Should Okras Be Peeled?

The father waddled up to me in the library and spoke in his whispers. “Oh! Look what I have found? I am going to become a force, and talk to Aunty by myself.” 

It was a Tamil book: Learn Hindi Through Tamil. I looked amused. Hindi has always been the pain point in the household. I remember being a single digit age, lolling on the bed in our childhood home, a few weeks before our trip to New Delhi, and the mother was exhorting us to learn Hindi.

I was the only one who was technically qualified to say anything in Hindi because I was the only one who learnt the subject, but I use the term ‘learnt’ loosely. The teachers taught, I struggled.  I always struggle with languages that force you to determine before hand whether a biscuit is masculine or feminine. Fine! Male biscuit! I say, and then it asks me, what about a dog? How does it matter whether the dog is a she-dog or he-dog?  ( although I suppose it matters to the dog, I see that now. Hmm.) Okay, She – The dog is female. Then what about a dog-biscuit? Is that asexual. You see how confusing it all is? 


We made it to Delhi after a thrilling ride on the train that took us several days and various experiments with Telugu, Marathi, Bihari, Urdu, Rajasthani and Hindi. One day, we went shopping in Delhi. We were told by our kind advisors that the thing to do in Delhi markets was to issue a prompt, “Baap re baap Bhaiya. Itna?!  (Oh my goodness me! This much?!). Like a ‘Hello’, you first belt out the Baap-Re-Baap. After that you are on sound ground, and can proceed to ask for a price less than half the asking price. 

When we baap-re-baap-ed at this, our hosts told us that it is standard practice. Traders in that market priced goods at more than double for they knew it would come down to less than half, so it is a fair price game after all. I had no working knowledge of Economics then (or now), but this sounded wonkilicious.

So, we baap-re-baap-ed our way around the city.

In the crowded market, I heard the Baap-Re-Baap in the Pater’s voice emanate to much commotion. A soft voice was never his identifying feature. If he were an instrument in the band, he would be a trumpet, not the flute or the bagpipe.

The pater was bargaining hard. “Nahin, nahin. Pachees too much hai. Myn pachaas-heee givoonga, errrmm, day-oonga.” (“No no. 25 rupees is too much. I will give you only 50 rupees.” )


I went over to investigate the fracas, since more and more people were joining in to get a good seat on the show. The pater was driving the hard bargain. 

I tried explaining in Tamil so folks watching the show would not understand: “Do you want to give Rs.15? He says the thing is Rs 25, and you are saying you will settle for Rs.50!”

The merchant was laughing to split, and several more were joining in by the minute. Finally, he said in perfect Tamil. “Saami – irupadhu kudu.” (Sir, just give Rs 20.)

After that, the association of market stall traders were most helpful – they pulled us into their stores and treated us to tea and more bargains. Who after all bargains to give more? Here was a soul of gold, they said to themselves, and went on to rip us off with perfect amiability.

I can’t say the decades in between taught very much more of the language.  One could get by quite well in South India without Hindi. 

Then, a few decades later, Aunty came to our household. She is a stellar help. She speaks Hindi and when excited switches to Urdu.

So, that day in the library, he was obviously thrilled that he found the book that promised to teach him Hindi through Tamil. That night, I heard the father proudly showing the ‘Learn Hindi through Tamil’ book to the mother, and telling her looking rather pleased with himself. “Look! The milk is here. Doodh yagaan hai! 

“Oh Look!” The father is a confirmed oh-look-er. “There is even a page for vegetables. Did you know aloo means potato? ”

The mother, always up to the challenge, told him that it was admirable, and said coolly. “Tomorrow, ask Aunty to cut the peerkangai (ridge gourd) into small squares, and keep the scrapped tholi (hide)”.

The father turned to the vegetable page, exclaiming loudly that it was a marvelous book, and asks like this are child’s play. Bacchaasplay. After a few minutes, he yipped loudly. “There is no translation for peerkangai in the book. I cannot ask her. Should I ask her to peel the bhindi instead? Vendakkai means Bhindi.” (Okra is vendakkai)

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.” – ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Baboons In An Orchestra Aid Bold-And-Beautiful Actress

We played host to a few relatives from Tamil Nadu, India lately. Uncles-in-law & aunts-in-law have been taking in a spot of the Californian sun and we added ourselves a few pounds of weight with all the cooking and eating that ensues. In all the hustle and bustle that visiting folks entail, I was not entirely surprised to see that Tamil TV serials reared their ugly heads in the television too.

Before I start, I want you to imagine a cage with a baboon waiting to get near an orchestra of badly tuned musical instruments nearby. Bear with me, I shall explain why a baboon is caged nearby.

I was cleaning up in the kitchen after an impressive sort of meal while the visiting folk switched on the Tamil serials. I need not have worried that I had not been following the serial for the past year and a half. In ten minutes, I knew the whole plot: Rohit and his father were bad, bad men and bold-actress-with-lots-of-make-up, had filed a police complaint against Rohit. Bad Rohit’s bad father clutched his heart when his Rohit was arrested and was carted off to the hospital with a weak heart. Rohit’s mother came to plead with bold-and beautiful actress with lots of make up, who was sitting at home and reading a magazine, to take back the case, and cried a river. All with me so far? Good. For it is here, that we wade into murky waters.

Bold-and-beautiful actress said she could withdraw the complaint but she had one condition.

The baboon breaks out of his cage and is now letting loose on a harmonium, while thumping his feet on the drums and the horrendous background music prepares everyone in our house, and the neighbor’s house too, that impressive stuff is about to happen.

B-and-B actress goes to visit ailing father in hospital and tells him her conditions for withdrawing the police complaint. Baboon is warming up now and lets you know that. Apparently, reprehensive Rohit had raped poor Divya, gotten her pregnant and not only had he abandoned her, but bad Rohit and his bad father then tried their best to get poor Divya killed.

The baboon now tries a windpipe sort of instrument that makes one forlorn and wane.

The B-and-B actress sets forth her condition: Rohit must marry Divya.

The baboon bangs, clangs and deafens one with the din on an impressive scale.


There are loud murmurs of approval from the audience, and I am shocked. I should know better than to expect anything else from a TV serial, but I still am shocked. I mean to condemn that poor girl Divya with a rascal of a husband is nothing short of criminal. She could have carved out a life for herself (and her baby if she wanted to keep the baby that is) with dignity and self-respect. Who wants her to be saddled with the rapist for life?

The maudlin entertainment pulled my attention when the parents or parents-in-law were here several times previously. There the heroine is:  impeccably groomed, dressed like she is going for a party, to receive her abusive husband or to confront angry relatives. She babbles on paying no heed to the social cues, and pretty soon, there is an explosion of sorts and everything thuds to a stop with a slap on her face. The glycerine acts immediately and there are tears and dubious sentiments on culture and I gag (once again) in the confines of my home.

For all our efforts at education, social reform and trying to open the mind to gender equalization, I think we have an epic fail with the Television serials. The producers may say that in the end, good triumphs, and after three years of bearing abuse, the emancipated young lady defies that kind of ill-treatment in the last one week of the television show and their souls are salvaged.

But where is my apology? Where is the apology to the audience? For three years, you send misogynistic messages every evening to the audience – an audience comprised of young, impressionable children, parents of married daughters, parents of daughters-of-marriageable-age, parents of young sons,  parents of sons who are married, not to mention every human-being, who actively seeks or passively receives the entertainment. What is the social message you are sending them? There is no subtlety there – the socially disgusting messages are there in Techni-color with dialogues.

Like my young daughter says, “Oh. In Tamil TV, everybody slaps the women when they don’t want to talk about something anymore. They never just walk away!”

That feels like a slap. Let loose baboons on drum now.

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