October 26, 2001

with best compliments, from…

family issues in india can get really sensitive, especially when there’s a wedding round the corner.

four-member-non-interfering families turn into surprisingly huge-extended ones where distant relatives pop out of nowhere, to tell you how ‘chweet’ you were when you pranced about in your underwear as a toddler. these sweet nothings disguise themselves as expectations as you grow, how you grow, and what you become. like a popular quote i read once outside vidyavihar station: “success is relative; the more the success, the more the relatives.

how you handle your relatives of course, depends on how good a family politician you are. this may sound rude to those sensitive, but be part of any famly get-together, why…enter any house with over three families in it and you’ll find fresh tales being cooked in the kitchen. you don’t have to be involved though. i enjoy because i’m an observer.

at times however, i have to switch roles…like last week. my father and had a major difference of opinion regarding including names (of extended family members) that had to be printed on my wedding card. since i cannot save my own life with my malnourished and inexperienced political sense, i decided to be plain old stubborn me. i tried to use logic instead, and surprise! i won. like what the hallmark greeting cards say: if you cannot convince, confuse.” here’s a bridged version of the discussion we had…

chitti and amma: but beta, according to what’s being followed everywhere over many generations, the wedding card has to carry names of relatives on the paternal side of the bride. so why should it bother you if we do it for your wedding card too?

me: no way! alright. i’ll give you more than two reasons against the one that you’ve given:
a) more names will only clutter the card,
b) we’re no longer living in a male-dominated world. if my father’s relatives will be named on the card, my mother’s relatives deserve a mention more rightfully, since i’ve spent more time with them!

chitti: i don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn. in india, the woman — be it a wife, would-be-bride, daughter or mother — is always associated with her sasural (husband’s house). beta, sometimes we all have to do things that we don’t like.

me: not if we choose not to help it chitti. those were the olden days. just think about it…i have no ill-feelings about my father’s relatives. it’s just that the geographical distances between us have not allowed us to interact at all. when i dont know my uncles, when they haven’t really contributed to my life, why should their names be on my wedding card? in fact, even if i have interacted with anyone, it’s with the women in the family.

[i now turned to my mother, and my sister, who i knew would support me on this] speaking of women, and if you do want to get into the details, let me remind you that we as nairs are a matriarchal family. so its the women who get to be on the card. right?

chitti [turning to my mother]: she does have a point there. i think you should talk about this before going ahead with the printing.

my sister, and me: we’ve never met our grandfathers. why don’t we put both our achamma (dad’s mother) and ammamma’s (mom’s mother) names instead? that way, we’re being fair without being untraditional.

amma: hmm, sounds okay to me, but will your father agree?

fifteen minutes later, my mother was upset and hung up the phone angrily. father did not want any change in the card; it had to be his way — conventional — and he said we could ‘discuss’ when he got home. we decided to put the matter away for a while, and savoured hot masala chai in a silent suspense about what should be done. when chitti was leaving, she asked me if i would change my mind. i laughed. “no, i won’t. i’m not asking for much am i? if both my grannies’ names cannot go on my wedding card, no one else’s will.”

for two days, nobody talked about the card. i knew i had upset my father, but i had no mind to give in. i was already making regular trips to the printer’s workshop, checking for minor typos and getting my favourite type and font (lowercase, garamond) on the layout.

the third day, my father handed me a printout that had two lines on it. he asked me to include the new addition on the card. here’s what it said:

with best compliments from: p k devaki amma and family . saroja d iyengar and family


today, almost ten evenings later, i had the first sample proof in my hand, and my 75-plus granny by my side (saroja, my mother’s mother). slow with her english and squinting without her glasses, she read her name, and stopped. she read it again silently, and again. i watched her face as she exploded hysterically after two minutes…

“this card has MY name on it! my grand-daughter’s added my name on her wedding card!!” grinning from ear to ear, she grasped for words as she recollected: “i have had five children and i brought them up alone. i had to get them married all by myself because my husband left all of us when the youngest was three and the eldest was 16…none of their cards had my name on it. today i do nothing for my grand-daughter, and what do i see here!!?” her excitement suddenly turned to suspicion and she frowned: “radhu, tum mazaak to nahin kar rahi ho mere saath?” (you aren’t playing a prank on me, are you?)

it was like refreshing comic relief after days of planning and running around for the wedding work. ammamma’s excited words and naive questions like “what will people say?” made all of us laugh heartily. as i sat closer to my granny, i saw tears in her eyes. they might have been tears of joy, because she herself seemed surprised. grannies are like that. they live such a hard life of realities, they don’t usually shy from crying aloud. but here she was, she couldnt understand.

i had never imagined things would turn out this way. initially for me, it was about proving a point. but the joy in my granny’s eyes showed me that it had been worthwhile. i wrapped my arm around her small frame and told her i was glad it made her so happy. my father looked up from his daily planner. he was smiling too.

October 22, 2001

godliness: er… before cleanliness?

in india, it is not unusual to find people scratching and spitting at all possible corners.

it is also not unusual, to find them attaching divinity to anything that is close to any of the thousands of gods worshipped exclusively in india. strangely, these two facts work best when together. here’s an example…

my friend jayashree once told me of a certain prank that was played on an entire community in thane. the ‘community’ here comprised educated middle-class individuals living in an area that was called bhaskar colony. this was also where jayashree lived all her single life. the prank, jayashree said, was planned by a few clever youngsters living in the same area, who wanted to simply “keep their surroundings clean”.

like most lazy lanes in thane then, bhaskar colony housed over 30 to 40 buildings and apart from these, mountains of garbage piling around trees and on municipal garbage bins that the government forgot to clean up — until the stench of a dead animal forced someone to shoot off a letter to the area authorities. the prime reason for the increasing garbage problem being residents of the colony themselves, the youngsters one day decided to clean it up themselves. they decided to start from the trees, and waited till the thane municipality took the first initiative…

once the municipal van cleared up the entire area, they took a large oval-shaped stone, painted it bright orange, and placed it carelessly against a tree. two days later, the area surrounding the tree was still clean. the experiment had worked! residents believed the stone to be some sort of deity that sprang out from nowhere, and would not dare to anger the unknown. to push their luck a little further, the youngsters decided to play a prank. they placed a single white flower in front of their new ‘deity’. since then, apart from the stories woven around the ‘holy’ tree, today you’ll find multi-coloured sacred threads, flowers, coconut-oil diyas and sweets or prasad made as humble offerings to the new god. an occasional auspicious tuesday turns very lucky to at least a hundred street urchins and the old, as one or two grateful businessmen decide to feed the homeless to earn their part of the punya (good) on earth. as for the other residents of bhaskar colony, they all lead a stench-free and more pious existence.

i did not believe jayashree when we laughed over this story just a few months ago. but my pottery class at vasant vihar today made me realise she was not joking. it’s like using a fire to kill fire. simple.

watch the activity on any street or multi-storeyed building. three of every seven people walking past will suddenly turn their head to the left or right; before you blink your eye, they’d have spat generously on the road. white and freshly painted corners are especially a favourite with betel-nut-chewing kadias or plumbers, or the typical pot-bellied businessman returning home from his jewellery-store for a late siesta after lunch.

at the two-storey shopping complex where i attend classes, i noticed the corners near the stairs were exceptionally white (read, spotless). on my way back from class i remembered to look more carefully, and then i saw why. the clever builder had used three strips of ceramic tiles along either sides of both corners, right where a paan– or tobacco-chewer would aim!

(didn’t get it yet? here are a few pictures that were painted on the tiles 😉

October 17, 2001

of words and power management

i found a few old chip (now digit) issues and i was reminiscing the golden days — first at the bandra office, and then at taj building, before i left for bangalore.

apart from the soft toys and plants that adorned gulnar’s desktop and mine, one other attraction (ok, distraction) was my screensaver. it was set at one minute, and so everytime a colleague would stop by (for official or informal chat) for over 60 seconds, the next 60 seconds would invariably spark off a discussion about what was written on my screen. here are a few favourites, along with the names of who put them in:

don’t think of the pink elephant
— my first screensaver at chip. i was so overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done, and the standards expected by me, this little scrolling marquee kept me going anytime.

10 pages a day, from start to finish!
— gourav. so i work efficiently (er, that’s ten microsoft-word documents)

what does the tree do when it does not rain?
— my teacher shubhangi karnik. and boy! did this question start a guessing game each time.

what is the soul of music?
— me. it was one of those philosophy-tickling questions that young (male) professors ask a 99-percent-all-girl-class at college. of course, only i came up with the answer (hint? shhh…;-)

little bird, soaring in the sky
epitome of a winner
tell me, fair feathered friend
why do you eat worms for dinner?

sean, my favourite *cartoonist. irrespective of whether or not sean and i had something to talk about, i would burst into giggles the moment he stepped into my bay. as for sean, he wore the look that said “hey, guess what prank i’ve been up to today” and always stopped by — as if he thought it was his birthright to read or even change my screensaver!

* [update: find out what sean’s cartoons are doing today, to good old marketing and communicatoonz. (oops!)]

October 15, 2001

every (lit) lamp carries its shadow

a concerned mother finds it hard to accept that her soon-to-be-married daughter no longer bows to god. unable to bear her almost two-year-silent indifference to matters of religion and prayer, she tests her by asking her to light the lamp “since it’s getting darker”. the daughter, engrossed in bandhopadhyay’s pather panchali, understands her mother’s hidden command (to light the diya in the little mandir housing a variety of gods). she smiles to herself, switches on the electric light, and goes back to her reading.

unfortunately for the mother, this was not the light she had wanted to see…

THAT’S IT! you *have* to light a lamp in your house after you get married, even if you say you don’t believe in it. and for god’s sake, don’t ever say it!

but amma, was it too long ago that you told me not do something if my heart is not in it? does ‘growing up’ mean to forget what one learns as a child?

October 4, 2001

lessons by an observer

dear ranjeet

sometimes life brings you across someone who you think is “just right” for you. sometimes you come across two friends who you think were “just right” for each other. sometimes, you just might be wrong. friendships die this way.

fortunately, you failed. as for the two friends you so miserably tried to play cupid between, their friendship turned out to be far mature than all the beer you had, and stronger than all the cigarettes you puffed. right now, they’d tell you in your mother tongue — thenga!

note: thenga is a not-so-friendly marathi expression for what you feel when you stick your tongue out at someone, like this emoticon X-p