Monthly Archives: December 2014

Size Doesn’t Matter

One of my earliest memories of childhood is the sound of ghungrus – tiny bells that classical Indian dancers wrap around their ankles. My mom, like every good Tamil mother signed me up for music and dance classes while I was less than six years old. Thrice a week, at six in the evening my dance teacher would show up. The sad part was that my friends would disappear the moment they caught sight of the dance teacher. Their subsequent joyful cries from the open playground outside my house made me restless. I would hope that my teacher hadn’t cottoned onto my furtive looks at the clock. It didn’t matter to me if he was trying to gracefully demonstrate the gait of a peacock. My eyes blurred when I heard him murmur “Dha dhin dhin dha”. Then the unexpected happened. My dance teacher relocated to another town thousands of miles away. My mom was devastated while I was delirious. Of course I was smart enough not to exhibit such joy in front of her.

The effect of my discontinued dance classes was felt months later when the scrawny ten-year-old I was morphed into a chubby girl. My mom fretted “Why did she stop learning dance?” Her evenings were now spent sitting on a rattan chair in our balcony, letting out my now too-tight dresses. My growing dress size had little effect on me.

chitra_ten_year

In school my friends loved to pinch my “chubby” cheeks. It made me feel special for some reason. I usually wore pigtails and sometimes had a thick braid running down my back and before I knew it had unflattering braces and unfashionable spectacles. My transition to teenage was mostly about growing friendships and less to do with my burgeoning weight.

College was a whole different ball game. That’s when I noticed the opposite gender. Boys. An alien species that I had never been around as the girls-only schooling had precluded this eventuality. I felt safe in the classroom, uncomfortable in the teachers lounge and terrified in the canteen. My clothes had also gotten billowy and dowdier. The braid was a permanent fixture albeit without the ribbon.

I felt safe in the classroom, uncomfortable in the teachers lounge and terrified in the canteen.

When I married the man that my parents had arranged for me to meet, it didn’t matter if I was fat or thin, tall or short. Kareena Kapoor and her size zero were still in our future. The best part was that my husband was also comfortably plump like me. The first time I became self conscious was when my sisters-in-law made snarky remarks about my size.

Over the two decades of being married and having kids, I’ve gone through every emotion (not to mention a couple of dress sizes up and down) about my weight. And trying to analyze every potential cause. Just as I’ve finally come to grips with where I am, it’s time to deal with the challenges of being the mother of two teen girls.

My daughters periodically lament about their figures, like teens everywhere, seeing fat where there is none. I wonder if it’s time again to have THE talk about body image. The girls – bless their hearts – try not to burst into laughter when I begin the “My body is my temple” spiel.

“Could it be genetic?”

They wonder aloud while I try not to gape at them.

Kitchen Queen Masala

“If you want authentic Kerala cuisine, come home for dinner.” My friend invites me over after I’ve spent the last few minutes cribbing about my husband’s increasing demands for gourmet cuisine.

“Today he wanted to have puli kuthi upperi along with other Malabar specialty food such as kalan, olan!” My despair comes through clearly and my loyal friend is ready to pick up the gauntlet on my behalf. In the beginning, I thought my husband was joking when he came up with these dishy names, but I quickly realised that he was dead serious. Having grown up in a joint family where women secretly tried to outshine each other with their prowess in the kitchen, he was exposed to a variety of dishes from practically every district of southern India. So, when he wasn’t waxing eloquent over an aunt’s aanai pachadi served at a funeral, or a finely roasted brinjal dish with some fancy sounding name cooked at a housewarming, his innuendos starting sinking in.

The first few times he walked into the kitchen with a spring in his step and a look of unholy joy on his face, just before the meal was to be served. Only to crumble and drag his feet back to the dining table. All my mutterings of “why can’t the man be satisfied with the usual wholesome fare” fell on deaf ears.

Cook, I am; gourmet cook, I am certainly not. Neither do I aspire to be. Chances are, if I participate in the desi version of Master Chef Australia, I would be a mass of nerves and even the neighbour’s dog may barf at the idea of licking my production.

 “Why don’t you call my mother for the recipes?” There was a long silence after his query. After wasted efforts of ingratiating with my mother-in-law over swapping of recipes, my valiant attempts at reproducing the culinary masterpieces always seemed to fall short in his eyes. Being the chivalrous man, my husband would make the right noises before the first bite in anticipation of what he claimed was his glimpse of Utopia. But, after that very first bite, his excitement would start dissipating in front of me. This would be my moment of reckoning and I would watch every emotion on his face, holding my breath as much as possible, and rivulets of sweat trickling down my forehead. “Hmm… it’s good. I don’t know what to say, but my mother’s dish tastes a tad different…” My eyes would start tearing up, or start flashing, depending on my mood. Here was the red flag that men invariably waved out of sheer ignorance in front of their better-halves. When they mention their mom and wife’s cooking in the same breath, they don’t realise that they’ve already dug a hole. And trying to scramble out of it will only make it deeper.
When I recently dished out a meal of vatral kuzhambu (a tangy gravy made from tamarind pulp) and potato curry, it turned out to be a surprise winner. “Ah! This hand needs to be adorned with a diamond ring,” exclaimed my spouse. It’s been weeks since that meal. I continue to wave my bare fingers at him in constant reminder even as he wonders whether I have developed a muscular disorder.

This article originally appeared in the Sunday edition of the Deccan Herald.

Uninvited menace

Why don’t we go for a swim at the club?” There was a pin drop silence after the lady posed this question to my father in law. The latter desperately looked for the nearest exit even as the lady’s husband was bobbing his head approving the idea. My husband’s grandmother, mother and a host of other aunts had their mouths agape and stared uncomprehendingly at the tableau in front of them.

A day earlier when my father-in-law had shown up with a couple in tow, the family had no idea of the impending storm that was to descend on them. My father-in-law had a hard time saying no to people in need, and relatives however far-fetched the connection, topped this list.   “My cousin and his wife are staying here for a short while, please make sure they are comfortable.” After issuing this edict he took off for work confident that his words would be heeded. The ladies of the house rallied together to dish out the royal treatment to the guests from Kanpur.

Clickety clack, clickety clack – the sound of the sandals had a dramatic effect on the women working in the kitchen the next morning. The eighty year old grandma nearly poured out all the salt from the container into the stew, the elder daughter just about managed not to cut her finger while dicing the carrots and the daughter-in-law who was churning the buttermilk got splashed on the face. The Kanpur madam had broken a cardinal rule in the house. She was walking around wearing slippers and worse yet, had entered the kitchen. But more was yet to come.   “I was wondering if my meals could be sent upstairs. I’m feeling a bit tired.” The smile accompanying her words didn’t have the desired effect as the others were in shock. When the fifty year old daughter was ready to blow a gasket, the doughty old grandma quickly sized up the situation and murmured that she would take care of everything. After all her word was law and she had lived many a summer and seen flightier characters than the current house guest.

The next week was a trial for everyone. Sore backs, aching feet, perennial headaches soon led to mutterings and curses being flung in the air. The object of their ire was blissfully unaware as she stayed in her room on the first floor and went outside whenever she had a whim to swim or shop. The long faces or the pithy remarks at her bounced off her thick skin. When the visitors showed no sign of leaving after a fortnight tempers started running high. My father-in-law who was on tour (a last minute decision that was viewed with great suspicion by the others) often called home to check with his opening gambit, “Have our guests left?”   Thats when the news spread throughout the neighbourhood. The tough-as-boots neighbour who was often thought to be a strong contender for the army decided to take matters in her own hands. “Enough is enough, you’ll have to talk to her and mince no words!”. She advised my mother in law whose subsequent chat with the guest had the desired effect.

The next morning when the Kanpur lady announced that she had leaving in a day, the sigh of relief was audible to everyone except her. The smiles now were no longer strained and there was a spring in everyone’s step. Even the five-tier lunch box that she handed out in the kitchen with firm instructions as to what food needed to be packed for the train journey had minimal effect on the ladies. The family was only too eager to see the last of this visitor and were prepared to go the extra mile, no questions asked.

This article first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Deccan Herald.