Categories
Book review Thought and Reason

A real treat – Palace of Illusions

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After having read the review of Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni at Smitha’s blog, I ordered the book from the local library. The thickness of the volume, however, put me off. Until this morning.

I picked up the book, and only a few pages into the story, I could not… absolutely could not.. put it down. I took a couple of ‘essential’ breaks 😉 but was otherwise hooked onto it completely.

The book is the narration of the Mahabharatha, seen through the eyes of Draupadi.

I’ve always loved reading mythology, Indian and otherwise. To me, reading this book was like a flashback of a movie seen in childhood, but this time, in technicolour 🙂

It isn’t boring, I assure you. And for once, I have read a book that has left me with absolutely no words of criticism or nit-picking!

I love the way the author has humanised (is there such a word?!) the characters. She turns a mythological Draupadi into a living, breathing woman! In this character called Draupadi, you will probably see a piece of yourself. Or others you know.

It makes one realise Draupadi was not an average person, specifically a woman, whose life revolved around cooking, keeping house and breeding!!

Draupadi is beautiful, confident woman, with higher aspirations, but is typically trapped in a man’s world. She is intelligent, fully aware of both her ‘desires’ and ‘limitations’. She realises ‘a woman’s place’ in this world, and abides by it.

I loved the way Draupadi beseeches to Arjun, to stop her from being ‘shared’ by his brothers, and where he subsequently redirects his fury and frustration on her, as if she were the culprit, not the victim!! Isn’t that exactly what happens even in the modern day world? In the case of rape, the first reaction is that the victim must have done something, to provoke it.

What shocked me though, was that since Draupadi was to be ‘shared by her five husbands’ – one husband a year, Vyasa ‘blessed‘ her with a ‘boon to become a virgin every time she went to her next husband‘. I almost felt the bile rising in my throat, as I read this. Draupadi or Divakaruni (the author) rightly says, this is a boon, made very conveniently, for the men, and not for Draupadi.

The delicate relationship of mutual mistrust between Draupadi and Kunti is described in such a simple, practical manner. It makes one realise why MILs and DILs co-exist the way they do 😉

Draupadi herself is a survivor. She does not simply make her mark in her household. She tries her best to not allow any adversary into ‘her’ palace, where SHE is the Chief Queen.

I enjoyed the way Draupadi tried to make amends to Karna, for her insult to him at the Swayamvar, but where he refuses to be mollified, and yet, he does his best to protect her from harm, when the court broke into pandemonium!

There is a brief moment where Draupadi (in this book) admits to not being very maternal. She says being a wife to five men, and stately duties sapped her, and she was more than happy, to have her nanny take the children off her hands. Why are ‘women’, specifically in Indian society expected to ‘want’ to take care of children? Why is it not a choice? If a woman does not enjoy feeding her child, does that make her a bad mother? Do we, as a society, have the maturity to realise that a Mother is also an INDIVIDUAL who might simply yearn for more in life, than mundane chores?!

I’ve encountered very severe reaction from a couple of friends whom I sometimes call to watch a movie or something over the weekend. Their reaction is one shock – ‘How can I leave my family, that too on the weekend?’ Its not like I’m asking them to elope!! They feel guilty to even ‘want’ to dedicate some time to themselves. Earlier, I used to feel sorry for such women, who ‘constrain’ themselves. Now, though, I feel sorry for the handful of ‘Draupadi’s that remain, for wanting ‘more’. Strange as it may sound, it is they who are constrained by their wants!

Nevertheless, what struck me most, was the fact that despite being foretold her future, she did not stop it ‘because of the circumstances’.

Arjuna's deadly attack on his half-brother Kar...
Image via Wikipedia

Draupadi could have chosen Karna over Arjun. She did not. (Which by the way, makes the reader feel really bad for Karna, who was always the subject of unfair treatment. In colloquial language, Karna got a bad deal!)

She could have given up her life, rather than be a Queen to five Kings. She did not.

Krishna could have stopped the Great War if He wanted to.

There are just so many instances.

Which made me wonder, is Life about Destiny or about Choices? All my life, I thought it was Destiny. Today, somehow, I think, it is probably not as simple as that.

The book isn’t without humour either. There is a reference to Yudhishtra being ‘blissfully unaware’ that people could mean them harm. And to Bheem’s plate being piled higher than the other brothers. It all made them very HUMAN. There is a Yudhistra in each of us. A Bheem too. Some brave ones even have a piece of Arjuna in them.

There were some extremely distressing moments as well. Like, the murder of Abhimanyu. Or that of Karna. Both these ‘hunks’ 😉 were killed unfairly. What really moved me, was the description of young Abhimanyu staring in ‘disbelief’ at the the unfair play by those whom he had always respected.

Caution: This book is not for the judgemental reader. You read, you nod either in agreement or disagreement, and you move on. If one were to start judging any of the characters as moral or immoral, cowardly or brave… then, IMHO, it defeats the purpose of the book. Any book, perhaps.

This book, is the life of a woman. Of her aspirations, her boundaries and her will. One cannot help wondering how similar it is to the story of a woman in today’s world. Not much has changed over the centuries, has it??!!!

I leave you with some snippets from the book…

– This one: ‘Between Yudhistra and Krishna, a woman cannot even enjoy being in misery!’ LOL! I loved that line!

– Or this one: ‘There is a strange freedom in realising one is not that important!’

– Or this: Krishna says to Dhritharashtra: ‘If you had believed all (Kauravas and Pandavas) were YOURS TO LOVE, this war would have never taken place’. Isn’t this exactly what we need today? Look at the Ayodhya issue. If only we believed we were truly ‘one’ – would there ever be bloodshed?!!

The book is filled with glorious and inglorious incidents from the past, but in that, one can clearly draw references to today, and even to the future!!

I hope this inspires you enough to grab a copy of the book!!

===============

 

Categories
Health n Fitness MommySpeak Short story Thought and Reason

Past Promises, Forgotten Futures (Fiction)

*** If you happen to like my post, Pliss to Vote on Indiblogger, here: http://www.indiblogger.in/indipost.php?post=34664 *** Thanks 🙂 ***

==========================

(This is purely a work of fiction, but I believe this is what most women go through at some point in life! Some survive it, while many don’t get to ever live their dreams. I hope this post will act as a catalyst to those who fall in the latter category.)

Cngrts!’ – the phone beeped with this simple message. She stared at it, rather uncertainly. Who was this from? What were the ‘congratulations‘ for? Try as she might, she could not recall anything specific worth ‘celebrating’.

Anjali looked around her apartment… ragged grey sofa, cushions encased in faded Rajasthani mirrored covers – received six years ago as a wedding present, cream flowered curtains that had turned a unique mixture of brown and grey, over the years, toys scattered all over the floor, the kitchen sink overflowing with dirty utensils. She was not poor. Only chaotic.

It was all she could do, to not cry when she looked into the mirror. She looked a tired, balding mum struggling in her fourties. Interestingly, Anjali had turned just turned thirty. That very day, infact!

Voices from the past echoed within the walls of her mind.

‘Congrats, Anjie babe, well done!!’

‘Hey Anj, awesome.. you’ll come out with flying colours…’

‘Anjali, we are so proud of you, dear!’

Best friends, classmates, parents… they were all congratulating her on her graduation day. She had topped the MCA batch, and had the best job on campus, as Project manager in a reputed IT organization. She was to even wed the next month.

Her thoughts went fleeting past from that day of euphoria, to a year ago.

A stressed husband, two active children who drained her of every ounce of energy. Her career was now a thing of the past. Life revolved around baby-feeds, changing dirty nappies, making visits to the doctor, and arranging playdates. The only friends she had were other ‘mommies’.

‘This is it, Abhi. I cannot take any more!’ – Anjali cried reproachingly.

‘But you wanted all of this, didn’t you?’ Anjali crashed some crockery into the sink, in response.

She was tired. Completely dependent, financially. Diffident, and terribly overweight. She had even started to stutter while talking these days, and didn’t understand why. She had been so eloquent earlier. At times, she even hated herself.

‘I will change my life around. Wait and watch!’ she promised to herself. And to Abhi. He merely shrugged, ‘What’s for dinner, honey?!’

A look of steely determination flashed across Anjali’s eyes. She quickly ran to her bedroom before the moment could pass, took out her mobile phone, and feverishly typed out an SMS. Once done, she wiped away her tears, and went back to serve her family dinner.

The  phone beeped again, jolting Anjali back to the present.

Cngrts on yr new job!! Cngrts on losing wt! – Anjali’

She peered at herself in the mirror. Shabby. Unkempt. She glanced around her apartment. Ditto!

She was supposed to have hired a nanny. She was to have searched for and found employment. She was to have hit the Gym. All this, over the last year. However, none of this had materialised. Mundane chores had got the better of her, and she had lost sight of her own goals.

As she looked closely at herself, reality hit her. And hit hard. She had lost sight of the beautiful future she could have had, if only she had kept that vital promise to her past.

Anjali slowly pulled out her phone, and dialled a number. And then, two more, in quick succession. The first was an employment agency. Then, her old nanny. And finally, the local Gym that had been hounding all the residents with glossy brochures featuring ‘super-(wo)men’ 😉 with six pack abs!!

She washed her face, combed her hair and got down to revamping her resume.

It was time again, to make a new promise. One she would keep. She took out her Docomo One Touch Net phone, and typed out a new message.

‘Congrats Babes, This time, you Really did it. Love ya! – Anj’

She set the timer to a date twelve months from then. Yes, she would receive her own timed-SMS a year down the line. This time, she would re-arrange her Life – the way she wanted it!

——————-

Folks, this is an entry (fiction) for the Indiblogger ‘Tata DOCOMO OneTouch Net Phone’ contest, which explains why I used the name so frequently in the post 😉 They boast of a feature called ‘timed sms’ which to me, sounded exciting. I assumed one could send an SMS scheduled for some date/time in the future, and wrote this story based on the assumption.

Voting begins tomorrow, so If you liked this post, please do vote!!

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To read more fiction, please click this link.

Lazy readers like me, please click this link to 55-word fiction 🙂

Categories
Humour Incidents Short story

Secret of the TV Wall – My first 3WW

I’ve been following the very interesting 3WW at Intrepid Dreamer’s blog for the last couple of weeks. Every week, I manage to miss it… and today, finally, I landed at the page on a Wednesday 🙂 So here’s my entry:

3 words: Engulf, Imminent, Tamper

———–

Daughters. Sons. Grandchildren. They huddled around the hospital bed. She was 90. Frail, weak. ‘Some water, Ma?’ the youngest daughter asked. Ma shook her head. Very slightly. ‘Wi…’ she muttered. Nobody heard. They were far too engulfed in sorrow. Much as they had hated the old hag, the fact was, they had spent a lifetime with her. Living off her ancestral wealth! ‘Wi…’ Ma said again, this time, a little louder.

The eldest daughter heard. ‘Did you want something, Ma?’ A look of exasperation crossed Ma’s wrinkled face. She motioned to the  wall across the huge hall, on which hung a massive TV. The ‘TV wall’ was famous within family circles. It was supposed to have a secret brick, which, when removed, would reveal the ‘Keys’. Keys to what? That nobody knew. Except Ma.

They crowded closer by her bedside, to get a better view. Or to hear better, as the case might have been!

Go on Ma, tell us..’ the eldest grandchild coaxed.

Wiiiiiii…’ Ma urged, motioning wildly towards the ‘TV Wall’ with both hands.

Murmurs arose within the closed room.

‘Wall? Is she pointing at the wall?’

‘Shush…quiet.. I think she means her Will. That’s what she’s been hiding behind the TV all these years!’

‘Tee hee, Granny wants to wee ;-)’ giggled the youngest of the brigade.

‘Wow.. a Will.. Wow!!’ the older ones whispered in sheer admiration. A real mystery, that too, in their otherwise mundane, insignificant little lives!

The macho men in the room took big strides towards the TV wall, and tried to pry the TV off from its stand.

Ma raised her eyebrows in alarm.

‘Don’t worry Ma, we will give you the Will in a minute..’

Ma shook her head, and lifted both hands towards the heavens above.

The daughters nodded wisely. ‘We know, you’ve waited all these years to share this moment with us…’

Ma clutched her head, and with all her energy, managed to pull out some perfectly silvery hair.

‘What’s wrong, Ma? Are you not happy? We won’t tamper with your Will, don’t you worry! Your wish will be our command! We swear!!’

Ma shook her head, rather vigorously.

‘My end … is imminent!!’ Ma cried.

‘Be brave, Ma, it is us who will be left alone..  Come, let’s atleast read your last wishes in the will now‘, the daughters sobbed. A small, empty bottle of glycerine lay in the dustbin under the bed.

The men were still working hard at removing the TV. ‘Fetch the screwdriver, you fool! We don’t have all day!!’ shouted the elder son to the younger.

There was chaos all around. Men hunting for a Will. Women waiting for the hunt to end! Children whispering animatedly, at what would be in the Will!

Until finally, ‘Crash!’ Ma grabbed the glass of water by her bedside, and threw it on the floor, with all her might.

‘Can you dumb fools stop breaking my new flatscreen TV?’ she managed to scream.

The daughters looked at each other, in disbelief. Sons and grandsons heard it loud and clear. They turned around, confused!

‘But.. but what about your Will?’ the daughters questioned, tears having disappeared rather magically.

‘My Wi…’  Ma whispered again.

‘Your will, dearest Ma?’ the youngest daughter cooed.

‘Shut up, you useless fools. No damn will. And no bloody money. I’ve donated everything before you vultures came to my deathbed. Now give me my damn Wii from the rack beside the TV. I want to play one last game!’

——–

… To read my other pieces of Fiction, please click here…Thanks!!

Categories
MommySpeak Short story Thought and Reason

The reticent (flash fiction)

Reticent. That is what best describes me. Probably. My mum would have found the right word. Had she been around. Infact, had she not left, I would probably not be – reticent.

Picasso's 'Mother and Child' (Image courtesy: Google images)

She was wonderful – my mother. I don’t remember her being pretty. Nor attractive. But when she came to collect me from school, my friends would spot her bulky frame, run towards her to greet her. They would tell her about what they did in the classroom that day. She would be all smiles. Crows-feet around her eyes. Yes, that’s what I remember most about her. When she smiled, her eyes would sparkle. And crows-feet would form around the corners. She would laugh heartily at what Gabbi or Maya said. Or at Ben screaming like a Dinosaur! If Sophia hung onto the fence, crying for her Mommy, my mum would promptly tell her ‘Don’t worry darling, I saw your Mommy on the way, she is going to be here very soon!’

And all the time, I would watch – hiding behind a play tent –her eyes would be looking for me. Searching… searching…And when they found me – they would light up, like she had witnessed fireworks in the sky!!

Anyway. The days we spent at the hospital. She would lie limp on the bed. I would chatter. Incessantly. She would smile. Mostly! Sometimes, she would simply ask me to ‘shush‘. I couldn’t. Well, that’s me. Excited, animated, energetic. I think – well, I know – that that spirit is what she loved most about me.

That last day, I went to wake her up. And when she did, I ..I .. cannot explain. Pale, ashen face. Hollow eyes. Dry, cracked lips. Almost, an ugly ghost in the place of my beautiful mother.

I shrank. Go Away!!’ I screamed. I ran out of that room, screaming ‘Just go away!!’. That was the last I saw of her. They didn’t allow me at her funeral. They thought I was too young.

How do I remember – you might ask. You see, some things – events, faces – just get etched – deep, deep down – somewhere.. somewhere beyond even Memory! Just like a photograph. Flash, click. The moment captured – for eternity.

Sometimes, I wake up, looking for her. Wake up right in the middle of a dream – Of me waiting behind my school fence. Hiding behind a play-tent. My eyes, searching. Searching…

Sometimes, I pretend to go back to sleep and continue the dream – and try to imagine that I’ve found her.

Her face is beautiful again. I cannot bring myself to see her ‘other’ face. Even in a pretend dream – it is too difficult.

I simply stand and stare. She waits, with a smile that lights up her face.

And I? I have so much – just so much – to say to her. I have to tell her that Maya hurted my feelings. That Ben invited me to his birthday party. That.. that..I’m so clever that I know all about the continents.

But not a word comes up to my lips. My dry, cracked lips. And suddenly, my mind goes blank. There is only one thing that I want to say. Only one.

But my throat hurts so bad, that I’m unable to bring myself to say it … ‘Mummy, I’m sorry I got afraid’.

You see, I am reticent. I really am. Because none of it matters any more.

Categories
Humour Incidents MommySpeak

A for appal, B for ball

R’s school serves the kids a few pieces of fruit every day, at snack time. Milk too, which R promptly pours out into some other child’s tumbler! Fruit, he eats, I presume!

Every day, I ask him the same question: ‘What did you eat today?’ And every day, he gives me the same answer: ‘Appal‘. Today was slightly different. This is how:-

Me: What did you eat today?

R: Appal. A for Appal.

Me: Wow! (Clearly impressed, that the school is teaching him to relate alphabet to objects)

R: B for Ball.

Me – excited, wanting to hear more!: Well done! And ‘C’ is for…. ?

R: C for Cider!!!

***@@@%%% WTH??!!!!***@@@%%%

Categories
Humour Incidents MommySpeak Movie Review

An afternoon with Giri

An afternoon with Handsome Giri, is what this title should actually read.

Yeah, now do not get ideas. ‘Giri-giri Peck’ – the dashing Gregory Peck (as my lovely little sister adorably named him once upon a time, when we – my sister and I – were both children).

Now, this week has been pretty busy, and with school re-opening today, I decided at noon (yesterday, that is) to ‘enjoy’ what was technically the last ‘holiday‘ for the term, by spending some quality ‘me time’.

Lucky for me, this is what we stumbled upon. And I say ‘we‘ because the brat refused to nap, and insisted on watching the movie with me, sitting ‘quietly’ on the other sofa!

As the curtains unfolded, I grabbed a mug of hot chocolate (Sigh! In reality, all I had was a plastic throw-away cup with some plain old water!), and curled up on the sofa. To watch the movie I’d last seen about two decades ago 🙂 with my mum (who had this huge crush on Giri-giri, which – at that time – I found utterly silly!)

Scene 1 – Dainty Audrey Hepburn (I’m sorry I only managed to find this video from Youtube and didn’t get the direct scene from the movie)

As I watch the movie unfolding, grinning stupidly, I am interrupted by this…

Lovely Audrey

‘Is she a Princess?’

I am amused by the brat’s interest. I reply ‘Yes darling’ with a huge smile. Yay! My son and I can actually enjoy a movie together!

‘Why is she removing her shoes? Is she naughty?’

I grin again. My sweet little funny, silly boy.

Wicked Witch??!!!

‘No, she isn’t naughty, her feet are aching, so she wants to take off her shoe for a few minutes’.. I venture to explain.

‘Is she trapped in a palace? Is there a wicked witch? Is that woman there the witch?’

I turn my head away from the TV, squint at the brat, just to check ….

Nah! Can’t be. He’s hasn’t even turned four. He can’t possibly… he can’t actually be doing this on purpose… !

‘No, there is no witch, now let’s keep QUIET and watch the movie’, I mutter.

A few seconds of golden silence. The spell is broken by this:

‘Why is she crying? Why? Why?’

‘Because SHE WANTS TO RUN AWAY from the palace… ‘ I say rather loudly, emphasising the ‘RUN AWAY’.

An innocent: ‘Why?’

‘Because she wants to enjoy life irresponsibly – like you – but cannot’ – I say, scathingly.

A few sober seconds. He watches TV. I watch him.

Next, the scene where Audrey Hepburn actually manages to run away from the palace.

The barrage of questions resumes. Reinforced.

‘Has she run away now?’

I refuse to answer.

Please speak! Has she run away?’

I give a cursory nod.

My eyes are now glowering, smouldering.. whatever.. at the little nuisance.

THE GLOWERING LOOK

Now, THIS look is going to keep him quiet. If this doesn’t, I swear I will change my name.. to.. to.. Oh sod it! Let’s just see if he can shut up now!

My brat looks uncertain for a moment. Then, he replies – BOTH to the nod AND the look, by a simple (and unflinching) – ‘Wwwwwwhyyyyyyy?’

And I’m thinking WTFFFFFFFFFFFFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙄 😦

The brat didn’t let me reach even this scene… that has been made, and re-made without shame, into every Indian language available.

So, guess what I very wisely did – turned the TV off, and took the brat outside instead!

Sigh! So much for an ‘interesting’ afternoon with a handsome hunk!!

I leave you to watch this: (well, if your children/grandchildren/neighbour’s children.. ANY children allow you to watch!)

Finito! The End!
Categories
Humour Incidents MommySpeak

Little Boys and Littler Girls

Once upon a time (to be more specific, this evening!), a little boy and a slightly littler girl were waiting for their respective parents to finish their work at photo studio.

The two kids started trying to communicate with each other. This is how.
Boy: Leans back on wall, hands tucked into pockets, stares at girl
Girl: Fiddles with her little Dupatta, smiles shyly at the boy
.
In a few minutes, Boy becomes bolder, walks upto Girl. Girl smiles, touches him on cheek. Boy did not expect this, hurries to hide behind his Mommy.
.
Boy asks (booming voice): ‘Why is she touching me?’
Mummy (embarassed): ‘No she isn’t touching you!’
.
Boy: ‘Oh yes, she IS. Why is she doing it?
Mummy (exasperated): ‘Er, because she thinks you are her friend’
.
Boy (does not look very convinced): ‘Is it because I am a Handsome Boy?’
Mummy: (Searches for place to hide her face)
.
A few minutes later, Girl prepares to leave with her dad. Turns back to give that final look, before she walks out through that door!
.
Boy (looking sad) – Turns to Mummy and asks: ‘Where is she going?’
Mummy (with a sigh of relief): ‘She’s going home’
.
Boy (looking perplexed): ‘But, Is she not going to marry me????’
Mummy: Aaaaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!
.
………And to think the Boy is not even 4 years old !!!! Sigh!!!!!!!! ………
.
.
.
EDITED TO ADD (2-Sep-10):
.
This morning….
.
Mummy (asks teasingly): The girl didn’t marry you, huh?
Boy (rewinds to last night): Hmmm, no, she didn’t!
.

Mummy (being mean): Why???
Boy (unflinching): She changed her mind! She thought I was a rose-bush!!!
.
Mummy (explains patiently): ‘You can marry ONLY when you are 30 and not 4, GOT IT?????’
Blushing Boy: Nods, smiles, and casually mentions Princess Jasmine!!!
??!!!!*****@@///!!!!%%%@@@??!!!!!!!!!!!
Categories
Incidents Short story

A promise unkept

Just before Granny’s surgery, we spoke. ‘When you come here, meet me FIRST, Ok?’ she made me promise. I landed, jetlagged. She was feverish. I forgot all about the promise I had made.

I went this morning, to see her body.

I hadn’t forgotten to bring her favourite chocolate. It now lies untouched. Like my promise, unkept.

Categories
55-er Short story

The boy who never smiled – 55-er / fiction

Clothes, chocolates, gifts – nothing satisfied Akaash. Ungrateful, resentful child.

Yesterday, I offered left-over pastry. He glared!

‘What the hell do you want????!!!’ I screamed, frustrated.

He replied quietly – ‘My mother. Please send her home? Tomorrow’s my exam’.

Behind me, Kanthabai waited nervously.

Both, pleading in silence.

‘Go!’ I whispered.

For the first time, Akaash smiled.

Categories
Short story

Chasing Rainbows – fiction

‘Chasing Rainbows’

Fiction on the topic ‘When an NRI Returns… Observations and Experiences’

====

‘You must be out of your mind!’ Neetu bangs the bowl so hard the shiny black table, that it cracks. The bowl, ofcourse, not the table!

From where I can see, they are having one of their routine weekend arguments. Come Friday night, and these two start off their incessant bickering.

‘Ravi! Did you meddle with my iPhone again? Something’s not quite right!’

‘Not pizza again, Neetu! Let’s have some ‘proper’ Indian food. Why don’t we just hire a cook?’

‘Ravi, your dirty clothes are supposed to go inside the laundry bag, not outside!’

My ears ache. I am often tempted to use those white sponges – er, what Neetu calls ‘ear-plugs’ – you know, the thing she always steals from hotels!

Some weekends however, are different. The house is filled with silence. Eerie silence. Those are the days when these two go absolutely mad, and cannot stand the sight (or sound) of each other! Comparatively pleasant, I have to confess.

Three months. Exactly three months since my children returned ‘home’. When Ravi left Chennai nine years ago, to work in London, he said he would return in just two years. Two rolled into three, four, five, and slowly nine. Finally, it was my illness that called him back. I know Neetu did not want to come back. After all, she is an educated modern girl. What is that thing she says all the time? ‘Spaaace’. Yes. She screams ‘I neeeeeed my space, Ravi!’.

Really, what is this space??! We have a beautiful 1500 sqft apartment! On the main road. In the heart of the city. That too, just next to the bus terminus! If I was young again, I would just get into my favourite Bus 12B and travel all the way to Marina beach and spend the day there, for just Rs.5!! Did you know, they have introduced Air-conditioned buses too now. That ticket costs Rs.10, and personally, I do not mind paying that much. But you know, my milkmaid – Bala, she says it is exorbitant. Poor woman. Carrys her aluminium tin full of milk packets in the bus and even on her head.

Anyway, Neetu is always asking for ‘space’. I think she has forgotten,  that her apartment in London was only 700 sqft. I went there once, you see, when Ravi’s Appa was alive. Nice city, actually. Though, I do not understand why those people always say ‘How lovely to meet you!’ What is so lovely about meeting a stranger?! But they are polite, those English people. We can actually learn some manners from them. Here, even walking has become a nightmare. Never know who will bump into you, or land his motorbike right on your feet, and not even bother to say ‘Saari’.

But nothing like ‘Home’. London was very peaceful. But it was dead. Perhaps any city would be ‘dead’ for an old woman like me. But here in Chennai, I am alive. Every moment. I wish Neetu would also realise this.

‘Crash! Bang!’ – more plastic cups flying across the dining table now. Ouch! This must be a really big fight. Talking to you, I seem to have missed what this was all about! Let me listen carefully.

There is a slight drizzle, and altogether, it makes a very pretty picture. The setting sun, the pitter-patter of raindrops, the aroma of hot samosas…

‘I hate this place, Ravi. I H-A-T-E Chennai. I am going back to where I belong!’ she cries.

‘What do you mean ‘where I belong’?? You lived all your life here, my dear. Have you forgotten your childhood days in Mandaveli area?’ he yells.

‘I have not forgotten. And that is EXACTLY the reason I cannot stand living here!’ she gets hysterical.

If you ask me, Chennai has changed so much in the last decade. When these children left for London, what we had was a quiet, old-fashioned city. Today, it is a modern metro. Complete with metro, shopping malls and the works! In those days, there were a few excellent schools and colleges for the youngsters.  Some new foreign banks had opened. That is where Ravi himself joined. Rukku Mami was so jealous about Ravi’s good fortune. To counter it, she used to brag about her daughter, Paddu, who had joined some ‘software company’. Shameless!

‘What’s your problem, Neetu? We have great jobs. You yourself earn a lakh of rupees a month!!’, Ravi continues to argue with Neetu.

‘You don’t get it, do you, Ravi?’ Neetu is on the verge of throwing a glass vase.

Please, not that vase, child!! I want to scream! I bought it about twenty years ago from Poppat Jamaal – what was then, one of the biggest shops in Chennai. Please choose another vase. Like that cheap imitiation you brought from London. Do you remember, how we laughed, when we turned the vase over and it read ‘Made in China’? Throw that one, please. Of course, she does not heed me. She never does.

‘We are both happy here! We have everything we can dream of!’, Ravi pleads.

Well said, Ravi. You both do have everything. Neetu also is doing well, I suppose. She has made so many new friends in the last two months.

She is very fond of driving, and in London, she never managed to get a license. Can you believe it? She tried four times, each time, she failed. As soon as she came to Chennai, she called ‘Metro Driving School’. They got her a driving license without her even going for the test! Five thousand rupees and two photographs – job done!

‘Ravi, can’t you see how congested this place is? India is just so polluted. Every time I step out, I end up coughing like an old woman!’ Neetu continues to whine.

Now, this is really getting annoying now. What is so dirty about India? Agreed, the roads are very congested. But the government has built so many flyovers. Many roads are one-way, and traffic is quite smooth, if you ask me. Ofcourse, you won’t! It is not fair, I think, that people obey rules and follow one-way signs when they are abroad, and when they are here in India, they crib that it is causing delays!

But look at it this way, our immune system is so much better than those who are living abroad. Our children roam around in the hot sun, but do not fall ill. I remember Neetu used to apply some expensive sun-screen lotion during the few summer months in London. We never do this drama! We are naturally robust.

Talking about being robust – look at our mental strength! Our country has been attacked so many times, in the past, and even now. The Mumbai blasts, terrorist attacks… every day, some part of our country is destroyed, damaged. But we Indians bounce back to Life. That is our biggest strength. I wish this girl could see these finer points of life.

‘We have to start a family, Ravi. Look at the free health system in London. Excellent education too, and all free!’ Neetu is pleading her case very hard today. I do not know how Ravi will reply to this.

You see, in India, education is not ‘equally’ available to everyone. There is a huge difference in government schools, and private funded schools. The former are usually very mediocre. There are some bright students, ofcourse, but they do not always get a fair chance. The poor people cannot afford a decent education for their children.

‘You’re right, Neetu. State schools in London are world-class. And free. But we can afford to give high quality education to our children. And we have the best possible schools here. Look at your own nieces and nephews. They go to the best school in Chennai. Haven’t they turned out brilliantly?’

But Ravi, what about our daily commute to work? I spend two hours on the road every day, in the dust and heat, travelling to the outskirts of the city on work. This will take a toll on my health, don’t you think?’ Neetu seems to have softened her tone a little now.

‘Darling, you used to travel an hour a day even in London. Remember those horribly crowded underground trains, in peak-hour. And every other day, there would be a delay because of some signal failure! Atleast, you get to car-pool here. Or travel independently, if you like’ Ravi gently kisses her on the forehead. I have to turn away now. I know where this is leading!!

‘But the corruption, Ravi? Everywhere we go, we have to bribe something to someone. Otherwise things just do not get done. This country runs on money. Only money’

‘Now, Neetu, don’t be unreasonable. Every country has its faults. I know we have not seen much corruption in London. The machinery moves even without the ‘extra’ oiling. But do you see, how slow things are there? It took us three weeks to get a broadband connection. When Appa fell ill, we had to wait two whole days, to get an appointment with the government doctors. See how accessible things are here in India…’

‘Hmmm’ I hear Neetu’s unspoken words. She cannot refute the points my darling son is making.

 ‘Remember the day we landed? You and I did not have to do a thing!! Helpers did everything for us. And what did you do? You yelled at poor Lakshmi-amma, for not wiping the mirrors well enough’.

I see Neetu squirming. Now her cheeks are turning red. Oh no, Ravi! You have treaded dangerous territory now! Seems like Ravi has heard my alarm too.

Sorry, darling. I did not mean it that way. I was just trying to make you see how convenient it is to live in India. We have so much help. You do not have to lift a finger! In London, we did everything, from cleaning bathrooms, to painting the house. We have people to do every little piece of work here. All you have to do manage them!’

At this moment, the lights go out. Before I assume these children are upto some hanky-panky, I hear a loud knock on the door. ‘Nityasireeee, Current illaya?’ (meaning, no current?) comes the booming voice of our neighbour, Chandra Maami. How much I miss her. We used to leave our front-doors open, and sit in our respective hallways, and chat with each other, during quiet evenings. Her children live in Seattle. Naturally! She educated them so well. IIT, IIM. And what did they do? Flew away to the USA, and settled there. I know exactly how she feels. I used to feel the same way. Until Ravi and Nityashree returned. Such a beautiful name – ‘Nityashree’. She gets angry when anybody refers to her by this name. She said her friends found ‘Neetu’ easier to pronounce. Sigh!

Sometimes, I think the best way of putting some sense into her head, is to show her the restaurant bills they have both run up in the last two months. One would think they returned to India for me. From the way they have been ravaging the Chaat shops and Dosa-outlets, it looks like they have been starving for the last nine years. ‘Mmmm… mmmmm…’ is all I hear when they bring home a take-away. Slurp. Of all the food they have gobbled, I loved the aroma of pav-bhaji most! I know – Ravi knows it is my favourite dish. He is a loving boy, my Ravi.

He remembers Chennai, the way it was. Madras.

The quaint old-fashioned city with its quiet, cultured inhabitants.

The streets where one would find a beautiful old temple, a relatively new Mosque and a historically important Chuch, all within five minutes walk of each other.

The beautiful Marina beach. If one could just ignore the number of slum-dwellers who performed their morning ablutions in front of our eyes! Still, it is a beautiful beach. Countless families who relish their Saturday evenings. Lakhs of ‘lovers’ walking hand-in-hand, dreaming of a future so bright, and in a world miles away from here. Little realising, that this place – right here, and right now – is a heaven on earth itself.

Call me a frog-in-the-well, if you like. I have breathed my entire life in this beautiful city. In this magnificent country, India. By far, I believe this is the most wonderful place ever.

‘This is the most wonderful place, ever, Neetu’ says Ravi, almost echoing my thoughts.

They have lit a candle. In the darkness, all I can see is Neetu’s eyes, glistening with tears. And Ravi caressing her gently.

‘I miss my life in London, Ravi! I miss those beautiful rainbows on a quiet summer evening’ Neetu whispers.

‘Oh, I miss my Tropicana orange and Cider too, Neetu’, Ravi says teasingly. And Neetu bursts out laughing. She actually looks quite pretty when she is happy.

‘I know you miss London. I do, too. But we cannot deny the fact that whatever be the case, we led a monotonous life’, Ravi looks quite serious now.

‘We spent our days shopping, travelling, eating, drinking…’ he continues. ‘Which is not bad at all. That is exactly what everybody wants to do. But you will realise, some day, what I mean when I say Life must be more Fulfilling’.

Neetu starts to get up. Ravi holds her hand and pulls her back.

Really, these children have no shame. Holding hands freely, in front of elders. Er, is this what Neetu means when she says she wants her ‘space’? Anyway, I have to perk up now, if I want to catch any more of their argument. Which I know, Ravi is going to win!

‘We want to start our family, Neetu. How do you want our children to grow up? In play-groups or nurseries with strangers? Or with your own family here – with your parents! Do you want your child to be lonely and bored despite having expensive toys? Or do you want her to simply walk down our apartment complex, and just join a bunch of energetic children playing excitedly?’

Neetu nods slowly.

‘Neetu, you do not have to turn into another Shahrukh Khan from Swades!

You do not need a dramatic tryst with poverty and misery – for you to have a change of heart.

You do not have to stumble upon an orphanage, to realise how much there is to be done here in India.

You just have to open your heart and mind, and realise that there is so much more to share here. With so many more people. You can share your sorrows. Your joys, even. There is just so much to give, and to receive too!’

I feel a lump forming in my throat. This boy is wise beyond his years.

‘We cannot change this country, Ravi. You’re being dramatic!’ Neetu argues.

‘Nityashree!’ (Ravi only uses this name when he is very serious). ‘I am not trying to change this country. All I am saying is, give us a chance, to return home!’

Well said, my boy! I almost whoop in delight!

Look around you! Your life is brimming now. With people, activity, laughter, sorrow, noise, light… you and I, are fully alive! Unlike our depressing winters abroad. There is something about the air in our country, that makes me feel alive. I hope you will realise it someday, too’.

I feel a tear roll down one cheek. I feel alive here too, Ravi. I want to walk right up and embrace him.

‘When I came back to Chennai last year…’ Ravi continues. I suspect a tremor in his voice.

‘When I came last summer, Appa was already gone. But Amma – the sight of her shook me. She was alone, naturally. But she was so content. Simple, yet, so peaceful and calm. That is when I realised, that we, despite all our material comforts, were sorely missing something by being away from our homeland’

When Amma also died last year, I realised that the most important pieces of my life were gone.

First my father, and then my mother. The only thing I had left now, was my hometown – my country, my home. My roots. I could not reverse Time. But I could gather the remnants of my life…’

Neetu nods slowly. She looks up and stares at me. Rather, at my photograph that hangs on the mango-yellow wall.

Her gaze meets mine. Hers, undecided. Mine, pleading.

‘He is right, child!’ I want to cry, ‘I hope you too, realise that a large chunk of you belongs in your roots. No country, no home is perfect. But if you give it a chance, you could actually stop chasing rainbows, because they are right here – even in a drop of adulterated water, even in a ray of light. Happiness in every breath! Well, almost’, I plead silently.

‘Ok, Ravi’ she finally whispers. ‘Let’s do this!’ she says more affirmatively.

In a rather filmy way, the power suddenly comes back on. In the distance, I notice, what most certainly looks like a rainbow! I know that my children will notice it too. Soon!

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