*Poguma, pogadha.. (Part 3)


… in Urban dictionary, translates to – “Will it go?”. And thus we had an eventful beginning to our trip.

Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.
Part 2- To go or not to go? That is the question.

Before I get into the particulars, like my friend, Raji, has mentioned on her blog, we all have our immediate families, extended families,  and friends to thank for, without whose support this trip would have been difficult. And also a special note on our little ones that were left behind on this trip. They were amazing and were very cooperative. They dutifully made appearances on video calls everyday that we were away and showed a lot of understanding!

That aside, almost all of us got asked if the children didn’t miss us, and how we managed to convince them. The question is moot. Of course we’d miss. I had taken the older one, Vyas, on this trip and told the little one the real reasons for not taking him. That it would be a very tiresome journey, and that it involved a lot of walking and travel, and the weather might not agree with him. And that traveling as a family would be different where we can take each day slow and easy, especially if anyone falls sick, and how the same thing will be difficult when traveling as a group where we’d end up slowing down everyone else. He understood and has since not thrown a fit. Nor the children of my other friends who left their little ones behind!  So, the point in case- our children are nice like us and so are the other members in our families 😉

Coming to our eventful beginning, on the day of travel, all the eleven in the pack assembled at the airport 2 hours 45 minutes before the flight. We spent under one minute to bid adieu to the nice folks from our families that had come to drop and see us off at the airport. We had an hour and a half to kill before boarding the flight. Recording our memories of the trip began right there. Never would you have seen the interiors of Chennai airport captured so beautifully and artistically.  What we were not able to truly capture is the inherent smell of phenoil (disinfectant) that is so Chennai-airport.

Our boarding was announced and we hopped into the flight, and settled in nicely. There were a few first-timers. And we all breathed a sigh of relief as the trip was now REALLY on! The pilot steered the flight on to the runway even as the usual safety instructions were being relayed. The flight picked up speed on the runway and just when we thought it was going to go more faster and take off, it slowed down. It was followed by a slight commotion in the flight a few rows ahead of us. Which was followed by an announcement from the pilot that a passenger was very sick and needed medical help. There was a bustle of activities with a few people crowding around the sick passenger. It seemed like this person, an aged man, had a stroke. His daughter was on board the flight too. But we were not sure about the nature of sickness. Paramedics arrived in 10 minutes and more flurry of activities. The pilot steered the flight back to the departure gate as the passenger had to be de-boarded! It was now 30 minutes past the departure time. Our connecting flight from Dubai to Paris was in 90 minutes from the time of the actual arrival time in Dubai. More staff and more medical support arrived including an   IV, a stretcher, oxygen, wheelchair et al. The old man apparently was rendered immobile and the staff had a tough time bodily moving him on to a stretcher. He did not get any better with all the medical help. It was a good one hour by the time he de-boarded and his checked-in baggages were removed from the flight.

When we later recounted this incident or even as I record it here, it kind of felt/feels selfish to have worried about our connecting flight. I guess we were all given to some amount of cynicism ever since  a few visas got rejected. A terror attack in Paris exactly 6 days before our journey added to our concerns. We were sure that someone was out there, trying to jinx this trip. Seems very silly now. The things rejections/failures can do to you! We sincerely hope the old passenger got timely medical help and has fully recovered. It is tough to imagine how it would have been handled if he’d fallen ill 20-30 minutes into the take off. Hats off to all those who handled it smoothly!

The pilot made good time and we had about 50 minutes for the next flight. The airlines folks were thorough and whisked us to the departure gates without further ado. So we got off one, did a run-walk-run through a security check, and boarded into another without even a loo-break 😉 And finally we landed in Paris! We had evaluated quite a few options on the best way to get to our hotel much ahead of the trip and found Uber to be the best, most affordable option. And so, we Uber-ed.

We checked-in at ibis budget hotel in Montmarte. True to its name, everything about this hotel had ‘budget’ written on it with a capital B. To give you an idea, the bath towels were ‘budget’ towels. Which means the length would be half the actual size of bath towels. The bathroom and toilets are separate. But your movements inside both are ‘budget’. Very restricted. A person of average height cannot swing a full arm without banging the elbow or at least the wrist on the wall or the door. But who needs to swing a full arm inside the bathroom or toilet, right?! And yes, there is no lock on the door-like fixtures on the bathroom and toilet. But what is there to complain when you can afford to post a guard outside while you are at it? So it worked. The beds were comfortable, the wifi was great, the location was great and safe, hassle-free check-in/check-out, the paid unlimited breakfast (6 EUR/person) was awesome with a great choice of beverages that included piping hot coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.  Paris welcomed us with an evening temperature of 4 and 5 degrees against our expectation (based on web information) of 15 or 16 degrees!

And right away, we learnt our first lesson on France. The spellings and their pronunciations have no bearing on each other.  They are like synonyms – two different words, but the same meaning 😉 You can never get around to a place by pronouncing the name of a place going by the spelling. A tip- prepare a cheat sheet of names, phrases, and directions! Or, learn French!

IMG_0686

“The end justifies the means”, they say. The day that began with some apprehensions, ended with a memorable evening and a lovely, cool, night on the Eiffel Tower. We had arrived!

Read more on the places we visited in Paris, here!

To go or not to go? That is the question. Visa officers answered!


Part 1- Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers.

This trip was in the talks for almost 3-4 years. It was meant to happen this year. And how!!

We came up with a mini agenda for the trip that went thus:

  • finalize countries
  • budget the trip
  • decide the possible dates
  • book the tickets
  • book the stay
  • get the visas
  • finalize the itinerary
  • fly

We arrived at the dates that would more or less work for everyone without conflicting with work priorities and on the home front. After analyzing the pricing across different airlines and routes, we picked Emirates, and booked our tickets. Confirmed tickets and stay bookings are a part of the mandatory travel proofs for tourist visa processing. Most sites we researched suggested that we even book the internal travel. We had 2-3 itineraries and didn’t want to risk booking internal tickets and incur cancellation losses. We decided to do it after procuring the visa.

After buying the tickets, we booked our stays in all the intended cities through Booking.com and picked the cheapest ones lest they charge payment to the credit card. Yes, they collect the card information at the time of booking including the cvv number. While airbnb had awesome options for a smaller group, booking.com showed more options for a larger group. All our stays allowed free cancellation until the intended day of check-in barring one where free cancellation was allowed until 4 days before the check-in date. Items 1 to 5 on the agenda- a big tick!

With the air tickets and stay bookings out of the way, we started processing our visas. We assumed this to be just another formality and that it would be a cake walk. A few of us who have traveled abroad on work had until now not encountered any hassles with visa approvals. We however were aware of instances where the visas were delayed and when they finally arrived, it would be too late and the people abandoned the travel plan. We were advised to apply in Italy as France had supposedly upped their scrutiny ever since the terror attacks. Quite understandable. But we didn’t want to apply in Italy because a few colleagues who’d earlier applied there, were summoned to the Mumbai center for a personal interview. Dragging a 11-member battalion to Mumbai would be a trip in itself and the prospect didn’t seem appealing. We decided to apply in Switzerland instead. And we did. And waited. And were quite composed. As we waited, a few of us regrouped every 2 or 3 days or discussed over lunch and finalized the detailed itinerary. And then they came. The visas. In instalments. Over 4 torturous weeks :/ With the first rejection that came within a week of applying, our plans came crashing down and things were in a limbo. Nothing progressed the next 3 weeks and wtih more rejections coming, we abandoned the plan. We were holding back on cancelling the air tickets or stay bookings as the cancellation charges were the same till the last day before the travel date. Hope is a good thing, after all!

Img credit: Google

At this point, our dejection turned into angst directed at the visa process and the officers. The nature of rejections were absolutely random. All had sufficient and more bank balance to show. All had consistent salaries and payslips and ITR returns to prove. We had the necessary leave sanction from the work place and NOCs obtained from the schools for the 3 teenaged children. We had confirmed air tickets and confirmed stay bookings. The reasons of course were either lack of means of subsistence or lack of proof of return! I mean, really?!! All our covering letters had all our names and passport details listed as co-travellers and we explicitly stated that it was a group travel. So instead of giving up without a fight, we thought we should still try and NOT go even if the visas are through the next time 🙂 Watching too many cinemas or soaps can do this to you. You lose the faculty to rationalize that the loss will still be yours if you don’t go. Monetarily, mentally, philosophically 🙂

A lot of discussions on Quora and Tripadvisor weren’t giving any favorable leanings towards re-applying. A few Schengen visa myths we busted:
1. Some suggested we apply in the same country.
2. Yet others suggested applying in a different Schengen state.
3. A few dissuaded from re-applying.
4. A few agents we casually spoke to said that usually rejected visas will be rejected again.
5. A few said that the visas will be granted if we apply after a gap of 6 months.
6. Many suggested doing it ONLY through agents.

None of the above suggestions hold water. It is random free advice.

And then, there were a very few threads that said we can reapply anytime, but with more documentation that supports the reasons cited in the first rejection. This was random good advice. What do they say about you wanting to hear/listen/infer/discern ONLY what you want from what is said or read? Yes, so we scooped out only those countable number of conversations that sounded encouraging. Even otherwise, how will we know if we don’t try, right? Yes, we are unrelenting like that. So after many days of going back and forth and ditching the sour-tour, we gave the process a phoenix-like quality, and decidedly stayed positive. All extra documentations were pooled together and once again appointments were fixed, submitted, and then the next round of waiting began.

In less than 5 days, 5 of the 6 visas came through and again one was rejected on grounds of lack of proof of return. With about two weeks time, we had to give it one more go. We didn’t know what possible risks a third application entailed. We didn’t have it in us to leave one person and go, especially because she was the one instrumental in getting the others to re-apply. She however kept insisting that we should all go ahead without her. Yes, we will, but not without giving it another try and we still had a little over 2 weeks. This time, we gave a covering letter, a collective representation from all the rest of us with visas. And also an additional proof of her return- the marathon registration which I’d mentioned in my previous post. And what do you know! She got it on the 9th day as there were 4 holidays in between! We had exactly 7 days for our flight.

A couple of us did a night-out that Friday. Booked all the internal travels, passes, discount cards. Re-booked some of the stays in an attempt to bring down the stay costs, with better proximity, and with better safety. We ‘travefy-ied our day–by-day itinerary and also Google-trip-ed, offline-ed some maps, and also some tours. Items 6 and 7 on the agenda- another big tick! Our trip was ON!!!!

We have large hearts. We decided to forgive the Schengen Visa officers. We decided to forgive the processes. We forgave the eye-rolling, smirking reactions of the VFS folks. We decided to make a stately visit to the Schengen states. We are not only relentless, but also magnanimous like that!

Next post- Poguma, pogadha? – An eventful start to our journey!

At EIGHT…


… you are still a handful. Your dramas continue. Between your last birthday and this, you’ve bested the art of negotiation. Your aspirations and ambitions are unique and keep changing every birthday! Let me just record your eight-ness here, shall I?:

At the moment, you’ve decided that you want to be a Youtuber! You are convinced that because you know to sing, you need not take up music classes. You discovered Alan Walker through your friend and can sing ‘Where are you now’ to match every note and nuance in there!

You read and pick your books well. But for a mom who has grown up on a generous dose of Enid Blytons, it’s hard to understand your rejection of Famous Fives and Secret Sevens 😦 “Very kiddish”, you say. I agree to disagree!

You have a very weird sense of timing and a weird knack of picking up and throwing vocabulary. Like this once when you said you’ve learnt a new ‘F’ word. Your bro and I almost choked on our dinner and before we could shut your mouth, you uttered ‘FAMISHED’! Priceless moment. You actually seemed to enjoy the suspense and I’m still not sure if you pulled a fast one there.. And very recently, you came to me with a sad face and said that you will not read ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ anymore because you were learning a lot of ‘bad words’ and particularly a ‘J’ word. You wanted to know if you are allowed to use it:

img_2817Me: What word is that now?
You: You must not scold me.
Me: I won’t. But I may stop you from using it if it is inappropriate.
You: Alright.’Jerk’.

At this point, I was only hoping you were not watching Silicon Valley!

Me: Okay!
You: Can I use it?
Me: No.
You: Why? What does it mean?
Me: Ummm.. It has several meanings..
You: But in the book, it is ‘name-calling’.
Me: !!! Well, it means.. a cheat?
You: Oh, so I can call anna a jerk when he cheats?
Me: I’d rather you don’t.
You: But he does cheat sometimes. If I get really angry, I’m going to call him a jerk!

Whatever!

In school, you continue to be that disciplined, cooperative, and quiet student. I’m sure there is mistake and re-confirm with the teacher but she stands by her feedback. You have told her about the stories you’ve been scribbling away based on all the weird games you’ve been playing on my mobile! You are not far behind your bro in sharing the love stories from your class. The novelty of every generation thinking that it was the first to discover love at 7 or 8, does not seem to wear off :)) Keep the stories coming da. And tell me about your crushes too, okay?

You are a happy, loving big bro now to your adorable new-born twin cousin sisters. And it is just in the past couple of months that it has dawned on me that my little baby has really grown up! It is an endearing sight to watch you hold your baby sisters gently on your lap one at a time, speak softly in that baby-speak, touch their faces gently, enjoy the feeling of their tiny palms grasping your beeeg fingers, include them in all your shopping plans, generally exercise caution around them and being responsible! You make as awesome an anna as you make the bestest thambi to your bro! Your anna is your rock. Despite all the fights and arguments, you always take his side. You are always quick to defend him when dad or I are having ‘the talk’ with him!

One of the best moments that I think defined you as a boy that understands what it is to be kind, fair, and shun prejudice,

is when you came back home from an after-school activity class and said you don’t want to continue going. The reason you gave was that you did not like the way that aunty treated her help. “She is unnecessarily rude, unkind, and disrespectful to her”, you said. “No one deserves to be treated badly like that”. You are absolutely right, darling!

So baby, continue to be that cuddle-able, naughty, talking nighteen-to-the-dozen, funny, funnily-angry, tactfully-negotiating, kind, lovable, bright and shiny light in our lives! Love you loads!! Wish you a beautiful, happy, healthy 8th!

And we’ve learned how to caution!


A tiny rat (real one!) sneaked into our room last night. All the four Vs were up and about trying to chase it away. And we finally did. The rat wouldn’t take the route we showed. It probably thought it best to leave the way it came. The moment we opened the door to the balcony, it ran out. We discussed strategies on keeping the rats away and finally realised that there isn’t much we can do other than keeping the doors shut.

This evening,  Varun decided to take things in his hands. And this is what he came up with. A notice stuck on the door through which the rat sneaked out. The slate contains illustrations of the ‘equipments’ or ‘gears’ (he said that) that we need to keep the rats at bay. And he was dressed to kill 😉

Varunisms- May’16


Deep conversations and some.. Most of our ‘serious’ conversations these days seem to start with him saying, ‘Listen, I want to tell you somethin..’. No typo there. The fellow has an acquired accent, dunno from where!

Varun: Ma, N is very bad.
Me: Why? He seems nice. He’s a star cricketer too..
Varun: I want to tell you something. (pause)
Me: Well?
Varun: Getting a grade or being a star is not important.
Me: Okay!
Varun: Really. I’m tellin you.
Me: So, what is important.
Varun: Behaviour.
Me: Oh?!!
Varun. Really. I mean, in school. At home we can be how we want.
Me: Right!

——————-

Me: You know how to fry vadams? (rice crispies if I can call it that)
Varun: Yes, I know.
Me: Tell me.
Varun: Light the gas with the firing machine and fry the vadams in fire.

Was not aware that my boy looked at a gas lighter as a firing machine;) It must be the commando games.

——————-

To confirm or make sure I heard what he said, this is how he asks:

Varun: Ma, do you copy?

[or]

Varun: Ma, do you read?

According to him, he is an FBI/CIA/Commando in the making

——————–

And this one takes the cake..

Me: Varun, it’s 11.00 PM and you are still not asleep :/
Varun: (Jumping on the bed even with the light switched off. yeah, my monkey!)
Me: You are going to get one tight spank.
Varun: (Silence for 10 seconds. He then gathers his pillow and sheet, bundles them under his arms and heads out of the room).
Me: What do you think you are doing.
Varun: I’m going to grandma’s room.
Me: Why?
Varun: Listen, I wanna tell you somethin..
Me: Listening..
Varun: I hate you.
Me: And why is that?
Varun: Because you are strict.
Me: Is that wrong now? You don’t listen if I’m not.
Varun: Be kind. Try telling kindly.
Me: Kindly how?
Varun: Try saying, “Varun, please stop playing and go to bed”.
Me: And you’ll listen?
Varun: Try me.
Me: Ok, let me get this straight. All I need to do to get you to listen is, say kindly?
Varun: Yes.
Me: Okay.

And the kindness worked for 6 days. We now go back and forth between our old and new ways 🙂 As always, never a dull moment, I tell ya!

Bangalore days and some more..


Deepavali back then meant my paternal grandma’s formula ‘legiyam’ or ‘lehyam’, my mom’s Mysore pak , rangolies, crackers, and tailored dress for the sis and I from the same cloth or at least of the same design but with different colors on them! The biggest work item assigned to us on this day would be to distribute sweets to all our neighbors in our colony, and that we did happily .

A few of my friends from our colony and I would collect empty ‘Waterbury’s Compound Red Label’ bottles and stash them away in a secret place to be used during Diwali. The open playground outside our row of houses used to be heaven. I was notorious back then too and have had very close misses with the abuse of crackers. My favorite prank was to snuff the narrow mouth of the Waterbury’s bottle’s with the rockets and pull just the wick out. The cracker would snugly fit in the mouth like a cork. The bottle would explode to pieces when the cracker burst.  I must’ve been pretty lucky because there were no accidents except once when a piece flew straight at me and tore my forearm slightly the last Diwali we were in Bangalore. Of course my parents were not aware that it was me and were busy heaping curses on some random rowdy kids resorting to such deadly pranks. I’d go mute too and so would all the partners in crime! Life since Bangalore days seems fast-forwarded!

Diwali makes me all nostalgic. Somehow, no Diwali after Bangalore ones have been the same. I guess growing up makes you all boring and serious at times J Crackers are not interesting anymore. New clothes are fine, but yeah, it is available more easily as opposed to the days when birthdays used to be the only other occasion that commanded the same respect. Sweets and savories are consumed with a touch of guilt too. Again, these are not restricted any more to occasions like Diwali or wedding. There are more special occasions now than the normal days, so much so that normal days start feeling special and you feel the need to celebrate!

But then, growing up also hurls you into another phase where you realize you are fortunate to be where you are, to be surrounded by your loved ones, to know that the other dear ones are just a call or email away and they’d be thinking and talking about you just the way you do about them, that you are free to be who you are than to be what the others expect of you, that you can fight tooth and nail to defend your thoughts and actions and not be judged for it, that you are blessed with a sense to accept your loved ones with all the dents, fractures, plasters, and their beautiful hearts just like how you are accepted..

Growing up also makes us (ok, at least me!) sentimental! Happy Diwali to you, all the wonderful people I’ve known. May this Diwali and every other Diwali light up your lives with good health, positive thoughts, and abundant joy. Always.

Kids, cars, ads..


Did I tell you that Vyas is into automobiles lately? He is also a beeeeg fan of Honda and has even been defending their recent recall of some cars due to defective inflators. He tells everyone that he is going to become an automobile engineer and will join Honda. You’d think he already has an offer letter from the company! Well, that is some change of plan considering he originally wanted to become a ‘garbage collector’.

Vyas’s favorite magazine now is Autocar India. He doesn’t miss a word, starting from the title to the copyright information at the end of the book, every month. Will never be bored of talking for hours together on the auto-specs to any random person walking this planet. It doesn’t matter even if the listener is not interested.

The big brother’s influence rubs onto the little fella too. Varun though seems to prefer style over substance. His favorite car (he says), is the Lamborghini Murcielago. Next fav. is the Bugatti Veyron. BMW comes third and last is Honda. The other vendors are not in the reckoning at all. He can keep gawking at the various pics of the various sporty cars in the various car mags and books at home!

Car-craze plus commercials does something to kids. Here’s is a sample..

The other day, Varun was watching a BMW ad. He turned to his dad and said,

Varun: “Appa, shall we buy a BMW”

Dad V: “I don’t have the money to buy one”

Varun: “Listen pa. It is easy. Call Quikr. They’ll give more money for our Honda City.”

Mommy/daddy- *facepalm*

Vyas: Hey, Honda is the best. Appa, you retain the Honda. Buy us a BMW.

Dad V: Ok, will check if it available at Connexions tomorrow.

Told you. Vs are like that only!

Dear Dad..


Can’t believe that I have made it without you for the last twelve years! Life was a roller coaster with you around and it still is without you. We have had the bitterest of fights and have said the meanest of things to each other. We have disagreed on several issues concerning life styles, relationships, friendships, marriage, trusts and beliefs, religion, career and more. Though I can still replay scene-by-scene the toughest days of our relationship as a father-daughter, what I’d want to remember and cherish are the most important lessons of life that the sis and I got to imbibe from you. We are what we are today ONLY because of you.

Am sure it required a lot of guts for you to refuse when our nearest family offered to take care of your daughters soon after mom passed away. For this, we are still grateful. Not that we’d have been in bad hands. I know that they meant well. But they were not YOU.

That we three made it accepting each other with all our follies, and were open to each other, says a lot about the amount of trust you placed in us.

You were a man proud of having two daughters and not once did you sigh or sulk and say, ‘oh, how am I going to raise the two daughters’. It really is a big deal daddy. It was simply awesome of you to tell me just a week before my wedding that, just because I chose my match, it didn’t mean that I should put up with things that don’t go well with me, and that your doors would always be open, and that I’ll not have to take any blame if things did not work out. But, you also hinted that every relationship involved a certain amount of adjustments and a few compromises here and there and like everything else in life, I’d need to give the new relationships my best shot. You know you needn’t have worried appa. Not only because of the earthly family am married into, but also because you know that I’d hold my own. Yes, that is your arrogant daughter for you, a trait passed on to me straight from you. Still, your assurance meant a lot.

I don’t remember a day where you really got busy ‘saving’ to get your daughters married. You were honest and realistic and said that you’d educate us and that will be the only wealth you’ll really give us. That, you did. Thank you Pa. It is the most valuable of our ‘assets’ and this is exactly what your daughters are telling your grand-kids.

You always encouraged us to make more friends and ‘stay’ friends forever. Remember the days, specially the weekends when our home would be like a ladies hostel with our friends over, and you’d go in for a night shift for work. Friends, another of our valuable ‘assets’. They were with us then, they are with us even now. You knew each of our friends like your own kids, and they used to enjoy your company so much! All your Physics, Chemistry, Math, Tamizh quizzes, your flawless rendering of ‘Abu Ben Adhem’ with all the expressions in place, your regaling us with stories from your best and worst days as a child, your singing ‘thaaye yeshodha undhan’ or ‘thirupaar kadalil’, or ‘paavana guru pavana guru’, or Rafi’s’ Baharon phool barsao’, ‘chaudvin ka chaand ho’, ‘suhani raath dal chuki’ or theri pyaari pyaari soorath mein, ‘(something that the two of us failed to inherit!), cricket, so much…

You taught us never to fear. The worst outcome of any situation is death. Which anyway is inevitable. That is what you said. You were never worried about our heading home late from work, you never worried about our traveling alone, or staying home alone. Nothing. To you, fear meant doom.

You taught us to cook! The kitchen counter top used to look so neat after you finished cooking. On the days I did, it looked like a battle field and you hated it 🙂 I must say I have made a decent progress here, though not as perfect as you 🙂 You hated wasting food too.

You never let us infringe your space, something we have learnt to appreciate in retrospect. You were clear about what gave you peace and insisted that we don’t try and crawl all over in the name of ‘concern’ and a funny misplaced notion of ‘responsibility’. You respected our space as well.

Your gift of the gab. Well, what do I say! I haven’t met another person as articulate as you, specially in English. You’d reserve the best to be unleashed when you suffer your famous temper, and boy! What a temper! Which again is something your daughters too have inherited! I remember how fascinated I was when I first heard you use the word ‘unwarranted’ and shamelessly parroted the idiom – call a spade a spade! Your favourite quote, which you never failed to cite exactly when we needed to hear- Perform thy duty. Fruit is not thy concern! Haven’t really got there, but have really been trying Pa.

Miss you so much Pa. Am not able to summon the courage to think how life would have been now, if you were with us. So, will settle for another of your favourite lessons- All for good.

Bereavement


Witnessing death is a strange feeling. There is something surreal about the pain, the shock, the inability of being able to avert what is going to come, and the very act of seeing someone go. Sriram, my first cousin, my brother, had a painful end last Tuesday, September 10th. He was just 42 and just in the middle of an important innings, nowhere close to the slog overs. Blessed with a wonderful wife, two adorable daughters, and an aging father, he had a life to look forward to. An infected liver because of jaundice, and his resorting to alcohol, did him in. Just the previous week, he was showing all signs of recovery. He succumbed to sudden multiple internal hemorrhages and was on life support the last four days of life before giving up. Will dearly miss my brother, though it is nothing compared to the loss my perippa, my SIL and my nieces are left to deal with. My younger niece, aged 9, is gazing at the azure every night because that is where I told her dad will be. One among the stars. Looking down at her and her akka aged 13. Smiling and appreciating every little and big thing they both do. Blessing them from there while mommy stands by them as a huge pillar of strength, educating and empowering them, helping them learn what is right and wrong, to help discern good from the bad. With the rest of us aunts, uncles, and grandpa to back her up and be there for them. Always. Rest in peace ra Srirama!

In another unexpected turn of events, Kolla, Vasu’s dear grandma, bid adieu last Friday, September 13th. I had blogged about Kolla here and here. She was a wonderful old woman with a lot of zest for life. She believed in living life to the fullest. Diet control to her was blasphemy. She used to have the spiciest, sourest, sweetest, saltiest, and bitterest of foods. A small bowl of ‘gotsu’ she made as accompaniment for her small bowl of Ven-Pongal, consisted of a minimum of 15 green chillies, tamarind the size of a huge lemon, an equal measure of jaggery, salt, and twice that amount of oil. She’d wipe her plate clean of pickles before I headed home from work. She used to hate me for my constant ‘No’ to her freaky diet, but loved me for everything else. She loved all her grand-children, though the grand-daughters were her favorite! She woke up to the Tamizh daily- Dina Malar. Her favorite news item was the going rate of gold and silver. She used to read the entire paper in installments, till 3.00 PM. The Tamizh soaps kept her occupied till 10.00 PM. She had read the paper and watched all the soaps the previous day. Kolla (or Kollas), as she was fondly called by her 8 great-grand-kids instead of kollu-patti, hit a sugar-level of close to 500 (and ironically, it was the week where she seemed to have resorted to some diet control) and was hospitalized early in the morning. She had a massive, silent attack in the late after-noon and had a quiet, calm death. Kolla style. Rest in peace Kolla patti.

No place for a woman!


Here is a brilliant post by my friend and colleague, Hannah, on our company’s intranet blog.

Ok, another gang rape, should we say, a reported one? If I remember right, per a survey that outlook published sometime ago, for every 1 rape reported in a big city, almost 64 rapes go unreported in any of the smaller cities. In any case, I don’t want to dwell on rape, for there’s enough and much more to spare written on rape. After all, who doesn’t want to look the defender of a woman’s modesty (sic!)?

Some of the words that people use to describe the act of rape are painful, horrendous, injustice, heinous, outrageous, irreversibly damaged, etc. Simply put, all these descriptors are laughable or even expressions of our misplaced angst, because all of our responses are colored, or rather dictated by our feudal mindsets that want our women to be untouched sexually, except by the man who is socially sanctioned to touch her on the day (err…night) of their wedding! And, that’s not all. The marital bed might even be examined for traces of virginal blood the following morning by the mother-in-law, who is again a victim and a stooge of patriarchy. And, hence, virginity/chastity is something that the woman guards with her life, heart, soul, mind, body, etc. A woman’s mind is dwarfed or rather mangled (like perhaps a bonsai with constant pruning, trimming, and wiring) to think that she’s around just to row up into a beautiful young woman, who will be married off in her prime (read biologically just right to get pregnant) to a man her parents shall find, and she shall cook and clean for him and his family (and, of course, have a career if the man deems it fit or something to simply kill time or contribute to the family economy, if need be), beget him children, and raise them as chivalrous gentlemen or ladies like herself to continue this brilliant saga! Isn’t this outrageously horrendous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

A woman’s attitude towards anything and everything, be it her choice in clothes, career, stance, food, color, marriage, friends, etc., is influenced primarily by the societal expectations from her due to her biology. For example, even as a girl child is born, people start talking about putting money away for her dowry, make jewels for her, buy pink frocks, high heels, etc. Where is all this coming from? It comes from the basic idea that the woman is a womb, and hence everything about the girl child is only beauty (she will have to beautiful for her man), fair skin, dolls (because she will be a mother someday, so start planning even as she is in the cradle!), kitchen sets (she’ll have to cook and clean for the household!), and anything and everything that would firmly peg her to the house, kitchen, and pregnancy! Now, I ask, aren’t all these heinous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

I am not sure if there’s data to support how girl babies and boy babies DIFFER in their gyration towards violence or motherhood, irrespectively! Maybe they do too, but why should we as adults stand back and watch or rather applaud when your boy starts using expletives and thrash when the girl does the same thing? Why are girl children taught to cook while boy children are not? Is cooking done through ovaries, which is why men don’t cook? Why should girl children be taught to clean? Why should boys/men be handed out coffees by women every day? Do men suddenly become lame or crippled the moment they enter their homes? Or, is it the upbringing that makes Indian men take any woman to be a custom-made domestic worker, mother, and even a careerist (outside the home of course!). It just can’t get any better for Indian men, or can it? I ask, isn’t this a travesty of justice or a caricature of a just world? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

As a teenager growing in a metropolis like Chennai, I could never venture to the beach all by myself or even partake in the all-night parties that used to happen on the mount road on new year’s eve, because I, or any girl/woman, ran the risk of being gang raped! Even if the all-night party animals on that road came from ‘good’ families or on better days would be chivalrous too, wouldn’t think twice before actually getting down and having one helluva fuck, because such wayward women could, rather should be raped! Not only that, as a young girl traveling by public transport to school/college/work, I have been exposed to stares of all kinds (the approving, the disapproving, the disrobing, so much fucking more!!) and even harassment of all hues. And, believe me, the men guilty were anything like these ‘animals’(rapists) that all ‘good’ men of today seem to distance themselves from! These were boys/men who went to colleges like the ones I went to or even came from families who were our neighbors! Even today, as a grown adult, I can assure you that I don’t feel any less vulnerable while taking the public transport or am the only woman in a lift filled with men! All this and much more completely strangulate a woman’s very identity and crush/stonewall her into the bloody roles that patriarchy so confidently defines for her! Now, isn’t that horrifying? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

The outrage in my view is in itself outrageous or even hypocritical, especially because of the sheer number of men who seem have unleashed their unbridled sense of shame at this! I ask, where are these men and women, defenders of a woman’s modesty or proponents of women liberation, when the women’s reservation bill gets shot down or women bodies are objectified in mindless fashion shows or movies or when virginity tests are conducted on women? And, how many of these men haven’t whistled at a girl, brushed against a woman’s body when the opportunity presented itself, or didn’t enjoy a rape scene? And, will this outrage be of this
scale if some men had gang raped a sex worker?

Where were all these people when the armed forces brutally raped and killed Thangjam Manorama? Where was the outrage when an entire village watched and cheered as the men of the village gang raped even the dead bodies of two women? I am sure it would be so much easier to distance ourselves from such things as ‘aberrations’ that happen in the hinterland! And, who’s going to utter or let out even a whimper when men rape men/young boys?

Our outrage therefore is very selective: our very core is shaken and we are spurred into action (as in people who don’t give two hoots about protests/demonstrations or who even denigrate such protestors as some misguided, lazy nincompoops) ONLY when the chastity of a ‘good’ woman is outraged. It’s of course a different matter altogether if she’s murdered for dowry, honored killed for marrying outside caste, is killed because of invasive fertilization techniques, is killed because of unsafe termination of pregnancy (for carrying a female child), is killed because she defended her home and land, is killed because she refused to do menial labor and wanted to study, or becomes a mental wreck being nothing more than a glorified domestic help at her own home all her life, and the like!

A day, a blog post, or even a bill may not be enough to change this situation, and any list of dos/ don’ts may not even make the cut! What perhaps is needed is for us to internalize the fact that all of us born are equal, and because of the psychotic mistakes of our ancestors (hope you all burn in hell, if there’s one!) we live in a world that’s defined by various levels and each level is equipped with its own brand of weapons to keep the rest down under. Perhaps, we need to educate ourselves about the working of our society and the brutality it hides under the grab of morality, virtue, chivalry, and the like. Maybe then, we would organize and interrogate ourselves about why we need to be outraged and what we need to be outraged about. I know, not many people will have the time for all this, because it means taking collective responsibility of violence, especially the systemic kind, and working towards a solution. And, that would mean giving up of the many, many privileges that the powerful in the society (the men) have enjoyed for several centuries now. However, it’s time for the women and oppressed men, the victims of the systemic violence, to organize and agitate along side in the long term. And, we can rest assured that our battle has just begun, and we have miles and miles to march before we can see a semblance of victory. Perhaps, our great, great grand daughters and sons might thank us for embarking on this journey.

On a side note, for all the privileged men, more than responding to something that’s so far removed from your immediate reality or doling out some pearls of wisdom on how women should conduct and protect themselves, please introspect! Walk that extra mile, be a human, be defined not by your biology, but by your humanity! Don’t define a woman or her role or her identity or her ability by her biology, but by her right to exist on this planet as freely and happily just as you do. Maybe then, all of us can be united against the enemy; patriarchy!