death, family, bereavement, life

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!

Flying Elephants Workshop by MindFresh

Thought I’ll share the details of an amazing workshop for teenagers conducted by a very close friend.. You might want to check on Youtube on what the participants from the previous workshops have to say.. Visit their website for details on the other workshops..


Freedom and Women

Sadly, as a society, we live by denial. A romantic lot that loves its women on a pedestal- A Goddess. Or in Ads where it is the primary concern of ONLY women to ensure clean toilets at home, sparkling vessels, stiff-clean uniforms for the kids, low-cholesterol oil to cook a tasty meal for the entire family and serve standing at the dining table, envy the sparkling white clothes drying on the neighbor’s clothes line, worry-sick over husband’s life insurance, feel disappointed that the evening date has gone for a toss because the hubby returns home tired simply because she did not nurture him enough with a cuppa Horlicks (ok, some drink or sun flower oil!) and such matters of earth-shattering importance. It is assumed that these are the most pressing matters on a woman’s mind. If by any chance she creates a ruckus over something trivial (and if you didn’t know, most of the issues she raises are trivial!), it is because she is PMS-ing. In fact this knowledge too is limited among us. After all, why should PMS-ing interfere with behavior? We surely have seen people (both, men and women) deny seeing such symptoms in their moms, aunts, sisters, grandmas..

We can hope for a tiny bit of change if we first start acknowledging there is a problem. The problem being that the definition of freedom is different for women from that of men. What would you define as freedom for a woman today?

To me, true freedom is

– not in being able to stay single because you want to. It is when you don’t have to put up a fight to stay by your decision and are not judged based on your status – single, married, divorced, live-in, anything!

– not in a woman being able to go out and work at odd hours or even reach home safely. It is, when the parents, parents-in-law, or the spouse don’t welcome her with hostility and guilt-trip her.

– not in a husband sharing the household chores, but only when it is not done as a ‘favor’.

– not in just being able to report an abuse or rape, but only when the guilty are punished instead of guilt-tripping the woman.

– not in just being able to study in a co-education institute or work in a male-dominated environment, but only when you don’t have a moral police telling you when to leave, how to dress, whom you can work with, when to call, when to receive one and from whom.

– not in being able to drive your car or ride on your bike, but when a collective society does not make a loose, irresponsible comment of how women can NEVER get this one thing right.

– not in a man ‘agreeing’ to stay nuclear post marriage, but only when the woman is not expected to fall at his feet and worship for bestowing such a huge favour on her!

– not in women and men co-existing in an environment, shouldering similar responsibilities, but only when the cliched, sexist jokes, supposedly funny, ceases. Not because I think it lacks in humor (it does anyway!). Its just the extent of irony in those and the sheer mockery. Yes, we still find it funny that a man cooks a meal in some homes. A tiny cut/bruise/late attendance at work by the man, is attributed to a good thrashing from the wife. The only good sense that prevails here is that the one relaying the joke is aware that it can only be a joke.

And am not even talking about the serious physical abuses and offenses here! Some of us just get lucky.

In Bon Bibi’s Forest

The boys and I were lucky to meet three stars on one platform- author Sandhya Rao, illustrator Proiti Roy, and the super story-teller Craig Jenkins. Spring & Zoom (where Vyas attends a workshop), had arranged the event and Vyas and I were looking forward to it.

It was a work-day evening and I had to literally rush home to pick up the two boys and hit the venue in time, and we almost made it. Craig Jenkins had begun his story-telling of Ramayana and we missed the first 10 mins:( We got to listen to the story of Bon Bibi fully. His voice and actions had the kids and adults hooked till the end! So much that Varun and his friend Shruti (from his play school) were paying attention too without fidgeting, and what’s more, Varun was having a ball imitating the actions by Craig which included making a face like ‘Dokkhin Rai’, grunting like one, and also threatening to tear me with the imaginary claws:)

It was a treat to say Hi! to Sandhya Rao and Vyas was super excited to get his copy of the book autographed by Sandhya, Proity, and Craig:) Chrishelle David from Tulika was around over-seeing the proceedings. Varun did a ‘Hi’ and hi-five to Craig and then followed a ruckus.. He wanted the tea that Craig was having and wouldn’t end the tantrum even after reaching home.. Before the others got to judge my poor parenting of initiating a child into the ‘tea-habit’, I scooted out of the venue with Vyas in tow! But all that was after the event:)

The Event

The book launch was organzied by Binita & Gargi of Spring & Zoom, a Centre for Literary Arts, Chennai.

The Book

The Book

Title: In Bon Bibi’s Forest
Author: Sandhya Rao
Illustrator: Proity Roy
Publisher: Tulika

The story

Dokkhin Rai, a monster with striped skin, sharp claws and teeth, ready for the kill, terrorizes the settlements bordering Sundarban. The locals live in mortal fear of falling a prey to Dokkhin Rai’s hunger and anger. It is then that Bon Bibi, and her lost and found brother, Shah Jhongoli take it upon themselves to protect the people and other lives in the forest.. Why does Dokkhin Rai terrorize the people? Will he mend his ways? Are Bon Bibi and Shah Jhongoli successful in taming the wild monster? Read the story to find out more!

The kids and I have fallen in love with this book and the little one enjoys when it is read aloud to him:) What has caught our fancy is the names of the characters with a distinct Bangla touch. If Varun knows a monster, its only Dokkhin Rai now! With the lush forests of Sundarban as the back-drop, Sandhya Rao has doled out a beautiful mix of mythology and a message which the kids can relate to so well. The story is supported by brilliant illustrations by Proity. If you want to tell your kids about co-existence, environment conservation and mutual non-interference, this book is a great fit!

Read more about what inspired the story of Bob Bibi’s Forest on the Tulika’s blog here.

Pictures: Courtesy- Spring & Zoom

Happy Birthday Duddu!

Dear Duddu,

Your arrival into this world exactly 10 yrs ago, was quite dramatic.. It was hard to imagine my sis, (your mom now) was soon going to be a mother! She sat swaying and writhing in pain in the hospital, the contractions getting more intense by the hour. Your appa chose exactly one of those moments to cheer her up and attempted a poor joke(for he himself appeared a little nervous, but would never admit!). My sis, responded in her style with, ‘Poda!’, still swaying from right to left. You emerged half-an-hour later, and the 30 minutes she was away, your silly periamma was weeping buckets not knowing how to react..

You know the first thing your mom did after she popped? She had a glass of chilled Pepsi! In case you didn’t know, she is cool like that! You were the first beautiful baby that I cradled in my arms within an hour of birth. You had a head full of jet-black hair, that looked almost trimmed to perfection, and ripe black grapes for eyes, and looked like you were straight out of a mens beauty parlor !! I’m very proud of the fact that I was with you the first 3 days and spent most time holding you in my arms:) Your mom was back to her old chic-self by evening, and it was and still is hard to believe that she is a mother of two!

At 11 months, you crawled and supported yourself up onto a potty.. By then your hair was falling all over your face and ears and your amma used to tie it up into a sardarji knot and you looked doubly cute..

You are a tall, handsome boy of 10 now, as calm and composed as you were even as a baby.. I have always thought you by-passed age 2 and 3 and jumped into 4 for I don’t remember a single terrible-2, or a tantrum-3 day. I don’t believe that is possible and your brothers Vyas and Varun, and sis Aashi are awesome proofs of this phase! You are special for another reason too – you are the only grandchild that our dad lived to see and you accomplished a rite/ritual a grandson is supposed to, when you were just one! And see, there is a picture below with you sporting a bokkai smile and the granddad in the background, busy at something..

The proof of your turning 10 is not in height or manners, for you have always been that tall, quiet, and pleasant guy, and still that baby that loves to sleep across his amma’s legs..yes, even now! Its your shying and running away when I want to plant a kiss and squeeze you in a tight hug.. Like always, the one thing that you dread in your perimma is her desire to tickle you (for that matter, all you kids) till your sides ache with laughter that induce tears!! I still don’t seem to get enough of it all!!

This birthday is very special da Duddu kanna, because this is the first time you have ever asked me what I was going to buy for your Birthday, and that happens to be the first time you ever asked anyone what they were going to buy for you, specially for your birthday!!! I’d give you this world if it were in my might (this is your senti-‘mental’ perimma speaking, and you have all the right to ignore this part of her!).. On this special day, I want to make one confession – that you are a big part of my life and you make my almost perfect world complete!! I love you! Have a great, rocking birthday my baby!

One of those days when I wished I could fly too….

A corner near the reception desk in my office looks like this a day before a long weekend. Most birds (free birds) are scooting home for the Pongal holidays and I so wish to pack my bags and fly. And this is just one corner in a block. There are few others with more number of back-packs!! Disadvantage of having all your folks in the same city:(


Happy Shankaranthi/Pongal People!

Signing off with a pic of Pongal nearing the ‘ponging’ stage last season:)


Independence Day Special.

On our way to his favorite stationery shop on Sunday, Vyas caught me muttering under my breath on seeing someone spit on the road. Vyas agreed that some people lack ‘civic’ sense and then a little brooding on how such things spread infections et al… I told him how I once escaped a spray fountain when waiting for a bus at the terminus; A ‘kindly lady’ decided to empty her ballooned mouth just then and thought that the window seat in a stationed bus was the best place to do it! The biggest ‘civic’ joke of the decade however was she considered me rude for pointing it out in ‘public’!!

My son gave the story a serious thought:

Vyas: “Amma, this government is very bad”, he said.

Me: “Government is bad? Why do you think so?”.

Vyas: They don’t care about us anymore these days..

Me: Really? Was it any better before?

Vyas: Yes, it used to be nice when Gandhiji was around (saying it with an air of a person born in the 1930s!).

Me: Oh! But wasn’t there a struggle that time? People did not have freedom.

Vyas: Yes, but they were doing useful work. No?

Me: (I liked the Gandhiji tangent and so..)Did he do anything special? How do you think he was different from ‘this’ government?

Vyas: He was good. So the people who worked for him were good too..

There were different branches to the conversation by the time we reached the shop. But one good old message stayed with me: ‘Yatha rajah, thathah prajah’!

Lightening Enlightenment

I had written this in the Jambav blog a long time back, when Vyas was 3 and a half:

Vyas has this ‘uncertain’ feeling about a dark sky.. I guess most children do too! And perhaps even the adults! It was around 8.00 PM and he was still on his bicycle outside and I was keeping company. He suddenly asked “why does it get dark so often?” Was going to say something like “God has made day and night. As we need to sleep for some time, He created night”. I knew this would lead to more questions, and visualized myself getting caught into more abstractions (which I’m bad at!).

The simpler option would be to tell him the facts. And so I went thus- ” We live on the earth. It rotates and also revolves around the sun (all this with action mind you!). When our side of earth faces the sun, we have day. When earth turns away from the sun, we have night! Naturally, he was not quite convinced. But he did not prod further too.

The next night, the scene was again the same- he on his bicycle and his mom, the companion. The happily chirping boy suddenly stopped and his face had ‘that’ look. Nervously, he looked up towards the sky and asked “mama, but you said that the earth rotates” and ran indoors. Need I tell you how hard it was to explain that the home we live in, is also built on the same earth?

Now, almost 5  years later,  he is not scared anymore about the ground  slipping away beneath his feat. But a lightening sends him running indoors like a mouse scuttling away to safety on seeing a cat!  I was sweet-talking to Varun in the corridor outside our apartment so that I can stuff the dinner down his throat. Our neighbor, a teacher in a different school was keeping company. The night  sky was at its glorious best with sharp lightening and shower and the little one looked on.

“Ammma, what do you think you are doing? Come inside”, that was Vyas. I asked him to come out and enjoy the weather. “But didn’t you see the lightening? ” he asked. I said yes and that it was beautiful. “Ayyo, it only produces Nitrogen, not Oxygen. Come inside right now!” . “So what. The atmosphere is a mix”, I offer. “But that is meant for the plants amma, not for you. You’ll end up breathing in more nitrogen”, he states.  The neighbor who was  a silent spectator till then told him that Nitrogen makes for over 70% of the atmosphere, Oxygen takes up a little over 20% and Carbon dioxide takes up 2 to 3% with various other gases.  He paused to think for a moment and said, “If  trees are cut,  the Oxygen percentage is reduced. But people too die which means less carbon dioxide emitted “. I reminded him that new saplings/trees keep growing and so are people born.  “Which means that the Oxygen and Carbon dioxide are mostly balanced” he thought aloud.  At which,  the neighbor ‘aunty’ was mighty impressed and told him that there was  such a thing as O2-CO2  balance and she will explain in detail when she is free. The lightening chose to strike again and this time he hauled us in saying, “OK, let the trees have the Nitrogen themselves. We don’t need “!!, and he shut the door on the intruding Nitrogen.