A Rocks Asi Valentine’s Day

Twisted Talons  was bored.  Life on the edge of Dan Daka forest was beginning to pall. Preying on the hapless rishis and scaring them witless with her frightful form no longer tickled.  She was in fact, lonely.  On a sudden impulse, she decided to fly out , across the sea, to her brother’s island to check out the party scene. She might bump into that lusty, bull-chomper, Oxshas ….  The Bloody  Maya  at  Draksha’s,  made with peacock blood was to die for,  at least.

She threw  a   much gnawed elephant bone away,  flung aside her empty rhino-horn,  that stank  of stale wine,  and hoisted herself up into the air, startling a flock of  parrots that flew out of their perch on the tree she had been leaning on, complaining loudly.  With an unsympathetic “hmph!”,she began cruising in the air, heading south,  following the  flow of the Gotta Worry river. Janisthan, her stomping grounds, appeared  tiny and toylike .

When she came over a small clearing  she hadn’t noticed before, she swooped down lower to investigate.  She sighted a  tiny hut in the middle a pleasant hermitage where  deer and hare romped about in the garden .

“Whose hermitage is this?  How did I miss this one?” she wondered . There was a sudden movement, and  Twisted Talons quickly went behind the canopy  of the shinshupa tree,  to watch.

The man walked out  of the hut, and  strode gracefully towards the peepal tree. He sat down on the stone seat under it, and  smiled, looking at the antics of the squirrels  near by.

He was dark-skinned,  his chest was broad like a lion’s. His arms long and strong,  a pair of lotus eyes  in a face that glowed golden. Had Kama descended upon the earth?  Twisted Talons was enchanted.  Oxshas could go drown in a  rhino-horn of  Bloody  Maya…. This one was a keeper.  She would not eat him…. at least not immediately.  it would be nice to play with my food, she thought… ..

Wasting not a moment, she  came out from behind the tree, and swooped down to a perfect landing in front of the man, who looked up at her questioningly. No alarm. Not even surprise!

She came straight to the point. “Will you be mine, handsome one? she asked,  wagging her curly talons at him. He looked at her. He smiled . That killer smile that had melted her heart.  He’s smiling his acceptance, she thought, and noticed for the first time his slim waist,  the perfect six-pack abs. She could  spend hours getting to know him.

A great sigh of anticipation escaped her heaving, gigantic bosom.  Everything about her, was, in fact gigantic. She was surprised at herself.  Here was a man,  such a fine specimen of human, and  making a meal of him was the last thing on her mind!

“Pray tell me who you are,”, he was saying, and  Twisted Talons came back to the present.

“Aham Rocks Asi”,  Twisted Talons said, switching to Sanskrit, hoping to impress him.  A Rocks Asi, who can change shape and form, a kaama roopini.. I wander these forests of Dan Daka, preying upon the rishis,  creating fear and terror among the all the creatures living here.    I’m in love with you, and  in my heart, I have already made you my husband. Come away with me, and we shall live happily ever after.”

“Dear lady  with the waist of two elephant’s girth,  unkempt hair and those fang that seem to grow in all directions, I am sorry, but I have to disappoint you. FOr I already have a wife, whom I love very much.”  he said, adding, slyly, ” besides, you don’t look to me lke someone who can share your husband with another wife”

Twisted Talons laughed, ” your wife? That creature, with sunken waist, who looks like a harridan. Let me just make a meal of her. Then we’ll be free  to roam these forests and hills!” . She slurred  on the last words, last night’s wine drunk by the kegful suddenly catching uo with her

“That’s no plan. I cannot leave my wife.  Not even for you.” he said.  ”  Here’s what, here’s my younger brother. Happily, he has no wife to bother him, and I’m sure he ‘ll gladly marry you, “he said.
Twisted Talons glanced at Handsome’s brother. “Go on,” he said . ” His name is Lux. He deserves a wide-eyed, wide chested, pot-bellied beauty like you for a wife. He will make you very happy.”

Twisted Talons, a  true Rocks Asi,   went happily over to Lux,  who was no mean looker, and propositioned him. “Lux,  will you be mine?   Look at my glowing complexion, and see the love in my heart which beats for you”.

Lux choked on a laugh. ” Dear lady who glows like a  lotus, why would you want to my wife? I am the servant of  my brother. Would you  marry a servant? Do you deserve such a fate? Go back to my brother and ask him again. ”

“Are you two playing with me?” Twisted Talons asked, suspiciously.  “Oh no!  ” said Lux  a little too quickly.”  I’ve never been so serious!”

She went back to Handsome.  The wife had joined him. Twisted Talons looked at her. What a sorry figure she cuts, sunken waist, sunken cheeks, sunken… well, everything. What did he see in her. There’s so little of her anyway…. If I just sink my teeth into her, and eat her up raw,  he won’t even notice she’s gone…. and when he does, he’ll thank me………..

Twisted Talons never knew when her 12-inch long curly talons   begin to claw at  the little lady’s ribs, but she heard a piercing scream that rang out for miles around  and when it ended,  it was the turn of all the trees around to disgorge a thousand flocks of birds into the air,  twittering and chirping raucously.

And then, that excruciating pain that shot through her giant samosa nose and cauliflower ears. She covered her ears with her palms , and   looked at  them, covered in blood. Her nose ,  had been lopped off, and it would never  again be the giant samosa which made Oxshas  go ga-ga, especially after a dozen Blood Mayas were inside him.

Twisted TAlons ran. And ran. Deep into Dan Daka  forest to where Uncle Marich lived. He would give grind up a herbal paste to  regenerate her ears and nose. But of course they would never be quite the same again.

Some time later, she sat down on her favorite rock , still smarting about her ears and  resisting the temptation to pull the cinnamon bark bandage off her nose. She  thought about what Uncle Marich has said. “These humans don’t go by our rules. In their world  no means no.   And their idea of beauty is  nothing like ours. ”

Oh yes,  they thought I was ugly, she said, talking to herself. They laughed at me.. and then this!  Lux had been so quick, she had not even seen the flash of the sword or felt it’s cold touch on her nose….Now  now I have to live with this ..this fixed up nose.  Uncle Marich’s  rhinoplasty doesn’t go very far.

But… but    I’m a Rocks Asi. I rock.   When I say yes, I mean YES!….  why don’t they get it?



The tall man

I Wish I Was Back In Babelore

Some years ago, I was walking into the Conference Room in Vidhana Soudha to cover the press conference of the Chief Minister,  H.D.Kumaraswamy,  while speaking on the cell with a cousin. I spoke in Tamil, and  after a few minutes  I hung up, and found myself a chair. A journalist from another newspaper slid into the seat next to mine, said hello and asked, in Kannada, “Madam how come you are speaking  the Konga bhasha? ”  I replied that’s because I was a Konga. He had the grace to blush, and mumbled his apologies but he was also surprised to learn I am not Kannadiga.

I told him there was no need to apologize, as he had no way of knowing this , but couldn’t  resist telling him that I was quite conversant in 75 per cent of  South Indian languages. At home the lingua franca is Tamil, but it’s simply impossible not to pick up some Telugu when you have seven uncles and six aunts who were born and raised in Nellore, and argued ( they call it conversation) in the only language in which mythological movies must be watched.  My second language at school was Kannada, and  it was also generally the language in which I played, but  there never was any occasion to learn  even a smattering of Malayalam.

Now everyone knows, or has often lamented the  penchant of many Kannadigas to deny their language, and  reams have been written about the Kannadiga pride in displaying  ignorance of their own language. When two Malayalis or two Andhraites meet, the happily lapse into their language, whereas the Kannadiga , so the common complaint goes,  will lapse into English.

This was the theme  of  friend   Sandhya Mendonca’s blog a couple of days ago- in which she pointed out that many Indians are bilingual, and  can switch between the languages with great felicity.  I have always been amused to see my father and his five siblings communicate – one pair of his sisters would speak to each other in Dharwad Kannada, my dad and his elder brother  too spoke to each other in Dharwad Kannada, and the other two sisters spoke Tamil to each other. But if the pairs broke up,  Tamil was the medium!

I  enjoy  my GP Rajaratnam and Kailasam in Kannada, I can identify a  Bharatiyar gem or two in Tamil , and  as for Telugu,  there is no greater joy than to watch the movie Mayabazar and soak in the romance of  Lahiri Lahiri or laugh till I get stitches in my sides at Vivaha Bhojanambu. I find Thyagaraja and Purandardasa equally epiphanic in their respective languages,  and despite a limited understanding of literary Tamil, I enjoy the occasional Rajaji’s Korai Onrum Illai  for the voice of MS,  and  take a guilty , childish pleasure in  parodied  renderings of K. B. Sundarambal’s  Avvaiyar songs. And of course,  knowing Kannada has been a great boon- I have taught myself to read  my grandfather’s Telugu translation of Valmiki Ramayana, since the scripts are similar.

My life has changed in the last five years, and I now live in a place where knowing 75 per cent of South Indian languages has been of little help.  The husband speaks Malayalam, the 25 per cent that I never  learnt!

Which means,  we are now a 100 per cent English speaking family. And I have begun to recognize that  it takes a lot of effort to learn a new language, never mind the comforting “its very easy,  just like Tamil,” etc.   I was on the plane to visit  cousin Meenakshi in Minnesota a few months back, and it turned out I was the only desi among the 30 odd passengers on the tiny plane. both onward and the return flight. It was any icy winter morning, on the return flight, and we were delayed an hour  while the plane and the tarmac got a wash. I passed a good deal of the time thinking I could say things in four languages (including Hindi) to anyone on the plane, and no one would even know  that  they were getting gibberish of four kinds!

Which brings us to my present peeve. In order to speak lustily and for long in Kannada, Tamil, or  even Telugu, I need to call friends and family back home in India, or here in the US.  There are reasons why when I hear these three languages in this wonderful land  that I currently call home , I  turn away, move to another aisle, or pretend I am not there at all.  Experience is a great teacher. I mostly blame the knol khol pyramid at the Korean store, Lotte’  Plaza where you can buy  dosakai  (Mangaluru Southekai) under a  gantry sign that  loudly declares “DOSAKAI).

There is a lot of Telugu to be encountered at  say  Lotte’ ,  COSTCO, or Walmart, and  Tamil, and much Malayalam. Kannada, on the other hand, is  rarely heard.  So I could barely conceal my delight when I heard this urgently pregnant  woman  contemplating the knol khol in her hand, and wondering, loudly, “idu knol khol allva?”

Too excited to  consider that it might be a bad idea, I  cheerfully volunteered, “howdu, idu knol kholenay“, because I had asked myself the same question when I first visited  this store. One can never be sure of  our familiar veggies  knol khol, seemebadnekai that goes by the exotic name of chayote, in this country . They tend to be giant sized, and most of the time, quite tasteless . I long for  the pungent “aroma” of  a radish simmering in the sambhar nearly as much as I pine for a  chinwag in Kannada. With someone sitting by me, on the same couch. Not over telephone .

Well, the upshot of my  interjection was that we were soon talking about Uma theatre, Bull Temple, Gandhi Bazar, and so on, and exchanged phone numbers. . A couple of weeks later, she called, and asked if i was interested  in a project. I am mortified to say I failed to see through her  jargon and  was in denial when the husband said it sounded like an Amway scam. I asked for more details, and found out, indeed, that it was Amway. I  told her I wasn’t interested, and forbade husband from every mentioning this episode again, if he wanted  his parippu prathaman

So you see,  I can’t be blamed for  being wary of  Kannada- speaking pregnant women on the loose in   Herndon Halli, and  turning to   FB, youtube and my  small library of Kannada books  to my regular fix.  The important thing is to know  you may take me out of Kannada, but you cannot take Kannada out of me. On this cliche’d note,  I end, yearning deeply for my Babelore!

Bangalore Blue


My nod to nostalgia and Bangalore that once was. In this treasury of  memories , I’m in the company of   some awesome Bangaloreans. Thanks to  my friend, and fellow quiz team meet Stanley Carvalho, I’m now in a book.  Here is the piece I wrote in it.

The Lost Four O’clock Flower
An April afternoon in 2013. A solitary bush of Mirabilis Jalapa awaits the stroke of  four on a vacant lot where a desultory cow lies in the shade of  a Tata Indica.  The majenta buds of the Four o”clock plant , aka Mirabilis Jalapa will soon burst open and meet the afternoon rays of the Bangalore sun as nature has intended  them to.
Mirablis Jalapa. The Four o’ clock flower . Once, they  bloomed in profusion,  bold majenta, brazen yellow, sanctimonious white. Two big brothers playing cricket with friends in a corner of the compound of Mahadev Vilas,  Ratna Vilasa Road. A baby sister posing prettily , dressed in a  knitted jersey, (purple with a row of lavender men dancing at the yoke) and matching cap that had a pom-pom.  As the  60s were hurtling towards the 70s, the  Mirablis Jalapa bush  stood steady, understated. And ubiquitous. A constant backdrop to life’s little milestones.
I  think the sight of the lonesome  Mirabilis  in the summer of 2013 is a sign. The mirabilis jalapa will bloom again, and its translucent pepper seed that nestles preciously at the tip , will bring  back the Bangalore that has been lost..
Six months ago, I obsessed over  this little plant that occupies a little corner  of  my memory’s attic. I looked in all the likely places it could be. But it had vanished,  perhaps even before the last sparrow had  fled the city that no longer wanted it, and didn’t  even noticed it was gone. Like childhood.
When did the mirabilis jalapa leave? And take with it the  lavender buds of the arka,  (calotropis gigantia) whose, plump leaves and poisonous latex dominated  our route to school?  This is where nostalgia meets amnesia,  I think, and suddenly, I know that the sighting of the mirabilis bush is but a nod to the past. To the Bangalore that once was.
Boys played cricket,  and planned khedda operations intended for the imperious granny who  terrorized them. Little girls gamboled about  while their moms sat on a bench by the champak tree, and knitted little jumpers and caps. The little gate that connected Mahadev Vilas and Seeta Bhavan  bore the brunt of heavy traffic as  young boys tramped in an out playing rough games . And the  mirabilis bush  bloomed punctually in its corner watching  Bangalore grow into the seventies, and  forgetting all about the four o’clock flower. It moved over, unprotestingly . The gardens shrank, houses expanded, and   there were no vacant lots for the mirabilis to move into.
The mind wanders into the seventies. Smaller homes on narrow lanes. The denizens of Seventh Cross near Madhavan Park are no longer  thinking of the four o’clock flower and its endearing ways. The cricket pitch-sized compound of Mahadev Vilas has become a memory. A hibiscus bush,  the suji mallige creeper compete for attention with the pink and cream roses, whose thorns are a nasty piece of work.
A rain-kissed morning. As the sun winked over the shoulders of speeding clouds,  school was inescapable, and life, therefore,  intolerable.. Sailing down Seventh Cross came the “five-star” tarkari man on his bicycle, his lusty hawking of“carrot! beans! alugadde, cabbage , seemay badnekai…………..! announcing the arrival of the only vegetable-shop-on-wheels  who ever came to the street.
Mother always acknowledged this “costly”  vegetable vendor’s arrival with mixed feelings. He charged way too much, and wasn’t past playing tricks with the weighing too. But who wanted to trudge to the Jayanagar Complex, only to argue with  a dozen of his kind  who terrorize ?  Just as well  be fleeced in the comfort of one’s home.
By this time,  a few  Seventh Cross maamis ,  thoughts very similar to mother’s jostling in their minds  (  mobile eyebrows that looked like a pair of tiny  cobras   dancing in the vermilion sunset,   can be revealing ) would emerge from their front doors, demanding to be told what outrageous price the fellow was naming for the luscious tomatoes and brinjals.
The tarkari man, apparently preoccupied with    arranging the already perfect pyramids of  vegetables in his  much-used cane basket,  would then begin his little performance, calling out,  ” Come and get it!  Veggies that  Rajkumar- Bharati eat!    Worth every paisa,”  momentarily diverting the women from such mundane matters as vegetable prices.
This was the guy Rajkumar-Bharati  bought veggies from ! That was the secret of their success?!
No sooner than the little performance ended, sans ting-tong that comes at end of  Binaca toothpaste ad on Vividhbharathi, the  eyebrows arched in  surprise and amusement would curl back  into  disapproving frowns, and someone would imperiously tell the guy to get on with business.
Little boys and girls who imagined this to be the best time to wangle a day at home  from impervious  moms,  by tugging at their pallus, ( thus proving  multi-tasking is an embedded feature in moms), a maama whose wife  was away at her parents’ to come back with a little bundle of  joy anytime soon,  the retired grandfather out for his morning walk,  often figured in this picture of  old Bangalore idyll.
Realising soon enough that he was not getting too far in trying to win friends and influence people,  when one of the maamis   acidly queried,”why bother to come here?  Rajkumar-Bharati didn’t buy your veggies today? Are these leftovers? “,  he would pretend that the ladies were driving a hard bargain, and bring the transaction to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
Rajkumar-Bharati  sold vegetables to Seventh Cross maamis for several months, when suddenly,  Bharathi married Vishnuvardhan, who must  have disapproved of his new’s wife’s moonlighting  job. Anyway, the cycling vegetable-man came calling less often before disappearing altogether . Other non-cycling vendors gave the maamis multiple choices and competitive prices, and  the careers of Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan the rising star were  tracked through more dependable, and literate sources.
Nanda , Shanti, Uma. . Cinema theatres where we watched Bhakta Kumbara, and wept copious tears over the travails of  the potter of Pandarapur, whom the gods decide to test. The comical antics of  Vishnuvardhan and Dwarakeesh in Kalla Kulla,  a yarn about brothers separated at birth who sing ecstatically about reuniting with their mom……..
In the new millennium, Nanda and Shanti have been bulldozed off  Bangalore’s map. The dependable and familiar have fallen to the tyranny of change.  We used to cross the road from Usha Periamma’s to catch the night-show at Shanti, but now there is a median,  between the new building where Shanti once stood, and shell of the house where Usha Periamma lived. There are traffic jams, schools and colleges, and giant monuments to Bangalore’s new identity as IT city.  It can even turn into a tinder box that can spark a violent riot.
A bar-  restaurant owner decided to name his brand new venture on South End Road “Kargil”.  Someone didn’t like the idea, and flung the first  stone and there was a merry riot, and one’s man’s dream lay vandalised in a matter   of a few hours.
Nanda, Shanti and Uma.  Three cinema houses that  we passed while traveling with no purpose on the BTS bus route no 14. And yes.. The very  one which once boasted  Mr Rajnikanth as conductor.  Father’s little  joke that helped remember them, is quite irrelevant now. But it’s a memory that brings a smile. We had no one to visit in Malleswaram, but the longest bus ride in the city,  at the time, I might add, from terminus to terminus  was filled with  endless possibilities of unbridled entertainment . To get back to Father’s little joke, as the conductor (Was it Rajnikanth, in his Shivaji Rao Gaekwad avatar?) called out “tickets?! Tickets?! A  woman got hers saying “Nanda”. Another said “Shanti” and got a ticket, and the third lady said “Uma”.  When he came to the fourth lady, she  held out the money, saying “Alamelu”.
Humor doesn’t do bus any more. Bus is where an argument between two commuter morphs into a fight. And a rude word suddenly reminds the conductor-driver duo that they can simply pull over, and launch a snap strike. It is the vehicle of choice for those who believe settling them on fire can bring the Government to its knees, or that is the way to mourn  a Rajkumar or Vishnuvardhan.
PS: I wonder if  Shivaji Rao Gaekwad every learnt where Alamelu wanted to get off.
The four o’clock flower’s  persistence in 2013 , I now think, is Bangalore’s last flailing attempt to hold its ground as Bengaluru goes from Bangalore to Babel-ore. Reality grabs me by the ankles when the  Punjabi aunty next door wants to educate your (South Indian) mom on the  secret of making the softest idlis, and that traffic lights turn green in Hindi. Or BMTC buses have hoardings that say- Sabse sastha aur sabse zyaada kahin nahin.
Back then in nostalgia, Dr G.Roy ,   GROY  in our innocence (and in  scant regard for the fullstop) and P.Chatterjee , exotic and enviable as they were,  could only  leap out at us from our history books, or newspapers, not try to grab eyeballs as name-plates on the houses we passed on the way to school. Nostalgia is  when  the phone directory in two volumes- and countless Sens to be scrolled down before finding Sundar S.N.
Ajjis  that made the most divine kodubales can actually be counted in miniscule numbers, on the Endangered Species List.  And you are unlikely to  meet a sparrow in Bangalore for love or money. The aroma of  moolangi  simmering in  the sambhaar doesn’t  waft  from N.R.Colony to Madhavan Park any more .Heck, even the autorickshaw takes more  30 minutes to do the trip . Languid, all-the-time-in-the-world -to -things that-need-doing Bangalore is languid in slow-motion mode, for post-millennial reasons only. Bangalore is now spot-jogging to keep up with itself.
On Facebook, the drama of reunions and regression to past life unfolds at a frenetic pace. There is an urgency to share minutiae – black &white photographs , sepia tinted prints of  old homes that stood lofty and sprawling four decades ago. The vanished gardens and the green monkey-tops that dominated  Bangalore’s landscape, the landmarks that have passed into history as modern monstrosties take their place, try to come alive. I see that the four o’clock flower doesn’t figure in any of them.  The mirabilis I see, now, is  a backdrop to my own memories. My own suddenly remembered memories , dusted  and de-linted by the mere sight of the lonesome bush in the summer of 2013.
Dear little four o’clock flower,  I am so glad to have caught up with you at last.  I see you now,  in the b&w pictures of two big brothers holding their baby sister by her hands. You are in bloom, and I know that it is past four o’clock,  and soon , we won’t be able to hear ourselves think, as the birds come home to roost,  chirping incessantly as they exchange notes on their day.  I know that when I look out of my window tomorrow as the sun hastens westwards, I will neither hear the chirping, nor see your drooping buds spring open in  joy. Yet there you are now, in that  vacant plot, in the company of  a cow flicking its tail at the flies . You do not worry that any time soon, the bulldozer will dredge up the ground on which you stand, and there will be no one to glimpse you and  hurtle into the past where you once bloomed in profusion.

Gita Paapa


I dreamt about Gita Paapa the other night.  Nightmared about her, actually. There had been an attack and a ransack, and when I found her, she lay there behind the glass pane of the showcase, her little blond head fallen off, her eyes  which are a  cat-like green, shut firmly, and her pink-orange torso with her left arm torn asunder.

The Viking, and Ms Ting Tong, who loves to bob up and down to a music of her own,  the Pink Elephant made of soap who’s  lavender scent  had long faded away, the  little marble Taj Mahal, all lay in ruins about the dismembered Gita Paapa.

I woke up in a cold sweat, and realized with a “whew!” that I had been dreaming, and it was all I could  do to  go back to sleep and wait until a couple of hours later to rummage  about in the  Samsonite strolley to recover Gita Paapa and find her lying there  in one piece ,  still wearing her printed frock,  white shoes, and the blue&white skipping rope around her shoulder.

She opened her green eyes wide  the moment I  stood her on her feet, and  looked at me, saying nothing.  I stole a  sideways glance at her, checking for an accusing look  in her eyes. Not that I wasn’t already on a guilt trip as I  ran over the recent past and couldn’t remember when I last talked to her, or spent an afternoon.

The smile never left  the old dear’s face, and but for a streak of  green felt pen (thanks to little Chichu’s ministrations) on her left cheek, that I mean to take care of  with a touch of  nail polish, she remains as non-judgmental, uncritical and ready to shower me with unconditional love  as ever.

I decided she could use a bath, and she acquiesced silently,  plainly relieved to be released from  her prison where she  had lain, forgotten.That’s not fair . Nobody forgot her. Haven’t I always remembered to bring her along wherever I moved?  Chennai, Delhi, and now here, in the US of A?  And she has been nestling cozily in silken luxury among the best collection of Kanjeevarams that could possibly be found this side of the Atlantic?

I scrubbed her down, having decided to skip shampooing her hair as it might be too soon after her  regaining her freedom, I remembered the first time she’d been given a bath. And the storm in the teacup that it  had stirred up.
I was a toddler when  Gita Paapa arrived ,  a present from Cousin Bharathi who lives in Sweden.  She  was dressed in a white frock with blue and green floral prints, a pair of bloomers in the same fabric, a  bonnet, also of the same fabric. And the white shoes.

For the first couple of years, Gita Paapa ( no one remembers how she got the name, but everyone agrees  it was I who named her)   lived  on the top shelf of the showcase, and rarely came out to play.  She was the “other baby” in the house,  not to be handled roughly.

On one of those rare occasions that she left her high perch ( like Rapunzel, only with very short hair) ,  I discovered that she was a shut-eye, and her eyelids closed very delicately when she lay down. I was also fascinated by her green eyes.  Cousin Anu, who is two years older than me was visiting, and so was Gita Paapa. Anu suggested a bath for her, and off we went to the garden where plenty of water and a stone tank  was tempting enough for us to jump in  for a paddle too.

Our plans were nipped in the bud, by Father, who came to check on us, and , quickly rescued Gita Paapa, her clothes and the little skipping rope and blue beach bucket that had come from Sweden when Cousin Bharathi visited again. She went back to her tower.

I now see this deprivation has not scarred me at all,  though I sometimes wonder  why I entirely missed an opportunity to be jealous of Gita Paapa.  I mean , it’s natural for a kid to resent the presence of another in the house that claims even a tiny bit the attention that  she’s  entitled to. Especially if the said another  is plainly being protected from said kid’s  well-meant intentions of bathing her and feeding her.  Heck ,   Mother even  sewed a whole new outfit for her, with fabric left over from a new dress she made for me, after nothing could be done to save her blue-green floral print dress, cap and bloomer, many many years later.

When I way past the age of playing with Gita Paapa, although it never struck me then, I just liked the idea of her being there, belonging to me, and the story of her bathing adventure being narrated ad nauseum by the parents, who, to be fair, have  had the grace to look sheepish about this over-protectiveness. Gita Paapa, it so happens, could be bathed, her  hair washed and shampooed any number of times, and she’d  be as squeaky clean, pink-orange as she’s always been.

I recently discovered I can be quite  as silly over her as the parents were. Little Chichu who became the darling of second floor and delighted everyone by toddling ,  walking,  and went from talking gibberish to   speaking complete Tamil sentences in a week , or so it seems, took quite a shine to Gita Paapa. Chichu and I fell into the habit of  playing with her every day. He’d come, and squeak delightedly, pointing at her, and Gita Paapa would be fetched down from her perch on the dressing table, and so would the jar of Johnson’s baby lotion, which we proceeded to rub on her face, and then he would stand before the mirror, hugging her, and admire his handiwork. On one of these little sessions,  she acquired the green sketch-pen marks on her left cheek.

She was, luckily spared the fate of  his toys, Pooh, Teddy, Kangaroo and Singham, who for a while could be found on the ground , as Chichu had started a phase of flinging  them down over the parapet, and someone coming to second floor was always bring a stuffed toy along with them to be returned safely to Chichu’s mother.

When Chichu’s idol, KP returned from his summer in Qatar,  Chichu became quite hyper, and it all happened in A-5. Part of the raucous welcome involved flinging Gita Paapa in the air, and  I grew quite alarmed when I saw her flying across the living roon, into the potato bin in the kitchen. Before I could stop myself, I was screaming too.

“Don’t you two throw her like that.  She’s got feelings  too!” I  shouted, and the two stared at me, quite stunned to see  the normally mild,  J Aunty acting so weird . They  quietly slunk out, and  I retrieved Gita Paapa from the potato bin, and  smoothed down her dress, and made sure she was alright, and  returned her to the dressing table.

I  think Chichu lost interest in her on that day, and  I’m glad. Notice the patch of nail polish on her left cheek, and notice the rest of her, and tell me  I’m  being an ass over her.

Oh! I have to share this:  Gita Paapa’s  is a real  person, quite the girl who can fix her gimlet eye on you and  make you feel smaller than her. She stood on the bathroom counter for about three days, wrapped in a paper towel after her bath, when,  the H  asked, “how long is she going to be there?”

I bristled, quite offended on her behalf, and countered, “why?”

“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all…..it’s just that she stands there, looking at me, and I’m not used to  being watched while I shower.” he said.


A Postscript To The Story

Lakshmi’s Suprabhatam blues has drawn interesting responses from the near and dear.  It turns out  Appa (mine) was not too gung-ho about it at first . Too Long. Too much about that boy.  And I think you are repeating yourselves a couple of times. Who’s Shyamu?  Is he for real?  And Meenalochani Maami?

Big Brother Subri,  said it was good. And he didn’t have any questions about  who’s who and what’s what. Probably that’s the reason he didn’t become the journalist in the family.  He  agreed with me that “the boy” had to be there, since he contributed the gibberish Suprabhatam although he doesn’t know he has done so .  He said he didn’t find it too long.

Appa reasoned, “she must have edited it after I pointed it out”.  Which I hadn’t.

I was both amused and felt slightly slighted at Appa’s critique , but I concede it could use some editing and re-writing.

Subri thought Tom Sawyer swung a cat and not a rat. They talked about it,  and Appa said, she must have  changed that for her story. Subri asked  him why I’d do that. To protect the identity of the cat?  Appa had no answer . I confess I laughed a tad too loudly when Subri told me. It made me feel better about Appa’s  honest opinion.

In any case,  we checked, and  I am elated to report,  it was  a rat.

I spoke to Appa, and he said may be he ought to go back and read the story again, to better appreciate the contribution of Shyamu to its climax. When I read it the first time,   the  computer screen wasn’t scrolling properly, and that’s probably why I  felt it was long and repetitive , he said.

That’s right.  Blaming it on a glitch  makes for a happy ending.

Finally,  my disclaimer is  right there,  staring you in the face, even before the story begins if  it’s too long, or boring,  just remember, it had to be there.

My first story. And my first  lesson Criticism begins at home.


Suprabhatam Blues



It was Saturday morning. Lakshmi woke up to the sounds of Appa coaxing the reluctant Bush Radio to belt out the Suprabhatham, in the divine voice of M.S Subbulakshmi and say Good Morning to God, courtesy the All India Radio.

Lakshmi, usually sang along lustily, as she got ready for her favorite school day of the week ( except on the second Saturday of the month, a holiday)– library, music, artwork, and oh yes, physical training. Lakshmi didn’t care much for the last, like everyone else in class, but endured the weekly 30-minute ordeal of bending, stretching and running , keeping time with PT instructor Ms Merose’s sharp commands that sounded like the crack of whip, as lethargically as she could get away with, while avoiding catching her eye.

Today was a second Saturday. Hearing the crackle and buzz of the Bush radio as Appa fiddled with it, she wished, fervently, that just this once, the moody radio would not oblige him. The sound of “Kausalya Supraja Rama Poorva Sandhya Pravarthathe” was the last thing she wanted wafting around the house this Saturday morning. 

She drew her quilt over her head, hoping to drown out MS, who had now begun singing in earnest , Appa’s efforts, which included a sharp whack on the right side of the radio, to get it  singing having paid off. She’d have to get out of bed soon, and face Amma’s  dreaded “Silent Treatment” , which could last ALL DAY.

God had not heard her prayer, perhaps he was too engrosssed in  the  Suprabhatam, she said, and realized she was talking to herself. Like Alice,  who loved to pretend she was two people, and had scolded herself for cheating in a game of croquet which she was playing against herself. Lakshmi toyed with the idea of boxing her own ears, and told herself not to be silly, as this self-flagellation (not her words, of course) was not going to save her from Amma’s wrath.

She lay there, listening to the sounds of Saturday morning- Amma clanging dishes in the kitchen, and Appa humming along with MS. Soon it would be over, and Amma would notice she was not up, and demanding “light coffee” , and chattering about the Amar Chitra Katha comics that Krishnan Tatha had given her yesterday……..

Krishnan Tatha ! Lakshmi groaned, remembering last evening . Her ears burned as if they had been boxed hard, and she wished she’d never have to hear the Suprabhatam ever again……

Mostly she wished to turn the clock back. About three weeks. 

***** ****

Three weeks earlier.

Lakshmi won the second prize for recitation of the Suprabhatham ( eight stanzas) at the school competition, and became the proud owner of “Sleeping Beauty” inscribed on Page One, somewhere near the spinning-wheel and the Wicked Witch’s wand, with “Winner , Second Prize in Suprabhatham Recitation”.

Amma had been there, to watch as she collected her prize. In the evening, Appa had said “Shabbash!” and slipped a Cadbury’s Five Star bar into her hand, but she could not fathom why he had laughed heartily when he saw the book.

“Sleeping Beauty for reciting the Suprabhatam?” he said, laughing loud and long , but when Amma too started to chuckle,  Lakshmi realised there was a joke she was missing.

Which was annoying, to say the least. Lakshmi considered deploying her famous wail, that sounded , Appa said, like the siren  blaring from the Government Soap Factory in the calm of the afternoon to announce the start of a new shift. However it died at her lips when Appa went on, “ ha ha! Can Suprabhatam rouse Sleeping Beauty?” .

Lakshmi choked on the wail , and turned it into a laugh, only it came out rather  peculiarly, and Amma smacked her lightly on the head, saying, as she went by, , “is that a hiccup , Lakshmi, did you help yourself  to stolen cheedai?” .

She hadn’t, there was no cheedai in the old Amulspray tin, besides, she thought it was a silly story Indu Pati had told her , that kids who dipped their hands in the snack-tin were always caught by their sudden hiccups! Why make cheedai and leave them around for kids to find if they were not meant to be eaten?

The next day, Jana Chitti, Amma’s younger sister came to visit. She was there when Lakshmi returned from school, and she rushed to her , whooping with delight, for she loved her  college-going aunt who wore stilettos, and had a dressing table of her own. Of course, she had already heard about the prize and couldn’t wait to hear Lakshmi recite the Suprabatham.

A fortnight later, Lakshmi had lost count of how many evening visitors had been regaled with her Suprabhatam recitation. Amma was constantly interrupting her play-time, calling out “Dear, here is Shyamala aunty, would you like to ………..?”

Raman Mama, and Appa’s friend Suresh Uncle………Everyone brought chocolates, biscuits, she even got a pink-and-green stone-encrusted ball-point pen (that wouldn’t write) from Vijay Uncle, Appa’s best friend, who said, “its from Hyderabad” . Shankar Chittappa brought her an Amar Chitra Katha comic, Shivaji.

Lakshmi spent a half-hour one Saturday afternoon with Shivaji, finishing off the a whole bar of Cadbury’s 5-Star as Shivaji’s Har Har Mahadevs fended off attacks by the Ya Allahs from the enemy ranks.

She bit off a big chunk when the evil Afzal Khan pretended to embrace the shorter Shivaji and tried to thrust a kataar in his back, in her panic for Shivaji’s safety.  But Shivaji had his armour on under his silk, and Afzal Khan hadn’t noticed that Shivaji had his tiger claws on, and met his own gory end, much to Lakshmi’s relief.

It was a few days before Lakshmi began to notice a reluctance on the part of visitors to subject themselves to a Suprabhatham recitation at sun-down. Raghu Mama, who came to drop off a bottle of Indu Pati’s mango pickle that he’d offered to deliver when he went to Madras the week before, said, “oh! Great! Second Prize? Nice, pretty book eh?”

When Amma said, “Lakshmi why don’t you recite it for Raghu Mama?” he looked uncomfortable, and said quickly, “ hey listen, I have to leave……there’s a bottle for Minalochani Maami too, and thanks for the coffee, Akka………..” the last as his Suvega eased out of the gate.

Lakshmi was a trifle put out, but he had slipped a bar of 5-Star into her hand as he left, saying, “next time, hmm?”

* * * * *

The short, plump Minalochani Maami , a much-loved aunt, had long , thick tresses that reached way down her waist, and it had to be carefully lifted so she wouldn’t end up sitting on a cushion of her own coil of hair. She and Amma had been best friends since school. She came to catch up on gossip with Amma.

“Hallo, dear!’, she boomed at Lakshmi “I hear you won a prize. Suprabhatham recitation, hmm? My Shyamu has flunked his unit test again…Maths, English…” she went on, cheerfully, as if she was reporting that Shyamu had scored the first rank.

“Maami, why didn’t you bring Shyamu?, Lakshmi asked, though secretly relieved he wasn’t there.

She and Shyamu had little to say to each other. He went to a different school, and their occasional encounters left her feeling life as a topper-of-the-class wasn’t all it was made out to be. He regularly flunked tests, and she was sure his English text book, “Songs The Letters Sing” with its story on Bun The Wee Rabbit had not been opened past the first two lessons. She had been careful not to let him know she had read all the lessons, because it was like reading a story book. Bun had disobeyed his Dad. He had wandered into Farmer McGregor’s cabbage patch, and been mercilessly shot. Bun Was Dead and Dad Was Sad. But Shyamu wouldn’t know that. Nor would he care..

Shyamu knew about Lakshmi’s Suprabhatam recitation, though. If he had tagged along with Minalochani Maami, he would have teased her, mimicked her with his gibberish Suprabhatham. “Apacha gipachi chakachu jikachi…….” she imagined him singing, in a surprisingly musical voice, laughing to herself at the idea of Chalam Thatha, who didn’t hear quite well, nodding appreciatively and rewarding Shyamu with  sticky toffee and a pat on the head.

“Shyamu was playing with his friends around the house, dear, and I wanted some peace, “, Minalochani Maami was saying, “come sit by me and let me hear your recitation……….”

Here we go again, thought Lakshmi, but not wanting to offend dear Minalochani Maami, recited “Kausalya Supraja Rama…….” and fetched the Sleeping  Beauty for her to admire.

Lakshmi soon wearied of the Suprabhatam routine, and the “Apacha gipachi……..” in Shyamu’s voice refused to go away. She was beginning to dread visitors. Her prize winning recitation was old news, and the assorted maamas and maamis were beginning to acquire a glazed look on their faces as Lakshmi submitted to Amma’s command-disguised-as request to recite the Suprabhatham, never mind they usually visited in the evenings. They clapped too quickly, or not quickly enough, and Lakshmi thought she might as well have been singing “Apacha gipachi………”

It didn’t help to know that Shyamu, who would never be summoned to recite anything, not even the gibberish Suprabhatham, didn’t have to try to be good at anything but playing pranks and staying at the bottom of the class. It didn’t help, either, that Shyamu’s pranks had a high degree of sophistication, and when they had been played, left grown-ups impressed ( his father laughed first, and punished him as an after-thought). He became a hero to his friends, and Shyamu’s exploits always reached her embellished with the collected exaggerations as it passed from friend to friend.

When Amma started reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to her at bedtime, it was Shyamu playing hookey at school, and Minalochani Maami was Aunty Polly in a sari, who , more out of a sense of duty than faith in the power of punishment, ordered Shyamu (Tom) to paint the wall on a Saturday afternoon. And it was Shyamu who traded a turn at wielding the brush for a dead rat and a piece of string to swing it with, a broken Barlow knife, the core of a half-eaten apple ……..

The picture of Shyamu swinging the dead rat on its string, while Karthik and Shankar argued over who should go first with the painting, would be excruciatingly funny, if her own life showed any signs of progressing from endless Suprabhathan recitations………perhaps there was something to be said for sleeping spells and  wicked witches, after all.

She had grudgingly admitted, to herself, that if Shyamu was Tom Sawyer, there was more to being bad than she’d given credit for. She wondered if Amma had got it all wrong– A bad person is not very brave, she’d said.

But could a brave person be bad? She wasn’t brave enough to ask Amma, and kept these bad thoughts to herself. When she felt exceedingly bad, she sang “Apacha gipachi……” silently, though occasionally she startled herself by singing it aloud. Luckily, a pre-occupied Amma probably thought it was “Kamala Kuchachu” and she didn’t have her ears boxed.

When a whole week went by, and Lakshmi’s return from school was not shadowed by the presence of a visitor who “was waiting to hear the Suprabhatham recitation”, she cautiously stopped praying to be sent to hostel, a threat that Amma often flung at her for many real and imagined misdemeanours. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer had been read to the last page, and Amma had suggested a break before starting Huckleberry Finn.

Even “Apacha gipachi……….” was gradually giving way to “Woh kya hai…………ek mandir hai…?” in the voices of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar wafting from Shakeel’s house on the other side of high wall which gave the Dark Bedroom its name. For, unlike their venerable old Bush Radio, Shakeel’s newly acquired Philips transistor played Vividh Bharathi and Radio Ceylon, opening up a whole new world of Hindi film songs that none of them understood. It made for a refreshing change from MS, Lakshmi thought, although it made her feel disloyal. 

And then it was time for Krishnan Tatha’s visit. Amma’s great-uncle Krishnan, who lived in Kodaikkanal, came down every year to visit his daughter, Amma’s cousin Shanta. Lakshmi returned from school yesterday, to find Amma had brought out the veena, which she was playing sitting by the planter’s chair on which Krishnan Tatha reclined, singing rather stentorially,  a Carnatic kirtana quite familiar to her, Thyagaraja’s “Endaro Mahanubhavulu”.

Lakshmi ran into his arms, and was hugged and had her cheeks tweaked, and she was babbling about her second prize, and demanding to know what he had brought her, while Amma tried to shush her . It was a while before she was dismissed, to freshen up and sit down with Tatha for a long conversation, lessons in Carnatic music, and jokes and riddles and guess the raaga games.

And then Amma said, “Lakshmi, won’t you recite the Suprabhatam for Tatha?” Lakshmi suddenly felt like a deflated balloon, and began to mumble incoherently. It was a while before Amma realised she was protesting, and did not want to recite the Suprabatham. Not today, not again. Ever.

Amma was shocked, and angry. She drew her into the kitchen and hissed at her, “what is wrong with you? This is the one thing that would make Tatha happy, and proud”.

Lakshmi just stood there, defiant, silent. Amma said “hmph” and stormed out, but she heard her tell Tatha in a calm voice, “ she wants to rehearse, Tatha,”

And Tatha told her soothingly, “it’s alright , Thulasi, let the child be.”

After a few minutes, she returned to the living room. Tatha looked pleased, and asked her to come sit on his lap. Amma did not say anything. Which meant she was still angry. She decided to get the recitation over with and clearing her throat, just as she had seem MS do at the concert in Gayana Samaja once. she began “Kausalya Supraja Rama”…… Tatha was delighted,  and began listening, with his eyes closed, and fingers tapping on his cheek to keep time, and her mother relented enough to throw a couple of smiling glances at her. Then she began “ Kamala kuchachu…….” and Lakshmi never knew when it had turned into “Apacha gipachi chakachu jikachi..” and she began to giggle uncontrollably……..

Tatha was staring at her, and Amma, was no longer smiling. Laksmi leapt off Tatha’s lap, and ran …….out of the house, down the road , to the vacant lot at the corner where a raucous game of cricket was being played, and stood there a long time,  before slinking back home.

Tatha had left. Shanta Chitti had come to collect him. Appa was home, sitting on the planter’s chair recently vacated by Tatha, and had obviously been told of Lakshmi’s  uncharacteristic, short-lived delinquency.  He tipped her a conspiratorial wink as she entered, and clearing his throat loudly, he said, “ Lakshmi, where have you been? You should have waited to say goodbye to Tatha, it was very rude “.

She looked surreptitiously at her mother, who said nothing, and did not look up from the magazine she was reading. Lakshmi went to stand next to her, and mumbled “sorry, Amma.” Her mother said, “your dinner is on the table, eat it and go to bed”.

It was going to be a long weekend. And Huckleberry Finn wasn’t going to join her for now. She cried herself to sleep.

As MS was winding down on the Suprabatham on the Bush Radio, rather muffled inside Lakshmi’s quilt, she felt someone tugging it off her. It was Amma, and she was smiling, as she said, “ wake up , dear. Your light coffee is getting cold”.

Hurrah! Suddenly, second Saturday was back in style! Lakshmi got up, and joyously chorused the last few lines of Kamala Kuchachu along with MS. “Am I glad I didn’t listen to myself and box my own ears”, she told herself, and froze in her tracks to the bathroom as she heard, “Apacha gipachi chakachu jikachi..,,,,,,,,,,,,” and Appa saying, “I say Thulasi, this has great possibilities. I have never heard Krishnan Tatha laugh so heartily!”