Category Archives: Sentimental or something

The day that is

The flavor of the day seems to be pensiveness.    Possibly sleep deprivation – I got a little less (don’t ask how less) sleep than my body needs, and my brain is responding by spiralling into thoughts that won’t slow down no matter how mindful I try to be of them.

It started at the temple this morning.  Having completed my morning chores early and home alone, with no pressing deadlines, I walked to the neighbourhood temple. As I was perambulating the altar, I heard laughter like, as the cliché goes, a gurgling brook.  I shamelessly turned to see a middle aged woman (my age +/- 5 years), sitting with a man (probably husband, but like I said, she was laughing, think what you will), eyes watering with mirth, holding her stomach and shaking uncontrollably.  Unbridled mirth.  I was dying to know what was so funny in what he said that made her laugh so, unmindful of where she was and who was around.

I belong to a funny family myself.  My father has a wry sense of humour, some of which he passed on to me (I hope).  My husband is hilarious with words and puns.  My daughter has humour that surpasses her age, and thus often alienates her from her peers who don’t get it.  All three of them (dad, husband, kid) make me laugh a lot – I love humour, Wodehouse is my all-time favourite.  I get and crack all kinds of jokes, from the banal to the risqué.  But my laughs are momentary.  There is an upsurge of the pleasant feeling, which is spent within a moment as a snort or chuckle, and comes back to ground state.  I can count the number of times I have laughed uncontrollably, on one hand – most of it has been with my friend L, and we are usually talking about the travails of having a uterus.  Come to think of it, those are the times that I have chosen to off-load some daily life frustration or pain or upheaval to her, so perhaps it is a defense mechanism to lift the load off my chest.

When I heard and saw the woman in the temple laugh, I realised that it has been so long since I have laughed like that – the kind that when you are done, your stomach is bunched , your voice is hoarse, your throat is sore and head, light.  And it has not been because of lack of the daily life frustration or pain or upheaval from which I need that defense, because as long as there is life, and there is a brain in my head, it is going to frustrate me, cause me pain and upheave.  I was jealous of her, not just because she laughed like that, but because she was so comfortable in her skin that she could be herself in a public place, unfettered by consciousness of those around.  I have not felt that in a long time.  Perhaps never.

Have I become the stuffy ol’ woman who takes herself too seriously?

Or am I just sleep deprived today?



It has been a while since I bragged and humiliated my little one.  Since it is in the fineprint of the mothering manual, which must not be forgotten, I am doing this. I hope you understand that I am merely doing what is expected of me.

I started reading to my kid when she was 12 days old. I believe I read PGWodehouse to her as she peed and pooped when she wasn’t suckling or sleeping.  Then, when her eyes began to focus, I read Tintin and Amar Chitra Kathas to her, so she could see the pictures and colors.  Then we graduated and by the time she was two, I was reading Enid Blyton to her, and one of the first things she told me when she had started talking was, let’s have an English breakfast like the Famous Fives.  By four, she could read, and didn’t need my droning voice anymore and anytime anyone suggested outing, she said “bookstore”.

But that’s not the brag (well, it is, but you know…). She started writing creative stuff when she was five.  Seeing her love for writing, I started a blog for her when she was six, and she wrote extensively in it.  She still has the blog, and recently, she privatised all her old posts (she wanted to delete them because “amma, they are so immature and kiddish” but I told her to merely privatize it because I want to show these posts to my grandchildren) and revamped her blog into a typical teenage repository of hormone-induced, often funny banter.

Am sharing the blog here (see above link)….just so you can check it out.

End of brag.

Some memories that need out

Part 2:  Snapshots

I am ~2 years old. My grandmother carries me to the playground and puts me atop a rocking horse. Patti swings near and far as I rock on. It gets dark, we have to go home.  I don’t want to stop .  Paati lifts me onto her chest as I heave and sob.  I rest my head on her shoulder.   The cloth on her shoulder is soft and smells of Ponds powder. I feel better.

I am ~2 years old. My grandmother is in an animated conversation with my mother, and has me on her lap facing her.  I attempt to catch that speck of light that is reflected off her solitaire nose stud, on her alabaster-skinned  cheek.  When I touch the speck of light, it disappears.  I take my hands off her chubby cheeks, there is the speck again.  I squeal and my grandmother laughs along.

I am ~4 years old. I am seated in the first row of concentric semicircles of children of all ages, facing a man with paan-stained lips and pattai on his forehead and the drone of a sruthi box in the background.  I turn to see paati sitting outside the semicircle, in her trademark 9-yard saree and white blouse, smiling at me – the teacher had just said to her that I have inherited her singing voice – she is so proud.  I sing the second sarali varisai with the mob.  Next thing I remember, paati is waking me up after the class to take me back home. “Its ok if she sleeps”, I hear her voice through the sleep-addled brain, “she’ll still be exposed to music”.

I am ~7 years old. My mother is chiding me for not getting full marks in Math.  My grandmother scolds her “let her be. Its only marks, not life.” and drags me away to give me Bournvita.  I can’t decide which is worse – my mothers scolding or having to drink Bournvita.

I am ~9 years old. I return from school.  Mom is away at the old-age home in which she volunteers.  Paati brings a plate of hot rice upma and coconut thogayal.  I throw a tantrum about how much I hate rice upma and why can’t I have something better to eat when I come back from school.  Her face falls.

I am ~10 years old. We are at my uncle’s wedding.  My grandmother makes me sing “Bhavayami Raghuraman” to some random relative, sitting on a stair that leads to the groom’s room, away from the crowd.  I am embarrassed about her bragging, but I sing the long-long song to the relative, who, for some reason, is paying attention.  “She has purity of notes and perfect rhythm ..she is your grandchild after all” the relative says.  The same proud look on grandma’s face that I caught in my first music class.

I am ~12.  I panic at the red in my underwear and bring it straight into the kitchen to show it to my grandmother.  My mother is taking a shower.  My grandmother is ecstatic and hugs me, then realises what she has done, asks my mom to get the hell out of the bathroom to shower herself.  I feel irritated that she needed to bathe for having touched me.  And my stomach hurts.

I am ~13 years old.  My mother is throwing up in the sink.  My grandmother is straining to hold her head.  I can see the worry on her face.  “You’ll be ok you’ll be ok” she repeats to my mother.

I am ~14 years old.  My mother is in surgery for eight hours.  Not a sip of water passes my grandmother’s mouth as she sits  on a hard bench outside the surgery and chants “Sai Ram, Sai Ram” continuously.

I am ~14.  It is 3 AM in the morning.  My mother is gasping for breath.  My grandmother runs to the backyard, picks Tulsi leaves (Basil) to put into my mother’s mouth and chants “Narayana Narayana” into her ears as her soul departs.

I am ~14.  “How can you leave your mother and go, Malathy?” my grandmother wails as my mother’s body is borne away.  The only time I have seen her raise her voice and cry.   I shed my first tear at that moment.

I am ~15.  Grandfather is on life-support.  Grandmother has to make the decision to take him off.  “Tell me what I should do, LG”, she looks up at me, “I will accept whatever you say”.  I ask her to send off my grandfather with dignity.  She complies without another word, and does not mention this ever again.

I am ~20. My father is out of town on business.  I get a call from IIT, accepting me to the Masters’ program that is difficult to get in.  I drop the phone, hold on to patti’s shoulder and dance a jig.  “I am going to fall down” she yells.

I am ~22.  I can’t wait to get out of home.  Out of the country.  To new life, new lands.  Grandmother waves me goodbye at the airport with the same trademark smile.  I wave, turn and walk away to my new life.

I am ~26.  I return to India after roughing out terrible economic depression in America.  She is at the airport to receive me.  She is hunch-backed and wrinkled.  But her seven diamond ear studs and solitaire nose stud wink at me, as she smiles her welcome smile.  I bend deep to lay my head on her shoulder.  The cloth on her shoulder is soft ad smells of Ponds powder. I feel better.

I am ~30.  I have had my first date with my now husband, in Washington DC.  That night, I call home to tell my grandmother “he is just like you, paati. Slow, steady and calm”.  “You need someone like that to ground you”, she says.  She is right.

I am 31. I wake up from anaesthesia, as new year breaks, to a howling child.  I turn to the direction of the noise.  A really old woman is seated in a plastic chair with a wrinkled, screaming little banshee held on her lap.  She croons endearments to the baby as the baby calms down.  For the next many months, the baby stops crying instantly when paati carries her. It bugs me at times, but I am largely happy to get a crying baby off my chest.

I am 35.  My four year old sings “varaveena” completely out of tune.  The great grandmother is in throngs of ultimate joy – “how beautifully she sings”.

I am 38.  “Why don’t you talk to me more often?”  She asks. “I talk to you thrice a day, paati…what more do you want?”  I scold her. “You are always scolding me”, she tears up.  “Stop it paati.” I scold more.  This repeats often for the next few years.

I am 41.  “Buy me a nightie that I can wear easily.  I am unable to wear saree any more”.  I can feel my heart break.

I am 43.   “Your brother-in-law had come”   she says of my uncle.  “Paati, he is not my brother-in-law, he was your daughter’s brother-in-law – he is my periyappa”, I am exasperated.  She does not get it. Her dead daughter and live granddaughter have merged in her consciousness.

I am 44.  She is semi conscious in the hospital. I ask the nurse to remove her breathing mask just long enough to smear some chakkarai pongal that I made for Pongal festival.  Her lips are dry and chapped  but she licks the morsel of chakkarai pongal from her lips.  She was never one to refuse sweets.  She is my grandmother after all.

I am 44.  I am asked to drop a handful of rice over the face of the dead woman. I remember the times she has fed me, the dishes she has made, the upma for which she has been chided innumerable number of times, the kashayams she has forcefed me when I was sick.The dam breaks, I double up right there and cry for the woman, who would never make me Bournvita or rice upma ever again.







A birthday and new year

My kid turns 13 today. She has prospered for 13 years, despite her mom groping around in the dark with this whole parenting mystery.  Perhaps I am causing irreparable damage to the kid through my clueless parenting.  Nevertheless, being a theist, I believe that there is someone up there who takes care of wayward souls.

Everyone who wished her today, tells me that I had better pull my act together and brace myself for teenage.  So far, beyond the natural skirmishes that happen when any two people share a roof, neither of us has needed therapy.  Even those skirmishes are caused by me rather than her.  The kid has wisdom that the mom lacks, and I hope it stays that way – the kid’s wisdom, that is, not mom’s lack of it.

The milestone for this year for her was her first crush.  It’s so cute to see puppy love in all its glory.

She had nothing planned for today, so I invited her friends for a surprise party. These are the kids she has grown up with and mean a lot to her. She was duly surprised and all that.  For about an hour, the house was total and utter bedlam, until unable to tolerate the decibel levels, I kicked all of them out. Thankfully, I hired help today to clean the house after the kids were done with their mess.

On a global level, it’s the end of another year. This year started off very badly for me with a loss and some self-esteem issues that threatened to drown me, but I like to believe that I have grown emotionally and in strength since then.  Maybe 2017 won’t be any better than 16 in terms of events, because I do anticipate some tremulous times ahead on the family front, but I hope that the lessons learned this year would come of use.

I am a little skeptical about new year resolutions because whenever I proclaim them to the world, I end up being worse than before in those very aspects.  Nevertheless, my resolutions for this year are “less reactive thinking” and “more meditation”.  Lets see how that works out.

Happy new year, dear readers.  You have been a big part of my emotional growth this year.  Stick around, you are doing good to a stranger without knowing it.


The kid has an exam tomorrow. In a subject that she needs help with – Hindi.  Having been caught up in studying for other exams like Math and Tamil, she had been ignoring Hindi. This evening at 6.30, she approached me for help.  As I sat with her, I freaked at the lack of time, her lag and everything in between.  Just as I was about to lose it and get hysteric, we got a phone call.

A young couple we know, lost their 8-day old baby.  The baby had not cried when he was born, and was on ventilator support before he passed on.

Someone landed a blow on my head.

I have a child who cried with fiery gusto the moment she was plucked off me, and has since been living life to its fullest.  So what if she missed a few deadlines in school or lagged behind a little in one subject for one exam?

The kid is sitting right next to me and I know she is stressed because she is drawing in the iPad. I couldn’t be more grateful for a child who is healthy enough to feel the stress of something as stupid as exams.  As soon as I publish this post, I am going to pluck the iPad off her hands, and give her a bone crushing hug.


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?






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