I recently read an article about a whistleblower and was reminded of a funny incident that happened a few years ago, with a totally different whistle-blower.

It was a normal working day and I was working from home, as my daughter’s nanny was unwell and couldn’t come to work.  As luck would have it, the moment I booted my laptop, it crashed. There was no choice but to go to my workplace and send it to the IT support team.  I decided to take my 2.5 year old daughter along, equipped with her box of colours, colouring books and her favourite stuffed tiger.

I got my little one settled with her colours and paper and told her I would be back in two minutes.  Everybody was busy at work and only the sound of people’s taps on their keyboards could be heard.

Just when I was about five metres from my desk, heading towards the IT support desk, a shrill piercing whistle shrieked through the office. Heads popped out of work cubicles. Murmurs broke out and I turned around, only to see my daughter fully concentrating her energies on blowing into a small plastic whistle.  Embarrassed beyond measure and smiling sheepishly, I quickly ran to her and took it out of her mouth.

I asked her where she had found the whistle. She replied, “Me find in colour box.”

After my initial embarrassment wore off my co-workers & I had a good laugh.

My little whistle-blower coloured on, totally oblivious.


Expectations – A Short Story

It was our first wedding anniversary and my husband & I had made plans for a romantic dinner at one of our favourite restaurants. For weeks I had agonized over what gift to give him & I fervently hoped that he was doing the same.

Stepping into his shoes, I concluded that it would be fairly easy for him to buy me a gift, as I love bags, shoes, perfumes and jewelry. Chocolates & roses accompanying any of these gifts would be an added bonanza, because my husband is not a roses or cards kind of guy.  But I could wish, couldn’t I? I was and still am an incurable romantic after all.

I finally burnt a CD with all his favourite tracks, bought a leather wallet and a few cards that conveyed everything that I wanted to say, that I had not managed to this last year.

We met directly at the restaurant, after work. The ambience was wonderful and we spent time talking about  the year that had just flown past and how we first met; things millions of couples would do on their first anniversary, I presume.

All through dinner I looked for  bags, small jewel cases, chocolates and roses . There was nothing I could see. I was a little disappointed, but consoled myself with the thought that he would give it to me on the drive back home, in the car.

After dessert, I happily gave him my gift and cards. He was very touched. He said, “Oh! I’ve got something for you as well.”

He pulled out his wallet. I was really curious now. What kind of gift would fit into this small wallet?

He took out something that was concealed in his palm and said, “Happy anniversary. Here’s the key to your new car.”

Life lessons from Indian Pickle

Featured image
A road-side vendor selling an array of mouth-wateringly delicious pickles, taken in front of Tipu’s Fort, Palakkad, Kerala, India, Picture Credits – Sastha Prakash, http://www.sasthaprakash.wordpress.com

We Indians can pickle most vegetable & fruit,  with our own unique blend of spices, depending on which part of the country one hails from.  In most Indian homes, you can find pickles made from mangoes, raw mangoes, gooseberries, lime, citron, citron leaves, curry leaves, coriander leaves, bitter gourd, green chillies, red chillies, tomatoes, egg plant, garlic, gongura…the list goes on and on.

Like a million other people, I need pickle with my lunch and dinner. Steaming hot rice mixed with pickle and a dash of ghee (clarified butter), a lovely way to start lunch. The wonderful thing about these pickles is that they pack so many tastes in one single spoon – sour, sweet, salted, mind-numbingly spicy (this is my favourite), bitter, or a mixture of all these.

Be warned, Indian pickles can cause sensory overload!

I recently read a recipe to pickle orange peel.  The Chinese New Year is being celebrated all around me, and during this season, Mandarin Oranges are available aplenty.  So, I gave it a shot this morning.

After sputtering mustard in oil and adding a pinch of asafoetida, I added finely diced orange peel to the oil. Once the pieces of peel were well fried, I added tamarind pulp, chilly powder and salt, allowing this whole mixture to simmer for a while.  Once the peel was properly cooked and mashed, I finished by adding jaggery (a coarse sugar made by drying the sap of the palm tree).  The finished product was yummy and looks like it can be eaten with most anything – rice, dosas, paranthas or as a sandwich spread. (Recipe Credit – Ms.Bhama Narayanan)

Featured image
Orange peel pickle – hints of sour, bitter, sweet, salt and spicy

As I tucked into my meal with my freshly pickled orange peel, I started thinking  about how our lives can be likened to an everyday meal, & pickles.

Most days, we are comfortable with the way our lives cruise along; the same routine, the same newspapers, the same people at the tube station whom we nod at, the mechanical chores that are unavoidable; this is our comfort zone and we are mostly happy to be where we are, very much like our everyday meals. We are creatures of habit and do not get too adventurous with food, or experimenting with food on a normal day.

However, just like the dollop of pickle, which enhances the quality of what we eat, and makes us experience stronger flavors, our lives are spiced up now and then, when we meet interesting people, experience something different or have unexpected surprises.

These are truly life’s pickles – when we feel more intensely.

However, one cannot eat too much pickle everyday, just like how ‘everyday’ cannot be exciting and wonderful.

Most days are vanilla days…but pickle days, now & then are most welcome.

Journey To The Unknown – A Short Story

To an onlooker, the lanky boy and the bearded old man walking towards the train station was not an unusual sight; but in the stoop of the boy’s shoulders and the glimmer of anxiety in the old man’s eyes there were so many stories, deeply burrowed, not ready to be talked about yet.  The lanky boy’s life had turned upside down in the last one month.  The old man had been his only support.

The pair walked towards the platform, where the metal serpent stood, waiting to take this boy to a new life. The boy avoided the old man’s gaze, by looking for his compartment, and scanned the names on the list to check out his name and berth.  There it was Arun.S, age 17 years, Seat 27.

There was nothing more to be said really.  The old man gently scratched his beard, at a loss for words.  Both of them looked relieved when the metallic voice came over the PA system, announcing the imminent departure of the Kovai Express to Chennai.  The old man hugged the boy clumsily and the boy’s throat suddenly caught.  If one watched him closely, one could see fear and uncertainty writ large on his face.  But nobody had time for a lanky 17 year old.  He was just one amongst hundreds on the platform, temporary residents of the railway station, inhabiting it for a short while and moving on to other towns and cities.

With five minutes left to go, Arun boarded the train and settled down in his seat and sat by the window.  The old man peered into the train through Arun’s window.

“Take care of the suitcase and call me if you need anything,” he said to Arun.

Arun nodded and mumbled, “Thank you for everything”.

Before either of them could say anything more, the train lurched and gently glided out of the station.  The old man stood stroking his beard, wondering if he had done the right thing by the boy.

Arun craned his neck to catch his last glimpse of the only person whom he could remotely call family. He involuntarily let out a sigh.

There was a young couple, an old woman, who was already asleep, and two children & their parents sharing the coupe with him.  By 11 pm, all of them had drifted off to sleep and the lights had been switched off.

Arun lay down on his berth, but sleep eluded him.  His eyes gazed at the ceiling fans that were spinning with a heavy whooshing sound.  What would become of him, he wondered.  His anxiety was palpable as he tossed and turned.  Suddenly his body would go rigid, as he resolved with every ounce of his willpower that he would make it, come what may.  Then his body would suddenly go lax, as the last of his energy drained away from him, as his mind and resolve weakened again.

His mind spun back to that day, when his life had turned upside down.  He relived it….

He walked back from school. It was another cold monsoon day in the small town of Ooty. The clouds hung dark and heavy and he knew that the skies were about to open up any moment now. As he reached the small hillock atop which was his house, the rain drops started falling in rapid succession.  Holding up his school bag above his head, he ran up the slope, his shoes sliding on the brown mud and the flowing water.

When he finally made it home, he was surprised to see that the door was locked.  He quickly let himself in with his key and changed into dry clothes.  He decided to make a cup of tea for himself and his mother, who had probably been delayed by customers or stuck in the rain.

He went to wash himself in the basin that was in the backyard of the house, where there was no roof but a corrugated metal sheet to protect them from the rain, when they had to use their bathrooms or wash area.  Here, he could hear the metal thump-thump of the rain drops as they fell on the sheet and rolled down to join other water drops down the hillock.

Just as he placed the saucepan on the hob to boil the water for tea, there was a loud banging on the door.

“Must be mom,” he said to himself and went to open the door.  Mr.Raman, his neighbour stood at the door with a huge black umbrella that blocked out all the light.

“Yes, Uncle Raman,” he said.

“Arun, I have some terrible news for you.  Your mom has been in an accident on Commercial Street and was rushed to hospital, but the doctors could not save her.  I am sorry, so sorry,” said Mr.Raman.

He hugged the boy and patted him and said, “Come with me, we have to go to the hospital.”

Arun stood dazed, the sounds of the raindrops seemed to magnify and overtake his brain. He could not think, nor understand or process what he had just heard.

He had only had his mother, nobody else, save for a few friends like the old man. He spent a restless night, waiting for the train to draw into the station and to get started with his new life.  By 6 a.m., he was washed and ready, his suitcase ready to be taken out.

He checked the slip of paper with the address written on it, he knew it by heart by now, but the act of reading it again, gave him something to do.

L.M.K Boys Orphanage

24th Main, 15th Cross, Saidapet


He smiled wryly to himself. This moment was where life had brought him to;  17  long years compacted into his physical frame, mental agony and this one suitcase.

Sweet Aunts & Dashing Uncles

These last few years, our family has shrunk.

Sweet aunts and dashing uncles are suddenly no more. The ones who took us out to the movies, who gave us innumerable treats, who watched us growing up, who threw us in the air and swung us around, who bought us lollipops and indulged us, when our parents refused.

Aunts and uncles, key nodes in the network of our family, who unfailingly wrote to us on our birthdays, who told us stories during meal times, who baby sat us when our parents had to go out.

Aunts and uncles, who could not believe that their diaper-wearing nieces and nephews had graduated from University. They wondered at the fast passage of time.

They laughed in happiness and wept tears of joy when we called to say we were getting married. They took time off from their lives to help with our weddings, teasing us about our spouses-to-be and wishing & blessing us to lead happy lives.

After marriage, we nieces and nephews moved on to set up our own lives, and to build our own homes. Years flew by, and suddenly when we gathered for a family wedding, we saw how these beautiful aunts and dashing uncles had aged. They needed walking sticks, they needed help with small things, they peered at you through their glasses and hugged you with their frail arms.

Where did those days go? We, are  ‘aunts and uncles’ now. We, are ‘that’ generation now, hopefully bonding and creating such memories for our nieces and nephews.

There are very few left from my Dad’s generation. We,  first & second cousins, suddenly feel rudderless. Our family was so big and vibrant. Now, one whole generation is almost gone.

We vow to keep in touch and meet more often to strengthen our bonds of love, the seeds of which were sown by beautiful aunts and dashing uncles.

Hot Bajjis & Filter Coffee on A Rainy Day

It has been a hot, humid day thus far.  Finally, in the afternoon, the glare of the Sun is hidden by clouds, grey, dark grey and now black.  The clouds hang low in the sky, waiting for a signal to let go of the heavy water drops they are patiently bearing.  I stand on my balcony, watching.  The birds are waiting, the green leaves are parched, and waiting.  The humidity is killing.

In a few minutes, plop, plop, the rain drops fall down..huge heavy drops, reveling in their free fall from the heavens.  Big drops, falling faster now, sheets of silver gray, as they beat against the windows and fall on my potted plants.  The trees enjoy this fresh wash as they sway in the gentle wind that blows with the rain, now this side, now that side.

I allow the rain drops to fall on my face, the small needles of water rejuvenate me. Little silver threads moving in a cascade with the wind, the soothing sounds, the gentle flow of water as it touches the earth.

The children are expected from school any moment now.  What’s a rainy day, if one is not tucking into something yummy to eat!

 I decide to make ‘bajjis’ – potato slices dipped in gram flour batter to which salt, chilly powder and a pinch of asafoetida are added.  I pour oil in the wok and switch on the hob.  When the oil is heated just enough, I fry the ‘bajjis‘.

Featured image

As they gurgle and fry in the oil, I make a cup of filter coffee for myself.

Featured image
South India Filter Coffee in its traditional steel tumbler and cup (davara)

The first batch of bajjis is ready, a dollop of tomato ketchup and we’re good to go.Featured imageI watch the rain from my kitchen; the aroma that’s unique to frying, travels in the air. Tiny wisps of these may have escaped through the bottom of the main door.  In a few minutes, the children come trooping in, hair wet, clothes plastered and sniffing the air appreciatively, “Mom, what’s cooking?”

Bajjis“, I reply.

“Yummy”, they chorus.  Golden bajjis with ketchup, washed down with rain!

Travel Diary – Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra & Rajasthan (Udaipur & Jaipur)

This is a picture journal of our road trip to Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Jaipur (Rajasthan) & Udaipur (Rajasthan)

Featured image
The Red Fort in Delhi
Featured image
The Red Fort in Delhi
Featured image
India Gate, Delhi
Featured image
Banks of the River Yamuna, Delhi
Featured image
The Qutb Minar – Delhi
Featured image
The Bahai Temple, Delhi
Featured image
Sunset in the Bahai Temple, Delhi
Featured image
Fatehpur Sikri – Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri (the City of Victory) was the capital of the Mughal Empire only for 10 years.
Featured image
Detailing in the Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Featured image
Detailing in Fatehpur Sikri
Featured image
Detailing of women’s earrings on the walls of the Queen’s Palace in Fatehpur Sikri
Featured image
Fatehpur Sikri
Featured image
Fatehpur Sikri – Hiran Minar, a memorial to Akbar’s favorite elephant. The white projections from the Minar resemble elephant tusks
Featured image
Entrance to the Taj Mahal
Featured image
The Taj Mahal – no pictures can capture its true beauty
Featured image
The Taj Mahal – another angle
Featured image
Birds on the Yamuna River that flows behind the Taj
Featured image
Amber Fort, Jaipur, a cold misty morning
Featured image
Elephants at the Amber Fort, Jaipur
Featured image
View of a terraced park/garden as we went up to Amber Fort
Featured image
The City Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Featured image
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Featured image
The City of Udaipur, Rajasthan
Featured image
The Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan
Featured image
Another view of the City of Udaipur, Rajasthan
Featured image
The Udaipur Palace, Rajasthan
Featured image
Detailing inside the Udaipur Palace, Rajasthan
Featured image
Garden of the Maidens (Saheliyon Ki Bari), Udaipur – A garden meant exclusively for women of the royal family
Featured image
The famous Rajasthani Puppet Show
Featured image
Trying our hand at puppeteering

How Can She Smile?

It is a very hot summer’s day in Mumbai.  I hail a cab to my place of work.  Soon, I am immersed in some report that I need to review.  As always, at this time of the morning, we stop more than we move.  There are a number of traffic signals on the way.  I am done with my report and look out of the window.

A boy on drums and a little girl, knock on my window.  They put up an acrobatic show for the few cars around my taxi.  The space between the cars is not much, but the girl is emaciated.  She manages to do cartwheels, loops her hands over her head and swings her entire body through that loop, does some impromptu dancing to the boy’s beat, and takes a bow. The performance is over.  Now, they patiently knock on each window with sweet smiles and grins on their faces, asking for coins.

I open my window to drop a coin in the girl’s hand.  She smiles her thank you.

How can she smile, when she has so little?

From what I can see, only two people give them money.  When the signal turns green, they navigate the maze of cars and quickly climb on to the pavement, awaiting the next set of people, who will probably drop them a few coins, and provide their one meal for the day.

As the taxi revs and passes the signal, she catches my eye and smiles again -a golden drop of sunshine.

How can she smile, when she has so little?

The next day, I eagerly scan the signal, she doesn’t disappoint.  After giving her some money, I ask her, “Why don’t you go to school?  Will you go to school, if I give you money?”

She only laughs in reply. She says something to the boy in a language I do not understand, and they both laugh, eyes looking merry.  Does she understand what I say?  I feel helpless as I look at this little girl.

What are her dreams? Will she know ever know the joy of going to school and reading books?  Will she ever know what it means to have safe and clean water and a home to live in?  Will she ever get three wholesome meals a day?  Does she have parents who love her?

My heart aches for these small children, who live on the streets and to whom staying alive on the streets is a challenge every day. I make up my mind to get down and talk to her the next time I see her, maybe even meet her parents.

There is a cacophony of vehicle horns as the signal turns green; nobody has even a second to spare, as they rush to their meetings, their deadlines and to another privileged day.

As my taxi crosses the signal, she catches my eye and waves out again with a huge grin of recognition.

         How can she smile, when she has so little?    

       Is it because she has given up hope or is it because she has accepted that this is her life?

The Craziest Day Ever

I was 21, and had just graduated from University.  I had to travel to Chennai from my home town to attend some interviews I had lined-up.  I had to take a bus from my town to another, bigger town and then board the Nilgiri Express that would take me to Chennai, after an overnight journey.

It had been raining heavily on & off that day.  My Dad came to see me off at the bus stand.  The bus slowly snaked its way down the mountains and  reached a small town called Kallar.  There the bus stopped for no apparent reason.  I was in a state of semi-sleep, and loud voices woke me up.  We discovered that a huge tree had fallen across the road due to the heavy rains.  I panicked now.  It was another hour’s drive to the train station.

The driver conferred with the conductor of the bus and they asked all of us to get down and cross the tree.  There was a lot of laughter as not only we, but people from buses and cars behind us, had fun climbing over the tree to the other side. We walked to the closest road junction, and after about thirty minutes, another bus that was travelling in the same direction agreed to take a few passengers. The bus bulged at its seams with the additional load.

I finally made it to the railway station with 20 minutes to spare.  Little did I realize that my wrist watch (the winding type), had stopped a few minutes before.  Totally oblivious to this, I dropped my bags on my seat, nodded at the other passengers and stepped off the train to pick up water and some take-away dinner.  I paid for the food & water and stood in line.  There were many passengers before me and there was nothing to do but wait.  The PA system crackled and the lady announced the departure of some train. I barely listened to what she said.  As I turned my head to look at my train, I suddenly saw it lurch forward and glide slowly out of the station.

I shouted and waved madly, as I ran on the platform trying to board the moving train.  A good soul put out his hand and I clutched it to jump on to the train.  In this madness, I stubbed my toe and dropped one of my slippers on the tracks, gone forever.

I thanked the man, and realized that I was in a totally different compartment.  I had to walk down the train through the vestibules to reach my compartment.  Imagine, stubbed toe, one slipper missing, harried looking woman, limping. I suddenly remembered my wrist watch.  The dial was stuck at 6.40 p.m. I was at bursting point by this time.  I finally made it to my berth.

In the fifteen minutes following my absence, the entire coupe seemed to have been taken over by this one woman, who seemed to have brought bags and suitcases for all the passengers on the train.  There were bags lined-up on my berth as well. When I looked at her, she said, “Oh! sorry, I thought the berth was empty.”

I smiled politely and helped her move her bags out of my berth and sat down.  No dinner, no water, no slipper, hurting toe.  Well, what a crazy day.

When my heart had stopped thumping like it was trying to leave my body, I lay down to catch a few winks.  I could hear the sounds of people eating. Wonderful smells wafted my way.

By 10 p.m. people had settled down for the night.  That’s when my day/night got crazier.  The Ticket Checker showed up to check our tickets.  I opened my wallet, no ticket.  I looked frantically, emptying every single thing from my wallet and my handbag.  I remembered keeping it safely.  The TC looked exasperated.  He told me to look for it and that he would finish checking the others and come back to me.  I went crazy, I looked everywhere in my handbag, every nook every cranny. I even went as far as to tear the lining to see if the ticket had miraculously gone in there.  No luck.

The TC came back and asked me to pay a fine or get off at the next station. I pleaded with him and showed him my University ID card, my license. He saw them but did not budge.  Finally, I paid up.  I was so embarrassed as he issued another new ticket.  I curled up to sleep and then the sorry tears came. What a perfectly horrible day.

The interviews went well and I landed my first job.  I was very busy trying to learn the ropes. The train incident was forgotten after I had narrated it many, many times to my family.  Life slowly settled down to a new rhythm.

One Sunday afternoon, I was at a loose end and decided to catch up on my reading.  I pulled out a book from my cupboard and as I flipped through the pages to find the page I had last read, a small piece of paper fell from it.  It was my train ticket. I remembered now; I was reading the book before I left home and had used the ticket as a book mark.

I smiled at the memory.

Street Food Stop on The Highway

Featured image

We are on the Mumbai-Pune highway. There is a nip in the air when we leave our hotel, but as we leave the outskirts of the city and hit the highway, the sun is bright and blinding.

Traffic is not too heavy at this early hour. The droning of the car on the highway lulls us into a semi-sleep, where one is in a state of hazy awareness.  Trucks whiz past carrying perishables, petrol, and all kinds of goods that people seem to require. The Radio jockey’s voice on the FM talks to us, modulating, sharing jokes and presenting the next song.

Once the sleep cycle is broken, I watch the lush greenery and the mountains. All trucks have a painted notice on their rear which say, ‘Horn OK Please’.

By the time I wonder what this means, we stop at a gas station in Lonavala, a hill station on the Western Ghats. The gas station also has an assortment of stalls, and vendors, selling street food.  Lonavala is famous for its ‘chikkis‘ (peanut candies), and we buy a few to take back home with us.

As we walk around to stretch our legs, my eyes catch a stall selling ‘Dabelis‘.  My mouth waters, as I eye them. My stomach is  full from the heavy breakfast I have already wolfed down.  However, my brain is ready to make more space to accommodate a ‘Dabeli‘. I mean, how could it not.

 For those of you who don’t know, a Dabeli is a very popular snack food/street food from India. ‘Dabeli’ literally means pressed.  A patty made of boiled potato to which a special ‘Dabeli’ masala is added is topped off with pomegranate seeds, roasted peanuts, chopped onions and coriander leaves. This patty is placed inside a toasted burger bun. The burger is topped with ‘sev’ (a noodle-like fried snack made from gram flour)

Featured image

I sink my teeth into this perfectly made ‘Dabeli‘.  My taste buds enjoy its sweet-sour taste, and the ‘crunchiness’ as I bite into the pomegranate seeds and sev.  This is absolute joy.  I eat the ‘Dabeli‘ and watch other travelers, who have also stopped by at this gas station, to buy water, to stretch their legs, to eat snacks.  I wonder if I will ever see these people again, I wonder who ordained that we would all meet here, at this gas station, on this particular day.

As I watch, some of them get into their coaches and cars, to drive away to faraway places, probably to meet other people, or to end this journey. Maybe even to begin new ones.

I wash down the ‘Dabeli‘ with a perfect ‘masala chai’ and walk back slowly to the car…as the highway beckons.