Thursday, August 30, 2012 11 comments


I was on a flight back from Delhi a couple of weeks ago when I happened to watch once again the classic Hindi movie – Amar Prem. A film that never fails to move me – each time I see it I am able to understand a different facet about it. This movie is what I would refer to as a “complete package” – it has a beautiful story, great music and good acting! It is also a movie that was probably far ahead of its times ..

Most often movies try to portray love within the confines of a defined relationship – father/ mother – son/ daughter, young man- woman/ boy- girl, and so on.. But this movie is about love beyond such definitions.

The story is about Pushpa a poor young woman who is in a abusive relationship with her husband. Her husband remarries as she is childless and throws her out of the house. When Pushpa goes back to her poor old mother she is not exactly welcome there. She falls prey to  a middle aged man in the village who lures her with promises of a good job in Calcutta and sells her to a brothel in the city. She accepts her fate as a woman of the night.

It is by chance that a rich and unhappy man, Anand,  is brought into the red light district in a drunken state by a coach driver. He is about to leave the place when the haunting voice of Pushpa singing a song holds him back and then draws him to her. A man in an unhappy married relationship with his socialite wife he finds in Pushpa a companionship that his wife is unable to provide. There is a touching scene where he names some traditional dishes ( which he hears his friend say he had for a meal)  and asks Pushpa if she knows how to make them-she looks very surprised and asks  him “Will you eat if I make them?”. He says with a smile “ Why not!”

In the midst of all this is a little boy Nandu who lives in a house bordering the red light district. Nandu has a step mother who does not care for him. While playing in the streets one day he happens to run into Pushpa who develops a fondness for him. She spoils him with sweets and food and he gets from her the love that his step mother denies him. For Pushpa it is a fulfilment of her yearning for mother hood.  Nandu’s family does not want him to visit the “disreputable” woman and so he has to do this without their knowledge.  So we have Anand who is married but actually relates to another woman and we have a child who loves this same woman like his mother. They are almost like a family – the three of them not in anyway related to one another! 

Anand’s family is of course not at all happy that he is seeing a “prostitute”. So his wife’s brother comes one day and threatens Pushpa with dire consequences if she lures his brother in law away from his wife. Pushpa promises that she would not see him again and so the next time he comes to visit her she refuses to open her door and  tells him never to come to see her again.

Meanwhile Nandu falls ill and is predictably not taken of properly by his step mother. It is Pushpa who goes back to Anand with a request to send a good doctor to treat the boy. Again, a wonderful scene where the doctor asks Anand as to how he was related to the boy. Anand tells him “ I am not related to him. I had come to you with a request for treatment from the boy’s mother”
Days go by. Pushpa loses her youth and her looks and has to work as a maid in a boarding house. Nandu grows up is a successful engineer and is posted in Calcutta. He scours the streets ingfor “her” – as he refers to Pushpa.  Anand is older and is his kind but sharp talking self with a sarcastic sense of humour. When Nandu’s son falls ill he seeks out the same doctor who cured him as a child. It is at the doctor’s clinic that he runs into Anand. Together they look for  Pushpa.

Meanwhile Pushpa chances at the boarding house her husband who is on the brink of death. He is blind and delirious having no one to care for him. It is she who cares for him – in a very impersonal way as a maid who works there. But when he breathes his last she behaves like a hindu woman accepting widowhood – breaking her bangles on the banks of the Ganges!

Towards the end both Anand and Nandu manage to find Pushpa and it is Anand who tells Nandu to “take your mother home” !A wonderful scene where you see Nandu and Pushpa seated on a rickshaw going past a procession that is bringing in the idol of Goddess Durga for the nine day puja- very symbolic of a homecoming

While the film Anand has often been stated as being one of Rajesh Khanna’s greatest. I think this movie is by far a better one. The character that he portrays is a fine balance between a person who carries sadness in his heart with a smile on his lips. He is sarcastic and he hates high emotions. There is this famous dialogue in the movie “Pushpa I hate tears”!! (I remember seeing on so many people’s status messages on face book when the news of his death got around.) But it is the same hero who actually wipes off tears and walks away in the last scene after bidding goodbye to his beloved.

But what is so unique about the entire movie is the way it has so beautifully woven together the lives of three individuals – a man, woman and a child into a bond of love that is outside of socially defined relationship. It is very non judgemental of the “fallen woman” explaining very clearly the circumstances that got her to where she was. It also shows the deep conditioning that Indian women have towards marriage and widowhood in that final scene when Pushpa formally becomes a widow after her hsuband’s death – very impersonal and devoid of any emotions. Being his widow was probably as much a dutiful thing for her to as being a wife would have been.

The film is also a social commentary of the times that it is set in - 1950s/ 60s . There is a lovely song “Kuchh to log Kahenge, Logon ka kaam hai kehna” – roughly translated it means “people always say something – it is their job to do so.”-  bringing out the falseness of gossip and so called morality. There is this other wonderful number that celebrates the broken heart “Yeh kya hua, kaise hua” which Anand sings when Pushpa closes her doors to him.  And ofcourse who can forget the famous “Chingari koi bhadke, toh sawan usey bujhaey. Sawan jo agan lagaey use kaun bujhaey”- meaning “ If a spark flares into a flame the rain can douse it but when the rain starts a fire who can put it out?”

Sharmila as the heroine has very little by way of dialogues in the entire movie. She conveys more by her silence – all the wonderful dialogues are Rajesh Khanna’s ! The man is not really great by way of acting. However what I think he was very lucky with was the fact he lived and worked during a time when the directors were good and so were the stories and music . The movie’s success can be attributed as much to Shakti Samanta, R.D. Burman and Kishore as to Rajesh. You remove one and the  magic goes! I read somewhere that Rajesh Khanna had apparently watched the original Bengali  version with Uttam Kumar “Nishipadma” 7-8 times before he agreed to sign this movie. I have not seen the Bengali version but it is on my list of “to watch” films

A movie that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Although I know that the hero of the movie “hates tears” I could not help them flowing down my cheeks. A foreign lady sitting next to me on the flight actually asked me “Are you alright?” 

Air India may give us lousy service but their in-flight movies are definitely good ones! They are also edited well, where you get to see the best parts with the best songs intact!

Thursday, August 23, 2012 17 comments


No this is not a salty / spicy post – it is serious!

While we can laugh at the bumbling ways of men, we women do not exactly cover ourselves with glory when it comes to the way we interact with each other or with the world in general. Someone once told me that we make the worst enemies! I couldn’t agree more. We can balance malice in our hearts very well with a smile on our lips! We are also supposed to very good at “under hand dealings”! Our methods require careful analysis and the most dangerous thing about them is that like everything else we are precocious when it comes to perfecting them- we start rather young! Much has been written about female adolescent behavior ( those of you who are interested  can read this wonderful book called “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman. ).

Bullying as we know is very much a part of teenage. While boys indulge in physical bullying which is very tangible and is therefore something against which action can be taken, the methodology employed by girls is very subtle and psychological. There is no way one can point a finger at the perpetrator. While bullying is one side to female adolescent behavior there is also another one that surfaces while  dealing with competition. My daughter has been at the receiving end of the later.    

The problem started a couple of days back during the term exams. There is a girl in her class who gets top marks in most subjects ( particularly science and maths). However this child does not do very well in subjects like English, History etc. While my daughter is not exactly the class topper in history, she is considered to be very good at it as well as  English. So what this class topper has been trying to do is to create a situation of a “set up” in the examination hall. During each of those exams she has been trying to whisper and ask my daughter some silly doubts ( “what is the spelling of suggest” being an example). Initially surprised my daughter was wondering why she needed to cheat since she was the class topper. She then worked out that the reason must be to create an environment where it would appear that it was my daughter who was whispering or cheating. This would result in her being asked to leave the exam hall thereby reducing the competition! To say that I was surprised would be an understatement- I was shocked that someone so young could indulge in something so wily! I was not sure though if this was my daughter’s imagination. However I learnt later that this same girl , during a previous class  test in Physics had suddenly asked another girl ( who she considered her rival in Physics) very playfully and loudly “Hey S- cheating huh?”. S was predictably thrown out of the class!

I shudder to think how this girl would shape up as she grows older!

I have often wondered what makes us like this? I mean there are no excuses for such behavior but there must be a causal factor. It is not exactly  encoded in the X chromosome- that I am pretty much sure of !  So if it is not “nature” it must have something to do with the “nurture” part ! Every person is a product of the way they have been brought up. Girls, I realize in our male dominated society are socialized into a situation where they do not get what they want by asking for it directly. They are also expected to exhibit charm, softness and sweetness – qualities that are so intrinsically positive that they probably have no outlet for negative feelings. So what we end up doing is using indirect methods which are very difficult to decipher but which help us in getting to our goals. Besides, much of behavior is also learned. In the case of girls the role model for female behavior is the mother! We behave the way we see our mothers behaving within our family. Our behaviors are also influenced  by whether we have fathers who also expect stereotypical behavior from the women in the family. And if we are in a family where we also have brothers the chances are that we may often have to resort to these kinds of wiles – especially if it is a family that discriminates between boys and girls.

I have thankfully escaped these traits since I come from a family where my father was the only male and my mother a very dominating person. So we have never really seen her resorting to indirect hints or behavior where she says something and means something else. Of course  I suspect she was a different person when she was not married – as she lived in a joint family with a two brothers and a dominating father who would not have tolerated such behavior from any of his daughters.  

But my mother in law was a different cup of tea. An extremely beautiful woman who was very highly educated, her mantra in managing her husband was to constantly seem helpless in front of him arousing his protective instincts! She tells me that she had always handed over her pay check to him and never asked for anything other than housekeeping money. According to her own account the first time she entered a bank was after his death! She often used to advise me  to adopt similar behavior while dealing   with her son probably not realizing that both these men were  completely different from each other! I did try sometimes just to test waters but I was told very brusquely to “Stop being a pseudo” and “be yourself”!

 Being low on the wiliness quotient also made me rather slow in understanding and interpreting such tactics employed by other women and girls. Where it took me over three decades to understand the behavior of my sex, my daughter I am glad  is able to detect and deal with it in her teens.

There are degrees to false behavior that I see and tolerate among my sex. I see women who give me hugs and air kiss and then draw their knives out. Though I am ready with my defenses I find it difficult to deal with the hugging bit- I would rather hug a good male friend/ colleague!  I see some girls in my daughter’s class do the same- hug each other and some of the moms. I  noticed that where moms are concerned such behavior is restricted only to the mothers of  boys!!! I seriously wonder why? I can’t believe it is because they might want to impress a boy by being nice to his mother or is it because some mothers of daughters would see through such behavior more easily?

As society closes in on the gender gap, I should have thought the current generation of girls would not need to exhibit such traits to get their way- but then there is always the upbringing by parents who seem to have forgotten that we are living in a different world that is moving more towards equality in terms of boys- girls/ men- women!  Many of us women – particularly those who are educated and employed should have the confidence to stand up and fight, ask for what we want or like instead of relying on those age old “weapons of the weak” !

Saturday, August 18, 2012 15 comments


(Disclaimer: This post needs to be taken in the spirit in which it is written – WITH A PINCH OF SALT!)

I am now increasingly becoming convinced that we women are a resident of another planet. I do not know how we live and deal with the Martians – meaning men. I mean communication is probably one of the biggest barriers. We say something and they understand something else.. And then we want something and they give us something else. Oh my God..!!!  The simplest of things seems to put the fear of god into them! Let me illustrate with a few examples

Last week I was trying desperately to call the husband while he was in Bangalore. Like most people from his planet his memory fails him when it comes to remembering simple things like  sending a message or calling to say that he has reached his destination. When I had not heard from him even after about two hours from  the time his flight is supposed to have landed, I decided to call him. The phone rang and rang….! No answer. I sent him a message “Hope you have reached safely”. No response!  Out of sheer desperation I sent him another text which read like this “????” Promptly came the response “ In a meeting. Can’t talk”.  I messaged back “!!!” Received yet another response “ What ?”. Response from my end “ooooh”

This time I actually received a call “Whats up?” he asked in a whisper. Now wasn’t he in a meeting and couldn’t take calls? “ I came out to talk ” he said urgently. Yes, but wasn’t that an important meeting where he could not take calls? “But tell me what is it?” he asked impatiently. So I did– “Nothing” Seriously, was there any need to resort to expletives ? I mean my question had been answered- he had reached his destination! And they say we women are unpredictable and difficult to understand!!!

While there are men who find simple messages difficult to comprehend there are men who do not even understand  something they see in front of their eyes. Take this example- a friend of mine was travelling to a  project site in a village with a male colleague. She asked the driver to stop near a medical shop to buy a critical  ”female requirement”. As she returned to the vehicle with her purchase wrapped up in a newspaper her colleague commented in astonishment “My God! So many medicines!”. To say that she was irritated would be an understatement. She decided to clear his misconception in the best  way possible – by unwrapping the parcel and showing him what it contained! I think this martian will probably never again make any comments about medical purchases !

Then, there is a Martian in my office who is in charge of procurement and administration to whom I had been repeatedly making requests about installing a dustbin inside the ladies toilet. He raised a lot of objections initially about why we women needed something “even inside the toilet” when there were dustbins in everybody’s cabins . Finally he relented and got us one – without a lid ! His explanation – “we have placed orders with a wholesaler for all dustbins in the office and this is part of that consignment. You have got your dustbin now what is the problem” So, we decided he needed to know exactly what the problem was- I gave him a detailed explanation about the need for a dustbin with a lid inside the ladies toilet. A lesson he has obviously not forgotten- his embarrassment a definite indication!
The discomfort that Martians feel while in a social situation makes one wonder if it is a torture method used in their planet. They grumble, fidget and in general convey their complete unease. Their logic – conversations without a purpose is a waste of time! Take the example of a seventy two year old Martian- my father. One can never be sure when he would disconnect a call while we are talking to him. He does that every time the telephone conversation moves out of the question- answer/ information sharing mode!

The spouse has similar problems albeit the symptoms are different. He prefers funerals to weddings simply because at funerals people are there for a purpose – to express their condolence and leave. They don’t “hang around talking aimlessly” he complains. His biggest nightmare- being caught in a situation with me where we run into some acquaintances and I start a conversation with them! The unease I guess comes from his being unprepared to deal with the generic nature of the talk and the expectation from him having to contribute to it. So most often he stands there like a brooding presence and sometimes in his more tolerant moments like an obedient sheep while I end up doing most of the talking - all the time conveying  very wrong impressions about himself.

I don’t know what conditions exist on that planet that makes them so different!!! I sometimes wonder whether a “How to” book written on the Martians for benefit of  the residents of Venus might help… ! I am seriously considering authoring one – any inputs from fellow Venetians are  most  welcome!
Sunday, August 12, 2012 14 comments


 Ahh… I am sure many of you are wondering what this is going to be all about?

This post is inspired by a discussion I had with one of my friends this morning. We were talking about how “stupid” ( read “uninformed”) we were about some vital facts of life when compared to what our kids know today.

We were in class IX and eagerly awaiting the Bio class. Not that we cared  much about the subject or Mrs Nair our teacher. What we were really waiting with bated breath was the lesson that she was going to teach us – the human reproductive system! So obviously there was a lot of commotion and whispers as she settled down. But the sly woman that she was ,she suddenly feigned annoyance and asked the class to “stand up” because we were being unruly. “I am not going to stay  a minute longer in a class full of hooligans like you. You can remain standing and we will have a test on this chapter tomorrow” she said as she stormed out! Our disappointment was now coupled with an added worry about that blessed test! We found out soon enough that reading about sperms and ova, testes and ovaries for a test all by ourselves was really a bore!

“I am sure it is not all so technical and scientific ” – I remember a friend complaining before that test.

But then that was how we were “informed” -in scientific language where it was difficult to differentiate  zygospores, anthers and stigma  from testes and ovaries.

The nuns who taught us realized our curiosity and tried to deal with it during moral science and religious instruction classes. So, they went on and on about it in their own round about way. One of the nuns who handled moral science for our seniors apparently kept a drop box on the table so that girls could write out questions that they were too shy to ask. I am sure that box must have been filled to the brim in print writing. One of them shared recently on face book about how Sr. Marcelene once told their class to “thank the lord for giving us so many eggs!!!”

But the curiosity of a teen is further aroused when such “beating about the bush” kind of statements are made. We sought for information with a perseverance that was close to the Buddha’s search for “Nirvana”. We used to read those “Mills and Boon” romances. Unfortunately those days the maximum that those books would describe would be a kiss! Even that was something that we tried our best to understand. I was firmly under the impression that only foreigners kissed. I mean one did not see it in Indian movies and of course we never saw parents ever indulge in something like this. We used to read  those pages over and over again until they were book marked by sheer use! One could open a M&B and get straight to that kissing place.  

I , being the information freak tried to rummage through those old science journals in the school library while my friends read through the “ Ask the doctor” or the “Agony Aunt” section in a magazine called “Home Life”.  I am sure the librarian knew about this research that being conducted but she never did anything to help. Actually, I am thankful that  atleast she did nothing to put an end to it !

Finally, I got some idea about what “it” might actually involve and used this information to hold court with my peers in our neighbourhood. Soon, I became some sort of expert on doubts that might arise on the topic. I remember a friend once used a unisex toilet. She asked me if she could have become pregnant because she had used a soiled toilet seat ( I am sure you know the nasty habit that men/ boys have when they use the toilet). I was not sure but since I had been identified as an expert I said “I think so”. But privately I wanted to clarify from another neighbour- a much older girl who was in a medical college. When I explained the matter to her she n howled with laughter! I still remember her saying “The man does not piss into the woman you fool”. I was terribly embarrassed when I found that she had told many of her friends about this stupid idea of mine and they in turn often asked me about my views on unisex toilet use. 

But jokes apart, if I were to point out a major lacuna in my upbringing I would say it was about the lack of any formal sex education. I do remember my mother explaining to me about menstrual hygiene and the need to stay away from “boys and men” but nothing that actually was about the act of procreation ( or pleasure?). She did try to “talk “to me before I got married. But I found it  too awkward to discuss it with her.  I sometimes think that may be today, I know more than her about these matters? I am sure she has no idea about homosexuality for instance ( or may be she does but has classified it in her mind as a sort of perversion).

We have tried to maintain an open dialogue with our daughter about this. When compared to mine, her school is definitely more encouraging in terms of getting children to talk about these matters. Then of course there is the media which provides access to information much more easily than it did during our days. But the point is to help children sift the information they receive from these sources so that they know what is a piece of information and what is a myth. As times change, I think there is also the subtle difference in the way sex is being viewed – it has moved from being something to do with procreation to something that is to do with pleasure. It is important I guess, to let children know that it is not a taboo but something that they would discover and experience when they are old enough for it. Ofcourse while we are at it there is no harm in also mentioning about contraception. Thankfully, in our home the later is a topic of drawing room discussion due to the fact that my late mother in law was the District Family Planning officer for Chennai. There are many hilarious stories about her inability to meet the vasectomy targets. We try to use humour to drive home the point. The daughter is very comfortable with the topic but I just  hope she is not too hurt when she tries to talk about this with ease in a group that still has discomfort discussing it.

As part of my work with the communities in the villages I have found that while girls have some knowledge about the issues around reproduction boys continue to be clueless. Their source of information seems to be still drawn from those dog eared porn books that they pass around. It is therefore quite strange that many programs around reproductive health continue to target women and girls. No point in giving women information that they would never be able to  use. I mean few men in our patriarchal society would listen to his wife if she suggested  birth control measures  His answer would be “how do you know all this?” And from there would creep in the doubts about the poor woman’s “character”

But there are some progressive programs that NGOs are implementing around this whole issue of sexuality and couple communication in a marriage. With a good facilitator these programs we find are becoming extremely popular. Many of them also contribute subtly to empowerment of women! Couples who have been part of such programs have often been known to come back and tell some of our colleagues how life for them is so much happier!

It is sad that the country which is home to the famous “Kamasutra” should today have become so “screwed up” when discussing sex. Many people still go to quacks who claim to cure “private diseases” and put their life at risk.  . I am inclined to agree with Khushwant Singh who once said in an interview that “Indians have sex in their heads and not between their legs” We think about it all the time, many of our actions around it are so furtive that it almost seems like something dirty and most importantly we refuse to “talk about it”- when are we going to change?

Friday, August 10, 2012 17 comments


It was exactly on this day sometime in the 1970s ( Sorry can’t reveal the year you see) that grandfather told me about her arrival. He did not seem as enthusiastic as I felt when we went to see her at the hospital. But I was really thrilled!  I could tell that Srivatsan and Tiklu ,my neighbours (and tormentors) that I also had a sister now!

Wondering why Amma was looking so tiered and sick, I followed the nurse into the room where the babies were kept. She was lying among them –a tiny bundle wrapped in cloth. “Don’t touch her” warned the nurse. So I had to be content just gazing at her from a distance! 

My head was filling with possible names for her. Somehow my grandparents were not participating very actively in this discussion. I realize now that they were disappointed – disappointed that their daughter had given birth to yet another daughter and not for the much hoped grandson. But I the six year old obviously did not care. She was the new doll that I had been given to play with.

However doll she was not, I soon realized. She cried whenever I tried to hold her and as she grew older became a competitor for my parents’ attention. I was constantly asked by my mother to fetch and carry her things which I did not like.

But as she grew older I began to adore her. She had a lovely mass of brown curls and a pink complexion. She was very different from my dark self with springy black hair. So I decided to tell my friends that she was a “foreign baby”. The foreign baby on the other hand grew into a regular bully. I gave her my prized stuffed doll with the plastic face which she smashed against the wall breaking along with its face my heart!

She started turning into more and  more of a pest than I could imagine. My mother insisted that I take her downstairs with me to play. She obviously had other plans- she used to pinch and beat up all the kids and they used to come crying to me with complaints about my terrible sister. I dreaded the day she would join my school.

But join she did and what an embarrassment she was! I had given her strict instructions NEVER to approach me while we were in school. But she made it a point to come along with a bunch of her friends during every lunch break and call out to me loudly. Ofcourse, I ignored her! But ignoring was often not possible – especially when she came and stood outside my class room wanting 10 paisa to buy “chooran” from Mrs Rice. I used to studiously ignore her until whichever teacher was in my class started to ask the kindergarten kid what she wanted. The kid used to point at me silently and I would be sent out to deal with the matter. After a few minutes of arguments in hushed whispers with my entire class watching I would hand over the prized 10 paisa to her and rush back into the class.

She continued to be a pain right through our school days in Calcutta. My parents had within a year hit upon a fantastic economy plan ! Her school used to get over by 1.30 PM and instead of taking the school bus  she was to stay back until 3.45 PM when mine got over so that we could travel back together by tram.  The plan was alright by me but I had not bargained for the havoc she would cause in the two hours or so that she was hanging around in school. She used to decapitate all the flowers in the school garden and had the various nuns and nuns in training complaining to me!!! Finally when things got to be too much I revolted and told my parents that I was not having the sibling stay back in school and cause me trouble. So she was back to the school bus!

There was suddenly a gap in our interaction during the days we moved to Hyderabad. I was initially in a different school and then in college. Our timings were different and I was too stressed out in the evenings to bother spending time with her. But she continued to trouble me during the nights. She used to sleep near the window and had a fear of the tree outside. So she used to  bug me through the nights saying “Turn towards me and sleep”.  It was quite annoying especially as  I was getting a crick in the neck by the mornings!

Thankfully she found her own group of friends and I was spared the pain of having to take her around with me wherever I went. No longer was she “Meera’s tail”. She had become a person in her own right.

I also realized that she was growing up. She was reading romance novels and I could finally discuss things with her which until now I thought she was too young to understand. I remember those summer afternoons during those rare occasions when our vacations actually coincided - she used to cycle up to the video rental shop and get us movies to watch.  Together we discovered the “Carry on” series!!! Hilarious and filled with risqué humour, we watched them quietly in the afternoons when Appa would be away in the office and Amma would be asleep!

But the fights continued. Who would answer the phone when it rang in the afternoons? “Please answer I am sleeping” I used to order closing my eyes. “How can you be asleep when you are talking?” she used to argue defiantly. “Well, I talk in my sleep” I used to clarify. This would go on until Amma would wake up and take the call ( most often a wrong number)  and give us both a sound scolding. This time, BOTH of us used to pretend to be asleep.

The years went by. I went away to a hostel and she was alone at home and then later she was away in a hostel and I was working. During those later years we were together in the same town but rarely had time to meet as our regimes were again different.

Then came marriage and motherhood ( mine). I remember how she “rescued” part of the bridegroom’s party who were stuck in an elevator during my wedding. She sped downstairs and brought an electrician around who got the fault repaired. Ofcourse I was unaware of this until the wedding was over.

She is a second mother to her niece – they even look alike! People often mistake her for the mother when the three of us are together. I have no problems because in many ways she is also the mother. When my daughter was younger it was she who used to care for her if I had to go out of station anywhere. She hears things from my daughter that I often do not get to hear about. She also maintains confidentiality I guess unless it is something really serious. The daughter’s favourite past time is to zip around with her “chitti” on her scooty across town. 

Appa with his two girls
While I am technically the older one among the two of us, I find these days that she is actually the more mature one. I am proud of the person that she has grown into. A true Leo, she is a natural leader! I guess it would have been sometimes difficult for her- being the younger one. For starters, she had to grow up wearing my “hand me downs”. I was an easier child to manage and my parents often compared us not only in terms of behaviour but also I guess in terms of academics. I was more into the traditional subjects like maths and science but those were obviously not her forte. They must have realized their mistake in her later years of education when she shone like a star in her chosen subjects.

Whenever it is “Rakshabandhan” I think about why it has to be love between a brother and sister that needs to be celebrated? Why not love between sisters? I guess it is because the love between sisters is constant – it does not change when they get married or when there is property to be inherited. So we do not need artificial things like a “resham ki dori” to keep us together.

It was my sister who got me into blogging. And I must say she writes really well! You can read her posts in When the Muse Strikes                            .

I will end this post with a quote “You keep your past by having sisters. As you get older they are the only ones who don’t bored when you talk of your memories” – Happy birthday kiddo..!

Monday, August 6, 2012 8 comments


Remember Eliza Dolittle singing this song in “My Fair Lady”? 

It is not just Eliza but  many other girls who have sung this song over the years . I sang this in the 1990s when I moved to Chennai and started looking for a place to stay. Working as a beginner in the non profit sector, what I earned just paid for that room and two square meals a day! I was too proud to call it quits and go home you see!

After nearly two decades, it appears as though the situation has changed. I realized this when I was trying to help two young girls who have joined us as interns find an accommodation. The experience has left me shaken to say the least…!

We began this hostel hunting project last  Friday!

Unlike me who was trying to do this alone in the 90s , in this case both these girls had the entire office offering advice. The options also seemed a bit too many .I compared it to the only two options I had those days – the YWCA and Andhra Mahila Sabha!

We worked out a strategy and decided that we would only look at places near the office so that they would  not have to spend time and money travelling every day!

Now, our office is not located in exactly what you would call a very posh area- it is a lower middle class, quasi industrial area. So I had some misgivings about putting two girls straight out of college from places outside Chennai in  hostels within this area. However, there is no harm in looking is it?

The first place we visited  seemed okay. But we were not prepared for the fact that the girls  would have to share a room with three others. So we moved to another location in the next street- again, twin sharing accommodation was not available – four to a room seemed to be the norm. We asked to see a room – what we saw made my head spin ! The room looked like a poultry shed – the hostel management did little by way of cleaning it and the residents ( my colleague C who was with us kept using the word “inmates” and I kept correcting her but now I think she had used the right word) added to the mess by throwing things around the room! I also wondered about the lack of a table or even a chair in those rooms. There were absolutely no other furniture except those beds!Were the residents supposed to just live out of their  beds?

Our driver, who had by now become an expert on hostel hunting told us that he had found another place across the street. When we reached there we met with a very smart young woman with a mobile phone who took down our specifications and started making calls and letting us know which were the hostels that had twin sharing rooms. I was almost certain she was some kind of a broker until she introduced herself as the “proprietor” of these hostels. “ Oh, do you own all these properties?” I asked her. “No ma’m they are all rented” she said riding with us to the various locations and opening doors and letting us peek inside.

Twin sharing or threesomes or foursomes – all the rooms were uniformly messy! I was increasingly beginning to feel they needed someone like my mother to be in charge- she would scold all the girls living there into cleaning those rooms!!

Today’s experience was even worse. We moved to some upcoming residential areas around the office which can certainly be called “posh”. The buildings were new but the way the “hostels” were maintained were uniformly bad! Imagine this scene – a living room in one of these flats filled with steel cots lined around the perimeter with godrej bureaus dividing the space into two living areas. Each bedroom had so many cots that I was not sure anymore about how many were actually  expected to share that space. And when we asked for the “warden” they pointed to someone who looked like the domestic help!!!  I thought I had lost my power  of communication because every time I said “twin sharing” room they would take us to these cot filled rooms and tell us there were two beds vacant!

Finally we did find them a decent hostel – near the office but in a street that was really nice. Not twin sharing but three to a room. By the end of the day we had become so desensitised to the messy rooms that the bench mark was sufficiently lowered for this place to be counted as “acceptable”!! However what surprised me when we finally made the decision was that no one asked for any letter from the organization or any other particulars in terms of relatives of guardians in the town. They were satisfied with the token advance we paid and promised to hold the the room until tomorrow! 

But jokes apart – I am appalled at the kind of accommodation that this city provides for working women!! Most of these so called “hostels” are houses with portioned rooms and crammed in cots – each of them charging anything between Rs 4000- Rs 6000 per head per month with or without AC / washing machine.

And more than the kind of options available what sickens me is the fact that these girls who are probably quite decently educated and earn  decently ( all these so called hostels are located in the back streets of the big IT companies) live like chicken in these rooms! Their beds are never made and I think they never fold their clothes!! And  can you imagine four girls/ women living like this?

“Oh hostel rooms are meant to be like this” says a friend. I disagree! I lived in a hostel during my college days and later – I am not exactly meticulous about cleanliness but I think our rooms were far  tidier than any that I have seen during the last three days. My sister’s college hostel did not have cupboards and they lived out of trunks which were pushed neatly under the bed when not needed. The wardens ensured that we lived like humans.People whose rooms were untidy were severely reprimanded!

“It is a class thing” says the husband. I disagree. I have seen women keep a hut very clean while women who own huge houses have floors so sticky with dirt and grease that one’s feet get stuck on them. I refuse to take off my shoes when I enter such houses! Taking off one’s shoes is to keep the floor clean but if the floor were to dirty my feet then I would prefer to keep my shoes on!

It saddens me that our education system has not taught simple values around cleanliness and hygiene. Neither have the parents instilled it in them, it appears. It is probably education in only certain types of colleges and schools that still holds on to these values. And these colleges are possibly accessible only to people from a certain class –so I guess in way it IS a class thing!

One of the interns tells me that when she was studying in Delhi, she stayed in a hostel with four girls to a room but it was not like this. I believe her.  I am sure Delhi does not have as many working girls of a certain variety as Chennai does! And the single working woman in Delhi is probably not someone who is working crazy hours to save for a dowry or repaying a loan taken by her parents to send her to a ( probably no good)  private engineering college that cleaned out their entire life savings!

When providing accommodation to a vast number of working girls becomes a business where the demand is greater than supply and when the people who require that accommodation care very little about how they live or where they live then such filthy places are bound to flourish.  I wonder how many of the owners of those new houses we saw are aware of how their lovely flats are being misused? I wonder if there are any government regulations around this? ( not that they would be adhered to in our country)

As more and more girls come out into the job market, these conditions are probably going to worsen. Poor  Eliza would then be forced to sing “All I want is a cot somewhere”! She would certainly have to forget about that "enormous chair" ... None of the rooms would have space for that!

And sorry my dear Eliza- it would not be "Lovely"!!!

( pictures from the Internet)

Thursday, August 2, 2012 13 comments


I got back today after a three day trip to Odisha. I had been to visit what is considered to be one of the “Maoist Hubs” of the state – the Turekelia block of Bolangir district. People I knew  were a bit  tensed about this visit particularly as it was happening when the Maoists were celebrating the”Shaheed Saptah” ( the week of the patriots). Colleagues in our Odisha office warned me to  leave the villages  before 4.00 PM. Even my husband who is generally cool about all these visits that I make called up asking me with a laugh“How much ransom do you think I should ask to take you back if the Maoists kidnap you?”  But I knew deep down he was worried.  I do not worry about such matters much but when others are so obviously worried, it makes me a bit uneasy.

However, the visit in itself was went very smoothly. Other than a few red flags fluttering around in the countryside I did not encounter anything remotely resembling violence! We had been in touch with a small grassroots NGO who were to help us with a research study. Barely larger than a youth club they preferred to operate at that level- not hiring any one with big qualifications! My role was more in terms of getting them to understand the objectives of the study, finalize the study sample and ensure that they understood the questionnaire. I am not conversant with Oriya but having a very good knowledge of Hindi and Bengali, I was able to understand most of the discussions that were facilitated by an Oriya colleague and whenever I wanted to speak I found that they were able to communicate with me in Hindi. We had a fruitful discussion after which  they invited us to join them for lunch – prepared by them in an open air kitchen behind their small office. I offered to pay them for their expenses but they politely declined. We discussed the amount that needed to be paid to  their staff for administering the questionnaires – again they left it to us. I went back filled with a sense of positive energy

Now consider this scene as I landed at Chennai airport today. I was jostled by  people  I went to pick up my bag from the baggage carousel. As I waited for a taxi to pick me up the driver had some problems with my address. I insisted that he take me as it was a pre paid service and I had his taxi number written down on the slip given to me. He agreed grumbling all the while. As we drove down the road opposite the airport he got into an altercation with another taxi driver abusing him for overtaking him. The man in turn abused him back and they raced each other shouting abuses all the way. Meanwhile he kept honking at every vehicle that passed us- the lumbering buses ferrying employees of various IT and other companies as well as engineering students.

Suddenly my sneezing fit started! I realized as I looked for the tissue in my bag that I had not had an allergy attack for the entire period that I had been travelling!  As he dropped me outside my gate I got out with a sense of relief – almost as though I had escaped from a war zone!

Nearly four hours later as I pen these thoughts down I wonder which was the more dangerous situation- this urban jungle with its wild inhabitants or the calm countryside of those tribal villages whose inhabitants had risen in protest after years of oppression?

I find there is a very basic difference between these two states in terms of the kinds of people that it has. People in Odisha are generally very calm and peace loving, almost to the extent of being passive! The tribal communities are more so as a result of which they have been extremely exploited by the outsiders particularly people from the traditional trading communities. Infact the MLA for the region one Mr  Saluja is not even a Oriya!! He is supposed to be a big trader and a “goon” involved in what is called there as the “timber” mafia! The  health and education infrastructure in those regions are in no way comparable to what a state like Tamil nadu has. Infact when we compared the  government old age pension between the two states we found that where it is Rs 1000 in TN it is only Rs 300 in Odisha. People have very few opportunities there as a result of which they migrate to cities like Chennai and Hyderabad. Children are sent out often as child labourers and sometimes entire families migrate. They are employed in Chennai / Hyderabad at wage rates far lower than what the local population gets paid. Nobody dies in Tamil nadu of starvation while death due to starvation is a bitter reality in the parts of Odisha that I am talking about.

Yet when we look at people here  in Tamilnadu I find that we are so aggressive and  avaricious.   Nothing satisfies us and we do not want to work hard in order to get what we  are looking for. We would rather it came  free from the government. During my dozen odd years of work in the villages of TN, I am yet to come across a people's organization like the youth club at Badabanki with whom I had interacted. There are hundreds of "rasigar mandram" or fan clubs for film stars but no local organization that is built for their area development - may be people here do not feel they can do something for their own development.. May be they think development is their government's responsibility?

So we have on the other hand two state governments – one that delivers and makes people dependent on its services and another that has abdicated its responsibilities making people take up arms in frustration!

I would like to reiterate here that this post does not seek to justify Maoism or violence in anyway. What I am trying to say is something simple- as we go down the trajectory of “development” we become less developed as human beings! We want more and do less. We become impatient about everything and aggression rules our lives.

It was very touching to see young people taking leave of their elders or vice versa at the airports and railway stations in Odisha. I have spent nearly 17 years in Tamilnadu but I am yet to see a young person touch an elder’s feet as a form of greeting or leave taking!  My own daughter does not do it unless I prompt her to do "namaskaram" to her Pati and Thatha.  

People treat  you with so much concern and care  in these places that it often overwhelms me because I have forgotten that it is the norm in these parts of our country! Just before I left our office this afternoon one of  my colleagues from the Odisha office ( who used to work earlier in the Chennai office), a Bengali lady who all of us refer to fondly as “Didi” or elder sister was absolutely insistent that I have lunch before I leave because I was taking an Indigo flight and as she said “ I will not have you eating their cold sandwiches”!!!  There is a small canteen that operates from the office. Though it was a hour before the designated lunch time, she instructed the cook to make two rotis and a vegetable for me and had him bring it to her room on a plate as I was packing up my computer and files getting ready to leave. Believe me friends no one has shown me this kind of concern other than may be my mother, father or sister. People in Chennai may do this sort of thing  but not for ordinary mortals like me . May be this a part of what is called "professionalism" ?

I wonder why these places are called “Under developed”?  “Oh, it is because these people are like this that people exploit them” says someone. Now the truth in this cannot be denied! Survival, growth and development all seem to be oriented towards negating the nurturance of  humanity turning people into machines that pursue their goals single mindedly ruthlessly grinding down people or things that come in their way!