Thursday, May 27, 2004


This story is not my own. It appeared in Kalki as a short story called "naaku" by some author unknown. However, my mom read the story and told me the gist of it. I rewrote it again from scratch in English. Is that a translation, I don't know. I do know that the English version of the story is what I wrote. However, legal disclaimers aside, enjoy the story

It was when he was eighteen, that Shiva began criticizing his mother's cooking.
-What is this? This isn't roti. It tastes like the inside of a camel's thigh.
-Man! ill date I didn't know what idlis were, till I finally had them at Shanmugam's house
-The coffee that you make mom, I finally found out it was just plain water, after I had coffee at the Vasantha Bhavan Hotel.
Lakshmi was stung by her son's harsh words. Till he was eighteen, Shiva had been very fond of his mother's cooking and had proudly proclaimed to one and all that his mom's cooking was the best. His sudden change in attitude, hurt Lakshmi and led her to introspect a lot on her cooking, and made her for the first time in her life quite insecure.
-Mom! I finally found what a cheat you are. That rasam you make, it's so bad. Try having it at Madhu auntie's place. It tastes so nice there.
-Mom! Is this dosa, or some old carpet. Why is it so thick.

Lakshmi was confused by this attitude. She was desperate since her husband, and all others never seemed to complain about her food. Over time, she took to asking her guests about the food, and critically comparing it with Shiva's comments.
-Mausi, this biryani is great, commented Leela, her favourite niece.
-Leela's lost her tounge, claimed Shiva.
-No dolt. If anybody's lost their tounge, it's you. You couldn't have tastier biryani.
-Well then! You have it. This has no favour at all. You should try having the Hydrabadi ones they serve on Verranam road.
-Yes! I suppose you prefer having food of the road. That's the only taste a donkey like you would like.
-Yes! Only a donkey like you could possibly understand what a donkey like me likes.
Lakshmi was stung by this conversation. She turned round and asked Shiva.
-Shiva! Tell me. Is there nothing at all you like in my cooking. Are none of the dishes good.
-No mom! One of the dishes is good.
-What is it?
-The hot water that you pour into my glass.

Callously Shiva laughed.
Leela bowed her head and refused to look at Shiva or Lakshmi.

Tears sprang to Lakshmi's eyes, but she didn't know why.

Lakshmi kept wondering about it more and more, till one day her husband took her aside and told her.
-Don't worry. Your cooking is fine. It's just that he is at an age, when he wants more attention from everyone. He thinks he can get it by criticizing your cooking. But the boor doesn't know how much he hurts you. Don't worry about it, and don't take him seriously.

Lakshmi thought about it for a long time, and at the end of it came up with two curses, she would have gladly bestowed on Shiva, if her hand hadn't been stayed by the fact that he, was her son.
1. She devoutly wished Shiva would get a job in some far away city, and that having eaten the filthy food of a million restaurants, would finally come back to her food, and eat what she had lovingly prepared.
2. She wished that he got a wife who hardly knew how to cook.

Time passed.

Her Shiva got a job in the same city they lived in, but with his now spread wings, hardly ate at home. He went about happy in his own ways, and taunting Lakshmi when he occasionally came home for dinner.

Time passed.

And then it was time he got married. Lakshmi spent the better part of three months, looking for a girl, who would love her little Shiva. But try as she would, Shiva rejected all her choices.
-No mom! Check her out. She has a face like a horse
-But Shiva, then whom do you prefer. You have rejected all girls till now.
-I don't know mom! She looks sick.

So it went on, day after day after day. Till she finally found Revathi.

Shiva liked Revathi the minute he saw her photograph. So they went to Revathi's house.

Lakshmi had asked Revathi only one question.
-Do you know how to cook well.
-I'll manage
So said Revathi.

Lakshmi thought that well, if all else goes wrong, I like her confidence. She consented, and Shiva happily married Revathi.

Time passed.

Her Shiva was now living with Revathi, in a flat, the other side of town. He seemed happy, but he hardly ever came home nowadays
Sometimes Lakshmi missed her happy boy, who used to come and eat from her hands. She didn't know if she was jealous of Revathi, but
nothing could seem to remove the pangs of loneliness that she felt.

She decided to visit Shiva.

-Come in mother. This is a great and truly wonderful surprise. Revathi, look who's come
-Hello ma! It's been such a long time since you visited us. You are staying for lunch aren't you. Why didn't you let us know you were coming. I would have prepared something fabulous for you.
-Of course, she is staying for lunch Revathi. She's come after such a long time.
-Just a second ma, I have some aloo curry frying, let me just check on it.

Revathi ran off, and Shiva continue to pursue his paper. After sometime Lakshmi wandered over to help Revathi in the kitchen.
-No ma! You relax today. Besides you'll only make me feel nervous. Why don't you watch television.

So Lakshmi sat there, and watched the gyrations of the actors on television. Sun, Star, Zee...

Finally it was time for lunch.

Lunch was horrible. Forget the fact that the aloo was uncooked. The rasam, had no flavour, the sambar was so sour it tasted like
tamarind juice. Revathi was appologetic.
-Sorry ma! Lunch today was just terrible.
-It's ok.
-I was so tense, I put in all the tamarind into the sambar, instead of the rasam
-It's ok.
-And then I was so tense, I pulled the aloo out of the cooker rather early.
-It's ok.
-Plus the rice isn't well done.
-It's ok
But Shiva had a different opinion.
-Yaar! It's not so bad. Aloo may be bad, but it's nicely spicy.
-Don't try and ice me over Shiva. I know it's bad.
-But it's pretty good. What do you say mom.
-It's ok.
-Mom is just being nice to me, Shiva. Can't you see that....

Lakshmi was sitting there quietly. She couldn't believe that Shiva was actually enjoying this meal. She was just thinking about Shiva's
compliments over and over, when the phone rang. Revathi picked it up.

-Hello mumee! How are you.
-Yes! Fine. Amma has come to visit us today.
-We are having lunch
-Yes, yes! I'll convey your namaskarams to her.
-Yes. Shiva is also here. No office today.
-What are we having. Hmmmm.. Aloo curry, sambar, rasam and rice.
-No mom. It's pretty bad. My aloo came completely undone. and I put all the tamarind into the sambar.
-Yes! I suppose so.
-But, mumee, can you write out all the recipes for me when you come next time. I seem to keep forgetting.
-How much coffee powder do I need to put to make coffee for three people.
-Yes, yes, I am noting it down....

Shiva looked up from his food.
-Great food isn't it mom.

Tears sprang to Lakshmi's eyes, but she didn't know why.

Time passed.

It was a month or more when Shiva finally decided to visit his mother.

He came home one Saturday morning, right after breakfast.

-Hello Shiva. Where is Revathi.
-She's meeting some friends of hers, so I thought I'd come home
-Oh! Come in, come in. Dad's gone to the market, to get brinjal.
-Brinjal. Ok!

Shiva's unenthusiastic voice pained Lakshmi. She remembered how a long time ago, he had loved brinjal, and couldn't have enough of it.

-Hello Shiva. When did you come.
-Hi dad! Came just a half an hour back.
-Oh great! I just went to the market to get brinjal. You're staying for lunch right.
-Yes Dad.
-Lakshmi, here take this brinjal and make him his favourite brinjal sambar.

Lakshmi took the brinjal and made the sambar. She ground the masala, and then the tamarind. She picked some corriander leaves from her garden.
She then boiled some water, and carefully mixed the sambar powder into it, making sure that it had just the right amount of salt, and spice.
She prepared lunch with a devotion, that came from years of practice, and with a despair that came from years of abuse.
When it was all over, she took the lunch to the table and set it there.

She served her husband and Shiva, as they talked about Shiva's work at her dining table.

-So how's work! Heard you are spending quite some time at the office now.
-Yes dad! It's tight.

Lakshmi watched tensely as Shiva put the food to his mouth. She waited for his acerbic comment.

-By the way. Subramaniam's daughter is getting married. She was in college with you right.
-Yes! Rather a bad looking girl.
-But she's changed now. Looks amazing. She is getting married to China. Lucky him

Lakshmi watched as Shiva, ate his food. He wasn't eagerly eating it, there was a hesitancy in his action. But he hadn't taunted her till now.
At that moment Lakshmi wanted her Shiva to be the arrogant boy he was before. Not to know dissapointment, to be content in his own lair, and to
be naive. To seek out his friends. She felt a motherly impulse to stroke his hair, and ask him for his comment. It didn't matter if it was acerbic,
good or bad. This was her Shiva, eating at her table, and she wanted him just the way he was. To not know of any of the discomfort.
She waited anxiously for his comment as father and son, talked and ate, but still no comment from Shiva.
Her heart seemed to be beating faster and faster, every moment that Shiva remained quiet.

Finally he spoke.

-Mom! Excellent food.

Tears sprang to Lakshmi's eyes, but she didn't know why.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


finally after years and years and years of struggle toil and bitterness, I finally have aws mail. fuck you gmail. this is king.... :-)

Monday, May 24, 2004

a world out of time

Chennai is full of small epiphanies. Small, but they do sneak up on you, and destroy your impression, of not just the stereotype of the city, but also the stereotype that you have become. To all those who claim that Chennai is in fact a boring place, I present to you Velkom farms (Yes! that is it's, actual spelling), a rather German looking name but a rather English farm, set off along the sceninc, beautiful and flat ECR, 35 kilometers from nowhere, and a whole 50 years before 2000-fuck you man, I have places to go, no time to relax, buisness to meet, things to do, kids to raise, pressure to bear-4.

We set off to visit that place, imposing ourselves upon the pair who own and live on Velkom farms, the charming duo of Raj and his wife Sumi. Errr... till now I have managed to figure out that Raj's name is errr.. krishnaraj, but sumi remains one of those people who are hard to place. Kaustubh and Inder have been going there for riding lessons, and raj and sumi invited them, but in the true spirit of friendship we just imposed on k&i who imposed themselves (ourselves) on r&s, and cometh the hour saw some 15 of us, set off down ECR on our bikes to a destination seriously unknown, but in rather high spirits.

Side note: what's happened to Chennai. This is supposed to be the peak summer. The time of scissoring heat, and deaths galore. Well... well... well.. sunday's temperature was 25 degrees celsius, it rained like mad, soaking addy so much that when I went to the room, he was engaged in the rather dubious pursuit of ironing out his money, which was soaking wet, and compressed into a tight wad (rather reminiscent of what we used to pull out of janvi's mouth) .

So there we were resplendent in our different attire, addy crinkling bills, and flashy new socks, amit, me, dilip, and ravi and ravi, all astride our mounts, as we proposed to get 'there'. we were starting out at 6.00 and the weather was marvellous. it must have been some 25 degrees. humidity was practically nonexistent and there was a chill wind blowing. We started the drive down the ECR ( beautifull most days, today was exceptional). After about half an hour, it turned dark and the stars came out, and I could see Orion chasing Pleaideas and all the other characters, twinkling and chiming as though they were sharing their own personal jokes and asides, about our mortal existence here. After twenty minutes, we left behind the ponderous buses, and were onto the highway proper, road before and behind, and causarina trees to our left and backwaters to our
right, sky all above, and wind all around. Soon enough it became impossible to hear dilip talking and there reigned silence and just the whizzzz... of the chill wind, as I silently contemplated life inside my helmet, and sang any a number of good hindi songs to myself.

After about half an hour of zooming through the bends in the road, we reached a rather large hoarding proclaiming to all those with the ability to read, the facts of life. That :
to our right, and at a distance of four kilometers, lay the great villages of kelambakam.
to our left, for those despeartely suicidal, or desperately looking for some solitude, lay the long beaches of the bay of bengal, dotted at regular intervals, with other couples looking for solitude, or suicide.
before us, after a kilometer, lay the sandy beches of kovalam.

At this point we slowed down the bikes, and hunted for a signboard, with a prancing pony. We did find it, but raj, if you are reading this, it's because I am superman, and have magnifyo-vision. If in the interests of weeding out the hoi-polloi, you have such a small board, I don't mind, but can you kindly make it a little bigger.

We took a right turn at this board, and went down a small dirt track, lined on either side with thorny bushes. ravi the junior, took many a hit on this trail. after going down this path, in complete darkness, we turned a corner and there before us, were the wooden gates of velkom farms. Bing! just like that. Since all our eyes were on the road ( believe me a puncture here, is not recommended), we had failed to get a proper perspective of this place. Which we got, once we stepped down.

Space! Lots of space. How else can I describe it. For a city dweller like me, given just a 6 foot box to breathe in, all week, the prospect of so much space, was unbelievable. I mean, I had seen such stud farms in rather far away movies, like horse whisperer and all that. But here before me was such a beautiful stud farm. And here I was, walking around. Good Lord! After we parked our bikes, Kaustubh took us around the place, and showed us the different rinks. The jumping one, riding one, and all that. This is a huge place. BY this time, there was lightning all around, and we were illuminated, from time to time by these flashes, which made us feel like the subjects of a nervous photographer, who in all his haste kept pressing the flash button every now and then. And then far away, over horizon kaustubh pointed out to a few trees.
-See them.
-that is the end of his property.
That covered perhaps more than a hectare of ground. At this point we were velkomed into the property by a few gentle raindrops.
k at this point of time, played gracious host, and told us about where they would go long distance riding (which was beside a few salt quarries, that stretched all the way to pondicherry). whew!
and so there we were, 15 of us, staggering around, and muttering to ourselves, "beautiful, Beautiful!". I can honestly say all of us were jealous.

But then raj stepped in and the charmer he is, he got us all seated around a large table right below a causarina tree, and there he opened up his chiller, and bathed us in a veritable orgy of coke and fanta. So there we all were, quietly sitting around, listening to raj and somi( a pleasure in itself), and listening to their discourse on life, love and horses (not exactly in that order though!). Ah! The feel of the cold breeze. The sight of the stars, and the sway of the causarina trees behind me. And all around was silence, except for our voices, and the occasional whinny of a horse. The farm itself consisted of raj & somi's house ( a small quaint beautiful one), and far away the tack rooms, and the stables. Small dust lanes led from one part to the other, all beautifully landscaped, and lit with those subtle yellow golden bulbs, thrust behind beautiful glasses, that makes me feel so romantic.

And there we were, and not one of us I bet, wanted it ever to end. At this point, it began to drizzle, and we went in to the house. Well.... atleast most people went in. Otoh, Tyke (who happens to be raj's dog) and an extremely dignified geezer, and me, went outside and sat down on a bench that will eventually overlook some waterbody. I sat there with Tyke's head on my lap, as he nibbled some chicken from my fingers, and watched the faraway lightning, that intermittently illuminated the land around me, the far away boundary of raj's farm, felt the feel of the zephyr on my face, the gentle taps of the raindrops against my shoulders, the windchimes that danced inside the house, the cool earthy smell of hay, horses, the pleasant subduded lighting that was a magnet for the small ladybirds that crowded around the lamps, nudging each other away as Tyke looked at them with mournful eyes, as though lamenting the fact, that he could not chase them, not at the expense of his dignity, the feel of tyke's soft fur in my hands, as I gently scratched his ears, the feel of the grass between my feet, the sound of old hindi songs, juki juk nazar wafting through the air, the smell of lillies, that were adorning sumi's table, and from far the cry of corncrakes, busily making their bed, and from afar the sound of voices, all murmuring softly to each other, breaking gently now and then into a guffaw, as raj teased one and all. ah!!!! the sheer pleasure of it all.... Tyke and I shared the quiet moment, and in order that I understand that he understood, Tyke lulled by my constant scratching of his ears, put his head on my lap and gently dozed of, one wary eye always on his mistress. Peace. Zen. A sense of calm.

But if you thought that, that was it, well you were mistaken. The night was but young, and somi with the aid of an excellent chef had made tons and tons of food for us to eat, there was garlic chicken, and chicken 65 and noodles, and rice, and well well well... there we were hogging away, trying to politely stuff ourselves, and incapable as ever of thanking our gracious hosts wonderful hospitality. I have this deja vu feeling about raj. I had this feeling I had seen him before and was not mistaken. He was this Don Bosco alumni and when I told him that I had tangled with his school in basketball, he became quiet happy. Plus we share the same taste in music. Rolling stones. I sang out of tears, and he was really happy. And well after we had hogged, we went in to Raj's place and sat there on the ground as raj kept us entertained with the story of his misdemanours as a youth and we listened to something soothing on worldspace. O.K. Now this is an extreme contraction of what happened. But you just had to be there.

And then it was time to go....

We pulled out on our bikes, which we couldn't find (so heavy was the rain), and rode back through the heavily falling sheets of rain, drenched. slick empty roads, shivering and leaving behind our one source of warmth. Two motorcycles in tandem. Splotched glasses, fogged out. Grim bursts of lightning. dark pink colours. Wet underwear, wet everything. Two cycles, gunning to each other. Ratratratrat. Medians passed. Silence, just rain. Swishhhhh... One ambasdor pulls past. A man on a bike standing. K leaning in saying. Now how does that help. A wet flat. Dilip. saviour. tea. clothes warm. messages on my cell. cherapunji ya chennai from ravi. then clothes, a blanket, and bed.

and in those dreams, I saw from far, velkom farms, and thought.