Random musings of a wandering soul

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You look up to her in your childhood, hate her in your teens, promise yourself never to bring up your kids like she did hers, slowly start understanding her in your youth, start loving her again after you get married, look at her with awe when you start bringing up your own kids and ultimately turn out to be her. Whether you like it or not 😉

Cutlets are a staple on Syrian Christian dining tables. And for a young mother who had to pack five lunch boxes every morning, it was a life saver. The accompanying concoction of sliced onions, tomatoes and green chilies mixed with vigor in the ‘naadan kallu’ vinegar was to die for. The very memory of that rice that had been blessed with the essence of this combo can still make my mouth filled with water that is enough to launch at least one of those proverbial ships. No wonder, Beef cutlets are a staple on all our tables too. And if that was not enough, she had made my son eat enough of her kickass combo of ‘kanji,’ ‘payar’ and cutlet to make him a slave to these for life. My mother, who must be chuckling away to glory in her heavenly abode. Blessed be her soul as were the cutlets that she fed us all her life long.

Believe it or not, for the first time in my life, I’ve started packing lunch boxes. May the soul of their old school be blessed, them that served nutritious lunch to scores of children over the years. And may the unearthly amount that we had to dish out as fees may lay forgotten. Anyway, coming back to the point of lunch, for the first two days I was all excited like a kid on the first day of her school enjoying the rains, grilling chicken and making steaks out of Beef. Then started the longing, for those maid-en days. When kitchen was a place I visited, maybe to get a glass of water, once in a long while. By the time it is Sunday noon, realization hits. No amount of sweet nostalgia is going stop me from being hit by bouts of reality. Better earlier than at five o’clock on a Monday morning.

So I turn into my mother. Churning out cutlet after cutlet on a Sunday afternoon. And I know this is the beginning of a weekly ritual.

p.s. Now, I am worried. What if my daughter turns out into me ? 🤔🤔🤔

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Life On The Other Side

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My left hand still searches for the gear lever and hits the car door instead of my son’s bony knees. I’ve learned bed is not a mere bed, but is made up of bits and pieces that you can chose to bring together or not. That a bathroom could very well be the biggest room in your house, or that the sheer variety of it could even make you stop drinking milk. I’ve also realized the vast difference between American Chinese, Indian Chinese and mere Chinese. And I’m thankful for the sheer beauty of this place that I now live in.

I’ve always seen brilliant women take it slow in their career as they reach middle age and their kids turn teens and start the exams of their lives. Even before that, in many cases. In the fresh or should I say naive and maybe foolish days of my youth, I would never have thought that one day that is what I would do as well. Not that I was so brilliant anyway, but that’s besides the point. When I got married, the only thing I wanted was for us to be together. A soaring career was not in my dreams anyway. To cut a long story short, I got back , not to be a rat in a race, I was missing having people around and thought my brain was rotting, not to mention the phase of being a pest to the husband as well.

Now, are you wondering what has the two got to do with each other – the move and being career woman? Well, I’d never lived the life of a man, if I may say so. Or at least as I see it. The change in routine and what you are familiar with is taken for granted when you move even from one house to another in the same city, not to mention across continents.

The biggest change I’ve been noticing is in my work. Or, the way I work. It’s total abandon. Priorities shifted. The wake up thoughts moved from how to wake the kids up to how to tackle that client meeting today. Not that it was not a focus earlier. It was the only focus now. Forget about cooking, no thoughts of what to eat today, not to mention what to make for the family or even what the maid has to cook. Kids’ illness, doctor’s appointments, school projects, milk man, electricity bills, booking gas, every domestic thing flew out of the window. Dust gathered, bed was not made, but who cared? Yes, I was informed. Daughter sprained her leg, son had to have a root canal done a few days prior to his board exams, maid didn’t turn up for a day, there was no milk in the fridge. I listened. And that was it. In the RACI of life, I had moved from the extreme left of being Responsible to the extreme right of being Informed of.

Isn’t this how it is for most men? Yes, they do take care, they care for their families. I am not denying that even for a moment. But how much of their mental space is occupied by the nitty gritties, the realities of day to day living? And what occupies that space instead? In most cases, the instant answer would be work, or even their passion.

I’ve had colleagues who have taken breaks during their kids’ board exams. And they were not the paranoid ones who breathes down their son’s neck for 24 hours. They are the no nonsense, head firmly on their shoulders ones who know their value very clearly as well as the value of what they were giving up. What prompted them to take that break, I’ve wondered. Was it guilt, a sense of possibly misplaces responsibility, or sheer frustration of handling it all together?

Yes, it is a choice as some of you might say. And yes, I did make that choice years ago, and there is not even an ounce of regret as I reminisce over all the years past. I’ve had plenty of time for going over many things in the last two months of solitude. Just that being away has made me realize the enormity of that space in our minds and what occupies it at each phase of our lives and according to the roles we play.

Space has a new meaning now, and I hope each of us women get the luxury of that space in our lives, at least now and then. A place for being away from everything, where our minds and bodies are able to wander freely, we walk or run or jump or somersault in the air, at our own pace, in our own rhythm.

Saying that every day is a woman’s day is a cliche now. Instead, can the men who really care, help their women find their special space, let them be on their own, for a few days? Now, that would be a real Woman’s Day gift.

Meanwhile stay blessed, all the special women in my life!

(p.s. no envy, please. Life will be back to normal in two weeks :D)

Kanhaiya ki Bansuri

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The costumes befitted their personalities. The quintessential FabIndia kurta for the erudite professor from JNU, khadi jacket over a thick cotton kurta for the chief editor, plain pants and blue checks for the earnest journalist turned novelist, made to order, impeccable designer pants, linen shirt and polished to perfection brown shoes for the serious man, designer silk kurta and salwar for the TV personality and well fitting semi formals for the moderator. Along with them, in a crumpled off white shirt and an ordinary pants,worn chappals on his feet, his hair in total disarray, appeared the boy. The darling of the masses, or so it seemed from the thundering applause that accompanied him.

The discussion started off quite amicably, with each one making their points without much fan fare. The professor expressing his angst, the editor opining that one shouldn’t expect everything to come from within, certain things like nationalism has to be forced down our throats, irrespective of who or what we are. The author seemed to be the only one with no agenda, his words were pure angst. The serious man spoke in measured tones, about North Indian nationalism vs. South Indian. Then came the boy. He was obviously not used to sitting on a plush white sofa and discussing life in impeccable English. With the moderator’s permission, he stood up, apologized in English of his inability to speak the language and moved on to Hindi. That his words were hitting its mark was evident from the applause that followed many a statement of his. He spoke spontaneously, for these were sentiments that were repeated by him time and again. The moderator in his opening session had mentioned that the boy and his professor had started the arguments on nationalism. The boy refuted it, referring to the Constitution. He sounded like a seasoned politician. The TV lady just kept on screaming, I hardly remember anything she said.

It was in the second round that reality jumped out of the perfect attires. The professor’s was a lecture. How it is a question of integrity, rather than of left or right, nationalist or populist. The editor chose his words carefully, but his true feelings jumped out in the end. ‘Triumph of the deplorables,’ he was heard quoting. The author put it in beautiful words, “populism is a false story told very well.’ It was the serious man who took derision to another level altogether. Sitting ramrod straight, his head held high and his upper lips stiff, the words that came out of his mouth was as condescending as those that come from his pen. It was so evident that he hated the boy and his ilk, he did not even have the courtesy to look at the boy on his face. And the boy gave it back, word by word, to each of them. To the insinuations hurled at him for being left, he answered, “yes sir, I’m left because I was left behind.”

I am not from JNU, I have not even visited the place. But, here was proof of what an educational institution could do. The confidence to question his teacher in a public forum, to tell him on his face, “sir, I want to be better than you,” could have come only from there. I am not denying the fact that all the mutual respect that was shown between the two would have been forced. In a different place and time, the situation could very well have been different.

The boy spoke to the audience, while three of the panelists spoke of the boy and to him. The topic of the discussion was by the way. Their body language showed how rattled they were by his popularity. The professor couldn’t hide it, he lost his cool in between. The editor seemed to accept the reality. And the serious man tried to hide his fear behind a veneer of disdain. The attack even turned personal at times. The boy appeared nonchalant throughout. When the discussion turned to how the elite owns the discourse on liberalism these days, he retorted, “sir, why should the elite own this? They are already liberated.”

“Isn’t he creepy?” a friend of mine had asked. “Have we created a monster?” asked another. The second question was foremost in mind. His words were inspiring, he was asking the right questions, I thought while listened to him. I was reminded of the ideal days of youth, where we questioned every seeming inequality. Wisdom may not come with age, but with enough practice, one learns to distance one’s self now and then and listen to the voice of reason. Yes, I was excited to listen to a powerful voice, one who asks the same questions as us. But there was this nagging feeling of having heard similar diatribes, the same tone elsewhere. Of a litany of ills of the then government, of a tone rising up and down in tune with the response, of the sentiments of the audience. Of almost an entire nation, turning blind and dumb. And that very voice seem to have created a clone. Only the words are different. And he is young.

In the previous day’s discussion on her book ‘Indira’ the moderator had asked Sagarika Ghose, “how would you compare Modi to Indira?” Her answer was classic, “I think Modi is the true heir to Indira.” That the boy reminded me of this response was not coincidental. He could very well turn out to be the next pied piper.

It was only the author that seemed genuinely concerned about what is happening in our country. The rest just played their part. Ironical that it was one of them that clearly called out the real problem we have today.

“It is not a matter of ideology, it is a matter of integrity.”

Jai Hind!

(My thoughts on the closing session of BLF 2017 – ‘Nationalism, Populism and the threat to the Global Liberal Order’.
The panelists (in the order they were seated) – Makarand Paranjape, R. Jagannathan, Suketu Mehta, Manu Jospeh, Harish Bijoor (moderator), Kanhaiya Kumar and Sagarika Ghose)

The Lone Cry

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Stories from BLF 2017 – 1 

The sessions sounded more political than literary this year. The topics had been discussed threadbare on TV, in print, on social media and of course, gatherings in the friends circles as well. But hearing it straight from the stallion’s mouths would be something else, I thought. The final session as usual, was the most sought after. R. Jagannathan, Makarand Paranjpe, Suketu Mehta, Manu Joseph, Sagarika Ghose and the Kanhaiah Kumar. Moderator Harish Bijoor set the tone and Prof. Paranjpe started in his erudite style.

There was only one tone to the whole festival until then, that of right bashing. The alternate voice had been missing, and I was eagerly waiting for the next person’s views, not because I endorsed his beliefs. I was sure an entirely different vie would definitely come from the Chief Editor of a right wing publication. He started in an even voice and took up the current hot topic, of whether to stand up or not. What he said was what many of us thought as well, isn’t this the same judge that endorsed this imposition last year? How can they change their opinion so fast and to an entirely opposite view?

Then came the punchline,
“Considering that it’s an all men bench, they don’t even have the excuse of the mood swings of PMS.”

The whole audience, well almost the whole audience, laughed. Including women. No one thought this was out of place. A so called thought leader, openly making fun of something so personally feminine.

Don’t you have mood swings on those days, one might ask. Don’t you get cranky, another might. Oh yes sir, I do. I feel tired, so much so that I don’t even have the energy to get up from my bed, cranky, ready to fight, snarling at everyone in sight, and maybe even pick up a fight or two. And I know it is getting worse as years go by.

But sir, it is never an excuse. No sir, never. It is a reality. For millions of women, some of whom you would know and many you would not. It is a stark reality, over which we have no control, none whatsoever. We can only wish we had. But. It is never an excuse, at least for the sensible ones I know. We drag ourselves up, maybe pop a pill or two and go about as if nothing is wrong, even when everything is. Literally. We might make some mistakes, make an error of judgement or two. But sir, we own it. It is never an excuse. No, sir.

I was immediately reminded of the previous day’s discussion on trolling. From personal experience, both Nidhi Razdan and Sindhu S (from Asianet who was mercilessly trolled for her so called remarks against Durga) had mentioned something in common – the blatant sexism and misogyny of the right wing trolls. Of the viciousness of it all, of the sheer crassness of their thoughts. Well, the apples do not fall far from the tree, I guess. I’ve always believed the culture of an individual is decided mostly by her parents and of an organization by its leaders. And I realized my belief hasn’t let me down.

What worries me most is the total acceptance of something so sexist. It is so ingrained in men and women in equal measure that no one sees anything amiss, not even those among us who go through it month after month, year after year.

The laughter died down. And something escaped my lips. Some might call it booing. It was spontaneous, a war cry that came right from depths. Of my heart and soul.

And I was alone. Frighteningly so.

(image courtesy – images.fineartamerica.com)

The Company Of Words

E4619C69-6229-4333-9431-24F00A0D99B1.jpegTwenty years ago. When Penguin started off in India. Can you even imagine those days when writers did not thump their chests and proclaim themselves to be the next happening wonder? Instead, someone would read a story somewhere and send their details to publishers? Phone calls over landlines and mails delivered by postmen. When quality of writing preceded and genres were rather unheard of.

V.K. Karthika, currently of Westland Amazon and formerly of Penguin India and Harper Collins took the audience through how it was to be an editor or a publisher in what seems like pre historic times now. She was my youth icon during college days. Undisputed winner in elocution competitions in the university youth festivals , her nimble wit winning her and her team prizes in JAM and dumb charade sessions, she hasn’t lost an iota of her charm.

Candid with her words, she went on to mention how publishers and editors were a similar lot those days, coming from similar backgrounds, reading the same kind of books, thinking alike more or less and routing for ‘literary’ fiction. She talked about why we seem to read books less often, as we wind up our nights with a social media update rather than closing a book after a few lines that leaves a smile on your face. How an Indian American author of those days wondered whether people in India actually read English books, in a rather nice way. How the industry grew slowly, from round the corner book shops where you were lucky if you could find a single copy of the book you wanted, to swanky retail outlets with coffee shops thrown in where you could chill with an espresso instead of cutting chai. Books and reading had become a lifestyle statement.

And then came an obscure publishing house and a story from the beautiful Aymenem, in Kerala. And a Booker Prize. Indian writing in English and publishing would never be the same again. Yes, there were Indian authors before as well, but most of them belonged to the diaspora. Here was an exotic story, and the author, totally Indian. Her life , experiences , story, everything was India. And Ms. Roy was beautiful as well. There was a frantic interest in Indian writers, deals were struck based on a single chapter, even mere proposals.

The next watershed event was a certain Mr. Chetan. Karthika did call out the ambivalence of supporting his writing. Till he happened, such writing was looked down upon. The elite publishers would never have touched. But facts are facts. He turned mere thousands of English readers in India to lakhs. And he had to be noticed, after all, publishing was business as well. And so the best seller lists came to be dominated by Chetan, Amish, Preeti et al, the new age Indian writers.

Today, there is as much, if not more interest in non fiction than fiction, thanks to erudite writers like Dalrymple, Guha etc. It’s a good time for writers, editors and publishers alike. Some take years , like Raghu Karnad, who then come up with beautiful and relevant writings on India. However, there was a word of caution from her. Whether an element of self censorship is creeping in today, given the wind of uncertainty. Of why we need to raise our voices when needed. We may not be able to change people, but if we can change at least few things, that would well be worth it.

We caught up after the function, she was such a delight to talk to. We chatted about those ancient years, our families, and how we will never grow old as long as people from our elder generation are still with us. And yes, we did talk about her husband as well. The suave Vivek Menon, the executive director and CEO of Wildlife Trust of India, himself an amazing writer. His ‘On the Brink : Travels in the Wildlife Of India’ is a testimony to that. It’s unfortunately out of print.

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(p.s. was lucky enough to attend the Annual Lecture Of Anita’s Attic – a creative writing & mentorship program by author Anita Nair)

Mid flight Musings

IMG_8733.JPGThe eyes are Pavlovian. The mind might be lost in some wayward dream, the brain thinking of the next meeting and the hands trying to shove the cabin luggage into the narrow space above. The moment a book is in the vicinity, the eyes latch on, unabashedly. Usually, it is accompanied by a neck that contorts itself into some complex gymnast move, it was easy today, though. The gentleman in the next seat had t opened it yet, and there it lay bare, ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,’ Sheryl Sandberg.

Seat belt on, I delved into my bag and brought out my companion for this trip. And the man in the next seat started trying my circus moves. With a wide grin, I showed him the cover.

“Sethu,” he said. Ah, a fellow Malayali.

“What is the book about?” he continued.

“It’s the story of Muziris, the ancient port town that is supposed to have been somewhere near Kodungallur. There’s been these recent excavations in Pattanam that has brought out some interesting facts,” I replied.

“ I’ve read only one book of his, forgot the name, though.”

“Paandavapuram?”

“Yes, that one.” Was there a tinge of sadness in his words?

“How’s your book, sir?” I had read some excerpts and had loved it.

“It’s good, and I need it for a session that I am going for. Our company is organizing a workshop for people like me who will be retiring soon. We need to learn to live alone, when it comes to that. Can’t expect the two of us to go together. I mooted this idea and the management agreed, luckily. Ten of us, away from the madness, in Karwar.”

“What do you do, sir?” that was a cliched question, I know.

“I am a scientist,” he was a little reluctant to say anything further.

“That Sethu book, I lost it,” I had not imagined that sadness, after all.

“Last year’s Chennai floods. We stay on the ground floor, water went up to the ceiling. Almost 2000 books, all of them gone. Except a few, maybe.”

For once, I was lost for words.

“Go on, read your book,” he said.

The Tamil professor Perumal was replying to the protagonist Aravindan’s question on the great flood of 1341 that may have destroyed Muziris without a trace.

‘എന്ന്നാലും പെട്ടെന്നിങ്ങനെ?’

‘പെട്ടെന്നൊന്നുമല്ല, നൂറ്റാണ്ടുകളുടെ സഹനത്തിനു ശേഷമേ പ്രകൃതി ഇത്തരം കടുംകൈകൾക്ക് മുതിരുകയുള്ളൂ. അന്ന് ഞാൻ പറഞ്ഞത് പോലെ കടലും കരയും തമ്മിലുള്ള നിലയ്ക്കാത്ത പോര്. കര കാക്കാൻ മനുഷ്യർ മറക്കുമ്പോൾ കടൽ അതിന്റെതായ വഴികൾ കണ്ടെത്തുന്നു.’

~ സേതു, ‘മറുപിറവി’

‘but why, all of a sudden?’

‘It’s never all of a sudden. Nature bears all, suffers for centuries before attempting such catastrophes. The eternal war between the sea and the land. When men forget to take care of his land, the sea finds its own ways.’

~ Sethu, ‘Marupiravi’

Yes, the sea, the nature, is finding its own ways, across the world. Will we ever pay heed to the desperate call, the lonely cry of our land?

Do you read my books?

Wanderlust at home

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“Do you read my books?”

Possibly one of the most dreaded questions one could face from an author. I started following her almost ten years ago, maybe soon after she started blogging. Writing was her solace after she lost her father all of a sudden. Her posts were fun, insightful. She wrote about almost everything under the sun and interacting with her was a pleasure. Her first book came out a few years later, a compilation of her blog posts, which is being republished, she mentioned. The next one was about a girl with bipolar disorder, which I loved again. After that, there was a sense of change in tone, in her blog and the subsequent books, I felt. A few friends with similar taste in books echoed my thoughts. And slowly the interest in her writing waned.

She is now a celebrity author, a darling of the young. Most…

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