Saturday, May 17, 2014


Last evening, I decided to walk through the gullies of Thiruvanmiyur and Besant Nagar to spend quality time with myself at the beach. The sun had long set but you could still feel its warmth. The breeze seemed to have gone on a vacation. After just five minutes, large patches of sweat had formed on my back. But it didn’t bother me.

I walked about at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and sounds of life in the bylanes. The grandpa playing catch with his grandson. The little boy trying to catch the hen. The two girls standing on the road, pointing fingers at a political hoarding and whispering into each other’s ears. The clock repair shop that was in serious need of repair. The volleyball match in progress.

I was walking in a happy daze when a grey-haired paati stopped me on the road and said, “Dear girl, don’t mind this paati’s words…”

I stopped to listen. I thought she would ask me for money.

Suddenly, I find her hand on my left breast. “You shouldn’t walk with your breasts uncovered. You must wear a dupatta,” she said in chaste Tamil.

I brushed her hand off and resumed my walk, at a faster pace. The happy daze in my mind was replaced with a buzz of thoughts, not pleasant ones. Yes, she was just an old woman. Yes, she probably just meant to give advice. But strangely, I felt violated. Not only did I disagree with what she had to say, there was also something about the way she touched me. Something wrong.

Thankfully, a friend’s called just then. A short phone conversation later, all was forgotten.


An hour later, I was sitting by the walkway at the beach, petting a stray dog when I felt someone touch me on the back of my hip. There was something warm about the touch. Something innocent.

I turned and found a round-eyed toddler smiling toothily at me. Before I could turn around fully and make my acquaintance with him, his family whisked him away. But that little touch had made me happy.

In the same evening, one stranger had made me cringe, another had made me smile. With just a touch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The poetry of a South Indian living room

The poetry of a South Indian living room with its skewed symmetry and chaotic aesthetic. Where footwear is meant to be removed before entering and arranged in neat rows in the verandah. With the welcoming smells of curry leaves, garlic and coconut oil, and on special days - ghee. The faded sofa cover neither matches the cushion, nor contrasts it. Blouses, petticoats and trousers decorate the chairs around the dining table. The lady of the house enquires about the status of your stomach before asking after your health.

The wooden cabinet in the hall proudly showcases photographs and medals of the son - the swimming champion, snaps from the daughter’s graduation, and images of the grandparents’ black and white past. In a corner is a tiny picture of the balding father’s office farewell. The mother’s artwork fill the gaps - emboss and glass paintings, quick stitch, cross stitch and crochet.

The centre table is a jumble of newspapers (all of them The Hindu) and a few magazines.Weighing them down is a copy of Webster’s as thick as the Maami’s forearm. If the Maama is a fan of The Hindu crossword, then a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus too.

The television is flat and conscpicuously large. Under it is a DVD player; next to it is a music system; on top of it is a Tata Sky box - all four remote controls are covered in transparent polythene kept in place with coloured rubber bands. It was the Maama’s idea, “So what if it looks odd, as long as it serves the purpose.” An astute mind will know what the Mama said about the remote control was actually meant for the living room.

Those forgotten kitchen aphorisms

All through my high school, Amma held a job as a Hindi teacher in another school. This meant that she had two sets of children – “you both” (my brother and I) and her “other” children (the ones in her school). Every time my brother or I misbehaved, she would say, “I have had enough of you both. My other children never throw spoons at me.”

“But you are their teacher. Not their mother. Even I wouldn’t dare throw my spoon at my Hindi teacher,” I would say, shivering in the thought of my Hindi teacher, the tall, bespectacled, and forbidding Premalatha Ma’am. Shanky would nod in assent, possibly imagining his own tall, bespectacled, and forbidding Hindi teacher.

Being a working mom also meant that Amma’s evenings would often be spent in correcting answer sheets and preparing lesson plans. So when it was time to cook dinner, she would enlist my help. After complaining about the injustice of things, and how I was the only one among my friends who was forced into helping her mother, I would ultimately shut up and do the work.

As we rolled chapattis and made the accompanying curry, Amma would give me various kitchen tips. The right way to peel garlic, how to get the bitterness out of cucumber, how to cut onions without tears, the best way to roll rotis, how to make your dough softer.

“Amma, why are you telling me all this? Anyway, I won’t be cooking when I grow up,” I would moan.

“Oh, so you will eat out every day, huh?” She would ask.

“Mmm… I guess so. Or I’ll hire a cook. Oh, even better, I’ll marry a chef,” would be my reply.

We would then digress into the topic of marriage. The kitchen aphorism would lay forgotten on the cutting board, only to be swept off into the bin once the day’s cooking was done.

Twenty years’ worth of water has flowed under the bridge. I live by myself and cook by myself. I have not married a chef. I can’t afford to eat out every day. Nor can I afford a cook.

Every evening, when I get down to cooking dinner, I look at the vegetables lying in front of me – uncut and uncooked – and I wish I had paid just a wee bit of attention to my mother’s words when I was younger. At least then I wouldn’t have to spend 20 minutes every time I have to peel half a dozen pods of garlic.