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.

Hey there!

Oooh! Welcome to my shiny new site! Can you hear the screechy excitement in my words?

This – a site of my own, a step up from my lovely but now passe blog – has been a dream of several years. But now, sitting at home recovering from a surgery, is when I found time to do this. I’m incredibly excited to have one platform where nearly everything I write can go up, and I hope there’s more writing in the offing, too.

If you’re here, you’ve probably read something I’ve written earlier. And I hope you enjoyed it. So sit back, sip some tea and stay tuned for more! (And while you’re at it, why don’t you subscribe for updates in the box below? :))

Well – here’s to a brand new journey where I hope to have my old friends along, and make some new ones.


Fleeting, Adulting

Note: This, and a few other pieces you’ll see on this site, are from my blog, http://chennaigalwrites.blogspot.com. Over time, I hope to be able to move my favourite pieces here. 

Oh hello! A million thanks to you if you still come by this page (of course, that could have been due to social media). Eleven years since its birth, this blog has been languishing – my mind has been occupied with what appears to be endless reams of writing: writing as part of two jobs, writing for Spark, writing my journal – so much so that I have no space left to conjure something up for the beloved Blogger.

It’s rather ironical that writing – for myself – which I used to turn to at every emotion, every stage of my life, has come to naught. Is this what they call adulting? My mind doesn’t make up stories anymore, and my emotions have gotten too complex for me to put them down in writing. Working on gender and sexuality means the only non-fiction that immediately comes to mind has to do with feminism, social critiquing and a deep unhappiness at the current goings-on in the world. While I delight in writing these, at times, I just wish that I didn’t have to outrage at every other thing, that I appreciate my privileges and learn to enjoy life a little bit more.

Travel, which used to supply me with faraway tales and magic, has also become a regular occurrence now. It’s only August and I’ve already travelled to two countries (both second homes to Indians, and two countries may not be a big deal to many, but nevertheless). People, sights and foreign things don’t enthrall me as much anymore, and I see myself routinely going to places, sitting down, trying to absorb things in my mind and not clicking pictures.

And finally, of course, there’s marriage, which is a full-time job in itself. As my partner and I navigate our lives together – building memories, overwriting old ones, fighting-forgiving, forging new paths – marriage puts us through tests of patience, emotions, affection and perseverance. And mind you, I have had it rather easy so far, and yet that’s me complaining about the enormity of it all. What if, and when, the serious adult things come into the picture? Like an aged parent, job woes, long distance marriage, etc.? My mind grapples with the complexity of all that marriage is, and writing – non-journal writing, that is – comes only in sputters, starting with little promise, coughing and dying an early death.

I wish – and desperately hope – that this is just a phase, for my mental well-being (and heck, identity) depends extensively on conveying thoughts, painting pictures and weaving tales through words. Friendships, partners, jobs – many of these have come about because of writing. At times I have to stifle a depressive sob when I think about how words have just dried up in my mind. But I have little else to do than to soldier on, praying that the words come back.

One evening, a cousin, the partner and I were lazing about, when an interesting question came up. What would you want to stay with you your entire life? I answered that I want books, music and writing to always move me as they do today. On a more cheerful note, let’s hope this blog post, coming as it is after many months, marks renewed enthusiasm for writing.