Tuesday, November 20, 2007


At my engagement, my mother was coming holding a plate with sweets towards me, when I overheard a voice of a distant relative suddenly stopping her in her tracks “No, you don’t go there – give it to me, I will give it to the priest” (the unsaid message was clearly “You are a widow – not auspicious”). Immediately, Ma’s face crumpled a bit but she stopped anyhow – for my sake.

Two things stopped me from physically assaulting that person in the middle of the function. One- a cousin who took a look at my face and forcibly held me back. Two- the priest (God bless him) who had heard this exchange quickly and pointedly said “YOU GIVE IT- You are her mother”.

My blood boils every time I think of that episode.
I cannot think of ANYONE in the universe who has my wellbeing more at heart than she does. And therefore cannot think of anyone who can be more auspicious in my life.

For the last eight years, ever since my father died, there have been sundry instances like this –the raised eyebrow, the whispered comment, the disapproving look. All of which I’ve ruthlessly annihilated. We have endured enough devastation at his death - without having to face THIS particular ordeal. So prima-facie, I don’t hear anything in this strain anymore.
But I suspect some instances still occur (which Ma hides from me). Fortunately for my peace of mind, she is temperamentally an upbeat, positive person; so she just shrugs it off.

And I know it’s not just my acquaintances - One very distressed friend told me that at her wedding, her mother was made to stand almost at the end of the hall and not participate in anything. Ironically, her wedding rituals were performed by her uncle – a widower, who sat with a supari (in lieu of his wife if you please) next to him for the ceremonies.

Someone else’s Gruhpravesh; the widowed mother was not invited at all – because the in-laws were against it. In that girls place, I would have probably boycotted the function altogether!

I find this absolutely appalling – that people, so called urbanized, educated, sophisticated people, can be so utterly blinded by superstition/rituals/whatever-it-is.

Maybe the more visible customs (the shorn head variety) might have disappeared. But there are other customs which still seem to have sneaked into this century – the whole taboo on brightly hued saris, glass bangles, participating in religious rituals. The raised eyebrows when the person laughs out louder-than-permissible-volume, or goes for a movie or even indulges in rich foods (yes, various levels of this still exist believe me.)

The movie “Dor” has depicted this with sensitivity and pathos – when the young widow Ayesha wots-her-name spontaneously breaks into a jig on hearing a popular ditty - and the sudden belated recollection that she is not allowed to dance anymore.

No one who has not suffered the loss of a spouse can probably understand what the woman is going through. And to add these subtle reminders everyday is just utterly insufferable.

The religion does not propagate this – I remember asking a priest once and he had said that most of the taboos are man-made. These are rituals which seem to have sprung into being maybe originally protecting women from unwanted advances (if they were drab and insignificant as possible, no one would look at them twice) or maybe from the insecure wives of men-with-roving-eyes

But the fact that they exist even today – I think is a matter of great, great shame to us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tipping Point

It all started about sixteen years ago – the first time I went into a fancy haircutting salon on my own. Till then the most of the hair cuts had been restricted to well-meaning ‘artistically’ inclined aunts who hacked (trimmed they called it) my hair. The fanciest cut was at the small neighbourhood salon where my mother took me every time she thought my tresses had been traumatized enough.

This was the first foray into a SALON. Those posh places where people discussed cuts and styles and face shapes and other grown up stuff.

So there I was, all set, hair neatly cut, quietly standing at the payment counter, content about navigating this passage into adulthood without any major faux pas when one overwhelmingly horrifying realization dawned on me. All the ladies in the queue in front of me, after settling their reckoning, were going back inside to TIP the stylists!

And there I was a gawky preteen, was facing for the first of many times, one of life’s enduring questions – the GREAT INDIAN TIPPING DILEMMA.

To this day – thousands of stylists, waiters, valets and bellboys later – I still struggle with the all important question. HOW MUCH TO TIP.

Wise people have muttered about the 5% rule. But that doesn’t work in my mind.

What if the service is terrible in a completely fancy restaurant – why would you want to pay 5% of the bill (a few hundred rupees say) to a snooty, condescending waiter who has completely ruined the meal for you?

God knows, I don’t want to under tip either – some work terribly hard to earn this money -which is why I invariably end up over-tipping – anything to avoid the reproachful, or in some cases my-god-she-is-so-cheap look.

So what IS the right balance? The standardized 5% rule does not work.

I think there are some learnings which can be borrowed from tax calculations.

The Total Tipping Liability ( the amount you need to shell out depending on Tippees effectiveness, venue ambiance, number of people the service is provided to, difficulty of providing service and so on)

And the Tipping Rebate (where you get a concession on your liability depending on factors such as Tippees bad attitude, wrong haircut, body odour and other experience-spoilers)

This will give you the NET TIPPING TAX – the amount you actually end up paying as a tip.

You might crib about it and talk about people who evade tipping and swear at the cost of tipping rates – but at least it will spare you the effort of standing there with the bill doing mental callisthenics to figure out how much is the money you shell out and sheepishly-defiantly trying to skulk away when you realize the Tippee was expecting much more.

You could even have Tip-o-meters where you feed in the variables and viola – out comes the tip amount all nicely calculated with no scope for dispute or guilt.

Now if only someone would design this. Hmmm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Homeward bound for Diwali

It’s almost Diwali. My first one after getting married. The first Diwali away from my home – probably in my entire life.

And I am desperately, terribly homesick.

Nothing new actually. I have spent a considerable part of this year feeling homesick.

It’s really no reflection on marriage or married life – but to expect someone to be uprooted from one place and planted in another (irrespective of how good or bad the new place is) – there will be a part of one which WILL shrivel up (for a while at least).

I don’t know how females do it. I know many, many for whom the transition seems to have been painless. Females who seem to effortlessly morph into the dutiful bahu archetype. Maybe they are conditioned like that – and they view their parents home as the temporary abode and thus, moving out is just the natural progression they have expected all their lives.

I, however, was not raised like that. My home was my haven, my pocket of peace where I could come after fighting fires in the outside world. Even the couple of years I was not with my folks, it was my mental safe zone which I could run to as and when the need arose- and of course for festivals.

Now I don’t know where I belong anymore. Not quite there – because there is always the pressure of having to go back. Not quite here – well, because it’s new and all that.

Somehow, festivals always aggravate this sense of rootlessness. Maybe because you give up all the customs and little rituals you have done all your life and have to smilingly accept and do something else (especially if you marry into a different (albeit marginally different) community like I have) - and I suppose, festivals to most of us are the composite of many small rituals which we has done since time immemorial so any change in that takes away it’s essence and heart.

I do not think the in-laws will have the “Narkasur” effigy to be burnt the night before Diwali. Or the early morning (peculiarly Goan) spread of eight different pohas. Though they will have oil diyas – I am not sure they will smell quite the same as they do at home – the grainy, loamy smell of oil and fire and earth and childhood. I will miss climbing up precariously on wobbly stools to put the fiery flame coloured Akash-diya at exactly the right angle or crouching next to my mother as she sits with pots with multicoloured rangoli powders. A part of me will yearn for the pre sun-dawn bath with the ‘uthne’ and “haldi-coconut-milk’ followed by the traditional sandal soap. The smells and sounds and colors so interwoven with the Diwali of a cherished childhood.

In a few years perhaps, I will learn to look at the new customs as intrinsically mine – but till then, I think I will miss my Diwali.

May this year bring all of you much happiness, much color and much light.

Happy Diwali

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finding Neverland

There has been a question which I have been wondering about for the last few days.


Every few evenings, when I come down from my office and am deprived of the pleasure of the company (and more importantly the car) of the husband feller, I proceed towards the auto stand – which is oh-so-conveniently located just outside by office building.

So far, my strike rate in actually getting anyone to take me home has been abysmal. Then I walk one kilometre in both directions, cross the road try from that side; cite locations which are half-way to my place but ZILCH. Most don’t even condescend to stop.

At this point I could have cursed the place where we stay as being inaccessible and whatnot but I have realized that’s not the reason. Auto-walas are completely non-partisan in their refusal. It does not matter who wants the ride. Doesn’t even matter which corner of the city they want to go to. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. The answer is a consistent, big, fat NO.

I see them reclining on their seats with their feet propped up on the dashboard smoking beedis. I see them casually leaning against the rickshaw stand sign exchanging views on life. I also see them regularly emerge from the depths of the auto to ask prospective rickshaw-seeking-gullibly hopeful -commuters where they want to go – if only for the pleasure of refusing them.

So the question is what is this mysterious Xanadu they seek? Its not any where of the city – we have already established that. It’s not to their respective homes either – otherwise they wouldn’t be at the stand. It’s not even to the moon – I asked them that once.

The question has started to take over my mind now – I imagine covens on full moon nights where all rickshawalas gather to honk at the moon... I wonder about PUC incompliant smoke belched out from rickshaws and dim hazy bars with strip dancers do a sinuous gyrating around the rickshaw poles. I think about Pran-isque underground dens full of potholes with boiling brimstone.

(I also think I am watching too many bad Hindi movies)

But the question remains. Don’t think we will ever know. Sigh.