Friday, January 20, 2017 6 comments


During the last few days I have made some startling discoveries about myself – that I am not a true Tamil and neither am I a Dravidian! I have no pride in my sub national / racial identify!

Why you ask me?

Well I do not support a sport called “Jallikattu”! To the uninformed , non social media users, Jallikattu is an ancient  sport in Tamil Nadu that is held during the month of January where men try to “tame” a bull and collect the prize money attached to its horns ( in cases where a prize money is involved).

As a person who is a book worm and a couch potato, I have always been non passionate about sports in general. So what is so special about supporting Jallikattu? Apparently it is something that is deeply rooted and linked to Tamil culture and identity and as my friends on social media inform me as a true Tamil I am expected to oppose the Supreme court ban on this sport !!!

Okay may be I do not get it!! What is Tamil culture all about? I refuse to believe that it is just about  taming bulls. My ‘limited’ knowledge about this culture ( informed by a non state board secondary school history curriculum and non Tamil publications like the Amar Chitra Katha comics) says it  is about great writers, rulers and thinkers. It is about a system of governance that fostered peace and justice. So  why have we begun to suddenly equate this with animal husbandry ?

To me it seems like something totally different! Bull taming and bull fighting in this context is seen as an assertion of a sub national identity in a national context which is north centric . Let us look at the semiotics of this entire thing. Bull taming –Brave men overcoming a violent male animal! A celebration of masculine strength and virility! One can recall Tamil movies where the heroes are seen enacting exactly these scenes of valor! I feel like asking “Excuse me, where are the women here ?” .  Well, I suppose they are in the audience clapping their hands in excitement, encouraging these men to take on the bull ( at least that is what one sees in the movies)!

But what puzzles me is why educated and smart Tamil women professing to be feminists are also taken in by this symbolism? Is the quest for a Tamil identity so strong for them that they are willing to overlook the gender stereotyping here?

The urban, techie character of this protest is also surprising. I wonder how many of these men who are protesting about this in Chennai have ever visited a village, leave aside approached a bull! Yet we see them posting articles on social media about how this will endanger natural breeds of bulls in the region. I was also amused by the conspiracy theory that this was some sly way by which foreign breeds of cattle were sought to be introduced into Tamil country!!!

There was also a saffron tinge to this where someone posted a slogan on social media saying that if cruelty to animals is to be banned then bakrid should be banned in India!

Image result for swathi death photosI would like to ask these “proud Tamil” people (who have denounced me by now )  where was their exhibition of valor when a young girl was brutally slaughtered on Nungambakkam station by a stalker on her way to work?  Where is their sense of chivalry when Tamil pulp magazines posted slyly taken  pictures of unsuspecting women wearing leggings?

 I have worked in the villages of Tamil Nadu and I have worked on animal husbandry projects too. With increasing mechanization the number of breeding bulls are coming down. Most of the cows / buffaloes are fertilized through artificial insemination. All of this is part of the larger change that has come about in our dairy sector thanks to Operation flood! It would be good if people understand the development context of the state especially where animal husbandry practices are concerned. Reading chauvinistic posts on face book is not information enough to understand the context.

A flush of chauvinistic pride trigged by some social media instigated posts is about as short lived as the profile picture of the Indus Valley seal with the bull that some of my good Tamil friends have put up on their face book profile !

I am also sure that once that “off site” assignment is sanctioned by a foreign company my techie friends from the Marina would quietly get their passports out and push off to the US or some other country to earn their dollars and Euros.

So let us get this Tamil identity business out of the picture shall we? This cultural, national chauvinism is what makes us prey to all kinds of negativity and prejudices. If we care so much about bulls let us quit our plush jobs in the offices in the OMR and move to Madurai or Sivagangai to start a cattle farm!!! It will not be long before the real farmers in the region start an agitation to get the urban colonizers out of their area so they can live and practice their livelihoods in peace! 
Sunday, December 27, 2015 6 comments


It is now over three months since I relocated to Delhi.   Yes, I will not say I did not have misgivings when I moved. But few of them had anything to do with the city. I was worried about other things- how would my husband and I  manage life without each other  until he is able to join me in Delhi. As far as the daughter was concerned, she was a bird who had flown the nest. She had to find her own horizon for flight. 

Three months later, back in Chennai now for a holiday,  I am finding it difficult to deal with friends who appear surprised every time I tell them that I have “ no problems” with Delhi…!!! I must say I am even beginning to like it now. I think Delhi has probably been vilified unjustly…!!  

People here ask me doubtfully“ You like it better than Chennai?” I do not know what makes people in Chennai think that Delhi should be inferior…. Let me put it this way, each city has  some things about it that makes one like or detest it. It is basically a lived experience. Unless you live somewhere you can never really say..!

So, now that I have lived in both these cities let me share my experiences. ….

I moved to Chennai in the early nineties. I was starting out on my career, wasn’t earning much and getting accommodation as a single woman was next to impossible!! My move to Delhi has been at a very senior level in an organization and I had all the support from them in helping me with accommodation. Besides, these days with technology, it is easier to access information about accommodation options. I was still a bit apprehensive about finding a place to live in within a week. Friends in Delhi told me that I was worrying unnecessarily.. and I realize they were right. I found a decent place quicker than I expected! The landlord had no interest in knowing whether I was married or single or in a live in relationship!!! He also did not care whether I ate meat or fish or vegetables so long as I was able to pay the rent. I cannot say the same about Chennai …!!!
In terms of rental value, I do not think there was much by way of difference except that landlords in Delhi want only two months rent as security deposit while those in Chennai fleece you with ten months!!! Besides, I was able to get a furnished place in an up market area which I am not sure I could have managed in Chennai.

With regard to day today life … I miss the early morning spirit of Chennai. Life in Delhi begins much later ,despite the fact that the schools start earlier in the day than in Chennai. I also miss the Chennai breakfast routine..!! Even South Indian restaurants do not open before 9.00 AM …!!  And of course I miss the filter coffee at Saravana Bhavan  that is just an auto ride away from our place in Chennai..! The very thought of having to walk to the metro station and board a train to CP for that cup takes the craving away..! But considering that I am not a coffee person like my father or husband, I can live with that..!

But  Delhi as I discovered, has its own morning routine...! I absolutely adore that park behind my house. I go there for my morning walk and I have developed now a nodding acquaintance with some of the elderly people who walk there. Our routine is almost similar- complete our walk, go up to the  Mother dairy booth to get our milk, buy vegetables from  “Safal” or the other road side vendors and get home. I am told this is pretty standard for all the neighborhoods of Delhi. Almost all of them have come up in a planned manner- you will find in almost all of them a park, a milk booth, vegetable shops, a provision store and a chemist store. I am not sure I can say the same for all neighborhoods of Chennai. Even if the shops exist the parks don’t!! I am one of the few lucky ones to live in an area that is near the Boat Club and the Nageswara Rao park. Those in Besant Nagar and Anna Nagar are also blessed because of the Theosophical society and the Tower park.

However what really upsets me about Delhi is the fact that there are no departmental stores…!! It was my most shocking discovery about the Capital! There is no store like Nilgiris or Spencers or any of those million grocery stores that we have in Chennai where one can pick up a basket or cart and buy what one needs. Even a very up market neighborhood like the one I live in   only has stores where people  have to walk up to the counter and ask“ ek kilo chini” , “do kilo atta” etc..! So, I am now back to my childhood days where I get my groceries in these newspaper wrapped parcels with strings! Most eco friendly… I know.. (Until I  have to line my dustbin)! I get a handwritten bill that I total mentally, silently blessing my father for my sharp math skills. Shopkeepers tell me that they can do a door delivery if I buy provisions over Rs 2000 ..!! But I am not sure I need to invest that kind of amount on groceries considering that I live alone for most of the month and travel a lot ..! 

The city of Delhi has in a way taken me back to my childhood  . Though most of my teenage days were in Kolkata, the Hindi language was very much part of my upbringing. I realized that was something I missed in Chennai!  Actually that was my first culture shock in Chennai in the nineties. I  found out I could not speak the standard Tamil of Tamil nadu. What I spoke was the Tam Brahm version of the language which I had been warned by my father to be careful about using with the general public as it would point to my caste and bring out  prejudices. Thankfully language in Delhi has posed no such issues.

With regard to the  people  in  these two cities  they are poles apart from the other. I dislike the Delhi motorist’s road rage and complete disregard for any pedestrian or anyone who is embarking or disembarking from another vehicle! People in Chennai are more accommodating of people who walk or use lighter vehicles. Traffic policemen in Chennai are very helpful while in Delhi they are almost nonentities. As I do not use public transport much I do not know how that experience in Delhi might be.  The auto experience has been as unpleasant as in Chennai. Though the prices quoted by the auto rickshaw drivers in Delhi might not be as atrocious as those in Chennai, that rudeness with which they treat passengers is the same.

There is a certain need to “show off” that one sees in the Delhiite while your average Chennaiite is someone who “underplays” everything. The craze for labels and brands in Delhi is so much that  people would rather be wearing a fake one than none!  They size you up and judge you by how you look and what you wear.  It used to put me off in the beginning but  now that I have accepted them for what they are , I see a human side to Delhi that the intellectually snobbish South Indian in me has begun to grudgingly appreciate. I see the kindness that Delhiites exhibit towards animals.  There are three stray dogs who sleep on the stair case in my building. They are fed alternately by the various residents. In winter I see all stray dogs in various localities bundled up in some sort of cloth to protect them against the cold. My neighbor has laid out two small mattresses on the landing for these canines so they do not have to sleep on the cold steps in winter.  I am yet to see similar kindness exhibited by a Chennaite towards stray animals. The few who do are taken to be eccentric or “cracks”!

 I have met good people and bad just as in Chennai. I came prepared to deal with rapists but what I see where men are concerned are the same issues as in Chennai.  While I may be too old for your average road side sexual offender, one has to always take precautions for safety just as in Chennai. I am told that post the “Nirbhaya” case the police in Delhi are more alert about safety of women.

Delhi is a city that I am still discovering…!! I try not to compare it with any of the other metros that I have lived in. Given its cultural diversity, every metro in India has its own unique flavor .. so it is difficult to compare.  The problem comes more out of people staying rooted to their own cities and preferring to believe in stereotypes about others.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015 1 comments

A Question of Identity

There seems to be a sudden surge of write ups going viral on social media about being a Hindu.  Questions are raised on secularism and why the onus seems to be only on Hindus to prove that they are secular.
I find this entire question of religious identity a very problematic one. Let me explain ..

If you were to ask me who I am, my religion would be the last thing that I would use to define myself. Okay, so I may be an atheist / agnostic.. But what about my mother? She is what one would call a very religious person- constantly pampering her “Devi/ Devatas” so that their wrath does not turn on her children and their families. But if you were to ask her to define who she is, she would say she is a Tamil Brahmin! So, now we  have a caste and regional angle being used to define identity. And what is interesting is that just being Tamil or a Brahmin are not necessary or sufficient conditions for her to say who she is. She does not really identify herself with any Tamilian or anyone who might be a Brahmin from any other part of the country.

Now let me talk about myself. Every time I have stepped outside of the four ( okay five now ) southern states, I have been identified as a “South Indian”. The fact that I am from Tamilnadu does not really matter to the people north of the Vindhyas. To them we are all “Madrasis” and if they are little more sensitive then they refer to me as “from South”.

To our maid in Chennai, our Bihari cook is the “Seth Paiyan” – the Seth boy (Seth is a local word for a merchant/moneylender and refer to the people from Rajasthan who had settled in the city ages ago and involved themselves in these businesses). Never mind that the poor fellow in all probability comes from a family neck deep in debt forcing him to migrate to a city where he cannot even speak the language.

My father defines himself as a "Retired railway employee"- to him the thirty odd years of his life spent between the two rails is the best possible way to tell the world about who he is. His late older brother always called himself a "Retired headmaster".  

So where does religion come into this?

When I married a Christian, I found that the identity question there was equally complicated. Though inlaws define themselves as “Syrian Christians from Kerala” my mother in law like my father and uncle always referred to herself as a "Doctor" and never as a Malayalee or a Christian! The house that she lived in all her life in Chennai, though located in the heart of a  Tamil Brahmin locality is even today referred to as "Doctor Amma's house"! Nobody has ever identified it as a "Christian" or a "Malayalee" home. Notice the complete absence of religion here?

When it came to dealing with my identity, I was always introduced by my mother in law as her “Brahmin daughter in law”! To her I suppose, given the neighborhood she lived in, that was the defining factor! I remember her once telling me that she was glad her son had not married an “Indian Christian” ****!!!! Surprised? I was startled because until then I had always assumed that she was as Indian as I was ! But I realized what she meant was a “non  Syrian Christian”. The word Syrian by the way, only defines their antecedents as St. Thomas was supposed to have landed on the shores of Kerala from Syria. They are otherwise about as Malayalee as the rest of Kerala! It would not matter if it were a Nair or a Moplah that they might meet. They would still break into Malayalam and want to know where their “house” is!

During my stay in Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana I found that it was the district  one came from that was the defining factor of identity as also the caste. In Tamil Nadu again, the district is a general defining factor of your identity unless you are a Brahmin where you transcend region!!!! But a majority of people (with the exception of Brahmins) in Tamil Nadu take pride in their Tamil identity and their Dravidian ethnicity.

Interestingly, in Bengal, being Bengali is enough by way of identity. There are no religious or caste riders to this. Anyone who is not Bengali is simply a “Non Bengali”. No one cares if you are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Brahmin or Kayasth as long as you are "Bengali"!

So, given the fact that there are so many facets that define one’s identity in our country why should religion become the primary defining factor?  One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that it is politically motivated by groups who probably find the diversity too much to handle. Therefore, what they are trying to do is to bring religion into the forefront. Since Hinduism as a religion by itself is so complex , abstract and subject to regional/caste based interpretations, that it is difficult to bring it together as one identity. Therefore we try and define the “other”

We dig up history, bring up invasions and point our fingers at Muslims. Yes..!! They may be a minority in our population but are sufficiently large in number to be targeted as the "villains". We break a historical monument stating that it was built by an invader and seek to “right the wrong”. We want to build a temple there for a deity who does not have an entity outside of northern India. We are envious of a community in Gujarat that is seen to be doing well in trade and so we engineer riots to “put them in their place”. And now it looks like we want to control what they eat!

In this politics of hate, an artificial sense of identity is being sought to be created for Hindus! And it is sad that people are falling for this propaganda. Unlike the US , UK and other western nations where Muslims came in as immigrants in recent times and might therefore be treated as second class citizens, the Indian Muslim is as much a part of this country as anyone else. Muslims have been part of our history and Islam has influenced our art, literature, culture and cuisine. The reverse has also been true. You just need to go to Southern India to see this.

So why this hue and cry and the sudden spurt of intolerance? Why does the word secular draw sniggers?  

Why can’t we let religion be where it belongs – within the place of worship or the four walls of our home? As a person who comes from a mixed religious family I can say that religious diversity has only enriched our lives. We have had more occasions to celebrate and more people praying for our welfare than anyone else that I know of! I do not see why it cannot happen in a country?

It is for us to decide who we want to be and what we want to believe in. We can spew hatred or accept everyone for what they are. Things are not going to change for the average “Hindu” if we become a “Hindu Rashtra”. The poor will still remain poor, the rich will still exploit, and corruption will continue. Those in power will probably think of some other issue to rake up and we will start thinking that will solve all our problems. 
Monday, October 19, 2015 4 comments


 “Madam aap Keratin treatment karva lo. Aapke baal bahut phiji hain” ( Madam, please have a Keratin treatment done. Your hair is too Frizzy”) said the hair dresser at a Delhi Salon. I let it go when I heard it for the first time. Poor chap, dealing as he was with the soft Punjabi hair on a regular basis, my tresses must have presented him with a challenge! But when I heard the same from another hair dresser at yet another salon in Delhi, I had had enough!

I mean, what was wrong with my hair? No hair dresser had ever commented on it in my native Chennai! The Bengali ladies in Kolkata during my growing years had raved about my thick mane.. Why…. even the Goddess Durga idols in the city had hair like mine! So why should I shell out Rs 5000 or more and try to make it straight?

Okay, so it might be more manageable but I suspect it is not just the manageability that is the issue here. So, was it a marketing stunt? Trying to push a product on someone? I guess it is something slightly beyond that.. something more subtle. A strategy by the beauty industry where one brand of looks is being presented as aspirational as opposed to another- straight hair and fair skin being the preferred brand of looks! I suppose coming as a I did from Chennai where a majority had my kind of looks it was not so obvious but in Delhi where people with my racial features were in a minority it was automatically assumed that I was a “freak” and therefore might be looking out for an option to “conform” ! 

“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” so goes the saying. But what we forget is that the beholder is not neutral. S/he is vulnerable to suggestion by which certain brands of looks can be presented as THE epitome of beauty!

India is an amalgamation of different racial types ranging from dark skins and curly hair in the south to the fair skin/ soft hair of the north to the petite ever youthful looks of the north east. So what makes light skin and straight hair the good looks standard? I might have said Bollywood through its songs about “Gori Gori choris” ( fair girls) with “Sunehere baal” ( golden hair)  and “Gulabi gaal”(pink cheeks) except that most of the leading ladies in Bollywood have traditionally been women from the south – the land of dark women with frizzy hair!!!  From  Waheeda Rehman ( yes she is a South Indian!!!!) to Hema Malini and Rekha to Sri Devi, Shilpa Shetty, Aishwarya Rai  and now Deepika Padukone we have had Southern beauties ruling the Hindi film industry.

But it is sad to see how even people like Sri Devi have conformed to this standard, straightening out her once frizzy/ curly hair! I remember the first time I saw Kajol on screen, I loved her for her frizzy hair,  dark skin ,  uni brow and of course her plump frame..!! Today I find she has also conformed to the so called “beauty standard” .. Sadly, both Sri Devi and Kajol I think, have lost their unique charm!

And what is even more shocking is that the southern film industry, noted for its dark voluptuous beauties  has today girls from the north as its leading ladies! Most of them cannot speak the language that the film is supposed to be in.. yet the audiences are crazy about these fair skinned girls!

When did we get colonized by this idea of beauty?

While admitting that all of us in India have always nurtured a desire for fair skin, I do not know when the hair obsession hit us! When did we start coveting straight, brown hair? I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable watching a fair and light eyed Paro with straight hair in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s “Devdas” ! I wonder how long will it take before the craftsmen from Kumartuli start fashioning out idols of Goddess Durga with straight, soft hair and light eyes! 

After all isn’t that the standard?

Each sub culture within our country has its own definition of beauty based on the racial type. Instead of trying to preserve it we are trying to aspire towards a standard format of so called good looks and  becoming  like poorly grafted clones of our Punjabi sisters.

What we fail to realize is that beauty is all about being unique in some way. The moment we start trying to conform we become just one more face in the crowd…!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 8 comments

“Working” from home

Working from home, until recently used to be something that was restricted to self employed individuals. But over the last decade or so, many organizations  are also adopting the policy of allowing their employees to work from home. From the organization’s perspective it is helpful in saving on office infrastructure cost while the employee benefits from saving time on travel to work and back thereby giving them more time to achieve a positive work life balance.

As a person who had been working from home for the past three years, I would like to share with you in this post, some of my experiences.

One of my first observations when I started working from home was that there were more women opting for this than men. Though my department within the organization had work that was not typically office based, very few of my male colleagues wanted to work regularly from home.

“I don’t like it, it is very disturbing! The pressure cooker goes off, the maid flings vessels around the place ….” Said a male co worker when I asked him why he preferred to drive the 15 km to a field office and work rather than stay at home and complete it. Another colleague said that the neighbors kept asking his wife if he had been laid off work and that was troubling him!!

Image result for image of an Indian woman working from homeBut why is it that these things do not matter to us women? Are we women super humans who can concentrate on work amidst whistling cookers, whirring washing machines and chattering maids?

Well, the reason is that when a woman works from home people just assume that she is doing this along with her “domestic duties” and she has to somehow manage both. And neighbors really do not bother if she is at home all the time! It is considered “natural and normal”!

I think the above assumptions are completely contradictory to the concept of “Work from home”!

One of the first rules about working from home is that one must maintain the discipline of an office even if it is  your dining table that you are working out of. So, the cooking and other home tasks need to be completed as before and you should be at your work station by the time business starts. However, it is easier said than done.

It was relatively easier for me because my husband and daughter used to leave for office and school at least an hour before commencement of  my office time. There were no changes in schedule on that score. Most of the home related work was completed before 9.00 AM as a result of which, I could be at my seat on the dining table. But when I had house guests, I found that it was difficult to keep to these timings. They would often come for breakfast at their pace and want to chat while I was at my desk.  To them, it was simply the fact that I was home and so it was okay.  My most challenging experience was with a school friend who stayed over for a week.  She would ask me every half an hour through the day “Is your work over”? I just could not manage to explain to her that even if I was not on a call or typing something on the system at that point in time my work would close only by 5.30PM!  

Then there was the issue of our maid. Her understanding of the situation was that since I was at home all the time she could show up whenever she wanted! This led to a lot of confusion because there were often meetings that were planned during the day that I had to attend and when that happened my maid would complain “Where were you when I came?”

And then  there were the  telephone calls. Every time I was on a conference call I had to remember to press “Mute” because otherwise one could hear my father talking at the top of his voice or my maid shouting at the watchman next door! There have often been instances when sales people repeatedly rang the door bell while I was on a call. Most of them could see me seated inside and could not understand why I was not opening the door. Those of you who have been on conference calls know that it can often go on for a couple of hours and in such cases it is very difficult to explain to the sales people outside through sign language that you want them gone!

Strangely these experiences are not common to all those who work out of home. When  a man does this he can actually work without disturbance. If it is a stay at home wife she completes the work before the commencement of business so that he can be at his desk on time. She keeps the maids and the sales people at bay and visiting relatives leave a man alone. Even if his wife has an office based job she usually ensures that his meals are ready and served out so that he does not have to even leave his desk to make a cup of tea! A consultant I used to work with had a wife who was a professor in a college. Before she left for work. she used to see that his lunch was packed, his tea was in  a flask and the driver on duty not just to drive him around but to send away unwanted visitors!

It is worse when it comes to self employed persons. I have seen my auditor , a young woman who works out of a room in her house, deal with a her child and also manage her work. Her son constantly wants her attention and disturbs client meetings by throwing a tantrum. She uses her office staff to manage the child while she is working, which is a highly unprofessional thing to do!

I have never seen self employed men being disturbed in such a manner. They usually have a child care person to deal with a young child if the wife is working away from home.

To conclude what I would like to say is that while work from home is an excellent opportunity to achieve work life balance there are some things that we must keep in mind while doing it.

1.   Treat it seriously and maintain a discipline similar to what we would if were in the office. This means having a person to look after a young child or training your child not to disturb you while you work, taking lunch breaks at  the usual time when the office has a break. It also means that if you have to attend to something personal during business hours, one needs to keep the concerned people informed about your unavailability during that time.   It is because of the inability of some people to deal with these issues in a disciplined manner  that makes employers think twice before allowing people to work from  home.
2.   People at home should realize that working from home is also work and not disturb people during office hours. There are times when the work hours might go beyond 5.30 PM  even when we are working from home. So spouses and kids who come back from office and school must respect that. There have been times when I have worked until 7.00PM from my living room. My husband and daughter have been very supportive during that period. There have been no tantrums that tea or dinner was not ready on time despite my being at home. One should treat it exactly how they would if the person had been held up at office. My husband on those occasions has had dinner organized so that by the time I shut down my lap top I did not have to enter my kitchen.

Mental activity is about as taxing as physical activity. Working from home does not mean that the person is having a holiday. Stressing them out by dumping extra domestic work on them,  completely defeats the benefit that they get out of this option. And yes, I would strongly encourage men to opt for this option and share the household work too as they might expect their work from home wives to do. With regard to self employed professionals,  whether men or women it is imperative they maintain  the required discipline by ensuring that home responsibilities do not spill into professional ones even if the office is within the house. It might come with an additional cost but that has to be factored into their professional service fee!. 

So the next time you hear about someone working from home, please do not say “How lucky!” and drop in for a chat. Their time is about as precious as yours. It is just that their work space is different.