The Inexorable Passage of Time


Call it what you may, but I have this compulsive urge to know the time at all hours of the day.  Our home has wall clocks and time pieces in every room, sometimes even two or three in a room.  These, of course, are in addition to the clocks on all the tablets, the smart phones and the set top boxes.

In addition to all these gently ‘tick-tocking’ clocks, our trip to Europe saw us bring back the famed ‘cuckoo-clock’.   As the initial excitement of watching the cuckoo peeping out of the little door to announce the time wore off, the cuckoo’s sounds became very important to me, to know what time it was, especially at night.

I have a special relationship with each clock in my house.  The one in the living room above the TV console has been set to run ten minutes ahead of actual time.  That’s the clock all of us follow for school, so we are ready by 8.00 a.m and then derive silly satisfaction from the fact that it is actually only 7.50 a.m. now. Somehow we’ve managed to cheat time and snatch back 10 whole minutes of our lives.

There is an old-fashioned clock in our kitchen that needs to be wound every morning; the clock’s comforting tick-tock in the kitchen accompanying me as I bustle about.

The most recent addition to our clock collection is a pyramid-shaped talking clock, which announces the time once every hour. This clock is positioned next to my bed, just for me, to know the time at night. I wonder sometimes if my sub-conscious mind ‘times’ even my dreams.

Tick tock…go these clocks, the silent witnesses to our lives.  They hold the keys to our everyday milestones – breakfast time, school-going time, yoga time, me-time, lunch time, family time…..and many more.

Then there are the races we run against the clock.  Running late, forgetting things, looking at the watch and the clock and the phone, and secretly hoping that the one that shows the slowest time is the accurate one.

And the times when ‘time‘ makes its presence strongly felt – as alarms!  Alarms for exams, for classes, for baking, and for reminders about events that need to be scheduled for later.

And every single time, it is about ‘time’, that companion who lives with us, watching us with silent eyes, as we rush about our lives, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes excited and sometimes crazy.

All is known to ‘time’.

A Night on the ‘Mottai Maadi’ (Terrace)


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Recently, I visited the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), after nearly a decade. This city holds very fond memories for me and as the cab drove into the city from the airport I was amazed at how the city had changed and grown.

It was late in the evening when we drove towards the suburbs and here again, I was surprised to see that there were very few independent houses left, most of the landscape consisted only of apartment blocks.

Chennai houses are famous for their terraces or ‘mottai maadis‘ , which are used for drying vegetables for pickling, for sun-drying ‘vadams‘ (cousins of pappadums), for airing mattresses, for family gatherings during functions, and many more things.

But, for me,  the most pleasurable memory of these terraces  was when the entire family would go up to the terrace for nights-out under the stars.  Summers in the city were stifling, and temperatures could soar to above 40 degrees celsius.  Those were the days when we could not afford air-conditioners.

Preparations for such night-outs started just after sundown. A couple of us would go up to the terrace with a broom,  buckets & plastic mugs. We would first sweep the terrace & clear all the dry leaves that had fallen in. Most terraces had a tap connected to the overhead water tank. From this tap we would fill our buckets, and then with the mugs,  splash water all over the terrace. When the first mugs of water fell on the terrace, that distinct and aromatic smell of ‘parched-earth- guzzling-water’, would float our way. A few sniffs, and we would splash a few more rounds of water on the terrace. In about 30 minutes the terrace was dry and cool, the water having carried away the day’s heat.

After a relaxed dinner, the family would make its way up with straw mats, pillows and bed sheets. With a lot of giggling and fun,  the mats were rolled and beds readied. Stainless steel jugs of water and tumblers were kept in a corner.

The family would lie down and feel the gentle evening breeze from the Bay of Bengal whispering through each terrace, through the coconut trees & the neem trees that most houses had. The sounds of the city at night reached our ears – the distant sound of the electric train, the dull roar of traffic on the highway, music blaring from some temple in the neighbourhood, a crow that cawed when it was disturbed in its slumber….

And as the stars twinkled away, my Dad would sing his favourite sixties songs from old Bollywood movies, and we would all join him, our voices echoing through the night.

With the stars as night lamps and the cool lullaby of the breeze, one by one we would all drop off …..   the sounds of the city gently fading away.

The Math of Cricket


There was a hush at the dinner table.  The half-yearly school reports had been brought home for parental review. The two sisters of the three-sibling trio had acquitted themselves rather well in terms of overall performance. The quiet that prevailed at the table was because of Arun, the third sibling, whose teacher had requested that both parents meet with her, at the earliest, to discuss Arun’s abysmal performance in Math.

The silent eruption occurred after dinner. Dad was furious and all he had to say was, “Arun, there is a world beyond cricket and the sooner you realize it, the better. No playing cricket, watching cricket or cricket-talk in this house for a week.”

This was like a death sentence, because Arun lived and breathed cricket.

After all, he lived in cricket-mad India, where cricket is the pulse of a billion people, where cricket-talk is revered, and is considered appropriate for any occasion. How could a young boy escape its magic?

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Arun minus his ‘cricket-aura‘ was a sorry sight and an unbearably grouchy companion. His two sisters gave him sympathetic looks. But Dad was Dad. One did not argue.

The meeting at school did not go well. The teacher’s overall feedback was that Arun was smart, but never focussed in class, never showed any interest and was always rattling away mindless statistics about cricket. She also added that he had not grasped even the basic concepts of averages and means, and mental arithmetic that the class was currently doing.

As with every child who has had bad reports, Arun promised his parents that he would do better.

The saddest week of Arun’s life finally came to an end. His excitement was palpable. He eyed his cricket bat hungrily, and looked forward to an India vs. Sri Lanka match that would be telecast later in the day. Somewhere in his head, there was a vague discomfort about school, but cricket caused them all to fade away.

It was dinner time, and Arun’s Dad decided to make it up to the boy by watching the India vs. Sri Lanka match with him.

And then, before his very eyes, he saw his son transform. As the game unfolded ball by ball, Arun rattled off statistics, computing them on the fly – the required run-rate, batting average, probability theory….! Problems in Math that had seemed out of Arun’s grasp in school, the concepts of averages and mental arithmetic that his teacher had wailed about, were being demonstrated right before his eyes. Hope!

He stood up and gave Arun an impromptu hug, much to the boy’s amazement.

He said, “I am not worried about your Math, I am confident that you will get there. Maybe if you look at every problem that the teacher sets you, as something related to cricket? Maybe that will help.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Arun as he stood up to practice one of his batting strokes.

A Bride’s Journal


Journal entry #1

The  date for my wedding has been fixed. In two months, I will move to my husband’s house.

Sid is a nice guy, in as much as I could glean from the three meetings we have had.  After all we have known each other only for the last week, five days to be precise.

Am I freaking out? You bet I am.

Journal entry #2

My parents and brother (who has no choice) have had their thoughts programmed to only one word, you guessed right, my wedding. The intensity overwhelms me….my two aunts are visiting us next week. Should I take on an extra project so I can come home late from work? Worth pursuing.

Journal entry #3

Not sure if the term ‘arranged marriage’ talks about the craziness involved in the arrangements. Flowers, catering, shopping for my trousseau, jewelry, invitations, menu choices, make up, hair dos, I am unable to leave the house without my parents thrusting a few samples of ‘this or that’ for me to choose from.

Journal entry #4

Today, Sid called me at work to ask if we could have lunch together.

Was I excited?  Yes, a  bit…hmmmm….actually,  a lot!!!

Journal entry #5

The lunch was good…yeah more than good. He has a great sense of humour. We captured our first selfie. We kinda look nice together. He gave me a chocolate…

Journal entry #6

The craziness at home continues….things seem to get finalized one moment…and new checklists are being made the very next.

Today we went shopping for my trousseau (read my family of four, plus my four aunts and their spouses, my two cousins, a brood of nieces and nephews) plus Sid’s family, his two cousins, three aunts and their spouses.  Thankfully pets were not allowed in the shops.

Observation #1
30 odd people screaming their choices is embarrassing

Observation #2
Getting a reservation for so many people in a restaurant is a challenge at such short notice……

Journal entry #7

The bride, that’s me, is ready with her sarees and jewellery.  Sid & I call each other frequently – the family indulges me….Once we get off the phone we are on chat mode on our phones. We are both doing a crash course on understanding each other after all….

Journal entry #8

Did I tell you that in India it is not only the couple that marries, even the families marry? So I am now being introduced to Sid’s  first cousins, second cousins, great uncles thrice removed, to the aunt who is a great singer, to the aunt who is a style icon and to the uncle who was just two steps away from making it to the Indian cricket team, among others

Sid has also met my great grand mom, my third cousin who happens to be related to Sid’s family, my  first cousins, the three bad boys of our family, the talented singer aunt, the dancing sensation aunt, the rangoli cousin and the chef-in-the-making aunt.

Our families have outdone each other….huge resource pools of talent!!!

Journal entry #9

Sid and I sneak away for a midnight drive and an icecream. ‘Twas wonderful.

5 more days to go…

Journal entry #10

We are married. I get to show off my new dresses at the many family lunches (on both sides) that we are invited to almost every day.

We are on an eating orgy here. I applaud and over eat at his cousins’, he does the same for dinners on my side. We are extravagant in our compliments….everyone is happy.

Journal entry #11

We are back from our magical honeymoon.

Entering the phase called ‘digitally yours’… repeatedly looking at the wedding albums, uploading videos and pics & enjoying all the gifts.

Journal entry #12

The calm is restored…it is just the two of us now…starting our life together, bit by bit. Planning the move to our own apartment

Fully focused on transforming the apartment into ‘home’.

Journal entry #13

We had our first guests over for dinner. Received two invites in return. Our social life starts….

Journal entry #14

We had our first argument….I was right, of course…!  We are well & truly married.

Forward Ho!


For the umpteenth time today my phone pings indicating that I have 20 messages. Except for two of these messages, 18 texts comprise jokes, videos showcasing the unique talents of people, lectures given by people at University graduations, quotes by famous people & general messages with good mornings or have a nice day. Most messages have 5 smileys on an average.

I read some, skim through some and reserve the videos for later, when I will have the time to sit and watch them.

I suddenly wonder how the information super city looks – with all these messages bustling about, rushing from one phone to the next, bits and bytes flying through space and ending up as cohesive jokes on one’s phone.

I imagine rooms in this high-tech city where smileys are manufactured and sent to various mobiles and computers on a conveyor belt. 70 smileys and 20 winkies to that phone please…

I can imagine a harried robot supervisor, ensuring that likes, shares, forwards and sends are working smoothly.

I imagine certain jokes being forwarded over and over again…spinning on an elliptical belt in space with an algorithm that says visit every mobile once in 45 days. These come with a recycling feature. You delete them and they reappear on the belt only to enter another phone….

I can see a huge spinning gallery of pictures categorized into profile pics, holiday pics, year 2015 pics etc flying on a carousel, being sucked into various phones and mobiles.

This super city never sleeps. Come night or day, rain or shine, people’s texts, jokes, videos, tips for better living, stories that resonate with our beliefs, and many more, continue to be delivered seamlessly.

They bring small bursts of joy, wholesome laughter at times, mild exasperation if they are repeats and an automatic irresistible urge to forward them!! Forward ho!

An Unforgettable Train Journey


We reach the station in typical Bollywood climax style…with barely 10 minutes to spare. We’ve been looking forward to this 36 hour train journey, on the Rajdhani Express, from Delhi to Bangalore for a long long time. Water bottles, Tinkles & some magazines, and we are good to go. My husband and I have hyped it up a bit for the kids, loaded as we are with memories of our long train journeys as children.
The typical last minute chaos of the station fades away as the train slowly trundles out…..bringing into focus another ecosystem, the inside of the train.
I watch with interest, as people settle down. Strangely, most people are intently focused on their smart phones. Nobody talks or acknowledges their neighbours. So very different from when I was a child. Nobody has the ubiquitous junk food plastic bag from home filled with ‘thattais’, ‘murukkus’ and chips. I smile at this change…as I remember boarding the train and a mere five minutes into the journey the crunchy munching would start. People would talk loudly, share their food and a sense of camaraderie would prevail.
I look up to see what my children are making of this journey. They are very excited…each of them has made the berth their home and invite the other to visit. They do not seem to miss their electronic gadgets at all. They play noughts and crosses & ice cream soda on & off. They relish every meal…and wait for the next one. They like the excitement of cooping themselves inside their berths with the curtains and peeping out now & then to talk to us.
I look out of the window, small towns and villages breeze past. Dots on a map, now here, now gone…the enormity & beauty of our country hit me, as the long serpent chugs away relentlessly. Flashes of people, animals, level crossings …..life goes on outside at a steady pace. From within, they seem to happen in fast forward. I dream about everything and nothing, feeling philosophical and sleepy at the same time. I enjoy every moment, more so, because the children are having a great time.
I yearn for tamarind rice and idlis soaked in milagai podi, curd rice & pickle, another flash from memory.
Before we know it we are in Bengaluru, back to the real world!

The World in Colours


The bright red of a heart, the red bindi on a woman’s forehead, the red of a rose, the shining red of a car, the red of an apple, the spicy red of Indian mango pickle, the red of lanterns announcing the Chinese New Year, the red of a cherry atop an ice cream, the red that says stop, the red of a clown’s nose, the red that rings in Xmas.

The orange of the evening sun, the soothing orange of an apricot, the orange of a life jacket, the orange of autumn leaves, the orange of a carved jack o’ lantern, the blazing orange of a fire, the orange of fragrant saffron, the orange of fresh carrots, the orange garb of a monk, the orange of a cosmos flower, the orange that teases your taste buds.

The yellow of mustard, the yellow of a baby’s toy, the yellow of a road divider, the yellow of egg yolk, the beautiful yellow of the sunflower, the shining yellow of gold, the yellow of lemons, the yellow of a taxi, the yellow of turmeric, the creamy yellow of fresh butter, the yellow of wholesome bananas, the perfect yellow round of a smiley, the yellow of corn, the yellow of rays of sunlight streaming into the house.

The green of grass, the green of jade stone, the green of a crunchy capsicum, the green of a frog, the green of a traffic signal, the green of herbs, the green of an emerald, the green of a raw mango, the green of a curling fern, the green of the countryside, the green of malachite, the green of Christmas, the green of lotus leaves, the green of a parrot, the green of spring.

The blue of the ocean, the blue of Delft pottery, the blue of turquoise, the blue of a peacock’s feather, the blue of the sky, the deep blue of twilight, the blue of ink, the blue of mascara, the blue of a blue berry, the blue of a swimming pool, the blue of copper sulphate, the blue of a uniform, the blue of the bluebird, the rich blue of sapphire, the blue that is business-like & formal.

The violet of the star-studded night sky, the violet of a formal evening gown, the violet of an amethyst, the violet of aromatic lavender, the violet of coloured hair, the violet of lilac, the violet of beautiful eyes, the violet of chocolate wrappers.

The black of formality, the black of black holes, the black of a shadow, the black of a stallion, the black of beautiful tresses, the black of a crow, the black of blackberries, the black of an espresso, the black of a formal bag, the must have black dress, the black of coal, the black of a panther, the black lines of a pencil sketch.

The white of purity, the white of cotton-puff clouds, the white of freshly laundered linen, the white of a swan, the white of a hospital, the white of milk, the white of an empty page, the white of a snow-capped mountain, the white of foam, the white of a bride’s gown, the white of a marshmallow, the white of the Taj Mahal, the white of a polar bear, the white of peace.

The world is a rainbow of colours – each of them beautiful, each of them vibrant; some colours define who we are, some reflect our moods, some bring back memories, some inspire us!

Murugan – A short story


It was business as usual for Murugan.  His day started at 5.00 a.m.  The world was still dark as he stepped out to the water-pump at the end of the narrow street with his bucket, soap, toothbrush and paste.  He lived in a slum, off one of Chennai’s bustling highways.  Morning ablutions done, he walked back to his small thatcheFeatured imaged hut, ran a comb through his unruly locks and beard, and peered at himself in the mirror through the dull 40 watts lamp that provided some semblance of light.

Armed with his gunny bag that was his life, he walked the two kilometres to his place of work.  Barely 50 metres from his workplace, he could already hear the strains of devotional songs playing on the speaker from Krishnan Unni’s tea shop.  He hastened his pace in anticipation of his day’s first cup of tea before he got down to work.

He met Kannamma, the flower-seller, who looked fresh and crisp in her checked cotton sari, big red kumkum adorning her forehead and her hair done up in a big bun surrounded by jasmine flowers; more bundles of which she would sell till 12 noon.

He put down his gunny bag and reached Krishnan’s shop.  Krishnan, the chatterbox, updated him on the country’s politics, the latest film gossip and his personal financial problems.  Murugan merely grunted in acknowledgement. That was the easiest part with Krishnan; one never had to talk or contribute to his monologue.

He enjoyed his tea – laced with ginger and cardamom – and headed back to the small clearing under the Banyan tree, where he would get busy for the next four hours.  At nine he would finish his work and walk back to Krishnan’s shop for his breakfast of idlis, vadas or pongal, depending on the dictates of those partners-in-crime – his mind & his tongue.

He took out a broom from his gunny back and swept the area clean.  He then sprinkled water on the area.  The mud hungrily guzzled the water and in a little more than fifteen minutes, the area was dry.  He now proceeded to take out his various packets of coloured rangoli powder, carefully prepared by him on the weekends.  There were lovely reds, yellows, greens, blues and pinks, browns, blacks and whites, orange, peach, mauve, lilac – he had them all.

He first drew a rectangular border outlining the empty area on the ground.  His theme for the day was a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.  His brow furrowed in concentration and with the grace of a wonderful artist, Murugan began his day’s composition.  Outlining the face, filling it with rangoli powder, capturing the exact lines on Gandhiji’s face – he did all this from memory.  After all, this had been his life for the last 13 years, and before that he had been his Dad’s assistant for over 10 years.  This was his art, his life and his livelihood; he knew little else.

The composition occupied a space of 7 feet x 6 feet.  And as he painstakingly brought his rangoli to life, early morning passers-by paused in their morning activities to admire his creativity and patience.  But Murugan was totally oblivious to such goings-on in the background, his mind sharply focussed on the task at hand.

By nine in the morning, Gandhiji had been brought to life and looked calm & serene.  Murugan grunted to himself his approval and satisfaction on the composition.  He was not easily pleased, and on those days, when his compositions did not meet his satisfaction, his eyes constantly flitted back to the mistakes that seemed to him glaringly obvious, but not so to the onlookers.  Of course, he was his own harshest critic.  His father had told him that once a composition was done, there was no point in trying to correct it, as it would wreck the rest of the rangoli.

But today, Murugan was a happy man.  His Gandhiji looked well, and he, Murugan, was ready to receive the money that people would offer in a collection box next to the composition.  The area was a busy one and there were people milling about through the day.  His collections, though modest, were enough to keep a simple man happy and content.  Most of his money went towards purchasing new materials for his rangolis, and for this, on the second Sunday of every month, he would visit Parry’s Corner to stock up.  When his parents were alive, there had been some talk of marriage, but misfortune had come in waves and he had lost his parents.  His sister was married and living in Coimbatore and visited him once in 5 years.  He was a loner and happy the way he was.

After 9 am, his routine was fixed.  He had his breakfast at Krishnan’s Tea Shop and spent time reading the local Tamil newspaper.  After that he went back to the banyan tree and sat under its shade on the stone platform, built by a thoughtful soul.  He kept watch over his rangoli and nodded his head, whenever a customer dropped a coin into his collection box.  His customers were of different types – some merely stopped by, taking a moment out from their busy routines, to admire his creativity, hastily dropping a coin and rushing away.  Others stopped and stared and bent and peered at his artwork.  Such customers gave him the most happiness, as they studied the finer nuances of his art – the superlative blending of rangoli powder – a wrinkle on Gandhiji’s face that started off as a dark chocolate brown, then faded into a muddy brown and then to the finest sand brown.  Such was his skill.

There was a lull in the area everyday at around 10.30 a.m., and this brought Kannamma and Krishnan Unni to study his composition for the day.  These were the two humans, whose presence in his life he cherished.  They did not meet after work, did not know each others’ families except by conversation but were staunchly there for each other.  Murugan loved this part of his day as his two friends voiced their opinions, sometimes critical and sometimes effusive in their praise.  Kannamma frequently felt moved by some of the compositions of the various Gods and Goddesses.  She always told Murugan that he was made for better things and fame, and Murugan always quipped to her that he had been at this for the last 23 years and would do so for the next 100.

Business picked up at around 11.30 a.m., when marketing and sales executives had finished their first round of calls and would stop by at Krishnan’s shop to have their mid-morning cuppas.  These young boys spent time looking at Murugan’s composition and were generous with both their praise and their money.  After noon there was a lull again, and around 12.30, Murugan had his lunch at Krishnan’s – tamarind rice or lemon rice or curd rice, laid out on a dried pumpkin leaf.

Business was generally slow around lunch time and Murugan used this time to catch a few winks under the cool shade of the Banyan tree.  On this day, his stomach was full with his heavy lunch and he sighed contentedly as he settled down with his towel under his head, the sounds of the traffic and birds gently fading away as sleep overcame him.  He was far away in a land of dreams, as the Sun shone mercilessly around him.

He felt someone shaking him and heard Kannamma’s voice urging him to get up.

“Murugan endiri, endiri”.

His brain was heavy with sleep and this sudden shaking forced his heart into a gallop.  He had never been woken up from his mid-afternoon slumber in the last decade, so something had to be terribly, terribly wrong.  He rubbed his eyes and tried to stand-up; shaking on his feet as he assimilated his wits and the scene around him.

A middle-aged man stood before him, wearing sun-glasses and a cap.  He had the trappings of a prosperous man.  He was looking at Murugan with a small smile on his face.  Murugan stared at the man.  He couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Was he a cop? Was his area going to be taken up by a Government building? His heart was now sprinting.  Kannamma’s voice cut like a knife through his thoughts.

“Murugan, Sir wants to talk to you.”

Murugan turned towards the man.

The man said, “Vanakkam, Murugan.  I am Venkatachalam and I produce and direct Tamil movies.”

Murugan pinched himself, what was wrong with him, was he still dreaming.  The hard pinch hurt him and he winced. What did one say to such a man?

“I have been watching you for a few months now,” continued Mr.Venkatachalam, “I would like you to make a rangoli portrait for one of my upcoming movies.”

Murugan opened and closed his mouth, words did not come out.  He had never seen this man before, how had he seen his work?  Maybe when he dozed in the afternoons?  Questions flitted through his mind in rapid succession.

“Hmmmm,” said Murugan.

“The rangoli is a huge one about 25 feet x 30 feet.  The rangoli will be a portrait of the hero, made lovingly by the heroine of the movie.  We will be shooting the making of the rangoli even as you compose it; only that at different parts in the rangoli, the heroine will be shown with the colour powder in her hands and filling up the rangoli. Do you understand?” asked the director.

At last Murugan found his voice.  “Yes saar, I do.”

“My assistant Kumar will meet you tomorrow with all the details and show you the picture that needs to be composed.  We will pay you Rs.15,000 for this project,” said the director.

Murugan gaped with an open mouth.  Rs.15,000! What would he do with that kind of money?  The possibilities and questions swirled around his head.

The director left in his shining white car and a dazed Murugan turned back to meet a grinning Krishnan and a happy & tearful Kannamma.

“I told you, I told you, didn’t I?” said Kannamma.

His life seemed to have become glamorous all of a sudden, as glitter from tinsel town seemed to have been sprinkled on him.  Krishnan played songs on his speaker to convey his happiness; Kannamma gave discounts to her customers.  Murugan still scratched his head wondering what had hit him.  He needed to think through this.  Self-doubt slowly crept and crawled through his mind.  Could he actually pull off such a huge rangoli?  His determination asserted itself, of course he could! Wasn’t he the master of the subtlest of nuances to bring a portrait to life?  He straightened his shoulders and mentally readied himself, though time and again he felt a strange ball that moved through his stomach – nervousness or excitement? He couldn’t tell.

As he cleared up his rangoli for the day and proceeded homeward, his thoughts of the morrow dragged his steps as he ambled along.  He barely slept that night; he woke up at 4 am and paced his hut from end-to-end.  He mentally tried to plan what he would have to do, how he would go about the composition.  He walked to his workplace very early and for the first time in 10 years beat Krishnan to it.  He was confused about the day’s composition. Keep it something simple? What if the Director’s man came first thing in the morning?  He hated leaving his work undone.  Finally after much thought he decided to do a small canvas that would be easy to finish.  He was done by 8 a.m., and then the wait began.

Outwardly he looked calm and his usual self, inside a volcano was simmering with tension.  Finally, at 11.30 a.m., the Director’s man Kumar arrived.  He asked Murugan to accompany him to the studio so that he could show him the place where he would be setting up his composition. Murugan bid bye to his friends.   It was Murugan’s first trip in such a luxurious car.  Kumar made him feel at ease and treated him with respect.  After about 45 minutes, they drove into the studio grounds, a huge imposing building.  Murugan could only stare and gape as he was led through the various corridors and lifts.  Finally they entered a huge hall, in the centre of which a huge rectangle was marked out.

“There, that’s the area,” said Kumar.

“So, this is it,” thought Murugan.

He felt a calm that had eluded him over the last two days.  This was his turf, he knew it; he had been doing it forever.  His body acquired his usual professional gait, as his eyes keenly assessed the rectangle, the play of light and the dimensions.  He asked for the picture that he had to compose and was shown the picture of one of the leading heroes of the time.  He asked for time to study the portrait.  Kumar left him alone and asked him to come out and call in the next room once he was done and ready to discuss the materials and time frame.

Murugan, the artist, was now at work.  He absorbed every line of the hero and internalized and stamped it on his memory for later access.  He studied the play of light, shadow and contrasts in the big hall.  He did his calculations in his head about the various colour powders and their quantities.  He went over his workings over and over again.  Finally after about an hour he was ready to meet Kumar.

Kumar took him out to lunch at the Studio’s canteen and there Murugan outlined his requirements and what he would need, quantities and when.  The shooting date was set for a week later.  Murugan was dropped off at his usual place, where a very eager Krishnan and Kannamma pounced on him for all the details.

On the day before shooting was to start, Murugan was taken in the Director’s car to Parry’s Corner, where along with Kumar, he shopped for all the raw materials he would need.  The Director had made a request asking Murugan to stay in the Studio itself till the job was done, as sometimes the shooting went on till very late at night.  Murugan was initially hesitant but came around with some persuasion.

The evening before the shoot, they drove him to his house to pick up his clothes and toiletries.  He joined the entire shooting crew for dinner at the Studio canteen.  He was too shy to speak but felt himself relaxing and enjoying the camaraderie, the jokes and barbs that people exchanged with each other.  He was given a small room with a comfortable bed and basic amenities.  It also had a TV set that he could watch when he was free.  Kumar showed him how to use it, but he was too nervous to change any settings, and was content to watch the local Tamil channel that was playing.

The most important day in his life dawned and he was ready when Kumar called for him.  He proceeded to the studio.  He had been told by the Director to complete the upper portion of the face till the eyes, after which the heroine would join them & the shooting would start in earnest.

The camera men were setting up their equipment and there was a lot of noise and talk.  But Murugan could see only the rectangle and his raw materials.  He glanced at the photo every now and then and saying a small prayer, started his work.

His concentration was absolute, the silence in his mind only accommodating thoughts about the work at hand and filtering out everything else.  He worked calmly and furiously; 3 cups of tea went cold on the floor near him.  He had started at 7 am and by 11.45 a.m. he had reached the eyes.  He stood up and stretched himself; his grunt the only sign that he was happy with his work.

As Murugan stood guard near his precious rangoli, there was a sudden buzz on the floor.  The heroine had arrived!  Murugan couldn’t take his eyes off the beautiful vision in a chiffon saree.  The Director introduced Murugan to the lady and then she was seated, with one of her assistants gently fanning her, as the Director explained the shot.

It was soon time for the first shot.  Murugan felt a stirring of pride, happiness and joy, as he realized that one of his creations would be preserved forever on celluloid.  He missed his father and wished he could have shared the moment with him. Murugan taught the heroine how to hold her hand and disperse the rangoli powder, ever-so-gently on the space given.  Soon, the cameras rolled, one focussed on the heroine’s face, one on her graceful hands and the other on her bent head from the top, showing the full rangoli.  After the first shot was done, Murugan was back again, working furiously for the next three hours, food, water & tea completely forgotten.  The next round of shooting happened after this, rangoli and gently flowing tears on the heroine’s face as she felt her love for the hero overwhelm her.  The full rangoli was done by 7.30 p.m. and the final shots were taken a little before 10 p.m.  After that it was pack-up.

Murugan walked around his handiwork, enjoying the thrill that comes with a job well done.  The heroine stopped by and chatted with him, appreciating his work.  One moment of pure bliss, carefully filed away to recall during his afternoon ruminations under the banyan tree, a world that seemed so far away just then.  The Director’s assistant brought him an envelope with his earnings.  His heart nearly popped out of his body.  Outwardly calm, inwardly doing a jig, Murugan stood waiting to leave the place.    Kumar called for him, telling him that the car would take him back in 15 minutes.

He asked the cameraman if he could get a copy of the rangoli, a photo perhaps.  Kumar promised to drop it off at his place of work.  Well that was that.  Nothing more was to be done and just as he turned away from his rangoli towards the door, he heard water sloshing behind him.  He did not have the courage to turn back and look.  He couldn’t say to himself that it was “All in a day’s work”.  He quickly ran out of the room, the rangoli still etched in his mind.

The mundane routine of his life resumed, but now it was laced with anticipation – the endless wait for the movie’s release.  After what seemed like aeons, Murugan spotted the posters/hoardings of the movie on the streets.

So, on one Sunday, Kannamma, Unni & Murugan decided to go to the theatre to watch the movie.  All of them turned up in their Sunday best and took the bus to the theatre complex.  They shuffled into their seats, gaping at all that was happening around them.  The movie started and Murugan’s heart pounded away furiously.

The love story twisted and turned, meandered through jungles in the form of love songs, stormed through angry outbursts by the heroine’s father and whispered through the dreams and longings of the lead pair.  The movie finally got over.  There was no scene with the rangoli, it had probably been edited out.  Murugan was slumped in his seat, the pain too sharp to take-in, the disappointment too heavy to contemplate.  The trio slowly walked back to the bus stand, all plans of their celebratory dinner forgotten.

Coffee, me, myself Part II – Enter the dragon


I have to warn you that if you want to drop by at our home between 7 am and 8 am on a weekday morning, you may not meet me but a fire-spewing dragon.

I am a night owl, and when the Sun actually rises, it is still midnight in night owl world.  Imagine being forced to wake up at midnight every morning to send your children to school.Featured image

The strong filter coffee jolts me awake. With my hair tied up in a grim knot, I am ready to take on this mad hour in my kitchen. My brain is processing four completely asymptotic threads of activity.  Within the next 60 minutes I have to process six different lunch & snack boxes in various combinations to meet individual requirements. The four burners on my hob are working full steam, now cooking, now boiling, now frying.  I am like an octopus, my hands moving with precision, stirring the contents of one pan &  tossing another. All it takes is one moment of inattention and the dosa is burnt, sugar goes in where salt should have gone….you get the picture?

Sounds from elsewhere in the house indicate that the children are awake and fighting over that most precious morning resource – the bathroom. Suddenly the tenor of those voices change….there is a full blown pillow fight. I reduce the flame to simmer on all burners and run to play referee. I moderate and resolve. I am rewarded with two titles simultaneously, ‘mean mom’ and ‘best mom’. The burning smell from the kitchen has me sprinting…not too much damage, thankfully.

Breakfast, lunch and snack items are produced and stacked on the kitchen counter.  I carefully check if I have colour coordinated the hand towels with the right boxes. No pinks and girly colours for my boy.The kitchen looks like a gale just blew through it. Water bottles are filled and I look at the clock. 7.55 am….Phew!

My son walks in at that precise moment with a wail, “Mom, I need 10 pictures of vehicles for a class project.”

I yell at no one in particular, “This is the icing on the cake”. 


I shoot off prints and cut the pictures & hand them to my son. My body is now emitting steam. 

The children start their breakfast. My son positions his book where his plate should be; his hand moves at a weird angle to shove food into his mouth. My daughter’s hand has paused midway to her mouth as her eyes devour the book she is reading. I let out another volley of ‘mom-pletives’ and the pace of breakfast consumption improves. This is followed by another round of yelling to ensure that the kids have remembered to take all their stuff.  In all this chaos, my husband remains calm, focused on the newspaper, totally oblivious to the mad household erupting all around him.  Finally everybody is ready. I let out a huge sigh of steam as each member leaves the house.


 I have the feeling of having completed a high-intensity cardio workout. Wonder why the weighing scale shows no change ?