19 July 2012

Deepavali bonus

She’s hoped, dreamed, planned and plotted all this year just so they can both land up at home in Chennai and surprise the family – by their sudden, joint visit on Deepavali day!

She’d saved up leave and money and booked heavily discounted airline seats. And here’s the hardest thing she had to do – work on and finally convince younger sibling Ananya, the more stolid and less excitable one (chalk to her cheese) into falling in with her plans. So then, why would she want to kill the surprise by letting the family know in advance of their trip, no matter what Ananya says?

Thankfully though, now, at the airport, Ananya doesn’t pursue this line of conversation. She busies herself by ordering a coffee and lamington. “I prefer to wait for authentic Indian sweets”, she says firmly and rather haughtily, pushing the plate away as Ananya waves it temptingly under her nose. “You can get Indian sweets even in the shops here, you know,” says Ananya reasonably, but she pretends not to hear. She doesn’t want to hear!


Having already been through two flights across multiple time zones, normally, the last leg of the journey is the most tiresome. But not today. She whiles away the time by letting her imagination run riot down memory lane….

Although it’s been 10 years since she was home for Deepavali, she can almost smell the pungent, chemical odours of the firecrackers, see the hazy fog that seems to prevail in the city on Deepavali day. She can feel the anticipation that starts days in advance, when people start bursting firecrackers, buying new clothes…all the Deepavali preparations. And then finally, the early morning wake-up on D(eepavali)-day (that is if they were lucky enough to sleep!!) What with firecrackers going off all night and having to get up at the crack of dawn for the traditional bath, sleep has never been big on the Deepavali day list. And then, of course the food, without which no Indian festival is complete.  Sweets dripping ghee and sugar, garnished generously with fried almonds and cashews, scented with cardamom, saffron and the best spices. The crisp fried savouries that melted in your mouth! She practically salivated at the very thought…..surely all the time and work she’d put in to making this trip happen was worth it.


She can barely sit still during the short tax ride home! But even as they were turning into their street, she starts to deflate slowly. The smoky haze is still absent as far as she can see (something that she had subconsciously noticed during the entire tax ride, but which she acknowledges only now). She can hear just the odd firecracker going off in the distance.  Given that it is Deepavli morning, surely, there should be more action than this?

Then finally, they were home! She knockss on the door, stepping smartly over the elegantly drawn, traditional kolam at the entrance. Dad opens the door and starts in surprise: “See who’s here…”


“What do you mean, there are no sweets at home? And where are the firecrackers? Even if you’re all too old, why isn’t anyone else in the apartment building or our street letting off any?” she demands rather rudely, glaring at mom and grandmother, hardly half an hour later. The pleasure of the sudden homecoming has already been diluted.

“Oh, child labour and pollution”, dad says, sauntering over to her. She gapes at him.

“Well, the fire cracker manufacturers were using child labour to make them and bursting them does create pollution, so this year, we, the educated middle-class have boycotted them”, he says with a touch of quiet pride.

 “Besides, there are so many special Deepavali day programmes on TV that you can happily watch them all day long without wanting to do these other things,” chimes in mom.

“Well, what about the sweets then? Eating them is definitely my own business…!”

“Oh, Dad’s cholesterol levels are high. And your grandparents have diabetes so, this year, we decided that we wouldn’t make any”, mumbles mum, already foreseeing and dreading her temper tantrum. “Of course, if only we had known you both were coming…but don’t worry, we can run down to the shops and get some, nowadays, they are as good as the ones we make at home…And I am sure we can get some new clothes for you.” 

Ananya says in a very expressionless voice: “And don’t forget, the sweets are full of sugar and calories, whether they are home-made or bought at the shops. Even if they are made in India”!

Ah Deepavali! Is there anything else left of it?

 “Well, come on, come on, the traditional baths aren’t good for our sinus problems, so we’ve skipped it. But you don’t have to”, says mum in a placating voice.

So this is what she travelled across two continents for. At least, she thinks, I am with family on Deepavali day, surely, that is surely the most important thing.

But she knows she will have to work on Ananya, possibly for the rest of my life, to regain lost credibility and authority…and that she may never be successful.

18 May 2012

The power of 10

True, there was so much to admire in Odisha. Konark and Puri were magnificent and seeing them had been a dream come true. Nature and some fascinating history  (think Samrat Ashoka) too. But the general air of dirt, neglect and backwardness were a bit overwhelming and diluted the delight. Being an NRI had very little to do with it. Maybe, having grown up in a more developed part of the subcontinent had more to do with it.

Whatever the reason, she wasn’t very sad to leave Bhubaneshwar for the more cosmopolitan delights of Kolkata.

Now, she was at the train station trying to keep pace with the wiry porter who would deposit her luggage at the right place on the Kolkata train. An uncle, who could speak Oriya, but had to be next to the Chennai train to upload other family members, had fixed the rate with the porter and then told her, “You need to pay him Rs 30, and he will put you on the Kolkata train, so just go with him.”

So she did. After what seemed to be a fairly long time and distance traversing a few flights of stairs, they reached the correct platform. The train to Kolkata originated at Puri and would reach Bhubaneshwar station in a few minutes. But it would halt there for just about 5 to 10 minutes. So, feeling queasy at the thought of pushing her way into a crowded train carriage, while jostling with all the others who wanted to do exactly the same thing, she waited restlessly, walking up and down the platform.

The train thundered in shortly afterwards and the porter was immediately at her side with the luggage. They started speed walking towards her compartment. She hurriedly jumped in and started looking at seat numbers. Horrors, her seat was already occupied. The porter had already lowered her luggage to the ground. 

Then she found out that this wasn’t the correct compartment. Her one was still a few more bogies away. Bracing herself for a verbal onslaught, she informed the porter (via broken Hindi and vigorous gestures), that they had to search for her compartment as this wasn’t the right one.

But there was no onslaught. He just picked up the luggage and started walking at a furious pace. She understood that he was almost as scared as she was that the train would depart any minute.

Thankfully, they reached her compartment - and she found that her seat was vacant too. She heaved a sigh of relief. The porter unloaded the luggage, propping it under her seat.

She opened her wallet and then paused briefly. Rs 30 seemed too less to pay him, never mind what the uncle had said. The platform had been a long way off. And any porter who didn’t grumble about a wrong compartment and use that as a lever to higher earnings surely deserved more. She pulled out all the small notes in her wallet, and it came to Rs 40. She pushed the jumble of notes into his hand. He namaste’d her and went away.

She heaved a sigh of relief. No altercation with the porter. She was in her right seat and Kolkata was only a night away. She prepared to relax, waiting in anticipation.

But – the porter was back. He was waving the wad of notes she had given him. What now, she wondered. He hadn’t asked for anything, surely, he should be happy with she had paid him?

 The train tooted briefly and started inching its way out of Bhubaneshwar.

She didn’t know Oriya, that was true. But she understood what the porter was saying anyway. “The rate we fixed was only Rs 30, madam, you’ve given me ten more. Here is your Rs 10”.

Puri Jagannath,the Konark Sun temple and the power of ten - enduring thoughts that would from now on epitomise the essence of Odisha for her.

20 March 2012

Tag - you're it

My set of 11 questions from Shyam.

1. Which city did you visit during your first visit abroad?

Easy, Wellington. Although we had to first land in Christchurch, and then Auckland (due to bad weather), before finally arriving in Wlg,

2. What was your first impression of it?

Clean, green, empty and WINDY!

3. Your most favourite mode of transportation, and your least?

No real preferences. But probably the answer to both would be airplanes. Love them for the convenience and speed, and hate them for everything else.

4. If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

Why not me?

5. Good or bad, what memory from your childhood stands out the most in your mind?

The night my Dad died.

6. Do you like soft pillows or firm ones?


7. Did you like school?

Overall, yes. But not always.

8. What would you tell your least favourite teacher, if you were to meet him/her

English teacher, whom we nicknamed Teddy. It was bad enough that she used to give her favourites good grades, but it was worse that she would mark some of the good students down, if they were not her favourites. As you can guess, I wasn’t. I would like to tell her that she almost ruined my future and career because of her partiality. Thankfully, I am pretty resilient.

9. Do you like your name? If not, what name would you give yourself?

Used to hate it intensely, as it was so common and old-fashioned, but not any more.

10. Your opinion of fund-raising balls/parties/dinners organised for/by

Waste of time: theirs and mine.

and finally

11. Got any advice for me? :)

None, because you were always wiser than me:-)

And here’s my set of questions for you, Shyam and Umm. I don’t want you two to play the game again, as you’ve already been there and done that. But just to humour me, answer my lot, please:-)

Shyam, Umm
1. Who is the guy who makes you go ‘what a hunk’ today?
2. The last book you read completely?
3. Will Akhilesh Yadav make or break UP?
4. What comes to mind when I say NZ?
5. It’s just not done to talk in Tamil in all the happening’ places in Chennai nowdays. Cool or uncool? And why?
6. Would you ever go back to live permanently in India? Why/why not?
7. Do you believe in global warming? It is just part of the Earth’s routine cycle of climate change or is it man made?
8. If you think it would make a difference to global warming, would you turn vegan?
9. What would you spend on a million bucks on, without regretting it?
10. What is your favourite perfume?
11. What is the one thing that always makes you happy?