Spirits in a Spice Jar – book review



After a long time, I read something so poignant, lucid and gripping.

Spirits in a Spice Jar is an autobiographical account of the author, Sarina Kamini, chronicling a difficult period in her life and how she pulls herself from it by recreating the forgotten recipes of her Indian grandmother.

It reminded me of something I had read years ago on how cooking is so therapeutic to Indian women.

The process of cooking – pounding, grinding, chopping, stirring, etc all these supposedly invoke our genetic or cellular memories from the previous generations.  And this nurturing side of us apparently soothes us and heals us.

This book stands testimony to this very theory.

Each chapter is about a particular dish or an ingredient. She lists it’s qualities, associated memories and marries them beautifully to an emotion. The events unfold so well around the ingredient/dish.

When she was 11, her mother, an Australian, was diagnosed with Parkinsons. It shatters the whole family which consists of her Indian father and two older brothers.

Her father, a pious Kashmiri Hindu, deals with it by turning to religion and rituals.Kamini takes it the hardest. She loses faith and turns away from all that she believed in.

The book begins when she’s 30, married and a mother of two young boys. Though she goes through the motions of a busy life balancing her career in journalism, her marriage and her toddlers, she’s very unhappy, feels disconnected from her mother and tries desperately to come out of it.

For some reason, she feels following her grandmother’s recipe book is the way.

This book is rife with cross-cultural nuances when East-meets-west. A typical Indian father who tries to make everything about himself,  as opposed to her Australian husband, who gives her a lot of space to heal, but never tells her how much it’s costing him, her Kashmiri grandmother, Ammi, rooted in tradition,but welcomes an Australian daughter-in-law with open arms and even teaches her Indian cooking…

The story flows so lucidly, touching lives across continents. We glimpse the lanes of Delhi, dusty roads of Jaipur, a Melbourne super market and even the inside of a psychic’s studio.

Each chapter blends seamlessly with the other and takes us on her journey back to being herself and makes peace with her parents.

Here’s a small taste.

“…the way salt is used is an indicator of the nature of our faith. Mum’s was soft, Ammi’s piercing. Dad’s, strident. And mine? I’m still figuring it out.”

How poetic is that! I have never read anything so beautiful about how someone’s personality shines through their usage of salt in their cooking! How every dish we cook has a little of ourselves in it.

After reading it, I felt very different about cooking! Every dish I cook has a piece of my soul… And that’s something to chew on!

A complete Italian experience

IMG_7318 (1) copy

When a friend suggested an Italian holiday this summer, I was thrilled.

The birth place of renaissance great masters, Michaelangelo’s David, Pieta, the Sistine Chapel ceiling…

I used to dream of seeing all this and more since my under-grad days of art classes.

And Italy did not fail. The vatican museum was breath-taking. Corridors and corridors of brilliant art. And Pieta..

And what is with the Italian skies? Cerulean blue with puffy white clouds, the sky looked like an enormous, ever-changing painting I could look at all day.


IMG_7501 copy

In Florence, which was the last leg of the trip, we had booked an apartment on a busy street.

We were two families of six, including two kids. The owner of the apartment, who was barely 17, opened the front door on the said busy street and led us in.

We trailed behind him, up a narrow staircase, while one of us stood on the pavement guarding the luggage. A man who was standing beside us, as if we had been blocking his way, got into the open apartment. My friend who was guarding the luggage assumed he was a fellow guest.

He went up and stood by the door, just behind us, again giving us the impression that he was part of the apartment.

The owner had assumed he was part of our group.

We entered the apartment, set our bags on an ornate bench outside the kitchen and followed the owner who showed us around the place. When we got back in less than two minutes, my husband’s camera bag with his phone was gone.

Though he noticed it immediately, he wrongly assumed that the owner had simply kept it inside one of the rooms.

It took us a while to make the owner understand what we were looking for. But by the time we realised all of us had been tricked by the artful stranger, it was too late.

And the whole thing happened in under 5 minutes.

What a clever planning that must have been. I’m sure there was more than just the stranger whom we saw. It must have involved a few accomplices waiting outside.

My husband, along with the owner rushed to the police station to lodge a complaint.

It was disheartening to see there were so many people like us waiting to lodge complaints and most of them were senior citizens.

The police were friendly, took our complaint and bid us good bye. No cop came to the crime scene like in India, no cop wanted to check the security cameras on the pub downstairs and no assurances were given.


But life goes on. Still a bit rattled, we walked to Uffizi Gallery for our appointment to stand in a mile long queue which resembled the crowds in Thirumala or any other religious hotspots in India. The fabulous art from renaissance was well worth it.

IMG_7516 copy IMG_7442 copy

And to the Academia the next day. I had goosebumps when I saw David. His sheer presence was truly a magical.

The Duomo was magnificent.

Cobbled streets dotted with cafes were a joy to walk through.

Though we thoroughly enjoyed Florence, the aftertaste of the theft was always in the back of our minds.

Even my 14 year old jumped up in his sleep that night asking “Does he have a gun?” before muttering something incomprehensible and going back to sleep.


When we narrated the story to a friend on our return, he said after a few choice word for the crook, “So, now you’ve had the complete Italian experience! I guess getting robbed is one of the must-have experiences in Italy. It’s so common place”.

It is.

We hear of pickpockets in Rome, bag snatching and even mugging all across hot tourist spots in Italy.

Just underneath the beautiful exterior, the grand structures and high art, there runs a parallel network of artful and deft band of prowlers and swindlers.

If tourism is indeed their main income, shouldn’t tourists be their most preferred clients?

Then why do they shrug off thefts? Why aren’t they equipped to protect innocent tourists from miscreants who are brave enough to steal in broad daylight?

I guess for the fantastic, life affirming experience one gets looking at all the art & architecture carefully preserved over centuries, a camera here and a mobile phone there is a small price to pay.

IMG_5982 copy IMG_5998 copy


May I come in?


I answered the doorbell.

Two young women, probably in their early twenties, smiled brightly at me and said, “Good Morning Ma’m! Can we speak to you for a few minutes?”

They were decently clothed, each carrying a backpack and looked like any office-going girls we see on the road.

“May we come in?” They asked sweetly, totally ignoring my perplexed expression.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I could let them in.

I was home alone and I’ve read stories of thefts and scams by women like this.

They came in anyway, took their seats and started a sales pitch about caring for cancer patients.

They had been trained well. But despite their eager, hard-selling faces I was frantically looking for excuses to pack them off as politely as I can without parting with any money.

Sure enough, they took out a bunch of receipts & cheques to show me the transparency of their system. None of the cheques were made for anything less than Rs. 8500.

I gently told them I’ll have to check with my husband and will get back to them through their website. They were reluctant and tried to appeal to my compassionate side, but I didn’t give in.

They left after having a glass of water.

My sigh of relief was short-lived. I suddenly realised that while the girls were genuinely a part of a legitimate organisation, didn’t they put themselves in danger by entering the drawing rooms of so many strangers’ homes each day?

There are so many repressed, lecherous men waiting for a chance like this.

And two isn’t an ideal number for safety.

There is a report of rape in the papers every single day.

What exactly is the point of companies that use these women to canvas for their cause like this?

We, as parents teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to accept money or any other gift from strangers. Then when they’re barely out of their teens, we send them off to total strangers’ homes to do the very opposite.

On the other hand, crooks and cons use the guise of the same vulnerable sales force to gain entry into households for thefts.

My mother-in-law had a surprise visit one Sunday night from two women posing as officials from the gas agency to check the cylinder. They demanded Rs. 2000 to fix an alleged leak in the tubes. They left only after a belligerent neighbor from the next apartment stepped in and ordered them out.


When I was in grade 8, there was this drive to collect money for an NGO for senior citizens in my school. A lady from the organisation addressed us during the morning assembly to enlighten us on the plight of the neglected elderly and how we can help them.

Each of us were given a form with our names on top with 20 blank lines below to fill with the donors’ names and the amount.

We were urged to ask our family, neighbours and friends for donations. We were also given a minimum individual target.

That evening, I approached 2 of my neighbours. One literally shut the door on my face and another reluctantly parted with Rs. 10.

Feeling very humiliated, I stormed back home and banned my younger brother from trying to get donations even before he began.

Once my father came back home from work, I related the incident to him and demanded he pay our minimum target to save us from further embarrassment. He readily agreed and offered to meet  my principal the following day to give him a piece of his mind. He reluctantly let it go, after I begged him not to.

Imagine our shock a few days later, my brother’s classmate dropped in home for a game of table tennis (on our dining table) with his pocket jingling with coins.

When we asked him how come he had so many coins & he replied it was his collection of the day for the drive. He said the teacher said he can ask strangers too, so he’s been asking people waiting in the bus stops on his way to school and everywhere.

We were horrified. We told him off and asked him to stop it at once. He was a very well-off boy, who lived in a posh house with his parents and brother. And he was so naive he didn’t even think people mistook him for a beggar! At age 10, he was just following his teacher’s instructions.


Really! Aren’t there any other means to raise funds for a cause without using kids and young women like this?

True, there are certain smart kids who are confident and capable enough to collect money, but what about kids like me, my brother and his friend?

I’m sure this marketing system was a successful business model once, but what is the point of hard-selling door-to-door, when SMS marketing and phone marketing have taken over?

Please, please let’s not support a system that puts so many children and young adults in danger. And help conmen misuse it so.






Second mothers

My mother was one of nine siblings. As a child, I watched her maternal home in a tiny village in South India,  play host to many, including me. Though the permanent residents were only my grand mother and my youngest uncle, the house was always full of floating population. Cousins posted nearby who used the house as base during week days, daughters who dropped in for short visits, sons and grandsons stopping by on their way to somewhere… and my own mother who used to shuttle between her government job in her hometown and Chennai till she got the much-awaited transfer.

So my brother and I used to stay there for months on end sometimes. Till my mother finally got her transfer when I was about 10.

During my stays, I spent a lot of time with a cousin. Though she’s technically my cousin, she’s only a few years younger than my mom, so she was more like an aunt. She has a bubbly personality, her kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling with mirth all the time. Being a school teacher, she was on to my tricks even before my own mother realised what I was up to. She was my hero. Thanks to her influence early on, I still cannot step out of home without drawing kohl in my eyes.

Once we settled down in Chennai, our meetings were reduced to occasional weddings. She too got married and was soon busy with the throes of raising her children while holding on to a full time job.

After a few more years even I stopped going for weddings due to the pressures of  academia and later, a career. I met her sporadically, may be once in 2 or 3 years.

I met her after a long gap of 8 years at a wedding, a few days ago. And the years just fell away. Except for the fact that she is a grand mother now and looks so frail and old, thanks to her illness, her eyes hold the same sparkle even now. We chatted away as much as we could and reminisced about my childhood and her youth.

Soon, it was time to go & I bid her good bye with a sudden lump in my throat.

On my way home I wondered, ‘Will my son ever have bonds like these?’

As a kid, I had so many mother figures in my life. My grandmothers, aunts, older cousins or sometimes even neighbours. I’ve spent days with and weeks with these women, stayed in their homes, eaten their food, confided in them and worried them to no end with my antics.

Of course, mostly it was because my own mother was so busy working full time & keeping house, she hardly had the luxury of a leisurely chat with me. Though my mother was a rock solid influence in shaping my health, conscience and general happiness, my emotional growth was pretty much dependant on these women who always lent a ear to my make-up queries and troubled teenage woes.

But apart from me and my mother-in-law, my son absolutely has no one else as a mother figure in his life.

True, he has his aunts and my best friends. But he sees them all with me around and only for short periods of time. He can never be close enough to go to them with his problems.

On the other hand, unlike my mother, I’m always around, ready to comfort him and offer him advice 24/7.

So I consoled myself that he does not really have the need for that kind of bonds in his life.

But after nine long years of my mother’s passing, it sure felt nice to look up to someone who cared for you as a child, feel safe and protected and not be the adult for once.



Morning rides

A pink hat with white dots.

A black cap shading the eyes.

A bare head under the sun.

Another head with a fancy flower.


Mums riding fast

to reach the schools on time.

Sometimes it’s the dads,

or occassionally a grandpa with a frown.


Scooters, scooters, scooters.

Zipping, zapping, zooming.

With their precious packages

standing tall in front of the seat.


Dreaming of their day in school

or dreading the lunch they’ll have to eat

or simply hoping and praying

their teachers would keep their cool.


Speeding lorries, faster bikes,

angry drivers tooting horns.

Slow down, pipe down.

Have a thought.


For these little flowers,

Smiling, laughing, waving,

blooming on your way.

Every morning, everyday.




The driver who ditched.











I must have been in the 12th grade. I was cramming for an exam late one night (it was past 10.00 pm which was really late by those days’ standards!)

I was plonked on the drawing room sofa with all my books around me. My father was at the dining table, having a smoke after dinner and listening to some old hindi songs. My mother and brother had retired for the night.

The door bell rang.

Our driver was standing outside looking very tearful.

My ears perked up while my eyes were fixed on the book in my lap.

The driver told my father that his child was suddenly ill and in hospital. He needed money for some important procedure if the child was to be saved.

Immediately my father gave him the money and also the car keys.

“Take the car.” he said generously. “You never know if you’ll need transport late at night.”

“Aiyyah!” the driver sobbed and fell at my father’s feet. “You’re my god! I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life! May you live long and help others like this”

Deeply embarassed, my father shushed him and sent him on his way, after asking him to update him on the child’s condition.

By this time I had forgotten all about my books and was gaping open-mouthed.

Needless to say, I hardly manage to retain anything I studied after that.


Early next morning the ringing phone woke me up. Still asleep and curled up in bed, I sleepily heard my father on the phone very somberly and my mother rushing from the kitchen…

Fearing the worst, I too scrambled to my feet and rushed out.

My father hung up and looked at our worried faces.

“That was a call from the police.” He said.

We gasped. “What happened?”

“Our car was found in a ditch in the early hours of this morning. The cops traced the number plate to my phone and called me. Thankfully the driver and his passanger escaped with minor injuries.”

“But you drove the car and was home early yesterday!” my mom said, totally unaware of the driver drama that happened after she went to bed.

She was quickly updated on that front. From what my father muttered to my mom out of my earshot, I gathered that the passenger the driver had was a woman of ill repute. And both were inebriated.

“I am 16, please!’ I wanted to tell them.

My mother was furious. “That means his child was never ill.” She concluded. “I can understand you falling for his story and giving him the money. But what was the need for you to give him the car?” She raved and ranted till my father  screamed her down.

My father then spoke to the cops he knew and left to sort out this mess and rescue his car from the ditch.

In school, I was shocked to hear my friends speak of the car they had seen in a ditch enroute and how big cranes were trying to haul it out.

I sheepishly told my close friends that it was my father’s car and the story behind it. And basked in the limelight for two minutes.


Growing up and having my own share of such frauds like this and this and this, I still haven’t learnt my lesson. I suddenly remebered this driver incident from my teenage years and now convinced that I’m genetically designed to be the sitting duck!

It’s a wonder how I still manage to have faith in humanity after all this!


Cheers to the Bar Maid!


This post is about yet another help of mine. The top-work this time.

She is a small-made, 4 foot nothing, mother of two grown children. But her diminutive frame belies a super-efficient, powerful worker who gets my house spic and span in no time.

Once she realised I was not interested in small talk and needed my peace to work, she left me alone. And most importantly, she is very trust-worthy. My wallet, watches and other loosely lying around valuables have never tempted her.

it’s been more than a year since she joined my house-hold and the only grouse I have against her is her frequent leaves of absence without notice. After many stern warnings, she now calls me or lets me know the previous day about the various events in her personal life or sudden illnesses that keep her away from work. (though I’ve heard from people that she was seen dressed in her finest with a gang of women the same afternoon she had called in sick)

Anyway, she is only human and I am quite okay with all that.

But what happened a few weeks ago shook me up.

I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but that particular day, I felt she was definitely acting very strange. First she told me to go lie down since she has finished cleaning my room. I never take a nap at 11 am, so I shook my head and continued to stare at my comp.

A little later, she burst into my bedroom when I was sitting right there,  stared at me blankly and said, “I forgot to switch off the fan here”

“Hello! What’s wrong with you?” I laughed. “I’m still in this room and I need the fan!”

“Sorry, Amma!” She said and went back to the drawing room.

Later, I plonked myself in front of the TV, bone tired after the morning’s work-out.

When I finally dragged myself to get my lunch, I saw a movement in the corner of my eyes. I turned back to see her hastily going back into my son’s room.

I didn’t think much of it and carried my plate to eat in front of the TV.

An hour later, it was time for her to go. She came to me and asked for the keys to my neighbor’s place where she cleans regularly after finishing at my place. Since the house belongs to a working couple, I have their spare key which she uses and returns.

There was definitely something odd in her demeanor. She stared at me vacantly and looked very disoriented.

‘Is she pulling a fast one on me about being sick?’ I wondered to myself. “Can you take it, please? I’m in the middle of something” I said, typing furiously.

“I cannot find it, Amma.” She reported, after a few seconds.

Rolling my eyes, I walked to the shelf and there it was. Right in front.

“Hey, it’s right here!” I said as I turned to hand her the keys.

But she was sitting on the floor, looking dazed.

She looked up at me blankly again, heaved herself off the floor and took the keys. When she reached the door, I realised she had forgotten her basket with the food I give her everyday. She came back for it after I reminded her.

Half an hour later, I left to fetch my son from school. I locked my doors and was half way down the stairs when I heard my neighbor’s door open and shut immediately.

Was she spying on me? What was happening? I couldn’t take it any longer. I bounded back up the stairs and rang my neighbor’s door bell.

To my surprise, my neighbor’s mother opened the door. “Is V here, aunty”? I enquired politely. “I need to tell her something.”

“Oh, I sent her away. She was in no condition to work. I think she was ill or something” said the good-natured lady.

“But her bag and slippers are still outside!” I said.

Puzzled, we bid each other good bye and I left for school.

I was sure all this was some prelude to either a few days’ leave or a loan.

But to my immense surprise she was bright & early to work the next day. No trace at all of the previous day’s puzzling events.

But the mystery was soon solved when my husband opened his liquor cabinet the following weekend. “Hey! My Black Label is almost gone!” He screamed. Both of us were puzzled at the sudden decrease in levels.

Then it dawned on us. Was she inebriated the other day? I was shocked! We lost the keys to that cabinet long ago and we never had a need to lock it. Until now.

That evening I went over to my neighbor’s and asked my friend if her liquor cabinet is locked. Negative. I then asked her if she heard about the help’s strange behavior in the last few days.

“Of course!” she said. “My mom told me she was definitely inebriated! Her bag and slippers were still outside our door at 9 pm, but had vanished when I checked again the next morning. Oh my god! Does that mean she’s been taking from my place too?”

“So what?” Her husband asked, walking in. “She slogs her butt off in both our houses and I personally see no harm in her helping herself to my liquor” He said.

But we women couldn’t bring ourselves to agree. “But it’s a breach of trust!” I exclaimed.” And how can she drink during working hours? Especially when I’m sitting right there?!”

“I know!” agreed his wife.

A few days later, I heard that  she had actually passed out that day in the terrace of my building after throwing up. The watchman just couldn’t rouse her from her stupor.  She had come back to her senses and left only after 9 pm. That explained her basket and slippers disappearing after 9 that day!

Also heard she regularly sleeps in the terrace and goes home only after 6 pm.

My friends had a good laugh when I narrated this to them. “What strange problems you have!”  They exclaimed.

The same topic got me a long lecture on the socio-economic conditions of people in our city and women empowerment from my husband.

But it’s finally me, who is home alone with her and plagued with trust issues. Do I replace her? What if I get someone who is not trust worthy? Or inefficient? Or a psycho like my previous cook?

After breaking my head over all these questions, I finally decided to keep her. Of course I tactfully told her that booze has been frequently missing from home and she should watch out next time a handyman/watchman comes inside for any repair work even when I’m home. To which she tched tched and said, “you’re too trusting Amma! You should never leave these men unsupervised. See what they can do!”

Now the cabinet is locked and I never leave her home alone. It’s been a week and there hasn’t been a repeat performance, but hey, you never know what i’ll have to see next!

The Mother in law – Book review













I picked up this book from the ‘New Arrivals’ section of a popular book store, thinking it’s a tongue-in-cheek account of various anecdotes gathered from interviewing daughters-in-law across the country.

The synopsis at he back of the book proclaims it  a ‘witty, acute and often painfully funny book…’

The introduction is a brief account of the author’s personal experience with her own mom-in-law, followed by an inkling of what to expect from the chapters ahead.

Contrary to my expectations, the book turns out to be a lot more serious. Each chapter deals with a story of a daughter-in-law, who meets up with the author in coffee shops, hotels, taxis and various places to recount their horror stiries.

Horror stories they are. Undoubtedly.

Of course any true-blue Indian will know the Indian mom-in-law is quite different from her counterpart in other countries and cultures. That a desire to wield control over the daughter-in-law is a given. But these 12 stories take that ‘control’ to totally another level.

According to Venugopal, every Indian mom starts planning her son’s wedding,  right from the day he is born. As he grows up, she guilt-trips him with stories of her various sacrifices and how he will break her heart once he gets his wife, thus ensuring his support continues even after he’s out of the nest.

The stories in this book range from a mom-in-law hand picking her daughter-in-law, charming her way into her heart with gifts, movies, etc even before her son comes into the picture. To mom-in-laws who were so affronted that the son chose a bride himself, that she makes it impossible for the girl to find any happiness with him after her marriage.

There’s Rachna, whose mom-in-law courted her for months before introducing her son. Literally taking over her life and grooming her to be the exact daughter-in-law she wants her to be…

Carla, an European bride having to put up with her conservative  ‘Mummyji’, who initially refused to accept her, but when there was no choice, accepts her grudgingly and treats her like an unpaid maid…

Payal, who manages to break away from her domineering ‘Mummyji’ by creating a separate kitchen for herself while still staying in the same joint family…

Keisha, who not only put sup with a nightmare of a mother in law, but also an abusive husband…

Each story tells us the ugly , hidden face of the Indian families without mincing words.

Of course one constantly hears about the power-struggles between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and various petty fights over the years, but I haven’t heard of such nasty stories since the 80s…

Even then, as a child, I never personally knew the vile mothers-in-law, whose stories I eavesdropped during family gatherings… It is shocking such people still exist, fueling the TRP rates of soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi…

Veena Venugopal goes to an extent of saying her campaign is to save the Indian daughters-in-law from this mother-in-law menace, which is rampant in this country.

Once I started reading the book, I just could not put it down till I finished the last page…

Though it really saddens me to read these heart-rending stories, I cannot help remembering sad stories of meek mothers-in-law who are really a rare breed.

I’ve come across a few who cook, clean and take care of the grand children while the ‘modern’ daughters-in-law is always traveling and skypes them with hundred instructions on everyday chores. These are the moms-in-law who meticulously organise the daughters-in-law’ wardrobe for her next trip, sit outside play schools to pick up their grandchild while running the household successfully.

Of course, like I said earlier, these are a very rare breed.

Most of them, I guess are the ones in this book – The mother in law – The other woman in your marriage…


The crazy cook!


I grew up hating the way my mom treated hired help. She was always suspicious of them and was very frugal. When I visited my grand mom during the holidays, I was aghast at the way she treated them too. I vowed I would never, ever be like them.

In all the years of running my own home, many a  unique character has tested that resolve.

But none to equal this really crazy lady!

On a November afternoon, two years ago, I answered the doorbell to find a woman grinning at me.

“You’d asked for someone for top-work, Amma?” She enquired enthusiastically.

‘Yes,” I replied.

She literally pushed past me and surveyed my house.  And declared she can start that very minute.

She agreed to all my terms concerning timings & salary.

I was thrilled. I had fired my previous hired help 3 weeks ago. After 6 years, I’d realised that she had been siphoning off my valuables very slowly… Had to let her go after my new gold bangles & a gold chain vanished within weeks of each other.

I had been struggling with all the chores from then on.  I couldn’t remember a time when I had relaxed with a nice cup of tea.

On her first day, the new help fished out a wallet and showed me passport pictures of three surly young men.

“My sons!” she announced. “I know, I look too young to be a mother of 3 grown boys, but what to do, they got me married at 14 and I had my first one at 16. Now he’s 21…” She paused, perhaps, waiting for me to calculate her age. I nodded and got on with my cooking.

After a couple of days, I found the new help wanting in every area of housework. Dishes weren’t all that clean, the floor was still dusty & I had to literally follow her around to point out dusty surfaces.

To top it all she kept up non-stop chatter on how she has to get away from her mentally ill husband everyday since it depresses her and all the events taking place in her extended family and neighbors. If she was not doing that, she was on her mobile phone, complaining about her life to god knows whom.

On the third day I told her I was just not happy with her services.

She was very apologetic and admitted to never having done housework before. ‘I was a cook for 13 years, Amma.. But I’ll buck up and learn. I have lots of financial trouble… please don’t sack me…”

I gave in. Having starved of his non-vegetarian diet all these days with my tambrahm cooking, my husband asked if we should check out her culinary skills.

He was blown over by her cooking that we paid her extra to come again in the evening to cook our dinner.

After three days of cooking us sumptuous meals, she asked me if she can finish both cleaning & cooking at one shot. “My sons are complaining that I’m not home in the evenings Amma,  ” she said.

I agreed. But after a week, I noticed a perceptible change. She walked in at 10 am, finished her cooking & proceeded to do a whirlwind cleaning & was out by 2 pm. After a month of pleading with her to do justice to her cleaning, I put my foot down & asked her to do only the cooking. A friend sent someone for top work.

That opened another can of worms. She was so miffed by this and regarded the new top-work as her mortal enemy. After a week of listening to her scream at the poor unsuspecting woman & refusing to give her a cup of tea when she asked, I gave her a piece of mind. I told her if she is going to be nasty & unpleasant, she could just leave.

She created a big scene, accusing me of favouritism & being rude to her.

I was at the end of my tether and announced to my husband that I’ll have to let her go. Horrified that he’ll miss out on all his fish & chicken, he would not hear of it. “Learn to handle her,” He admonished. “How many cooks & maids will you fire just because you get irritated with them? “

So I gritted my teeth and put up with it for a year. I dreaded her time at my home, listening to her narrating one domestic drama or another to who ever was in the kitchen. In a loud voice, with occasional wailing. Once I stormed in and asked her to put a lid on it. The wailing stopped, but her tales continued. Even I could make out that none of it was true, from whatever little bit I heard. Her husband was now a drunkard who beat her up everyday and refused to give her any money for the upkeep of her kids. One day she’d talk about her eldest son who was an undergrad student aspiring to do an MBA. After a few weeks she’ll seek counsel with the top work if she should get him married since he’s been at home for the past 2 years doing nothing.

Soon, she was a proud owner of a scooter and was zipping by to and from work. She’d upgraded her mobile phone and stories of TV soaps started dominating her monologues.

Despite being so irritated with her, I was quite glad to see the improvements in her life.

Her second son was suddenly in the hospital for an emergency appendix surgery. Feeling very sorry for her, I asked her to take time off as long as he was in the hospital. After 2 weeks, she came back to work and said he’d been discharged the previous day. All was well for a couple of days. Out of the blue, she was wailing again that blood is sprouting non-stop from her son’s surgery site. Shocked, I asked her what the doctor said. “We’re yet to take him,” she replied. Outraged at her carelessness, I packed her off that minute to take him to the hospital. She was off for the next few days. She came back to tell me he was admitted again for a corrective procedure. I asked her to take care of him and not to come to work till he was discharged.  A few weeks later she was back to work. I asked to see the discharge report just to check what had gone wrong.

But the report only said that he had been admitted for an emergency appendix surgery and was discharged after full recovery. Puzzled, I told her the report did not speak about any second admission or a corrective procedure.

Pat came her reply. “I know, Amma.. I asked a nurse living next door the same thing and she says in government hospitals, they never keep record of their mistakes…”

Another year went by punctuated with various dramas like her son falling ill with jaundice, her sister losing her husband, her husband losing his sister, etc… Of course all of them demanded her presence so she had to take leave from work.

One fine day, I ticked her off for some thing. She huffed up and said, “you can look out for another cook. I’m quitting by the 1st of next month”.

I was immensely relieved! I sent a silent thank you to God Almighty for sparing me the unpleasant business of firing her.

The following week, I asked her if I’d heard the date correctly. Because the cook downstairs was bringing his friend to see if we wanted to try him out. And I’d asked him to start next month.

“No!” she wailed. “I changed my mind. I’m not leaving you. I’ll work for you forever!”

Forever?! Alarm bells started ringing furiously in my head.

“Excuse me! If I remember right, you were the one who wanted to quit & even gave me a date! I’ve asked someone else to take your place and that’s that!”

“But Amma! Where will I go? I have 3 children and a blind husband to support…”

I was flabberghasted. When she started working, her hubby was supposedly mentally ill. A few months later he was a drunkard. Now he’s blind?

Did she think I was really that stupid?

We were traveling for the next few days and I’d asked her to come back the following week. “But there’s really nothing I can do. My husband has asked someone to start work from the first and he’ll be very angry with me!” I said, using my husband’s name to wriggle out of another scene.

She came back the following week, finished her cooking and meekly stood before me when I was frantically finishing up some pending work at my comp.

“Amma, did you check with Sir if I can continue here?” she asked in a sugary tone.

“Yes, I did. “ I replied solemnly. “He says the other person is starting tomorrow.”

Her sugary tone vanished in a second and in a harsh voice she screamed, “How could you do this to me? You know very well I have a blind husband and 3 children to take care of.. I cannot work anywhere else. Your place is the only place I feel comfortable…”

I calmly told her to cut the drama and reminded her it was her decision and she had had a lot of time to look for another job.

“I know you’re talking like this because of that wretch, the top work! She’s been feeding you with rubbish about me! She hates me and wants to get rid of me!”

I assured her nobody had anything to do with this. And it was she who wanted to quit and gave her the last salary and showed her the door.

I was dreading her landing up to create another scene the next morning. Till 11 am there was no sign of her. After almost 2 years, my house was so peaceful!

I was humming to myself when my phone rang. A very distraught friend called to inform me that the crazy cook had paid her a visit just then. She had sat in her living room and wailed for an hour, accusing my friend of ruining her life..

“What?????” I sputtered. “Why would she blame you? “

“Apparently she found out that it was me who had sent you the top-work. So she cried and screamed ‘how can you send someone when I was working there? Now she’s poisoned madam’s mind and I’m on the streets!’ She left only after I assured her that I’ll speak to you.”

Both of just couldn’t figure out how she connected her to the top work and more importantly how she traced her home.

It got really scary. ‘What a psycho!” said my husband when I told him.

I ignored her constant calls and they stopped after a few days. My friend alerted her security and so did I. Between us we warned other friends and relatives too. And that was that.

My top work reported that she met her in a shop a few weeks later, looking as cheerful as ever but came to her & bellowed, ‘You! You cost me my job and don’t think you’ll get away with that!” and flounced off.

Now I have a man coming in to do the cooking. He’s a focused, silent presence in my kitchen for 2 hours every morning and whips up meal after fantastic meal.

And without the drama.

Rumour has it….

PendingThis happened a few years ago.

K, a friend, called me at work. She wasted no time in niceties… She got to the point directly.

“Did you hear about M’s dad?” She asked.

“No.” I replied. We had lost touch with M years ago after she changed jobs & relocated from the city. I have met her dad briefly when I had to drop her home late one night after work. Now she’s married with a kid in another city and her parents live here.  Her sister lives a few kilometers away. M & me had shared a lovely rapport at work and she had been a great friend.

“Oh, you have to listen to this! I wish I could’ve been there to see your face when you hear this!”

“Why?!” I asked her, not sure I was going to like what she was going to say..

“Did you know M’s parents are now separated?”

“What????!! ” I was truly shocked. While separation amongst younger couples are far too common these days, I just couldn’t understand why people in their 70s would want to separate. If they could stay together for 40 plus years, what can make them go their separate ways when they need a companion the most?

“Her mom has moved in with her sister, and get this… Her dad is living with a much younger woman now…”

“No way!” I said vehemently. At the one brief encounter I had with him, he had come across as a typical, seedha-saadha, god-fearing tambrahm man.. In fact, M has told us so much about his strict adherence to morals & ethics.

“Who told you all this rubbish?” I asked my friend.

“Someone very reliable.. You know my aunt just moved in to the apartment bang opposite M’s parents ‘. She says her maid told her that an elderly gentleman stays there with a younger woman & that his wife has moved away…”

It totally left me disoriented for the rest of the day. I just couldn’t get my head around this. How could he? I kept thinking. I guess the male species are really a selfish, evil lot…

K & me spoke again that afternoon while she was frothing in the mouth about the male mentality, infidelity  and whether we should try & trace M to talk to her.. But we decided against it… It’s not exactly a pleasant subject and it’s totally not our business. If at all she wants to touch base with us, there’s always Facebook..

So we left it at that and like all other earth-shattering scandals, it got easily forgotten after a few weeks.

A few months later, I got a call from M herself. The hot gossip I’d heard about her dad came flooding back to me. And M was not sounding her usual chirpy self.

“Hi… ” She said in a small voice.

“Hi, M!” I greeted her enthusiastically. “So lovely to hear your voice after so many years… How have you been?” I gushed.

“Okay.. ” she replied. “I’m in the city for 2 weeks  & thought I’ll touch base with you.”

“Great! ” I said. “Shall we do lunch? Or do you want to meet up at home? I’d love to see your son!” I rambled on…

“No yaar, not this time…” She said. “I’m here because I lost my mother. I’m staying at my sister’s place and there are lot of pujas & stuff till next week. Then it’ll be time for me to go back home..”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I felt so terrible. I knew she was very close to her mom. “What happened?”

“She was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago. Around the same time, my father had a stroke and was partially paralysed…”

“Oh, my god!” Poor things, I thought.

“I had just delivered my son and I was not in any shape to come and help out. So my sister took my mother into her place. She  was really weak after her chemo sessions. And we appointed a live-in nurse to take care of my father at his place.”

“My sister used to look him up everyday. It really helped that she was staying pretty close.”

“Oh I’m so sorry..” I said, feeling terrible. “If only I’d known… It wouldn’t have been easy for your sister…”

“Yeah, she’s lost a lot of weight… I feel so guilty..” said my friend.

“Don’t beat yourself up.. Both of you did your best… Please call me whenever you want to talk. If it’s ok with you, K & me will drop in to see you at your sister’s at your convenience”.

After chatting for a bit more we hung up, promising each other to be in touch.

Now I have to call K to restore her faith in men…


Though this really happened, I’ve changed minor details to protect privacies.

« Older entries