November 19, 2008


athri last month, learning to smile ‘on-demand’

happy birthday, athri kutti!

of all the days in 2008, you, your father, and i have picked today to be ill with flu. but just you bounce back to your cheeky-monkey-self; we’ll get better too, and then we’ll all have a very very aappy budday. okay? now can we have that smile again, please?

November 14, 2008

the best instruction

brian schofield is reminded of an episode when his friend kate summerfield won the samuel johnson award for non-fiction. he doesn’t mention this in the entire length of his article, but going by the picture that goes with it, maybe that is what he means. well, whatever.

why i am putting it here is because it has the best piece of instruction i’ve ever seen in a long time.

When I was a university undergraduate, a female friend of mine got an invitation to tea from Professor Miri Rubin, the august early-modern historian (who’s now a regular on Radio 4’s In Our Time).

“I asked you here,” Professor Rubin explained, “to tell you that you are an intelligent woman. And throughout your life, people are going to be discomfited by that fact, and they’ll pressure you to conceal it. But you have to be strong enough to walk into the room and say ‘Hello, I am an intelligent and serious-minded young woman, and if that’s not to your taste, that’s your problem.’ Understand?”

Nodding weakly and gulping her tea, my friend hurried down to the bar, where we all had a good laugh at the Professor’s pronouncement. We hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. Fifteen years of real life later, it makes perfect sense.


November 11, 2008

the journey is what matters, not the destination

with my phd proposal  – round two – handed in for the registration process, i was told that i was the only one of the six that made it that day. the others would be given two weeks to rework and resubmit for another screening. i don’t need to say it; mixed feelings mushrooming again…

this second phase of the phd will involve a lot of note-taking, reading and writing, before my work will be submitted in june 2009 for a yearly status-check again. will i be on track? will my thesis be accepted? will it make sense once i am well into it…all these are questions that are flying around my head, like harry potter and ron weasley and draco malfoy on their quidditch sticks.

the workshops have begun: i just completed two and there will be five more to go before the year ends. after much struggle with extremely-low confidence levels (thanks to a school-syllabus that managed to drill nothing but the notion of ‘average-ness’ into its students) and the practicality of my thesis subject, i was stunned when i was told i had got through. by this time, i had also turned down a brilliant job offer…no more distractions now, i decided, for better or worse. i still hope it was the right decision. i started with the writing process.

at the workshop last week, when i saw 24 other candidates all doing a phd in various topics, i felt humbled. there is so much to learn in the world, so much to do, and there is no age to it (one of them is 65-plus!). by the end of the second day, with each of our enthusiasm and fears rubbing on each other, i came back home feeling numb. i had met my supervisor earlier in the day and she conveyed an issue that the panel had felt with my proposal. aha, so it hadn’t really got through, i asked. it’s always so comfortable when you’re with the others rather than ahead of them.

she said no, and flashed a smile that always manages to iron out any worries i have, instantly. i passed straightaway, she said. but there still was a change i would need to make with my thesis, though she herself felt it was unnecessary. i had already planned a structure and most of the thesis around it. now that would all have to be altered…

what is it with being a student that one is so vulnerable to mood swings. (alright, i have them even otherwise, but now i have student-moodswings as well as the non-student ones.)

at home, i played with athri, spoke to my mother in india, and tried to leave the day behind.

imagine my surprise the next morning when i see achchan’s email in my inbox. mothers. how they can sniff a child’s mind from a telephone conversation! i had not spoken to my father that night. the mail was a puzzle at first, but gradually i understood what my father was trying to say. only he would say it this way!

and i thought i should share this with you:

prepare to go on a trip

1. tickets
2. travel bags
3. cloth for every day
4. cloth for protection, wool, socks etc
5. camera
6. films
7. charting itinerary for every day
8. medicines
9. knife
10. dry fruits
11. salties
12. biscuits
13. paper plates
14. spoons
15. tooth picks
16. face tissues
17. perfume/eu de colone
18. spare chappals
19. books to read
20. chess/
21. playing cards
22. mobile phone
23. mobile charger
24. tel. index
25. small note book
26. ball pens/pencils
27. hat/cap
28. face wash/make up items
29. comb
30. razor
31. ….

you may add few more things and you may expand on every item of the type, quality, purpose of each item.
the journey will be over soon, but preparations take longer. after you come back you do not need the above preparations. you tell your story of how you enjoyed the trip.

i hope you got my point.

i did, achchan. thank you 🙂

October 31, 2008

an open letter to aravind adiga

dear aravind adiga

an ostrich was whisked away from its homeland when it was very young. abroad, it was taught many rich things of wonder and beauty. it came back home one day after many years, very posh, bisleri in hand. when its shiny feathers were ruffled by some red dust raised by a few ostriches passing by, it clucked and stomped about in anger: bloody countryfellows! haven’t you been taught how not to drag your feet when you walk!?

i finally finished reading the white tiger, and as i closed the book on the train last night, i felt nothing but a sense of deep relief, and regret. relief, that i had survived reading your book. regret, that one more english-educated indian has learnt what was not part of the syllabus: shouting at the rooftops about how dark and dirty the country is. and look! they even awarded you £50,000 for doing that. well done!

alright. i needed to get that out of my head. now on to the white tiger.

you wrote a work of fiction, as your disclaimer says within the first few leafs of your book. balram halwai is a fictional servant. his master is fiction. and all that happens in between the master and the servant is imaginary as well. this part is good, something different, almost bollywoodish, and funny as well. but then – and here’s my problem with you – why did you, in your moment of glory, dedicate your story to the so-called dark reality of india? why do your interviews read like typical bbc news-reports:

Well, this is the reality for a lot of Indian people and it’s important that it gets written about, rather than just hearing about the 5% of people in my country who are doing well. In somewhere like Bihar there will be no doctors in the hospital. In northern India politics is so corrupt that it makes a mockery of democracy. This is a country where the poor fear tuberculosis, which kills 1,000 Indians a day, but people like me – middle-class people with access to health services that are probably better than England’s – don’t fear it at all. It’s an unglamorous disease, like so much of the things that the poor of India endure.

aww. how considerate. a rocket shoots up to the moon from a country called india, and suddenly there are concerns about millions below the poverty line, sitting outside their roofless houses and scanning the night sky. and my heart almost melted when you said:

If we were in India now, there would be servants standing in the corners of this room and I wouldn’t notice them… That is what my society is like, that is what the divide is like.

tch, tch, poor mr adiga. this is all you see in india. fortunately for you, the poor of india will not get their hands on your award-winning book. except of course, in the raddi shop, where it might fetch them an extra rupee or two, for the hardbound version. but i sincerely doubt if they’ll open and read it. isn’t that why you chose balram halwai as your protagonist? if you are so taken aback by the corruption in the country, you might have also felt, somewhere in your big heart, that perhaps the true darthvaders of india are some of its politicians. why didn’t you pick on them? they wouldn’t read your book either. why a servant, who you would not even notice, standing in the same room as you?

my dear mr adiga, the servitude in india, is not its dark side. it is in fact, for the servile, a potential way out of it. i am not a social service or human rights worker to argue with you over this, but considering that we were born the same year, and that i lived in india for 14 years more than you did, let me try.

india is a vast country. it has one of the oldest civilisations. one of the strongest systems of tradition and prayer. we have the caste system. we have always had kings and a multitude of their servants. now we have the rich and the poor. neither can do without the other. i have been a faithful reader of the time magazine ever since i can remember; i read stories about india on the bbc. but i know in my heart that neither time, or the bbc, will understand that strange balance.

back to your book.

i stop thinking about balram halwai. i think of tarabai, of pandu, sobha, sharda, ravi, heera…all of these who i met at some point during my childhood (i haven’t changed their names; their identity has been threatened already, thanks to you). the servants who scuttled in and out of the houses in our 13-apartment building. i think of laxman, swapnil, auto-drivers from my school and tuition classes, one of who was also a part-time servant at an advertising agency where i briefly used to work. and who often let me travel for free.

i try to imagine an alternate life for them, and i realise how they come with their own class divisions.

the illiterate rich

i recall the times when my mother insisted sharda’s eight-year-old daughter should at least learn to read and write. for no charge or cut in her salary, sharda’s daughter began to come to our house every afternoon. books, pencils and charts were all provided by my mother, and so was the education. about three weeks later, her daughter stopped coming to our home. the parents didn’t want to educate their girl-child. “her father doesn’t like it,” sharda reasoned, “after all she has to also work in some or the other house one day.” my mother used to take tailoring classes at the time, and offered to teach her, without a fee. sharda simply wasn’t interested.

you were right in observing that they are “witty, acerbic, verbally skilled and utterly without illusions about their rulers.” sharda definitely knew her space. as the only maid-servant at a colony of bungalows in lonavala, she earns over rs 2000 a day. they are richer than you think, mr adiga. they are comfortable. and they know what they’re doing. besides, not only are servants paid well in india, they are also given their dues for any extra chores they might have had to do during a wedding or festival for instance, and presented new clothes and baksheesh at the end of the day, from the ‘masters’ who can afford it. (er, you don’t happen to read amitabh bachchan’s blog, do you? i thought so.)

and then there are the rickshaw-wallahs in mumbai. did you, in your travels for time magazine, come across a few who have their own investment brokers and share market advisors? no? i guessed that as well.

as i write this, my mother is teaching heera’s son at home. the tuition master asked for rs 400 and heera couldnt didn’t want to afford it. my mother teaches him for free. and i am sure she is not the only person doing this social service. the servants don’t publish recruitment ads for teachers. that does not mean they cannot find a way out.

the vulnerable

sobha was young, very fast in her work. needless to say she was efficient. it was around the time i was getting married and a lot of guests were visiting us at home. one day, my sister discovered rs 500 was missing from her knapsack. there had been no one in the room that morning except for sobha when she went in to sweep and mop the floor. poor sobha. she thought the bag was a visitor’s and no one would notice. when my mother confronted her she admitted she was the thief. it was her first crime, she sobbed, she felt tempted to steal. five hundred rupees would fetch her a lot of things. but our house was in the midst of a marriage preparation. we couldn’t take any risks. my mother gave sobha the salary that was due, and sadly, had to ask her to leave.

pandu was a child when my masi adopted him. she and her family lived in a farmhouse and had two very young children of their own. pandu would gel in, she said. she fed him the same (freshly-cooked) food that she gave her children, new clothes for every festival, and my cousins gave him the books from school. he managed to learn a little. they shared their love for their pet dogs and the cows behind their house. they lived happily for about 10-12 years. when pandu was 16, he disappeared. my masi was shattered, not because pandu had stolen their valuables or money. he had crushed her faith in him. eventually, pandu was caught and the money retrieved. my masi did next what anyone else would. she slapped him. it was the only punishment he ever received from her.

the entrepreneur

tarabai was a great cook; she cleaned and mopped floors, and washed the dishes at peoples’ homes. her husband drank and used up all her money. she managed to save the rest for her son and daughter who she wanted to educate. one day some illicit liquor killed her husband and many others like him (i’m sure you would have heard or even written about these cases too). she used whatever money she had to set up a makeshift extension outside the kitchen that faced the road. she cooked and cooked. her vadapavs were popular all over thane. her children got the education she had always dreamed of. her son today owns at least a dozen superstalls, and eateries in the city. her daughter was married with pomp. after all, they are now part of the Indian middle class.

one other thing. when you talk about the india rising to be a superpower, with supermalls, and supersalaries for call-centre staff and the IT and the construction and the film industries all doing well, do you think the domestic staff working in people’s homes don’t get a hike? perhaps you must hire one to find out his or her monthly wage? even the veta advertisements in india show the bai to be english-educated and singing an english lullaby if you remember!

this is what the real colour of india is, mr adiga. it is not dark. it is not white. it has millions of shades. balram halwai is but one of them. but for the sake of those 36,000,05 gods, please don’t use him as a representative of india’s servitude class.

you are a good feature writer mr adiga. i remember reading some of your articles in time. but this time, i’m sad to say, the white tiger seems like one long fleeting feature about india from the eyes of an outsider. for the eyes of an outsider. and by deriding the country standing there on the booker podium, you only made it worse.

i hope your next book is a lot brighter, and i hope you find a good servant.

radhika praveen

ps: you should read shantaram by gregory david roberts. the author practically lived in dharavi for twelve years. there were murders and poverty and prostitution in his story as well, but it certainly didn’t feel dark. on the contrary, every word in shantaram reeks of hope and optimism. roberts is not even indian, but, unlike yours, his story reads like it is from the heart.

October 23, 2008

ekda kaay zhala… (once upon a time…)

mrs singh and mrs sood were the best of friends.

both originated from north india; one, from a turban-wearing sardarji community, the other a non-turban wearing punjabi community. mrs singh was simple, they had four children: g-p-s (that’s what he was known as), the bubbly, boastful pinky, and twins the names of whom i forget (i think we simply called them goru and rimpy).

mrs sood was the more flashy kind, loved bright shiny clothes and bright red lipstick. her children: a pampered brat of a boy called babloo, who like his mother, liked to be heard, and a scrawny but cute, almost timid-voiced as a mouse, minu.

there were 13 flats in our single-building-block, enclosed by a narrow wall that had failed to foresee that within a few years, the entire contruction (houses and all) would be overshadowed by taller and larger buildings and their compound-walls. there was space but for about three fiats huddled one behind the other, and two scooters and a cycle. my father, being a better driver and more experienced than the other car-owners, parked his fiat right at the front and away from the exit-gates, while the others often needed his help in taking their cars out without a scratch. the scooters were freely removed physically and parked elsewhere if they were in the way, and if their owners were unavailable.

even in that shame of a parking-lot-cum-playground, we were six punjabi, nine maharastrian, three south-indian children who got along pretty well. not only that, we sometimes also had the karapurkar-brother-sister maharashtrian duo from the neighbouring bungalow that sold milk and other dairy products, as well as the three-banjodkar-siblings from the remarkably well-to-do lawyers’ bungalow a couple of yards away from our building. and there were the late entrants – the three-generation joint family of the bhaskars’, whose four children also joined us in the evenings. we played lagori, dabaispice, hide-n-seek, khamb-khamb-khamboree on the grounds. our gurkha watchman often interfered our games as a referree, preventing fights and at times, causing them. sometimes when it got too crowded downstairs, we all marched the four flights of stairs in a row, where we had the entire cold-colourful-mosaic-tiled terrace to ourselves.

festival times like diwali and holi were the best, when even the parents were out with us, and sometimes we participated in  fancy-dress contests and little skits put together by an enterprising ‘kaku’. it was during these hastily-put-up but heartfelt celebrations when we would realise what it was like, to live in a multi-cultural society. all of us shared and enjoyed our variety of foods. we showed equal enthusiasm for every festival – pongal, holi, gudipadwa, baisakhi or vishu, ganesh chaturthi, rakshabandhan, navratri, kojagiri poornima, diwali, christmas. we were more indian than any of the indians living in any of the other states. this was aamchi mumbai.

like it is with most get-togethers, the parents used the opportunity to praise their kids to the skies about school achievements, or rate them with regards to who was the more studious or the ‘bad apple’ of the lot. we all went to different schools and that’s why the discussions got more livelier if one of us children managed to raise the topic of a particular teacher who was not particularly good at teaching.

ho ka? (is it so?) n-kaku would ask in disbelief.

aaho kaay mhantaay?… (what are you saying?), v-kaku would exclaim.

ho bagha na, ata tya divshee kaay zhala… (yes indeed, now look at what happened the other day…) s-kaku would start to explain.

nahi aisi baat nahi. ab hamare babloo ke teacher ko dekho (no no it is not so, now take our babloo’s teacher for example), sood-aunty would butt in.

and the argument would go on late into the night…. running in between the legs of the collective parent family, we resumed our games again. we had distracted them successfully. no more post-function complaints after going home!

i don’t know if it was one of these discussions that the punjabi ladies took to hearts, and their homes. because before we knew it, mrs sood and mrs singh had turned into the worst of enemies. they quarelled like cats and dogs. they lived on different floors one above the other, and on early-evenings or late mornings when the air was warm and lazy and the sounds travelled in circles around the building, we could hear their kitchen-utensils-banging and the women yelling. each in her own house. one window to the other. that loud.

we spent 14 years in that building. the games stopped gradually, as everyone graduated to higher academic classes, to jobs, or simply, to marriage. but the quarrel between the ladies had failed to simmer. the six punjabi kids had grown up listening to their mothers complaining, and naturally some of the sparks must have stayed in the minds of the two first-born boys, glowing softly like embers until the right temperature was reached: testosterone.

g-p-singh one day saw babloo sood unarmed and unsuspecting, and without a key to his empty house. impatient enough to pick up a fight. one provoked and the other rebuked. that evening, the gurkha wasn’t in his cabin. nor were any of the cars or scooters. there was space, and a lot of anger. they were getting into a fist-fight. we were two families on the ground-floor. my neighbour banged on my door frightened. she was married now, and had come to visit her parents. i was home early from work that day.

radhu come quick! g-p-s and babloo have got into a fight… a real one!!

it was something we all had feared. the elders thought they will soon grow tired of their swear-words, let them fight. but we knew this wouldn’t stop. these weren’t the kids that we knew. these were two angry punjabi communities at war. fuelled by years and years of their mothers’ comparing-and-ranting-against each other. our cries and shouts did nothing to stop them. a 12-inch sear across babloo’s head did, when g-p-s suddenly picked a broken iron-pipe from the floor and whacked him without a thought. then he ran away.

there was a lot of blood. luckily my father was on his way home. while some of us held babloo’s head with cloth, my father rushed a semi-conscious babloo to the hospital. he survived. we hoped at least mrs singh and mrs sood would be happy now.

the spirit of the togetherness with which we grew up was crushed. within a year, all the occupants of the building moved elsewhere. everything that we had learnt in those 14 years as friends growing up together, now came with a fine print. from indians were were reduced to maharashtrians and non-maharashtrians, north-indians and south-indians.

reading about the maharashtra navanirman sena riots reminded me of this fight. it pains me to see the spirit of aamchi mumbai, slowly being trampled under their collective weight. it makes me think of the men and women involved in these anti-non-maharastrian-migrant-worker fight, and how they must have spent their childhood years. who did they play lagori and dabaispice with? most of all it makes me wonder:

what were their mothers thinking?

October 21, 2008

london beware: toddler on the pgrowl…

autumn. it must be the autumn…children like to sleep longer during this time you know.

i didn’t know.

i see, i said. maybe that’s right, suddenly realising that my friend had given me a possible explanation for athri’s odd behaviour since the past seven days.

sleeptime is struggletime, every afternoon and night. and when he does eventually tire out by 4:30 pm, he won’t want to wake up all evening until 8 at least. and then we are all awake until the eleventh hour. walking like zombies. just. wanting. to. go. to. bed. at six in the morning, he’s up again, like a bright chirpy alarm clock: radu, radu, radu…daddaaaaaaaaa…

and bathtime is a struggle too. he used to love his baths. what happened now? actually come to think of it, if he continues his moan-a-raagams so loud each day, he might just turn into a great singer. will i still be sane, clapping my hands and emotional, and wiping a tear with my sleeve while the camera zooms on me in the audience? i try to imagine, and then he starts wailing again.

last night we had a pre-sleep tantrum again. bawls and cries, but not even half-a-teardrop from his eye. and his mouth open so wide i could practically see the inside of this throat from where i was standing. normally i would have packed him off in this state to my friends (and his self-appointed deputy-parents) rashmi and zubin who live close by. when he’s with them, he’s a different person altogether. but even they have left for warm, sunny india, where they will celebrate diwali, the indian way.

so, without rashmi and zubin to call, and when every other trick had failed, i did the next thing that came out purely by instinct. i sat down facing athri, and bawled. he bawled even louder, i continued to imitate him, matching my tone to his. opening my mouth, nice and wide. he stopped for a second, confused. and then bawled again. it was my turn next. again, i wailed.

meanwhile our neighbours were just finishing their dinner. perhaps they were discussing the sorry state of affairs in the country where mothers were killing their children – sometimes suspected of setting fire to the whole house, sometimes drowning a disabled child in the bathtub – when they heard our bawling-duet. they put their forks and knives down, and went to the phone.

at home, athri was laughing now. we were still shouting out loud in turns, but this was not a tantrum. this was fun! at last when i thought the storm had passed, i went back to the kitchen to resume my chores. i got his milk-bottle ready, and that’s when i realised we were out of nappies for athri. very reluctantly, praveen braved the i-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-the-house-now look and put on his jacket and left.

three minutes later, when i was negotiating about the amount of water in athri’s little green cup, there was a knock on the door. i thought praveen had forgotten something, and was back. but he has his keys, i recalled with a frown. athri wanted more water in his cup, i insisted it was just right. the knocking got louder. i walked around athri and out of the kitchen, leaving him still complaining about the less-amount of water (definitely not enough to soak the lounge carpet, which is what he really wanted to do).

i opened the door. it wasn’t praveen. two big policemen stood outside, looking all prepared to send a message on a fat walkie-talkie. my heart beat fast. my mind raced with thoughts: buthow…praveenjustleft…omygodhassomethinghappenedtohim…hemusthavejustgottothecorner…howdidthepolicegethere…sofast!?

it was the taller policeman who read my mind.

nonono, not to worry. everything’s fine. we have just come to make an enquiry.

ohh, escaped from my lips.

we received a call from one of your neighbours who was very concerned. they said they heard a child and a woman wailing out loud. we just came to check…are you okay? do you have a child at home?

i finally smiled. oh i’m absolutely fine. that must have been my son i’m afraid, he’s tantrummy these days. i’m sorry if they were disturbed…

no no, they were worried and made the call. we were just doing our duty and had to check if everything was fine. so, you’re sure you’re fine? is it only the two of you at home?

my husband’s just gone over to tescos…you can come in and wait if you want to. he’ll be right back.

so…there’s no problem of any kind. you were not crying were you? he asked, studying my brown face and exhausted eyes.

i laughed. absolutely sir, no problem. it’s always like this at sleeptime these days.

i was embarrassed. at once the picture of sunny, happy and well-behaved neighbour’s-envy-owner’s-pride toddlers-in-prams came to my mind. how do they do it, i thought. other peoples’ children. as if on cue, athri appeared behind the child-security-gate on top of the steps, standing with his legs apart, hands still holding the little green water-cup, as if demanding to know, what do they want radu? come and give me more water to play with. a complete toddler-dada-in-the-making. my son. bully at home, billi outside.

ah, there’s our culprit, they said together. convinced. they laughed, and left.

i wondered which of our neighbours had made the complaint. the ones next door? i hadn’t met them but i hear their dog bark aloud non-stop, nine-to-six. every day they leave the poor thing alone in the house and go to work. or was it the sri lankan menopausal mother-teenage daughter downstairs, who themselves have a shouting match every other night.

this is the second time in a month that athri has brought the police. the first time he dialled their number himself (the whole seven-digit number of the harrow police station, not the 9-9-9!), when he was at rashmi’s place. they arrived tracking the house number from the landline-phone athri was poking at, by which time he was already back home with praveen, and blissfully asleep.

shaking my head and still smiling, i went to athri and told him, now look what you have done. at this rate you will soon be on their wanted-list, and we will be behind bars for suspected child-torture, when actually it is the other way round.

athri pointed to the tv excited, asking me to switch it on, saying beibies, beibies. i said no, there is no beibies now kutti, they have all gone to bed, and you must too. and then he shakes his head. naooo, naoo he says in his british-accent which i currently find very cute…baaallaaaoorriy. he was trying to tell me something. what is that again? i asked.


i understood.

athri was telling me that i was wrong. that was not the police, it was just pc plum, the singing inspector from balamory!

September 26, 2008

a world of uncertainties. some more nominees…

it’s finally out of my hands now. my proposal for the creative writing phd.

submitted it yesterday and now i have at least two months before i know the result. in or out, the novel-writing process, which began as an also-needed part of the phd proposal, has started too, and looks like it will continue regardless of whether or not i get registered. i don’t know how or when it is going to end. and whether it will be a good book, or thrash. but i had a story to tell, and so i have begun. and now i too belong to the thousands of aspiring writers struggling with a first book.

i should be worried. but actually, i think i’m quite excited!

it is a different world altogether. this business of writing-a-novel. a world of multiple uncertainties.

i beg, borrow, fight, throw tantrums, anything for some time to write. and when i do have that time, i stare at a blank screen, willing the words to come as if by magic.

my problem, at least for now, are the characters. how many should i have? how do i think like another person when i am me? will the reader be able to guess, what part of a character is me, or – if it’s unfortunately someone i know – he or she?! last week i thought of a bad character. bad as in, the anti-hero types. and i think i was so engrossed in creating this personality (have written all of 80 words about him, and that is the truth!), that for the past three-four nights i have been having nightmares! one of them included a laaaarge giant-size black cockroach with HUGE antennae climbing out of athri’s milk-powder dabba!! i woke up screaming, intensely relieved to hear praveen snoring away and athri breathing softly by my side. i still haven’t touched that can of milk powder…athri can have all the cows’ milk he wants! i shudder to imagine what the science fiction writers must be going through. i am not even going to think about stephen king. maybe he’s not human.

sigh. there are millions of books out there…how in the world does a writer finish a book!? and then go ahead to write another brilliant one! i will never have all the answers. and i think of all this, and then i end up not-writing a word. but yes, this is what i have chosen. hopefully someday i will finish the book (fingers crossed!) and link back to this post…

while we are on this topic, i must urge all of you (especially those who enjoy good writing) to check out the guardian’s new how to write series, if you haven’t already. i have read a lot of how-to-write tutorials, but for the first time, i found these nuggets of information to be gems. to the point, brief and in a language quite extremely-friendly (lola-speak…yes, too much cbeebies).


i was also happy (and pleasantly surprised) to receive the Brilliant Weblog award. thank you bluespriite (love the painting on your about-page). this is what she says about my blog:

She doesn’t write as often but I wish she did.. I don’t think I have interacted with her much, offline. She has little touches on her blog that make me wants to go back and reread old posts.

thanks again bluespriite 🙂

and now, as is the tradition, i am tagging seven others…most of them are from praveen’s livejournal friends’ page, who i enjoy reading whenever i sneak up on them. the first is my good friend and ex-classmate bridget atkinson, who as i type this, is walking the camino from lepuy in france to santiago de compostela in northern spain. this award is for your decision to walk the pilgrimage bridget, and here’s to good health and a safe journey home.

to my sister deepika. deeya for livejournal. dapdishoo for me. for being herself. for her faith. for trying. for writing.

to little anirud. although he may not fully understand it himself right now, his father‘s been maintaining a journal of his activities. i always wanted to keep a journal for athri too, but it takes more than just wishing to get something done. and this is for chakra, who has that discipline. chakra also has an excellent microsite for people coming to the uk. yes, now you know the kind of discipline he has.

for charu. fellow-fibromyalgia-sufferer. for her writing. for her photographs. for her will power.

for neha. for being so brilliantly honest and truthful about everything she writes. she also makes me laugh. and i love her poems.

last but not the least, for praveen. my pillar of support. my punching bag. my husband. there, you have this award. happy? go and bring our booda back.

August 29, 2008

last night…

an old woman sits panting by the side of the bed, talking to herself. her hair unkempt. wheeze. talk. babble. wheeze. cough. wipe spittle. sigh. wheeze. talk…

in the kitchen, her daughter murmers (again, to herself), stirring a pot of hot kanji. scrape. stir. murmur. wipe sweat from brow. scrape. murmur. taste. stir. murmur. when will she die?

i shrink in the shadows, ashamed that i’d heard her laments. my own grandmother, suffering this not-wantedness…

another murmur, from another corner. another aunt. when will we be free?

i run to the gods. surely they can hear me…please, please don’t take my achchamma away yet. i want her to live…

a noise. slither. i tiptoe towards the sound. who is it?


a lizard. bright magenta. chrome yellow. white spots. slithers across the brown wood floor. fascinated, i watch.


another sound.

i look around. nothing. just a black and white shoelace. twined together. it reminds me of something.

i brush the thought aside.


i turn around again. it is the shoelace. with the head of a snake. a toy snake. with jagged teeth.

i freeze. the snake twists. the lace unentangles. two heads. they open their jagged mouths. they snap shut. i scream.

darkness. i’m falling. no, floating. so gently. i can see bits of light. soft light. the side of a chiselled marble statue. smooth. the smell of marigold. the end of a flute. krishna!

soft voices. floating again. spiralling down. round and round. finally at rest. something warm and soft. new bedsheet. flowers, glittering streamers above me. a balloon.

gasp! i choke. i cry. a baby’s wail. i stop. i cry again. a baby’s wail. i frown. it can’t be…

i bawl now. realisation strikes. i died. i am born again. my whole life has gone away. another waits ahead. i bawl again. louder.

wait. whose house is this? i wonder. am i in india? i wonder.

then i remember. what happened to my achchamma?? i bawl again. i want my achchamma!!! the baby wails.

noises again. cooing? i shudder. i am awake.

no, it’s not cooing. it’s snoring. praveen is by my side. athri whimpers in his bed. i’m still frozen. stuck to the thick mattress. i breathe. i’m alive. i’m not dead. it was a dream. i pick myself up slowly, pat athri back to sleep. i wonder what his past life must have been like. i drink some water. phew. i let out a breath. then i laugh. i know that snake. and i say to myself:

i will not watch the rubbadubbers again.

August 27, 2008

calling all survivors…

me: is there really nothing you can do?

gp: sorry, no. there is really no cure for fibromyalgia.

me: i can’t sometimes believe that despite all the advances in science and medicine, you don’t have a cure for this…it’s almost over 15 years now

gp: look, the more we know science, the more ignorant we are about it. we can treat cancer, yes. but fibromyalgia…no.

me (in my head): …because fibromyalgia doesn’t kill? and cancer does? huh? huh?

me: sigh…alright doctor, thank you for your time.

gp: can i ask you a question?

me: sure…

gp: how do you cope with the pain? with no medication or support…

me: well, i still have my will power. tons of it.

i lied.

ok, it wasn’t entirely the truth. the truth is that my will power has a hundred re-births each day. it lives when i foolishly expect to live normally like everybody else. it dies when others foolishly expect me to live normally like everybody else. it thrives when i am fighting by myself. it is murdered when i visit the doctor. it survives because i know i am the only one going through all the pain, and i know i am the only one who can push myself to do more despite it. what kills it is the lack of drive i see around me, and in people who say that life is pointless. again and again. my will power dies and is reborn. what nourishes it are happy thoughts (son, husband, family, phd), and simple truths i cannot do without (multivitamins, ayurvedic stamina-booster-medicines, and the one and only, manasamitram, which relaxes my fatigued nerves each night, and prepares me for – at least a few hours – the next day).

and so i came out of the gp’s surgery last week wondering what was worse. that there is no medication cure for fibromyalgia, or that it doesn’t kill. i think i will never find out.


i had decided not to write about myself again. at least not about the pain. but that is all there is these days. so, tough luck.

when i read charu’s blog entry this morning, i thought to myself this was the least i could do to support her cause. i know and have heard that there are millions of fellow-sufferers out there, but i personally dread reading those discussion-lists. the same symptoms, the endless pain, and the one often-unsaid comment i too have had to face so many times: but you look fine!

some days ago, a friend who’s currently in texas wrote to me that she sees fibromyalgia-related ads on tv all the time, and that every time it flashes on the tv, she is reminded of me. the first thought i had was…ahh, at last, one more person understands. and that’s mainly why, even if i’m here in london, i’ll vote for a fibromyalgia-support group in india.

because…and its strange that like charu, i too have mentioned in the past: pain makes you lonely. this support group may not provide the medicines…that is the doctor’s job. it won’t provide you sympathy…we don’t need any, thank you. but what it will provide, like that ad my friend saw on tv, is information. the quiet knowledge that there’s tons of will power around. and the power to survive.

July 4, 2008

the whirlpools in life

the thief

left behind

the moon by the window.

i used to collect zen koans during one of my many lifetimes. for no apparent reason today, while i was reading and thinking in a small corner of my mind, that i need to get back to this journal – like i have many times in the past few months – this koan suddenly popped up in my head. it summarises somewhat, all that happened when i had not been writing…

sometimes when we are in the flow of life, everything that is happening around us – and to us – takes place so fast, and so much happens so quickly that we forget what started the whirlpool in the first place. sometimes, it is just a single thought.

i want to write.

every day, in between attending athri (who is now all of 19 months and revealing his true toddler-colours) and the household chores, and the day job-from-home at editing articles and features about secure storage devices, wi-fi, 802.11n, wireless networks; finding out about web 2.0 and how it would work for the website, digg-ing, stumbling and reddit-ing articles, i began to get restless. storage and network devices, is this what i really enjoy reading about? i loved thursdays, when i could get on the tube towards my office and read. read anything not related to dull, lifeless technology that stripped all the words and literature off my life. novels, short stories, anywhere that i could escape into, for 35 minutes, one-way. the work increased, and so did my restlessness. i just wanted to write.

i decided, at one point, to enter any writing contest that i would come across online, just for the sake of writing. i entered three. while i was at it, i enrolled on a creative writing phd. the contests came and went. the phd process began, but i still wasn’t writing.

the day job was boring yes, but it brought in a salary. would i write if i let go of it? i wasn’t sure. i just wanted to write.

and then who looks after the house? it’s not a big house, but it’s our home. i like a bright home, well-arranged, even if the mess athri creates everyday can be overlooked. but i find it difficult to think of something to write when there are clothes to be washed, dry ones to be folded and kept inside the wardrobes, a sinkful of dirty dishes, the carpet to be vacuum-cleaned…and so i chose the house. praveen helped: we re-arranged furniture so athri’s toys had a neat hiding-place when he went to bed, put all the cables and clutter out of sight, but i still couldn’t get myself to write.

i requested for a flexible work option, knowing fully well that two days off work still meant a distant probability of me getting a few words down without being distracted by something else again. i was getting desperate now. i wanted to read and read. and i wanted to write.

one of the contest results came through. the penguin one. i had taken a day off in april to write this one. i’d held emotional gun-points to four heads, my friends’, asking them to go through the four drafts of 4000-words each that i had hurriedly cooked up in three days, before the final deadline. and it had paid off… i was going to be published! so i could write, if i forced myself to do it. and i had loved it. every minute of that writing until i sealed the envelope and sent it along. my heart thumped with joy that perhaps this is what i really wanted to do. i simply wanted to write.

faster, faster. i could sense that something, someone was pushing me in some direction, but there was nothing to hold on to. the email from penguin made me realise that my life’s whirlpool had begun to churn…

then last month, i was made redundant. the company was going web 2.0, and they didn’t need a sub-editor. i wasn’t sure of how to react…suddenly, for a job that i so often put athri and my writing aside, i was not wanted. on the other hand, i was free to write. now i could focus on my phd.

“now don’t spend time on the house,” praveen reminded me all along, “concentrate on writing, write anything. remember you have a journal?” he teased.

“it’s such a lovely house,” i argued. the long corridor running across the middle, the arcs opening out to the stairs and bright windows that always made it so pleasant to stay in, the large kitchen leading to the small balcony-railing, waiting to sprout flowers that we just planted for the summer… “how can anyone not have to spend time on a house, if it has to be well-kept?”

but it was not helping me in writing. ten days ago, we received another notice. we would have to move, give up the house. we were tenants, and the house-owner wanted it back.

we found another yesterday. it is minus a corridor. a compact house, like a man minus his neck. it has a small kitchen, enough to fill our hearts and stomachs. and it doesn’t have a fireplace or arcs to hang my torans from. but it is bright and it is practical, and hopefully, i will not fall in love with it.

maybe now i should be able to write.

the whirlpool in my life. the moon by the window. i think now, maybe it was that single thought.

ps: thank you asha. your many emails have set my words free 🙂

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