An autobiography of a pressure cooker


The first memory that I have of my life is that something soft lifted and placed me on a shelf. I was soon to know that the ‘soft something’ was a pair of human hands, and that it was my life’s purpose to serve them. I had no idea who I was, until one of my sedate family members told me that I was a pressure cooker. School was tough, and some of the courses, especially ‘How to handle pressure 101’ were gruelling.

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The day finally arrived when I bid adieu to my family and friends. As I travelled down the conveyer belt to be packed, I stole quick glances at myself in the mirrors that lined the belt. I looked dapper, an elegant shade of silver. After that, things are quite blurred in my memory because we travelled for a long period. I knew by now what humans looked like and the sounds they made. I spent two days in a supermarket, before my new family came for me – a slightly older woman who lovingly ran her hands over me, and a younger one (her daughter, as I found out later), who was to be married soon, and to whom I would belong. I felt a small frisson of excitement run through my gasket.
I was packed and taken home, but was kept inside the carton for a few days after the bride went to her new home.

A few days later, light suddenly streamed into the carton, and my owner, Rhea’s hands gently lifted me out. She placed me on the gas burner and filled me with water. I was ready to live my life, to rejoice in the experiences that would come my way. I was both excited and nervous. Soon, I could hear Rhea talking on the phone, “Ma, I miss you so much. I have just taken the cooker out, and I remember the days before the wedding when we went shopping Ma,” and her voice caught. For a brief second, I felt nostalgic for my family too, but I quickly snapped out of my sombre mood.

Two small vessels containing raw rice and dal were placed inside me. My lid was closed, and I heard my handles engage, followed by the gentle thrust of the weight being placed on my head.

I felt my insides getting warm. And slowly, I took the test – I bore the heat and the pressure with dignity, checking if the rice was turning fluffy, and if the dal was of the right consistency. Finally, when I reached my threshold, I nudged the weight on top of my head gently, and let off steam for a few seconds. I put myself through the process over and over again. After the fourth or fifth cycle, the heat was turned off. My insides continued to simmer for a good ten minutes after that. This was my first assignment, and I had held my own; I had neither succumbed to the pressure nor had I blown my top. I had survived.

The first few assignments were difficult – sometimes when chole or rajma were cooked, I withstood pressure for prolonged periods of time, then again, when Rhea’s baby was born, I discovered that I could be caring and sensitive – I patiently cooked carrots and other mashed vegetables with love and tenderness.

The years seem to have flown away. Two more cookers have joined me – one of them is electric and has it really easy; but I am still the one who has pride of place in the household. But I do have some niggling pain in my gasket these days. My reflexes are not what they used to be.

But I have no complaints, life has been good. Rhea’s daughter is now nearly ten, and I have witnessed the ups and downs of human family life – petty arguments between husband and wife, happy moments, sad moments, fun moments, lots of laughter and lots of music.

I find it strange that these humans always talk about stress and pressure in their lives. They obviously have no clue about what real pressure feels like.

The 3:1 battle


On a Friday evening, many aeons ago, my husband somehow managed to convince me to join him on his morning jog the next day. I agreed, but only in a moment of weakness, when my mind was not with me.

I put forth two conditions – the first was that we would walk and not jog, and the second was that we would not rise with the birds or beat the sun at his game. We would rise only when my eyes opened of their own volition. My dear husband agreed to both these conditions.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, and I was ready for this – walking shoes, cap and water bottle.

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We set off at a normal pace, and reached the gate of our condo. Another couple, good friends of ours, were also leaving for their walk. We called out cheery good mornings to each other, and went our separate ways.

About 10 minutes into our walk, my husband was nearly a hundred metres ahead of me. I called and asked him to wait. And he stood there, as I walked quickly to join him.

Me: ‘I thought we were supposed to be walking together?’

Husband: ‘Hmm. Well we are supposed to be together, but you are strolling rather than walking.’

The irritation that wives reserve only for their husbands surfaced in me.

Me: ‘Look at my heart rate. My Fitbit shows that I am in the cardio range. Can’t help it if the ratio of our strides is 3:1, three steps for me and a giant leap for you!’

Husband: ‘So, do you want me to stroll with you? I will hardly burn any calories.’

Me: ‘Nope. You go ahead and run, and blaze a trail. I will go for my own morning stroll. Bye!’

Husband: ‘Ok, bye.’

He sounded relieved. And..that was that. My husband’s form took off in a jog, I was not going to follow him. I took the opposite road.

After an hour of walking, I got back to the condo, and the other friends that we had seen earlier were also returning from their walk.

We smiled at each other, and they asked, ‘Where’s your husband?’

‘We took different routes’, I said, and smiled.

A really polite smile.

The better half


The sun was a bright orange orb, already quite low in the sky and sapped of most its intense heat, as I walked home yesterday. Silhouetted birds were already heading back to their nests.

My muscles ached, and I was eager to get back home and take a cold shower, but the last leg of my walk still remained. As I cut across the beautiful park, I saw that a wedding photography shoot was underway.

The bride’s gorgeous white gown was beautifully arranged on the lawn, as she looked up at her life partner with a smile. The photographer asked the couple to move this way and that till he got ‘that’ perfect angle for the shot; a picture that would be talked about and remembered for many, many years.

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The bride and groom were lost in their own magical world, as they navigated the photo shoot in the real world. They caught me staring, and I waved out and wished them. They waved back with huge smiles.

And as I walked back, I thought about what a beautiful journey this young couple was about to embark on, and all that this journey would entail.

This also made me remember another very sweet old couple in their eighties, who visited our condo last year. Every morning, when I stood on the balcony to catch my breath after my kids and husband had left, I would watch them as they ambled over to the small exercise park that is directly below our home.

The sweet old lady would usually sit down on one of the benches. Her loving husband would then help her settle down, and also help her roll up her sleeves to allow the morning rays of the sun to warm her bones. He would then start walking around the park. Once he was done, he would join his wife. On some days, they would just sit in companiable silence, while on other days they would talk and laugh. Once the sun moved away from the park, the couple would slowly head homeward.

I come back to the now, and compare the two couples – one pair which is just beginning married life, while the other is enjoying the many memorable years together.

And between these two points, life happens – love, romance, petty fights, the big fights, hugs, cuddles, kids, milestones, vacations, hospital visits, ageing parents, laughter, grey hair, compromise..and lots more.

Each couple’s journey is different, but in the sunset years, I would consider it a blessing to have my spouse next to me, on a park bench, sharing the golden silence of a beautiful life lived together.

Thimmi and the Rim Jhim Saree – A Short Story


Thimmi, 35, lived with her husband and two children in a one room tenement in a really crowded part of town. She worked two jobs to keep her family loan-free, and to provide them with three healthy meals each day.

Her husband, Selvam, was a dreamer, who spent his days planning new business ventures, or taking up odd jobs around town. Thimmi was a strict disciplinarian. She worked hard and saved every penny, kept meticulous accounts, and tracked every currency note that her husband spent. All financial transactions in the household had to be approved by her.

Needless to say, Selvam was terrified of her, but he put up with all her controlling ways only because he did not really have to worry about the family or its upkeep. He also secretely admired her grit and her attitude.

The one thing that truly irritated him was that Thimmi had this uncanny ability of knowing the moment he earned any money, even paltry sums from the odd jobs he took up from time to time . He was never good at lying, and before he knew it, he had usually surrendered all his earnings to the finance manager of the magic in-house bank, where money travelled only one way.

He yearned for the days before his marriage, when he could wheedle money out of his innocent mother, and spend hours idling on the river bank, smoking and pondering about his future and his dreams.

Thimmi was a force to be reckoned with and her sole focus, to the exclusion of everything else, was for her kids to be well educated, go to university and have good jobs that paid well.

Everything else in her life was designed to help her achieve this goal. She worked from dawn to dusk, with happiness and vigour. Luckily for her, the children were obedient, hard working and good at their studies.

On this evening, just like every other day, Thimmi was getting back home after a really gruelling day. Her back hurt, and she gently massaged her lower back, as she navigated the crowded market street and its cacophony of hawkers.

And it was then that Thimmi saw it – a beautiful mannequin draped in the most beautiful saree that Thimmi had ever seen. Its texture and colours called out to her, and on a whim she walked into the saree shop.

The salesgirl told her that this particular saree was called the Rim Jhim saree and that it was all the rage. Thimmi draped the saree across her left shoulder, and suddenly craved this saree for herself. She wanted to buy it then and there. Thankfully common sense prevailed, when she heard the price. It was worth three months of her family’s savings. She sighed, with both disappointment and relief, and walked out.

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But the Rim Jhim saree haunted her both in her dreams and in her waking hours. She walked to her safe many times to take the money out and indulge her craving.

“What have I ever bought for myself?” she reasoned. But somehow, she managed to control herself.

Some of her friends bragged about buying the saree, and all prime time TV soaps had many commercials that constantly advertised the saree.

One evening, when the temptation to buy the saree became too much to bear, Thimmi decided to do the most sensible thing. She took out all the cash from her safe, carefully counted the money, and put it in a bag and sealed it tight with tape.

Thimmi then walked to her children’s teacher’s house. The teacher had been very helpful to her and was almost like a mentor to Thimmi.

Thimmi decided that she would leave the cash bag with the teacher, and ask her to keep it till this crazy temptation in her head had passed.

The teacher was at home, and welcomed Thimmi warmly. She asked Thimmi to sit down and went in to get her a cup of tea.

There was a lot of noise of people talking and laughing in the room adjacent to the living room, where Thimmi was seated.

As the teacher gave her a cup of tea, Thimmi asked the teacher if a class was in progress, and if she was disturbing her in any way.

The teacher said, “Oh, no no….come with me.” And she entered the room, and Thimmi followed.

“This is my sister, Vasundhara, and she has recently started a saree business. I am sure you have heard of the Rim Jhim sarees that are in vogue now; fresh stock has come in just today, and the sarees are selling so fast.”

Thimmi clutched the money bag in her hand and ran out, saying, “I think you are busy, Teacher. I will come back some other time.”

What an escape that was! She was close to tears as she walked home, her life suddenly feeling empty.

When she entered the house, her two children were busy with their homework. She washed the day’s grime off with a quick shower, and started preparations for dinner.

When her husband walked in later that night and saw Thimmi, he sensed that something was amiss. His wife of ten years looked forlorn.

He sat down next to her, and she suddenly rested her head on his shoulders, looking defeated.

The two of them just sat there. He, trying to energize her, and she drawing comfort from his presence.

After a while, they sat down to a quiet dinner, each wrapped up in their own thoughts.

When he could bear it no longer, Selvam said, “Thimmi, don’t be mad at me, but there is a new opportunity for business. There is a saree in the market called Rim Jhim, and women are going crazy about it. My friend, Velan wants me to partner with him on this, but I would need to put in some money, Thimmi, please?”

Thimmi looked at him strangely, and went to lock the doors and put the coupons out for the milkman. She came back and sat down on the bed – that forlorn look back on her face again.

Selvam was puzzled. The normal Thimmi would have shouted or yelled or refused him the money.

Thimmi stretched and closed her eyes. Selvam went to switch off the lights and added, “The company is giving each dealer two Rim Jhim sarees, you know? You can come and choose one tomorrow, if you are ok with my going ahead with the deal. I promise I will be careful Thimmi, promise ok?”

And when he turned he saw Thimmi sigh and smile, a smile of pure joy. And she nodded and said, “Ok”.

Selvam switched off the lights, a puzzled look on his face.

Thimmi relaxed and was soon in nod land.

A hundred years


I am filling up an online form. When I am filling in the date, I accidentally type the year 1919 instead of 2019.

One typo error and my mind travels back in time to a hundred years ago. I wonder what the world would have been like at that time. Then I think about my family. My grandmom would have been a little girl of about nine. Slightly older than one of her great- grandsons is now.

My grandmom had eleven siblings. She was the ninth child. When my siblings and I were kids, we would badger our grandmom to tell us stories about her childhood. She would talk about her marriage to my granddad and the grand celebrations in their village to mark the occasion.

When my grandma was in pigtails and ribbons, the world was at war. Between the two wars, she grew into a beautiful young woman, got married and had her children.

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We always lived in a joint family, and I can still remember how active my grandmom always was – right from sunrise to sundown. The kitchen was her realm, and her energy flowed from there in the form of love, cooking and chiding.

Every morning, for as long as she was active, my grandmom would finish her morning chores and rush to the temple to pray. On her way back, she would stop to buy vegetables and fruits. If she was planning on buying a lot, she would ask one of us, her grandchildren, to be on the lookout from the top of the hill where we lived. When we would see her at the bottom of the hill, we would skip down to help her carry the heavy bags home.

The moment we got home, she would give us candies that she had bought for us – in small brown paper pouches – lemon, orange and raspberry flavoured.

Time flew past, and we grew, went to high school and college. Each time we came home for vacation, we realized that our busy grandmom had aged just a little more than the last time we had seen her. When she was in her mid-seventies, she retired from her domestic world, handing over the reins to the next generation.

She spent her time reading books, or meditating or praying. She would watch some television on and off. But her eyes would light up the moment any of us went and sat next to her, to talk to her. She would ask us questions about our lives and hold our hands in her small wrinkled palms, demonstrating her love, without saying much.

My dad would come home every evening from work, have his shower and dinner, and sit down with his mom, asking about her health, her cough and about her day. He would lovingly bring her dinner, a glass of water, and her medicines, every night.

Our grandma always had a ready stock of mint lozenges that she ate to soothe her throat. She stored these in a small pouch. One of the highlights of the day was when she would call us and give us these lozenges to eat. She would break them up and give us just a small bit. We cherished both the lozenges and the love behind them.

It is 2019. A hundred years have flown by, since a small girl grew up in a time before ours, and became our grandmom. And now, our parents are at that age, vulnerable and frail.

Where did time fly? When did we become this responsible?

It is literally as if someone changed 1919 to 2019 with the mere flick of a button – a hundred years, four generations, lovely memories and the relentless onslaught of time.

Circle of friendship


When we first go to school, we are reluctant to let go of our parents’ hands. We stare at this new world that is inhabited by other kids, from the security of our mom’s lap or dad’s shoulders. The world outside is scary, so strange, a little exciting..and many other things.

Three or four days into school, we take tentative steps towards friendship, with that girl in the cute pink frock or the boy with the dinosaur shaped lunch box!

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Soon our evenings are spent with friends, playing tag, playing with toys or learning to ride a bicycle together.

We plow through primary school and birthday parties with friends, sharing innocent secrets and giggles. We then move to the teen years, where friends become life, and family fades into the background. A time when we learn so many things, a time when we experiment with identity, looks, cliques; a time when we try to be noticed or not noticed at all. A time of tumultuous friendships sometimes, and great moments sometimes too! By this time some friends have been there with us forever, some have vanished!

Then on to university, where more friends get added, many new shared experiences happen; more serious talk happens – about life, career prospects, marriage…!

Then out in the world to earn a living – new dynamics, new friendships, a taste of independence, hosting parties, more relaxed in friendship, more comfortable in one’s skin.

And then marriage, befriending other young couples, visiting each others’ homes, going on trips with them.

Then, when kids arrive, friends become other parents – comparing notes on food and child-related topics, all the time. When friendships only revolve around kids.

As the kids enter their teens and become independent, there’s more time for and with friends. By this time, we are settled in our friendships and views. We have a close-knit group of friends, whom we meet regularly. Friends who have our backs; where there is absolute comfort, where there is no worry about being judged, or about food or cooking.

A kind of friendship where one can just be – talkative or silent, eat in or take out, laugh with or cry with…so many, many beautiful things – when one feels complete in a warm circle of friendship!

It takes time and effort to get there, but when you do get there and find that circle, life is perfect!

A slice of family history


Thanks to messaging apps and social networks, families and friends have come closer. There is a joy in reconnecting with cousins, aunts and uncles, and knowing that you are family.

This afternoon, on my husband’s maternal cousins’ group, I saw a few photographs. Some of the cousins had visited the family’s ancestral home, and the village temple nearby.

The house, though occupied by other people, has stood the test of time – teakwood staircases and doorways, and lots of memories.

As I saw the photographs, my husband casually mentioned that he was born there, in that house. While I knew that he was born in that small village, I had not made the connection to the house.

That transformed the way I looked at the pictures. This was a part of our family history. My imagination soared.

Then I imagined how my husband would have walked up and down these wooden stairs on chubby legs, being chased by an aunt or his mom; how he would have played with cousins and watched the hens clucking in the yard. The home had a barn, where there was a beautiful cow named Radhamani, who was loved and cherished by all the family members. After my husband’s parents moved to the city, most school holidays were spent in this house.

Four other cousins were also born in the same house. Lots of stories and memories there.

I only know the husband I met nearly two decades ago, but starting from the ancestral home he was born in, and the lovely family who surrounded him, there were so many factors that have made him the person he is today.

It was nice listening to interesting family anecdotes, and to realize that there was a time, when my husband and I led independent lives, unbeknownst to each other.

The ‘Rasam’ Debate


‘Rasam’ is a South Indian dish. It is a watery soup that is eaten with rice. Rasam is a combination of many tastes – it is spicy, tangy, aromatic, and full of flavour. More than anything, Rasam soothes, comforts and invigorates. It can be eaten when you have stomach upsets, when you are down with a cold or fever or pretty much all the time.  It is also the dish you want to come home to after a long holiday,  and restaurant food.

Rasam is usually served as the second gravy (that’s mixed with rice) in a typical South Indian meal. The Rasam, as a dish, is so versatile that it can be made with different bases like tamarind, lemon, orange, pineapple, lemon grass and many more.  It can contain one or many of the following – tomatoes, garlic, ginger, drumstick etc.

It is a staple dish in most homes. A good South Indian cook is expected to make a mean cup of Rasam. 

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Where I grew up, Rasam was a must-have with our afternoon meal. Piping hot rasam, with rice and papadams, eaten with spicy potato curry.

My mom is a Rasam connoisseur and I have inherited my intense love for Rasam from her. My mom’s Rasam is to die for, and I have many wonderful memories of tucking into wonderful meals with her aromatic rasam, with the monsoon winds sweeping outside.

Cut to many years later. I was a newly married woman, trying to impress my husband with my cooking skills. One of the first meals that I prepared was a Rasam-Rice combo with some vegetable.

When we sat down to dinner, my husband looked at the Rasam and said, “I don’t like Rasam at all.”

I was shocked. How could someone not like Rasam? I did a hardsell of my Rasam but to no avail. My husband’s family only had Rasam when they were down with fever.

So, for them, Rasam = Fever Comfort Food

For me, Rasam = The greatest dish ever…

How were we going to reconcile this? It was an even bigger debate than Coffee vs. Tea (Coffee for me, of course).

It’s been a long journey. The only consolation is that when my husband is down with a bad cold or fever, he asks for ‘my delicious rasam’. I keep telling him that my rasam is delicious even otherwise…but!

When I think about it, this Rasam debate in our home epitomises marriage. Two different people, with different tastes, who learn to live together and compromise on many things, but don’t on a few things…and can laugh over all this over a cup of rasam.

Marriage in a Coffee Mug


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In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I went out one evening to a home exhibition and sale, as we were setting up our new home, and wanted to buy stuff for the house.

There was a sale on,  for porcelain kitchenware. I was drawn like a magnet to a set of coffee mugs, that looked like pieces of tree trunks, with gnarled knobs and ring patterns. They looked unique, and so inviting.

My husband did not like these mugs at all. He wanted something simple. We argued (must have been one of the first arguments, me thinks).  Finally, we agreed to disagree; and the coffee mugs came home. All six mugs are still intact and have lasted us many, many years. My husband has grown to like them over the years.

While the lasting love, commitment and promises are the foundation of a marriage, it is these simple things and moments that form the bricks of any marriage.

Be it about making up after an agreement, or letting go ‘for’ your spouse without allowing ego to walk-in to a situation.

It is about his choice versus yours many a time, and having the wisdom to disagree without malice. It is about the small joys of reading a book together or shopping for grocery. It is about egging each others’ fitness goals, and then also indulging in a huge dollop of icecream together.

It is about seeing yourselves in your children, and also realizing that your children are not you. It is about being able to laugh at yourselves and being able to cry together. It is about doing everything together, and then doing nothing together.

It is about watching movies and munching popcorn together, as much as it is about who will clear up afterwards.

It is this and that. It is black and white and all colours. It is about being a team, as much as it is about being two individuals.

It is also definitely about having strong filter coffee from coffee mugs that have witnessed all these moments in your marriage.

The Search – A Short Story


It was raining heavily, as she opened the door to the flat. The rain had started without notice, and she was thoroughly drenched. Rivulets of water poured down her body, as she struggled with the many plastic bags, containing grocery and other mundanities that their home seemed to need every week.

As she entered, she heard the landline ringing. She clucked in exasperation, as she realized that the clothes that she had hung out to dry in the morning, were all swaying merrily in the rain. She ran to pick up the landline.

It was her husband, Jay.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi! I need you to do something. I’ve forgotten an important paper that I worked on over the weekend. It should be in my chest of drawers, in one of the racks. It is a handwritten design drawing, A4 size. Take a photo of the paper on your phone and send it to me. It is quite urgent”, he said.

She said ok and hung up.

She changed into dry clothes quickly and went to the study. The table was in absolute chaos, but she had strict instructions not to clean it.

She sighed at the mess and got started. All kinds of papers were strewn around.

She started sorting through them. Lots of server designs, hardware architecture, proposals to customers; but no sign of the ‘paper’.

She moved from the table to the first of  three drawers. More papers, more chaos.

She continued to search. Second drawer, same story. She only had one more drawer, hopefully it had to be there. The third drawer seemed to be better organized than the others. Sheafs of paper had been bundled with rubber bands.

As she processed the second bundle, a smile lit her face, as she saw the bill for the gift Jay had given her for their wedding anniversary earlier that year. She had asked him many times, how much it had cost, but he had refused to reveal the amount. Now she knew. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw the amount, $10000! But wait, the quantity was for 2 bangles. Jay had given her just one of them.

She felt a violent shiver ripple through her body as she tried to understand what that meant. Had Jay not realized that the shop had billed him for 2 bangles and given him only one? But he was very very careful about anything to do with money.

Ice cold fingers clutched at her heart as she felt a deep pain, when realization dawned – maybe he was cheating on her.

Her senses were on high alert as she sent off a text to Jay that she could not find the paper. Then with a sense of purpose, she sorted through the documents again, looking for something, anything. Actually, she was not even sure what she was looking for.
There were only more papers of technical drawings.

When Jay called to say he would be working late and not to stay up for him, her heart thudded with cold fear, as she hugged herself.

She decided to call his landline number after an hour or so, just a wifely call to check and reassure herself.

When she called, he picked up on the second ring. She felt a wave of relief.

But the niggling worry started all over again. Should she confront him, or let it go. Why had he not giving her the other bangle. Whom had ge given it to?

She paced up and down. She waited up for him. She couldn’t survive the night without knowing about the mysterious second bangle.

He looked tired as he sat down to have his dinner.

She was too upset to talk and he was too tired to notice that she was not herself.

When the pressure inside her head reached bursting point, it rushed out as a powerful torrent of words.

“While I looked for that paper you wanted this morning, I found this”, she said, thrusting the bill under his nose.

He laughed and said, “So, now you know its value eh?”

She said, “But you gave me just one, but the bill amount is for two bangles, where is the second bangle?”

“Oh! that. You know, Mihir, my roommate from University? We bumped into each other at the jewelry shop. He was looking at buying something for his wife, just like I was. He liked the design too…so both of us bought it, he paid me in cash, as I was a member and would get more points added if we billed it together”, he said.

“So, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“Hmmm, must have slipped my mind. Can you pass some of that yummy chutney here, please?” he said as he continued to eat.

Totally unaware that a typhoon had just tried to uproot what they had built over the last few years.

She sighed with relief.