Tuesday, 13 December 2011


I never thought I could get so excited over a bunch of bananas. It is a commonplace fruit, a part of our daily diet, and one we see everyday in various shapes and sizes, at home and in the shops. So why this elation over these tiny ones, barely longer than my fingers!

Because they came from our own front yard.

We live on the first floor of the house my father-in-law built about 60 years ago. We used to live on the ground floor and moved upstairs for various reasons nearly 20 years ago. A bad move, let me tell you, when you are getting older, and your knees and other joints are beginning to creak. Till the early 90s , before there was water shortage and our well dried up, we maintained a fairly decent garden in the front yard.  At one time, we even grew brinjals and snake gourds on one part. We had a little hedge of henna (marudani) shrubs, which was very popular. People took them freely, asking permission sometimes, and sometimes not. There were some hibiscus bushes, enough to give us blossoms for the pooja room pictures. And other flowers and crotons. There even was a jasmine pandal. My brother-in-law, visiting from the USA remarked that it looked  like a lush tropical garden. Sadly, no pictures exist of those days.

When the drought came, and water was at a premium, I had to let the garden go. It was sad, but we just couldn’t buy water to water the garden. We comforted ourselves by saying that when the rains came, the plants would sprout new leaves. But the rains failed successively for some years, and our garden slowly died. Except for the two coconut palms which valiantly stood their ground. We then moved upstairs, and we left the tending of the front yard to the occupants downstairs – my brother-in-law’s office.

All these years, apart from pulling up the henna shrubs, much to my dismay, for they planned to do some landscape gardening, they did not do much. The yard in the front and sides were swept clean and the few shrubs that remained watered.  Two more palm trees, which my neighbour Yogambal had given me when they were about four feet high, remained at the same height.  But the last few years there has been plenty of rainfall, and our two palm trees have risen, and their fronds hang very romantically over our balcony – I remember scenes in movies where the hero and heroine would croon on the balcony with the palm leaves in the background.

But I have meandered. My story is about this person with  green fingers. He is Chandrasekar, employed by the office downstairs as a security person. Looking at him in his grey uniform , you would never think that he could get down on the ground and work such marvels. He has changed the face of the front yard. 

Chandrasekar is from the rural areas and came to Madras to make a living. But his roots are in the green pastures of his village home near Trichy, and his passion is growing things. Rather than sit idle, he has spent his ‘watching’ hours, if you will pardon the pun, fruitfully. He has planted all sorts of green plants all over the place, and some in pots which he has painted himself. Some of the pots have been painted with letters that spell out WELCOME. He repainted the thulasi madam and made sure the thulasi is green and flourishing. 
Not an inch of space has gone waste. There is also a betel leaf creeper in a pot. (And I have one on the balcony, too). 

He got hold of some banana saplings and planted them, and tended them so sincerely. It was no wonder when one of them flowered. When we returned after our extended trip we were so happy to see the small fruits. My grand daughter who loves bananas was happy to see them on the tree and touched them gingerly. The fruits were then ready for picking and Chandrsekar cut off the bunch and gave us the green fruits to ripen.  And that is the bunch you see at the top of this page.

And now another plant has borne fruit, too. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


After a gap of six months I was looking at our regular newspaper, The Hindu. Because I was rather busy I did not take time to pore over everything, but skimmed over the headlines and the Letters page for a couple of days. Prominent among the letters were references to Khushwant Singh praising The Hindu. I was pleased. Now here was a good writer appreciating quality media.

As I began settling down to my daily routine, including filter coffee and The Hindu in the mornings, I began to notice some aberrations. The headlines were, well, just not up to the mark, not impersonal enough to reflect the seriousness of the articles or the dignified nature of the paper.  I brushed the thought aside, thinking that I must be expecting too much, since I was not impressed either with the newspapers I had seen in Seattle or New York.

But some days later I saw headlines with puns in the paper, which would have seemed right on a tabloid,  trivialising serious news.

One was on  November 10, : Now, Moody's blues for Indian banks, when the financial/rating company had downgraded Indian banks.

The other came a few days later - Niira Radia says 'tata' to PR, when the infamous political lobbyist who had single handedly managed to bring down a whole lot of big names, and among whose clients was Tata, announced her decision to quit the PR business. This was a very tacky headline, I felt, and in bad taste.

Then last week when the government-run milk agency in Tamilnadu hiked its prices, and people were beginning to protest against this hike, the Hindu’s headline on November 20 ran
After price hike, Aavin card holders no longer hold the aces.

Another headline  today
Now, vegetable prices put consumers in soup

Maybe they sound clever to the editors and sub editors who wrote them, but I feel it brings down the standard of the newspaper.

The picture of singer Dhanush in the newspapaer.
Then to crown it all, the most trivial of entertainment news finds place on page 1 today. – the popularity of a song from a yet-to-be released film, and how it has gone viral, gaining instant popularity on the internet . Good news, of course. But page 1?

Don’t for a minute think I don’t like the song, I do - it is very catchy.  Listen to it here.


Friday, 4 November 2011


Tresses, curls, locks - all beautiful words for a beautiful part of ourselves – our crowning glory, hair.

Rapunzel (Courtesy Internet)
Hair plays an important part in the overall appearance of a person, and beautiful hair often indicates beautiful people. Literary physical descriptions of persons usually include hair – its colour, condition, length, texture. And some characters in legends and stories are remembered for their special hair. Like Rapunzel, who was locked up in a high tower without steps by a witch, and whose hair was the only way to reach the tower. The prince who loved her climbed up the length of her hair which she threw down from the window of the tower. Can you imagine the length and strength of that delightful mane?

Lady Godiva (Courtesy Internet)
Lady Godiva covered herself with her long tresses to ride through the town. Her husband the rich lord had said that if she rode naked through the town, he would reduce taxes for the commoners. Her hair served as a cloak, and not even the lone person who dared to peep out as she rode by (all the villagers had vowed to close their doors and windows and stay inside) could see anything but her hair. Now see how handy long hair is?

Samson and Delilah (Courtesy Internet)
Samson’s very strength was in his long hair, and when the bewitching Delilah, learnt his secret, she told his enemies where his strength lay. They cut his hair and the poor man was left a weak and broken man.

In art too our own Ravi Varma has painted goddesses and women with long flowing hair, just as his European counterparts like Botticelli (Birth of Venus) have.
Ravi Varma's Mohini (Courtesy Internet)

Botticelli's Birth of Venus (Courtesy Internet)
Till recently women wore their hair long, and considered it a thing of beauty, caring for it, and grooming it well. A hundred strokes with the brush before bed was an assured form of getting that shine. Brushing ensures that the hair is tangle free and massages the scalp as well. The other use the hairbrush was put to need not be mentioned here.

Persis (Courtesy Internet)
Long or short, women are fascinated with the styling and grooming of hair. If it is curly, we want it straight. If straight, we want it wavy.  And no, not everyone can look as charming as Persis Khambatta did, without hair. She shaved her head for a movie role and still looked great.

 I used to long for wavy hair, I remember, and hated it when the ends of my plaits stuck out like broomsticks. While as children we suffered the weekly oil massage and following wash, we now realise now that it helps bring a rush of blood  to the roots and stimulate them. During the days I was growing up, there was a biweekly ritual of massaging the head with coconut oil (which was heated with powdered peppercorns) and then washing it off with shikakai or the paste of Bengal gram powder. This kept the hair soft and silky. We also washed our hair daily with plain water. I still do it, though the biweekly massage seems to have become bi annual! Well almost.

Here is a real life Rapunzel, my friend from college days. Her hair was long, thick and she wore them in two plaits reaching right down to her thighs. She put sambrani in her hair after washing it, and it smelt so divine. In the picture you see only one of her plaits. The one alongside her is me, with my pigtail hanging behind modestly.

 Washing the oil off has become simpler with so many shampoos available. I remember when I went to Manchester in the early 70s I was amazed at the number of shampoos in the shops. And I indulged myself by trying out a different one each time. At home here, there was only Tata’s shampoo, which came in the same type of bottle as the Tata hair oil. Many a laughter riot took place when my grandfather mistook the shampoo for the oil, and ended up with a head full of bubbles.

In Kerala and Bengal, women are blessed with lustrous long hair. I have wondered if the fish eating habits in these regions have contributed to this.  Definitely, healthy eating habits contribute to healthy shining hair, if not to the texture or thickness. Lots of greens and protein are a sure way to bring that sheen to you hair.

Born in Kerala, I spent many years outside the state, till finally settling down in Chennai after marriage. I have not cut my hair but let it grow. Gray now, it falls down to my thighs, but sadly, lacks the thickness it used to have in my young days. I used to trim it to hip length regularly to keep the ends even. Now I require the extra length to hold it when I put up my hair, to make up for the lack of thickness. My seven year-old granddaughter is however impressed, and longs to grow her own. She has silky straight hair, but it is kept short for easy management.

I still love massaging, oiling my hair and shampooing it regularly. I am looking forward to using the products in this delightful hamper. 

Friday, 21 October 2011


We are back after spending six months with our children in Seattle and Newport. Our return trip on October 17, a Monday, from Seattle was also via London – a British Airways flight with a one hour stop. One hour to make the connecting flight to Chennai! When I realised that, panic master that I am, I started worrying about it – will we make the connection or not? What would happen if we did not? Innumerable other questions and unlikely scenarios passed through my mind, which I freely shared with everyone. ( I am sure they were fed up with me!). I am quite a Cassandra when it comes to air travel, always sure that something will go wrong.

We decided to ask for a wheelchair at London so I would not have to walk the distance (I sometimes have a problem walking fast) from the landing gate to the connecting gate - sometimes these gates are quite far apart. And we had seen how quickly wheelchair transported people are helped to get on flights. We were also reassured that since the two flights were the same airline, there would be some sort of communication between the flights, and that we would be able to board the connecting flight without any problems.

At Seattle airport while checking in, my son Sankar was told when he enquired that there would be no problems at all, that we would make the connection without any trouble, as one hour would be plenty of time. So that was good.

I was armed with a cell phone which had been successfully recharged just prior to our departure day, so that we could contact Sankar and tell him when we boarded at London. 

The flight took off a few minutes late, but made up easily. However landing at Heathrow was delayed because of it being a busy time - noon. We got off first from the aircraft, thanks to a very nice and considerate stewardess who sympathised with us and led us out – and deposited me on the wheelchair which was ready. We  were already 15 minutes late. Flight was at one pm, and boarding closed at 12.40. We had about 20 minutes to reach the gate – after security.

I decided to write a letter to our agent who had arranged the wheelchair for us, purportedly from my husband, about our interesting experience.

Dear Sir

Thank you.  The wheelchair was waiting. Very nice of you to have arranged it.

But we made the connection with great difficulty, as there is only one hour to do it. The plane from London was late, the emplaning gate was very far off.  The air hostess very graciously allowed us to disembark first, even before the first class passengers. Apart from my wife there were four other people who had asked for wheelchairs. The wheelchair persons were transferred to a motorised cart (for five people) to be transported to the departure gate. The cart driver had to wait for the fifth person, but that person did not turn up – he must have got off. So the driver left a little late, as he had to make sure that person wasn't waiting. All these delays added up to quite a few minutes. By the time my wife got to security, boarding was closed because of all the delay.

In the meantime, I along with others had to wait for a train to take us to the gate. Fortunately, a staff member was with us to guide us. The train did not come in time, and so we walked and ran all the way (almost half a mile) to security for the gate to fly from.  But I made it.

And my wife did not.  When the lady at the entrance to security checked on her computer, she found that boarding had closed. My wife was told that she could not board.  My wife pointed out that she was travelling with me, and they checked on the computer and found that I had boarded. My wife told them she had to travel with me, and so asked that I  should be offloaded.   

I had got into the plane thinking since she had gone in the car, she would be in the plane before me. I was shocked to see she was not. I also asked to be offloaded, as we had to travel together .
In the meantime, the person at security got on the phone and managed to persuade the flight people to take us. Since there was no crowd at security and we could be cleared quickly, she requested them to wait for us five passengers, and they agreed, thankfully.
It was a mad and tense hour.

 Lessons learnt

1.  In future we should not take these one hour connection flights.

2. Wheelchair facilities do not ensure/guarantee boarding.

3. Ask for wheelchairs for both, or avoid it – at least you will be together, board or miss.

4. Flights will not be held up if you miss your connection – even if it is the airlines’ fault with late landings. They will re-route you. In our case the next flight to Chennai was after two days, on Friday.

5. Even your vegetarian meal will be off loaded if you don’t make it – we learnt that our special meal had been returned as we had not made it on time. Fortunately we had some other food – and it was good, too. Since the destination was Chennai, there was vegetarian food available.

6. Luggage will be offloaded if the passenger does not board. I was fully confident that at least two of our bags would not arrive. But hey! What a pleasant surprise. They were all there in Madras when we landed.

P.S.  I didn’t send the letter.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


A couple of weeks ago, when Hurricane Irene was not even thought of,  we went with my son Sriram and his family from Newport, New Jersey for a short vacation to Corpus Christi in Texas,  to join my son Sankar and his family for his birthday celebrations at his sister-in-law’s. Two days into the holiday,  Hurricane Irene came into being and took on great significance, since it was predicted that it would hit just where we resided, bang opposite the river from New York city.  Initial relief at having escaped the fury of nature, turned to alarm as we realized (a) our return flight was cancelled. (b) our apartment could be in one of the areas most affected by the hurricanes, with rains pouring into the 10th floor balcony and entering the rooms.  My son narrates what happened  next….

Continental- OK breakfast but shoddy Airline

It started with a call to my colleague, Jimmy at work on Thursday the 25th of August, when he mentioned the “I” word. Irene, he said was expected to cross New York City on Sunday which meant I could have problems with my flight back from Texas scheduled the same day. Soon after, I started tracking the hurricane on the Weather Channel in Corpus Christi, where I was visiting my brother’s sister-in-law and husband (Meera and Moey)  along with my parents, Vandana and Samyukta. My brother, Shankar and his family were already holidaying there. My vacation for the most part hitherto was gulping Shiner Bock, a local favorite brew and goofing around with my nieces and daughter, amidst dips at the pool in the backyard.
 At some point during Friday morning, it was reported that  some of the airlines including JetBlue and American canceling all weekend flights into most of east coast including all the New York Airports. However, Continental’s website continued to show through all of Friday afternoon, that my flight back was on schedule for Sunday. The Weather Channel, which I watched more of that day than I had done all my life, presented ominous scenarios Irene could unleash on NYC (bringing  to mind devastating pictures of flooded streets, submerged train lines- images straight out of disaster movies such as “I Am Legend”, “Day After Tomorrow”, etc).
 The pithy cancelation mail from the airlines came on Friday evening - almost telegraphic, with simply the notice of cancelation. I promptly call Orbitz and put on hold for almost four hours (surely a record, at least for me!). I did get a reprieve for about 45 minutes when I was doing Samyukta’s bedtime routine and Vandana took over from me the  Muzak from Orbitz..
 At some point the family got tired of the sight of me on the phone, being only half engaged in the general merry-making and urged that I abort this attempt. They offered other recommendations like heading to the local airport the first thing next morning to rebook from there, try calling the next morning when there are more agents to answer calls.  My father, the eternal optimist in the American Way emphatically stated that the airline would contact me and accommodate me in Monday’s flight,.
 I subsequently called Continental directly only to be told that my call could not be taken due to the high call volume -  absurd and frustrating. I vaguely remembered someone saying that they were in a similar situation last winter with canceled flights but got lucky with the Elite number as those calls are always taken.  I googled to see if that number was floating around but had no luck.  I then tried my luck with Facebook. Facebook, which had subjected me to asinine updates

like the colors of people’s underclothes and more recently to people’s cravings, could serve some higher purpose after all. My status update was changed to a request to my friends to send me the 1800 Elite number. My ever reliable friends (and one family member) replied with alacrity providing details of THE number and their account numbers. I promptly called this number and was asked to stay on hold while it played a recorded message. It got a little tiring hearing Continental’s spiel on how important I was and how their “congress of chefs and sommeliers” cook gourmet spreads for me and prepare my wine while I fly.
 It was my brother's  birthday on the 27th which was one of the main reasons we were visiting Corpus Christi. I joined the rest of the family in their Birthday chants and merry making at the stroke of midnight; the bluster from Continental continued to flow into my defenseless ear.
 My sister in-law’s birthday gift was the Beatles Rock Band and the whole family was harmonizing Beatles songs into the wee hours of the night. A couple of hours into the call, a live voice finally appeared on the other side and exclaimed Beatles while people were belting out Taxman in the background. Fantastic I thought - she listens to the Beatles and I have to milk that! In the course of the  small talk we indulged in on Beatles, she mentioned that she had trouble getting her hands on White Album. Now unless you are looking to shop in Circuit City or lurking around half-empty Borders, this should be a relatively easy task. I said that her best bet was buying it from Amazon in the hope that it would earn me some goodwill.
 Within an instant, she said that there were no flights available to any of the New York airports from Houston till Friday, the 2nd of September. She said all available tickets were already booked by passengers from other Airlines, which made no sense at all. I was incredulous and asked if she could redirect me to New York via any other place, while she put me on hold for another 30 minutes or so. She came back with what she said was the best option available. Fly to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania via Cleveland and Houston from Corpus Christi and then drive from there into New Jersey. The earliest date available to the journey with this tortuous itinerary was Tuesday, the 30th of August.
 In the meanwhile, all mainstream Channels continued to present an apocalyptic picture of New York and how prepared the city was getting for this cataclysmic event. My building in Jersey City was right on the Hudson riverfront and there were messages from the Condo manager  to the building newsgroup asking residents to move things from their balcony, stay away from the glass windows and move to the corridor if things got really worse. The Cassandra in me imagined gale forces breaking my apartment’s windows, and inundating the wooden floors and molds proliferating consequently. I also had visions of all our significant documents destroyed in the deluge.

I called my concierge and asked him to move things around so nothing was in the balcony or by the windows. He not only moved it within minutes but also called to confirm that everything was taken care of and provided some peace of mind on that front. Clearly he was not schooled in the Continental customer service academy.
 We finally made the trip back traveling most of Tuesday which for most part was thankfully smooth. We reached home in the wee hours of the 31st fatigued and worn out but relieved to find that everything in the building and apartment was almost as we had left it. I felt much better and more fortunate as the day progressed when I heard more horrific tales of Continental’s monumental missteps, which I am sure there were plenty more of. Two sets of families, both supposed to fly back that Sunday from Vegas and Aruba respectively, were instead driving back in one case  and returning on the 5th I of September n another.
 Like I said before-OK breakfast and lousy airline!!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


Between a mother who cooks,  knits, blogs and thinks nothing of getting up at 4 and making some vadam dough because the sun is shining brightly, and a sister who works full-time and cooks for hubby late at night after returning home, I stand out as a person who happily thinks nothing of doing nothing .

One morning last week I got up at my usual time and walked groggily to the balcony to get some fresh air. And this is what I saw.

My mother had been busy - not wanting to waste the March sun, she had got up at 4 am and finished making the dough for the vadam and spread it out in cute circles on banana leaves which she had herself gone down and cut from the banana trees in the garden below! And all this before I had even woken up. (Every self-respecting Madras housewife  knows that this is the season to make and dry vadam, and store them to last through the year.)

 Enough to put anyone to shame. Fortunately, I am made of sterner stuff, and did not in the least feel any twinges of guilt. While she made sure that the vadams were dried thoroughly for three whole days, chasing the sun from this end of the balcony to the other, I (like the lilies of the field?) stood and took pictures.  The vadaams then took on a glazed and shiny appearance, indicating they were well and  thoroughly  dried. Then my mother laboriously removed them from the (also dried) leaves, and dried them once again - to be stored, and ready for frying.

Dried and ready to be fried
The fried vadam, ready to be eaten

But guess who was the first to congratulate her when she fried them and served them to be tasted? Oh, they were so good, crisp and white and fluffy!.

The next batch is being readied now.....


I am different!

Between a mother who knits, blogs and thinks nothing of getting up at 4 and making some vadam dough because the sun is shining brightly, and a sister who works full-time and cooks for hubby late at night after returning home, I stand out as a person who thinks nothing of doing nothing .

One morning last week I got up at my usual time and walked groggily to the balcony to get some fresh air. And this is what I saw.

My mother had been busy - not wanting to waste the March sun, she had got up at 4 am and finished making the dough for the vadam and spread it out on cute circles on banana leaves which she had herself gone down and cut from the banana trees! And all this before I had even woken up.

Enough to put anyone to shame. Fortunately, I am made of sterner stuff, and did not in the least feel any twinges of guilt. While she made sure that the vadams were dried thoroughly for three whole days, chasing the sun from this end of the balcony to the other, I (like the lilies of the field?) stood and took pictures.

But I was the first to congratulate her when she fried them and served them to be tasted. Oh they were so good.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


Bed unmade,
Table not cleared,
Lunch not cooked,
Clothes unwashed,
Dishes piled up.

Books unread,
Movies unwatched,
Songs unsung,
Prayers unsaid
Classes missed.

Phone silenced,
Emails unanswered,
Children ignored,
Friends forgotten
Whatever happened?

Placing titbits,
Writing comments,
Liking posts,
Virtual living
Mommy’s networking!