Posted in Others

Review: Band Baaja Bride

Watching the show on and off for years now in NDTV Good Times. Seem to like this fashion designer Sabyasaachi even if fashionakkum enakkum romba dhooram:D He could be a groom himself hahaha. Looks like Virat Kohli’s older bro hahaha. I like the respect Sabyasaachi accords to the aged parents of the brides (very touching), the way he lavishes praises on would-be brides making them feel important, and how he pampers and spoils the girls with his exuberant riches. He seems genuinely happy for them and goes out of the way to make them feel comfortable. I particularly liked the Poppat (Dangal) girl quite naturally but I adored all of his picks frankly. We get an idea of how the designer makes a choice among the sea of applicants. In my guess, he goes for character and charisma in equal measure. His brides are well accomplished, confident and are independent women, the face of the Indian nari (current generation). In someway the participants seem to have broken over a threshold or so here and there.

After years finally, happened to get a glimpse of Sabyasaachi’s palatial home in Kolkata that he seemingly designed by himself. Looks like, his chef etc., are mostly male. Loved his canines! For the kind of luxurious life he seems to be living, he comes across as a down-to-earth humble guy. He sounds warm and sincere. May be a business tactic as well! Must be a tough job to narrow down the list of aspirants and cherrypick the real deserving/meritorious girls to feature in his production. Simply too many may qualify. I can’t recollect individual cases much. Perhaps I can remember faces even if i cannot retain names. I reckon that the chosen brides are truly worthy of their much cherished appointment. Starry eyed, they all look so ever grateful to Sabyasaachi and can’t wait to start their wedding life in style! Honeymoon package is the icing on the cake!

Yet somehow I happen to think that, this is not the way it must be (in general). One thing I strongly disapprove of is Sabyasaachi getting mangalsutra for all the brides which may earn him punya but will depriv the groom’s parents off once-in-a-lifetime parental obligation or responsibility. Certain things, we must never give up in life. Others just can’t take over our lives just like that. In that way, I abhor him taking over the weddings completely and branding them as his house’s. Weddings are such personal affairs that you do not even need to let others know of necessarily. Or you can have an intimate, close gathering making the occasion very private, taking it away from prying eyes. I personally prefer closed weddings which are now becoming vogue thanks to the corona pandemic scare. Even if it is for glamour and free gifts and advertisement and page 3 opp, how can the brides let a third party gain such a predominant access into the most special moments/event of their lives. I just can’t get it. Not everything can be for sale.

Sabyasaachi’s girls are themselves like fashionistas – at least most of them. They are a style statement on their own. His work gets a lot easier that way. After watching the north Indian crowd living outside India as an NRI, i get it perfectly now. Sorry, most of us south Indians just do not accord this kind of priority to grooming. Not even the creamiest and most fashionable among us. May be I missed out on south bound stories, but mostly I saw only the snazziest prettiest ladies swooning over Sabyasaachi.

A visit to dermatologist, not just anyone but No.1 always, to the dentist, to the hairstylist, to the jeweler, to the fashion designer (the producer himself), to the cosmetologist omg… I have mentioned in my previous blog posts, first time I stepped into a beauty salon was in my 36th year, after a previous one-off visit just before my wedding reception. I really don’t get it why such a superficial grooming is attached this kind of hyper attention these days. Finally does it really matter! I guess, to carry well the Sabyasaachi creation, one needs to be groomed to this degree otherwise it could be a disaster. If you ask me, my vote is always for a Kanjivaram. Not many brides however have opted for Kanchi silks in the show. Mostly Benarasi lehengas are the hot favourites among the girls. One more thing: covering the head is for widows in the south. Probably the north Indian Hindus got influenced by the islamist invaders. Such a head covering pallu for a bride is unthinkable in any south Indian Hindu wedding. Lehengas too. Only a full sari – an unstitched robe, can be a wedding dress. We call it Koorai Pudavai – in which you get married. Different families have different parampara when it comes to Koorai pudavai. For example, in my family it used to be 8 yard but now 6 yard deep maroon silk or cotton with tiniest yellow checks. For some of my friends it is 9 yard of the same. Andhrites have it in yellow – with white sari dipped in turmeric to make it yellow. For Keralites it is cream Kasavu. We just cannot have any colourful costume for wedding muhurat in south. We follow age old traditions and customs without altering them a bit to suit our fancy. Similarly only a white dhoti, again an unstitched robe can be the wedding dress for Hindu men irrespective of caste or social status. In north, they seem to be wearing stitched lehengas (brides) and kurtas (grooms) for weddings. In south, this is permissible only for wedding receptions, never for muhurtham or muhurat.

(I must say after all the visits and appointments with the designers and dressers, many brides ended up garish at least in my frank opinion hahaha! They looked much better in their natural setting before all this decking up started! The lehengas too not all were stunning. Some were overdone and gaudy.)

So Sabyasaachi falls flat in our estimation. I mean, of not much relevance. Today’s girls from my place may choose lehengas for reception perhaps. This is also a very recent development only. If you choose a kanjivaram, it is lifetime keep. If you choose a designer lehenga it is use and throw one-time wear.

I got stung by one episode of Band baaja recently that I was watching offhandedly doing some chores in my kitchen. The girl featured was a bit obese and dusky – like regular south Indian dusky. What is there to be ashamed of or bullied for for your skin colour. It is outright demeaning. May be there was more to the story. I will have to catch up with the episode in You tube before I can come clear. If a dusky girl must feel low and find it difficult to get married in India, then 90% girls in the south will be spinsters even now, which is not the case. I guess, a lot more rethinking has to be done by the producers before shooting such hurtful sequences. It is downright insulting. Bodyshaming is horrible. Girls admitting to feeling depressed for physical reasons is revolting. What kind of girls are these. Such a weak mind. Upset being obese, dusky? You may wish to look better, but you must feel beautiful the way you are. At least that’s how I see myself!

What a run-up to the actual wedding! Already these vulgar pre-wedding shoots I find very crass and disgusting, and can’t imagine the educated youth wanting to make a fool of themselves singing and dancing around trees to show off to the world, how intimate they are as couples!

Such ostentatious shows and extravagant weddings to me are total fake. I have enjoyed the Sangeeths and Mehendis of friends’ kids but personally I am never for this bullshit. First of all, these are considered frivolous and have had no place in south Indian weddings. Of late our guys are brainlessly adapting whatever is glamorous and glitzy by Bollywood standards. In this melee, the true sense of a marriage is lost. Having fun and frolic is fine but losing the perspective of having a Vedic wedding as per Hindu rites which is so sacred and puritanical is shocking and unbelievable. The married couple share some special moments in the glow of the ritual fire. Saath Pheras or the Sapta Padhi – how every bride could feel at heart taking every step towards her bright, happy future. Should it all be in front of tv cameras. Emotional moment for the couple exchanging vows, chanting mantras or tying the knot. Very special private moments of one’s life. To be blessed by your near and dear ones. To have the closest and most caring loving people surrounding you. Having strange unconnected people around you at this time can be unthinkable. Everything is commercialized and for photoshoot and media-sharing these days. Nothing is now personal, private and just for the family. I am surprised Sabyasaachi stops with the sangeeth, wedding muhurat and reception and not venturing into the nuptial bed with his designer gown! Why can’t he just stop with designing the lehengas and jewelry. Why should he or his team partake in the wedding ritual? Is it part and parcel of the package.

I think Sabyasaachi must have a reunion with his brides after 20 years and check how well they are doing. I do want them all to be happy. Still, I would want a reconfirmation.

Because, i am a believer in marriages, not weddings. I married with 2k in bank balance and with no parents. That forever has influenced my take on marriages. Recently had my only son have a registered wedding (unplanned) of course. I am fine with that. Do feel a slight ache at times – even I would have wanted a handful of nearest and dearest guests – family and friends for the occasion…. anyway corona weddings are also the new normal! In a way I reflect, perhaps my Mother Goddess gave me what I have always appreciated and prayed for sincerely at heart.

I do view at expensive/theme weddings in positive light for the job opportunities they may create. But I am increasingly getting an impression that the workmen down the line get only peanuts whereas the event managers take the biggest slice of the pie. Besides I am put off by the event management girls welcoming us guests and asking us whether we have had the buffet. How much more estranged can you get with your friend or relative at the family wedding.

Grand weddings are fine if you belong to such a strata of society but using weddings to parade one’s social status is abhorrent. It is much more important to receive our guests personally at our family weddings, after inviting them respectfully and graciously, usher them warmly to the dining hall, seek their blessings sincerely for our children. Very few opt for such simple and nice weddings these days. Prefer the typical Hindu wedding rituals we have in the south followed by a reception for friends and guests.

I invite Sabyasaachi to attend real Kerala temple weddings to know how a wedding can be just a 20 min affair with 2 hr wedding reception followed by a 60 year blissful married life. I love the simplistic Mallu weddings. My Nair friend tells me, even the Mangalsutra is only a recent addition for them borrowed from other state Hindu practices. Earlier, if the bride was given a cotton Kasavu sari (typical kerala off white sari) by the groom’s family and the girl’s family received it with her, it meant the marriage between the boy and the girl just got over. Just like that! Feast on banana leaves with three kheers – one of sweet ripe mangoes, one of coconut pulp, and one of dal. Even in Tamil Nadu, wedding feasts are always served in banana leaves only. You may be a king yet you can have a buffet dinner in crystals for your wedding reception, but for the wedding muhurat feast, it is always the humblest banana leaf only that is like our silver dining ware and cutlery. I hope we never compromise on that for the cheap china.

I have attended simplest but heart warming Kerala weddings and have always thought of them to be the best – not the gulf-money marriages.

Sabyasaachi, I like your show. I am transported to another world weekly one hour thanks to you but I strongly denounce this kind of fakeness surrounding your weddings, i am sorry to say. But the show is enjoyable! I do love looking at the jewelry and the clothes even if I can never come to agree with them. May be every other woman loves you Sabyasaachi and may be I am the only one to underwrite you…

Is it a paid content Sabyasaachi???

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Cakes in weddings: cakes made with eggs are nowadays cut on wedding days. To my knowledge, even in non-vegetarian families, they stop eating meat from before Pandakkal and resume meat eating 10 to 15 days after the wedding muhurat. Similarly in no Hindu caste is garam masala used in traditional wedding feasts normally. But now we have naan and panneer and cutlets served on banana leaf along with traditional wedding recipes. I agree there can be no hard and fast rules, yet reasons followed for sticking to satwik menu for our weddings need no elaboration. Only paal sadham (milk rice) for the wedding night dinner for the newly married and Paal-pazham (banana fruit and milk) immediately after the wedding muhurat. Much married now, I can understand the significance of these practices handed down to us through generations. Introduction of masala and meat is reserved for a special occasion much later after weddings in non veg families. Now even liquor serving is becoming the norm in upper middle class receptions. I am the last person not to welcome change and modernity but when it comes to traditional weddings and religious/solemn occasions, I would rather respectfully stick to our age old/ancient customs and practices followed and advised by our ancestors. There is a time and place for everything.

Posted in Women & Family

Lights On.

There is no greater God than the sense of empathy. If you don’t have it, there is no use going to temple or doing the puja. Some are born with this empathy. Some are raised in a way that they cultivate empathy. For some, the learning process is ingrained when they live as minority in an alien land. It is then you realise, your God does not matter, your language does not matter, your culture does not matter, your clothes don’t matter, your way of life doesn’t matter. These are different contexts that do no involve you at any level. It is a moment to reckon with and if you do not grow up still, believe me you will have to take multiple thousand janams to get this onto you.

Last week I attended the housewarming ceremony of my longserving household help. She came to me in her early 20s. Now she is hitting 40s. Such a moving occasion for both of us who have become kind of sisters in the last 16-17 years we have been together. She has become like a family member to me. She has built a mini bungalow in her own words – but it is truly a 371 sq ft simple terraced house with a small living, bedroom, bath attached and kitchen plus a partially open top terrace with a room, bath and balcony. To the poorest families having a kitchen sink with 2 taps for running water, a tiled bathroom and upstair bedroom and open terrace is like 7 star hotel luxury. Why is this grihapravesham even more important? I am copy-pasting my old write-up from 2015:

Lights On: Original date of the blogpost: March 10, 2015

The evening before leaving for Doha I had a mini function to attend. Its the coming of age of my maid’s 12 year old daughter. In their community, its a small happy occasion worth celebrating . I have been trying to discourage my girl right from the start emphasizing this is an outdated ritual. In olden days perhaps this custom prevailed because it served as an announcement to interested parties/families who were looking for a (child) bride. There was a necessity to advertise that a girl was ready for marriage. Now we are in the 21st century, so why can’t we do away with this medieval and somewhat humiliating ceremony (the girls are embarrassed visibly). But coming from village, my maid still attaches importance to rural practices. She was in no mood to listen and anyway its not my business how they spend their money or lead their lives. Some of the things I say, she wholly adopts without question and from some areas, I am politely shut out. I take it in good spirit. We don’t own people who work for us.

I was invited the very first day to their humble house (if it can be called that) to give the girl a ritual head shower using the strainer (the atta sieve we use in our kitchens). As a sumangli, she gave me that respect. My MIL was around and she forbade me from going to the girl’s thatched hut that served as their home. I could not overrule her. For the 5th day sunday, she had booked a mini hall in a nearby hotel, very much beyond her means. Even I was weary of the unnecessary expenses. But then I thought what is there otherwise to celebrate in the lives of these poor folks.

Overruling my MIL’s words this time, I attended the function. Normally little girls get gifts like new dresses or bangles or cosmetics for this ceremony. Besides being plied with a variety of eatables/goodies like fruits and nuts. Since my maid has been with me for over 10 years now and since she is like a younger sister to me really, I got her daughter a pair of gold studs for the occasion – the designer kind that the girl can wear to college or work. Sylish and branded.

Reason is I have no daughter. My maid has a daughter but no money. How ironic our situation is. I referred to the ‘panchangam’ and verified that the date and time of the coming of age (in the school wherefrom she was sent back home by her teacher) was a good muhurat. Even the sunday ‘nalangu’ time was fixed by me besides the ‘punyajanam’ hour in the morning. I noted down the thidhi, nakshatram (star) of the days and handed her over the slip. It might come useful when arranging for the little girl’s wedding in future. Because along the birth time of the girl in our horoscope/kundali, I have seen this first menstrual date & muhurat mentioned in bold letters and a little calculation done on that as well (!) So somewhat understand the significance our society places on womanhood.

The hotel was close to my place but going there was the difficult part. I took my regular auto man and told him to park somewhere nearer. When I gave missed call, he had to come and pick me up. I did not intend staying over 30  minutes maximum.

Poorest people have the largest hearts really. I was surprised to see over 200 guests from my maid’s native village and their entire street turn up at the rundown hotel. My first time there. I hesitated frankly at the entrance. Within a minute I was surrounded by her mother and her husband (who works as a casual labourer – mostly house painter).They took me to the little girl in the open terrace up  the stairs. A big colourful ‘shamiana’ was pitched from one parapet to another and kids were running around playing and dashing on anyone and everyone seated in plastic folded chairs. Such an air of gaiety and festivity! Food in banana leaves was served at the restaurant in ground level.

I was clearly out of place. I had under-dressed for the occasion still I stood out among the women. But I knew I had to show that much respect to my girl who is working for me for over 11 years now; – to her I trust my home, my son and my old MIL; with her I feel safe; to her I owe a lot I cannot put in words. From taking care of me if I am sick (I get severe stomach cramps on monthly basis that sometimes renders me to bed for 2-3 days), from cooking for me, for caring for my home/house as if its her own.

Money cannot equal everything. But money is a good mediator, agreed. I could see how my presence silenced everyone for a minute (for which I felt like an intruder) and at the same time how proud it made my girl. She wanted to show me off to one and all I think. She paraded me through her folks introducing names left and right. Some I could recall from our conversations over years, some I could not. It felt so strange. I felt all the love but found that I could not reciprocate in same measure – OMG what a prissy I am!

They offered me a hot cup of coffee. Couldn’t refuse but atleast it gave me a reason to forego food. Moreover my MIL had strictly warned me against eating in their place. I felt bad. I thought how disrespectful that could be –  wanted to atleast eat the sweets and have the icecream if nothing more. Now even when my heart wanted to, my mind said ‘no’ looking at the crowd. It was such a mass of lower-middle class. The gaudy silks and the blaring cine songs playing in the stereos revolted me. The men had their hair oiled and combed, the women wearing cheap scent and flowers. I felt ashamed of myself. For all the social justice we talk about, how many of us can really mix with simple folks in the lowest strata of our society or partake in their homely celebrations. I couldn’t believe my reactions myself. There was suddenly the urge to run away from the scene.

Easy to preach the world. Difficult to practise in life. Our noble f*****g principles. Such a shame. I hang my head in total disgust for my mental block and apathy towards the lesser fortunate, the poor wretched rural/urban folks of India.

There was the ‘nalangu’ ceremony. First one ever for a girl in her life. Nalangu is essentially the haldi-kumkum ritual. We sumangali women have to annoint the girl with haldi-kumkum one by one that’s all. Then we have to sprinkle some ákshata’ (rice mixed with kumkum and haldi marking fertility) on the girl’s head and finally there will be áarthi.’

I couldn’t stay long until the aarthi so I was allowed graciously to finish my turn of nalangu first and leave with the ;thamboolam.’  Many pictures were clicked in those few seconds.

In some 15-20 minutes I was there, I noticed that my maid’s mother from her native village had got some 21 ‘seer’ plates (gift plates) for her granddaughter  – one tray of bananas, one of jack fruits, one of dates, one of almonds, one of sugar, one of apples, one of biscuits, one of chocolates, one of bangles, one of silk clothes, one of little silverware (anklets), one of gold (in her capacity she had got the girl a gold chain) etc.

Such a poor woman you know. A farmhand turned dishwasher in a local highway restaurant as the crops dried out and the lands grew infertile.

My eyes were beginning to water. With a great effort, I controlled myself. She took me by hands and showed me the ‘seer’ beaming with such a pride. A hardworking woman’s life savings lay in front of me – with such a love for her daughter’s daughter.

There were other gifts arranged in corner of the terrace. Coconuts, trays of fruits and fresh flowers.

Over 200 people ate at the feast that night I believe. I left quick handing over my gift and 3 plates of fruits and flowers I had gotten the girl. I did send for her each of the 5 days something I cooked in my kitchen.

Next day after the function, I had very little time to talk to my maid. I had a flight to catch that night. I learned she had spent some 29,000/- bucks on the event. I was a bit angered. Given her economic condition, I was not happy to learn about the expenses. She said, her brother who worked as mechanic gave her daughter 1 sovereign of gold. One more brother also gave the girl the same gift. Her parents and in-laws too gave precious gifts and also the neighbours and relative circle. In all, the little girl had received over 12 sets of salwar kameez, lots of health drinks, fruits, cash gifts etc.

Not a single well-to-do member from my kind of society was spotted (naturally). We move in 2 different societies that did not overlap. I was the only one who ever dared from mine to attend my maid’s house function. When my maid said she paid off the entire expenses for food and hotel with the gift money, I got stumped. So I needn’t have worried. The poor took care of each other.

What an affectionate circle of friends and relatives. The 5 days her rural parents stayed with her in her cramped house lavishing the young matured girl with such a love and a variety of eatables. The generosity of the poor people is something that we cannot see in the miserly upper middle-class.

Aren’t we all busy looking for where others live, what cars they drive, how they shop.

My mind went back to my granny – I never had such a ceremony because my mom was a teacher and was against this kind of needless publicity of a girl’s attaining puberty. But my grandmother did lavish a lot of care and affection on me. I have forgotten so much of my younger days. In our families this is a hushed up affair. I went back to school in fact in 3 days.

My maid made her girl take 10 days leave from school. I was moved when she asked me how to use a sanitary napkin for the first time. I volunteered to get it for her but she said, ‘Akka, I am very poor but there are a few things I want to do for my children by myself. Like getting my daughter her first napkin packet. You are doing so much for us already, but please allow me to buy the basics for my daughter as a mother.’ 

Saying that, she started to cry.

What has poverty got to do with a mother’s love and affection for her daughter. Poor people also have pride and honour and priorities. How can we take them for granted about anything.

She got the packet from the corner shop and I took out one pad and demonstrated to her how to go about it. She herself never uses one. Saves every penny for her family.

‘Your daughter would have been taught in school anyway’ I told her and she said yes. Because even in our days we had visits from Johnson & Johnson and that was decades back.

How the illiterate village girl willingly learned from me and went on to help her daughter to use the sanitary napkin touched my heart. I told her about the importance of hygiene and disposal of used pads and every single word of mine she listened to with rapt attention. Every evening she came back and told me their trials and triumphs. Mother and daughter were having a different kind of experience. Daughter is smart and is a quick learner.

And what a pride in my maid’s face. She felt like she had passed on to the next stage of her life. Her darling daughter was no more a little girl – but a budding young woman. 

But I kept warning her, ‘don’t pamper your daughter too much. we are all women and in this monthly menstrual condition we girls go to school, college, write exams, play in school grounds, catch bus, go to work and do everything; your daughter has to soon return to her routine normal school life.’

And I added, ‘don’t let the girl think she is a heroine either. this isn’t a picture we are watching. she is a princess to you, but let her get it this is nothing unusual; if you are born a woman, this is your life; let her not be distracted but return to books the quickest.’

And my maid said something she had told me a 1000 times earlier: how her mother made her walk 7 km to their ‘kazhani’ (agri holding) to work as farm hand the 2nd day she matured as a girl. She was barely 13 and had been a child labourer since the age of 7. She was not spared from taxing manual labour of 5-8 hours per day even during her periods as a little girl. ‘My legs would hurt and stomach would groan and thighs shiver but my mother wouldn’t spare me; and then there wouldn’t be enough food to eat’ she would recount her sorry tale.The moment she came home from farms, she had to pitch in with her share of kitchen duties and domestic chores like fetching water, doing the dishes, washing clothes etc. Whereas her 3 brothers who rested all day went to school or learned trades like a/c repair, car mechanical work etc.

Yes there are daughters of India who suffer a lot. Whose entire lives end up as tragedy.

‘Marriage was a relief’ said the girl, ‘because at last I could be at home when I had my periods. It was a luxury. Akka, which is why I want my daughter to get all the rest on earth minimum this first time.’

I had no words to that. I wished I could go back in time and extricate my girl from all her hardship and punishing childhood. She did not send her daughter to school for 9 days I guess (i left before the girl returned to school).

My mother never allowed me more than 3 days of rest either. She was teaching 8th class herself where many a day a hearing & speech impaired girl attained puberty – sometimes right in the class hours. ‘When those helpless girls can manage, why can’t you?’ was what she told me casually, ”don’t be a sissy.’ My mother suffered from a serious health issue as well – so it was not something that we gave much attention to. Part & parcel of growing up. I think this is what education can do to us.

Rural, poor India has to change a lot. I don’t see a reform in the short run.

Soon I left for Doha but I am talking to my maid everyday almost. She is cooking for my son (against my MIL’s wishes). I have forbidden my MIL from going near the gas stove (she is 78). I feel better if she is around my house.

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My part-time maid lives off my street. Hers is a dead-end. No hutment is seen within the city limits these days (except in north Madras extension areas which is a fishing colony) but since this is a fag end of the street with no traffic, the civic authorities have spared it. Coming from a dirt poor family, it is also true that my girl’s home stands out like a sore thumb in the otherwise cement and concrete lower middle-class neighbourhood of hers.  Most constructions there are unauthorized. But regularized as our corporation routinely ratifies illegal tenements/housing. Is there any other way to provide shelter to the poorest of poor in our city. Displacing them is unthinkable.

Lets call my girl ‘S.’ She  lives in a single room thatched hut – the walls are exposed brick work (and not actually muddy). She shares the meager living space with her husband and 2 grown-up children. Her In-laws occupy the adjoining room. She says there is a 4 feet verandah running in the sides where she has built a rudimentary toilet. Now that the government has installed for her a free hand pump, her water woes are solved. Earlier she used to run after the water tanker to fetch water. That went on for years. She suffered greatly with pained hips and excess bleeding in those times. The handpump is a blessing to her.

Similarly she was using wood/coal for cooking. I booked an LPG connection for her and got her the first gas cylinder. I did not know then how much it saved her money and energy.

A day in my maid’s life dawns at about 4 am. She cooks and cleans for her family, packs lunch, leaves food for in-laws (rich or poor it is a must in most families in India to take care of husband’s elderly parents; and parents prefer staying over at their son’s over their daughter’s). Later she comes to work for me. Returns to her home to do the dishes and wash clothes. Goes to sleep with the lights on by 10 pm. Her husband is the chief earning member. Daily he brings home 200 bucks which is big amount for them.

During monsoons, her husband who works as a house painter mostly and labourer of any kind in lean season, is out of job for over a month or perhaps longer. That is when the family suffers the most.

Husband and wife are hard and sincere workers. Whether standing in queue for hours to get their rations supply from the govt PDS shops or taking care of their children and aged parents, they discharge their familiar duties without a murmur. Beach and cinema happen once an year during vacations. Holiday means a 2-day bus trip to Tirupathi Balaji temple, a bi-annual pilgrimage.

Even if poor they celebrate all our festivals and are very religious. My maid fasts many more times than me, and her kind of unadulterated piety always impresses me. When I chant the Lalitha Sahasranama, she would adjust her work near my pooja so she hears me. She comes to work after showering, so makes fresh flowers into garlands for my Mother Goddess. She is always my temple companion. I tell her, Shakthi will be more delighted with her than me – because it is her devotion that is matchless. Mother sees what we the mortals cannot see. Mother notes what we the earthlings miss.

Even as she is steeped in such an abject poverty, my girl’s cheer and zest for life always bowls me over. There is so much to complain if she has to. But she never does that. And no gossip either. Virtues you find nowhere these days.

The family though suffers from a strange but severe stress: 

They sleep with their single tubelight on during the nights  – as otherwise they have to deal with rodent menace. Once their boy’s toe was bitten by a furry rat and he had to get a shot to overrule any viral/bacterial infection. Ever since the family does not dare switching off the light when its bedtime.

‘How do you manage to even get a wink of sleep’ I ask my girl and she says as a matter of fact, ‘now I can’t go to sleep with lights off!’

Sleeping with the lights on…

I have no tears left in my eyes to shed for my girl. The single factor that she and family sleep with the lights on was on my conscience for days when I learned of it the first time.

Monsoon times leave her place with damp walls, wet floors, drains overflowing. I try to help by giving out blankets, food etc. Whatever we do is simply not enough I know.

My heart goes out to millions in this country who jostle up in dungeon-like quarters for shelter that they call ‘home.’ My girl is a lot luckier – she has someplace to call ‘home’ and she owns her small plot of 600 sq ft which is still a good bet in a city like Chennai. Think about the homeless.

‘Kettaalum maen makkal maen makkale, 

Sangu suttaalum venmai tharum’

So said the ancient Sangam Tamil Poetess Avvaiyar who lived in the BC. Avvaiyar is stated to have lived over 1000-2000 years before the birth of Christ and her Tamil compositions are still well read. There is no Thamizh literature without Avvai.

The couplet translates as,

‘Even if the well-bred (people with character) are doing poor, they won’t stoop to lower levels.

Even if you heat/burn the conch, it will retain its original white colour.’

I am always reminded of the Avvaiyar verses when it comes to ‘S.’ Even in dismal conditions the girl conducts herself with such a dignity …. refusing overtly help from others (including me), managing with what they (she and her husband) make … What a decent people compared to some other shameless creatures we encounter in public life.

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Before leaving for Doha I asked ‘S’ whether her daughter was alright and back to normal. She looked tired the monday morning after the celebrations of sunday night.

‘She is still bed wetting!’ said she.

Her 12 year daughter, was in the habit of wetting the bed during sleep. I keep asking ‘S’ to refer to a doc but she says, she had had such an anxiety problem herself. Now combined with her menarche, the problem has worsened for the little girl. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I asked her totally perplexed. The girl’s bed-wetting had totally slipped my mind. I could see the agitation in my maid’s face. I gave her a bunch of blankets. ‘Throw away the soiled ones. Use fresh ones, how much ever you want, ask me’ I said.

‘Akka my hands are aching washing the sheets day in and day out!’ she said, ‘our little house stinks and everytime my daughter has to change her napkin, we all have to troop out of the hut. Even if its midnight.’

How many ever bedrooms and bathrooms and wardrobes we have, we want more. How much ever clothes and jewels we own, we want new. Is ours the latest car? Cell? Well now, welcome to poor and miserable India. Come meet my girl ‘S.

We all come across so many, many stories in daily life, media and internet, but nothing moves me like this girl’s. I would get her a washing machine but its not advisable given the nature of their muddy damp walls. Besides there is not a square inch to spare. As such they live like cattle in cattle shed. The single room-hut serves as my maid’s family’s bedroom, kitchen and living. There is a tv, a steel bureau and a cooking counter. There is barely any moving space and they sleep in the floor in a row. Any guests means, they have to squeeze them in that cramped hole they call home. They don’t even use a ceiling fan – only a pedestal is possible in the low-roof.

My heart goes out to the little girl who has just blossomed into a young woman. Where is the privacy she desperately needs in this hour. The girl is upset and crying because she knows her condition and she is ashamed about it. She has no control over her bladder having slept with the lights on since the day she was born. And now onset of the menstrual cycle complicated matters for her. She is still a child – of a mere 12 years. 

Surrounded by alcoholic grandfather and quarrelsome grandmother and an impoverished neighbourhood, the little girl seems to suffer from some suppressed emotions.

I remember my doc’s warnings to me when my son was an infant and I was a working mom. That was a long, long time back. His first advice was to strictly keep the lights switched off after 9 pm so the baby learns the difference between day and night. My son stopped bedwetting in night hours by 6-7 months. He started sleeping the whole night around the same time, not keeping awake, giving me complete rest and full night’s sleep that I badly needed in those days.

I said the girl would be alright with time. My maid who endured the same problem got okay only with her marriage. She was bed-wetting until her 18th year that is. Sudden thrust into married life must have done something to her psychologically. She says with her wedding night, she lost the bothersome habit unaware. I did not tell her, the reason was perhaps marriage freed her from her miserable existence easing her anxieties and giving her a sense of security. She needed no more to toil for hours in hot sun in farm lands and walk back the long distance home to slog the rest of the waking hours until she went to sleep. Urban life was easy neither but comparably less daunting.

On my advice and on doctor’s the mother tried many remedial measures with the little girl. Like not giving her liquid food from the evening hours. From rousing her from sleep to take her to toilet every 1-2 hours. Still nothing works.

I said may be her daughter’s problem is heredity. ‘Did you tell the doctor about sleeping with the lights on?’ I asked her. She said no, she never thought that could be a reason. I said perhaps that is the main reason. My maid is too scared and shy to approach any doctor or psychologist any longer on the issue. She feels her daughter has grown too old for that. She is concerned about what her neighbours might think,. whether it would later on affect her daughter’s married life. Howmuchever I try to convince her to come with me to a specialist, she refuses. She believes her daughter will be fine some day as she herself grew out of the habit over time  …

I shall be the happiest if that happens… Or may be she is right, we must try to ignore the problem. And the girl who is self-conscious up until now about the bedwetting would get alright on her own…

The mother and the girl – and their dreams and trials and tribulations… Its a moving story. I am ashamed of my nation, my society, of the class divide, of the insecurity of the masses, of the injustice they suffer from and more than all by the way they meekly surrender without a fight. They know they have lost it. What it is to be really poor and at receiving end in India – I am seeing before my eyes every single day.

The little girl’s menstruation coupled with the bedwetting habit totally funks me. Sleeping with the lights on…

Once I get back to Chennai, I have to take it up with my maid again. We cannot let it wait any longer. The girl is attending an English school. The silver lining in the cloud is that hopefully one day in the future she will become a graduate – the first woman to earn a degree in her entire clan. So its high time her medical or psychological disorder is dealt with with the seriousness it deserves. More than anything, hygiene is important. If a qualified expert says all will be well without treatment, I am willing to consider that. Or whether the girl should wait until she marries as her mother says… Is it alright to meddle in others’ life. These are the questions I ask myself now.

What are the long term effects on health of individuals who are deprived for years, fitful night sleep. Is it normal to be in light all 24 hours a day – in sunlight during the day and electric light by the night hours. What are the psychological side effects. Very disturbing thoughts.

I keep calling my maid from here. Looks like the little girl has adjusted back nicely to the school routine. She has gotten her 2nd month’s periods. But the bed-wetting continues… The young mother sounded tired and hopelessly sad. The men in the family – her husband and son are suffering in a way too. The little girl’s habit has now multiplied many times over. And then there are the grandparents to consider … ‘We all are keeping awake the whole nights for 5 days now’ said ‘S.’ Never have i felt more sick.

How many of us even bother to spare a moment to think of the lives of our house helps or drivers or cooks. Many times I think about helping the family with their housing needs but I decide, helping with the children’s education is more important. The family as I said, is very proud even if poor. Any extra help you may want to give them, they shy away with shame cursing their own helplessness. They are the kind of rural folks who can be easily wounded. They don’t want help – beyond a certain point. I am actually happy with that. How much they value self-respect, honour and dignity even in their desolate living conditions unwilling to compromise. What a difference from our politicians. ‘Akka when my son starts working, he will raise a loan and build us a proper home’ says my maid.

There are things money can never buy.

I have tried to sleep with the lights on – never succeeded.

The only times I had the lights on during the entire night were when my parents passed away and my FIL died. Unless it is exam times for my son, lights on in the night always brings back tragic memories to me.

India’s issues are very complex, complicated. Poverty and gender discrimination and illiteracy compound to our woes. Those of us who are lucky are so very insensitive to care for those on who we tread over. Our greed snatches away the poors’ just share. Every 2nd or 3rd flat or house we buy, we are pushing the unfortunate into a further cramped dark corner.  Their petty world is bleak and hopeless. The day my maid told me she washed as many soiled sheets and mats of her daughter in their dirty bathroom after the night bed-wetting by her daughter on her getting her 1st periods, I could not sleep in my comfortably bed. I tossed and turned for hours thinking of the girl, the family sitting or lying with the lights on, and mother and daughter making numerous trips to their dingy bathroom… the whole night… If I don’t feel guilty after this, I am not human.

Modi government, please think twice before land acquisition. This is my hearty, earnest request to you. We can beat the mute and the invisible black and blue and they can take it, but it breaks my heart to see this happen to them. Industrialization, urbanization is necessary, but please do it without trampling upon our poor and squashing them into pathetic pieces. There is nobody to take their sides, nobody to argue their cases, they will give up easy – but think of the spirit we crush, the hopes we dash, the lives we crumple… I am certain my government will have some humanitarian considerations… If you have to uproot anyone at all, relocate them favourably.  Ambanis can have 27 storied palatial houses. The poor of India are not clamouring after big bungalows. All they want is to be left alone and not disturbed.

Quote Unquote :

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Life gives the poor very few concessions – and one among them is their ability to celebrate the smaller joys. Something most of us are incapable of.

If I ever get to go on date with Shri Narendra Modiji (!), for even 5-10 minutes, this is the real and only life story I want to tell him. I think I will cover everything I may want to tell him with that.

My heart feels so heavy you know… ? I thought I must share this story.

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PS: It’s over 5 years since I wrote the original story. Finally my maid family had a hearty housewarming this Nov 26th and the family have moved into their little heaven of a home. A beautiful warm nest. Yes, this time I did not hesitate to visit them on their D day. My maid sent me special breakfast and lunch and dinner ordered from a restaurant because she wanted to give me back something that day. Even my mother-in-law was moved. My maid’s neighbours surrounded me. I asked her the next day whether she slept fitfully in the new house. She said, ‘yes akka, for the first time in all these years, with the tubelight switched off but sleep is somewhat eluding, because sleeping with lights on is 20 year habit!’

The family is super excited about their new home with running water and taps and tiled bathroom and open terrace built with their savings of a lifetime and a little loan. Ever since, they are trying hard to sleep in pitch dark with the lights switched off which is new to them!

The little girl is now in college but attending classes online because of corona pandemic. Hopefully she grows out of the menacing habit soon in this newfound peace and harmony of their lives.

Posted in Books

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Ken Follett has done it again. This is the last time I am reading this arrogant haughty fellow. Lost all respect for him. I doubted he must be racial for the way he wrote about World war II painting the US and allies like saints and trivializing the Hiroshima Nagasaki bombing in Japan by the US (Winter of the world). Such a fellow can never be trusted, I must have known.

For someone who glorified the democracies and villainified communism, it is therefore natural not to write a page about how the USSR remained a reason for PM Indira Gandhi to crush the nefarious designs of Nixon and Kissinger who sided and plotted with Pakistan. Mrs. Gandhi taught the duo the lesson they never forgot in life. Mrs Gandhi was there lot before Margaret Thatcher became UK’s PM. She bifurcated Pakistan into two and created Bangladesh out of the eastern half. The terror supporting elected governments of the US always favoured Pakistan over India that remained neutral (as a non-aligned nation at least officially). The looming threat of USSR which was India’s ally thwarted any US mischief from fighting/invading India on behalf of/along with Pakistan.

What kind of author is this man who seems to be suffering from selective amnesia for the only reason that he wants to show only US/West in good light. He underplays the work done by communists and overplays the democracy card (read America). Communism has had its advantage. Indian state of Kerala is a standing example. China, even if India’s dire adversary, has developed uniformly because of communist principles only. Is democracy a panacea for all. Capitalists are bloodsucking leeches basically. They are no better than communists who are the polar opposite.

This Follett fellow must write about the British atrocities as well if he is so bent on writing from pages of history. How about starting with Jallian Walah Bagh. Queen Elizabeth shamelessly sports the Kohinoor diamond stolen from India. If UK is to be stripped off all the stolen wealth from native people and nations some day, then they will go bankrupt before sundown. Gives me ample satisfaction that the Pakistanis are now taking over the UK. Soon England will become the first ever caliphate of Europe. Serves them right.

Day is not for when all Brits will be on welfare. Karma is best served cold. Asians are ruling the roost everywhere. We need no certification from these racist fellows. How many native human races/aborigines as well as wildlife these Brits have rendered extinct. Ethnic cleansing.

There wasn’t an iota of sympathy in the book for the blacks – it is mere superficial and inaccurate recording of events. It is a coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum now, with Trump losing the US elections. Follett’s racial reference to Saudi diplomat referring to Indian servant is deliberate racial slight.

US invading smaller nations is open secret. How many countries destroyed. How many economies devastated. How many societies plundered for gain. All in the name of Democracy I hope? Who made with the oil and gas in Iraq or Syria. Who stands to gain from fallen nations. UK is the main ally note.

DON’T READ. DON’T WASTE A PENNY ON KEN FOLLETT. How he even saves the face of Germans from Nazi era portraying them as decent (Franck) family! Sickening. This guy is not bothered about values. He is only for making money. He will touch any low.

India is now a heaven for good writing including in English language. Such a rich literary culture we have. Soft power that never lived sucking others’ blood and making a living on the grave of native races. Proudly an Indian, proudly a Hindu. Churchill was No.1 scoundrel who bled nations and shamelessly built his country stealing from hapless defenceless Asian African nations. And if this Churchill is portrayed as kind of hero in UK, then we will have scum like Follett only, what else.

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I was not even in standard 5 (in 1970s) when I heard my granny and my mom discuss Kennedy’s assassination (which happened before my birth). My granny read the Warren report. She was born in 1926. Our relative took our copy and never returned.

One more snippet from such an innocent pre-teen age. My granny told me, Jackie Kennedy threw her wedding ring into Kennedy’s grave which meant she ought not to have (re)married Onassis! My god, she (my granny) hardly studied upto third standard! Years later may be in 1990s, there was a news in local media that one of the Kennedy children and Jackie happened to live anonymously at Mahabalipuram near Chennai in a seaside villa. After an year or a couple of years they were found out when they flew back to US. This is unconfirmed report. I don’t know how my brain has retained this kind of information from my very young years to this day! Especially such very specific details!

My political interest i owe therefore entirely to my granny. She read both the Hindu (English paper) and the Tamil newspaper Dina Thanthi every single day. She showed me once a photo and lead story in Tamil newspaper and told me about Bhutto’s hanging. That was the first time I heard about Pakistan/started taking note of Pakistan. My granny told me Zia hung Bhutto.

My little women! My granny and my mom were very intelligent, sharp women. I take immense pride in that, my mom was working in 1965-66 a good half century ago. Very strong unflinching character. The kind of info they processed and the books they read! Clearly women in sari donning a bindi in forehead are not as naive as some fools in the west think. Yet our women were very homely and devoted to family.

In 1999-91 I was doing my masters in Econometrics in Madras University (final year) after graduating with a degree in Maths in 1989. So my economics knowledge was not too great but I tried best to learn. With Math background, economics was like greek and latin to me.

What I cannot forget from my PG days is the visit to my department by a professor from University of Kiev, Ukraine. He was on a tour of India and for his last leg, he was visiting Madras. He spoke to us for 2 hrs. In 1990/91, India was not even in globalization phase. Yet, even I remember how rich India was. The professor told our class, he was bedazzled by the kind of foodstuff (vegetables, fruits), spices, handicrafts, wealth (gold, silks etc) and merchandise that India boasted. All local made. No shortages, no queues anywhere. He did tell us how they in USSR had to stand in queue for even buying their daily bread which was their staple food. He couldn’t believe that India was portrayed a poor country in USSR or elsewhere in the west including in Europe. On contrary he found that everything was in abundance in India. He said, he just couldn’t have enough of India. He saw big hoardings of the Hindi film “Brashtachchar’ starring Rajnikanth in the metros and asked the hosts the meaning for the title of the film. When he was told the meaning was ‘corruption’ he couldn’t believe Indians had this kind of liberty to make film on govt corruption to be screened for masses. He was moved relating this story to us. He said he was shopping at Raymonds, shopped for all things made in India, crafts, silver, whatever. He was dumbfounded by the quality of merchandise, the textiles, the spirit of India, the magnetism and spirituality of the Hindu dharma.

This professor came visiting to lecture us on communism and Russian model economy but he found that India had a robust mixed economy from grassroots level. He said he was taking back home lessons from India. From India model.

He also told us about Gorbachev who was their president then. I vaguely remember the words Perestroika and Glasnost from newspapers in those years. He asked us whether we knew about it all. It amazes me only now that we had firsthand information on the Balkanization of the Soviet Union right from the horse’s mouth. Perfect timing. Right then, I must say I did not appreciate that I was one of a kind of witness that day to history unfolding in our very times, in front of our very eyes. My department was lukewarm but hopefully the story in Delhi campuses was different. In that age when information was not spread like wildfire, we were aware of only the bringing down of the Berlin wall, not much else. Besides, India is always consumed first by our own domestic events and happenings. A lot was happening with Rajiv Gandhi gearing back for midterm elections. My personal life went for a toss. Last on my agenda was interest on Soviet Union matters. The Kiev professor said soon Ukraine would be a free independent nation. But he also was concerned about those like Lithuania, Estonia etc., that he doubted may not be faring well without help from Russia. Despite myself I enjoyed the long interactive session although we were all being lulled to our inevitable daily dose of afternoon siesta. Our classroom faced the Bay of Bengal and the gentle sea breeze was blowing sweet.

After the Ukranian left, the cold war came to an end and the USSR broke up into handful of independent nations that started looking towards west.

I was thinking about this professor whose name I cannot recall as I toured Georgia and also Azerbaijan in last 3 years that look like poorer cousins of European countries. I had a firsthand view of the Russian infrastructure that looked perfectly fine to me.

As far as I am concerned, these breakaway nations from the erstwhile USSR are not yet commercialized or corrupted because, they were under the protective wings of Russia. Even if supposedly human rights may have been stifled by the Russians, the kind of REAL development we have in these countries is astonishing. Marvelous. My husband is an engineer by profession and he has decades of rich experience in industrial engineering including in O&G, expressways with flyovers and underpasses, even reservoirs. I value his views therefore. I loved even the soviet cabs. They were roomy and unlike anything you might ever have seen in US or Europe or Middle East or India. Automobile engineering of a different but sophisticated kind. Highways are another league no way inferior to US. All other European nations (that i have toured) are like beggar nations really compared to the truly wealthy Georgia and Azerbaijan that are rich in mineral resources, nature and beauty not yet corrupted or stolen by the greedy west. Rivers are lush. Population is less. No absolute poverty. Ideal and idyllic lifestyle. If given an option, I would rather choose to live in Georgia over Switzerland or Austria! Simple but heartwarming peasant lifestyle still with a good standard of living. Hundreds of Indian medical aspirants attend universities in Georgia. I hope these breakaway Soviet nations remain cautious and don’t let their guards down. Let it not be the case of frying pan to fire. Azerbaijan highways omg! Totally a different level of engineering and technology including when it comes to oil & gas! Georgian wine! Even food is native not confined to mere burgers and fries. The west is fake. Dear Soviet block nations, do not trust America or UK. Never.

Our Georgian cab driver presented us with a big bottle of home brewn red wine from his cellar. As we were flying back to Doha where we could not bring liquor, we polished off every drop right there in Georgia! I relished the vegetarian Georgian cuisine that was so authentic, and their homemade energy bars with local dryfruits and nuts. Unforgettable holiday! Cheap and best! Highly recommend! Georgian villages were charming. The leeside of the Ural mountains is awesome. This country is underexplored and not high on tourist radar. Do it before it becomes one more sore tourist spot. Slightly affluent Azerbaijan is dangerously inclined towards Iran which is not healthy. So far so good, but we have to wait and watch. Big bro Russia kept everyone in check no doubt.

Dear Georgia and Azerbaijan, kick capitalist trademarks Marks & Spencers, Burger King etc., out of your nations and close your doors to the west even if you do not want to be with Russia. These are no saints but wolves in sheep clothing. You will be fine on your own. Don’t be in a hurry to sell yourselves to US for peanuts.

Posted in Extras

Please someone send me hot hot samosas, bhajis, filter coffee & masala chai NOW!

(at this moment greatest relief is that, idli batter is fully stocked in fridge, and all podis such as paruppu podi, karuveppilai podi and all thokkus such as tomato thokku are ready with vathal/appalam in tins. Rice & atta in good reserve, all dals there. Coffee, tea there. Channa etc., there. Broken coconuts half a dozen in freezer. Dry red chili, tamarind there. Even if lockdown is announced right now, can survive without milk for a month hahaha!)

After many years, Chennai is blessed bountifully with both the South West Monsoons (July-Sep) and North East Monsoons (Oct-Dec), because we are having this continuous wet spell right from August first week. There has not been a day when it has not rained since, that it reminds me of typical ‘kaar kaalam’ we used to have in our childhood when Monsoons did not necessarily mean cyclonic storms. Months of monsoons is happening now only once in a couple of years of more, never every year as it used to once upon a time…

Monsoons meant hot spicy bajjis and bondas and rounds and rounds of filter coffee and masala chai. From granny’s kitchen, that came steaming right from the stove nonstop. However, now to realize that you are expected to supply all this to your family in the rains is tooooooo muchhhhhhhh….! Never be born a woman!

I am tired, bored! Please just courier me hot plates of samosas with pudina chutney, onion bhajjis with sambhar and coconut chutney, strong hot & steaming filter coffee and also masala chai that i will finish my evening tiffin with!

Even Swiggy & Dunzo not working !!!

Braving your MIL and telling her in face that only Paruppu Podi saadham on menu today is not easy! Managed that! Still had to fry the papads and roast Seppam kizhangu! Also make dosa and coconut chutney! Absolutely didn’t feel like getting up from my bed this morning when it was pouring cats and dogs … but thinking of the souls waiting hungrily for your food got me reluctantly out of my comfy bed… puja is there then… Just finished the lunch assignment!

Before being summoned for next round in kitchen, let me take a break! Already working out in mind, what to do for dinner and for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch!!! Thankfully, oily bhajji ruled out by family otherwise I must be now deepfrying Vaazhaikkai bhajji in this rain!!! Tv also taken over by MIL and the kids!

Btw, love the monsoons! 60 hours of nonstop rains is in very distant memory now. Last had it may be in 2015 when I was in Doha, so I completely missed it.

For Varada cyclone, i was returning via Dubai. In Dubai my flight got suspended and I had to spend over 12 hours at DxB but the airport is very good there. I was offered hotel accommodation but I wanted to reach Chennai fastest. Opted to stay in the airport. Slept sitting in waiting lounge. Restrooms were fine and unlimited supply of snacks provided, so I was saved. I comfortably chose a spot near the charging point.

Reached Chennai around midnight then. Neither me nor my hubby could reach anyone via phone in Chennai. Four days earlier, I called my regular cab fellow and told him about my arrival that was to have been the previous day. I walked out of the airport and couldn’t spot a taxi. Landlines alone were functioning but a long queue. My house was locked and I didn’t know where to go in the midnight. Unsure, I trolleyed my baggage to outside airport. Lo and behold, my regular cabbie waved to me, looking tired and spent! He told me, he was checking every flight they allowed after Varada after I called. I was not taking a straight flight. I flew in via DxB but I was alert enough to put in a word to him. His phone was down, he could not talk to my folks, he could not talk to my hubby or me, but he parked near Nanganallur and returned to airport for every flight landing in Meenambakkam. That is how he spotted me. His thorough professionalism and also humanity really amazes me even now.

Four days earlier I had also alerted my MIL, after which I could not reach my people via phone. She had taken cue and had arrived a day early in the storm keeping the gate open for me. She was there to open my door when I rang the bed in unearthly hours. There was no way I could call her in advance. Quite an adventure!

All the way I could spot the havoc wrecked by Varada just the previous day. Every standing tree in Chennai was down. Many roads blocked. My cabbie cleverly maneuvered his car avoiding flooded streets and those blocked with fallen trees.

I missed the 2015 flooding of Chennai but I did get to see the immediate after-effects of cyclone Varada in 2017. That was also to be the last time I flew in and out via Dubai. Soon UAE closed their doors to Qatar residents. Earlier I used to routinely switch flights in Dubai or Sharjah or Bahrain because their airlines were cheap and best. Now switching flights only in Colombo or opting for straight flight, whatever the ticket price. Hopefully with Biden, the situation in Middle East also gets resolved. Unnecessary travel hassles to third party NRIs. I miss switching flights in DxB. Facilitywise it is best. In very few airports you can last 12 to 18 hours nibbling on burgers and chips. I had my laptop, phone charger, cell phone, and the knowledge that their restrooms are clean gave me peace. We women have to factor in a lot of things. Doha airport is one level up now. We have the best, best in the league. I miss being there. How I wish my country can ensure this level of comfort to all air passengers.

Btw, i could have postponed my air travel, but the concerned airlines that I do not want to name, gave me false assurance that flights operated normally in Chennai then. They were eager to dump passengers and avoid cancellations, as I realized later. I wanted to rebook but they said onward flights were on. They weren’t bothered that I would be stranded in DxB for more than 12 hours in midnight. My fellow passengers shared a similar fate.

Flying in this weather… omg… Imagine being stranded in Colombo or Meenambakkam or even any of our local airports!!! Finished!

What I hate about men: Even in Doha or wherever, whenever we return from somewhere including shopping or walking or a tour, always trust your hubby to fix him his chai or coffee first!!! Just hate men for their insensitivity! And there they curl up to go back to sleep whereas you load the washing machine and start the next round of cooking because, after all you’ve been eating restaurant food for days when you were on holiday! And being a woman, you just can’t go to sleep without a care in the world as men do! I can’t! Unless I guess some semblance is restored in the house and the suitcases are unpacked I can’t sleep in peace just like that!

Posted in Food For Soul

going vegan… from vegan silk to vegan leather…

Many of us raised vegetarian from birth still have no qualms about leather or silk in our everyday life. We try to rationalize our guilt trip justifying, our belt or purse is ethical leather. We can’t be without dairy either which is far more horrific than even leather industry or meat processing where the cattle/sheep die a single death.

Is it time to move away from our phony vegetarian values and adopt a sustainable, humanitarian lifestyle.

Try as I may, I am unable to grow out of my obsession with silk living so close to Kanjivaram (Kanchipuram) geographically. Traditionally too, ours is a silk weaving community, mostly hailing from Kanchi and Arni, although our folks have almost completely weaned themselves out of our native occupation in recent times. I do still have a few relatives left out who have installed ‘thari’ or handlooms in their ‘thazhvarams’ and ‘mithams’ (front yard, courtyard, backyard etc., in traditional tiled ‘ottu’ veedu or house typical of Tamil Nadu that are fast disappearing even from our villages – that are big and airy and impressive) and keep weaving as family: daughter-in-law to mother-in-law to son and daughter – as they did their chores like cooking, cleaning etc., side by side. One lady told me they wove this way one or two handspun Kanchi silks watching our tv soaps in the evenings as dinner was served! The men tended to the marketing/business part.

In fact, our family tree grew along this silk road to success! Arni is my father-in-law’s hometown. Even now there stands his ancestral home with 4 grand entrances in 4 streets, with a family temple close to one gate (where outsiders were not allowed up until very recently), a second one dedicated to business deeds with big enormous ‘thinnais’ that served like modern day showrooms in the bygone era…, one entrance reserved for women alone and one for servants. Erected in late 1800s, the colossal palatial edifice stands today as a testimony to the family heirloom and wealth that was spun out of Kanchi/Arni silk business by our forefathers. Silk is therefore much more than a simple attire to us. Silk meant food and livelihood for centuries.

Senguntha Mudaliars built their fortunes with silk industry which was patronized by the royals, the British and the temples all at the same time. Very conservative and pious community, they diversified soon to become successful doctors and engineers by the turn of the century. Now very few families stick to the traditional profession. Astonishingly, the business has been taken over by Naidus and Reddys of Chennai! Sengunthas started owning huge estates with money made from silk business and donated heavily to upkeep of Hindu temples around world war times. I know because my grandfather gave away dozens of houses within Chennai city limits to various temples as my family signed on the dotted line without asking a single question. My in laws families too gave up. We are blessed not to have an iota of regret for what we have given up. All the silk money is gone and with it we lost our native occupation as well to new ventures that are doing extremely well. Times change. Life changes. A 2000 year old familial knowledge and heritage and customary practice is now not in our hands.

Markandeya is believed to be the sage who gifted the art of weaving to Sengunthas as we believe, hence mostly Markandeya gotra. Pazhaiyana azhidhalum, pudhiyana pugalum. Absolutely no regrets about the modern day transformation.

My mom who taught until the last day of her life deaf and dumb middle school girls, had a severe aversion for silk. All her life, she wore silk only on 2 occasions: on her wedding day and for our house grihapravesham. A true vegetarian.

However, I have never been able to resist the temptation of silk, any silk for that matter. Give me anything be it Benaras or Tussar or Mysore or Maheshwari or Assamese or Chanderi or Patola or Bandhni or Uppada or Gadwal or Jamdani or Kota or Kashmiri … hahaha I will take it without a second thought!!! Of course, my reigning queen in Kanchi Silk !!! Not only because we have an emotional familial bond with Kanchi silk that bred my ancestors, but also because, from experience of traveling and shopping (even if not much) a little bit I can tell you, Kanchi is No.1 silk in the world that women and designers and fashionistas outside India are dying to lay their hands on! Undisputable No.1. To think that my forefathers perfected this Kanchi silk weaving art and robed the Gods and Goddesses and Kings and Queens, makes me proud kind of.

So Vegan silk always raises for me these uncomfortable questions. Profound shaivites who thronged temples, Sengunthas still wove silk out of the silkworms drowning cocoons in boiling steaming water. Every single traditional vegetarian family in south still draped this sinful silk most importantly on auspicious occasions like family weddings and pujas and other celebrations, and to temples. Why this self-contradiction.

I have heard of Ahimsa silk which I believe is only partially less evil. In regular silk, the silk worms in cocoons are boiled in a cauldron. For Ahimsa silk, the silk worm is let out and the cocoon is separated for silk yarn. Tragedy is, prematurely ejected from the cocoon, the silkworms die a torturous death after a few hours of miserable life on earth, before being brushed enmasse onto garbage. In what way is Ahimsa silk better than regular silk.

Talking to someone who shunned silks and leather entirely in last few years, I was disturbed to learn how the tearful vibes of the millions of silkworms that sacrifice their lives in most crushing cruelest manner get spun into the silk robe you drape. Same holds true for leather. Every leather accessory we may use still may moan quietly with the tragic vibes of the animal (cow or sheep or goat or buffalo) whose life was violently snuffed out by skinner-butcher. At least a fraction of such a bad vibe can get transformed into our soul and influence our own aura. This can have a lasting effect on our spirituality and even perception of things, life. There is therefore a compulsive need to grow out of silk and leather. It asks for greater mental strength to rise about these materialistic temptations, but I guess I could be ready.

Vegan silk I believe is a great alternative because it is mostly made from plant cellulose. In specific cases, microfibers may be woven into the vegan fabric/textile upon request or as situation/design demanded. For the first time ever, I am going for Vegan silk that is completely animal abuse-free. I can have a clear conscience donning the silk. I am trying to stop silk shopping completely now and switch over 100% to vegan silks. Because vegan or whatever, my fascination for silk continues! At the same time at the back of my mind I recall that this Kanchi silk is what fed my ancestors for generations and generations. I am here because of Kanchi silk to say NO to Kanchi silk! What an irony. But this is something that has to be done without sentiment or prejudice. Sooner or later….

Vegan leather too similarly is mostly made from plant cellulose that is bio-degradable. Great alternative to leather. Leather industry with its toxic chemical dyes for effluents also is a great pollutant of our rivers and other water sources. All the more a good reason to say a big NO to leather, ethical or whatever. By the way, what is ethical leather. The hides and skins used by ethical leather units reportedly are procured from meat industry through regular channels. Does that make leather ethical by any means?

I also have always owned leather purses, handbags, belts etc up until now. Somewhere we must make a beginning. Stopping forthwith, leather shopping.

What is very testy is, giving up dairy. I gave up coffee for 10 months but it was torturous. Then I decided that no Mother Goddess wanted me to give up coffee!!! So saying ‘excuse me, i am starting coffee Ma 😀 ‘ to Her one fine morning, I restarted my coffee routine! Similarly living without milk or panneer or curd or buttermilk seems next to impossible! As a vegetarian I find dairy to be my greatest comfort food! Can’t just do with Almond milk or Soya milk – which I have tried in futility in Doha.

As for eggs and meat, many are switching over to organic eggs and organic poultry as well. The poultry industry breeds caged broiler chicken that are pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones. Something our younger generation must keep away from, because this can be very damaging. And to think about what the poultry birds have to go through! Meat consumption has gone up in India only in recent years. Earlier when I was a kid, meat was a luxury reserved to very rich few. Others saw meat once or twice an year only. Biriyani is the greatest health hazard to our youngsters. Unhealthy with spicy content that can cause heartburn and bathed in oil, this foreign food needs regulation. I am that rare vegetarian who can turn out the best mutton and chicken biriyani from my kitchen (as certified by guests) without ever knowing how it tastes, but I only use organic meat. Seafood is better than river fish as river fish swallows a lot of toxins.

Size of fish in Doha and size of fish in India raise another important question. My husband favours Shankara (red snapper) fish which is of 6 inch plate size end to end by length in Middle East, caught from the Arabian Gulf seas. In India the same fish is much, much smaller in size almost only half in size, which indicates we are overfishing. Very soon our oceans could be running dry of fish. Scary.

So back to basics, finally…

I will post updates on this one, as to how well I am doing with my Vegan silk and Vegan leather. As for my existing silk and leather, I am keeping them because I have invested heavily in them over years. But no more fresh buy where it concerns silk and leather. I would like to spread the message.

Let us think of a Vegan silk India and Vegan leather India. My only request to vegan businesses is that, please don’t go easy on polyurethane or other such micro fibers in vegan leather or silk, in which case original silk and leather will look like top-of-the-line always. We are all for eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle but we will not give up silk and leather for microfibers and plastics instead. Make sure, the vegan leather and silk are one hundred percent plant based. Reforest/afforest the deforested ranges that your industry derives raw material from. This is a very important angle we have to look into.

Always after silk, cotton is my immediate next choice. Sustainable, bio-degradable and suiting Indian climatic conditions, and 100% desi, Indian cotton is one more No.1 in the world. Absolute class when it comes to the yarns and weaves we have from different states of India. In foreign residence, climate may require me to go for manmade fibres but given a choice, my vote is always for pure silk/cotton. However from now on, it will be Vegan silk and Vegan leather. Let’s see.

Posted in food as therapy..., Welcome to my blog!

Mixed Millet Idli & Dosa

Mixed Millet Idli & Dosa

Ingredients for batter :

Varagu (Kodo Millet) (Kodra) – 1 cup

Kudiraivali (Barnyard Millet) (Jhangora) – 1 cup

Saamai (Little Millet) (Kutki) – 1 cup

Quinoa (Seemai Thinai) – 1/4 cup

Thinai (Foxtail Millet) (Kangni) – 1/2 cup

Kambu (Pearl Millet) (Bajra) -1/2 cup

Cholam (Sorghum) (Jowar) – 1/4 cup

Urad Dal – 1 and 1/4 cups to be soaked with 1 tsp Fenugreek (Methi) (Vendhayam) seeds.

Salt to taste (Pink Himalayan Rock/Crystal salt used)

Water for grinding

All millets used in this recipe are organic. Only Urad dal is not certified organic. All these listed millets are also native to India except for Quinoa. Before rice and wheat consumption became fashionable this century, our forefathers mostly ate millet three times a day. Even now, villagers in India have millets for main course. Ragi Mudde is popular in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu peasants have Kezhvaragu koozh for breakfast.

I left out Ragi/Kezhvaragu (Finger Millet) (Mandua in Hindi) because, mostly in roti flour I mix Ragi flour 1 tsp and flax seed powder 1/2 tsp. Moreover, Ragi will make Idli appear very darker. Consistency also may not be upto mark on grinding the batter. May be a handful can be added.

How to grind the batter?

Mix all millets together and rinse clean. Leave standing water for soaking overnight. (Eight hour soaking recommended)

Soak urad dal and methi seeds together.

Grind to buttery consistency the urad dal first.

Grind to coarse consistence, the mixed millets. Little millets may remain unground, but it is fine.

Pour the mixed millet batter on top of ground urad dal and stir well. You can salt at this stage.

Keep aside. No need to add baking or cooking soda or yeast.

Batter will ferment and raise well on its own just like regular Idli/dosa batter in a couple of hours (or more).

Refrigerate and make Idli/Dosa like regular Idli/Dosa.

Millets are rich in vitamins and minerals. Totally gluten-free and are slow to digest. Therefore ideal for the diabetic or pre-diabetic. However, Millets may be consumed with caution in case of thyroid malfunction. Perfect weight-loss diet.

Power breakfast to kickstart your day with! Sumptuous, nutritious, filling, lighter at the same time. Soft, fluffy, melting in mouth. Best served with Mint-Coriander (Pudina-Dhaniya) Coconut Chutney and Lentil Sambhar and Urad Dal Vada.

Posted in food as therapy...

Murungai Keerai Pirattal (Moringa Leaf Curry)

This is very basic, still I thought this must have a spot in my blog.

Murungai or Moringa is poor man’s vegetable in south India. Moringa is our native tree. Lower middle class homes have the tree almost always in their backyard or frontyard. Hence there is an abundance of murungakai (Moringa veg) and murungai keerai (moringa leaf) supply anyday in local markets.

In my case, my street has many homes with Mururgai tree so i get both Murungai keerai and Murungai kai free most of the times.

Moringa is also considered auspicious vegetable! No wedding feast without Murungaikai sambar.

Murungai health properties are well documented. Besides being a terrific immunity booster, the murungai family is rich in essential nutrition that keeps cancer away. Cheap and best, Murungai is naturally an integral part of south Indian cooking. Kirumi nashini (germ killer).

My interest in Moringa grew manifold when I started noticing Moringa based beauty products in Bodyshop in Doha. Ever since, of course, I started including Moringa more into my food routine. (As we Indians continue to sleep, many of our traditional medicinal recipes are being patented for profit in the west).

Although many of us have Murungai sambhar and Murungai poriyal pretty often, not everyone has an appetite for Murungai Keerai. However, it is mainstay of my kitchen always.

For Murungai Keerai Pirattal, I took a big bunch of Murungai branch leaves that my housemaid plucked for free (!) from a neighbour’s tree!!!

Here are the ingredients:

Murungai Keerai bunch

Onion medium -1

Garlic – a few pods

Dry Red chili – 2 or 3

Coconut scraped – 1 or 2 tbsp (optional)

Peppercorn – 1/2 tsp

Salt to taste (used Himalayan Pink Rock/Crystal salt)

Water a little (optional)

Oil for tempering: I use either Gingely oil or Coconut oil both coldpressed 2 tsp

For tempering: 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp broken or whole urad dal

Method:

Pluck the Murungai or Moringa leaves carefully from the stems. Rinse in running water and keep aside.

Grate onion fine

Crush the garlic. I use a stone pound (what we call ‘ammi’ in Tamil)

Break the dry red chili and de-seed.

Crush the pepper corn. You can do this while crushing the garlic.

Heat the oil in a kadai (I use either cast iron kadai or clay kadai only)

When the oil is about to smoke, temper with mustard seeds and urad dal and dry red chili.

When the seeds splutter, add the onion and saute to golden brown.

Add next the crushed garlic-pepper corn.

Finally add the rinsed moringa leaves.

Add little water but mostly not needed.

Cover and cook to a crispy tender. Won’t take more than a few minutes. Under 10 min precisely.

When the murunga keerai has no more water retention, add the grated coconut.

Salt to taste.

Stir well and switch off fire.

Result: the Murugai Kai Keerai Pirattal (pic) which can be had as a subji or be mixed with rice for main course. Serve with a tsp on ghee with rice.

A must for teenage children. Moringa is a staple vegetable in our families always. But of late, our traditional vegetables and greens are hardly appreciated by the younger generation. Today we see many women in twenties with ovarian cysts etc. Infertility is on rise. Moringa is one tree that is truly organic because, it grows right in your backyard. It is pesticide and chemical fertilizer free. One good reason to make Murugai keerai and Murungai Kai poriyal/sambar a compulsory part of your weekly diet. Moringa or the Murungai family is credited with natural fertility properties and other medicinal values as per Ayurveda. It is not without a reason that our families have traditionally made Murungai a vital part of our everyday menu.

So is Murungai Keerai yummy? Not sure about that! Mostly it is acquired taste for us hahaha! But today’s Murungai Keerai Poriyal was too good which is the reason I am posting it here in my blog.

PS: Btw I just loved the subtle fragrance of Moringa moisturizer in Bodyshop !!! Was like none other! So original! I can’t believe the MNCs took the Moringa out of India to make cosmetics from face creams to perfumes!

Posted in food as therapy..., Food Porn

what’s cookin’ : straight from my tawa and kadai

I stopped posting recipes long back because, (1) am not a foodie (2) not a gourmet cook (3) just a regular everyday housewife left with no option than cooking (4) mine is literally hole-in-the-wall 9×6 tiniest minutest kitchen (5) don’t find cooking captivating though cathartic at times like writing this blog (6) prefer eating out during weekends (7) jelebis and halwas and laddoos and murukkus are best at Grand Sweets and Shree Mithai hahaha !!! so why give them competition !!!

Even so, decided to add one or two authentic recipes here that i have perfected on improvisations over traditional methods …. No new found passion for cooking. There are many many more with such a crushing devotion and interest in cooking. Mine is average/normal fare as i said sans any frill – just the mundane run-of-the-mill stuff minus the paraphernalia such as window dressings like presentation while serving, topping etc., etc., displaying your cutlery and table/dining ware that you hardly use otherwise (only guests are lucky in our homes to sample our precious dinnerware!!!)

Food for me must be sumptuous, nutritious and delicious at the same time. I don’t believe in dieting. Eat heartily until you burp. Then work out. That’s my fitness mantra.

Will try to pull up a few old ones too from a previous blog.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

Anandhi

In the times of Kamala Harris for VP and feminism, I would like to share a real life story from Mylapore from the late 80s-early 90s.

It is about Anandhi, our housemaid. She was from a village in rural Tamil Nadu. I can’t believe that I never even once asked her about her nativity in all those years she was with us.

Actually I don’t think she would have been older than me by more than 10 years. She was married off as an 18 year old when she was still working their farms, to a rickshaw puller in Santhome area. He was an alcoholic who also physically abused her, not earning a single decent rupee. Anandhi’s mother-in-law supported her and the humble lower middle-class home of theirs was her in-laws. Owing to poverty, Anandhi walked to our house, a few streets away for helping us with our domestic chores. She was picky about who she worked for. In our case, she was taken in by the fact that two teenage motherless girls cooked, packed lunch, studied on their own as their saintly father never spoke a word to them. ‘Paavam pa nee’ she used to tell me often then.

Anandhi was very thin herself that I almost felt guilty taking her help for our laborious menial work at home. However, she never took a day off except for one month in summers to go back to her hometown for a vacation. She also slightly limped.

Anandhi told me that her husband had undergone vasectomy for government money of 500 rupees during Sanjay Gandhi period. He married her without disclosing the truth to her. So Anandhi was childless. Often she was sick as well. She also worked for my aunt family. My uncle opened a bank account for her. Anandhi hid the information of working for me to her husband and saved her salary every month in the bank.

Life went on. Life was all consuming. Life was trying. Life was tough.

Finally it was time for me to get married and move over to my in laws’ place. After my marriage I came to know that there was no news on Anandhi’s whereabouts. She had simply vanished from the scene without a trace. It was a time before the cell phones became commonplace. We knew where Anandhi lived but somehow missed finding out about her.

One day when I was visiting Mylapore with my 2 year old son, there was a knock on the door. My aunt opened the door to greet Anandhi carrying an infant boy. We were all shocked and surprised and confused at the same time.

Anandhi had disappeared around the time of my marriage. Next 2 to 3 years there was no information on her. We even feared the worst about her. That probably her drunk husband had killed her in rage in one of their regular nightly spats even if Anandhi was very, very softspoken. So imagine our delight on seeing her! But the baby?

Anandhi then stunned us relating to us what happened to her since 1993.

Around the time of my marriage, she found that she had advanced TB. Unwilling to upset her rural and aged and poor folks, not wanting to disturb us or her family, she quietly got herself admitted in government Tambaram Sanatorium TB hospital as an inpatient without a single penny in her hand, where she resided convalescing and recouping for more than an year. A shy villager who could not read or write, she still was one very intelligent woman. She knew how fatal TB could prove to be if left unchecked. She got herself fully cured with patience and forbearance and used this time to learn about the reversal procedures for vasectomy for her husband and plan for their future.

One fine day, after complete recovery, she returned to her husband’s home unannounced. Mother and son were taken in by surpise. She used the euphoric moment to persuade her husband to go in for vasectomy reversal. The surgery was a success and Anandhi, cured of TB, conceived immediately. Her mother-in-law transferred the title deed of their humble dwelling unit to Anandhi’s name, not her son’s. Soon she passed away. And there was our Anandhi, waiting for her son to turn one year or so, healthy enough to visit us.

We really cried rivers of joy on hearing our Anandhi’s story with a happy ending. My uncle brought out her passbooks for bank accounts. She refused to take them with her. We gifted her generously and as her son was one year younger to mine, I passed on to her a whole range of toys and clothes and other nice things. Anandhi said, she was now unfit to work so she had machines to do her domestic chores at home. She rented out a portion of her small house that gave her a regular though meagre income. Her husband was still not yet totally reformed. He lapsed back to his old ways now and then. Without her mother-in-law’s moral support, she was feeling tired and alone but the little boy brought her so much cheer.

At three years, Anandhi admitted her son to a christian convent in Santhome. I left for Malaysia. My uncle handed over her savings entirely at that point even if she refused to take charge. That was the last I saw of her.

Today her son would be 25 years old. Whether Anandhi is still alive, i do not know. I do think of her sometimes. May be I should find out. Too much happening in life ever since that we hardly have time for everyone sadly.

Anandhi who took her husband for reversal of vasectomy and got herself admitted alone in TB hospital severing links with one and all for more than an year completely, always makes her the boldest heroine to me somehow. A total illiterate who knew nothing but sowing seeds, weeding, washing clothes and dirty dishes, who wouldn’t utter a word but give you only that silent smile, was so brave and strong-willed in real life where and when it really mattered. Her quiet courage, confidence and conviction amazed me because, she never even boarded a bus on her own until she was diagnosed with TB. Her decency and concern in not revealing her health condition to everyone fishing for sympathy or seeking help or not even causing distress with the news, showed to me the refinement in her character. Her compassion for two motherless girls and their widower father even if she was only a housemaid, would be touching. She barely spoke a word or two. But in those two words she always managed to convey to me her total love and affection. In that age and time, that was so very heartwarming to me no doubt. That silent company. That shy presence. But that heart that always cared.

How to go invisible and remain unobtrusive if situation demanded. This knowledge and knack many of us have not mastered or are unwilling to learn. Coming from peasant background, Anandhi knew the etiquette without having to be told about that. Setril mulaitha senthamarai really.

I hope Anandhi is well and happy wherever she is, if at all she is. Her frail health always remained a concern.

Today we hardly have such genuine affectionate people around us. People who make real sense. People who are of substance. I used to share my morning coffee with Anandhi for years in our house ‘mitham’ (mutram) where she would be washing our dishes as early as 6 am. I do miss that kindness even if it came only from someone who worked for us for a paltry sum.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

The Chimney Glow

Watching period serial ‘Stories by Rabindranath Tagore’ (that by itself is worthy of a post), I was reminded of the Chimney light days from my childhood in Mylapore. May be we had this light at home as a spare until I turned 10 or 12. We had no zero watt night bulb then.

I have this memory of filling kerosene in two such small chimney lights for two rooms in my house. That evening duty was mine. Kerosene was in a tall narrow necked glass bottle tightly screwed shut, stored away in a shelf. The wick would be pruned by my mother and both the lights would be readied by 6 pm for lighting. No bedrooms for couples in those days. We slept in rows in the living!!! Sleeping on the handspun straw mat was the comforting bedding ever for me! I have no memory of my parents sleeping alone or together as a couple sorry!!! What a sacrificing life our parents and grandparents led for our sake!

By 7.30 to 8 pm, we would already be ready to retire to bed, because tv was barely there. And also because I had a working mom. We got our first tv in 1977 when i was in class 4 only. Before going to bed, I would light the chimneys sometimes or my mother did. The glass lamps served as our night bulbs hanging from a hooked nail in a corner off the wall that was safe from breeze from the partly open windows and fan and anything combustible.

I still remember the mini chimney lights but i can’t find exact replica images in the net. I will keep looking for them. I used to go to sleep focusing on the small glow from the open top of the glass chimney. The bottom part that held the fuel was metal with a screw and wick. I also think that the chimney glass part with (sometimes jagged) circular opening on top to let out smoke often broke. There are faint memories of pushcarts in the streets selling those glass chimney tops. Or may be we had these in the platform shops in Luz or Mylapore tank. Did we have different colours like burnt orange, brown, bottle green? Although all I can recall from the one at home is plain colourless glass chimney.

Carrying the lit chimney lamp around the home in eerie darkness with shadows lengthening or shortening was another reason to delight! Mostly this was whenever the power was out which was pretty often in late 70s.

If I ever slept with my granny, I would be listening with her to Ceylon Radio Tamil broadcast in the soft light of the oil lamp. Mostly I did this in summer hols. Late evening 9 pm was considered like midnight in those days!!! Watching the chimney shadow flicker on the wall opposite was another childhood pastime as I would doze off into bottomless dreamless sleep that only kids are capable of.

When did we grow out of this chimney light habit? I guess until my mother’s time we had it at home. Later the yellow zero watt night bulb substituted the glass and metal chimney light that used to leave a very light black smoky shadow on the wall.

Slowwwww days and slower peaceful nights. The chimney light era reminds me of such a comfortable age when nothing was done in a hurry. Makes me nostalgic. What a charming old world that was! The dancing flame of the chimney lights on windy thundery monsoony nights surprisingly still stays fresh in my memory…. as the long nights during some power-cut days when we cooked, ate and laughed and lived in the mellow shadow of the chimney glow…