Friday, January 30, 2009

Uncle Sam, Mind Your Own Business , Says ?

The Iranian president’s call to the United States to ‘stop interfering in other people’s affairs’ is indeed a legitimate demand. US has manipulated the rise and fall of governments across the globe, created Frankensteins like Al Qaeda for one, played and plays yoyo with oil producing Middle East countries, has supported dictatorship against democratic countries, has aggressively bulldozed their way into every region that threatened its economic interests and made ‘making the world safe for democracy’ a pretext for all these activities. This, by now, is declassified information. Yes. The US has interfered/interferes in ‘other people’s affairs’. No doubt about it.

But isn’t the Iranian President making such an allegation akin to the pot calling the kettle black?

When Palestine and Israel fight, and Iran throws its weight behind Palestine with the threat to push the Zionists into the sea, doesn’t that amount to interfering in other people’s business?

When Salman Rushdie, a British novelist, writes a book and Iran issues a fatwa for his head, isn’t that interference in other people’s business? When Rafiq Tağı writes an article in the Azeri newspaper and Iran issues another fatwa for his head despite the legal action taken against him by the Azeri government, isn’t that interference in other people’s affairs?

When Iran instigates and supports Shia rebellion against Iraq and the other governments of the countries of which they are citizens, isn’t that interference in other people’s affairs?

A question to the president of Iran.What is the criterion for ‘other people’s affairs’?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slum Dog Again - An American Point of View

This is a comment from a regular visitor (an American girl) to my blogs who rarely posts comments. This time she chose to do it . I thought I'll post it as a blog instead of a comment. It gives a fresh point of view. I think being too close to the scene, we tend to get sensitive to the point of losing our objectivity. This comment was quite an eye opener for me.
I was waiting for the slum dog millionaire blog. I had two thoughts from the "westerner" perspective.
But first of all, I absolutely loved this movie. I felt like I'd been through the entire gambit of human emotion by the end. I cried, I almost threw up, I shrieked in horror, I cried and cried some more. An Indian friend remarked to the effect that there was my two hours of social awareness. Was it my favorite Indian movie? No. But, one of my top 10 movies of all time? Yes. Anyway, I think the reason it was so popular is not bc it was a look at "India's dirty backyard" or a reality TV show of India. But, for the same reason that many of these films /novels/stories are famous. For the same reason we love Odysseus, Edmond Dante, Jean Val jean, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela etc. etc. This movie captures the true human spirit. The ability to overcome the most dire circumstances and rise above it all. Not to mention that the sound track was great!!!
However, back to the two points that are kind of interesting.
1) The title "slum dog millionaire". From your blog it sound like "dog" is a very derogatory term in India. You many say to yourself. Yes, obviously. But, in American culture the word "dog" is used quite differently. Calling someone a dog in one of the inner cities in America is like calling them "brother". So a gangster type would say "what's up dog?" to a good friend, followed by a hand shake and a hug. Now obviously in the movie this was used in the derogatory sense. But, I think that it was named this way to make it popular in western culture. When I first saw "slum dog millionaire" I didn't even look at it, I just assumed it was about drug deals in inner city Detroit or Chicago, movies that I don't particularly care for, but are very popular in America.
2) This is a movie that I kept thinking about for days and days after. So the "social awareness" aspect obviously had an effect. So a few days after I saw the movie I was talking to my Indian friends about the movie. The aspect of the movie that they just couldn't believe was that the couple kissed at the end! I almost fell over...with the abuse, the torture, the corruption, the conditions that people lived couldn't believe they showed two people kiss?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Slum Dog Debate - Ruminations

Mushrooming issues on the Slum Dog Millionaire, blown, as usual, out of proportion by the media have let loose a barrage of blogs and forwards. I don’t mind the former but the latter - -can’t ignore them since they jam my inbox.

I spoke to a couple of people -both in the US – who saw the film-one in the theatre, the other at home. Both were raving about it. One admitted she couldn’t watch a few scenes – kept her eyes closed. The other, a little younger, had no complaints. I asked them about the Bachchan’s ‘underbelly’ comment. They echoed Irfan Khan’s views that if there is an underbelly, shoving it under the carpet doesn’t make it non-existent. One cannot wish away nor will away certain things.

Now about the originator of the ‘underbelly’ comment. It is surprising that such a politically correct person like MR. Bachchan should have used the idiom ‘‘underbelly”. Even idioms have to be used with discretion. When the issue is sensitive, and the referent is the underprivileged and the deprived who are struggling not just to survive, but also to celebrate life despite the rough deal life doled out to them, one should refrain using a word which, viewed outside its status as an idiom, refers to an offensive image - revolting part of the animal anatomy here. Bachchan may not have thought too much about the word underbelly as he, like a person at home with the language, would have thought only about total lexical output of the term. But he ought to have learnt a lesson from VS Achuthanandan’s recent “dog” episode (Dogs seem to dog India of late). The man was using a Malayalam idiom to mean an emphatic ‘no one’– an idiom used very commonly in Malayalam. But the referent being a person who died a hero’s death, and to whom the whole the whole nation was passionately grateful, the “dog’ ceased to be viewed in the context of the idiom. To make matters worse, in translation it was all the more offensive, in the absence of a similar idiomatic expression in thee English language.

Now, the social activist Nicholas Almeida has taken up the grouse of the Dharavi residents who are bristling at being referred to as Dogs. Legitimate anger and protest.

Let’s not forget that it is not their fault that they were born to live in a slum. Nor can we appropriate the credit for being born in a privileged class. Some unseen hand decided it that way. The least we can do is to refrain from using derogatory terms to refer to the less fortunate. What is underbelly to Bachchan is life to them. This terrible disparity in wealth ownership should make us hang our heads in shame, for we enjoy at their cost. There is no law of economics or philosophy that can counter this truth.

But one word in defence of Bachchan. he made this comment in his blog. Blogsphere is private sphere.

Now regarding the allegation that the movie is trying to project a saleable image of India, I can’t comment on it till I see it. But this I know. Any one who makes an India based English movie or an Indian who writes in English will be accused of catering to the western stereotyped expectations about India. In some cases this is true. In some, it is not. But the fact remains that when we write a novel in English, or make a movie in English, we become subliminally conscious of the takers – the English speaking audience and the English movie viewers. There is a possibility that the writer/movie maker will become, not quite realising it perhaps, vulnerable to the market trends. I suppose economics has a large part to play in this. The investment in the project might go down the drain if she/he ignores the market.

So what am I saying? That all Indian writers in English and the filmmakers in English who make India based movies never present empirical truth? Well. I don’t mean that. I am only saying that one can expect to find an element of stereotyping in such films. That is inevitable. But the question is, is it deliberate distortion to please a western audience? The answer is linked to the purpose of the project. Is it success at the box office, or an honest effort at a truthful represention of the writer's/movie maker’s perception of the truth about India? In the case of the former, both the movie and the book will not hold attention. In the case of the latter, honesty will pay, despite the fact that her/his perception of India is his/her own, and not necessarily the empirical truth.

Now the question arises as to what is the truth about India or any issue for that matter? Where does truth lie? Well, no one has patented truth. No one has a proprietary right over truth. Like Gandhi said, it is like a many faceted diamond and a seeker of truth can handle only a few at a time.

My experience of India is different from that of a resident of Dharavi or a farmer who struggles with the weather gods in Tamilnadu, or a Toda tribal of the Nilgiris or the middle class urban dweller of the metros or the reeking rich living all over the country or a British film maker whose knowledge of India began with textbooks. All these experiences of India are true. Our perception of truth is shaped by our experience of it. We should therefore be large enough to give as much space as possible to an artist who tries to represent India the way he/she perceives it. Artistic truth is reality as perceived by the artist and representation of it in a truthful fashion. About the market place, if an artist decides to present truth in a manner that provides aesthetic pleasure but refrain from distorting the truth as he has internalized it, no one should complain. The sum total of all these representation will take us a little near the truth.

Remember Keats’ words. “Truth is beauty, beauty truth”. Reality as perceived by an artist, if represented honestly, is truth. This truth cannot but be beautiful. It cannot but give aesthetic pleasure. That’s the purpose of art.

Just one more thing. Bachchan today gave voice to a sentiment I have always felt strongly about. “Oscar is not the ultimate recognition”, he said. Yes. I have always wondered why our film makers spend such huge amounts at screening and other Oscar winning extra theatre activities to get this recognition.To win an Oscar, I guess we will have to approximate the grammar of our movies to that of the western movies. Why on earth should we compromise so much to win an Oscar. I can mention any number of Oscar winning movies which I wouldn’t like to see a second time. Is there a greater recognition than a movie running house full in Indian for months?

Finally, the media behaviour with the crew of The Slum Dog Millionaire. One particular channel really took the cake with the anchor person repeatedly asking Danny Boyle about his feelings about India, about experience of movie making of India and, and, oh,she went on and on and on. The way she was trying hard for something good about India to fall from the lips of this rather reserved film maker, she reminded me of a starving cat waiting for a bottle of milk to fall so that she can lap up the spilt milk,. And the Indian members of the crew were drooling over him till his ears turned red.

We Indians! Ugh! How many eons must pass before we get over this colonial hangover?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The rhythm would have made even the pillars of Stonehenge shake off their burden and break into a frenzied jig. So how can I be blamed for not making any effort to rein in my head bobbing up and down, going forward and backwards in keeping with the rhythm of that number?

The doors of the other three apartments are usually left open in the evenings when I walk (not briskly) up and down the corridor between the apartments for an hour and a half. My ipod is my regular companioin during this exrcise. Am usually acutely conscious that my friends would be looking out into the corridor. No matter how stimulating the song blaring into my ears, I take special care to walk like a nun pacing the floor deep into her prayers.

But on that particular day, the doors of all the four apartments were closed. I vaguely remembered a conversation among us in which it was mentioned that on a particular date, we(those in my apartment) would be the only people on the floor as the inmates of the other three wwould be away. As I entered the corridor and noticed that all the doors were closed, I closed the door of my apartment too, and started walking. As usual, I switched on my ipod.

The first song was Ishk-A-LLami.

What a rhythm it had! And I walked up and down the corridor, my head bobbing up and down keeping time with the rhythm of the song.

And then I started singing along.

Before I continue, I must confess that my baritone voice with just about an octave range is not made for singing. I had been warned of this on several occasions.

Allamiiii, I crooned, nevertheless; I didn’t understand what the words meant or what language it was - Arabic, Hindi, Urdu or ?, But it didn’t matter. I knew the lyrics without knowing the meaning. And sang my heart out, stretched my voice way beyond its permitted, possible range. I really let my self go. Up and down the corridor I went, my head bobbing up and down like the handsaw of a carpenter or back and forth like his hand plane, or from side to side like the pendulum of a clock – all in medium fast motion.

The song was about to get over and I was approaching my end of the corridor – and I really and truly freaked out before the grand finale. My neck was making creaky sounds from the unusual flurry of violent activity. And my voice was raised till I could hear it above the ipod’s full blast. I reached the end of the corridor. I hope that other than my head, the rest of me was behaving itself like a well groomed and disciplined nazrane female, for , on reaching the end of the corridor, I whirled around and –

God! Three pairs of eyes were looking out of the apartment doors on the other end of the corridor. Two to my right and one to me left. All three of them had strange expressions on their faces which I couldn’t decipher. But if I were to put a name to that expression, it would be the same for all the three faces.

I stood rooted to the spot, dumb for a second. Then I recovered. I held out the ipod to them and with what must have been an idiotic smile on my face, I told them “pattu, Pattu’ (song).

They looked at each other, perhaps to see how the other was reacting so that they too could follow suit. But no one reacted, no change of expression on their faces. Then, they nodded to my ‘pattu, pattu’ and quietly withdrew their heads into their respective apartments and closed the doors.

I went into hiding for the next 10 days.

During which period my husband met them severally.
“Molly not here?” asked my friend when she saw him in the lift.
“Yes, she’s at home,”
“Don’t see her these days. I miss her. She’s such a jolly person”. My husband was surprised at this remark from an otherwise reserved person.

Another day, he saw the husband-wife who had also seen me in action.” Molly not at home?’
“We don’t see her walking in the corridor these days”, said my male neighbour.
“She’s such a bubble of joy”. That was his wife.
My husband was really startled by this sudden interest in Molly and her bubbly nature.

I guess they were sending feelers to him hoping some information would fall out of his mouth about me having been sent somewhere for irregular behaviour management.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ellarum Padathilekku - A KAPITAL joke

For more than a year now, the Government of Kerala has been making an earnest effort to revive interest in agriculture and restore it to the former glorious days. The effort reached a highpoint yesterday with the CM and his cabinet colleagues making a song and dance of planting paddy saplings to usher in the paddy cultivation project.

The joke of the century, I should say – the commies trying to revive an activity that requires dedicated and disciplined cooperation from the labour force!

I hate prophets of doom. And I hate myself for being one when I say that
large scale agricultural can never again be revived in Kerala. Unless

  • the unions are dismantled
  • draconian laws are put in place to deal with truant workers
  • and draconian laws are enforced to ensure that labour interests too are protected.

    Unless these steps taken, no sane person will want to plant even as many sapling as the CM did yesterday. No one will invest in a big way in agriculture knowing fully well that agriculture in Kerala was destroyed, not by errant weather Gods but by unionised labour and its manipulation in a manner totally hostile to the success of any farmer-entrepreneurial activity.

    And these commies are responsible.
    Kuttannad, the once granary of Kerala metamorphosed into a wasteland, thanks to the commies playing dirty populist vindictive politics.

    Some poor souls, being saddled with paddy fields , continue to engage in cultivation with all its unsurmountable problems. But with last years bumper crop going under water because of
    the party workers manipulating the use of harvesting machines to make a quick buck, they suffered mammoth losses. They are now completely fed up.

    What in god’s name does the govt. think the people of Kerala are? Fools? Does the government think it can induce selective amnesia in the people to forget the deep hurts that fester in the collective consciousness of the people?

    Let the government rein in their unions. Let the government give assurance to protect the farmers from the rowdyism and clout of the party workers and the unions.

    The day any government does that, that day Ellavarun padathilleku project will succeed.

    The present culture in Kerala can be summed up this way:

    He who walks hates the one who rides a cycle.
    He who has a cycle hates the one with a scooter.
    He who has a scooter hates the one who has a car.
    He who has a car hates the one with bigger car.
    He who has a car hates the owners of lorries and buses but unlike the earlier cases, are helpless ‘cos the lorries and buses have the backing of mafias and unions.

    He who who works hates the employer/mothali.

    The hater is the all powerful ’exploited' proletariat.
    The hated is the ‘privileged’ bourgeois

    In such a hate filled unproductive ambiance how can any one invest in cultivation which involves a special bonding of all stakeholders?

    The commies need to apologise to the people of Kerala for introducing this highly unproductive hate- work culture into Kerala.

    Now, is DR. Jekyll trying to rein in the Hyde, the monster of his own creation, who has
    been on the rampage, destroying everything that comes in his way.

    Are the Marxists, by any chance, suffering from pangs of conscience? Are they, after all, trying to apologise for the predicament they have brought the state to?

    If they truly want to do it, let them set up commandos to shoot Mr. Hyde down before the monster completes his destructive spree started a few decades ago.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Israel invites Jehovah'a Wrath - Again

The Jewish scriptures too insists only on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But Israel has gone way beyond the eye and the tooth. With them it’s genocide for rockets.

Doesn’t Israel understand that an eye for an eye was a law meant to limit violence in a culture which practiced “a tribe for an eye”?

Anyway, who is Israel to punish? The chosen people? If so, what were they chosen for?
The answer: To follow and propagate the Ten Commandments which, essentially, is a comprehensive and pithy testament of human rights.

Today, Israel is violating every one of those commandments. Violation of the Sixth commandment amounts to a violation of all others.

And Israel feels morally justified doing so.


The fundamental laws – every one of them - of human/international relations in a civilized society are being violated by Israel. Equally offensive is its cavalier attitude to the sufferings of victims, the Palestinians.

Survival of the fittest, it says, justifying this attitude. But that’s jungle law. Not law of a civilized world. The highest mark of civilization is its commitment to the survival-of-the-weakest creed. That’s what all religions are about.

Let Israel not claim the partnership of Jehovah in its genocidal project. No Jehovah will sanction murder of the helpless and the weak.

Israel is guilty of breach of trust too.

It ‘conceded’ to free elections in Palestine, with a promise to negotiate with the elected government. The people of Palestine elected Hamas. Gave them a thumping victory.

And, Israel went back on its word.

Refused to deal with a ‘terrorist’ group.

With the Big brother on its side, it started the divide and destroy process – started aiding the rival Fatah group. Palestinians became a divided people. But, Israel’s deadly enemy Hamas remained in control in Gaza.

A make shift truce was agreed upon between Hamas and Israel.

Then, Palestiniam rocket attacks began.

Sure that’s not right. But one should ask why Palestine started this assault.

Israel it did everything in its power to make existence impossible in the densely populated Hamas controlled Gaza, blockading food, medicines and the other necessities of life. People starved. Children died. Hospitals could not function for lack of medicines.

Israel did something else too. Went into Gaza and killed 9 Hamas militants.

Why is the world so outraged when a wounded people struggling to keep themselves alive, send rockets to draw attention to their terrible predicament?

Has the world forgotten how it had looked the other way when Hitler went berserk, and had to salve its conscience by creating the State of Israel, thereby letting loose an era of horror on the world in the form of terrorism? The friends of Israel owe it to the international community to find an amicable solution to the Palestinian problem before Hamas officially internationalises its militant activities.

And a reminder to Isreal.

“May they administer true justice and show mercy and compassion to one another. May they not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In their hearts, may they not think evil of each other” (Zech 7. 9-10). Thus says the holy book that all of Israel read after a day of pounding the Palestinian territory, and killing and destroying, and creating orphans and widows, and leaving babies clinging to mothers lying dead!.

May they not oppress the widows or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Listen, Israel. That’s what the Lord thy God says.

Have you, Israel, forgotten your diasporic existence of twenty plus centuries? Have you forgotten what it feels like to be homeless, like the Palestinians feel now?

Have you forgotten the holocaust of the forties? Aren’t you indulging in the same crime against humanity in a different mode?

Do not forget the lessons of history. You will face Jehovah’s wrath again.

For just indeed are His ways.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Bindi - My Talisman against Communal Horror

I normally carry a strip of bindis in my toilet kit when I travel-but this time it so happened I forgot to take any. I had only the one I wore on my forehead.

That bindi proved to be more precious than silver and gold to me. It was to contribute to my sense of safety during those few days I spent stuck in a room in a hotel in Vadodhra.

It was 27 February, 2002. I had traveled to Vadodra for a break from work, and to spend a week with my husband who was on official duty there.

I do not know if that date means anything to you at the first glance, but I flinch at the very mention of that date. A type of fear surges through me. I distract myself instantly by forcibly pegging my thoughts on some nearby object that my eyes fall on. With a fair amount of success, I push away the date and its reaction from my thoughts, and stay them from hovering around in my conscious mind; but banish them from my subconscious or the unconscious – no. That’s impossible. Unfortunately, fear and its cause cannot be uprooted and cast away that easily from those inaccessible regions of the mind.

Why do I remember it now? Yesterday, The Rosebowl Channel screened Mr. & Mrs. Iyer. The intended main focus of the film may be human relationships, but for me it is the background - the post-Godhra riot- that appealed to me.

‘It’s so easy to kill a man”, says Meenakshi after she sees, through the camera zoom lens, blood gushing out from the slit throat of a Muslim.
In the course of this conversation Jehangir Choudhary (a Muslim) says, “I’m alive today because you gave me a name – MR. Iyer”

What’s in a name, asked Shakespeare. Everything, I say. When Mr. Jehangir Choudhary was temporarily bestowed the name ‘Mr. Iyer’, his life was spared.

Six decades back, a group of people known as “the Jews” were gas chambered en masse; another known as Pundits were threatened, killed and driven out of their homeland in Kashmir. Charles Darney, though a good man, was condemned to be guillotined, simply because he carried the burden of the name ‘Everemonde’ (A tale of two cities).

In 2002 March, thousands were killed in Gujarat, because they belonged to the category named Muslims.

In this world of ours, nomenclature is all. It can decide whether you have a right to existence or not.

The idea is so powerfully brought out in Mr. & Mrs Iyer. Meenakshi, a South Indian Brahmin, is the very epitome of extreme conservatism. But another dimension of her personality - that of an instinctive humanitarian – emerges when, in a moment of crisis, she temporarily lends the object most revered by a woman of her breeding, namely, the name of her husband, to a man whose religion and cultural habits are so diametrically and irreconcilably opposite hers.

The movie is the surest statement that caste and creed are but cultural truths which a human should be willing to give a secondary position to in the face of a humanitarian crisis. Meenakshi becomes a true Brahmin when she decides to save a life – even at the cost of subversion of cultural values.

It’s not birth which makes one a Brahmin – but deeds.

Now back to the post-Godhra riots. The burning of the train carrying pilgrims to Ayodhya was a terrible, condemnable tragedy. The culprits should have been brought before the law of the land and severely punished by the state machinery. But the state decided to do something else before the culprits were apprehended. It decided to organize a systematic decimation of the tribe of the culprits –men, women, children. And the modus operandi? Kill, burn, loot and rape. All with silent official sanction.

Terrorism is bad. But state engineered terrorism strikes terror in the hearts of the citizens, as it did in mine when we were stranded in Vadodra, waiting for things to normalize.

I thanked God I had at least one bindi. I stuck it on the mirror everyday and took it out and wore it every time I came out of the room. I became anxious when the gum became weak from over use – kept on feeling my forehead to see if the bindi was there in place. I belonged to the minority and was in a state which had officially/unofficially let loose a reign of terror on the non- majority. The centre too played along – it took more than three days for army’s flag march to begin.

Will I become a victim?

At the bottom of my commitment to secularism, there is, I guess, this constant fear of being unsafe in my country to which I belong, and which belongs to me.

So I treasured the bindi - it was my passport and visa to survival. Given the choice, I’d forget those terrible days when we sat in the lobby of the hotel while people like me were killed, assaulted and raped out there; when the smoke of arson clouded the distant skies day and night; when the conversation in the lobby revealed truths best left unsaid.

And there is a picture that continues to haunt me after so many years, a picture which makes me indulge in Modi bashing whenever I can, a picture which made my heart sink into unknown depths of depression when Modi won twice after that. A picture that prevents me from applauding Modi’s huge success with the development agenda.

After the army arrived, my husband and I used to venture out into the roads after sunset, and after the curfew was lifted. I made sure I had my bindi on my forehead. We saw the army trucks plying, with soldiers holding guns and looking grim. That was a pleasant, welcome sight.

But there was another that I cannot get over – not even after so many years.

Groups of Muslims – sometimes a large joint family(once I saw a four generation group), sometimes several families moving in clusters, walking silently through the streets of Vadodra, with cloth bundles in their hands. Apparently, they were fleeing to safer areas unaffected by the riots.

They had death in their eyes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Confessions of a Compulsive Housewife's Wife

You’d have guessed from the title that a compulsive housewife need not necessarily be a woman. Compulsive housewife syndrome is an obsession with cleanliness, tidiness. Is it pathological? Guess it can become that if it is not self regulated. But in most cases (at least in the ones I have seen), these compulsive housewives do not graduate into pathological cases like Howard Hughes.

By the way, all of above is my theory – mine alone. If you look up the site on this syndrome, the information may not coincide with my definition. What the heck? No one has monopoly over definitions.

I’ve had the privilege of being the confidante of a person whose husband is a compulsive housewife. Her story is truly attention-grabbing.

She first noticed this quality of her husband a week after her marriage, after they got back from all those tiresome visits a newly wedded couple has to undertake. She noticed that her husband had an excellent collection of books. His reading habits seemed to be very much like hers. She took out a book from the wall cupboard in their room, in which all the books were kept neatly arranged. The book was on the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It was forenoon and he had gone out, and she started reading. Lunch was announced and she kept the book face down on the writing table in the room. A couple of hours later, she came back to the room to continue reading. The book was not where she’d left it. She searched all over the room and finally found it in the shelf, in the exact place where she had taken it from. Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

She took the book out again and continued reading. He had gone out again. After a few hours, she left it face down on the table and went for a shower. After the shower, she came into the room to find that the book had disappeared from the table again. This time she went straight to the shelf and found it there, in the exact place where she had taken it from! Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

She was irritated.

“If you put the book face down, it’ll get spoilt. Besides, why litter the table? Keep it back in the shelf after you are finished with it”, he told her.

She took the book again the next day when he went out. Lunch was announced and she folded the corner of the page to mark it, and left it on the table. Soon after lunch, she came back to the room to find the book missing from the table again. She found it in the shelf again, in the exact place where she had taken it from! Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

“If you turn down the corner of the page, the pages will get dog eared”, he explained. “Besides”, he continued, “why litter the table? Keep it back in the shelf after you are finished with it “

“Then how do I mark the page?”, she asked, ignoring the last statement.

“Use book marks”, said he, maddeningly calm.

The next time he came back, he handed her a stack of book marks! He had actually spent money on them. She used two of them. The rest she discovered recently, more than two decades after, while she was doing spring cleaning. That’s when she told me this story.

She thinks her insistence on reading books her way (refusing to use the book mark, keeping them face down, not putting them back each time) had a curative effect on him. She admits he is a very sensible person with truckloads of common sense, and he loves her very much and realised that the reading habit of his wife was not a reason to destroy domestic peace and jeopardize a marriage.

She had this story of how she once made a glass of lime juice for her husband when he cam back from the office on a hot afternoon. There were 6 lemons in the fridge, and she took one, washed it, left it on the kitchen platform, and went to look for the knife which she used to keep in the work area ‘cos the kitchen platform was low and accessible to children. When she came back with the knife, the lemon was missing from the platform. She thought she had misplaced it and went to take another one from the fridge. She then noticed that all six lemons were in the fridge and one of them had water on it, as though washed. She instantly knew what had happened. She took the lemon and came back to the kitchen. This time, the knife was missing. Clinging to the lemon, she went in to the work area, and found the knife there, in the exact place where she usually kept it.

She lost her temper.

Clinging to the knife and the lemon, she went to where her husband was relaxing under the fan, and screaeaeaeaeaeaeamed - - - - -

He grinned sheepishly.

He had this good habit of laundering his own clothes, ironing them and stacking them neatly in the shelf. When she came to know, soon after marriage, that he preferred washing his own clothes, she jumped with uncontrolled joy (mentally). But as a dutiful wife, she offered to wash his clothes.

“No. I’ll do it. I consider it an invasion on my privacy for someone to wash my clothes.”

My friend was the envy of all her friends. She never had to bother about his clothes. He used to even launder her clothes(in the washing machine, of course), put then out to dry if she allowed him to do it, iron them and then be after her to put them by in her cupboard – ‘cos he couldn’t bear to see the place littered with clothes. She had no complaints.

‘Cos it suited her.

When they were accommodated in a suite for a month during a business trip, he used to wash his innerwear himself once a week (he always carried one dozen of each. and even after one year’s use, they always looked as though just out of the shop shelf!). He didn’t trust the guest house dhobi with them, despite the fact that he had gone up to the terrace (where clothes were laundered) to check out if there was proper infrastructure to launder clothes hygienically.

“Why don’t you give the inner wear also to the dhobi?” she asked him. “You have satisfied yourself he does his job very hygienically”
“He might mix it with the other guests’ clothes. It’s inner clothes. I might dhobi’s itch (!!??).”
“But he assured us he washes each set separately”
“That’s what he says. Who knows what he does? Besides, he might wring them hard and spoil the elastic (!!??)”
“OK”, she shrugged. “It’s just that you carry so much work home that this washing becomes a burden”
“No, problem. I enjoy it (!!!???)”

It so happened he came back from work with a fever. The bucket was full of innerwear soaked in the best detergent available in the market.

“You are not well. Shall I wash them?” she asked.

He scratched his head. Then sat down on the cot thinking.

“Shall I wash your clothes?” she repeated.

He looked at her thoughtfully. She could see him weighing the matter in his mind. Unable to make up his mind, he scratched the back of his head briskly, looking undecided, worried and deeply thoughtful.

And she lost her temper (she was already worried about the fever –there was chikugunya all around)

“Listen!” she exploded. “I’m not asking you permission to activate a nuclear device. All I’m asking you is if I can wash your dirty underwear!”

Startled by the sudden explosion, he looked up. They stared at each other for a second and then burst out laughing.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

From the Wrong Side of the Desk

“Attendance please,” I said writing the date on the page. I was sent to teach Comm Skills to the geography batch of the Pre degree students ( batch of 100 and no public address system for the teacher).

I was shaking life a leaf – inside. But I put up a bold front and breezed into the lecture room looking (I hope) cool as a cucumber. Beverly, the junior most teacher who got her posting a day after I got mine, had resigned her job because she could not handle the law and order problem in this class. So I was next. You see, I had wonderful colleagues in my department who believed that a new hand should be baptized in fire. And the Pre-Degree II batch was allotted to me. And thus it was that I happened to find myself looking down at those hooligans (sorry, but that’s the most apt word in my vocabulary to describe them), notorious in the college for their insolent, arrogant and disorderly behaviour.

How did they get away with it? Well, those who led from the front in that class were daughters of prominent citizens of that little town, and the college authorities would rather give the teacher a dressing down than wield the rod on those students.

That particular year there was another unfortunate development too. The university made attendance compulsory, and a system was put in place which monitored the attendance of the students every month, on the basis of which communication was sent to the parents with warnings about disqualification in case of poor attendance. The result – all the unruly elements, who in the normal course wouldn’t come to class, were present for all lectures, and gave vent to their frustration by indulging in loud comments, guffaws – blowing to the winds all semblance of discipline.

AS I walked into the class, I could feel the hostility. It was tangible. Audible. I felt like a gladiator thrown into a den of lions, all waiting for me to make the first move before they tore me to pieces.

You bet I was NERVOUS. No. Not nervous. I was petrified.

Like I said earlier, I walked into the class with the attendance register and text book. I stepped on the platform and kept the books on the lectern. I saw that the wood on the lectern was wet where my cold, clammy fingers touched it.

The girls were screaming. Yes screaming. One called out to another from one end of the room to the other. Someone cracked a joke loud enough for five rows of benches to hear and all the five benches of students laughed loud while others asked, ”hey, what is it?’ and “tell us, no?”

“Silence please’, I said. No mike and my voice was drowned in that medley of noises coming from the other side of my desk. I almost thanked God for all that noise, or those girls would have heard my knees knocking against each other.

But the noise continued – noise that should not come from a class room. Just then, I noticed the duster (you know the one which looks like a shoe brush). I took it and banged it on the table, continuously, without a let up. I was scared as hell but there was something else boiling inside me. Anger. Sheer primal anger, kept under iron control by fear. I do not know how this deadly combination expressed itself on my face, but soon the class began to fall silent. I did not stop banging the duster till there was pin drop silence in the class.

See, this is how it worked. Because of the offensive sound of the duster banging, the girls looked in my direction, and then I noticed that their expressions were changing the minute they saw my face. I wonder how I looked. What a pity we can’t see our own faces.

Soon the students were silent. Absolutely silent. The only sound was me banging away on the table with that poor duster. The sound was horrible and I stopped.

“I don’t know how effectively I can teach you comm. skills, but I sure can teach you some manners. One more word from you and you’ll learn a lesson you’ll never forget in your life”. That was me. I couldn’t believe it. Is it really me talking like that? Where did I learn to talk like that? To be honest, these thoughts actually flashed through my mind as I (poor me) stood before them, glaring (?) down.

“Attendance, please”. I said


“Number 701”, I coaxed (God, even today that number makes my heart trip with nervousness!)

"Present ma’am"

Silence again.

"Continue", I said.

One girl gets up.”Ma’am, can I call out my roll number? I’m 702. You said you’ll teach us a lesson of we open our mouths”

I was flabbergasted, but took care that my feelings didn’t show on my face”.

“Sit down”, I told her. Then I announced “Please give your attendance in a disciplined ladylike (I shouldn’t have used that word) manner. Ok. Continue’

Silence again.

"OK, 703 is absent. Continue”, I said.

One girl jumped up. "I’m 703, Ma’am"

"Why didn’t you call out your number?"

"I did, ma’am. But I did it in a lady like manner", she said, looking as innocent as she could.

“Please answer your attendance loud enough for me to hear”, I announced to the class again.


Like a loud clap of thunder came the next number 704. I literally jumped out of my skin, dropping the pen.

The class dissolved into their previous mood. Laughing, clapping each other on their backs. I saw girls turn around to congratulate 704.

At that precise moment something snapped inside me.

I left the lectern, walked to the front of the teacher’s desk, leant on the desk for moral and physical support, and shouted as loud as I could.

"Keep quiet". I said, "KEEP QUIET” (How I had underrated my decibel capacity)

Again the girls saw something in my face (what was it, I have never ceased wondering), and fell silent. I looked up 704’s name in the register and my heart sank. Her name was Lynette Pereira (Name changed). I’d heard that name mentioned several times in the Staff room. She was the daughter of a doctor with a lot of political connections. The college authorities valued this connection and the girl knew it.

I knew it too. What should I do, I thought desperately. Since I had come this far, I thought, going forward was easier than backward.

“Lynette Pereira, please stand up.”

She stood up. I was terrified. The insolence and the arrogance on her face made me want to follow Beverly's path. As usual, I prayed. Intensely. Jesus, why do you put me such situations, I asked fiercely, silently.

I wonder what my facial expression was like.

Patiently, in a well modulated and polite tone, I said ”Lynette, please apologize to me, then call out your number and sit down’.

She looked me straight in the eyes, unblinking and said.”Ma’am, how do I know your idea of normal, acceptable loudness?”

That did it. To hell with this job, I thought. Yes. If I throw her out of the class, I’ll get thrown out of my job. My people will be upset. This is one of the best colleges in South India, I heard them say, and you have got yourself dismissed. You are in the marriage market, they would say. If they enquire about you in the college, how do you know what report the college will give about you?

For a split second, I hesitated. How am i going to back off, I wondered. I looked at her face – and what I saw there made me blow all caution to the winds.

She had a sneer on her face!! And hardly seventeen, she was.

“Lynette”, I said in a controlled but firm voice. “You either apologise or leave the class room. And if you leave the class room, I’ll see that you come back only after a month’s suspension”. (What am I saying, I thought, who’s going to suspend her? I’ll be dismissed, and not she suspended.)

Lynette did not move. She stood there like a rock, looking at me coldly defiantly.

“Lynette, I’ll give you five minutes. Apologise or leave the class room. I mean business about your suspension”.

She didn’t move. I took my watch off my wrist (Is this really me, I thought. Am I capable of such dramatics?), held it in my right hand and stood there leaning against the desk, looking at the dial of the watch – and scared stiff.

There was pin drop silence in the class. Can they hear my heart pounding away and my knees knocking against each other? Can they hear that terrified sob trapped in my throat?

“One more minute, Lynette, and if you don’t leave the class, I’ll leave – straight to the Principal’s room”

She didn’t bat an eyelid, but stared at me hard and cold.

Five minutes were over. I tied my watch on my wrist, picked up my belongings from the desk, stepped down the platform and walked to the door.

As I crossed the door and stepped into the corridor, I heard a big commotion in the class room, and the sound of students squealing. I looked back into the class room and saw Lynette jumping over the desks, over the heads of seated students. In a matter of seconds, she stood before me, blocking my way and literally spat a “sorry ma’am” on my face.

That was enough for me. The situation was defused. My face was saved. I heaved a huge mental sigh of relief.

I accepted the apology graciously, and walked back into the classroom.