What’s in a name?


I recently read a joke in which there were two brothers, who had the same name ‘John’. One brother was a tourist bus operator, while the other was an undertaker. So, to avoid confusion, the people in the town called them ‘John – The Journey’ and ‘John – The Final Journey’ respectively.

This joke brought a smile to my face as it reminded me of the naming convention we follow in our community.

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             Courtesy – http://www.flickr.com

Unlike everywhere else, where there is a family name and all members of the household share the same family name, we follow a different system.

So, for example, if my name was Dev, and my father’s name was Kumar, and my grandfather’s name was Raja, then my name would be Dev Kumar, while my Dad’s name would be Kumar Raja. So, father and son don’t share the same surname.  But that’s how it is!

The other big naming convention we follow is that if the first child is a boy/girl then he/she automatically takes his/her Paternal Grandfather’s/Grandmother’s name. If the second child is also a boy then he gets the maternal grandfather’s name; likewise with a second girl.

But the real confusion lies in this scenario. My husband’s grandfather had six sons, each of these sons has a son.  Now, since all of them are firstborn sons, all of them have been given their paternal grandfather’s name.

So, when we meet for family functions and weddings, we have a lot of confusion, as each time someone calls out to one of the grandsons, six voices respond.

To make it easier on the family, we now prefix their names with their professions or the city or town they hail from. So we have

a tycoon Raj
a watch Raj
a pilot Raj
a banker Raj
a Mumbai Raj
a newspaper Raj

Despite having all these nicknames, we still end up being confused.

There is another twist to this naming story. One of my cousins has maternal and paternal grandfathers, who have the same name. My cousin has two sons, so the first one has been named after the paternal grandfather,  and the second son after the maternal grandfather. Since both granddads have the same name, both sons have the same name (of course they have different suffixes to their names).

One can never say, “What’s in a name?”

There’s so much in a name and lots of fun to go with it.

Overflowing bookshelves


Most days, we allow our lives to flow along, performing everyday chores and keeping our appointments.  Then again, some days, we wake up with a sense of purpose, where we plough through tasks and chores methodically, and feel a strong sense of achievement at the end of the day.

Yesterday, was such a day for me.  I woke up with a clear sense of purpose.  The list of tasks was long, but manageable. So, I wrote it out on my notepad.  I  decided to work my way down the list, not for a moment doubting my strong will power or its ability to drive me to task completion. Enough said.

The first chore on my list was – ‘Clean the two bookshelves’.  See, I had it clearly stated – half the battle won.  Each of these  bookshelves has four racks. Each of these eight racks is crammed with books, and more books.  The books, poor souls, have no breathing space.  I  wanted to give them some respite from being smothered by words!

I first took down all the books from the shelves.  And then, the fun started.  I dusted each one, and sorted them into piles – Must have, Can go, Not sure!  But each time I sorted a book, I flipped through its pages, and sat down cross-legged, just to jog my memory. Aha, the sheer pleasure of reading, surrounded by books.  Soon, I was nose deep in Ayn Rand and R.K.Narayan, Hilary Mantel and Amitav Ghosh.  Time tip-toed around me, giving me complete ownership of those moments of bliss.  I made a mug of coffee for myself (after all, how can reading ever be complete without coffee!).

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The children have their term break, so when they saw me busy with the books, they sifted through their own, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings, Amelia Jane, Jungle Book, Noddy, Malory Towers and many, many comics.  They refused to part with any of their books.  They suddenly wanted to re-read all of them.

So, to cut a long story short, all books went back to their shelves, clean and comfortable.  I hope they love being in our bookshelves as much as we love having them with us.

I shelved my chores and settled down to read.

Grandma’s home remedy


I am down with a cold, blocked nose, watery eyes and a gnawing headache.  I have to live with this one, I guess, medication or no medication. The power of my sneezes can definitely get some mechanical device going. They are so powerful that they shake me, and the chair I am sitting on.  I make myself some hot ‘rasam‘, an Indian soup that soothes the throat.

As I steam-inhale for the n-th time, my memories rush back to my childhood.  We grew up in a joint family, and when anyone was down with a cold or fever, my Grandma usually had a home remedy handy. The age-old wisdom was that the body had to fight off germs by itself, and you only went to a doctor if you did not recover in a week’s time.

The home remedy for the common cold was a drink called ‘kashaayam‘.  Colds being what they are, leave a family only after doing the rounds of all its members.  So when the season of sneezing and sniffing started in the family, my Grandma would start her preparations for ‘kashaayam‘.

Pepper, sugar candy, honey, ginger, cumin seeds and ‘tulsi’ leaves (holy basil leaves) are ground and boiled in hot water to prepare this decoction.  

The smells that wafted through the house when the ‘kashaayam‘ was being made were tantalizing enough.  But the dulling of the senses during a cold caused that illusion, I guess.

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Courtesy – http://www.anudinam.org

I remember the first time I had this brew.  I was actually looking forward to it as all the adults seemed to drink it, when they had colds.  I was given a small glass of the dark brown liquid and asked to sip it slowly and not to take in more than one sip at a time.

I took my first sip.  The assault on my senses was overpowering, the drink stung my throat and set my eyes, ears, nose and throat on fire.  I sputtered and coughed, but my Grandma insisted that I finish it, promising me all kinds of treats.  I took another tentative sip, this was not so bad as my whole body was, anyway, already on fire.  With watering eyes and stinging throat, I completed the ‘kashaayam‘.

After about an hour or so, I could feel my blocked nose clearing, and throat feeling better.  My Grandma came to inspect.

“You’re looking better”, she said. “Maybe another round of ‘kashaayam‘ should do the trick.  I remember how frantically I looked for places to hide. Anything to avoid that horrible concoction again.

Now however, I would give anything if someone sat me down and pampered me with this dark brew.

Of little girls and little boys


A couple of days ago, when I was at my son’s school to pick him up after school, I met a very sweet girl, who was part of my group in a community project last summer. 

The girl and my son study in the same class.

When she saw me at school, she came running to me and hugged me. She said, “I miss you a lot.”

“I miss you too,” I said, hugging her. “Why don’t you come home some time? You can play with my son. You know each other, right?”

Pat came the reply, “Play with him? No…no, he is a boy.”

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   Image courtesy – http://www.pinterest.com

I smiled.

Then she said, “You have a daughter right? I will come and play with her.”

“But she’s much older,” I said.

“Oh, that’s ok. But I can’t play with boys,” she said, with that typical grimace that little girls have when they talk about boys.

I came home and told my son about meeting his classmate.

“I can’t believe you asked her to come home TO PLAY WITH ME. Mom, how could you?”

Hmmm…!

My Dad’s Transistor-Radio


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Picture courtesy  
             http://www.radiomuseum.org

One of my Dad’s most prized possessions was his transistor radio. It was grey in colour and was encased in a black, vinyl cover.

Till we were teenagers, there was no television at home, and a lot of entertainment happened only through this radio.

From 6 am in the morning, till we left for school at 8.15 am, the music and voices from the radio accompanied our morning routine. We could hear a lot of static sometimes.

As my mom braided my sisters’ and my hair, we sang along with the advertising jingles – some that I hum to this very day. Certain announcements served as cues for us to get ready. If we heard certain announcements, it sometimes meant that we were running late (these were the ones we only heard on the weekend).

At night, after homework and dinner, as we wound down, we would listen to some lovely songs on the radio.

The radio was also our greatest companion during Indian cricket matches, where all of us listened to ball by ball updates of the match. 

The radio stimulated our visualization skills, as we were free to picture what we wanted.

There were even more exciting moments with the radio, when the famous Halley’s Comet could be seen from Earth (somewhere in the eighties if I am not wrong).  My Dad woke all of us up in the wee hours of the morning. It was quite cold. And with the radio commentary for company, we walked in our garden, looking up at a clear sky, glittering with a million stars.

We did not see the comet, but had a lot of fun trying to look for it. A wonderful early morning adventure, after which my mom treated us to hot mugs of  chocolate.

My Dad was a good singer, and on most Sundays, we woke up to his deep voice humming along with the radio.

The morning and late evening news capsules were an integral part of our day. During these two capsules, we were expected to maintain silence. After the news, my Dad usually gave us an overview of key happenings.

I still have very fond memories of our good old Radio Transistor.

When your pinch pinches you….


I am going to narrate two, true stories about ‘pinches’.

The first one happened last week. I was out shopping, and in one of the roadside shops, I saw my friend. Her back was turned away from me.  She is a very dear friend, and I was so happy to see her, and so what did I do?

I quietly pinched her arm and shouted a loud greeting. Imagine my shock when she turned around and I realized that it was someone else.

The lady who turned around was red in  the face (from the friendly pinch, me thinks). I apologised profusely, and repeatedly. To say that I was mortified is an understatement.

The second incident was narrated to me by a friend.  My friend and her daughter were in the mall. My friend’s daughter, 7 years old, was being a real brat and throwing a tantrum in the mall; a tantrum that involved some full throated crying and stomping of feet.

My friend was at her wits’ end. She issued many threats. In the end she said in her mother tongue, “I am going to pinch you if you don’t behave.”

In our mother tongue the word for pinch is pronounced as ‘killu” . So my friend’s daughter bawled loudly and said in a mixture of English and her mother tongue, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me…”!

My friend turned red with embarrassment as people looked at her strangely.

Two stories that pinched!

Coffee, me, myself – Part 1


It is that hour of the morning, when the body refuses to wake up, a few more minutes would definitely help. The bluish-pale silvery light of morning illuminates the bedroom. The birds are already up & about, calling out their sweet little tunes.  My hand stretches out to find the top of the talking clock by my bedside table. I gently press the top and the lady in the clock announces the time, “It is 6 a.m. on Monday.”

I struggle out of bed, brush my teeth, and robot-like, make my way to the kitchen.  I heat water in the pan and fill my filter with coffee powder.  I pour the hot water into the filter.  The aroma that wafts my way is pure bliss….the morning is getting better.  When the coffee filters down, I make myself a hot cup, frothing at the top, with a little bit of sugar.  I smell it….perfect!

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Image courtesy – en.wikipedia.org

I go to the balcony and breathe in the cool morning air, I look at my sweet little plants and enjoy them for a moment.  I head back to the sofa & sit down, feet up.  I can see the road junction down below.

I savour every sip of coffee, just as I relish this moment of being alone with myself. The household is quiet, outside I can see cars at the junction, people on their early morning jogs, the green trees and the chirping birds.  My thoughts resemble a patchwork quilt.  Many colourful patches, about the day that just went by, the future, chores to be done today….jokes that came through on Whatsapp, projects that the children have to accomplish this week.

But in this meditative state, and with the coffee soothing me…I am content and happy….the day’s tensions await me, but this coffee can take on all of them and more.

Ludo, digitally!


The kids are super excited that their father and I have joined them for a game of Ludo. We are a little rusty but quickly reacquaint.
There’s a huge difference, we are playing Ludo digitally on the tablet. We get started…the first thing that hits me is that there is no dice to roll, the application does all the hard work. Cleverly positioning the dice on the board, while appearing to roll it, is no longer possible. No scrambling on all fours to look for the dice that has rolled under the sofa.

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The kids are very enthusiastic….razor sharp observers..every move is planned and executed. Maybe it is age; or maybe it is a dulling of the competitive streak within me, but I am very passive in my play.
However, the children more than make up for it. They boo, they clench their fists, wish the worst for their sibling, cross their fingers & toes ….all wishing for that magical 6 or 4 or 1 that they want.
My shoulders silently shake in mirth. I can picture this scene 30 years ago, as my sisters and I bayed for each others’ blood, even for these simple board games. My daughter catches me laughing…her irritation peaks.
My son has assumed two Avatars for this game, the first is that of an aggressor…out to vanquish his sister; the second as a protector of his innocent mom, who he feels is so innocent as to require saving from the wily moves of the other players. He sacrifices a move to protect my coin, his sister smirks…’oh, how kind you are’! My son holds my hand reassuringly and glares at her.
The game goes on…they swear that they will not speak to each other. The winner does a victory dance, the other heaps curses…business as usual. The house is silent..the children are not talking to each other.

The next day…they are at a loose end, ego is sacrificed as they sign a truce and the game starts again.

The Little Girl & A Rainy Day


The Little Girl watched the world outside through the window. And as she watched, the first big drops of rain fell. She plastered her nose to the window, and with her finger, traced each drop as it ran down.

Dare she go out? She quietly opened the door and stepped into the garden. The rain lashed away. Something broke loose in her heart and for the first time in a year and a half the Little Girl cried for her dead mother. She cried and cried, her body racked by sobs that shook her to her very core.

She wanted her mom and not the stepmom her Dad had married a few days ago.

The rain stopped. The Little Girl was spent, the heavy rain washing away the knot of grief that had lodged in her.

She looked like a bedraggled doll, hair plastered, teeth chattering.  A new emotion, fear, clawed at her heart. What would her stepmom say, would she yell? Would she be annoyed? Rainy days with her mother had been filled with hot chocolate, cuddles, giggles, her favourite samosas and ketchup.

This rainy day was dark, grey and unsettling. She ventured into the house without a sound.

Suddenly, she was enveloped in a fluffy warm pink towel, rubbed down vigorously, and given dry clothes to wear. When she went down after changing, she smelt hot chocolate & something being fried in the kitchen.

Her stepmom’s twinkling eyes beckoned to her to eat. She took  the plate of samosas and settled down in front of the TV.

Small wisps of love entered and fluttered in the Little Girl’s heart.

Moonlight dinner


When we were growing up, most homes had backyards. Most of these yards had at least a few trees like the coconut tree, mango tree and neem tree.  They also had other plants like hibiscus, jasmine etc. Another standard fixture in these yards was that most of them had wells with pulleys, for drawing water for household chores.

The area around the well was usually cemented, creating a lovely space in the backyard to play, work and have fun.

During our summer holidays, all of us, cousins, gathered in our grandparents’ home; blissful days where we played the same games over and over again. The adults were happy to catch up and go out shopping. Nobody bothered us, as long as we showed up at meal times.

Dinners then were absolute fun, the reason being that we ate in the backyard, sitting under the silvery glow of the moon, as the gentle breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispered through the coconut trees.

Under millions of twinkling stars and a creamy moon, all of us usually sat in a semi-circle. Each of us was given a small piece of banana leaf. On this leaf, we were each served one papad (poppadum), a big portion of vegetable and a little mango pickle (all home-made).

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      Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

One of the aunts  mixed rice and a lentil-gravy, called sambar, in a really huge vessel and sat in the middle of the semi-circle.

We would cup our right palms and put out our hands for the rice. The aunt would serve each of us in turn. We  would each add some vegetable, have a quick bite of our papad and eat it with the rice.  After completing the full semi circle, the cycle would start again.

We got to hear stories if we were lucky, else we chit-chatted amongst ourselves. The other adults sat leaning against the walls of the well, catching up on family gossip.

After the sambar rice, we were served curd rice. The huge quantities were polished off in no time. With full stomachs, we played some more games in the backyard.

By 9.00 p.m., the household would start winding down. Those were the days without air conditioners, so on most days we slept on the huge terrace, under the stars – one huge row of cousins and another row of adults. Singing and laughing, till the whispering wind kissed our eyelids closed.