Up, Close & Personal

Karan joharRecently, I had attended a Literature festival in Chennai. Day#1 was filled with interesting sessions with renowned personalities from the world of politics, media, literature and movies. For the initial sessions though seated closer to the back of the auditorium, we had an excellent view of the speakers – both live on the large TV screens for additional clarity. But then the post lunch session was a tete-a-tete with a leading filmmaker. I simply had to see him at closer quarters. So, the moment the lunch break started, I fought my way against the out coming crowd to get inside the hall and secured 2 seats right in the middle of the 1st row of the unreserved section. I could now view a better enlarged celebrity. Mission accomplished!

For those familiar with Tirupati, it is a very popular temple with more than 10 million pilgrim footfalls per day and excellent arrangements to manage the crowd, especially those queuing up for a Darshan or glimpse of the God ensconced in the inner most chamber of the temple. The wait for the darshan takes anywhere between 2 – 24 hours and the queuing behaviour of the devotees makes for an interesting case study. Some wait patiently in the line, with no complains or visible irritation and  minds focussed on the God; some elbow their way into the crowd continuously pushing aside someone in a bid to move ahead and see the God closer and sooner and yet others belonging to the privileged VIP (Very Important Persons) class simply breeze into the front of the line and have an unrestricted close view of the God!

I have always wondered why people fight to get as close as possible to their heroes, be it a celebrity or the God in a temple. Did I enjoy any incremental gains from viewing/listening to the celebrity sitting a few rows closer to the stage or does the VIP praying to the Tirupati Balaji at arm’s length gain more blessings than a person having a fleeting glimpse of the idol from afar? Does inching physically closer to the idolized subject satisfy an inherent psychological need to be connected to a person of repute and bask in the reflected glory  or is it an aspiration to really role model their core qualities and internalize them into ourselves? Quite obviously, it is the latter reason which really benefits a person and for that physical proximity is not really required.

A classic example is that of the 3 disciples of Drona, the renowned teacher of the Mahabharata – First is Arjuna, who can be classified as the VIP student, enjoying the privilege of being Drona’s favorite and thus the receptor of special personal and close attention. Second is Karna, who tried to elbow his way into the Guru’s attention and on failing sought another Guru in Parashurama albeit resorting to an identity untruth. Finally there was Ekalavya, who simply believed in the idea of Drona as a Guru, and became a proficient archer by simply praying to and practising in front of a clay image of Drona. He proved that there was no need for physical proximity or personal attention to gain the knowledge and desired qualities of an inspirational figure!


Araikasu Amman – The Goddess of Lost Things

15546058836_854bf2d3a2The first person who most likely comes to our minds when we are desperately searching for lost things is – God! Irrespective of how religious we are normally or how regular we are in our prayers, whenever we misplace something important and cannot locate it, we send out a cry for help to the divine powers. Sometimes, depending on the urgency and criticality of the situation, we add some perquisites as well – ranging from materialistic offerings to the lord to personal visits. In some Indian homes, its common practise to knot a coin in a cloth and  keep beside the picture of their preferred God as a kind of reminder to fulfil their promises once they get back their lost stuff.

Question is, which God is best suited for praying to recover lost things? The answer is quite obvious in case of monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Hinduism being a Polytheistic religion offers a plethora of choices. It could be the family Deity, the most famous Lord of the seven hills, the eagle mount perched on the corner of the temple wall in the village etc. However, it is to the credit of Hinduism that the multiplicity of Gods & Goddesses does not really complicate matters. Rather, each Diety is assigned ownership and responsibility of a certain aspect impacting humans. We have a Goddess Lakshmi to pray to for financial benefits, Goddess Saraswati for knowledge, God Ganesha for blessings while starting a new venture  etc. This can be compared to a well structured organization with clearly defined departments and respective heads.

It was while writing another post (The Runaway Brother), that I recalled the framed picture of a Goddess hanging in my maternal home, to which we would pray when we lost something important. I could not recall her name though and called up my mother to find out the same. When my mother told her name, Araikasu Amman, I was intrigued, as the name literally translates to – the Half Coined (Arai Kasu) Goddess (Amman). The Goddess, who looks similar to the seated four handed Parvati Deity in most Siva temples, is also known as Brahadambal.  The original temple of Brahadambal with her consort, Gokarneswar (Siva), in Thirukokarnam (near Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu) is a rock-cut Pallava temple dating back to the early 7 century AD. Various inscriptions found in the temple provide a glimpse into its rich past and contributions of the Pandya, Pallava and Nayak rulers. Brahadambal was the also the guardian Diety of the Thodaiman rulers of Pudukottai (early 17th Century AD).

Legend has that, a Thodaiman king once lost an important document and could not find it even after a lot of effort. He then prayed to the Goddess Brahadambal for getting the back the document. When the document was found, the overjoyed and grateful king had coins minted with the image of Goddess Brahadambal on one side, which were then distributed to his subjects on important occasions and festivals. these coins were in a semi circular shape (Arai Kasu) and the Goddess thus came to be known as the AraiKasu Amman. People continued to pray to the Goddess for recovering lost objects and missing people and have reported having their prayers answered.

While the Goddess is mostly associated with recovery of lost materialistic things, she most likely has the power to also restore lost peace, tolerance and love. Only, people don’t pray for such things!

The Runaway Brother

Disclaimer: The following story is 98% fictional  built on 2% facts and hopefully be received by all in good humor!

Runaway brother photo
Sketch by R K Laxman from the net

On seeing more than the usual crowd of gentlemen gathered on the pyol (entrance porch of traditional Tamilian homes comprising of a raised platform supported by pillars) of our home, Paati (Grandmother) quickened her pace, which was brisk even in normal times. I lived with my Paati in my Athey’s (fathers’ sister) home and we had rushed out on receiving the message that there was some trouble brewing at my parents’ home. My father seated with a resigned look, was listening to the babble of the crowd, which made way for us to enter the house. Nataraj Mama (uncle), the unofficial news collector cum distributor of our locality called out from behind “Jaya (my name), good that you have come! Can you make and send out some hot piping ‘A’ degree coffee? It will help recharge us for this important discussion.”

My parents’ house, which even on normal days was crowded enough with a veritable cricket team sized family (Including all brothers, sisters and our parents, we totaled 12!), looked as though it would burst into the neighboring house, with whom we shared a common wall. Nearly all the women and children of the street were gathered inside around my mother, who sat against the wall, alternating between crying fits and angry words berating my father and elder siblings. My Paati, with her tonsured head and ochre colored saree, having been widowed early and with the experience of raising her children single handedly, was the symbol of calm and fortitude. She pushed aside the crowd and asking someone to get my mother something to drink, said “Now tell me Sarasu, what exactly happened?”

Raman is missing again!” wailed my mother.

“So why are you getting so worked up? He will turn up again in a couple of days as usual” said Paati.

“You don’t understand, I think this time he has been gone for longer!”

“What makes you say so? When was he last seen” asked Paati looking around and fixing her eyes on my siblings, who were keenly observing the drama being played out.

“I have started to go to office, managing the little ones is not my job anymore”, Brother’S’ said shrugging his shoulders.

Sister’L’ pitched in “I have my hands full delegating and managing the duties of all the youngsters. I do not have the time to micro manage an 8 year old”

Down the order, Sister’B1′ said – “I am in charge of Brother’J'” and Sister’B2′ added “and I take care of the little Sister’P’ very well!”

Paati then peered down to Sister’K’, who was the only one sitting down and observing all goings on with a bemused air “What about you? Were you supposed to take care of Raman?”

“Who me? Not at all, I am too busy taking care of myself right now and will consider taking up the responsibility if there is another one after Sister‘P’! What about Jaya? Why couldn’t she take care of him” Sister‘K’ queried.

“Why ask me? You know I don’t stay here! And just to let you all know, I have my hands full managing the antics of Brother’N’ at school! We should ask him what he knows, after all Raman follows him around most of the time” I replied indignantly.

Brother’N’, higher up the order of siblings, was the street-smart, know-all town news one in the family. With all eyes now zoned onto him, said nonchalantly “Don’t you people worry, I have asked the gang to spread around and gather news on Raman. We should be hearing from them soon! But as I understand, he was last seen bathing in the Kaveri river, seven days back”.

“Oh my God, maybe he drowned in the Kaveri” exclaimed Kamalam Mami, who seldom ventured to bathe in the river. This immediately triggered a violent wail from my mother who shut up when my Paati said “Are you out of your mind Sarasu, this is the month of Agninakshitram (a period usually in the month of May, when summer is supposedly at its peak in South India and the Sun shines down particularly harshly). Even a rat cannot drown in the waters of the Kaveri, which now flows as a mere trickle!”

“I think we should immediately go to the police and gives his details”, suggested my uncle who had joined us now with my father and his friends.

“Why don’t you offer a prayer to AaravaAmudhan (another name of the reigning deity of the Sarangapani temple, one of the oldest in Kumbakonam). In fact, you should go and offer a prayer to all the temples in our town, I am sure one of the Lords will take pity on you and give back your son!” suggested Ganesh Mama, our local priest.

“But, it will take so much time to do that. You know we have hundreds of temples in our town and even if we distribute the task amongst ourselves, it will take a couple of months to complete the rounds” my father said in a dismayed tone.

“Yes, it doesn’t make sense to be going to all temples in such a time. But, we can be smart about it. Why not visit only the Arakasu-Amman temple near Pudukottai? After all, she is known to be the deity for recovering lost things?” suggested Lakshmi Mami, a practical lady.

“Yes, Yes that’s a good suggestion” a common voice of approval went around, prompting Lakshmi Mami to say “In fact, I have a picture of the Goddess in my home, let me get it for you right away”.

With a potential solution now in view, the talk moved on to general topics on police efficacy in tracing lost or stolen goods and children, the upcoming temple festivals and ask for coffee to be served, till Kitta Mama, my father’s school buddy entered with an announcement “Look who I have brought with me!”

All eyes turned to the entrance and we caught sight of Kitta Mama, with his hands on an 8 year old boy, whose eyes twinkled over a shabby dress. My mother at once ran over and hugging him tight, cried “Raman, where have you been? We have been so worried”.

“I found him waiting to board a ship in Madras city and thought he looked like your kid. So, knowing his penchant for running away, brought him along with me” beamed Kittu Mama reflecting pride at a job well done.

“The city, that’s so far off, how did you get there and what were you doing there?” asked Brother‘N’, looking at his erstwhile acolyte in wonder.

“Oh, it’s a long story” said Raman struggling out of my mother’s grip, though enjoying all the attention on him – “You remember the cinema announcer who had come to our streets a few days back? He told me that there is a role for me in a movie and I went along with him. There I did the role of a young priest and I was so good that they said I can go to Malayapradesham (Malaysia) and be a priest there! So, I went to the port and was trying to get on a ship when Kitta Mama found me and dragged me back home!” he said glaring at Kitta Mama.

“What you deserve is a good spanking for all the trouble you have given us” said my father pinching his ears hard. “So, you want to be a priest? A traveller? I know just the place for managing naughty boys like you”.

“Leave him, I know the chief of the Patashala (vedic school), we can admit him there. It’s not an easy place to escape from” suggested the local priest. “No No, there is a place in Pattukotai which is more ideal for such boys” suggested another Mama and others started pitching in excitedly, eager to contribute to deciding Raman’s fate.

The animated discussion broke up on arrival of hot coffee and pakodas, post which the crowd slowly dispersed. As we started to leave for my aunt’s home, my Paati looked around for Raman to give him a few words of advice but could not see him. When there was no response to the cacophony of voices calling out his name, my mother said in a dazed manner “He is missing again!”

“It’s too early to worry about it now? Let’s start the search after 5-7 days, if he is not back by then!” My father said getting back to his resting place on the Pyol.


“That was my point exactly!” Shankar shouted into his phone as he vehemently pushed the lift door open, “I am so fed up with this guy, he is bloody weak on the fundamentals and tries to play politics in every situation” moving towards his flat and ringing the bell. “I tell you, PeeKay, one of this days, I am going to escalate the state of affairs to HR and then we will watch the fun, …arey yaar…how much time do they take to open a silly door” ringing the bell again impatiently.

The door opens to an excited cacophony of children’s excited voices. Veda is playing with the neighbor’s kids boisterously and Sneha continues chatting with the neighbor after opening the door. Seeing Shankar enter, Veda runs up to him excitedly and starts saying “You know what happened today, Appa….” Shankar cuts her short, shouting while still on the phone simultaneously “What are you doing? Playing even at 7 pm in the evening? Don’t you have any homework? Stop this noise at once and go to your room. Start studying”.  There is silence in the room as the neighbor and her kids watch awkwardly. “Actually, we have to leave now, Ray will be home anytime, come on kids, say bye to Veda” says the neighbor and starts moving towards the door, even as her kids whisper a hushed bye to Veda. Tears swell up in Veda’s eyes and Sneha rushes to console her. “Come, let’s study for some time and then we can play a game of carrom”, leading her towards the kid’s room while wiping her tears.

Shankar moves towards the bedroom, continuing his conversation with his colleague on the phone “My problem is I know I can make a difference, but do not have the authority, and those who have the authority do not want to take any action… they are so shallow”  another phone rings in Shankar’s pocket. He takes it out and looks at it “hey PeeKay, the Big B is calling on the other phone, let me see what the bugger says now”, switching of the conversation with PK and speaking on the other phone “hello… yes, Sirji tell me… I am fine, boss,  you know best, what can I say… no no… lets discuss this right now… why wait for tomorrow to be in office… I think we need to resolve this right away”… pacing up and down in a stressed manner in the bedroom.

Veda’s rotund face slowly peers into the bedroom and she calls out softly…”Appa..Amma wants to know…”. Shankar turns around grimacing, cutting her short and points to her to go out of the room and Veda retreats quietly. Shankar goes and locks the door from inside and continues his terse discussion… which goes on animatedly for some time with the sound of a clock ticking in the background….finally Shankar winds up his call “Sure, sure… we can discuss this again tomorrow morning in the office… I didn’t realize that its 10 pm… bye then, goodnight”… and throw the phone in exasperation on the bed, exclaiming… “#%&*!~… this idiot will never understand the other person’s perspective… no point in trying to explain!”… Takes a deep breath and moves to open the bedroom door when he notices a small note with something handwritten on it slid under the door.

He bends down and picks it up and reads it… (Veda’s voice over) “Appa, please do not be angry, I hope you are ok! I am very hungry (sad smiley)…but will eat with you only….I love you, (heart-sign)!” Shankar’s face softens and he feels all tension easing out. A small smile comes to his face and his eyes moisten!

He opens the door to see Veda and Sneha reading a book quietly in the hall. As Veda sees him, she smile and eagerly comes forward, but then hesitates, unsure of his temper. Shankar rushes towards her and hugs her and says softly, caressing her gently “Sorry, my baby, I love you too, come let’s eat, you must be very hungry!

He moves towards the dining table with her, and Sneha looks at them and shakes her head with a slight meaningful smile!


Mythology of a Child’s Tale

sun moon and cloud

First, the Child’s Tale –

One day, the Sun was very happily shining on the village. But suddenly, the naughty clouds came and disturbed the Sun. The Sun went back home crying. His friend, the Moon who came to meet him asked – “Why are you crying my friend?” The Sun said – “When I was happily shining on the village, the clouds came and covered my sunshine.” The Moon said – “No problem. Drink a glass of milk and you will get a lot of energy.” The Sun said – “Ok, I will drink a glass of milk.” After that, it got a lot of power. It went back to the clouds and said – “Move or else I will send you back crying to your house.” The clouds started laughing. The Sun got very angry and showed its power. The clouds got scattered and the Sun shone bright again on the village.

Moral of the story – Do not fear, be brave and you will Win!

This tale reminded me of the mythological story of the great churning of the ocean by the Devas (the good folks) and the Asuras (the bad eggs) aided by Mount Meru as the churner, the great serpent Vasuki as a rope and Lord Vishnu himself as the base in the form of a tortoise. After several years of churning which gave rise to various divine things from the ocean, finally the divine physician Dhanvanthri emerged carrying a golden pot of Amrith (nectar) which would bestow immortality on the consumer. The greedy Asuras snatched the pot and refused to give a portion to the Devas. As they started fighting amongst themselves, Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, the enchantress and approached the Asuras.  The bewitched Asuras stopped fighting and offered her the pot of nectar for distributing amongst themselves. The Devas and Asuras seated themselves separately and Mohini started distributing the snectar to the Devas first, without any intention of sharing any with the Auras. However, one Asura named SvarBhanu realized Mohini’s intentions and disguising himself as a Deva crossed over to the other side. Even as he received and drank his dose of nectar, the Sun and the Moon, the luminary gods saw through his disguise and alerted Mohini. Immediately, Vishnu took his original form and cut off SvarBhanu’s body into half with the Sudarsan Chakra. But since he had already drank the nectar, he did not die. Lord Brahma made joined SvarBhanu’s head and body with a snake. Thus, the upper half with the head and a snake’s lower half was named as RAHU and the lower body of the Asura with a snake’s head was named as Ketu. Rahu and Ketu were then granted a place with the 9 Divine planets, known as the Navagrahas in Indian astrology.

Rahu & Ketu supposedly continue to hold a grudge against the Sun and Moon for exposing them and periodically get their revenge by causing Solar and Lunar eclipses. The Sun & the Moon are the most powerful luminaries amongst the nine astrological planets representing our Soul and Mind respectively. On the other hand, Rahu and Ketu are shadowy planets without any physical existence and yet shed a cloud over person’s happiness by blocking consciousness and mental prowess. Rahu, the head separated from the senses signifies worldly illusions and makes a person obsess over materialistic matters, while Ketu, the body without a head, restlessly seeks enlightenment. Both are thus Karmic planets, offering illusory temptations or cause humiliation restlessness and depression to the natives, which is eventually indicative of losing of the Sun’s brilliance or the Moon’s mental peace.

However, what is significant is that at the end of the day, Rahu-Ketu are mere shadowy planets, and the troubles caused by them can be overcome by sheer will-power and strength of the mind, as in the case of the Child’s tale. Also, Rahu-Ketu are not always necessarily always the negative characters they are made out to be and are rather harbingers of change which a person needs to face and overcome in his karmic existence. They push a person to challenge himself, move out of his comfort zone, face uncertainties, look beyond the deceptive attractions and eventually give up materialistic possessions for final enlightenment. The person thus grows richer by experiencing hurdles and difficult situations and learns to leverage his mental prowess and will power to be successful in the true sense. Thus, the brilliant life enabling Suns, the cool and creative Moons and the refreshing rain bearing clouds (Rahu-Ketus) come together and co-exist to complete a persons life experience.


I had to Bite the Bullet

Note: This post is in honor of J Mathrubhootam, concerned Hindu columnist and currently on holiday, so please excuse any similarities of style and language.

Respected friends,

There are days when I wish I had remained single like Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha. Here’s why. On a Sunday morning, I heard Mr.Das yelling to me – “can you please check what all the noise outside is about? A man cannot even do his Sunday Sudoku in peace.” I looked out of the veranda to see Mr. Banerjee & family noisily loading their suitcases into and over an Ubergo Indica cab, which even a Toyota Innova would have found difficult to fit.

I grumpily told Mr. Das – ” it’s the Banerjees. They are going to Calcutta for the Poojas and we are stuck in our homes as usual.”

“My dear, we too would have had not that stupid excuse of a salty airline cancelled their flights. But then how are the Banerjees going? He had as usual piggybacked on me and booked the same flight!”

“He has more sense than what you credit  him for and had additionally booked  the train tickets too!” I replied.

Mr.D jumped out of his chair as if a scorpion had bitten him and ran to the veranda shouting out ” Arrey Banerjee, stop stop! There are better ways of committing suicide!”. I rolled my eyes at the man who seemed to have had a cup of raw vodka in the morning instead of his morning tea “Are you mad? Don’t you know it’s inauspicious to be calling out behind a person, specially when they are setting out on a journey”. Mr.D looked at me “Women, I am worried for you, you will loose your best gossip and free food sample provider, Mrs. Banerjee as there is 90 percent chance that they may not make it to Calcutta sanely.”

“What the hell do you mean? Can you please stop your pessimistic doomsday prophecies for once” as I glared at him.

“Had you ever followed the news instead of the shopping sites, we would have saved a lot of money. Don’t you know the statistics related to train accidents and as per my calculations the Banerjees train has a high probability of facing one. Even if there is no accident, they are highly likely to be hospitalized with a severe attack of food poisoning or urine infection. Banerjee has always had a constipation problem, think of the sight that will greet him out of the window when he wakes up early in the morning, i.e if he is lucky enough not to get a yellowed window or one which has the patterns of a well used dashboard for stones.”

“That’s besides the point, which is you never take the trouble to spend on your family, you miser” I screamed back, getting well into the flow of things now.

“I am so hurt that you are saying this. Especially, when I had taken the trouble to talk to my NRI VC friend on getting the funds for building an international level smart home, especially as a surprise for you!”

This was news for me and what the hell did this guy mean by an international smart home. “Can you please enlighten me further, you are all Greek to me right now” I managed to say in as calm a manner as possible.

“Ahha….I have the deal of a lifetime. You remember how I had promised that I will buy your very own home. So, my friend has agreed to give the discounted finances for this new Smart home built on international technology. He will set it all up and you will feel like you are living in one of the 25 century techno homes you see in the science fiction Hollywood movies. All this only for the cost of 100 crores! Now tell me, isn’t that an awesome deal.”

I looked at him open mouthed and knew for certain then that he had had not a cup, but a cellar full of hard drinks in the morning to be talking like this. “Wouldn’t you rather spend on renovating your current decrepit old home and reduce the chances of us getting killed in our sleep, rather than spend a bomb on something we cannot afford? And not to forget, we have other priorities like Abi’s education, health insurance, retirement funds etc too!!!”

“You fool woman, my friend is giving a loan for a smart home, not your house renovation or family investments. You have never learnt to think big, understand nothing of financial sense and to think you wasted money on an MBA degree. Consider this I am now getting a discounted loan, for which I have to pay nothing now…my friend will set up the smart home ( I pay for the labour) and we can also make money on it. I can see your next question coming, so I will answer that in advance, you know how good a copy master I am if you remember our college days of making chits of various sizes, so I will carefully observe and copy the look of the smart home for others and charge them for it (as unfortunately my friend is not sharing the technology know-how with me)…and no worries about the loan…you know our culture…I repayed my parents loan and our daughter will do likewise…why worry about it as we will not be around to feel the impact. This will be my Taj Mahal for you and nothing else will matter, as people will see only this and ignore the surrounding state of family affairs.”

I resisted the temptation to bang the frying pan on his head “can we forget these high funda things and cut to the basics. Can you please ensure that you book our train tickets for Xmas holidays well in advance.”

“My dear, I don’t want to risk your life. Nothing short of the Bullet train is good for you. I promise I will book the tickets in 2022 to celebrate my birthday.” He said with a Cheshire cat like grin.

“Great idea, except for one small thing – it’s 5 years future forward, still on paper project and links Mumbai to Ahmedabad. How the hell do you plan to travel from Bangalore to Kolkata on that”

“You really cannot look beyond your nose, silly women. Here I am offering to take you on a trip in the fastest train and you are bothered with the nitty-gritties. We will figure out a way to travel from here to Mumbai and from Ahmedabad to Kolkata…in the next 5 years I am sure we will find a lot more smart future forward options. So, our plan is decided. Now stop spoiling my Sunday morning with your nonsense talk any further and let me get back to my Sudoku”

I had no choice then, but to bite the bullet.

Yours in exasperation,






Waiting for the crowds

HongkongMarketSunday weekly shopping has always been a big event. When I was a kid, I remember my father jotting down a list patiently as my mother dictated to him and leave after a hearty breakfast to do his days work. He would come home tired with 2 bag loads of weekly groceries, vegetables and fruits, but with an extremely satisfied expression on his face. As I grew older, I started accompanying him to the market. There, I witnessed first hand the way he browsed through the choices of produce lovingly with his hands, haggled with the vendor on the price and finally came out with his purchases. The entire market was filled with people jostling for space, manoeuvring their bags while trying to safeguard their purses, the shouts of vendors advertising their produce above the others, the smells plant and animal produce irrevocably intertwined with each other in certain areas and much more.

Now, I shop in the air conditioned luxury of supermarkets. An experience which while being comfortable is extremely boring. I miss the humdrum and human connect of the local markets. Local markets, which have the same soul everywhere – whether it be in Calcutta where I grew up or in the other cities where I traveled to.

The picture is of a local market in Hong Kong early in the day, waiting for the crowds to pour in.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall – but, why?

As usual, Abi’s face peeped out of the slowly opening front door and I waited for her usual peeved dialogue “why so late from office”? But today she seemed nervous and indicated me to go with her to the bedroom as she had to say something to me.

“I am scared, Ma. I know you will be unhappy with me and scold me” and immediately my mind started its guesswork on what she may have done wrong – broken something, lost something, fought with someone etc.

“Today teacher showed us our class test marks and I got 37/40 in Hindi and 35/40 in Maths?” she said with a desolate and puffed up face.

I mentally heaved a sigh of relief and said “is that all, why do you think I would be angry with you? 35 and 37 out of 40 is not a bad score.”

“What do you mean it’s OK? I am so unhappy I didn’t get 40/40 like my friend xxx.”

“Well, I have never scolded you for getting poor marks. And please don’t look at what your friends have got. Some would have scored more and some less, which is perfectly fine. More important that you should understand the subjects well, after all you may get 40/40 and still not be really knowledgeable, and that’s what would make me sad” I tried to explain.

“So, is it ok if I get 10/40 next time? I don’t believe you. I know that you are angry and saying this only to make me happy” she said plunking her head into a pillow.

Oh God, I thought, it’s one of those days! I was not angry with her, had no 100% expectations from a 7 year old, and here she was with all her performance rating woes!

“Guddi, promise I am not angry with you and why should I be? You have done your bit by studying hard and that’s good enough”

“But why did I not get 40/40?” she flashed her face up, writ with anger and woe simultaneously.

“That’s for you to answer. Instead of fretting over why you did not get 40/40, it would be better if you go through the mistakes you did, learn them right and not repeat them. Also try to spend time in learning things better next time instead of watching cartoons on TV” I couldn’t resist the chance of referring to TV watching, but as I was speaking to her, my mind went to how often we behave like children in our professional lives. We all want top ratings, we do not want to accept our failings, we feel bad and sad after the results are out and we mop over the outcomes for days till the next performance cycle and the story repeats itself. Do we ourselves not have a totally outcome based view rather than trying to enjoy what we do and try to do it well. Do we not worry about our colleagues getting better ratings and hike %s? How often do we have the grace to go back to assessing what went wrong and why and take necessary corrective action? How many of us have the grace to accept that others have got better ratings or hikes simply because they may have performed better and we too have an equal chance to do better next time. After all isn’t the journey a lot better than the final destination?

I hugged her and tried to console her saying “Don’t worry too much, kutti! Let’s try to prepare better next time. Cheer up”

My drama queen went on “I am never going to be happy again! Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and all the king’s horses and men could not put him together again!”

Here we go again I thought, not knowing whether to laugh or cry! Thankfully, chocolates and Shahrukh’s Chennai express on TV helped my Humpty Dumpty feel better in 15 mins!

Culinary Travails err Trails of a Non-Foodie Reluctant Cook

A beautiful Sunday morning, so many interesting possibilities and what do I get stuck with – Cooking, since it’s my cook’s day off and my mother is still out of station! I know and can see folks raising the highbrow wondering “what an old fashioned statement to make – why can’t she simply go out for lunch? Lazy to cook and stingy to boot!” Well, with an 83 year old wanting only soft mushy food, the man of the house stating he prefers home-cooked healthy food and the daughter of the house emotionally requesting a DISH from her mother at least on a Sunday, I am not really left with much of a choice!

First things first – most difficult decision of the day (in fact, every day of my life when I have to cook) – what do I cook? Few minutes of thought and I realize the right side of my brain has mal-functioned, while I have answers to all the puzzles in the paper, thanks to the logical left. The logical left also prompts me to flick through the net for some plausible answers. I try it out and am stuck with too many options – all with various ingredients, preparatory stages and multiple recipes! My hubby and daughter list out their preferences, while I think – should I call in sick? After an hour of zero solutions I realize, probably I should take stock of what vegies and groceries I do have in stock and frame the menu accordingly head to the kitchen. Sticking my head into the sparsely populated vegetable basket of the refrigerator, I kick myself for not pushing myself to the market yesterday. But then, the brighter side of the situation dawns on me – I can make do with whatever is available and have an excuse for not attempting anything elaborate. Bitter gourds, carrots, shallots, cucumber and broccoli called out for my attention and I had to deliver a combination of South meets East Indian with hints of high cuisine thrown in. So, with a prayer in mind and all the self-assurance as could be garnered from the Happy Sunday Morning whatsup thoughts, I plunge right in –

I start with placing the rice in the cooker, this being the single essential on plate even if all else fails. Overcooked, undercooked or rightly cooked – all depending on the collective family luck for the day! Next, I placed the dal in the cooker and in parallel chopped the bitter gourds thinly, marinating them with salt and turmeric to remove the bitterness. Rice done, the kadhai takes place of honour on the stove. On goes the oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves and the squeezed out bitters. Quick flicks of the right hand wrist wielding a stirring handle while the left hand held tight to the vessel with a prong and the curry was well-fried, thankfully without any of it jumping out of the pan boundaries. Next, time to season the dal. They say there are countless ways & combinations in which an Indian dal can be prepared, but then I seem to have been left out of that population. Again with a blank mind and too lazy to reach out for the smartphone for searching some options, I decide to go with the logical approach – work with what I have in hand. So on goes the mustard oil into the frying pan, some mustard seeds for seasoning (could not find the cumin seeds), after the splutter, I add the shallots (after I had painstakingly peeled them), fry till golden brown and the aroma comes out, add curry leaves, salt, asfoetida, my mom’s special home-made sambar powder and finally the dal. Gave it a good boil and it was done. Looks easy, well let me tell you it wasn’t without its moments of adventure wherein I had to deftly move out of the way of the spluttering, crackling & flying mustard seeds to prevent grave bodily injuries (ok, admit that’s an exaggeration). Next comes salad, my daughter clearly stating she wouldn’t settle for a simple cucumber salad. Very well, I first chopped the cucumber, carrots and onions into small chunks, threw in a few broccoli flowers, searched for tomatoes to add and couldn’t find any. Poised to add in salt and pepper to taste, I stopped in time to remember the Golden Rule – Salads are meant to be well dressed like ladies (please excuse the feminist stereotype)! Again, going by the basics, I reach out and mix whatever I can lay my hands on – olive oil, honey, pepper, salt, apple cider vinegar and dried basil. I toss the salad with it and lo it’s done. I had also planned for a More-Kuzhambu (South Indian Curd Sambhar) or should I say “Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy” to make it sound fancifulJ! I had kept aside some sliced n boiled carrots and soaked some arhar dal, rice, coriander and jeera seeds for grinding later with green chillies, curry leaves and grated coconut. I would have mixed this with sour curd, heated on the stove till it had a frothy layer on top and finally seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Thanks to a power cut, I was not able to operate the mixer and spared the trouble of completing this dish.

Listed below is the fancy lot that landed on the lunch table:

  1. Ghee flavored small grained aromatic rice
  2. Shallots in red lentil sauce
  3. Tropical salad dressed in exotic seasonings
  4. Stir fried bitters
  5. Black gram fitters (store bought)
  6. Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy (well it nearly made it to the table)

Statutory Warning: All That Looks Great Need Not Necessarily Taste Great!

But then, this is only a food blog of a reluctant cook, not a tasting session 🙂 !!!


Was lack of Constructive Feedback a factor in Shishupala’s death?

feedbackThe mythological story goes thus – A relatively minor character in the Mahabharata, Shishupala was born with three eyes and four arms and an accompanying heavenly prophesy foretelling that he would lose his additional arms & eyes when placed on the lap of his future slayer. His parents invited all kings of the world to Chedi and placed the child on their laps, but nothing happened. Finally, Shishupala’s cousins, Krishna and his brother Balarama came to visit. Shishupala’s extra arms and eyes fell off as soon as he was placed on Krishna’s lap. Realizing that her son would be killed by his own cousin brother, the terrified mother secured a boon from Krishna that he would pardon a 100 offences of Shishupala even when he deserved to be killed. Shishupala’s parents, in an attempt to provide him security, then placed him under the care of Krishna’s sworn enemy, the powerful Jarasandha. As he grew up Shishupala found a way to commit a 100 offences, the last one being at Yudhistra’s Rajasuya yagna and finally Krishna killed him.

All very well! But, was constructive feedback ever given to Shishupala?

On the one hand he had his well-wishers – his parents, his mentor Jarasandha and his close friend, Rukmi, the brother of Rukmini who hated Krishna and on the other end of the spectrum were his perceived enemies – Krishna and Balarama. His parents tried to protect him by pushing him into the arms of a person with his own personal agenda against Krishna and who naturally groomed him with similar views. His friends kept telling him that he was on the right track whenever he committed an offense in the eyes of Krishna. And Krishna too, just let him off after each offence, without taking the effort to make Shishupala understand what was wrong and what he could have done better. This was very much contrary to the amount of time and effort he had invested in Arjuna in the great war to shape his thought process. So, appears like a combination of lop-sided feedback – all positive from friends and all negative from adversaries contributed to Shishupala’s death.
This is very much the corporate scenario today. Well-meaning feedback mechanisms have been instituted by organizations to help employees improve their performance and eventually contribute to the organization’s holistic growth. But, it often translates into a forum skewed by bias extremities leading to either flowery comments or petty personal attacks and eventually provides little opportunity for growth and education in their roles as against the original objective of the whole process. Hence, it’s very important that feedback needs to be constructive and corrective rather than simply positive or negative. Every person in the system has a responsibility towards the other in ensuring that he has a clear picture of his performance from the inside out, to help create a culture of positive reinforcement. Finally, it’s essential that that this process should be consistent, continuous and actionable.

So, probably Shishupala would have lived longer and been an effective king, had he received timely Constructive Feedback.