Crimson Skies, Held Up by No Women

I swear I promised to not watch Chekka Chivantha Vaanam expecting anything because I’d been so disappointed by Kaatru Veliyidai. I resolved that I would not dissect the movie’s female characters. I’d heard good things about it, I’d stayed away from reviews, heck, I hadn’t even listened to the songs – I was expecting only to be entertained.

And entertained I was! I was glued to the seat start to finish, anticipating what next; I was blown away by the music; I stayed till the end of the credits because I didn’t want the thrill of the film to dissipate just yet. I was so pleased with myself for staying true to my promise.

A few days later, I was talking about it to a friend, telling her how I’d successfully switched off that part of the brain that gets agitated with sexist, misogynist or flat portrayals of women. Damn! Shouldn’t have done that. The next day, I was already going through the movie in my head, remembering scenes that I could. I saw the music album’s cover, with the four ‘lead’ women.

When I started processing this, all I felt was incredibly let down. It’s 20-fricking-18 and we still have these movies?! I tried to rationalise. Does the director need to have ‘strong’ female characters? He tells the story based on characters that in his mind are very realistic. I think that is what really got me irritated: that a director whose work I’ve been raised to admire seems clueless about (the diversity in) women in general, and all the more, has been stuck in his depiction of women for a few decades now.

Here is a laundry list of what I remember about women in CCV that have my gripe. Obviously, spoilers ahead.

  1. There are 5 pretty serious female characters, but they each have 4 or 5 lines to say (except for Jo). These don’t even qualify for the Bechdel Test, because they are to ‘their’ male character or about him.
  2. MR needs to lose his fancy with Bambi women: I realised I didn’t even register the name of Aditi Rao Hydari’s character. After her one scene with the mic, I don’t see any signs of her as a media professional. Jo describes her – subtitled in English – as the journalist ‘flunkie’. I don’t know why she was in the movie. To prove Varadha’s machismo? To titillate? To be the object Ethi holds to ‘draw out’ Varadha?
  3. Zoomed in shots of women in bikinis while introducing Thyagu. Yawn.
  4. Tamil women in every part of the world, including Siberia. Just like in Kaatru Veliyidai, where the army unit seemed to be full of Tamil speaking folks.
  5. Sister: going from pregnant to clutching baby to whimpering in fear.
  6. Chaaya, whose only lines are about informing Ethi about something that’s happened to her father, or ask him if he loves him (or some such). Did I get the hint that she was handling the ‘business’ while Ethi was back in Chennai?
  7. Renuka, who looked like she had some kind of a career going (who knows, I’m just going by her clothes), but we have no idea how or why she puts up with Thyagu. I guess I should thank my stars that she at least had the guts to spit back at Thyagu when she was thrown in jail.
  8. Jo, who was involved, aware, sorting out things for her husband and father-in-law, like a tireless daughter-in-law: Rasool’s loyalty, handling her husband’s affair with dignity, heck, even accompanying her husband after her father was killed. Jo, who was the only one who had a few seconds of screentime of her story, which the other unfortunate characters don’t get. Jo, who had to change from share auto to cab to bus to run away with her husband hours after her father’s death. Jo, who died quietly, but only after reassuring her loser husband.
  9. Poor Jayasudha, who disappears without a trace. Why didn’t they kill her too? Or did I miss something?

I could go on, but in all, the presence of these women only seems necessary to give the male leads a(nother) reason to do what they do. Erase their characters and few lines, and the movie will not lose much.

Let me try to rationalise again. This is a story of four men trying to capture power. The women are simply incidental, even if major events, especially in the climax, are apparently set off due to them. Why should I expect more of the female characters, then? Besides, the movie already has dozens of characters who seem to apparate and disapparate, so why hold it accountable only for letting down the women or not developing ‘strong’ female characters?

Then again, what makes a female character ‘strong’? Are they considered strong if it’s ONLY IN RELATION to the men? That is, they help move the story forward for the male character? Think mothers, girlfriends, wives, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, the loosu ponnu that The News Minute did a feature on.

I honestly don’t know why I expect such things of movies any longer. It feels like a gaping hole if a director hasn’t moved on with the times and is unable to register the presence of female moviegoers who may want to see female characters fleshed out a little bit more, portrayed like humans with stories and thoughts, as opposed to cardboard characters whose lives only revolve around men. I question the storytelling intelligence of a director who’s not able to think out of the box and develop diverse people to be their protagonists.

Oh well, my joy with CCV lasted a few days. For my mental health and for entertainment to not be forever ruined, I need to snap out of this. That’s easier said than done – I have well over a decade’s worth of unravelling to do, not bring home thoughts from work where such discussions abound, not remember and get annoyed with older movies that I’d once enjoyed. Ah, well – who said it’s easy to live in a bubble?


A theme I come back to over and over in songs that I like is how easily they flit from one emotion to another. If you go back years on my social media feeds, you will see me praising one song or the other for this feature. Ruth aa gayi re. Rasathi unna kanaadha nenju.

Today, it’s Sowkiyama, from Sangamam. Obviously, I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, but somehow, this aspect of the song came to me one day when I was in a cab, waiting at the Chirag Dilli signal, anxiously clutching a bunch of test reports and wondering what my doctor’s appointment would yield. I was a nervous wreck – I was alone, and felt truly alone – and I was miserable, having had to miss a vacation that I was really looking forward to.

And into this melange of moods burst into song a bunch of girls accompanied by an enthusiastic veena.

Sowkiyama, kanne, sowkiyama?

Sadly, thinking or writing about this song evokes unnecessary imagery – of the punishment that it was to watch Vindhya play a Bharatanatyam dancer. I refuse to believe that there wasn’t another qualified woman they could cast.

Moving on.

I distinctly remember – sitting in that cab, Nithyashri’s words sent a surge of exhilaration through my body. I started observing every line, eager for the mind to stop thinking about doctors and hospitals. And nearly one year down the line, I’ve managed to write about it!

Barely two minutes into the song, I already have much to swoon over: the ghatam that comes in unexpectedly to take over from the mridangam for just a while. The control over her voice that Nithyashri has. It bends to her will. It brings to my mind a rivulet that’s playful, going steady for the most part but suddenly, just as you’d got used to its path, makes an unanticipated turn through a crevice in a rock – a navigation that you could expect from someone of her calibre, but is astonishing nevertheless.

I’m also stunned by the way the tune changes shape to accommodate the feeling in the lyrics, somewhat like a happy boggart, in this case.

… ena vizhigalil nadanamittai
pinbu idhayathil irangivittai
mella mella en uyirai parithukondai…

Only a few of Rahman’s songs stand out for me for the way the lyrics and tune glide hand in hand, like they do in this song.

The three sangathis of ‘Sooriyan vandhu vaa enumbodhu’ each convey a bloody different emotion:
– I have a simple question
– Do you still not know?
– It’s pointless – what can the pani thuli do, after all?

The next few lines are a mix of Nithyashri’s exceptional talent and the tune, and the master’s craft. As she goes from one line to another, she goes from expressing desire (kodi kaiyil ennai kollai idu) to a gentle warning (andha modhiram oddiyanamai aagum munname anbe azhaithen) to an outright cry of anguish (en kaatril swasam illai!)

If you had to visualise the way the tune jumps from the first ‘en kaatril’ to the next to the last, it’s like Nithyashri is guiding her voice along a veetu vaasapadi. A set of three steps flanking the porch. And it’s all wrapped up with a playful ‘adhu kidakattum vidu unakenna aachu?’ Don’t you worry, lover, I’m doing ok!

There’s more. The ethereal ‘pinbu idhayathil irangivittai’, sung so breezily that you can imagine someone stepping softly into another’s cloud-like, fluffy heart.

Not one to let up, Nithyashri gives us a parting gift with many moods of Sowkiyama towards the end – NINE, to be exact. Some of which are lucky enough to have chords lending gravity to their emotion.

I try to imagine the number of things that have come together to create this blessing of a song. I wonder about the people who lent their talent here – the kids, the divine saxophone player we’re all thankful for, the percussionists, the veenai player who makes you sit up and say towards the end ‘Did you hear that? Did you? Was it just me?!’, and so on. And at the risk of deifying, I try to map what might have been going on in the mind of the person who brought all this together. That’s a futile task – all I can do is thank him.

Alaipayuthey and the politics of flirting and marriage

It’s the year 2000. The first quarter. Trailers for Alaipayuthey are out, and so is the music. I’m 13, and my brain and body suddenly burst onto the stage where romance, relationships, attraction and pleasure are at play. Rahman’s tunes, brought to life by the stunningly handsome Madhavan, send me into a tizzy. The family notices; I am, after all, religiously reading every word I can about the movie, running to the living room when I hear a few notes of Endrendrum Punnagai from the trailer, tearing off ads for the movie from Tamil and English newspapers and magazines and keeping them stuffed in my bookshelf, writing out error-ridden lyrics of Snehidane in my diary. I make it clear that I want to watch the movie even as Amma hesitates after watching snippets of Kadhal Sadugudu which has Madhavan and Shalini frolicking between the sheets: ‘It looks vulgar’, she says. But I don’t relent. I wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema with friends then, and my only hope – my older sister – has ditched me to watch it with her friends. And so I go to watch the movie, to feast my eyes on the glorious Madhavan, with my father.


Alaipayuthey was some sort of a milestone in my life: it was the first time I gave serious thought to the idea of romance and relationships as possibly playing out in my life -moving beyond crushes to thinking about what I might like in a person, and the idea of a genuine relationship and what it entailed.

Let’s take flirting, for instance. As a 13-year-old, watching Shalini not wince or run away or blush (well, she does, but not much) when Madhavan pursues her (more on this in just a bit), was a reaffirmation that I could show interest in someone  – that is, that I didn’t always need to be the recipient. When they cross paths on a train many days – or weeks – after their first somewhat-fleeting meeting during a wedding, she looks at him as much as he looks at her. This unabashed expression of interest stayed on in my mind.

How does the movie draw the line between flirting and harassing? As years wore on and I engaged more and more with feminism, the idea of Karthik (Madhavan) chasing this woman began to niggle away at my head. Mani Ratnam is clever; by making his female lead respond to the male lead – without anger, without telling him off – he distracts us from the idea that Karthik is stalking Shakti, something that we readily identify when, say, Vijay does it. As I thought back on the scenes, I was struck by how creepy it was that Karthik would ride his bike along the lane in which Shakti lived with her parents – I had gone through something similar in class 12 that had me panicking whenever I had to go home after school. And how discomfiting it was to see him try to figure out which college she studied in, and find her there.

In a work setting, someone recently mentioned hearing from girls in a semi-urban setting how boys’ relentless comments and jeering when they took the public bus to school or college was their opportunity to express interest in a boy, a permissible window where they were safe to initiate or respond to a relationship advance – subtly – in the presence of public. This idea was surprising when I heard it, but made sense as I thought more about it. It isn’t easy for women to initiate or quickly respond to romantic (or sexual) interest, but for those of us with some level of privacy, there are options, which are not available to everyone else.

I can’t think of any way to justify Karthik chasing her around, but was Shakti doing something similar? Staying within the boundaries of ‘propriety’ but responding with enthusiasm when she was approached?


While many movies I’d watched until then had dealt with life post marriage, this one was special for it showed (in its own flawed ways) how a relationship evolves through your dating stage to married-partner stage.

Looking back on it after 18 years, as a married person, I catch myself thinking ‘If only I knew…’ Marriage is tough, unforgiving and harsh. And (as long as it doesn’t cross boundaries into physical or emotional violence) it coexists with a strange mixture of affection, can’t-do-with-can’t-do-without and a shared hope for a future. When I think about the scenes in which Shakti and Karthik fight about them going to meet her seriously-ill father, and the next morning they make up and go together to see him, I see how compromises are made and we (often grudgingly) give our preferences a miss to keep the other happy. In all of four years, I see me and my partner flit from fighting to making up to wondering why we did this without the other to why we didn’t do this without the other. Marriage requires you to apologise, admit something by pushing your ego back, to learn that you and your partner will take each other for granted, to fathom how both of you have changed slowly, but surely, over just a few years.

I wonder what Shakti and Karthik did after she recovered; how long did those tender moments of affection that we saw in the ending scenes last? Did he get tired of taking care of her while she recovered? Mani Ratnam tantalisingly brings in these aspects – the difficulties in marriage, as in Alaipayuthey; the idea of refusing marriage, OK Kanmani; an abusive, violent and yet (problematically) ‘romantic’ relationship in Kaatru Veliyidai – but stubbornly stays within socially accepted norms of love, relationships and marriage.


Listening to one song in Alaipayuthey pushes me back into my school days of excitement and hope. Into my third decade of life, a few years wiser with marriage and sudden health issues, that nostalgic trip gives me a few minutes of happiness and memories of wild, carefree (and may I say, delusional) ideas of flirting, romance and marriage.


It’s been a quiet month here, but that’s because I was busy with publishing the 100th issue of my monthly online literary magazine, Spark! Read it at

Spark was founded by my sister, Anupama, and me in 2009, when we were both lazing around while on a break, at my parents’ home. That winter afternoon, we thought of starting an eMagazine, gave it a name and built a strategy around it, and launched it in January 2010. Since then, we have published an issue regularly on the 5th of every month. And it’s non-commercial, which means the two of us – yes, it’s just been us all along – have been putting in resources, time and effort every month, these eight years.

It is always special when you get recognition for hard work. And this interview of ours in Scroll, added the cherry on the cake as we prepared to publish the 100th issue:

Head to to read the 100th issue. Every issue is around a theme and there are thousands of wonderful, diverse stories, non-fiction and poetry you can find there.

Sustainable Menstruation with the Menstrual Cup

I was in the office loo, panicking. I could feel the seconds ticking by, and I knew that many minutes had passed since I got in. I wondered what my colleagues were thinking about my long absence. But I was most worried about how to pull out the menstrual cup that was stuck inside me.

I cursed myself. Why did I have to try this on a working day, of all days? Sitting ungainly, squatting in the air a few inches above the toilet, I wondered what to do next. Should I go home? But what will I do going home? Should I go straight to a gynaecologist? I remembered a scene from Sex and the City in which Carrie gets her diaphragm stuck inside and one of her friends has to pull it out (and I just got a manicure, her friend grumbles). I felt ashamed to have brought things down to this level.

You see, I’d been toying around with the idea of switching to an eco-friendly means of menstruation management for many months. I was upset with the amount of waste being generated, month on month. A colleague from postgrad days had started a company called Boondh, procuring and selling menstrual cups, and she had begun spreading awareness about it. That pushed me a little closer to the idea of buying a menstrual cup. She then joined forces with a few other similar organisations and with Feminism in India, they ran a campaign ‘The Pad Effect‘. The campaign explained that there was a gender-caste angle to the unsustainable method of sanitary waste disposal too – it was mostly women from historically disadvantaged castes who would sort the waste, often with bare hands. This tipped me over the edge.

I ordered a teal menstrual cup from Boondh. It came in a pretty cotton pouch, with instructions on how to insert and remove the cup.

So the morning of the office loo episode, I was excited; I’d got my period for the first time after buying the cup, and I spent a few minutes in the morning figuring out how to fold and insert the cup. I managed to push it in, but I could feel it inside (which, from my extensive research, I’d figured was not to happen, but what the heck – I was trying this for the first time!) To protect against leaks, I also used a panty liner and carried extra pads. I excitedly announced to my colleagues that I was officially a menstrual cup user (and by this time the cup had settled in so I couldn’t even feel it) and talked about what a wonderful concept this was. A couple of hours in, I decided to see how much the cup had filled. I knew one could keep it in for eight hours without any concern of it overflowing (for a regular flow day), but I still wanted to just see how things were.

And that’s how I found myself in the loo, unable to pull it out. At first, I tried to find the small stem at the bottom of the cup to grip it and pull it out. I found it in a few seconds, but it was lodged in so deep that I couldn’t get a strong enough grip to even begin moving it.

I wondered why I didn’t consider an easier means of sustainable menstruation management, like cloth pads or biodegradable pads. Argh! I spent a few more minutes standing up, sitting down, and trying various other things in the hope that it would slide out. You know, just come out like a baby, but without all the pain and agony and life-changing-ness.

And that’s when I remembered that I have to use a wholly different set of muscles! The little pamphlet in the Boondh bag said one has to push like they would during bowel movement.

Bowel movement! A wave of relief swept over me as I realised I had cracked the code. Tada! The cup neatly slid down the vaginal canal, and I could easily grip it and pull it out. I wanted to cry out of happiness.

I looked into the cup. It was barely a quarter full.

Sheepishly, I emptied it, washed it and pushed it back in, relieved that I know what to do now.

And that, folks, was how I became a regular menstrual cup user (except during the periods immediately following my surgeries). These days, I am able to insert the cup and forget about it for many hours, and there are very few leaks, so much so that I might stop using panty liners as a backup soon (or invest in eco-friendly versions of those too).

So in the interests of sharing with my little world what I learnt from my experience, here are a few things that I hope push you to consider adopting the menstrual cup for your menstruation management.

  1. Read, read and read. There are many menstruating people who share their accounts of learning to use the cup  – not only in the West but many in India too. There are many tips and videos on how to insert and remove it, and how it works. Knowing that others had a similar learning curve and struggled with it in the initial days helped me enormously in staying on track and continuing to use the cup despite the initial discomfort and fear. 
  2. Understand how your genitals work. I know several friends who are on the lookout for eco-friendly menstrual management options, but the idea of pushing something up the vagina makes them uncomfortable. We worry that it will get lost in there (and despite working in the field of sexual and reproductive health I panicked too). But note that the cup doesn’t go so far in that you can’t pull it out (it works like a tampon, but I have never used tampons so this is just hearsay!). But more importantly, the vaginal canal is probably the most interesting machine in the body – if it can push a baby out, a menstrual cup is easy-peasy!
  3. Don’t freak out thinking about the size of the cup vis-a-vis the size of where it goes into. The cup, made of medical grade silicone, is flexible, and will ‘pop out’ after you insert it folded. 
  4. There is hardly any ‘mess’. The idea of sticking your fingers up when you’re bleeding, or seeing a whole lot of menstrual fluid, is discomfiting to many of us. I’m not queasy about such things, but I was also worried about how messy it would be. Honestly, it wasn’t! The cup doesn’t fill up as much as we expect, so the fluid will mostly never spill on to your hands when you pull it out. And we’re used to bloody mess ever since we started menstruating – spills on the bathroom floor, leaks, and so on… this is just another such thing! I found it really interesting to note how much I actually bleed on a day I feel my insides are melting out through my vagina… it’s honestly not much! (I’m lucky on that front and I recognise that not all of us are)
  5. You don’t feel it inside (once you figure out how to insert it properly). I swear. A few days ago I was practising the shoulder stand asana during yoga class when I remembered that the cup was inside. Practising yoga when I was using sanitary pads used to be a little uncomfortable, with the pad chafing against my thighs. Some say you could go swimming with the cup too! I haven’t tried yet, but I found it effortless to go running or practise yoga when using the cup.
  6. It’s quite easy to be prepared for a period with the cup. You’d need to sterilise it in boiling water before and after the period, so it’s easy to do that and put it in a ziploc bag or a cloth bag and whip it out when your period begins. There are many people who have shared how they have managed to use the cup even when travelling. I haven’t done that yet, but I think I can manage well with tissues and hand sanitiser even in public toilets!

So I’d really recommend menstrual cups if you’re looking for a sustainable menstrual management option and aren’t afraid of experimenting a bit with what goes inside 😉 All it takes is a couple of cycles for you to get used to managing your period with the cup. Besides the fact that it’s convenient and worry/hassle free, it makes me happy about doing my little bit to reduce waste.

My Own Little Singlish Dictionary

So long ago, in 2006, when I was a naive college-goer new to Singapore, I came up with this post on Singlish,  the Singaporean form of English. This was written in only my second year in the country (I went on to live there for seven), and in the years to come, I would have grown so fond of Singlish that I’d grown my vocabulary significantly and it peppered most of my everyday conversations. I still use lah and lor with my friends and colleagues in India. This was one of the popular posts on the blog – and still is, going by the search terms! 

Note: Excuse the childish language; I was 19, after all! Some edits made to remove dead links. 

Singlish – the English spoken by Singaporeans. Extremely hard to understand when spoken to for the first time. Doesn’t have grammar rules. Just take off all your articles, prepositions and similar things out of your speech. For e.g., you don’t “go to the canteen”, you “go canteen”. Got the drift?

Now, let me introduce you to some of the Singlish words commonly used that I have picked up to some extent.

Lah – the mother of all Singlish words. It can be added almost anywhere and to anything. Used most commonly with can and no. Has other variants like lor, leh and meh. I do not know where these can be used. I use them whenever they ‘sound’ appropriate.
Can – Short for anything affirmative. Can substitute yes, we/I can do it, it’s possible, etc. e.g., ‘Wanna go can (canteen) 1 now?’
‘Can, lah…’
Can be very confusing, if not accompanied by you or I. I got confused when somebody messaged me asking ‘If the time is ok wid u, can msg —-?’ I didn’t know whether she or I had to message —–.
wif – that’s how with is pronounced and written in chat/SMS language. Many Singaporeans have trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ (personal observation) and hence the ‘f’ substitutes in many such places.
How – it’s not the normal how. It could mean ‘so how should we proceed’, or ‘how someone else managed something’, etc. Changes according to context. This especially has the capacity to throw me off guard, as I don’t know what how they mean.
Tomolo – tomorrow. I still don’t know why it’s molo.
e’ – this is the in SMS language.
Oredi – already. When spoken fast, already sounds like ‘oredi’, but that’s how they write it too.
Chope – reserving seats. Someone could ‘chope’ a canteen seat for me.
Makan – food. Or eat. We go canteen and makan.
Blur – not the one we usually know. If someone doesn’t know or is confused about something, she is ‘blur’.
Paiseh – getting embarrassed or ashamed about something. So every time I forget the name of a Singaporean friend I know very well, it’s paiseh.
Kiasu – used and studied in my course very often. Almost every communication course has something to add about the ‘kiasu-ness’ of Singapore. Basically means taking extra care not to lose out on something. So kiasu Singaporeans will go borrow a book out of the library as soon as the prof announces we need it. 😉
Shiok – something that’s really good. Food can be shiok.
**Updated, important word forgotten**
Die-die – extremely bad state, something that you must do even if you die in the process. 🙂

Now let’s try to put these into use.
‘She come so early so she get front seat, so kiasu lor’
‘Exam was terrible. Confirm fail oredi.’
‘Let’s go can A makan.
Will be crowded, lor…
Jasmine choped seats oredi lah.’
‘We gotta submit report tomolo. You do e’ introduction can?
Can, lah.’
‘She doesn’t want e’ report lik this. So how?’

Author updates: I got exam tomolo. Die-die muz finish today.

Check this for a proper Wiki definition. Will help!

Image from

Whose House is it Anyway?

I woke up with a start to some extremely loud (not to forget really annoying) Tamil religious movie song. Heart beating wildly, I opened my eyes and wondered what had hit me this afternoon. I looked around, trying to find my bearings, and realized I was home.

Well, technically, my parents’ home.

But still, home.

After all, what does “home” mean when you’ve been living away from home for 12 years? Is it the wonderful hostel rooms you lovingly set up? The house that you shared with two friends and jointly bought crockery and threw parties together? The single room by the terrace that you used to retire to after work, or the house in Delhi that you moved into with your partner on the occasion of getting married?

Surprisingly, after having so many variations of “my” space, home still means where my parents live, even though they have moved five times in my years living away from them.

That’s probably because elements of home remain unchanged: Carnatic music to wake up to; the sound of water filling a bucket; of crispy newspaper pages being turned late in the afternoon, when Amma gets a break to read the news; the smell of tamarind and tomatoes boiling to make the divine concoction called rasam; lit camphor pellets as offerings for the gods. If I close my eyes, and I sense any of these smells or sounds, my mind thinks “home,” not “parents.

I find it rather odd that I would still think this way. After all, I’ve spent the last many months slowly creating a new joint space with my partner, filling the house with an assortment of things that are now “ours,” sourced from local markets to travel purchases from a variety of cities and towns. Our house is taking shape with our things, memories and our own sights and sounds. Today, for instance, he’s not in town, and I miss hearing the songs that he plays every morning. MS Subbalakshmi’s voice interspersed with the hisses of the pressure cooker and smell from the agarbatti that he lights to start the morning on a calm note. The silence feels unnatural, something feels amiss.

Why, then, is this not yet the home for me? Of course, to the everyday Delhi waasi when I refer to my home, I mean my house here, not my parents’. What then makes home?

The corner of my mind whispers that it’s the place I can be a child again, having parents wake me up and come up with plans to keep me engaged. Where, sitting at the table, Appa, Amma and I, all engaged with some aspect of cooking – chopping, grinding and so on –get into long discussions about the pressing matters of life of that time – job, investments, plans, family relationships, travel and so on. Where even as they fuss over my health and take me to doctors and dentists, the thought wriggles in that increasingly it should be my turn to care of them, not the other way round.

It is the place where there’s been hardly a change in how I’m dealt with, no matter whether I’m a student, married, employed or sick. Where I’ll always be the child.

Something that unfortunately doesn’t happen in the Delhi house, because, well, my partner and I are both the adults. We are the ones running helter-skelter trying to make things comfortable for people visiting us. To make them feel at home in our place.

What would make my house home? Does it come with buying your own place, or furnishing an empty apartment from scratch and stepping back to admire your handiwork? With the steady humdrum of married life as you chug along and create more joint experiences than you did with your parents? A pet, perhaps, or children?

I have no answers or clarity. For now, on my phone, “Home” has the number of my parents’ landline phone, with my Delhi number saved as something as banal as “VV Landline”. I wonder if my parents will be alarmed at these thoughts and if my partner will be nonplussed reading my confused account of home. I’m sure I’m not the only person who grapples with the idea of two homes; perhaps my partner does too, having followed a very similar trajectory in life with regard to staying away from parents as I did – I haven’t asked. Maybe that’s why, for now, he so easily understands the context if I say “I want to go home.” Slowly, though, we’ve both started using the name of the different cities where his and my folks live, to be clear when we refer to each other’s parents’ home. Maybe, unconsciously, my mind is recalibrating the word “home.”

Pic from

I’d originally written this article for Spark, an online literary magazine that I co-founded 8 years ago and currently edit. 

Iran – 2016

My 2016 vacation to Iran will, for sure, be one of the top three destinations I will have travelled to in my life. There are many things fascinating about the country which often don’t make it to popular media (and hence into our list of dream destinations!) The country has so much to offer, and having gone there as a Delhi resident, it was thrilling to see parallels in our architecture (the Mughals borrowed heavily from the Persians), some intersections in history and the immense love for Indians that the Iranians hold. Here is a video from my trip that I hope inspires you to consider Iran for a vacation!



This story was published in Spark‘s November 2017 issue. 

Anandhi jumped up with glee when the doorbell rang one dusty summer afternoon in Madipakkam, Chennai. It was about time.

She rushed to the door and signed for the package. On her way back in, she ripped apart the plastic packaging with her fingernails, went into the bedroom and lovingly removed the transparent wrapper that clung to her latest acquisition.

“Ha!” she said with a flourish. It looked exactly like it’d looked on the website: a beautiful pale pink saree, with a slender amethyst border speckled with little white crystals. The georgette just slipped through her fingers. Simple, but classy; perfect, she decided, for the wedding reception of Barathi teacher’s daughter next Friday.

She took the invoice and carefully shredded it to pieces before throwing it into the dustbin. She could never get to the bottom of why she felt guilty about these purchases; after all, she was buying these with her own money. And she used them all – they didn’t lie in a corner of the cupboard gathering dust until she discovered them months later with an “Oh! I forgot about these!” Why, then, did she carefully hide these, she wondered, as she stuffed the saree into a corner of her bursting-at-its-seams cupboard so that her husband didn’t spot it.

She then removed the big box of jewellery from another part of the cupboard. There were at least two dozen necklaces with matching earrings, and some with matching bracelets. As she sifted through the sets, she got a sinking feeling; there was quite a bit in there. She made a mental count of what she’d purchased over the last year: at least 10 sets of fabric for suits, 17 sarees, 6 pairs of sandals and 15 sets of accessories. And most of it had come in the last year, when she’d figured out how to pay online for purchases.

Shankar, her husband, had been amused at first and then bemused over the weeks. “Why are you buying so many things?” he had asked, bewildered as he signed for a package for the third time in a week. “My clothes are old…” Anandhi mumbled half-heartedly, “…I’ve been wearing the same things for years…”

Shankar wasn’t the kind to judge Anandhi for what she did with her salary, but increasingly started showing signs of impatience whenever she told him about her new purchases.

Anandhi found this annoying. How could anyone make her feel bad when she did something with her own money, for her satisfaction, for her to feel good?! Over time, she stopped bringing her new purchases to his attention, and took to stuffing them into her cupboard without him noticing; sometimes she even got the packages delivered to her school address. Shankar had noticed that the packages had stopped coming home; he ‘congratulated’ her for ‘controlling her impulses’ and not ‘succumbing to pressure’ like ‘other women’. Anandhi couldn’t stand the condescension, but let it go – Shankar was mostly unassuming and didn’t get in her way often – one had to pick one’s battles, and she didn’t want to fight this one.

This madness was unlike her, though; she had never been much into shopping or anything – but the feeling she got from buying these clothes and accessories, and deciding when and how to wear them, was something she’d never had before. The compliments from teachers and students alike; the discussions in the staff room about what type of blouse to pair with which saree; the rush of joy she felt when she looked at herself in the mirror before stepping out every morning –  the thrill, happiness and contentment were worth it. The confidence she derived from this new perspective to dressing up made her try new things; she’d started experimenting with lipstick, for instance, to fantastic results.

This afternoon, however, her mood had become sombre. All the clandestine buying and safekeeping was getting to her, and suddenly she realised the magnitude of what she’d done over the last year – the money spent, the things amassed, the number of her waking hours that all this had come to dominate (she flinched thinking of the time she’d dreamt about finding her dream colour combination in a stunning saree at a throwaway price). It did feel wonderful to look good, and be praised for her knack for pairing clothes with accessories or that I-would-never-have-thought-of-it combination of blouse and saree, but she felt ashamed that the no-nonsense mathematics teacher in her had been replaced, over the past year, by a frivolous woman who delighted in the superfluity of appearances. “Chha!” she said, punctuating her long stream of thoughts with an expression of disgust at herself.

She resolved, at that moment, to put an end to it all. To quit cold turkey. Stop buying things. End of story. She’d confess to Shankar, enlist him in helping her control what she’d realised had become an addiction.

As a lesson to herself, she decided to put away the many unopened packages with sarees and fabric and accessories – if nothing else, she would save for herself the thrill of rediscovering these months down the line (by which time she’d have really controlled the online buying craze). She spent the next hour pulling out purchases that she had hidden in unsuspecting corners of the cupboard. She arranged the stuff neatly into a large Pothys cloth bag and looked for a place in the house where she could hide it out of view – her view – for a few months.

The loft in her bedroom was full of cartons stuffed with books and blankets and extra pillows. The loft in the kitchen was full of vessels – a kodam, a few large urulis in which to cook for dozens of people, and other things she’d received at her wedding eleven years ago. Anandhi looked around the house for inspiration; aha! The space above the steel bureau that had somehow escaped their clamour for space in the house!

Anandhi brought a wooden stool and climbed on it with the bag in hand. There was a small-ish carton on the top of the bureau; something she hadn’t noticed earlier, or remember putting there. What did it have, and where she could shift it? She carefully stood on her tiptoes to peer into the box, and gasped.

Inside were pens of different sizes and kinds, cables and USB drives, torch lights, a variety of earphones in different colours, and many other things she couldn’t even identify, most still in their packaging. She took some of them, one by one; most had been sent to Shankar at his office address.

Colour rose to her cheeks; she was flush with anger and embarrassment. Embarrassment for having been so gullible all these months – Shankar’s stash was clearly a collection over the last year, around the same time she’d been busy with her purchases. Around the same time he’d been busy judging her for it.

The cheek of that man! Anandhi had a seething urge to pull the whole carton down to the floor, so that when he came home that evening he would see the proof of his shameful behaviour scattered all over.

She wanted to get back at him for making her feel guilty from time to time; what could she do? Start leaving some of his purchases around in the room until he wondered how they got there? Or ask about the carton, point blank, watch him fumble about in response?

Within a few moments, however, Anandhi calmed down. In some way, Shankar was doing exactly what she’d been doing; he probably even realised he didn’t have the face to tell her about her behaviour when he too had given in to the pleasures of online shopping.

Anandhi went to the living room and sat down on the sofa. Her thirst for revenge didn’t reduce, but she realised this needed some thinking. Instinctively, she reached out for her phone and loaded Facebook. Mechanically, she scrolled through her newsfeed, and her thumb paused at Varnika Fashions’ latest post. A lovely Chettinad saree with red-and-mustard checks stopped her in her tracks. For a few long seconds, Anandhi battled her options in her mind; one half urged her to move on – she had, after all, just decided sometime ago to control her impulses. The other half took a different track, though; Shankar’s carton filled with its knick-knacks hovered in her mind. “Chha!” she said, annoyed at what her life had come down to.

She clicked on the picture of the saree. It’d been all of seven minutes since the post had come up, but there were already a few comments. “Pp,” she wrote. Price, please.

2017 and its surprises for me

Ah, the joys of working only 4 days a week! (I do have freelance work to get to on Fridays, but well) The song I’ve picked to kickstart this evening – at 8.50pm, at home – and the weekend, is Mayya Mayya from Guru. I love this song for many things – the very genuine/generic sounding (to my untrained ears) Middle Eastern feels, the views of the Blue Mosque from the Bosphorus in the song, the way the song sets up the titles for the film. In a fit of pure joy, I switched on the fairy lights and danced with abandon for all of a couple of minutes. Life felt good, I felt happy, I was able to dance – a few weeks ago, that didn’t seem possible.

2017 has probably been the strangest year of my life so far; it’s ironic that three months ago I wrote that adulting had been easy on me. I had just returned from a wonderful trek to the Valley of Flowers and to Hemkund Sahib, an experience that helped me understand myself better: my ability to push myself, to be contented, to be able to remember a trip without a million pictures on my phone. I haven’t even written about the trip yet, and that’s telling, because most of my travels have some scribbles that I can always go back to when I want to remember them.

As if in response to that post, two weeks after writing it I was hospitalised unexpectedly, leaving my partner and me perplexed and scared even as we tried to put on brave faces and soldier on. Five days on, I needed surgery. This was too much for me to handle – I’d never been hospitalised before, never got stitches or even been administered a drip. I survived the surgery ok, started recovering well, only to know I needed a different surgery again. The second time on, I was better prepared.

So that’s been 2017 now – two surgeries, a much-awaited international trip cancelled because of these, a court visit to identify whether the two men produced had stolen my purse three years ago (I couldn’t, so they were let go). It’s been pure drama. There was tons of self-pity as I came to deal with the biggest question of ‘Why me?’ Doctors were baffled by the reasons for both surgeries – I was a really unlikely candidate. It took the smallest thing to make me tear up – people brisk-walking in the park, people doing yoga, people drinking, people dancing, people travelling, people eating fried food or food that wasn’t cooked at home – all things that couldn’t do. It’s been really tough, to say the least, but I hope I’ve learnt a thing or two. To be calmer, to be a little more forgiving, to be more thankful and most importantly, to understand that some things are just not in my hands.

Of course, this is all easy to say when I’m on the better side of things – I’m able to dance now! – but I think I’ll be able to remember these for a while. It’s taken me a long time to be able to write this – I gave up a few minutes in because anxiety welled up in me and I had to fight back tears. But I felt it was time this got recorded somewhere.

But hey, what’s life if not a good mix of happy-testing-difficult-painful? I can now say I’ve got a pretty strong lesson at adulting – f***, it’s not easy, and what’s worse, there’s more coming my way, for sure. But others are in the same awful boat, and we’re all sailing along, laughing from time to time despite the mess. And to circle back to where this post started: life is (still) good; scary, but good.