Category Archives: My country

City thoughts

I am a third generation city-native on my mother’s side and a fourth generation city-native on my dad’s.  All around me are people (including the better half) who are recent immigrants to this city.  It bothers me when these new entrants diss my city, and when I was younger, I’d scorn (in my mind, that is, the skies would fall if I could put it into audible words !) at them (including the better half, there, private linen public wash) and tell them (in my mind) to go back to the rural outback they call home.  These days I don’t mind.  Note that I don’t say I don’t care, but I don’t mind.  It still cuts me to the quick when my dirty, big, crowded, polluted city is bad-mouthed by these new comers –  I am the only one allowed to diss my city because this polluted city runs in my veins.

I hear all kinds of reasons for people to denigrate my city – that it has no character (people have character, not inanimate places, for god’s sakes), that it is dirty (India is dirty, my friend, my city is no exception), that it is deprave (seriously?  Depravity does not exist in your rural home?  Wake up and smell the sewer, folks), that people are selfish (please show me a generous non-city dweller), crowded (you immigrated to here, as have countless others, for a reason – a better livelihood) and this is my favourite – city dwellers are emotionless.    The last one, in particular, used to get me hopping mad (anger is an emotion too) in the past, now I am more zen about it.  I had one particular gentleman tell me that the urban folk lack in finer feelings, heaven knows what that means.  I gently asked him to name a single place in the south of India that patronises art the way my city does. He said that by “finer feelings”, he meant romanticism.  Just yesterday, I cried at the last scene of “The Englishman who went up the hill and came down a mountain”, weep when I read a well-written sentence, and sob at music-  I gave up arguing because it was not worth it.

But this is not what I had wanted to write, although, I obviously get carried away when I talk about my city and my nativeness of it.  What I set off writing is that after a really long time, even years, I got to ride our city metro today.  My city was the first in the south of the country to get a metro train (“Electric train” it used to be called) that ran between the northern and southern suburbs through what used to be the centre of the city.  Although the electric train was widely used by the native city dwellers when I was a kid, I never got to using it too often. My mother’s cousin lived in a place that used to be “suburbs”, but is now part of the main sprawling city, and every summer, we’d make a one day trip to their house. We’d walk up to the railway station, which was a fifteen-minute walk away from my parents’ house, take the train to our destination, and take a public bus from the station to the relative’s house.  I didn’t quite like the relatives – I was a bit scared of them because they seemed to fight a lot, but I would look forward to the trip just for the electric train ride.

In the past two decades, more metro trains have been added to my city, to connect other parts of it.  There is one particular route that goes past where I live now to the place that I was born and spent my early childhood.  Our ancestral house was sold years ago, and I have found not many reasons to visit there, except for my favourite temple there.  My father, however, is honorary director of a local small bank because the directorship has run in the family – my grandfather and his father were honorary directors before him.  So, I have a largely passive account in the bank, which needs activation at least once a year.  Today was the day I chose to activate my account and this took me on the metro. The entire trip took three hours, but it was three hours of complete zen.  Time slowed down, as I took in the sights of my city, feeling it in my bones as the crowded city passed me by in its various shades and hues, and in my childhood favourite temple, which always brings me a sense of calm.  To top it off, the bank people treated me like royalty because I am the daughter of their venerable director and all that, to the point of me wanting to sink into the floor, but truth be told, I did feel happy.

Every time I take the metro, I come back feeling tranquil (finer feelings there, my friend) and decide that this must become at least a monthly routine, to take the metro around my city.  As I did today.  But I suspect I would take the metro again next year, to activate my account and decide again to make this a habit.



Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my country awake.

– Rabindranath Tagore


Being the harsh critique that I am of myself, I am quick to point out the mistakes and wrong choices that I have made in life – as I type this, I have to resist the temptation to list them, partly because that is not what this post is aimed at, but more because it would become a very large list.  I have never thought about the right choices I have made in life.  In fact, considering that my clan is not extinct yet, I must have made some good choices, no?

Some of the choices have been small – such as choosing to let go of my youth conviction of beauty-parlors-are-demeaning-to-women (I must have been one of the very few brides in India who was less made up than the guests at her wedding), in favour of availing of professional services to pamper myself  with a monthly pedicure, and an occasional facial.  There have been a few rare life-altering decisions that had been easy to make – such as marriage, but some other choices have been very difficult, and didn’t seem like the right choice at that time.  Time has, however, justified such choices.

The first difficult choice that I had to make was to quit my PhD.  I could not give a rational reason for why I wanted to quit – I was doing well in the program, I had passed the qualifiers, my research was going good and I was due to present my first seminar in a week.  As I was putting together material for my seminar, an overwhelming feeling of pointlessness swept over me.  It was foolish to quit at that point – I had a valid visa to stay in the US, my advisor was a soft-spoken and friendly man, but I just couldn’t continue with a research that seemed to have no relevance to the world or even myself.  It didn’t seem right.  Despite everyone pointing out that I was making a foolish decision, I yielded to my gut feeling,  defended my research for a Masters’ degree and got out of grad school.  The next few years were tremulous – the job market in the US was shaky and I went through some difficult times, to put it mildly.  But through all that, I never once believed that I had made a mistake in quitting my Ph.D.   The fact that I eventually got a job I love, in due course, is moot.

The next difficult choice was along the same lines.  Eight months into my marriage, living in the US and a with a blob of foetal cells in the uterine oven, we had to choose between raising the family in the US or India. Both sides had equal advantages and disadvantages.  After months of talking, arguing and fighting (and vomiting through the first trimester), we decided to return to India.  Interestingly, I was the one that resisted the move, but now, I am the one that won’t budge out of India (my better-half often wistfully stares towards the west even now) – this is home and coming back was the best decision of my life.

All though my pre-marital life, I was sure of two things – that I would be married.  And I would have many children.  Even as long as I was pregnant, I believed that this was going to be the first of many pregnancies to follow.  But by the time I was ready to start the oven again, I had made my choice (supported of course by my partner in crime) to stop with one. As cliched as this may sound, my decision was not made for me, my family, or my only child, but for my country.   With India bursting at its seams, it was just unfair to add to her burden.  I don’t regret this decision either.

A fourth decision was made more recently.  It is way too personal to put out in a public domain. It has been, by far, the toughest decision I have made yet.  Since it has been made fairly recently, it still feels raw and scary but as before, time would prove to me that I was right.

Have you made a decision in your life that seemed illogical at that time, but proved to be right later?






Indian women rulers


Mangamma, Queen of Madurai: 18th century


Lakshmi Bhai – Queen of Jhansi, Freedom fighter:  19th century

—India attained independence from British rule in 1947 and has since elected its rulers—-

The president is the namesake (De-jure) head of the country, and the governor is the de-jure head of the states.

The prime minister is the active head (De-facto) of the country and chief ministers are the de-facto heads of states.

President and governor are appointed.

Prime minister and chief ministers are elected by the people.


Sarojini Nadu: First Governor of an Indian state 1947

Sarojini Naidu was followed by 26 female governors in various states of India since then until now.  See the list here.

Of course, the governor is the ‘de-jure’ and not ‘de-facto’ head and are selected and not elected by the people.

We have had women de-facto heads (Chief ministers) to states and the country as well., who have been elected by the people.


Indira Gandhi: First woman Prime minister of India: 1966


Sucheta Kriplani.  First female chief minister to an Indian state. 1962.



Nandini Satpathy: Chief minister of an Indian state: 1972


Shashikala Kakodhkar: Chief minister of an Indian state: 1973


Syeda Anwara Taimur: Chief minister of an Indian state: 1980


J. Jayalalitha:  Chiefminister of an Indian state – THRICE.  Current.


Mayawati:  Chief minister of an Indian state – THRICE


Rajinder Kaul Bhattal:  Chief Minister of an Indian state: 1996





Rabri Devi: Chief minister of an Indian state. THRICE


Sushma Swaraj: Chief minister of an Indian state: 1998


Sheila Dixit: Chief minister of an Indian state: 1998


Uma Bharti:  Chief minister of an Indian state: 2003


Vasundhara Raje:  Chief minister of an Indian state: Twice. Current.


Anandiben Patel: Chief minister of an Indian state: Current.

Our first woman president was


Pratiba Patil:  First woman president of India – 2007


They’ve thought this through, haven’t they?

Dang.  Smart move.  Damn smart move.  And yet, so humane.  I know this sounds cliched, but man, I feel proud.


Till November 11, the following places and institutions will continue to accept Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes for payment:

–Government hospitals

–Railway, airline, government bus ticket booking counters

–Petrol, diesel and gas stations authorised by public sector oil companies

–Consumer co-operative stores authorised by state or central government.

–Milk booths authorised by state governments

–Crematoria and burial grounds