Sunday, March 29, 2009


Me, in full teacher-mummy mode,: "Where do fish live?"

Copy-Kitten, knitting her brows and thinking,: "In the fridge".

This was when my younger daughter was about two years old, and had not yet started going to playschool where she would soon parrot:

"Machli jal ki raani hai/ jeevan uska paani hai" (Fish is the queen of the water / Water is the life of fish).

Her answer made me THINK HARD. Really, Mumbai has no ponds to speak of, where I could show my daughters that, see, this is where fishes live. The only fish, she had seen where the ones we eat, coming out from the freezer to the frying pan.

Vegetarians will maybe shake their heads at this conditioning in cruelty, but then, when we were young, we ate fish but knew all the while that they came from rivers and ponds (both being near our home).

With ponds becoming extinct (or severely endangered) in Mumbai, it was my daughter's clear-eyed vision that made me realise once again the impact of our own thoughtless actions in destroying our environment.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Now that this blog has completed a century of posts, I feel I must express a debt of gratitude. To N, my brother’s wife. She is the one who pushed me to start a blog. We had recently taken an Internet connection in March last year and I was dipping my foot into the fascinating and bewildering virtual world. N gave me the step-by-step how-to-open-a-blog-for-dummies guide. She made me see one of her friend’s blog to get an idea of what it was all about. And then I took one post-midnight plunge into the untested waters of and started to scribble.

N cheered and supported me all through the century. Despite having a hectic high-paying high-flying job, which she has recently given up. Why, you may ask? To spend more time with her two young separated-by-two-monsoons daughters (my two nieces who I dote upon). From being a MBA/corporate-exec to a stay-at-home mother needs a drastic self-shake-up, but N is managing pretty well. I had hugely admired her before (from my low-paying/leisurely teaching-job vantage point) and I think she has made a very brave move.

I am also completely in awe of the fact that she has managed to adjust to our extended Bengali family (I know, I know, she lives in Bangalore, but still, there are dozens of my relations over there, too). Being a Kannadiga brought up mainly in Pune, it must be difficult to hear yourself addressed frequently as NILAKKHI (sounding like a person clearing a hoarse throat), instead of Neelakshi (which should sound like a sneeze supressed in a silk handkerchief, and which is what her parents named her). I wince in embarrassment, but she remains graciously unflappable.

I enjoy her company hugely and really look forward to our twice-yearly visits (Mumbai to Bangalore and back; and vice-versa). We bond bigtime over the chore-sharing and the baby-managing and the story-swapping sessions (no in-law-infighting here).

Thank you, N, you are a great sis-in-law (hope she says the same about me)!

Who pushed you to write your blog?

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The time: 6.45 a.m. Not quite morning (Mumbai mornings wake up late, though the people, of course, are up and about, including yours truly).

Up and about at high speed. On the Western Express Highway, which is converted to a Formula One race track every morning (till 8.30 a.m -after that it's a different story altogether). And so, the daily round of Formula One races are underway. Instead of foreign-Ferraris, our local F1 champs drive the proudly-Indian auto-rick(ety)shaws. From their respective pit lanes (in the bylanes of Borivili and Kandivali), the desi Lewis Hamiltons, Kimi Raikkonens and Fernando Alonsos cruise (at deceptively ‘normal’ speed) to the Highway. The wide open newly-concretised makes a tempting racetrack in the pale yet-to-be-sunlight. And then the race begins. With me as a VERY RELUCTANT PASSENGER and SPECTATOR (with wind-whipped hair, high-jumped heart and gut-curdled stomach).

At any red traffic light, the autos screech to a stop, forced into what is called a grid position. But even when cars and buses are content to wait, our intrepid auto-champions push and jostle their way to pole position (the most advantageous position in the front of the grid from where to start the race). And almost before the light changes to green, they open full throttle, slipstreaming behind the huge Goliath-like BEST buses and overtaking them like fearless Davids. They zoom over flyovers and down monstrously wide stretches of not-so-open road (often passing within centimeters of people running to cross the road) from Borivili to Malad and beyond. (I am not even mentioning the heart-stopping daredevilry of the helmetted-incognito-two-wheeler-riders who weave in and out of the more-than-two-wheelers).

What further unsettles me is the high-fiving camaraderie of the auto-rickshawallahs, interacting with all the bonhomie of members of a Scuderia (racing team). They will often casually lean out and chat with a fellow driver (riding alongside recklessly at a similarly breathtaking speed), making my heart almost leap out of the autorickshaw, too, in the process.

Turbulence, according to the Formula One Glossary, “is experienced in the area directly behind a car”. In auto-rickshaws, however, turbulence is experienced in the area directly behind the driver, especially when that area is occupied by me. I sit upright and afraid, clutching my mobile and bag and desperately dreaming of all the things I want to do while I live. With neither the hi-tech suspension or the fancy survival-cell of a Ferrari, I am always in a suspense about my survival in this auto(rickshaw) racing line. I keep having flashbacks to the fate of Ayrton Senna, the Formula-One triple world champion who died in a crash on the racing track in 1994.

As my Michael Schumacher (or whoever it is for that day) approaches the Pushpa Park bus-stop, with immense relief and thankfulness I say, “Aagey se left” (Take a left turn). Rather indistinctly, because my heart is still blocking my throat and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth.

As the disappointed driver (he has been forced to retire from the race, not because of accident or mechanical failure, but because of passenger interference – surely that is against the rules of racing?) reluctantly turns left off the Highway, his speedometer (if he has any – many auto-rickshaws do not) and my blood pressure returns to normal.

Till the next morning, same time, same place, different race.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


  • Hello, everybody out there in the big bright normal sunlit everyday world. I am speaking to you from some underwater hideout, floundering in a whirlpool of answer-scripts. It is that time of the year when I plunge into the ocean of correction.

    Deep sea diving and examination paper connection have a lot in common (apart from the fact that I have never done the former despite wishing to and that I’m forced to do the latter twice a year despite desperately not wishing to). Both give you surprisingly new perspectives on familiar things. Both can be surreal experiences. And both can leave you feeling completely bemused and out-of-depth.

    Let me share with you some of the pearls-of-bloopers I’ve dug out from the 400-plus ordinary-oyster scripts I am having to snorkel through.
  • One student, attempting to write the agenda for a meeting, wrote, “Discussion of minutes of LUST (last?) meeting”. (Now, wouldn’t that be somewhat explicit? But then, with the younger generation, I guess so-called private things are more in the open.)
  • Another fellow, writing a reminder letter to a company for collecting overdue payment, stridently warns, “If you do not pay, we will be forced to take ILLEGAL action” (Methinks students are watching too many Ram Gopal Varma mafia-films of late).
  • An innovative student forgot the phrase “pair of socks” and placed a Trial Order for 100 “COUPLES OF SOCKS” (As long as we get one each for the right foot and the left foot, it is all acceptable, right?).
  • An enterprising student wrote that a candidate should “BE DRESSED IN NEW AND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS” while appearing for an interview. I guess he meant that one should wear new clothes and carry original documents for the interview, but then dressing up in documents would definitely be a NEW and ORIGINAL way of catching the interviewer’s attention.
  • Interviews, obviously, are enormously important to my students. One fellow, probably feeling that the day of the interview would be an auspicious and memorable one (with the dahi-ka-tikka on forehead and the doting mother performing a puja before the great event) got all mixed-up and wrote that INTERVIEWS are SUSPICIOUS and REMINDABLE (Why? Because the distant relation of the interviewer got the job instead of the deserving candidate?).
  • The most common spelling mistake is PRINCIPLE for PRINCIPAL (as in Head of the Institution). Is that a subtle warning to all Principals to be guided by the proper Principles – especially when there are so many accusations of admission-related nefarious activities?
  • But the spelling mistake that really made my day was when a student wrote an entire answer on meetings and kept on writing MATINGS instead. “Mating is a form of group communication” (as in orgies?). “Matings can be formal or informal (as in marital and extra-marital?). One advantage of “matings” is “problem-solving” (how many of us have made up in that particular way after a bout of fierce quarelling with the spouse?). And one disadvantage of “matings” is that “they are time-consuming” (Well, now we know what all the corporate honchos do everytime they call up home and say, “I’ll be late for dinner”!).

    As I go back for another running dive into the answer-pool, I’ll leave you with a deep and inscrutable statement to ponder over:

    Sinces the you or Quality pleases to the answer, to the payment will not fully. But your not problem I am paying the amount your amount in a before in my paying.”

    If can make out what my cryptic philosopher student is trying to communicate, do let me know. When faced with such challenging stuff, I feel as if I’m deep-sea diving without any breathing apparatus.

(For a more serious rant on this issue, check out my earlier/angrier post here).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I've been wondering...if Diwali is the festival where the rich-poor divide is very marked, then Holi is the festival which bridges that divide.

Diwali depends (partly) on how much you spend for a few moments of light. In Mumbai, this surreal city of superfluous spending, families spend huge amounts of money on lavish displays of fireworks, which light up the sky in rainbow colours and echo through the neighbourhood in a burst of crackers. Of course, the people huddling under canvas sheets under flyovers can gaze wide-eyed at the light-and-sound display, but it is all as much out of their reach as the stars which are outshone by the jubilations of the wealthy.

Holi, on the other hand, is much more friendly on the pocket. If you want to, you can equip yourself with expensive eco-friendly colours and precious pichkaris (water-dispensers). Kids in our building have been roaming around for the past week with sophisticated water-filled guns and tanks, practising their water-spraying skills on each other (and other unsuspecting victims).

But, if you want, you can also arm yourself with the even-more-eco-friendly mud and dust and mix it all up in a broken bucket and drench everybody around you (including yourself and that neighbour's-spouse-whom-you-secretly-eyed).

Holi allows us to forget our identities for a day and mingle with each other in the way the colours mingle and become one indistinguishable (and extremely hard to get rid of) shade. That is the true colour of India, the true shade of our democracy.

On Holi, all trespasses are forgiven and all divides (haves and have-nots; self and neighbour) forgotten. Happy Holi!

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I celebrated my birthday sometime in February and I was overwhelmed by the amount of attention I received. My mailbox was flooded and my phone beeped throughout the day as a flood of sms-es poured in.

Crossword, the bookshop where I am a regular browser-buyer and a member, sent me a card, a gift voucher for a spectacles shop (smart connection, that) and a discount coupon (smart business strategy).

My beauty parlour rang me up to wish me many happy returns and to remind me that I would get any service for Rs 100 free, an offer which I promptly accepted (resulting in a few golden streaks of hair upfront, and an additional spending of Rs 260).

Shopper’s Stop mailed me their greetings to ‘celebrate in style’ (presumably clothed in outfits purchased at their premises).

HDFC Credit Cards sms-ed me their good wishes, and the un-smsed hope of greater card usage in the next 365 days.

HSBC Bank did almost exactly the same (the differences were perhaps due to the fact that there I have a debit card).

Various Mutual Fund Managers e-mailed me their wishes, advising me to ‘invest in a happy future’.

Even my LIC agent joined the birthday-bandwagon by sms-ing similar good wishes with ditto advice.

Amazed at suddenly being showered with so much technologically-preset TLC and pre-recorded public attention, I felt like a virtual star. Nobody can feel lonely in today’s technology-enabled corporate world. I was bowled over by PR-pyaar (love). Care and Comfort for the customer is just an sms-away. I purchase, therefore I am. I buy, therefore I get wished on my birthday. WOW, that’s absolutely great for my self-esteem, is it not?.

Oh well, in the corporate PR-whirligig, I almost forgot to mention that my mother, sister-in law, brother, in-laws, cousin and some of my friends also called (I suspect they had all set reminders in their phone calendars, the way I always do). I’m just joking, many of them would have remembered, hopefully. The spouse did, without setting any reminders (not that I know of anyway).

And then, there were my daughters. The Lil Cat folded an A4 sheet of copier-paper and made a card in her crawling-uphill handwriting (complete with a Bible Verse advising me about the value of hard work – which she had apparently learnt in school that day). The Copy-kitten followed suit with a similar sheet of paper filled with scribbles in a yet-undiscovered script. On the great day, Lil Cat serenaded me on waking up (she, not me) with a rather complicated and uncommon birthday song invoking birds and animals, which she forgot midway. The Copy-kitten enthusiastically added to the chorus, with the emphasis on all the wrong places because at that time she was sitting on her potty and had to simultaneously attend to other pressures. And then they demanded, what’s for breakfast?

So that’s the way it is. Birthdays remind you of who you are (along with how old you are, of course, let's not get into that aspect of it at all). A customer. A mother. So if you want to be sms-ed and serenaded all over again next year, better get on with the job.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


My Maa (mother), all of sixty-three, and her merry gang of gal-pals (two sisters and a cousin, with some friends thrown in) never cease to amaze me. She ushered in the new year at my place, staying till February (She usually visits me twice a year). Then she was off to my Maasi’s (aunt) home in Bhopal.

There, the two sisters are living it up (she called me up to say she’s just watched the newly released Delhi-6). They cook for each other, play games on the computer, and, of course, watch endless hours of television.

They also enjoy shopping together, anything from vegetables to tablecloths to clothes for their combined brood of grandchildren. The only sign betraying their age is the fact that they often forget to take their cellphones along; the other day my brother called me saying that he had been calling Maa for over three hours and nobody picked up the phone. She had been engrossed in Delhi-6; he was about to call in the cops.

Soon, the giggly gang will be joined by an octogenarian grandfather (my mother’s unmarried and still-adventurous uncle). Then, they plan to go by train to Allahabad, Simla and Gaya (religious and tourist hot-spots where the said grandfather is a trustee with various institutions which will provide free and safe accommodation).

Next on the agenda is, of course, Kolkata, where the heart is, if not the body. Kolkata does not just mean HOME. It means a whirlwind tour of different homes of cousins and friends and relations. Maa and the aforesaid gang are maximizing returns by packing in a week-long trip to the crowded coasts of Puri.

And that’s not all. From the sea-side, it will be straight to the hospital bed-site for Maa, as she intends to fit in a cataract operation (her own) in her busy schedule. My uncle in Kolkata, who is an ophthalmologist, will do the honours. And then, within a fortnight, Maa will be back in Bangalore, which is her ostensible residence (but she is a Non-Resident Bangalorean, my brother complains).

But this footloose and fancy-free lifestyle is only part of the story. All the members of the gang have sons and daughters, whose homes they dutifully stay in and look after the grandchildren as and when the need arises (they cook, feed, tell stories, knit fluffy cardigans and give great advice). Most of the members of the gang fight various chronic and recurrent illnesses (they carry medicines instead of make-up in their handbags). All of them have to plan carefully to arrange for their finances for the tour-India trips (they are willing to forego planes for trains, AC-rooms for non-AC dormitories).

But all of them have one more thing in common – despite the diseases, despite the familial obligations, despite the financial restraints, they want to enjoy life. To the fullest, to the farthest. Kudos to that.