Three images which stay in my mind over last one week, in the order that I saw them. 

First- On an extremely hot afternoon I made my way out of the Kanjur Marg station (a central suburban station in Mumbai). The journey from VT to Kanjur Marg took me 35 min in the train and I found myself complaining of the extreme heat and how over crowded and stuffy the train journey had been (I did surprise myself by feeling that way!). As I stepped down the over bridge on my route to the auto, the tiny lane was also quite hot and dusty. In the middle of that lane a large steel drainage gutter lid had gone defunct. The gutter had obviously stopped functioning and the lid lay there slanting one foot inside the gutter making a slant.  

A crowd of kids (ranging from 3-8 yrs) from the near by huts were surrounding this defunct gutter, taking turn to use the sliding lid as their own private little garden slide! The circle around the gutter went in circles, one kid taking the turn after the another and each having an absolute blast as they slid themselves down that 3 feet by 2 feet slide! Each kid had that expression of absolute joy and amazement as they made their way down. Only if I was not to rush to the meeting I would have stuck around there a bit longer and may be tried joining them in their game! 

Second- As I sat on Marine Drive on a breezy evening, gazing at the sea and the sky, evening walkers, kids out for their evening play time and friends on a stroll gathered on the side promenade. One kid took my attention away from the sky and the sea for quite some time. 

He was with the person who would be taking care of him as his mother sat catching up on her phone. The kid, about 4-5 yrs old was riding his just newly acquired bicycle (the bicycle still had fresh plastic covers which were not taken off). He rode for a bit, and then for a longer time than he had ridden his new possession he was more enthralled at pushing the cycle, beating it up, and kicking it. Lifting it again, pushing it till it went a bit far, waiting till it dropped and kicking it again.  

After sometime the kicking and the hitting got the better of me and I got back to my sea and the clouds 

Third- On my way back home tonight, around 7 p.m as I walked down towards my house I was passing one of those famous bookstores which lots of people keep hopping in and out of. This store has definitely added a lot more traffic and crowd to my earlier relatively quite street corner.  

Just outside the store the mother carried her 5-6 yr old daughter who had just been taken to the bookstore, presumably waiting for their driver to come and pick them up. The same bookstore had an under bridge area right opposite where a lot of street families live as well. 

As I walked passed the mother daughter duo, they were being daunted by one of the street kid girls begging from them. As I walked, my ears overheard the daughter telling the mother “please give her something na!”, and my eyes caught the mother quickly giving her daughter a stern look of ‘no’, and her hands trying to send the beggar kid away  

Don’t want to say anything more… just wanted to share these images as they linger on in my mind… the subtleties of life as they keep popping up all around us… reiterating life the way it is!  

The Stars

This is a poem written by Nikhil, my nephew who is about 8 years old. Besides being an intelligent kid who loves to read and play, he’s an awesome big brother to the impish 2 1/2 year old Sanjana.

The Stars

Come out, come out

My dear little stars

Night will soon be here

If you don’t come out

I can’t see you appear.


I am standing at my balcony

And I can’t stay for long

As my mother is coming back soon

And she’ll call me back


Oh no!

Here she comes

I’m sorry but I must go

I wish I could see you shine

In that vast coat of black

But sadly now I must go

But please you don’t go!!

A Decent Burial

I have mentioned before about the fact that most of my fond memories revolve around my brother who is about six years younger than me. He’s a very special child sensitive and intelligent with unique interests.

One of few things that he is passionate about is wildlife – for years I never saw him watch anything else on television beyond National Geographic, Discovery and Animal Planet. He devours pages after pages of books on animals and birds and rattles off their Latin names and their unique behaviours in an excited tone equivalent to “everyone on earth has just landed gold”. He has always had birds as pets at home and brings up their babies and their babies’ babies with tons of love and affection. I can still remember the excited glint in his eye as a middle school-er when he discovered the first batch of eggs his friends had laid, his crushing disappointment when a clutch failed and his over whelming joy at the sight of new born chicks.

It’s amazing to see him interact with his birds – they respond to his voice, play with him, communicate their worries as parents when a clutch of eggs are laid, let him clean and monitor the health of their new born babies – birds can be so much more personal and attached than one can imagine.

When we moved into a flat of our own in Bangalore after years of travelling through cities and various neighbourhoods, one of first things that we did was to convert his balcony into a well equipped aviary complete with rounded mud pots for nests, nesting material, lovely bowls for food , a smallish tub for them to have a bath and a smaller private area for those who need some space alone because of sickness or injury or plain simple maladjustment.

One of the biggest things that this lovely relationship has taught my brother is “death”. He experienced his first encounter with this heart wrenching separation when he was about 12 years old. One of his birds had fallen very sick and no amount of care could nurse Maco back to health. It almost broke all our hearts to see Maco’s partner hover around his body, trying to wake him up. Its a scene that’s burned in my memory like no other.

After some time when Maco’s partner had reconciled, my dad went ahead to take Maco out of the aviary and proceeded to wrap him in a newspaper and a plastic bag to “dispose”.

“Dispose”??!!!! My brother was extremely angry – now combined with the sadness of this loss you can just imagine how red his face could have gone. In his own words he wanted a “decent burial” which was “respectful”.

And so this Sunday morning was spent performing Maco’s last rites. After a few minutes of searching my brother and my dad zeroed in on a burial spot on an empty plot of land. My dad dug up a small grave while my brother put Maco in. They offered a fist of earth each as a token and said a few silent prayers before covering the grave with earth. To end the ceremony, they planted a small sapling of a bush nearby over Maco’s grave.

Losing a loved one is very sad, but giving a “decent burial” full of love and respect is indeed one of the best treasures of life. It’s a lovely acknowledgment of their moving on in their journey; an acceptance of their passing into another world and a higher plane.

A Frothy Affair

Holidays at our ancestral home in Kulithalai would always be filled with lovely incidents – moments that you can look back on years later and smile.

My brother and a cousin, Sridhar, both kindergartners at the time of this incident, had gone snooping around the largish family house, while another older cousin, Krishna and I were buried in our books. As the older kids we indulged in more discipline and sitting tolerance while we waited for our daily dose of snacks at regular intervals. Obviously the two smaller kids left to entertain themselves indulged in a variety of unconventional games, from poking toads in the back garden, counting cobwebs in the attic to collecting weird shaped stones.

Life was beautifully lazy and the day just seemed to fit into this description till my chitthi (aunt) spotted some figures peeping into the well in the front yard. Soon she figured that what seemed like “peeping” from a distance, was actually “throwing” rather enthusiastic “throwing”. My brother was busy emptying packets after packets of something while my cousin was egging him on “Pooduda Podu” (roughly translating as “Throw, come on throw” in English).

Oi, you kids scoot from here. What do you think you’re up to?”, my chitthi called out. She approached the well and let out a horrified scream.

The well had transformed into a massive bucket of froth!! The kids had emptied a few packets of Wheel detergent powder into the well!!! It was simple enough for them to give blank stares and get inside the house quickly for some delicious food.

The real project of the day had however just begun. As the news of the latest prank spread, no one thought of scolding the kids. On the contrary, everyone seemed quite entertained in spite of the mammoth task that was ahead of them – the well needed to be rid of all the soapy water. My dad and my uncle began emptying out all the water, while the rest of us watched the show. I dint think it was possible for a well to be emptied!! It took several hours for them to successfully skim off the layer of soapy water. In the process they discovered quite a few random objects like a soap bar, a mug, a soap box which had found their way into the well.

Though no one was admonished for the prank, you can be rest assured that the Wheel detergent packets at Kulithalai have never been anywhere close to the well since that day. In fact no one ever knows where they are hidden, away from the prying eyes of pranksters.

The Pencil that wouldn’t grow

Lower Kindergarten was a wildly interesting year for me. I had met a bunch of other kids and found exciting opportunities to experiment and dabble in all the strange stuff around us together. Predictably much of this was baffling for my mother, who could never figure reasons behind strange phenomena, like a missing lunch box or sudden body rashes (from playing with Parthenium grass) . Though she was clever enough to figure that “I” was involved in some way or the other.

I remember this one particular time when my friend and I decided on a new experiment. We had noticed that each time a pencil was sharpened, its lead grew longer than before. My friend’s hunch was that if we kept sharpening, the lead will probably touch the classroom ceiling. I wasn’t so sure though, after all the lead seemed to be growing with the pencil was shrinking. So my take was that it would probably be as long as the pencil at the maximum. But this of course needed observation and some validation, even as kindergartners we were quite conscious about factual inference. So about five or six of us got together and decided to experiment.

Break time was spent in sharpening all our pencils continuously but none of the leads touched the ceiling or came anywhere close to a pencil’s length. The teacher would be quite bewildered that a whole bunch of us had no proper pencils to write after break. Each day I would return home with one inch pencils, and my mom would patiently lecture me on how I need to use them wisely and give me a new set. A couple of days passed with no success.

Finally my mom, who was growing sick of the “two new pencils a day” norm, threatened that she’d remove the sharpener from my pencil box. In my language this meant reducing it to cave man standards and losing my status as “the kid with the complete pencil box set” in lower kindergarten. She had successfully put me in a spot – I decided not to persist with our experiment of trying to make pencil leads grow. By the end of the year though I did figure how pencils worked.

Who deserves the Chocolate?

Trains journeys are always fascinating, especially when you are stuck in a three tier a/c compartment on an evening 5 hour journey. You can neither kill time by sleeping nor can you really kill time eating your meals. That leaves you stuck with 5 other people in your coach with no sound to distract you either. It’s at such times when it’s almost acceptable, that someone choosing to have a phone conversation within such silent confined spaces is almost volunteering to share their conversation with others.  It’s no longer over hearing and impolite! 🙂

So of course, all of this comes with me being stuck in one such compartment! I was trying to kill time and that’s when I usually bump into the most amusing moments. So as I was fiddling with my book, trying to read something,  my ears lead me on to something.

My fellow passenger about 30-35 years of age, was on the phone, and this is what I heard him say, Beta appne mummy ka chocolate kyun le liya!”  (Sweety why did u take away mommy’s chocolate! ) – in a tone which adults use to explain children things without wanting to scold them.

And I just smiled to myself! Wow! Now there was some role reversal happening here…

And then the second line…

Usne aapko chocolate wapus kiya ki nahin?’ (Did he/she return you your chocolate?) – In an extremely concerned, caring tone.

Now how often do adults recognize that sometimes their fellow adults need that chocolate more than the kids! So what if children claim to have had the birth right over all the ‘fun’ things? Sometimes mothers need the chocolates as much or perhaps more than their kids!

Somehow that weirdly confined compartment did not let me put my thumbs up and my ‘Cheers!” to my fellow passenger but in my mind I smiled and was glad for what I overheard! And glad for him having given a boost to all the kids in us!


Ice Cream Cone: Eating Techniques

I had always thought that there was only way to eat an ice cream out of a cone. Start from the top by licking the ice cream scoop and finish by chewing the cone all the way to the bottom. My amma had told me very strictly that this was the proper way – “clean and no spilling”. The right speed of ice cream licking was also equally important, it had to be fast enough to prevent the ice cream from melting and slow enough to savour the taste.

But while attending a largish family wedding in Srirangam when I was around five years old, my cousin busted the myth of “one clean way of eating cone ice cream”.

She was as old as me, but seemed far more experienced when it came to enjoying ice cream in a cone. She said she could eat it bottom up – eating the cone first and savouring the ice cream last. Another interesting technique involved pushing the ice cream all the way to the bottom with your tongue, this again ensured that you ended with the yummy taste of delicious ice cream. She also pointed out that one could always just eat the ice cream and throw away the cone, although I wasn’t convinced about this being another technique. Apparently one could also wait for the ice cream to melt inside the cone and drink this like some kind of a shake. Again, I wasn’t sure if the ice cream would melt on the “inside” or “outside”.

But it was clear that she had experimented with several different innovative ways, this made me feel jealous and unsettled. So highly unsettled that I decided to ignore being a “good obedient girl” for a while. She promised that she would demonstrate at least one of the techniques in the evening when the ice cream vendor usually did his rounds.

The wedding was over and it was time for the quick afternoon resting followed by some good ice cream for the kids. Most kids opted in for the Chocobar, while my cousin and I went in for a scoop of chocolate flavour in a cone. I decided to try the bottom up approach, not too experimental yet unconventional.

Of course my cousin had to first demonstrate and prove that it was a method that actually worked. So she took a neat little bite of the cone’s bottom. Well, nothing awful seemed to happen. I was of course licking my ice cream away, I would switch to the bottom when I was convinced that everything was under control in the alternative method. My cousin progressed quite seamlessly to about the quarter of the cone. “See, I told you, nothing will happen. This is the best way to eat cone ice cream”.

I considered for a second and was just about to switch, when I suddenly saw something dropping out of her bottom side of the cone. She had chewed up to half of the cone and the ice cream had started to melt!!! I was rapidly licking away mine, biting the cone while watching her struggle to keep her technique going. Her ice cream starting dropping from the top half as well, and over flowed on to the sides. Her brave efforts to save the yummy scoop dint work and in the next couple of minutes it was all over her dress with a larger generous portion plopped on the muddy road.

I was starting to feel much better, after all my conventional method gave me the joy of eating an ice cream. But then she threw a coup and took me by complete surprise. She started to cry, actually, make that “wail”. Soon a group of concerned adults surrounded her. “Poor kid, her ice cream melted, let’s buy her another one”.

What??!!! Here I was, a good girl eating ice cream the proper way and she was the one getting all the attention. She got to choose a bigger and better Cassatta. After all the adults had to give her the best deal to make her stop crying!!

I consoled myself by saying that at least I hadn’t spoilt my dress and that I dint suffer from any ignorance – there wasn’t any bottom up approach of eating cone ice cream.

The case of a false ticket

The unassuming gullible Mama (uncle) was traveling with his four year old nephew – their destination was a few hours away, and Nikhil was already getting restless. He was just into kindergarten and wanted to have some fun….what could possibly be a fun thing do on a train?

Just as his imagination started to run, a middle aged man in a black coat holding a bunch of papers appeared – it was time for the routine ticket checking. Just as Satish, the uncle supposedly “in-charge”, reached for the ticket in his pocket, Nikhil held Satish’s hand firmly. The kid pulled out a shaggy piece of paper from his pocket instead and handed it over to the Ticket Inspector. “Here’s our ticket.”

The Baffled Ticket Inspector said, “No no, this cant be the ticket. Please show me the real ticket”.

Nikhil, “No no, this is the ticket”

Ticket Inspector, losing his patience by now, “This is not a real ticket, I cannot accept this”

“No, this is the real ticket. Please take”. A volley of such no-no’s followed interrupted by some scuffling with Satish Mama and his requests for being allowed to fish out the real one from his pocket. But would this bored kid listen? Nikhil persisted with his argument, though finally within a couple of minutes the “real” Indian Railways ticket emerged.

Needless to say the Ticket Inspector moved on as quickly as possible rather relieved but still flustered.

Nikhil was smiling though. “I was just having some fun Mama” he said with a naughty glint in his eyes.

Strictly Business

Conventional Logic says that people mature as they grow older – our emotional quotient graph supposedly moves upward with each passing day’s adventures giving us a bit of “gyaan”. But there are times when I wonder if this is an “upward” trend of the EQ graph or of the CQ graph (Complexity quotient graph).

Each passing day seems to make us more complex especially in day to day relationships – we become more prone to tact and diplomacy, more measured in our communication. Whereas as a child I remember having a very straightforward life, with direct relationships and simple communication – I did very well without the tools of diplomacy, arguments, tact, silence and elaborate logic. My social tools consisted of just plain truth and common sense – simple and beautiful.

A couple of incidents that took place when my brother was around five or six years old, show how straightforward social interactions can be with children.

We were new at this regular Delhi school, with regular teachers. My brother had never been an easy child for many teachers simply because he dint understand the language of authority. Complaints, cribs and regular notices were immediate defenses of teachers who lacked the competency to communicate with my brother. But this one particular time, one of the teachers decided that perhaps a visit to the Principal’s office would do the trick. “Maybe he’ll listen then”, she must have thought.

Unfortunately for her, the scene in the Principal’s office went something like this:

Principal: Raghavan, what have you been up to? Do you know why you have been brought here?

Raghavan: (puzzled) I don’t know. I have no business in the your office. I’m going back to my classes.

And before the two adults in the room could blink, he was gone – he’d scooted away to his classroom.

Needless to say I was called and questioned on behalf on my brother and a visit from my mother followed the subsequent morning. We all agreed that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the teachers were dealing with my brother. After all being concerned with one’s own business is no crime!!

On another occasion, all kids of Class 2 were being punished for creating a ruckus between classes. My brother refused to take the punishment, he simply said, “I wasn’t making any noise, I wont take the punishment”.

On each of these occasions he was only stating simple truth, and he dint need to resort to any tact or silence.

What do you think? Do we grow more complicated in our social communication as we grow older? Do we perhaps pass over simple truth and common sense for complex social norms?

My Dad and I

I am glad to say that my life’s always spiced up with the many relationships that I have with people ranging from the amusing, eccentric and romantic to the plain business types.

In particular I share a rather interesting relationship with my Appa (dad). No we don’t fit into the typical “father’s favourite is the daughter” or “father+daughter= best friends” category, neither is he the archetypal “strict orthodox father” who expects implicit obedience.

My appa is very unique, which is what makes the smallest moments with him special. With a speedy swagger and tuft of hair reminiscent of Rajnikanth, he’s somewhere between your mad scientist and Tamil hero of the 80s. His hobby is to “learn new stuff and experiment” – it could be anything from a programming language to a new unheard of dish (possibly his own inventions). His fetish for experimentation is so high particularly in the kitchen that it remains to this day the single biggest source of conflict between my amma (mom) and appa. Each morning witnesses a routine mini Mahabharata scene – only this time the war is over the kitchen.

I never realized why my amma found his kitchen exploits so bothersome till recently when I was supposedly in charge of the kitchen while she was travelling. But one has to commend him for his unconventional methods of cooking – his dishes turn out quite yummy at times.

He loves the pure sciences, though he’s spent most of his professional life in banking and finance. Yet this doesn’t stop him from using his scientific temper to explain the tiniest of things – like this one time when he associated his back pain with some famous scientific law. It’s lovely having him explain all the interesting stuff around us which we hardly know about, and adds in some hard to come by humour to our lives.

Though what his knowledge also means is that plumbers, electricians and men who do odd jobs are not to be summoned by any one of us under any circumstances. He believes in doing the fixing himself, the trouble is that by the time the fixing happens – things are too “unfixed” to be fixed. Invariably he has strange teaching methods too – the smallest of math doubts has to be cleared beginning with a history of math and the like. He is too elaborate and at times he takes us a little too deep into a subject – so deep that usually I’d forget the doubt I had in the first place.

My appa has always been very liberal with his children, he has always let us debate with him. I think almost everyday sees us argue over something or the other – these random arguments have gifted me critical thinking and the ability to analyze. He is one of the few and rare adults who are non hierarchical with small children especially toddlers. Its a joy to see him interact and play with children, he has the amazing ability to connect at their wavelength.

Our arguments however haven’t always been friendly, non competitive ones. In my younger days especially, an argument not ending with my final note meant defeat. And when I was six years old it meant, I was just being “scolded” for no reason. So to punish my appa, at that age I would switch off the lights while he was engrossed in reading the newspaper.

As you can see, he is not a typical parent – even when it came to getting his kids the “material stuff”. He’s never indulged in posh, “in vogue” gifts”, he’s bought us stuff that bring in little joys. I love my appa for the smaller things in life he’s given us. Like this one time when I was close to two years old, he bought me a roadside plastic toy that kept jumping up and down. Apparently I was absolutely delighted, my amma says she had never seen me laugh so gleefully. That little piece of plastic that my appa demonstrated to me was much more wonderful than any of the costly stuffed toys that I have ever had. I have seen many fathers who think twice before buying their kids something that’s aesthetically not pleasing, but my appa with his intuitive understanding of little kids knew that I’d love it.

Very recently he started learning a programming language (as a hobby) – his ability to grasp new things has never diminished with age, neither has his speed in doing things. Although as his daughter I have never been able to match his speed or intelligence, he keeps me inspired to this day.

I love my appa and the relationship I share with him. It just pours in a lot more zest and spice into my life.

A Suitable Match

I am sure each one of us at some point or the other has been a part of or a witness to the rather cliched conversations called “how to find the right guy?” (or even more cliched “is being single better than being married?”).

I’d like to put one thing on record before I continue to ramble – I’m happily married to a South Indian geek who loves to write code all day long.

So, getting back to our story – each time I would got caught in this endless warp of “how to figure the right guy?”, I would fall back on the pearls of wisdom uttered by my cousin when he was six years old and engraved into the family wisdom heirloom for posterity. More importantly it would provide much needed comic relief from the overloaded dialogues on “higher tangents to be considered” that these conversations had.

Sunil was a feisty young boy , sharp and quick witted with an adorable two year old sister, Subha. There was nothing unusual about the day – usual simmering Delhi summer. So perhaps it is best and most just to attribute the sudden revelation of this young boy to hidden maturity and knowledge in children that we choose to ignore as adults.

On this hot summery day, during one of those lovely imaginary games that children play, Subha (loaded with all the enthusiasm to display her newly acquired language skills) asked Sunil, “Anna, will you marry me? Then I can stay with you forever”.

Sunil, “No no Kuttas, you can’t marry your own brother. You should not marry any relatives”

Subha, “But then who will I marry?” (Sigh, who would have thought two year olds could have such complex worries )

Sunil, “You know you need to find someone who you think you like”

Subha, “So then I can marry my classmate who I like?”

Sunil, “No, No…You need to consider before you marry someone – his family, what does he do, is he a nice guy and does he have good habits. You should only marry someone who is fairly known to the family. Or we should get to know the guy well.”

And thus the guidelines for the women of Ranganthan family to refer to while finding that elusive “suitable match” were set by Thiru (tamil for Mr) Sunil Sampath on a hot day in Delhi whose date I forget.

1. Never marry family. Extend it to include people who even remotely resemble family.

2. Marry someone who you think you like.

3. Get to know the guy well before marriage – what does he do in life? what about his family? is he a nice person?

4. Check if the guy has good habits – for those uninitiated into the culture of tamil matrimony, when an ad reads “boy with clean habits”, it means drinking and smoking are a big no.

5. Family needs to get to know the guy and his family well.

Simple but from experience I know to be effective.

Scolding Children!!!

There is a whole treasure trove of memories associated with my brother who is six years younger than me. His quick wit, fierce independence and revolt to adult hierarchy have combined to give me some of the most memorable and loved moments of life.

I was not necessarily a naughty kid, but exceptionally clumsy. On one of those random clumsy moments when I was around 12 years old, I broke my mom’s finest Borosil piece while taking it out of the microwave. Predictably the usual scene of my mom howling down at me started playing – why did “you remove” when “you were NOT even supposed to touch”? She was mighty distressed at losing this piece, that too quite so abruptly. As with typical “mommy tirades”, this one went on and on to include detailed narrations of my numerous super clumsy moments. By the time she was on the third such story of my supreme clumsiness, my cheeks had started to burn, my eyes were flushed red and hot tears were streaming down.

Just when the scene seemed to evolve into a typical parent child confrontation of monstrous proportions, we suddenly heard a booming voice “Scolding Children??!!”. My three and three quarters foot six year old brother was glaring at my mother, with fisted hands at his hips. “How dare you scold children? Scolding children is bad. Don’t scold Akka”. It took us a minute to realize what had happened.

The tension had been broken – all the anger and tears transformed into peals of laughter. No one could argue with the wisdom of a six year old – scolding children was indeed “bad” (and unpleasant). The fight for the rights of children had no resistance, my brother had won this battle hands down.

And he claimed his prize with equal style!!! My mom had to apologize and promise my brother that she’ll never scold children again (she’s almost lived that promise though there have been minor instances).