Tag Archives: family

Op-Ed article in the Hindu

“Have some more of this,” I urge with a loving smile as I scoop out a bit more of the vendakkai (lady’s finger aka bhindi or okra) curry from the casserole and serve my daughter. She sulks, pouts and gives me a basilisk-like stare but I remain unmoved. This wasn’t the first time we were at cross-purposes over matters relating to food. Read the rest of my article in the Open Page of the Hindu here.

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

The Sound of Silence

The things we think about, brood on, dwell on, and exult over influence our life in a thousand ways. When we can actually choose the direction of our thoughts instead of just letting them run along the grooves of conditioned thinking, we become the masters of our own lives. Eknath Easwaran

In the still of the night the beast comes alive. It persists, annoys and tears my insides till it wakes me up from my deep slumber. Then the battle between woman and beast begins with the latter winning each time. The hacking sounds that follow has my husband turning towards me in consternation. There’s a pained look on his face as he watches me cough incessantly. The mug of warm water and lozenges lying on the bedside table near me are also a mute witness to my suffering. I look around the dark room and hear the faint whispers of the night. The momentary silence between the coughing bouts are comforting.

For more than a week now I’d been laid up with a viral infection. Sore throat, fever, cold and cough appeared in rapid succession like unwelcome guests at a party. The good news was that the first three moved onto fresher pastures before the first course of the dinner was over. The bad news was that the last one continued to linger even after the desert.

“Rest your vocal chords!” The doctor’s advice kept ringing in my ears. Easier said than done. Even if I did want to talk, I simply couldn’t. That’s when I began to appreciate the sounds around me.The pigeons cooing in my balcony while leaving their mark on the floor as they flew away. The shrieks of my neighbor’s little Jedis playing with their toy light sabers outside my apartment door in the common area. The guffaws of old men from the laughter club waking up the entire building at the crack of dawn as they huddled on the lawns outside. I also began to savor the quiet that appeared at odd intervals. Silence. Silence was an old friend of mine.

I grew up in a home which was mostly quiet. My father was a taciturn man while my mother was a busy housewife who didn’t have the time to chat. I was happy to be left alone in my world of books and music. Years later when I got married into a large family, I was surrounded by women who had a compulsive need to talk and an equally perverse desire to make me listen to them. I had an irrational desire to speak my mind at times but often the words were stuck in my throat. Silence. Now the same friend became a pesky thing that I wanted to shove out the door.

“You’ve started speaking a lot more!” My aged uncle remarked when he met me after twenty years. I was pondering aloud on the happy partnership between silence and meditation to him when he made the observation. Was I more talkative than before? I wondered. Yet my daughters refrained from answering that question when I asked them. Their feeble answer was a tad regretful. “We can never shout out Earth-calling-mom!” 

It needed a temporary illness to make me recall my old friend. Silence. A friend that I had somehow forgotten along the way.

Second Innings – a short story

This story was published in Induswomanwriting.com

The balcony looked desolate. Most of the pots were broken. Meena felt a pang when she saw the lone cactus plant in a corner bravely holding up. Waves of guilt swept over her. “I don’t have a green thumb!” she muttered whenever visitors happened to peep into her balcony. The words sounded pitiful even to her own ears and sometimes she imagined the withering plants looked at her with accusation. Was she losing it? It was Ram who had bought the cactus anyway, so why did she care?

Read the rest of the story here.

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.

Stranger than fiction

I’ve never had to look beyond the tales of our own family to know that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. We could argue if my family or it is my husband’s family that has stranger tales. I’d let you decide.

Let’s begin with the tale of my husband’s errant aunts. An aunt who was mad about movies played a starring role in one such escapade. Every time a new movie was released, she had to catch the first show. So when the new MGR movie was released, she was first in line at the cinema hall with her sister-in law, her co-conspirator in these mad-cap schemes.

An hour went by before the two middle aged women were declared missing by the family. While the rest of the women folk initially feigned ignorance in support of their sorority sisters, they finally blurted out the truth after dire threats were issued by the male members. My husband’s uncle was unanimously elected to fetch the starstruck sisters-in-law and off he went in hot pursuit. When he walked inside a jam-packed cinema hall and heard the loud whistles, he was stumped. He had walked into a riveting scene being enacted on screen. The audience was lapping it up as their favourite heartthrob pranced around trees, climbed mountains, dived into deep waters even as he serenaded the heroine.

Though uncle was momentarily impressed by the hero’s gravity-defying acts, he remembered the original purpose of his trip. As he scanned the rows, he just couldn’t find his quarry. In what he claimed later to be a brilliant stroke of genius (the family lore certainly propagates this myth), he approached the man playing the film stills from the back. When the hero was about to declare his undying love for the heroine, a slide flashed across the screen. “Lakshmi, come home immediately. Ambi.”

 Now, catcalls of another kind ensued as two red-faced women stood up and slunk out of the hall. When uncle was spotted, their embarrassment soon gave way to fury. I don’t know what transpired between the hunter and the hunted, but my husband’s uncle certainly survived to tell the tale.

My family wouldn’t want my husband’s family to get all the credit for strange tales. One of my uncles had this charming habit of giving monikers to family members. If one had the good fortune of being called ‘Mani’, then he was certainly the ‘Bell’ of the family. When another Mani joined the family, my uncle had a quick solution. We now had ‘Big Bell’ and ‘Small Bell’. When more Manis joined, uncle threw his hands up in despair. There were too many bells ringing in his head by now. You would have thought that would be the end of it.

The women of my family wouldn’t hear of being referred to by their age or size. So my uncle modified his solution. When ‘daughter Rama’ or ‘daughter-in-law Rama’ didn’t work, the neighbourhood names were prefixed to the names. So we now had a ‘Trichy Lalitha’, a ‘Kovai Meenakshi’, a ‘Mysore Jaya’, never mind that these women never did stay in these cities for long. But that’s how one remembered them in the family for generations.

I’m relieved that there was no one living in Gopichettypalayam or Gangaikondacholapuram. That would have been a mouthful for anyone to remember!

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

Plumbing depths

What happens when you move to a new home? Clogged drains, faulty pipes were just a part of a seemingly endless litany of woes that plagued us as as our smiles became markedly strained. Here’s an account of what happened when I moved house and got to share this with the readers of Sunday Herald.

Plumbing depths

Its 7 am on a Saturday morning when the doorbell rings. When I open the door I bite my tongue so as to stop myself from laughing out loud. The early birds on my doorstep are carrying identical worn out brown bags. With similar befuddled expressions on their faces and their shirts fraying at the edges they look like two peas in a pod. I assume that the one who follows behind the other is the younger sibling. He has a deferential attitude and keeps bobbing his head whenever big brother murmurs to him. In the beginning I believe he is trying to communicate to me but it turns out to be the ambiguous Indian nod. The nod that means either a “yea” or a “nay” and puzzling for the person facing him or the others in the room wondering who the lucky recipient is.

The Brothers Karamazov head straight towards the bathroom and start tinkering with the pipes. Ten minutes pass by and the younger brother steps out. Before he opens his mouth, I hand him a dry cloth. I’m an old hand at the game and armed with all the required paraphernalia for such visits. I have a drawer stuffed with used towels, dusters, switches, batteries and anything that remotely resembles a handyman’s kit. The intrusion of a foreign object such as a pen or keys throws me in a tizzy as my sacred space has been violated. My younger daughter once toyed with the idea of having a label stuck on the drawer that read “Opening this drawer can be injurious to your health!”

I hear frantic whispering and loud noises emanating from the smallest room in my house for the next ten minutes. Big brother comes out with a harried expression on his face. “We need to break the floor tiles as the pipe is completely clogged up!” My heart stops for a few seconds and I blink at him unable to process the words. “How much would it cost?” Luckily my husband still has his wits about him. After continuous mumbling and shuffling his feet the plumber comes up with a figure. Its good I am leaning on the wall that I don’t fall over at the outrageous sum. I have visions of being carted away in an ambulance with my children weeping behind me. I wonder why movie screenwriters are not queuing at my doorstep instead of plumbers. I’d trade one for the other any day.

Broken pipes, clogged drains, faulty light switches, loose drawers, I’ve seen it all. My initial attempts at fixing them only aggravated the problem that my husband insisted that I call in the experts lest “my delicate hands” get soiled in the process. When I was ready to nominate him for ‘husband of the year’ award for his comment, his grimace was a dead giveaway. In his unique way, he was trying to fix the problem. While I lamented the frequency of their visits, the brothers gained immense experience by the sheer breadth of plumbing problems that plagued my apartment. I chipped in too and short of rolling out the red carpet did everything possible to make their work easier.

When my friends got wind of my new “hobby” as they termed it, they pleaded with me on revealing the secret. “Its all in the upbringing my dears!” My reply had them stumped. One of my strongest memories of childhood was that of my dad scuttling off to the mechanic’s garage at the drop of a hat. When my school classmates reported back to me after any such sightings during the holidays I seethed with jealousy – they certainly got to see more of him than I did whenever school was out! My mother came a poor second to my dad’s car who was his first love. Blame it on my darn DNA – how could I not turn out to be a chip off the old block?