Category Archives: Middles

Short pieces, mostly humour

Familial Affections – DH middle

I continue to smile at her, secretly yearning for that cup of coffee and benne dosa at the good old darshini a few blocks away. Ah, the things we do for familial affection. Read the rest of my middle in Deccan Herald here

A warning label

This article originally appeared in Sulekha

Yesterday my cousin Veena called up and asked me to look around for an eligible groom for her daughter. “Why is she going for such an arrangement?” I was curious. Here was a young girl with a PhD and a rising career in a multi-national firm going along with her parents’ choice for a life partner. “You’ll have to talk to her about it. I have a job to do and she’s getting older by the day!” Veena’s emphatic voice came through clear on the phone. When I met my niece a few weeks later and cornered her, I was surprised by her candid reply. “Dating wasn’t an option in college. Now that I’m working there’s hardly any time to socialize. My chances of meeting anyone are practically zilch.” “But what about the pitfalls of an arranged match”? I persisted. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it” came her pat reply.

When I discussed the matter with my neighbour Rita she had an interesting theory. “Indian men must come with warning signs that read, If you take me on, you take on my family!” Rita’s bitter experience with arranged marriages was evident. “I wish there are schools that train women to deal with manipulative in-laws.” Rita who’s been married for nearly 20 years pulled no punches. “My mother-in-law’s performance is worthy of an Oscar as she rattles of her physical ailments, imaginary or otherwise when her son’s around. She plays him like a violin. All those afternoons of watching soap operas on television are paying off!” she declared indignantly.

Rita’s tale reminded me of the conversation I have had with my American friends. “How on earth did you agree to marry a total stranger?” They were dumbfounded. When I explained to them that this was the norm, they remained unconvinced. “Look at the bright side, our divorce rate is very low” I argued. My reasoning only evoked their sympathy as they rolled their eyes and walked away.

So what do I really want for women? A popular columnist in a woman’s magazine claims, “In our society the woman’s been conditioned from birth to play according to the rules but has anyone figured out what she actually wants to do?” I know that all I want is a warning label, ideally colour-coded – but I’d settle for a few words in black and white!

© Chitra Srikrishna., all rights reserved.

Birthing pains – confessions of a writer

My fingers freeze on the keyboard. The creative juices have completely dried up. Tomorrow is the deadline! I am desperate at this point and look around for inspiration. "1001 Article Ideas" the yellow book in the top shelf of my bookcase catches my eye. As I crack it open, a musty smell attacks my nostrils. For several years now it has been on the shelf, wasting and neglected. My husband had picked it up at a book sale and presented it to me. But it had been relegated to the “read” pile, along with other books that have suffered a similar fate.

As I quickly run through the ideas listed on page 3, the phone rings. It’s my father who begins a long-winded explanation on why he needs the driver. “Cut to the chase, Dad” the words slip out inadvertently. For a moment he’s too befuddled to respond. After all, he’s still not come to the reason of the phone call! I assure him that I would return his call in a few minutes and race back to my desk. The ideas are now jumping at me and I’m raring to go. For the next few minutes the sound of furious typing echoes in the living room. Only the quiet chime of the clock can be heard in the background. As I’m halfway through the piece, a sneaky thought appears . Is the writing a tad dull? Does it need a bit of pizazz? Soon enough, alarm bells start ringing in my head. But no, it’s the doorbell – who could it be now?

My sister-in-law breezes in behind the maid announcing, "I need to see my brother!". There’s a light of battle in her eyes. "Close your ears, I’m going to talk to him!" Easier said than done. I’m out of cotton balls at the moment.

Mentally wishing everyone to perdition, I head back to my cozy little corner. The piece is shaping up well. It’s time for that punchline. One that will make or break the article. I run through several scenarios in my head, laugh out loud even as the spouse looks askance at me. When I write the last word of the article, I expect to hear the roll of drums. Or better still the strains of some soft music. Instead I get the jarring sounds of vessels being dropped in the kitchen sink.

Divine Deals

Photograph of :en:Ganesha deity from the :en:G...
Image via Wikipedia

“We’ll stop at the temple on the way out!“ My father is emphatic. Whenever I have a concert he insists on breaking the proverbial coconut at the corner Ganesha temple. While I have last minute jitters of getting to the concert venue on time, my father nonchalantly goes about the business of propitiating the elephant God. As another Vinayaka Chaturthi festival passes by, I find myself wondering why Ganesha seems to figure in our lives only when we need something to happen.

To test my hypothesis I began quizzing my friends and neighbours. Rita, my neighbour’s daughter was my first interviewee. I asked her about her temple routine. “When my exam results are due, I do several rounds of the temple with multiple offerings of flowers and fruits.” “What happens between exams?” I asked. “Oh, just one round, sometimes a coconut thrown in!” Last week when another friend underwent a battery of tests with her doctor, the “modaka” preparations at her home gained astronomical importance. As always my husband had his own take on matters. “Ganesha is probably the most overworked God among the Hindu pantheon today” he declared pompously – ensuring he was out of my father’s earshot.

Having grown up in a traditional family bound to the lunar calendar and every Hindu festival on it I never did question my beliefs. Today as the mother of two girls who question everything and want to know why we are doing something, I feel the picture of Swami Vivekananda in my living room mocks my passive acceptance.

My friend who lives in the US scoffs at my “silly spiritual struggles” as he terms it. “I don’t believe in visiting temples or undertaking pujas. God resides in every human being!” Strangely enough when he comes visiting, a trip to Tirupati with his parents always features in his itinerary. I’m sure he doesn’t go there for just the scenic beauty!

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On fast track

A shelf full of Enid Blyton books)
Image via Wikipedia

This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald

Fantasy is one genre that has become popular with children today.

It all began with a book. The latest in the ‘Twilight’ series was out and all the kids in school were talking about it. “Our classmates are reading it, why can’t we?” My children couldn’t understand why I was so reluctant to let them read the book by Stephanie Meyers. “We’re the only ones who have not read it”, was their constant refrain. When I heard that the story revolved around a vampire’s relationship with a high school girl, I was conflicted.

Should I be a Cool Mom and let them read it or a Boring (worse yet, control freak) Mom?
For the first few weeks after the book came out I opted to being the latter. But my kids like most others of their ilk have an enduring trait. Like a rottweiller, they would wear down my resistance with constant badgering. Not that they use the same strategy while studying for their tests and exams. I eventually succumbed but only after it passed my litmus test of suitable reading for teens.

A quick peek at the children’s section in the local bookstore brought home the fact that witches and wizards have become de rigueur. Fantasy is one genre that has become very popular with children today.

Whatever happened to that one witch whom we encountered with Dorothy in the land of Oz, who sent shivers down the spine? She seems a tame, insipid cousin to her brethren today. When I even talk about fairies and pixies that Enid Blyton brought to life, my kids simply roll their eyes.

They are now caught up with a book series that doesn’t involve wizards or vampires. When they explain that it’s about characters who disappear in and out of a book as it is read out aloud, I am stumped. It’s not a whole lot easier to handle than blood-sucking vampires but I can live with this one. I know I’m on the fast track of earning the sobriquet of Cool Mom.

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Mum’s the word

[This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald]

“They are freshly washed!” I become conscious of the hovering waiter. I ‘m seated at a newly opened “fine-dining” restaurant in the neighbourhood. The waiter must have seen me staring at the glasses on my table. After he takes my order and leaves, I begin to wonder if the food is being prepared in a clean kitchen? When was the last time these plates had been washed in hot water? The poor waiter had no idea that I had actually been admiring the fluted design of the glasses! In his over-zealous attempt to please, he had inadvertently led me to ponder on the restaurant’s hygiene.

I have barely begun to eat, when my cell phone rings. I see it’s my friend. “I didn’t make it!” he says in a voice filled with disappointment. He had failed to clear the admission test for the college of his choice. “The worst thing is the principal told me that I missed the cutoff by only a few marks!” Even as I sympathize with him, I fume at the principal’s insensitivity for giving my friend the complete details of his failure. How relevant was it to mention that he’d missed by just a few marks?

There are times when I wish people refrain from full disclosure. Holding back is hard, as there’s a little voice inside all of us that says “Keep going, tell all!” It’s one of those peculiar traits we seem to have – an enthusiasm to blurt it ALL out. Rarely do we stop to think if the other person truly needs the gory details. The line demarcating a succinct synopsis from needless Bollywood narration is unclear to most.

The best way I have found to not cross the line is to keep the lovely Spanish proverb in mind – “If you keep your mouth shut, the flies won’t get in!”

The bard of Tiruvaiyaru

This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald

Five songs. One collective voice. It’s unlike any other music festival. It’s mid-January and there’s a motley crowd gathering in the town of Tiruvaiyaru, near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. There are pandals erected everywhere and the town becomes the focal point. It’s the annual memorial to Tyagaraja, the saint-composer of Carnatic music where Carnatic musicians have gathered to pay homage to him.

Tyagaraja’s “pancharatna” kritis are rendered by Carnatic singers, instrumentalists and percussionists at his shrine. The Tiruvaiyaru festival has spun-off similar festivals in different parts of the world that follow the same pattern. In April, the American edition of Tyagaraja Aradhana takes place in Cleveland. It is a huge success with near live telecast of it back to the heartland by Tamil TV channels bringing the music full circle. Tyagaraja, who lived nearly three centuries ago and never ventured from the Cauvery Delta, today is alive and a global traveler. After the hectic month of December concerts in Chennai where he figures figures front and center, Tiruvaiyaru is all Tyagaraja, as is Cleveland in March/April and Bangalore with its Rama Navami festival. A peripatetic lifestyle for someone who has been dead for nearly 300 years!”

This year, a familiar figure in the Tiruvaiyaru festival will be sorely missed. Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, a famed violinist and one of the lead organizers of the Tiruvaiyaru aradhana passed away last year – who can forget that smiling countenance and the super-sized dot on his forehead?

I’ve often wondered what makes this festival unique? It’s one singular occasion where the music itself has no variations, petty politics are cast aside, and musicians come together for the explicit purpose of celebrating this great composer’s music. Tyagaraja along with Dikshathar and Shyama Shastry formed the triumvirate of Carnatic music who are often likened to Mozart, Bach and Beethoven of western classical music. Tyagaraja’s music stands out for the simplicity of his lyrics and the sheer emotion that it inspires. Like the Bard of Avon remarked, “if music be the food for love, then play on”. Tyagaraja actually lived this philosophy – his legacy continues to inspire musicians all over the world.