The little red flower


It is a bright and sunny day, after a week of dull rainy weather. I am cooling-off after my workout and head to my balcony. I allow the gentle morning breeze to tease my sweat-soaked curls, before it envelopes my neck and gifts me a few moments of pleasurable coolness.

The world below is already busy. Traffic is quite heavy and people are walking with purpose. Suddenly, I sense something flying past the balcony grill and on to the floor.

It is this beautiful flower! I quickly rush indoors to get my phone to click a picture.

And as it lies against the grey tiled floor, its beautiful red colour warms my heart. It reminds me of the beautiful hues of the red saree worn by a new Indian bride, it reminds of the deep red chillies that my mom would always sun- dry on our terrace when we were kids; it reminds me of the deep red spine of old books on our bookshelf, dog-eared and cherished; it reminds me of a perfect layer of raspberry jam on a slice of toast. It makes me smile.

This little flower has flown-in with the breeze, a simple gift that enlivens my day – bringing with it stories of its life experiences, and stories of how it was nurtured and cared-for by a loving pair of hands. Now it lies on my balcony, beautiful and poised, ready for whatever comes next.

Three safety-pins


I am cleaning the drawers of my dressing table, a long overdue task. And as I clean, I find my safety-pin box, containing many glittering steel safety- pins in various sizes.

Image courtesy – ClipartKey

Back in my childhood, safety-pins were precious resources that provided quick-fix solutions to many everyday problems – to fix a sudden tear in your clothes or to fix a broken sandal or to fix broken chains or beads. Moms and aunts usually had at least one or two safety-pins on the chains that most of them wore around their necks. All one had to do was ask; and out would come those precious pins that could solve all kinds of problems. But one of the most important uses of safety-pins for Indian women is when we have to wear sarees.

Most of us probably wore our first sarees for our high school graduation ceremonies. There was great joy in choosing the right saree, in getting the perfect blouse stitched and in buying the right accessories to go with it.

And as our moms helped us drape the sarees, we stood with three safety-pins in our palms. We waited to pass them to our moms, as they sat down to perfect each pleat of the saree and to pin them together neatly. The safety-pins were not visible after the saree was draped, but gave us that much needed assurance that we could carry ourselves well!

When we got back from school after the graduation – our hearts filled with precious memories, fun and some tears – our moms waited to receive us, and warned us to carefully remove the safety-pins first and put them away, before we changed back into our home clothes.

And on countless important occasions thereafter – from festivals and family functions to our own engagements and weddings – we draped ourslves in gorgeous sarees, with strings of jasmine in our hair, and huge jhumkas dangling from our ears. The sarees made us feel poised, graceful and elegant – silently supported as they were by three simple, safety pins.

I come back to the here and the now. The safety-pins have been lying in the box for ages. Can’t wait for life to get back to normal. Can’t wait to bring out my sarees and my glittering safety pins!

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.

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

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 stolen moment….


When the Indian Festival season starts, days and nights blend into each other; into a seamless round of parties, dinners and fun. The vibrant hues of the Indian saree light-up the landscape. There are shimmering sequins, and silk, visits to the nail spa and hair salon; and all this while preparing the hundred odd things that one needs for the festival season.

I am no exception, as I flit in and out of the house, draping sarees for every occasion. There is definitely magic in the air, people are happy and in high spirits. There is hope, there is a promise of another wonderful year ahead.

And in all this wonderful excitement, I have just dropped my son to his class, and head to a mall nearby, to run some errands.

I move with purpose, ticking off each item on my list. Somewhere, on those winding shop alleys, fresh coffee is being brewed. I ignore it and carry on with my work.

On the way back, I simply cannot resist. I do a takeaway and walk out of the mall. The mall is located on the waterfront.

I look at the water. There are many kayaks. Many teams are practicing – counting or chanting rhythmically.

I need this moment to myself, to do nothing, just till I finish my coffee. To absorb this peace of watching without acting, just enjoying my coffee and its aroma.

I settle down on the steps near the waterfront. Two sweet mynas are hopping about near me. They look quizzically at me. They are not daunted by my presence. They allow me to take pictures. After a while, they go into the bushes, and start pecking at the soil with their bright yellow beaks.

A beautiful morning – a bright and sunny day full of promise, clouds floating, kayaks gliding on the water, two smart mynas for company and coffee to top it all off.

This moment was mine..just to be, just to let go and to not think.

Soon, it is time to head back and join the main artery of everyday life; back to celebrating the festival season with friends and family – back to the fun and laughter!

Happy Deepavali to you all!

Tailor made


Earlier today, I chanced upon some black and white photos from my childhood. The pictures made me smile. My sister and I are wearing identical frocks in most of those pictures.

That was how it was back then. We would go to a garment shop, and choose running lengths of fabric. We would head to the tailor shop afterwards, for our measurements to be taken. The tailor would make identical clothes for my siblings and me, only the sizes were different.

The tailor’s shop was located in the crowded market in our town. It was a small shop that had a narrow entrance. The shop had shelves along all its walls, running from the floor to the ceiling. One could barely see the shelves, crammed as they were with customer orders.

I always wondered how the tailor was able to remember, when each order was due. Deep within the recesses of the shop were the sewing machines, all of them busy all the time, with men or women bent intently on a frock or a blouse or a shirt.

The main tailor, usually had a pencil tucked behind his ear, and a measuring tape slung around his neck. He measured, noted, gave instructions to his staff and managed the whole pipeline.

Picture courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

While, during non-festival times, the tailor usually delivered our orders promptly, it was not so during festivals, especially Deepavali.

The fabric buying took place at least a month and a half before Deepavali. We would rush to the tailor to place our orders. And even at that early date, the tailor would lament about the pipeline, and about how difficult it was going to be to deliver our clothes early.

And then the negotiations on the delivery date would commence – between my parents and the tailor. We would come home with a receipt for collection and an acceptable date for pick-up.

Just a fortnight before our due date, whenever we visited the market, we would drop-in at the tailor shop to give him a gentle reminder. There were no mobiles or text messages to do the job. The tailor would nod and wave vigorously each time – to reassure us that he had not forgotten us.

Our dad would usually pick up the tailored clothes on his way back from work. After dinner, we would get a peek at our new clothes. They were packed away and stored carefully till Deepavali.

The years just flew by, and then came the era of off-the shelf clothes, and our visits to the tailor dwindled.

However, after marriage, we Indian woman still go to the tailor to get out saree blouses stitched – ‘tailor made’ exclusively for us!

Street play at sundown


High up in the sky, the moon is a sliver of silver on a late evening sky that is still blue. The moon seems to be gliding peacefully far above, totally oblivious to the goings-on below.

Down here, there is a sense of desperation, as people try to make the most of the last few hours of the weekend before the work week starts.

The market street looks chaotic. People, street hawkers and vehicles jostle for space, as they strive to reach their goals for the week.

Splashes of colour in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, sarees on display and vibrant colour baskets dot the crowded street.

Everybody seems to be in a hurry, there is a sense of urgency to people’s actions, to the last calls of the street hawkers attempting to close sales for the week. Then again, there are those who stop at local street food stalls to partake of chaats, pizza and other Indian snacks.

There is a sensory overload – a blurring motion picture of rainbow colours, the loud hum of human chatter, the aroma of street food, the weaving and the jostling…..!

Amidst all this chaos are the balloon sellers, who walk up and down the street carrying ballons, toy ferris wheels that spin merrily in the evening breeze and other toys that entice children, whose eyes trail the balloons even as their bodies have gone on ahead with their parents, who hold them in vice-like grips, lest they get lost in the teeming crowd!

We have to pause frequently as we walk down, simply because there is no way to move.

That’s when we stop to enjoy this evening street play!

Out of bounds


When we were kids, there were certain things and areas in our home that were out of bounds to us – our Dad’s bookshelf, his stationery cupboard and his files; our mom’s wardrobe and steel almirah, and our aunt’s knitting basket!

My Dad could sense if his files and papers had moved even an inch, and I don’t need to even talk about my mom’s antennae.

On rare occasions, we were given the privilege of peeking into my mom’s wardrobe or seeing my dad’s important papers and stationery.

These treats usually happened on long weekends or holidays, when my Dad would decide to clean his cupboard, or when my mom decided to clean hers.

We were allowed to watch and help as long as we were careful and didn’t behave irresponsibly.

We could barely contain our excitement, when we saw the creamy white paper or pens and lovely paper clips that our father had. My hands wanted to possess one of those notepads – to write (not sure what??).

If our Dad was happy with us, we would usually get something from his treasure trove. He would sometimes read out quotations from his notebook, or show us pencil sketches from his college days.

The things we collected thus were so precious, if only because our father had kept them so beautifully. We felt honoured to receive an old notepad or empty diary or a fountain pen.

When our mom opened her almirah, we would gaze in wonder at her beautiful silk sarees, neatly hanging in a line. There was the beautiful fragrance of sandalwood that gushed out of the wardrobe from the fragrance pouches she used.

Image courtesy – Dreamstime.com

Shiny sarees, the occasional sequinned saree, ornate jewelry boxes – we got glimpses of these as mom took out stuff, cleaned her cupboards and put them back in.

There was also a small, square, metal piggy bank that our mom had. It had the picture of a happy family on one side, and for the longest time I thought that it was ‘our family picture’. The piggy bank had a complicated locking mechanism, and we watched our mom pick out the key from a bunch of other important-looking keys to unlock the piggy bank.

When the cleaning was done, we usually went back to play or to study; knowing that those areas were out of bounds to us again….till the next time.

The essential me!


Thankfully, in my world social networking means ‘really’ going out and meeting friends and socializing. However, going out also means that I need to ‘get-ready’ good clothes to wear and also ponder about my appearance, hairdo and accessories.

Some clothes have sequins and lace, some have embroidery, some have beadwork, some are heavy, some are light, some need heavy accessorizing, while some are so heavy that there can be no room for accessories.

Most days, going out nicely dressed is a lot of  fun. However, sometimes the sequins chaf against my neck, sometimes the hairclips that pin my hair tug at my hair roots, sometimes the material of the saree or dress makes me feel like I am in an oven.

And finally, when I get home, the joy of getting back into home clothes is pure bliss. Lovely cotton clothes, worn out and faded, much loved and frayed – can anything feel better? Tying my hair in an unruly knot, without hairclips to nag me. Removing make up and splashing cold water on my face.



Image courtesy – Clipartbaby

All this, and I am myself again. This is the ‘essential me’. My home clothes make me more efficient. I can think with more clarity, with my hair in a tangled knot.  Stretching out on the couch, I contemplate. I am at peace. I am home. 

Husbands and ‘dates’


Before I start this post, let me tell you that this post is not about husbands and dating.

The Indian festival season is upon us, and most Indian women, I’m sure, are busy stocking up their kitchens, and bringing out their sarees and traditional wear.

Courtesy -www.dreamstime.com
I am no exception. I have spent a few hours this last week trying to decide on which sarees to wear and the accessories to go with them.
So, picture this scene. I am pulling out sarees from my wardrobe, placing each one against my shoulder and performing a critical self-evaluation. My husband is in the background, watching TV or reading the newspaper for the nth time.

Some of my wedding sarees capture my attention. Each of these sarees brings back great memories. Some were gifts from my husband’s parents, some from my aunts, and most from my parents. I pull out a peacock blue saree with a simple zari border.  This was the saree that I wore when I met my husband for the first time.

I am swept away in a wave of joy. Draping the folded saree on my shoulder, I rush to share this happy memory. 

But, but, but…instead of merely sharing the memory and the joy, I quiz him.

“Do you remember this saree?” I ask, my eyes gleaming with happiness.

He lifts his head from the newspaper rather slowly.

“Hmmm…what?” he asks, in slow motion.

I repeat the question. His face suddenly takes on a wary expression. He knows the consequences of not remembering. I can almost see the gears in his head working overtime. He narrows his eyes and slants his eyes, hoping that these acts will somehow give him the answer to my simple question.

I wait. For I know that he is trapped. We have played this memory game many times with anniversary dates, birthdays, first time we met type of dates etc.

This is one variant of this game. I decide to be nice to him. I tell him that this is the saree I wore on our first meeting. 

He laughs – ‘relief’ escaping through his mouth. I laugh too. 

Just half an hour back he was reeling off Formula 1 statistics, as we sat watching the Monza GP telecast. So where do men store these facts ?

I have no answers…..I smile and get back to my wardrobe planning. My friends will remember what I wore and when I wore what! And I will remember their sarees too. 

And in this shared camaraderie, we will celebrate the Indian festival season, with lots of food, fun, selfies and gorgeous sarees. 

Best wishes of the season to all of you!

Wardrobe Woes of an Indian Woman


One of the biggest challenges of being an Indian woman is the lack of wardrobe space. I know that women from around the world have this problem, however the wardrobe woes of an Indian woman are compounded by the fact that we are spoilt for choice in terms of the sheer variety of clothes we get to wear – from sarees, ghagra cholis, anarkalis, salwar kameezes, churidhars and skirts, to Western wear!

Add to this equation the simple fact that there are hundreds of types of stunning sarees from different parts of the country to choose from; sarees that are vibrant and rich in their texture, material, designs and hues. These sarees are ‘must haves’ to ring in the hundreds of festivals we celebrate.  Throw in accessories and all the other types of clothes – both Indian and Western, and you can begin to understand our problem.

So, this morning my dear husband calls me to express his annoyance about how he has very little space for his ‘few’ (he stresses this for effect) striped, checked and plain shirts in various shades of grey, blue, white and ‘pale’. There are a few splashes of colour from his T shirts that offer some visual relief.

I go over to inspect. I try to look sympathetic but fail miserably. Instead, I feel guilty. I have encroached into two racks in his wardrobe, my ‘better’ bags and clutches rest there in comfort, while a few new sarees nestle in the other rack. I honestly tried to fit them into my wardrobe, but the sarees kept falling out!


Courtesy – http://www.clipartkid.com

He rolls his eyes in exasperation. Wardrobe space is like prime real estate! But how else can I organize my wardrobe with all the clothes and accessories? “Some kind of encroachment is inevitable”, I justify.

 These things do get aggravated when I go shopping during the holiday season. My hubby looks firm. My mind wants to offer to remove some of my stuff, but my heart worries about where I can find space.

He says, “You should start purging the old stuff.”

But that’s the point. Sarees, especially the silks, get better with time. I do not reply.

He is in a hurry. He says, “Do something about this.”

I nod meekly. My wardrobe woes continue.