Monday, December 21, 2009

The Year Ahead

At the end of the year, people are looking forward for the annual horoscope. This page here lays out the horoscope of nations, persons, regions et al as perceived.

Will notch a growth rate of 7%. Things once held dear will be cheaper For eg. Nuclear reactor stuff. Team India will perform the first quarter. Kareena will puff up like sponge and size zero will be out of fashion. The ratio of pot hole to lanes on national highways will be in favour of the potholes.

IT Sector
Will see new job avenues. Will see more job portals in the virtual sphere. Smart cookies will remain as a rule. Star eyed fools and not so brights will be on roads.

Lok Sabha
Will be visited by the ghost of Vallabhai Patel who will be questioned on the reorganization of states he did long ago. Telengana MPs will start the questioning. At the end of the session, the MPs come to their senses-that more number of states is not the mantra for development.

Fish in Indian Ocean
Will have a tough time to maintain population with over fishing. Terrorists turned fishermen are now bombing the seas to attract fish

Restaurants in Kaiga
Will serve different types of water- hot, cold, sparkling and laced with Tritium. Dishes served should be eaten in certain time limit or will diminish due to half life.

Will make diving compulsory for school children as the sea rises bit by bit. Will go down the annals of history as the nation which once used to be and one which which held its cabinet meetings under sea setting a trend.

India, Cabinet Meeting 2010
Will be held through teleconferencing. Minister 1 will in standing in floods, Minister 2 in the cracks of baked earth, minister 3 by uncleaned canals, minister 4 on the container that exports surplus wheat, minister 5 on the ICBM, minister 6 hiding the missing files and bullet proof jackets of 26/11, minister 7 reading the obituary ads of people killed in Thekkady boat tragedy, minister 8 in tribal areas where there are no more tribals just Maoists and converts, minister 9 from the gay parade and the Prime Minister from the advisor’s room. And decide the country is doing fine and needs no far sighted development initiatives and just go building megastructures( hope they learn a lesson or two from Dubai World)


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Class Leader II B

Scene I
It was a Thursday. I went as usual for lunch to home around 2 pm. Bumbum, my younger son arrives around the same time from school. That day, he stepped off the school van with a double smile on his lips. He had the badge of Class Leader II B pinned to his pocket. He showed it off to us ( mum – in-law and me). We were happy for him. I asked him to undress and take a shower and keep the badge safe in pencil box. After having lunch, I returned to office.

Scene II
Evening. I return home with a nasty headache. Take a shower and have tea. Feel better. Ask bumbum to show what he has to study for the next day. Thankfully, his father offers to help. He asks bumbum to come up to the room above where he can enjoy a rest while guiding him in his studies. As bumbum follows his father, I ask him to show dad the badge he got from school. He scampers down and opens the pencil box and the badge is missing.

Scene III
I am yelling at bumbum for not keeping his things in place. Boozy the older son says, “He always looses things. Remember he lost the badge last year and we had to give a fine?”

The grand search begins. Everyone is searching , speaking, yelling or murmuring at the same time.

Mother – in – law is complaining, “She ( myself) doesn’t care for anything”

This sets the note of my yelling higher. Father-in-law zooms into scene and yells at me not to yell as Iam setting bad example for kids to follow.

I start murmuring and ask boozy to complete his homework. And I get hold of bumbum and say, “ Don’t stand there like a fool. Think, where you kept it”
Immediately he strikes a pose with one palm cradling the little jaw with the index finger tapping the side of forehead. “ Hmm. Let’s see. I told Kichu about it”
( Kichu is sis- in law ‘s kid who had come over the afternoon with his mom and had left in the evening)
“Did you show him the badge?”
“Then where did you keep it?”, I ask almost pulling my hair out.

The mention of Kichu is enough for FL to ring SIL’s home and ask her about the badge. Poor soul, she has no clue what he is talking about. He asks her to search there.

By this time hubby dear descends from him perch in room above as he was tired of waiting for the student and unable to make calls because the commotion below.

Everyone is searching. The sofa set is moved and the floor swept twice. Various things are discovered. Lost pencils, keys, coins etc. But no badge. The mystery just deepens.

Meanwhile, father –in –law strikes an idea. Maybe, bumbum took it to the park in the evening and showedit off to friends.

“No, No. He lost it before that. I saw him going to the park empty handed”, says MIL
“ You all just shut up”, roared FIL, “ Iam going to solve this mystery and started to dial again.

“Whom are you calling?”, enquired MIL

Pavan’s grandma. Maybe pavan has it.
( Pavan is bumbum’s friend who lives nearby)

“Really”, said she cutting the connection.

“ You just let me”, said FIL and made the call again.

It was getting too much for me. I slipped away to the room above to join bumbum who was already there. I was too tired and just lay down on the bed.

Bumbum slipped out of the room. After a while, I hear a Hooray. Father and son duo come up holding the prize badge which bumbum had pinned inside the bottle holder netting on the side of the bag.

Scene IV
Half an hour lar, SIL calls up. All of the elders are in their rooms after the grand search. Bumbum picks up the phone. She asks him, “ Did you get it?”
“Give phone to grandma”
MIL waddled upto the phone, sat there on the sofa and held the receiver for ten minutes. Silently, she kept it back. And proceeded to FIL’s room.

“Why did you not call her after getting it? She searched the sleeping kid, the house, the clothes and is hurt because she knew it that her son wouldn’t have taken it”

“But I just asked because it wasn’t here”

“It’s no good. She is mad at me”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mother at Seventeen

It was a moonless night. The time was about 8 p.m. The baby was due anytime. It was raining outside. The pains were coming intermittently. The long labour was proving difficult. Then one push and the baby was out. But the mother was spent. She had breathing problems.The vet was called in, the drip started. He did not have much hope. The calf lay beside the mama cow which was licking her clean. But she was weak and soon she put her head down on the shed floor, her muzzle near the calf. We kept vigil till 11 pm.

First thing in the morning, we were at the shed, and could see the cow breathing labouriously. The vet was there and shouting at the assistant that he should not have administered the drip so fast the night before. And soon, she breathed her last. The calf was orphaned.

We tried to suckle her at other cows in the farm. But she wasn’t accepted. One of the cows even kicked her. Poor calf, she was on her own. Since everyone else in the family had something more important to do, I was given the job of taking care of the calf.

Rummaging through the old bottles, I found one the right size for the calf, tried to fit a nipple from one of young nephew’s bottle. I sterilized the bottle and filled it up with 70% milk and 30 % water, added a spoon of sugar and walked to the barn where she was kept. I knelt beside her. Her legs were not completely steady yet. And I tried to push the bottle into her mouth. She licked once and looked away. I coaxed her to drink and again the same. I tried many times through the day but with little success. She seemed distracted and insecure. That evening I put a sack around her before I crept into the bed and hoped that here won’t be any snakes in the barn. Through the night, I tossed and turned thinking of ways to feed my baby.
I was a mother at seventeen.

By morning I had an idea. I filled up the sterilized bottle and went to the barn and brought her out in the open. Then I astrode her and pushed the bottle against her mouth. She opened and drank a little. It took some time for her to learn to suckle. She would tug at the bottle and I was afraid that the nipple will come off. I think the comfort of legs was soothing to her inborn instinct.

From that day onwards, she thought I was her mom. She would rush to me whenever I ventured. She looked scrawny still with a pot belly as the nutrition wasn’t really right for her. I slowly lessened the amount of water and even gave some mango juice. She was growing and so was my pride.

But it is kind of difficult to play mother to a calf. The moment I stepped out of the houses for anything, the calf came running to me baawing happily. Once when I was putting the clothes out to dry, she came out of nowhere and hit me from the back once, twice and thrice. I lost my balance and fell down. I mouthed some foul words at her and went in limping. The next morning, I went to pluck a papaya and again got rammed in the butt. The calf was doing it by instinct, run to mama and hit at the udders between the legs expecting milk will flow.

I asked my aunt to keep the calf on a tether and she declined to do it, saying that it’s the only period of their life when they can run around. Let it play.

The situation put me in a spot. The milk I gave her in a bottle was not sufficient. She wanted more and she thought she can get it if she rammed me. I could not step out of the house. Seeing my plight, aunt took over. She slowly weaned her off the milk only diet.

And about three weeks later, I ventured out. I saw her coming towards and I retraced my steps. But aunt stood in the doorway. The calf just came and stood beside me expecting me to cuddle her, which I did.

To me, till this date, that calf is the one who taught me what being a mother was.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mallus Hindi model 1969

Mr. Pillai at the supermarket, “Chaddi hai?”
Sales girl nods shocked
“Dikha do”
Salesgirl double shocked
Pillai corrects, “ Nikal Do”

Mr Kurien to cobbler, “kitna?”
“Sawa Do”
“Adhai mein karo”
Cobbler nods surprised
Mr. Kurien gives him Re 1.50 after the job

Mrs Nair gets a oriya boy to pluck papaya
Pointing to fruit,” Yeh thodo”
“Panch rupaya”
“Teen mein karo”
Boy climbs up. Mrs Nair is afraid that boy will fall as the tree sways from side to side
“Gir, gir, gir”
Boy looks down questioningly
“Gir, gir, gir”
Boy comes down without plucking
“Woh thodo”
Up goes boy
“Gir, gir, gir”

Mrs Mathew had gone to Kerala suddenly.
On her return, neighbour Mrs Sinha asks,” kya hua?”
“Relative beemar”
Pause. Mrs Mathew thinks for a while and then replies, “Sasur ka uterus nikal diya”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who is a worse miser

And the first prize goes to…

  1. Marimuthu who lifts his dhoti while sitting on the tattered rear seat of a TN Govt transport bus saying, “ Skin if torn will come on again but torn clothes won’t!”
  2. Mathukutty who divides a matchstick to two to light a borrowed beedi.
  3. Local rich man Ouseph who fools invitees to son’s wedding with more sliced chemmeen puli(a kind of sour fruit which when sliced looks the same as chemmmeen or prawns in curry) and less of prawns.
  4. Grocer Nathumal who writes bills only with first letter of goods sold to save ink in pen.Eg: Cha can be chaval or chai.
  5. Devout Ishwarchand who puts off the agarbatti soon after lighting it so that he can use it tomorrow.
  6. Chamanlal, the gas agent who never buys a cylinder and uses the empty cylinders tilting or lying them sideways.
  7. Shiv Sahu who has his dinner everyday at the fruit stalls, tasting one of this fruit and one of that.
  8. Shankar Chaubey who uses a drop of ghee to massage on fingers to show that he had a rich lunch or dinner.
  9. Or the next door neighbour who buys oversized clothes for his kids so that they will grow into it.
  10. Or Mr. Bhatt who is suddenly devout because they are offering free lunch with the Gita discourse

    Please grade them on a 10 point scale.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Paycheck

Naveen Kishore was angry. He just got his first payslip which showed the lumpsum as Rs. 3500/- . Where is the last zero? How can the HR department make such a hopeless mistake? He fumed and made a beeline to HR department.

After completing his BBM from a new management college somewhere near Gurgaon, he had opted for this job over many others. Why? Because the offer was much higher. The company ambience also appealed to him. The offices were in glass and steel high rise building and had centralised AC. There was a test followed by interview. There were about 50 applicants who got through the test. The interview was covered on video as the panel said that the real bosses were in Mumbai and that they will be sent a CD to assess the candidates.

Knock, knock, he knocked at the door of the HR Manager.
“Come in”, said a voice
Mr. Gupta was a well dressed executive and always had a greeting smile on.
“What is it, Naveen?”, said Mr. Gupta gesturing him to sit down
“Sir, Just look at this gross mistake!”, said Naveen showing him the payslip.
“What is wrong?”
“The figure, it lacks one zero”
Mr. Gupta pores over it and smilingly replies, “It is alright, isn’t it? That was offer, you remember?”


“But the panel offered me thirty five thousand”.
“Come on, Naveen. The offer was Thirty five hundred”
“ Look”, he put a CD in the laptop and showed him.
And there was Naveen, looking smart in a light blue shirt and a tie facing a panel which offered him thiry five hundred and he is nodding affirmation like a fool.

Naveen was so carried away by the way the interview was conducted that he never ever thought twice about the offer.

Now he was in a spot and had to take loan form the personal loan department of the bank where he was a junior executive to pay his dues for the month.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arranged marriage

Kerala is known throughout the world for its beautiful backwaters and houseboats that sail on it. It is even promoted as an exotic locale for wedding and honeymoon. Just check out this story before you book the tickets.

It was an arranged marriage. After some misses, this was the hit, arranged to the hilt. The girl Indu lived on the mainland Ernakulam. The boy, Suresh lived on one of the larger islands around Kochi. After a Pennukanal ( Boy meeting the proposed girl) ceremony, the date and time of the wedding were decided by the elders. It was a match on all counts. The boy had a decent job and the girl was a teacher.

On the decided date, our groom Suresh who had invited almost the whole island to the wedding had arranged for one more boat apart from the usual govt. ferry service. Dressed in a silk shirt, he was there leading on the pier leading the people to boat.

Chinnamma chechi, ah. Chetanum pillerum ille?” ( Chinnamma , is not your husband and kids coming)
Kuttappan cheta, aduthe boatinnu keram(Kuttappan, let’s board the next boat)”

Someone inquired, “ Da Sureshe, Nee mattavane kando, Avande oru shirtum”(Hey, Suresh, did you see the other fellow, him and his shirt) blinking towards a guy in orange shirt.

So, generally everyone was in a good mood. Suresh had five elder siblings- four brothers and a sister. They were all busy in donning the best dress and ornaments for the day.

At the home, someone moaned, “Mullapoo kazhinnu”( Jasmine flowers are over). Women from Kerala need loads of jasmine flowers to bedeck their beautiful hair for a wedding. Immediately, Kuttappan was sent to buy the flowers.

It was almost 8.45am. The boat would leave at 9.00am. It was a 35 minute ride to the mainland and from there, through heavy traffic, it needed another 45mins to reach the venue. The muhurat was between 11.45am and 12.00

Many people were already on the two boats- one govt. and another private. Suddenly some shouted. "It is almost nine. What are we waiting for or we will be late for the wedding." So the boats started and left the island with our groom Suresh on it. His only solace was Kuttappan with some jasmine flowers.

People on the boats did not know about this till they reached the venue. The bride’s welcoming array of young girls and aunts were ready with the ashtamangalyam( Shagun) and garland but they could not find the Groom in the groom’s crowd. Chinnamma chechi said, “He spoke to me and went to the other boat. I thought he was on that.”

The Groom’s sister called her other brothers and scolded them, ‘I thought he was with you in the wedding car.”
“But he always liked you. I thought he was with you”
The groom’s mom who had alzheimer’s wanted to know why all were shouting and not going to pluck the tamarind from the trees, it being harvest season. “Puli paracho”, she asked( Have you plucked the tamarind).

In the hall, the invitees go the whiff of events. Mrs. Pillai whispered to Mrs. Nair,” Maybe the boy might have come to know about that friend of hers”
“That Rahman she befriended at the B.Ed college”
“Yes, he used to come too often to their house”

Before I go further, let me give an intro to the Kerala weddings. It is true that Kerala is one of the most developed states in India. But at weddings, the average Keralite behaves in a peculiar manner. They jostle and push to get entry into the reception hall where the feast is served. One look at them will make you think that they haven’t eaten for ages. It is almost a stampede.

So, Mr. Mathew said, “Oh! This will be a problem. I have not brought the lunch and taken only half day off. Have to report by 1.00 pm”

Suchitra, Indu’s classmate, was complaining to her mother, “Will you just take this useless baby(her own) off my lap. It will crumple my saree. I have to be on the stage when the wedding happens. Now where is this GROOM?”

“I have a client meeting at 12.30pm. Will this wedding get over in time?”, someone moaned

One octogenarian wanted to know whether the nadaswaram guys did not know other tunes.” “Njangalude kalathu nadaswaram entha rasamayirunnu enno” ( Nadaswaram in our days were so pleasant

Poor Suresh was waiting for the 9.45am ferry. It was 10.00 and no sign of the ferry. They called the boat office on mainland and were told that it had a technical snag and was in the workshop. Now the next boat was at 10.15am.It finally arrived jam packed at 10.27am.

The muhurat time was nearly over when Suresh runs in followed by our welcoming array of girls and aunts, ashtamangalyam et al. Immediately , he is given the thali, the Malayali mangalsutra. He wants to tie it, but there is some old guy who asks it to be flipped and tied. Some one gives him the sindoor to put on her forehead. In his excitement, he dumps the whole little container on the top of her head.

The tense gathering of invitees breaks into laughter. Next moment the hall is vacant as our invitees have gone for the stampede to the feast.

Suchitra missed being on stage as she had to feed the baby.
Mr. Mathew got in for the first round of feasting and reported to office in time
Kuttappan gave his wife the jasmine flowers in the evening.
Mrs. Pillai’s daughter eloped with the Rahman aforesaid.
The groom's mother now starts off every now and then for her son Suresh’s wedding.
The octogenarian fell in the stampede and fractured his elbow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Real Life

Every day in the papers we read of conditions where poverty makes parents sell their child so that they feed the other kids or send the older kid (say 6 yrs) to work. How could they do it? It is a question that has multilevel interpretations.

Long ago, at school, I read the Hindi masterpiece “Kafan” by Premchand and could not believe that anyone can be so ruthless. I hated the father and son duo for their helplessness and resignation. But growing up, I do feel that multiple problems sometimes tend to make one resigned to fate and behave in ways that one would never expect a human to do.

Sometime in 1995 when I used to be a student of MSW, we had a 10 day camp in a nearby village. We traveled by a tempo (a three wheeled vehicle that can accommodate about 12 people but which usually carries about 18 on the rural roads of India). We arrived to find that the stay was organized in the government school house- a single storey building with just two large rooms. One room was assigned to the boys and another for girls. We put our baggage in the rooms and someone inquired where the toilet was. The eager villager took us outside and into a plot adjoining the school. None of us were ready for what we saw.

He showed us the temporary pit enclosed by sacks. The pit might have been say 15 feet deep and about 3 feet wide. They had wooden planks across on which we were to squat and do the holy job with water brought in a bucket from the hand pump about 100 feet away. Only one pit for the twenty two boys and girls - that was just the hint of what was in store for us. And our first brush with reality of how rural India was even in 1995.

“And the bathroom”, someone asked.
“Oh, you can use the village pond.”
Seeing the look on our faces, he said,” You can always use the school toilet as a bathroom”.
So they had a regular toilet. Soon we trooped to find the school toilet. It was a dinghy longish place which stinked of urine and had no running water. The water source was the same hand pump.

“Hey, you lot, The Sarpanch is here and wants to meet you”. All of us walked hurriedly to the school building.

The Sarpanch was a man in his forties, well dressed and the most influential guy in the village. He had studied at the town and had gone to college and that showed in how he spoke and wore clothes. He spoke to us for a while about rural life and inquired how we found the arrangements, and invited us for tea in the evening at his house before taking leave.

The tea at the sarpanch had hot snacks to go with it. We had our fill. We girls had struck an idea before going for tea. We can use a toilet at the sarpanch’s if he has one. And he did have. So before taking leave of the Sarpanch and his dear wife and two kids, all the girls had used the restroom for the day. We were not sure of using the pit in the dark of night before going to bed.

Tired as we were, we slept as soon as we hit the bed (read carpet + bedsheet + bags for pillows).

The next day, we woke up early so that we may complete our morning ablutions before daylight. But we were all sharing the same bathroom which meant the queue was long. Some of the boys went out to the fields in the dark to attend to Nature’s call. When they were retuning, they weren’t alone- many villagers were also returning after the same.

So, finally we were all ready for the day by 9 am. Our teachers split us into groups of four and sent us to different directions. Our work started in earnest. We had questionnaires with us to assess the quality of life in the village. A group was kept at the school to look after the belongings and cook us our lunch. Each group was to take turns at the cooking. By lunchtime we were all back at the school building. It looked so inviting after the hot Sun.

Post lunch we didn’t want to go out in the Sun again. So, we sat around and discussed what we saw, whom we met etc. Our lecturers asked us to plan for a cultural evening which we skit and immediately it was taken up by others. Fillers like mimicry and songs were also plwere to present on the penultimate day of the camp. One of the guys came up with an idea for a skit and immediately it was taken up by others. Fillers like mimicry and songs were also planned.

Next day onwards, it was just heavy work. We went around the village taking a full census. The village temple was in the centre of the village that spread across a vast area. It had two ponds one for the upper castes another for the lower castes. The upper castes lived to the east, the middle order in south and west, while the lower castes and the outcasts were in the northern part. On the third day my team was assigned to the northern part. We covered about 20 households and were nearing the boundary of the settlements.

The sizes of the houses were getting smaller and the material with it was built also changed. The wall height also decreased. There were no pucca houses( houses built with brick and mortar) here. All were kuccha, First, we saw those with tiled roofs, then thatched roofs, then mud walls and thatched roofs and now even the thatch was just namesake.

It was close to 2pm.We were exhausted by then. We asked for water at one of the houses. First they were reluctant to give. They were no sure if they can give us water. Then a boy of about 14 came along and went inside and brought us water. We were happy to note that at least the younger generation was confident of itself. We reached the last house.
In the front yard, under a neem tree, there were an old man, a leper, and a baby on the charpoy( a simple cot with wooden frame and coir ropes).

We started off with our questionnaire
“Who is the head of the family?”
“Iam”, says the old leper
“No. of family members”
“Names and age and relationship with you”
“Santidevi, wife,50
Atmaram, son, 30
Urmila, Daughter in law, 25
Vijay, grandson, 6
Raju, grandson, 2”

“And this baby, we asked”, pointing to the baby on the cot
“That is the two year old”

We could not believe it. It looked scrawny and had a bloated head.
Since we had planned a medical camp on the 8th, we were collecting information about the common problems. So we asked now, “Any medical problems?”
“Can’t you see, Iam a leper”
“Does anyone else have leprosy in the family?”
“Yes the wife and the son”
“Where are they?”
“Wife has gone to bring water from the pond on the outskirts of the next village.”
“Why? There is enough water in this village,” we said
“We are not allowed to. Earlier when only I had leprosy they allowed. But now my wife and son have it and they are afraid.”
“And where is your son?”
“He has gone begging to the town. He has lost a foot and so can’t work. So, he begs.”
“Does this boy go to school?”
“No. He helps his mother on the small patch of land.”
“Why did they not go today?”
“She did. But she is weak and swooned on the field. The boy has somehow brought her back”

Then the daughter in law came out of the house -a frail woman with sunken eyes. She stood by the cot. My attention suddenly went back to the baby on the cot.
“Was he like that always?”
“Yes. Something happened at birth. Only, his head has been growing. He can’t sit or stand, lies there whole time.”

I noticed that the baby was now licking something. A second look revealed that it was his own stool. He lay in plain view of the grandfather and the mother and neither took it away from his mouth or cleaned him.
“Look at what he is licking,” I screamed.
“Oh! He does that all time.”
“Remove it and clean him”
“We have nothing better to feed a dying child. The little we have is for the stronger older kid.”

We shoved away the dirt with a paper and pleaded the mother to clean it up which she did with a little water.

“Feed it properly and bring it to the medical camp on Thursday,” we said, thrusting some ten rupee notes into the old man’s hand.

On Thursday, we waited for these people to turn up. At last, in the evening, the grandmother brought it accompanied by the lame son. The doctor examined the baby and referred them to the district hospital. I wonder if they ever took that baby there. The doctor told us that it was a case of no cure and slow death. Most probably, he might have died soon.

The whole scene has come to me again many times in nightmares. We all have studied about the Survival of the fittest theory, but it has never struck me that it can be such a harsh choice.

Premchand’s Kafan is a story that is still repeated. I salute the classic and dread the helplessness

Friday, October 2, 2009

Have you

  1. Heard people on other end of phone introducing themselves as, “This is I” or “It’s me”?
  2. Hear people on the other directly asking you questions about the family when it is really a wrong number?
  3. Been none the more enlightened when a someone replies,”On This” on being asked what he is working on?
  4. Been disappointed on trying the new dress that looked fabulous in the shop window?
  5. Seriously thought that the weighing machine is faulty because it shows a number you don’t like?
  6. Been made to give some incredulous answer on phone when the caller(wrong number) just doesn’t listen and goes on asking questions?
  7. Have been caught thinking hard before an open fridge when you were searching for a pen?
  8. Been advised by others even without asking about what to feed your 1 year old?
  9. Been yelled upon by an elder who repeats” Bring me that” without specifying what?
  10. Found yourself on the wrong direction bus or train?

If the answer is YES to most questions, you live in a normal world.
If the answer is NO to most, try moving to Moon. They have found water on it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Working Abroad

Indians working abroad is a perfectly normal situation. Nowadays you might find more and more Indians abroad. And their success in living anywhere in the world comes from the fact that they are great survivors.

Soviet Russia was one of India’s friends aand Indo soviet scientific and cultural exchanges were common. Raj Kapoor had a large fan following in erstwhile USSR. People from the countries cooperated on different levels. Exchange of knowledge, culture and science meant that the Soviets visited India and Indians visited Russia. Let me recount the experiences of one such group.

Makahanlal Prasad was part of a team of metallurgical engineers who were sent by the Indian government to train at the soviet steel plants. Prior to the trip to USSR, all the team members were given a crash course in Russian language. The group leader was Vikas Bhide who had a Diploma in Russian and spoke fluent Russian. Upon landing in Leningrad, now called st. Petersburg, they were introduced to their Russian guide, Mr. Nicolas Petrov who spoke fluent English. Thus the team started their three month long stay in the USSR.

As was wont to happen in such trips, after a while, a smaller cluster of friends within the team wanted to explore on their own. And so, Makhanlal and friends went exploring. After a while, they were hungry and they found themselves in a different part of the town far away Mr. Bhide or Mr.n Petrov to guide them to a restaurant. But they found one on their own and sat down to order. The menu card was more like ‘Kaala akshar bhains barabar’ ( Hindi saying literally meaning that the printed word was equal to water buffaloes, can’t make out one from another)for them. So they racked their brains to get the name of Chicken in Russian. But hunger had affected our little Indian troop adverselyand created a momentary memory loss for all of them.

Gurjeet Singh desperately said, “Arre yaar, murgi yaad karte karte nani yaad aa gayi”
Makhanlal said brightly, “Aschcha yaad dilaya, Yaar ande ko kya bolte hain?” ( what do you call an egg in Russian)
Gurjeet said, “yayotz”
“And mother”

So, the order went as Math yayotz

The roly poly waitress rolled with laughter at the order. And makhanlal and friends got what they wanted. After a sumptuous meal, they remembered to than the waitress and the Manager. Shaking hands with the manager, Makahanlal said, “Sabaka, sabaka”. Others followed suit.

Returning to the place where the rest of them wer, Makhanlal and Gurjeet told the leader that the manager was so overcome with emotion that he did not react when they thanked him , “Sabaka’.

Bhide and Petrov started guffawing. They could not stop for a while. When they did, they said in unision, “Good thingthat they did not beat you guys up”
“Why should they beat us? We paid the bill correctly”

“Sabaka means dog. You should have said Speceba”

Dedicated to all strugglers in the foreign lands.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pujo and Bhojan

It was the mid 1960s. India was trying to get over the teething problems after independence. With some of the five year plans in place, India was on its path for development. The large country was in the process of rediscovering itself. People from various parts pf India came to the big towns and the nascent townships that mushroomed around industries and other projects. A nation that has more than 15 recognised languages and hundreds of dialects is a real melting pot and more so were these small towns to which young Indians flocked to in search of work, better life and with a zeal to be part of nation making.

In one such small mining township, young Chandrashekar lived. His wife was expecting their first baby and had gone to their native place in Tamil Nadu for the delivery. He lived in the quarters that the central government had built for the miners. For the last one month he was on his own. Sometimes he used to eat at the small south Indian hotel. Most of the days, he made his own survival food with bread and eggs.

One Thursday, his neighbour, Mr. Bhattacharya knocked at his door.
“Kal hamare yahan pujo aur bhojan hai. Aap jarur aana”
[Tommorow, we have pooja and food at our house. Please come]

Chandrashekhar was overjoyed with the invite. He looked forward to some home cooked, even if it was not south Indian. His was not a position to choose.

The next day, he came home, had a shower, wore appropriate pooja clothes and was at his neighbour’s. Most of the invitees were Bengalis who were happily singing Bengali bhajans. Like most Bengali households, Mr. Bhattacharya too had a harmonium. The couple led the singing. The pooja arati was over by around 8.30pm.

The host and wife did the arati and distributed sweets as the Prasad among the invitees. The small crowd soon made little groups and were conversing away as if it was the only day left to exchange the pleasantries. Poor Chandrashekhar had the language barrier. He stood by himself in a corner.

Seeing him alone, Mrs. Bhattacharya came forward and asked, “Did you get the Prasad? How is your wife? When is the due date?”

To which Chandrashekhar replied dutifully, “ Yes. She is fine. January 10th”

Soon Mr.Bhattacharya joined them.
“ Thank You, Mr. Chandrashekhar for coming along. Did you get the Prasad?”

Chandrashekar nodded. From the corner of his eye, he could see that some of the guests were leaving. Why are they leaving? What about the food?, he thought.
But it was quite evident that the evening’s programme was over.

Just then the host said, “You might not have understood the meaning of the Bhojans we sang. Did you like the Bengali bhojans?”

It was now very clear. Hunger for the night made Chandrashekhar understand all the bhajans.

Bhajans are songs in praise of God
Bhojan means meal
Pujo or pooja is a prayer

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Eternal Truth

Speaking volumes were the silent
Yet, steady undercurrents
Briefing the long life
Were the flowing currents

Ashes of another abode
Scattered on the face
Of the moving waters
Registered a past phase

I witnessed another name
Losing its meaning
Dropping into the ocean
Meeting the omnipresent

Yet we strut, we fight
Selfish of the worldly possessions
When the inevitable is that
None has any in the end

Written on the banks of Ganga where it comes a full circle- Life, death and everything in between and beyond

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making of a Ballad

It was a time when lots of burglaries were happening in the neighbourhood. The thieves usually came in the dead of the night, looted the house or establishment as case may be, and even killed any witnesses, if need be. People were terrorized. The fear created bizarre conditions of living. For instance, all the people in a house slept in a single room and dared not switch on the fan because, the thief may hear it and come into the room to steal ornaments which women in Kerala must wear com what may. The sleeping condition also had a rule- When the person at far end sleeps on left, everyone else follows and none can turn to right until the person at the far end turns.

There were all kinds of stories about the burglars’ ingenuity. They said that the burglars had a magic powder, sprinkling which, the iron bars and grills just melts away like butter. So, the people did not dare to leave the windows open. But whatever precautions the people took proved useless. The burglars won every round.

That night, the burglars planned to loot a house of the noveau rich from the Gulf. The Gulf Malayali as you might know is more into gold and ornaments that the normal native Malayali. The burglars prepared themselves for a rich haul. They smeared themselves with oil, armed themselves with ropes, daggers, iron rods, and of course the ‘magic powder’. Reaching the house, they found that the magic powder was of no help as the windows were all closed and secure. They prowled around and discovered that the rear part of the house had tiled roof. Two of the gang were soon on the roof and removing the tiles. Meanwhile, two other were making hindrances at the entry points just to make it difficult for any rescuers. All ready!

When enough tiles were removed, one of the burglars alighted himself into the house. He found himself in the kitchen. Hungry, he first helped himself to some bananas. Then he groped his way in the dark and reached one of the bedrooms and felt the bed. He tried to liberate a neck from a heavy gold necklace and failed miserably. The lady sat up and had a programmed chain reaction. First, the thief was scared, then he made out that all were women and went on tugging at the necklace. The woman held it and threatened that there were men sleeping in the adjoining room.

One of the elder yelled, “ Appunni Naire. Appunni Naire.”

Let me enlighten about this character. He was a wiry old man with fast receding hairline. Usually his forehead was smeared with multiple lines of ‘bhasma’ or holy ash with a Kumkum plus vermilion dot in the middle.
A loud clamour in his room announced that he was awake and moving(he tumbled over an old trunk and fell flat on his face).The sound had an awesome effect on the burglars waiting outside. One or two just slipped away into the night while others waited for their leader and the loot.

Meanwhile, inside, our knight in shining armour(clad only in a dhoti) arrived hearing the cries of the distressed ladies. The dhoti was almost loose with the fall and was least interested in continuing the nocturnal adventure. It left him.

Thieves, burglars or any of the creed are always afraid, especially of men who are abnormal and our dear thief was not an exception. One look at a wiry fellow with smeared ash on forehead and only a flimsy loincloth on standing in a ferocious manner sapped the poor thief of all his courage. He retreated and started to run out of the house. He forgot about the hindrances his teammates had created at the entry points. He tripped over a rope and fell, picked himself up and started to run again with Appunni Nair in HOT PUSUIT.

He chased him out of the house, the compound and the neighbour before retuning gallantly to the home. His wife gave him his dhoti, to which he said, “No . It is OK. My dhoti is quite alright”. He proceed to tie the dhoti right and tight when he realized that he hadn’t one.

Anyhow, Appunni Nair became a local hero and it might not be a mystery if future generations come across ballads in his honour.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Conclusion

The Indian summer: it affects different people in different ways. Let us examine the case at hand.

A small village in central Kerala is the stage. After a sumptuous lunch, the household has settled down for a siesta. And thanks, to loadshedding, getting a wink was proving to be difficult. But our braveheart family did not give in. People took to the bare floor where it was cooler. The atmosphere was quiet. Even the cows were not mooing.

Kerala as you might know is a 100% literate state and publishes many magazines, newspapers, weeklies etc for its voracious reading population. These editors are real mavericks for they come up with all kinds of useful information for its readers- for eg: How to make Sambar- a dish which everyone in south India knows to make, How to make your child eat, Why did Cuba have problems, Ask the psychologist column, Weekly horoscope, The story of couples who opted for love marriages etc.

Our heroine had one such useful magazine to help her to go to sleep. She was feeling drowsy when she came upon the page – Cats too can go mad. As the household had couple of cats, she was hooked. Her eyes grew wider as she read on.

She nudged her husband who was snoring away, “Did you know that cats can go mad?”.
“No.” Said he and rolled over to the other side.
But she was not letting him go with that, “Look, I am not joking. It says so here. And they have listed the symptoms too…”
“1. The cat prefers a shaded place.
2. It doesn’t react quickly when provoked.
3. Once Provoked…” Before she could continue, he took the magazine from her.
She protested and then gave in saying, “OK. Read for yourself. Anyway, it’s almost time to make tea. I will just refresh myself”. And she went into the adjoining bathroom.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh” She came out screaming and was now standing on the bed.
“ What’s the matter? Why are you screaming?”
“ It’s the cat. It’s in there”
“It’s mad”
“Who, our Sati? No joking”
“No, It’s true. It’s in there”
“OK, Let me see”
He tiptoed to the bathroom. And there was Sati lying in one corner of the huge bathroom. He tiptoed out and went to the terrace where the arecanuts were spread to dry in the Sun. He picked an handful and came back and started to pelt the cat.

At the first pelt, she did not bother. By the fourth, she opened a questioning eye. She didn’t like to be disturbed thus. She was in no mood to play. By the tenth, she heaved herself up and padded to the other corner and settled down again to continue her disturbed sleep. But this was not her day! The pelting continued.

Now she had it. She got up and stood in the classic arched pose, flashing her teeth. Her hair was standing on its end. She looked ferocious. She was a big cat and a black one at that.

However, she could not quite understand this sudden change in behaviour of her masters. They loved her and she loved them too. And she had been a good cat. That morning too, she had curled at the foot of the bed and crooned appropriately when cuddled. At breakfast, she had eaten the crumbs and purred gratefully. And she had not stolen a thing from the kitchen, except the neighbour’s. Her mom had taught her not to steal from the house where she chose to live. Then, what was the problem, wondered Sati. Maybe it was the mouse she had failed to catch, but that should not be a problem, Sati thought. Anyway, she continued to snarl and keep the pelters at a distance.

By then, the couple was sure that the cat was mad. Now the husband brought in a pole to poke the poor cat. Meanwhile, the commotion had woken everyone and all of them made a beeline for the room where the action was.

The Lady of the house, my aunt, went in first. Upon being enlightened by the state of affairs by her daughter, who was still standing on the bed, she exclaimed, “Oh! Shut up. Don’t be so stupid to believe in that nonsense. It is a hot afternoon and the poor cat has simply found itself a cool place to nap”. But her daughter and son-in-law differed. As aunt tried to go into the bathroom, they tried to save her from imminent calamity. She shoved them aside and went in and called the cat lovingly. She approached it slowly and the cat calmed down a bit. She picked it up and came out.

“Look”, said aunt. But there was no one in the room. The daughter had gone to a safer place- on top of the dining table. The son-in-law peeped from the kitchen.

“Ha ha haHo Ho”, aunt burst out laughing and added, “We don’t have a mad cat in the family, but two madcaps who think that cats can’t climb on to the dining table”.

A trail of laughter followed.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Salesgirl

Salma aunty was fond of cats. Her house overflowed with them. She had nice name for them and loved them more than her children. One day about 5 in the evening,she came home after visiting her ailing mother and called out all the names. She expected all the younger cats to turn up but chinnu didn’t. She asked her daughter to open the front door while she started a frantic search. The search revealed a badly mauled chinnu in the garden. Salma aunty was broken.

Just then, a salesgirl walked in to the compound and asked Salma aunty to take a look at her wares. Salma aunty was least interested.

But the sales girl went on, “Only two more packets left. Take one, please”
Salma Aunty wanted to get rid of her and so she bought one and called out to her daughter inside, “Safia, Just pay this girl, will you?”.

And she hurried to get a shovel and give dear Chinnu a decent burial. After burying the cat and crying a bit, Salma aunty walked into the house. She started to search for her purse which had some money that she had to keep safe. But she could not find it. She started searching in the car porch, the rooms inside, even in the yard. But it was nowhere to be seen. It was dusk by then. Suddenly, she thought of the salesgirl.

It must be the girl, she muttered under her breath.
She ran outside and looked up and down the street. There was none to be seen. She ran to the next street and there she found the girl getting out of a gate. She pounced on her.
“You girl. How could you steal my purse when I helped you by one of your good for nothing washing powder”
The girl looked surprised,. But salma aunty was holding her by the elbow now. The noise brought out some neighbours. Soon everyone agreed that it must be the girl.
Someone commented, “Oh these people. They come to steal posing as salespeople”

Soon, the police was called over. The girl was crying. Her bag and person was searched. “She must have passed it to the accomplice”, shouted a guy.
“Who’s with you?”, asked the policeman.
“Another salesman who leads our team. He is waiting outside the colony where all the girls might have assembled by now”.
“Call him,” commanded the policeman.
She tearfully called the fellow who was there in ten minutes. He was a young chap and looked terrified seeing the crowd and police.
They asked him to show his credentials which he did.

Meanwhile, Safia, Salma aunty’s daughter came out of the house running holding her mother’s purse. It seemed it was under the clothes in the bag. Salma aunty had emptied the bag onto the bed to keep away the clothes and the purse which was on top was now under the pile.

The crowd lost interest by now. It dispersed quickly. The police went away in a gruff. The boy and the girl went their way. And Salma aunty was speechless. She felt bad. Her close friends were the only ones who stayed on.

“I do my daily namaaz correctly. But what is the use when I make such a big mistake. Why did I do it.?” She went on mumbling. It was really a bad day for everyone involved.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Karate kid

It was 8 pm. I had some doubts about a subject and wanted to discuss with friend living three streets away. So, I started to walk down to her house. There was absolutely no one on the road. I could see two guys on the road ahead, under the lamp post. As I walked on, they started moving towards me. I could see a glint of something in one guy’s hand. I tried to walk clear of them and almost stepped into the drainage canal b the road.

“Don’t move”, said one of them.
Both were around twenty, skinny and looked bedraggled.

“Don’t Shout”, said the other. His voice trembled showing fear.

“Bachao, Help”, I yelled out.” Bachao”

Immediately, the second guy started running. Left alone the guy with the knife was not sure.

I struck a karate pose and yelled again. ( Iam a Bruce Lee fan but one who doesn’t know Karate)

I advanced, he retreated and turned and ran.

I followed him about twenty steps when I realized my foolishness.
What if he throws the blade. I ran in the opposite direction straight to home.
Dad had just returned from the duty. He was removing his boots. He half heard what I said and started off with one boot and chappal on.

There was no sign of the guys.

But the episode got me the name of Karate Kid in the neighbourhood.

Wedding Season

Around Onam, the wedding season is on in earnest in Kerala. You get invitations by the hordes. There are more than two weddings on some n those days that have auspicious muhurats. Families split and attend weddings on such days.

On one such day, our family arrived for the wedding a bit late. We had to catch a train in the afternoon the same day. So, we were in a rush. We met some of our distant relatives at the wedding but none of the more familiar faces. We could not see the wedding as we got the last row seats. The distant relative said she was an invitee of the girl’s and we said we were of the boy’s. She wanted to know the relation. My dad said that the boy’s maternal aunt had married into his family. She was trying to get it right when we left her and went in for the first panthi or serving of feast. Dad’s plan was to meet the bride and groom after it hoping that the rush on stage would have lessened by then.

By the time we were washing our hands after the meal, my dad’s mobile rang. Dad spoke to my cousin on the other end. She wanted to know where we were and Dad asked her the same question.
“At Kousthubham Hall. At the wedding. Here everyone wants to know where you are”.
‘We will be there in a minute”, said Dad
He asked us to hurry. We were asking him what happened.
I’ll tell you. Let’s get out of here first

Finally when we were in the car and drove out of the Pushpanjali Hall, he said, “We attended the wrong wedding. Didn’t you guys look at the invite”

“We thought you did, mom piped up”

At Kousthubham, all the relatives were pulling us to the feast and we could not have one morsel more. Finally we gave in for a glass of payasam.

To this day, whenever we meet the relative we saw at the other wedding, she wants to get our relation to the groom right.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lonely Planet

It was late May. The plains and plateaus of central India were literally melting hot. Dust storms locally called “loo” swirled up the powdery crust of baked earth and thrust it into the nostrils and eyes. But braving this harsh climate, we were berserk enough to drive all the way from Thrissur in Central Kerala to the steel city, Bhilai in Chattisgarh, then part of Madhya Pradesh in a good old Ambassador of 1962 make. Father had recently bought it from a cousin who had bought it from a doctor and the possession had made father a proud car owner, a breed that was not so common then. So he promptly started on this wild adventure of driving over 2000 Kilometres with a mechanic , a cousin who had a passion to drive, my mother and myself, a tomboyish 12 year old.
Our routemap went through Palakkad in Kerala , Coimbatore in Tamil nadu, Bangalore in Karnataka, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh , Nagpur in Maharashtra and Bhilai in Chattisgarh touching all southern states of India.
We started after breakfast,waved off by uncles, aunts and cousins. Some could still not believe that we were taking this journey at this time of the year. The driving craze cousin was newly married and his wife was already expecting and she was really sad that she could not accompany us! They took a long time to say ‘goodbye’ to each other.
We filled up and moved on. Nothing untoward happened in the first leg of the journey. We halted for the night at Bangalore. The city was really quiet for its size and it was really a garden city, not the IT city we know today. The Yelehanka Air force Station brought back memories for father. He had missed selection to Airforce because he faltered badly in the shooting test when he saw a spider in the crosswire. He is still scared silly of spiders. Our aim being to reach Hyderabad the next night, we could visit only the Lal Bagh. We bypassed Mysore and drove into Andhra. Now the real test started for man and the machine.
Unending stretches of barren landscape stretched right upto the horizon. Some times we overtook a solitary truck with a turbaned Sikh or an ebony tamilian as driver. Always, they waved and we waved back, each relieved that they were not the only souls on this lonely planet. Once a while we saw clusters of houses, some of bricks and tiles, more with thatched roof. A sight of a single man on cycle with water or firewood gave a clear indication of nearby hamlets. Often one saw paths suddenly disappearing into nowhere. We had to stop now more often as the water in the radiator quickly reached boiling hot conditions. And on a lonely stretch, we had our first flat. As the mechanic, father and cousin got to work of changing the flat, my mother and I stayed put in the car. There were no trees nearby to give any sort of shade. Also, we ran out of water. The car and the people were all thirsty. The barren landscape showed no visible signs of human habitation or more importantly water. Meanwhile none was able to loosen the bolts of the flat tyre. My cousin had a slight fever. The climate was taking its toll. Along came a National Permit Truck and they pulled up right ahead of us. Without us asking for help they asked the three men to move over. The burly Sardarji and his aide swiftly changed the flat tyre. They also gave us their last chagal of water. We were so overcome with surprise and gratitude that we couldn’t thank them before they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.
The whole episode left a nagging rain of regret in our hearts. Because, though we waved at the truck crew many times, our conversation had always lingered around the shabbiness and immoral and shadowy character these people are said to have. We were ashamed of ourselves and soon as if to make secret amends everyone had something good to say about the truck drivers in general and our saviour in specific. Like how they traversed long distances to reach goods for people in far flung areas and how they helped fellow travellers on road and how their duty sent them far from home and hearth.
This incident was the only ‘happening’ for us in the whole journey and it made me wise to look the other side of any person before evaluating him or her. Appearances and general views may be deceptive.

Life (1988)

All through childhood
We were in a playing mood

In the youth
Full of Spirits

But as Youth was gone
There was a lot to be done

And as old age came
To take its place
There was no more grace

The sins and untruths of Life
Played before the weary eyes
And suddenly, we were as poor as church mice

At the end of the Yellowing meadows
Nobody was there except for one’s shadow
The painful countdown
Came to an end by Sundown

Death came at last And they called me Late


Their eyes met
Nothing was spelt
Yet, something was said
Their minds were read

They had parted
They felt it was forced
Something brought them again close
A bond which was not to be loose

The cold wind whistled by
Thought of days gone by
Leaves fluttered past
Remembering their meeting last

They thought they understood each other
But there was a mistake
Now they understood
That their bond was not fake

The Sun shined from the clouds
On the once again happy couple

Monday, July 13, 2009


Success, thou art slippery
And seductive too.
The combination is too strong
For one to ignore.

And when you concede
You rule the head
Make the body strut
And lose conscience of self.

Then to master you
Is more difficult
The failure of which
Leads to a fathomless deep.

O! You never cease to make me wonder
But then, had it been not for you
Mankind would not have prospered.
Salutations to thee, O! Success.