Friday, April 26, 2013 16 comments


The human brain is a very interesting organ.  Among the many things that it is capable of doing , what really amazes me is its ability to bring the sense organs together and perceive things that go beyond the  the normal action of that organ. Let me explain this a bit more.

We all know about how the sense of smell can trigger other senses. For example when we smell something delicious we automatically start feeling hungry.  This sense of hunger can also be triggered by pictures of food. But the most amazing thing is that sometimes even words describing food can make us salivate in anticipation! The credit goes as much to the person who wrote those words as to this wonderful organ inside our head!

I have always been a person who is very susceptible to the  imagery  of words. When I read a book I actually see the characters in my mind. I can almost taste some dishes simply by the descriptions.  But I must say that sometimes the real thing is a let down! I  used to read a lot of Enid Blytons as a child and one of the things that I thought might be the  most delicious dish in this world was – buttered  or jam muffins. I used to read those parts over and over again particularly the sections about how the butter or jam would be oozing out of the muffin. But unfortunately, when I actually tasted a muffin, it was rather disappointing!  Of course, I tried to console myself saying that maybe we don’t get the real thing in India.  

My grandmother was a great one at creating imagery by her mere words. She often described to me how as a child, she and her friends used to take tamarind and roll it on the mortar used to grind spices along with some salt and chill powder and then stick to the end of a “irkuchi” ( the mid rib of a dried coconut frond often used in the making of broom sticks) and suck it like a lollipop! Believe me folks, no lollipop tasted nicer than what this tamarind one tasted in my mind. Ofcourse I tried doing it at my grandparents place but once I dropped the pestle on the ground and  was scolded badly  I never again went near that piece of granite! But the longing remains.. even today.

And no it is not just food that is susceptible to imagery. Good imagery can also trigger our sense of smell. I remember reading a book by Anita Nair about a Kathakali dancer who had to spend a few years in London. He misses his home and everything about it. There is  a section where she describes beautifully how he misses bathing in hot water “fragrant with the smell of burning firewood”. It took me back to my childhood at my grandparent’s place in Srirangam where there used to be a huge copper pot in which gallons of water would be heated  on a firewood stove for all of us to have our oil baths. The  entire room would smell of burning firewood and so would the water.  Of course you might say that I was able to relate to it because I had a previous experience to fall back on . But one must give credit to the writer for triggering that memory.  And yes, in the same book she describes how our hero misses eating hot rice with “ More kachi” .. comfort food at its best! I could almost smell the coconut being ground to make that curry and the smell of mustard seasoning it after it was off the fire!

But are words the only medium through which imagery is created? I would say not. For me music is another medium which does it. The ear hears more than mere sound.  For those of you who have heard the Hindustani Raag “ Pahadi” ( literally meaning mountainous) may understand what I mean. Whenever I hear this Raag I am transported to the mountains. There is one instrument that creates in my mind the image of  flowing water– the Santoor!  I have never been on the Dal Lake but whenever I hear Shiv Kumar Sharma play his Santoor I can see myself on that lake. Similarly are there are raags like Poorvi, Yaman,  Pooriya which make me  watch the sunset in my mind. I also see the cowherds coming home with the cattle. Raags like Lalit can almost  make you see the first rays of the sun while Raag Megh can bring the dark clouds of the monsoon sky in front of your eyes! Ofcourse if you are so inclined you may even feel those droplets touch your eye lids!

While music and words can trigger the imagery, there are times when it happens rather spontaneously. How many times have you listened to a person with that lovely voice at the other end of the phone and been disappointed by the way s/he actually looks?

The human mind is very creative. We just need something like a small trigger to set it going in a certain direction. Ofcourse how far it would travel depends on the mind’s own desire to travel that path.  The ability to associate a thought with an image is a kind of coming together of the senses. This is what I guess  makes humans so special. 
And with something like this between our ears, who needs a magic wand?

( Do share with me what triggers your mental images and what are those images)
Sunday, April 21, 2013 6 comments


I know Indian politics is akin to a dirty toilet but folks this post  is not about that!

I have been meaning to write about this theme for a while.   The idea came to me last week when I was attending a seminar at a reputed agriculture university in southern India. A woman co participant came up to me and asked if I knew where the ladies  toilet was.  I pointed her  towards a corridor which had the signboard “Toilets” written on the wall.  She went  there and returned almost immediately. Even before she could say why she was back, I guessed the reason.  The door was locked!!!  This is a practice with most government institutions

I discovered this  quite early on in life when I joined my bachelor’s degree at an agriculture university in another southern state. We used to have one smelly room adjoining what used to be called “Ladies room” which about 300 female under grad students had to use to relieve themselves ! The various departments of course had their own Ladies toilets but they were all locked with privileged entry status only for women PG students and professors  from the concerned department!  If you were a visitor and female, you would have to pray that you were near an area where there were enough bushes ..!!

I also encountered in the same agriculture university where I was last week another  interesting facility “VVIP toilet” !!!! I mean, why? Do very  important people excrete gold?

While lack of adequate public toilets for women in this country is a big problem, there is an even bigger problem that exists in terms of general access and use of toilets . In  a hierarchy conscious society like ours toilets are, rarely viewed as public conveniences. They are more like private privileges allotted to you because of your position in society by birth or some other status.  

Those of you who have watched the movie called “ Help” would recall the scene where white American women in the Southern States led a campaign that they called “Separate but equal” – protesting against allowing their domestic help of African origin from using toilets inside their homes. Now, this is something that is very common in Indian households. Even in our own home, my mother in law had a specially designated toilet allocated for them. This toilet is outside the house and very inconvenient to use when it rains. We (MIL and I)  have had innumerable arguments over allowing them to use our toilets at least during days when it was raining. Sometimes the light in this toilet used to fuse and my mother in law did not want to spend money on replacing the bulb . Her logic was ‘At least we are providing them with a toilet. Look at the neighbors, they don’t have a toilet for their servants” ..Anyway, I won the argument many years down the line when she was bedridden and needed a full time care giver. That was when her caregivers, domestics and herself all began to use the same toilets .  Now, after her time we have done away with this distinction. Everyone who visits the house or lives in it uses the toilets that the house provides. The rule is that “Use any toilet but  keep it clean”.

I wonder why entry barriers to toilet access exist in our country. Many schools have separate toilets for teachers and students ( though my daughter’s school doesn’t). Offices have separate toilets for “officers”/ “Managers” and “staff”!!! People justify it on the grounds that people from “certain classes of society”  do not know how to maintain and use toilets and hence the need for segregation! But I would say why not use this opportunity to teach them how to? It would serve a public cause in a country like ours where invariably all toilets (public and private) are generally unclean!!!

But  in this  quest for equality should men and women use the same toilets? The reason why I think men and women need separate toilets is because toilets are places for fulfillment of biological needs. Men and women being built differently use toilets differently and hence the need for gender segregated toilets!  Besides, women in most cultures are rather embarrassed of being seen in the same space as men while attending to this need!  And one must remember that toilets are not just places where you relieve yourself. You also use the space for adjusting your clothes, combing your hair – imagine how embarrassing it might be for a woman to have a man walk in while she is adjusting her clothes..!!! Even if it is a single cubicle “gender neutral” toilet in an office it would be equally  embarrassing for a man to open the toilet cabinet and chance upon a packet of woman’s sanitary napkins. Men find it as disgusting to use a blood stained toilet bowl as women who complain of men peeing without putting down the toilet seat ( not to say either of these conditions are permissible even in a single sex toilet).  

Anyway, coming back to the question of privileged access to such public conveniences,  I would like to share an incident concerning such toilet use in a reputed non profit organization in my city . This organization initially did not have separate toilets for men and women. But when the women demanded a separate toilet the men agreed grudgingly! There were more men in this office than women, so they built another toilet in the back yard for use by drivers and support staff . But the Regional Director of this organization that was supposedly working for equality continued to have his privileged individual use of the attached toilet ( which incidentally had two doors but the other door leading to the room next door was permanently shut so that it would remain his private toilet). The women on the other hand did not have such distinctions. All the  women( Managers, officers, clerks, receptionist and support staff) used the women’s toilet quite happily.  So who was perpetuating social discrimination – the men, the women or the leader of the office? Of course if you ask the men they would tell you that it was women who began the entire discrimination issue by demanding a separate toilet for themselves!!

Eating and defecating are some universal human needs but we seem to use these very same needs to further our class/ caste divides. I think it is pointless talking about ending socio economic hierarchies unless we are ready to rid ourselves of some deeply of these deeply entrenched biases!

Friday, April 19, 2013 9 comments


Seven o’clock in the evening is an odd time for me to switch on the television.  But switch on I did and found myself watching some channel that was showing a poor rehash of the lovely Mahesh Bhatt film “Arth”. For those of you who have not seen this movie, it is about a married woman whose husband is having an affair with another woman. She tries her best to save her marriage – talking to the “other” woman, pleading with  her husband to give their marriage another chance and finally when nothing works she tries to start life afresh-all alone.  The movie I was watching was rather awful in terms of the cast and the acting but somehow the theme seemed to hold me riveted to the screen. So, in between stirring the curry on the stove, I kept coming back to the living room to watch the film. When the husband came in, I yelled from the kitchen “ Don’t change the channel. I am watching that movie” . He told me later he was “shocked” that I was watching such “crap”.

Well.. ‘crap”  or not, I watched the movie almost until the end! Actually, now even  I am surprised how I did that!  I guess because it had something to do with the theme- the worst nightmare for every woman -her husband having an affair.

I sometimes read these articles where people say that no third person can break up a marriage- that the third person’s entry is a logical consequence of an unraveling relationship. I am not so sure about that. I mean, relationships go through phases. Each phase has its own complexity. When you are young and just married there is all the time in the world for each other. Then  you become parents and the relationship undergoes a change.  For women in particular, this is like a watershed – we lose our looks, freedom and become stressed. Some marriages cope well with this change while many don’t. But that does not mean that they break apart.  Or do they create conditions where one of the partners – the husband ( most probably) starts looking for someone else? Or may be that someone else walks into his life and he realizes that this is what he wants .. If that is so then it is probably very unfair to the wife because, lets face it- the wife is also undergoing the same turmoil in the marriage. It is just that women are socially conditioned to respect the sanctity of the married relationship.

But let us look at this from the  point of view of the “other woman”. She is actually not an opportunist. A victim of her need she finds herself in a situation where she is emotionally involved with a married man. So what does she do? She tries to demand more of his time and falls apart when he leaves her.

And men… well in the Indian context I would say they probably have the best of both worlds. They continue being married , enjoy the joys outside, keeping status quo. Some of them are forced to take the decision and make that choice between one of the two women.  And I  guess women who marry previously married men are probably  more insecure in their married relationships  because they have had a first hand experience of what this man is capable of!  Complicated isn’t it?

As a wife I think an experience like dealing with the husband’s extra marital affair can completely ruin your self confidence. It might be easy to say that she should walk out  but most women don’t because marriage and motherhood makes you most vulnerable.  So we try to ignore it, forgive the guy or try for what is called a “fresh start” ! And the saddest part of all this is when it happens about a decade or so into one’s marriage. There used to be TV serial called “Saans” made by Nina Gupta who plays the mother of teenage kids whose husband starts having an affair with her friend. A woman who has never had a career, she finds herself suddenly having to think of life alone with the kids when she decides to walk out of the relationship.

I once had a domestic help who married  a married man (a bit of a tongue twister). Ofcourse I thought that he had duped her by not reveling his married status but she told me that she married him out her own free will.  And her husband like our former Chief Minister was quite happy to have a “manaivi” and “tunaivi”. He fathered four kids ( two each from each of these women) and lived what he considered a blissful married life (lives). I wondered why a sane girl would make a choice like this. My friend says that it is the fascination of having someone “belonging” to someone else suddenly notice you and prefer you to her. Gives her sense of power.. ! Guess in a country like ours these are the only few opportunities that women get to experience power..! But it is inexplicable when movie stars like Hema Malini settle for playing second fiddle..

Man they say is polygamous in nature.. I don’t believe it. I think it is just that our society makes it easy for men to get away with polygamy. So they indulge in it whenever possible. Women on the other hand have to face more social repercussions when they do something like this. So they tend to be more responsible in any relationship.

Whatever, whether it is men or women, three is definitely a crowd and such relationships are best left to movie scripts and romance novels. Trying them out in real life messes with everyone and complicating life..! It does not help either the Pati, Patni or the Woh

Friday, April 12, 2013 11 comments

Standing out in a crowd

My daughter pointed to a T Shirt at a shop window  in our neighborhood. It had the message       “ Everyone reads my blog” printed across it.
“Come on mummy you should buy it” she urged.  When   I laughingly refused saying that it would actually be a lie if I wore it as only a few people read my blogs, my husband pitched in saying that he could get the manufacturer to personalize it with my blog URL.  I was horrified at the image of being a walking advertisement for the “Chronicles…” I would rather die than draw attention to myself in that way.

But I guess I belong to the Jurassic age.  The aim of most people today is draw as much attention to themselves as they can. Wearing T shirts with these funny and sometimes obscene messages is only one way of doing it. And believe me, some of the messages on T shirts can be pretty outrageous!  They are all the more hilarious  if the personality of the wearer does not match the message. One wonders how the T shirt got on that person.

Let me share some of the messages that have caught my attention.

There is an extremely fat man who jogs in the  area where I go for my morning walk. I once saw him wearing a T shirt that had the message “ Kiss me” splashed across it. A very friendly man, he often waves out at fellow walkers. Unfortunately people didn’t wave back on that fateful morning. I saw all the aunties’ give him that disapproving look while the wannabe aunties like me turned their faces away lest they burst out laughing.

Then there is a watchman in the same area who gets off duty when I complete my first round. One can see him get on a cycle heading  back home. I saw him once pedal away in a T shirt that had the message “Trust me, I am a virgin”!!! Poor chap. I am sure it was a hand me down from some employer. It looked weird on a fifty something man like him who had coordinated it with a blue checked lungi!

My daughter told me about a beggar she had seen near out house wearing a T shirt with the words          “Sorry girls. I only date models” printed across it. She was so amused that she came back home immediately and wanted me to come with her to see this sight. I guess the beggar must have got this as part of his alms. Of course one cannot discount the fact that he may have become a beggar because he was dating models.

I have seen more scandalous messages than these at odd places and on odd people.  Some of them are so scandalous that we notice them no matter what we are doing. We were once running at Nizamuddin station in Delhi trying to board a train to Haridwar when we saw what I think is THE MOST SCANDALOUS message on a T shirt of all times. It read “ The more hair you lose the more h—d you get”. The man wearing it was your average middle class train traveler like us with loads of luggage, wife, kids etc. I am sure he never realized what that message on his T Shirt meant.  When we finally boarded the train, the first thing that my husband and I mentioned to each other after catching our breaths was “Did you see the guy in that T shirt”? The daughter was very curious to know which “guy” which T shirt. She was too young to know what that message meant though we would not have put it past her to read it aloud and ask us the meaning in public. Thankfully, Mr. T.Shirt was not on our train.

T shirts with messages find their way into our wardrobe through various means- there are those which we get as part of school/ college reunions or some company event but I am not sure how T shirts with such outrageous messages get sold. I sometimes wonder whether people buy such T shirts on an impulse for fun and then get cold feet passing them on to watchmen, dads, uncles or beggars? Whatever,  the T shirt does get the attention it deserves and sometimes because the personality of the wearer is so opposite to the message!

I think T Shirt messaging is one of the newer art forms that is developing. It is a rather fun thing though few would acknowledge  noticing a scandalous message. Some probably don’t notice it at all. For them it is just some print on the front. I guess it will take on new dimensions once the messaging moves on to local language.

But I am sure you will agree with me when I say that it is definitely a way of getting people’s attention.. making you literally “stand out in a crowd”. Something that many aspire for.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 4 comments


We were at a cinema theatre a couple of weeks ago. Being early for the show  I was trying to kill time looking at the posters of the upcoming movies. That was when my eyes caught sight of a poster which seemed to ring a bell in my mind. I was wondering where I had seen something like this . My daughter enlightened me by saying  “ This is the Tamil version of the movie Delhi Belly”.

“ Delhi Belly” is one of the wackiest movies that I have seen in recent times. Set in Delhi, it has a crazy theme involving the consequences of a small mistake made by one of the three friends who live together- they exchange by mistake a stool sample with some diamonds which they were unknowingly asked to pass on to the bad guy.. And after that it is pure fun. Toilet humor certainly but you laugh till your sides ache.   I am not sure how it would translate on to the Tamil screen.  Actually, I don’t think it would translate  into a Tamil/ Chennai context at all.

Before you accuse me of being biased, let me explain why it would not. For starters, the film “Delhi Belly” is not in Hindi, it is in “Hinglish”. Most of the dialogues are in English with a smattering of Hindi. The characters are all from the English speaking class of the capital and the humor and situations  are peculiar to that culture! It would be very difficult to translate them to the Tamil – Chennai context. In a conservative city like Chennai where a Tamil movie is likely to be set it would be quite difficult to come across a journalist like Menaka (Poorna Jaganathan) or someone like Sonia (Shehnaz Treasurywala). Not to say that they do not exist but they would not strike a chord with the audience if they were to be featured on screen.

What I am coming to say is that humor is very culture specific and one has to stay rooted within that culture to enjoy it.  People who watch Tamil movies are part of a different sub culture which has its own brand of humor. I would like to take the example of a lovely film made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the 1980s called Khubsoorat starring Rekha and Rakesh Roshan. It was a light, lively family story with some clean humor. However when it was made into Tamil (I think the name of the Tamil version was                 Lakshmi Vandachhu”)  it was terrible!!! It started out as a scene by scene copy of the Hindi film   but went on to end in some kind of emotional melodrama which was completely out of sync with what the Hindi one was all about. Actually, I was surprised that the Tamil version was made into a mess like this because in terms of story it was culture neutral – it could happen in any part of India. It was a simple story of a carefree and fun loving girl who goes to visit her sister’s in laws and shocks them with her behavior. The Tamil movie made this girl into a cancer patient who was trying to live out the last days of life through laughter.. WHY ????  I was so annoyed when I saw this film that I grumbled all the way home. It was with great effort that my father soothed me saying  “In Tamil culture unless there is melodrama no one thinks watching  a movie is worth it”.

Then there was another film “Golmal” –again a product of the late seventies / early eighties. I don’t remember the name of the Tamil version but I think it was very loud. While not denying that Rajnikanth gave it a different but entertaining new treatment to the character played originally by Amol Palekar, I think the character of Utpal Dutt was annoyingly  over dramatized in the Tamil version. 

I hear that “Three Idiots” has also been made into Tamil. I shudder to think what that would look like !

However, before you think that I am against Tamil movies and Tamil culture, let me tell you that it works both ways. There was a beautiful Tamil movie called “Alaipayudhe” starring Madhavan and Shalini which was remade into Hindi. I do not remember the name of the Hindi version but when I saw it , I realized that the characters played by Rani Mukherjee and Vivek Oberoi were not real and believable like the ones in Tamil were. The Hindi characters were too glamorized and filmy.

And ofcourse everyone knows the damp squib that “Dayavan” was. A remake of “Nayagan” it can only be referred to in the worst possible negatives.

I do realize that in a country like India which has innumerable cultures and sub cultures it is not an easy task to remake films in different languages. Actually, I think one should not even attempt remaking them because it loses the flavor that makes the original one unique. It might be a better idea to simply use sub titles and introduce the movie to audiences in another part of the country. It would help others understand and appreciate better the culture in which it is set and over sometime do away with cultural stereotypes.

It is a pity when something that is good is turned round on its head and pounded out of shape just so that someone from another culture can relate to it. It is like trying to make pasta seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. When that happens it is not pasta. It becomes upma and really who wants Upma made with Fetucini or Fucilli? And is it fair to the Italians if I can enjoy their cuisine only when it resembles and tastes mine?

But who can explain this to an avaricious film maker? It is obvious they  cannot see anything beyond currency notes. If something has done well in a certain language I guess they want to transmigrate it to another language forgetting that it might not fit. And they do this secure in the knowledge that there are only a few who may have tasted both Upma and Pasta. Those who eat pasta rarely come into contact with Upmav and those who eat Upma might just think that this is a change… What a world!!!