The Night Of The Monster

I just saw something creepy
After that, I can’t feel sleepy.
Aaah! Those blood red eyes!
That green and gooey slime!
I’ve escaped it before but not this time.
His body reminds me of cries.

I know because I read it now
In my comic “Survival, How?”
It has killed many after shocking ’em in fright .
A sword, a gun with bullets 45
Is all I need to stay alive.
But none lie within sight.

It was coming for
Me, I lay down on my bed in horror.
Everything other than my bed had broken.
I froze in fear,
The end was drawing near,
Then, I awoke.

I was wondering, where
Could it be, it hadn’t left a single hair.
Did it have the power not to be seen?
I was paralyzed in fear,
Did it have the power to disappear?
Then it hit me! I’t was a dream.


Lessons and Parenting

I read this amazing blog last Friday about how children can learn a lot if you bring them into the kitchen. I had not thought they could learn so much through cooking and baking and I immediately resolved to try it out. Later on Friday though, something happened that made that fun plan fly right out the window.

If you are an Indian parent, you probably had this video pop up on your whatsapp too. It has been shot by a mother teaching her three-four year old the numbers. As the little one is pressed to repeat, she gets things wrong and starts to cry, which  angers the mother even more. The child then complains of a headache and pleads to be taught with love. The whole thing ends in a slap.

It is not for the faint-hearted. It is a disturbing video, and you should not watch if you think it will affect you much.



Because it affected me very much. I didn’t sleep at all that night. That’s the funny thing about technology. You see a distressed, crying child and want to pick them up and comfort them but you can’t. You don’t know who they are or where they are. And yet the crying and the pain is so real it can give you a sleepless night. As I found out.

The third time the video came on a whatsapp group, I decided to reply and warn people to not click on the link because it was so disturbing. I was talking to my husband about all this when my older one overheard and interrupted me to say, ‘Why did you say that? You should have told people to click on the link and forward it around so that that mother learns a lesson’. By evening, he got his wish. Virat Kohli and a bunch of Indian cricketers had come across the video too and shared it on their Instagram with scathing comments on poor parenting. The thing went viral.

Now I need to back up a bit. When the video came up on school and office groups, most of us were horrified and disturbed. But we felt that a backlash against the mother might not be very productive. What she needed was counselling and help. I wondered what sort of feedback the mother was getting and whether it would be too negative to be of any use, so I clicked on “Comments”.

The first comment said, ‘This is a normal mother and a normal child. This is not news. Times of India, don’t waste our time.’

Another one went, ‘Come on people, you all thought this was funny till Virat called it child abuse. Use your brains.’

Another, ‘We were all raised like this. Don’t overreact.’

‘All the people reacting like this are either single or not parents or dads. What do they know about raising a child?’

And so on.

So by this time my brain had sort of ground to a stop. A night of no sleep, too much thinking, and then this. Nothing made sense anymore and I just wanted to back off and sleep!
Later, the girl was identified as the niece of a well known singer. The family defended the teaching methods and described the child as stubborn. A bunch of stories came up in the press and the story is now old news.

To my mind, now is a good time to talk about it. One of the more sensible comments said, ‘Don’t judge the mother based on a 2 minute video.’ That is very true. Although, I would still say that it is not a one sided video. It is not of a child crying (and possibly throwing a tantrum) or a mother scolding (and possibly being ignored. My boys do it all the time). There are reactions. There are responses. They don’t feel good.

Do parents need to be perfect and patient all the time? Of course not! It is not possible. But when you are correcting a child, do you realise when you need to stop, back off? When you have crossed a line? Yes! Sometimes you realise it too late. Then you say sorry. It happens! I remember when my older one was ten months and we were visiting family he decided he wanted to subsist on breastmilk. For a ten month old, that is not possible. He was constantly hungry and cranky. After a point, I was just fed up. So my husband held him fast in his lap while I fed him bananas. He cried throughout. My horrified sister made a video of the whole. She showed us the video years later telling me my son could report us for abuse. She was right! If it went viral, I would probably get the same sort of reaction as this one got. Of course as soon as the banana was finished, my son raced off to play – happy and full. But you can’t see it in the video.

Here’s the thing though. This was not a video of a normal child and a normal mother. It was an aberration. Something we remember ten years after it happened. If this seems like normal to most folks, what is normal?

This thought reminded me of something else. In the aftermath of the murder of S Swathi by a man who had been stalking her, there was a discussion on Baradwaj Rangan’s wonderful blog about the link between the depiction of stalking as an expression of love in Indian movies and the acceptance of stalking as ‘normal’ in real life. It was an amazing discussion but some things stayed behind especially, in my mind.

  • One lady spoke about her experiences as a teacher in small town India. She sounded young, enthusiastic and like she might have been a popular teacher but when she spoke to her teenage pupils about how it was better to approach a girl and just talk instead of stalking, her class bristled and she ended up being counselled to not bring her city ways too much to the country because her own safety was at stake.
  • A young reader and frequent commenter on the blog, a sensitive and thoughtful young man, objected to how stalking was an unfair word to use for ‘following’ which was a fair way to express love and interest. That it was normal.
  • One reader spoke about his experiences as a student in small town India. A rather horrible story about being used by a girl to test the love of a boy stalker who was not coming up to scratch, leading to a violent episode and ending with this person leaving India for good to study abroad.

All of this was ‘normal’.

We are a huge country. We speak, according to Wikipedia 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. We have an insane variety of cuisines, clothing styles, facial features. Also apparently, a huge range of what is considered normal. Including holding a country to ransom to ensure a rapist does not go to jail. But I digress.

If there is a solution, I am not sure what it is. I’ll put my hope in talking to each other. And let us not assume that we are always right and ours is the only valid point of view. Parents on my kids’ school whatsapp groups speak from a position of privilege that they might not realise the extent of. India is a developing country. Not every parent has the luxury of letting a child follow their dream. There are just too many of us for all of us to be successful that way. We do have to teach our kids. They do have to clear their exams. But is this how they will do it? Can a child really learn this way? Are there examples where this has worked?

And what are the other ways?

I liked what Robbie Cheadle suggested in her blog, that we take them into the kitchen. My boys made modak with me this weekend for Ganesh Chaturthi. We started with too much jaggery, and then they did the math and measured out the right portions of every other ingredient.

Then today evening, my older one was standing on my head waiting for his milk to heat up so he could down it and rush off to play. His observation about bubbles on the edges of the pan led to an interesting conversation about heat conductivity in metals.

In our house though, me and my boys mostly bond over and learn through stories. We all love books and story telling and our bed time and waking up stories are filled with more than moral science. We put in interesting facts, trivia and math and science problems. I guess if you enjoy the teaching, they will enjoy the the learning.

And I’m sure we could extend this to so much more. We can learn from music. We can learn from sports. We can learn by observing nature. We can learn by hanging out together.

Is it always possible? No. Is it always easy? No. Is it always fun? YES! Does it work? I think so.

Maybe we can take the distress of this child and the discussions over this video somewhere else than accusing each other of poor parenting or non parenting. Maybe we can use this opportunity to work on how we deal with and raise our children. Maybe we can learn too how to do things better.

Places of learning

I wrote about school tuck shops a while back. Did I write about what happened this year? My son, ever ambitious on my behalf, told his teacher I would be making pizzas for him to bring. And then conveniently forgot to tell me anything about it. When I learnt about these plans through the usual circuitous routes, I was frankly appalled. I had been struggling along at the time with one of these old fashioned ovens and it took me about half an hour to get one pizza done. (We usually order pizzas in like most of the civilised world, of course)


When I pointed this out to Rohan, he gave me a long suffering look and said ‘Don’t worry mummy. I only told them you would send thirty pizzas’. I let out a gasp and a wail but my audience had skipped out on me. I seethed as I waited for my husband to come home and poured my story into his ears. The reaction I got was not quite what I had hoped for. ‘What if we get a new oven?’ he asked. Ignoring the fact that no new oven had been bought while we suffered through slow baked cakes and pizzas at home, I pointed out the obvious to the doting dad. There is NO WAY we will be able to deliver thirty fresh tasting pizzas. And you might as well not deliver cold pizzas at all.

My perfectly reasonable arguments fell on deaf ears and we had a new OTG in our kitchen the next day. I had by then though persuaded Rohan to let me send some pasta instead. On the day of the tuck shop, Rohan’s class teacher asked me to mind the class for a bit while she setup the stalls. I enjoyed this so much I wonder if I have missed my calling. I think I might have made a good teacher. And I would certainly have had fun doing it. I say this inspite of how the entire class wanted to go to the washroom at the mere sight of a substitute teacher. Some many times over!

I had given my son money instead of lunch. When he returned I asked him what he had eaten and he said pasta. I knew that at least one other mom had sent pasta too so I asked if he had eaten that. He looked confused and said, ‘No. I ate what you sent.’ There was a moment’s silence. Then I said it. ‘You spent the money I gave you to eat the pasta I could have packed for you in your tiffin?’ ‘Yes’ replied Rohan slowly and patiently with the look of a boy who had never previously suspected his mother of being so dense.

My son’s class hosted the school assembly this week. Their theme was friendship and parting and they put together a most impressive mix of song, dance and drama. My son was part of a group singing ‘Seasons in the Sun’. I joined him while he was practising the other day, pleased to be familiar with his song for once. When we reached the bit about It’s hard to die my son interrupted to inform me that they would not be singing that part. It made sense – it was not very appropriate. However, that was the end of our musical bonding. I heard the final product during assembly yesterday.

Seasons in the Sun is an adaptation of a French song  called ‘Le Moribond’ which means the Dying Man. In the original, it is quite a sardonic song about a dying man bidding farewell to his wife and her lover – who was also his best friend. Now all this was clearly too much drama for the English speaking world and the song was sentimentalised by Terry Jacks into a dying man’s farewell to his loving friends and family. And then, the primary department of my son’s school stepped in with their version.

This highly censored piece not only omits any mention of death, it also has to factor in the fact that the singer is bidding farewell to his friend that he’s known since he was nine or ten. Now the children in my son’s class actually are nine or ten. So they are in effect saying goodbye to a very current friend. And since they are way too young to have a wife, that bit has been edited out as well. Also, no goodbyes to their dad. In this new narrative, they are leaving town (most likely) with their mom and dad so the goodbyes are only for the trusted friend. And unlike Terry Jacks’ version, they have climbed hills and trees but only learned to love their ABCs.

So overall, I am hugely impressed with the school staff’s ability to make do with any material they have at their disposal. No wonder we manage to shoot off 104 satellites in one go.


Finally, there isn’t much left to say but Goodbye Jacqes Brel, you’re free to cry!

Pongalo Pongal

It is six o clock in the morning. A freezing morning in New Delhi. I don’t want to wake up, much less walk out to the terrace, shivering in my bare feet and crouch down next to a turmeric leaf. Then as my mother coaxes me with a very unmaternal glare in her eyes, I chant ‘Kakapudi vechhai, Kannu pudi vecchai, Kakai kon kuruvi kon kalyanam’ in a loop as I place small scoops of rice in various different hues on the leaf. As my feet start to soak in the cold – or the cold floor starts to drain my heat – I hop from foot to foot and the chanting gets faster. As soon as I am done, I run indoors. My mother follows looking dissatisfied.

I must have been a very unsatisfactory sort of child. But this is my most vivid memory of Pongal from my childhood.

I woke up today to a different Pongal. I have always celebrated Pongal though in a quiet sort of way but I have never involved the kids in it. Perhaps because of my own traumatic memories of the bitter cold only partly assuaged by the delicious chakarai pongal. Anyway, the kids were never involved in Pongal – till today. Today, I woke them up and sat in bed with them and forced them to give me their undivided attention for ten minutes. I told them Pongal stories, asked them Pongal questions and managed to interest them mildly till they left to play badminton with their dad. They are not back yet but our Pongal cooking and prayers are done. I hope they enjoy the food once they are home but I thought it would be nice to tell a few of those stories here.

So Pongal is celebrated over four days. The first is Bhogi and we have never done much on that day. People in North India celebrate the day as Lohri. The custom is pretty much the same – it is the day on which we discard and burn anything that can no longer be used. Clean up and make a fresh start. The bonfire also represents a spiritual cleansing-  destroy all vice and start anew.

Today is Thai Pongal – the first harvest of the year. Unlike people like me who draw a salary month on month, farmers work all year and twice only – the first time being on Thai Pongal – reap the fruits of their labour. It is a time to celebrate, hopefully with a rich and overflowing bounty. It is marked by cooking rice and lentils and allowing them to flow over. The flowing over is what we call Pongal. We cook pongal in sweet and savoury varieties and share with everyone who comes home to visit. It is also a time to visit friends and family and share meals.

Years ago, my mother moved from Madras in South India, to the far north of New Delhi. A young bride of twenty one. After being encouraged to study and never allowed to venture into the kitchen, in a sudden about turn my grandfather decided not to be tardy with his duties any longer and married off his first born, sending her off to new domestic pastures armed only with the trusty ‘Samaithu Paar’ by Meenakshi Ammal. A bit about Meenakshi Ammal. She was born in the early twentieth century and married in her teens as was the norm in those days. As was also common, she was widowed at a young age and left with small children. Not one to bow down to misfortune, she turned her one skill to her advantage and wrote a cookbook. It was not a time when cookbooks were very common. What was especially uncommon was a cookbook that had not fancy, restaurant style recipes but a how-to of everyday fare. A sort of tamil style cooking for dummies. It was just what new housewives like my mother, or young bachelors moving to new shores but desperately craving home food needed. I have a copy with me as well. Much thumbed and dog eared. Not compared to my mother’s tattered old tamil volume of course. It is my most trusted companion in the kitchen. I’m digressing here but only for the purpose of showing the special festival section from the book where Ammal tells her desperate housewives the whats and hows of special day menus.

On Maatu Pongal, farmers thank their best friends – their cattle. There has been a lot of controversy this year over the bull taming ritual of Jallikattu. I must admit the only time I ever saw Jallikattu, I was horrified and called everyone from police to media in an unsuccessful bid to stop what was happening. The Indian Supreme Court has now banned Jallikattu, which is a traditionally carried out on Maatu Pongal but there is little local support and much outrage. People who have practised Jallikattu for generations say that it is how strong bulls are identified. These are the ones that are used for breeding to ensure a strong line of native cows. The rest are used for ploughing the fields and other farm work. This practice keeps our native breeds alive and the hybrid jersey cow out. They might have a point, I don’t know. However, I was chatting with an office colleague who is a first generation city dweller whose dad still farms actively and his maatu pongal stories were much nicer. In his village, this day is when the cattle are allowed to rest. Children go from home to home to visit and feed cattle. Hay is fed and the cows and bulls and especially littles calves pampered like children with much love.

Today the work done by these old friends of men has been taken over by tractors. The leftover of last seasons crops is simply waste to be burnt, and we are left with debilitating pollution and smog.

The last day of Pongal is the Kannu Pongal. Along with leftover pongal, differently coloured rice is made using coconut, turmeric, tomatoes and placed on turmeric leaves for birds to eat. After being warded away all year round, on Pongal, even the birds get their share.

Sharing is a big feature of Pongal. My colleague told me that in his village the pongal cooked by well-to-do families was never eaten by them. Instead, it was sun dried and packed into sealed containers and distributed among the poor who would cook it in water and eat for months to follow.

I am not a farmer but I love harvest festivals. They are the only way for us city people to find our place in the circle of life and the rhythms of nature. Keep us from getting totally lost in the artificialities of our digital world. They may have different names and customs in different parts of India and even the world but they are bound by similar notions of gratitude and sharing of bounty.

Do you have a harvest festival story to share? I would love to hear it!

Turning Ten

My older one turned ten a few days back and my mind churned up a bunch of memories. Is it really ten years ago that all of this happened?

My first baby memory is going shopping for a birthday gift for a friend and then feeling too ill to go to the party. Then eating Maggi as we had given the cook the day off. Having crazy pregnant feeling and finding unconvinced spouse at the other end feeling particularly foul after the party miss and Maggi dinner and being very unimpressed by my symptoms – real and imaginary. Going to the hospital the next day and being given the unbelievable-after-all news. A baby was coming!

Then my sister (already a mother) giving me advice on finding an ob-gyn and telling me to chuck the doctor I was seeing at the time on account of her name (what doctor has a name like that? Please ditch and find someone proper) and after a few iterations, closing in on the wonderful Dr. Fatema Poonawaala.

Going for the first club outing (a weekly thing at that time of life) and finding friend rounding on self with the whole ‘family’s putting pressure, wait till he comes home!’ spiel. That last bit being about her clueless hubby who was travelling at the time.

And then listening to above friend’s husband complain a few months later about being taken in by peer pressure as a third friend’s husband smiled sheepishly. We knew, but the complaining one did not, that a third baby had been signed on board in less than six months so peer pressure was certainly through the roof!

I remember the last days and feeling really fed up and plotting with my husband on how to convince our doctor to ditch the normal delivery and go for a c-section since I really could not take it any more. And then going to the doctor and hearing her say the same thing herself.

Going to Lalita’s parathas for one last rout before I was put on the lauki-tori new mom diet and eating up a storm.

Checking in to the hospital with half our earthly belongings. Some useful, as suggested by sister. Some completely bizarre as mined from what to expect and the net – including Friends DVDs to keep me calm and happy!

I remember we had the bassinet ready to welcome our new addition. We had some sort of idea of a warm cute little thing coming home while the rest of our life continued as before. Well, ha!

We were in the hospital for the better part of a week while our friends dropped by to cut cakes, drink copious amounts of tea, sit on the driveway wall and marvel at how grown up we were getting as I struggled with feeding, burping, picking, calming and staying sane.

In a week or so it was clear that our baby was colicky. I remember sitting up all night holding the baby, who would scream if put down. And I remember my mother in law coming in the morning to take him so I could get an hour or so of rest. Then brushing my teeth before turning in even as the neighbours began amping up their Venkatesh Suprabhathams and feeling like my life had upended.

And then the milestones. The first vaccinations. The first laugh. The first sitting up. The first meal. The first steps. The first word. And things slowly getting back right way up before I knew how!

More milestones! The first major getting-hurt episode. My chitti telling me it was a badge of honour to show me I had raised a child. Playschool. The strange disappointment when he didn’t cry. The end of playschool when I cried. Big school. Prizes. Sports days. Notebooks. An increasing blur of teachers. Learning. Discovering talents. Nurturing talents. Tantrums. Playground fights. Making close friends. Discovering the term arch-enemies! Birthday parties. Dinosaurs. Sharks. Discovering a shared love of books. Finding music. Going to the mall and recognising the song because it is on his playlist. Getting dismayed by early glimpses of teenage rebellion.

And then there’s the stuff I can’t remember.

When did weekends become less about well dressed dinners and more about art classes and badminton? How did my reflexes get so cool I could catch a baby falling of the bed in mid-air – while half asleep!? When did Kung Fu Panda and Toy Story become movie classics? How did my library get colonised by Geronimo Stilton? At what point did my career become a job?

Ten years is a long time, how can it be so short?  My boy’s ten! But also, it is ten years now since we stopped being Vikas and Somya. Since we became, like we introduce ourselves to doctors, teachers, librarians – oh a bunch of people – ‘Hi, we are Rohan’s parents.’