Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WELCOMING THE NEW YEAR .........


Skim the newspaper and you’ll feel the racing pulse of the city as New Year is approaching – ads silently screaming about New Year Eve bash inject adrenalin in youngsters as they polish their dancing shoes all set to groove. I’ve never put on (or even possessed) dancing shoes and am not likely to as I’m tottering towards sixty. So I just read them with a smile on my lips with no regrets whatsoever at what I have been missing all along!

New Year - when I was a child - meant nothing more than a couple of new calendars – loved to look at the red dates in each month and count them or admire the hypnotizing expression and chiseled features of the paintings of gods / goddesses. Another memory is of all of us making a mistake in the year during the first couple of weeks of the New Year whenever we wrote out the date – be it in our school work or dad’s letters / cheques. We still do so.
 
As I grew into a teenager, my fad was to collect beautiful single page calendars with ‘small’ months’ dates printed under a huge poster of one of my favourite stars – mind you I had a lot of them – from B. Saroja Devi, K.R. Vijaya to Sharmila Tagore, Leena Chandavarkar to Sridevi – heroines all! Mind you, it was more for the poster than for calendar value. Now I care only for 6-page calendars with just the dates of every month. And may be one exotic and exclusive one with half a dozen really attractive posters that deserve to be laminated! I politely turn down other calendars or simply hand it over to willing takers. And I also remember my dad getting a couple of new diaries – appa used one to write his diary – though on some days it would be no more than a line or two. Sometimes I would get one from him – to write down lyrics of film songs or note down interesting quotes from the books read – and I still have them! At times I sit and admire my ancient ‘pearl-like’ handwriting and wonder at my patience during my adolescence (today’s teens, are you listening?) even as I sing those old-times melodies.

I remember my parents once attending a New Year Eve party with my dad’s office folks – it was late night party alright – anyway I’d love to believe it was the New Year Eve. I was 12, my brother 9 and my sister 5. We had our maid to ‘baby-sit’ us at home. What is etched in my memory is the earthquake at midnight that tossed our cots so violently that all three of us and our maid rushed out of the house in panic and sat waiting for our parents on the verandah itself. Needless to add our parents too had felt the tremors and left the party early to rush home.

If you think I would have been excited about parties when I was in the prime of my life, you are mistaken. (Oh so you didn’t – after having read my first paragraph? Sorry, I shouldn’t have suspected your sincerity and concentration!) After my marriage my attitude did not change and my hubby’s was not different from mine. The arrival of our first baby in the second year of our wedding served as an excuse to insistent friends to skip the New Year Eve dance at the Officer’s Institute in the campus as our priority was our child and a couple of years later – our children! 

With television invading our homes, thanks to DD, we’d sit up and watch the New Year programs meticulously conceived and presented. A couple of years later Zee TV reached our drawing rooms as also color TV and we were more than happy to lap up the colorful presentations – a feast to the eyes and ears. Soon with more and more channels entering the fray, we were left switching channels and loyalties every 5-10 minutes for a number of reasons trying to have the best bites of every spread. The thrill waned in a few years as programs became lackluster. Or perhaps we got sick of the same stuff over and over again. Still, we’d keep channel-surfing till midnight, greet one another in the building and retire to bed cursing ourselves for having lost our sleep over such insipid and inane programs and swearing to have better sense next year. The process would be repeated the following year with expectation and hope of better programs. Soon even some channels started resorting to movies. With already an overdose of movies on the plethora of channels, we have become satiated. So before long, we started hitting off to bed at the usual 10 pm slot and chose to welcome the New Year early next morning after a rejuvenating sleep.

With advancement, western influence and the resultant change in attitudes, people are not holding their purse strings tight but love to binge. No wonder young couples no longer have qualms of drowning a cool 6000 to 10,000 rupees - if not more - on the New Year bash offering unlimited booze, eats, DJ and live shows, fireworks, poolside shows and what not! With a Mallika Sherawat charging a hot 4 lakhs per stage minute, what else do you expect? Shrewd organizers throw in the added attraction of special Kid’s Zone so couples don’t have guilt pangs about their kids. Some even promise chauffeurs to drive you home to prevent drunken driving – a case of pinching the baby and swinging the cradle?! Some resorts have a special scheme up their sleeve to squeeze more out of your purse – they dangle the carrot of special lazy brunch on New Year – at extra price, of course! Money has lost its value – middle-class mentality of saving for the rainy day is on its way out - but not fully for old-timers like us. Also it is a question of what is enjoyment to us – one person’s heaven is another’s hell! After the bombardment of songs on FM radios and same songs on television, grooving / listening to the same songs at full blast live is not our cup of ice cream. Again unlimited spread doesn’t beckon us any more as we eat limited quantity to be benign to our belly. Nor do we drink!

Now we find our young and not-so-young neighbours animatedly analyzing the various hotspots and happening places in the city. As they plan for the New Year Eve bash at hotels / resorts, they politely invite us also to join in and we politely decline. Such bash is not for teetotalers, vegetarians and senior citizens – and we are in the bracket of the combination of all! We are planning a modest get-together of like-minded friends and ring in the New Year with a little fun and frolic and food!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

INDIAN COOKING IN THE U.S .....


Hubby and I felt proud about our packing – we had definitely made a great progress over the decade - we couldn’t believe that each of us were carrying one whole baggage less than that allowed by international flights! Well, this was our eighth trip to the US and we had graduated from luggage-chugging passengers to luggage-savvy world travelers!

I remember the first time – way back in 2000 – when both my boys were students – we were on an 80-day visit. In addition to two pieces of carry-ons each, we had lugged along two suitcases each – no, not those monstrous sized ones – as both my hubby and me are petite-sized and were inching towards 60 and 50 respectively and could not vainly boast of enough muscle power to lift heavy stuff off the conveyor belts. And guess what? Two of them were stacked with eats, masalas and papads and ready-to-cook and instant foods and snacks galore – well, I wished to help my poor student-sons save a few dollars of their fellowship! But while we were filling up our Customs Declaration form aboard the flight we claimed we weren’t carrying foodstuff as we felt every question should expectedly be answered with a ‘No’. Luckily our lie went undetected or so it seemed - you see our baggage could not make it to the connecting flight unlike us and so we didn’t have to get them through Customs. ‘They’ bravely made it on their own and we don’t know what examinations they had undergone. But next time onwards we had become enlightened and would carefully tick ‘Food’ as ‘Yes’ and added a phrase of explanation - “dry, sealed, packed snacks”. Promptly enough our baggage would go through screening and we had to answer a couple of questions. Once the officials made us open one of our boxes and in particular a stainless steel container tucked inside while we were left wondering what they wanted to find out. On opening it, they saw the round ‘besan laddoos’ and asked us what they were. When we explained that they were sweets, they gave one another meaningful glances and burst out laughing. Putting two and two together, we guessed that from the x-ray, they must have suspected they were bombs!

Okay getting back to the 2000 visit, when we drove down to our son’s student-apartment in the university campus and opened the bags of goodies, my son and his Indian room-mate had a go at the snacks from day one.( I quickly tucked away a part of it – saving it for my elder son who was visiting next week). After the four English meals aboard the British Airways flights, we were eager to savor some Indian stuff. On examining the fridge I saw a bunch of giant tomatoes and a giant onion – that was all the vegetables in there. I made a quick tomato curry out of that and was nauseated at the thought of having it with bread (oh no, not again) when my son came to the rescue and proclaimed that they had Tortillas. “What?” “Tortillas – chapathi-like....” he started explaining. Like a famished kid, I grabbed them, heated them and relished them – anything close to chapathi tasted so divine. But if you ask me now, I’d say it’s a poor cousin of Indian rotis – at least to my ‘Indian’ palate!

I managed with all the ready-to-make eats I had lugged along and we pulled on till the weekend. Then my son took us grocery shopping to the Indian store. Prior to that, he had also given me a list of ‘to-make’ dishes/ delicacies. So I had a long grocery list. I was aghast to find that they sold stuff in giant packets – all pulses were sold in 2lb / 4 lb packs! That’s pardonable but imagine 400 gms of coriander powder/ garam masala – wouldn’t they lose their flavour during the limited use in the Indian homes there tending towards Western cooking? Or for that matter in the apartments of youths who give a once-in-a-week shot at cooking? I couldn’t bring myself to buy a 400 gm packet of mustard seeds for some 3.69$! “What? Rs.180 worth of mustard seeds? I wouldn’t have spent that much money on mustard seeds in an entire year’s cooking in India!”. “Cool it, mom. Need it? Buy it!” pacified my son. I regretted at not having got a 100 gm of mustard seeds from India. May be a 100 gms of cumin seeds too and ….well the list extended …jaggery – it cost more than 4$ for 2 lbs – tut, tut, too bad – I should have packed a kg and saved…When I voiced my thoughts to my son, to my horror, he seemed amused. He went on to explain - “Well, mom, if you convert the $ value into rupees, you will end up buying nothing at all. When I spend my dollars, we have to multiply by 10 if you want to know the equivalent in Indian currency.” “Pray, how’s that?” I asked totally baffled. He patiently explained – “You see, it’s like this – how much do I get as fellowship? 1500 $ per month, right? Well, I can live the life of a fresh-on-the-job-in-India youth – whose first pay check would be something like Rs15000 (in 1998). So my 1 dollar is equivalent to Rs 10. So that’s the equation – but if you are spending your dollar, it is equivalent to Rs.49, got it?” Okay, so that would not be as bad as I had thought. So jaggery would cost a little more than Rs 40/ kg – fine – but I couldn’t condone the fact that we had to buy a 400 gm pack of mustard seeds or a 4 lb pack of sooji – forget the price - I'd be cooking there just for a couple of months!

With the fridge and pantry well-stocked for a fortnight, I plunged into full-fledged cooking. I discovered that making chana didn’t involve a one-day-in-advance planning – I mean beginning with soaking of the chana the previous night. And I didn’t have to pressure-cook it for 24 minutes. All I had to do was make the gravy, open a couple of ‘chick peas’ cans, drain the water, wash it well and add to the gravy and let it simmer and lo, chana was ready! What a saving of cooking time! And when I’m on this factor of time-saving-and-utensil-saving-dish-washing-saving aspect of American way of life, I’d like to add the daily savings – we don’t have to boil milk, we don’t have to prepare curd, we don’t have to make chapathis – we just buy them all. If we don’t have time to cook, well, there are ready-to-eat MTR/ Gits packs to make instant dishes. 

Grocery shopping in the US is a weekly affair and we need a car to cart home the groceries – including milk, juices, buttermilk/yogurt, flavored milk, ….and fruits and vegetables and bread and eggs, ice creams, and other dairy products. It’s not like going for an evening walk and getting stuff on our return. Oh yes, if we have a nearby shop, we could walk up and get one or two absolutely essential items. Too many are ruled out because we can’t carry the giant sized ones.

Another thing is, I have never ‘paid’ for green chillies/ coriander/ curry leaves in India – I have evolved my own strategy by which my friendly vegetable vendor more than gladly obliges me with a handful of green chillies/ a quarter bunch of coriander leaves/ a two-inch-ginger piece/ half a dozen stalks of curry leaves. We are no big users of these spices, so the magnanimous ‘bonus’ would suffice for my cooking. But when I went to get vegetables in the US, I had half a mind to tuck in five green chillies along with some vegetable in the polythene bag, but my son told me that I use a separate bag for my ten chillies. I was surprised to see them getting weighed and charged some 15 cents. That’s one thing in the US – they will neither forego nor keep back the smallest cent! 

With subsequent visits to the US there were changes in our outlook and attitude. The boys had settled down in their jobs and I (it was never them) didn’t need to be very calculative! So whatever stuff was available in the Indian stores there (and that was a pretty lot) were eliminated from my list of ‘to-take-to-the-US’ list. Every subsequent trip saw us travelling lighter and lighter… Also the variety of vegetables stocked in Indian stores these days leave no cause of complaint or yearning – the frozen section has cut ‘tondli’, drumstick, ‘methi’, samosas, burgers and many more….. There are fresh chapathis and assorted parathas as well as idli/dosa batter and all leading brands of Indian sweets and snacks – you name it and they have it – to satisfy our craving for Indian food. At Trader Joe’s, we even found packaged Masala Dosa on the counter!

Well, all said and done, every time we return home after a six-month-stint in the US, I do go berserk when I go marketing and bring home a car-load – so irresistible is the spread of tender, fresh, modest-sized, and tasty Indian vegetables which seem so low-priced in comparison to the $ rates!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.



Teenage years ....

Teenagers – the most exciting and excited set of youngsters – bubbling with the effervescence of life. The popular notion is that they are tough to handle as they consider that they are grown-up while the elders do not! The elders claim that this is the toughest period of life while teenagers feel it is this self-proclaimed ‘well-meaning’ advisory committee that makes it so. Looking back through the decades, the common factor in the teenagers of different periods is the sudden surge of excitement and thrill of independence and the resultant feeling of assertiveness bordering on rebellion. Only the levels were different, so too the societal norms.
I have this good family friend of mine who’s known to me for more than three decades. A typical middle class family of urban India – they can easily be representatives of their generations – I present them as the mouthpieces to project the teenagers of their times? Let’s hear straight from the horse’s mouth.
Lakshmi – teenager of the early 70s
“My teenage years? Were they turbulent? I don’t think so; nor was it for most of my generation.
Parents had the last word and we didn’t feel the urge to argue – but my brother did - at times. Guess it was true of all the boys. Mom was a housewife and so she was always there for us. I have two siblings – a brother and a sister – we shared a room and our possessions. We shared our joy, our little secrets and our worries. Each of us being two years apart, we formed an excellent support system for one another.
Hm… what was our routine like? Early morning saw us rush through our rituals to be in college on time. Classes were demanding but had an element of fun too. After enthusiastic interaction with friends throughout the day, we’d get to speak to our friends only the next morning – not that we missed anything! After returning home and freshening up, we girls would spend time at home while my brother would zoom off on his bicycle for an outing with friends. Tuitions? That was for the ones who had to struggle even to pass!! We’d enjoy humming while listening to film songs on Radio Ceylon / Vividh Bharati / local radio station on our transistor. Then an hour or two of studies. Then all of us would sit down to enjoy dinner, exchanging the anecdotes of the day and then retire for the night. We’d have family outings on Sundays – an evening at the beach or park or a shopping spree or an occasional movie. Only once have I gone for a movie with my friends – all girls, mind you. That was after our SSLC exams. All the moms insisted we go for the matinee show and we girls had no option. We compromised on the theatre to save for snacks and returned home with a splitting headache after 3 hours in the non-A/C theatre. Four years later, when my bro had come down on summer vacation, both of us planned a movie programme but mom vetoed it. Her argument was that seeing us together, strangers / acquaintances who were not familiar with my brother (he was in hostel in another city) would have a misconception about our relationship. Such were the times. Teenage girls rarely spoke to boys – if they could help it… 
That being the case, need I specify that I went to a girls’ college? College was fun – yes, even then…. We had our fair share of giggles and groans and snores and pranks at the expense of gullible / inexperienced teachers. But everything was definitely in moderation and never affected the teaching schedule. But my brother would regale us with tales of classroom ‘hungama’ – echoing with continuous chants, catcalls and whistles drowning the novice-teacher’s brave bellows in retaliation! Boys wore bell-bottoms and sported side burns and aped the mannerisms of the chocolate heroes of the silver screen. 
Western outfits were very uncommon among girls - stuck to traditional clothes – half-sari if we were in South India and salwar-kameez if in the North. But we’d imitate hairstyles and trends of the most popular screen goddesses. I still remember we all combed our hair in such a fashion that covered the top half of our ears – my mom would object and I’d pay a deaf ear! That was rebellion, if you please! 
I was one of the toppers in college but as I hailed from a conservative family which believed in marrying off the daughter after graduation, I didn’t join a professional course but opted for B.Sc. – like so many of the girls. But since the town had only a coed college, we had no choice! Girls formed a very small percentage of the college population – after having been the cynosure of my teachers in a girls’ college earlier, I found here that the girls were being sidelined by the young professors – for whatever reasons! And we girls always moved in a group and kept the boys at bay – we would even commute by the first ‘girls only’ trip of the college bus to escape boys’ riddling stares and wagging tongues. We would exchange notes about studies with a couple of studious boys. That was it. The campus would come abuzz only during recess. As for the rest of the time, every one of us would be cooped up in classrooms. Library? It was mostly for issue of books and not a set of cozy corners for chit-chat – definitely with no real scenes like the cute reel scenes of the film ‘Bobby’. I can only remember one Romeo-Juliet love story blossoming in our campus in my three years there ….."

Preeti – teenager of the early 90s
"Hi! I’m Preeti. Lakshmi is my mom. I was born when she was 22; my brother two years later. Mom took up a job only after we had become sort of independent – that was when I was nine. And she’d be home by the time we were and so we never missed her. Some of our friends also had working moms and most of the households had two children.
My parents were still the conservative lot and sent my bro and me to convent schools located adjacent to each other. We commuted by the same public transport and mingled with all. We carried an emergency fund of some thirty rupees – just for emergency. A couple of our friends would show up on scooters on rare occasions and my brother had even sneaked a pillion-ride only to be severely reprimanded when discovered. Parents generally never allowed their teenage children ride scooters – they expected them to wait till they turned 18 and were eligible for license. Both of us had bicycles – we’d go our separate ways to meet some friend on some specific purpose if needed. Otherwise we did our own stuff – bro would be out playing cricket with friends or simply hanging out with them. I would catch up with the girls around. Cable TV had invaded our drawing rooms. Both of us would have a tussle for the remote – he would root for Star Sports / MTV and I for the sitcoms. It would be resolved when Dad took control of the remote! Otherwise our schedule was somewhat like mom’s in the 60’s & 70’s – an occasional movie with family / friends. I’d rarely call up friends as there was no need to and anyway very few had telephones. But we could if we needed – as every street had PCOs. 
Though both my parents were working, they still stuck to middle class mentality. Both of us siblings planned to go in for engineering and that might have been the reason for their caution and thrift. We would demand Archie’s Digest / Hardy Boys whenever we passed by any bookstore. Parents knew when to draw the line and sideline our request. I still remember how we treasured our books – ironing out the creases and dog-ears. My brother was fiercely possessive of his ‘Hot Wheels’ collection even as a teenager and never allowed any visiting kid handle them!
We had our share of fun in college – we’d even bunk a boring lecture now and then and trot to the nearby restaurant in a group for a snack and discussion – on studies, of course, what did you expect? Most of us were focussed – coaching classes had sprouted and many made a beeline to them for improving their scores in SSC and HSC. Very few like us stayed away from the temptation of following the crowd. But then we too ended up for the Test series for more practice. A few of my friends who had opted for the Commerce / Arts stream took up part- time jobs and started earning while learning. But the rush was for Engineering and Medical professions. Were teenage years stressful? Definitely – for the competitive ones! The studious ones were stressed - to get into premier institutes for higher studies, the hardworking ones – to make the cut to professional colleges and the rest – to postpone career options till after a basic degree….."

Aditya – teenager of the last decade
"I’m Aditya. Preeti is my mom and Sanjay my dad. Both of them are IT professionals. You see ours is a ‘DIOK’ family – like so many around. Yes, you’ve guessed it – ‘Double Income One Kid’ family. Though I have working parents, I do get to spend quality time with them. Do I miss a sibling? Not at all! I am the nucleus of the family and everyone revolves round me. Don’t I enjoy all the attention I get! On some weekends the three of us take off on long drives or to some resort at times to unwind ourselves. Otherwise I hang out with my friends while mom and dad are busy with their profession and social life. We believe in respecting our privacy and giving space to one another!
Of course I have an excellent support system in my friends too – and they are just a call away. I can bank on them to rally round me whenever I want. In fact we are together most of our waking hours – at college, then at the coaching classes, at one another’s homes – for combined study and discussions as most of us have very busy parents. Some of my friends are from broken homes; it’s really hard for them. My parents also let me have fun with my friends – we go trekking or biking or simply end up making a round of the hot spots in town or hip hop places or chilling at the malls or movies or pizza places.
Mom and Dad are very understanding – they know that times are changing and the world is not the same as before. My uncle who noticed that I go in only for branded stuff was quick to mention that he got his first Reebok for his graduation! I am lucky to possess an expensive cell phone and a resplendent bike – to keep in touch and to save time. And whenever I step out of the house I carry at least five hundred rupees if not my credit card – for emergency. Don’t you agree all this is perfectly justified – in the current scenario? But no, my grandma would raise hell about these issues whenever she is around. She’d accuse mom of spoiling me silly and giving me excessive freedom. I don’t blame her – generation gap, you see - but she simply won’t understand. Mom simply lets the storm in the teacup subside on its own. Another thing - I also give lift to my friends Sheela and Ann and Hasina … – we don’t see anything wrong with that. But I tell you, grandma would riddle me with her bullet-stares but I wouldn’t be affected in the least! Don’t I give rides to Alok and Rohit as well? Move on Grandma, times have changed!
If we friends have to move around it has to be on our own vehicle – even girls zoom around on two-wheelers cooing, “Why should boys have all the fun?” Quite right. And they dress up in jeans and top – the most convenient outfit to zip-zap-zoom! We boys on our part love to sport different hair styles and tattoo and ear rings, chains and bracelets. All campuses are abuzz with girls and boys - there’s no distinction – all of us are just students. Many of us are gizmo-geeks – while jogging we’re wired to our iPods. While waiting or even riding anywhere, we’re busy texting or talking on our cell phones. Our backpacks carry our laptops – needed for presentations and assignments. A few lucky ones keep downloading apps on our iPads. And some of us have the ‘Kindle’ for instant access to books/ journals. See we have everything at our finger tips – thanks to internet! We go to college of course – a lot of crowd is outside the classrooms. And we do gain a lot from the animated discussions with our friends. The craze is still for professional colleges – for Engineering and Medicine. Till we land up there, life is a never-ending whirlwind of school/college and tuitions/coaching classes. New fields are opening up and attracting students; fees are skyrocketing. But trust our parents to provide us with the best they can! Things have become highly competitive but all those who can afford, can still make it to the course of their choice. Some who don’t have the inclination or funds, opt for Commerce / Arts stream and they wisely take up Call Centre jobs and get training and a decent pay packet – even as they are swift in adapting themselves to the Western influence. Levi’s, Nike, cell phone, iPod, Blackberry … are symbols of the modern teenager’s status. 
Oh yes, in spite of being so very hectic, life is more than thrilling for today’s teenager!"
 
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Friday, December 16, 2011

TALK (OF) THE WALK - 2

Read the piece 'Talk of the Walk' - 1? Now cut to a scene six months later – this time it’s a different place! No prizes for guessing the place!!

We get out of our housing society gate at the crack of dawn for our usual walk. “Which direction?” asks hubby. “Hm.. let me think … If we go right, we have the overflowing garbage bin raising a stink. If we go left we have to put up with the dug-up road.” It is like Scylla and Charybdis – we choose the former! Obviously it turns out to be the wrong choice. We have to hold our breath (pun intended) for a long stretch strewn with plastic bags and rotting peels and eggshells and what not - the huge garbage bin has done the vanishing act - again! The quadrupeds are having a field day as they excitedly vie with humans to extricate some redeemable stuff from the rotting pile! As it is we have to walk with eyes down to avoid stepping on spit and poop of dogs/ cows/ goats ….; at the same time, we should not swerve to the left or right otherwise the vehicle following us almost kissing our heels will knock us down. We need to look straight ahead too to be vigilant about the oncoming traffic. To make matters worse, there is a lot of traffic in this route due to the road repair in the other direction and we have to hop, skip and jump to avoid being run over by cars and scooters and cycles, not to forget the menacingly growling monstrous trucks! Some rash drivers honk so loudly in our ears or brush past us so dangerously close that they make us jump out of our skins. And those self-proclaimed lords of the roads zoom past us poor pedestrians with a proud smile of superiority playing on their lips and their puffed nose up in the air!

Some early morning walkers come armed with a walking stick (though they are not that old) or with a ‘lathi’ (though they are not from the police force or armed forces) or with an umbrella (though there is no sign of rain or sun). The reason? To keep stray dogs at bay! Usually there are at least half a dozen of them – at times calmly moving together, at other times chasing one another sometimes playfully and sometimes menacingly. Either way, we have to play safe you see! Some people even come armed with stones in self defence but there are a few others who come with bread and biscuits to feed them! The number of dog-walkers is also increasing – most of them have their dog on leash. Some others do not – and if the animal comes barging at us, they’ll grin unapologetically and assure us that ‘he’ doesn’t bite. But what’s the guarantee?

For a good brisk walk, it is best to get to the jogging track to escape the traffic and pollution. Many others think so too and make it a habit. So half the people there we know by face and at times acknowledge with a smile. The remaining are friends or acquaintances – with the former, we spend some minutes catching up with news about families and friends or indulging in harmless gossip; with the latter, we exchange pleasantries. So our walks are in a sense a part of our social life!

On the ground adjacent to the jogging track, we can watch local cricket matches – yes matches – sometimes two or even three going on simultaneously – nicely adjusted so that there is least intermingling of players and balls! And there are spectators to cheer them up! We too spend some exciting moments watching the game – it is at times more thrilling and lively than the matches on TV. But we move on soon – we have to – with our hand covering our nose and mouth - the dust hanging in the air is suffocating. There is also the danger of getting slammed by the ball! 

The primary purpose of our walk is maintaining good health – of course we feel we are benefited – marginally at least – if we schedule the walk well - at minimum pollution level! There is a secondary purpose too – buying essentials (newspaper / milk / bread in the morning or vegetables / fruits in the evening) from the numerous shops lining the roads or from the vendors dotting the street corners! There may not be expansive greenery or an array of attractive gardens to catch our eye but there is enough variety of stuff stacked in the little shops around craving for our glances! And for our purses too – this means we can’t dream of stepping out for a walk without our purse!

As we enter home we thank our stars that our walk has been accomplished for the day – with our body parts intact!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

TALK (OF) THE WALK - 1

We embark on our routine hour-long walk at day break. Only this time it is in the US.
We are out of home by 6 am. “Right or left?” hubby asks. “Any,” I say and turn right. Hearing my answer he turns left! We turn back, laugh and choose one direction. Not that it matters. Really! Very few ‘walkers’ are around. It is a pleasure to walk along the walkways – neatly paved, clean and safe. Luminous green lines at some points catch our attention – on scrutiny, we realize that is to warn pedestrians about the uneven spots on the walkway (may be due to protruding roots of a tree) so that they don’t trip over - day or night. 

The landscaped gardens of the houses lining both sides of the streets lay out a feast for our eyes – as we walk, we savor the neatly mowed green lawns, with glistening droplets fresh from the sprinklers, colorful flowers, trimmed shrubs, loaded apple / pear trees, grape vines... It is really admirable that not even kids ever entertain thoughts of plucking the pretty flowers or juicy fruits. It is tough even for us to resist the temptation! We restrict our interest to sizing them up as we take a walk along the same neighborhood once a week. Well, the front yard of most houses has a soccer ball or bike or toys lying around – reminders of the kids’ activities of the previous day. Not to worry – no one dares to lay hands on them. They’ll wait for the kids to retrieve them.
I remember the host of golden sunflowers, ‘tossing their heads in a sprightly dance’ in a patch close to a trail. It is no man’s land - the withered grass around is enough testimony; these sunflowers are the last of the survivors. I go armed with scissors early next morning to snip the flowers and bring them home to adorn our vase. The expression of my family and the court martial about the location of the flowers are pointers of disapproval! What is admirable is that out there, no one covets what is not theirs!

We never come across a coke can or plastic bottle or a carry bag tossed on to the road! On the weekly garbage day, the huge green plastic bins (for recyclable trash) and blue ones (for regular trash) are lined in front of the houses all along the road. Huge dump trucks come in the morning to collect the garbage separately - mechanically raising and tipping each bin into it to empty them. But what is noteworthy is that the bins never raise a stink in spite of holding the whole week’s trash! In fact we find a portable restroom at a construction site and choose to walk as far away from it in a bid to escape the expected obnoxious odor. We sniff with apprehension and are pleasantly surprised to smell nothing! How nice! 

A few cars slowly drive past us in the residential areas as people start trickling out for work. Whenever we have to cross a street, by habit we watch out for cars. But we don’t really need to as they have the stop sign to honor and honor they will - be it night or day, small street or main road! Even if we choose to give them way and halt, they give us a royal treatment and wave us to go on. Out there, pedestrians have the right of the road!

When we are on the main roads we notice interesting signs, “Road work ahead – Business accesses open” or “Road closed – 10 July – 1 Aug” (so the regular users can choose alternate routes) or “Be prepared to stop. Road work ahead.” (so caring)! The warnings help drivers plan their route to reach their destination in time – no wonder they can predict driving times to the T! While walking on the main roads we can’t dream of crossing anywhere we feel like – no sir, we will be penalized for jay walking! What with the stream of speeding cars, it is just unthinkable – if we really value our life! So we have no option but to walk up to the junction with the traffic lights, press the button for pedestrian crossing signal and await our ‘walk’ signal. So normally we stick to the neighborhoods that don’t require us to cross main roads. 

We encounter very few joggers on the way – most of them with ear plugs, iPod and a bottle of water. They greet us with a ‘hi’ and a smile though we are total strangers. Sometimes we even exchange one-liners on the weather! Then there are those regular dog-walkers armed with a plastic bag to scoop the poop of their pet! Before we try to step out of the walkway to get out of the way of the canines, they step out of our path. Not that we have to worry – the dogs are always on leash and generally well behaved. There are occasions when we have some dog barking his head off in his enclosed backyard as we pass a house. I also remember a dog once rushing out of the yard barking aloud. We freeze – but only for a moment – the lady of the house comes chasing and chastising the dog and profusely apologizing to us and takes him in much to our relief…..

We return home after a refreshing and aesthetically rewarding walk which makes us feel good!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.



The Dirty Picture - again

‘The Dirty Picture’ is not (so) dirty despite its title! 

Thank Director Milan Luthria and leading lady Vidya Balan for that! Director Milan Luthria exudes class in piecing up catchy, racy, sensuous and mind-blowing scenes – so the movie doesn’t end up being crass. The story is nothing new but the treatment is! Vidya manages to ooze sexuality and oomph without being vulgar! Her confident, convincing, unapologetic and ‘bindaas’ portrayal of the sensuous and sexy Silk and the dhamakedar dialogue delivery contribute to her stellar performance – she’ll top the charts on all awards lists! She begins with her naughty ‘ah, hm, ah ..’ background score to the couple behind the curtain, then progresses to sexy gyrations in her first film shot and bolder moves on and off screen to climb the ladder of success! 

The dialogues are superlative – sharpen your ears or else you will miss the tangy, raunchy ‘pataaka’ of repartees. When her first director gives her the name ‘Silk’, she acknowledges her ‘creator’ by christening him ‘Keeda’Das. Silk claims with élan that she is used as a boarding pass for a movie’s ‘take-off! She has no qualms calling herself a ‘marinated murgi’. Doesn’t she tug at our hearts when she says “touch toh bahuto ne kiya par chua kisi ne nahi”? There is so much horse power in her lines!
Though the story line is thin, the scenes are so well conceived that they explode in quick succession like serial bomb blasts knocking off the audience! The steamy filmy ‘Silk’ scenes and (s)explosive dialogues – to the accompaniment of ‘adradra naakkumukke’ elicit ‘seetis’ and ‘taalis’. May be a few ‘gaalis’ from some prudes – may be? Cinematography is sensuous (the camera makes love to the sexy Vidya with aplomb – especially in the faked orgasm scene) and visually breathtaking (Vidya-Emraan song). The hilarious ‘ooh la la’ which is a take-off on ‘Himmatwala’ / ‘Tohfa’ dances is racing to the top of the charts. As film buffs are indulging in speculations about the real-life persons superbly portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi and Tusshaar Kapoor, the producers and director of this movie are deservedly enjoying its success at the box office. 

Full marks for this clean dirty picture which is definitely a crowd-puller!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.



THE DIRTY PICTURE

‘The Dirty Picture’ has the three ingredients defined by the protagonist for a film’s success – entertainment3. Three cheers! 

The first thumbs-up is for Vidya Balan who wows the audience with her uninhibited, stellar performance and is all set for a clean sweep at all the awards this year. She exudes confidence along with unapologetic, stylishly-classy-sexuality as she convincingly portrays the various shades of the bold and brazen country belle with no claims to sophistication. And if we still love the character, it’s because of Vidya’s adaas, and firecracker dialogue delivery! Starting as an ‘extra’, she manages to gain a foothold as a steamy vamp after she ‘tunes’ the aging (?) super hero Surya (Naseeruddin Shah). She even throws the gauntlet at him as she sees the crowds thronging the theatres only for her sleazy dances and realizes that she’s stolen the thunder from the superstar. She becomes unstoppable and ambitious. Before he dumps her, she latches herself on to his younger brother Ramakant (Tusshar Kapoor), takes ‘panga’ with film critic and columnist Nyla (Anju Mahendru) and finds ecstasy in bagging a double whammy as she spoils Nyla’s party just as Surya lands up - with her outrageous ‘come-hither’ gyrations to the thronging crowd on the street. Her saucy speech at the awards function smacks of arrogance and comes as a tight slap on the faces of the self-righteous audience attending the function. Thereafter it is downhill for Silk – but she refuses to be cowed down. Ironically it is Abraham (Emraan Hashmi) - who had cold shouldered her all along - who offers his shoulder for support when she is deserted by the coterie! The firebrand Silk who has been riding the crest refuses to change with the times – she prides on the fact, “main Silk hu, koi film nahin ki interval ke baad badal jaaoon”. The inevitable happens.

The second applause is for the witty, taut, raunchy dialogues – don’t miss the spicy and saucy volley of repartees! Surya calls her ‘raaton ki raaz ho jo din mein koi nahi kholta’. She mischievously teases Ramakant when he wants her to be prim-n-proper in front of ‘appa’ – “Appa ki umra kya hogi? Vaise mein tumhare family ke mardon ke saath ‘hit’ hoon”. When Abraham tells her she’ll burn in hell, she outwits him by saying, “tu use bonfire samjh ke haath sek lena”. We agree with Tusshaar when he tells her, “Battery nahin, transformer ho”!

The third kudos is for Director Milan Luthria for projecting sexy Vidya Balan with élan and not showcasing her as a mere voluptuous sex bomb. The director makes up for the thin story line by piling up mind-boggling scenes like building blocks to project the visual treat! The screenplay is simply superb! In this heroine-centred film it is Vidya all the way; Tusshaar, Emraan, even Naseeruddin Shah are all props – of course effective in their roles. Cinematography deserves special mention – the Vidya – Emraan song tends to retard the film’s pace but the breath-taking visuals more than compensate. ‘Ooh la la’ song is a riot – a parody of producer Ekta Kapoor’s Dad’s (Jeetendra) dance songs – complete with colour powders and pots and buxom belles! The makers of this movie have struck gold – very deservedly!

Are some seniors shying away from the movie? No need - in spite of its title, it is far from dirty!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


A Discussion on Amy Chua's 'TIGER MOM'

A dialogue with hubby after reading the bestseller ‘THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOM’ by Amy Chua.

Me - I started reading Amy Chua’s much-talked about “The battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” with the pre-set mind that I am not a Tiger Mom and I never want to be one. And my, my, wasn’t I proved right?! Can’t imagine that a mother could go to such heights!

Hubby - You mean depths?

Me - Yeah! Again if I were Amy, I would never expose myself in such a negative light!

Hubby - My question is how did the girls agree to this autobiographical book?

Oh, Amy mentions to seven year old Lulu, she’d put down in her record file, every word and gesture of their love-hate relationship and she’s okay with it – as long as the ‘love’ part gets mentioned!

I do hope the two girls carve a niche for themselves in the world of music after all the efforts of the Tiger Mom and all the publicity and audience-expectations through this bestseller!

The very fact that this book is about Chinese parenting versus Western parenting made me sit up. Firstly as a parent. Secondly as an Indian – curious to know how close our way of parenting is to the Chinese model! And also because I think we Indians come close on the heels of the Chinese with respect to academics / arts. Surprisingly, the Chinese too still persist on rote learning, drills and practice. “Children in China practice 10 hours a day”. Can you believe it?

Don’t they top the medals tally at all the Games all the time? And aren’t they top scorers in academics too? I’m proud that Indians come a close second in academics – and that’s because most urban Indians still attach almost exclusive importance to education.

I remember my dad telling me, “Check your answers at least twice after completing the examination. And don’t forget to solve extra problems if you have the time” – Amy says something similar.

And my grandpa’s wisecrack was, “Never say ‘I thought so’ and ‘I did not think so’ about any question - always think right!”

The middle class Indians’ stress on education is remarkable as it is the trump card to a successful career. That explains the mad scramble for coaching classes to make the cut to the premier institutions!

But I think it seems nothing compared to the Chinese mentality!

That’s what we gather from the book! However India also has some interesting stories of grit and sacrifice and total involvement of parents in their children’s achievements. Like the dedication of Margaret Amritraj in shaping her boys into tennis aces!

Or for that matter Hema Malini’s Amma or Sridevi’s mother who paved the path for their daughters’ star status!

Remember Amy chooses the piano for Sophia and the violin for Lulu – so there would be no competition at home! But we in India are famous for the dancing duos and singing siblings and all is well! May be we are generous and feel there is room for all!

Ah, that brings me to another point – sibling rivalry. You’d think Amy is trying to avoid sibling rivalry through her choice of instruments for the girls. But she’s always comparing them – with the excuse that she is only expressing her confidence in the skills of the ‘underdog’! We’d never indulge in that as we still believe it will undermine the child’s psyche.

I fully agree. But like the Chinese, we Indians also believe in the notion that parents know best what’s good for their kids. Yes, parents have dreams for their kids – a doctor wants his child to be a doctor and an engineer likewise. Some parents lay down the law at home. But most Indians these days are not as rigid as the Chinese.

Nor are we as flexible and easy-on-the-kids as the ‘Westerners’ who, right from toddler years give the kids independence. Like, “Which outfit would Jack like to wear today?” And the two year old would pick up a shorts and a short-sleeved shirt on a cold day. I’d opt for the Indian way any day – parents choose what’s best for the kids in the early years till they imbibe the expected code. Of course they have the liberty to modify them to suit their attitude when they grow up. Or if parents really want to be broad-minded, they can give them a set of options to choose from – which is nothing but guided independence!

Doesn’t Amy’s dad remind us of the typical Indian father? He tells Amy, “You will marry a non-Chinese over my dead body.”

A line straight out of a typical Indian movie!

And “with the passage of time he and Jed became the best of friends” – again not a surprise to us Indians!

As Amy mentions, Asian mothers are considered “scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests”. Actually they are willing to sacrifice much more to prepare them for the future, “arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” And in return they have expectations of gratitude.

I should say Indian mothers too are the architects of their children’s lives. And they are overbearing and dominating even after the kids are grown-up and settled – resulting in a tug-of-war with their daughters-in-law!

And in extreme cases – torture and dowry deaths!

Parents pay for the education throughout and some of them entertain expectations of gratitude in return! But such expectations will tarnish the bond, won’t they? A case of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’?!

True! Amy mentions about planning to have her parents move in with them when they become old and dependent. She also takes in Jed’s mom when she’s sick. The same holds true in the Indian household.

The big difference is - only the husband’s parents get the honors!

No lady, not anymore! Times are changing – with some having only daughters and with the fair sex taking up jobs, both sets of parents have started getting equal treatment.

I agree. The mid portion of the book has interesting tidbits about the extent to which an ambitious mother can go.

The threat of donating Lulu’s doll house to the Salvation Army, of no birthdays the next year and the year after… !

And horror of horrors – during a grueling practice session, not letting “Lulu get up, not for water, not even to the bathroom.” And we hate Amy for that – just like Lulu! Suddenly Lulu ‘did it’ – she beams, “Mommy look – it’s so easy!” And for a moment we admire Amy’s unstinting drive! But I can’t and won’t ever be her! Unlike her, I’ll never be ‘happy to be the one hated’! No way!!

You have to hand it to Amy – for her indomitable enthusiasm and resourcefulness in finding a piano and getting Sophia to practice it - whether they are vacationing in Chicago/London/Belgium….even India!

What a torture for Jed and the kids - not to mention her parents – to go through practice sessions even during the few days of outing! We should give full credit to them for their tolerance!

I don’t understand how the otherwise logical Amy is blind to the sacrifices the family makes to accommodate her idiosyncrasies!

She considers childhood as a training period. And with a vehement passion, she keeps relentlessly pursuing the music lessons of each of the girls – first Sophia’s preparation to get to Carnegie Hall, immediately followed by Lulu’s audition for the Pre-College program at Juilliard School in NY… As she admits, “there was no rest for the Chinese mother”.

Add to it Lulu’s food poisoning in between…..

Another episode – driving nine hours to NY and returning the same day for Sophia’s Computer Class beginning the next day. That too along with Sophia with her broken foot and pet dog Coco crammed in their car. Also paying for the teacher and her boyfriend by the hour to accompany them in a separate car – spending some 3000$ - for Lulu to perform in front of the famous Mrs. Vamos!

And the unbelievably expensive violin she buys for Lulu! Jed is aghast at their fast depleting finances. Amy coolly tells him her plan of cashing her pension funds. So obsessed is she with her daughters’ music! Just unbelievable!

I wonder whether her girls will pursue music as their profession after all the relentless endeavors of the mom. I’m just reminded about our sons’ admirable writing skills – witty humor oozing out of their pens!


I should admit our attempts to promote them were very mediocre!

Hmmm. But we did encourage them to write - they even ended up writing stories and cartoons during their school days – I still have the manuscripts!

If you were Amy, they’d have published a dozen books as teenagers!

I admit I don’t have the Amy-drive in me! Still my only regret is they don’t dabble in creative writing any more though they still have their wit and humor intact.

You can’t blame them …

I know I can’t … What I’m driving at is that even with the least of our efforts to promote our sons’ writing skills, I feel bad when they are not pursuing them. I shudder to imagine Amy’s reaction if the girls turn their backs on music or even give it step motherly treatment when they settle down in their careers!

Very true! Amy’s fierce passion jets out as she describes her role – not just dropping off Sophia and Lulu at their music classes but attending their music lessons – again not passively but taking down notes and yet again guiding them during their hours of practice at home! As a tenured professor of Yale, getting up at 5 spending half the day on her profession and devoting the rest with her obsession for her daughters’ musical excellence, writing books …. And with an equally academic hubby to boot, we can’t help wondering whether her day has 40 hours!

I like it when she acknowledges her gratitude for “the freedom and creative opportunity that America has given” her. And yet again when she says, “Thank God we live in America ….. where …rebelliousness is valued. In China, they’d have sent Lulu to a labor camp”…..

At the end of it all, Tiger Mom’s dictatorial control over her daughters might raise the eyebrows up to the edge of the forehead of - the westerners. We Indians will find it as a reflection of a mother’s extreme ambition - may be frown upon her and take the sides of her helpless kids.

Guess what? This autobiographical book which has been one of the bestsellers inspires and motivates fans like me to pen something autobiographical!

You got to be kidding………

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

APPA


 

 (Written soon after my father passed away in Oct 2005)

What I used to hear from friends was that their fathers were very strict. And I loved to boast to them about my gentle, affectionate and friendly Appa. Father was our buddy – he wouldn’t raise a feather – not even raise his voice - at us when we were kids. That way he was a very special father and in his loss, we feel a big vacuum in our hearts!
What strikes me most about my father is – he was the most normal, down-to-earth person – one who was a ‘normal’ human being – simple to the height of being termed a country bumpkin, innocent to the extent of being gullible, straightforward to the extent of being ridiculed – with no frills or fancies but with fads and foibles and idiosyncrasies aplenty!
A late child with siblings eight and ten years his senior, he was a pampered kid who had perfected the technique of having his way by rolling on the roadside and yelling with his mouth open wide like the Panama Canal. A ‘mamma’s boy’, he chose to stay home and feast on home-made curd rice exclusively prepared for him while the rest of the family honored a lunch invitation. These stories he narrated to us when we were kids. In the family of gold-medalists, he was content with the 40 percent marks he scored in Mathematics in his schooldays – he was a ‘normal’, average student. But not for long – he went on to bag the gold medal for B.Sc. (Hons.) and again for Engineering – so you could say he was just being a ‘normal’ member of his ‘intelligent family’. That he’d attribute this transformation in academic achievements to the change of ‘grahas’ in his horoscope is a different story.
His life pattern followed that of any ‘normal’ person hailing from the upper middle class family – a decent job, a happy and contented family with its values intact. He never resorted to unscrupulous ways to climb the ladder of success or amass wealth, though opportunities fell onto his platter often. He had the strength of character to resist temptations. An honest, uncorrupt, sincere and hardworking officer, he climbed the ladder of his career with steady, ‘normal’ steps. His ‘normal’ middle class tendency of saving every penny possible might have earned him the label of ‘miser’ from some quarters. But those in the know knew he was only being thrifty. He would unflinchingly spend on food and his family but never on his own clothes or accessories. If he had to go out alone, he’d choose to walk the distance or take a bus. But he’d play chauffeur to his better half and children without a mutter. He was rated a clumsy (read extra-cautious) driver but it is to his credit that he never had a single accident during the forty five years he drove the car! 
Appa was not the archetypal father dreaded and distanced by the members of the family. He was the most adorable father – incapable of uttering a harsh word to the children – always protective, caring, appreciative, and ambitious for them…. He’d baby-sit patiently and even sing lullabies and narrate stories through the various stages of our childhood. Oh yes, he would also forget his children in his car parked in the nearby market and walk home with the purchases! He was obsessed with academics but he didn’t know the ABC of sports! He loved it when we romped home with the first rank. But when others spoke highly about his son’s awesome serve or fantastic bowling figures, he’d wear a ‘what’s so great about it’ look! As a grandfather, he gloated over the academic achievements of the younger generation. But then he would listen to their animated discussion on sports with a dead-pan expression – blatantly revealing his ignorance. 
A simpleton to the core, Appa never bothered to pick up sophistication. Even when we had guests for dinner, he’d start off even before them in spite of our secret gesticulations and give us a wicked grin when he caught our eye! He was like a naughty child. He had his mood swings too – there were times when he would remain as silent as a stone when visitors were around. My mother would nudge him to join the conversation and he would retort, “What is there to talk?” But then there were times when he would talk nineteen to the dozen with the same persons!
A wizard at dates and numbers, Appa started forgetting the same in his old age. Like any ‘normal’ old man, he had his trysts with doctors and medicines. He had his share of worries – genuine and unfounded! Unlike many Indian husbands of his generation, he loved to cook and help my mother in all her chores.
This man with no tall claims to extraordinary genius / super success was a loving, lovable, and simple person. Though quiet, shy and reserved, Appa carved a niche for himself in the hearts of all relatives, friends, colleagues, subordinates and acquaintances. He has left fond, indelible ‘normal ’memories in the people associated with him. What I now realize is you don’t have to be great to be remembered – you could be a ‘normal’ person with a good soul and good values and with no trace of meanness and wickedness. After all, “they also serve that stand and wait!”

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MUM'S THE WORD



“Na jaane kyon / hota hai yeh zindagi ke saath / achaanak yeh man / kisi ke jaane ke baad / kare phir uski yaad / chhoti chhoti si baat / na jaane kyon!”

Today is my mother's second death anniversary - is it so long since Amma hasn't been around? Can't believe - because she keeps coming to mind ever so often! She had her idiosyncrasies, alright. Who doesn’t? Looking back, they seem trivial in comparison to all her positive traits. In fact I am proud to admit that I have imperceptibly imbibed some of them.

Amma’s most admirable trait was her total honesty. She was true to her conscience and so never hesitated to wear her heart on her sleeve and was never afraid of anyone. I remember I was scared of her as a kid – why, even after marriage! I’m glad about that as it has helped in moulding my personality! I learnt that if she would not approve of something, I was in the wrong. It was as simple as that – I had a very dependable touchstone – but I wasn’t aware of it then! I learnt to be conscientious like her but not outspoken.

Another trait I’ve imbibed from Amma is her sense of fairness and equal distribution. It was apparent even in day-to-day trivialities. Don’t laugh – take the instance of dessert-sharing at home - if mangoes were cut and offered on a large common plate for everyone to dig into – the smarter and faster ones would get a greater share. Amma would never allow that. She would neatly peel (she loved to do it) some half a dozen mangoes as we’d patiently sit around and wait and watch. Each mango would then be cut into equal-sized pieces and carefully divided into five equal parts. This would be repeated with all the mangoes. Each of us would get a mound of those pieces on separate plates – this way every one of us would get an equal taste of every mango. A small incident but enough to instill fairness and justice and also the habit of sharing in us kids.

Amma knew the value of hard-earned money and would never part with an extra rupee unnecessarily. She’d bargain with everyone – right from the vegetable vendor to the jeweler and emerge winner at the end. We’d be secretly happy with the outcome but couldn’t condone the waste of time and energy. I also don’t let myself be taken for a ride by shopkeepers / vendors but expend every penny judiciously with the typical middleclass mentality. I am happy to admit that I too am ‘money-savvy’ – no, no, not in the way you imagine – I don’t go in for stocks and shares for greater returns but manage my funds in the most conservative way – like my parents, I believe it is better to be safe than sorry! I believe in conserving money without affecting the quality of life.

Amma was the daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother-in-law - of civil engineers. So her interest in the construction aspect of house/apartment was natural. For the housewife that she was, it was surprising to listen to her discussing the ‘built-in area of a flat or dimensions of each room. Out of the blue, she would ask, “What’s the size of your master bedroom?” and I’d be groping for an answer. The height was when we had all gone flat-hunting for her and she posed the question, “What’s the size of this room?” Embarrassed, we curtly told her, “You can see it, ma, how big it is.” But she insisted on the blueprint of the flat – we found it funny then but she did have a point there – she needed to study it carefully and make a thorough analysis before taking the plunge. This speaks volumes about her caution.

Amma was the Home minister, Finance minister, External affairs minister… All rolled into one. Her excellent sense of economy and judiciousness reflected very well in the family’s budget. With her careful planning, she had managed to get ready all the gold jewellery for the wedding of her two daughters well in advance. She held on to our baby-jewels (gifted by both sets of grandparents) and passed some of them on to my children – even to my granddaughter as heirloom. Well, I feel proud to see my granddaughter wear the ear rings her grandma had worn as a kid – the ones which had been originally gifted to her by her grandmother and which were gifted to the little girl by her great grandmother during their first and last meeting! (Confusing? Rack your brains…). This is just one of the half-a-dozen such jewels that had come from both sets of my grandparents to me when I was little, which came from Amma to my kids and have now gone from me to my grandkids – traversing 5 generations, thanks to Amma! Didn’t I say some of her traits have rubbed on to me? She had even preserved the lovely frock-sweater she had knitted lovingly for me. Unfortunately it couldn’t be put to good use as she didn’t have a granddaughter! Well, I couldn’t preserve it – for my granddaughter! But my grandson does sport the smart kid-sweater I had knitted for my son and looks his exact replica!

I admired Amma’s zest and passion for life even in her seventies! She loved to buy as well as wear synthetic saris as ell as Kancheepurams and silk cottons. The more you have, the greater the difficulty in maintaining them! But it was a pleasure for her to stack them neatly. Even as kids we had to help her fold the sari – holding one end of it as she folded from the other end. I kept up this practice – no, not with my kids but with my husband. Now he has become an excellent sari-folder!

Amma had ‘tasty fingers’ – whatever she prepared tasted great. She was very particular about festivals and meticulously prepared delicacies. But she wanted us girls to hang around in the kitchen and be at her beck and call to hand her this and that during the snack-preparation. Though my sister and I were clueless then as to why she wanted us to be her robots, over the years we have realized that we have picked up our culinary skills the right way – by observation and actual practice and not from cookbooks. We can boast of preparing all those sweets from ‘laddoos’ to ‘jangiris’ and ‘kozhakkattai’ to ‘elai adai’ and snacks, savories, ‘vathal’, and ‘vadaam’. We would puff up with pride when Amma in her later years complimented our cooking – it was akin to Vashishta Muni giving the title of ‘Brahmarishi’. I would be on cloud nine when she sought my handy hints and cooking tips with a kid’s eagerness.

Amma had great interest in music – she had learnt Carnatic music – vocal as well as veena. As a youngster, I would sing Tamil and Hindi film songs and Amma would appreciate them. Till her end, she remained my fan – perhaps my greatest – I would give her cassettes of my amateurishly sung and recorded songs and she would go into raptures listening to them! In fact she is my guru in a sense. Amma had always felt bad that I couldn’t get much formal training in classical music due to my father’s frequent transfers. She turned my guru and insisted in teaching me some ‘keethanams’ in preparation for marriage alliance. I remember my brother rushing out with the SOS, “Hold on! Start your ‘sa, pa, sa’ after I go out! Bye!!” I had grown up listening to her favorite numbers – ‘vaasudeva yani..’, ‘paraamuga mela..’, ‘jaga janani..’, ‘thaye yashoda..’, ‘teeraada vilayaattu..’, ‘vallabhaa..’ and so they came easily to me. In her later years, her eagerness to sing during functions and festivals remained unabated but since she couldn’t reach the high notes, she’d coax me to join her – and I’d become ‘Radha to her MS’ (just a hyperbole, not audacity). Amma would sit through hours of music and dance on TV – all I had to do was, give her a call about the special program going on - she’d be all excited. At times, she’d call me to say Chitra was singing on Asianet! I’m sure the channel’s TRP must have been affected after she was gone!

Amma enjoyed family functions and weddings – she was easily the best-dressed senior citizen around. With my sister’s son’s marriage round the corner, we all feel her absence very much. I remember how proud and happy Amma and Appa were at the weddings of my sons. I can imagine the proud grandparents in all their glory showering their blessings from heaven! 

 © Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.