What ties a Unicorn & a Book together?

Qn: What ties a unicorn and a book together?
Ans: A tie

Ten years is a short time. Seems only yesterday that I met the man I love and gave him my first useless material gift. (The gift of my gab he still enjoys.) A decade later, we have managed to fill our lives up with our children, our friends and family, our own interests and hobbies and our careers. But it never does to forget the past, or look through them with rose-tainted glasses.

In 10 years some things have not become easier, in fact they have become harder – like finding a suitable gift for my husband. He is a minimalist. He doesn’t wear a watch, saying he prefers to see the time on the cell-phone given by his company. (The one he uses to cut me off mid-sentence because there is never enough charge left on it – that one) His clothes are bearable if I spend enough time to get him some new shirts and t-shirts and place the products so he gets them where his hands automatically reach out. Otherwise, he will willingly wear the maroon t-shirt (also given by the company) or the gray t-shirt everyday till I shriek in agony.

So, I lay in bed racking my brains on what to get him for his birthday when the brain-wave struck. Of all my gifts, the most useless has got to be the one I got him first. Allow me to ramble a bit.

My father was always dressed in a suit and tie as a school teacher in the Lawrence School, Nilgiris. Suits on school teachers make them look regal and I suppose is required to set the atmosphere among a bunch of kids trying to place wet soap on the hallways for fun. He looked majestic as he strode through the Assembly of students in his suits(even though the suits were often tailored to fit somebody else, but that is the subject of another blog). Every time I bought my father a tie, he beamed and sported it the very next day.

Now, the only images of America I’d had back then were from movies where I’d seen dashing handsome chaps sit around in suits and have lunch or walk very fast along shiny corridors. I observed. I deduced. And when the man from Sunny California was to come to Sunnier Chennai to see me after months of chatting and talking on the phone; I bought him a present that I hoped would be appropriate and useful. A tie.

I don’t know why I bothered gift wrapping it, since it was clear he didn’t want to discern the difference between the wrapping paper and the tie housed inside. I was guilty of choosing similar patterns for both, but still….

I thumbed through the albums of his school days hoping to see if they had a tie as a uniform. Many “English” schools in Chennai boasted of this monstrosity, and sold ties that could double up as leashes since they had a buckle on them. His school even had “English” in the name. No luck there either. He truly had passed life skirting ties entirely.

It was a perfect gift in many ways, since it set the expectations right. It set the trend for a lifetime of poor gifting from me.

Every now and then, we would laugh about the tie, and since I don’t ever want him to think that the woman he loved has changed, I renewed my vows of poor gifting and bought him a tie!

Then, I got to work on the easier gifts for the 7 & 70:
I got my daughter a magical pony i.e. a unicorn and wrote a book for my father.

7 & 70

The summer vacations ended on a reluctant note for both the daughter and I. This is the first time I was home for the summer (At my school, we had vacations when the weather was its most vindictive, namely monsoon and winter). Of course, we both had a blast. Which is why when I started work after my maternity leave and she started school in the same week, we both felt lost and moody (well, me more than her). She was quite happy to go pottering off with her new friends, some of whom apparently had some kind of viral fever. Have I told you she is hospitable to a fault? Yes she is….so, she gladly housed the virus and came home overflowing with love and kissed her infant brother. Sigh! Well, we all know the train of events to follow that particular show of affection.

To catch me at my cranky best, all you need to do is give me a cold, and throw in a couple of sick kids of my own making and a few sleepless nights as a bonus. The dumbest parts of me shine through and the crabbiest aspects surface. I spent a few hours at the Doctors listening to how this is a passing phase and needs no medicines and then more than a few hours listening to my mother rue the state of the American Healthcare System and why they don’t give any medicines. Rudimentary, it would seem to her. The lady who used to self prescribe antibiotics and dewormins with great confidence. (subject for another blog)

We all got better just in time to prepare for the adrenaline rush of meeting our dear friends and extended family on the occasion of the 7th and 70th birthday of my daughter and father. We kept the 70th part of it as a surprise for the septuagenarian and watched him smile his evening through. I know people have busy lives and yet they all set aside the time to come and give us the precious present of their presence. A special thanks to all of you for taking the time out to wish the 7 & 70 folks, you truly made them feel special.
Have a good day while I garner my thoughts for the next post!

Slay the Dragon (NOT the Parrot)

My dear father loves the stock market and anything to do with it almost as much as his children. I know we rank higher in the love chart, because he doesn’t forget facts about stocks, but he does forget facts about us. Lock him away without a physical copy of Economic Times therefore, and he gets forlorn. So, imagine his glee when the husband got an opp. to visit India on Business.

“Please get me a copy of Dalal Street and Economic times, pa. Not the Sunday ET mind you.” he told him as soon as he heard the news. The husband nodded glad to be able to buy something that would make the dear man happy.
A hectic packing schedule later (another blog waiting to happen), we went to drop him off at the airport.

The father gong sounded, “Remember to get the Economic Times pa. Remember not the Sunday ET. I will send you an email also to that effect. Not Sunday. Any other day is okay.”

He gave him a final wave before leaving the airport with the loving words, “Not Sunday!” (Once a teacher always a teacher – repeat after me, “Not Sunday”)

Now, my father knows that life can be intense and people tend to forget. So, he typed out an email mid-visit thus: (I shall, in another blog, touch up on the typing)
Dear XXX
We are all finehere.My new boss(the Baby ) and hisstser are doing well.Pl. buy Dalal Street and Economic Times.
PS: I do NOT want Sunday Economic Times.

Now, the husband glanced at this email on Monday morning. He was supposed to leave India that night. So, his head swimming with ‘Sunday’, he tried his level best to procure a copy of the Sunday Economic Times. Failing to do so, he weaseled up to the peon in the office and asked him to see if they had a copy of the Sunday Economic Times anyway. He was in luck as the peon had stored away the Sunday copy. It isn’t everyday that working-in-America saabs thank the peon for old newspapers. The heart felt thanks made the man’s heart swell and he felt morally obliged to give him Monday’s copy as well.

One can imagine the triumphant scene whence the prince was told to slay the dragon (not the parrot) to obtain the approval of the king. Slay the dragon but not the parrot. Remember not the parrot. And the prince crosses 7 seas, dons bitter pills, fights gory creatures and slays the parrot.

The king and prince have since made up, since the dragon was also slain by mistake, but there it is – not the parrot!

It turns out that the Sunday Economic Times costs 3 times the amount and has 1/3rd the content of a week day ET, hence the “Not Sunday”

Too Much Happiness

Many persons who have not studied Mathematics confuse it with arithmetic and consider it a dry and arid science. Actually, this science requires great fantasy.
– Sophia Kovalevsky

I read about Sophia Kovalevsky recently and the lady’s life was pure inspiration. (The short story: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro) Here was a person who was not only a mathematician, but also a novelist. She was the first lady to ever become a Professor of Maths in Europe and this was in the 18th century. There are a number of awards in her name to encourage girls to pursue Maths.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that I see a century and a half later, we are still limping along on this path, especially in the USA. Our minds perform best when challenged and when we shut off challenges, where are we? Fighting against preconceived notions has been a bane for many generations. This study looks at the effect Elementary School Teachers have on the children. Not surprisingly, if lady teachers were less confident in Mathematics, the girls tended to start thinking this to be the norm. The study touched a nerve because I have heard so many teachers confess that they are not great in Maths in Elementary Schools, when they shouldn’t be.


What Maths needs is patience, practice and understanding. It is as much an art as a science. When equipped with the right sort of discipline, this subject is music for the soul. I was blessed in school to have teachers who brought out the joy of Mathematics in me. I can only wish the same for all generations to come.

Physical Google – Where are you?

With great advances in technology, the size of things produced has become smaller and smaller, while we seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Consequently searching for something in the house means ransacking the house more thoroughly than a bunch of bandits would. Why not keep things where they belong you ask? A fair question to anyone who doesn’t know the pride and joy the father and husband take in leaving the house a messy place. “That is what makes it a home, otherwise, it would be a hotel!” they proclaim loudly and admire each other’s sentiments and pat themselves on the back. I would pat them too, albeit a bit too hard for their liking.

I don’t know which animal it is that does this – I think it is a badger.(It is not an ostrich contary to popular opinion – the only pic I could find was of an ostrich though) Namely bury its head in the ground till the danger passes and then surface. I tried the badger technique the last time around and was quite unsuccessful. You see midway through burying myself in the hole and ignoring the whole search act, the corner of my eye caught a sofa being upturned. I don’t think badgers have sofa sets in their homes to be overturned while searching for something, but if it did, I think badgers would revise their opinion of ignoring events such as these.

I had merely uttered the threat idly because of I was tired of finding things that I was not searching for just then and not finding the things that I was searching for then. Little did I know that the threat would result in the house being turned upside down in the literal sense of the word.

All because the latest thing being searched for was a memory card. The size of my thumb.

Also, I wonder if you’ve noticed that the size of our belongings seem inversely proportional to our size. For instance, the youngest offender in our household, Tucky, is but a few months old, and he too cries when he loses sight of his possessions. But unlike our possessions, he does not need sofas upturned. He just has to look around the room – his possessions are there – loud, clear, big and bright. Whereas ours are dull grey, or better yet dirt colored memory sticks!

Just because we learn the art of camouflage doesn’t mean we impose this learning on our belongings – but alas, humans apply their learning everywhere. If Google could come up with a search engine for the wild, wild web, why not come up with something for physical objects?

Leave the old flush alone

“Can you imagine plumbers charge $50 for something as simple as replacing this lever? It takes five minutes to do!” proclaimed the husband holding up a black-ish looking object. I looked impressed. He was holding up a contraption that looked technical in a very plumbery fashion, not to mention that triumphant glow on his face. Having repaired the toilet flush when it acted up once before, I felt he was entirely justified in feeling competent in the general area of plumbing.

He started off at the end of a long, hot day after a refreshing shower. The flush in one of the bathrooms was having a minor hiccup. Once the water filled up, the water continued to leak without shutting off the water supply. This was because a lever that was supposed to tell the water knob to “Cheese it!” when the water filled up, wasn’t doing it’s job. I hovered around for a minute or two, and then loitered about the house doing the intangible, unnecessary things that I do. Then, I put the children to sleep; all the while listening to the water go on and off. By now, it was evident that it was no 5 minute affair the c.plumber was dealing with. I mean two children don’t go to bed in that span of time in our household. So, I went in to the bathroom – just to get a general status, you know – mutter the encouraging word and pat the tired back sort of thing.

What met my eyes shook me to the core. On the floor was the erstwhile dry, clean man that I love. He looked like the flush had whipped him a couple of times, while rapping his knuckles and making him kneel down in a pond of water. My heart bled for him, and I enquired. I must have sounded like a rattle to a baby, because I was given the situation in so many words. Pretty soon, I was kneeling down in the wet bathroom and oggling at a petulant knob with my neck corked at 22 degrees in the NW direction, with a cutting plier in my hands.

I’ve been meaning to talk to these architects about this. Why place these toilet flushes in a corner – why not in the center with a full view of all the knobs? While I struggled with the cutting plier and tried to angle the grip, I banged my head a couple of times against an inconveniently placed closet. The husband had replaced the lever just fine and while tightening the knob found that it was an obstinate one and refused to tighten all the way and stopped one turn short. Anywhere else, that would mean a creak, but with water it means an incessant drip, and could not be ignored. So, I tried my hand at it. “All I need is a small mirror to get a good view of the knob”, I said.

So, the husband handed me one. While calculating the length of the mirror and estimating the length of my hand, there was a difference of a couple of centimeters and the dratted thing fell with a resounding crash.

The children asleep in bed, the husband and I in the bathroom, the sound of a mirror breaking and the steady sound of ‘Drip Drip Drip’. All you had to do was turn off the lights, and I would have screamed. The experience had set us both on edge. I wonder how tightening corks and screws and things under the flush can frazzle one’s hair, but it did. We both looked like a ghost chased us down a scary lane in the middle of a cold wintry night.

Cleaning up broken glass in a pool of water has problems writ large all over it. To cut a long story short, we took out the new lever and put the old one back on to stop the drip. Then I cleaned up (without cutting myself on the shards of glass I might add), had a shower and came out to the welcoming cries of an infant demanding his midnight snack.

“I wonder why plumbers only charge $50 for this!” said the husband, and I agreed whole heartedly. The solution to the flush problem was a simple enough one – we just pulled the lever manually and made it do its duty forcefully.

“Leave the old flush alone”, is the new watchword in the house.

Happy Women’s Day

Happy Women’s Day to all you wonderful women out there.

I have been getting lots of mails telling me people are proud of me because I cry when I am sad and laugh when something is funny. Also, my hugs are supposed to be fused with the magical healing touch. Bruises heal themselves. I wonder how I broke the cup the other day with all these abilities I possess. Maybe, I did not hug the shards of the broken cup hard enough.

Apparently, all this makes me a wonderful woman. I also eat when I am hungry – I suppose that makes me more human.

The mails I am receiving also tell me as a woman I don’t quite know my power or capacity¬†– I agree. Once when I was around a decade old, my friend and I had a dosa eating competition to which my sister unwittingly offered to be the dosa maker. I did surprise myself, and lost by a small margin, but my dosa competitor was a year older than I was.¬† I don’t think the sister has learned to view the dosa tava with the same benevolence since. If I remember right, I groaned all evening clutching my stomach in a wonderful show of feminine bravery.

Which all brings me to the question, do Men have a day dedicated for them?

There is an International Men’s Day. It is celebrated on November 19th, and was started as recently as 1999 – almost a century after their Women counterparts started celebrating themselves.

Frivolous as the content of this post is, I do hope my female brethen are uplifted from the horrors of misogyny inflicted upon them by men and members of their own creed. I’d like to end this post on this note (Seneca)

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem

As long as we are human, let us be humane

No Comic Task this

Well…well. It has been a while since I picked up a comic book. The guffawing over Tintin much to the chagrin of the mother who was trying to get a quiet afternoon rattling with the noisy Singer machine, while the rain pounded at the window and the wind whooshed menacingly, is tucked away in the recesses of a past.

Tintins were great. The Thompson and Thomson, Professor Calculus and of course the Captain (“BLISTERING BARNACLES” – I’ve forgotten his name, Harold ? Haddock! Yes!). The point is, I haven’t lost myself in the comic book world for a long time. A friend of mine lent me his book “Persepolis” and I must thank him for it.

The complexity of generations of bumbling in Iranian history, so well presented through the endearing voice of Marjane Satrapi had me lost in the book.

If one is looking to get a glimpse of Iranian culture, this isn’t the book. But to get a perspective of turmoil and how human beings find a way of adapting – this is a good book. Stark contrasting images, the humour and of course the appalling mystery of what humans perpertrate on one another in the name of ruling are etched into my memory.

The book had my eyes stinging in the final page (Caution: my tear ducts are very loosely controlled. I cried for Finding Nemo and Shrek!) But I loved Persepolis and am waiting to read her remaining works.

The beauty of questioning

I spend a lot of time vacillating between an agnostic secular person and a religious person, who doesn’t believe 80% of what my religion has become over the ages. Suffice it to say that the days I spend in my former state far outnumber the days I spend in the latter.

Here is my problem: I like to believe in the power of hope and if belief is what brings hope, I am all for it. On the other hand, over the ages, I can categorically state that religion has done more damage to mankind than good. The moment religion ceases to be a personal experience, I can see it wreaking havoc.

I quite like the idea of finding yourself. Easily, that is the path taken by all the “founders” of religion – be it Buddha or the Sufi saints of Islam or the Bhagavad Gita. But how does one explain “finding oneself” to the masses? That is where the problem begins. So, the explanation became finding one’s moral conscience – still good. But a few centuries later, moral conscience evolves into a set of rules written by the elitist community of the religion. Slowly, the congregation becomes more of a unifying force, one to forge your identity with, than to use as a tool to better yourself.

At my wedding, the priest was a person who was my grandfather’s friend. My grandfather was a kind-hearted, generous, loving, able teacher, caring husband/father and he was a pious man. But somehow, whenever people described him, they put his piety ahead of his other virtues. This priest came to my wedding and said he would do all it takes in his power to make sure that great man’s grand-daughter lived a fantastic life, and put us through the most grueling wedding ceremony in recent times. I didn’t understand more than a few words of what was said – there was no need for me to elongate the proceedings by asking for clarifications in between on a hot day in front of the fire, with no food in my stomach. The ceremony lasted a good 9 hours of listening to things I didn’t understand. Everyone who came to congratulate me, said the priest was excellent, he hadn’t missed a single thing – who would understand how my intestines were reacting at the time? Which religion?

What I am trying to say is, some people are ritualistic by nature – to them, rituals become religion – this isn’t orthodoxy, this is just an interpretation of their own religion. It is also show-case worthy.

I have spent my growing years chanting some prayers that my mother taught me on the way to the school in the morning, as we ran for the train. That is all I know today, and probably that is all I will ever know – who knows? Every now and then, I think that just because I am part-agnostic, I should not deny the experience of a religion to my daughter. So, I take her to the local temple. She asks a million questions along the way as usual. We are in the temple, and she looks at the statues and asks – “If Ummachi (God) made everything and gave us everything, how come he isn’t even moving?”

I savoured the question – the beauty of questioning always delights me. I am sorry that when it comes to religion so few people still have the power of questioning left in them.

A Condensed Version Please!

I would hereby like to thank James Band and the Nadaswaram party for the sore throat they have gifted me with – One that reminds me of the thumping music at the wedding every waking moment. Any attempts at ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ sound like ‘Bray Bray Black ..’ almost a month after the proceedings.

The wedding hall was filled with people – small talk filled the halls, and James Band and the nadaswaram were playing at full pitch whenever they got the opportunity to perform. People had to shout to make themselves heard to the person sitting right next to them. One would have thought that the effort would have kept people quiet. But it takes sterner stuff to get South Indians to keep quiet. As the sound of the talk increased, the nadaswaram crew made the band sound louder. Apparently, the duty of the band was to drown out the cacophony or any unceremonious sound.

Fact: The band itself may be construed for cacophony was evidently not thought about when the tradition was “made”.

I have already mentioned about how the south indian wedding is high on the ritual factor – read, boring. Essentially, the average guest is left with the option of staring open mouthed at the wedding proceedings in Sanskrit, while the sastrigal & groom pound at the rituals. The groom mostly looks ready to flee given the slightest chance, while the priest is holding him back with an almost sadistic pleasure and gloats over the power he exercises over the couple.
It goes like this:

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Wash your fingers*

Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
Om . blah blah blah blah blah blah-yae namaha
*Pour ghee into fire*

For 6 hours.
Not to mention the fierce fire we have going, in front of which the bride and groom sit. No fans are allowed for obvious reasons near the fire. Probably, that is the reason the groom sits with his chest bared and his transparent dhoti. But it beats me why the bride is seated near the same fire with the stuffiest of silks. These traditions had no mean point I tell you – either it was a bare-all or a wrap-all.

Malai Maatral
Description:The groom and bride, in those early days, were barely teenagers when they got married. The couple were carried by the maternal uncles to exchange garlands at one point. This was a chance for people to know who the maternal uncles were and the children probably enjoyed the break by throwing garlands at each other perched on their uncles shoulders.
Fact: This should probably be done away with, considering the couple is now in the prime of their youth, with glowing muscles and a couple of hours each day at the gym/dining table as the case may be, and the uncles are complaining more often about arthritis and moaning muscles themselves.

Description:The laddoo throwing is another part of the proceeedings that could be done away with. The purpose was originally intended to introduce the important lady-folk of the family. With 20 directly-related aunts and 35 indirectly-related aunts and 45 indirectly-direct-related aunts and 55 directly-indirect-related aunts, it was important to show who was who.
Fact: Now, this is no more than a laddoo squishing, bad bowling experience, not to mention the mess created by stamping one of the infernal things and spreading the joy.

Bullock-cart symbolism:
Sometime in the 6 hours on stage, one encounters a point when something like a stick is placed over the groom’s head and the bride’s head. What this symbolizes is this: just like a bullock cart can only be pulled when both the animals contribute equally, so too is marriage. Both the groom and the bride must shoulder their reponsibilities to carry on a smooth life.

The point being this: There are so many rituals, and non-stop chanting, that the symbolic ones, or the ones that bear meaning are either missed or glossed over. The “getti melam” could be used to identify the significant ones, if they didn’t keep asking for a getti melam every 2 minutes.

Kattu Saadam:
Those days, restaurants were rare and almost non-existent between villages, and carrying food for the journey was important.
Fact: No offense to the food really – but this tradition is an absolute must to be done away with. Who wants to eat dried up idlis when you can stop at Saravana Bhavan for a steaming meal instead?! Why can’t we wrap up the proceedings the previous day and get back to our lives?
Interesting aside:
We stopped for eating at a restaurant (since we needed to drink coffee and use the restrooms anyway!), and the younger generation was absolutely thrilled to find that in the melee of leaving, we had left the idlis & the rice behind – yippee! The fathers were privately happy too, but refrained from saying anything inappropriate, lest the mothers construed it as an offense to their own cooking! The looks thrown by the mothers to the children was clearly not one to mess with.

“What is wrong with idlis?” they demanded.
We chuckled saying – “Nothing, just glad they aren’t here!”

We tucked into naan, paneer curry and 8 different types of Dosas at a suave restaurant, and left quite happily.

After so many weddings, there wasn’t one person who was able to cogently explain the symbolism and meaning behind all the rituals. The ones who did attempt invariably love their voices too much and refuse to stop explaining! Soon, one’s curiosity to understand the proceedings is fast overtaken by an urge to strangle the person “explaining”. Finally, my mother told me to look it up on the Internet – which I did, and found a whole world of satirical writings on the South Indian Wedding. (But this link gave a brief explanation) http://www.sawnet.org/weddings/tamil_vedic.html

Since, each tradition has morphed into a status symbol, the unnecessary expenditure has increased manifold. If we were to tabulate the necessary vs unnecessary expenditure, the unnecessary far outweighs the necessary. 3 day weddings are the norm – even though it is not a village where the families use this as a chance to make merry for a week.

By the way, what do we say to the colleague who asked: “So, you guys exchange vows is it?!”

Happy New Year!