A letter for thought

A letter for thought

It was one of those scorching, comatose afternoons in the little house in Hyderabad. I, as an eleven year old, anxiously awaited the portly post-man to deliver my letters, constantly eyeing the steel letter box. It was worth a wait and a feet-burning run down the stone pavement to grab the envelopes doled out by different hands and enclosed vividly in their own sweet way. There was one from Shari; the typical pink colors with drawings and stickers screaming “Miss you”. A tiny envelope from Anu, subtly yellow and mellowed “Missing you”, much like herself. A card from Karan, penned with his artistic writing and child-like words –“surprise inside. Open soon”. I hurried to unwrap the letters, smiling with unalleviated joy, to hear from my pals in a far away land (Trivandrum!!); waiting to give up my evening hours of play to write about my past week and reassure them that they would always be my bestest friends, signing off with “Reply soooooooooooooooooooooooon”s… Letters were my tickets to the fairy-land where I dwelled with pals; I had made for a life-time to come.

Looking back at the life that sans e-mails, sans messengers or orkut, sans mobile phones, sans every complex obscurity meant to ‘stay in touch’ and yet never to do so; I am amazed at the gratifying bliss, I shared, receiving a letter and putting all my love into its reply and living up to the promises made, signing autograph books with ‘Keep in touch’ or ‘roses are red and violets are blue, friends like u are very few’!

My tryst with letters had been persistent since the life in Patna, when I would be longingly given quarter sides of the blue inlands to stamp a few words to thatha (grandpa); write about a little poem I learnt or the new mathematics quiz score I secured as his proud grandchild or the latest Enid Blyton novel I enjoyed. Later this had turned into an enduring habit to write comprehensive letters to chums who I would dolorously leave behind, when I moved with appa’s transfers to a new school, a new city, a new circle of friends.

I still have the two brown boxes full of variegated letters, which have every emotion of a life bygone safely preserved in senile paper and soft ink. As I dig the countless envelopes, they travel from the postcard of my best friend’s five year old hand to the letter I received when I was eighteen. Emanating from them all, is the forgotten laughter and slight tears we shared as friends, as schoolmates, as luncheons-ers of others’ Tiffin boxes, as night-out group study partiers, as secret-keepers, as inseparable ‘Best Friends’ who pledged on the farewell day, only to realize in a few years that the very word ‘stay in touch’ had innumerous repercussions, one fails to anticipate.

I, at today, set alarms on the office outlook to remind me amidst work to call a friend on his birthday; make a mental note of all the phone calls I have to make on weekends, only to procrastinate the thought to the next weekend on the washed-out Sunday night; watch a friend come online, sweetly reminded by the yahoo messenger, only to prioritize a pending deadline and chat another time; midst hours of lolling on orkut pages, I decidedly leave a ‘Whats up?’ only to forget after a week that I did so when my friend responds; await a phone call on my birthday and expect to be scolded for being a lazy bum and never mail.

A wedding invitation, a solitary mail, a tri-monthly phone call, a yearly lunch, a new year wish has all that has become of a time when letters updated a weekly life. These rueful facets of life make me wonder if I have grown above everything in this world, may be even myself?!

Marriage – marriage what?

Marriage – marriage what?

It was September 2001; a bemused I, sat on the debate bench of the sultry classroom, during the first English lesson. The professor had decided to engage the boisterous section-B of to be computer science engineers to some supposedly intriguing discussion on love versus arranged marriage. Shortly, the unruly apathy of the 17-year-olds was silenced to discomfiture by the unwarranted – “Marriage’s very purpose is legal propagation of species. Does it make a difference if it is love or arranged?”

No sooner had the half-feminist, half-callous and gravely-casual, words fallen off my mouth, even the inconspicuous self-proclaimed Romeo of the classroom, who considered commitment a sin, let out a sneer at this supposed piece of female gender mouthing atrocities about a sanctimonious epiphany. I let the moment pass and smiled inward at the ignominy the situation must have stirred in the minds of the forty odd teenagers staring at me with half-awe and half-scorn. When the professor gathered herself from the bewilderment, she closed the debate diplomatically – Marriage is a socially-approved sexual and emotional union of a man and woman expected to be permanent.

An amused bunch of pals had shunned my statement as anything more than an element of jeer over canteen coffee breaks for college years to come. However, looking back at the facetiousness with which I had handled the ‘M’ word back then, makes me wonder if the real meaning to marriage can ever be understood? Even if it can be understood, is there any such meaning to it? And even if a meaning can be coined, is it a ‘real’ one?

As the college days hopped away, running into phases when one hates men, I had even turned into the unwilling feminist, declaring marriage as “legal rape”. I too like every dumb teenager dreamed of the Casanova knight who would ride me on the handsome horse, conveniently contrasting the upheaval of feminism in me!

When life grew out of flippant college-life to seek sense and self-realizations in the harmless name of ‘higher-studies’; life taught me a lot of lessons beyond the academic blah. As I rejected my very own obdurate definition of marriage, I had never bothered to ponder over it either. Standing at the zenith of murky transitions within me, enjoying life in varied colors, marriage is still an unfamiliar territory; I am reluctant to embrace.

It leaves within me incomplete descriptions, a myriad of questions and self-certified clarity. Marriage can’t be defined, but experienced; Marriage is a lifetime of optimistic contradictions; Marriage is a sweet metamorphosis of independence; Marriage is synonym to adjustment; Marriage is a fifty year challenge to see simplicity in complex life.

As the philosophical I evolve to reality, I fall back sipping the coffee, complacent to the oblivion around me, smiling at the breathing space of life still left to explore the world, jump the mile and carefree freedom. I snap back – “Marriage… marriage what?”


Vishu- kani

Yet another ‘vishu’ came and went by. This time I had spent it cooking a hearty meal to my capacity and dawdled with pals indoors, rapt in a movie, owing to thunder storms outside. It has been two years since I experienced ‘vishu-kani’ (the first sight on vishu day) and the lovely feast amma would dole out for the genial vishu lunch, on the banana leaf. Warm afternoons of festive filled ambience, family banquet and sumptuous burps intermitting the post-lunch laughter marked ‘vishu’ as the most sought for festival, next to ‘diwali’, in my life.

The eve of vishu was often spent shopping for the little big niceties that went into making the first sight on vishu day graciously positive and meant to make the year ahead a very lucky one. I would look forward to take the seat next to appa, watch him gracefully arrange the ‘urali’ with rice, the coconut filled with ‘parupu’, the cucumbers, melons and fruits, all reflecting on the mirror that was adorned with gold chains placed behind the delicacies decked out on the ‘tambalam’. The ‘kani-konna’ (the yellow flowers that bloomed to aptness, during the vishu season) added the final touch to the festooned ‘kani’, prepared carefully to be harbinger of joy for the year to come.

A contented sleep was soothingly interrupted by amma at the crack of dawn. She would walk me down, closing my eyes, saving them from seeing anything else before I set my eyes on the bedecked ‘vishu-kani’. Slowly, appa would dampen my eyes and gesture me to open them to the sight that even after twenty odd times of redundancy over the years, still swelled my heart with unremitting joy. I would ritually go over the details of the kani I had helped appa ornate last night. It always seemed different from the night before, as if blessed to completeness on a vishu’s first light. Smiling, I would make a stamp of the sight in the memory lane, adoring every intricacy.

As the vishu day unwinds and the cucumbers and melons of the vishu-kani make a delicious meal for the afternoon, followed by the showers of blessings accompanied with ‘vishu-kaineetam'(money) from elders, a pleased I would sink with happiness on the perfect day. This year, living a life that sans the presence of appa and amma and the beautiful vishu-kani, I simply reminiscence the vishu days back home and recite a prayer to keep the family hail and healthy for ages to come!

It happens only in India

It happens only in India

First it was the efforts from political bodies to impede sex-education in schools, singing the saga of “Against our culture”. Followed by; the country divided on the reservation system. Murthy pelted for the ‘Nation Anthem’ row. And; now the government wants a piece of the women civil servants menstrual cycle. Every issue did create a storm in the tea cup in its own engaging way. This is what I had to say about the latter to the BBC. However, I was a wee bit late and realized I had submitted it after the debate was closed!

Having read about the new appraisal forms, the Indian Government is requesting from the female civil servants, to reveal exhaustive details of her menstrual cycle, I second the words of Sharwari Gokhale, environment secretary in western Maharashtra state, in stating that I am grossly “gob smacked”!

It is often ironic to see the hypocritical lines between “personal” and “non-personal” drawn by the patriarchic society of India and hence the government too. This issue cannot be shunned away as just another feminism gimmick, but fends far into dealing with ones personal feelings as an individual and civilized citizen. Further it also questions the extent to which any employer can involve in employees’ lives and how BIG can big brother be?

It has been and is a common practice to undergo a gambit of medical tests before joining a company as an employee, in India as well as abroad. Believing oneself to be a healthy citizen with no adverse health dimensions that can prove detrimental to fellow employees, we undergo the rigorous tests quiet unquestioningly and ignore why is it that we are being evaluated beyond our abilities for an office cube in the multinational firm. One cannot forget the real-life based movie of ‘Philadelphia’ where ones life as an employee is ripped away because he is diseased with Aids. It cannot be far from realizing that such incidents go untold and unreported, which are pretty pertinent in today’s corporate scenario, where one hasn’t accepted diseases like Aids without looking at it as a stigma.

In such regard, a woman’s menstrual cycle is being treated by the health ministry as something beyond a natural phenomenon. It is as relevant in life like urinating or cleaning ones bowels. It is never that one is expected to elaborate details of this kind to any superior for any reason whatsoever. It leaves the arena open for further intrusions of adversely unacceptable nature. The appraisal does not clearly define the motivation behind recording vital information about one’s bodily behavior. If such imperative facets of ones life is not ones own, then we may be redefining the very meaning of ‘personal life’.

One does not arise to such situations as being of a particular gender. Therefore even this concern cannot be sidelined as a woman’s subject. It is no different from a situation if men were asked to enumerate on his testicles, for health ministry specified reasons. As lawful citizens and loyal employees one should not be humbled to live a transparent life, because the employer wants so. On such a note, I back the women civil servants in India in their quest for instilling privacy into employee life.



As a school go-er at six, in the freezing Patna winter, looking atleast five times me in three layers of warm clothes laden over a Vicks smothered chest for that perfect warmth; I was a naïve child, who half-sheepishly yet happily traveled the scooter ride on a standing ticket between appa’s protective arms, looking like little red riding hood with the red scarf wrapping my head and ears from the cold-prone winds and the water bottle garlanding my neck.

Often the pictures of me taken back then, with the mushroom hair cut and innocent smiles make me wonder if living life as little ‘divu’ was the best part of the past twenty-something years. My thoughts coast at the play-room, the storage hub of our flat with three balconies (a Dr.Bhishnudev Prasad owned building on Patna Main road), where I had created an immure world of me and my modest dolls, who would come to life in the puerile dramas I enacted with my kitchen sets. I was a contented child much to my parents’ relief, who could dwell for hours playing mother, teacher, soldier to the torpid, docile playmates.

I had learnt to amuse myself and in the process shared the perfect affiliation with self. As years went by, my playmates were replaced with books, paintings and jigsaw puzzles. As more years went by, the relationship extended to friends, good friends and best friends. Life’s rapport with self had almost dwindled away as a teenager and by the time I was twenty, spending time on my own was next to impracticable.

I, at now, at twenty-something, often spend a good many hours, bundled in books, fending for errands, attempting to cook, traveling to shop, listening to tunes while I run the treadmill. It makes me question if the little ‘divu’ had survived and was that autonomous me governing life all over again? Suddenly living as the stereotype independent working woman seems like the strewn jigsaw puzzle pieces, which I am trying to fit together, trying them on to make that complete picture, little by little each day.

I recall the jigsaw puzzle of puppies I knew by heart and fixed it almost ten times in fifteen minutes. I smile at the sardonic reality, when puzzles that seemed an effortless child’s play at eight are blurred veracities at twenty-something, when the pieces that fit the perfect life are yet so hard to find and when you do find them they are harder to fit!

Amma’s bajjis

Amma’s bajjis

It has been a week of incessant rains and intermittent wet flurries in Boston. The murky skies, punitive droplets and frosty winds give no indication of the spring that is supposed to have set in almost three weeks back. As I snuggle in a blanket watching the romantic showers trickle down the window, the whims of piping hot red molaga bajji dipped abundantly in coarse white chutney, complemented with sips of dicotion kappi in a tumbler, grip me. I fantasize the oil-laden golden bajjis and almost scent the mesmerizing aroma, so apt for the chilliness outside.

I suddenly shake back to life realizing that the wafting redolence is now replaced by the rustiness of a closed heated room. I dotingly remember amma, who would have, as if read my mind, walked in with a plate of bajjis and masala tea. I smile traveling back to evenings spent over warm tea (amma always preferred tea to coffee) on the huge dining table, cooling the tea back and forth from dawara to tumbler, table-talking about everything under the sun. It was those little moments of sheer nothingness and smiles, which brought me closer to her.

Amidst phases of elaborate arguments and instances of puerile laughter, amma and I had created a world of two of us for three years, in appa’s absence to Goa. She was my confidant, friend and fighter-cock sibling back then. As I look back at my engineering years; they wouldn’t be complete without this fifty something (still looks thirty eight), cherubically puny, enthusiastic, subtly pious, cleanliness freak, childish laughter filled and marvelous cook, my mother.

I grab the packets of chilly powder and besan, enclosed with love and emanating reassurance of amma’s touch to the perfect taste, enthused to try my first bajji. I imitate the unconscious observations I made watching amma cook, sitting on the kitchen platform munching down half cooked pieces of food, much to amma’s kind indignation. As I eye the amateur half brown bajjis floating in oil, I let out a little sigh and a sweet tear, missing amma and her golden bajjis.

From a movie buff

From a movie buff

Last week when my friend kitty mentioned to me that he is off to watch ‘mozhi’ for the second time in theatre, it got me thinking as to when was it last that I felt this way about a tamil movie? I irksomely remembered the last flick I had watched of ‘pokri’ which I almost branded as tolerable before the item number with cheesy lyrics like “my name is apple” had made tolerable an understatement. For goodness sake, I was not in a theatre.

However, the movie of ‘mozhi’ from last night, I watched in a theatre in Belmont in Mass, the single show that was being played for the three hundred odd tamil movie ‘rasikars’ from Boston and around, had gone a long way to bring faith in good movies back to the tamil industry. The little theatre set-up had the feel of a theatre in India in the 80’s, with tattered seats (may be a mice or two running underneath), concrete floors, home-theatre type screen, intermissions and not to forget the howling and whistling I missed so much when the favorite stars came on screen. ‘Mozhi’ was a complete entertainer, with roles and story having ingenuous emanating from every scene and dialogue. I had laughed till my tummy ached for the spontaneity of prakash raj and prithvi (I recall the last time being for ‘raam ji rao speaking’ in Malayalam). The blend of subtle move from one scene to next, laughter, emotions, and soft numbers simply made this movie touch your heart and wear an engaging smile for the two and half hours!

Nevertheless, as I walked out of the theatre, mesmerized and satisfied, still hanging in aura of the feel-good factor the movie provided, I couldn’t help but analyze, why was it that tamil industry had such few actors who actually lived the role and brought such refinement to the movies with ease. My thoughts were driven to the much hyped and worshipped god Rajnikanth and his obscenely commercialized cinema lines. I am sure every rajni-fanatic is going to kick my ass if I said that he had turned the most beautiful movie of ‘manichitratazhu’ into a practical joke in ‘chandramukhi’ which was a run away hit not only in Tamil Nadu, but in Japan as well.

I must confess that living in a Chennai for four years and bragging of a friend circle of two hundred percent rajni fads didn’t turn me into one. I have for the love of the theatre spirit and finding out about the frenzy rajinisms enjoyed his high-spiritedness, on which tamil-nadu thrived. So much is his potential to live in the minds of these people, that his biggest flop ‘baba’ was watched by my pals atleast thrice, to be able to do justice to rajni ‘talaivar’! Satiric? As if breaking into my reminiscence, my friend exclaimed “ I can’t wait for Shivaji, rajni’s next movie!”

It easily got me into the argument with my friend on why the tamil industry lacked the charm and simplicity Malayalam industry did. I, owing to the passion for feel-good movies had quoted my favorite lal-etan (Mohanlal) and his myriad of roles and artful cinemas of Bharatan and Adoor gopalakrishnan. After ten minutes of exchange of view points, I was just left with some conclusions. The people in tamil nadu simply accepted their films, the way they are and worship them and follow them. How else can you explain the film stars turned politicians? And the public in kerala was demanding. They simply expect movies be made for their tastes.

I, in the sea in between both worlds, simply sank in my seat, complacent that I could understand and enjoy movies from both ends. I would love to shed a tear at lal-etan’s ‘Thanmatra’ and cheer and attempt to whistle at Rajani’s self-made tornado from a twist of the feet!!