Monthly Archives: June 2008

Agony around the Aunt..

My neighbour’s 15-year-old was standing outside, when I opened my front door. "Can I borrow the newspaper…Aunty?" she asked. I handed the daily to her with my best smile and no indication of the storm that raged within me.  "…Aunty" the word continued to ring in my ears – here I was still on the right side of thirty and not yet picturing myself as "Aunty". To me, Aunty conjured up an image of a 50-year-old, someone matronly wearing a sari and of ample girth!

The first time it happened was a few years ago, at a party soon after my marriage. I was conversing with a girl who had just entered college and was non-plussed when she suddenly asked, "What does Uncle do?" At first I had no idea what she meant and which uncle she referred to. I did not see any uncles anywhere in the vicinity when it dawned on me. Of course she meant my husband who probably seemed old to her. I soon tried to get away from her as I was unprepared for what would surely follow. After all, Uncle’s wife was Aunty and I was not ready to swallow that bitter pill then.

Today, five years later, I am Aunty to my maid, cook and other domestic help as well as all the children aged 3 to 20 in my apartment complex. You would think with so many nieces and  nephews, I would be reconciled to this moniker, yet my mind rebels at being grouped along with other aunties.

In the beginning when I would correct people a few years younger, I was greeted with suspicion and sympathy. They assumed that I was having a hard time accepting my age and would simply nod their heads. It took me quite a while to reconcile myself to the reality of being addressed thus. My husband consoles me with the insight that Aunty is infinitely preferable to being called "Mamee"! Though Mamee literally means maternal uncle’s wife in Tamil, it is also widely used to address a married woman.

Once when my brother was visiting from the US he addressed one of my mother’s friends as Mamee. The lady in question coyly said, "Oh don’t call me Mamee or Aunty!" and offered no further suggestion. So what did she want to be called? ‘Akka’ or ‘Didi’? That too with a 20-year gap between the two parties concerned?

On my last visit to Delhi it was a refreshing change to be addressed as ‘Behenji’ or ‘Bhabhiji’ by strangers. It seemed to lend some respectability to my status as a married woman. "Oh, it’s all in your mind" was the pat reply from my spouse everytime I taxed him for an explanation.

At a recent wedding, when I observed a twenty-something’s horrified reaction to my 2-year-old greeting her as Aunty, I realised the wisdom of my husband’s words. Somehow the transition from Aunty to Mamee no longer seems terrifying.

This article appeared in the Deccan Herald a while ago.

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To have or not to have…

"Son, you know I am a strict vegetarian" is my father-in-law’s first remark every time we go to a restaurant. My husband would nod silently and place the order. I have been a witness to this exchange for six years. This ever- present opening gambit never ceased to amaze me and when I finally asked my husband he explained, "Dad is very uncomfortable eating out. Moreoever, he prefers to go to a restaurant that only serves vegetarian food."
 
I wonder what it really means to call oneself "strict vegetarian". Either you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. What does being strict about it means? When I shared this thought with my friend Rita, she proclaimed in her usual authoritative manner, "Some people feel that the egg lies on the middle path. They claim to be vegetarians despite including eggs in their diet." I pondered on this statement and realised that I belonged to this category. I grew up having boiled eggs for breakfast and yet considered myself a vegetarian – despite my husband’s disbelief. I found myself feebly defending my stand by contending that eggs were a good source of protein. If one is averse to dhaal, where is the protein going to come from, I would argue. When I decided to introduce eggs in my child’s diet, my husband staunchly put his foot down. "I grew up without having eggs and look at me now – am I not healthy?" he claimed. "No eggs in the house" he declared emphatically before I came up with a counter-argument. 

When I shared my secret yearnings, with the ever-sympathetic Rita, to introduce the forbidden food to my child, she suggested "Why don’t you send your daughter to my house for breakfast? She can have a boiled egg with my 2-year- old." While I was toying with the idea, my conscience warned me "You will only stir a hornet’s nest if you attempt to sneakily do this." I decided to let things well alone. 

My cousin, who lives in the US, suggested "Why don’t you go vegan? It enriches your lifestyle! You will get all the protein you need." I looked at him puzzled as I had no idea what vegan meant. When he explained that vegans are vegetarians whose diet consisted mainly of soya products, I was horrified. How on earth could one subsist entirely on soya? Undeterred by my distasteful look, the voice of experience continued, "You do have some options. You could be a lacto-vegetarian, and take milk and milk products or vegan, and not include anything of animal origin or yet be an ovo-lacto vegetarian by including egg and egg products, and …" "Stop!" I implored. My head had started reeling with all this data. It was then that I decided to settle for good old dhaal

This article appeared in the Deccan Herald a while back.

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Surely not a mirror image?

"Amma, amma" – the plaintive cries of my daughter Ragini jolted me as I was preparing dinner. Alarmed, I dropped everything and dashed to the bedroom. My little girl had removed all my saris from the wadrobe and got entangled in one of them. I felt torn between amusement and anger and when she looked up and gave me a "I don’t know how this happened" look. I removed the offending garment from her and picked her up in my arms. My baby girl was growing up so quickly and getting naughtier by the day. Often my patience wore thin and I was tempted to tear my hair (whatever was left of it). How can a two-year-old be exasperating, endearing, tiring and inspiring at the same time?

Ragini’s frail appearance is quite deceptive. Her loud voice carries across our street much to my consternation but her doting papa only sees a prodigy in the making. "The next MS Subbalakshmi, mark my words", he insists! But father’s joy can also be a source of embarassment. On a recent visit to a hospital the quiet of the reception area was shattered by Ragini’s shrill cry, "Appa, you’re wearing Amma’s shirt!"

Despite her father and my constant attention, Ragini’s soft endearments are served for her favourite person – ourmaid. When the latter walks in through the door every morning the little imp is waiting for her with the broom and a huge smile on her face. This is Ragini’s moment of joy while I seethe with jealousy.

Keeping up with the little dynamo is quite exhausting. When she falls asleep at noon, the whole house heaves acollective sigh. I can feel the walls humming quietly. It is the lull before the next storm. I try to regain myenergy in the hiatus and so does Ragini – it is a contest of wills!

Ragini’s grandparents after their first few visits got smarter. "We would love to have Ragini visit us but sheshould not be separated from you even for a day", is their constant refrain. Visions of some peace and quiet at home by unleashing Hurricane Ragini on them continues to remain wishful thinking!

Early one morning, as I was having my cup of tea, I tried to fathom why my daughter was driving her parents up the wall. I recalled what my sister-in-law had mentioned to us. When she had quizzed the peadiatrician about her daughter’s mischievous ways, the doctor replied without batting an eyelid, "Madam, that is acquired behaviour!" Ouch, did that hurt. The doctor’s words struck a chord in me as I remembered my mother mentioned how I would run her ragged. It brought home a scary truth – looking at Ragini was seeing myself in the mirror!

This article appeared in the Deccan Herald a while back.

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Lady of the Flies

The other day Max, my ten year old came back home from school with a disgruntled expression on her face.

"Amma, the other girls have ganged up against me. They don’t want me to play with them anymore".

Her lips quivered as she valiantly held back her tears. I had an inkling as to what had led to this.

"Was it Nita?"

"I hate her, she’s so bossy, so cruel! Now I have no friends in school!"

My daughter’s ire was targeted at her erstwhile best friend Nita, who had suddenly morphed into her worst enemy. For some inexplicable reason my Max and Nita had had a falling out. She was spreading tales about Max and urging all the girls in the class to boycott her.The girls clique was so strong that if anyone failed to follow the unwritten rules she was out. Persona non grata in a second, without any hearing. To make matters worse, my daughter had broken a cardinal rule in their book. She had a new buddy – a boy in her class. Both kids shared a passion for playing football and reading mystery novels. The two were forever coming up with plots for new whodunit stories.

When Max came back home with tears in her eyes three days in a row, I couldn’t contain myself.

"I’m going to have a chat with your teacher unless you tell me what’s going on!"

"Amma, pleaase don’t come to school. If you talk to the teacher it’s only going to get worse."

I was at my wits end.

"What’s really hard is when the girls keep calling me freako whenever I walk in the corridor or whisper about me and stop talking when I walk into the class room."

I was hard pressed not to go charging on that mythical white horse the next morning and battle it out for my child. The silent tug of war between Max and me had reached a head when she refused to board the school bus the next morning. Her confidence had hit rock bottom. That’s when my husband (the poor man was roped into this ensuing drama) came up with a bright idea. "Every time anyone calls you a freako, you just say that she’s a sicko!"

I really don’t know what transpired the next day but the bullying stopped. Max came back in the evening with a Cheshire grin on her face and declared it to be the happiest day of her life. And a month later when the other girl left school my daughter wished her well and chalked up the whole thing to be a learning experience.

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Rain, IPL and a kutcheri…

As a south Bangalorean, I had been waiting for an opportunity to perform in the centre of town. The call to perform at the Odukattur Mutt in Ulsoor, was a wish come true. In my excitement, I forgot to have my usual case of nerves prior to a big concert. Then the week before the concert the early monsoons threatened to drown Bangalore. And the Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings decided to make my big night, their big night as well. Lest you chew the rest of your fingernails, my Carnatic vocal concert did go off well thanks to the regular rasikas of the Odukattur Mutt and the stalwart support of my accompanists. 

Check out some snippets on YouTube at 

Ahaha Naiva – Amritavarshini, Adi, Swati Tirunal

Thodi Ragam

Chitra Srikrishna

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