March 31, 2005


Like pliable clay in a potter's hand, this one word, Devotion, has come to acquire different shapes in different minds. The one specific aspect of devotion that I am interested in is the simple connection that unifies the known with the Unknown, the powerless with the Powerful, the fathomable with the Unfathomable, the finite with the Infinite, man with God.

Why discuss such a loaded concept? Because a few incidents the past few weeks have left some nagging, unanswered questions, that I would like to revisit. I was with a group of people, each of us participating in several lively discussions in turns, when I mentioned my visit to the temple. I recall having said something to the effect of "I am sure God doesn't expect us to talk to him in hushed, revered tones, bowing down and prostrating in front of him all the time; infact He might equally well, if not to a greater extent, appreciate us talking to Him like we talk to our friends, confiding in him, sharing our secrets with Him and expressing our faith in Him" Having said what I considered was something that needed little analysis, I settled down to continue our other discussions. I realized very soon that I was being greeted by more than a few blank and skeptical expressions. One voice piped up, with an unmistakable hint of skepticism "...and I suppose God told you he wouldn't mind you treating him like a friend?"

...and there I was, with no answer to give to that voice. I am not sure if I was taken aback by my inability to answer the question or because the flood of thoughts and retorts that demanded to be verbalized, flew so fast to my lips, that I remained silent. Long after I left that place, this question kept coming back to my mind, somehow disturbing me...not my faith, just me. I had the sudden urge to go back in time to answer the question that was posed to me, to establish without doubt that faith in Him will make miracles happen - miracles that we are often too self-involved to notice, miracles that lie in the really small things and moments in life - in a child's smile, in a friend's hug, in tears of love, in pangs of separation, in rain and in sunshine - miracles too many to imagine.

...and I realized I no longer felt the need to prove to that voice that there is God, I felt blessed in my knowledge, my faith that He is there, watching us and He is there all around - in us and outside - அவர் தூணிளும் இருப்பார், துரும்பிலும் இருப்பார்.

March 27, 2005

My favourite love scenes...

In no particular order,

  • Mouna Ragam - Screen picturized in pouring rain, Revathi notices Karthik waiting down with his bike just because she had asked him not to go, she opens the window fully to see if her eyes are playing tricks on her, and runs down.
    She asks him "எனக்காகவா?"
    He says "எதோ சின்ன பொண்ணு, மனசு கஷ்ட பட கூடாதேன்னு..."
    The look of amusement and mischievousness in his eyes and that of relief and love on her face convey a kind of chemistry that is hard to recreate.

  • Alaipayuthey - The last scene in the hospital, Madhavan's eyes are red and tired of crying and after many agonizing moments, Shalini opens her eyes and smiles at him and finally says the three words he has been waiting to hear for a lifetime, "I love you".

  • ThillanaMohanambal - Can't beat Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini in the train - they carry on a conversation without speaking a single word, their eyes doing the talking for them; while Sivaji Ganesan communicates much more than what words can just by the curl of his lips, Padmini matches him with her raised eyebrows dancing in reply. A scene that holds the viewer in awe of how something unreal can seem so real.

  • Punnagai Mannan - Kamal Hassan and Revathi dance to the tune of love, of celebration and of life. As Ilayaraja's music courses through your soul, they dance to it - an unconstrained and abandoned dance that only love can play the music to.

  • Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge - Palpable chemistry between SRK and Kajol in the scene where he reveals to her that he was kidding about what transpired between them the previous night. A light hug and yet we see sparks flying.

  • Azhagiya Theeye - Yet another last scene - the camera angle dances beautifully between Prasanna's tear filled eyes and Navya Nair's face showing a whole range of emotions - confusion, empathy and finally, realization. "Boom" indeed.

  • When Harry met Sally - Again, the climax of the movie, I don't recall the dialogues exactly but I know nobody could have described the crinkle on her forehead, among other things, more poetically than Billy Crystal did for Meg Ryan.

There are many more (The post-car-race scene between SRK and Kajol in Baazigar, scenes from the Negotiator and I am sure I will add to this list as I watch yet another scene that makes me laugh and cry at the same time. So, what's your favourite?

Humour and envy

Humour and envy. Sounds contradictory? It wont after I fill in a little bit of background. Yesterday, I was watching Sai Santosh's talk during Sangamam for the umpteenth time; the surprising fact is that I don't tire of watching it. It's fresh and laugh-out-loud-funny each time I watch it. Humour, such a simple concept and yet so very difficult to create, without sounding contrived or derisive. I envy people who can make other people laugh, it is a blessing. You and I, we have so many worries that fill our minds, so many apprehensions that tug our hearts and if someone can make us laugh, can make us forget ourselves and our worries and can transport us to his make-believe world of funny people and funny incidents...well, I never cease to be amazed. For once, I wish I were born with this uncanny ability to make people happy, to make them's not got much to do with the adulation, the applause, the admiration that this ability brings forth in people, as a consequence; it has more to do with just the fact that I can entertain and make a person smile - the middle aged chubby maami who sits worrying about her son's board exams, the thatha who knits his brows in worry wondering when his son would come to visit him with his grandson again, the teenage girl who is scared to death of making a public speech at her convocation, or someone like me obsessing with the software code change that I think will bring the whole IT network crashing - doesn't matter who you are - he can make you laugh and for that one instant when you laugh out loud, you are not the worried thatha or the anxious teenager, you are a bystander, an onlooker enjoying the comical antics of imaginary characters in funny-land and you have absolutely nothing to worry you - you are laughing and you are enjoying the moment - and that is what places comedians like Sai, a whole level above us mortals and for that, I bow down to them - gratefully. Lets not forget the envy bit though, I am envious but for now I am just grateful that I am that person laughing out loud, with not a thing to be worried about!

March 22, 2005


Today I read something that brought things into perspective for me. Here I was writing about men and women and many such trivialities while in some other distant part of this world - men and women are fighting for their lives, for their freedom, struggling to achieve something big, to realise their lifelong dreams...and in comparison, I suddenly realised how very small I was and my thoughts were in the grand scheme of things. The skilful weaver above who weaved this web of joy and misery, anticipation and frustration, life and probably laughing at me and my meaningless thoughts, wondering where he had gone wrong in creating us, while here I am, lost in my own selfish little world, worrying about things that will definitely not make people all around me happy leave alone feeding the hungry mouths of this world.

I guess what am trying to express is helplessness, life goes on sailing smoothly and suddenly a storm capsizes eveything that we had cherished and held precious in our little boat and we are left adrift in the sea wondering about our life and praying with fervour that we be given a second chance to live life the way it should be lived - joyously and peacefully, thanking the weaver above for the wonderful fabric that he has woven around us, thanking him for our good health, our good life and for our loved ones and their love that surrounds us like a shield, a bouquet of good wishes protecting us from ourselves.

A "thank you" to You, from me for making sure my boat is still sailing...

March 19, 2005

He said, She said...

Before you start wondering – this is a figment of my imagination, but with parts of it inspired from factual incidents.

I am in a dreamy and mischievous kind of mood, kind of strange mix of emotions. I decide to indulge my mood. I look for a guinea pig. I hear a sharp intake of breath and wake up from my reverie and look at the source of the interruption; he bangs his fist on the floor – I deduce Kentucky is losing to Cincinnati in the NCAA game. I nudge him playfully and ask “So, what would you do if I weren’t there in your life?”. No response.

I clear my throat purposefully and wait. Oh, I give up! Men cannot comprehend or even hope to surmise a woman’s meaningful pause, a pregnant silence, an exasperated sigh or a stern visage. I do the one thing that I know will definitely grab his attention. I switch off the TV. Ha, that worked like a charm. I have his full fuming attention now.

I settle down to (what I hoped would be) an introspective, enlightening and bonding conversation that would bring us closer and help us connect on an intellectual and emotional level. Ok, I really have to stop romanticizing everything. Anyway, I ask again “Can you imagine life without me?”. I wait eagerly for the reply that will change my life and perception of him and…the phone rings. Cursing the untimely interruption, I make small talk with the person who called, hang up and come rushing back to continue my conversation with him. He is nonchalantly browsing through Reader’s Digest. I wait in anticipation, my pulse racing. He replies, “I guess I can wake up a bit late”. I am jolted awake nastily…”I am sor..sorry?” I stammer. He continued, by way of explanation “You see, I feel compelled to wake up early and go to work early so that you won’t be annoyed…” I must be dreaming. Let me correct myself, I was dreaming before and reality is now doing a good job of biting my head off now.

I decide to give him a second chance, hoping to find a layer of sensitivity hidden deep within him, so deep it needs to be brought out with considerable force and effort from me. I give a superficial laugh, more like a nervous giggle, as if he is just messing with me and I know more profound thoughts will flow out from him after the initial teasing. I move away from the questionable topic of week-days and ask “Well, lets take weekends for instance, what would you do when you wake up and there is no ‘me’ around?” He looks puzzled. I give a mental thumbs-up to myself, kudos to my ability to bring out the sensitive little man within him. I have finally made him ponder about our relationship and how much I mean to him. He answers with a sense of finality “I can wake up late on weekends also, you see….” I grit my teeth in frustration, looking up towards the Lord – “Have pity on me and forgive me, Oh mighty one, for I should like to hurt this guy, very badly…” I shake my head to rid myself of my evil thoughts and continue with the patience of an old woman “Yes, you can wake up late and then? What goes through your mind when you realize I am not with you?” I make little circles around my head to emphasize my question, as if my gesticulations will make the gravity of my question seep through his thick skull. He answers, beaming “Well, Saturday, I can play x-box whole day long!” I resist an impulse to squeeze his tiny throat with my bare hands and somehow find the strength to plod on.“And, What, may I enquire, would you do the whole of Sunday?” – The intuitive reader will now detect a certain coldness in my tone and rightly so! He answers with little deliberation “I guess I can go to the gym and then come back and play x-box”

I need a drink of water immediately. I empty the whole bottle and hold back a sniffle. Tears threaten to come rushing down my cheeks and as I am about to isolate myself from him for the rest of the day and possibly for the rest of my life, I feel a hand on my shoulder, stopping me. I turn around and notice that he is trying hard to hold back bouts of laughter.

“Sorry darling couldn’t resist it” he says and switches on the TV to catch the second half of the game.

March 17, 2005

Now why would I write about something that I am completely and passionately not interested about? Two reasons: I am sitting infront of my computer at work, trying to make sense of a piece of software that I wrote a few days back and what do I hear but cheering! All my office colleagues are assembled in the adjacent conference room cheering UK playing in an NCAA game! Thats reason number one, the next reason is my friend b, who asked me a pertinent question yesterday - why is everything about what women want? Why cant someone ask the question - what do men want? So, I thought I would explore the relatively uncomplicated minds of men and their wants and why they want what they want.

Want number one: Undependent on normal variables like nationality and religion. All men and I do mean All Men are crazy about sports. The variables probably only affect what sport it is that they are crazy about. Let me take cricket for instance, for it is close to my heart and I have been guilty of watching not too many late night matches praying that Sachin would not get out. Here's a common occurrence in my house:
Time: 10 PM
Event: cricket match on TV
Participants: appa, thatha, bro
Annoyances to participants: my mom and I

As far as cricket is concerned, all the males in my family decide to establish some basic rules and prove to the helpless females of the house who the head of the house really is. Bro gets the most comfortable chair closest to the TV, thatha and appa settle down equally comfortably on the sofa nearby. Their eyes are glued to the TV and nothing will make them even turn away. To further emphasize this point, mom makes entry into TV room and hold the dinner plate to Bro, who extends his hands at an angle approximately 90 degrees to his body to take it. We now witness a pretty complicated maneuver - the eyes need to stay on the TV but mom is standing behind Bro, so he needs to extend his hands towards the plate which is behind him not moving his eyes away. Needless to say, Bro did not win the agility contest and the stainless steel plate landed with a resounding crash on to the floor, its contents finding their new homes under the sofa and the comfortable chair. Mom ties her pallu to her waist - let me interrupt my narration at this point to explain the significance of this simple action. This scene is akin to warriors blowing their shells in ancient times to indicate start and end times of a battle. Lets just say, the trio missed the next 10 overs in the match.

Thatha and appa quietly accept their dinner plates without any fancy acrobatics. Then the unthinkable happens, Sachin almost gets out!!! Thatha is too restless to watch the match sitting down. He stands up and decides to walk to and fro deciding how to win the match which is quickly making its way to India's quickest all-out of all times. He nods knowledgably to himself and then yells at mom "Nee ingendhu naganthu inda chairla okkaru, nee ukkandrukkara edam seri illa!". Mom looks up to see if senility is finally getting to thatha. She further discerns that he is indeed serious about his request and obliges, after giving him an old-Tamil-movie-Savithri glare. Sachin however does get out in the next ball and to this day, thatha claims its because of my mom.

Then there is the way k treats me like an absolute princess when a game is going on. He would help around the kitchen, ask if I need something and reduce the TV volume to a minimum...and if you believe what I just mentioned, you must be out of your mind!!! Another simple rule that guys believe in - when a game is on, act like you are in a vacuum with the TV, act like Gandhiji's three monkeys rolled into one, only in this case its not evil that you are avoiding but everything except auditory and visual inputs about the game!

I have long given up trying to talk sense into men, explaining to them that human beings are far more important than a piece of ball being hit towards the sky with a piece of wood but the men in my life do not listen - be it my dad, my thatha, my bro or k...and so here I sit, typing my observations about what is most important to men, while in the conference room next to me, more cheers erupt because Florida has beaten Ohio 67-62...Sigh. I sneak in just to see what is this magical quality about this silly game that can twirl a group of well-dressed, intelligent men around its little finger and make them dance to its tunes and I catch glimpses of the game - the euphoria, the thrill, the excitement, the passion, the emotions surrounding it and realise no woman can ever hope to outwit a nice game, she will always play second fiddle to the scheming game and there is nothing she can do about it.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so..."Goooooo Floridaaaa!".

March 15, 2005


Restless - this word pretty much characterizes how I have been feeling the past couple of days. There is this lovely scene in Jerry Maguire where a guy mimes to his wife making a circle with his hands - "You complete me". In his view, his wife completed him, emotionally. I guess I already have a strong family-friend-fiance support base to complete me emotionally but am waiting for that one thing that will complete me creatively. To cut a long story short, I think I need to work towards finding my creative niche.

When I was in third grade, I started learning Bharathanatyam and was a student who picked up the dance very fast for the next four years. My family then shifted to Bangalore whereupon my tryst with dance ended. I am not sure if it is this small encounter from years back that has created this yearning within me or if its something more recent; but I do know I want to learn to dance. I took up swing dancing classes with k in an attempt to recreate the magic of my childhood dancing days. Swing dancing was fun, but it turned out to be a fair-weather friend and I bid farewell to it.

Then came my attempt to paint. I took up a class at Michael's, our friendly overpriced art-supplies store and tried my hand at painting. I must say, I was impressed with the results, my painting came out beautiful. I felt euphoric for some time, thinking I had found my long-last friend - I thought, painting, in lieu of dancing, would complete me. But, that was not to be. Michaels was not able to woo me a second time.

Then came the time when I was inseparable from my apron. I took cooking quite seriously for some time and pictured mouth-watering dishes that people would talk about and myself glowing at the adulation in my spotless kitchen. k wishes I had stood by this wont but I moved on.

I then pondered upon volunteering at my local Children's hospital but that has remained just a thought in my head, definitely something I want to do at some point in my life.

After many days of introspection and considerable encouragement from k, d and I started tca. Every time I involve myself in the organization's activities, I feel a fresh sense of satisfaction - it used to be an adrenanline pump when I saw what we had worked towards take a concrete shape in front of our eyes, now, its much more than that - almost a part of me. More than anything else that I accomplished in US, I think this assoc gives me a stronger sense of identity and makes me be less harsh on myself. I feel less restless and more at peace with myself now...but am still searching.

I dont know if this innate restlessness (thanks to my dad!) is something that I need to be thankful for, for it drives me on, searching for something more in my life or if I should just learn to be satisfied with what I do and with what I am. I am now vacillating between - learning to play the piano, dancing and writing (there's enough there for a whole new blog!). I dont know which of these acquaintances would be my soul-mate for life but I do know she is there somewhere and I will find her soon.

signed still-searching.

March 08, 2005

What do women want?

An existential conundrum that has haunted the fairer sex since time immemorial. This question show its obstinate face time and again affecting women on land, on sea and in air. She can be a pilot, she can be a strict mother, she can be a homely wife - it still surfaces every now and then in her mind - what does she really want? I can not claim to have solved the riddle but I state here, some related insights that I have gained in my life based on my interaction with more such confused women.

Lets take three typical women Ms.A, Ms.B, Ms.C, almost stereotypical in the way they interact with the world, each having predefined roles in society - some thrusted on them, some by choice. I give a brief character portrayal and behavioral traits that define these women. I will then proceed to analyze the question stated above in the context of my interaction with these women. I confess I have exaggerated a few of these social interactions below to highlight what I think characterize the turmoil in a woman's head - the answer to something men often ask with a puzzled expression on their faces, scratching their heads, searching for an answer there-"What is she really thinking?".

Ms.A - her life and something like that:
Ms.A, a spirited, emotional girl, deeply attached to the people in her life, not just bordering on but well into the realm of "possessiveness". She recently married a guy picked by her parents, everything happened the traditional "arranged marriage" way. The wedding was an expensive affair - the kind people talk about even many months later and say "The food was delicious". Post honeymoon, we received a number of nice photos from Ms.A and hubby, a long email followed that can be condensed to - "We are so happy.He is perfect, I could not have picked a better guy". At this point, I conclude Ms.A's role, rather abruptly, because I think I can make my point without travelling further into Ms.A's life.

My reactions:
When I heard Ms.A state directly to me that she thought her life was perfect, I was thrown into a state of turmoil. Men and the ignorant should note at this point that women in a group live in a state of delicate balance, maintained mentally based on the information they exchange with each other - a mental see-saw, if you will. After my talk with Ms.A, my mental see-saw became inconceivably unbalanced. Within a week, I had drawn comparisons between her life, her marriage and my life and relationship with k. I further proceeded to feel a mix of anxiety, restlessness and dissatisfaction about my relationship for a period lasting a few weeks. I then proceeded to talk to other close friends of mine questioning the validity of my relationship and finally proceeded to what these events usually lead to - a letting-off-steam, emotional-outpour and finally a stream of tears all directed towards k. k, as he normally is in situations such as these, was clueless. He said all the right things at the wrong time which infuriated me further; I added an additional worry-item to my mental see-saw - my significant other does not even understand me - a high priority, heavy weight item that further unbalanced what little balance existed.

Ms B - What is love?
Ms B, a graceful dancer, excellent singer but belonging to the clingier variety of women. The clingy, needy, whiny variety. Our local community considered Ms.B and boy friend inseparable and felt their names needed to be added to the list of Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha, Pritviraj Chouhan-Samyukta, you know how that list goes! At various points in my interaction with them I noticed how loving and lovey-dovey-cuddly they were with each other and felt "Ah, here is true love, I have been blind". To add further "poondu" to the rasam (just trying something new instead of fuel to the cliched fire), Ms.B confided in hushed tones to me that she felt she could not live without him or imagine a life without boy friend. She further questioned me if I felt the same about k.

My reactions:
I felt myself getting sucked into the vortex again, plummeting down in my mental roller-coaster. Innumerable questions came pouncing at me, characterized by three emotions - doubt, disappointment and resignation in that particular order. I re-analyzed my relationship and came to the conclusion that what we shared was just a pale shadow of true-love's distant cousin. I proceeded to isolate myself from people and spent many productive (so I thought), enlightening hours wondering why I could not share the perfect relationship that B shared with boy friend. This resulted in me not talking to k for the next two weeks and stating that our relationship is reaching an official closure now. He remained as baffled as ever.

Ms.C - To listen to the wife or not to listen
Ms.C, a friendly, good-natured, smiling girl - someone whose wavelength matched mine (the discerning reader would have realized by now that, that is a rarity in my life, especially where another girl is concerned). To cut a long story short, she married the guy she loved and we were very happy for her. She often told me about how child-like he was and how he would surprise her with expensive, impulsive gifts - yada yada. Recently they even had an extended honeymoon to someplace remote - cruising, candle light dinner - the works.

My reactions:
I would often listen wide-eyed to Ms.C's romantic escapades and wonder "why not me?". When do I get my share of silly, super-expensive watches with my name engraved in gold and the rest of my carefully hand-giftwrapped gifts hidden in potpourri in a room decorated with pink flowers and soft mind wanders, transported to this magical world and then poof, I am back to reality with a thud. At the risk of sounding repititive, lets just say I went through the whole cycle of emotions, yet again. k started looking up self-help books hoping that would help him figure out his life and mine.

The reality phase:
...and then reality dawned. Let me first fill you in on a few other events that took place in our subjects' lives. Ms.A had problems adjusting to married life and in-laws. Ms.B and boy friend broke up. Ms.C revealed to me later on that her child-like hubby does not participate in even small things that she enjoys because he considers them "childish", although they are still happy. I realized none of their lives was perfect. What they portrayed to the world was probably perfect, but their lives? Far from it. I guess, its hard for women to admit that they lead normal, imperfect lives, nothing really that makes them stand out from every other Jane, Cynthia or Bridget. When we get down to the nitty-gritty its always the same story - filled with compromises, negotiations, squabbles, tears and sleeping on the couches but in each of their lives are moments that make the struggle worth it. We can decide to concentrate on the negatives in our life and allow ourselves to be filled with self-doubt or we can dwell in those little nuggets of joy - the days when he gets up early and has a bed-coffee ready for you with just a tad more sugar and a tad less coffee than you would like, when his chivalrous front comes to the forefront and he wraps you in his jacket and gives you a rose, when he smiles at you crying because you are so very bad at cooking and hugs you consolingly, when he whispers "I love you" before he kisses you goodnight - those few moments make the whole relationship worth its while. k, meanwhile carries on, confused that I have been so very nice to him the past few weeks, little does he realize that a storm has come and gone, but it has left back colorful little conches and shells, each having a valuable lesson to learn and if he listens carefully, he will understand a little more about what women want.

March 04, 2005

A few days back, before my India trip (thats a looong story, details of which will be revealed over time), I got over-enthusiastic and posted a semi-autobiographical (characters in the story), semi-fictional story (events in the story) that I wrote for Sulekha:

I turned back again, to say goodbye to Jai. He seemed sad to see me go, which made me feel better, in a weird sense, as if I was able to vindicate the numerous fights we had had in the past. He had a look of resignation; he had accepted the fact that he was never going to see me again, but he was too proud to verbalize what I could see, so clearly, unspoken words that would torment him for a long time. I swiped my boarding card and smiled distractedly at the airhostess.
Here I was, flying back to where I came from. Back to my colorful, exotic India! A whirlwind of thoughts filled my mind, fleeting images of relatives I said goodbye to, my parents, thatha, my brother, friends…the sights and sounds of India, that make it special for anyone who lives away; and amidst all these thoughts, I saw one face clearly and I had a gnawing feeling, a complete sense of loneliness enveloped me…Jai, of all the people…I could see him clearly, like he was standing in front of me…I closed my eyes and gave in to the feelings that drowned me…anger, hurt, remorse…I saw his tall, lean frame clearly, his small, almost round face, his sharp nose, laughing eyes, unruly hair and his weird glasses, and perfect teeth smiling at me, mocking me. I hated him now and yet, I missed him so much, the sense of power that I felt over him when I left the airport left me now, to be replaced by longing, and I felt two tear drops fall down my cheeks. I hate it when I cry…

My dad, Ranganathan Iyengar and my mom, Mrs.Padmini Ranganathan have infinite arguments when it comes to the issue of an inter-caste marriage.

My dad, a tall and hefty fifty-year-old English Professor at Vivekananda College in Madras, a man who can inspire a class of unmanageable, almost rowdy teenagers, who can explain to you the nuances of a dangling participle and an indefinite article - a professor who has a double MA in English and Sanskrit, and yet, a man who believed that it is not appropriate for a Brahmin girl like me to marry a Non-Brahmin guy."Shalu, you are just a child and we don't know the boy's parents, his kulam, gotram, no, no, this is unimaginable", he said.

Every morning, after reciting Vishnu Sahasranamam, he would sit with a cup of steaming-hot coffee made by my mom. He looked like a professor even at home. He would stare at you from his thick old-fashioned dark-brown rimmed spectacles, a look that made most people wilt away. My father, a leader, at work, at home and with friends and family, loved to organize and lead. He could teach Wharton Business School Graduates a thing or two about personal networking and people management. Some people age gracefully and my dad is one of them, the more his hair grayed and the more laugh lines that grew to adorn his face, the more dignified he looked, but his strict face and serious disposition softened to a ready smile and a bear hug whenever he saw his little Shalini, the apple of his eye, me.

Let me now describe briefly the one person whom my father pretends to not be scared of, but actually is – my mother, Padmini…say this name in our Gopalapuram temple and you will hear words of praise, small anecdotes, funny incidents, inspirations that people shared and learned from my mother. Her pretty round face with the sacred kumkuma pottu on her forehead and honey-like voice attracted people to her like a flock of bees seeking advice and sometimes, just her attention. She always had a nice word for everyone, wishing them well. People thought she was a close friend of the Lord himself and often came to her with their worries and anxieties. My mother spent, approximately one third of her time in the kitchen, one third in the temple and the remaining time at home doing her household chores. My father was very proud and a tad afraid of his talented wife.

My mother strongly supported my father as far as Jai was concerned. “Shalu says the boy looks fair and maybe good-looking…” she acknowledged grudgingly, “but he is not a good match for you, Shalu. If you marry him, what will Chelapa chitappa and Vaidehi maami say?”. As you might have guessed by now, I was, but a mute spectator when my parents started discussing Jai. So, I listened to the evil-me in my head and started designing a master plan…

Three weeks passed…
Sundar, his parents, his sister, uncle and aunt were all set to visit our house for the traditional girl-seeing ceremony and the girl in question was I! My friend, Aarthi’s parents called my parents a few days back and recommended this “jadagam” to my parents; they gave all the relevant details – boy’s caste, complexion, education, and salary and asked if my parents were willing to consider this match. My parents, noticing the six zeroes in his salary, the heavy recommendations and the fact that he was an Iyer gleefully agreed. Mom made badam halwa that day, my favourite sweet and I knew immediately that something was brewing in that mind of hers. I “reluctantly” agreed to meet the boy, in lieu of 24 hours of lecture about how I was a disobedient daughter and so, the preparations began…

Another week passed…
I had to admit, our whole house looked beautiful, it smelt like honey and jasmine and a pleasant thoranam with banana leaves adorned our front door. Mom selected a gaudy blue saree with rows and rows of gold finishing on it and a heavy diamond necklace and matching earrings for me to wear. I felt heavy, emotionally and literally. The important hour was upon me, I stepped out to meet Sundar and his gang when I heard my mom’s voice “Shalu, see who has come home”, like this was all an unexpected joyful surprise.

The first face that I saw calmed me immensely, for, Shaila aunty’s face was glowing with a serene and welcoming smile…I felt less apprehensive. My parents, I noticed, had managed to strike a comfortable conversation with Sundar’s parents and also managed to connect with Shaila aunty and Madhesh uncle, Sundar’s “relatives”, who could only speak broken bits of Telugu and Tamil. I could see that my father was proud of me; he gave a triumphant smile when I entered the room as if challenging his guests, daring them to find a better bride…

That night…
My mother sat next to me on my bed. “Shalu…I think Sundar is a very nice boy”, I remained silent, mom continued…“I understand it will be hard for you to forget Jai, but you both can be friends, maybe even Sundar and Jai can be friends…” I couldn’t help laughing at that preposterous thought. I looked at her, searching for an answer in her eyes. She said “I think he will keep you happy…I feel it in my instincts”.

Three weeks passed…
I stood clothed in a traditional South-Indian bride’s red nine yards saree and mom was fussing with my hairstyle. Suddenly, I could not take the farce anymore and I broke down. My mother looked startled. She came to me silently and made me sit down…”Shalu, whatever happens, you are the most important person in my life…” I felt a touch of guilt thinking of my dad, wondering what he would say if he heard this. She continued, “If you are not comfortable with this marriage, it is not too late now…” I was crying uncontrollably by now and tried to smile at my mother through my tears. I said “Ma, sit down, I have to tell you this right now, wait here”. As she sat down puzzled, I strode out of the room and got Sundar alias Jai into the room, “Shalini…” he said, I stopped him, “Ma, meet Jai, Sundar whatever, the only man I ever loved…” Mom looked astounded. Dad walked in on this confusion and heard what I said and immediately his face turned an unhealthy shade of red. I watched speechless and sorry that I had lied to my parents for so many days, I thought of Aarthi and how she had convinced me that this plan would work and that her parents would help me, I thought of Jai’s parents, Shaila aunty and Madhesh uncle not at all approving of this plan but finally giving in to Jai’s insistence…

A week later…
As I sit, watching the happy clouds around me, holding hands with my husband, I am thankful to my mother and father who were able to forgive their impulsive and stubborn daughter, who finally realized that Jai was not as bad as they thought he was. “We are all set”, the airhostess announced, “We are indeed set”, I thought, and smiled.

Of Cabbages, Kings and Cooks...

We have heard of successions of Kings, seers, ministers, but my family is unique in that it has seen a succession of cooks, all claiming to possess the ability to cook delicacies that can invigorate a dying man to rejoice in life. Let me rewind back a decade and look back upon the joyful days that I spent in Bangalore, the garden city, the city where I spent uncountable hours trying to guess the dishes that our then cook, Prabhamani concocted in her empire, our kitchen. Her word was the law and we abided by her strict rules. She was a small creature; she had the darkest, kohl-lined eyes and thick glasses that kept sliding down her sharp nose. She had the strangest notions on worldly things and faithfully stood by what she claimed was the cosmic truth. “We have all facilities at our place, in Chemmangudi” she claimed. Chemmangudi, from where she hailed, had to be Utopia, the way she raved about it. “Of course there are many powercuts and that is difficult but we manage with table fans”. How she managed to make her table fan work when there was a power cut was, we figured, a wonder of modern science yet to be revealed to our ignorant scientific community. Prabhamani was an expert in many respects (so she claimed), but sadly lacking in one – the art of cooking.

"Appetite is inversely propotional to a cook's ability to cook". Prabhamani being the proof that I offer now to support the lemma that I state above. The supposition for this lemma, ofcourse, is that the cook comes to cook at our place. Maybe it is to do with the people in our home or the lack of enforcement of rules or just the atmosphere in my home - whatever it be, it definitely led to a marked degradation in food quality as days passed. The Sambhar at night started resembling rasam, the pooris tried to ape applams and cooked rice tried to imitate gooey-white-unrecognizable-mass. Inspite of unrecognizable dishes residing in our kitchen, they disappeared at surprising speed, thanks to Prabhamani’s enthusiastic appetite. So, one day, dad decided to put his foot down and he fired Prabhamani.

"1924 born", he emphatically stated every day, we weren't sure of what to infer from that statement and thus was born our next saga, Gurumoorthy Iyer. He came to our house claiming to have cooked for royalty; we were thrilled, our mouths watered as we imagined him rolling out crispy light puris and golden brown potato curry in a light, delicious gravy and bright orange jangris and kaara-saara arachuvitta sambhar. It was 5.30 PM on a Friday when Gurumoorthy Iyer landed upon us; he prompty proceeded to the kitchen and checked to see what was already left over. "Kos iruku, kootu iruku, today's share is done." and so saying, he proceeded to relax with a kumudam. "Poor guy, must be worn out from the travel" mom said and proceeded to make coffee for him. The next day, he got up early and asked my dad what he should cook. My dad has always had a liking for chapatis, something my mom almost never cooked. Eyes twinkling with expectation, he replied “Chapatis and kurma”. Half-an-hour later, we all sat down for breakfast and a big anda descended on us. I peeped inside it, with trepidation and noticed, dark brownish-black square chappati-wannabes sitting inside. They say, "a hungry man can even kill" and dad seemed to have an urge, at that moment, to want to prove that saying. Mom quickly tried to calm my dad and me "Maybe they dont have the correct color, I am sure they are tasty to eat". We proceeded to eat and stopped approximately 5 seconds later. The chappatis seemed to have a texture roughly between fabric and gum. Mom cleared up the chapatis and quicky cooked some idlis, telling us "See, we asked for a south-indian cook, it is our fault, asking him to make chapatis and what not". This faint hope carried us forward to the next day. Dad decided to be more adventurous, he told my mom "Ask that Gurumoorthy Iyer to make batchanams, deepavali is anyway nearing, let us not spend a lot on buying sweets from Krishna Sweets, he can cook everything for us".Mom looked doubtful but decided to enquire anyway. "Sweets? Sweets ellam enaku panna teriyadu. Can you cook some, then I can just follow your recipe and make some more! See, it is not right for me to lie, also one should not waste food". After lecturing us on the virtues of life, Gurumoorthy Iyer continued "See, naan 1924 born. I can grind maavu for days together if you want. Sweets and all I cannot make." Another cook found himself outside our house with Rs.500 for his day's work and a new saree for his daughter.

“I will adjust wherever I go, I was indispensable at Doctor ammas place, I cook with the right amounts of ingredients, I…” small stature, a small, slightly longish face - nondescript but for the distinctive round kumkum that adorned her forehead and sparkling diamond mookuthi that sat on her parrot-like nose – Krishnaveni had taken over the reigns now. It is surprising how someone so small had the energy to talk so much. Her voice filled the room and carried forward even outside the house, filling curious ears with interesting family titbits, that normally would have stayed inside our four walls. She was like an old slightly irritating tape recorder set that continued to sing old songs in a recursive loop until someone firmly pushed the stop button on it. “Maami, you have to tell me how you normally cook around here, because I will then cook accordingly. My daughter, panjavarnam, used to say ‘amma, how do you manage to cook so fast?’, have I told you about Panjavarnam….” And so, the monologue continued. I often gave mom a much needed and welcome relief by calling her out to some errand or the other and mom would sigh a weary sigh, tired from all the auditory input and mouth “thanks” to me. Krishnaveni’s skills at cooking turned out to be a pale shadow compared to her skills at talking and after a week of Sambhar without salt and curd that tasted like milk, she left back to join panjavarnam with a new saree that my mom gave her (her ears saying thanks to Krishnaveni, I suspect).

…and now peace reigns in our little home, appa and I silently eat mom’s cooking, without any complaints, infact, complimenting her more often than necessary, so that she wouldn’t insist that we bring in yet another specimen to cook in our home. Prabhamani, Gurumoorthy Iyer and Krishnaveni remain fond memories in our hearts, especially now that have left our home.

March 03, 2005

A story that my mom often recites to me, with tears in her eyes...

Krishna Chaitanya, a great devotee of Lord Krishna, lived in Bengal. He prided himself on his devotion to Lord Krishna and considered himself one of the greatest devotees of all times. Around the same time, lived a simple man called Govind Bhatta. He spent most of his time praying and talking to Lord Krishna in the temple. Everyday he would loudly read a chapter of the MahaBharatha by the temple pond. This became a source of great ridicule because he often misread what was written in the great epic. People who came to the temple were amused and some annoyed seeing him read the MahaBharatha loudly and incorrectly.

One day, Krishna Chaitanya decided to visit the temple where Govind Bhatta worshipped. When the great man entered the temple, Govind Bhatta was going about his morning ritual of loudly reading the MahaBharatha missing keywords and sentences as he read it aloud. The people in the temple, scared that this would annoy Krishna Chaitanya, one of the greatest devotee of Lord Krishna, ordered Govind Bhatta to move to a corner of the temple. Krishna Chaitanya prayed to his heart’s content. When he was about to leave, he heard Govind Bhatta read the MahaBharatha. Krishna Chaitanya having read the epic many times, could immediately sense that there were many phrases and words missing in Govind Bhatta’s recitation. He moved towards the voice and found Govind Bhatta in a corner, immersed in the epic. Krishna Chaitanya patiently waited for Govind Bhatta to finish the chapter he was reading and then asked the latter, “Oh, devotee of Lord Krishna, do you not realize that you are not reading the epic incorrectly? “. Govind Bhatta was filled with remorse; he said “Oh, great Sir, I do realize that I am blinded when I read the MahaBharatha and do not read it correctly, but I do not have a solution, for, my eyes are blinded with tears of pain. I cannot share Lord Krishna’s bruises as he led the Pandavas to victory in the great battle, for I am but a simple man. However, I cannot bear the pain that the Lord must have undergone to save his friends and lead them to victory, I cannot stop my eyes from seeing the arrows wound Lord Krishna as he protected his friends. I cannot stop the tears that flow for the great Lord and since my eyes are blinded with tears, I miss out words and phrases as I read along.” Krishna Chaitanya stood humbled at having tried to correct a man who was a much greater devotee than he.
© Ramya Sethuraman, All Rights Reserved.