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Happy New Year!

In the spirit of new beginnings, I’m beginning something new. Resolutions are passé, or at least the procrastinator in me thinks they are. The best way to get anything done is to declare it to the world, I was once told. And so here goes: I am going to stretch my limits with not one, but TWO reading challenges this year!

Reading Challenge #1: Diversity on the Shelf

Diversity on the Shelf 2014

PoC issues have been at the forefront of my interests in the last year, and so I’m going to take that forward with the Diversity on the Shelf challenge. I’m aiming for the 4th shelf (19-24 books), and I hope to be able to increase it to 5th by the middle of the year (fingers crossed!).

I will be starting the challenge with English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee.

English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee

Reading Challenge #2: Indian Quills Reading Challenge

Crossing over challenges is allowed, apparently. So I will be aiming to read 24 books by authors of Indian origin. However, as part of this challenge, I will also be writing reviews for them as I go along.

And there we have it! My declaration to the world that I hope to stick by as the seasons wear on.

Alrighty, then. I have a book to read. Toodles.


Birthday # 4


Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day the photo was taken. It may not be a full story—it may just be flashes of event and emotion—but tap into the child you were as much as you can.” 


When my father posted this picture, on Facebook, of me cutting birthday cake the day I turned four, someone was quick to notice the undivided attention the cake was getting from the children around the table. “At that age, is there much else to look forward to?” I asked in return.

Indeed there was nothing much else to look forward to… except maybe birthday gifts? But that was still a few birthdays away, when my response to “Happy birthday” would be “So what did you get me?”

That day, I remember a lesson… the alphabet, maybe? Or an activity… how to somersault, perhaps? The doorbell sounds and the teacher answers the door. The next thing I remember is dancing around my father, mother and pudgy 6-month old brother as the words BIRTHDAY and CAKE fill the room. My mother is fashionably dressed, a paradox for the eighties, in a salwar khameez and carries my brother dressed in cute little blue onesies, his eyes wide open in wonder at this strange human ritual. My father takes pictures.

In the picture, the cake says “Happy Birthday, Dear Anju”. Anju, my short name, my pet name, for in those days not many insisted I be called by my birth certificate name.

I don’t remember much after this, but I must have enjoyed that cake. Nursery was a fun place to be in as a child, so why wouldn’t I?


Alas, I fell of the #Scintilla13 wagon! The Scintilla Project prompt for Day 12 that inspired my story is “Those that went before us have walked paths that we may never fully understand. Talk about a time when you learned something important about your family history.” 


He had only two siblings, I knew that, who was the third one in the picture? “A cousin”, he said, and I believed him. Perhaps this was a cousin that spent a lot of time with the family, lived or studied nearby. Perhaps that’s why she was in every other photograph of the family… but what of her parents and brothers or sisters? “Only two half-brothers and a step-mother”, I was told. What about them then? Were there no pictures? My questions were only met with silence.

And then there was the matriarch. Unforgiving and critical, her sharp tongue and even sharper cane made up for her shortness in her physical stature. I was told she kept this cane on a high shelf, and her children swore she would grow an inch taller just to be able to get it down when they had been up to no good. I was often told by family members that I reminded them of her, but, truth be told, I was afraid of her more than the others were… Until I discovered that she had brought in the fourth one, the one without family in the photographs, the victim of petty family issues. And then I heard of the illness. The one with the diagnosis that had everybody sit down with their heads in their hands, a bad gesture for the believing, while she scoffed at them and her six-month deadline, and continued to live for over thirty years more. This didn’t change her unforgiving and critical nature. Neither did the fall in the kitchen. She could still charge about the house on a walker just fine. No sir, she was still unforgiving and critical, but her stories hid her faults and changed my fear of her into pure respect and awe, and humble pride that I should remind family members of her, even five years after her passing.

Passing the Buck Between Utensils

Alas, I fell of the #Scintilla13 wagon! The Scintilla Project prompt for Day 11 that inspired my story is “Write about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible, it sounds like it could have been made up.” 


It was one of those days. I looked at the menu card inscribed in green on the cafeteria white board. Gulab jamun, it said, in big bold handwritten letters. I imagined the little round flour and curd dumplings travelling towards my mouth, as they dripped with viscous sugar syrup, and the saliva rushed into my mouth and thickly coated my tongue. I counted the change in my pocket. It was just enough. I walked over to the cashier.

“One plate gulab jamun.

He gave me a token that I then handed over to the server. With a stainless steel bowl of dessert in my hand, I joined my friends at the table as they were in the middle of a worldly discussion, the subject of which I’m not entirely sure right now.

Gulab jamun, yum,” somebody said. I flashed a wide smile in return.

I picked up my spoon and proceeded to cut a dumpling in half with the sharp edge of it. But I could barely break past the skin of the little dessert ball. Huh, I thought to myself, that’s odd. I gently applied more pressure, but whatever I was doing was not enough, because the spoon wouldn’t even break past what seemed like a rock hard core, a good thing on humans, but not on dessert. As I struggled visibly and began to chuckle and grunt at the absurdity of the situation, my friend Raoul offered to try his hand at it.

“Be my guest”.

Raoul poked and prodded at the dessert in question, but it refused to budge. At this point, I doubt there was anybody at the table who wanted to eat the gulab jamun more than they just wanted to be the one to cut it open.

Finally, after much pressing and shoving, Raoul stabbed the dumpling and directed his body weight onto the spoon. And then the strangest thing happened. The spoon bent!

Following the raucous laughter at the table, Raoul, Wingy and I proceeded to display to the server the not-so-superior quality of their dessert. The server boy scratched his head as the bent spoon and unbroken dumpling were placed before him.

He looked at us and said in Tamil, very sincerely, “Change your spoon”.

More laughter followed. “Change your gulab jamun first!” exclaimed Raoul as we put away the dessert and headed to the cashier to demand my money back.

Memories of a Childhood

Alas, I fell of the #Scintilla13 wagon! The Scintilla Project prompt for Day 10 that inspired my story is “Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you’re a parent, do not talk about your own child.” 


Kids also happen to do the darndest things. Likemy youngest niece, all of two years and four months, nearly jumped for joy when her mom brought her a plate of dessert at the end of our meal at Avenue Regent in Ernakulam. “Hhhaaiiii”, she yelped when she saw the sweets being brought for her, and proceeded to stare in absolute delight at the goodies for a whole three minutes… before we had to prompt her to eat them.

I guess this is probably what they meant by “feast for the eyes”. LOL.

I still remember what most of that afternoon looked like, left preserved in my memory around the expression of this child’s pure happiness brought on by the sights and smells of all things decadent.

I remember how, back at my aunt’s house, she strolled through the dining room, a wooden flute in hand, with which she whacked my dad on the leg and then threw it away and pretended nothing happened with a two-year-old’s version of la la la la

I remember how the first thing she did when her family moved to our city was run away with my toothbrush like I could never catch up with her.

I remember photographing her so much and never growing tired of it.

I remember her grumpy days when she didn’t want to look any of us in the eye.

I remember her utterly cute disrespect for structure and hierarchy, and I also remember reciting the story of it for months afterward.

I remember her growing and adjusting, and being such a beautiful child, in every sense of the word.

I remember her painfully sad expression at the airport saying goodbye to us after the family decided to move to another city. At that moment, I remember most of all my broken heart as I wondered if she would ever think of us as fondly as we thought of her, and it still aches to think of all the things that may mean I don’t see her again for a long time to come. I really miss her.

The Faceless Man

It is easy to mourn the Delhi gang rape.

It is only easy to be angry, easy to let 400-odd people in urban middle class India know on Facebook what you think of the barbarism. It is easy to label the rapists animals, to relegate them to death or a life of sodomy in prison. It is easy to be angry in the cyber mob. One by one status messages join the tide of throbbing emotion that thrashes the shores of our consciousness until it ebbs away in time, rising again when the next victim is felled. Yesterday we came together for the Guwahati teenager… today for the Delhi college student… and tomorrow? The statistics of sexual violence are so staggering that they are no longer numbers on a white screen; it is an epidemic that is getting scarily close to claiming the rest of us in its wake.

The truth is, rape or not, you and I are already victims, ladies. And we have come face to face with our perpetrator, countless number of times. We may have seen him… on the bus to school, or at the mall lurking outside Wills Lifestyle, or two cubicles away from us at work… or maybe even at home. We are all too familiar with this faceless man, black holes swimming in the jaundiced whites of his eyes – watching, not gazing… sucking female form into its vortexes, as we scramble to hide our breasts away… behind our clothes, our books, our bags, our arms.

We all have stories of the man. We bond collectively through these stories, applauding each other’s courage while gasping and raising eyebrows at the nerve of this man who feels no shame in taunting, slapping, groping, unzipping, or even ejaculating in public.

But what worries me is that we look back on these… and laugh.

Isn’t it strange that the first time we are molested in public, it is considered as some crazed rite of passage to a world of womanhood where we have to fight for the right to own our own bodies? How did this happen? Who is responsible for this? Everybody has their own answer to this question, and the blame game will continue. Yet we all know who the enemy is.

We need to mourn the day we first met this man, before we mourn for his victims.


My first #55wordstory, themed ‘White’:

Her eyes did not see the colours that bounced and crashed into each other in her wardrobe. Instead, white flashes of hate streaked through a curtain of salty tears. She flipped open her zippo and tugged at her wedding gown. The organza shuddered, turning on itself as the memory melted away with her tears.