingly pours the dressing over the crunchy greens. We are suddenly treated to a sneak preview of our son’s elusive life.

The flame rekindles as I glance at my man working clumsily on a juicy onion through teary eyes. On instinct I almost reach across to grab the knife and get it over and done with the onion. But I stop myself in time from ruining a beautiful love story.

Four nights pass in quick succession. The story repeats each night – the rousing foreplay leafing through recipes, followed by the indulgent lovemaking, and the fitting climax at the dining table.

I can now authoritatively say because it’s tried and tasted. Sometimes having a cook can spoil the broth. A family that cooks together laughs together.

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