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!


The iron butterfly

How easy is it to be me…

When I start my day with my morning cuppa, the most pressing thing on my mind is planning my schedule for the day – juggling school/football pick ups, deadlines, meetings and of course, the day’s menu.

A tough day for me, is a clash in my schedule or a tantrum-filled day with my tween.

But however tough a day is, a spontaneous hug from my little one or a kind word from my spouse will be all the pick-me-up I need.

I’ve also been lucky in having a father who lived to 75, providing with solid emotional support and a mother who was and always will be my conscience.

Still, I’m on edge most of the days, juggling schedules, handling irate maids, unresponsive customer-care, annoying telemarketes and so on. So many times in a day, I wish for some peace so I can just curl up with a good book.


I have no political affiliations whatsoever, but in the last few days, during the wait and watch game on TV, which was followed by mourning of the iron butterfly, I couldn’t help feeling ashamed of all the cribbing I’ve done about my everyday life.

Here lies a lady who faced only trials and tribulations throughout her lifetime. Insults, injuries, court cases, imprisonments, were all part of a single day for her.

People ranted against her, enemies plotted against her, others waited eagerly for her to stumble and fall, but she held her ground through it all.

Without a family to support her.

Lost her father at 2, her mother in her twenties, no husband, no child to warm her heart.

She faced tough challenges on her own. And not just faced, but fought back with courage and determination.

Her only emotional support probably was the adoration by the masses.

Now, I don’t know, nor do I care, if she died of natural causes or was slow-poisoned by her trusted aides. But whatever it was, she’ll always be an inspiration to me and many other women of this city.

I suppose till now, we, the educated & supposedly worldly-wise women have been openly jeering her autocracy and winning elections with freebies.

But we did have a grudging admiration for her grit.

The same men who pulled at her sari and tried to shame her in public years ago were prostrating at her feet now.

The same arrogant men who threw her out of the cortege all those years ago were now reverentially carrying her body in one.

The feminist inside each one of us cheered. She won us all in the end.

I saw the sea of people milling about, tearfully seeing her off on her final journey,waving two fingers that symbolises ‘victory to the two leaves.’

But on this solemn occasion, I felt it was more like they were saying “Victory to you, Amma! In death, you conquered all!”

Rest in peace.


Image courtesy:google


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.



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.

I drive

I’m a woman. I drive.

Why is this so hard for some men drivers to take?

While driving, my eyes are focused on the road, but I also notice a mother on a scooter with her kid.

I notice an old man trying to cross the road.

I notice a vendor trying to hard-sell his feather dusters, running erratically between cars at a signal.

I also notice the hooligans on bikes who zoom 100 km/hr hooting & screaming, trying to race each other playfully.

And the morons driving cars like they’re on race tracks and above all traffic rules.

After years of driving with a baby on board, I drive very carefully. I never speed, always go easy on speed breakers & pot holes and wait at signals when it’s red, even when other cars don’t care what color it is, as long as they can squeeze through. (Much to the disgust of the baby, which has grown up quite a bit)

I’ve been driving on the roads of Chennai for the past 14 years. And every day, there’s at least one angry male driver who is either intent on overtaking me or somehow bully me off the road.

The other day, a maniac honked away behind me and was so upset that I did not let him pass. After about 5-8 minutes of blaring his horn at my car &  baring his fangs at me, he got his chance. I had to stop at a signal. He changed lanes & zoomed away triumphantly, way above any speed limit.

Instead of feeling defeated, I could only laugh.

What’s your hurry? I wanted to ask him.

Why is it so important to overtake a woman driving? Is it an insult to your masculinity if you don’t? Unlike you, my dear stone age man, I drive to serve a purpose, instead of feeling powerful.

I drive my kid to school, to various after-school classes, for medical checks, my parents to the temple, aunts to shopping, my driving-challenged friends to the movies, drive myself to do some grocery shopping, so on and so forth.

And while I’m doing that, my focus is to get there in one piece. More than me, I feel responsible towards those traveling with me and want to make sure I get them safely home.

So I’m not interested in power-struggles on the road with men like you.

I don’t care if I win or lose these imaginary races you have with me.

If you’re so inclined to prove your masculinity with your wild & dangerous driving, remember this.

You only come across as a boorish bully, who’s a threat to those on the road.

I’m a woman. I drive.

Get used to it.


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.

We’re like that only

I had to walk past a busy narrow lane to college from the bustop. Invariably I would pass a quarrelling couple and a small crowd around them. Giving them a wide berth I literally used to run to my college, with my heart thudding.

The scene would haunt me for the whole day.

A part of me would feel guilty for running away. Maybe I should have stopped and given a piece of my mind to that man. Or called the police. But when the next time I saw a similar scene, I used to get terrified of the drunken man and my legs would automatically carry me as fast as they could away from the scene.

I used to berate myself for being a coward.

Anyway, this was years and years ago.


We were having dinner the other night. Our relative peace was shattered by some yelling and screaming. I peeped out of the kitchen window.

The backyards of my building and the house behind us share the same wall. The new live-in watchman of that house was standing in his kitchen and screaming his head off at his wife.

I rushed back to the dining room. “Do something!” I told my husband. “What?” He asked in annoyance. “I don’t want to interfere in his family business.”

By now the screaming was louder and it totally unnerved me. I climbed on to my kitchen counter and opened the window wider. My son who was super excited with all this, scrambled to climb up beside me. I could distinctly hear some thuds. He was beating her up! That did it. I wanted to make up for all the time I had run away from similar scenes.

“Helloooo!!!’ I screamed. My voice was not loud enough. Clearing my throat, I tried again. “Who’s making all this noise?? Don’t you have any sense beating up a woman like that?” By now my voice had become a pathetic squeak. My son literally fell off the counter laughing.

Suddenly a strong pair of hand lifted him off the counter. “HEY!!!” roared a booming voice, right next to my ear, almost making me deaf. My husband! He couldn’t bear to watch me squeaking and making a fool of myself, so he had decided to help. My God!!! All these years, I had no clue my husband had swallowed a loud speaker when he was a baby!

His booming voice bounced off the walls around and reverberated everywhere. “Who are all you people? If I hear one more word from you, I swear I’ll call the police!” He thundered.

The startled watchman looked up. “Sorry, sir…” he mumbled and slunk away. I flashed a grateful smile at my husband, though my insides were quaking. Both of us went back to the dining table, a bit shaken by the incident.

My son was huddled in his chair like a mouse. His face was pinched and was trying hard not to cry. “What happened?” I asked him. He looked at my husband. “Appa… ” He  began with a quavering voice. “You scared me when you screamed like that…  don’t ever do that again…”

After a bit of consoling and cajoling, he was his normal self again.

My husband glared at me. ‘All because of you’ He mouthed.

Later, I got a lecture on how I should not go around yelling at people from my window. “Did anyone else bother? Who are they to you? You had to climb on that counter like a monkey and make a fool of yourself!’

I was so mad. “I just can’t watch a man beating up his wife in front of me!”

“Then shut your window. Meet the owner of the house and complain about this. There is absolutely no need for you to deal with a drunken watchman!”

I sulked for a bit and thought that was the end of the story.

A few nights later, I was frantically getting my son to sleep when the same noises came from outside. Since my husband was traveling, I decided to ignore it. Soon my son was fast asleep and I went back to the book I was reading. The noise got too loud for me to concentrate and the language he was using was so terrible. He seems to be getting worse by the minute.

Throwing caution to the wind, I opened my curtains and screamed my squeakiest best. “Can’t you see people are trying to sleep? We’ve already warned you once. Shall I call the cops?” This time the wife looked up. “Please do Madam. I cannot take this torture!” She then turned to her husband and screamed in full volume about how uncouth he was, disturbing the peace in decent people’s neighborhood and so on.

She looked up at my window again and yelled at my direction, “Call the police Madam! I don’t care if they arrest my husband!”

I so didn’t want to get sucked into their brawl. So I went back to bed and switched off the lights, signaling the end of my participation.

The next morning I asked my friend who lives in my building if she gets disturbed by the nightly fighting. She seemed clueless since her flat was on the front side of the building.

She promised to send her driver to warn the offender. If that does not work, she promised to accompany me to meet the owner of that house.

Later my maid told me that she went over with my friend’s driver and issued a stern warning to the watchman. She assured me that he’d behave himself.

Later that evening I got another earful from my husband when he called. “Keep all the doors locked, just in case,” he warned me. “I really wish you had some good sense to keep out of such things…” He added wearily.

The next few days were peaceful… I had almost forgotten the watchman.

It started again last night. His high-pitch voice came floating up the window. Followed by his wife’s loud retorts.

I thought for a minute. Then did the sensible thing. Opened the curtains and shut the window.

But at least I tried this time.

The revenge of the ladle…

I’ve had this grouse against most Indian men for a while.  They behave like invalids in their own homes.

They are probably ten times stronger than their mothers, sisters or wives. They  lift tons of weight in the gym. Yet they cannot lift their plates from the dining table to the sink.

They run in the treadmill for hours. Yet they will not stand for fifteen minutes with their wives to do the dishes when the maid is absent.

They’re so agile in sports. But cannot bend down to pick up their own wet towels from the floor.

They drive for hours together non-stop in their powerful cars. Yet will not drive to the corner of the road to pick up some groceries.

I’ve been mulling over this for years. And I’m slowly seeing the light.

Rewind to hundreds of years ago, when the women were so oppressed.

Those women did not have a life. Education, knowledge, freedom of speech were all denied to them and their sole purpose of existence was to serve the men. Be it a father, brother, husband or a son, the man in her life at any point was her lord and master. They were literally imprisoned in the kitchens and made to cook & clean for the men of the house.

Now, we all know what a woman is made of. Where she lacks in brute strength, she makes up with a strong will and a cunning mind.

How did all those women get the better of their oppressors? Fighting will just not work. If they try any other methods like ahimsa or satyagraha, it will not work either. They can easily be replaced and they’ll have to spend the rest of their lives in the thinnais of their homes…

So they went along, played the dutiful wives & mothers. They did not step outside of their homes, cooked, washed, cleaned, laundered, brought up babies and kept house.

But oh so subtly they made the men dependent on them without them realising it.

They did pretty much everything for their men, so the men just cannot survive inside their homes without their women. Call it a survival act if you want, but the women chained their men to them by making them believe that they’re not capable of taking care of themselves. In short, they were invalids inside their own homes without their women.

And some aggressive women came along and made rules that no man can enter the kitchens or try to do anythig that remotely resembled housework.

But over centuries, we women have worked our way out to free ourselves. We can educate ourselves, go for jobs, excel in sports, run governments and have proved to men we’re their equals in everything but brute strength.

But these poor, poor men still are rooted strongly in their age old beliefs that they’re invalids and cannot even make their own coffees at home.

Power to women!


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