Monday, December 31, 2012

I see those eyes, I feel those hands...

When I think of you,
Mostly I think of what went through your mind
At the moment you saw those leering eyes
At the moment you felt those groping hands.
When your world shifted in a terrible second
From being someone's much loved daughter
Someone's carefree giggly friend
Someone's loving protected sister
To an object of hatred and subjugation.

I stop there, I can think no more
The horror of it has me in its stronghold
I am trapped in that moment
When you, a child of the Universe
Free, evolving, still growing
Joyous at your existence as an independent being 
With your simple aspirations and dreams
Of a home, of love, of a life
Came in contact with pure evil.

I live that moment again and again
There's no turning away 
I cringe and wince, my heart churning
(I rush to hold my mother's hand, and to hug my child)
For each time when your world shifts, mine does too
And when you, in that dreadful moment
Realize what these men meant to do to you
Sweet girl, my sister, my daughter, me
I see those eyes too, I feel those hands too. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winking at the Universe!

After a late night call with Atreya, I was especially disturbed. He had sounded very low, worse than ever before. He was not happy with his performance in the Army and was wondering if he was at all meant to be an officer. According to him, the other cadets seemed to know what they were doing and were doing it well, whereas he was fumbling and making mistakes, and not getting any better as time passed.

My first reaction was to tell him firmly to plow on. I was not just firm- I was angry at what I perceived to be his defeatist attitude. I told him that I too had to do things I didn't know or like in the last one year, but I had figured them out with hard work and persistence. If I could do it, he should too. I feel strongly about this issue of giving up half way, so this reaction was instinctive.

Later, while in bed, I felt terrible remorse at how I had reacted. So many thoughts went through my mind. He has only me to talk to- what right have I to push my opinions on him? And was I pushing him for his own good or to save my face? As always, such situations bring out my deepest inner conflicts about my role as the only parent to my kids. Am I a father, tolerating no nonsense and teaching his son to be strong, or am I a mother, gentle and kind and all forgiving.  I remembered how my mother had always unconditionally supported all my decisions, whether they looked good or bad, and how much that meant to me. Didn't Atreya deserve the same unconditional support? I recalled my father's implicit trust in my ability to run my life my way and how much that empowered me. Doesn't Atreya deserve a similar right to make his decisions, and take the reins of his life in his hands? 

After tossing and turning and contemplating on all these issues for a while, the mom and pop in me reconciled and I messaged him to say that whatever he decides to do, I would support him without judging him. I really meant it.

Three days later, I received another call from him while at work. He urgently needed his passport and certificates to be delivered to his camp. These were needed to apply for his citizenship, which was necessary before he could be nominated for an award called Sword of Honor. Not having forgotten our conversation of a few days ago, I didn't pay much attention to the award. In fact, a part of me thought it was a joke. I assumed that this nomination thing was just a gesture, and therefore certainly several cadets from his platoon would have been nominated too. Anyway, since he had asked, I rushed from office to home to pick up the documents and then took a cab to his camp 20 miles away.

There I met his boss, the Captain, and asked him what this award was for and how many cadets had he nominated. He looked at me oddly and said that he was nominating only one from his platoon. There were a total of nine nominations in the entire cohort, one from each platoon, of which only one would win the Sword of Honor. 

Taken aback, I blurted out- “Only one from your platoon? And you chose Atreya? Why?” He looked shocked at my question. But I think we were hell bent on shocking each other, because he responded- “Why? Because he is the best cadet in my platoon”. By now, my head had begun to spin. I said- “But he has not been doing well. How can he be your best cadet?” The response had me totally rethinking everything I knew about my son. The Captain said- “It's Atreya’s humility that he thinks he is not doing well. He is not arrogant enough to believe he knows it all, and works hard to improve constantly. We need more people like him, we need that attitude. He is a role model.”

On the way back, his words kept ringing in my ears. Atreya is the best cadet in the platoon. Atreya’s humility makes him doubt his own performance. Atreya is deserving of the highest award in OCS. Atreya is a role model!

When I spoke to Atreya later that night, I first scolded him for making me go through the hell of guilt and anxiety for almost a year for no reason. I told him I will never empathize or sympathize with him ever again because it is not needed. And so on. He listened to my ranting quietly and when he got a chance to speak, he admitted that he was as shocked as I was at the turn of events! 
Talk of humility!

As we found out in the next couple of days, Atreya did not after all win the Sword of Honor, but his nomination as the best cadet of the platoon (and award of Sword of Merit) is proof enough about his abilities and character. More than making me proud, which is a fleeting emotion, he makes me confident about how he will deal with the huge change happening in our lives. Just a few days ago, I was faced with the terrible guilt of abandoning my son in his time of need, and here I was watching his self-esteem build up all over again. Could I have asked for more at this juncture? 

I see the Universe winking at me, and I wink right back at it! 

‎"We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts." : Nichiren

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Easy Decision?

I am excited and scared at the same time. I feel empowered yet so nervous. I am elated yet deeply sad. I taste joy and despair mixed in a strange concoction. I see dreams and and I also see nightmares. I am holding on and letting go in the same moment. I am celebrating one event and mourning another. I am as sure as hell and shakily unsure. I am strangely at peace in the middle of such restlessness.

I am  living and dying- both at once. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Best 10 Minutes of my Day!

The best 10 minutes of my day are spent in the condominium bus, which takes me to Bishan MRT station, and Mallika and Aloka to Street 22, every morning.

In these 10 minutes, Aloka sits on my lap even if the bus is empty and she can have a seat to herself. Sitting at such close quarters, looking into each other's eyes, we have the most focused yet utterly ridiculous conversation of the whole day. There is no high-point low-point sharing, no lecture, and absolutely none of the serious stuff we talk about at night- these 10 minutes are dedicated to having spontaneous fun with each other.

Aloka ready for school, saying bye to Witchy 
Sometimes we make up songs, sometimes play name games (as in a Necklace for Nicholas), sometimes make ridiculous rhyming words and at other times, talk in funny Hindi. Just this morning, we had a paroxysm of laughter talking about her new Art teacher Mrs. Pei, who we decided must "pay" Aloka to attend her class.

We don't plan what to do during the ride, just let nature takes its course, and by Gawd the course it takes! It gets so bad that I often have to whip out my imaginary remote control to reduce her volume and on some days, force her to take deep breaths because her giggles start bordering on hysteria.

Mallika and Aloka get off a stop before I do. A tight hug starts the moment she sees the Street 22 traffic light and continues for a minute or two until the bus reaches the bus stop. Then, in addition to loudly proclaiming her love for me while getting down (love you mommy, miss you mommy), she tells me to have a good day and learn something new, repeating phrases I may have used when bidding her goodbye sometime. Upon getting off, she draws big hearts with her arms- starting with outstretched hands at the top of her head, separating as far as possible at her mid section and ending with them coming back together at her knees. Then she twirls a couple of times and blows me kisses. I find myself grinning from ear to ear and have to consciously stop smiling once the bus moves. It's not just me, I catch smiles on many fellow passengers' faces too!

For these 10 minutes of my life everyday, I am the happiest woman in the world. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Bit Too Much!

I love my travels a lot. Maybe a bit too much.

The other day, I asked a colleague how his family vacation to New Zealand had been. His face fell and he said "terrible". His 3-year old son had thrown tantrums everywhere and insisted on seeing the same animal farm three days in a row.

Then, another colleague, who had just returned from France, said "Not so good" when I asked the same question him. You see, three quarters into the holiday, he had his iPad snatched away in a train in Paris. He had nothing else to say about the trip.

Now, ask me how my holiday to Morocco was and be prepared to hear the most flowery adjectives- captivating, seeped in history, gorgeous, so real yet unreal, exquisite and so on. Unless you bring up the topic, I will forget to tell you that I nearly died on day 2 of the 10-day trip.

Yes, I love travelling...a bit too much. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hi I am Gina!

Just saw a check-in update by a friend for Trattoria La Vigna. I did a double take because for a second, I had read it as Trattoria La Vagina! It reminded me of an episode many years ago.

In 2007 or so, we were developing an e-learning course for a big pharma company. The topic was a new type of Intra-Uterine Device (IUD). The purpose was to teach sales folks enough about it so they could sell it effectively.

 For some reason, the client was fixated on having a female mascot in the course. He rejected our initial design ideas and said that he wanted to somehow depict the IUD as the mascot. A tall order indeed, believe me- this IUD didn't look remotely like a human figure. After some more trials, my super creative team managed to create a pretty woman with flowing hair and a seductive look, somehow anchored on a IUD. Yes, that's right, she was one-legged.

Then came the quest for a name. Many were suggested, but the one we all loved, but never shared with the customer, was Gina Vee!

All of us in the office were RFOL'ing imagining this one-legged sexy woman floating in and saying seductively in James Bond style "Hi, I'm Gina. Vee Gina!". 

Priceless Recklessness

Looking back at my childhood, the most fun I remember having was when we were extremely reckless.

Like going for a walk in the forest in Simla with a group of friends and being told by a woodcutter that we could encounter a bear, then scrambling back towards the hotel only to lose our way, then having to be rescued because the mountain side we were trying to climb up was slippery with saw dust.

Like playing chor-police with scores of colony kids and running wild on the streets even as the sun set.

Like getting drenched in heavy rain and doing pretend swimming in the muddy garden dug up for planting grass.

And like cycling on the main road along Moti Bagh towards Chanakya Puri to get to the isolated railway tracks, and using mummy's chunnis to catch fish in the dirty nallah there.

Our parents let us do all this because mostly they were unaware of what we were up to and of the danger we were putting ourselves into. Now ourselves super-aware parents, are we depriving our kids of similar fun by over-protecting them and stopping them from doing anything remotely risky? I wonder. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Political Mystery with Extra-Large Under...err..tones

My brother Arun's home is a black hole for all clothes. Anything you wash and dry on the lines gets picked up and wrapped in a huge pile of clothes kept in a secret room, which is later sorted by whoever needs their clothes. Sometimes this sorting is delayed- as a result, there may be three or four huge piles of washed clothes at a time, any one of which could contain the piece of clothing you may be seeking.

Wary of this, I am usually quick to pick off my clothes from the lines as soon as they dry, and put them straight into my suitcase. One winter day, however, I forgot to pick up the undergarments I had washed the night before. As dreaded, they were nowhere to be found the next morning. Panic ensued as I started going through the piles of washed clothes in search of them.

Seeing my frantic state, my brother, referring not so subtly to the size of the undergarments I was looking for, quipped- "This is like a US political mystery. You know panta-gone!"

(See also:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It is Time!

This morning, I saw a mail from a colleague that plunged me into a dark mood. My whole body reacted. I could feel myself shrinking and a physical burning knot formed in my stomach. I recovered a bit after a few minutes, but even now, a good 30 minutes after reading it, I find myself feeling unhappy and thinking of ways to escape (e.g. TV, food, games).

But I won't do any of that. Instead, I plan to analyze what really happens to push me to this state. It is not just this incident. I can recall several incidents in my life that have pushed me into similar funks- memory and experience being advantages of being 47 I guess! Now let me see what is common among them?

Here is what I notice.

1. Suddenness or unexpectedness of the incident.
2. A highlight on a negative aspect of an action that was actually done with a lot of good intention (in other words, there was no callousness or malice involved, in fact quite the opposite)
3. A realization that my lack of knowledge/foresight was responsible for a problem
4. A realization that I don't know enough- that I continue to make mistakes- that I am not good enough
5. A realization that although I don't really care for the aspect being highlighted, others do, and my not caring about it makes me "bad" in their eyes

So there. It seems I don't want to make mistakes. I don't want to be the one who causes problems. I don't want to be anything but the best. I don't want to look bad. That is my problem!

OK, so what's the big deal, no one likes to be wrong. Yes true, but with me, it is a bit too serious, a bit too defining, a bit too unforgiving. And as I think deeply, it seems to have started in early childhood.

Time to get less serious about things Puja. Time to accept that some mistakes will be made. Time to give up on being a perfectionist. Time to forgive yourself. Time to let go. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I think jealousy, or envy, is a lowly feeling that says I am not grateful for all that I have and do not value it much. All my life, I have watched myself for signs of jealousy, and so can say with some amount of surety that I am not the jealous types. I am not jealous of those who appear more physically appealing than me, or thinner, or less saggier, or richer, or married, or whatever.

However, I am jealous of one type of person- the runner. I see people running/jogging on the road and my heart twists with envy. I see them huffing and puffing and sweating, and I could do anything to swap places with them.

For, though I am grateful for the breath that keeps me alive, I am not grateful for it running out too fast from my lungs. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Letter to Atreya

While cleaning up my laptop, I came across a letter that I had  written to Atreya almost a year ago, when parents were asked to write letters to be given to the new recruits during/after their toughest army training exercise. The challenge was that we had to write it in their third or fourth week in the army, but they would be given the letter only towards the end of their three-month basic military training. Here it is. It also includes mom's funny message to him towards the end. 

Dear Atta

I am writing this mail to you in not the best frames of mind. The knowledge of your struggles stays with me like a shadow. Being a mother, and having played the role of your protector for so many years, my inability to help you now is crushing.

However, one thing occurred to me yesterday. The prisons are everywhere. Sometimes, they are physical, sometimes mental. What matters is if we can free ourselves regardless of these prisons. This is meant as much for me as for you, because I feel I am trapped in a demeaning purposeless life- it is no less a prison than a real physical prison.

I had read about Viktor Frankl many years ago. He was a psychologist and a Nazi camp survivor, who later wrote books about his experiences. From Wikipedia: “It was due to his and others' suffering in these camps that he came to his hallmark conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful.”

A para from his first book goes like this:

“If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life– an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.”

The above is for both of us to contemplate upon. Can I regain my self-worth and passion in a life-sucking environment where I am free physically but trapped in every other way? Can you regain your self-worth and passion for life in a place that denies you physical freedom and pushes you to extremes?

Take heart my son. Soon, this phase will be over. You will look back at this time, just as you did Mt Kinabalu, as an experience that taught you things you didn't know about yourself. You will be physically fitter and mentally stronger. Nothing will be too hard for you to take on once you are done with this. This is what everyone I speak with says. It is hard, but it only gets easier as time passes.

It is one thing to say I will do it because I have no choice, and another to say I will do it and still find happiness and joy in life. I am trying to do the second and I so hope you will too.

Try to rest as much as possible. 5 hours of sleep are not enough after a tough day’s training. Try to get to bed as soon as they let you go and don’t worry about your things so much. If you don’t rest, you will get sick. And if you do feel ill, please let your platoon commander know. They promised us parents that our kids will be safe. Tired but safe. Please make sure you are safe.

Now on to some other random news.

  • I have started going for my dance classes. Major stress reliever.
  • Manjari’s father is quite unwell. He is getting heart surgery to open clogged arteries. 
  • Mallika is going to Malaysia for a weekend to see some temples. She will go on 18th night and back on 19th night.
  • I will take mom and Aloka to Penang in March for a weekend. 
  • Aloka is going for her dance class but refuses to join in. Just stands in the corner. I am quite surprised at her shyness with others.
  • I am checking out Granada for a trip for you and me sometime later this year (whenever you can take time off). We will have a great time sampling the sights and sounds of southern Europe, my favorite part of the world with my favorite travel companion.

Love you lots
Note from Amma:

Hi my darling Atreya,

I have been sleeping in your bed for the past week and have invaded your cupboard too. So be prepared to combat this friendly enemy with whatever gadget you have learnt to use in the academy. Make sure they are appropriate for Buddhan amma ji .

Because how so ever hard you may try this buddhan is not going to die very soon. She will travel in your latest car, and be there alive and kicking when you come to India. Thanks to you we had such a wonderful snow storm when "all the light went off" Your video commentary was remarkable.

Looking forward to hearing all the details.

Love you beta.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Questions than Answers

Growing up and older should mean you know more and understand more than you did earlier. At least that's what I expect. But surprisingly, I find myself having more questions now than ever before.

Now, more than ever, I don't understand why we live and what the purpose of this drama called life is. I don't know what it is I should aspire for, what is really meaningful. I don't know what a good life is supposed to be. I don't comprehend what makes a person really good. But most of all, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life so as to have lived a life worth living.

These questions are not passive. They gnaw at me and splash around in my heart like choppy sea. They won't let me enjoy frivolous pleasures and make me stop and consider every action. They make me somber and quiet.

I remember asking these questions even when I was younger. So why am I bothered by these questions so much more now than when I was younger? Did I know the answers then? Or is it that I didn't know enough then to even understand what these questions meant?

Questions, questions. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Outside Eating Anyone?

When Mallika came to Singapore 25 years ago, she didn't speak a word of English. Employed in a Tamil household, it wasn't a big issue initially. All she needed to learn was enough English to deal with shopkeepers etc. Over the next 12 years, she learned a lot more and could carry out basic transactions everywhere she went, but Tamil was still the language she conversed most in.

Then she came to live with us 13 years ago. English is the only common language in our household, so it required Mallika to extend herself. I remember initially she used to have a tough time expressing any complex idea, but soon she devised ways to be understood and to understand us. The keyword here is "devised", because the English that Mallika speaks is not any English you would hear anywhere. It is not even Singlish. It is something else.

But I am not complaining because I understand her perfectly well and that's all that matters. In fact, I am so used to it that it took mom and Anu on my last DS trip to point out how funny some of what she says is. See for yourself. I had to pay special attention to what she says in the last couple of days to capture some of these.

  • The fish cannot see the color brown stone brown brown. (This is not about color blind fish, but brown-colored fish that can't be seen because their color is so similar to the brown rocks in the water)
  • Otherwise I will switch it off the TV not saying only. (A common threat to Aloka)
  • No problem. We walk walk talk talk. Ok Aloki ma? (Telling me how she will keep Aloka engaged on the walk to the market)
  • Aloki, you eat so much sweet you rolling rolling rolling roller coaster like that. (Talking about sweet-induced hyperactivity- I think)
  • All these coconuts coming die die. (Feeling bad that no one plucks the coconuts from the tree while they are young, and by the time they drop, they are dry inside)
  • She put kutti white mouse soooo small small on Aloki hand and aiyyo kaka already on hand. (Context is Aloka's visit to the small animal farm)
  • Aloka, eat after going to sleep OK? (Setting some candy eating rules for Aloka- means first eat then sleep, though it sounds quite the opposite)
  • You see the below room lights nice. (Appreciating the lighting in the basement of the DS house)
  • Aloki, don't up up pull your skirt, coming small small small.
  • Voice coming different already. (In response to how Aloka was feeling the day she had sore throat)
  • Puja outside eating? (Now that's for you guys to guess! All I can tell is that it's got nothing to do with el fresco dining!)

(Click here to read another post about Mallika:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Second Chance...or Third

I have often thought about how we obsess about life milestones, like passing class X (or O levels), scoring well in class XII (or A levels), graduating, getting a good job (and salary), getting married, having kids and so on. We give so much importance to these, yet achieving these milestones at the right time and as per the benchmarks is no guarantee against unhappiness. And people who fail these milestones are not doomed to unhappiness either. In fact, I have always found people who have had a few knocks early on in life far more energetic and alive than folks for whom life has rolled out a red carpet everywhere they went.

Never was it as obvious as yesterday, when I met a young man, let's call him Mat, who has certainly not followed the usual path in life, and would be deemed a failure as per a typical Singaporean's strict view to life. He dropped out of school after middle school and worked in his grandfather's hawker stall for a couple of years, helping him cook and earning meager wages in return. Then, he went in to do his National Service (NS), where he first realized the kind of stuff he didn't want to do, i.e. manual labor. So, after spending two years in NS, he enrolled in Institute of Technical Education (ITE), also derogatorily referred to as It's The End by status-conscious Singaporeans. He did pretty well in the computer course there, and because of that managed to gain access to an IT course in a Polytechnic. Now in the final year of poly, he dreams of doing creative programming for mobile apps.

Most Singaporean young men who choose to go to poly are done with it by the time they are 19, and then are in the job market by 21 after completing two years of NS. Mat, on the other hand, will be 25 by the time he graduates from poly. What have these additional four years taken from him? Perhaps that's not the right question. I should really be asking what these additional four years have given to him.

A lot. The look in his eyes when he looked straight in mine and spoke of his so-called failure early in life was worth more than any salary his peers would earn in this time. It was testament to his self knowledge and growth, more precious than any degree proclaiming academic knowledge. I have no doubt that a few years from now, Mat will be a very happy person, who would be making this world a better place for many people.

Can't say the same for the guy next door who scored six A's in his A-levels and averts his dull eyes every time our paths cross. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Perfectly Good Deal

I was reading a book review in New York Times and this piece caught my eye. ( 

But on a good day, he can frame his isolation as a blessing. “Today I can be in Delhi,” Ashraf says. “Tomorrow I could well be in a train halfway across the country; the day after, I can return. This is a freedom that comes only from solitude.”

This is exactly how I feel. I have a certain freedom that comes from solitude. That I can choose to leave this way of living and move on to another is easier for me because I don’t have a partner whose life plans I have to synchronize mine with.

That this freedom comes with a flipside, loneliness, is also captured in the book.

Ashraf’s obsession with azadi has a flip side, akelapan — loneliness. Friendships are treacherous in Delhi, and he longs for his childhood friends in Patna, “a group that woke up together, skipped class together” and felt hungry, happy, depressed in “perfect synchronicity.”

This is one of those buy-one-get-one-free deals. If you choose freedom, loneliness comes for free. On days like today, it seems like a perfectly good deal.

Ready to Believe

I am ready to believe that life has many surprises in store for me yet. I am ready to believe that there is a lot more in me than the world, and I, have seen. I am ready to believe that the best is yet to come. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Village Vet

As I was making an appointment for Anakin to see his very professional vet one last time in Singapore, I remembered Mr. and Mrs. Ghosh of Khanyara village and their pet dog Princess.

Princess was special. She was this well-fed squirming mass of love and affection, whose joy at seeing people was unbelievable. She just had to lick everyone and not once, but non stop. We also referred to Princess as Chaatbe Na (don't you lick) because of what Mrs. Ghosh would say to Princess every time she came near us.

A few years ago, while on our annual holiday in Dharamshala, we met Mr. Ghosh on our morning walk. He shared that Princess had not been keeping well and seemed to be struggling for her breath. Worried about her, he had taken her to the local vet the day before, who had checked her up and diagnosed her as having asthma. However, despite the Asthalin shot given by the vet, Princess had only gotten worse. Now asthma is a familiar adversary, so I was naturally very concerned about Princess.

A couple of days later, we met Mr. Ghosh again. Beaming, he told us to come over to his house to see the lovely little pups Princess had delivered. You see, Princess was not asthmatic, but pregnant! That straining to breathe- that was not wheezing, those were contractions!

Anakin my dear, you will be well taken care of by this vet. Just thank your stars you are a male! 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


At times I feel
Something wants to burst out from me
Some strange joy
That doesn't know how to be itself
That is not happy just being born 
That can't or won't be contained.

Sometimes I feel
Something pulling me in, snuffing me
Some deep sorrow 
That doesn't like itself
That doesn't want to be by itself
That won't or can't leave me alone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The girl who ate up all the leaves!

This post is dedicated to Sangeeta Sharma, aka Baby, who used to be our neighbor in Moti Bagh in 1970's. We lost touch some 25 years ago. I wish I could find her again. Maybe FB will do it's magic.

When I was a young girl growing up in Moti Bagh in New Delhi, we had a neighbor called Sangeeta. She was a year or two older than me. Her pet name was Baby. Her brother Raju was a good pal of my brother and sister. Our parents were quite chummy too. 

Baby was my mentor, or more aptly, I was her follower. I did what she did. And she did plenty. She was into wearing shiny lehngas and pinning chunnies to her head. I followed suit. She was into putting on whatever makeup we could lay our hands on (which was not much), including bindis around our forehead like Indian brides. I followed suit. She was into making up dances using dance steps we saw on Chitrahar, which the two of us then practiced under the Sheesham tree in our garden, wearing mommy's satin's petticoats. She was into biting things too- she once chewed big holes into my mother's chunni which she had borrowed for one such a dance practice/show out in our garden. I tried chewing a chunni too and liked the way it melted in my mouth, but stopped when I saw how upset it made mom. (I took to chewing my hair instead.) Baby once made me wish a neighbor "happy kanjakain" just so that we would get invited to her house and get goodies. I got laughed at by Baby's dad for doing that, but I didn't understand then why it was so funny. 

Like a true leader, Baby walked her talk. And I, a true follower, walked her talk. 

But try as I might, I could never get myself to be as bold and defiant as she was. Once when dared by a neighbor (perhaps one of my siblings), she went around our entire garden eating one leaf out of every plant there. Point to note is that my mom was majorly into gardening and there were a LOT of plants in our garden. Baby started in the front, taking a leaf out of each of 50 or so flower pots and after 20-30 minutes of chewing various leaves, reached the side kitchen garden. There she went through all types of veggie plants until she reached bhindi (okra) and had a bite of its rather fleshy leaf. It was at that point that her body said it had enough, and she vomited copious amounts of green stuff right there. That single deed, especially the vomiting at the end, won her the respect of all the sporty guys and girls in the neighborhood, who until then had labeled us as super sissies. I never managed to accomplish the same feat (of gaining their respect) in the 14 years I lived in that neighborhood. 

When she was about nine or so, Baby and family went away for a few years to Mussoorie (I think). There, she studied at a fancy school. I met her again a few years later, but by then she was all posh, which meant she could speak fluently in English, while my English vocab was still limited to yes and no. We gradually drifted apart, briefly getting together when I was invited to her New Year party in 1983 in Vasant Vihar, when I was crazily 17 and posh enough to be popular in the dance party circles (rolling my eyes). After that, I lost complete track of her. 

Baby, if you read this ever, get back in touch. My little girl is into dressing up and putting on makeup and heaven help me, chewing leaves! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

H se Hammer, P se Powerhouse!

As a parent, I make great efforts to understand my kids and to empathize with them. Most of the times, I am able to predict their reactions to difficult situations and therefore prepare them to handle such situations better. Even then, there are certain things about my kids that catch me totally by surprise. I am currently totally surprised by Aloka's reaction to the move to a Dharamshala school and the need for her to learn Hindi.

I expected teaching her to read/write Hindi to the level expected for UKG in India to be an uphill battle. I was feeling sad and anxious for her (empathy overload) and was readying all parenting and instructional techniques to help her learn. It was one of the major adjustment issues I was prepared to deal with.

Last week, I asked Aloka to come to the bedroom to study, as is our routine every evening. I was planning to have her practice her favorite English spellings and subtraction, with one Hindi letter thrown in. She jumped up from the daybed, switched off the TV and said "Only if we study Hindi!".

In the last one week, she has learned to write 18 letters of the Hindi alphabet and read about 25 of them. Current problem is distinguishing between the letters that do not have equivalent letters in English (as in the difference between sounds/letters for dawai and dhanush, damru and dhakkan, tarbuj and tamatar). And these problems are getting resolved day by day- she can now say dhanush albeit accompanied by a lot of spit! She also struggles a bit with unfamiliar Hindi words for objects, such as hathoda for hammer. It helps that both the English and Hindi words for the object start with the same sound!

First attempt at the letter M

Not satisfied with learning to read the alphabet alone, she insists that I read her stories in Hindi and she points at simple words that she can recognize. When I think she has done enough for the day, she insists on doing just one more. This morning, I gave her homework to practice writing the letters she had learned yesterday and she says "No that stuff is easy peasy. Teach me how to write M"! At this rate, this little super-charged peanut of mine will be reading Hindi before we get to DS!

Instead of facing the struggle and drudgery that I was preparing myself for, I get to see looks of absolute joy and pride when she masters something new. Instead of an uphill task, we seem to be gliding down a gentle slope on roller skates- of her making! How wrong was I about this plucky little daughter of mine? Totally totally bowled over by this little child. Totally totally humbled by this powerhouse.

(As a learning designer, all I can say is that no learning strategy compares with the power of an inherent motivation to learn.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Becoming Better People

Went to see Argo with Atreya earlier this week, but we almost didn't go- because Atreya had this major guilt  trip about leaving Aloka at home! I had to shake him out of it and tell him to focus on me for a change. Ever since he has gone to NS, I have no movie companion and have missed out on many good movies. I suggested an alternative: instead of staying home all evening doing separate things, the entire family did art and craft together and then the two of us left to see the movie around her bed time. She didn't complain- she is more practical and reasonable than this boy.

Photo: Mommy mommy put one dollar for my ride please!!! (What this boy won't do for a $5 bet!)The movie was great- very funny when funny, very tense when tense, with exceptional acting and direction. But what I enjoyed most was Atreya's laughter. He laughed more than usual, even when it wasn't called for! Like he wouldn't stop laughing when the guy sitting in front of us rushed out after squirming in his seat for a long time- obviously he had to go the loo, but what's so funny about that? At one point, I didn't catch what Ben Affleck had said and finding Atreya laughing asked him what the joke was, and his response was "no clue"! As we were getting out of the mall, I dared him to sit on the kid's ride (for a $5 incentive) and he did it without much coaxing!

In the last 3-4 months, there is a sea change in Atreya. He has loosened up a lot, not as wound up as he used to be. He appears confident and in control. And super calm, as if nothing will shake him. But that doesn't mean he has become passive. After all, he convinced me to walk all the way back from Ang Mo Kio hub to home- a good 3 km at midnight!

On the way, we talked and talked and talked- he about his army experiences (both good and bad, and what good he sees in bad), and I about the current difficulties regarding my future plans. Talking to Atreya is never without its rewards, never without a certain sense of fulfillment. We usually agree on issues, but when we don't, he helps me think of things differently, always more positively. And I can almost always relate some or the other experience in my life with what he is experiencing- bringing context to new thoughts and concepts he is forming.

Because we hold up a mirror for each other, it is so important that we become better people every day, for ourselves, but mostly for each other.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ghost Town 2

(I had several visitors to my blog today, because I shamelessly advertised it on FB. But only 1 comment! So I am republishing an old post- because it is needed dammit!)

I read in a blog post today that a post without comments is like an abandoned house down the end of your street. Sounds sad no? By this measure, my blog is an abandoned city, a ghost town.

So come on folks, party a little here...leave comments once in a while!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


The only way to survive this is to become devoid of passion and heartless, to accept that nothing extraordinary is going to happen, and to trudge through this swamp of valueless activity without a grudge. Ironically, the only way to survive is also to be passionate, to be full of heart, to be ready for a miracle every day, and to fly through moments of extreme creativity and flow.

I am foxed. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Mute Sky

Dharamshala, Nov 9, 2012

Why is the night sky, resplendent in all its glory, so quiet? And all these stars, closer than ever, devoid of tales?

I can spot Orion, but who are its neighbors? What is that big one there, and that petite sparkling one over there?

I, who used to know a lot (or so I thought), am clueless. The sky, which I associated with incessant chattering, is mute. I, always a child of the stars, feel like an outsider. 

Where are the men who used to bring the sky to life for me? Where are their big warm hands, their knowing eyes, their magical words? I miss seeing the sky with their eyes and hearing its voice in their words. I miss Atreya, my new teacher of the skies. And I miss Arun, who first opened my eyes to the sky and its wonders.

The sky is as lost as I am without its navigators. It is as voiceless as I am without its voice bearers. This mute sky has brought to surface the loss, of past and future, that I would rather keep buried. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Laughing Heart

As I seek light, life and ways out, this poem by Charles Bukowski comes my way.

Laughing Heart
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

By Charles Bukowski

So many ideas in this poem strike a cord. I have been thinking about the signs the Universe is showing me for taking this leap of faith, and here Bukowski talks about being on the watch and taking chances that gods offer. I feel suffocated and as if I am dying each day, and here Bukowski talks of not allowing life to be clubbed into dank submission. I have come out of the jaws of death into a life that I question, and he talks about beating death in daily life. I had started doubting and here he reminds me that I am marvelous! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Deep Breath

Talked to Atta after five long days. Hearing his voice is like taking a big gulp of fresh air after holding one's breath for a long time. 

Stories in a Small Town

Every time I visit my mother, I come back with my head abuzz with stories. Everyone we meet has a story associated.

That guy whose father was so difficult that his wife left him. That woman whose adopted son was taken care of by his birth mother after he was in bad accident. That girl whose brother made the father sign off the property to him, leaving her with nothing. That lady whose first husband burned her badly but another man offered to marry her so she could keep his house. The drunk graduate who now is a garbage collector. The old woman whose daughters are in the hanky-panky business.

Everyone we meet is a walking talking story, as it should be. I am sure I make a pretty interesting story too!

Where do stories get lost in big cities?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unexpected Joy

The other day, I chanced upon Atreya's to-do list that he must have made before he left for Taiwan. Among several must do items like getting specs fixed and mailing universities was this- Play board games with Aloka. This 19-year old young man thinks of and plans for spending time with his little sister even when busy with hundred things.

Yesterday, Aloka came to me and said she was feeling very sad because when Atreya had made her a drawing, she had said she did not like it. Atreya left for Taiwan last week, so this incident must have happened at least a week ago. I don't know what triggered the memory, but my little girl looked really pained by how she had behaved with her brother and wanted to say sorry to him. The fact that he is unreachable by phone for another three days made her feel worse.

The love between this brother and sister is strange and unique and ever evolving. It fills my heart with unexpected joy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Daimoku is key!

Went for morning gongyo and prayed on this 47th birthday of mine for the power that comes from pure faith, for that spark that has dimmed, and determined firmly to get it back.

On my way out, met Yvonne, my young NDP participant from 2009, who has been battling colon cancer for some time. I had visited her house a few months ago and chanted with a group of people for her health. Her two young boys were playing noisily amidst the loud chanting, while Aloka napped on the sofa. Yvonne had looked pale, drawn and scared that day and my heart broke just looking at her.

When she saw me today, she gave me a bright smile and said "Have you heard my news? I am cancer free! Never stop chanting. Daimoku is most important. Daimoku is key!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Lasagna

One of our weekend staples. I cook lasagna at least once a month. It is one of the dishes that requires little skill, but LOTS of effort, especially since I make the sauce from scratch.

The first few times I made lasagna, I messed up a lot. Many times, I overcooked the dish in the oven- believe me dried out lasagna is heartbreaking after all the effort you have put in it. Even quantity was an issue- sometimes I would have too little sauce, sometimes too much. Over the last year, I have nearly perfected it by eliminating one problem after another. Now I get it right almost every time.

Tomato, onions, leek, capsicum, carrots, and minced meat sauce- I cooked this one for over 40 minutes to get the right texture and taste-should be almost velvety and the veges should be soft

Bechamel sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, cheese

Lasagna sheets

Started with meat sauce at the base

Top with lasagna sheets 

Generous helping of bechamel sauce for this layer to avoid drying out

Top with lasagna sheet and lots of meat sauce on top of it

After a couple of more alternate red and white layers, finally, the top layer with bechamel sauce and cheese

This is my new trick- I cook with the foil on top to prevent the top sheet from drying out. I cook for 20 minutes at 180  degrees, then take the foil off and cook at 200 degrees for 10 minutes or until the color looks right. 

The most delicious looking lasagna

Well cooked and not dried out

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mastering the Mix

A few years ago, I was describing my then team to a potential customer/business partner. I took pains to highlight that the team consisted of veterans in ID and graphics design and as a result, we avoided the common pitfalls and gained on productivity. To me, this differentiated our company from other larger competitors in India. The customer/partner didn't look impressed at all and remarked that his company only hired fresh talent because they were so much more creative. Honestly, for a moment I felt dowdy.

The business partnership never took off, but his remark stayed with me for a long time. Over the years, I figured out something about e-learning development teams- for a team to flourish, you need a bit of this and a bit of that.

You need the experienced folks because you don't want to reinvent the wheel each time. If developing training for, say, a software application, there are only so many ways to do it effectively. If a person who has never done it before creates it, the output is wasteful and never as good as it should be, however creative that person may be. That single person's creativity across one project just can't compete with ideas implemented and fine-tuned over years by thousands of people. I have seen this first hand 10 years ago and then again recently.

Experienced people usually have a repository of tools and templates to fall back on. But there's a problem even here. They are quick to jump to conclusions and solutions, without looking at a particular situation deeply. For this reason, you also need rookies who are not yet molded into a set style. Rookies, who lack these tools, struggle a lot more, but are more likely to experiment and try out new ideas. They see things with a fresh pair of eyes. The end result is likewise refreshing. I have experienced this first hand too a few times, most recently when I worked with a creative young designer on a module teaching voice commands to cadets.

Sounds simplistic and obvious no? On paper yes, but in reality, the challenge in building and sustaining such a mixed team is in the dynamics of the team on the ground. Are they able to work together, contributing the best they have, or are they busy putting each other down? Are rookies learning from the past experiences where needed or repeating the mistakes arrogantly? Are the experienced folks allowing the rookies to experiment and valuing their new insights? Or are they busy trying to mold them into the  familiar?

It is precisely because it is so hard to make such a team work effectively that organizations tend to be of one or the other type. But when you master the mix, magic is possible.

(Image from:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Perfect Baked Potatoes

This is so simple to make and so tasty. No special ingredients needed either. Point to note: you may have eaten baked potatoes at restaurants where they came wrapped in tin foil. That's more like steamed potatoes, not baked. Baked potatoes are baked directly in an oven.

  • Select even sized potatoes. Recipes talk of russet potatoes, but honestly I buy what I get and for this one, I used whatever I had at home. 
  • Wash and clean the potatoes very thoroughly. You will be eating the skin, so it had better be super clean. 
  • Make 3-4 gashes in each potato. I went quite deep. Don't forget to do this, else the potatoes will burst. 
  • Coat them with olive oil and salt. 
  • Preheat oven at the highest (mine goes up to 240 degrees C)
  • Place the potatoes on the rack placed in the middle of the oven. Note: No tin foil please. 
  • Place a tray (or something) below the rack to catch the juices that might drip from the potatoes. 
  • Set the timer to 50 minutes and go do something else.
  • Around 20 minutes into the roasting, the potaoes will still look the same. Turn them over to cook them evenly. 
  • At around 40 minutes, the skin will look a little wrinkly. Perhaps a deeper color too. 
  • Use your tongs to feel the potatoes. If the feel soft, they may be done. I took a knife and put it through the potatoes to check them. Mine were done at 50 minutes.

Place the potatoes on a plate. Cut them in half. Add some butter or cream (or both), and salt and pepper. Enjoy!
My little girl loved them so much she won't let anyone else eat them.

Recipe from:

Saturday, October 6, 2012


As I get set to make my move, I find myself thinking about the meaning of modernism. Is modernism about disconnecting people from the land? Is it's goal to make each village a city? Is that the only way forward? Is progress linked to consumerism? Is seeking a simple life regression? Is poverty inherent in a simple life? Can a simple life be prosperous? What does prosperity mean for a village? 

My Eyes Are Universe

(Written in 1996)

My eyes are Universe
All truths laid bare,
So don't call them secrets
The things I couldn't talk about.

My heart is Universe
Source of infinite emotions,
Don't call me insensitive
If my eyes are dry, and my smiles guarded.

My dreams are Universe
They join me with you in impossible unions
So don't believe I am indifferent
Just because I won't look in your eyes with abandon.

My love is Universe
Fills my cells with its bitter sweetness
Don't doubt its existence
If it remains unproclaimed and unacknowledged. 

I wasn't betrayed!

(An old poem- written in 1990)

Go there
Where the sound of your laughter
doesn't reach my ears.
Where, even if you don't call
I can say
He called, but I couldn't hear
He called
He called!

Go there
Where, my tears dry
well before they are sighted
by your cruel eyes.
Where I can find my way
Without you holding my hand
If only I could live
If only I could live!

Go there
Where I can live
without your thought
or your longing
Where, even in the face of such treachery
I can say he was faithful
I wasn't betrayed
I wasn't betrayed! 

The Messed up Messiah

Leave me to myself
My faults, my mistakes, my ingratitude
The door once open is now closed
So now when you enter, you intrude.

I have spoken long and loud
All but what you want to hear
"Save me, elevate me, give me a hand...
I am the fallen one, and thou my savior!"

How hard you try, I appreciate
To see this sinner's confessions made
Now it's time to play the Messiah
The lesser roles having all been played.

But see, how young I still am
To falter and fall is yet my right
I have what you long exhausted
Youth and hope are on my side.

And listen, I would have surely bowed in reverence
and followed you in faith that is blind
If you were half the God that I perceive
If you were half as good, or half as kind. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Evanescent Heaven

Three of us lying in bed. Atreya on my side of the bed. Aloka on her side playing with her play dough. My head resting on a pillow placed on Atreya's feet. Talking about a hundred things ranging from the Brunei jungle episodes, to my future plans in DS, RS's house, family, food and Buddhism, with Aloka piping in every now and then with her school-related stories.

This is what life is. This is why life is. This is worth everything that comes with it. I am so grateful for these blessings, and so sorry for not remembering them when I am busy stressing over some minor issue. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Necklace for Nicholas

When I was about 11 years old, I came home one day all vexed about a teacher, Mrs. Grover, who had scolded me for no reason. My dad had a simple solution. "Every time she scolds you, think of her as Mrs. Gobur!", he said. Gobur in hindi means cow shit. That was it. I was never ever scared of that teacher again. 

When Atreya and I moved to Singapore, we had a tough time remembering people's names because they were so unfamiliar to our Indian ears. For instance, there was this neighborhood shop owner called Li Hui, whose name we could never remember. Then one day, we figured out a way- we visualized her as a shaky woman- hili hui. After that, I would greet her loudly and confidently every day! 

So, a play on names served as a stress buster on one occasion and a mnemonic on another. It serves others purposes too- that of helping me become part of Aloka's school life and introducing her to the art of punning! 

Aloka and I started punning on people's names sometime this year. It's one of our bed-time fun games. Without my telling her explicitly, she seems to know people are sticky about their names, so we don't use the pun names outside of our home. It's our secret game. Well, secret as long as they don't read this post!

It started with two sisters in her class, Carol and Charmaine. Carol became Carrot. For Charmaine, I suggested Champagne, but this didn't make sense to Aloka, who suggested Shampoo instead. Over the months, our list has grown long, with some name alternatives coming from me, but most suggested by her. While we started with words that sounded similar (e.g. Necklace for Nicholas), the game has now evolved to finding alternate words that represent other similarities as well. Here they are. 

Aloo ka parantha
Alokie (Mallika's name for her)
Chicken (she loves chicken too)
Bishan (the town the school is in)
Twisting (he is an active naughty boy too)
Honey (Aloka likes him a lot too)
Magnet (She sticks to Aloka )
Syrup (she is super sweet)
Teacher Leana
Teacher Lioness (she is indeed fierce)
Teacher Aileen
Teacher Violin (she sings very well)

This punning is an organic thing. The other day, when I told Aloka that a friend called Kian-Peng had dropped me home, she said "I am sure he loves to go camping"!